The SmarK Rant for WCW Starrcade 91 – BATTLEBOWL THE LETHAL LOTTERY – 12.29.91
The subtitle sounds like a bunch of Taylor Swift fans fighting over a ticket to her show.
Look, I know all the kids today with their TikToks and Instagrams are complaining that Shawn Michaels’ new Iron Survival Challenge is needlessly complex and overall pointless, but LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING. You haven’t experienced needlessly complex and pointless booking until you’ve lived through the fever dream of Dusty Rhodes running WCW in 1991, my friend. I HAVE. And here’s the proof.
Live from Norfolk, VA, drawing 9000.
Your hosts are Jim Ross & Tony Schiavone
OK HERE’S THE PITCH: You have 40 guys, and the announce team randomly pick names from a bingo roller, determining tag teams by blind draw. That gives you 20 tag teams, who all have matches against each other with no particular stakes, and then the winners of THOSE matches will do a two-ring battle royale to end the night and the winner gets nothing.
WE’LL MAKE MILLIONS.
Michael Hayes & Tracy Smothers v. Jimmy Garvin & Marcus Bagwell
I will say this much, the VQ on this show on the Network is FANTASTIC, looking better than a lot of WWF PPVs from the same era that are on here. Colors are bright and the picture is sharp. So if nothing else, this show has that. Bagwell puts Tracy down with a shoulderblock to start and we get stalling for a while from Tracy, before Bagwell rolls him up for two. BREAKING NEWS: Bagwell is from Sprayberry High School out of Marietta GA, in case you’re not aware of that little fact. I don’t know if it’ll get mentioned again so I’ll make sure to note it here. Bagwell fights off Tracy with a dropkick and we get more stalling as they don’t seem to have any real idea of where the match is going. So Bagwell brings in Garvin and we get more stalling, but Garvin does a brief babyface fire segment and dropkicks Tracy to the floor. Tracy does more stalling, and then heads back in before getting chased out of the ring by Garvin immediately. Back in, Bagwell and Garvin work the arm for a bit, but Hayes finally tags in and he does more stalling. He trades armbars with Bagwell and it’s back to Smothers again for more armbars with Bagwell as poor Tracy has to somehow carry three guys to a watchable match here. And Bagwell was nowhere near ready for live PPV yet. Finally we get the Freebird showdown 10 minutes into this and here’s a shock: They STALL. A lot. And then tag out again after doing nothing. So finally Smothers hits Bagwell with some redneck kung fu, but misses an elbow and Bagwell runs back to Garvin again, and he makes a babyface comeback on Smothers. Bagwell comes in with a high cross on Smothers for two, but the Freebirds get into an argument and Bagwell finishes Smothers with the fisherman’s suplex at 12:50. What a start to the show! And another 9 tag team matches to go! *
Stunning Steve Austin & Ravishing Rick Rude v. Van Hammer & Big Josh
So here we’ve already run into the first tropes of the concept, as clearly the whole thing isn’t feasibly “random” because you’ve only got a few viable ways to build drama in something like this:
- Tag team partners who shockingly end up on different teams!
- Tag team partners who shockingly end up on the same team, giving them an unfair advantage!
- People who are feuding and shockingly end up on the same team!
- People who are feuding and shockingly end up on opposing teams!
Which is fine, you need to make the matches interesting SOMEHOW, but then it totally renders the notion of “random draw” pointless because if the matches were truly random, you’d have a bunch of even more meaningless tag matches with no heat. Basically, what I’m saying is the concept is a no-win situation in the form it’s presented. Anyway, Rude and Austin were of course part of the Dangerous Alliance together, basically making them ringers. Here’s your mind-blowing meta moment for the match: Van Hammer was a representative of “heavy metal”, the big haired guitar player out of the 80s, and he’s teaming with Big Josh, the flannel-wearing guy from the Pacific Northwest. So WCW basically predicted grunge and didn’t even realize it. Ok that was a stretch but we’ve got another 2 and a half hours to get through and I need something to keep me going besides energy drinks.
Hammer gets a suplex for two on Austin, but the Alliance takes over on him in the corner and Rude puts Hammer down with a clothesline and beats on him. Rude puts him down with a knee to the gut and goes to a facelock, but Hammer manages to tag Big Josh and he runs wild on Rude. This gives us the best spot of the year, as Josh takes Rude down and does the “log roll” on Rude’s abs, but Rude pops up and no-sells it and because he’s got ABS OF STEEL, and then flexes the abs at Josh while he slugs helplessly on Rude and Rick just laughs at him. That was AMAZING. This leads to the question that science needs to investigate: What would happen if a Samoan family member headbutted Rude in the abs? So Josh clotheslines him and chases him out of the ring instead as the crowd finally wakes up here in the second match. Back in the ring, Josh works an armbar on Austin and clotheslines him on the top rope for two. Van Hammer comes back in to work on Austin’s arm and the crowd DIES as soon as he gets in, so it’s back to Josh. And Rude CLOBBERS him with a clothesline from the apron with amazing timing, and he comes in with a forearm from the top for two. I know Rude stopped giving a shit by 1993 due to Bill Watts, but he was just on fire at this point in his WCW run and they could have made him World champion. They double-team Josh in the corner and Austin gets two. Rude with a chinlock on Doink the Lumberjack and Paul E. takes the ref while his guys cheat. Austin tosses Josh and Rude runs him into the railing, and back in for two. I have to deduct points for not distracting the ref and then throwing him over the top rope for extra heat. Back in, Austin with another chinlock as this has already gone way too long and cooled off completely. The sweet spot for this kind of thing is 5-8 minutes tops. Josh makes a comeback and Austin accidentally collides with Paul E, and it’s hot tag Van Hammer. Hopefully he can at least run wild without screwing it up. Hammer with a powerslam and shoulderblock for two, but Rude makes the save and it’s BONZO GONZO. Austin makes the blind tag to Rude, and he casually comes in and drops Hammer with the Rude Awakening at 12:54 to advance. This had fun moments but it was too long and they desperately needed to keep Hammer out of the ring for most of it. **
Dustin Rhodes & Richard Morton v. Larry Zbyszko & El Gigante
Obviously they need to get Gigante out before the battle royale so he doesn’t have to be eliminated there, so the result here is equally obvious. Larry does some stalling and now I notice that they’re on different corners of the right-hand ring for this match than they were for the opener. I have no idea why. Larry does his stalling and brings in Gigante, and Morton takes some bumps for him while he stands there. Dustin comes in and Gigante slams him and works the arm, before Larry adds a neckbreaker for two. Dustin with a rollup on Larry for two. Larry yells at Gigante to give him a knee, but he refuses because he’s an idiot who apparently doesn’t want to win. So Dustin makes a comeback with a clothesline in the corner, but Larry blocks the bulldog and brings Gigante in to finish things. But then Gigante won’t go after Dustin and in fact turns on his own partner, allowing Rhodes and Morton to hit Larry with a double dropkick and pin him at 5:54. At least this was short. Larry wasn’t the legal man there, but more importantly why was Gigante even in the lottery if he didn’t want to win? ½*
Bill Kazmaier & Jushin Liger v. Diamond Dallas Page & Mike Graham
Well this one might be rough. DDP was very very early in his career as a wrestler here, in his PPV debut in fact, and he was not good. Graham had been working as an agent and basically got fired from that position and put back in the ring again to justify his salary. Graham trades hiptosses with Liger to start and Liger takes him down with a headscissors, putting Graham awkwardly on the floor. Back in, Liger tries a handspring but Graham has no interest in taking it and just moves away from him, leaving Liger to flop on the mat like a moron. Is MIKE GRAHAM seriously trying to big-time Jushin Liger? Over to Kazmaier, so DDP comes in and gets nowhere with that. Kaz slams him, but Page manages to push him to the apron and Kazmaier skins the cat back in and clotheslines DDP for two. Kaz goes up and misses a splash, and DDP goes to a chinlock and chokes him out. Liger comes back in and hits Page with a leg lariat, so Page tags out to Graham, and Liger hits him with an enzuigiri and slingshot splash for two. Liger asks Kaz to give him a knee, and unlike that dummy Gigante, Kazmaier LISTENS. They double-team Graham and Liger gets the bow and arrow, but Graham reverses to a Boston crab. They trade rollups as thankfully Graham is working with Liger now, but then Kazmaier comes in again as the match dies off. So he does nothing with DDP and they tag out again as this is going nowhere. So Liger hits Graham with a rolling kick and Kazmaier gets a slam for two. Back to DDP and they double-team Kazmaier in the corner. But Liger comes in and tosses Graham, and then follows with an incredible somersault tope to wake up the crowd again, and back in for the moonsault for two. So everyone fights and Kaz presses Liger onto Page for the pin at 13:08. Liger was incredible here but these were completely the wrong people to showcase his stuff and the match was long and meandering with no one taking control of it. *1/2 for Liger and the short times he was allowed to do his thing. But holy crap every time Kazmaier and DDP were in there it just got sucked into a black hole of terrible.
SUPERBRAWL II! Interesting that WCW positioned that show as being on the same level as the World Series or the Super Bowl while basically making Starrcade into a throwaway experiment.
Lex Luger & Arn Anderson v. Terrence Taylor & Tom Zenk
OK now we’re getting somewhere. However now they’re back to the OTHER corners again on the right-hand ring! This is really tripping me out. Arn evades Zenk and points to his head to indicate intelligence, but Taylor gives him a shot and everyone is fired up and slugs it out in the ring. So we quickly established that Taylor and Zenk are going to be babyface here at least instead of messing around for 10 minutes. Luger comes in and works a headlock on Zenk, but Zenk controls with a dropkick and armbar. So it’s over to Taylor, and Luger hits him with a press slam. Taylor with a necksnap for two and a neckbreaker for two. So at this point Luger was essentially at the end of his contracted dates for the year and clearly did not give anything approaching a crap. Frankly I’m not even sure why they bothered burning one of his dates on this match. Taylor with a sunset flip for two, but Arn makes the tag to save and Taylor hits him with a pump splash for two, shifting effortlessly back into babyface mode again. Taylor was a good worker and the York Foundation stuff was such a waste of everyone. Arn hits Zenk with a DDT while Tom is going after Race on the apron, and that gets two. Lex comes in with a suplex for two and beats on Zenk with knees. Zenk faceplants Arn, but Luger cuts off the tag and continues beating on Zenk with the powerslam for two. Arn misses a blind charge on Zenk, but Zenk goes up and Arn slugs him on the way down. But then Arn goes up and lands on Zenk’s foot and both guys are down. Hot tag Taylor and he runs wild on the heels, rolling up Luger for two. Bodypress on Luger gets two. Backslide gets two. Lex finally gives him the old Jesse Ventura special, but Taylor still gets a Doctorbomb for two. Zenk superkicks Arn to get rid of him, but Arn hits Taylor from behind and Lex piledrives him for the pin at 10:24. Finally something approaching a good match! *** Now they could have done something with Taylor afterwards and turned him babyface off this because clearly he was still great in that role, but NOPE. They did nothing and this lead to nothing and none of it meant a thing.
Ricky Steamboat & Todd Champion v. Cactus Jack & Buddy Lee Parker
Sadly Buddy gets mauled by Abdullah the Butcher in the locker room, because Abby wanted to be Jack’s partner and is thus denied the chance. Also the drawing with Eric Bischoff and Missy Hyatt has some weirdness, as Eric opens the first one and goes “I’m gonna keep this one a secret for a bit!” and then draws the next guy, who I guess is Todd Champion, and then announces Steamboat’s name as his partner. And then Missy (who sounds drunk) quips “I guess it was a shoot then” while giggling about something. WTF was that about? Anyway, Abdullah tries to take Buddy’s place, but the referees send him back, leaving Jack on his own against the babyfaces. Jack manages to fight off Steamboat and clotheslines him for two while Buddy takes another beating from Abdullah on the ramp and yet continues to valiantly crawl to the ring somehow. Steamboat dumps Jack to the floor and follows with a tope suicida of all things, and they brawl on the floor. Back in the ring, Steamboat superkicks him and brings in Champion, who legdrops Cactus and goes to a chinlock. Meanwhile, Buddy continues crawling to the ring, drawing a babyface reaction from the crowd as this thing is completely ass-backwards, with the heels fighting from underneath against the white meat babyfaces. Jack manages to dump Champion and drop the elbow on him, and back in for a chinlock of his own. Champion fights out and misses a legdrop, but then comes back again and collides with Jack, allowing Parker to tag himself in. So Jack turns on him and Steamboat finishes him off with a flying bodypress at 7:45 for the anticlimactic ending. That was about as counterproductive as you could get in the allotted time. The babyfaces looked like jerks there. They didn’t even give Parker a hope spot before he jobbed! *
Sting & Abdullah the Butcher v. Brian Pillman & Bobby Eaton
Good god we’re still only halfway through this slog of a show. I’m assuming Dusty’s plan was to create his own version of the Royal Rumble or something but it’s completely apparent that it’s a failure already. So here’s trope #3 from earlier: Feuding wrestlers shockingly forced to team up! And indeed, Abby lays out Sting on the ramp and beats on him with the kendo stick until Pillman saves, and then Bobby goes to work on Sting in the ring. Sting backdrops Bobby to the apron and follows with a dive to make the comeback. Back in the ring, Eaton rakes the eyes and Abdullah nails Sting from behind, allowing Bobby to go to the chinlock. Sting fights out of that, but Abdullah finds a pencil and stabs his own partner in the throat. Sting fights back on Bobby and tosses him, but while that’s going on, the camera misses Pillman slamming Abby in the ring! He hits the Butcher with a flying splash, but Eaton refuses to tag Pillman and then tries to tag Abdullah instead. But Sting and Abby are partners so that doesn’t work, as this gets increasingly confusing. Sting with a tombstone on Bobby and everyone comes in for the brawl, but Cactus Jack runs in and hits Abby by mistake. So Sting gets a flying bodypress on Eaton to finish at 5:52. Even I was having trouble following who was with who here. **
Rick Steiner & The Night Stalker v. Big Van Vader & Mr. Hughes
Night Stalker is taking the place of the injured Diamond Studd, which is about as exciting as learning that Adam Bomb is subbing for Razor Ramon on a house show in 1995. Vader beats on Steiner to start with forearms in the corner, but Rick clotheslines him and tosses him with an overhead suplex before clotheslining him to the floor. So they slug it out on the floor Rick’s having fun with that. Back in, Vader teases a suplex onto the floor form the apron, but Rick muscles him into the ring with his own suplex. Over to Hughes, who drops an elbow on Rick for two, but Steiner backdrops him for two. Hughes chokes away on the ropes, but Rick suplexes him for two and they collide for the double down. Night Stalker tags himself in for a flying clothesline that misses by a foot and the match suddenly falls apart in record time, and Vader thankfully splashes Mr. Stalker for the pin at 5:10. Things were going relatively fine with Steiner working the whole match by himself but HOLY COW did Bryan Clark manage to wreck it. And the replay shows he wasn’t in position to take the splash properly and got splashed on his shoulder! *1/2
Scott Steiner & Firebreaker Chip v. Johnny B. Badd & Arachnaman
We’re one dumb Dusty gimmick away from this match being peak 1991 Dusty. If they had only swapped out Steiner and replaced him with the Great and Powerful Oz or something we’d be there with time to spare. Badd slugs away on Chip the Firebreaker and puts him down with an elbow, but Chip comes out of the corner with a crossbody for two. Over to ARACHNAMAN, who is 100% legally distinct from any published superhero characters, but Steiner powerslams him and follows with a backdrop before clotheslining him to the floor. Frankly I’m surprised Disney hasn’t retroactively sued WWE and made them scrub all appearances from the Network along with everyone in blackface. Steiner hits Badd with a spinebuster and runs him into the corner as JR reads off the remaining four people in the lottery and no spoilers, but we can safely say that the match quality peaked an hour ago and won’t be threatened further. Badd and the mysterious superhero from Web City double-team Chip and work the arm, but Scott hits Badd with the Steinerline and butterfly bomb. Chip comes in and gets lost immediately and the announcers are basically talking about how the match is falling apart because Steiner and Chip aren’t regular tag team partners and thus the match sucks and it’s not really their fault. Badd and not-Spider-Man work on Chip in the corner and finally Scott gets a hot tag after a million years of that. Arachnaman goes up and Scott catches him in a suplex and pins him at 11:12. This doesn’t seem like it would that bad, but it was. It was just 10 minutes of absolutely nothing. *1/2
Ron Simmons & Thomas Rich v. Steve Armstrong & PN News
So we’re on the last goddamn tag match of the night and they couldn’t even just book a straight babyface v. heel match? We just had to do ONE MORE wacky partners deal? I am so done with the show. Armstrong stalls to start and annoys Simmons, so Ron hits him with a press slam and beats on him with forearms. Ron works the arm and Rich comes in to save, but Armstrong slugs away on him in the corner. I don’t really understand Rich’s “corporate heel” gear here, as he’s got a survivalist beard and leather chaps over his pants. Like is that how rich people dress in Atlanta? News overpowers Rich for a bit, but the crowd wants Simmons so he comes in and bulldogs the RAPMASTER for two. News with a crossbody for two, but it’s back to Armstrong and things slow way down with Rich choking him out with wrist tape. But then Armstrong steals the tape and does his own choking. Simmons and Rich bicker as the glacial pace continues, and Rich suplexes Armstrong. But then he gets trapped in the heel (?) corner. It’s kind of a weird dynamic because Armstrong is a Young Pistol and News is the rapmaster, and how do you link rap music with guns? Tough sell. Rich gets worked over and worked over and this is DEATH, like you went into a bar and asked what they have on tap and the answer is “shitty fucking wrestling matches that go on forever with no point” and you’re like “WELL GIVE ME TEN OF THEM THEN! KEEP ‘EM COMING, BARKEEP!” I was hoping that metaphor would inspire the match to end while I was typing it, but NOPE, Armstrong holds Rich in a chinlock and oh yeah THOMAS RICH is face in peril here. Finally, TWELVE GODDAMNED MINUTES into the match, Ron gets the hot tag and pins Armstrong to advance. The viewers, crowd and announcers were all completely burned out on the entire concept by this point in the show. ½*
So we’ve got 20 guys in here, made up of all the winners from earlier. And it’s not just a battle royale, OH NO, it’s a DOUBLE RING BATTLE ROYALE for one further layer of complication, so the winner of the first ring then faces the winner of the second ring to determine the overall winner for this whole thing. And we’ve still got another half an hour left in this show so it won’t be quick or painless to wrap this up. Entrant list: Vader, Marcus Bagwell, Jimmy Garvin, Dustin Rhodes, Bill Kazmaier, Jushin Liger, Steve Austin, Richard Morton, Todd Champion, Abdullah the Butcher, Firebreaker Chip, Thomas Rich, Ron Simmons, Ricky Steamboat, Mr. Hughes, Scott Steiner, Lex Luger, Rick Rude, Arn Anderson & Sting.
So indeed they have a battle royale and it’s just guys laying on the ropes and slugging away and absolutely nothing of note going on. Tommy Rich gets thrown into ring 2 to be the first guy out and it’s just a mass of people standing around and doing nothing in the first ring. Bagwell goes into the second ring and Rich beats on Bagwell over there. Meanwhile the announcers talk about the excitement happening between Sting and Luger, which is totally off-camera, and instead the directory focuses on Hughes and Vader literally standing in the middle of the ring and talking. BEST BATTLE ROYALE EVER. And people wonder why I hate these matches so much. Chip and Liger get thrown into the second ring and Ricky Morton just kind of follows them over, probably as bored of the first ring as I am, and then he does this awesome little sequence with Liger for fun before they both go over the top to knock them out of the match at 7:30. Apparently Rich gets thrown out of the match by someone at 8:00 as well. Thankfully more people meander over to ring #2 to break up the visual monotony of the mass of wrestlers. Garvin is thrown out at 9:12. But then the pendulum swings the other way as everyone gravitates to the second ring and THAT fills up with bodies, leaving Vader and Luger in the first ring in an odd choice. Vader beats on Luger and hits him with a corner splash, but Lex clotheslines him into the other ring to win the first ring.
Over to the second ring, we lose Champion, Kazmaier and Chip at 11:30 when someone eliminates them. Let’s say…Mo. Man, you know what would be even more awesome? A THREE RING battle royale! With three times the people! We’ve got four years to workshop it, let’s make it happen. A bunch more people go flying out as we somehow run short on time after giving guys like Van Hammer 10 minutes to get their shit in earlier. So the final four in ring two are Sting, Austin, Rude and Steamboat, and that’s a pretty awesome tag match right there. Rude accidentally puts Austin out at 15:21, but Steamboat takes Rude out via skin the cat, and then Rude pulls out Steamboat, leaving Sting as the winner of Ring 2. But then Rude gives Sting a Rude Awakening in the name of sportsmanship. Good lesson for all you kids out there.
BATTLEBOWL FINALE: Luger beats on Sting with a clothesline out of the corner and puts the boots to him before choking him out on the ropes. More kicks and yelling from Luger. They might have used up all his dates by this point, but Luger grunts for free! Sting goes after Race on the ramp and Luger tosses Sting to the floor to save his manager, although neither guy went over the top so the match continues. They fight on the floor, but Sting makes a comeback in the ring. This brings Race in and he takes a further beating from Sting, but the Stinger splash misses and nearly puts him over the top. Lex tosses him again, but Sting hangs on and makes one more comeback while Lex celebrates. Sting clotheslines him over, but Lex hangs on, so Sting dumps him to win at 23:18. The final segment in the second ring and finale with Luger and Sting was pretty decent overall, but the battle royale match itself was scraping the bottom of the barrel most of the way through.
I wouldn’t call this one like, all-time bad or anything, because at least it was an interesting concept that just happened to be a complete failure on every level. But they were trying something, I’ll give them that.
That being said, this would have worked WAY, WAY better as something confined to a TV special like a Clash of Champions, with only 5 tag matches and a scaled-down battle royale finale. That way you could break up the death march of tag matches with some interview segments and angles, and cut out all the crappy workers. You’d think this would set up a bunch of stuff, but it didn’t, as everything was forgotten literally by the next TV show. In fact I couldn’t even have told you who was in any of the matches before I watched this again, and I barely remembered who even won the whole thing. So it’s a good thing that it was a one-off and they learned from their failure, and…
They did it THREE MORE TIMES?!? ALL ON PAY-PER-VIEW? WTF, WCW?!?