Thanks to http://www.digits.com for their badass righteous free counters
Laugh if you must, but in all honesty 1992 WCW may well be my personal favorite year for a fed ever. Certainly other feds had better years, such as AJW or AJPW's '93 or NJPW's '96, but there's something very unique about WCW in 1992 that makes me valiantly suffer through ALLLLLLLLL the shit from back then.
That something, of course, is that I'm not a fan of Ric Flair.
Don't get me wrong; I can certainly appreciate his matches. It's just that I never really took him and his schtick to heart like everyone else in the world; his stuff always seemed very much of a time and mindset that I didn't - hell, maybe couldn't - get. My loss, I know, but hey, that's the way the worm turns. And the tradeoff is that I find uncommon stores of love and interest in 1992 WCW.
Given that 1992 was the year that Flair finally walked out the door, WCW had to scramble to come up with something new, yet still familiar. And that's what's appealing to me: 1992 was the year that WCW threw everything at the wall, and while I'm certainly not denying that some of it gagged on cock, there was a lot of really great stuff that probably couldn't have come up under the overpowering aegis of Ric Flair. I mean hell, the MVC vs. Steiner Brothers matches - would that have really been headlining material if Ric Flair had been around to distract everyone? Howabout Cactus Jack having a breakout year doing the Gigantic Bump-Spotfests style - I know the style could have coexisted with Flair, but could it have flourished like it did?
So take it with a grain of salt when I say that this shit is some of my favorite stuff simply because Flair's not around; I don't mean it to sound like I like it because Flair wasn't there, I like it because for one all-too-brief moment in history, the alternative became the mainstream almost overnight. And man, that's the recipie for making me love something to death :)
Enough of that. ON WITH THE SHOW.
1. US Tag Title Match: Greg Valentine/Terry Taylor vs. The Freebirds As for that aforementioned shit, I give you the Freebirdsin 199-Fucking-2. The worst part of this is that I actually watched most of this PPV before, but lost my notes, so I have to sit through all of THIS crap again. And PLEASE BELIEVE IT when I say that this isn't the match I'm dreading the retread of most. GOD, it's not even close.
Because, you see, this match isn't nearly as bad as I remembered it. It's actually decent at times, believe it or not. I mean, lord knows I wouldn't expect anything this watchable out of the Freebirds in the Nine Deuce, but Taylor and Valentine just dragged them to the water and shoved their heads in. Of course, it's not exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff, just very well-executed NWA formula. When Hammer and Taylor are on offense, the match is freakin' DECENT as a motherfucker; simply by cutting off the corners and doing everything they can to get over the Freebirds' offense (especially Valentine, who leans face-first into Garvin's kicks for No Good Reason), the match becomes eminantly watchable. Hell, after a while you stop noticing how low-fi their offense is by today's standards - until they surprise you by, say, having Taylor pull out a Doctor Bomb or trying to counter a DDT by Valentine attempting to do a diving clothesline over Taylor's body.
Of course, they ARE wrestling the Freebirds, and if there's one thing that the Freebirds aren't, it's good wrestlers. Ergo we get a lot of gobshite, like the Giant Posing and Stomping Society Reunion to lead it off, or (more noticeably) Garvin's punches, which are truly of the Ass. Worse, the Freebirds seem to be actively trying to ruin whatever Taylor and Valentin are attempting to create; Garvin especially gets very very healed very very fast considering the beatdowns he was taking.
But then again pointing out the flaws in a Freebirds match is like making fun of Moby: not really necessary, given that you're only saying things that anyone with half a brain knows implicitly. So I choose to focus on the good in this match, of which there is a surprising amount. *1/4
In between matches, Eric Bischoff and Tony Schiavone talk...and talk...and talk. You will of course excuse me if I exercise judicious use of the fast-forward button and miss out on the potential Unintentional Comedy.
2. Tracy Smothers vs. Johnny B. Badd And AGAIN I'm pleasantly surprised. I do think that a big part of how much more I liked this was due to the fact that I had to rewatch it, since when you rewatch a match you pay less attention to the moves and more attention to the structure. But hell, even today this isn't a bad match to watch just for the moves; both guys were athletic as a sonofabitch (especially Smothers, who's able to extend the reach on his kicks to make them look a LOT better), and the pace is pretty fast throughout.
What's really interesting, though, is how it truly does feel like a back-and-forth match. In a lot of wrestling matches from around this time - especially American matches - one guy did the lion's share of the work, clearly a side effect of so many really good workers starting to emerge all at once, but not all in the same strata. Thus, you'd get a lot of matches like Bret vs. Davey Boy Smith or Liger vs. Samurai which were GREAT one-man shows, but don't hold up so well on successive viewings. This match, however, really did feel like a back-and-forth contest; the periods where Smothers was in control felt perceptibly different from when Badd was in control. It wasn't violently different or anything - no more than Smothers in charge meant more heel tactics while Badd in charge meant more strikes - but it was enough to hold my attention once they got into it.
And given that this was an early-'90s WCW undercard, that's all I really want out of it - just a simple, well-executed match that doesn't make me want to puke. And that's exactly what I got. *3/4
3. Marcus Alexander Bagwell vs. Scotty Flamingo Ventura with a great accidental line early - "Imagine the women looking at these two athletes right now." Somewhere Scott Levy and Jeremy Soria laugh and laugh :)
GOD this match isn't very good. On a card where the first match is a friggin' FREEBIRDS match, you will of course pardon me for being a little surprised that we had to get to the third match to find a match that really isn't very good. The problem here is that unlike the two matches which preceeded it, this match is truly directionless; Scotty does some heel-tinged stuff, Bagwell does some Vanilla Rookie stuff, then they bring it home. Of course, the lion's share of the blame should fall on Bagwell - not just because he's Buff Bagwell and deserves indiscriminate enmity anyway, but because if he'd done ANYTHING to exude the slightest micron of personality, this match would have been a billion times better. Here, he's like one of the Tough Enough kids: he knows JUUUUUST enough about actual wrestling as to participate in a wrestling match, but he doesn't know anything about what actual wrestling can mean, with the obvious results. The scary thing is that this is about as good as he'd ever be; the rest of his career was seemingly devoted to adding more moves to overlay over this exact same nameless, faceless, wrestle-the-trainer match structure. So when possibly the best match you wrestle in America is best praised as "It was bad, but it wasn't offensive", you fuckin' suck. 1/4*
There's an ad for Beach Blast '92, probably my favorite PPV of all time. WOW that promo sucks.
4. Junkyard Dog/Ron Simmons vs. Curtis Hughes/Cactus Jack BUT WAIT!!!!! In a SHOCKING twist, Cactus incapacitates JYD before the bell, so by the Mother Fucking Referee's orders, the match is turned into a one-on-one match between Simmons and Hughes. I HATE THE WORLD.
There is a basic litmus test for wrestling: the less time the commentators spend talking about the actual match, the worse it is. Now obviously, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, but if ever I've seen a match that proves it, here you go. This is - what? - eleven decades of Hughes' weak-ass offense before Simmons hops up and gives him a spinebuster and a tackle, and Ross and Ventura spend the lion's share of the match discussing football and the unfairness of Foley's expulsion from the match, which I guess are KINDA parts of the match if you're an idiot. Ugh. DUD
5. Todd Champion vs. Super Invader There is another basic litmus test for wrestling: whenever you've got a white guy doing "karate" wrestling a member of WCW Special Forces, the match is going to SUCK. IMSMR Super Invader was someone of note from AWA, but I couldn't care less :) I envy those who were there, as their boos and silence says more about this match than I ever could. -**
6. Ricky Morton vs. Big Josh Well, this certainly isn't bad, just boring. It's your standard big-guy-vs.-little-guy fare, with a few touches of Early '90s WCW Gimmick Stupidity, like Big Josh's signature "Log Roll". Honestly, I have nothing to say about this match other than that Josh's punches were pretty good and some dong in the audience LEAPED to his feet every time Josh did everything. Josh Josh Josh :) *
Fuckin' finally, the good stuff. Well, not immediately; the Tony and Eric Show never sleeps. I actually suffer through this segment for posterity and get distinct Bill Walton flashbacks. As in, you gotta wonder if the sign on Eric's desk read "Eric Bischoff, Vice-President of Generalities".
7. WCW Light Heavyweight Title: Brian Pillman vs.To those of you who have suffered bravely through six short, snide quippy reviews hoping for one of those blathering long-winded deathless-prose diatribes, I'm about to make your day.
I should hope that statements like "This is one of the finest examples of wrestling psychology ever to come out of America" would be enough to raise your guard; broad hyperbolic statements like that tend to be more indicative of a critic's unfocused enthusiasm rather than the actual merits of the match. But here, I feel pretty good about using one, because frankly, that's what this match is. This match is a textbook for how to wring the absolute most out of a basic, done-to-death formula: make every move count. I mean lord knows if I've seen one When Former Tag Team Partners Collide match, I've seen 'em all; get a bunch of I-know-all-your-moves spots in there, a lot of poses of mutual respect, a long feeling-out process, and from there just try not to fuck up. Well, that's pretty much what Pillman and Zenk spend their time doing here, but they infuse every move with such immutable logic that what would otherwise be dull as dishwater comes off as exciting, if not state-of-the-art.
When I talk about psychology here, I'm referring very specifically to the definition put forth by Chris Coey: (paraphrasing) it's the answer to the question "Why are they doing what they're doing?" Well, that's what Pillman and Zenk spend the entire match doing; Pillman, for instance, works over Zenk's arm and shoulder to start, then after regaining control of the match starts working over his leg. The payoff, of course, and the reason to watch this match in the first place, is in the way the different threads are weaved together; Pillman's use of a jackknife cradle late in the match seems all the more dangerous because of how Pillman has rolled Zenk onto his (Zenk's) shoulders while pulling on his (again, Zenk's) weakened legs. Too often, I'll see "intensely psychological" matches that turn out to be nothing more than the focused work on one body part, which is all well and good if you can pull it off, but if you can't, it's DEATH to the match (viz. Undertaker/Shamrock...ugh). The Pillman/Zenk approach, however, has the built-in dual advantage of simultaneously rewarding the attentive viewer and hooking in the guy just getting back from the nacho cart: it's going somewhere, and it's going there fast.
Of course, this definition of psychology can - and should - extend beyond the simple working of the match. Ideally, psychology should act as a bridge between the wrestling and the character, or rather for a way for the characters to reveal themselves through the wrestling instead of talking-head segments, to show rather than to tell. Here, for instance, the face-heel structure hinges on it; with such a boring, played-out archetype driving the feud, they knew that they'd have to bring something special in order to make the match itself stand out. Thus, we get the divergence in wrestling styles, especially during the opening few minutes of the match (the best part of the whole kit and kaboodle): Pillman working to wear down Zenk gradually, and Zenk looking for a quick-fix win off of a big, from-left-field move. Put those two side by side, and (a) Zenk starts looking not unlike a cowardly bastard, and (b) Pillman looks like the better wrestler, and your allegiances form accordingly. And again, Pillman and Zenk aren't content to let it ride; they keep raising the stakes as Pillman effortlessly switches in and out of the heel role, demonstrating that the line between good and bad in wrestling ain't what it used to be, a full four years before Stone Cold said so.
And yet, all of that only makes the match "good". It falls short of "great" - plainly short of "great" - simply because even though they've got all those elements and more, they fail to take them from being a clinic in psychology into an actual wrestling match. The most obvious reason, of course, is the selling; as is par for the course even today in American cruisers, there's an awful lot of popping up after moves in an effort to rush to the next one. It hurts the match; in fact it hurts it a lot, because it fucks up the flow of the match. It's so frustrating to see so many psychological threads in here tied together effortlessly, but then have the whole match feel segmented because Pillman jumps up and on offense after a GREAT nearfall or Zenk shakes his leg and limps, then suddenly is well enough to jump around. Me, I place the lion's share of the blame on Pillman; as an American superworker, he'd be the one setting the tone and the pace of the match, and his inconsistencies would be more glaring (especially his transitions here).
But I think the bigger issue with the match is that for as good a formula match as it may be, in the end, that's what it feels like - a formula match. Worse, it's like Pillman and Zenk didn't want the audience to forget what they were watching; the match was chock full of I-Know-Your-Offense-Because-We-Tagged-Together sequences and, worse, Zenk taking the very conspicuous way to Heeldom (i.e. kicking with the toe of his boot, flipping off the crowd). Not that there's anything particularly wrong with formula; I mean hell, a formula becomes commonplace only when it's proven to be effective at arousing a specific response in the fans. It's just that you look at everything else this match had available and the spots that point out what you, the audience, are supposed to be getting come off as Cliff's Notes - an easy way to skip an arduous yet ultimately rewarding process.
In a way, I guess you could consider this match an allegory for Pillman's whole career. I mean, anyone who can deny his knack for wrestling just isn't paying attention; he's a natural athlete AND knows how to connect with the crowd effortlessly. He had all the promise in the world, and every so often we'd see little flashes of how brilliant he could be as the middle ground between Wrestling and Sports Entertainment. But ultimately, he'd choose the easy way out, yielding that middle ground to the Horsemen Formula and the ECW Formula, which is why today a lot of people say "Oh yeah, Brian Pillman. Great wrestler." almost as an afterthought. It doesn't diminish those flashes of brilliance one bit, of course; the Hollywood Blondes stuff is still great today, for instance, and the match with Mero - his obvious high-water-mark as a wrestler - is if anything more impressive. But in view of his whole life, as in view of this all-too-fitting epitaph of a match, those flashes serve more to give you a general idea as to how much everyone missed out on. ***1/2
8. The Steiner Brothers vs. Tatsumi Fujinami/Takayuki Iizuka There is, of course, more than one way to bury someone. It's relatively easy to bury someone through politics; just log enough hours backstage lobbying with the powers that be and eventually you've got a stake in the show. It's not much harder to bury someone in the ring; I mean fuck, if I learned one thing from Mick Foley's first book, it's that Curtis Hughes can bury someone in the ring simply by no-selling. And, to go back to yet another wrestling maxim, if Curtis Hughes can do it, ANYONE - including you or I - can do it.
Well, here we have a fine example of the the most difficult - and effective - form of burial, as backstage and the wrestling ring collide to let the Steiners trample the visiting NJ team. It's not immediately obvious; perhaps, as I think, the Steiners weren't even doing it consciously. But if you watch this match, what you'll get is essentially an extended Steiner beatdown peppered with some segments where the Steiners have to sell.
I mean, I'm a big fan of early '90s Steiner Brothers matches; at the very worst, they've got a repetoire of impressive spots to fall back on to keep the crowd into it and the spectacle side of things rolling along quite nicely, and when they faced a team who really wanted to go, like Williams and Gordy, they'd set off fireworks. In other words, even though the Steiners may not be the most fundamentally sound team on the globe, but they've got the tools to keep my attention and make their presence known. And there's certainly plenty of that here; the beating Iizuka recieves at their hands is legendary, as he breaks his nose and gets a giant swollen eyelid early on in the match and is then subsequently dropped on his head into oblivion. And hell, if it weren't for Iizuka's beating, we'd probably all be talking about Fujinami's beating; he gets dropped on his BRAIN like eight times during the match. It's a spectacular match - literally, a spectacular match in that it's a great string of little events that are so captivating that you can't turn away.
But there, of course, is the rub comes in. Consider these two factors:
(a) The NJ pair didn't have any high-end offense comparable to what the Steiners were breaking out - or at least not such a prodigious volume. When the Steiners were on offense, they'd be lariating Fujinami right in the face, or giving Iizuka the most frightening tilt-a-whirl suplex known to man, but when the NJ pair were on the attack, the match would build to significantly lower-impact moves like Fujinami's dragon sleeper. Additionally, the NJ guys seemed to be taking extra precautions to avoid injuring their opponents (an excellent tack in my book); held up against Scott's Tilt-a-Whirl from Hell, for instance, their offense just looked wussier. And to cap it off, whenever they'd actually tease something big, it would only prove to be another way to put the Steiners over, like Rick rolling through on an Electric Chair/Diving Bodypress combo into a pinning attempt. But speaking of it...
(b) The Steiners sold everything essentially the same. They could be getting hit in the face, kicked in the side, or suplexed onto their backs, but the only expression they'd exude would be a sort of nonspecific deadened tiredness. And I mean they were doing it up until the bitter end; every move would result in that same goddamned expression. The punchline to the joke, of course, would be that once they came back from a segment where the NJ pair were on offense after selling in that fashion, they gave away the ending to every near fall - after all, Rick didn't look any worse in the fifteenth minute than in the first, and he kicked out then; what's to indicate that he was in any more trouble?
The implications were clear: the Japanese team simply didn't get any respect. They were basically warm bodies for the Steiners to throw around, whic only made it worse when you consider that they were such good sports about the whole thing (during the match, anyway) and that it wouldn't have taken much to have made the match a whole lot better. Iizuka taking The Beating, for instance, could have easily been the base for him to get over for the match by either making a valiant comeback or cheating his way out of it, but instead Rick Steiner sells Iizuka's last suplex like he does his first punch, cutting any chances of that happening off at the knees. And hell, Fujinami's a big reason we have the junior heavyweight style that we do today - and an accomplished amateur wrestler to boot. Couldn't he have done more than be the World's Best Barry Houston here?
The irony, of course, is that in Japan, gaijin wrestlers in general - and the Steiners in particular - got loads of respect. I mean, they had to; frequently their angles would revolve around them being an invading power, playing off the tacit xenophobia of the audience; in order for the formula to work, the noble natives had to go over a breathtakingly strong team. Thus, even in defeat the gaijin would make their mark; Japanese fans remember the Steiners, or Steve Williams, or Bruiser Brody, or even The Destroyer to this very day. But over here, it just didn't work out that way too often.
Frequently, it'd be an extension of the backstage politics; Bill Watts once famously told Keiji Mutoh to take it easy out there so as to not outshine his boys. Here, I seriously doubt that someone took the Steiners aside and said "Hey, guys, don't wear yourselves out selling or anything.". But at the same time, when you look at the two teams, it's impossible to ignore the many, many ways in which their talents intersect - and more importantly, how they somehow managed to all fail to connect. Things like this are the dark side of 1992 WCW; you've got Watts pushing Ron Simmons to the title with one hand and holding down the NJ duo with the other, or you've got Jushin Liger showing up to set crowd on FIRE with state-of-the-art WRESTLING, and then vanishing almost overnight. How do you reconcile this stuff?
That, of course, is a judgment best left up to the individual viewer. Speaking for myself, I've made my piece with it; I mean, if you tried to shut out all the racism in wrestling, all you'd be left with are the garbage feds where everyone bleeds the same color. I choose the great, flawed product myself, and put up with the creeping insidiousness by noticing the good wrestling when it happens. Here, for instance, you get an action-packed, athletic, exciting match which, despite being short on selling and featuring some weak transitions, is plenty good even today, and as long as you don't completely disregard the unsavory implications, is plenty worthy of being seen. ***
9. WarGames: The Dangerous Alliance (Larry Zbysko/Arn Anderson/Steve Austin/Bobby Eaton/Rick Rude) vs. Sting's Squadron (Sting/Nikita Koloff/Dustin Rhodes/Ricky Steamboat/Barry Windham)
Part of the charm of WCW in 1992, of course, is the unshakable modernity of the whole thing. I mean, you had Brian Pillman ripping shit up in the lightweights, you had the Steiners crossing the pond to work in NJPW - and later, you'd have the MVC showing up to bring more than a few trace elements of the AJPW style to boot. It was a time of invention, when the rules were...well, not made to be broken, but more easily bent. There have been very few stretches of time like it in pro wrestling, before or since.
So it would only make good dramatic sense for the most well-regarded match of the year to be as far removed from all of that as possible, for that certainly describes this match. I mean, here you have a match based around the signature gimmick of the NWA, dating back to the dawn of the pay-per-view era. Hell, Anderson and Koloff were *in* both of the WarGames match from the 1987 Great American Bash. And yet somehow, it's the freshest, most exciting thing on the card. I'm not ashamed to admit that even though I wanted to see Pillman/Zenk and the Steiners Beat You Down, this show could have been the undercard and this match and I'd have still bought it, and probably wouldn't have felt cheated either. This match is bloody fucking fantastic.
And yet, in spite of how great it is, it's very, very flawed. Say what you will about Barry Windham's work or Steve Austin's presence, but in terms of pure aesthetics, time hasn't been kind. It's not even that they screw up - they don't - but rather that they're unquestionably of a bygone era. Same thing with the WarGames stipulation; as impressive and nuanced as it is, it was made to be the ultimate stipulation in an era where stipulations meant a whole hell of a lot more than they do today. What once was formidable can now almost be straight-up daunting, even with a five-minute introduction where the rules of WarGames are helpfully printed on the screen.
The end result, of course, is a match out of time, and THAT is, I think, what sticks with people. Old-school fans love it because it's a throwback, while newer fans appreciate its surfeit of value as a psychological clinic, but given the unique circumstances, few actually take it to heart. This match is an anomaly, the product of a singular moment in wrestling history, and I wonder if the circumstances surrounding it could ever be replicated.
Part of the appeal, of course, is how goddamn pure the whole thing comes off. For a gimmick match requiring a lengthy introduction with three pages of rules, the WarGames stip is pretty intuitive once you get down to brass tacks: it's a cyclical ebb and flow which, unlike a straight-up tag match, gives the audience an easily-anticipated moment to build towards. The result, of course, is nuclear heat without a whole lot of work; for nearly fifteen minutes, it's face-in-peril, then evened out, then face in peril, wash, rinse, repeat. It sounds like the simplest thing in the world...because it is. When you give fans an easy road in to the dramatic meat of your match, they're going to take it, and if anyone plays along, they go nuts. Here, they go ***NUTS*** for almost the entire back-and-forth alternating period portion of the match, and, much to the credit of whoever booked this whole thing, everyone is given a specific role to play in tapping into the match...and that's exactly what they do, with amazing success.
But the awesome thing about it isn't how innovative they play their roles; it's how effectively they play them. If this match were run today, I bet you a steak dinner that you'd see crazy bumps off the cage, or a continuous tease of a heel turn or what-have you - basically, wrestlers adding a lot of junk that doesn't have anything directly to do with what got them in the cage. There's little to none of that here; just a lot of straight-up wrestling built aroud a face/heel dynamic where they hate the shit out of each other and want to inflict as much bodily harm on each other as the law and the state athletic commission will allow.
The body of the match, for instance, is one of the most well-oiled machines I've ever seen. The obvious subtext of the match, of course, is how the wrestlers are plugged into the match; it doesn't take an extremely close viewing to notice that hey, just about everybody follows in someone who they're feuding with. But that's not hard to do. The trick is to find the balance between elements like those and the gimmick itself, and that's where this match shines. The heels, for instance, send in their men seemingly without consideration of their feuds; thus, when the faces send in someone with resonance - like sending in Ricky Steamboat to follow up Rick Rude - two things happen: the faces look more focused and in control of the match, and the roof gets blown off the arena. It also operates subtly, of course; by making the heels' choices indiscriminant, it quietly reinforces the concept that the Gang of Heels is just an unruly mob. It goes on and on like this for well over twenty minutes, and in terms of telling a story, it's as captivating a bit of wrestling as I've ever seen. It's a textbook definition of how to take a gimmick that, in theory, should be so convoluted as to prohibit anyone from having a good match and using it to make a great one.
And yet, it can be argued that the body of the match, amazing though it may be, works best when it works quietly. Its purpose is to convey as much intesity, as much pure, naked hatred, as the art of wrestling could allow - and to do it as subliminally as possible. Thus, you get all the Greatest Hits spots to convey hate and loathing - the raking of the face into the cage, the punches RIGHT in the motherfucking face, the Fireplug on a Hot Summer Day bladejobs - but since they're all there in such close proximity to each other, they start to blend into one easily perceptible lump of hate.
This, of course, is remarkable; it's the rare match that can take tried and true spots, make them count for something, and then play them down as much as possible. But here, it's done for a purpose: the body of the match takes on such a quiet, hate-filled monotone in order to give as much weight as possible to those few moments where the tone suddenly shifts. By my count, there are three main ones:
1. Ricky Steamboat enters the match. He absolutely MAULS Rick Rude, I mean tearing him apart. But he doesn't just "do" it; he does it with an intensity that far, far outstrips any other emotion in the match up to that point. Barry Windham's stoic ass-kicking, the blind fury of Steve Austin or Rick Rude...they didn't come close to the exuberance of Steamboat, who started beating his chest and stamping the ground as soon as he'd gained the advantage.
2. Sting chases Madusa off the top of the cage. Here, for the first time, the audience is given an inroad to not just how much these wrestlers hate each other, but how large the scale is - I mean, here's Sting, who'd been kayfabe-injured, climbing a cage to chase down a woman...and it just fucking works. It's Sting saying "There WILL be truth, order, and justice served today", and doing it simply by standing on a structure made of chickenwire.
3. Nikita Koloff and Sting settle their differences and level Arn and Rude. This would be the last such moment, but it sent shivers down my spine when I saw it for the first time. There's something very stirring about the sequence - obviously, it's the implication that this match was bigger than Sting and Koloff's differences, but it goes beyond that. I haven't run across many moments like these in pro wrestling; they're moments where the wrestlers touch on something that's so foreign to wrestling - like Kobashi covering Misawa in the 6/9/95, or The Kick later on in the same match, or Hokuto and Kandori trading straight shots to the face, or Dynamite Kid charging Tiger Mask after the short piledriver. It's so hard to pull a moment like this off, because usually it smacks of insincerity, but whenever they do happen, man...it's like the first time you hear music.
Going into this match, I was afraid that it would be nothing more than an old-school spotfest, a series of moments strung together by a sound yet otherwise unconnected body of the match. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the body of the match was, as I said, modulated to let the audience wring those moments as dry as they could possibly get. Even the "mid-range" spots, stuff like Arn upside-down between the rings or Austin swinging from the cage, it all plays into the drama, into the dynamic of this match - one where the audience gets so locked-in to the Mobius-strip-like intensity that, on the few occasions when someone raises the curtain and reminds everyone why they're here in the first place, it just leaves you floored.
Well, that's the theory, anyway. The problem, of course, is that there are human beings wrestling here, and as no perfect human has started wrestling yet, shit happens. Specifically, shit happens at the end; there is an overlong sequence of the Dangerous Alliance ripping down the ring and threatening Sting with the giant metal hook, only to see Sting duck and the finishing sequence go into play. It is, to say the least, unsatisfying - made moreso by the fact that WCW AAA's the actual submission. It just seems so...tame compared to everything else that had gone on in the match. I mean, you've got Steve Austin wearing a dictionary-definition crimson mask, you've got Dustin Rhodes looking like Masacara Magica, you've got Arn and Barry dishing out FLLLLLLLLAWLESS spinebusters and DDTs respectively... keeping in mind that you get all of that, and you get it for nearly twenty minutes, and you get it NON FUCKING STOP, a giant metal hook just seems too contrived. Unlike the way the heels would use the intervals to reinforce their heel-ness, it was too obvious; there's no challenge in seeing if some guy has a giant metal hook in his hand or not. And considering that it had to happen in this match, resplendant with awesome spots and moments, it stands out all the more.
Additionally, after Sting enters the match, it kinda derails a little bit. He was, of course, the biggest heatseeker in the match; the crowd went ballistic when he jumped in the ring, and considering that the next two entrants were Bobby Eaton (sporting a shoulder injury which would keep him from being a very effective wrestler *or* heel during the match) and Nikita Koloff (who really didn't do anything more than reconcile with Sting all match), you can't really blame them for tapering off. But it's the one time in the body of the match where it kinda lets you go a little; you're removed ever so slightly as the action and intensity of the environment in which the match was being held drops a few notches, but in a lesser match, that margin can be enough to take you out of the match's mindset. Here, of course, they have the reconciliation, which is GOLD, so they've got their bases covered, but nevertheless, it's jarring in an otherwise smooth ride.
I feel kinda funny picking this match apart because I think it demands to actually be seen, and not so much discussed. It hits its high notes on a gut level, despite putting on a breathtaking clinic of how to work a match, and thus tends to lean towards the inexplicable. This is a match that's full of intangibles that, despite the giant treatise you've just read, is incredibly hard for me to put forward in any rational terms. Picking it apart seems to be missing the point; it should be obvious to anyone that this match is going to be flawed, very perceptibly flawed. The only question is whether the rewards you can only reap by watching the match outweigh those flaws. All I can say is that if my word counts for anything, they do - and then some. ****3/4
Well, I mean, duh. Get it. An all-time classic main event and two very good matches right before it are good enough to warrant sitting through the undercard, even when it's an undercard full of the Curtis Hugheseses and Marcus Bagwells of the world every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
But hell, if/when you do get it, it couldn't hurt to check out the whole show. Like I said way up there, the circumstances that made 1992 WCW possible may never again occur naturally, and in order to best appreciate them, you gotta take the bad with the good. I mean, I can damn sure assure you that I appreciated the main all the more for having seen Big Goddamn Josh and the God Damn Freebirds; watching feces like that builds character and lets you slip more effectively into the kind of mindset best suited for appreciating the great stuff.
Because at the heart of it all, that's what really drew me to 1992 WCW - the unpredictability. The fed may have plenty of lowlights, but I for one am kept entertained because you never know exactly what's going to come up next. And although yes, it did result in a lot of big shows feeling like Best Of Times/Worst Of Times scenarios, it felt dynamic and exciting. And when it did deliver with something so great that it catches you by surprise, you totally wipe all of the Curtis Hughes matches right out of your mind.
I call that a fair trade.
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