Today we bring you a bonus edition of Jamie’s 1996 retrospective; ‘The Way We Was‘. The reason for this bonus edition is simple – The Great American Bash was a really good pay per view. Tomorrow we shall detail events from the subsequent Nitro and Raw, but first let’s get the lowdown from a very entertaining evening in Baltimore.
The Great American Bash returned to it’s spiritual, and traditional, home of the Baltimore Arena having been in Ohio the previous year. Why am I mentioning this slightly extraneous information? Well, as a traditional WCW stronghold, Baltimore can also be considered “Flair Country”. It will thus come as no surprise to learn that The Nature Boy was part of the most heavily promoted match on this show. He, along with fellow Horseman Arn Anderson, was scheduled to face former Chicago Bear turned wrestling commentator Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael and current Carolina Panther Kevin Greene. With a red-hot crowd and a commentary team of Tony Schiavone and the legendary Dusty Rhodes on top form we best head to the ring to get this thing started…
Before the action started the American national anthem was played. Sgt. Craig Pitman got some PPV time as the flag-bearer. There are many jokes I could make about Pitman appearing on a PPV, but instead I shall complement the man for not botching anything this time!
The tag-line for this match was ‘There Must Be A Winner’, following a couple of inconclusive bouts between the two tandems on Nitro and WCW Saturday Night. If I could describe this encounter in one word it would be ‘stiff’. Normally this kind of match is not my cup of tea, but I couldn’t help but admire both teams for not altering their style to suit their larger than usual opponents. If you listen carefully enough you can probably hear Rick Steiner say “fuck it, I’m going to suplex you anyway!” Stiff shots and ridiculous power moves on very large men is the order of the day here, and it is fantastically entertaining as a result. The only major negative to the approach adopted by these teams came right at the finish. Scott Steiner clearly said to himself “fuck it, I’m going to Frankensteiner you anyway”, and predictably the move looked terrible when executed on a man of Scott Norton’s size. Still, a good match and great way to start a PPV.
Winners: The Steiner Brothers
I honestly cannot remember the last time Konnan wrestled on Nitro. The holder of WCW’s top title outside of the Heavyweight belt did briefly appear in a pre-taped promo last week to promote his title defence against the “legendary” El Gato though. If you have never heard of this “legend of legendary proportions” before then don’t worry, it’s all bullshit. In 1996 WCW still operated under the impression that nobody from outside the US watched the product and nobody from inside the US gave a shit about Mexican wrestling. El Gato – which means ‘the cat’ – was just Pat Tanaka of Orient Express fame wearing a cheap Tiger Mask mask. While this match was relatively inoffensive it was rather dull, owing largely to indifference from the live crowd. My favourite part of the match was actually Dusty Rhodes excitedly asking Tony Schiavone “who’s that?!” when the camera panned to a random member of the audience. Predictably Konnan picked up the win in this largely mat-based match which featured a modest sprinkling of aerial moves.
Winner, and still United States Champion: Konnan
Backstage, Mean Gene caught up with Sting. The gist of his promo was that he thinks Steven Regal is gay and that perhaps all English men are gay. So, not offensive in the slightest then…
The subtle push and gradual face turn of DDP continues. Back at Slamboree the yoga instructor defied the odds to win BattleBowl and become ‘Lord of The Ring’. However, the next night on Nitro he was stripped of his WCW Title match because he was technically eliminated from the battle royal, the referee just didn’t see it at the time. DDP was allowed to keep his ‘Lord of The Ring’ title and ring though. Somewhat inexplicably he is now required to defend his ring, as if it were a championship belt. Add his increasingly popular Diamond Cutter to the mix and we have a fairly sympathetic figure with an awesome finish, but he is still technically a heel. Anyway, to the match and it was bang average as you might expect. There was also no back story because DDP was supposed to face The Great Muta, but NJPW pulled the plug on that. Thus, the future Buff Bagwell was drafted in to do the job instead.
Winner: Diamond Dallas Page
This was awesome, but not a patch on matches they would have in the future. As this was Mysterio’s WCW debut there was once again no back story to speak of. Not sure if this was a typo, but Rey was billed as ‘Rey Misterio Jr.’ as opposed to ‘Rey Mysterio Jr.’ Anyway, the 21 year old did a cracking job on his debut, and cleverly did not unleash his entire arsenal in his first match. We did see some of his signature aerial manoeuvres, particularly towards the end of the bout, but the story of the match was Malenko grounding the high flyer. Mike Tenay joined the commentary team for this one, which will become a recurring theme in the months to come. Ultimately Malenko managed to pin Mysterio, with a little help from the ropes. However, so good was the match that this fact was largely glossed over by the commentary team and the fans, who afforded both men a round of applause. So Malenko retained, but I can’t think of many better losing debuts than this from Mysterio.
Winner, and still Cruiserweight Champion: Dean Malenko
Backstage Mean Gene caught up with Lex Luger ahead of his WCW Championship match later in the show. Highlighting the gulf in class between Luger and his tag team partner, Sting, Luger very clearly lost his train of thought mid promo. Sting did exactly the same thing earlier but improvised by bringing Mean Gene back into play, thus buying himself time without making his error look obvious. Luger, on the other hand, opted to stand and stair at the camera for an uncomfortable amount of time until he remembered what he was supposed to say.
This match was rubbish, so I shall concentrate my efforts on explaining why it took place. Tenta – as Shark – was a member of The Dungeon of Doom, but was booted out of the group at Slamboree. Coincidentally, it was around this time that Big Bubba joined the group. Tenta – still as Shark – then received a beating from the Dungeon’s crown jewel, The Giant, after which Bubba shaved part of Tenta’s hair. The next week Tenta denounced the Shark gimmick but, for reasons I still don’t understand, did keep his half-shaved head. So, he is now just John Tenta; the man no-gimmick, not even theme music. Bubba has since been gloating and carrying scissors wherever he goes. As you will have guessed, this backfired in their match. After Tenta claimed the victory he grabbed the scissors and cut a microscopic amount of hair from Bubba’s goatee. Credit to Bubba though, he sold it like he had just had his chin cut off. Moments of note from this one include; Jimmy Hart standing on the apron and facing the fans – and the hard camera – for the entire duration of the finish to the match, making it very hard to see. Also, the two little girls who appeared for a split second behind Tenta during his entrance, before vanishing. The Dungeon of Doom know some spooky tricks…
Winner: John Tenta
We then got a promo from the celebrity half of tonight’s main attraction; Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael and ‘Mean’ Kevin Greene. The pair, accompanied by their coach Macho Man Randy Savage and wives Debra and Tara, came across as a 90’s version of The Hype Bros. ‘Dirty’ Kevin Greene finished by saying “we’re comin’ and we’re comin’ hard!”
This match was fantastic fun. The two are only feuding because Benoit, as a Horseman, inherited this program after Brian Pillman – who Sullivan had been feuding with – left WCW. Credit to both men though, this most certainly did not feel like plan B. Largely played out as a war of words on WCW Saturday Night, Sullivan – leader of the Dungeon of Doom – does not feel that Benoit is Horseman material, but for different reasons than why he didn’t think Pillman should be a Horseman. Benoit disagrees, obviously. You may be asking yourself why The Taskmaster cares about another faction, and justifiably so. You see, after agreeing a truce with Arn Anderson, Sullivan has seen himself as somewhat of a neutral judge on Horseman affairs. Fought under ‘Falls Count Anywhere’ rules this was a wild brawl, far removed from what we are used to seeing from Benoit. A large chunk of the match was fought inside the men’s toilet, much to Dusty Rhodes’ delight. In fact, when fans – including women – entered the toilet to see the fight, Dusty lost his shit entirely. His reaction provided us with quote of the night:
“There’s a lady in the men’s bathroom in Baltimore!”
Back to the match, and the brawl continued back towards the ring with both men exchanging stiff punches. Ironically the end of this ‘Falls Count Anywhere’ match played out in the ring. Benoit made use of a table to superplex Sullivan from the top rope for the pin. Post match, Arn Anderson came out to apparently drag Benoit away from inflicting more punishment on Sullivan, but instead attacked The Taskmaster himself! This elected the loudest pop I’ve ever heard on a WCW show. It was brilliant moment.
Winner: Chris Benoit
In a subsequent backstage promo, Anderson put Benoit over by saying that he has “cut the head off the snake” and “earned his stripes”. Anderson, in no uncertain terms, said that The Horsemen are united and the war is on.
Simple logic to this match. Regal called out Sting, slapped him in the face and thus was granted a match. Regal thinks The Stinger is a bit of a plonker for wearing face paint while Sting thinks posh English gimmick equals homosexual. This was a good, mat-based match which Regal bossed for large parts. The match was really well placed on the card too i.e. between two really over-the-top, exciting bouts. Ultimately Sting picked up the win from The Scorpion Deathlock, but fair play to the main event babyface for giving much of this match to the mid/low card heel.
The match this PPV was sold on. The obvious big news is that Pepe is back! You can see his outfit below. So why were The Horsemen fighting a couple of football players? Okay, deep breath, here goes: After Macho Man was suspended from wrestling for consistently losing his shit since Liz ditched him for Flair, Nitro commentator Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael has adopted Savage’s cause due to Flair making advances towards his wife; Debra. At Slamboree Flair and Anderson challenged Mongo to find a partner for a tag match, with Mongo immediately introducing Carolina Panther Kevin Greene. Since then The Horsemen have gained Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan as a coach, while the football lads have recruited Macho Man as their coach – Savage is only banned from competing, not coaching.
To the match and everyone involved played an absolute blinder. With a couple of non-wrestlers involved it was important to have plenty of distractions in place, of which there were plenty. At ringside for The Horsemen were Bobby Heenan, Woman and Liz, while on the other side we had Macho Man, Debra McMichael and Tara Greene. Chris Benoit also emerged at one point to scrap with Savage. Throw in plenty of well timed stalling and excellent crowd management by Flair and Anderson and you would never know that this was the longest match on the card. The finish came after Debra – who, along with Tara, had previously been chased away by Woman and Liz – re-emerged along with the evil ladies, but dressed in a beautiful evening gown. She was also carrying a briefcase, which she presented to Mongo who opened it to reveal a lot of dollar bills. I’m not entirely sure all the cash was necessary because Mongo’s head appeared to turn at the sight of a Four Horsemen t-shirt. Mongo nailed his own partner with the briefcase, allowing Flair to pick up the win. Post-match Mongo – now wearing the Horseman shirt – helped to beat down Macho Man. This was another electric angle and it appears that there are once again Four Horsemen…
Winners: Arn Anderson & Ric Flair
Eric Bischoff appeared on the stage and invited the as yet unnamed duo of Razor Ramon and Diesel to join him. Before going any further Bischoff explicitly asked both men if they worked for the World Wrestling Federation. Both said no. Bisch then confirmed that the men will get the match they have been demanding and it is booked for Bash At The Beach in July. However, Bischoff broke the promise he made on Nitro by not revealing their opponents. This was not received very well and Eric was powerbombed through a table. Well, he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain…
Luger received this title shot for no apparent reason after DDP was stripped of his opportunity. Since then The Total Package has been chokeslammed through a table while requiring assistance from his pals to get the better of the champ. On last week’s Nitro both men called for this match to be fought under no disqualification rules. True to form, both men treated it as a regular singles match with The Giant winning clean after nine minutes in by far the worst match of the night.
Winner, and still WCW Champion: The Giant
This was an excellent pay per view and well worth watching. The main event was rubbish, but there is something for everyone on the rest of the card. It is largely remembered for Eric Bischoff being powerbombed off the stage, but this show is much more than just that. I kid you not, the tag match with the football players is probably one of the best examples of how to book celebrities in a wrestling match you will ever see.
You can read all previous ‘The Way We Was’ pieces here.