Nikita Koloff v Mr. Hughes (Saturday Night, 5/9/92)
Holy shit, this was a great. I mean, 1992 Nikita is good Nikita, and I loved Hughes bumping around like a big freak for the Steiners when I watched those matches a few months ago, but this really has no right being as good as it is. They don’t do anything fancy at all, and structurally it’s as simple as you can get, but these are two big bullish fellas and when two big bullish fellas wrestler, ideally you want to watch a match that feels like two big bullish fellas just going at each other. Couple really nifty parts at the start, like Hughes telling Nikita to try and shoulder tackle him again because he pities the fool, so after two failed attempts he just hauls off and dropkicks him. The transition spot into Hughes in control is AWESOME – first they go into a test of strength and Hughes kicks Nikita in the gut to drop him to his knees. They repeat for a second time, and then the third time Nikita jumps back, dodges the kick, connects with one of his own, and starts pounding away on the arm. From there he works his way into a hammerlock, and at this point Hughes manages to get the ref’ to stand directly in front of him so he can draw his leg back and kick Nikita in the balls. I so need to get a hold of more WCW Mr. Hughes. He’s awesome in this, constantly pissed off and trashtalking for ten minutes. “ASK HIM! REF, ASK HIM! AAAAAASK HIIIIM!” “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! I SAID SHUDDUP!” Also has the BEST permanent scowl, man. He’s like a taller, fatter Koko Ware in suspenders with a much meaner disposition. And that comparison goes beyond the fact they’re both black because he bumps like a taller, fatter Koko with a meaner disposition, too (he takes a fuckin’ Flair slam off the top rope, fer chrissakes! HE’S LIKE 800 POUNDS). Cool moment where he whips Nikita into the ropes and just stands in the middle of the ring, waiting for Nikita to barrel into him because he knows who’s coming off worst from that collision. Finish is pretty much perfect. Hughes’ offence for the whole match has been really simple, but a big weapon was the spot where he’d drape Nikita’s neck across the middle rope where he’d then charge and jump on him. Down the stretch he tries it again, but Nikita moves and Hughes winds up crotching himself on the middle rope, complete with a great sell of him showing he’s been hurt down low (nice payback from the earlier low blow), turning around into the Russian Sickle. 1992 WCW; how great is THIS shit?!
Steiner Brothers v Tatsumi Fujinami & Takayuki Iizuka (Wrestlewar, 5/17/92)
This is like a New Japan style/Steiners-bomb-fest hybrid with the violence and intensity turned way up. There are also a few little sub-stories that crop up during it, the first of which is the mauling of young Takayuki Iizuka and how much of it he’s able to take after one of the crazy Steiner double teams goes awry and Rick winds up landing on his face from the top rope with his entire bodyweight, busting his nose to the point where he can barely open his eyes. It’s not traditional southern tag formula, so nobody really plays face in peril, but Iizuka eats a ridiculous amount of punishment and one begins to wonder how much of it he can take before he’s no longer able to get up (turns out it’s quite a bit). The second is that Rick and Fujinami don’t particularly like each other and won’t hesitate to stick it to the other. At one point Rick is covering Iizuka near the Fujinami corner, so Fujinami breaks it up by kicking him square in the face. Jesse on commentary is even marking. Fujinami gets the tag after Iizuka’s been beaten on for a few minutes and the first thing he does is head straight over to Rick – who’s on the apron – to start a fight, and what makes it even better is that Iizuka’s taking a million cheapshots on Scott while the ref’ is trying to separate Rick and old man Fujinami. Match as a whole is like a roll call of 1992 heavyweight highspots, and every single one looks totally nasty and hate-filled. In the first minute and a half Scott tries to hit Fujinami with that crazy modified fallaway slam that he’d do, where he’d kinda moonsault himself over while still holding onto the recipient as opposed to letting him go and tossing him like a JBL or Scott Hall, except he messes it up and almost impales his own head into the fuckin’ mat. Then the psycho gets right back up and does it to Iizuka, although this time he actually does it right. Rick counters a doomsday device by catching Iizuka in mid-air – Rick is on Fujinami’s shoulders at this point – and CRUSHING him with a belly-to-belly, and I can only imagine it’s the first time it’s been done in the US because the crowd and Jim Ross alike totally freak out. Those are two of the more impressive spots of the match, but there’s more where that came from, I tells ya. Big Steiner brothers spectacles are generally always filled with bombs and impressive highspots, but they managed to capture an aura of actual dislike between the two teams here, and the cool little sub-plots that appear give it a little extra to put it over the top.
Steiner Brothers v Terry Gordy & Steve Williams (Clash of the Champions XIX, 6/16/92)
This was really great; four big bomb throwing motherfuckers going out and throwing bombs. Doesn’t start out that way, though, as the first five minutes or so are entirely built around all four grappling and going for amateur takedowns and stuff. It all looks really uncooperative and surly, sort of like what I’d imagine an Americanised heavyweight shoot-style fight would be like. There’s an awesome struggle over a bridge between Scott and Gordy, where Scott tries to bridge out from below a couple times while Gordy shifts his weight to the side so Scott can’t stand all the way up, then the next attempt looks like it’s going to work so Gordy just turns dead weight and falls right back down on Scott’s head. Things get more and more niggly, and that leads to Williams throwing the amateur shit out the window and murdering Rick with a HUGE lariat. Rick was never afraid to sell a big clothesline by taking a bump right on his head, and that’s what he does here; looks really nasty, like some DDT junior heavyweight taking a neck bump off a Sekimoto lariat, except Sekimoto ain’t Steve Williams and Rick sure as shit ain’t a junior heavyweight. This is where things settle down into a more traditional southern tag style, firstly with Rick taking a stint as FIP, firing back by tossing Gordy and Williams on their head, tagging in Scott, and then Scott taking a longer stint in peril. Scott’s FIP section is particularly strong. Scott isn’t really a guy too many people think of as a great “Ricky Morton”, but I really dig him as a face in peril. Gordy and Williams are great at working him over, first by picking apart the back before moving onto the leg, and that plays into a great finish. Post-hot tag there’s a spot where Scott is out on the floor and Williams just ploughs into him with a huge low tackle to the knee. And that finish, man… probably the best chop block in history.
Ricky Steamboat & Nikita Koloff v Brian Pillman & Jushin Liger (Great American Bash, 7/12/92)
Last time I saw this I thought it was really good. Then I watched the New Japan best of the 80s set and got totally burned out on the way the vast majority of the tag matches on it were worked (constant tags, nobody gaining any sort of sustained advantage, things continually moving really quickly, etc.), and since I remember this being worked more like a New Japan tag than a traditional southern tag, I wasn’t sure what I’d come away thinking this time around. Turns out it held up just fine, a few awkward moments aside. Nikita might actually have been my favourite guy in this. There’s a neat extended power v speed exchange between him and the juniors at the beginning which I thought was really well done, in no small part because Nikita managed to strike a balance between ‘vulnerable big oaf’ and ‘destructive powerhouse’ pretty well. He’s also really good at working the apron; very vocal and always doing something to make it seem like he’s willing his partner on to make the tag. Steamboat is Steamboat, and while he doesn’t get much of a chance to play FIP like I’d normally hope, he’s in the unusual position of being “stronger” than his two opponents. Not saying Steamboat’s some feeble old dude with no core strength, but he rarely worked in a way that would suggest he was bigger than a guy like Anderson or Rude. Pillman and Liger are light heavies, Steamboat is a heavyweight, so Steamboat works on top more than usual, busting out a few nifty power moves for the occasion (double backbreaker into a running powerslam, for example). Liger and Pillman are a good junior team with a bunch of nice looking offence and highspots, and Liger in particular is fun to watch opposite Steamboat. I don’t think this would’ve been hurt by being trimmed of a few minutes, but all in all I still really dig it. I’m not sure this is even a top 15 tag for the company in 1992, which really goes to show how strong WCW was that year.
Terry Gordy & Steve Williams v Ricky Steamboat (Great American Bash, 7/12/92)
This started off with Steamboat getting to work some nice and tight mat exchanges with Gordy and Williams and I was really enjoying it. Wasn’t as good as the Steiners/Terry-Steve mat exchanges from the Clash match, but it’s a blast to watch, in no small part because it makes you think to yourself “Man, Steamboat’s an underrated mat wrestler”, which is nuts because a guy as good and already highly regarded as Steamboat being underrated at anything is, eh… nuts, I guess. There’s even a pretty lengthy section where Nikita matches up with both Gordy and Williams on the mat and I was digging that, too. The longer the match goes the less I find myself feeling it, though. There’s plenty to like, and you get an FIP spell where Steamboat sells his ribs for tank-like offence, so that alone more or less makes it worth your time, but I thought Gordy and Williams controlled too much in the end. Also, much like the Steamboat/Nikita v Pillman/Liger match, I thought they could have shaved a few minutes off and it would have benefited more than hurt it. Finish looked real nice, though.
Steve Austin v Z-Man (Worldwide, 8/1/92)
I feel dirty about saying this, but Zenk didn’t annoy me much at all in this. He’s usually so bland he’s detestable, and he does hit a million whiffed dropkicks, but otherwise I thought he was tolerable, hitting stuff really clean and crisp at the start, taking Austin over with a nifty run-up-the-turnbuckle headlock, and generally being a totally inoffensive, fired up, vanilla babyface. Austin seemed to get better and better as the year went on, and this is the second match against Zenk from ’92 that made me care about anything Zenk was doing, so credit to Steve for that, I guess. He hits a really swank backbreaker here as a counter to Zenk’s second attempt at the run-up-the-turnbuckle headlock takedown, and I like simple shit like that. Same goes for him spotting Zenk trying to fake him out with a jump out of the corner after being caught by it earlier, the second time just popping Zenk in the chops. Not among the top matches WCW produced in ’92, but when this is the least of what you’re getting every week, one doesn’t complain.
Steve Austin v Ricky Steamboat (Saturday Night, 8/1/92)
I watched this on Will’s Steamboat comp, and based on the match listing for the disc it was on I figured it would be a sub-10 minute TV set up to their Clash match that followed it. Turns out it goes almost 20 minutes, and maaaaaan it’s good stuff. Steamboat comes in with taped up ribs from the Bash match against Gordy and Williams and much of the match is built around Austin working them and Steamboat turning in a HELL of a selling performance. It has all the little touches you expect from a great Steamboat sell-job, like his body going rigid every time he takes a bump, massaging his own ribs while he’s trying to mount some offence of his own, trying to scoop Austin up for a slam and buckling due to the pain, etc. Austin brings some nifty touches of his own too, like jabbing Steamboat’s ribs to break a bridge attempt. WCW going to commercial with Steamboat working Austin’s arm and then returning with Austin on offence kinda pissed me off, though, because I would’ve liked to have seen the transition into Austin in control. They even throw in a Dusty finish and I was totally digging all of it. Really good match.
Steve Austin v Ricky Steamboat (Clash of the Champions XX, 9/2/92)
This is the rematch from the Saturday Night match (as far as I can tell, anyway) and it’s billed as Steamboat’s last chance at the TV title. Paul E. is suspended above the ring in a cage too, so Austin has to go it alone; one on one and no excuses from the loser. Oh, and it’s no DQ. I thought this was a pretty terrific little match. Only goes about ten minutes, but it’s the sort of compact contest with a strong story built around a pre-existing injury that I really like. Actually reminds me of the Steamboat/Tully match from Starrcade ’84, with Austin throwing out blows to the ribs at the start, although where Tully would throw little jabs and body blows to sort of test the severity of the injury, Austin’s flat out wailing away on them with punches and forearms. Steamboat controls early by working in and out of a headlock, and, from the point of view of Austin working from the bottom, I can’t imagine that being as interesting in, say, February as it was here in September, which seems like a pretty good indication of Austin’s improvement in singles over the course of 1992. Cool moment where Steamboat has a standing headlock and Austin tries to lift him and toss him over his back, starts shaking the cobwebs, but Steamboat lands on his feet and slaps it back on again. He does it a second time, shakes the cobwebs some more, but Steamboat’s still on his feet and goes back to it yet again. Third time Austin figures it’s best to go a different route and instead of trying to toss Steamboat over the back again, this time he just yanks the hair and slams him down to the mat. He’s pretty great at doing things like that the whole match, a desperate man resorting to questionable tactics as everything else fails and his title seems to be slipping; putting his feet on the ropes and grabbing the tights during roll up attempts, tossing Steamboat over the top rope only for it not to matter because it’s no DQ, things like that. He’s much more interesting on offence at this point, too. Most of his offence in February would be standard clubber-fu, clotheslines, etc. He’d be pretty chinlock happy as well, and he never really had a big enough bag of tricks to fill time and keep it interesting with a focused control segment. Granted, his control segment here is short, but it’s focused, interesting, and he visibly has more in the holster were it to go longer (example would be the 8/1 match from Saturday Night). Final few minutes are totally great. Really snazzy spot where they’re fighting over a tombstone piledriver, and Austin’s eventual sell of the move is tops, going dead with his arms falling by his side like jelly. Finish is nice as well and a great way to cap it off. I watched this twice; first time I thought it was the match that put Steamboat over the top as the WCW WOTY for ’92, but the second time I thought it came off as the best Austin match and performance of the year in a singles setting. Steamboat is always good and that’s no different here, but Austin rocked as a man subtly showing his grip on his title slowly loosening and doing whatever he feels necessary to keep hold of it. You never hear this talked about as one of the best WCW matches of the year, but I don’t think there are THAT many better than it, at least when you look at the quality that year. Hell, if it happened in ’95 It’d be my #1.