With NXT’s resurrection of Halloween Havoc imminent, Matthew Roberts takes a look back at the NWA/WCW era of the show to bring us what he considers the best five events in its history.
5: Halloween Havoc 1992
1992’s event almost seems to be predicting a future where the nWo would provide the star power but the undercard would provide the “wrestling action”. Although quite what star-power there was in the semi-final Heavyweight Championship bout between Ron Simmons and The Barbarian is questionable. If you’re going to hot-shot someone (Simmons) into the title picture on a whim without any real build-up then at least give him some good competition once he’s won the belt. The poor guy didn’t really stand a chance. And yet still that dull match is still FAR better than the Coal Miner’s Glove match between Sting and Jake Roberts. Quite beyond the disappointment of all those matches to choose from ending up with that, Roberts seems to have fallen off a cliff, wrestling wise, since leaving the WWE six months or so earlier. He would never again appear on a WCW PPV after this.
But, until the last hour or so of the show, Havoc 1992 is solidly entertaining.
The opener between Brian Pillman and Ricky Steamboat is a mini-dream match for me, being a big fan of both, and the recently turned heel Pillman faces the perfect foe in Steamboat. It’s a great opener. Vader vs Nikita Koloff is little more than an extended squash to rehabilitate Vader’s momentum and allow Koloff to leave having done the right thing I guess.
The NWA/WCW Tag Team titles bout between Barry Windham & Dustin Rhodes and Steve Williams and Steve Austin (real name Steve Williams of course, and replacing Terry Gordy here) is a solid tag team match that only really suffers by being a third longer than it needed to be, especially given the finish.
The other match on the card falls between the two stools of great action and great star power by providing little of either. Rick Rude and Masa Chono battle over the NWA Heavyweight Title There are more rest holds in this one than a year’s worth of Randy Orton heel matches and this is almost an anti-classic of the “no-one wants to job and it’s politically sensitive” kind.
The fact the show makes my top 5 might say more about the lack of quality elsewhere than about the particular merits of this one, but it’s got an entertaining lower and mid-card that makes it worth a watch.
4: Halloween Havoc 1994
When looking at the Havoc PPV’s as a whole it’s clear that whilst there is a lot of good-to-great action spread across the twelve year history of the event it’s not always the case that the cards themselves necessarily can be said to be great overall. So whilst there are other Havoc’s that didn’t make my top 5 that have some cracking matches on them, that perhaps surpass what’s generally on here, there’s something about this one that clicks as a card. The WCW of 1994 is vastly different from the one of 1993 and it would be fair to say that work-rate being a focus has long since gone out of the window. Havoc 94 falls somewhere between the classic NWA era that had been and the nWo star power with the action underneath era that would come to pass.
So this is something of a curiosity. Part of it’s appeal is that at times it’s so bad it’s good. I’m talking Dave Sullivan vs Kevin Sullivan there. The Nasty Boys against Terry Funk and Buckhouse Bunk is pretty awful too, but Terry Funk once again being a lunatic means that I can enjoy that match. Seeing the likes of Johnny B. Badd vs Honky Tonk Man and Jim Duggan vs Steve Austin is like seeing two disparate worlds collide.
Still, Pretty Wonderful vs Stars and Stripes is a decent enough tag team match, Dustin Rhodes and Arn Anderson is just the kind of solid, entertaining mid-card match that would have been a dime a dozen in the NWA days and Vader vs The Guardian “We can’t pretend he’s a policeman/the Big Boss Man anymore” Angel is a good, swift big man brawl.
And you may not think that an over-booked Hulk Hogan vs Ric Flair cage match where the loser has to retire (I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the loser didn’t) to top things up would be any good…but you’d be wrong. Ok, it’s daft. And Ok, no-one, apart from possibly his own mother, cares about the post match where Brother “Not a barber anymore” Bruti shockingly turns on Hogan. But the chemistry between Hogan and Flair is undeniably, the involvement of Mr T and Muhammad Ali gives a nostalgic touch and Sherri Martel almost steals the show with some of the nuttiest stunts you’ll ever see.
Maybe I’m drunk on nostalgia, maybe I’m too enthralled by this card seeming as if two different eras of wrestling are colliding. I don’t know. But this was a thoroughly enjoyable event.
3: Halloween Havoc 1989
1989 was certainly a hot year in the ring for the NWA. The famous Flair/Steamboat trilogy wowed fans earlier in the year and Flair’s subsequent feud with Terry Funk, which is still ongoing at the time of this event, provided more entertainment and was a commercial success at the box office too.
The Thunderdome cage match that headlines this events pits Flair and Sting against Funk and The Great Muta has Ole Anderson and Gary Hart at ringside and Bruno Sammartino as guest referee. Oh and a roof that is “electrified”, although strangely enough wrestlers can seem to brush it without feeling any effects at all… Still it’s twenty plus minutes of Terry Funk being a lunatic and that’s always a winner in my book. And it’s a tag match that does feature four genuine bona fide all-time legends.
And whilst there is some utter dross on the undercard (hello Tommy Rich vs The Cuban Assassin) there is much to enjoy as well.
Doom make their PPV debut as a team against the Steiners, Lex Luger and Brian Pillman have a great back and forth battle (and, seriously, if your only exposure to Luger was his WWE run or his late 90’s WCW days you should do yourself a favour and check out just how good he was in the late 80’s), The Road Warriors have a stiff brawl with the Skyscrapers and there’s an entertaining six man pitting the Midnight Express & Steve Williams against The Samoan SWAT Team & The Samoan Savage.
And if none of that floats your boat, there’s always the ever hilarious sight of the Philly crowd tearing into the “babyface” duo of the Dynamic Dudes (Shane Douglas and Johnny (Laurinitas) Ace.
2: Halloween Havoc 1997
You’ll probably know about this one, even if you’ve never seen the match that many label as the best in WCW history. I’m not, of course, talking about the main event “Age In A Cage” match that was so dreadful that even the WWE (through Jim Cornette) rubbished it on their TV shows. Whatever the hypocrisy in that statement two decades later, there’s no mistaking that that was an awful match. Watching it now it’s not quite as bad as you might remember, but it is a reason that contributes to a show that starts off superbly not making the top spot in my list.
Of course the match that everyone remembers from this one is the Rey Misterio Jr against Eddie Guerrero bout. It was way ahead of it’s time in terms of the North American mainstream audience at the time and if it doesn’t quite live up to the rose tinted memories of it it’s still a fantastic match. And one they could never quite replicate again, even though they went on to have some other classic matches.
That is third on the card and it’s preceded by two other good matches. The opener between Yuji Nagata and Ultimo Dragon is a clash of styles that shouldn’t work but does because both men were so talented. Chris Jericho vs Gedo isn’t quite on the level of the matches that bookend it but it’s a good slice of undercard grappling if we gloss over the moment(s) Gedo could have broken Jericho’s neck with his sloppiness.
And it’s not just the imports and/or Cruiserweights that deliver good action. Whilst their Las Vegas Death Match (i.e. Last Man Standing) descends into the usual nWo overbooking (oh look, another fake Sting) it’s a solid effort for the most part even if it’s a bit of an anti-climatic “end” to their feud and doesn’t quite manage to match their previous matches.
The thing that holds this one back is that as theoretically interesting as Curt Hennig vs Ric Flair, Lex Luger vs Scott Hall and Piper Vs Hogan sound they’re not very good. At all. And if you’re tuning into a PPV with high hopes for Alex Wright vs Steve McMichael and Jacqueline Vs Disco Inferno I don’t think there’s much hope for you.
One great classic with a modicum of dressing doesn’t quite make the top of this list.
1: Halloween Havoc 1993
You could be forgiven for thinking the worst when you sit through the abysmal opening match that pits the Shockmaster, Ice Train and Charlie Norris against Harlem Heat & The Equalizer. You wouldn’t have put money on Booker T being a future Hall of Famer on this showing, and he’s by far the best of the workers in it.
But mercifully things get a lot better with a wonderful mix of great matches, big names and intriguing opponents shining through.
Paul Orndorff and Ricky Steamboat have a good, slow-burn effort that is only let-down by the finish. It’s great fun as a Brit to see Steven Regal and Davey Boy Smith go at it over the TV title although anyone who has experience in early-to-mid 1990’s TV title matches might be able to guess the (non) finish before the bell has rung. Still, there’s plenty of drama in the closing moments.
Stunning (not Stone Cold) Steve Austin challenges Dustin (not Goldust) Rhodes for the US Title in another good match, albeit not the best that they would ever have. Even better is 2 Cold Scorpio (one of the most underrated wrestlers of the era in my book) and Marcus Alexander (Not yet Buff) Bagwell defending their Tag Team titles against the Nasty Boys. Of course part of the fun is seeing Bagwell getting beaten up by Knobbs and Saggs but generally it’s just a great “tag team formula” match done very well.
Sting tries his best with Sid Vicious but the softball-loving giant seems to be on one of his go-slow nights here. The match really exists to turn Sid babyface to get him ready for Starrcade 1993 and a crack at Vader (though the unfortunate “scissors” incident with Arn Anderson in a hotel in Blackburn which happened just a few days later would scupper all that) but Sid shows little of the fire you’d hope for in that respect. Still, as we say, Sting tries his best so it’s not a complete washout.
Rick Rude and Ric Flair clash over the WCW International World Heavyweight Championship next (it would take far too long to explain that here) in a match refereed by Terry Taylor. So of course there would be shenanigans at the finish. If we were being uber-critical there is a sense that both men are phoning it in to a degree, almost as if they acknowledge the title is generally meaningless at this stage and that the finish will be awful. But if you treat it as a sort of “greatest hits” compilation of each man’s trademark spots and moves you’ll probably join me in getting a kick out of it).
And finally it’s the main event, with the Texas Death Match stipulation for Vader Vs Cactus Jack being chosen in the “Spin the wheel, make the deal” style that we’ll see at NXT’s version. Who doesn’t want to see these two go at it in a crazy over the top brawl in 1993? Five years later this style of match (if not quite the level of heavy hitting) would become the staple main event brawl of the era. Here it was more of a novelty, but backed up with an intensity and level of violence that is genuinely captivating.
Everything after the opener is watchable at the very least. Perhaps only the plethora of lame (non) finishes in parts means that this is kind of a forgotten mini classic of a show in the WCW PPV annals.
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