365 Wrestling, Day 53: Booker T vs. Bret Hart (WCW, 2/22/99)

365 Wrestling, Day 53: Booker T vs. Bret Hart (WCW, 2/22/99)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

The Monday Night Wars represent my favorite time period in wrestling, and it’s entirely for sentimental reasons. It was the summer of 1996 and, in the WWF, Steve Austin dropped his Austin 3:16 line while, in WCW, Hulk Hogan dropped the yellow and red to join the New World Order. The two biggest wrestling companies in the U.S. were going through major changes at the same time, and it was exciting to see. Meanwhile, I was starting college.

My Monday night ritual became flipping back and forth between Raw and Nitro, usually on the phone with my dad. One would watch one show, one would watch the other, and we’d let the other person know if something happened that warranted changing the channel. This was some great, and expensive, father-son bonding. I’ve written before about my dad’s own wrestling fandom and how it helped guide and shape my own. We spent hours on the phone every Monday. Keep in mind, this was before cell phones became widespread. Long-distance calling was still a thing. After a month or two of phone bills, they purchased a special 800 number I could call for unlimited minutes, at any time. It got plenty of use on Mondays for the next few years.

By the time of this match selection, the worm had turned once and for all in the battle between the two promotions. We just didn’t know it yet. Nonetheless, this match choice — Bret Hart vs. Booker T from the February 22, 1999, episode of Nitro — illustrated many of the issues WCW was facing.

Let’s dig in, OK?

The Context

We got a look at the Hitman as a participant in the house-show Royal Rumble watched as part of the January docket, but this is his first singles match in the project. By now, it’s been well over a year since Bret Hart jumped from WWF to WCW. At the time it happened, it looked like a move that potentially could cripple the WWF; instead it inspired the Austin-McMahon feud that anchored the Attitude Era. Hart, meanwhile, made an unfathomable heel turn just a few months after his no-compete clause expired, and has spent most of the past several months in the mix for the U.S. Title, rather than the WCW World Title.

Booker, meanwhile, is an up-and-coming singles star. After five tag title reigns with his brother Stevie Ray in Harlem Heat, Booker broke out in 1998, winning and losing the TV Title five times in about eight months. He also challenged Bret for the U.S. Title at the 1998 Bash at the Beach, with Bret inflicting a kayfabe knee injury.

Hart and Booker are wrestling to be the top contender to the U.S. Title, currently held by Scott Hall, who won it just a night earlier at Superbrawl.

The Match

It’s fitting that Larry Zbysko is one of the commentators for this match, because Bret Hart takes a page out of Zbysko’s book in the structure of this match. He stalls. He jaws at fans and the referee. He bullies Booker, maintaining a methodical pace of punishment and pretty much dominates the offensive flow of the contest.

Meanwhile, even considering who is in this match, or that it pairs someone who is (or should be) a WCW headliner with a fan favorite on the rise, so much of the match feels like an afterthought due to all the shenanigans happening around it. You see, the night before, at Superbrawl, David Flair turned on his father, Ric Flair, and allied himself with Hogan and the nWo. And later on this episode of Nitro, Tony Schiavone is going to moderate a sitdown between father and son. If you didn’t know that, don’t worry, because the commentary team of Schiavone, Zbysko, and Mike Tenay talk about it constantly during the match, until Schiavone leaves to prepare for the sitdown.

If that’s not bad enough, there’s a cut away from the match entirely as it’s happening to see Disco Inferno bribing someone in the production truck to hijack the feed for the end of the show. If the people airing the match don’t care enough to show it or even talk about it while it’s happening, why should the viewer?

The match itself is a solid if unspectacular throwback anchored by Bret Hart’s constant presence in control as the deliberate heel. The finish is solid. Booker throws a spin kick, and Bret provides an original and believable sell of it. Booker goes up top, gets cut off, and Hart delivers on a great-looking top-rope superplex. After a second attempt for the Sharpshooter sees Booker immediately make the ropes, Bret goes for a sunset flip, but Booker sits down on his shoulders and grabs his legs, pinning the Hitman in a callback to the exact same finish Bret used to defeat Davey Boy Smith at Summerslam 1992 in London.

Oh, and that number one contendership that Booker wins? It goes absolutely nowhere. Hall vacates the title a few weeks later due to injury, and Booker never gets his title match.

Random Thoughts

–The crowd really wants to cheer Bret Hart here, it seems. He’s heeling it up in spite of them, but the reaction when he first goes for the Sharpshooter is one of the biggest of the match.

–This was the sixth and final singles match between these two, all in WCW, but the first and only time that Booker got the pin.

–With such a large and varied roster (and no pesky brand split), WCW had unique matches like this one all the time even though most of them got lost in the ether due to bad booking.

–Every time the Flair angle comes up on commentary, Zbysko keeps going on back to the same point parents can’t use corporal punishment on their children. It starts out as strange and then just becomes obnoxious.

Final Rating: 5.2

This one missed the mark for me. The crowd is large and loud throughout, but relying on Bret to methodically control the pace on Booker for the bulk of a match that goes nearly 20 minutes bell to bell makes things drag. It’s an important moment in the build of Booker as he scores a clean win, but with all the proven veterans on the WCW roster, the Hitman really feels like the last guy who should be putting over the rising talent.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Up Next

We go to Memphis for some tag team action.

Got something to say about this match, or the project, or anything wrestling-related? Reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 52: White Castle of Fear, Sting vs. Big Van Vader (WCW, 2/21/93)

365 Wrestling, Day 52: White Castle of Fear, Sting vs. Big Van Vader (WCW, 2/21/93)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

Certain combinations of wrestlers just bring out the best in one another. One of those magic pairings, in my opinion, is Sting and Vader.

In his book, Vader Time, Vader (whose real name was Leon White) had high praise for the Stinger, describing him as “one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.

“We never had a bad match, ever,” Vader added in the book. “He knew how to sell for me, he knew how to come back, and we got to know each other very well.”

Lasting for about a year, the feud between Sting and Vader is one of my personal favorites, even though it didn’t yield big box-office success for WCW. In today’s entry for 365 Wrestling, we take a look at a match I missed from their rivalry: the White Castle of Fear from Superbrawl III.

The Context

Sting and Vader first crossed paths in the spring of 1992, with Vader going after Sting’s WCW World Title. Vader won the title at the Great American Bash in 1992, then finally bested Vader at Starrcade that year in the King of Cable tournament. By early 1993, Vader had regained the title from the man who took it from him — Ron Simmons — and saw Sting as his greatest threat. And so the champion challenged Sting to an unsanctioned match at Superbrawl, looking to remove his greatest competition.

But not just any challenge. The video sums up things better than any words can …

The Match

Wrestling changes and evolves like any artistic medium and one of those changes has been the use, or absence, of blood. It’s been well more than a decade since WWE intentionally used blood in matches, although All Elite Wrestling definitely has shown no qualms about employing crimson as a storytelling device. In the case of this match, the use of blood as a storytelling device significantly elevates the entire tale being told.

After an early few minutes where Vader has the upper hand (a departure from the traditional wrestling match structure where the fan favorite controls the opening), Sting gains control and starts delivering some shots across the back with the leather strap. Vader rolls to the floor, where his manager Harley Race goes to check on Vader… and blades his back. The cut keeps bleeding for the remainder of the match, and serves as a fantastic early sign of the viciousness the strap can unleash.

Later, Sting is bloodied following a withering-looking array of strikes in the corner by Vader. “He’s bleeding!” Race crows from ringside, exhorting the champion. Given Vader’s reputation for being incredibly stiff in matches, it’s hard to say whether the punches are worked, legitimate, or whether Sting’s rubber-legged stagger is selling or genuine.

Sting’s comeback elicits the third and final use of blood in the match. I’ve always felt Sting was underrated as a wrestler, and his incredible, fiery comeback here serves as good evidence for my stance. He turns the tide with a rolling kick, followed by a German suplex, then unleashes a brutal series of punches battering Vader into the corner. To this point, Vader has been built as the massive, unstoppable force in WCW and Tony Schiavone on commentary responds with the appropriate amount of shock and awe. Vader blades again, this time on his left ear — the chief target of Sting’s punches. As it turns out, Vader cut too deep, actually severing an artery.

Sting meanwhile throws Vader up onto his shoulder and begins to circumnavigate the ring in an attempt to touch all four ringposts in succession and win the match. While en route to the fourth and final corner, he trips over referee Nick Patrick — bumped a few moments earlier and Vader comes crashing down on Sting.

There’s been a healthy debate through the years about the finish of the match; some feel it ruins the whole match. I actually liked it. After weathering pummeling and punishment from his massive opponent, Sting makes his last-ditch attempt to finish things with his Herculean lift-and-carry of the 450-pound Vader. When this falls short, Sting is drained and has nothing left. Vader drags Sting around the ring, touching three of the four corners, but Sting shows the requisite amount of fight to deny Vader the fourth corner. Ultimately, Sting’s desperation kicks knock Vader sprawling backwards into the corner, ending the match. Sting loses, but if perception is reality, it’s the champion who looks like the loser given his battered and bloody condition, especially considering this is Vader’s touted specialty match and he fails spectacularly in his attempt to eliminate Sting for good..

Random Thoughts

–This pay-per-view was historically significant for WCW as it marked the return of Ric Flair, who made an appearance just 11 days after leaving the WWF.

–Schiavone and Jesse Ventura are on the call for this show, and they show good chemistry and teamwork playing off of one another.

–One of my favorite pieces of “window dressing” in this match occurs early, when Sting is lashing Vader with the strap and the camera catches some grandmother in the crowd screaming “Hit him!” repeatedly. You won’t find that in the Thunderdome…

Final Rating: 8.2

I’ve seen this discussed as the best strap match ever and I have to agree with that. The video building up this match might be the height of early 1990s schlock, but Vader and Sting work some magic here. The level of violence here was unexpected, welcome, and, as mentioned, assisted by the use of blood as a storytelling device. This is a great match you should definitely watch if you’d missed it in the last 28 years, as I had.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

Up Next

We’re staying in WCW, (and breaking the “rules”) but jumping ahead six years for a battle between the Sharpshooter and the Spinarooni.

Got something to say about this match, or the project, or anything wrestling-related? Reach out on Twitter or fill out the contact form on the site.

365 Wrestling, Day 24: Eight Man Tag (WCW Souled Out, 1/24/98)

365 Wrestling, Day 24: Eight Man Tag (WCW Souled Out, 1/24/98)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

If you wanted to introduce wrestling to a friend of yours who hadn’t seen it, what would you show them? This is a question I’ve tossed about in my head for years, and one with endless potential answers depending on what you define as good wrestling. What about if you wanted to show someone a specific style of wrestling… lucha libre for example? I might suggest showing them this match that served as the opener of Souled Out 1998. Sit back and enjoy this eight-man tag (or, to use the parlance of lucha libre, atomicos) in all its splendor: Chavo Guerrero, Jr., Lizmark, Jr., Super Calo, and Juventud Guerrera facing La Parka. Psicosis (billed as Psychosis at this time by WCW), El Dandy, and Silver King.

You can watch this match on the WWE Network.

The Context

Eric Bischoff and his role in wrestling remains a pretty polarizing topic, but I always felt he deserved credit for making the cruiserweight division relevant during his time running WCW (which was the predecessor in many ways to Ring of Honor and the X-Division of TNA and the style that is now popular across a variety of promotions with TV exposure). Bischoff also brought in a solid contingent of luchadores in the summer of 1996, most of them straight from Mexico, and several of them taking part in this match. Both these moves — emphasizing the cruiserweights and giving luchadores a platform on nationwide American TV — changed wrestling. Not only that. Bischoff let the Mexican luchadores wrestle their style, as opposed to signing them and trying to “Americanize” them. Would there have been a Lucha Underground if not for these moves? I think it’s a fair question.

This is the first look at most of these guys as part of the project, although La Parka is a longtime favorite of mine. Juventud was part of the January 3 selection, and since that match aired, has already won and lost the Cruiserweight Title.

The Match

This match is contested under lucha libre rules, meaning that leaving the ring is just as good as a tag in the corner. Even then, the rules kinda sorta pretty much get thrown out the window by the end of this match. If you’ve been reading this long, you know these write-ups are not intended to be a move-for-move recap of every match I watch, mainly because I want to encourage you to seek these matches out, watch them for yourself, and come along on this journey with me.

That said, there are some highlights:

–Calo and Psicosis start, but Silver King and Lizmark really get the crowd going with a swank exchange of chops punctuated by a titl-a-whirl backbreaker by Lizmark, Jr.
–El Dandy doesn’t play a big role in the match but he makes the most of his ring time, most notably taking a monkey flip by Chavo and then delivering a headfirst suicide dive as part of a sequence of dives near the end of the match.
–A couple of nasty-looking clotheslines to cut off dive attempts.

If I had to give an MVP to the match, it might be Silver King. He fully commits at every moment he’s in the match, whether on offense or feeding into one of the four tecnicos. He also takes the biggest bump of the match, springing off the middle rope on a plancha to the floor only to miss and eat the concrete.

After Chavo finishes things with a tornado DDT on Psicosis, La Parka runs amok with a steel chair, wiping out every member of the four-man team that just defeated him, and then bonking Dandy and Silver King for good measure. Following a celebratory dance on the chair to the delight of the crowd, La Parka tucks it under his arm and strolls out. The character work here is a delight.

Random Thoughts

-This appears to take place before Heenan starts waxing philosophic about how Super Calo’s hat always stays on his head. Or maybe it just doesn’t come up here?

–Speaking of Heenan, I laughed out loud when he praised La Parka for having “pizazz.”

-I always love those moments when Dusty is on commentary and gets so excited about what he’s seeing that he drops his accent and reacts in his normal speaking voice. That happens at least twice in this match, by my count.

Final Rating: 7.1

This match lasts less than 10 minutes but damn if these eight don’t pack in a good 20 minutes’ worth of action (or more) in the time that they are given. It’s also a fantastic opening match for a card, with nothing but action and a bunch of big moves to get the crowd fired up for anything and everything coming next.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

What’s Next

We head back to Japan for another joshi offering, this time featuring one of AEW’s top women’s talents.

Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.

365 Wrestling, Day 11: Ricky Steamboat, Dustin Rhodes & Ron Simmons vs. Dangerous Alliance (WCW WorldWide, 1/11/92)

365 Wrestling, Day 11: Ricky Steamboat, Dustin Rhodes & Ron Simmons vs. Dangerous Alliance (WCW WorldWide, 1/11/92)

365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

Another Reader Recommendation today, as independent wrestler and Zubaz enthusiast Jeff Connelly pitched me on this six-man tag from WCW in 1992, smackdab in the heart of the Dangerous Alliance storyline. Specifically, Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton and “Stunning” Steve Austin rep the Alliance against the babyface trio of Ricky Steamboat, Dustin Rhodes, and Ron Simmons.

You can find this match online with some strategic searching.

The Context

Paul E. Dangerously (who you might know better as Paul Heyman) formed the Dangerous Alliance over the span of several weeks in late 1991. Dangerously, who had been fired in storyline from his commentary position, was out for revenge. By late November, he had assembled his squad: Anderson, Eaton, Austin, Rick Rude, Larry Zbysko, and Madusa. At this point, in early 1992, the Alliance controls two titles in WCW, with Austin the TV Champ and Rude holding the U.S. Title. Anderson and Eaton are chasing the tag titles, currently held by Steamboat and Rhodes. They won the titles at Clash of the Champions XVII in November (the last major event before Dangerously “officially” forms his stable), beating Arn and Zbysko when Steamboat showed up as a surprise partner for Rhodes after the champs broke the hand of Rhodes’ original partner, Barry Windham, earlier in the night. As for Simmons, he was firmly ensconced in the upper midcard at the time. The week before, on the prior episode of WorldWide, the Alliance jumped Simmons at the end of a TV Title match against Austin when he had the champion apparently beat. Steamboat and Rhodes made the save, setting the stage for this match.

The Match

The Dangerous Alliance is such an impressive and underrated stable. They never reached the heights of success of other major heel groups in WCW like the Four Horsemen and the nWo, but stand out in two ways: one, by having good matches almost every week across WCW’s various programming; and two, with the synergy and teamwork they show. Even when they weren’t wracked by dissension, neither the Horsemen nor the nWo display the type of team-first mentality you witness from the Alliance. It shines through in sacrifice, such as when Arn smashes Dustin Rhodes’ head into Eaton’s noggin on the apron to help the Alliance finally take over the match after several minutes where each of the babyfaces fights off the entire trio and clears the ring, single-handed, in three separate segments. Eaton tumbles to the floor off the impact, and Paul E. is quick to check on him. Overall, Paul and Eaton show a chemistry that hearkens back to Beautiful Bobby and Jim Cornette in the Midnight Express.

The little touches really elevate this six man, such as:

–When Dustin kicks out after eating a huge clothesline from Austin, Steamboat (who was already headed in to try and break up the pin) starts cheering on his partner
–As the beatdown on Rhodes continues, Arn backs into the ropes to deliver a stalling kneedrop to Dustin, only for Steamboat to slide into the ring and take the knee across his own back
–A unique turnabout spot, where Arn goes to ram Dustin’s head into the outstretched knee of Austin in a tag-match spot we’ve all seen a million times, only for Dustin to send Arn’s cranium into the knee instead. Arn and Dustin smash skulls after the impact while Austin, doing the Wrestling Gods’ work, stumbles to the floor, selling his knee after the impact

The finish reiterates the theme of sacrifice and teamwork. After laying waste to the Alliance trio following a long-awaited tag from Rhodes, Simmons is the apparent victim of a double team by Arn and Eaton, with Arn restraining Simmons as Beautiful Bobby ascends to the top rope. Steamboat comes flying in to stop Arn, and Simmons catches Eaton in midair and delivers a spinebuster to give the good guys a rare victory over the Dangerous Alliance.

No time to celebrate. as Zbysko comes hustling to the ring for a 4-on-3 beatdown, which sees Steamboat eat both a spike piledriver and a flying Eaton legdrop before Windham sends the heels scattering.

Random Thoughts

–WorldWide was one of the B-shows for WCW at the time (this was pre-Nitro, remember, so WCW Saturday night is the flagship), but as I said the Dangerous Alliance had matches across every WCW program during this era, which makes for one of the most consistently entertaining, watchable runs of wrestling TV that ever has been produced.

–Ring announcer Gary Michael Cappetta clarifies this match isn’t the main event but the “featured confrontation.” Alright then.

–Paul E. jumping on his handheld phone trying to figure out what’s happening early when the babyfaces are in control made me legitimately chuckle.

Final Rating: 6.1

The action here is hard-hitting and the story is fairly simple. With a less talented group of wrestlers, this match easily would be skippable. Instead, the little touches and the overarcing storyline help make this a compelling watch.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

What’s Next

We head to SmackDown in 2007 for a match involving yet another of my personal favorites.

Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.