The random number generator threw out a show from the start of the Bill Watts regime in charge of WCW for entry #8, now its thrown out-something from the end. It’s the 2nd January 1993 (filmed 14th December 1992) and we’re at the Center Stage Theatre of Atlanta, Georgia for an edition of WCW Saturday Night! Tonight’s main event: Danny Spivey vs Ricky Steamboat in a quarter final of a US Title Tournament.
Saturday Night is actually one of the longest running wrestling shows ever, existing under various names from 1971 through to 2000. At this point in time, it was WCW’s primary television avenue, so would frequently carry quite a decent card. But this was also the tail end of Bill Watts’ time with WCW: the man had little time left at the top, following a string of run-ins with numerous employees, the institution of numerous unpopular rules regarding the in-ring product, falling ratings and, the kicker, the roadblock Watts represented in terms of getting Ric Flair back. Oh, and the tricky issue of some Watts’ less wise comments, of a racist or bigoted nature.
We open with a “special report” on Big Van Vader becoming a two-time WCW Champion after defeating Ron Simmons at a house show, which amounts to Eric Bischoff describing what happened in a rapid manner over still shots of the guys in question. Simmons’ title win was a watershed, but he was booked poorly as champion, defeating undeserving challengers and rarely main-eventing. The plug was pulled after a short enough time, and now they are moving on pretty rapidly, which Bischoff indicating that Vader wants to face Sting next, and not a hint of a re-match with Simmons.
Opening titles which feature slow-mo rotoscoped footage to a funky beat and we’re straight into out first match from the off. Jim Ross and Larry Zbyszko on commentary.
Cactus Jack and the Barbarian vs Johnny Gunn and the Z-Man
Jack not far off a face-turn as I recall. No idea who Gunn and the Z-Man are, who despite their very different names are largely indistinguishable. JR and Zbyszko briefly discuss the world title change, but Larry shuts it down quick enough by declaring Simmons run “a fluke”. That’ll show em. Jack and Gunn to start. Tie-ups, Gunn dodges a clothesline and hits an arm drag. You’ll only piss him off jobber. Cactus back on top with a headbutt and in comes the Barbarian for around two seconds of offence. Gunn able to fight both off and in comes the Z-Man. Double drop-kick to both of their opponents. Jack back body-dropped into Barbarian.
Cactus and his tag partner re-group outside. Jack in against Z-Man. Beating him down in the corner, but Z-Man counters into an armbar. Jack powers out of it, and in comes the Barbarian. Long enough tie-up, and then Jack holds the rope to dump a running Z-Man out. Beatdown on the outside and Jack rolls him back-in before getting the tag. Cactus floored by a super stiff-looking shoulder charge. Barbarian in against Gunn. Gunn floors him with a clothesline, dodges a Stinger Splash attempt, then hits a second rope clothesline. Everyone in, things break down a bit, and Gunn hits a Lou Thesz Press on Jack. Barbarian nails Gunn with a kick to the head, and that’s enough after just under six.
Winners: Cactus Jack and the Barbarian, putting it up there for random heel tag teams.
Verdict: A nothing tag opening, but at least the jobbers got a bit of offence in.
Some basic title cards inform us we’ll be seeing Battle Bowl highlights next, and later matches for a tournament to find a #1 contender to the US Title.
Back from break, and that funky theme drowns out JR and Zbyszko for a bit. We’re getting thrown to Battle Bowl highlights, which was part of the recent Starrcade show. Bill Watts and Tont Schiavone introduce famous baseballer Hank Aaron. Watts says Battle Bowl was Dusty Rhodes’ dream, like Rhodes is dead or something. The winner of the Bowl will get a special ring, presented by Aaron. The winner of last year’s Bowl, Sting, will get one too, and out he comes to get it. Thrilling stuff.
Back in studio, JR and Zbyszko run down the Battle Bowl, which is a battle royal where the participants are decided by randomly assigned tag matches earlier in the show. Plenty of big names involved, including surprises like Jushin Thunder Liger and the Great Muta. After a very quick rundown of the tag qualifiers, we see the Bowl itself, which consists of Muta, Vadar, Dustin Rhodes, Van Hammer, Danny Spivey, Sting, “Dr Death” Steve Williams and Barry Windham. The highlights are basic enough. The final two are Windham and Muta, and the latter skins the cat to avoid an elimination. This being highlights of a recent PPV, we cut suddenly from that to Muta celebrating a win because go buy it.
JR and Zbyszko congratulate Muta and briefly discuss the event, but their heart is not in it. Back from break, and again the music plays over JR. The US Title tournament is later, but first a singles match featuring Erik Watts. His old football coach gets the chance to play him up in an interview with Schiavone, as if it really matters: this is Cowboy Bills’ son, and that’s all he needs to be at the moment to get a good place on the card.
Erik Watts vs Mustapha Saed
Saed, a future tag partner of New Jack. Watts’ position on the card was another stick to beat his dad with when it came right down to it. Wrist-locks chains to start, then Watts on top. Saed rallying back with eye-pokes, then a few bear hugs. Watts eventually counters into a belly-to-back. Then a Scoop Slam, elbow strike, back body-drop, locks in an STF, and Saed taps in just over two and a half.
Verdict: Nothing match. He has the Moves of Doom and the same finisher, but Cena he ain’t.
Backstage Cactus Jack is with Tony Atlas, being interviewed by Teddy Long PLAYA. Jack means to win the bounty that is out on Erik Watts, and will turn him into a vegetable so he will fit on at the Christmas dinner table. What an amazing threat. Atlas faces Van Hammer later, and while Van Hammer has beaten the rest, Atlas is the best. Why are these two together?
No time to discover the answer because we are back from break and after another round of music playing over JR, we get an outline of the US Title situation. Rude is carrying a neck injury, and if he doesn’t defend his title within 30 days he will be stripped of that championship, hence this tournament is right now a #1 Contender search, but will actually turn into finding a new champ since Rude’s injury is legit. Ross throws to highlights of a Rude promo at Starrcade, where Rude is dressed all in denim and lacks facial hair. He complains about his treatment, says no-one is taking his title, etc. You know the drill here.
Vinnie Vegas vs Dustin Rhodes (WCW United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarter-Final)
Vegas is none other than Kevin Nash, with a Vegas mobster gimmick, not long before his switch to the WWF. Rhodes with a roll-up early for two, then another for two. Vegas with a Sunset Flip in response for two, and it’s weird to see Nash so athletic. I watched live as he came back from injury in 2002 and promptly tore another muscle. Rhodes with a mat headlock. Vegas eventually gets up, hits a snapmare but misses an elbow. More pinning combinations from Rhodes, but no pin yet.
After another headlock sequence Vegas hits a Sidewalk Slam for two, then a huge Irish Whip into the corner that floors Rhodes. Focusing in the lower back with blows, and when Rhodes goes for a slam he collapses with Vegas on top. Vegas hits the future Jackknife Powerbomb, but it isn’t a finisher yet so only two. Bear Hug for long time. Lots of shrieky kids in the audience. Vegas with a near fall after a minute of bear hugging, then right back to it.
Rhodes eventually out, gets a Sunset Flip but rope-break. Exchanging strikes, Rhodes getting on top and floors Vegas with an Axehandle, then a flying clothesline, then a drop-kick. Fast-paced stuff now. Rhodes powers out of a powerslam attempt, hits a Bulldog, and that’s the 1, 2, 3 in just under six and a half.
Winner: Dustin Rhodes, who is a bit too bland at the moment.
Verdict: Half boring bear hugs, half decent action.
After a break Barry Windham, looking for all he world like the Tiger King, is backstage with Flyin Brian Pillman and Tony Schiavone. Windham plays up Steve Austin as his tag partner, and a bathrobe wearing Austin saunters onto camera for Pillman to play him up as well. So I guess this is a new heel faction? The Dangerous Alliance minus Dangerously? Austin says he and Windham will be unstoppable in “their quest for the Tag Team Champions.” OK then.
Flyin Brian Pillman and Steve Austin vs Larry Santo and Rikki Nelson
Austin and Nelson to start, fast running of the ropes, and Nelson takes the advantage with numerous drop kicks. Actually I think this footage has been sped up a bit. Santo in for a few hip tosses before Pillman comes in. More hip tosses and doesn’t take long for Austin to come back in. Nelson with an elbow lock for a bit, then Nelson in to take over on the same move. All a bit samey.
Austin able to counter some Irish Whips by flipping Nelson by the leg, in a cool looking spot. Pillman in, and not a hint of his high-flying style, which is sad, just standard heel beatdown. Quick series of tags as the beatdown continues, but after a minute or so Santo gets the “hot” tag, and I put that in quotes for a reason. Drop kick floors Pillman, blind tag to Austin, he hits a sneaky Stun Gun, and that’s all in just over four a half.
Winners: The Stunning Flyers
Verdict: Tag squash is squash.
After a break we have more highlights from Starrcade, where Sting faced Vader in the final of a tournament celebrating the anniversary of wrestling airing on TBS, the “King of Cable”. I suppose this was a King Of The Ring facsimile. Vader chucking Sting around, Sting makes the comeback, and knocks Vader’s mask off. Ringside brawling, Vader hammering Sting back in the ring, big comeback, and we don’t get to see the finish, only Sting’s trophy celebration. Great. Sting and Vader will face each other again shortly at Clash of the Champions in a “Thundercage” match with a bunch of other main eventers. The Thundercage was a proto-Hell In The Cell that never got much traction in WCW, I suppose because it never nearly killed Mick Foley twice-over.
“Heavy Metal” Van Hammer vs Tony Atlas w/Cactus Jack (WCW United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarter-Final)
Again, don’t know why Cactus and Atlas are best friends. The winner of this faces Rhodes next week. Van Hammer won a “Strongest Arm” contest, and bodybuilder Tony Atlas is unhappy about this, and has challenged Van Hammer to an arm-wrestling match at a later show. That’ll be fun. Lock-up and Atlas floors Hammer after a shoulderblock, running the ropes very slowly. Hammer rallies back with a few slams and a knockdown of his own, then into a lengthy wrist-lock/test of strength spot, with Jack shouting encouragement to Atlas being about the only entertaining thing happening.
Atlas eventually grabs some hair to take Hammer down, but Hammer able to get in a back body-drop, tonight’s most popular move, and an elbow drop for two. More restholds, and eventually Atlas hits a reverse suplex. Looks very cumbersome trying to hit a clothesline, and Hammer looking much more impressive when he is on offence. Hammer with a leg drop for two, and Atlas then clotheslines him to the outside. Hammer with a shot to an interfering Jack, then goes to suplex Atlas from the apron into the ring, but Jack trips him – though Hammer was already falling pretty clearly – and it turns into a splash that’s enough in just over five.
Winner: Tony Atlas and his bestest buddy Cactus Jack beside him.
Verdict: Atlas didn’t look so hot here. Finish looked stupid. Wrong guy won.
No time for anything to breathe in this show as we go straight to an interview with Arn Anderson as part of “WCW Up Close”, this time with Jesse Ventura. Ventura says he’s “basically ruled WCW”, but I don’t recall Anderson ever getting a sustained run at the top. Anderson is currently laid up with a knee injury, which he laments. It was apparently caused by Erik Watts, which tracks with that guy. Anderson says he is out of contract in 1993, and complains, with Jesse, about the Watts father and son combo, and there’s a little bit of shoot in this.
Barry Windham vs Johnny B. Badd (WCW United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarter-Final)
Badd getting a lengthy entrance, but not sure the kids are really into him. Some fast-paced chains to start, then into a lengthy wrist-lock segment. Eventually Badd gets in a flurry of shots and that sends Windham out. Back in Windham gets on top with a suplex. Scoop Slam, elbow drop, for two. Badd tossed out, and Madusa has suddenly showed up to “scout” for Rick Rude. Badd mounting a comeback in the ring, but Windham shoves him down, drops a knee and lays in some slow kicks.
Windham with a suplex for two, and then lays in some shots and this is a bit dull now. Gutwrench Sideslam for two, then chokes and this is a very predictable pattern. Badd counters another suplex attempt into one of his own and the comeback in punctuated by, you guessed, it, a back body-drop. Running elbow gets two. Windham throws Badd by the tights into the turnbuckle, Badd not out of it though, with the world’s slowest Frankensteiner, looked really bad. To the top, for a huge air Sunset Flip attempt, but Windham rolls out and nails Badd with a clothesline. Windham hits a Jumping DDT and that’s the 1, 2, 3 in just over seven and a half.
Winner: Barry Windham, despite taking the move of doom that is the back body-drop.
Verdict: Windham looked slow, and some sloppy moves spoiled this one.
Backstage with Schivone are the Tag Champs Shane Douglas and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and isn’t that a bit of a random pair. Douglas is behind Steamboat’s effort to win the US Title, but both are putting their primary focus on the tags. Steamboat wants to win his quarter final so he can face Barry Windham in the semis, to get revenge for some previous altercation. He can sell this little min-feud well enough.
“Dangerous” Danny Spivey vs Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat (WCW United States Heavyweight Championship Tournament Quarter-Final)
Spivey I barely remember from a mid-90’s WWF run. Towers over Steamboat anyway, but we all know who the better wrestler is. Headlock-focused chains to start, with Steamboat on top. Crossbody for two, then a singing neckbreaker for two, and here’s Madusa again, as if Rude is actually coming back. Spivey back into it with a Spinebuster. Very awkward looking backbreaker, then Steamboat back with a few good-looking chops, before Spivey floors him with a clothesline for two.
The two battling over who gets to do a suplex, and then Spivey transitions into an abdominal stretch. Steamboat counters into a snapmare, then eats an uranage for two. Spivey chopping Steamboat down, huge Scoop Slam, then back to the abdominal stretch, into a slam, for two. Steamboat trying to go toe-to-toe with Spivey with the strikes, but consistently beaten down. Bear hug spot, into a near-fall. Steamboat counters a corner charge into a reverse suplex, but after countering an Irish Whip to land on the apron, eats a huge clothesline over the rope, that looked brutal. Back up, Steamboat knocks Spivey back, to the top, lands a crossbody, and that’s it suddenly in just under eight and a half.
Winner: Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and bring on Windham.
Verdict: Told a pretty good story, even if it was a bit too slow for its own good.
Still a few minutes left, so JR and Zbyszko run-down the semi-final line-up. Teddy Long interviews Windham backstage, and ask for his opinion on Steamboat’s previous comments. Says he can get out of any predicament, that he’s ready for anything, and he’s going to tear Steamboat up. Gives a good promo does Windham. JR plugs the hotline, and that’ll be all after one more funky beat.
Best Match: I guess the main event of Spivey/Steamboat was the pick of the bunch, just because it told a decent in-ring story.
Best Wrestler: Van Hammer carried Atlas well enough in their match, and that was impressive enough.
Worst Match: Windham and Badd was needlessly slow for how short it was, with Windham not looking too bothered.
Worst Wrestler: Tony Atlas looked gassed a few seconds after the bell.
Overall Verdict: Perfectly acceptable early-90’s TV, and the lack of squash matches is to be appreciated. But must be considered a bit dull in many respects, and that’s a by-product of Bill Watts, whose enforced mundanity goes from the in-ring action to the commentary desk, that lacked much in the way of notable talk. WCW was over-flowing with major talent at this time, but needed someone with more imagination and ambition in charge. They would get just that, for better or worse, soon enough.
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