It is no secret that the mid-1990s were wrestling’s dark ages. For evidence of the industry’s doldrums, look no further than WCW’s biggest annual event for 1994; which could very well be the worst WCW event in the entirety of the promotion. Now the competition for this slot is quite heavily contested as PPVs such as Halloween Havoc 1995, Bash At The Beach 2000, or The Great American Bash 1991 all pose fierce competition.
A quick note before we start about the event’s name. This Starrcade was subtitled ‘Triple Threat’, for almost no reason. WCW claimed there was a triple main event (Hogan vs Butcher, Sting vs Avalanche, and Vader vs Duggan) but the latter was the opener. A promotional poster with the event – reading “One historic Night! Too intense to believe! 3 Main Events!” featured the faces listed in the wrong order of match placement on the card and the three faces to represent each match were also all the winners of the three matches – way to give it away, guys!
Vader (w/Harley Race) vs Jim Duggan (c) – United States Championship
This match could go either way: a sloppy, clunky bout or a stiff hoss match.
Vader had beaten Dustin Rhodes at Clash Of The Champions XXIX – the same event Duggan beat Steve Austin for the belt in 35 seconds – to become the number one contender, with the winner of this Starrcade match also becoming the number one contender to Hulk Hogan’s World Heavyweight title as well as being US champion.
The match starts with a brawl on the outside before Duggan wipes Harley Race out of the ring as the ex-NWA champion takes his patented corner bump. Duggan stands tall and even slams Vader before proceeding to unleash a beating that knocks off “The Mastodon”’s mask. In a bit of backward booking, “Hacksaw” is largely dominant yet Vader does eventually get the Vader Splash but Duggan gets the rope. He subsequently avoids a Vader Bomb and Vader Sault – both of which were pretty obviously going to be telegraphed by Jim. Jim hits his Three-Point Stance finisher and a diving scoop slam counter both of which Race distracts the referee from. Vader pushes Jim into Harley whose holding a 2×4 before Vader finishes off with a move he’s been putting over the past few weeks – a wheelbarrow facebuster. Wish we saw a Vader Bomb but instead we see this new maneuver. It looks pretty atrocious but it works and after 12 minutes, Vader is crowned the new US titleholder – so at least the right person won.
Alone, that match was pretty decent – one of Duggan’s more notable post-Mid-South matches. Provided that, the booking was all wrong, with the new world title challenger taking a pummeling but Vader sold well enough for Duggan to make it entertaining. On 83 Weeks, Eric Bischoff states, “Vader sold like a rockstar for Duggan which made Duggan look better than you expect him to look. Part of that was Duggan, the majority of it was Vader”. However, I think OSW Review summed it up when they claim: “He’s an ex-WWF guy that Hogan got fired. Duggan is not a generous seller”. Had the match been flipped around, it would have made much more sense but for what it was, it did a decent job and crowned Vader as a new champion.
Star Rating: *½
We then get a very kayfabe PWI award ceremony as Hogan and The Nasty Boys are presented with their given awards by Bill Apter.
Hogan is presented with the Wrestler Of The Year award in front of a picture of him holding the award as if he’s Denholm Reynholm in The IT Crowd.
We then get a backstage promo with The Three Faces Of Fear. The Butcher (Brutus Beefcake) presents a hilariously fake promo tombstone. It reads: “Hulkamania: Rest In Agony”, I guess they could not think of any other word beginning with ‘P’ to make the acronym work. Avalanche (Earthquake) has a rambling, shouty promo aimed towards Sting whilst Sullivan clearly does not know what to do with himself so bites his hands and hits his forehead.
Alex Wright vs Jean-Paul Levesque
Next, we go to a battle between Germany and France as “Das Wunderkind” Alex Wright takes on Jean-Paul Levesque (yes, Triple H) with his ill-fitting accent and perhaps dubbed theme. Alex Wright is not even reached the age of 20 by the time of this match. This is the debut PPV match of both men and the Frenchman’s only PPV match.
One thing to listen out for throughout the match is Bobby Heenan’s German puns and comments about Wright including his comment, “If he wasn’t wrestling, he’d be in Germany making those hats with spikes on top”. Just a reminder that despite how Wright is presented, techno theme and all, Germany was once again a united nation by ‘94.
The match is a technical contest that displays Levesque’s methodical breaking down of his opponent whilst the young German shows off his athleticism. The crowd is killed early on by mat wrestling for an excessive period and Wright’s white-meat babyface persona is just not clicking with the crowd. Wright gets a rather surprising win in the end with a corner backflip over the future “King Of Kings” before an O’Connor Roll for the win. It was an impressive showing for Wright albeit in a match that went on for seemingly way too long and would have been aided by being cut in half.
It was, however, the match that drew the attention of the WWF towards Levesque.
Star Rating: **
Johnny B. Badd (c) vs Arn Anderson (w/Colonel Robert Parker & Meng) – Television Championship
Despite weeks of building up towards the Honky Tonk Man/Johnny B. Badd, the PPV comes around and we just don’t get any of that. Badd was supposed to win and hence retain his title but the longest-reigning Intercontinental champion refused and either quit or was fired – likely the latter. On 83 Weeks, Eric Bischoff commented: “I fired his ass because he held me up…the motherfucker actually thought he was Elvis”. Bischoff has since commented how the firing was one of his favorite moments in the company.
Bischoff said on 83 Weeks that “we knew that week who the replacement was going to be” – which would be Arn Anderson, then on the booking committee and managed by Stud Stable members Robert Parker and Meng, the latter looking odd in a suit. This means we had the Little Richard imposter named after a Chuck Berry song supposed to face an Elvis impersonator but then wrestling someone managed by a copycat of Elvis’s manager Colonel Tom Parker – crazy how wrestling just works out sometimes!
Even at the last minute, Arn put on a great performance and – although held down by a questionable gimmick – JBB was a thoroughly flash and entertaining performer. As the match gets started, Heenan claims Nashville should have been bombed, not Hiroshima. The duo have a thoroughly decent bout with Arn’s Spinebuster and DDT stand-out moments from the match. “The Enforcer” provides some gems in terms of selling including defiance to fall after a sunset flip. The ending is a little disappointing and cliché however. After a picture-perfect sunset flip from Badd, Anderson eventually gets a pinfall when using the ropes. Arn won the title only a few weeks later so that poses the question as to why he didn’t win here.
Ultimately, this has to be the match of the night for me. Its rating is not entirely reflective of the match itself but factors in the context. It was made on short notice, with no huge errors, and was likely way better than Honky would have ever done, which surely has to make it more creditable.
Star Rating: **1/2
The Nasty Boys vs Harlem Heat (w/Sister Sherri)
Next up is the match Dave Meltzer rated as the best of the night although he wittily stated: “to say they stole the show would make them guilty of petty theft”.
In a non-title match, Harlem Heat had already won the tag belts off Stars And Stripes three weeks earlier but the taped match had not been aired so to the viewing audience, Booker T and Stevie Ray were not titleholders. Also, The Nasty Boys wrestle as faces here which is no different from when they are heels.
It starts as a brawl and The Nasties get the upper hand leading to Harlem Heat fleeing to “Sensual” Sherri. On the topic of Sherri, “The Brain” on commentary states “You know what they call a woman with two million dollars? Divorced!”. On the outside, Knobbs decks Booker with a clothesline, forcing a bug-eyed sell from T before he throws his up the stairs into the ring. Heenan makes a joke about HH going through The Nasty Boys wallets, which has just a slight tinge of racism about it. Knobbs and Sags work over the arm – as to why I cannot tell. Ray hits a botchy-looking gourdbuster onto the railing. The match grinds to a halt for a while as Ray has to move legal man Sags back to the ring.
After a long wear-down period including a lengthy bearhug, Sags goes to tag in but Knobbs is taken out by Ray. Sags finally makes a tag, God – is this match still going on? Eventually, Stevie Ray holds Knobbs up to Sherri but Brian moves and Sherri sprays Stevie in the face. How could they ever suspect that(?). The Nasty Boys hit a diving move and so does Sherri, accidentally squashing her own client. Really, a DQ? The longest match on the card and a DQ? The Nasty Boys hit Sherri with the Pit Stop as her face is shoved into Sags’s sweaty armpit, well done guys – you’re the heroes we need(!). Of course, Sherri takes it like a pro.
Some good parts of this match, anchored by Booker T and Jerry Sags. Yet it has some mind-boggling spots, went on for double the length needed, and ended in a hugely-frustrating disqualification. Pretty sloppy but with good intentions, Bischoff remarked that in hindsight “when you get 17 minutes with it you’re asking for trouble”.
Star Rating: *1/2
Mr. T vs Kevin Sullivan
Nearing a decade after his relevance at the inaugural WrestleMania, Mr. T is now notably less of a star with his appearances in the Rocky films, and The A-Team wrapping up in the ‘80s as well as his adverts for Snickers and kitsch TV shows not taking place until the 21st century – making the gold-plated, fool-pitying actor less relevant here than his career prior or subsequently.
Mr. T arrives in WWF referee-esque attire, mixed with a matching archaic Ebenezer Scrooge nightcap. The match goes underway as T.’s punches look stiff. Sullivan takes it to the outside where he pulls T.’s shirt halfway off so the actor’s arms are in a fixed position. Hilariously, a cameraman trips. Naturally, Sullivan throws T. into the steps and onto the cameraman as the ‘Mania main eventer is stick pinning down the camera operator. We get a very unpleasant view from this camera. Eventually, “Santa” comes out with Jimmy Hart. “Santa” turns out to be Evad Sullivan who hits Kev with the megaphone. Mr. T wins, with his wrists still stuck in his jacket. Kev attacks Evad, hits him with a piledriver as his trousers are falling down, and whips him right in the face before leaving.
The match was hilarious. T. barely did anything at all. Of course, the bigger issue is that a non-wrestler got a win over a legitimate wrestler, who was a big part of WCW. Sure, Sullivan’s best days as “The Prince Of Darkness” – the dark, occultist cult leader – were over and not even on an international stage but considering how the next year “The Taskmaster” would receive a huge push, it is a head-scratching choice that Kev was WCW’s sacrificial lamb to lose to Mr. T. Even worse, this match led to an uninspiring and uncared for feud between the Sullivans. Good for humor but little else, as Bischoff claims, “this was so f*cking horrible, it should be a classic…I don’t even know how to react to it, it’s so f*cking goofy”.
Star Rating: -***½
Hulk Hogan cuts a unique, heel-leaning promo. At this point, fans are slowly turning against the passe and tedious Hogan, and “The Hulkster”’s promo perhaps hints he may turn to the dark side. Spoiler: he does not.
Sting vs Avalanche (w/Kevin Sullivan)
After a surprisingly-long multi-month feud, pre-The Shark John Tenta takes on “The Man Called Sting”. Sting has some of the best faint paint he’s ever adorned here – it looks incredibly intricate and detailed. In this match, Tenta is 33 but he’s clearly in the Dory Funk/Arn Anderson/Dean Malenko bracket of wrestlers who always looked older than they actually are (yet actually aged well in middle age). After inconclusive battles for weeks, we get the Sting versus Avalanche bout.
This match is in the simple yet effective David against Goliath style match as “The Stinger” outpaces Avalanche to try to knock down his opponent. The man from Mount Everest, Washington takes early control, dominating his smaller opponent. Avalanche constantly flexes his muscles despite a clear absence of any muscles on his arms. Tenta has not wrestled this long a match for months and it is pretty clear with the match being very slow to accommodate for his windedness. Sting hits dropkicks, diving attacks, and clotheslines to try to ground the former Earthquake.
The ex-WCW champion hits a Stinger Splash onto Tenta in the corner, which also wipes out the referee. Sting power slams Avalanche, which is very impressive. Sting applies the Scorpion Death Lock onto Avalance but Sullivan gets in the ring and attacks Sting. The referee is down but it is nonetheless a DQ when another ref eventually calls for the bell – yes, again. On the equivalent of a WrestleMania, 2 DQs. The Faces Of Fear dominate the surfer until Hogan rushes them out with a chair; they scarper backstage. Bischoff called the idea of Hogan showing up before the main event a “very poor decision” as it takes away from his later appearance.
This one was never good to start with. Both guys are strong workers but it was a sluggish and draining affair. What could ruin it was a non-finish, which – of course – would happen. Sting would go on to beat Avalanche at the subsequent Clash Of The Champions XXX and SuperBrawl V.
Star Rating: *
Hulk Hogan (c) (w/Jimmy Hart) vs The Butcher – WCW World Heavyweight championship
Brother Bruti had been an ally of Hogan’s ever since his WCW debut. However, admits Hogan’s wars with Ric Flair, he had been attacked by a masked assailant who would ‘Nancy Kerrigan’ Hogan’s leg by whacking it with some kind of bat. At Halloween Havoc, Hulk finally unmasked it to find it was Brother Bruti who is afterward renamed The Butcher, having butchered his friendship with “The Immortal”. The Three Faces Of Fear have been battling Hogan for months, with The Butcher developing a sleeper hold submission to try to end Hulkamania.
Butcher comes out doing chopping motions as Schiavone states “the dick has been stacked against Hulk Hogan” – okay then. Announcer Michael Buffer introduces Hogan twice, with his theme playing as well as Butcher does some bombastic comedy scared faces.
The match is of a completely different era to 1994. We start on the outside with a back rake all around the ring. Hogan eye rakes and bites the head of Butcher like an absolute heel. There are no bumps for the first few minutes. Hogan smashes Butcher with a chair right in front of the referee and nothing happens (it is not a no DQ match, although it probably should have been). Butcher gets back on offense, hitting distinct moves adopted by his other gimmicks such as The Booty Man’s High Knee (Heine, do you get it?) and The Zodiac’s Tomahawk middle rope dive. Butcher hits a powerslam, doesn’t even pin Hogan and yet Hulk still kicks out at one somehow. “The Icon” then hits some karate moves in the corner, which was partially entertaining. Butcher goes on to murder any crowd interest with a lengthy sleeper and – despite it being his literal finisher, build as his deadly match-ender, Hogan is still perfectly conscious after a minute in the move.
Butcher lets go of the sleeper, waits for a while, and pins but Hogan plays possum, even putting his hands on the kick-out position as soon as Butcher pins him. Hogan ‘Hulks up’ as the Faces Of Fear arrive, with Avalanche running at a comedically slow pace. They run in yet still no DQ. Hogan fights off all three, hits the Atomic Legdrop on Butcher, and wins. Sullivan immediately stops selling for an awkward stand-off that completely overshadows the ending bout for the equivalent of WrestleMania.
Randy Savage runs out and pretends to work with The Faces Of Fear but attacks them and saves Hogan. Hogan brushes the trio with chair shots that are so weak-looking. They celebrate in-ring, Hogan has a chair and Savage holds Hogan’s world title, Hogan looks skeptically at him but the duo shakes hands. Hulk offers Randy to Hogan pose but Savage does his own pose.
A shockingly bad match to main event effectively a WrestleMania, there is almost nothing positive to say about this match. Butcher is almost a comedy character, staggering around the ring or doing bug-eyes instead of taking an actual bump. The match has several bumps that can be counted on one hand. A prime example of the disadvantages of hiring someone like Hogan. You can only imagine the annoyance of the WCW audiences – two subpar workers from up north main event in a terrible match, miles away from Flair/Vader just a year ago, fueled by nepotism.
Star Rating: -****1/2
Vader then breaks into the face locker room to call out Hogan. It is very hard to make out what he is saying. It is all very confusing as we now have Hogan still feuding with The Three Faces Of Fear even after this match, a tense relationship with Savage being teased and a new feud with Vader starting up. Thank God commissioner Nick Bockwinkel is here to clear things up…
Well, not really. Vader’s brawl prompts “Mean” Gene to interview Bockwinkel. Okerlund is hinting to the ex-AWA champion to announce the match for the next PPV but Bockwinkel just spews the same message, not announcing what is wanted from him. In the end, Gene just says “Nick, that’s enough” and signals for him to stop talking. Commentators sign off as Tony looks like he is doing a Nazi salute for some reason.
Looking back at it nearly two decades later, it is clear this is one of the worst PPVs of all time. Likely it is not the worst but various factors make it an unbearably, unarguably wretched watch.
At the time, Ric Flair had taken over as booker. His magnum opus as booker of the largest annual event for the company was not a smooth one. Flair is a great wrestling mind but a much superior wrestler than a booker.
Continuing on Flair, he highlights an issue with the show – so many big stars were omitted from the card. The biggest include Flair, who had become booker after losing a retirement match, and Randy Savage who was persevered to expand the storyline with Hogan. Steve Austin and Brian Pillman returned in January 1995, Steven Regal formed The Blue Bloods the same month, The Guardian Angel was repackaged as well in that time, Dustin Rhodes, Paul Orndorff, and Diamond Dallas Page were also not at the event.
I think an important question is: “Who gained from this show?”. You may presume Hogan but his early exposure, bad match, and win over a certified mid-carder could hinder this. Of the other six matches, all involved a win that did not help put others over, if using interference, ending with a DQ result or a roll-up. Vader perhaps could be seen as gaining most as he won a new title and entered the world title picture but he needed Harley Race’s aid to beat Duggan and was dominated most of the match.
Ultimately, many critics have panned the show with Dave Meltzer rating no match higher than 2¼ stars. 411Mania’s Scott Keith summed it up best when he said: “Welcome to rock bottom, as Hogan’s egomania results in the main event of the biggest WCW show of the year involving Brutus Beefcake…Watch at your own risk. Strongest recommendation to avoid”.