Wrestling Recap: Hollywood Hogan vs. Sting (Starrcade ’97)

The Date: 28 December 1997
The Venue: MCI Center; Washington, D.C.
The Commentary: “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, Mike Tenay, and Tony Schiavone
The Referee: Nick Patrick (with Bret “Hitman” Hart as the guest official)
The Stakes: Main event singles match for the WCW Championship

The Build-Up:
On the 27 May 1996 edition of WCW Monday Nitro, Scott Hall (the former Razor Ramon) gatecrashed the broadcast and declared war on World Championship Wrestling (WCW). He was soon joined by Kevin Nash (formally Diesel) and, together, they began interrupting WCW programming and challenging the company to assemble a three-man team to face them and their “third man” at Bash at the Beach. Though Sting, Lex Lugar and “Macho Man” Randy Savage opposed these “Outsiders” at the match, they (and the entire wrestling world) would be stunned to find the duo’s partner to be none other than Hulk Hogan, who turned his back on the fans and WCW to form the New World Order (nWo). Reinvigorated by this heel turn and rechristened “Hollywood” Hogan, the once colourful wrestling hero led the nWo in hijacking WCW’s programming and capturing the WCW World Heavyweight Championship from The Giant at Hog Wild. Tensions were raised between the WCW defenders when Sting appeared to join the black and white supergroup, leading to him walking out on his WCW team mates at Fall Brawl for being so easily deceived by the fake nWo Sting. The next night on Nitro, Sting cut a scathing tirade against his doubters and then disappeared into the rafters for almost a year, adopting a trench coat and black and white face paint inspired by The Crow (O’Barr, 1989; Proyas, 1994) and refusing to speak. As more and more names jumped on the nWo bandwagon, WCW took a commanding lead in the “Monday Night Wars” and the nWo became the hottest storyline in professional wrestling. Now a dark avenger, Sting would occasionally test the loyalty of the in-ring competitors by offering them the chance to attack him with his signature baseball bat and would often rappel to the ring and attack the nWo in an emphatic statement of defiance but repeatedly refused to re-sign with the company unless he was granted this infamous one-on-one match against Hogan at Starrcade for the WCW Championship!

The Match:
Although I’d been aware of wrestling as a kid since Hulk Hogan was just that big of a multimedia icon, I didn’t actually start properly watching it or getting into it until around 1999 and 2000, and even then my experiences were limited to the Nintendo 64 videogames since I didn’t have the channels that carried the two main promotions. Consequently, I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by WCW; while many have talked at length about how bad the company got in its latter years, I actually quite enjoy watching the odd WCW match or pay-per-view here and there when I get the chance since the presentation was so different to the then-World Wrestling Federation (WWF). As a massive fan of The Crow and supernatural wrestlers like Kane and the Undertaker, Sting naturally caught my eye; his whole presentation during this time really spoke to me and I’ve always gone out of my way to try and catch up with his career highlights once DVDs of his matches started to be produced. I mention all this simply to say that I don’t have the benefit of having lived through some of WCW’s biggest or most infamous moments as they happened; the Monday Night Wars didn’t really exist for me as I could barely watch WWF programming as it was, so there wasn’t a choice for me, and they ended soon after I started watching anyway, so I generally tend to watch these old WCW matches in an isolated bubble rather than from a position of nostalgia. One of the things I really enjoyed about WCW is that they featured legendary boxing announcer Michael Buffer as the intro man for their main events; his delivery, his explanation of the competitor’s and their stories, the way he rattled off the wrestler’s accomplishments and nicknames and, of course, his signature cry of “Let’s get ready to ruuu-uuu-mblll-llle!” really helped to sell WCW’s main event bouts as a big deal.

The long-awaited clash between Hogan and Sting was a highly anticipated contest with major stakes.

First to the ring was the WCW Champion himself, the devious and sly Hollywood Hogan and, I have to say, I always hated the nWo’s theme song; though iconic, the tune is grating and annoying and probably one of my least favourite entrance themes in all of wrestling. As for Hollywood Hogan, I have to give the man props for his dramatic reinvention; Hogan was a household name, a hero to kids and fans everywhere, and to turn his back on that and take on this villainous persona was a hell of a gamble, but one that absolutely paid off for the aging Hulkster, who became more relevant than ever before simply by swapping his red and yellow duds for black and white and acting like an absolute underhanded jackass who relied on cheating, cheap tactics, and his running buddies to protect his spot at the top of the WCW pantheon. After a year away from in-ring competition, the audience was hyped to a frenzy at the anticipation of seeing Sting make his entrance; accompanied by lightning flashes, a light show of his painted face, and an ominous introduction, Sting sauntered to the ring with his trademark baseball bat, his face a stoic mask of implacability even as his pyro (and the audience) exploded around him. The commentators did a great job of hyping up how Sting, once the colourful, energetic heart and soul of the company, had been changed by Hogan’s arrival and the betrayal he suffered from the fans and his peers. Though his blank visage barely twitched during his entrance, Sting made a big show of making his intentions absolutely clear by repeatedly pointing his baseball bat at Hogan. However, Sting immediately let Hogan know exactly what he thought of him by delivering a quick bitch-slap to the Hulkster after Hogan shoved the Stinger and threw his bandana at him. This riled Hogan up so much that he retaliated by…pacing around the ring, threatening the camera crew, and hurling abuse at the crowd to further milk the anticipation for their inevitable lock up.

The match gets off to a slow, uninspired start as the two stall and plod around the ring.

Hogan further stalled for time after Sting got the better of their first exchange in the corner, but quickly became the aggressor after luring Sting in with the promise of a test of strength and blindsiding him with a gut kick that, in all honesty, Sting really should have seen coming. Hogan then started pummelling Sting with right-hands and repeatedly taunting him with growls of, “Come on, “hero”!” and Sting was quickly overwhelmed by Hogan’s patented offense of punches, eye pokes, splashes in the corner, and the ever-devastating back rake! A quick body slam took Sting to the mat, but the painted-up warrior easily avoided Hogan’s three attempts at an elbow drop and send the architect of the nWo tumbling to the outside of the ring with a sudden dropkick. After stalling again on the outside, threatening fans and really dragging this anticipation out, Hogan eventually returned to the ring and then put the Stinger in a headlock. Just as the crowd started to become restless (I think I even heard a brief “Boring!” chant), Sting got out of the hold, leapt over Hogan’s charging body, and sent him tumbling outside again with another dropkick. More stalling followed before the two locked up again; this time, it was Sting who put on the headlock right as Schiavone claimed that Sting had “never looked better”, a bold statement considering how disappointingly slow and lethargic the match had been up until that point. Although he managed to shut down Hogan’s attempt to power out of the devastating headlock, Sting wasn’t able to avoid Hogan’s clothesline; despite wasting time and energy hurling abuse at the fans, Hogan was then able to further press his advantage with a suplex…but Sting completely no-sold it, much to the delight of the fans. Stunned at Sting’s…well, I guess “resilience” is as good a word as any, despite it being a little too generous since the match was a complete snooze-fest…Hogan then found himself on the receiving end of a battering in the corner.

Although Hogan clearly wins this mess of a contest, Bret Hart ensured Sting got the big victory.

Realising that Sting isn’t to be underestimated, Hogan again went for the eye poke and then dumped Sting to the outside, where Hogan smacked his foe’s face off the ringside table and then smashed Sting over the back with his own baseball bat (which, somehow, didn’t result in a disqualification). After smacking Sting into the ring post and off the apron, Hogan wily dodged out of the way of an attempted Stinger Splash, which resulted in Sting crashing into the metal barricade right on his ribs. Winded and hurt, Sting was helpless to stop Hogan from crotching him over the barricade. With Sting little more than a lifeless sack of potatoes, Hogan easily dropped him in the ring and planted him with his patented Big Boot. Hogan then taunted the crowd, landed his patented Leg Drop, and Nick Patrick counted an empathetic three count. Despite the fact that Hogan clearly (and with a ridiculous amount of ease) just pinned WCW’s would-be saviour, the ring bell never sounded and Hogan wasn’t named as the victor (even though he clearly was…) because Bret Hart interjected himself into the proceedings to keep another screwjob from happening…even though there was no screwjob here. Hogan pinned Sting clean as a whistle; it wasn’t even a fast count, so there’s no controversy to call into question. Regardless of logic and fact, Hart used his authority as a WCW referee to restart the match; he laid out Nick Patrick, tossed Hogan back into the ring, and the match finally got a jolt of energy as Sting fired up and went nuts on Hogan. He whipped him into the corner, crushed him with the Stinger Splash, fought off the nWo’s Buff Bagwell and Scott Norton, and then hit another huge Stinger Splash in the opposite corner, all as the crowd leapt to their feet in thunderous applause. Hogan staggered to the mat and Sting wrapped him up in the Scorpion Deathlock; with the submission move firmly locked in, Hogan had not choice but to tap out and WCW wrestlers rushed to the ring to celebrate Sting finally wrestling the WCW Championship from Hogan’s hands.

The Aftermath:
Sadly, though, as exhilarating as those last five minutes were, this was a dreadfully painful match to sit through; considering all the emotion heading into it, I would have expected a much faster, more aggressive affair but, instead, Hogan completely dominated Sting and even won the damn match! Even though the crowd popped hard for the last five minutes, and the ending was framed as this big moment, the match was a complete mess of stalling and plodding offense as the two men just didn’t gel well together in the ring. To make matters worse, the botched finish meant that the WCW Championship ended up being vacated, necessitating a rematch at Fall Brawl VIII, which Sting won. Sting’s title run didn’t last long, however; he dropped the belt to Randy Savage in April, and Hogan regained the belt the day after. Additionally, despite this victory for WCW, the nWo storyline continued with a vengeance; the group even split into two factions, one of which Sting joined! Hogan would recapture the WCW Championship for the fifth time (under controversial circumstances) when the group reformed in early 1999, and this wouldn’t be the last time Sting and Hogan shared a ring together even after WCW went defunct. Both men eventually found themselves in Total Nonstop Action (TNA) and facing off in match comparable to this one at Bound for Glory 2011 and Hogan (and the nWo) even bizarrely tried to help Sting in his big WrestleMania match against Triple H during Sting’s disappointing run in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to the long-awaited match between Sting and Hollywood Hogan at Starrcade 1997? Were you excited to see Sting return to the ring at the time? Did the constant stalling and screwy finish bother you? What did you think to the nWo storyline and do you think it should’ve ended here? Were you a fan of Sting’s “Crow” persona and what are some of your matches and moments of his? Which era of WCW, or Sting’s career, was your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Sting, and this match in particular, feel free to sign up and voice them below or leave a comment on my social media.

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