1994 marked a shift in WCW’s output from 1993. Once the workrate promotion, with technical, realistic and bloody matches their staple, the company in ’94 shifted to a more family friendly, WWF-style product.
This appealed to some lapsed WWF fans, longing for 1980s nostalgia, but turned off many of the company’s traditional supporters.
The reason for this paradigm shift? Hulk Hogan. In June, WCW signed the biggest star in wrestling history to a six month contract and promptly revolved the entire promotion around him.
It worked wonders at the box office and helped the company to become profitable for the first time. However, the in-ring quality of WCW’s events took a nose-dive, as the company at the behest of Hogan signed his washed up buddies, such as The Honky Tonk Man and Hacksaw Jim Duggan. WCW then phased out it’s hot young talents such as Steve Austin and Brian Pillman in favour of these 1980s relics.
1994 WCW was a very different product than it had ever been before. Which event was it’s best and worst of the year? This feature ranks them all!
Starrcade 1994 was a low point for WCW. The card was weak on paper and even worse in execution. The card was billed as having a “triple main event.” However that promotional tactic did not hold water. The top liner pitted WCW World Champion, Hulk Hogan against The Butcher. The Butcher was Ed Leslie, better known as Brutus Beefcake. A career mid-card act, the limited Butcher was given the headline spot at WCW’s biggest show of the year, not on merit, but because he was real life buddies with the ‘Hulkster.’
Hogan won after his usual routine. Notably, post-match, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage rushed the ring. Fans were left in some doubt as to whether new signing, Savage would attack Hogan or befriend him. In the end the pair embraced. After this, Vader stormed the backstage area and challenged the ‘Hulkster’ to a title match. That was to take place at SuperBrawl V.
The semi-main event pitted Sting opposite the former Earthquake, Avalanche in a 15-minute snooze fest. The third major attraction on the show actually opened the event and saw Vader defeat 1980s relic, Hacksaw Jim Duggan and claim the United States Title in another overlong bore.
There were plenty of duds elsewhere too. Mr T versus Kevin Sullivan, The Nasty Boys versus Harlem Heat, Johnny B. Badd versus Arn Anderson and Alex Wright versus Jean Paul Levesque were all varying degrees of terrible.
There were no redeeming features on this card at all.
Starrcade 1994 more closely resembled a 1980s WWF reunion show rather than the biggest event of the year. It is only memorable for how unmemorable it is. An awful show and by far the lowest point of WCW’s year on pay-per-view.
#6 Halloween Havoc
Halloween Havoc played host to Ric Flair’s last ever match! Well, not quite, but his loss to Hulk Hogan in a World Title versus Career bout did lead to ‘The Nature Boy’ taking an eight month sabbatical from the ring.
Hogan defeated Flair in a passable cage match which was not a patch on their Bash at the Beach encounter. Hogan’s former WrestleMania tag team partner, Mr T served as the special referee. Immediately, following the match, Flair departed the ring with zero send-off, making it somewhat obvious in hindsight, that the retirement would not stick.
‘The Hulkster’ was then assaulted by a masked man, who had been stalking him for weeks. On this occasion, Hogan would manage to unmask him to reveal, Ed Leslie, soon to be rebranded as, The Butcher. That set up the beyond tedious Starrcade top-liner.
Elsewhere, Jim Duggan dropped Steve Austin once again, this time by disqualification in a boring match. Johnny B. Badd went to a time-limit draw with the beyond washed up, The Honky Tonk Man.
Kevin Sullivan versus Dave Sullivan and The Nasty Boys versus Terry Funk and Bunkhouse Buck were duds.
The only bright spots on the card were the decent contests pitting Vader opposite The Guardian Angel and Pretty Wonderful versus Stars and Stripes.
A pretty poor card, notable only for Flair’s phoney retirement.
#5 Fall Brawl
Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair did not compete at Fall Brawl and the card, lacking in big name talent suffered as a result. The main event saw the War Games double ring cage wheeled out. The two teams were Dusty and Dustin Rhodes and The Nasty Boys against The Stud Stable of Terry Funk, Bunkhouse Buck, Arn Anderson and Colonel Rob Parker in one of the lamest War Games bouts ever held. Parker submitted in a bloodless War Games to give the faces the win. A debacle of a headliner.
Vader turned back the challenge of Sting and The Guardian Angel (the former Big Boss Man) in a Triangle Elimination match which went an epic 30 minutes. Despite it’s length this was a very good match and ‘The Stinger’ and ‘The Mastodon’ in particular worked their socks off to pull off yet another enthralling entry in their series after The Guardian Angel had been sent packing.
Jim Duggan famously squashed Steve Austin to claim the United States strap in just 34 seconds. Unquestionably the nadir of Austin’s career. He did little of note afterwards and was released the following year whilst he was on the bench. He then rocked up in the WWF, soon christened himself ‘Stone Cold’ and the rest is, as they say, history.
Kevin Sullivan rolled over Cactus Jack in a Loser Leaves WCW match. This was Jack’s last hurrah in the company. Unfortunately, the bout was a disappointment. Pretty Wonderful rolled over Stars and Stripes in a passable contest.
The card was rounded out by a great match between Lord Steven Regal and Johnny B. Badd. Stiff, with some great chain wrestling, this was an excellent little contest. Badd pinned Regal to relieve him of World Television Title.
With only two good matches and badly lacking in star power, Fall Brawl was instantly forgettable.
#4 SuperBrawl IV
With three decent matches out of eight, SuperBrawl IV was a perfectly acceptable supercard. The show was headlined by a rematch of the Starrcade top liner between WCW World Champion and Vader inside the Thunderdome cage. The bout was refereed by The Boss, the former Big Boss Man’s first gimmick change in WCW, who was tasked with maintaining order in the contest.
The action was serviceable but not a patch on their Starrcade classic. The overbooked finish saw the The Boss handcuffed to the cage as Vader assaulted the champion with The Boss’s own nightstick. When Ricky Steamboat interfered and evened the odds for Flair, The Boss broke free and made the call that Vader submitted to Flair’s Figure Four, even though he didn’t. A curious affair, when a straight one on one match would have likely been far superior. Nevertheless, the bout was fun.
The semi-main event was also fought inside the Thunderdome and saw the teams of Rick Rude, Steve Austin and Paul Orndorff do battle with Sting, Dustin Rhodes and Brian Pillman. This was an excellent contest full of drama and exciting near falls. Pillman pinned his former Hollywood Blondes tag team partner, Austin for the win.
The Nasty Boys versus Cactus Jack and Maxx Payne with the Tag Titles on the line was another solid piece of business. Cactus’s big bumping was the highlight of the encounter; most notably a flat back bump from the apron to the concrete floor! The Nasties smashed Payne with a guitar to earn themselves a DQ loss.
There was little of note elsewhere on the show. Johnny B. Badd defeated Jimmy Garvin, substituting for his fellow Freebird, Michael PS Hayes in a humdrum bout. Jim Steele versus The Equalizer and Terry Taylor versus DDP were completely missable.
Rounding out the card was a strangely booked 30 minute bore between Arn Anderson and Lord Steven Regal. The action was solid enough, but there was nowhere near enough content to justify the epic length of the encounter.
However, SuperBrawl IV was a decent card overall.
#3 Bash at the Beach
Bash at the Beach 1994 was WCW’s most successful ever pay-per-view at that point in time. That fact can be attributed to the WCW in-ring debut of Hulk Hogan in a dream match with Ric Flair with the WCW World Title at stake.
Once pencilled in as the main event of WrestleMania VIII, Hogan and Flair had never clashed on television and WCW reaped the rewards. The bout had a big fight feel and Hogan was seconded by Mr T, his former tag team partner at the inaugural ‘Mania. It was also a very good match. Heated, emotional and thoroughly entertaining. This was a creative and financial success. Hogan pinned Flair to raise the WCW World Championship.
Elsewhere, there was an excellent bout between Steve Austin and Ricky Steamboat for the former’s United States Title. Regrettably, this was one of the final bouts of ‘The Dragon’s’ career as he soon succumbed to a career ending back injury.
Vader bested The Guardian Angel by disqualification in a decent contest with a poor finish as the referee disqualified The Guardian Angel for merely holding his night stick, which was lame.
Television Champion, Lord Steven Regal defeated Johnny B. Badd in a fun bout which opened the show, that was marred only by a badly executed finish.
The rest of the card was dross. With some good and some bad and some middling contests; Bash at the Beach was all over the quality scale.
Slamboree was the final pay-per-view event of the pre-Hulk Hogan era and it was a darn solid event from top to bottom.
Headlining, Sting and Vader had yet another classic encounter in their long series of superlative matches. Sting won the match to lift the vacant WCW International Title, which would soon be unified with the WCW World Title, ending a year of World Title confusion.
WCW World Tag Team Champions The Nasty Boys fell to Cactus Jack and Kevin Sullivan in a hugely satisfying brawl. Incidentally this was Cactus’s first major title win and a worthy entry in Cactus’s feud with The Nasties.
Ric Flair defeated Barry Windham in a a so-so match for Flair’s WCW World Championship. However, the finish came rather abruptly just as the crowd were getting into the encounter. Had the bout lasted a few minutes and built to a crescendo, it may have been something of a minor classic. As it was, it was little more than passable
Terry Funk and Tully Blanchard rolled back the years in an exciting encounter which descended into an all out brawl. After losing control of the match, the referee disqualified both men. In reality, Blanchard had refused to lose, so the double DQ was WCW’s compromise. However, due to not playing ball with management, Blanchard torpedoed his hopes of a permanent position with the company for the third time in five years.
Dustin Rhodes bested Bunkhouse Buck in a tedious Bullrope match-up and Larry Zbyszko defeated Lord Steven Regal in another dud.
The event was rounded out by Steve Austin defeated Johnny B. Badd in a decent encounter that was marred by a botched finish.
For the second year in a row, Slamboree also played host to the WCW Hall of Fame ceremony. The Assassin, Ole Anderson, Harley Race, The Crusher, Dick the Bruiser and Ernie Ladd were inducted. All were deserving.
Slamboree was an entertaining show and was only bettered by one WCW pay-per-view in 1994.
#1 Spring Stampede
Spring Stampede was the penultimate WCW pay-per-view event of the pre-Hulk Hogan. It portrayed the company at it’s best, with quality in-ring action at it’s heart.
Ric Flair battled to a draw with his long-time ally/rival, Ricky Steamboat in a classic contest for the WCW World Title. Initially it looked as if Steamboat had pinned the champion and lifted the strap, but ultimately the referees ruled that both men’s shoulders had been on the mat for the three count.
WCW World Tag Team Champions, The Nasty Boys defeated Cactus Jack and Maxx Payne in a wild Chicago Street Fight. Packed full of intense brawling with innovative violence. This was a blast from start to finish. The brutal match-up ended when Jerry Sags smashed Cactus Jack with a piledriver through a table.
The goodness didn’t end there. Vader bested The Boss in another high quality brawl, highlighted by super stiff offence from ‘The Mastodon.’ This was set up by the pair’s interaction in the SuperBrawl headliner. This was The Boss’s best match since his WWF heyday in the late 1980s.
Elsewhere, Sting versus Rick Rude and Steve Austin versus The Great Muta promised much, but underdelivered on the night.
Lord Steven Regal versus Brian Pillman and Johnny B. Badd versus Diamond Dallas Page flattered to deceive also. The card was rounded out by a better than expected battle between Dustin Rhodes and Bunkhouse Buck in a ‘Bunkhouse Match’, which essentially meant Street Fight rules. Buck blasted Rhodes after an entertaining rumble after he blasted him with Brass Knux.
A superlative show with two classic matches and several other good ones. Although there were some disappointing contests, nothing on the event was bad. Sadly, the quality of WCW’s in-ring action would decline still further in 1995 before rebounding with a vengeance in 1996.
You can watch all of these events exclusively on the WWE Network.