Torch Today DEC. 28 IN HISTORY: Sting vs. Hogan at Starrcade '97 - Torch Cover Story details one of the most-hyped and anticipated matches of the Monday Night War
Dec 28, 2013 - 9:30:39 AM
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This Day In Wrestling History - December 28
Date: December 28, 1997 (16 years ago)
Feature: WCW's Starrcade PPV featured the culmination of Sting's storyline war with the NWO, as Sting returned to in-ring action to defeat Hulk Hogan for the WCW Title. But, the "controversial referee finish" and Bret Hart's involvement led to main event chaos at the beginning of 1998. WCW spent the first-half of 1998 trying to recover from Starrcade's empty-feeling ending after massive hype for the Sting vs. Hogan match. Below is the entire Torch Newsletter Cover Story on the Starrcade '97 PPV, including those in WCW believing Hulk Hogan was WWF-bound after the match...
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COVER STORY: WCW Starrcade 1997
HEADLINE: Sting captures title from Hogan at Starrcade
SUBHEADLINE: Rematch on Nitro ends with Sting retaining title, but not until after show went off the air; Is Hogan WWF-bound?
By Wade Keller, Torch editor
Dec. 28 in Washington, D.C. at MCI Center, Sting captured the WCW Title from Hulk Hogan in the main event of Starrcade. The finish of the match wasn't without controversy, both from a storyline standpoint and behind the scenes.
Just over ten minutes into the main event, Hogan gave Sting a big boot to the face, then cupped his ears for the crowd, and followed up with a legdrop. He covered Sting and ref Nick Patrick -- who became referee for the match after a "random drawing" backstage -- counted to three. Just at the three count, Sting barely lifted his right shoulder, but it wasn't an obvious kickout. Patrick signaled for the belt and awarded the match to Hogan. From there, the finish turned into a bizarre takeoff on the controversial Survivor Series title match finish.
The camera shifted from center ring to ringside where Bret Hart was standing. He had grabbed the bell ringer's hammer and said that he wouldn't let another injustice happen. Hogan tried to leave the ring with the belt, but Bret grabbed him in the aisle, threw Hogan back into the ring, and designated himself the referee for the match. Scott Norton and Buff Bagwell came to the ring to try to interfere, but Sting easily fended them off. Sting then applied the Scorpion Death Lock on Hogan. Hogan shook his head "No" a few times, then nodded and said, "Yes." Bret signaled for the bell to ring and awarded the match to Sting. Michael Buffer announced the title change as dozens of WCW wrestlers stormed the ring to celebrate with Sting. Sting looked into the camera and shouted something in Spanish. The event then went off the air, without any acknowledgment of the controversial nature of Sting's apparent title win.
The next night on Monday Nitro at Baltimore Arena, J.J. Dillon announced the decision would stand, but never even tried to justify how Bret Hart was able to designate himself the official referee, especially since the first pinfall seemed as legal as could be. On Nitro, the announcers claimed the original three count by Patrick was a fast count; it clearly wasn't, making the WCW announcers look dishonest and deceptive.
Hogan complained about losing the title unfairly and demanded WCW make good on their mistake. Dillon came out and said that Sting agreed to defend the title against anyone from the NWO -- including Hogan -- later in the show. Eric Bischoff came out and accepted the challenge.
The rematch aired live on Nitro, beginning at the end of the second hour of Nitro. Tony Schiavone said they would stay with the match as long as they could. The match went six minutes before going off the air. Just as they went off the air, ref Randy Anderson was knocked down. WCW left viewers hanging on whether Sting would retain the title or Hogan would regain it. Most viewers won't find out until the weekend at the earliest. WCW, at this point, doesn't plan to air the finish of the match in its entirety until Thursday, Jan. 8 on the debut of WCW Thunder.
After the show went off the air, Nick Patrick came out to replace the fallen Anderson. He made Sting break a Scorpion Death Lock on Hogan for no reason. He ended up shoving Sting into Hogan, who rolled him up with a hand full of tights. Patrick made a rapid-fire three count, ignoring that Sting kicked out. Sting knocked out Patrick, then went after Hogan again. He put Hogan in the scorpion. Anderson got up and signaled for the bell as Hogan tapped out. The NWO attacked Sting. Bret Hart led a group of WCW wrestlers who made the save. J.J. Dillon awarded the title to Sting.
There was a lot more going on behind the scenes in WCW than met the eye on Sunday and Monday nights. In fact, the level of disarray extended to a number of levels, including key no-shows of Kevin Nash and Konnan.
The most significant source of strife behind the scenes, though, centered around Hulk Hogan. At first it appeared Hogan and Patrick double-crossed Sting and Bret Hart in the finish at Starrcade. The finish that took place the next night on Nitro was supposed to have been how the finish to Starrcade played out. Initially everyone believed Patrick ignored orders to make a rapid fire three count on Sting and instead made a standard three count, making it appear that Hogan cleanly pinned Sting. That made Bret's protest of Hogan's win seem like delusional sour grapes. The finish was originally conceived with Earl Hebner in mind. The story circulating is that WCW attempted to sign Hebner to be the referee for the match and he was to make the fast three count, with Patrick being the back-up plan. Despite accusations of being part of yet another double-cross on Bret, Patrick has told people he thought he was making a faster-than-normal three count when he hit the mat at Starrcade, but in retrospect realizes it should have been faster. Others still believe Hogan put him up to it. The apparent miscue by Patrick muddled the storyline the next night and made the announcers and Dillon out to be liars by claiming the three count was too fast to be considered official.
In any case, the fact that Hogan dropped the title and didn't regain it the next night plays into the industry talk that Hogan may be headed to the WWF later this month. The fact that Hogan was so willing to drop the title -- and that he came up with the scenario on his own of him submitting to the scorpion -- actually made some in WCW fear that indeed he might be planning to leave. The plan at one point Monday was for Hogan to pin Sting to regain the title, but ultimately that didn't happen. When TNT, due to a budgeting dispute, turned down Hogan's TV series which was based on the "Assault on Devil's Island" movie (that did so well in the ratings), that gave Hogan the rights to shop it around to other cable networks and syndicators. If USA Network has shown interest in the show, he might return to the WWF later this month as part of a package deal with the television show.
Bischoff as recently as the day after Starrcade, has denied that Hogan has the opportunity to leave WCW, insisting that he is locked up through 1998. Several other key sources indicate Hogan does have the chance to leave, and that the "no-compete" element of his contract with WCW expires in early January. At that point, he could conceivably go to work for the WWF and USA Network. However, Hogan has definitely agreed to work four PPV dates with WCW in '98, which may be why Bischoff claims to have Hogan locked up. Hogan, though, could volunteer to work those PPV dates for WCW while otherwise working full-time for the WWF. Since Hogan has 100 percent creative control over his finishes, he could call Bischoff from Titan Towers in February and ask him which WCW wrestlers he wants him to beat cleanly at the next four WCW pay-per-views. Bischoff would then have little choice but to decline to use Hogan at all.
Bischoff spent a good chunk of the Dec. 22 Nitro kissing up to Hogan, giving him gifts, and calling him the greatest wrestler ever, which insiders at the time interpreted as Bischoff's attempt to get Hogan to agree to job to Sting. Perhaps it was also Bischoff, in a strange way, trying to get Hogan to sign an extension. Sources say Bischoff has approached Hogan in recent weeks trying to get him to agree to a more detailed and locked-in contract with WCW in 1998, but as of last word, Hogan hasn't accepted.
WWF officials, though, have told people that they had discussions with Hogan representatives last week regarding him returning to the WWF in January. The speculation about Hogan's future hit a fever pitch on Sunday when various reports surfaced that WWF employees were talking about getting a major acquisition in January who would shift the balance of power in wrestling back to the WWF. It may have been the WWF was just talking about Mike Tyson (whom they want to sign to fight Ken Shamrock at Wrestlemania), but that situation is in such preliminary stages, it seems unlikely the WWF would brag about Tyson as an "acquisition" when negotiations had yet to even begin. It's also unlikely that Tyson would be able to do anything approaching "shifting the balance of power" in the wrestling industry, unless he became a full-time wrestler -- which isn't going to happen. Instead, Tyson would provide a short term boost in publicity (good and bad) for the WWF.
The WWF has to be careful about acknowledging they've had any official talks with Hogan since he is under some form of a WCW contract through the first week of January, However, some WWF officials have indicated to others that any talks they had with Hogan's representatives (perhaps his agent, Henry Holmes) were seen by them as Hogan merely trying to gain leverage with WCW for a new deal with WCW in 1998 and they didn't take him seriously. It's also entirely possible Hogan has struck an under-the-table deal with the WWF already, and that's why he insisted on pinning Sting before agreeing to submit -- so he could leave WCW with a pinfall victory over WCW's "top wrestler." Perhaps the only way to get Sting to agree to get pinned was to convince him the plan was for it to be a fast count. The way the finish played out made Bret Hart, Dillon, and WCW in general look bad and made Hogan look as if he was cheated.
For the record, there isn't much of a buzz among the wrestlers in either the WCW or WWF locker rooms about Hogan. The assumption among wrestlers is that he is staying put where he is. In fact, this weekend he was talking with some wrestlers about how he hoped to have some great matches with Bret in the next few months.
The sentiment in WCW and from most observers is that Sting turned out to be a tremendous disappointment at Starrcade. His full body outfit based on the Crow theme covered everything but his head and arms. His shoulders and chest seemed more like those of an aerobics instructor than a champion wrestler. He looked pale and listless in the ring, making it appear that he didn't train for the match. In fact, some fans in attendance at the arena say that much of the crowd didn't think it was the real Sting until several minutes into the match, especially since Sting just walked to the ring, rather than descend from the ceiling. Hogan had expressed concern dating back more than two months that Sting wouldn't be able to carry the ball if he won the title at Starrcade. The match itself was a disappointment also, complicated by the confusing, convoluted finish.
Hogan has more potential money matches in WCW with the title than Sting does, especially since Sting appears to be a major disappointment in his first two matches back (less so in his second match). The slated plan now is for Sting to defend the title against Hogan in the main event of the Souled Out pay-per-view on Jan. 24 -- assuming Hogan is still around. If Hogan regained the belt then, it would set up Hogan vs. Scott Hall at SuperBrawl, which could begin the break-up of the NWO. If Sting retained the title, he would face Hall.
If Hogan were to leave, it's possible Randy Savage could follow him to the WWF just a few weeks later. Savage's contract, worth more than $1 million per year, extends through 1998, but sources indicate he does have an escape clause, perhaps as early as late-January, that would allow him to jump. Besides Savage, other Hogan-allies might follow Hogan to the WWF, including Giant and Konnan, contracts permitting. The first date Hogan could appear on Raw would be Jan. 12, the next live edition.
Hogan may ultimately be planning to stay in WCW, but figures he can get the best deal possible by playing the WWF against WCW. Other sources say Hogan has been unhappy enough with WCW in recent month that returning to the WWF is a definite possibility. Given the impact Hogan's departure could have on WCW, it seems unlikely in the 11th hour that WCW, with Time-Warner's incredible resources, won't come up with whatever it takes to make Hogan happy. For Hogan to be happy, he will need a series on TNT with the budget he wants and he'll need to make substantially more than Bret Hart. Hogan has made it clear to friends he isn't pleased that Bret's salary, around $3 million a year, is just a tad shy of his annual guarantee.
The set of problems WCW experienced at Starrcade extended well beyond Hulk Hogan and Sting. Kevin Nash no-showed the event. He called WCW over the weekend and told them he wouldn't be able to make it to the event. He claimed to have had a heart attack and needed to take it easy. WCW officials were skeptical, and in fact Sunday before Starrcade discussed potential reasons Nash decided not to show up, such as Nash hearing that they wanted him to job to Giant. Nash, in fact, has been under tremendous stress since his step-father who raised him has been hospitalized the last three weeks after major internal complications. The stress of that situation led to Nash experiencing chest pains. Nash was worried he may have had a mild heart attack since he has a family history of heart problems. His biological father died at age 38 when Nash was very young and other family members have also had heart problems at young ages. Nash says he saw a cardiologist and test results indicated he didn't suffer a heart attack, but that he did suffer heart trauma.
In any case, WCW strongly believes that Nash would have been there had he not been unhappy with the way his match against the Giant had been pushed. The belief is Nash overplayed his situation at home as an excuse because he was upset that Bischoff spent much more television time hyping his match against Zbyszko than Nash's match against Giant. WCW officials contend it was tough to properly hype the match since Nash was at home every Monday tending to family matters. Nash, though, many weeks before Starrcade, had asked WCW to delay the match until it could be properly hyped, but WCW chose to keep it on the Starrcade line-up. There could be more to the story. Nash is definitely in WCW's dog house right now, ironically just a matter of days after he and Scott Hall signed contract extensions with WCW for $1 million-plus per year through 2003.
Konnan also no-showed his six-man tag match at Starrcade. He cited a medical emergency with his girlfriend as the reason for his no-show. Randy Savage took his place in the six-man tag match, although that change in the card wasn't without controversy, either. In order to get Savage to agree to be a late substitute in a relatively meaningless tag match in the second slot on the card, he insisted that he get the pinfall victory and it be over the biggest name in the match. Otherwise he felt it would diminish his name value. He got his wish. The original finish was for Vincent to do the job, but instead Savage scored a clean pinfall on Scott Steiner after a top rope elbow drop.
Dean Malenko was also upset. His wife gave birth a few days before Starrcade. Malenko knew it would be touch and go whether he would be able to even be at Starrcade, not knowing exactly when his wife would give birth. Rather than put Rey Misterio Jr. in the match instead, WCW continued to plan for Malenko to face Eddie Guerrero. WCW, knowing Nash and Konnan weren't there and Raven was unable to wrestle as scheduled, believed that a substitution in the opening match would make the other substitutions and no-shows later in the card harder to swallow.
It wasn't a smooth night all around for Bret Hart, who had to improvise in the semi-final match pitting Eric Bischoff against Larry Zbyszko. When Bischoff gave Zbyszko the knock out kick to end the match, the foreign object in his boot flew out just before he hit Zbyszko in the side of the head. The plan was for Bret to find the foreign object in the boot, but since it sailed out of the ring, he had to ad lib and disqualify Bischoff based on seeing the object fly out of his boot.
Bischoff and company have quite a mess of sorts to clean up following Starrcade. Beside definite uncertainty over Hogan's future, problems with Nash, and the disappointment of Sting's performance, they have a new weekly show to plan for starting Thursday, Jan. 8, and having abandoned an NWO format, they have to somehow figure a way to differentiate it from Nitro.
Yet, among all of the disarray are two important positives. The ratings for Nitro likely rose again with the presentation of Sting vs. Hogan on Monday night and Starrcade set a new revenue record for a live WCW event -- drawing a sellout of 16,052 paying fans for $543,000 (with $164,000 in merchandising).
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PWTorch editor Wade Keller has covered pro wrestling full time since 1987 starting with the Pro Wrestling Torch print newsletter. PWTorch.com launched in 1999 and the PWTorch Apps launched in 2008.
He has conducted "Torch Talk" insider interviews with Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Steve Austin, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Eric Bischoff, Jesse Ventura, Lou Thesz, Jerry Lawler, Mick Foley, Jim Ross, Paul Heyman, Bruno Sammartino, Goldberg, more.
He has interviewed big-name players in person incluiding Vince McMahon (at WWE Headquarters), Dana White (in Las Vegas), Eric Bischoff (at the first Nitro at Mall of America), Brock Lesnar (after his first UFC win).
He hosted the weekly Pro Wrestling Focus radio show on KFAN in the early 1990s and hosted the Ultimate Insiders DVD series distributed in retail stories internationally in the mid-2000s including interviews filmed in Los Angeles with Vince Russo & Ed Ferrara and Matt & Jeff Hardy. He currently hosts the most listened to pro wrestling audio show in the world, (the PWTorch Livecast, top ranked in iTunes)
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