Segunda Caida

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Sunday, January 02, 2022

WCW Nitro 12/30/96

1. The Amazing French Canadians vs. Public Enemy

ER: This had some odd uses of time, with the Canadians giving us the whole interrupted off-time National Anthem bit, and Public Enemy taking forever to get into the ring, really hitting every side of the ring to see how many people in Knoxville are waving their hands in the air. When they're wrestling, it's an amusing match. There are fun sloppy punch outs and an old lady in the front row giving advice and encouragement to PE. Both Canadians take nice backdrops (Carl went higher) after a fun punch out, but then get kept on the floor for while PE block the ropes for nearly a third of the match. Rougeau is great at getting himself on a table for PE, something hardly anyone does well. Jacques moves so Rocco Rock puts Grunge through a table with a Drive-By, and then the Canadians win in-ring with their own top rope assisted senton. I don't know what they call drive-bys in Canada, but it's probably got something to do with kicking at someone while riding a black horse. 

2. Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Ultimo Dragon

ER: These two were the big cruiserweight winners at Starrcade the night before, each getting a long time in their matches to build whatever they wanted. Here they didn't even get a third of the time they got at Starrcade, and the match felt disjointed and incomplete because of it. Dragon's strikes all looked very light, and his timing was off on his tilt-a-whirls. Liger had a lot of crisp stuff, like a nice cartwheel tope en reversa and follow up rolling senton, and a hard powerbomb (that was far more respectful than any of his powerbombs to Rey the night before). Dragon can be really lazy about how he sells opponent offense and sets up his own offense, like when he hits a light body slam and nothing else to set up a big missed top rope splash (a move I've never seen him do unless he catches boots on the landing). I did like Dragon using Liger as a jungle gym, scrambling all over him in the corner to hit a nice frankensteiner, and the tiger suplex follow up looked painful while also surprising for the finish. It seems crazy to me to have Liger win a long dominant match against Rey, only to turn around and have Ultimo Dragon take some offense until it was his turn. Things feel wrapped up too neatly and too feebly. 

3. Strap Match: Konnan vs. Michael Wallstreet

ER: This was supposed to be Konnan vs. Big Bubba, which sounds better on paper than Konnan vs. Wallstreet. Wallstreet issues a threat on Bubba's behalf before cheapshotting Konnan with a strap. Believe it or not WCW didn't run many strap matches in their existence, only a dozen or so (and half of those were Sting/Vader). But somehow one of the strap matches they chose to run was a Michael Wallstreet match, all 2.5 minutes of it. Wallstreet whips Konnan, takes a long journey to climb the ropes only to jump off into Konnan's boot, and then Konnan whips Wallstreet. Even with this match being under 3 minutes, they still managed to give us the most common strap match finish, taking up a huge portion of the match with it, and the second any viewer saw Konnan tag the turnbuckle immediately after Wallstreet tagged his first buckle they should have know where this was heading. 

4. Hugh Morrus vs. Kensuke Sasaki

ER: At minimum, this was a couple of guys who had no problem hitting hard and not backing down. They didn't take that as far as they could have, and the finish was as weak as can be, but it's fun to see Kensuke Sasaki hit Hugh Morrus as hard as he can while Morrus acts like none of it phases him. There are hard hitting shoulderblocks, lots of kicks to the stomach, and fast clubs to the back. Sasaki throws whistling chops, Morrus rakes the eyes and throws mediocre punches, makes hard impact on his clotheslines and hits a pretty unforgiving avalanche. Sasaki hits how own just-as-hard lariat, a big powerslam, and his over the shoulder rolling arm drag. The finish is incredibly lazy and one that WCW went to a lot, where someone with a top rope finisher would just take a lot of offense, then hit one singular bodyslam and hit their finisher. The No Laughing Matter hits, and the ref has to slow down his count because Sonny Onoo is late breaking up the pin. This was just two guys filling time until an uninspiring finish, even playing as background to Eric Bischoff confiscating a VHS tape of Hogan losing to Piper, but they hit each other hard and that's enough to make it the best match of the first hour of this Nitro. 

5. Harlem Heat vs. Faces of Fear

ER: This had some timing mistakes and a messy finish, and is really only saved by Faces of Fear's willingness to lean into Harlem Heat's kicks. Harlem Heat really don't show a lot of team chemistry (although to be fair, a lot of that is Stevie Ray being where he doesn't belong), and a lot of their simplest strikes show a lot of light. There are a few big moments in the match, like Barbarian taking a stiff Booker axe kick and not going down, only to get leveled right after by a Harlem sidekick. Barbarian also hit an insane top rope belly to belly on Booker that really threw him to the opposite corner, and to put over how dangerous that landing could have been, Col. Parker came out in his French Legionnaire get-up and whipped Sherri's ass with his riding crop. French Canadians interfere, Harlem Heat get the win even though the interference was aimed at them, and this should have ended with Faces of Fear massacring everyone instead of just rolling away. 

6. Disco Inferno vs. Glacier

ER: This was great, loved every second of it. Glacier was still pretty new, only a few months in, and I'm not sure there was a person on the WCW roster who could stooge better for Glacier's offense at this point. He's great at setting up his own ass kicking, too, taunting Glacier on the mic after Glacier's long entrance. "Look Glacier, you're career is just starting." Telling Glacier that if he knew what was best for him he'd leave, before Disco embarrassed him. I love that stuff. When Glacier finally just grabs him with a top wristlock throw, Disco holds onto the mic the entire time and yells into it in pain through the whole bump. Not all of Glacier's kicks and palm thrusts look great, but Disco makes every single legsweep and leaping kick and palm strike look as great as they will look. Disco pinballed and did pratfalls and made a ton of great OFF noises every time he caught heel (palm or foot) to the breadbox. 

There's a great transition to Disco's control, when he tries to use referee Scott Dickinson as a human shield, distracting Glacier enough to plaster him with a great western lariat. All of Disco's offense looked great, like his snapped off swinging neckbreaker or his elbowdrop straight down onto Glacier's throat. But what looks even better is Disco posing for far too long on the turnbuckles as Glacier does a kip up to a big reaction (obviously, because kip ups are cool) in the background, then hits a flat out gorgeous highlight reel Cryonic Kick as Disco turns around and jumps right into it. You could make an effective Glacier video package using shots of this kick a few times. His form is excellent, the arc on the kick is impressively vertical, and it looks straight out of a John Woo movie. This is the finisher of a guy who is justifying his push. Loved this. 

7. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho

ER: A great example of the 4 minute Nitro workrate match. It's a fairly breathless 4 minute sprint, exactly what fans of these two would enjoy seeing. Tenay refers to him as "Mr. Intensity" Christ Benoit, but that nickname doesn't really fit (and I don't think ever caught on). Benoit isn't really intense here, so much as he has a real vicious dead-eyed performance. Both guys are showcased and get big spots, and things ramp up quick with a great Jericho springboard dropkick that sends Benoit sprawling off the apron, and follows it up with a missile dropkick to the floor! Benoit's offense is delivered really violently; he catches Jericho with a hotshot, throws hard stomps to the back of the head, blistering chops, and a hard landing fast elbowdrop. Jericho refuses to get run over and slams into Benoit with a stiff falling lariat to give the match a good breath. Benoit wins fairly easily with a big back suplex off the top, but this was an action-packed 4 minutes. 

A super entertaining promo happens in the entrance way after the match, with Flair strutting around in a college pullover, Woman looking drop dead gorgeous, Mongo wearing a chambray shirt the same color as his jeans, and another great Debra McMichael promo. Debra is an extremely underappreciated character in wrestling. A condescending Texas Christian who slurs her words and insults you to your face with a "bless your heart" smile just begging to be slapped. Debra does Dynasty party talk better than Dynasty did party talk. When Woman leaves after getting into it with Debra, Debra tells Gene "she's got all these built up hostilities because of her weight gain over the holidays". It's so cutting. Mongo has incredible denim meathead energy, yelling at Woman "That'll be the day, when a skirt like you tells Mongo what to do!" The McMichaels are amazing. 

8. Mascarita Sagrada/Octagoncito vs. Jerrito Estrada/Piratita Morgan

ER: I had no memory of WCW attempting a minis division, and it's pretty wild to just throw out 4 minis unannounced to the Knoxville crowd in the third hour of Nitro and give them 2 minutes to get over. I'm not sure why you even bother sending guys out to that kind of fate. Still, they work a lot of cool spots into less than 2.5 minutes and the fans do start reacting to it. WCW only used these guys for two matches, and this reaction was probably at least as good as any of the reactions they got in front of cold disinterested WWF shows from 97-99. Jerrito bumps appropriately big for a mini version of Jerry Estrada, doing strong base work for all of Sagrada's headscissors and monkey flips. Piratita takes a couple of really big bumps for a big boy, including a great somersault bump past the ringpost to the floor, and there was a fun extended sequence where the rudos kept being lured into doing chain offense to each other. I am not sure why this happened, but it was an enjoyable blink. 

9. Dean Malenko vs. Rey Misterio Jr. 

ER: Matches like these are why a lot of us were switching over to Nitro in 96/97, but a lot of them are weird time capsules now. The moves look good, there's often little story behind them aside from "get up and do more" and the crowds react with most arms folded silence until the matches end in confusion. Here a 9 minute match gets the 10 minute time limit draw treatment, a bell just ringing in the middle of an exchange like the recess bell sounding during a game of capture the flag. The fans weren't reacting to any of the several ungiving back bumps that Rey took, and suddenly ending a match in a draw wasn't going to help. Malenko and Misterio work well together, that's no secret, because Rey can get his head powerbombed into the mat several times a match and Dean is great at catching complicated headscissors and ranas. Early on Malenko works over Rey's back in painful ways, getting him vertical with a single leg crab while digging his knee in, throwing him way up into the air for an awesome flapjack, his great press slam gutbuster, bouncing Misterio with a Last Ride style powerbomb, all punishing stuff. The problem is that for Rey to get in any offense, he has to ignore that he just got his cerebellum smashed into the mat at concussion speed and bounce back to his feet to sprint around. Rey has some crazy moments, like an unhinged butt splash senton from the top rope over the ringpost to the floor, and a cool rana to the floor where he Fuerza bumps his way into getting his legs around Malenko's neck. There were a couple of cool reversals that played off early spots, like Dean catching a headscissors and sitting down into a sideslam, or Rey flying over Dean's head and turning a pop-up powerbomb into a Manami Roll. It all looked cool, but it didn't really play as a full match, and when they just went into a few rapid fire pinfall exchanges they felt like they came from a different match. It's a recommendable match because it's 10 minutes of cool stuff, but every move feels like it happens in its own vacuum.

10. Lex Luger vs. Greg Valentine

ER: Greg Valentine is in his mid-40s here, but when your wrestling style revolves around dropping heavy elbows, throwing stiff chops, and leaning into strikes, well then that's a style that is going to age well. He does feel like an anachronism in this era, but this was a fun short match made up almost entirely of punches, elbows, and clotheslines. When two guys are good at throwing punches and elbows you really don't need much more than that to fill a fun 3 minutes. Valentine really roughs up Luger, and when it's his time to sell he does some great tip toes selling for Luger's punches, and goes down with a thud for Luger's clotheslines. Luger drags Valentine over the ropes from the apron to Rack him, which is a cool babyface visual. 

The show ends on a great segment, with Hogan and the FULL cast and crew of the nWo surrounding Piper and giving him a stiff beatdown. They bash his surgically repaired hip with a chair, Scott Norton really puts the boots to him, Hall/Nash/Hogan do an ill-advised three man press slam and throw spike Piper chest first across Norton's knee, just a total beatdown. Piper gets stretchered out, the garbage rains onto the ring and the nWo (Scott Hall ignoring a full box of popcorn hitting his back, Bischoff never flinching at soda cups. It all leads to the Giant standing up to Hogan and choking him, then fighting off a ton of nWo flunkies. Giant looked like a real monster, and there was a cool visual of Hogan directing the full nWo roster to surround the ring. Bagwell attacks first, leaping off the top rope onto Giant's back and getting flung across the ring. Vincent runs directly into Giant's hand, and Giant palms his head like a basketball while wasting him with a chokeslam. nWo Sting takes another great chokeslam, before the big guys get involved and they swarm the Giant. This is part of what made the nWo great. It was a common talking point at the time that allowing a ton of "lesser" workers into the nWo weakened the entire operation, made it into a club with no kind of exclusivity. But you NEED members to strengthen your gang. You NEED bodies. You need cannon fodder. Vincent is a great guy to get pushed by Hogan into a chokeslam. It's great to have a fake Sting who gets his ass kicked. Even Michael Wallstreet, in his mullet and sleeveless nWo shirt, actually looked cool for the first time in who knows when. He looked like a guy who would get his ass beat in a Bronson movie, and the nWo needed guys like that. Bray Wyatt only recruited like one guy into his cult. How stupid is that?? You recruit EVERYBODY YOU CAN. 

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