83 Weeks – Starrcade ‘97
Release date: December 10, 2018
Recap by: Caitlin Lavelle
On this week’s 83 Weeks, Eric Bischoff & Conrad Thompson talk about Starrcade 1997. Starrcade ’97, which Conrad calls the, “culmination of the biggest storyline in WCW history,” broke WCW ticket sale and attendance records, and drew the biggest gate in WCW history at the time. It was also the third biggest pay-per-view of 1997.
In hindsight, while WCW was heating up, Eric says they should have been paying more attention to setting up the company’s infrastructure to sustain their success long-term.
The Lead Up
Conrad reminds Eric that Sean Morley had a dark match in WCW during the lead up to Starrcade ’97, and says Dave Meltzer reported that WCW wanted to match WWF’s offer to the wrestler who would later become Val Venis. Eric says this isn’t true, and that he wouldn’t have been watching the dark matches at this time.
Kevin Nash Angling for ‘NWO Thunder’
Conrad also says Meltzer claimed Kevin Nash was pushing for WCW’s Thursday night show to become the brand’s NWO property, because tough TV competition and the lack of an established wrestling precedent on that day of the week would have explained poor performance (had the show underperformed). Bischoff calls this “petty,” “so untrue,” and says only a weak, cynical person would make the assumption that Nash would be pushing for the timeslot for this reason.
Conrad asks Eric about Jacqueline Moore, who was reportedly let go from WCW on December 15, for (according to Meltzer) heat that resulted from refusing to get laid out from an attack-from-behind by Miss Elizabeth.
Eric says Jacqueline wasn’t fired, but may have been sent home. He admits that he barely remembers this circumstance, as the Women’s Division wasn’t a significant concern of his at the time, but recalls that Jacqueline had a temper and was likely fighting for her spot. Eric says he wouldn’t have necessarily backed the agents in disputes with talent, specifically saying Terry Taylor and Mike Graham. “weren’t great agents,” in WCW.
WCW Brings in Buffalo Bills
Conrad & Eric discuss an angle where Buffalo Bills players Jim Kelly & Bruce Smith get involved in a match while ringside at Nitro in the lead up to Starrcade ’97. Conrad asks whether this was a, “rib on security,” or a miscommunication, saying WCW didn’t show it live. Eric says he knew about this angle ahead of time, but that he just didn’t tell everyone ahead of time because Eric believed in, “creating energy.”
Conrad asks whether Eric thinks the Buffalo Bills ‘schmoz’ led to another fan jumping into the ring later that night. Eric says absolutely not, that this was happening all of the time back then and the Bills’ involvement wouldn’t have made a difference.
Yokozuna in WCW
Conrad asks Eric about rumors that Hulk Hogan was trying to bring Yozokuna into WCW at this time. Eric says he’s never heard this rumor before.
Lodi Was Almost Skank
Conrad & Eric discuss Lodi’s debut in Raven’s flock. Conrad asks whether Lodi’s name was originally slated to be Skank. Eric confirms, saying that he liked the name Skank, but that the conflicting opinion prevailed.
The Adventures of Eric & Sonny Onoo
Conrad asks Eric about a story from Sonny Onoo’s friend that Eric once answered the door at Sonny’s house for a Pizza Hut Deliveryman while wearing Sonny’s wife’s full-length mink coat and carrying an Uzi gun. Eric says this is true, and says he also once threw Sonny’s couch off of his balcony.
Conrad asks Eric about ordering a referee to lose 20 pounds. Eric says this is true, and that he thinks referee appearance is important, especially compared to the wrestlers in the ring. Eric says this is partly why he think Charles Robinson is so great, because on top of being a talented referee, he is light on his feet and telegenic.
Eric’s Starrcade ’97 Storyline
Eric talks about getting involved in an on-screen angle with Larry Zbyszko, where the winner (Bischoff’s NWO or Zbyszko’s WCW) would get control of Nitro. Conrad asks Eric what the difference between Eric getting involved on-screen and Vince Russo stepping in front of the camera is, and Bischoff says that while he had heat in real-life and on-camera, Russo didn’t. Eric also says he used his heat to get Larry Zbyszko and Bret Hart more over. Eric calls Larry a “good teacher,” as well as an “opportunist.”
Trash in the Ring
Conrad brings up an incident where Randy Anderson was hurt when a fan threw a golf ball into the ring. Bischoff says the audience throwing trash into the ring was never orchestrated, but admits that WCW maybe didn’t do enough to discourage this behavior. Eric says it was fine at first, but eventually got more dangerous when fans began throwing items life full bottles of beer and D batteries.
WCW Loved Mannequins
Conrad asks Eric about another angle at the Nitro in Buffalo, where a mannequin dressed as Sting fell from the rafters through the ring, where the real Sting switched places with the mannequin. Eric says the mannequin was a good idea, but that they probably overused mannequins in WCW.
Bret Hart’s WCW Debut
Eric explains why WCW decided to debut Bret Hart with a promo in Charlotte, NC. Eric says they didn’t want anyone to know what attitude Bret’s character was going to take in WCW, and they wanted to take time with the Bret storyline long-term and make him the center of the WCW Thunder show.
Hogan Turning Down TV Roles
Conrad asks Eric about a few television roles that Hulk Hogan turned down during this time period. Eric explains that Hogan was used to getting paid to show up, hit his marks and go home in WCW, receiving a lot of money for a relatively small time commitment, and was uninterested in extra roles on TV at this time.
‘Merry Christmas, Hollywood’ on Nitro
Conrad & Eric talk about the ‘Merry Christmas, Hollywood,’ segment on the Nitro before Starrcade ’97, a Christmas celebration where Bischoff showered Hulk Hogan with gifts. Some highlights included Eric really purchasing a custom motorcycle for Hogan (who had gifted Bischoff a motorcycle off-camera for Christmas in 1996), A production assistant accidentally bringing the wrong motorcycle down to the ring for the presentation, and Hogan opening up the final present to find a likeness of his own head in the box (as a surprise present from Sting.
Eric Reflects (Resigning with WCW, Taking Spots from talent, Monthly Territory, Go Home Shows)
Eric, who talks about re-signing with WCW during the lead up to Starrcade ’97, says he started viewing WCW as a, “monthly territory,” at this time due to monthly pay-per-views. He says that in hindsight he now realizes that WCW could have done a better job with the go-home shows before pay-per-views.
Bischoff also talks about the criticism he received for, “taking a spot away from talent,” by participating in storylines. He says he understands it from a talent perspective, but also says he was one of the best on the WCW roster when it came to getting heat.
Eddie Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko
Conrad & Eric discuss Guerrero vs. Malenko kicking off Starrcade ’97. Conrad says it’s clear the crowd was, “here for the main event,” and somewhat disinterested in the other matches, and Eric says he wishes he would have had more input into this match, flagging its importance and influencing the length. Eric goes on for a long time about Dean Malenko, calling him one of the most underrated guys in WCW.
Conrad says Malenko wanted to take the pay-per-view off, as his wife was set to give birth on Christmas day, but because Eric didn’t want to make what would have been a fourth substitution on this show by replacing Malenko (alongside Nash, Konnan & Raven), Bischoff instead sent a private jet to bring Dean to the show.
Konnan & Nash no show. Raven still recovering from inflamed pancreas
Eric-Nash didn’t no show.
Did Kevin Nash Have a Heart Attack?
Conrad suggests that Kevin Nash was a, “no show,” on Starrcade ’97, but Eric clarifies that he had been in contact with Kevin and knew he wouldn’t make the show. Conrad asks whether reports that Kevin Nash had bad indigestion that was originally believed to be a mild heart attack were true. Eric says Nash’s, “big leg workout,” as well as enjoying a few glasses of wine, led to false results on hospital-run tests that made it look like Nash was having a possible heart attack.
Eric explains that Nash is health conscious because his family has a history of congenital heart disease, and says Kevin often mentions that he is the oldest living member of his family. Bischoff also admits that he initially belived Nash just didn’t want to leave his home right before Christmas to come to Starrcade ’97.
Macho Man Replaces Konnan
Conrad says that Konnan was unable to participate in the 6-man tag match on this card because his girlfriend gave birth to a stillborn baby, and was thus replaced by Macho Man Randy Savage. Eric calls Savage the, “ultimate team player,” who wanted what he did to “make sense and be right for everyone,” but was also a, “generous performer.”
Conrad asks why Scott Hall & Savage weren’t originally booked on this card. Bischoff explains that you can’t book every talent on every show, and that there are three ways to kill a talent – by giving them no exposure, giving them bad exposure, or overexposing them.
Goldberg vs. Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael
Conrad & Eric agree that this match was, “brutal.”
Perry Saturn vs. Chris Benoit (in a Raven’s Rules Match)
This match was originally slated to be Raven vs. Chris Benoit, but Raven, who was still recovering from inflamed pancreas, was unable to compete and replaced by Perry Saturn.
Lex Luger vs. Buff Bagwell
Conrad & Eric say Luger & Bagwell were, “going through the motions,” in this match. Eric calls Bagwell a, “natural heel,” saying he’s a “nice guy,” who’s also, “self-absorbed.”
DDP vs. Curt Hennig
Although Dave Meltzer didn’t give this match a favorable rating, Eric & Conrad agree that they liked this match, with Eric even calling it the, “best match on the card.”
Eric Bischoff vs. Larry Zbyszko
While Conrad is critical of this match, Eric argues that they go the crowd reaction they wanted, and defies Conrad to disprove that it received the best reaction of any match on the card.
Sting vs. Hulk Hogan
Eric talks about meeting with Sting and Hogan at the venue on the afternoon of Starrcade ’97, and says it was immediately clear that Sting was, “not excited,” and, “only half there.” Eric says Sting was going through personal issues at the time, and that Sting was also out of shape and not tanned. Eric says Sting was a, “shell of himself,” and that it was, “somewhat shocking.”
Previously, Eric says he had hung out socially with Sting and his then-wife when the couple visited Bischoff’s home state of Wyoming, touring Yellowstone and riding motorcycles together. However, Eric says there was truth to Sting’s crow character, and says that Sting had withdrawn around the time of the creation of the character and had been keeping to himself.
Eric says the original plan had been to put Sting over strong at Starrcade ’97, and that he would have been comfortable leaving the details of the match and its finish to Sting & Hogan under normal circumstances, but that this wasn’t a normal circumstances. Bischoff says he wanted to end the story strong to satisfy the audience.
Eric says Sting was giving off a vibe that he had never believed he would be given a clean win over Hogan, and that he had given up on himself months before Starrcade as a result. When Sting left the meeting, Eric says he and Hogan agreed that Sting wasn’t ready for the match that night, and that they were both disappointed with the circumstances.
Eric says this is when the worked ‘screw job’ finish was proposed. Referee Nick Patrick would administer a ‘fast count’ when Hogan covered Sting. Sting would kick out anyway, but Patrick would call for the bell. Bret Hart would come out to enforce justice, and Sting would ultimately win the title.
Nick Patrick has said that Bischoff told him to do a fast count, then Hulk Hogan told him not to. Eric says this didn’t happen, then reversed and said it may have happened. Eric says he relied on people with more experience to make these kind of decisions, and would have deferred to Kevin Sullivan, Hogan and Sting. Eric thinks he would have relayed any information he was given to Patrick, and also says he thinks he would have made sure Patrick was in the room when the finish of the main event was being laid out.
Conrad asks whether WCW was trying to get Earl Hebner into WCW for this match. Eric says there is no truth to this rumor, and that Bret wouldn’t have gone along with that plan.
Because Nick Patrick didn’t actually administer a fast count, Conrad asks why he wasn’t fired for botching the finish. Eric says he does believe he had a brief conversation with Patrick, but that Eric’s outlook was that the, “bullet had left the barrel,” and that losing his cool wasn’t going to change what had happened and that they needed to figure out where to go from there. Bischoff says Nick probably explained that there was a miscommunication, and that that explanation would have been sufficient for Eric.
Conrad goes off on Eric for, “blowing the finish to the biggest angle in the business over a tan.” Eric defends his position, saying that even Dave Meltzer agreed that Sting was off his game, and says Sting even admits that now. Conrad argues that Sting’s attitude was probably a result of being screwed out of a clean finish, but Eric says a clean finish would have been in the cards had Sting showed up to Starrcade ’97 in the proper condition.
Conrad argues that Eric was manipulated by Hogan, and that the only issues with Sting that Eric is mentioning are superficial, but Eric says there were deeper, darker details to the story that he won’t get into out of respect for Sting. Eric rejects Conrad’s opinion, saying Conrad was, “popping pimples watching it happen on TV,” but Conrad fires back that Eric was simultaneously, “Driving (WCW) into a ditch.”
Conrad also passionately questions why Sting was stripped of the title following Starrcade ’97 only to be given the title again in February 1998. Eric tells Conrad to settle down and that he doesn’t want him to, “burst a blood vessel,” but admits that he, “doesn’t have an answer and won’t make one up.” Eric says a lot of people were disappointed in Starrcade, but none more so than Eric himself. He calls the idea that Hogan used his creative control to change the finish, “dirt sheet B.S.,” but admits that they lost momentum and tried to recover in the best way they could.
Conrad & Eric say they’re going to do a watch along of the Hogan vs. Sting Starrcade ‘97 match on Patreon.
While the last half hour of this podcast is pretty much an awkwardly intense argument, the rest is pretty fun to listen to.
Caitlin is a wrestling fan who hopes to one day discover that she is the illegitimate daughter of Vincent Kennedy McMahon and the rightful Anonymous RAW General Manager. Until then, she’ll keep on living in Orlando, Florida with her husband and son.