The next installment in the “I was there” series will be WCW Slamboree 1998, which was held in Worcester, MA at the Centrum on May 17, 1998. I would celebrate the one year anniversary of my high school graduation by attending a PPV 40 miles from my house alone. Good times. But does this show hold up?
The introduction makes a big deal of the Eric Bischoff “challenge” to Vince McMahon to show up for a match. This was just one of the initial signs that Bischoff was experiencing a mental breakdown. We’ll get into that later. After all, this is a show that has the first PPV match between Bret Hart and Randy Savage so it can’t be all bad, right? Well, that match might have been a few years too late. Our hosts are Tony Schiavone, Bobby Heenan, and Mike Tenay. Gotta admit I’m glad I don’t have to listen to Larry Zbyszko on this show.
Fit Finlay (C) vs. Chris Benoit for the WCW TV Title
Hmm. I think this match will have some snug work. Instead it starts with a series of pinfall reversal spots and arm work, almost as if Finlay wanted to prove he could play the cruiserweight game for a bit. Of course, Tony is too busy talking about the Sting match to focus on calling the match at hand, a HUGE pet peeve of mine from WCW of this period. I’m probably not alone, because I burned out on everything he tried to play up. Finlay works over Benoit on the floor with a slam and clothesline, and Tenay theorizes that Benoit has a “hard head” so clearly his concussion research wasn’t up to snuff.
I’ve grown to appreciate Finlay; back then I thought he was just an annoying old guy from Europe. But this match is sort of like mashed potatoes versus potato chips, with Benoit as the chips because he is much more crisp and satisfying to watch. But you are probably better off working like Finlay (mashed potatoes) which are still good, but not as good a chips. A guy like Finlay will have a better lifespan, for lack of a better term. And apologies if I offended anyone for using a potato reference for the Irish guy. To prove my point, Finlay locks in three chin locks in a row, but the third one is short.
Benoit hits Finlay with a chair to the back, so this must be no DQ. We weren’t told that, but whatever. Benoit tries a suicide dive to the outside and Finlay gets a chair up in defense and connects with the Crippler’s skull. Yikes. But back inside, Mashed Potatoes misses a charge and Potato Chips hits the triple German suplex for a two count. Benoit grabs the arm for the Crossface but Finlay gains the ropes. Benoit goes up top for the head butt and stalls because Booker T is clearly late on the cue to distract in the aisle. Finlay hits a dropkick to Benoit, but doesn’t stop the Canadian from getting a two count on a cradle. Then out of nowhere, Finlay hits the Tombstone for the win. This one could have been better, obviously. Excuse me while I grab some potato chips.
Lee Marshall is with Chris Jericho backstage but all I can think about is the orgy-obsessed “Lee Marshall” character that developed on The Lapsed Fan Wrestling Podcast while reviewing all the Starrcades.
Lex Luger vs. Brian Adams
Now this seems friggin’ pointless. Say farewell to the classic Lex Luger guitar riff theme as this is its final PPV, to be replaced with the nWo Wolfpac theme by next month at the Bash. Luger is underrated at points in his career, but that includes only his WCW work from 1988-1990 and 1995-1997. There’s about 2-3 more years of mailing it in to go. Adams hits a shitty looking piledriver that they should have sent him back to jail for even trying. The announcers tune out also, wondering if Scott Hall will actually show up tonight. Yep, that was a thing. Luger gets the win with the Torture Rack. Whatever.
Saturn says there is no gauntlet match against Goldberg tonight, telling the Flock to go screw. He says he’s out for himself now. By the way, those of us in the arena could not see any of this stuff so damned if we knew what might be coming up.
Cruiserweight Battle Royal
This is for a title match against champion Chris Jericho, who interrupts David Penzer to do his own introductions of the participants. This is rather famous and cracked up the live crowd: Super Calo “his hat never comes off”, Chavo Guerrero Jr from “El Paso, Mexico”, El Dandy “winner of the Lou Ferrigno look-alike contest, Juventud Guerrera “the ugliest man in our sport”, Marty Jannetty (for some reason), Kidman “I got some Calamine lotion for you after the match”, Silver King “only 12 wins away from being upgraded to Golden King”, and Villano IV “representing Villanos 1 thru 62”. There are others: Ciclope, Evan Karagias, Lenny Lane, and Psychosis.
Because this is WCW they manage to screw this up: Elimination occurs by going over the top rope, or by pinfall. So Nick Patrick is in the ring like a dork. And of course there are no pins during this match. The other flaw: putting all high-flying guys in a match with no room to operate. And I like battle royals but do it right. Dandy botches and/or gives up on a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker on Psychosis. Ciclope looks a bit too much like a mat-based guy. The guy behind me at this show and I discussed this and maybe kind of spoiled it like douches. He was claiming to be sending in the report for this show to the Wrestling Observer. Who knows? At the finish, Ciclope and Juvy have a staredown, but then shake hands and Juvy jumps out of the ring and Ciclope starts to unmask. And it’s Dean Malenko, back after a hiatus. This got a huge reaction in the arena, but only the second biggest pop of 1998 in the Centrum.
Dean Malenko (in a Ciclope outfit) vs. Chris Jericho (C) for the WCW Cruiserweight title.
Malenko is a house of fire early, which makes sense since he’s covered in orange. He lays the boots in on Jericho, but the champ fights back with a hot shot and a suplex. He then does the one foot “COME ON, BABY!” pin attempt, which really stands up over time as a funny spot. Juventud is just hanging out at ringside for some reason. Lionsault connects for a two count and Jericho gets a backbreaker. But when he tries for the Liontamer (pre-Walls of Jericho) Malenko catches the leg but Jericho gets the ropes. Big back elbow by Jericho off the top, which is a cool looking move that someone should try today. How about it, Dean Ambrose? Though he’d make it look shitty.
Malenko catches Jericho up top the next time and hits a huge super Gutbuster. The Texas Cloverleaf is locked in and Jericho nearly reaches the ropes but is pulled back to center where he taps. So Malenko gets his big win and the title back, right? For now, yes. But it was all reversed before the next PPV which really pissed me off. Don’t book the angle if you can’t follow through. Basically said to me this whole thing was pointless.
They go back to the Vinnie Mac Cam with a focus on a white limo. Tony lands a cheap shot stating that you’ll know its Vince if Jim Ross jumps out carrying his bags.
Diamond Dallas Page vs. Raven in a Bowery Match
A Bowery match is actually fairly similar to the Jericho-Ambrose debacle at 2016 Extreme Rules, a cage match with weapons included in the cage. Though this is more like a Last Man Standing Match in terms of rules. DDP gets on the roof which is sturdier than the piece of crap the WWF used at King of the Ring a few weeks later. Bet Mick Foley wishes they went this route. Why they are having this cage match in the middle of the card, who knows. It’s WCW, which is usually the answer to those questions.
Raven was such a poor fit with WCW that he was right to bail when he did, even if WWF wasn’t an option. This was hard to see with the chain link fence, which is the one advantage of the Big Blue Cage the WWF favored in the late 80s and early 90s. The weapons as described as “what you’d find in the Bowery” and includes two fire extinguishers. Glad they follow all fire codes. DDP chokes Raven with the bull rope then attempts to hang him from the top of the cage but Raven fights out of it. Raven smashes DDP with a VCR and Heenan says “shoulda hit pause”. Then for God knows what reason, they decide to have a ref bump in a cage match. The Riot Squad that came down with Raven try to break into the cage, but Van Hammer hits them all with Stop signs. That’s appropriate. Kidman and Horace Hogan are in the riot gear and get in the cage, but have a miscommunication and end up taking Diamond Cutters from DDP. But then Raven gets his Evenflow DDT and follows with a Diamond Cutter in an early example of the “steal the other guy’s finisher” trope. A chair shot misses, and DDP gets a Cutter of his own. Rest, Cutter, Rest, Cutter, Rest, Cutter. I sense a pattern. Page gets up at the count of 9 with Raven still down to mercifully bring this to an end.
After the match, members of the Flock are handcuffed to the cage, Raven with both hands. The guy in the riot gear winds up and hits Raven with a chair in the head, and unmasks to reveal Mortis, who then takes off the Mortis mask to reveal Chris Kanyon. His application for Flock membership was recently rejected which pissed him off, justifiably since they took Horace Freaking Hogan. I don’t know how much follow-up this had.
Back to the Vinnie Mac Cam for a bit as the streets of Worcester are deserted for some reason. Saturn is with Lee Marshall and says his piece, but Lee is still talking when the camera cuts away.
Eddy Guerrero (w/Chavo Guerrero Jr.) vs. Ultimo Dragon
If Eddy loses, Chavo Jr. gains freedom. Now, why Chavo wouldn’t just attack Ultimo and get a DQ loss for Eddy, I don’t know. Chavo has the “Eddy Guerrero is my favorite wrestler” shirt on. At this point, it was “Eddy” and not “Eddie” which is a problem I had with Eddie Vedder for many years. In what can’t be a good sign, the crowd was distracted by a fat guy who took his shirt off, which you can see when he starts to put his shirt back on. When you have the violence in the cage match, it is hard for the crowd to swap back into appreciating an Asai Moonsault, even one by the innovator of the move. Regular moonsault? Nope. Nothing. Eddy hits a tornado DDT, but the Frog Splash misses. Magistral cradle gets two for Dragon, who follows up with a Dragon Sleeper. Eddy reverses it into one of his own and tries to use the ropes for leverage, but Chavo knocks his uncle off the ropes. Argument ensues, and Dragon hits Chavo by mistake. Brain buster by Eddy and the Frog Splash ends it.
And now for this post-match angle: Chavo is upset so he shoves Eddy then puts the boots to Ultimo to the point where even Eddy is trying to pull him off, finally offering himself up for some more Chavo violence. Instead, they just leave as Chavo continues to be under the spell of his uncle, which is just as well since Eddy was awesome.
Shot of the locker room door for Vince, which says Vince “Reason for the Ratings” McMahon. And you thought I was kidding that this was a sign of a Bischoff mental breakdown.
Goldberg (C) vs. Saturn for the U.S. Title
Two bald guys wearing all black, so this must be 1998. Lot of signs for Goldberg which were organic at this point. One sign even spelled it “Goldburg” which is funny. Goldberg was a much better worker in retrospect as a power guy, it was not so cartoony like an Ultimate Warrior type. I wasn’t so much into him at the time because I was totally into workrate at that point. Saturn slaps Goldberg when he was down, prompting the big guy to leap back up. Saturn gets in more offense than most Goldberg opponents pre-world title win: Goldberg hits the post on the outside, Saturn connects with a dropkick off the apron, and a bunch of heel kick variations. While in a chinlock, ref Mickey Jay checks Goldberg’s arm and he flips out as if to say how dare the referee do his job. Funny stuff.
After hitting an exploder suplex, Saturn gets a chair to use as a springboard for a dropkick but when he tries it again, he gets speared. Jackhammer, and that’s it. Not a bad match, and Goldberg is now 86-0, or 89-0 or something.
Promo for the Great American Bash in June. Let’s just say it wasn’t as memorable as the WWF 1998 King of the Ring that followed two weeks later.
Eric Bischoff vs. Vince McMahon
Not only did they bring out Michael Buffer for this, but they did the count when Vince didn’t come. RAW had finally beaten Nitro a month before after an 83 week losing streak, and Bischoff couldn’t stand that the on-screen Vince character was a big reason why. But it was really Austin. The WWF sued over this even as WCW said Vince wouldn’t show up. They told the court that in wrestling when you suggest something won’t happen that it means it WILL happen. What made this confusing to me was how Bischoff was an on-screen heel and what is he supposed to be with this? It was a total ego trip, the kind of thing that killed the company less than three years later. That said, this was very similar to Vince losing his grip when he started to lose to WCW in 1996. The difference is that wrestling is McMahon’s whole life, while this was merely a job in the Turner empire for Bischoff. The next night, Nitro was pre-empted for the NBA playoffs and cut to only one hour from three. The Jazz beat the Lakers 99-95 in game 2 of the Western final on the way to a sweep.
Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage w/Rowdy Roddy Piper as guest referee
Three months earlier, I went out to Cambridge, MA for a parade in honor of Savage, who was being awarded the “Real Man of the Year” award from the Harvard Lampoon, which spoofs the Hasty Pudding award. As he went by me, Savage says “Oooh yeah, I am the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be!” In my infinite wisdom, I went on the RSPW newsgroup (rec.sport.pro-wrestling) and reported that a feud with Hart must be imminent. Never mind that WCW constantly booked by the seat of their pants at that point more than ever.
Buffer announces that Hart is in the “black and purple” so he’s clearly with the program. Piper is the ref and it’s WCW Piper so it will probably be very annoying. Savage is a part of the Wolfpac at this point and feuding with Hollywood Hogan. The Macho Man beat Sting for the World title at Spring Stampede a month prior, but only so he could lose it to Hogan the next night on Nitro. Hart stalls on the outside to start so Piper goes out and tosses him in and they exchange shoves. Tenay and Schiavone talk about this potentially being a technical masterpiece….yes, maybe if this was 1989 or 1992. Savage had a huge brace on his right knee from a legitimate injury, and Bret worked over the leg in the match. But they end up in the crowd to brawl, which sucked for the live crowd because as mentioned WCW did not have a jumbotron so we had no idea what was happening. And this was on the other side of the arena from where I sat.
Once it gets back to normal, Hart gets a great looking piledriver for two. Macho really lets Bret have the entire match here because he can’t do any of his trademark stuff. Hart does a DDT which I don’t remember him doing very much, then the backbreaker but he misses the 2nd rope elbow. Savage goes up and hits the big elbow, but sells the leg for a bit before the cover and Bret kicks out. Hitman gets the Sharpshooter so Elizabeth runs down wearing black leather. Nice. She yells at Piper for whatever reason (WCW), and Savage reverses the Sharpshooter and Bret gets to the ropes. As Liz continues with Piper, Hart kicks Macho in his little Savages and then hits Piper from behind with brass knucks. Or it looks like it. Use of brass knuckles for anything but self-defense in Massachusetts is subject to a $5,000 fine or 5 years in jail, by the way. Savage gets the knucks but here comes Hogan, who shoves Liz out of the way to slew foot Savage and ram his leg into the post. Sharpshooter by Bret gets him the win as Piper has no idea that Bret hit him.
Of course, this all got reversed on Nitro the next night. Screw you, people who paid for the show! Hogan crawls back up the aisle like he’s trying to find a contact lens, and as if he’d be DQ’d if someone saw him that long after the fact. I still don’t know why Liz ran in, the motivation for that seemed unclear. Incidentally, Hart was a big fan of Liz; his daughter worshipped her and Savage and Liz would regularly look after Bret’s kids at major events in WWF when the Hitman was in the ring.
Giant and Sting vs. Scott Hall and Kevin Nash (C) for the WCW World tag team titles
Hall had not been seen for a while as he dealt with issues, and the now had split so it was assumed Hall would be part of the Wolfpac. He comes out third after Nash and Dusty Rhodes, who is wearing a red leather jacket. Remember when Dusty joined the nWo? Yeah, that was money. Whatever. Hall does his survey “in public, if you weee-illllll”. Giant comes out to the regular nWo theme and I swear 50% of all entrances in 1998 were some nWo theme. Giant had just rejoined the faction for a 2nd time to become the first two-time member. And here’s Sting: the bloom was off that rose. After screwing up Starrcade and getting the belt on him two months later, they took it off him quickly to go back to Hogan and now Sting was being fought for by the nWo factions. Sting was not only being overexposed, but Schiavone would talk about him during all matches like he’s Poochie. Effectively the fans were given no reason to believe in Sting, or anything else except Goldberg at this point. But hey, Mark Curtis is the ref here so that’s good.
Sting dominates Hall early and the Outsiders regroup on the floor. Giant and Nash have their showdown then Sting tags in with a “Let’s go Wolfpac!” chant going, which only confuses things here. Sting is in peril immediately and Hall and Nash gets some good double teaming in, or at least the stuff they could do well. Tony: “The original mission of the nWo was to destroy tradition and destroy WCW!” Well, it took a while but it worked eventually, at least as one ingredient. Bear hug by Nash on Sting, but Giant is able to reach out for the tag. Giant hits a running leg drop and I bet Hogan got all pissed backstage. Giant, who supposedly once did a moonsault, goes up top and misses a splash. Nash pulls the straps down; he thinks he’s Jerry Lawler now? Dusty is on the apron and this looks very telegraphed. Yep, Hall comes in and slowly grabs the belt and clobbers Nash with it. Giant and Sting are new tag champs, and the look on Sting’s face says it all. In fact, this would have been a meme if that sort of thing existed in 1998.
Giant yells at Sting to “make the right choice” since now Sting HAS to join a faction in the group he fought for over a year. As for Hall and Nash, they never had real feud. By year end, Hall was even playing security guard and tasering Goldberg to help Nash end the streak.
Verdict: When I subscribed to the WWE Network in March 2014, this was one of the first things I watched and it seemed fine to me at the time, but I wasn’t taking notes. This time I must say that this is way crappier in retrospect. Nothing mattered here: Malenko win was overturned, Bret Hart win was overturned, the finish of Finlay-Benoit was quite bad, and the main event doesn’t hold up in any way, shape or form. This show is probably a complete stay away and showed me why I have such trouble watching any WCW after the Hogan-Sting Starrcade match.