I decided that, seeing as I’ve got a Stinker Review looming on the 30th of January, I’d review two shows I actually like this week and next week just to redress the balance in the universe. Thus this week I’m doing this show and next week I’ll be doing WWF Royal Rumble 2002, so look out for that one next Saturday!
This was a show from the tail end of WCW’s Era of dominance in the western wrestling market, as we were less than a month removed from Hollywood Hogan making poor Sting look like an absolute chump in the Main Event of the biggest show the company would ever present.
That show had ended with Sting “winning” the WCW Title, but a good old fashioned Dusty Finish™ saw the belt held up, with that situation supposedly meant to be settled on this show. Ah yes, I’m sure we can all rely on WCW to deliver on a promise can’t we?
Souled Out had originally been designed as an nWo event, where the WCW guys would show up and get battered. However, that show had been a disaster, so this year it’s just a regularly co-branded pay per view event.
The big draw for the show was the first big pay per view bout between Bret Hart and Ric Flair. The two had of course met for the WWF Title numerous times during Flair’s brief WWF stint, but those had mostly been on non-televised events and they’d never met in a pay per view setting. There was also a match scheduled between Randy Savage and Lex Luger, but COME ON, everyone was here for Hart Vs Flair, with Kevin Nash and Giant having the most hyped match on the under card.
The event is emanating from Trotwood, Ohio on the 24th of January 1998
Calling the action are Tony Schiavone, Bobby Heenan and Dusty Rhodes
The intro for the pay per view actually focuses on Kevin Nash, Eric Bischoff and Giant, which seems strange to me when that was a mid-card feud coming in.
Lucha Libre Rules
Rudos – La Parka, Silver King, Psicosis and El Dandy
Tecnicos – Juventud Guerrera, Super Calo, Lizmark Jr and Chavo Guerrero Jr
La Parka is crazy over with the crowd here, as Mike Tenay joins the desk for some commentary. Lucha rules basically means that you don’t need to make tags, with one guy being able to come in when another leaves the ring. Doing detailed play by play for this one is just going to leave you with a wall of text due to how much great action is going on, as this style of match allows guys to fluidly come in and out of the ring in order to deliver the next planned spot. I’ve never been a proper fan of pure Lucha, but I dig the more Americanised style we used to get in WCW, so this is my jam.
Lizmark Jr has a rep for being rubbish, and I can kind of see that watching this, as his timing is notably not as good as everyone else. Chavo was never really a Lucha guy and mostly worked in America and Japan, but he holds his own just fine. La Parka and Juvy Juice are the stars for their respective teams, with Parka stooging around for the Tecnicos and showing buckets of charisma whenever he’s in. Dandy is always a guy that my Lucha loving friends have been high on, and I can get why as he’s the definition of a “good hand”, which his selling, bumping and execution all being sublime.
There is the odd occasion where something doesn’t go quite as smoothly as they’d like, with a Juvy rana attempt on Silver King going awry at one stage, but they power through it and keep going, with the slew of hot moves that follow helping wash the memory away. Some of the dives are sensational, with Silver King taking a flat front bump onto the mats outside the ring at one stage when Super Calo dodges his attempt. The crowd loves all the dives, and they smartly build with each one being more and more impressive. Eventually Chavo and Psi are left in the ring and a Tornado DDT gives Chavo the three.
La Parka destroys everyone with his chair post-match, including his own team, and then poses to cheers from the crowd. Add Parka to the list of many guys who WCW could have done more with but didn’t. I do wonder what WWE would do with a guy like that today actually, as he didn’t have the best physique but he was also reasonably tall and that gimmick is marketable as heck.
Mean Gene plugs his hotline.
Raven w/ Lodi, Sick Boy, Kidman and Hammer Vs Chris Benoit
David Penzer announces that The Flock is banned from ringside for this one, which is to pay off a couple of months of Raven constantly dodging Benoit and using The Flock as his personal putty patrol. This match was supposed to happen at Starrcade originally, but I think Raven’s gout flared up (Maybe he ate too many Cockatrices over the holiday period?) and thus Benoit had to work Saturn instead.
This one is a brawl right from the off, with Raven’s gimmick at the time being that he’d only wrestle in No DQ matches. WCW were okay with sanctioning this for some reason, but it led to some fun matches, so I won’t get too caught up on it. The fans are into both Benoit as a face and hate Raven as a heel, meaning the match has some decent heat and the action is good due to Benoit being an elite level worker and Raven being an excellent storyteller and bumper.
Raven had injured Scotty Riggs’ eye by giving him a drop-toe-hold onto a chair in late 97, and he tries to do the same to Benoit by bulldogging him on one, but Benoit’s eye remains intact and he gives Raven a taste of his own medicine with a drop-toe-hold of his own to pop the crowd. Raven is fantastic when on the defensive, selling Benoit’s snug offence spectacularly and taking the big bumps a heel should take when it’s finally time for the babyface to give him his just desserts.
Benoit even rips off Raven’s shirt so that his chops will hurt more, and then flings Raven outside for a TOPE SUICIDA. We head over to the ramp, where Raven’s penance tour continues when he takes a snap suplex. Back inside Benoit does something that was almost certainly a mistake in the long run by putting a chair over Raven’s face and then coming off the top rope with a swan dive head butt, which is a spot that doesn’t even make that much sense in kayfabe, let alone real life, but it pops the crowd and gives him a two count at least.
Benoit sells just as much as Raven following that (At least I hope it’s just selling) but Raven counters a Northern Lights Suplex into a DDT for a double down. The crowd is really into Benoit now and chants for him, which leads to Benoit actually pinning Raven off the double down even though it was him who took the DDT. Raven tries another DDT, but Benoit goes to the cross face and Raven passes out, doing a super creepy facial expression to get across the idea he enjoyed it.
WINNER: CHRIS BENOIT
This was a perfect pay off to all of Raven’s shenanigans, as he was forced to take Benoit on in a fair fight and ended up getting shellacked as a result. The fact he seemingly enjoyed getting beat at the end almost protected him in a weird way too, kind of like when the Joker takes some kind of perverse entertainment from being foiled by Batman
The Flock try and attack Benoit following that, but Dean Malenko runs down to make the save, which didn’t really go anywhere at the time but would eventually lead to them becoming Horsemen by the end of the year.
WCW Cruiserweight Title
Champ: Rey Mysterio Jr Vs Chris Jericho
Jericho had started a heel turn as 98 had rolled around, throwing fits when he lost and then “apologising” in an insincere manner. Rey’s left knee is heavily braced here, which was a legitimate injury I think, and he’d only recently won the belt, as WCW had gone a bit nuts with Title changes in this division. There had to have been something like 3 Title changes since Starrcade, with it going from Eddie to Dragon to Juvy to Rey, with the belt desperately needing someone to have more of a concrete reign for a bit to help its prestige.
Jericho is a good stooging heel and a great base for all of Rey’s hot moves, so the opening section is good fun, and Jericho does a good job as an odious heel when Rey’s injury slows him down and allows for the cut off. Rey sells his knee really well, with it actually effecting his performance and making him slower to the draw, possibly because it was actually hurting. He still manages a flip dive to the floor at one stage, but comes up limping. West Coast Hop looks to end things back inside, but Jericho jams the ropes and Rey collapses down to the mat. Rey tries to reply with a rana off the top, but Jericho counters to the Lion Tamer in a cool spot and that’s enough for the tap out.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: CHRIS JERICHO
Good match, although they would go on to have better together in WWE
Jericho gives an arrogant victory speech and then stomps away at Rey’s knee when the crowd boo’s him for it. He takes Rey’s knee brace with him, which began a story of him collecting trophies from his defeated opponents. Jericho would have a near four month run with the belt and an excellent feud with Dean Malenko along the way, which helped raise the profile of the Cruiserweight Title in the process.
Mean Gene Okerlund is in the ring with James J Dillon, who has the World Title belt with him. Acting authority figure Roddy Piper joins them to say they’re going to sort out the Title situation. Sting, Scott Hall, Eric Bischoff and Hollywood Hogan come down as well, as Sting and Hogan were in the disputed match at Starrcade whilst Hall is supposed to be getting a Title shot at SuperBrawl on account of winning the World War III battle royal back in November. Piper says that Hall has earned his Title shot, so he will be getting it as soon as we actually have a Champion. Piper teases that he’s going to award the belt to Hogan, but then says that Sting and Hogan will fight for the vacant belt at SuperBrawl, thus wussing out on the promise of sorting out the Champion on this particular show. It looks like we’re going to get a brawl, but Hall walks away in disgust on having his Title shot delayed, which leads to Hogan and Bischoff bailing instead because they are cowardly heels. That segment dragged a little bit, but Piper, Sting, Hogan and Hall are played out their roles well.
WCW Television Title
Champ: Booker T Vs Rick Martel
This was a career renaissance for Martel, as he returned to the mainstream after being off TV for a few years following the mid-90’s, with his work stepping up a notch as a result. I don’t know why, but when he was The Model in the WWF he was an absolute snore-machine, but during this WCW stint he had quite a few hot matches and looked great in the process. Both men also had a feud going on with Perry Saturn at the time also, and I’m pretty certain we’ll see him in some form before this one is settled.
Booker looks really sharp here, as he was still rather new to working as a single but was putting a lot of effort in and the crowds were noticing and responding in kind. Martel looks good too, and they work an interesting match with Martel doing the speed-technician approach whilst Booker is focusing more on working as striker-technician, which means the match is technically sound and tells an interesting story of the two differing ring styles colliding.
Martel fits comfortably into a subtle heel role, even though he was ostensibly a face at this time, and the crowd isn’t going nuts for it but is also paying attention and appreciates the effort from both men. Martel plays possum at one stage before snapping on Booker with some punches and kicks to show that he has a mean streak, and that essentially leads into the heat segment. Booker sells well during that and Martel does really good facial expressions to show that he’s ticked off at how much of a fight Booker has given him but he’s still yet to fully embrace the dark side.
The match does have a couple too many rest spots perhaps, but Martel keeps them to camel clutches and abdominal stretches, which works with the story they are telling of Martel working over Booker’s back so as to soften him up for his Quebec Crab finishing hold. Tony and Bobby do an especially good job of getting the story and struggle over too, which didn’t always happen due to their squabbling and constant plugging of matches later in the card.
Booker makes the comeback and heads up with The Harlem Hangover, and that’s the finish, without them really bothering with a finishing stretch of near falls. I kind of like that actually, as you don’t always need five minutes of false finishes in a match like this. They wrestled in the early stages and both held their own, Martel got annoyed and started working some heat and then Booker managed to survive the onslaught and put Martel away after a flurry. You get a clean finish but Martel looked like a deserving challenger and you can always come back to it if you want.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: BOOKER T
Another good match in a series of them tonight, with them working well together and giving us a satisfying clean finish whilst also leaving the door open for more matches down the line
Martel is annoyed following that, but hands Booker the belt and shakes his hand. He would eventually go full heel and beat Booker for the belt on TV in the weeks following this, but then he suffered a serious injury at SuperBrawl and that was pretty much it for this run, barring one last brief comeback attempt where he got injured again by Stevie Ray.
As promised, Perry Saturn does indeed show up and attacks Martel with a suplex, which set up a Booker/Martel match at SuperBrawl, with Saturn facing the winner right after.
Scott Hall w/ Louie Spicolli Vs Larry Zbyzko w/ Dusty Rhodes
This one came about because Larry kept talking trash about Hall on commentary, thus setting up a feud. This kind of smacks of a mid-card feud, which would be fine if they weren’t also supposedly pushing Hall as a guy who was supposed to be the #1 Contender for the World Title. That being said, if often felt like they booked by the seat of their pants with this stuff anyway, and it’s not like they’d ever actually pull the trigger on Scott Hall as Champ for a multitude of reasons, so it didn’t really matter in the long run.
Dusty is there to back Larry up in case Spicolli tries something. Larry gets treated like a big deal with pyro and whatnot and is announced as a former two time World Champion for good measure (We’ll ignore that the AWA was a DISTANT third when he finally won that Title). Larry shines on Hall to start with basic stuff, with Hall being happy to sell it all, and it mostly works from a crowd perspective too. It’s not especially exciting, but it’s a story that’s easy to follow and the work isn’t terrible or anything, so it does its job.
Spicolli helps Hall get the cut off with some cheap shots, but Dusty stalks him to put a stop to that. Larry sells the heat well and Hall is good as an unlikable heel who is trying to bully the older babyface. It’s just a bit boring though sadly, and there is a vocal section of the crowd who actually starts chanting that Larry sucks at one stage, which leads to other fans firing back that Hall sucks. It gives the match some atmosphere at least.
Larry back body drops out of an Outsider Edge and makes the comeback, showing some good fire, but the ref keeps getting involved and takes a silly bump from a wacky Larry spinning back kick. Larry plays possum and catches Hall in a guillotine choke, but this brings in Dusty and he wellies Spicolli with some elbows before shocking the crowd and going nWo to become Hall’s manager. Thus the match ends in a DQ and Larry actually gets to win.
WINNER BY DISQUALIFICATION: LARRY ZBYZKO
Match was a bit dull and had a rubbish ending, but mechanically it was fine and the heel turn at the end was pretty effective, even though Dusty really didn’t fit the New World Order image at the time. I get why they did it though, as giving Hall a former World Champ as his manager helped with giving him some prestige as a top singles guy
Tony and Bobby are gutted following that, with Tony barely being able to speak. His kids and Dusty’s kids play together for goodness sake! In fact, this turn supposedly left a young Cody so distraught that Dusty had to finally smarten him up to the wrestling business as a result. I really don’t get why wrestlers aren’t clear with their kids from the off that it’s a work to be honest, there’s no need to put them through the belief that their mum or dad is actually getting battered in a real fight.
Buff Bagwell, Konnan and Scott Norton w/ Vincent Vs Scott Steiner, Rick Steiner and Ray Traylor w/ Ted Dibiase
The story going into this one was that Rick and Scott were having problems due to Scott being a glory hog, which would eventually pay off with Scott going heel and becoming White Thunder. Mike Tenay comes down at the request of both Tony and Bobby because they are so shaken up by the heel turn. Bobby actually “breaks character” for a bit to put over how much Tony loved Dusty in a nice touch.
Bagwell and Norton were a pretty good team during this period, and in a modern WWE with three sets of tag belts they would have almost certainly won one or maybe all of them if they’d been active today. This was before Bagwell suffered his horrific neck injury and he was well on his way to being one of the top guys in the business due to his great look, athleticism and charisma. I think a good comparison today would be someone like Sammy Guevara in AEW (Although I think it’s fair to say that Sammy is a better worker than Buff ever was even when he was at his peak)
The WCW guys get a shine to start, with Buff getting clobbered by Rick in a funny segment, which leads to some heat on Traylor for a bit. Norton and Traylor mow each other down with a double clothesline and that leads to hot tag Rick, as neither him or Traylor are happy with Scott at the moment due to his refusal to be a team player. Scott is so angry about this that he yells at the ref, which allows the heels to cut off Rick for a second heat segment.
Hey, I like that, it plays into the story and keeps the tease of an eventual turn going. The good thing here as well is that they could have realistically gone either way with the story, with an eventual heel turn making sense but the door always staying open ajar for Scott to mend his ways and lead to The Steiner’s overcoming an obstacle to become an even better team. The heat for this one is kind of disappointing as I think the crowd is still in shock over the turn and this is also pretty late on in the card for what is essentially a thrown together six man match. The work is fine though.
I may be in the minority, but I really don’t mind Konnan that much. Yeah, he’s hardly a great wrestler, but he does good character work and he’s fine in the mid-card. Scott eventually comes in and suplexes the crap out of everyone, which leads to him getting a tag and then dropping Konnan with the Steiner Screwdriver for the clean win to finally wake the crowd up. Dibiase also gets to pop Vincent outside as a nice call back to their previous relationship, although with the heel/face alignment now reversed
WINNERS: THE STEINERS AND TRAYLOR
This was fine, but was sorely lacking in heat
Scott and Buff have a pose down following that, teasing their eventual alliance down the line. This was the sort of long-term storytelling that you get so rarely these days outside of AEW.
Kevin Nash w/ Hollywood Hogan and Eric Bischoff Vs The Giant
This was originally supposed to happen at Starrcade, but Nash had serious indigestion and thought he had a heart attack, thus the match got cancelled. You may laugh at that, but back when I was obese and hadn’t managed to get down to a health weight yet, I was having really bad acid reflux and I can totally buy why you might think it could be something worse. They ended up doing a storyline here where both WCW and the nWo would put some money up, with Nash having to pay up if he no showed and Giant having to pay up if he attacked Nash before the match happened.
This is actually quite a good match, with both men taking the sort of bumps you wouldn’t normally expect two such big men to take in the form of suplexes and slams. Nash even does a TOPE SUICIDA at one stage, but Giant catches him and then slams him into the ring post in an incredibly impressive spot for multiple reasons. That leads to a Hogan chair shot whilst Bischoff takes the ref though, and that leads to Nash working some heat after a count out tease.
In a nice touch on commentary, Bobby is now cracking jokes with the express point of trying to cheer Tony up a bit, which is a rare wholesome moment between them. Giant and Nash both go for a big boot at the same time and that leads to a double down, as this has actually been a fun real life Kaiju Battel. Giant makes the comeback, and the crowd is into the idea of him laying a whupping on Nash. The strap comes down and a body slam is followed by the call for the Choke Slam.
Hogan distracts the referee so Bischoff can interfere, but Giant choke slams him into the ring in a pretty darn impressive bump for Eric to take. However, whilst the referee is getting Bischoff’s limp body out of the ring, Nash hits Giant with a canister of hot coffee (I guess they’ll have to reclassify this whole event now someone has managed to mod that in) and then kicks him right in the Big Show’s to set up a Jack Knife Powerbomb attempt.
Nash had managed to do this successfully in the past, but he’d had some injuries since then and Giant had gotten bigger also, which leads to a horrific botch where Nash drops Giant on his neck, not unlike how Sid folded up Brian Pillman in that 1991 War Games match. Not surprisingly that is the finish of the match and thankfully Giant wasn’t seriously injured. But man, that looked horrendous and they’re lucky no one died in all honesty.
WINNER: KEVIN NASH
Terrifying finish aside, this was a surprisingly entertaining big man match, with both men working super hard and even Bischoff taking a monster bump in an effort to get it over
Doctor’s come out to check on Giant following that, which would lead to the Powerbomb as a move getting banned and becoming the impetus for Nash going babyface, as doing an illegal move got him over as a rebellious character, because it was 1998 and that sort of stuff was in.
Ric Flair Vs Bret Hart
The story here is that these two legends wanted to see which one was better, so they decided to have a match to settle the issue. This one is all about the slow build, as it starts out on the mat with Bret controlling things for the most part, working the match as the face, even though Flair wasn’t really a full on heel at this stage in his career. Bret even tries a Figure Four in the early going, but Flair is able to make it to the ropes to break the hold, only to get then suplexed back into the ring for two.
The work is really good here, with the execution being smooth and the timing being on point. Flair is so great at staying in a match whilst also getting dominated at the same time, and I struggle to think of guys who do it better to be honest. Flair can get his backside kicked for minutes on end, but you never think he’s getting squashed or out of contention, which you would if it was someone less talented getting shellacked like that. Flair does an awesome job selling more and more frustration at the fact he can’t take Bret on the mat, which leads to the match heating up gradually with both men’s tempers starting to shorten.
Flair eventually pokes Bret in the eyes and then starts throwing some chops and punches to officially concede the wrestling portion of the match. Flair gets the official cut off by telling the referee to check for time remaining, which allows him to mule kick Bret right in his Hart Foundation to take over in a fantastic bit of old school heel chicanery. That was absolutely fabulous dirty tactics from Flair there, just sublime.
Flair is so good as a heel here that he actually manages to get the crowd to cheer for Bret, which wasn’t guaranteed when you consider the reality that Flair was a WCW mainstay whilst Bret was a WWF guy who had just jumped over. It wouldn’t have shocked me at all if the fans had decided to cheer Flair over Bret, but he’s worked this match perfectly in order to get them to like Bret and feel comfortable to cheer for him over the WCW guy.
Bret makes sporadic comeback attempts during the heat, but Flair manages to cut him off each time and keep the pressure on, as the work remains excellent. Flair takes Bret to school in preparation for the Figure Four, with Bret selling that well and then getting an enziguri to put a stop to it momentarily. Flair keeps coming though and gets a chop block before locking the hold in. We get a great submission tease from that, as Bret sells the move big and then manages to turn it over to pop the crowd.
The timing and selling on that spot was great, with Bret really firing up and popping the crowd in the process at just the right moment. We head into the finishing stretch following that, with Bret no selling some chops and making a proper comeback with his usual Five Moves of DOOM™. They bust out the superplex at one stage, with it actually leading directly to the finish as Bret goes straight to The Sharpshooter afterwards and Flair uncle’s to give Bret the clean win.
WINNER: BRET HART
Great match there, as they built it expertly and both worked super hard to have a classic wrestling bout. Flair outshone Bret in some ways here, with his heel act being an absolute hoot, but Bret was a great babyface when he needed to show guts and fire. I loved the finish too, as they reached a point where a finish made sense and just did the finish without any silliness or faffing around. That’ll do me!
They really should have just ended the show after that to be honest, because there’s no way Savage and Luger are following it and we’re already at the 2 hour and 30 minute mark of the show as it is.
Randy Savage w/ Miss Elizabeth Vs Lex Luger
Savage bails right from the off and stalls for a while until Elizabeth distracts Luger so that he can cut him off right away. I’m thinking Elizabeth might have been late on her cue there as it seemed to take far longer than it should have done. Thus we don’t even get a babyface shine as they go straight into the heat, which is probably a good barometer that they won’t be going for very long here. I mean, Savage especially is working hard here, but come on, this is the sort of match you close out an episode of Thunder with, not a pay per view event.
Elizabeth keeps getting involved, which prevents Luger from making a comeback, and Savage actually drags Luger into the crowd for some brawling at one stage, because it was 1998 and this is a Main Event. Luger finally gets some traction back inside and makes a comeback before calling for The Human Torture Wrack, which leads to Scott Hall and Hollywood Hogan joining us. Hogan and Hall squabble with one another, as Hall wants to help Savage but Hogan was having issues with Savage at the time. This allows Luger to run Savage into Hall and then Wrack Savage for the reasonably clean win, which does pop the crowd at least.
WINNER: LEX LUGER
Certainly not Main Event calibre, but in vacuum it wasn’t terrible. According to Death of WCW, the reason they went with this on last was because Hogan didn’t want to do his run-in unless it was the Main Event match, hence they switched Bret and Flair into the semi-Main slot instead to appease him and get him to agree to do the angle
The nWo tries putting a whupping on Luger following that, but Sting runs down and makes the save to send them scattering. Nash gets Wracked and Sting puts Hogan in The Scorpion Deathlock, as for once they don’t end a pay per view with #LolNwoWins
One of the best pay per view events WCW ever held, with a staggering FIVE matches at ***+ by my watch and nothing bad, making it one of the easiest thumbs up I’ve ever given.
If you have the WWE Network then this one needs to be in your “Must Watch” pile!