Six of the Best – WCW Spring Stampede

Well here we are firmly in the middle of the month of April. Seems like only yesterday I was putting the list together for Starrcade, and yet here we are with what ended up being WCW’s traditional April event (Although it took a hiatus during 1995 and 1996 for some reason)

Whereas Uncensored had a bit of a rep for usually being a bad show, most of the Spring Stampede events were generally at least inoffensive at worst and pretty darn good at best. Both the 1994 and 1999 iterations of the shows are generally fantastic, with 1997 and 1998 being solid if unspectacular. The only real stinker of the bunch is 2000, and that at least can hold your attention due to all the insanity and crash TV booking taking place on it.

Deciding on a top six proved kind of tricky for this one thanks to 1994 and 1999 being such blow away shows, and there were quite a few good matches left on the cutting room floor when all was said and done as a result of that. I’m generally happy with the list overall though

As always, these are just my own personal picks. This isn’t supposed to be some sort of objective list or anything. If I leave out a match that you think warrants inclusion, then please feel free to put it down in the comments section below. As with previous lists, I’ll be listing the matches in chronological order.

So without further to do, let’s take a look at Six of the Best for WCW Spring Stampede!

Spring Stampede 1994
Big Van Vader Vs The Boss

Leon White and Ray Traylor just had that special sort of chemistry together where they could have truly great fights. Because that’s what their matches were. People weren’t tuning in to watch Vader and Big Bubba Rogers trade hammerlocks and arm wringers, they wanted to see them throw bombs at each other, and invariably that was usually what they got.

What always helped these matches was that Vader and Boss were both deceptively light on their feet whilst also being as strong as ox’s, so neither had any bother bumping around for the other or lifting their opponent up to put them where they wanted. What that meant was matches between the two would be wild slug fests combined with impressive power moves, all whilst being fought at a frantic pace.

Whereas Vader would spend most of his matches dominating opponents like Sting or Ric Flair, against Boss he was usually on the back foot most of the time, which was something that was incredibly uncommon during this era that always gave these battles a special feel. You knew that when Boss got in there with him that Vader wasn’t going to have it all his own way like he did with everyone else, which made the matches all the more intriguing and exciting.

Vader ends up getting cut up hard way here, possibly from an errant Boss potato or from getting quite literally flung into the front row by his merciless opponent. Boss even manages to both slam and back suplex Vader, something that had been reserved almost exclusively for Sting up to that point because no one else had the sheer strength to believably do it without it being obvious that Vader was assisting them. Vader even busts out the moonsault as well, just to really up the ante.

The only downside of the match is that it gets a bit sloppy in places, possibly down to Boss getting a bit overexcited, although that does kind of add to mad house vibe that the match has. This is still a fantastic fight though, and definitely worth a watch if you want to see a match where Vader predominantly gets battered and flung around by another wrestler. It’s messy and it’s unpolished, but gosh darn is it fun to watch!

Spring Stampede 1994
Ric Flair Vs Ricky Steamboat

It’s Ric Flair Vs Ricky Steamboat, is it even possible for these two to have a bad match together? I’m sure it’s happened, but even then a “bad” match between these two would still be better than most other wrestlers’ best efforts. Though not as good as the matches in their 1989 series, this match still maintains a lot of the trademarks you’d expect from a good Flair/Steamboat battle, with excellent chain wrestling, stiff chops and tremendous selling combined with the exceptional stamina that both men always seemed to have, along with a penchant for telling a great story.

Though both wrestlers were ostensibly babyfaces coming into this match, there’s plenty of needle between the two as the bout progresses, as both men are still the ultra-competitive super athletes that they’ve always been. The way Flair and Steamboat were always able to combine superbly executed and aesthetically pleasing wrestling, whilst still making their matches feel like a genuine athletic competition was always to their credit. Everything they did looked pretty and graceful, but it also looked like they were truly fighting one another to win a match.

This contest is full of ebbs and flows, as neither man truly commits to being the heel in the match, whilst neither is a pure babyface either. Steamboat has plenty of edge to what he does and is hardly playing it nice, whilst Flair stooges and begs off like his old heel self, whilst also going out of his way to stop things like count outs so that he can beat Steamboat fair and square in the middle. Eventually though, enough of the old Flair starts to shine through, as the teases begin that he might once again be making the journey over to the darkside (Something which was eventually paid off when Hulk Hogan arrived in WCW later in the year)

There were times where I was watching this where I just laughed with joy at how good some of the wrestling and counters were. This match is just pure enjoyment for any technical wrestling enthusiast. This is two master craftsmen going out there and putting together something stupendous. The only downside is the lousy double pin finish following Steamboat’s double chicken wing hold. This does present a way for Flair to retain the title without making Steamboat look to weak, but I personally would have preferred a proper clean finish to close the bout out. Aside from that though, this match is fantastic stuff!

Spring Stampede 1997
No Disqualifications
Diamond Dallas Page w/ Kimberley Page Vs Randy Savage w/ Miss Elizabeth

This was a huge match for DDP, as it wasn’t just his first proper pay per view main event since his big face turn but it also was a huge step in him getting taken credibly as a top star in WCW. DDP often gets talked down when it comes to his impact during the Monday Night War, but he really was a very important cog in the WCW machine during their period of ratings dominance, as he was one of the few WCW guys who could actually compete with the New World Order when it came to being a cool rebellious character.

DDP’s everyman character meant that he could survive getting beaten down and left lying by the nWo because the whole point of his character was that he was fighting against the odds and fans were able to see themselves in his struggles, and thus got behind him in his quest to prove he belonged near the top of the card. The fact that Randy Savage was willing to sell for DDP and make him look good played an essential part in DDP finally getting over as a genuine star after years of toil and gimmick tweaks.

This match is a great intense brawl, with Savage playing the psychotic heel to a tee, whilst DDP is excellent as the gutsy babyface, fired up to avenge the besmirching of his wife at the previous pay per view event. Elizabeth actually does a darn good job as a smirking heel bitch as well, which you never would have guessed after seeing her babyface act from the WWF. Savage even goes after Michael Buffer at one point, and Buffer seems to legit not know what to do about it.

The crowd are with DDP throughout the bout, as he spends most of it on the defensive and making sporadic comebacks when opportunities present themselves. A shout out must go to the commentary team of Tony Schiavone, Dusty Rhodes and Bobby Heenan for getting the story of the match over and really selling it big when DDP is eventually able to squeak out a win. This result essentially made DDP in one night, as well as giving WCW a big win in a pay per view main event after three months of getting their arses kicked.

If you ever wanted a good example of why DDP was a genuine star during this era, then this match would be a great place to start.

Spring Stampede 1998
Bill Goldberg Vs Perry Saturn

This is your prototypical hot opener, as new sensation Goldberg ploughs through almost all of Raven’s Flock to score a big win and heat him up for his first ever title match for the United States Championship the following night on Nitro. However, this isn’t just a Goldberg showcase, as Saturn becomes one of the first guys to genuinely hold his own with “Da Man” in a reasonably long match. This was an important match in Goldberg’s evolution, as it showed that he could work an enjoyable match that was longer than 2-3 minutes, and also that he could actually sell on occasion when the need called for it.

This also was a big feather in the cap for Saturn, as he showed his worth as a solid player in the mid card who could be relied upon to get in there with the hot new thing and enhance his act, whilst still looking good in his own right. The match isn’t perfect of course, but that was almost part of the charm with Goldberg in his early days. He was a whirling dervish of a professional wrestler, who demolished everything in his path with reckless abandon. If that meant things occasionally got a bit messy, then so be it. Goldberg wasn’t there to do arm drags in the match after intermission, he was there to tear people apart, and he gets to do it here in abundance.

This is almost certainly one of the better matches from Goldberg’s first year in the business, and a lot of credit for that must go Saturn’s way, as he really rises to the occasion here and helps lead Goldberg through the mat based sections, before taking his lumps big style when the time calls for it at the end. If you’ve never seen this one then give it a go. It’s not a technical classic, but it is a lot of fun and a great example of why Goldberg got so over during this initial run.

Spring Stampede 1999
Juventud Guerrera Vs Blitzkrieg

Blitzkrieg came out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly, mostly owing to the man behind the mask (Jay Ross) deciding to step away from the business, despite being voted rookie of the year for 1999. This often gets mentioned in the pantheon of great opening matches, and for good reason as it’s an incredible display of high flying from both men. Juvy could be a tad sloppy now and then, but he’s on point here for this one, which is really important considering all the big dives and counters required to pull this one off.

The match is a straight up spot fest, but it’s an enthralling and exciting one that gets the crowd good and jazzed for the show and thus fulfils its responsibilities as an opener perfectly. The biggest compliment I can give it is that it still feels contemporary even today. You could put this match on something like an NXT show next week and the crowd would still go nuts for it, because it’s so exhilarating to watch. Spring Stampede 1999 is probably one of WCW’s best ever events and a big reason for that is that it has such a hot opening.

Spring Stampede 1999
Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko Vs Perry Saturn and Raven

WCW never really got much out of the Benoit and Malenko tag team, as they only had four matches together on pay per view as a team before getting essentially split up when they joined The Revolution with Saturn and Shane Douglas. In fact, Benoit almost tagged as much with Saturn on pay per view as he did with Malenko, even holding the tag belts briefly with the baldy tattooed freak. This bout, along with the three way match the following month with Kidman and Rey Mysterio Jr, was probably one of the best tag team contests to be held in North America in 1999.

Saturn and Raven are great as a babyface team fighting from underneath, whilst Benoit and Malenko are excellent as aggressive heels, with Mike Tenay on commentary even mentioning that they feel like an old school Horsemen unit, which is probably one of the first times you could really say that was the case with this particular incarnation of the group. Arn Anderson fulfils the heel manager role excellently as well, taking bumps when required and making pained facial expressions whenever his team are in trouble.

Everyone just turns up ready to play here, with even Raven being motivated (Which wasn’t always guaranteed in 1999, due to the second half of the 90’s essentially being one long bender for Mr. Levy). Tony Schiavone states during the match that “tag team wrestling is back” and it would have been if they had actually kept these teams together and built the division around them, rather than splitting all of them up and sticking the belts on The Jersey Triad. The finish of Benoit head butting a chair and busting himself open has taken on somewhat more sinister connotations on future viewings owing to how things turned out for him though. Outside of that, this match still holds up and is an excellent display of tag team wrestling.

Honourable Mentions

The Nasty Boys Vs Cactus Jack and Maxx Payne (Spring Stampede 1994), Bunkhouse Buck Vs Dustin Rhodes (Spring Stampede 1994), Rey Mysterio Jr Vs Ultimo Dragon (Spring Stampede 1997), Ultimo Dragon Vs Chavo Guerrero (Spring Stampede 1998), Booker T Vs Chris Benoit (Spring Stampede 1998), Raven Vs Diamond Dallas Page (Spring Stampede 1998), Bam Bam Bigelow Vs Hardcore Hak (Spring Stampede 1999), Goldberg Vs Kevin Nash (Spring Stampede 1999), Sting Vs Booker T (Spring Stampede 2000)