Don’t do this: The Sting/Hogan Debacle

It may be hard to believe now, but there was a time when WCW was the dominant brand of wrestling, and for good reason.  Their 1996 launch of the New World Order changed the playing field forever and, for a time, launched WCW above its rival WWF.  This storyline was arguably the most successful run of any wrestling story with the possible exception of Austin vs. McMahon.

But when it got time to close it out, it revealed the failures that would eventually unravel WCW.  And it all started with the ‘Grandaddy of ‘Em All’ and a whole lot of excellent buildup.

WCW Starrcade – December 28, 1997

When the nWo formed in July of 1996, they had one goal in mind – take over WCW and destroy what had been made.  Their process was as brutal as it was efficient.  The rank and file of WCW stood no chance (highlighted by Kevin Nash lawn darting Rey Mysterio into the production truck), but the main event stars would be more trouble.  To accomplish this, the nWo created a clever scheme to break up the alliance of WCW.

A fake Sting (who looked surprisingly like the real Sting) appeared to join the nWo, much to the chagrin of Sting’s BFF Lex Luger.  This was a huge problem as Sting had been scheduled to be a member of Team WCW at the 1996 Fall Brawl’s signature War Games match.  Sting assured Luger that it wasn’t actually him, but neither Luger nor his unlikely teammates Ric Flair and Arn Anderson believed him.  To them, it looked like Sting would be on Team nWo.  When the match itself took place, the fake Sting did show up, but so did the real deal, who proved his allegiance by attacking the nWo.  Unfortunately for WCW, Sting felt betrayed by both his friends and his fans and simply walked out of the match, effectively handing the victory to the nWo.  The next night, Sting spoke to the fans and announced he was leaving.

Fast forward to March’s Uncensored PPV in which Team nWo defeated Team Piper and Team WCW in a 12-man elimination match.  Lex Luger had put up a decent fight, but eventually succumbed to spray paint to the eyes.  Just as the nWo began their beat down, suddenly a shadowy figure descended from the rafters.  Sting had returned, but he was quite different from the one who had left six months before.  Gone were the bright colors of yesterday, replaced by an homage to the Crow face paint scheme and an almost skeletal looking scorpion on his black outfit.  Wielding a black baseball bat, he made quick work of the nWo, but when Luger embraced him, Sting remained cold.

For the next months, Sting remained in the rafters above the ring, watching the nWo’s activities and aiding WCW’s fight against the invading force.  Finally, when planning for WCW’s biggest show of the year, Starrcade, the match was made to have Sting challenge for Hollywood Hogan’s WCW Championship.  This was a huge deal, since Sting had not spoken nor wrestled since he abandoned WCW back at Fall Brawl.  The fans were hungry for the Sting/Hogan match that could finally defeat the nWo and launch a new age of WCW.  And WCW, to their credit, held out on giving the match until the perfect moment.  Such patience was not one of their virtues.

So I have just described one of the best angles in the history of professional wrestling.  Why is this in the Don’t Do This category?  Well, that would come at the event itself – a mix of panic, backstage politics, and just an uncertainty of what comes next.  Follow past the jump as we learn how what could have been WCW’s best moment became it’s point of decline.

Hype was heavy for Starrcade 1997.  Beyond Sting vs. Hogan, a number of big matches were taking place that looked to finally give WCW the advantage over the nWo.  Eric Bischoff was fighting Larry Zbysko over the rights to Nitro.  If Bischoff could win, the nWo would get the show for their own.  To get the advantage, Bischoff brought in Bret Hart, fresh off the Montreal Screwjob, as an nWo recruit.  But Hart was not onboard as Bischoff had hoped, and cost Bischoff the match when a foreign object attack backfired.  The Giant was set to finally get his hands on Kevin Nash, but Nash no-showed, which was unfortunate for Scott Hall, who suffered the Giant’s wrath.  Diamond Dallas Page managed to defeat Curt Hennig for the United States title.

But the match everyone was waiting for was Sting vs. Hogan.  And at the main event, they finally got it.  The match wasn’t exactly spectacular, but it didn’t matter.  The atmosphere was electric, and everyone was hungry for a WCW win.  And then it happened.  Hogan nailed Sting with the big boot, then the legdrop.  One, two, three – Hollywood Hogan had defeated Sting.  Just like that.  To say the crowd was deflated was quite the understatement.  Fortunately, Bret Hart had prevented the time keeper from ringing the bell.  Swearing that he wouldn’t let something like that happen again, he slid into the ring and argued with referee Nick Patrick over what he considered a fast count.  Hart decked Patrick and took his place, as he had been brought to the show as an official for the Bischoff/Zbysko match.  The match restarted and Sting got Hogan into the Scorpion Deathlock.  Hart called for the bell, awarded the title to Sting and the WCW locker room emptied into the ring to celebrate the win.

But there were a lot of problems with the finish.  Nick Patrick, the referee, had long favored the nWo, but still managed to get the match through “random drawing”.  Apparently, the finish was actually supposed to be the fast count, but when the moment came, Patrick counted normally.  There was no fast count, and in theory, Bret Hart prevented Hogan’s victory out of sheer spite.  As the legend goes, this was done because of backstage politicking on the part of Hulk Hogan and unbeknownst to Sting.  So when the match restarted and Sting got Hogan in the Deathlock, Hogan did not tap out.  He shook his head, which could have been seen as submitting, but was left purposefully ambiguous.  For all intents and purposes, Hogan had not lost the match, and therefore the nWo had not been defeated.

WCW decided to fix the problem by having a rematch the following night on Nitro.  After all, the buildup had been so huge, who would mind one more night?  While the decision at Starrcade may well have been a shady backstage dealing, the following Nitro was a booking mess.  The rematch didn’t take place until the end of Nitro’s timeslot, almost assuring a shady ending.  Sure enough at the end of the match, the nWo attacked and just as Sting began fighting them off, Tony Schiavone announced that they were out of time and the show ended.  Just like that – no decision, no answers, no nothing.

The following week, WCW was uncertain over what had happened, and weren’t willing to share with the fans what had transpired after the broadcast cut.  Sting still had the belt and Hogan still wanted it.  They announced that the lost footage would be shown on the debut episode of Thunder, along with a decision from J.J. Dillon over the future of the title.  That came and the fans saw basically a huge brawl between the nWo and WCW with Sting holding the belt high after the show.  There was no definitive solution to the problem – if nothing else, the original Starrcade decision would stand.  Not so, said Dillon, who then vacated the title until a solution could be found.  Sting then spoke for the first time in over a year, calling Dillon gutless and Hogan a dead man.  A decision would be announced at the January PPV Souled Out.

WCW had managed to run a hot ticket program between Sting and Hogan for most of 1997, and were desperate to keep it going far past its given time.  If the fans had enjoyed it so much this long, what was another month?  Even though neither Sting nor Hogan were booked on Souled Out (hinting that the title match might go down there), fans would still buy the event to see what would happen.  Surely they were then letdown when Dillon announced that Hogan and Sting would again face each other at the following month’s SuperBrawl to determine the actual champion.  And then the feud could be stretched yet another month.

But by this point, WCW had stretched the matter out too far.  Sting vs. Hogan was supposed to be the finale of the WCW vs. nWo feud.  By having a non-finish, it allowed the nWo to continue as strong as ever.  Sting was made to look as if he could not actually defeat Hogan, once again cementing the fact that WCW simply could not defeat the nWo.  Sting ultimately defeated Hogan at SuperBrawl, but again under shady circumstances.  Sting had Hogan down with the Scorpion Deathdrop, only to have nWo member Randy Savage conk Hogan on the noggin with a spray paint can.  Sting was finally the undisputed champion, but he had again needed help to defeat Hogan.  In the end, Hogan was as strong as ever, and Sting was weak, just like WCW.

Sting only held the belt for two months, successfully defending against Scott Hall before losing it to Randy Savage due to interference from Kevin Nash at Spring Stampede.  The next night, Hogan reclaimed the belt from Savage, restoring the status quo.  Hogan and his nWo was again on top of WCW and nothing that had been done in all of that excellent build up meant a damn thing.  After all, the nWo was WCW’s meal ticket and they were desperate to hold onto it as long as possible.  So desperate, in fact, that they used the event to splinter the group into a new nWo, led by Kevin Nash, that even eventually recruited Sting and Lex Luger to it.

But by that point, the tide had begun turning and WWF’s Attitude Era had begun picking up steam.  WCW had just perpetrated its first in many major missteps that would put the company out of business in three short years.  And it all started here – with a booking gaffe so severe that perhaps the greatest wrestling storyline ever was botched into an entry labelled ‘Don’t do this’ on some 3rd rate wrestling blog.

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