The SmarK Rant for WCW Clash of the Champions XXII: Thundercage!

The SmarK Retro Rant for Clash of the Champions XXII: THUNDERCAGE! (Jan 13 / 1993)

(Back to the Observer Flashbacks tomorrow, but first the Clash that Dave reviewed in the last one, as I’ve always been a fan of this show and wanted to post it again.)

– This is another one of those shows that I could swear up and down on a stack of Bibles that I’ve already done, but don’t seem to have anything actually done for it. So here ya go, courtesy of reader David J. Mann.

– Live from Milwaukee, WI.

– Your hosts are Jim Ross & Jesse Ventura.

– Opening match: Cactus Jack v. Johnny B. Badd.

Badd is subbing for Erik Watts, who was “arrested” after his brawl with Arn Anderson at a gas station. Oh, shucks. Sadly, no prison rape resulted. (Man, I really disliked this Erik Watts fellow.)  Then, in an amazing turn of events, they actually put together a BACKSTORY for this match, since Badd & Jack were partners in the Lethal Lottery at Starrcade and broke up to end the match. Jack hammers out of a hammerlock to start and gets into a fistfight, which goes badly. He offers Badd a “bang bang” for his troubles. Jack hammers away again, but Badd leapfrogs him and rolls him up for two. Dropkick and Badd grabs an armbar, but Jack slugs out of it. Badd rams him into the turnbuckles, and Jack runs into a foot and gets punched down. Badd cradles for two. Elbow and Badd goes up and whiffs on the sunset flip from the top, which allows Jack to drop an elbow for the pin at 2:48, drawing a scary face pop. Kind of quick, to say the least. *1/2

– We get a video for 2 Cold Scorpio, who dances for some kids in a basketball court. I was hoping he’d advise them against doing drugs so I get a cheapshot in. (Plenty of time for that later.)

2 Cold Scorpio v. Scotty Flamingo.

If Scorpio hadn’t debuted in the redneck-centered promotion of the deep south, he might have ended up something special. Flamingo grabs a wristlock to start and Scorpio flips out of it and hiptosses him for one. Flamingo grabs a headlock and they do a lucha-esque sequence that ends with Flamingo bailing off a weak kick, and Scorpio follows with a dive off the apron. Back in, Flamingo kicks him down and dropkicks him out of the ring, and follows with a low-rent tope con hilo. Scott must have been feeling particularly frisky. Back in, it gets two, but Scorpio cradles for two. Flamingo stomps him down and gets a nice snap suplex for one. Choking follows and we hit the chinlock. They slug it out and Scorpio comes back with a hiptoss and a dropkick, and goes up with a twisting splash for two. Corner splash misses and Flamingo rolls him up for two and gets a lariat for two. Blind charge misses and Scorpio superkicks him into a legdrop and finishes with the 450 at 4:11. Good action here that was WAY ahead of its time. ***

– Chris Benoit v. Brad Armstrong.

This was Benoit’s WCW debut as a part of the roster, long before he meant anything. He made his official debut in the NWA tag tournament in a crazy match against Pillman & Liger, but that was intended as a one-shot deal. At this point, as far as WCW was concerned, he was just a promising junior heavyweight from Japan who survived Stu Hart’s Dungeon. They criss-cross off a headlock to start and Benoit dodges a dropkick and gets a straight foot to the gut to set up a powerbomb, which Armstrong counters and they do an insane stalemate sequence, leading to an armdrag from Brad. Yikes. Armstrong works the arm as Benoit tries to escape by kipping up, but Armstrong keeps him on the mat. Into a knucklelock, as Benoit bridges out of it in a spot he can’t do anymore due to his neck, and then Armstrong does the same thing, and suplexes Benoit into an armbar. He stays on the arm and Benoit reverses, and they work off that for a bit until Brad leverages him out of the ring. Back in, they again trade hammerlocks and Benoit tries the same strategy as Armstrong, but Brad goes back to the arm to counter. Benoit takes him down and goes for a crab, but Brad powers out, only to get pounded by Benoit. He suplexes him onto the top rope, putting him on the apron, and then hits him with a springboard clothesline to the floor ala Jericho’s dropkick. That woke up the crowd. Back in, Benoit gets the now-patented clothesline and snap suplex, for two. He starts chopping and headbutting, earning him the Jesse Ventura Seal of Approval ™. Brad fights back with a kneelife, but Benoit pounds him down again, and a backbreaker turns into a submission move. To the top, but Armstrong blocks him. Benoit casually shoves him down and tries the flying headbutt, but misses. Brad comes back with a neckbreaker and drops an elbow for two. Benoit KILLS HIM DEAD with a dragon suplex (full-nelson suplex) for the pin at 9:13. (Yeah, yeah, yeah…)  The seeds of awesome were there, all right. ***1/4

– We take a look at some SMW footage of the RNR winning the tag titles from the Heavenly Bodies, setting up the SMW guest appearance at Superbrawl III.

– Jesse Ventura holds an arm-wrestling match between Vinnie Vegas & Tony Atlas, because Van Hammer is injured and thus unable to defend his “Strongest Arm” title. (Clearly he was CHICKEN.)  Nothing cooler than Kevin Nash in pink jogging pants. (What about an Armstrong in Zubaz?)  As if Nash would last three seconds in a legit arm-wrestling match with Atlas. This goes on forever, left-handed no less, and Vinnie wins a gruelling contest to claim the vacant Strongest Arm title. He’s gassed, too.

– And just to really amp up the brutal realism of the show, we get Vader’s “White Castle of Fear” video challenge to Sting for Superbrawl III. No midgets in this one, just Vader.

– Video package details the US title tournament, which ended up with Dustin Rhodes going over Ricky Steamboat to win the belt.

– The Wrecking Crew v. Tom Zenk & Johnny Gunn.

The Crew was one of Animal’s brothers and another guy. (Add The Wrecking Crew to the list of Top 10 Generic WCW Tag Team Names.)  Zenk grabs a headlock on Rage to start, and escapes a press-slam. He dodges Rage and goes up with a high cross for one, and dropkicks him out. The heels regroup, so Gunn nails them with a tope con hilo. Didn’t see that coming. Back in, Gunn dodges the heels and rolls up Rage for two. He gets caught in the corner, but armdrags Fury. Fury comes back with a clothesline. Backbreaker, but Gunn faceplants him and makes the tag to Zenk. Hiptoss and he pounds away, but Fury gets a gutwrench suplex and stomps him. Truly a technical classic. Sideslam brings in Rage, who gets a bad powerslam and Fury comes back in. Hew whips Zenk around, but comes off the second rope and gets superkicked as a result. Hot tag Gunn, and bodyslams abound. A real bad forearm and some double-noggin-knocker action follow, but Gunn gets cheapshotted and the Crew finish him with a double-team backbreaker at 6:05. Rage & Fury disappeared again after this, perhaps to seek anger management therapy. (Is this thing on?)  1/2*

Unified World tag title: Ricky Steamboat & Shane Douglas v. Steve Austin & Brian Pillman.

Austin knees Steamboat and pounds away to start, but gets cradled for two. Rollover gets two. Criss-cross and Steamboat gets a bodyblock for two and it’s BONZO GONZO right away. The Blonds bail and regroup. Back in, Austin offers a handshake and then turns on Steamboat, allowing Pillman to come in and start chopping. Steamboat dodges him and gets a dropkick, and the faces pinball him into a Dragon armdrag. Douglas keeps on the arm, and they work it incessantly with cool quick tags. Pillman whips out of it and they criss-cross, but he hurts his knee. Well, better stop the match and call a stretcher. But IT’S A MIRACLE! Pillman slingshots in again, but Douglas powerslams him for two. Austin comes in to try, and Douglas immediately goes to the arm and works on it. Austin escapes, but Douglas goes back to it and brings Steamboat in for some more double-teaming. Steamboat gets the hammerlocked slam and tags back out, as Douglas gets a sunset flip for two. Austin reverses to a rollup for two, and they go into a pinfall reversal sequence that leads to Douglas getting a butt-butt off the second rope for two. Good stuff. Douglas & Steamboat double-team with a hiptoss and Steamboat slams Douglas onto Austin, then slams Pillman onto Austin. He goes back to the arm with a wristlock on Austin, but a quick cheapshot from Pillman allows Austin to slam Steamboat and put the heels in control. Pillman comes in and works the back with a whip into the corner and a slam for two. He suckers Shane in and then tosses Dragon out, which is TEXTBOOK NWA heel stuff. Austin adds a slam on the concrete while he’s out there. Pillman necksnaps him on the way in, but Steamboat fights back, so Austin kicks him in the back to allow Pillman to suplex him back in. That gets two. The Blonds work Steamboat over, and Pillman chops him down. I again wonder why Bischoff couldn’t let them become the Midnight Express of the 90s. (To be fair, Dusty was the one holding the grudge for some insane reason.)  Steamboat comes back with a sunset flip, but the ref was busy with Austin. Austin with a gutwrench and again suckers Douglas in, allowing more damage. Ricky fights back, but gets suplexed while crawling for a tag. Austin gets two. Man, you don’t have to ask Steamboat twice to play face-in-peril in a tag match. Austin goes to a body-vice, but Steamboat uses leverage to escape. Austin goes back to it because Steamboat doesn’t have the gas to capitalize, but Pillman tries Air Pillman and hits Austin by mistake. Steamboat gives both of them a flying chop, and finally makes the hot tag to Douglas after one last tease spot to really drive the fans into a frenzy. Douglas keeps it simple, slugging everyone down and dropkicking them, then moving to clotheslines. Belly to belly for Pillman, but Austin nails him off the top behind the ref’s back and then takes out Steamboat. That gets two. Steamboat brawls with Austin outside, and grabs a title belt, which he nails Douglas with for the DQ at 13:34, kicking off an epic feud that ended with the Blonds winning the titles after weeks of great matches. Great match, bad finish. ****1/4  (They put the goddamn Dos Hombres match on a million DVDs and this didn’t even make the “Best of Clash of Champions” release?!?)

– Thundercage: Dustin Rhodes & Sting v. Vader, Paul Orndorff & Barry Windham.

Ron Simmons was eliminated by a pre-match attack from Vader in the previous segment. Rhodes backdrops Windham out of the corner to start and they slug it out, but Windham misses an elbow. Rhodes slugs away in the corner and gets a clothesline, bringing Sting in for a bulldog. Press slam and Windham brings Vader in for a go. Sting slugs him on the ropes, but Vader returns fire with mustard on it. Sting keeps punching and gets an atomic drop, and a DDT finally puts Vader down. Stinger splash and he keeps slugging away, and adds some for the other heels, too. Vader actually does a Flair Flip, but catches Sting with a shot to the head on a charge. He goes up with a flying clothesline and then adds a flying splash from the second rope, which misses. Sting kicks away and clotheslines him out, but Orndorff sneaks in with a german suplex to break up the jubilation. Orndorff comes in and stomps away, clotheslining Sting down and dropping an elbow. He drops an elbow on the lower abs, and Windham comes in with a shot off the top and slugs Sting down. Suplex gets two. Dustin gets suckered in and allows some double-teaming by the heels, and they continue working him over in the corner. Vader splash in the corner and a clubbing forearm put Sting down, and a press slam (with a shot on the way down) follows. That’s so cool. Windham sets up for a superplex , but Sting fights out and collapses to the mat. Hot tag to Rhodes is made, and he valiantly tries it 1-on-3, catching Windham with a lariat and slugging the other two down. Corner clothesline and he slugs away, but now Cactus Jack runs in with bolt-cutters to let himself in, and attacks the heels with his boot, laying them all out. I guess he’s your substitute for Simmons. Orndorff finally tosses him, leaving himself one-on-one with Rhodes, but a piledriver attempt is foiled by a boot to the head and Jack gets the pin at 11:22 to officially turn face. Match was going okay until the non-sensical finish. ***

The Bottom Line:

This was quite the great wrestling show that kind of snuck up on me. Much like the PPV it was hyping, Superbrawl III. The main event was rushed and disappointing due to substitutions and time limitations, but the tag title match is the usual amazing Blonds exhibition and Benoit’s WCW singles debut is already great stuff.

Highly recommended.