For those, like myself, curious about where I upgraded the Southern Boys v. Midnights match to ****3/4, it was in this Best WCW Matches of the 90s rant from 2001 on 411, which I had to Google because I don’t have it in my own archives. Should generate some good discussion anyway, so here you are:
As WCW’s first decade of existance chugs to a pitiful conclusion and likely sale to the guy who wrecked it in the first place, the fine folks at Death Valley Driver Video Review have started the voting for the “Best WCW matches of the 90s” to remind us how awesome they could be when they wanted to. So here, because I’m just egocentric enough to do something like it, are my picks for the Top 20 WCW matches of the 90s, that being Jan 1990-Dec 1999. Despite the freakishly huge number of matches I’ve seen in my lifetime, there does exist the possibility, however unlikely or remote, that I may have either forgotten some truly spectactular matches or just never seen them to begin with.
Caveat #2: I didn’t vote anything involving the usual group of luchadorial suspects, for mostly the same reasons. However, about the only match from that group that really stands out for me is Kidman winning the CW title from Juvy in Sept. 98 on Nitro, and I couldn’t in good conscience put it above my #20 choice (Flair v. Vader), so most of them will just end up in the “Honorable Mention” category to languish in mediocrity. Such is life. And yes, I know I missed Rey Mysterio v. Psychosis from Bash at the Beach 96, so please don’t write me about it.
Caveat #3: In case of a tie, matches involving Chris Benoit, Cactus Jack or Ric Flair will take precedence. So there.
Caveat #4: There are no real losers in this contest. Everything here is ****+, and considering how hard I usually am on WCW, that means everything is is excellent and well worth your time in searching out for yourself.
Please, no betting on the outcome of this ballot, or at least make sure to cut me in for 20% of the profits if you do.
The list will proceed from 20 to 1, and I’ve helpfully divided it into sections, starting with ****1/4 and proceeding up to *****.
Section 1: ****1/4 matches.
Before we begin, I want to make sure to give special mention to Blitzkrieg v. Juventud Guerrera from Spring Stampede 99, which was a ****1/4 match and featured the most lethal finisher I’ve ever seen – a Michinoku Driver off the top rope that looked like it nearly killed Blitzkrieg. However, it failed the operative test for making the list: “Was it better than Flair v. Vader from Starrcade?” The answer, sadly, was no, so it don’t make it. Ditto for Brian Pillman v. Johnny B. Badd from Fall Brawl 95, another excellent match edged out at the bell.
Now, as to what makes something only ****1/4 and not higher, well, there’s a few general rules I apply when rating a match at that level. First, there’s generally some fatal flaw with the match to keep it from being higher, whether it be too much offense from one side, or missed spots, or a dumb finish, or the wrong guy going over, whatever. It’s those differences that prevent me from declaring it a Match of the Year Contender.
Match #20 – Ric Flair vs. Vader – Starrcade ’93 (12/27/93 – World Title)
Well, what a way to start but to hit the match that saved WCW in one fell swoop as 1993 came to a close? As Sid Vicious nearly destroyed the company by stabbing Arn Anderson and thus screwing up the biggest show of the year, the company once again went to Ric Flair to pull them out of the fire, and he delivered, as usual, by waging war with the World champion in a brutal and hellific beating masquerading as a match. My review of it follows:
“Flair leads Vader on a footrace to start. Then Vader gets a hold of him. Oops. Flair gets the hell outta Dodge to regroup, then rolls back in and gets stomped again. To the floor, where Vader misses a charge to the railing and Flair gets some shots in. Race turns the tide, quieting the rabid crowd. More frosty cans of whoop-ass are opened at Flair’s expense, as he slowly and methodically beats the living hell out of Flair. Vader is going all Fit Finlay-level stiff here, too. Powerslam gets two. Splash misses, and Flair hits three chops off the top to come back. Vader says “enough of that”, then shrugs him off and knocks his head off. Flair’s eye is swelling from the shots in the corner and he’s bleeding from the mouth. Vader hits the superplex and continues the beating. Flair’s offense keeps getting derailed. Flair bails out and Race kicks him right in the face. Ouch. Avalanche misses once, but Vader compensates and nails it on the rebound. This is like watching someone fight Undertaker in Wrestlemania 2000 with the difficulty set on Hard. Flair finally snaps and gives Vader some stiff shots to the face of his own, then goes for the leg. Vader takes off the jockstrap, so you know it’s business now. Flair then tries Plan B: Hit him with a chair. Success! He works the knee once they get back in. Figure-four, but Vader’s legs are too big. Vader misses the pump splash, and this time Flair gets the figure-four. Vader makes the ropes and catches Flair on a blind charge. Moonsault misses, however. Race tries coming off the top with a headbutt, but hits Vader by mistake. Flair chops away, but runs into Vader like a brick wall when he tries a shouldertackle. He compensates, however, and (in theory) clips Vader’s knee and cradles him for the pin and the title at 21:09. The ending was actually botched pretty badly, but I can forgive it. ****1/4″
Now THAT’S a main event that didn’t disappoint, and saved the show at the same time. Awesome stuff.
Match #19 – Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat – Spring Stampede ’94 (4/17/94 – World Title)
Next up, a rematch from the awesome 1989 series that barely missed inclusion in this list. Flair had been given the book in 1994 just prior to the Orange Goblin’s unwelcome entrance into the promotion, and he proceeded to book himself into a main event title match with Ricky Steamboat in an attempt to revive both of their careers. It worked well, but ultimately didn’t go anywhere. This is a great long match, but suffers from some meandering in the middle and a finish that was grossly unsatisfying. From my review:
“Five years later, and they decide to give it another go. Man, that crappy WCW belt just doesn’t cut it. For those who don’t know, this is NOT the Flair-Steamboat match that everyone refers to as the greatest match of all-time, but it’s still excellent. Steamboat is defacto babyface, of course. It takes Flair about 20 minutes to start cheating, which disappoints me somewhat. Still, this is a truly spectacular match compared to just about every other “main event” that followed in WCW from Slamboree 1994 until the present. Where else do you see 32 minute matches these days? Controversial finish as Steamer goes for the double chicken wing bridge, but both mens’ shoulders are down for the pin, and tie goes to the champion, so Flair retains. ****1/4″
Okay, so I was a little less verbose when I did this review back in 1997. Still, a great match that set up a couple of greater matches on WCW Saturday Night, neither of which I have seen in their entirety and thus cannot be counted in this ballot. Well worth a look, at any rate, along with the rest of the card.
Match #18 – Diamond Dallas Page vs. Chris Benoit v. Raven – Uncensored ’98 (3/15/98 – US Title)
A match that I slagged in my initial review, but time has been much kinder to thanks to the eventual influence that it had on the style that evolved into the WWF main event brawling style. This also marks the first appearance of Chris Benoit on the list, with more to come. From my review:
“Three-way lockup to start. Now that’s neat. We hit the floor in short order, where DDP hits the stairs. Raven & Benoit go inside the ring. Benoit gets two, then DDP takes Raven out. Benoit baseball slides Raven, and DDP hits a pescado on both. DDP neckbreakers Raven for two, Benoit suplexes Raven for two. DDP pancakes Raven for two. Benoit drops the flying headbutt on Raven for two. Rough night for Raven so far. DDP stomps Raven for two after Benoit gets off. DDP & Benoit brawl, and Raven follows with a pescado on both, then covers each in turn for two. DDP & Benoit fight up the aisle, Raven follows. Several two counts result. Raven grabs a trash can, and winds up wearing it, and DDP & Benoit double-team him with a pair of crutches. Benoit slams the garbage can into DDP’s often-injured ribs, and Benoit and Raven then team up to toss DDP through a convenient video wall. Neat spot. Benoit nails Raven with a kitchen sink, just to be cute. Raven retaliates by suplexing a table onto him. Raven sets the table up, but goes through it. They head to the ring, and Raven gets a low blow. He sets up a chair but Benoit hits his own drop toehold onto it. DDP crawls back to the ring. Benoit & Raven continue beating the tar out of each other. Benoit gets a sleeper, and DDP runs in for the triple sleeper spot that I hate so much. Benoit hits Raven with two of the rolling suplexes, and DDP suplexes both at once in a cool spot that the Radicalz lifted at Judgment Day. Benoit holds DDP, and Raven gets a stop-sign from Lodi (still playing Raven’s lackey at this point) and nails DDP. Another table gets set up, but Benoit gets his own shot on Raven with the sign. DDP is on the table soon after, and Benoit tries to superplex Raven through DDP and the table, but DDP recovers, pushes Benoit down to the floor, and hits a bad-looking Diamond Cutter off the top, through the table, and pins Raven to retain at 17:10. I was about a hundred billion times more impressed with this match after seeing it this second time. ****1/4 Benoit supplied the match flow, Raven supplied the booking, and DDP probably supplied the autographed pictures of himself.”
There were a few problems with the match, like the triple sleeper, the botched Diamond Cutter, DDP going over, DDP going over, and DDP going over, but otherwise it was about as good a brawl as you were gonna get out of DDP at that point. Sadly, the point of the match was to move the heat from DDP v. Benoit to DDP v. Raven, an infinitely suckier feud.
Match #17 – Diamond Dallas Page vs. Chris Benoit – Superbrawl ’98 (2/22/98 – US Title)
Speaking of DDP v. Benoit, this was the second match in a mini-series they had going, with a clusterfuck on Thunder being their first meeting. The matches ended up being so good that you just knew someone was gonna get buried as a result. From my review:
“This was just before DDP’s big feud with Raven, and his sudden revelation that adding the word “scum” to anyone’s name could make him sound cool. This mini-feud with Page was actually a neat bit of politicking on his part, as he saw the incredibly heated Raven-Benoit feud and decided he wanted a piece. So he had Benoit moved into a “respect” feud with himself (which had the advantage of giving the illusion that he was a great wrestler) and then phased Raven into the feud as a result of that previous Raven-Benoit rivalry. Once Raven was in, he then segued the feud into DDP-Raven, and sent Benoit crashing back down to the undercard again. Isn’t backstage politics fun? Have I mentioned recently that Benoit beat the Rock on RAW last week? Who’s Page beaten recently? Anyway, Page works the arm to start here. He whips Benoit into the corner and gets a rotation gutbuster. Benoit suplexes him onto the top rope in retaliation. Quick crossface attempt, but Page makes the ropes. Pinfall reversal sequence, then DDP gets a backdrop suplex. Benoit dodges the Diamond Cutter by rolling out. He gets back in and they have a staredown, and it occurs to me that the natural progression would be for Benoit to slap the smirk off DDP’s face, and HE DOES! A really loud one, too, that gets the crowd ooo-ing and aaah-ing. They get into a slugfest, and Benoit hits a cheapshot. Rollup gets two. DDP counters that with an ocean cyclone suplex for two. Benoit dropkicks the knee and goes back on offense. He uses a cobra sleeper, but DDP escapes with a jawbreaker. Benoit hammers on him in the corner, to a big pop. DDP responds in kind. Benoit pulls out the snap suplex for two. I love it when he uses that. Back to the sleeper. DDP escapes, but Benoit tenaciously goes right back at it. DDP dumps him over the top in desperation. Benoit goes to the top, but gets crotched. DDP gets a superplex for a double knockout spot. Slugfest follows as they get up, and DDP mounts a comeback. Spinning lariat gets two. DDP goes upstairs and hits a flying clothesline for two. Suplex attempt is suddenly reversed to a crossface, and the crowd goes NUTS. DDP makes the ropes. Suplex attempt again, this time reversed to a cradle for two, and again reversed by DDP for two. Page gets a belly to belly for two, but Benoit comes back with the rolling suplexes for two. The crowd is DEEPLY into this. Double knockout, then DDP comes back with a jumping DDT for two. Diamond Cutter attempt, but Benoit blocks and goes for a backslide, which Page flips out of and hits the Diamond Cutter out of nowhere, and it’s academic from there. He retains at 15:43 in an awesome match for Page. ****1/4 Lodi offers sage advice via a sign: “Benoit, We Knew You’d Lose”. Work, shoot, it’s all the same thing. I panned this match in my original go-around because of my initial bitterness at Benoit’s loss, but time has mellowed me to it, because really it’s all worked out just fine for Chris, while all the jerks who held him back are busy sinking with the Titanic right now. Instant karma IS gonna get you.”
Again, Page’s usual planning-intensive match-building held this one back from true greatness, as Benoit was essentially handcuffed by pre-planned spots, but for what it was, it was really really great.
Match #16 – Steiner Brothers vs. Tatsumi Fujinami/Takayuki Iizuka – Wrestlewar ’92 (5/17/92 – Tag Titles)
This one is probably a match not many have seen, and you really should. This one really epitomizes what the Steiners could do back in tha day, even moreso than another match that appears much higher on this list. This is less a coherant match than it is the stiffest pounding on Iizuka allowable by law without becoming legalized assault. I’ve got it over Flair-Vader, a similar match, just due to the sheer delight that the Steiners take in wiping the mat with the kid. From my review:
“I know Fujinami but I don’t know the other guy. Scott does a proper Blockbuster on both guys — something I haven’t seen him do in a dog’s age. Iizuka looks really crisp when he gets in and immediately gets over. Did he ever become anything back in Japan? Scott with the butterfly powerbomb and the bodyvice/elbowdrop double-team that the Steiners used to do when they didn’t suck. Nasty suplex by Rick on Fujinami. Iizuka is apparently cut open hardway from the double-team. He looks to be bleeding from the eye and is having trouble seeing. Fujinami comes in with a series of stiff kicks to the leg, followed by an anklelock. Steiner rolls him over for two. Scott with a double-chickenwing on Iizuka for two. Urinage by Scott. Rick rubs his knee into Iizuka’s injured face, just to be a dick I guess. Running bodyvice by Rick. Pumphandle slam by Scott for two. Iizuka is taking a shitkicking here. Abdominal stretch to a cradle by Scott for two, and Iizuka finally makes the tag. Big brawl erupts as the Japanese doubleteam Scott. Fujinami with an abdominal stretch when it calms down. Iizuka gets back in and gets right back to getting beat on. Belly to belly for two. Fujinami back in and Rick clotheslines both guys off the top rope. Scott puts Iizuka on the top but Fujinami suplexes him off. Iizuka with a german suplex for two. Spike piledriver, then Iizuka dropkicks Scott off the top. Sleeper by Fujinami, into a Dragon Sleeper. Scott to the ropes. Again, but Scott kicks him in the face. Double knockout. Double tag and Rick destroys poor Iizuka. Pier six, and Rick puts Iizuka on the top and belly to bellies him for the pin. Fabulous match. ****1/4”
This match was pretty much the last, best match the Steiners had before descending into mediocrity and laziness.
Section 2: ****1/2 Matches
Only two to hit here, but they’re both doozies.
Match #15 – Chris Benoit vs. Bret Hart – Nitro (10/4/99)
Sadly, I have no review to offer here because I was busy watching it on Nitro and didn’t take notes. It is, however, an awesome match, dubbed the Owen Hart Tribute Match as it was staged in Kansas City as Bret’s goodbye to his brother. Having only seen the TV version (with commercial breaks) I can only give it ****1/2, but those who have seen the full version assure me it’s *****, and I really can’t argue with making that judgment. It’s filled with the kind of stuff you just never saw on Nitro – ring psychology, mutual respect, a total lack of b------- storyline developments and other ga-ga, and a clean finish. The wrong guy went over, but really it didn’t matter in this case. Chris Benoit tapped to the Sharpshooter at about the 20 minute mark, on a TV match, filling me, however temporarily, with hope for the future of the promotion. Two weeks later, Russo was in, and that hope was gone.
Match #14 – Eddy Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko – Uncensored ’97 (3/16/97 – US Title)
This match was interesting in that it marked the beginning of an experiment for WCW in moving the cruiserweights up to the US title level, which ended up having the opposite effect and dragging the title down thanks to a killed push for everyone involved. Why was the push killed? Because they had great matches and generally stole the show from the nWo. What a shock. From my review:
“Need I add the shriek of joy here? Eddie was in the midst of turning heel, which ended up getting aborted by the forthcoming Apocolypse angle, which ended up getting aborted and thus turning him face again, and finally he turned heel for real in the summer. Before you ask, the Apocolypse was supposed to the 1997 equivalent to the New Blood, with Benoit, Malenko, Guerrero and Steven Regal opposing the Four Horsemen in protest to Jeff Jarrett getting added to the group. This idea apparently scared the hell out of the wrong people (*cough* HOGAN *cough*) so it was turfed and Benoit got to fight Kevin Sullivan for another six months. Shoving and slugfest to start. Eddie works a headlock, but gets shoulderblocked out. Back in, and Dean STOMPS A MUDHOLE in him, in Dusty-ese. Vertical suplex and smackdown follows. Eddie comes back with his own mudhole stomping, sending Dusty off on a 5-minute babbling session about the mud and the holes and the stomping. Eddie charges Dean and gets dropped on the top turnbuckle. Dean works the leg, with a half-crab, then tosses Eddie over the top. It’s no-DQ, btw. Dean grabs the title and wallops him, then hits a lariat for two. Eddie retaliates with a Rock Bottom, then slaps him around. Malenko is up, and Eddie dropkicks the knee, then works it. He hits the slingshot senton, landing on the knee, and applies a leglock. He moves into an STF in a nice transition. Meanwhile, in the back, Rick Steiner gets laid out by the nWo and eliminated from the main event for no really adequately explained reason. Back to action, Eddie & Dean brawl on the floor. Dean heads back up the steps, and when he’s standing by the post Eddie pops up and dropkicks his knee into the post. What a jerk. Back in, Eddie gets the figure-four, but Dean escapes. Criss-cross leads to an elbow to the mush for Eddie, but a senton bomb misses. Dean Dean bails and Eddie baseball slides him. A tope misses and he hits the railing on the way down. Back in, Dean picks an arm and twists away on it. Eddie fights back with a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker and a jackknife powerbomb (the real kind where you roll over for a pin, not Nash’s powerdrop) that gets two. Wrestling sequence gives Eddie an inside cradle for two. Dean powerslam and a frog splash (!) gets two, but he picks him up. Powerbomb attempt is reversed to a rana, but Dean hits a powerslam for two. Pinning sequence puts Eddie on top for two. Suplex reversal sequence ends in Dean’s favor, for two. Eddie hits a skull-cracking tornado DDT, then applies Dean’s own Texas Cloverleaf (!!). Now Syxx (X-Pac) wanders out to make a nuisance of himself and hopefully steal the US title, but Eddie grabs him by the hair. Dean manages to get Syxx’ ever-present video camera, blasts Guerrero with it, and gets the pin to win the US title at 19:11. Ending didn’t work for me, but the match kicks the ass of anything Russo has ever booked six ways from Sunday. ****1/2”
The ending and general goofy nWo overtones of the match deducts Ѕ*, the rest is great.
Match #13 – Chris Benoit/Dean Malenko vs. Raven/Perry Saturn – Spring Stampede (4/11/99 – Tag Titles)
This match marks one of the greater injustices of the Kevin Nash booking debacle of 1999, as the Four Horsemen reformed to a tremendous reaction and were immediately buried before they could get over. Ditto for Raven, who finally found his niche in the tag division with Saturn and Kanyon, and had the legs cut out of from under him by DDMe. This one match summarizes how great that feud could have been if DDPolitics hadn’t moved Benoit into a dumb feud with the Jersey Triad instead and sent Raven packing from WCW for good. From my review:
“The Flock pulls out a ton of cool double-teams on Benoit to start. Raven gets triple-teamed by the Horsemen outside the ring and the Midgets work over Raven. Arn is jawing with the fans the whole time. Guess which team Charles Robinson favors. Fans completely turn on the Horsemen, booing them mercilessly. Well, I’ll take heel heat over no heat. Saturn gets the hot tag and decks Anderson, which is a good sign for his healing. Malenko is just being a motherfucker here. Saturn goes for the DVD, but Benoit gets a german suplex, but a pier-six breaks out. Malenko gets the Cloverleaf on Saturn, but he escapes and hits the DVD. Benoit makes the save. Wild stuff. Saturn gets caught in the corner and double-teamed. Crowd is chanting “Horsemen suck” at various intervals. Malenko is being a mega-jerk, something he’s very good at. Raven gets the hot tag (big pop) and cleans house. Big babyface reaction for the DROP TOEHOLD OF DOOM. Saturn goes for the tabledive on Malenko, but misses and goes through the table. Back in the ring, Raven gets the Evenflow on Malenko, and Arn casually walks into the ring (despite mild protests from Charles Robinson) and places a chair on top of Raven. Chris hits the swan dive onto the chair, sacrificing himself and doing a major bladejob for fun, and Malenko rolls on top for the pin. Wow, great match. ****1/2″
Of course, everyone here eventually ended up going to the WWF and making way more money. The Triad ended up swiping the intricacies of the match presented here and using them for themselves, then taking credit for introducing them to the tag scene. What a great guy Page is.
Section 3: ****3/4 matches
Okay, now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of things. These are the near-perfect matches, the ones that were just lacking that one LITTLE element to put them over the top, whether it be lack of significance, heat, storyline, psychology, or what have you. Suffice it to say that in a different mood, any of these could easily be bumped up to the magic ***** level with no regrets on my part.
Match #12 – Chris Benoit vs. Raven – Souled Out ’98 (1/24/98 – No DQ)
This match is the culmination of the closest thing Benoit got to a push in the middle years, as WCW, in it’s charmingly retarded way, tried to elevate him by having him lose to members of the Flock on a regular basis, leading up to a showdown with Raven at Starrcade. However, Raven was injured, so that meeting was delayed until the next PPV, Souled Out 98. Not coincidentally, that was the Left for Dead Show, as the nWo politicians tried everything in their power to downplay that show and make themselves out to be the draws. It backfired, as Souled Out did a pretty huge buyrate on it’s own, a fact which is to this day ignored by people like Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan. One of the contributing factors to it’s success had to have been the hot Raven-Benoit feud, and the hotter blowoff that saw Benoit completely kill Raven. From my review:
“And so, after months of ducking him, Raven is finally forced into this. The Flock is barred from ringside. Raven has his usual pre-match whine session, then attacks Benoit as he makes his entrance and we’re underway. They brawl on the floor with ultra-stiff shots. Benoit reverses a snapmare to a backslide for two, but Raven takes over. Big “Raven sucks” chant. They fight on the floor again and Raven gives him a WICKED chairshot. He then tosses the chair in and snapmares Benoit on it. Then bulldogs Benoit on it. Man, that’s just cold. It gets two. Benoit comes back and Raven a taste of irony by hitting a drop toehold on the chair. He follows with some absolutely vicious chops and a suplex on the chair for two. Raven bails, so Benoit baseball slides him into the railing. Raven just keeps running. Benoit catches up to him on the rampway and suplexes him there. Back in the ring, where Benoit puts the chair over Raven’s face and hits the suicide variation of the swandive, knocking himself out in the process. Benoit moves first, and gets two. He tries a northern lights suplex, but Raven reverses to a DDT, but can’t capitalize, and in fact Benoit rolls over again for two. Raven goes for the Evenflow, but Benoit reverses to the crossface, and that’s all she wrote. Raven’s grin as he passes out from the pain at 10:38 is pretty creepy. ****3/4 Couple of flaws means I can’t give it ***** in good conscience. The Flock attacks and Dean Malenko makes the save, but that never ends up going anywhere.”
One of the truly underappreciated Benoit matches of the 90s, showing how versitile a worker he was and how great Raven could be if given 10 minutes to bump his ass off.
Match #11 – Jushin Liger vs. Brian Pillman – Superbrawl ’92 (2/29/92 – Light Heavyweight Title)
The most essential definition of “hot opener”, the match you put on first to kick the crowd into overdrive right from the get-go and make things easier on everyone else that follows. Of course, that presumes you have the talent necessary to keep that flow going later in the card, but in 1992 WCW certainly did, and this match certainly accomplished it’s goal. From my review:
“Liger had won the title a month or so before this. This was actually the subtle beginnings of the heel turn that would lead to the Hollywood Blonds. Liger actually gets himself over with the crowd by sheer force of workrate. How often do you see that? This match is easily 4 years ahead of it’s time, as this kind of Super J match wouldn’t be seen until 1995 when the Holy Trinity invaded WCW. Awesome ring psychology, as Liger destroys Pillman’s knee in between high spots. The fans are actually split by the end of the match. *Incredibly* hot ending sees a series of heartwrenching near falls before Liger misses a Benoit swandive and Pillman does a bridging cradle to regain the title. Amazing match, one of Pillman’s best ever, and the crowd was roaring by the end of it. ****3/4 Of course, after Liger left the division went to pot.”
One of the best opening matches EVER, and a testament to Pillman’s greatness. We’ll get back to these two a bit later.
And now…THE TOP TEN!
Match #10 – Nasty Boys vs. Cactus Jack/Maxx Payne – Spring Stampede ’94 (4/17/94 – FCA Match, Tag Titles)
Here’s where I offer up your “contrast of styles” section with the next couple of matches. This was the match that MADE Cactus Jack, who had previously been a weird joke and general jobbing boy who bumped to make the “stars” look good on a given night, never getting that breakthough opportunity. This match changed everything, not only establishing Jack as someone with star power, but giving Paul Heyman the template from with to do almost every crazy tag team brawl in ECW from then on. From my review:
“BOO-YAH! Now *Payne* should be the one teaming with Foley these days, not Terry Funk. Remember Man Mountain Rock? That’s Payne. This match stems from a bunch of s--- that was going down between the two teams (and off and on with Dave & Kevin Sullivan to boot) and this match ended up building to the incredible tag title match at Slamboree two months later. This match is *nothing* like what you’d expect from WCW today…their entire direction went off the deep end when Hogan signed in June of 94, and it’s a shame, because this brawl absolutely blows almost anything ECW has done since 1995 out of the water. It’s not just goofy spots and oddball weapons, it’s smartly set up spots and stiff shots with intelligent weapons. The hatred is just palatable, and that’s the way I like it. These guys just beat the piss out of each other non-stop, including destroying a conveniently placed souvenir stand. The finish comes as Sags wallops a prone Cactus with a shovel (while he was laying on the concrete — and he hit him HARD on the head, square) and pins him (to retain the titles? Not sure if they were even on the line). ****3/4”
As with Pillman and Liger, we’ll get back to these guys later.
Match #9 – Midnight Express vs. Southern Boys – GAB ’90 (7/7/90 – US Tag Titles)
For one of those strange reasons that only WCW executives can properly comprehend, the imminent goal of management in 1990 was to force the Midnight Express, resurgeant in a feud with Pillman & Zenk and the Southern Boys, out of the promotion in favor of a singles push for bland Bobby Eaton. This can likely be attributed to the “Ole Anderson is a Huge Dumbass” line of thinking more than anything else, but no one ever said that Jim Cornette did things small, so on their way out they proceeded to put on the best series of matches humanly possible. Case in point, the opener of the Bash 90 PPV, which should have been a throwaway title defense against the Southern Boys, leading to them dropping the titles to the Steiners. What it ended up as was the single greatest display of tag team wrestling seen in North America since the glory days of the Midnights v. Rock N Roll Express feud of the 80s. From my review:
“The Southern Boys, Steve Armstrong and Tracy Smothers, would become better known as the Young Pistols. They had two principle feuds: This one and with the Freebirds. Guess which one I liked better. I consider this match required viewing for all new wrestling fans. If you’ve never seen the *real* Midnight Express in action (ie, Sweet Stan and Beautiful Bobby) and are wondering why everyone loves them so much, run out and rent this tape. This is a jaw-droppingly great match. Just when you thought the Midnights were on the verge of being done for (okay, they were, but go along with me for the sake of argument) they go and pull this thing out of their bag of tricks. This is also the match that turned the ‘Boys from heatless slackjawed yokels into serious title contenders. That’s no mean feat. Midnights have their own built-in fanbase here, getting solid babyface reactions a lot of the time. Cool moment: Stan Lane and Tracy Smothers have a martial arts duel, drawing super heat from the fans. It’s cool s--- like that, out of nowhere, in the middle of a match, that set the Midnights apart from everyone else. The sustained heat here is incredible. Smothers plays Ricky Morton, as the Midnights get to show off all their cool stuff. Cornette and Lane bolted to form SMW in November of 1990, so this is basically the swan song for the Midnights and they make it count. Armstrong gets the hot tag and goes nuts, and the ‘Boys hit their finisher with the ref distracted. Chaos ensues: The Midnights hit the Rocket Launcher, just get two. Ref is distracted again, and the ‘Boys do the old switcheroo (in what is usually a sure-fire match ender) and get a two count. Smothers is up and ready to finish Eaton, but the ref is distracted with Armstrong, and Lane nails a bee-yoo-tee-ful savate kick right to the back of Tracy’s head from the apron, and Eaton cradles him for the pin. Magnificent. ****1/2 The crowd is nearly breathless after that one. Cornette called it one of the best Midnight Express matches EVER”
Sidenote: Although I give it ****1/2 in my initial review, I have to come to love it even more since then and upgraded it to ****3/4 as a result of thinking about all the cool stuff done here and the total lack of flaw. Sadly, the Midnights’ best match ever would also prove to be one of their last, as they were no more a mere two months later.
Match #8 – Vader vs. Cactus Jack – Havoc ’93 (10/24/93 – Texas Death Match)
Our last runner-up to the magic ***** level was the brutal blowoff to the Jack-Vader feud of 1993, and was the last time the horrible “Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal” gimmick was used by WCW. This match is part greatness and part tragedy, as it was the great finish to a feud that was totally botched by WCW in nearly every way possible. In fact, the match that led to this one narrowly missed making the top 20 on it’s own merits – the match in question being the one where Vader powerbombed Jack headfirst on the concrete and everyone on the internet thought he was dead. This match, which everyone in charge of WCW wished imminent failure on from the get-go, was at least given main event status on the Havoc 93 show, even if both guys were depushed right after. From my review:
“This is the final blowoff for the amnesia angle. Read the 1993 WCW rant if you want to know what *that* was all about. They brawl on the rampway right away, and Vader hits the post by accident. Jack grabs a camera from a fan and bashes Vader with it, then a good ol’ chairshot. Back in the ring, and Vader decides to kill Cactus dead. Jack manages to survive long enough to suplex Vader onto the rampway, then fights off a chair- wielding Race and blasts Vader into the stone age with the chair. OUCH! They fight into the gravesite set up on the stage, and fall into the open grave. When they emerge, Jack is gushing blood from both above and below his eye, and Vader is bleeding from the forehead. What is this, a contest? Jack clotheslines him and pins him. Vader beats the 10-count back up, so Cactus clobbers him with a prop cactus. Vader rolls onto the floor to escape, and Jack follows him down with a Cactus elbow, which gets another pin. Vader beats the 10 count again. And now he’s PISSED. Jack tosses a table into the ring (helpfully set up by Nick Patrick) and Vader gets the wrong end of a whip into it. Back outside the ring, and Jack sunset flips him off the apron and suplexes him on the railing. Vader pulls Jack into the crowd, which allows Cactus to take a SICK bump onto the concrete, then Vader tosses him back over the railing, so Jack takes a SICKER bump that way. What a maniac. Vader nails him with a chair, but keeps the legs stuck out. Ouch. Back in the ring for the Vadersault, which gets the pin, duh. Jack beats the 10 count. Vader pummels him in the corner and they’re back on the ramp. Jack tries a sleeper, and Vader FALLS BACK on him. Jack later said in a shoot interview that it ruptured his kidney, but he didn’t want to quit because then he’d look like a wuss. The trainers check on Jack, but Vader tosses them off and pins Jack. Jack gets up during the 30-second rest period and DDTs Vader on the rampway, but Race pulls out a tazer and zaps him, making him stay down for the 10-count and giving Vader the win at 16:20. Hey, guess which fat cow booked this match? Awful, awful ending to a crazy brawl. ****1/2”
Again, I have since felt bad about only giving it ****1/2 because of the bad ending, and have upgraded it to ****3/4 as a result. One of Foley’s best matches, no question.
And now, without further adieu, the seven greatest matches in WCW history.
Match #7 – Jushin Liger vs. Brian Pillman (12/91 – Light Heavyweight Title, East Rutherford, NJ)
Sadly, this one is REAL tough to find. This is the match where Liger made his North American debut and won the title from Pillman the first time out, with footage being available only from the guy in the audience who smuggled a camcorder in, and god bless him for it. Whereas Superbrawl II saw them with a touch of stage fright or nerves, this one had them hitting EVERYTHING on all cylinders and electrifying the crowd. Liger goes over clean to win the title in a ***** match. I’ve never reviewed it because it’s never been on WCW TV before.
Match #6 – Steiner Brothers vs. Sting/Lex Luger – Superbrawl ’91 (5/19/91 – Tag Titles)
Yes, you read that right – Lex Luger is in one of the greatest pro wrestling matches I’ve ever seen, and Ric Flair is not involved. This one had no real storyline, as it was just good friends Sting & Luger teaming up to challenge their own good friends, the Steiner Brothers, for the tag titles. The result was a completely unexpected and amazing classic of tag team wrestling, as the Steiners pulled out every trick in the book to wow the crowd and Sting gamely kept up with them, with Luger not far behind. An astonishing display of some of the greatest heavyweight tag team wrestling you’ll ever see. From my review:
“There was no real build to this match — Sting and Luger basically just asked for a title shot at one point. Luger and Rick start out slow, but it builds fast once Luger no-sells a Steinerline. Rick blitzes him with a pair of suplexes and a clothesline, but Luger responds with his own. The crowd is torn. Sting’s turn, as he clotheslines Rick out of the ring and hits a gorgeous running tope. Sting does Rick’s own body-vice-into-the-corner ramming move on him, but the Stinger splash misses. Scott in with a butterfly powerbomb to a huge pop. Tilt-a-whirl and the crowd is going nuts. Sting reverses a whip into a stungun and Luger’s in. Another quick tag to Sting, but Scott with an atomic drop and a belly-to-belly superplex for two. Over to the other corner, but Scott misses a charge and goes over the top rope. Luger tags in and suplexes him in for two. Scott blocks a powerslam with a urinage, but Lex comes back with the powerslam. He goes for the rack, but Scott counters to a russian legsweep. Rick tags in and comes off the top with the bulldog and an elbowdrop for two. Sting dropkicks Rick off the top rope and a brawl erupts. Luger and Rick do the double knockout. Sting and Scott get the hot tags and Sting hits a belly to back on Scott. They do the tombstone reversal spot and Sting gets it. Two count. Another brawl erupts as Rick and Luger fight outside. Sting with the Stinger splash on Scott…but Nikita Koloff skulks to ringside with a chain wrapped around his arm. He swings at Luger but Sting pushes him out of the way and takes the shot himself, falling prey to a Scott Steiner pin to retain the titles. Ab fab. ***** A great match with a great angle, great intensity, and completely non-formula.”
And now, the Top Five Greatest WCW Matches of the 1990s…can you feel the excitement building?
Match #5 – Chris Benoit vs. Kevin Sullivan – GAB ’96 (6/16/96 – Falls Count Anywhere Match)
In one of those things that generally only happen in wrestling, Kevin Sullivan decided to get witty and book himself into a feud with the super-hot Chris Benoit in order to elevate himself, and decided to give them a side-issue: Benoit was to be having an affair with his wife, Nancy. Meanwhile, in real life, Benoit was having an affair with his wife, Nancy. The tension and intensity was so thick that you could it with the proverbial knife, and no matter what Sullivan’s own selfish motivations may have been, the result was one of the greatest matches I have ever personally witnessed, a brawl so incredible that many of the spots became clichй in the world of sports entertainment due to endless repetition, never quite matching the shock of seeing them the first time (Ladies room, anyone?). From my review:
“The Horsemen were seemingly falling apart at this point, with Sullivan trying to recruit Arn Anderson for the Dungeon, and Pillman departing for the WWF. So Benoit took over for Pillman against Sullivan. We go fighting into the crowd right away, and fight up the stands. Boy, do you get the idea that these guys don’t like each other? Sullivan drags Benoit up the stairs and they fight into the men’s room. He slams a stall door in Benoit’s face as Tony and Dusty nearly have a coronary. Vicious shots with the door. Dusty is truly in his glory here. Tony: “HEAD FIRST TO THE COMMODE!” Benoit comes back and slams Sullivan into the doors as Dusty reels off his famous catchphrase: “There’s a lady! There’s a lady in the men’s bathroom!” Sullivan dumps a bag of toilet paper on Benoit and then a garbage can gets involved. They fight back to the stairs, and Tony notes that if someone falls, they fall bigtime. As if on cue, Benoit takes a shot to the head and then gets tossed down the stairs. Sullivan kicks him square in the nuts for good measure, then crotches him on the railing. Benoit returns the favor. He retrieves a table from below the ring after a couple of tries, and sets it up in the corner. Sullivan misses a charge to the corner and hits it…and it doesn’t break. Wow, high quality. Benoit puts it on the top rope, but gets backdropped onto it. They fight to the top, and Benoit gets a superplex, for the pin. HUGE pop for that. Benoit slaps Sullivan around, and Arn Anderson runs out to make the save…then turns on Sullivan! Horsemen beatdown ensues and the roof nearly blows off the place. 10 points for effort, plus several million for originality. *****”
Truly one of those matches where words don’t do it the proper justice. Do yourself a favor and see it and appreciate the genius of Benoit that much more.
Match #4 – Ric Flair/Barry Windham/Sid Vicious/Larry Zbyszko vs. Sting/Brian Pillman/The Steiners – Wrestlewar ’91 (2/24/91- Wargames)
Sid Vicious can thank the other guys involved here for providing him with the only ***** match he will ever be in for the rest of his career. Having lain dormant for a year, Dusty Rhodes’ Wargames gimmick was resurrected with a vengeance for a blowoff to the Four Horsemen v. Sting feud that had been running for years. My own personal favorite gimmick match for many years, it generally guaranteed unmitigated brutality and blood and a good time for all, until Hulk Hogan ruined it for good. This match is notable for another reason, as Sid Vicious powerbombs Brian Pillman in a botched spot that nearly killed him 6 years before his eventual death. It’s generally considered a miracle that Pillman was up and about as soon as he was. Sid was thankfully gone to the WWF by the time Pillman returned. From my review:
“Larry is replacing Arn Anderson, who was injured shortly before this. Pillman and Windham start out. Pillman has got a big-ass shoulder tapejob. Windham goes for the Wargames bladejob record by gushing two minutes into the first period. Steve Austin would shatter the record the year after by tapping an artery about 30 seconds in. The cage is so short that Pillman can barely stand on the top rope, something which would come into play later in the match. Pillman is absolutely beating the living hell out of Windham for 5 minutes straight here. Kudos to Windham for selling like a champ. Flair is next in (I think the coin toss is rigged) and Pillman gets the beats put on him. Flair offers a groin thrust to Sting. The Horsemen are just tossing Pillman around the ring at will. Sting makes the save and goes bananas on Flair to a mega-pop. Flair pairs off with Sting and they do their usual match. Larry Z is in next and Sting takes him out with ease. Flair cheats and the Horsemen pound on Sting for a bit and then take care of Pillman. Rick Steiner cleans house for the faces to another hot reaction. Flair joins the bleeding pool. The Horsemen are mercilessly hammering Pillman’s shoulder. Sting bleeds. Sid Vicious just pounds the hell out of everything that moves when he gets in. Flair gets rubbed into the cage about 5 times. Rick keeps getting rammed to the cage but no-sells every time. There’s big red blotch all over the cage from Flair’s head. Big Poppa Pump is last in for the faces. Sid Vicious calls a spot with Rick Steiner while on camera. Vicious rams Pillman into the turnbuckle shoulder-first a few times and then rips off the tape. The faces all get figure-fours on the Horsemen in a very a cool moment. The faces continue the assualt on everyone but Sid Vicious, who won’t go down. Vicious takes out Sting and the Steiners, leaving Pillman to take on the Horsemen. Then Sid takes over on Pillman. In the ugliest moment in Wargames history, Sid powerbombs Pillman, hitting his head on the top of the cage and nearly breaking his neck legit, and then he picks up the half-dead Pillman and does it again. Pillman is temporarily paralyzed and El Gigante improvises by running in from the dressing room and throwing in the towel. The crowd is in shock at the sudden ending. Still, an easy ***** match.”
God bless the Wargames, Dusty Rhodes’ one truly great contribution to the sport.
Speaking of horrific brawls…
Match #3 – Nasty Boys vs. Cactus Jack/Kevin Sullivan – Slamboree ’94 (5/23/94 – Tag Titles, Falls Count Anywhere match)
While most consider this match and the Spring Stampede one to be interchangable, I love this one that much more thanks to the storyline and the booking. I still love to watch it and listen to Tony’s shocked reactions to this day, and watch the bloodthirsty Philly crowd FINALLY get their money’s worth from a WCW show. From my (abbreviated) review:
“It’s pointless to try to run down the match, because of the sheer chaos involved. Chairs, tables, fire extinguishers, garbage cans, a hockey stick, a camera from ringside, you name it, it was used here. Just utter, unmitigated brutality and hatred for ten minutes. Glorious, and never quite matched by any of these types of garbage matches in WCW since. Maxx Payne settles his score by giving Jerry Sags the coolest guitar shot you’ll ever see, and Dave Sullivan breaks a crutch on Knobs for good measure. Cactus and Sullivan winning the titles was almost incidental to everything else going on, which was a lot. Great booking, great match, the only complaint I have is Dave Schultz’s fast three-count, but he’s a hockey player, so counting that high is a challenge, no? I have since hated almost every other chaotic ECW brawl since, but this one still stands out in mind and is still enjoyable to watch today. One of the few times the Nasty Boys didn’t suck, which is worth ***** by itself. The match gets ****3/4 for the action, and the remaining 1/4* for the booking, for a total of *****”
Apologies for the lame play-by-play, but that was the first Retro Rant ever and I was still honing the style. Trust me, if you like ECW, this match is well worth your time.
Match #2 – Rey Misterio Jr. vs. Eddy Guerrero – Havoc ’97 (10/26/97 – Cruiserweight Title)
In a miracle of biblical proportions, the human spot machine that is Rey Mysterio Jr and Eddy Guerrero managed to overcome WCW booking insanity, ennui from the higher-ups, and a general snotty attitude on the part of management to forge one of the greatest matches ever and redeem the undercard of a show that had the audicity to promote Roddy Piper in a cage match 10 years after his first retirement as the main event. No one even expected anything coming into this match, and boy were we all surprised… From my review…
“Rey has his “SLAM EVIL!” alternate costume tonight. Big heel heat for Eddy here. Good fast sequence to start, with Rey mistiming a highspot and Eddy covering by bumping him onto the floor. Eddy springboards in and hits some stiff shots. Rey with a dropkick and Eddy blocks a handspring with a backdrop suplex and a jackhammerish move for two. Tilt-a-whirl gets two. Eddy goes for an abdominal stretch and turns it into a nasty pumphandle backbreaker. Ee-yow! It gets two. Eddy applies a knucklelock and gets a few twos. Rey fights up and goes into a springboard DDT. Dropkick sends Eddy to the floor, but Eddy thinks ahead of him and dodges the highspot. Brawling on the floor. Back in and Eddy rips at the mask while in a rear chinlock. Gory Special is reversed into an armdrag, so Eddy dropkicks him in the face and into another submission move. Flying elbow gets two. Rey is in the Tree of Woe, and Eddy gleefully charges, but misses and crotches himself. Rey hits a plancha as Eddy bails. Back in, and Rey snaps off a rana for two. Headscissors puts Eddy on the floor again, and Rey follows with a somersault plancha. Back in, and Rey hits a corkscrew moonsault for two. Moonsault #2 hits the knees and Eddy nearly KILLS him with a powerbomb. He misses a blind charge and Rey comes back with the rana, but gets caught with a backbreaker. Blown spot, but I can forgive it. Frog splash misses, and they head to the top and fight over a superplex. Eddy maneuvers into Splash Mountain, but Rey reverses to the rana for the pin at 13:49 for the title. Whew. ***** I still liked Hell in a Cell better for emotional impact and heat, but this was the better pure match.”
Of course, WCW f----- it up and never mentioned the match again on any telecast, but for 14 minutes they had their brush with greatness.
And now, the match I consider to be the best WCW has ever done, and one of the greatest ever…
Match #1 – Sting/Nikita Koloff/Dustin Rhodes/Ricky Steamboat/Barry Windham vs. Arn Anderson/Bobby Eaton/Steve Austin/Larry Zbyszko/Rick Rude – Wrestlewar ’92 (5/17/92 – Wargames)
Purists may object to a gimmick match topping the list, and to them I say kiss my ass. As the final blowoff to the Dangerous Alliance storyline and pure, unmitigated hatred and violence, this match has no equal and marks both the apex and finale of the Wargames as an automatic ****+ match. The blood flows like wine, and this is generally the best match ever for everyone involved. The booking is perfect, the work untouchable, and the ending amazingly original, as the ring itself is cannibalized for the finish. From the review:
“Steve Austin and Barry Windham start out. Windham had just won the TV title from Steve Austin so there was an issue here. Thunderous “Paul E Sucks” chants at various points. Cute spot as Austin grabs the roof and swings at Windham, but he moves and simply allows Austin to fall on his face. Austin does the honors first after having his face rubbed in the mesh. Windham’s taped fist is covered in Austin’s blood. Aaah, it’s like coming home after the past few years of crappy Wargames. Heels win the coin toss, duh. Rude is in and works Windham like a motherfucker while Austin sits in the corner and bleeds. Windham facefirst to the cage and you can guess the result. You know, the Wargames may have been the only good idea Dusty Rhodes ever had. Steamboat is in to even it up. DDTs for everyone and the crowd pops like mad. Austin is a bloody mess. Windham is valiently trying to catch up. I love this match. Anderson evens it up for the DA. DDT for Windham, spinebuster for Steamboat. Double crab by AA and Rude on Steamboat. More chaos and then Dustin in for the faces, and he destroys Anderson. Rhodes atomic drops Austin and rams his head on the roof in the process. Windham wedges AA’s head between the rings and pistons him. Wild. Rude and Steamboat are fighting nonstop on their own. Zbyszko in and Rhodes wipes him out right off the bat. Madusa on the roof and she slips the cell phone into the ring, but Sting chases her down. Anderson brutalizes some people with it. Dustin hits a gusher of his own. Sting in next for the faces and he goes after Anderson. He presses Rude into the cage multiple times. Arn to the cage and he’s busted open. Bobby Eaton is last man in for the Alliance. Dustin is pumping blood like an oil well. Rude loosens the top rope for some reason. Nikita Koloff is the last man for the faces and he and Sting quickly settle their past issues by beating the hell out of Rude and Anderson, then share a hug. Sting with the Stinger splash and Scorpion on AA, but Bobby breaks it up. The top rope finally falls off and Eaton uses the metal fork that connects it to the post as a weapon. Zbyszko takes a swing with the metal rod, but Sting ducks and Eaton gets nailed in the shoulder, and Sting applies an armbar for the submission. GREAT F------ MATCH!!! ***** Final bleeder count: Austin, Anderson, Rhodes, Windham. The DA bitches out Larry for the gaff.”
Given a desert island stay and a VCR to survive with, I could quite happily watch this match (and indeed the entire show) on a constant loop and find new things to love about it every time. The entry of Bill Watts into WCW sent everyone involved spinning off into totally different directions afterwards, but for fools like I, this match marked the greatest that wrestling could possibly be given the right buildup and payoff. And that, I think, is truly the mark of the #1 match of the decade.
Honorable mention should probably go out to several Sting-Vader matches, plus the Rude-Steamboat Iron Man match from Beach Blast that I just couldn’t work into my list of favorites without uprooting something I liked more.
I would heartily recommend any of the matches on this list without the slightest reserveration. If I feel plucky enough in the next few days, I’ll do a similar list of WWF matches of the 90s for fun, although that poll was already finished a while ago.
Voting on the DVDVR Top WCW Matches poll will continue until January 8, at which point the winners will be announced there. Remember, copying Dean’s ballot breaks so many rules it’s not even funny, so don’t even think of doing it. Thanks to Phil Rippa, Phil Schneider, and the rest of the Playaz for continuing to do this stuff and for continuing to provide me with material to steal, and Happy New Year to y’all. Maybe in 10 years we’ll do it again if WCW is around and has actually produced any ****+ matches in that time.