WWE’s treatment of one-time arch-nemesis WCW is a curious paradox. When World Championship Wrestling was alive, they were a bumbling mess that pushed senior citizens, let the Radicalz go, and weren’t as cool as the sense-throttling action of WWF Attitude. In death, they’re looked back on with fondness as a worthy rival that shoved the McMahon Empire harder than any, and launched the careers of many notable stars.
There exists an entire generation of fans that have grown up without WCW. Yes, anyone that started watching wrestling after the spring of 2001 only knows of the company in the past tense, perhaps getting a sense of their glory on WWE DVD releases and YouTube.
While I can’t speak for every fan, I offer this list of ten WCW events worth checking out. Your mileage may vary if you were a fan of the product, and criticism will be understood in response to my list. However, as a primer for the curious, this is what I would recommend, in chronological order:
Very much similar to a 1980s WrestleMania, in that the undercard is filled with mindless diversion (Billy Graham and The Barbarian in an arm-wrestling match!), but the event that was stretched over the cities of Greensboro and Atlanta (beating WrestleMania II’s three-city concept by four months) produced three worthwhile bouts.
For one, Magnum TA and Tully Blanchard’s “I Quit” steel cage match is off the charts in terms of kayfabed hatred on display, a true ‘five star’ classic. The Rock n Roll Express faced the Koloffs in that very cage for the Tag Team Titles, while Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair warred in the Atlanta portion for the NWA Championship in one of their better clashes.
GREAT AMERICAN BASH 1989
Simply put, it’s probably the best event NWA/WCW has ever produced. What WrestleMania X7 is to WWE, the 1989 Bash is to the Turner crowd. Six matches in, you get Sting vs. The Great Muta for the Television Title in an abbreviated classic that would wow most fans. Amazingly, that was only the fourth best match of the show, aced by the final three.
Lex Luger and Ricky Steamboat engaged in a classic US Title match immediately after, and THAT was followed by a War Games featuring The Road Warriors, Midnight Express, and Steve Williams against The Freebirds and the Samoan Swat Team. And THAT was followed by Ric Flair and Terry Funk in an expected classic the NWA Title. No wonder it’s the gold standard.
BEACH BLAST 1992
You’d think based on the name, it’d be in Florida, California, or even Hawaii, but the 1992 Beach Blast emanated from Mobile, AL, which sits as one of the northernmost points bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Still, you get Missy Hyatt and Madusa, pre-injectapalooza, in a bikini contest, which added a reasonable Spring Break element to the show.
As for the matches, one of Mick Foley’s personal favorites took place here, as he faced Sting in a falls count anywhere war. Rick Rude and Ricky Steamboat have the first televised Iron Man match of any kind, Brian Pillman and Scotty Flamingo (Raven) wrestle for the Light Heavyweight gold, and the Steiners and Steve Williams/Terry Gordy have a lengthy classic.
To be totally honest, Starrcade 1993 is about as close to a one-match show as you’ll find on this list. The only undercard match really worth watching is Ricky Steamboat and Steven Regal for the TV Title, but the main event is something. It’s perhaps the best built WCW match next to Hogan/Sting at Starrcade 1997, except this one had a more satisfying payoff.
Ric Flair challenges the near-unbeatable Vader for the WCW Title, with Flair putting his career on the line. “The Nature Boy” brings his family to the arena in hometown Charlotte, while Vader’s seconded by Harley Race, the man Flair beat for the title ten years earlier at Starrcade. If you’ve never seen it, it’s the greatest show-long drama WCW has ever produced.
SPRING STAMPEDE 1994
Anyone who tells you that the “Big Two” were stagnant before ECW and the New World Order kickstarted things is exaggerating a bit. WCW was producing some good television prior to Hulk Hogan’s signing that summer, providing a viable alternative to the mostly-watered down WWE that was reeling from roster cuts and the steroid trial.
Take this event from notoriously-rowdy Chicago. Early on, you get a wild brawl for the Tag Titles between the Nasty Boys and Cactus Jack and Maxx Payne, a template for later hardcore matches. Flair and Steamboat close the show with a half-hour classic for the WCW Title, highlighting a card where simpler stories were paid off by amazing work.
Five weeks after Spring Stampede, the show was actually improved upon with a legends-themed event in Philadelphia. The Tag Team Titles were put up in a chaotic sort-of rematch, with Kevin Sullivan replacing the injured Payne, made more auspicious with legendary Flyers enforcer Dave “The Hammer” Schultz as guest referee. Philly and their brawls, man.
Aside from that salute to ECW, Sting and Vader put forth another of their epics for the ill-fated WCW International Title, as you simply can’t go wrong with those two. The legends play a role through the night, notably fun nostalgia in the form of Terry Funk and Tully Blanchard’s spirited clash. Quite honestly, it’s a show with virtually no flaws.
The “Granddaddy of Them All” has played host to some unusual themes over the years, such as Battlebowl, Night of the Iron Men, and it was the scene of Sting having his final confrontation with The Black Scorpion. Other times, WCW’s experiments proved highly enjoyable, most notably with “The World Cup of Wrestling” in 1995.
The hook: WCW chose seven wrestlers (Sting, Randy Savage, et al), and New Japan chose seven of its best. They would face off in a best of seven to determine company supremacy. Savage, then WCW Champion, also defended his title against the winner of a Sting-Lex Luger-Ric Flair triangle match held that night, so it was a loaded show from top to bottom.
BASH AT THE BEACH 1996
The undercard is barely remembered, even though it featured at least two great matches: a pristine spotfest between Rey Misterio Jr and Psicosis (one of the greatest opening matches ever) and a surprisingly stellar Cruiserweight Title match with Dean Malenko and a holding-his-own Disco Inferno. Of course, the main event jogs more memories, to be sure.
The Outsiders were set to reveal their “third man” in a tense showdown with Randy Savage, Sting, and Lex Luger, in one of the most anticipated climaxes in the history of wrestling. You know the story: Hulk Hogan runs in to save the day, only to legdrop Savage in the mother of all heel turns. His post-match speech is, in my eyes, the greatest promo of his career.
NWO SOULED OUT 1997
I won’t even try to defend this show with it’s lone worthwhile match: a ladder match for the United States Title between Eddie Guerrero and Syxx (1 plus 2 plus 3, get it?). The event was essentially an anti-PPV, held by the New World Order at its peak of popularity. What makes this show interesting is the spectacle, not so much any content with consequence.
The WCW performers on the show (i.e. the anti-nWo crusade) entered without theme music, instead being introduced with condescending and insulting remarks. Eric Bischoff and Ted Dibiase provided biased commentary all night, and nWo referee Nick Patrick worked each match. It was a fascinating experiment, even if it tanked. Still, different can be fun.
Almost literally, it was the only good PPV that WCW had between mid-1998 and the end of 2000. As the funeral dirge grew louder for a company mired by politics, confusion, disarray, and general apathy, this one event stands out as an inexplicable masterpiece. Almost every major match on the show ranked between good and great, for almost no reason.
Matches like Goldberg vs. Kevin Nash, and a four way with Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Sting, and Diamond Dallas Page, were both tremendous, even for their standards at the time. Add to that Chris Benoit/Dean Malenko vs. Raven/Saturn, Juventud Guerrera vs. Blitzkrieg (a forgotten gem), and Rey Misterio vs. Kidman, and voila: an incredible event.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.