Souled Out 1998: It’s a new year and a new WCW. WCW Thunder has launched on TBS and WCW Monday Nitro has moved to 3 hours, starting January. The world title has been vacated! JJ Dillion vows to lay down the law to further complicate the title picture. Have the fans turned on WCW?
I chatted with my Irish cohorts on the WCW vs NWO Podcast about this show. What a difference a year makes, especially for the ‘Souled Out’ brand! Souled Out 1997 is one of the worst shows of all time for a reason. What’s different this year?
The Biggest Change in the History of our Great Sport
1998 brought expansion for the company behind the scenes. Executives wanted another show, so WCW Thunder debuted on January 8th, 1998. WCW Monday Nitro was also extended to 3 hours going forward.
This change in programming would change wrestling forever. WWF and WCW had found the sweet spot in 1997 by offering 2-hour, live, prime-time shows as their flagship offerings, with the occasional weekend show reserved for the hardcore fans. Just one year after 1998, WWF would follow up with their second prime-time weekly show, SmackDown. The wrestling business has been over-saturated on television ever since.
With 3 extra hours every week, there were opportunities galore for new talent to either sink or swim. Top of the list is Chris Jericho. Before this, Jericho was struggling with a bland baby face gimmick. Now Jericho gets promo time sometimes even twice a week. In his book, Jericho comments on the work he put in backstage on his promo work. While other guys would work on their tan, Jericho took their spot to plug local TV ads.
The hard work certainly paid off. Jericho was the hero that the crowd deserves. When things didn’t go his way, here came a tantrum. My personal recollection made the Jericho heel turn seem like it came later in 1998. The famous ‘banging the chair against the ringpost with NWO music in the background’ incident actually occurred on Nitro the day after Starrcade 1997.
Eight-Man Tag Match: Lucha Libre Rules
Souled Out 1998 is your typical WCW show. Strong undercard with a lackluster main event. The Lucha wrestlers, however, have one of their best matches to open the show. WCW usually started their PPVs with the Cruiserweight Title match. The Lucha tag matches were typically wedged in the middle as filler matches.
This time around, guys like La Parka, Silver King, and Lizmark Jr. gave the crowd a fun spot fest with a logical finish. The boys didn’t bother with the convoluted Star spot that only confused the American crowd in the past. Silver King and La Parka were the stand out performers in this match.
Winner: Juventud Guerrera, Super Calo, Lizmark Jr. and Chavo Guerrero Jr.
Raven vs Chris Benoit
The next two matches were not classics, but were certainly solid follow ups to the hot opening Lucha match. This was Raven’s only second PPV match. His WCW run had been very stop and start up to this point. Chris Benoit nearly kills himself by delivering a flying headbutt on to a chair. The crowd responds in a big way, even chanting his name. Benoit had always been associated with the Horseman. This was a stand out performance to separate himself.
On the podcast, we were split on the decision to give Benoit the win here. Raven definitely needed the win more than Benoit for sure. The way that this feud had been booked the previous two months, it was time for Benoit to get the win and move on.
Winner: Chris Benoit
Chris Jericho vs Rey Mysterio Jr.
Rey Mysterio was limited in the ring with a severe knee injury. This would be his last match until Bash at the Beach 1998. This was perfect timing for Jericho to get the Cruiserweight belt back. His heel champion run is way more memorable than his face runs.
Winner: Chris Jericho
The Heavyweight Title Picture
Starrcade 1997 is one of the most infamous screw ups in wrestling history. What happened next though? Part of the reason I started the WCW vs NWO podcast was to relive the first half of 98. This portion is often glossed over in the Monday Night Wars documentaries. It’s easy to skip right to Goldberg.
JJ Dillion, in a surprise decision, vacates the title because of all of screwy finishes. This should fall on Nick Patrick, the referee, not Sting. In shoot it’s Hogan’s fault because he told Patrick to not do the fast count. WCW continued the “fast count” storyline which negatively affects WCW in kayfabe. Why should we cheer for WCW anymore? The NWO got screwed. They have the cool merch, the best entrance music and get all the promo time.
WCW wrestlers, like Luger, came off as cry babies. Meanwhile Sting got lost in the shuffle. WCW wasn’t sure how to handle the character going forward. Sting was still the same mysterious Crow character but just didn’t repel from the rafters anymore. I guess all was forgiven between Sting and WCW?
At Souled Out, the Sting-Hogan rematch was made for Superbrawl next month. JJ Dillion and Rowdy Roddy Piper both cut long boring promos to finally explain the decision. This segment almost killed the show. It was 13 minutes. It should’ve been on Nitro instead.
Booker T vs Rick Martel (yes, the Rick Martel)
This match suffered the most from the long promo segment. The crowd was silent even though Booker’s singles career had improved over the past month with the help of all the added TV time. Plus, Booker is the new Television Champion. Rick Martel struggles to fit into this era without a gimmick. This is something WCW struggled with most: bring in ex-WWF wrestlers and either put them in the NWO or give them nothing.
Winner: Booker T
Scott Hall vs Larry Zbyszko
This was a throw away match until the end. Dusty turns to the NWO! At first it seemed Dusty was in Larry’s corner. Dusty cleared the ring with signature Dusty charisma but then revealed the NWO shirt underneath. The crowd cheered throughout; no trash thrown in the ring this time.
This commentator turn came too late and needed to be at the expense of somebody like DDP. The problem is Scott Hall is much cooler than Zbyszko. Zbyszko did great work against Bischoff the month before, but he overstayed his welcome. 1997 had very few turns of NWO members. 1998 is a different story. It was destiny baby!
Team NWO vs Steiners and Ray Traylor
Quite the forgettable match. The problem is that these guys had been “feuding” for months up to that point. The WCW vs NWO angle isn’t what it used to be. The most intriguing aspect is dissension between the Steiner brothers. Scott has been acting more cocky and Rick doesn’t appreciate it. Big Poppa Pump, you’re our only hope.
Winner: Steiners and Ray Traylor
Kevin Nash vs Giant
Nash typically phones in it in WCW but his match against Giant is one of his better performances, surprisingly. That’s excluding the finish however. Nash is lucky he didn’t end Paul Wight’s career.
Winner: Kevin Nash
Bret Hart vs Ric Flair
On paper, this match was destined to be a classic – the battle to decide who was the best of all time. When looking back on how Bret Hart entered WCW, this was a step back for the Hitman. Bret came in to clean up WCW. He even interrupted the main event of Starrcade 1997 to reverse the “fast count” by Nick Patrick.
Flair would leave WCW yet again because of skipping Thunder for his son’s wrestling tournament. His next PPV match would be at Starrcade 1998. This was not one of Flair’s best runs. Bret Hart, from what I remember, has a very strange 1998. This match was nothing to marvel at but was a decent effort by both guys.
Winner: Bret Hart
Randy Savage vs Lex Luger
This was a Nitro match. Nothing wrong with that but very weird way to end a PPV. Another example of how the WCW vs NWO angle can’t carry shows like it used to. Unfortunately, they have a rematch next month as well.
Winner: Lex Luger
Souled Out 1998 is watchable. For WCW that’s a victory. The cracks were starting to show in the company, but that’s easy for me to say with hindsight. WCW was still doing great business and have a new star in Goldberg on the rise.
My match of the night goes to the Lucha match. These guys were constantly made fun of in WCW and they did not deserve it. If only this match had been held in the ECW arena instead.
MVP goes to Chris Jericho for reinventing his character in such a short period of time and wrestling a guy with one knee.
One glaring omission is Diamond Dallas Page. He was WCW‘s most over baby face and was not on the show. Thankfully the rest of 1998 is much more kinder to DDP. It will be interesting to see how WCW evolves over the next few months. The signing of Tyson was the turning point for the WWF. Everybody in WCW agreed that they were in trouble. How bad though?
Check out the WCW vs NWO podcast for a review of each WCW PPV in 1998. It was the most memorable year of wrestling for me. Reliving the fall of WCW will be painful but entertaining. See you next time for Superbrawl 1998!