In 1992, Cowboy Bill Watts was brought in to run WCW with high expectations. Unfortunately, his antagonistic personality alienated his workers and his supervisors, plus his being out of touch with the then-current wrestling product kept fans away. Watts' superiors had enough when negotiations between Watts and "Nature Boy" Ric Flair were not going well. Ever since Flair's departure a year and a half earlier, WCW fans chanted Flair's name at every show and the higher-ups at WCW wanted him back badly. Watts was demoted to the booking team, taking away his power regarding contracts and operations. Watts found this unacceptable and resigned.
Everyone was expecting Tony Schiavone to be promoted but instead WCW officials went with third-string announcer Eric Bischoff. Eric Bischoff's route into wrestling came about as he was working in the sales and marketing field at the American Wrestling Association's home base of Minnesota. Bischoff helped design a game and worked out a deal to advertise the game on the AWA's ESPN network show in exchange for a percentage of the profits. This led to Bischoff doing odd jobs backstage for the AWA until he was made an announcer and later a booker during the AWA's final days. After the AWA folded, he applied with the WWF for a job but was turned down. Eric then got a job with WCW after a tryout alongside former AWA coworker Diamond Dallas Page went well. Eric was put in charge of television operations with Bill Shaw as his supervisor.
The booking committee swelled to over a dozen members, with Bischoff joined by Greg Gagne, Bill Dundee, Jim Ross, Mike Graham, Larry Zbyszko, Jim Barnett, Keith Mitchell, Michael Hayes, Sharon Sidello (head of the PPV division), with slots left open for the returning Ric Flair and Sid Vicious, to be led by Ole Anderson and Dusty Rhodes. Amazingly, Ole and Dusty were put in charge despite the millions of dollars they each lost during their tenures of running WCW. However, due to his close ties to Watts and Bischoff's dislike of him, Jim Ross was phased out of WCW programming and he left to join the WWF.
With Watts gone, Flair was signed but not allowed to wrestle until June because of a no-compete clause in his WWF contract. Sid Vicious couldn't wrestle until May for the same reason. Vicious was signed for reportedly $450,000 a year, as Vader was given a new contract for reportedly the same amount. Watts' departure also kept the injured Rick Rude with the company as he had the US title in his possession - reportedly Rude was about to leave with the title because Watts wouldn't pay him during the injury, but Shaw got Rude the money he was promised. Johnny B. Badd (Marc Mero) was signed to a new contract and the "British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith was brought in for a lot of money despite only headlining one event during his entire WWF career (the previous year's Summerslam against Bret Hart in England).
Watts actually left the company in decent shape as he had hired some new wrestlers such as Chris Benoit, Robby V (now Rob Van Dam), Maxx Payne, along with the returning wrestlers such as Flair and Vicious. But despite all the new faces, something special was happening in the tag team ranks and WCW didn't even realize what they had.
Towards the end of Watts' reign, WCW was looking for something to do with Stunning Steve Austin, who had been floundering since the breakup of the Dangerous Alliance. WCW had Barry Windham teaming with Steve Austin and Brian Pillman on various occasions. Eventually, the WCW brasss decided they wanted Windham as a solo act. Despite Austin's reluctance, he was put together with Flyin' Brian Pillman as the Hollywood Blondes. Since Bischoff and the new booking team had lots of things on their mind, they pretty much left the Blondes alone and they quickly established themselves as WCW's top team. It wouldn't have been hard as WCW tag team ranks were mostly very young (Marcus Alexander Bagwell and Too Cold Scorpio or Tex Slashinger and Shanghai Pierce) or two single wrestlers put together in a makeshift team (Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas). The Hollywood Blondes had ability and charisma and some people were already calling them the "tag team of the 90's". The battles between the Blondes and Steamboat / Douglas were getting credit as the best match on many of the house shows.
As the company reorganized, SuperBrawl III took place on Feb. 23rd. Too Cold Scorpio defeated Chris Benoit, Davey Boy Smith beat Bill Irwin, and Cactus Jack pinned Paul Orndorff in a falls-count-anywhere match. The Rock and Roll Express got a DQ victory over the Heavenly Bodies (Tom Pritchard and Stan Lane) in a battle for the Smokey Mountain Tag Team Titles. Eric Watts and Marcus Alexander Bagwell lost to the Hollywood Blondes. Dustin Rhodes retained his newly won US Title over Maxx Payne and Barry Windham took the NWA title from the Great Muta. In the "White Castle of Fear" match (which ended up being nothing more than a strap match), Vader defeated Sting.
Since Flair could not wrestle because of his WWF contract, WCW gave Flair an interview show, like the old "Piper's Pit" segment in the WWF. "A Flair for the Gold" became a Saturday Night mainstay as Flair would interview wrestlers from a set done up as a plush apartment, complete with a French maid. This segment would become a key to getting an angle for Flair's return to the ring when his WWF contract expired.
One of WCW's best angles of the early nineties happened on Saturday Night in April but, unfortunately, the follow-up soon became an embarrassment. In an attempt to turn the new babyface, Cactus Jack, more sympathetic, WCW created an injury angle for him. Cactus Jack had a brutal match (so brutal that the match had to be heavily edited to be allowed on the air) with the world champ, Vader, that he managed to win with by a count-out. The next week they ran the rematch where Vader powerbombed Cactus on the concrete floor. (Part of the build up of Vader's heel status was the legitimate injury to a rookie who was temporarily paralyzed after a Vader powerbomb in the ring.) The show ended with wrestlers coming out as Cactus was loaded into an ambulance and taken away. Both announcers, Tony Schiavone and Jesse "The Body" Ventura, left the desk to help get Cactus into the ambulance. Ventura even got into the ambulance and went to the hospital with Cactus. The angle was great but things went started going wrong immediately after. WCW had just started using writers for the first time and it was decided to run skits which would be known as the "Lost In Cleveland" segments. For some reason, instead of running interviews of Jack from the hospital or from home where he could emphasize what kind of danger he went through and that his career could be over, WCW decided to make them comedy skits where Jack had amnesia. A reporter went to the hospital to find Cactus was gone and a couple of mental patients sent her to Cleveland in search of him. In Cleveland, Jack was leading a bunch of homeless people and thought he was a sailor. (I wish I was kidding, but I'm not.) After several of them ran, WCW, mercifully, pulled the plug on them.
On May 23rd, WCW saluted those wrestlers who came before with their Slamboree pay per view. Many legendary wrestlers of the past made an appearance and some even wrestled. WCW honored Eddie Graham, Verne Gagne, Lou Thesz, and Mr. Wrestling II as they were inducted into the new WCW Hall of Fame. In Legends matches, Dick Murdoch, the Magnificent Don Muraco, and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka's match against Wahoo McDaniel, Blackjack Mulligan, and Jim Brunzell was thrown out. Thunderbolt Patterson and Brad Armstrong (subbing for his father) defeated Ivan Koloff and Baron Von Raschke. Dory Funk Jr. (seconded by Gene Kiniski) battled Nick Bockwinkel (seconded by Verne Gagne) to a draw.
Slamboree was supposed to be the reunion of a legendary WCW heel faction as the Four Horsemen were going to reunite on a Flair for the Gold. However, WCW could not come to terms with Tully Blanchard and the fans were disappointed by the replacement. They chose Paul Roma, best known previously for his stint in the WWF jobber tag team, The Young Stallions. The fans were not happy and the problems continued when the scheduled opponent for Sting, Scott Norton, also had to be substituted due to a dispute about money. The Prisoner (formerly known as Nailz in the WWF) came out to the jeers of the fans for a terrible match, won by Sting.
However, another substitution worked out much better. One of the matches proposed was a rematch between the tag team champions, The Hollywood Blondes (Flyin' Brian Pillman and Stunning Steve Austin), against the former champs, Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas in a cage. However, Douglas' contract was about to run out and they wanted to re-sign him for less money. Douglas was claiming an injury as well (WCW higher-ups thought it was a pre-PPV renegotiating ploy), so the bookers really had no idea if he would be there. They worked around that by having the Blondes refuse to wrestle the former champs again but losing a non-title bout to the masked "Dos Hombres". "Dos Hombres" were wearing full tights so the only thing you could see was their hands. One was clearly Steamboat as he did the interviews but the other in the pre-PPV appearances was Brad Armstrong, though he was identified as Douglas by the announcers. Since Brad wrestled earlier on Slamboree, they put Tom Zenk in the match instead. The four men wrestled a hot match which included a great nearfall after Steamboat cross body blocked both Blondes from the top of the cage. The Blondes finally won and Zenk did such a good job that nobody realized a switch was made.
In other action from Slamboree, Too Cold Scorpio and Marcus Alexander Bagwell defeated Bobby Eaton and Chris Benoit. The returning Sid Vicious squashed Van Hammer (Hammer was injured during the match and this was his last appearance in WCW for several years). Rick Rude and Paul Orndorff defeated Dustin Rhodes and Kensuke Sasaki. Barry Windham retained the NWA World Title over Arn Anderson. Davey Boy Smith lost to Vader by disqualification, Vader injured his ribs during the match and had to take it easy for a few weeks.
In May also came the infamous Orlando TV tapings. In early 1991, WCW was criticized for having the Freebirds lose the tag team title at a TV taping before winning them on a pay per view. The Orlando TV tapings totally blew the '91 title switch out of the water. To save money, WCW set up a TV taping at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida instead of booking arenas like usual. They tried to weed out the actual wrestling fans and handed out signs and shirts to the audience. WCW sent down a large portion of their roster and proceeded to tape several months worth of shows in a marathon session. These tapings proceeded to reveal most of the promotion's plans for the rest of the year. The Hollywood Blondes were the tag team champions but Paul Roma and Arn Anderson were announced as the champions, so were the Nasty Boys. Barry Windham was the NWA champion but it was revealed that Flair would win the title pretty soon and lose it to Rick Rude a few months later. Sid Vicious was shown with the WCW World Title. The only title that escaped the tapings was the US Title as every other title was exposed. Despite their efforts, some wrestling fans managed to get into the tapings and posted the results on Internet newsgroups. These tapings would become a major headache later in the year for WCW.
On June 16th came Ric Flair's long awaited return to WCW's rings at the Clash of the Champions. It was set up by a segment of "A Flair for the Gold" as the guests were the world tag team champions, the Hollywood Blondes. The Blondes acted like jerks to the Nature Boy and the next week they came out to insult the Horsemen even more. Pillman came out as Flair and announced Austin as his guest for "A Flair for the Old". They even had a cardboard cutout of Arn Anderson. This set up the main event for the Clash, Arn and Ric against the Blondes in a two-out-of-three-falls match for the titles. The show was somewhat decent as it featured Ron Simmons over Dick Slater, Lord Steven Regal defeating Marcus Alexander Bagwell, and Barry Windham retaining the NWA Title over 2 Cold Scorpio. It also had Johnny B. Badd forfeiting to Maxx Payne when Payne fired one of Johnny's "Badd Blasters" (a gun that shot confetti into the air) into Johnny's face. Vader, Vicious, and Rude defeated Dustin, Sting, and Davey Boy Smith in a six man tag match. In the main event, Flair came out to a huge ovation and the fans booed when Arn started the match. The fans chanted "We want Flair" every time Arn was in and erupted when Arn tagged out. The Horsemen won the match in two straight falls but did not get the title because Barry Windham attacked Flair for a disqualification. (To set up this feud, Flair had offered Windham a spot in the Horsemen earlier but Windham was jealous of the attention Flair received upon his return.) Sadly, the return of Ric Flair did not do well in the ratings as this was the lowest rated Clash show to this point in time. The Blondes ended up with most of the blame as management was already annoyed that they had gotten over with very little help or direction from the bookers.
After the "Lost In Cleveland" skits, you would have thought WCW would be wary of running more taped mini-movies. They should have been, because that would have spared the fans from the Beach Blast promo videos. It starts with Sid Vicious and Vader announcing at a press conference that they have joined forces as the "Masters of the Powerbomb". Not too bad yet until we get to their opponents. Sting and Davey Boy Smith are playing volleyball on a beach with a bunch of orphans. Vader and Sid show up to confront the heroes (everyone is in casual wear, except Vader is wearing his mask to make sure everyone recognizes him, I guess.) As they are jawing, the evil midget, Cheetum, swam up to Sting and Smith's boat (wearing a huge shark fin on his back so he wouldn't attract attention) and planted a bomb inside of it. To make sure the viewers realized it was a bomb, the bomb was the old round style with a fuse, like the one Adam West couldn't get rid of in the Batman movie from thirty years previously. Fortunately, the orphans warned our heroes about the bomb so they escaped the bomb blast. However, the blast did destroy Sting and Davey's boat so they were stranded and couldn't make it to Beach Blast. Just kidding. Apparently the camera crew took pity on our stranded heroes and brought them back so they could make the pay per view.
Video aside, the Beach Blast show took place on July 18th and had some very good action. Paul Orndorff retained the TV Title over Ron Simmons. Scorpio and Bagwell defeated Slashinger and Pierce (these two went on to become the Godwins and Southern Justice in the WWF as well as Slashinger becoming Mideon later on) and Steven Regal (now William Regal in the WWF) gaining a victory over Eric Watts. Johnny B. Badd got some revenge in a victory over Maxx Payne. Dustin Rhodes and Rick Rude battled to a draw in a very good Iron Man challenge match for the US Title. Davey Boy Smith pinned Vader to continue their feud in the tag match between Vader and Sid Vicious against Smith and Sting. The Orlando television tapings came into play for the remaining two matches. Ric Flair defeated Barry Windham for the NWA Title, as revealed in May. However, the syndicated shows that had Arn and Paul Roma as the new tag team champions were coming up within the next month and most people were expecting a title change at this show. WCW swerved everyone by leaving the titles on the Blondes but ended up paying for it soon after.
The Orlando tapings caused major problems soon after as the owners of the NWA caught wind of Rude holding the NWA Title at the tapings. The NWA was not happy with WCW using their title however they felt like it. Plus the NWA Title was supposed to represent the entire NWA and they wanted the champion to go to all the NWA-affiliated promotions and wrestle. The NWA informed WCW that they were not allowing the title change to Rick Rude. WCW decided they were not going to let their wrestlers work elsewhere and that no one was going to order them around and withdrew from the NWA. (WCW officially resigned at the NWA convention in September.) WCW also kept the NWA World Title since they considered it as an asset they bought from Crockett. The NWA was angry but they really had no recourse as they didn't have the money to fight Turner. So now WCW had a belt without an official title. You think the best course of action would be to either drop the title or immediately have a match to unify it with the WCW Title. But what do you do with the taped footage of Rude with the former NWA Title?
To continue the Orlando taping woes, WCW decided to swerve the fans and keep the titles on the Hollywood Blondes at Beach Blast. The Orlando footage of Arn Anderson and Paul Roma as the tag team champions was coming up in the syndicated show but they had a Clash of the Champions coming up before the shows would air. No problem . . . until Brian Pillman was injured before the Clash and could not wrestle.
So, at the Clash on August 18th, the Horsemen team won the tag team titles from Austin and, substituting for the injured Pillman, Steven Regal. The Blondes were broken up before Pillman could return to the ring. Austin was put with buffoonish manager Colonel Robert Parker and Pillman was made face when he returned. The tag team of the nineties didn't even last a year.
Also at the Clash, Ricky Steamboat took the Television Title from Paul Orndorff. Too Cold Scorpio beat Bobby Eaton and Johnny B. Badd pinned Maxx Payne in a Johnny mask (which he had been wearing since having the Badd Blaster to the face) vs. Maxx's guitar to wrap up their feud. Sting and Ric Flair teamed to defeat the duo of Awesome and King Kong. Road Warrior Hawk and Dustin Rhodes beat the Equalizer and Rick Rude. Vader pinned Davey Boy Smith in the main event, with Cactus Jack returning to attack Vader after the match without explanation of the previous skits about him having amnesia. However, this Clash is probably most remembered because of the Flair for the Gold segment that appeared on this show. Why? Because of the debut of a new wrestler in WCW that became yet another black eye on the promotion this year.
The segment was to set up next month's War Games match at Fall Brawl. A confrontation between the two teams happened on the set of a Flair for the Gold. On one side, Sid Vicious, Vader, and newcomers to the promotion, the members of Harlem Heat, Kane and Kole (later Stevie Ray and Kole). The other side had Sting, Davey Boy and Dustin Rhodes and the big announcement of their partner - the Shockmaster. The idea was a big dramatic entrance for the mysterious Shockmaster as he would burst through the wall and threaten the heels. It didn't work out that way. Pyro was set up to make a hole for the Shockmaster's entrance but it didn't make the hole large enough. As he tried to come through the hole, he tripped and fell down to the stage. The hat to hide his identity (which looked like tinfoil glued to a Stormtrooper's helmet) falls off to reveal Fred Ottman, last seen as Typhoon in the WWF. (Ottman was also the brother-in-law of booker Dusty Rhodes.) As the prone Shockmaster crawls to retrieve his helmet, Ole Anderson is backstage for the voice over and he can't see what just happened. So Ole starts doing the threat as Ottman's on his knees and you can hear the wrestlers laughing off camera. Soon the announcers are laughing as well as Ottman gets back into position to finish the segment. After the debut, the Shockmaster gimmick was destroyed and they tried to make something out of it by turning the Shockmaster into the lovable klutz, Uncle Fred, but eventually Ottman faded out of the picture.
Speaking of Harlem Heat, that was the second choice for their name. The original idea for the tag team's gimmick was that they were convicts on work release and would be led to the ring in manacles by Col. Robert Parker called the Posse. The idea almost made it to a TV taping before someone realized that it was probably a bad idea to have chained black men led to the ring by a man dressed as a plantation owner. The idea was quickly dropped.
Despite the troubles with the tag team titles and the Shockmaster's debut, the Clash did a respectable 3.8 in the ratings. A few days later after the Clash, Flair and Sting had a forty minute match on the Saturday Show which drew a 3.4 rating. The ratings between the Clash and Saturday Night gets Bischoff a promotion. Reports go out that Terry Funk has been invited to join the booking team but he declines. Also WCW considers adding a fourth member to the Horsemen since Ole isn't appearing with them anymore. Terry Taylor is considered as well as rehiring former Midnight Express member, Stan Lane. Neither one joins. However, announcer "Mean" Gene Okerlund jumps from the WWF to WCW, he will not be allowed to debut until November, though.
The booking team continues to set up the Fall Brawl pay per view by having Rick Rude attack Flair on a Flair for the Gold, after Flair's maid turned Rude down for a date. They decide to use the footage of Rude holding the NWA title, even though it wasn't the NWA title anymore. So WCW promoted that Rude and Flair would be battling at Fall Brawl for "The Big Gold Belt", about the worst sounding thing they could have called it. Fall Brawl would also be the return of Cactus Jack after his terrible injury. WCW came up with some lame explanation that the "Lost In Cleveland" skits were some sort of mind game that Jack was doing to Race and Vader. But instead of having the return match between Cactus and Vader, they had Race give a bag that Jack carried with him to his new charge, Yoshi Kwan (he wrestled in the NWA days as Chris Champion, one half of the New Breed tag team). When the match was made, Yoshi was undefeated - which was one of the selling points of the match. For some reason, Yoshi lost a televised match just before Fall Brawl occurred, which hurt the promotion of the match.
Fall Brawl finally took place on September 19th. Charlie Norris defeated Big Sky (who went on to later fame as Tyler Mane, Sabertooth in the X-men movie a few years ago). Steve Regal beat Ricky Steamboat for the TV Title. Scorpio and Bagwell beat the Equalizer and Paul Orndorff. Ice Train pinned Shanghai Pierce and Cactus Jack defeated Yoshi Kwan. And just like the May tapings foretold, the Nasty Boys won the tag titles from Anderson and Roma with Rude winning "The Big Gold Belt" from Flair. Sting's team won the War Games match.
Eventually, WCW "fixed" the problem with Rude's belt by announcing that the WCW "International Board of Directors" were backing the title as the "WCW International World Title". You probably have already guessed that "International Board of Directors" was a complete fabrication, haven't you?
The next month, the annual Halloween Havok event took place on Oct. 24th. This show only had one complication from the TV tapings, as the bookers decided to have a tag team title switch in between episodes of the syndicated shows to create some interest in the match. Too Cold Scorpio and Marcus Alexander Bagwell won the titles at a Saturday Night taping three weeks earlier, which was taped closer to the air date than the syndicated shows. The title switch was shown the day before Fall Brawl and changed back the next day on the PPV to the Nasty Boys so it wouldn't effect the syndicated continuity. In other action, Ice Train, Charlie Norris, and the Shockmaster defeated Harlem Heat and the Equalizer. Ricky Steamboat was counted out in his match against Paul Orndorff. Regal and Davey Boy battled to a draw for the TV Title. Dustin retained the US Title over Austin. Sting pinned Sid Vicious. Flair was disqualified in his match against Rude for the International title. And the blow off to the Vader and Cactus Jack feud resulted in Vader winning after Race used a taser on Jack, a very unsatisfactory conclusion. WCW announced that due to the brutality, there would not be a rematch between Jack and Vader.
I mentioned that Sid Vicious was shown as the WCW World Champion at the tapings earlier in the year. The plan was to break up the "Masters of the Powerbomb" team and have Sid and Vader main event Starrcade with Sid winning the World Title. They had two months to set it up and both a Clash show and the BattleBowl occurring during that time. But not much was going well for WCW this year and this plan was no exception.
Soon after Halloween Havok, WCW had some shows over in England. An argument between Arn Anderson and Sid Vicious took place in the hotel bar, which was quickly broken up. Arn went up to his room and later Sid went up to Arn's room, reportedly armed with a chair. When Arn opened his door, a brawl took place and Arn's grooming scissors ended up being used as a weapon. When it was finally broken up by other wrestlers and officials, both had several stab wounds with Arn getting the worst of it - nearly losing an eye and almost having his kidney punctured. Somehow they managed to get both men out of the country without charges being filed. But that meant that less than two months away from Starrcade, one of the competitors in the main event might not be able to appear because of his injuries from the fight. They tried to wait to see if Sid would recover in time for the show but yet another complication arose. The locker room revolted and demanded that Sid be fired, as they saw him as the instigator since he went to Arn's room. Many of the wrestlers were going to no-show the upcoming BattleBowl pay per view so WCW finally fired Sid. Now WCW was in major trouble.
WCW didn't have many options for challengers to Vader at Starrcade. Vader had already gone through Cactus Jack, Davey Boy Smith, and Sting in the last few months. Ricky Steamboat had been wrestling in the mid-card for most of the year and there wasn't time to elevate him or US Champion, Dustin Rhodes. It would have been tough to convincingly turn a heel, such as Rick Rude, to face Vader since there wasn't a previous connection between them. Only one man was over enough with the fans and seen as having a legitimate threat to the title, Nature Boy Ric Flair.
Before Sid was fired, WCW had the Clash of the Champions on November the 10th to set up the back-up plan in case Sid wasn't ready to go. Flair defeated Vader by disqualification as Vader destroyed the Nature Boy in the main event. Other matches included Rick Rude and Hawk being counted out in their match for the WCW International World Title, the match wasn't very good because Hawk was working despite a knee injury. The Shockmaster beat the Equalizer in an awful match (if you don't know who he is, the Equalizer would become Dave / Evad Sullivan later on). Regal retained the TV Title over Johnny B. Badd as Dustin Rhodes held onto the US Title in his match with "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff. The battle of the Blondes took place with Stunning Steve Austin defeating Flyin' Brian Pillman, with help from Colonel Parker. Sid was referred to during this match because they were hoping he would recover by Starrcade. Sting and Davey Boy Smith's days as a tag team ended with a loss to the Nasty Boys.
Ten days later, BattleBowl took place with the Lethal Lottery. Eight tag team matches took place with "random" tag team partners. Vader and Cactus Jack defeated Kane of Harlem Heat and Charlie Norris. Badd and Brian Knobbs ended Eric Watts and Paul Roma's night. For some reason, the Shockmaster and Paul Orndorff advanced past Steven Regal and Ricky Steamboat. King Kong and Dustin got past Awesome Kong and the Equalizer. Sting and Jerry Saggs moved on over Ron Simmons and Keith Cole. Ric Flair and Steve Austin beat Maxx Payne and Two Cold Scorpio. Rick Rude and Shanghai Pierce moved on after beating Bagwell and Tex Slashinger. Hawk and "Hustler" Rip Rogers beat Davey Boy Smith and Harlem Heat's Kole. All the winners of the tag team matches went on to the final battle royal which was won by Vader, with him beating up Flair again.
It came down to Starrcade, Vader against Flair in a Title vs. Ric's Career Match. Many of the matches had to be changed for one reason or another. Paul Orndorff and Paul Roma, known as Pretty Wonderful, were teamed in a victory over Bagwell and Scorpio as Roma's original opponent for the show was the still recovering Arn Anderson. Rick Rude pinned recent arrival "The Boss" (The Big Bossman from the WWF) to retain the International Title after Rude's initial opponent, Davey Boy Smith, was released after his involvement in a bar room brawl. Steamboat and Flair were supposed to wrestle as a tag team but Ricky wrestled Steven Regal to a fifteen minute draw for the TV Title instead. Steamboat and Flair's opponent were going to be the Nasty Boys. The Nasties ended up wrestling Sting and Hawk for the World Tag Titles.
As a side note, it was this match that led to Missy Hyatt's departure and lawsuit against WCW. Saggs got injured during the match so he couldn't break up the pinfall for the scheduled disqualification ending. Missy runs in to cause the DQ but she wasn't dressed appropriately as it wasn't planned for her to be involved. She falls out of her top on live PPV and Missy found a picture of her exposure pinned to a bulletin board at the CNN Center the next month. When her complaints to Eric Bischoff go unanswered, she goes over his head and talks to his boss. Bischoff fires her the next day, prompting the lawsuit. It was settled in December 1996, nearly three years after the incident took place.
Getting back to Starrcade, Terry Taylor beat the Equalizer in a dark match. In a "what were they thinking for the biggest show of the year" match, the Shockmaster beat King Kong. Cactus Jack and the newly turned face Maxx Payne beat Slashinger and Pierce. Stunning Steve Austin won the US Title from Dustin Rhodes in two straight falls as Steve was promised a big push after the Blondes breakup. And in one of the most emotional matches of the year, Ric Flair pinned Vader to win the WCW World Title. Flair saved WCW yet again.
But while Flair could salvage Starrcade, it was too late for the year. After all the bad angles, low PPV buy rates, and other mishaps, WCW reportedly lost around 23 million dollars in 1993. Before everything was calculated, Ric Flair was made one of the top bookers as a thank you for Starrcade and the results of a meeting between the wrestlers and Ted Turner. (Ric Flair was the only wrestler that Turner was familiar with and kept asking his opinion.) Also, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan was signed to join the announcing team as he had just parted ways with the WWF.
The first show of the new year was the Clash of the Champions on January 27th, 1994. Bagwell and Scorpio defeated Pretty Wonderful when Marcus pinned Paul Roma. Ron Simmons was turned heel as he beat his former protégé Ice Train. Brian Pillman and Colonel Parker battled in a "loser wears a chicken suit", Parker ended up having to wear the suit. The Nasty Boys were put into a feud with Maxx Payne and Cactus Jack as Jack and Maxx won a non-title match. Lord Steven Regal and Dustin Rhodes' TV Title match went to a time limit draw. (Back then, TV Title matches were usually fifteen minutes in length.) The main event was an elimination tag match between Sting and Flair against Vader and Rick Rude. Flair and Vader were counted out as Sting went over Rude to start a feud between them.
At this point, Turner executives had gotten the final totals for 1993 and were not happy with the amount of money lost by WCW. Strong consideration was being given to closing the promotion down. Eric Bischoff proposed that part of the problem was that WCW didn't have any credibility with casual fans or media (the credibility factor was true, but WCW's problems ran deeper than that). Bischoff convinced Turner executives to open up the purse strings in order to hire talent that was better known to the casual fans. Bischoff had his eyes set on one man in particular and began negotiating with him.
As Bischoff set his acquisition plans in motion, SuperBrawl occurred on Feb. 20th. Harlem Heat defeated the team of Thunder and Lightning (Lightning went on to greater fame as the impostor Sting in the nWo). Jungle Jim Steele beat the Equalizer. Terry Taylor beat Diamond Dallas Page. Johnny B. Badd went over Jimmy Garvin while Regal retain the TV Title over the returning Arn Anderson. Cactus Jack and Maxx Payne got a DQ victory over the Nasty Boys while Pillman pinned Austin in the Thundercage tag match between Sting, Pillman, and Dustin against Austin, Rude, and Orndorff. The main event was the rematch between Flair and Vader inside of the Thundercage. The Boss was the special referee as Flair couldn't decide to give the title back to Vader or not. Ultimately, Flair chose to keep the title on himself to build to a Flair vs. Steamboat match at the next PPV.
The next month, WCW sent many of their stars over for another tour overseas. Just like the tour back in October, an incident occurred that became part of wrestling folklore. It happened in Munich, Germany on March 17th, 1994. In a match between Cactus Jack and Vader (yeah, I know WCW said there would never be a rematch after Halloween Havok but it isn't the first or last time a wrestling promotion has lied), Cactus was caught in the ropes in the "Hangman" spot. The Hangman spot is where the wrestler goes over the top rope but catches his head between the second and third rope to be hanging by his neck. Unfortunately, after a wrestler complained about the ropes being too loose during an earlier match, the cables were tightened and Jack could not get out. Vader didn't notice that Cactus was in trouble and with his air running out, Jack made a desperate lunge to successfully free himself. His right ear was torn and fell off a few minutes later during the match. The ear was so badly damaged that it couldn't be reattached. And just like Brian Pillman's injury in WarGames a few years earlier, WCW does nothing with a possible money making angle that fell into their laps.
Despite the injury from a month earlier, Cactus Jack makes the April 17th PPV, Spring Stampede. Jack and Maxx Payne went against the Nasty Boys in a wild "Chicago Street Fight". The Nasties ended up winning the match. Also in dark matches, Danny Bonaduce beat Christopher Knight (yeah, it was the Brady Bunch vs. The Partridge Family - Bonaduce was a disc jockey in Chicago and it got the show more publicity) and Pat Tanaka and Haito beat Kevin Sullivan and the former Equalizer, Dave or Evad Sullivan, his brother in the story lines. Johnny B. Badd defeated Page while Pillman and Regal went to a time limit draw for the TV Title. Austin beat Muta by DQ in their US Title match and Bunkhouse Buck pinned Dustin Rhodes in a bunkhouse match. Vader pinned the Boss to continue their feud which started at SuperBrawl. After the match, the Boss attacked Vader with his nightstick which caused Commissioner Nick Bockwinkel to take away the nightstick and the name of the Boss. (In actually, the WWF sent a cease and desist to WCW as the Boss gimmick was exactly the same as the Big Bossman. He was changed to the Guardian Angel.) Flair and Steamboat's World Title Match went to a no contest as both men had their shoulders to the mat. Sting also defeated Rude for the International title.
Soon after, Sting and Rude had a rematch over in Japan. Rude won the title back but suffered a career ending back injury during the match. A lawsuit was filed by Rude over the injury but it wasn't settled for several years.
Rumors were going around that Bischoff was trying to hire the biggest star in wrestling for WCW, Hulk Hogan. Actually, it had been rumored ever since Hogan left the WWF the previous year but WCW didn't have the money to afford him. (In 1993, Hogan, Brutus Beefcake, and the Ultimate Warrior were all rumored to be nearly signed to WCW but none of them panned out. A lot of people were skeptical that this would turn out any different.)
Slamboree rolled around on May 22nd. Once again, legends of the past were honored as "The Assassin" Jody Hamilton, Ole Anderson, Harley Race, Ernie Ladd, The Crusher, and Dick the Bruiser were all entered into the Hall of Fame. This year only saw one legends match as Terry Funk and Tully Blanchard battled to a double disqualification. A future WWF star saw action at Slamboree, though it was in a dark match. Pretty Wonderful beat Brad and Brian Armstrong - you might know Brian as The Roaddog Jesse James. Austin pinned Badd to hold on to the US Title. Announcer Larry Zbysko was having problems with Lord Steven Regal on WCW Saturday Night so he came out of retirement to pin Regal at this show. (Larry actually ended up winning the TV Title on the Saturday Show, which was actually taped before this show but not aired until after.) Dustin Rhodes beat Buckhouse Buck in a bullrope match but was attacked after the match by Terry Funk. Flair retained the World Title over Barry Windham while Cactus Jack was involved in yet another wild brawl of a match. This time he was teamed with Kevin Sullivan against the Nasty Boys in what was called "A Broadstreet Bully" match. Special referee for the match was noted NHL "bully" Dave Shultz and Jack and Kevin were the tag champs after the dust had settled. Due to Rude's injury, WCW came up with a scenario to keep the International title in story lines. It was announced that Rude was DQed in the match over in Japan and the title was being returned to Sting. Sting refused to get it that way and proposed the title was vacant, pending his match with Vader that evening. Sting won the match and was declared the new International Champion.
It seemed that things were more focused this year. Flair was still a huge babyface and the current World Champ. Steve Austin was the US Champion and Flair was getting him ready for a World Title run. Sting was still popular as the International title holder and the fans were really into the wild matches between the Nasty Boys and Cactus Jack / Kevin Sullivan group. The program between Zbysko and Regal was getting the most heat Regal had ever gotten before (and more surprising, Zbysko getting cheered for the first time in fifteen years). Little did they realize what was coming.
It began with a message scrolling across the bottom of the screen on WCW Saturday Night. "Hulk Hogan signs with WCW."
Next: "Whatcha gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild on you?"
To Be Continued . . .