My family didn’t buy wrestling pay per views.
First, no one in either household (my parents divorced when I was 3 or 4) liked wrestling except me.
Second, neither household had much money anyway. 20 or 30 bucks wasn’t something my folks were going to spend on a 3 or 4 hour TV show.
For me then, Clash of the Champions and Main Events were huge as I got to see something like a PPV caliber event live. Otherwise, I had to stick to the weekly shows in the early 1990s and renting old pay per views from the video store 6 months or more after the fact.
Still, I was a keen observer of PPV results, and of course, PPV storylines, coming into and going out of each event. Looking back, one particular WCW show has become a seminal one for me, one that caps off my favorite childhood era, my nostalgic sweet spot, pre-Hogan WCW. It isn’t a Starrcade, it isn’t a SuperBrawl, it isn’t any kind of WCW convoluted Battle Bowl of the Stars Lord of the Ring Electric Chair. It’s the little-celebrated but damned worth the watch Spring Stampede 1994.
This is a show of transition. One that would see the WCW I loved most. Where Sting and Rick Rude and Vader battled for top position alongside Flair. Where Cactus Jack and Steve Austin and Dustin Rhodes and Brian Pillman and Diamond Dallas Paige were poised to ascend. Where one of my all time favorites, besides the aforementioned Sting and Vader, Ricky Steamboat was once again contending for world title status.
Of course, within a few short months in 1994, all of that would change. Hulk Hogan would make the jump, negotiating creative control for his character. After that, Sting and Vader were largely left out of top spot contention (except the run up to and shortly after Starrcade 1997 when Sting went Crow). Ricky Steamboat was bumped down the card to battle Steve Austin for the US Title, when he would injure himself, forcing his retirement. Steve Austin and Dustin Rhodes and Mick Foley were all tossed off (all going on to pretty much define the Attitude Era in different ways in the WWF), no spot for them in Bischoff and Hogan’s vision of a Hogan-lead WCW.
But in April of 1994, Hogan coming was only a rumor onscreen, and all my guys were still there for Spring Stampede 1994. Beyond my nostalgia, it’s not without its own moments of historical significance along the way.
I don’t know how many pay per view shows DDP and Johnny B. Badd opened for WCW in the 1994-95 span, but it was several. Though this is the first, and they prove why, with a damned good fight. DDP shows what he would become. Mero shows what he might have been, except for bad gimmicks and a much more over wife. Speaking of over wives, this was the first pay per view for Diamond Doll Kimberley.
As many Steven Regal matches went when he was TV Champ in WCW, his match with Brian Pillman went the “television time limit” of 15 minutes. While the time limit is something the WWE could probably get some use out of if brought back, in the early 90s it was a bit of crutch for WCW. No matter, as here it pretty well did the job. Pillman got a lot of babyface push for an excitable almost victory (he didn’t manage to cover Regal until there was 1 second left in the time limit), and Regal got to hold onto the title. Pepper in those classic rough slaps and chops Pillman doles out and Regal’s classic hard shots, and you got a good damned match with a so-so finish.
It’s hard to imagine that Maxx Payne got signed to the WWF (as Man Mountain Rock if you’ll recall) before Mick Foley, but he did. The two were paired in the next matchup here in a street fight against the Nasty Boys for the Tag Team Titles, the street fight a natural place to hide the lack of wrestling ability of the Nasty Boys and Maxx Payne. As you’d expect, the Nastys do very little, get to dole out most of the punishment with tables and scoop shovels, and Foley takes several unnecessary but awesome full on head shots with a shovel to lose the match.
Most notable here though is the bandage on Cactus Jack’s head and Schiavone’s repeated mentioning that Foley is wrestling here for the first time on pay per view despite losing his ear in Germany to Vader (in the now infamous story). Though when the bandage comes loose late in the match and you can clearly see what’s left of Foley’s ear is actually healed, it’s still pretty historic given the career story of Foley.
If you haven’t seen Steve Austin circa 1994, do yourself a favor and take a tour through some WCW shows from the year on the Network. While I’ve previously chronicled here at TWM the Stone Cold transition for Austin in ECW in 1995, it’s clear in 1994 that a number of the Stone Cold mannerisms had emerged already. Chained to a manager and “Hollywood Blonde” gimmick, Austin hadn’t hit his Texas Rattlesnake stride quite yet, and his mic skills would only get better in the freedom of expression allowed by ECW and Paul Heyman on his way to the WWF.
However, his in-ring move set and physical mannerisms are fully polished here at Spring Stampede. It’s worth noting at this point that booker Ric Flair was, as former booker Dusty Rhodes had been, fully behind a Steve Austin push, envisioning him as an eventual WCW World Champion. The incoming Hogan torpedo would sink that ship quickly.
But watch Spring Stampede ’94 and you’ll see why he deserved that push. Paired with the fantastic Muta (I know this was the first top rope huracanrana I ever saw—sloppy as it was), and you’ve got the best in-ring match on this card. Again, WCW uses an old crutch to keep both guys over, and Muta was DQ’ed for the forgotten-but-casually-brought-back-when-needed Bill Watts WCW era rule banning throwing a guy over the top rope. As with Regal-Pillman, a tensionless finish for a really damned solid match.
Sting and Rick Rude were a natural rivalry at this time in WCW, as Rude and the Ultimate Warrior had been in the WWF. And here Rude was finally getting the World Titles he thought he deserved in the WWF. He came into this one as the International World Champion (the Big Gold Belt, now part of a split World Title picture because of Flair’s infamous departure with the belt for the WWF in 1991-92 and the creation of a second WCW World Title belt).
This was a solid match (by the way allowed to continued after Sting dumps Rude over the top rope in much the same fashion as Muta had just done to Austin), and with some interference from Harley Race and Vader, served to keep the three-way feud between Rude and Sting and Vader for the Big Gold Belt going (Vader inadvertently cost Rude this match in the end). Sting came out on top with the title. Unfortunately, this was Rude’s last ever pay per view match. In a storyline in Japan a month later where he and Sting were trading wins for the belt as was customary on international tours, he injured his back and was forced out of the ring.
Speaking of transitions, by the end of the next year Dustin Rhodes would be quite a revolutionary force in a number of ways as Goldust in the WWF. At Spring Stampede ’94 he is inexplicably jobbed out to Bunkhouse Buck in a no DQ match (as he would be in his final WCW match in this run in the King of the Road match to the Blacktop Bully in early ’95).
With some rough mic skills in his prematch interview with Jesse the Body Ventura—himself fired by Bischoff soon after for supposedly falling asleep at a taping but coincidentally timed with the incoming of Hogan who Ventura had legitimate heat with—this show isn’t a great showcase for Dustin. With the knee pads he wears over his jeans and the University of Texas shirt he wore for the no DQ match, he really does look like a skinny man’s bad imitation of his dad here.
Hogan would also be muscling Vader out of the title picture, and unfortunately this match with Ray Traylor at Spring Stampede 1994 would become just part of the extended storyline rivalry for the year for Vader (Hogan would finally agree to wrestle Vader in ’95, but only if he could bury him and never job, of course). Most notable here is that this would be the last time Traylor would don his classic Boss Man gimmick for pay per view.
Wearing a darker police uniform here than in the WWF previous, the WCW dubbed him “the Boss.” Fearing eventual WWF litigation, however, Bischoff gave Traylor the 90’s news story tinged gimmick of the Guardian Angel soon after Spring Stampede. By the time Traylor made it back to the WWF, the Boss Man would be dressed for SWAT action. Don’t get me wrong either, I like both of these guys, and the series of PPV matches they had in ’94 was very solid stuff, including this one. But it’s hard not to see this as the start of the distraction story, easing Vader away from the spotlight Hogan was soon to step into. At least Vader got the W here.
Last up, and naturally longest match on the card given their storied history, Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat do their thang. I know these guys probably got two stars just hugging each other after the fake lock up at Steamboat’s WWE HOF induction, and they get three stars just stepping into the ring with each other, so there’s not much I can really say here to really capture the greatness of either.
The match was fantastic, and, as with the previous hour-long draws or gotcha finishes when fans thought they’d go the time limit again, this one ends with great intrigue. While Steamboat was the aggressor on the bridging pin, his shoulders were down too. This was a double-pin draw, which somehow felt original and less of a cop-out than Regal’s time limit retention or Austin’s DQ win over Muta to keep both men healthy. Flair would win the Saturday Night rematch.
What’s more notable here is the sad capper this proves to be. As I said above, Steamboat, the legend that he was and should have been valued as, was not going to be part of Bischoff and Hogan’s plans for the World Title. Great as he was, he wasn’t quite Sting popular. In other words, Hogan wouldn’t bow to him the way he’d have to continue to at least vocally support a guy as popular as Sting. At least WCW gave him a run with the US Title in a series of great back and forths with Steve Austin, a series of matchups of two guys who should have been in the World Title hunt.
At one point before the final match, Bobby Heenan stands from the side announce table to scan to see if Hulk Hogan was in the building as Flair had personally invited Hogan in his promos leading up to Spring Stampede. While it’s clear WCW was on a trajectory to sign Hogan, they hadn’t yet, and the moment serves as perfect encapsulation of WCW in April 1994. There’s great, great in-ring talent on this show, and WCW is looking off to Hulk Hogan to come in and save the company, not the guys already on the show.
For me then it’s kind of a sad rewatch. Recognizing my own nostalgia and bias of course (everyone loves most the wrestling they first came to as a kid and early 90s WCW is it for me), I can only feel a bit sad when I think of what Nitro might have been a year later with Steamboat and Austin battling it out for the World Title, with Sting and Vader still the most electric performers, Flair still the biggest name in the sport in WCW (but, unlike Hogan, still willing to put others over to the benefit of the promotion). Something in me screams this would have been way better than the Hogan-Dungeon of Doom crap matches program we got instead.
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