After a week off (not really for me, check out the MITB review), we are back with another great moment in Championship history! After the last two having a good hunk of history to go along with it, I wanted to pick a moment that was clearly in the moment. Without prior knowledge, you could go into this match and realize it’s not just an average title match. With that in mind, I chose, arguably, WCW’s most important title change of their hay day. That being, if you haven’t guessed, Hogan vs. Sting at Starrcade 1997.
As is well documented in wrestling history, WCW took over control as the highest viewed wrestling company on TV in the mid to late 90s, on the heels of the formation of the NWO. At the time, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and eventually Hollywood Hogan leading a faction that slowly took over WCW, an old school “rasslin” feel company, drew the eyes of viewers. Stone Cold was just beginning to emerge as the greatest wrestler of the era, and crowds yearned for an anti hero. That’s exactly what the NWO was. Supremely anti establishment (even though they were the establishment), and the antithesis to what made fans bored in “white meat babyfaces”.
When you go back and watch that product now, the really big problem was just the nature of NWO’s squashing of the rest of the roster. While it later became a hot political issue backstage of creative control, the initial year of NWO was just riding a wave of popularity. There were no true hero wrestlers in WCW that the crowd gravitated to. While Diamond Dallas Page began to make his rise to the top, he wasn’t quite there yet, so the floundering of guys like The Giant, Lex Luger, and Roddy Piper continued. It wasn’t until the emergence of a character, once the cleanest of babyfaces, now reinvented, did the crowd begin to treat the NWO as the villains they truly were. That wrestler was Sting.
To me, the Sting saga is the best story that ever came out of WCW. After the Hogan turn at Bash at the Beach 96, Sting disappeared. After a months long absence, he began to reappear in the rafters as a new, Crow-inspired Sting. After months of fake Stings joining the NWO, and various call outs from the WCW and NWO roster alike, Sting made his intentions clear, when he came down from the rafters at WCW Souled Out PPV and cleared the house of NWO members. After that, the Hogan v Sting title match was all but set for the next coming Starrcade. Honestly, the biggest moment of this feud was that descent from the rafters. After the Owen Hart tragedy, moments like these no longer exist (and with fairly good reason), but it’s incredibly surreal. Even seeing the wire as he comes down, the moment gives chills, as if he’s an actual superhero come to live. Most importantly, this version of the character was so interesting, that audiences had no problem getting behind him. WCW found their golden boy to put up against the seemingly unbeatable Hogan.
Now, if you’re going in looking for a high quality wrestling match, you’re gonna be disappointed. Like most Hogan matches from WCW at this time, this match is 100% about the psychology and the general heelishness of Hogan. Hogan dominates much of the match offensively, and when he eventually hits one of the weakest Atomic Leg Drops I’ve ever seen, it looked like another squash. It all just seems weird, so the eventual declaration of a fast count from new WCW guy in Bret Hart, the match restart, and the win from Sting, was an inevitability. These dirty finishes were an absolute epidemic of WCW in this time. This was an ample opportunity for Sting to win clean, but someone creatively, whether Hogan or someone else, never allowed the NWO to lose that clean. Also, in a funny moment, you know Hitman is just standing there watching Sting apply the Scorpion Death Lock (a Sharpshooter) and internally shaking his head at the form. If there’s one thing you could say about Bret, he truly believes (and sometimes rightfully so) that he’s the most sound technically, and everyone else has sloppy form. Seeing Sting hold up the belt, with the entire locker room around him, you just know this is a significant moment in the WCW Title history.
Regardless of how it went down, this is a huge moment for WCW. It gave the company a viable opponent for Hogan’s NWO. When you look at the company’s title wins all together, this is at the top of the list, along with DDP’s and potentially Goldberg’s. It’s well documented how WCW lost its way creatively, and there are some seeds of that here, but the company was still at its peak in late 1997. I’m not going to go into that fall for WCW, as future posts will be more or less entirely dedicated, but if interested right now, check out The Death of WCW book, which goes into every detail. Whatever your feelings on WCW and its quintessential late 90s nature, you cannot deny the importance of this moment, and its cementing of Sting as the face of WCW.