The opening to this show is just fantastic, as while the opening credits and graphics are rolling, cued with some fabulously cheesy music, we see great images of American lore but with WCW wrestlers taking the places of historic legends. Imagine the iconic image of George Washington and his crew on their epic boat trek over the Delaware, but substitute those guys with Ric Flair and the rest of the Four Horsemen and you’ll get the picture.
1. Buddy Landel vs. Flyin' Brian Pillman – 6
Buddy Landel and Pillman was such a better match than I anticipated. I don’t know if these guys had real legit backstage heat, but if not, they were just phenomenal actors, as the hatred was palpable. Landel was especially nasty, laying in some hard shots, including clubbing forearms to the back and nasty boots right to the face of a fallen Pillman. There was one really memorable spot when Landel was in the corner and Pillman rushed in at him, only to be met by a sickening clothesline that crumpled Brian. The story revolved around Landel having the advantage in only one category, experience, and he used his cunning to control most of the bout. In fact, when Pillman did score the victory, it was off a surprise crossbody off the top.
2. Iron Sheik vs. Captain Mike Rotunda – 3
This was my first time I can recall seeing Rotunda in his “Captain” sailing gimmick, and yes, it translates about as lame as you’d expect. This match was interesting, but ultimately kind of sad. These two worked each other in some classic WWF tag wars during their respective career heydays. While Mike breaks a serious sweat, works hard, and seems to be game for just about anything, Sheik has already transformed into walking shtick. All of the bantering and posing he does to rile up the crowd is fine in context, but it appears obvious he relies on it often due to just being too blown up to keep up with the crux of the job. Rotunda counters a double-underhook suplex into a backslide for the win, but appears to have hurt an arm in the process, and looks legitimately pissed off after, brushing the ref off like he was a hater. Then, to my stupefaction, the camera films Sheik, back up doing his shtick, oblivious to the fact he just lost a match, doing the same routine he’d continue doing on the independent circuit for years to come.
3. Dutch Mantell vs. Doug Furnas - 4
I hadn’t seen dirty Dutch in awhile, but damn, his body hair is enough to make me lose my lunch. Doug Furnas I’m more familiar with for his AJPW stint, so I assume he was greener back then, but was excited to see what he’d offer. Furnas starts off hot, looking like an incredible specimen, doing some really nice athletic looking leapfrogs, etc. Instead of putting the newcomer Furnas, who they were building as the “strongest man in the world” over big, they actually give this time and Mantell controls the bulk of it. Dutch, as mentioned earlier, isn’t pretty to look at, but does a moderately good job playing bitter old heel. Mantel’s groundwork is lacking, as his armbar variations aren’t stellar, but he has a beautiful short lariat, which he busts out twice, including once on the floor in a great spot. The finish sort of comes from nowhere, which I tend to dig, as Furnas hits a quick belly-to-belly suplex on Mantel for the victory.
4. Harley Race vs. "Wildfire" Tommy Rich - 5
Back in April of ’81 a fiery Tommy Rich shocked the wrestling world be beating Harley Race for the NWA championship in one of the biggest upsets in our beloved sports’ history. Now, some nine years later, these two lock it up again to continue their feud. It stars off with a quick pace, which even surprises the announcers, and never truly slows down entirely. Race is the aggressor throughout, just pounding on Rich, utilizing some of his signature moves like the flying knee. They claimed Rich dropped nearly thirty pounds leading up to the bout, and he didn’t look too bad, outside of his grotesque forehead that looked like the tracks at Grand Central Station. There are a few notable spots, like Race busting out a weak suplex on the entrance ramp, and both guys taking a wild fall over the top rope to the floor together. The finish is great psychology, as Rich comes off the top with a crossbody, but Race blocks the very move that’s cost him titles in the past, by using the momentum to roll through and get the pin.
5. Southern Boys vs. Midnight Express - 8
I’m going to come right out and say that this an excellent tag team match. The Southern Boys of Steve Armstrong (who I’ve never seen look better) and Tracy Smothers are riding a big wave of momentum going in, and this being their first pay-per-view appearance, it appears they’re primed to win the titles. The first act is built around Eaton getting handled, eating a lot of the faces’ stuff, but not tagging out to Lane. The second act is a hilarious karate exhibition, as Lane and Smothers face off in the center of the ring, busting out some outrageous poses and kicks. The extended third act is simply pure hotness. This last portion of the match features several breathtaking nearfalls, both for the good and bad guys, and is done expertly. One thing you notice about the Midnight Express, is that even though they’re obviously the heels, the crowd actually pops huge for them, especially their fluid teamwork and double-team maneuvers. In a thrilling finale, the Express finally get the victory, but the match was executed in a way where everybody, including the fans, was a winner.
6. Z-Man vs. Big Van Vader - 3
This was Vader’s “North American debut” and he came to ringside with his humongous wooly mammoth-inspired helmet that shot smoke for some unknown reason. This was a pretty quick squash, establishing Vader as the monster we all now know him to be. He laid in his shots, but nothing too extremely stiff, unfortunately. Vader scored the win, it’s just a shame he wasn’t using the powerbomb as a finisher yet, I’d have loved to seen Zenk get decimated.
7. Steiner Bros. vs. Fabulous Freebirds - 6
This was two of arguably the early-‘90’s premier teams squaring off to my amusement. The Freebirds look especially queer here, rocking lipstick and tons of eye makeup, and I almost failed to mention, glorious ponytails. The Steiners are so explosive and over here that’s it difficult to seriously buy the Freebirds as tough opposition, but the heels do get the advantage a few times, and Hayes’ trademark left-handed punch makes a lovely cameo. Rick and Scott throw some huge suplexes throughout, and Rick even dumps Hayes nastily with a double-underhook powerbomb in one memorable spot. They’re capable of achieving higher scores, but it seems that there’s no real solid story in this one, just a chance for the Steiners to regain some heat and momentum in their quest to reclaim the tag belts.
8. Barry Windham, Arn Anderson, and Sid Vicious vs. “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, El Gigante, and Junkyard Dog – 3
This is a pretty short throwaway bout designed to introduce the world to El Gigante. Most of its short duration is built around the heels backpedaling from the good guys. Anderson, while only involved a short while, does some of his classic antics like scrambling around the mat and begging off. I’d forgot how limited Junkyard Dog was at this point, doing nothing but slow punches and his trademark headbutts. I don’t particularly buy Orndorff as a face, either. The heels intentionally get themselves disqualified before Gigante even gets in the ring, but he lumbers in afterwards and shoves them out to the crowd’s apathetic reaction.
9. “Mean” Mark Callous vs. Lex Luger - 5
Before the cusps of a great career as The Undertaker, Callous looked pretty good here, decent muscle definition, and his ratty red hair was easy to dislike. Luger is known (and generally loathed) for being strictly a formula wrestler. However, given the right performers, his formula is sometimes enjoyable to watch. A good example of this would be when a young guy like Brian Pillman would get Luger to raise his game, adjust, and work harder than normal. This is more of a typical Luger formula, he walks around on his knees wincing in pain, but eventually finds the fire to fight back, then you repeat the cycle a few more times. The announcers predicted it’d be more of a “vertical” match, doubting there’d be much groundwork involved, but instead, there are a few sections of limb control stuff that’s not too hackneyed. Luger gets the win with a clothesline relatively out of the blue.
10. Doom vs. Rock ‘N Roll Express - 5
There’s a real interesting dynamic here between two culturally accepted yet radically stereotypical persona definitions. I think this would make a much more interesting sociology term paper than wrestling match. A kind of by-the-numbers affair, mostly Doom controlling things, with Gibson and Morton seemingly especially languid. The only notable moment in my mind was a chinlock that Morton sold by cringing his hands up all weirdly, like he was a disingenuous kid on a playground doing a crude impression of a mentally retarded person. Butch Reed gets his team the victory with a flying shoulderbock from the top rope on Gibson.
11. Sting vs. Ric Flair - 7
This is the grand finale to an excellent show. I remember a couple years back surprisingly coming across this on a WWE-produced Great American Bash show DVD while hanging out with fellow writer Jessie. At the time we scoffed at, I guess we didn’t feel it lived up to its legacy, and the short duration of the match played a large role in that. I wanted to see it again, but I kept falling in and out of sleep during my first foray into finishing this disc, but I’d had a long day at that point. Not satisfied with a halfhearted viewing, I went back to watch it again, this time sitting on the edge of my seat and watching extremely closely.
And you know what I found out? This match is freaking tits! I loved it. Sting’s got his posse the “Dudes With Attitudes” (such a corny name in retrospect) at ringside so Flair’s henchmen won’t interfere. Sting had been out of action for a while with a knee injury, so this was his big return and they’d built it up gigantically. I still remember that summer being seven (I’d turn eight only nine days later) and watching this and really digging Sting’s red, white, and blue facial paint and ring attire. This is classic Flair, too, rocking the delicious sky blue trunks and some sea green boots.
The whole dynamic of the match is that no matter what Flair does he can’t beat Sting’s heart. Right off the bat Flair backs Sting into the corner and hits him with a massive chop, Sting just stares him down, and you can see in Flair’s eyes the realization that this isn’t going to be easy. Throughout the match Sting does this a lot, just taking brutal chops right in the chest, until its looks like hamburger meat as its transformed into a collage of busted blood vessels. The guys out on the floor never really distract you, also Ole Anderson is handcuffed to El Gigante on the entrance ramp, but that’s even a distant footnote to the story unfolding in the ring. Usually I harp on people (like Ultimate Warrior) when they just brush off offense and don’t sell it; but, when Sting does it here, it’s beautiful as it depicts the adversity he’s overcame to get back from his debilitating injury and go after the world’s greatest wrestler. Sting blocks a “Figure Four” attempt and rolls up Flair for the win and championship as the crowd erupts in one of my all-time favorite closing moments of a major wrestling pay-per-view.