The lead-up to Hollywood Hulk Hogan vs. Sting at Starrcade 1997 was a glowing example of excellent booking. Sting had walked out on WCW in September of 1996 when his teammates in War Games accused him of defecting to the New World Order. His defection cost Team WCW the match, and put them on the defense in the war against the nWo. Then, six months later, at the Uncensored PPV, Sting returned with a drastically different appearance and rejoined the battle. Over the course of nine months, Sting didn’t speak, didn’t wrestle any matches, and didn’t interact with anyone. He remained a figure overlooking the battlefield and occasionally attacked when the moment was right.
WCW held the course for Starrcade, their biggest show of the year. Finally, Sting was going to have a match and it was going to be for Hollywood Hogan’s WCW title. And the fans craved it. WCW had the fans eating out of their hands. It was booked excellently – the story had been set, the players had played their roles, and the fans wanted resolution. That is how it is done. (Nevermind the clusterfuck it turned into – we’re focusing on the good).
So it boggles the mind that just seven months later, WCW could screw up so badly when it came to the hottest new sensation – Bill Goldberg – winning the WCW title from Hollywood Hogan, who was still one of the biggest heels in the company. You’d think that it would have $$$ all over it, right? All you need is to get Goldberg in the path of the nWo and have him continue to plow through the rank and file until finally he gets his shot at Hogan. Not quite as intriguing as Sting, sure, but the fans would eat it up.
Instead, we get the setup and the payoff in one week’s time. During the buildup to another high profile feud.
July of 1998 was leading into the Bash at the Beach PPV. The big story was that Hogan had brought Dennis Rodman back into the nWo ranks, and to combat it, Diamond Dallas Page had brought in Karl Malone. Hogan was the champion, and DDP was the best contender WCW had to offer (as Sting, Lex Luger and the Giant had all joined various nWo factions). As for Goldberg, he had defeated Raven for the United States title, and was still plowing through any and all of those who stepped before him. He was in the middle of a feud with Curt Hennig (that saw Hennig defect back to Hogan’s group) with no interaction with Hogan or Page.
So it came as something of a surprise when J.J. Dillon announced that Goldberg would be getting a title shot against Hogan on the following episode of Nitro. There would be no build up. No storyline. The title match would take place, and then everyone would go back to what they were doing. Many fans (myself included) realized that Hogan would not likely be the one to end Goldberg’s win streak, so the match was somewhat anticlimactic. Both feuds played into the match as Curt Hennig came to the ring during the bout, with Karl Malone running out behind him and laying him out with a Diamond Cutter. The distraction opened Hogan up for the spear, and one Jackhammer later, Goldberg was the WCW champion. And everyone went back to what they were doing.
Hogan kept feuding with Page (even bringing Jay Leno into the mix) while Goldberg began defending his title on Nitro against guys like Rick Fuller and Roadblock. The potential PPV buyrate that Hogan vs. Goldberg could have created was lost to free TV, just so WCW could brag that they had bested the WWF in the ratings that week. This was not Starrcade. This was crap.
Goldberg’s title reign was pretty much abysmal aside from a good match against DDP (that many fans missed due to a PPV error) before finally having his streak ended by Kevin Nash…who just happened to be booking matches for the company. WCW would not have another noteworthy championship reign for the remaining three years it was in business.
But they sure as hell won the ratings that night.