By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Hollywood Hulk Hogan © vs Sting 12/28/97
WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match
There are few matches that have had more written about them than the main event of Starrcade 1997: Hollywood Hulk Hogan defending the WCW World Heavyweight Championship against String, and with good reason. Outside of the Montreal Screwjob and the Fingerpoke of Doom, column inches and words have tried to dissect how WCW managed to screw up such a red hot angle with such a botched and poor payoff as the one their fans saw at the pay-per-view. Having waited for so long to see WCW get one truly over on the NWO, as well as waiting to see Sting return to the ring after myriad months spent hanging from the rafters.
It felt like an open goal. This was a scenario where all people wanted to see was for Sting to have his hands raised at the end of the contest. Akin to Brock Lesnar and John Cena at Summerslam 2014, people would have been happy to have Sting steamroller Hogan, squash him with relative ease, as a means to end the angle and have Sting become champion. Even a longer, more even handed match would have been accepted if Sting came out on top in a believable and well executed fashion.
Too bad that wasn’t what we got.
Sting would win, so the promotion at least got one thing right. However, the rest was a mess that was overthought and overbooked. In an effort to add dramatic tension, as well as involve the newest big name signing to the company, Bret Hart, in the mix, things went to pieces and the hottest angle in years failed to give the fans the payoff it had seemingly promised. Worse than that, it made Hart and Sting both look poor in the process; a double whammy of incompetence when it comes to your newest and hottest stars.
The fans were electric as the two men met in the middle of the ring, Sting impassive as Hogan first shoved and then threw his bandanna at the challenger. A slap to Hogan’s face showed the champion that Sting wasn’t there to mess around. As Hogan took his time to engage, milking the anger of the fans for all it was worth, the commentary team debated as to whether the long absence from the ring might have a negative effect on Sting. Rather than the fast paced onslaught you might have expected from Sting, the two men took their time to engage, with Hogan having initial success after teasing a test of strength but using a boot to the gut instead.
Three missed elbowdrops in a row saw Sting take advantage with a dropkick that had the crowd on their feet as every successful manoeuvre was cheered like a winning field goal. A second dropkick would send Hogan back to ringside for a second successive time as Hollywood looked to take his time and slow things down. This looked to pay off as a clothesline dropped Sting to the canvas, with a suplex to follow up. However, Sting was straight back to his feet and firing off rights and lefts, only to eat a thumb to the eye as Hogan dug deep into his playbook.
A mistake by Sting saw him collide hard with the guardrail after an attempted splash at ringside, with this spiralling the match towards its conclusion. A legdrop and a three count was judged by Hart at ringside to be too quick on the referee’s part, whilt the fans watched on in confusion. With thinly veiled references to Montreal (Hart saying ‘I’m not letting this happen again’), Hart attacked Nick Patrick, dragged Hogan back into the ring and signalled for the decision as Sting placed Hogan in the Scorpion Deathlock.
This was a roaring success on pay-per-view as it was the biggest grossing in WCW’s history. The long term ramifications of so weakly putting Sting over Hogan, with the belt being vacated in the New Year due to the controversy, felt like it was the initial push that sent the creative process in WCW rolling towards the abyss. The promotion would never replicate such interest in a feud, largely due to the poor booking of this finish and the continued inability going forward to look to the long term, something they had so successfully done over the past year with Sting and Hogan.