The Imperfect Storm: The Botched Screwjob at Starrcade 97

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Brian Damage

Starrcade 1997 was supposed to be the event that would be the biggest in the history of WCW and one that would knock whatever stuffing was left out of the WWE. But it didn’t pan out that way and today Brian looks at why it didn’t pan out as expected.

December 28th, 1997 was suppose to be (pardon the Tony Schiavone pun) the biggest night in WCW history. A match over a year in the making, was finally going to take place and it was going to take place on the biggest show in WCW’s calendar year….Starrcade. Overall, it was the pay per view that was going to knock out the then reeling World Wrestling Federation from competition. All the stars were aligned on this night…It wasn’t a question of if it would be successful…but how successful.

For over a year, the New World Order was running roughshod over everything in WCW. In essence, the nWo had pretty much taken control of the company. Stars that fans thought would be WCW’s hero…wound up turning their back on the company and joining forces with the nWo. For the stars that stayed loyal to WCW’s cause…were simply out muscled and overpowered. The one wrestler who die hard WCW fans believed could fight back against the nWo was nowhere to be found.

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That one franchise wrestler was none other than Sting. He was always the one constant that fans could depend on. Whether it was fighting off factions like the Four Horsemen or representing the promotion as world champion…there was always Sting. Except this time, Sting was nowhere to be seen…as a matter of fact…the last fans had seen or heard from him…he felt betrayed by the very company he helped build and he walked away.

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On the other end of the spectrum, was Hollywood Hulk Hogan…a former larger than life babyface super hero who suddenly turned heel and quickly became the leader of the New World Order. Hogan had the power and the control as he was the WCW world champion and had the backup of his nWo cohorts to insure he would remain champion.

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It seemed hopeless for WCW’s chances for survival…until Sting starting making random appearances in the stands and in the rafters of the arena’s that were hosting Monday Nitro. It wasn’t the loud, brash and colorful Sting fans were accustomed to. No, it was a much darker, silent Sting that was modeled after the Crow character from the comics and movies.

Sting would never utter a word…just had a blank expression on his face. Fans never knew which side he was on…was it WCW? Was it the nWo? Stinger never let on and all it did was add to his aura and mystique. Sting was slowly and surely becoming a bigger star than ever before and in due time, it became clear that Sting was for himself and for justice.

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Sting was opposed to the nWo and was ready to fight a one man war against the evil of the group. He targeted Hollywood Hogan and his WCW world title. The epic battle would take place at the aforementioned date at Starrcade ’97.

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The build up was slow, methodical and effective. Even though the nWo were considered the “cool heels,” the dark, brooding Sting was able to off set that and become the cool anti hero. It’s the match people wanted…the match people desired most…it was indeed “the match of the century.”

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It was the perfect storm coming together…Vince McMahon and the WWF were surely sweating bullets hoping something….anything would mess this event up. As history would tell us…that is exactly what would happen.

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Behind the scenes, things were legitimately getting contentious between Hulk Hogan’s camp and the camp for Sting. The initial plan was for Sting to beat Hogan cleanly and become WCW champion. The problem was, Hogan felt that Sting wasn’t in the best of shape going into the match and wouldn’t look believable in beating him. Hulk was somewhat correct, as Sting himself pointed out years later…he was becoming much like his gimmick. He was spiralling out of control with his use of prescription painkillers and had developed such a “superstar” ego.

Add to the fact, that Sting hadn’t wrestled inside the ring in well over a year, there were some legitimate concerns from Hogan. On the other side of that argument however, Hogan had his own ego and held all the cards in his hand considering he had creative control of his character in his contract.

There was no question that Hogan realized that losing to Sting was in the best interest of WCW’s prosperity. The issue was for him…how to make it work for him and his character. The plan was for Hogan to actually pin Sting due to a fast count by referee Nick Patrick. There are rumors that Eric Bischoff tried to lure then WWF official Earl Hebner (The ref in the infamous Montreal Screwjob) for the role of crooked referee…but was turned down. After the fast count was made..and Hogan seemingly retained his title….newly acquired Bret Hart would interject saying the referee counted too fast and restart the match where Sting would win the title.

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Seemed like a decent idea that would benefit everyone involved…but alas…that’s not what happened. Firstly, Sting entered the ring down the ramp instead of his usual down from the rafters. It reportedly confused some fans who questioned if that was really Sting or the much ballyhooed bogus nWo Sting.

Secondly, if you re watch the match in its entirety…you’d probably be shocked to see that the majority of that match was DOMINATED by Hulk Hogan. That in itself was a huge mistake..because after a year of waiting…this was the moment fans wanted to see…Sting kicking Hogan’s ass all over the arena.

Lastly, the planned screw job…wasn’t a screw job at all. Nick Patrick..who was suppose to make a quick three count on Sting…made a rather normal count on Sting’s shoulders instead. That “mistake” made it look like Sting was just pinned cleanly instead of screwed. With the sell out crowd confused and perhaps disgusted…out came Bret to try and salvage the angle. Now…however…instead of Bret looking like a hero…he came off looking like a bitter man.

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Sting applied the Scorpion Death Lock on Hogan who made matters worse as he never really tapped out..but instead verbally submitted. That made the finish look even weaker. So what happened? Did Nick Patrick truly screw up or was he instructed to legitimately screw Sting? According to Eric Bischoff, he felt it was just a misunderstanding and if he thought it was intentional…he would have fired Patrick on the spot. Nick Patrick contended years later..he was just mixed up and confused because he was being told different things about the finish from Bischoff, Hogan and Sting.

The pay per view numbers for the event were tremendous. It was a sold out crowd of over 16,000 fans…the buy rate was a 1.9 which equates to roughly 686,824 buys. Understandably, Starrcade ’97 became the largest grossing pay per view in its history. It was the aftermath though, that hurt the company and set it back to where it never fully recovered. Bret Hart looked bitter…Sting looked weak…Hogan became a pariah and not in a good way…the WCW announcers looked like liars and fools for trying to convince fans that the count was indeed fast..even though it was clearly not.

Starrcade 1997 was suppose to be the WWF’s death knell. It was suppose to elevate Sting to higher icon status. It was meant to make Bret and instant WCW star. All of that was the plan…what everyone got was a trainwreck that WCW sadly, couldn’t fully recover from.

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4 thoughts on “The Imperfect Storm: The Botched Screwjob at Starrcade 97

  1. Everything you said is smacked on. That event should’ve been the night WCW had claimed victory over the WWE (even though the company was starting to gain some ground creatively despite the Montreal Screwjob). If things had gone the right way and the match was a classic. Fans would’ve stuck around for WCW much longer and the company might still be around despite some of the bullshit that was happening behind the scenes. Instead, Hogan’s ego and all sorts of bullshit just ruined it.

    What happened instead was the beginning of the end for WCW as 1998 would be a cluster-fuck of a year for them where their 84-week win streak against RAW had ended and many mistakes were made involving the Ultimate Warrior, putting the Goldberg-Hogan match on RAW instead of a PPV, the usage of the nWo, and having Jay Leno win a wrestling match against Hogan were just the slew of things that hurt the company that year which paved the way for its downfall.

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  4. I was so shocked that Sting was as lame oi n that ring as he was. True, he hadn’t wrestled in a while, but you would have thought he wouldn’t have looked as sluggish as he did. Hard to believe that of all people, it would be Hogan carrying the match…

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