With Halloween just around the corner, Matthew Roberts fires up the TWM Time Machine and points it towards 1997 WCW and Halloween Havoc.
If you’re a fan of professional wrestling (and as you are reading this I presume you have a passing interest in it at the very least) of any reasonably long time of asking you will almost certainly know all about Halloween Havoc, or more specifically the WCW Cruiserweight Title Vs Mask match between Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio Jnr. It’s regarded as one of the best bouts in WCW history… and it’s not hyperbole to say that not only was it one of the best bouts WCW ever gave us but that it still stands the test of time in the modern day.
It starts off at a fast pace and just gets better and better from there. The aggressive heel Eddie vs the plucky underdog face Rey is done to perfection and there’s an argument to say that this is the peak of either man’s career in terms of athleticism (even if both would reach higher plateaus’ in term of profile in the years to come). And it’s the little things that add up to make this match the complete package. Notice how Rey’s mask forms part of his general outfit (and not being separate) so that Eddie, who has spent weeks trying to pull Rey’s mask off, has to be even more creative (and violent) in trying to rip off his opponent’s mask. Believe me when I say that this is one “greatest match of all time” that is deserving of being on that list.
And whilst nothing else on this PPV card comes remotely close to that, Halloween Havoc 1997 is far from a one match card. Indeed the Eddie/Rey match is preceded by two good matches which both reflect well on the international feel that WCW programming was very adept at showcasing on the undercard of their events. Things open up with Ultimo Dragon taking on Yuji Nagata in a match where Dragon’s former manager Sonny Onoo has once again scoured the world to find someone to exact revenge on his former employee. Dragon is perhaps one of the most underrated wrestlers of the period and whilst this could have been little more than your usual speed vs strength match, Dragon is so skilled and so adept at selling that the storyline of his elbow injury adds great drama to the match (and actually provides the “excuse” for him tapping out).
This is then followed by an “Unadvertised Bonus Match”, which is WCW speak for we couldn’t be bothered advertising it / threw it together on the day of the card, between Chris Jericho and the man who would go on to become booker of NJPW years later, Gedo. It’s a short, but entertaining effort that is nevertheless mainly remembered for the top-rope hurricanrana by Jericho that nearly kills both men.
As if to admit that nothing could follow Eddie / Rey, WCW then send out Alex Wright to be the mystery opponent for Steve McMichael. He gets ZERO reaction (even Tony Schiavonie on commentary treats it as “oh, it’s Alex Wright” with the enthusiasm I reserve for the office bore telling me what he did over the weekend) and the match is predictably awful. It’s “saved” somewhat with a Goldberg run-in though even by wrestling standards the whole “the ref didn’t see the interference even though he was literally stood next to it” scenario is awfully transparent. Still at least Goldberg, who would go on in less than a year to be the biggest “homegrown” superstar WCW ever had, got Mongo’s Superbowl ring from Debra McMichael. Yes, Bill was a hired gun for Debra so he could get the Superbowl ring he never got from his football career. No, they never usually bring this up in any Goldberg career retrospectives…
Things shouldn’t get much better with the next, inter-gender, match between TV Champion Disco Inferno and Jacquelyn. Thanks to the Las Vegas State Athletic Committee or something, Disco’s TV title can’t be on the line in an inter-gender match which kind of negated the point of the match. But, for better or worse, the crowd are REALLY into this and all the interminable stalling in the first half of the match actually pays off when Jackie does get her hands on Disco. If I remember correctly, Disco had previously walked out of WCW refusing to “lose to a woman” and this was a public act of atonement forced on him by management in return for “allowing” him to come back. It might have been better off if they’d just fined him or something than inflicting this on a PPV audience.
A month after Curt Hennig had thrown Arn Anderson’s “spot” in the Four Horsemen right back in their faces in a War Games match at Fall Brawl, Ric Flair was out for revenge here at Havoc. The match was not a patch on something that they would have had five years earlier but it’s a spirited battle that at least remembers that these are now two people who utterly detest each other. Not great, but watchable and even the DQ finish made sense in context of the feud (and transparently prolonging it, but there you go). And it’s a lot better than the absolutely dull Lex Luger and Scott Hall bout that follows it. Typically by WCW standards of the time this is an overbooked snooze fest that has Larry Zbysko as guest referee, Syxx at ringside sticking his oar in whenever he feels like it and a non-finish which predates the use of VAR in “soccer” by two decades or so. 15 minutes is about 10 minutes too long for this and frankly, it’s just boring.
Diamond Dallas Page and Randy Savage couldn’t fail to be an improvement on that in their Las Vegas Death Match (a fancy name for a Last Man Standing bout) and they did assemble an exciting match – Page has his ribs taped (of course he did, it’s a Sunday) and the two showed that the chemistry from their battles a few years earlier was still there. Of course this being a match between two main event stars on a WCW PPV there had to be lashings of extra-curricular stuff with Elizabeth knocking out the referee, Kimberly making the save and then a fake Sting costing DDP the match. Up until all that this was a good match; the ending certainly hurt the overall vibe.
And so it was time for the main event Cage Match between Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan. It’s worth remembering that months earlier at Uncensored, Piper led team WCW into battle with Team NWO on the basis that if Piper’s team won he would get a cage match with Hogan. They didn’t, but now Piper is in charge and booked the match anyway. Still, is that any dafter than this being a non-title match for Hogan but Piper coming out with the title belt he had stolen off Hulk anyway?
Even if this hadn’t taken place in the same month as the inaugural Hell in a Cell match between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker it would have looked old hat and to be honest it would hurt my head to transcribe all the overbooked nonsense that went on. Suffice to say I lost count of how many fake Stings turned up after the first three. If we’re being kind, Randy Savage’s run in and leap from the top of the cage was the one high-point of the match but even this his “accidental” hit on Hogan nearly missed anyway!
Halloween Havoc 1997 will always be remembered for the Eddie / Rey match and with good reason. It’s legitimately a classic. The two matches that preceded it was good efforts too but after that only really the DDP / Savage match rises above mediocre and there’s a lot on display that is, simply, awful. Still as a microcosm of WCW in 1997 this has it all, the good and the bad, and as such remains an entertaining watch even when it’s all going wrong!
You can find me on Twitter @IWFICON. Thanks for reading!