Note from John Canton: This is a guest column from Josh Millwood. It was sent to us by Josh after he inquired about writing a column, I told him to check out our Contact Us page that has simple instructions on how to send in a sample column. Here’s Josh.
I cut my teeth on mid-1990’s wrestling. World Championship Wrestling to be exact, and if you were a WCW fan in the mid-1990’s you were neck-deep in the WCW/NWO feud that culminated at Starrcade 1997 with the Sting vs. Hollywood Hogan main event. It should have been the crown jewel in WCW’s ratings empire. As we all know, however, the night didn’t quite end up that way. That’s another story for another article though, as I want to try to recapture a little bit of that magic by telling the story in such a way that we emphasize the things WCW got right along the way.
We can’t talk about Starrcade ’97, without going to the beginning and talking about Bash at the Beach 1996. The night the elusive “third man” was revealed and arguably one of the greatest wrestling factions of all time was formed, the New World Order. The Hulkster shredded his last red and yellow t-shirt, trashed his vitamins, and donned his two-toned beard to become the villainous Hollywood Hogan. Now as in all good storytelling, when you have a villain like Hollywood your going to need an even greater hero to take on the challenge of defeating him. WCW had began planting the seeds for that hero in Sting even in the earlier parts of that year.
By early ’97 it was all-out war. The nWo was recruiting droves of stars from all areas of the promotion to expand their reach. From young up and comers like Buff Bagwell and the Giant, to the veterans like Ted Dibiase and even the great Dusty Rhodes. The group was rounding out well and fully embracing the “hostile takeover” mentality that Eric Bischoff and crew were trying to sell the folks at home. As a young viewer it seemed like this group was truly unstoppable. Then comes Uncensored in March, and once again, team nWo is victorious. This was Sting’s first glorious descent from the rafters that he would become so famous for. It was also the moment that he officially, though silently, confirmed his allegiance to WCW.
Sting would spend the rest of the year stalking Hogan and the nWo with countless mind games, imposter Sting’s, and even a Hollywood severed head. Sorry, I said I was going to stick to the more positive aspects of this long-term story. For the most part, it was an easy story to tell. The nWo had taken a lot from Sting. The evolution of his character from a charismatic, colorful guy to the brooding, dark, eerily silent figure that hid in the shadows was the perfect embodiment of what the nWo had done to this man. It was always clear though, that even in silence Sting wanted the chance to swing that black bat at Hogan.
There were weeks of back and forth brawls with Sting usually getting the upper hand on the nWo. There were twists and turns along the way involving a number of wrestlers. The famous Curt Henning swerve comes to mind at Fall Brawl 1997 and his winning of the US title the next night on Nitro from Mongo McMichael. I’m Reminding myself again to try and to stick to the high points of our story, and Mongo was obviously not one of them. Through all the twists and “heel” turns though, the one constant was Sting. After that clear statement at Uncensored, the Stinger was WCW through and through. That was important to the story of course, because Sting and his quest to unseat Hollywood as the WCW Champion, was coming into focus as the last stand for WCW.
For over a year, WCW had invested so much into telling this story and it was time for it to come around full circle. I can still remember the excitement in the days leading up to Starrcade. The event was only two or three days after Christmas and I’m not sure which I was more excited for. It’s easy to speculate what went wrong that night, and if nothing else it has provided wrestling fans something to talk, argue, and “what-if” about for decades since.
Some might say that with the decision to have practically an eighteen-month build up, WCW booked themselves into a hole where it would be impossible to live up to the hype they had created, which might be true to a degree. All of us though, especially looking back now rather than as a young new fan, deserved a better return on our investment than what we got.
Alas, I hope this little stroll down memory lane has brought back at least some of the fonder memories, and the spark WCW was able to create with this story. There’s definitely A LOT we didn’t cover in this brief article, both good and bad, but mostly bad.
I can say though, definitively, that THIS storyline and what they were able to do with Sting as a character made nine-year-old me a lifelong wrestling fan. I was buying what WCW was selling, and what they did with Sting vs. Hollywood Hogan put me in for the long haul. If nothing else, maybe this takes you back to the moment you knew you were hooked on this wacky sport we call pro-wrestling, there are for sure a lot of great ones.