We continue our series looking at the history of Clash of Champions, taking in Clash of the Champions XXXIV. Held on January 21, 1997, at the Wisconsin Center Arena in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (attendance N/A). The show drew a 3.5 on TBS.
At this point in January ‘97, Clashes were more or less just another edition of Monday Nitro. As much as they tried to make this a big event, Nitro was seen as the top show.
This was a night after a hot Monday Nitro in Chicago that saw Randy “Macho Man” Savage returned dressed all in black and looked to join forces with Sting who descended from the ceiling for the very first time. Also, the Chris Benoit and Kevin Sullivan feud was on straight fire as they brawled all the way into the bathroom.
This Clash was just days away from the first ever NWO Souled Out PPV, so this Clash was all about the build towards that.
Dusty Rhodes joined the announcer team for the first time in Clash history as he’s here with Bobby Heenan and Tony Schiavone.
The first match is a return match from Starrcade ‘96 for the WCW Cruiserweight Championship as Dean Malenko challenged Ultimate Dragon w/Sonny Onoo. Dusty has already called Sonny Onoo, “Sonny Bono.”
In between the action, an NWO paid announcement ran. How good were these?!?
Back from a break, Malenko is limping as Dragon had worked on his leg. Malenko however, hit a delayed suplex as Dean maintained the early advantage. Dragon hit an unbelievable stiff kick to Malenko’s chest. Malenko is awakened by that kick as he dumps Dragon on his head with a nice looking suplex. Dean then kept Dragon on the mat with a number of mat maneuvers. Malenko dumped Dragon to the outside and placed his Dragon’s leg across the ring barricade and then proceeded to kick it in a cool looking spot. Dragon went to the top rope, but Dean met him and hit with a superplex that brought the crowd to their feet! Almost forgot how much Malenko was over in WCW!
The match tumbled out to the outside again as Dragon hit an Asai moonsault for one of the first times on TV. Dragon then hit another quick moonsault for a 2.9 count. Dragon then attempted to hit a tiger suplex, but Malenko blocked it and attempted the Texas Cloverleaf. Onoo attempted to interfere, but Dean knocked him off the apron and slapped on the Cloverleaf for the win and new Cruiserweight Champion! What a great match by two men who were at the top of their game and told a great story from bell to bell.
From that, we go to Mike Enos vs. Scotty Riggs. Always thought Riggs could’ve broken out in a different climate. He would go from teaming with Marcus Alexander Bagwell as The American Males and they would have some success. Bagwell had just joined the NWO and had changed his name to Buff Bagwell. Riggs meanwhile, would feud with Buff for a bit before joining Raven’s Flock later in ‘97, but would never really find a solid footing. A quick match here as Riggs would hit a flying forearm for the win. Not too much here as it was more about setting up Riggs vs. Buff at Souled Out.
Another NWO paid announcement
Mean Gene brought out the Four Horsemen (Chris Benoit, Arn Anderson, and Steve McMichael) The Horsemen were starting to take shape here, even though Ric Flair was not here tonight. Jeff Jarrett would become a defacto member of the crew, but that wouldn’t last too long in ‘97.
Match number three is a six-man tag match as Konnan, JL & LaParka vs. Chris Jericho, Chavo Guerrero & Super Calo. Fun to hear Chris Jericho’s old WCW music for some reason it’s played here on the WWE Network. This is the first time a lucha libre trios match is on WCW TV. The action is hot and heavy here as La Parka and Konnan double teamed Chavo, including some odd moonsault while Guerrero was on the shoulders of Konnan. The action moves to the outside of the ring as everyone hit some type of suicide dive. Finally, inside the ring, Jericho and JL square off as JL hit a hurricanrana for a two-count. Jericho recovered and hit a super hurricanrana from the top rope in an incredible win! Heenan called Jericho a” young super sensation.”
Jericho had just debuted in August the year before; Mr. J.L. was Jerry Lynn from GWF, Japan and would go on to have very successful run in ECW.
Harlem Heat (Booker T & Stevie Ray) w/Sister Sherri took on Joe Gomez & The Renegade. Dusty said Sherri looked a bit “top heavy tonight” whoa.
Booker and Stevie worked over Gomez for the first part of the match. Sherri slapped Gomez on the outside, just for fun. Booker missed a leg drop off the top rope and made the mild tag to the Renegade who didn’t last long. Stevie Ray put the Renegade on his shoulder as Booker hit a Heatseeker dropkick finisher. Not all too much going on here with this match.
Match number five is Masahiro Chono vs. Alex Wright. Chono had since joined the NWO as well as referee Nick Patrick so the deck is stacked against Das Wunderkind. Milwaukee was NWO Country as everything Chono did receive a huge cheer while Wright was booed out of the building. Wright hit a spinning heel kick as Nick Patrick took forever to count to two. Wright also rolled up Chono for another slow two-count. Wright kicked Patrick but didn’t DQ him. Wright then attempted a flying bodypress but missed out as Chono hit his big boot for the win.
Chono was part of NJPW’s NWO Japan before coming to WCW along with Great Muta in December ‘96 to join the American version of NWO.
Funny Public Enemy ad for Lex Luger’s t-shirt:
Next up Eddie Guerrero faced Scott Norton in a non-title US Heavyweight Championship. Nick Patrick is the referee again as Norton is also a member of the NWO. Norton is throwing Eddie around, using his massive size here. Eddie went to work on Norton’s legs to chop the big man down. Norton was able to recover as he picked up Guerrero for a suplex but just completely dropped him down. Norton then destroyed Eddie with a powerbomb. Suddenly, DDP walked through the crowd as Eddie bumped Nick Patrick accidentally out of the ring. DDP then entered the ring and nailed Norton with a Diamond Cutter! Patrick didn’t want to count to three, but he had no choice.
The Giant delivered his best promo to date as he talked about how Hulk Hogan had betrayed him in the NWO as they set their big title match at Souled Out.
Here we go with Chris Benoit w/Woman vs. Kevin Sullivan in a Falls Count Anywhere match. Things were so personal between these three people and it showed in every punch that was thrown and made for amazing TV. Sullivan called out Benoit on the outside of the ring to let’s go into the crowd. They immediately spill into the crowd and walk all the way up the stairs and into the corridor. This is wild and something that would never happen in WWE today. They move into the bathroom again as they rip the paper towel dispenser off the wall and beat the hell out of each other. Heenan, Dusty, and Schiavone are hilarious here talking about urinals among other things. They leave the bathroom and into the wild fans. Bobby Eaton is working security as Sullivan threw Benoit down a flight of steps. Finally, they get back in the ring as Sullivan puts Benoit in the Tree of Woe and then hits the double stomp for the two count. Woman then enters the fray and smacked Sullivan over the head with a wooden chair. Benoit picked up another wooden chair and hit him again in the head for good measure. This was intense and a damn near riot.
Next up was The Amazing French Canadians (Jacque Rougeau & Carl Oulette) w/Col. Parker vs. The Steiner Brothers (Rick & Scott). This was the return of Scotty from a back injury that kept him for an extended amount of time. Just before the match, The Outsiders (Scott Hall & Kevin Nash) are on the video wall taunting The Steiners about their upcoming match at Souled Out. This match starts out like a lot of Steiner matches at this time with Steinerlines and bodyslams. The Steiners were still really good, but between injuries and muscles had slowed them down from their early days. The Canadians attempted their cannonball finisher, but Rick moved out of the way and made the tag to Scotty. Once inside, Scott and Rick double-clothesline The Canadian duo. Jacque attempted to hit Scotty with the Canadian flag, but he missed and dropped him to the outside. Rick put Oulette on his shoulders while Scott hit a DDT for the win.
Here we go to the main event as Scott Hall w/Kevin Nash & Syxx vs. Lex Luger. As Luger made his way to the ring, Dusty said his coat was on fire from the pyro, hilarious! It’s really sad that Heenan and Dusty are both gone…
Hall hit the first big move of the match as he went to the top after Luger missed a run to the corner hit Lex with a flying bulldog and a two-count. Hall then reversed Luger into a chokeslam showing up The Giant. Luger no-sold that, but ended up on the floor where Syxx missed a spinning kick but Nash ran right through him. With Luger broken down, Hall unloads on him with a series of stiff punches in the corner. Syxx then clotheslined Luger in the corner, while Nash was with referee Mark Curtis. Hall executes a perfect fallaway slam on Luger for a two-count. Hall puts Luger in an abdominal stretch to slow things down. Luger finally starts a comeback by reversing a toss into the corner and crotched Hall around the ring post. Luger then hit a series of atomic drops setting Hall up for the Torture Rack. Luger takes out Nash and then tosses Syxx into Nash on the outside. Luger puts Hall into the Rack but stops to take out Nash. Luger fought them off until Syxx jumped off the top as the ref called for the bell, DQ’n Hall. The NWO triple team Luger until The Steiners come to the aid of Luger. All six guys are brawling inside and outside the ring. Finally, things quiet down as WCW is inside the ring as the NWO circled the ring and then re-entered the ring and they start brawling again…and we’re out of time!
This Clash was basically a preshow for the Souled Out PPV, but it was an entertaining show in front of an excited crowd from start to finish. The Souled Out show would go down as one of the most disappointing PPVs in history. It had a great concept, but the execution was a problem. It should’ve been the NWO’s crowning moment but instead, they left the show looking pretty stupid. This was the second to last ever Clash as it was being passed up by Monday Nitro.
You can read all ‘Styles Clash: Clash of the Champions Revisited’ pieces here.