A huge Starrcade 2002 event saw Eric Bischoff pick the right teams (and out-‘swerve’ the master of them) to ensure he regained 100% control of World Championship Wrestling from co-owner Vince Russo.
However, Russo had a contingency plan in place, and left the building by the side of the new WCW World champion Sean O’Haire, having seemingly abandoned ex-champ Ken Shamrock.
O’Haire was regarded by many as a future potential face of the company ever since arriving in 2000, but his new alliance with the man who gave him his first big break (and who attempted to destroy the good thing WCW had going on) isn’t going to curry any favour with the rest of the roster.
There is no AirTime for the week following Starrcade, due to Wednesday being Christmas Day, nor the week after as it’s New Years Day. However WCW staged a live three-hour edition of Saturday Nitro on Saturday, December 28 for their end-of-year special.
The January 8 return of AirTime, meanwhile, is advertised as a big celebration for the one-year milestone and the survival of the cruiserweight division which will also air live.
DECEMBER 28, 2002: SATURDAY NITRO #86 – END OF 2002 SPECIAL
Starrcade was a rousing success for Eric Bischoff, as his faith in the new direction of WCW since their brush with death was rewarded by victory over Vince Russo’s representatives in two straight of the three scheduled bouts to determine the future of the company.
Russo has been forced to accept a buy-out that returns Bischoff to complete control of World Championship Wrestling. That third bout wasn’t without consequence, however – the main event resulted in a NEW WCW World heavyweight champion and, perhaps, a shocking new chapter for both Russo and Sean O’Haire.
However on a now-traditional bumper year-end Nitro, O’Haire must give former champ Ken Shamrock an immediate rematch – and Shamrock will no doubt want answers regarding the apparent Russo betrayal. Plus, all the other titles will be defended, we expect news on the confusing conclusion to Ultimate X 2 and Diamond Dallas Page has teased a major announcement.
Filmed live in Orlando.
We begin with the arrival of a triumphant Bischoff, who says it’s been a tumultuous 2002 and with a huge card set tonight the last thing he wants to do is talk for hours so he’ll get right to the big announcements. He is back in full control and he promises to oversee WCW continuing to enjoy its new lease of life, away from prior mistakes.
Because of this, SEX is officially disbanded. He says nobody is fired because he understands how these civil wars work and the WCW roster is a very talented one, but he won the war and all of the internal strife is over. He says he wishes there was one firing, but it appears one Vince Russo wrote up a pretty concrete backup plan and has a valid manager’s licence for our new WCW champ, Sean O’Haire. Bischoff says he’s sure Ken Shamrock will handle both of those issues later tonight with the title on the line.
He then says some of the prior mistakes WCW will not repeat were his own, from back in the day. That’s why he’s going to make sure the right person is in charge of day-to-day operations and that’s why he wants Ric Flair to stay on as WCW Commissioner. He says he hopes for an answer by the end of tonight. Meanwhile, he wants us all to enjoy the show, beginning with our first title match and a just reward for a man who helped save the company after six months on the shelf…
Indeed, the opener sees Jason Jett, who returned to action in a shocking twist at Starrcade, challenging AJ Styles for the cruiserweight title. The fast-paced encounter was pretty much even until Jett’s problematic neck affected him during a Crash Landing attempt and allowed Styles to land on his feet behind the challenger and hook an O’Connor Roll for the pin in 11:52. The two men shook hands after the bout, but questions were raised over just how long Jett’s comeback could realistically last.
A video package reveals the 2002 Newcomer of the Year: Ken Shamrock!
Elix Skipper and Christopher Daniels are backstage. They say 2002 has been a year of mixed results for Triple X, mostly because unlike 2001 when they dominated cruiserweight wrestling, they had too many goals to focus on. With SEX dead, 2003 is a new dawn, they claim, and that dawn begins with one fresh, solitary goal: to take over the heavyweight tag team scene.
XXX’s first bout as a heavyweight team came against another duo capable of switching seamlessly between the two divisions, Los Guerreros. It ended, however, in a double disqualification when the heels tried to cheat their way to victory which gave Eddie and Chavo the minimal provocation they required to play dirty themselves. The tit-for-tat escalation of foul play continued between the four men until the referee lost all patience and threw the match out after 7:39, at which point the fight continued and took both teams backstage.
We are shown clips of a situation from earlier this afternoon, where Kaz Hayashi approached his Jung Dragons partner Jimmy Yang and told him he would be returning to Japan with Jushin Liger, and that the three of them could achieve so much together in New Japan now that the Dragons have come of age in WCW. Yang, who has had a few brushes with the next level in recent weeks, says he has no intention of leaving which angers his partner. Hayashi says he’ll have to beat some sense into his ‘young protege’ later tonight.
Indeed, we had a rather unexpected battle between two regular tag partners as Kayashi and Yang went one-on-one. The aerial sprint was finished by Yang, however, who drilled Kaz with Yang Time for the pin in 6:28. Yang helped up his groggy partner after the win and, after some hesitation, the duo embraced. It appears the era of the Jung Dragons is over in WCW – but perhaps a new one is just beginning for Yang, whose hunger to succeed Stateside continues to rise.
Next award is the 2002 Match of the Year: RVD vs Lance Storm from World Cup!
We see a pre-tape from Lance Storm, with Eric Young and Johnny Devine behind him. He says Team Canada like any great dynasty has been ironing out early creases, and one of those creases was the inclusion of a “weak link” whom Lance claims was coasting on his family name. He says that name shall never be mentioned again, but in 2003 Team Canada will grow, rise and dominate WCW.
Trios action saw Rey Mysterio team with compatriots Psicosis and Juventud Guerrera to face Johnny Stamboli and the FBI. Italy picked up this win over Mexico with an assist from a Rejected run-in – though Helms and Moore were despatched by Juvi and Rey, Psicosis was left alone to succumb to a triple-team before the Kiss Of Death finished him off in 7:17.
After the bout, Helms and Moore got the upper hand on Rey and Juvi and left them laying. It appears the bad blood between SEX members and the luchadore community hasn’t been settled by Starrcade…
Shane Douglas and Torrie Wilson tell Jeremy Borash that Vince Russo was doomed to fail with SEX because every time he took a step forward, he’d then lean on a Scott Hall or a Sean Waltman or a BG James and go five steps back. Douglas says SEX was full of current and future talent ready to execute Russo’s vision, but Vince’s poor leadership drew him back to the same old toxic “names” Shane believes always politic their way into these crucial moments in the professional wrestling timeline. He says he and Glenn Gilbertti don’t get along, but they at least realised what WCW needed. Tonight, he says he’ll do what he wishes he did a decade ago and rid wrestling of Scott Hall once and for all.
And though it’s hard to know if wrestling truly is rid of Hall, the former Outsider was nonetheless beaten by bitter enemy Douglas. As Scott went for the Edge, Torrie Wilson got up onto the apron to distract the ref. This allowed Sonny Siaki and Matt Bentley to rush down only to eat Hall right hands. Siaki, however, dropped a chain which Shane picked up and used to KO Scott for the win in 5:05. After the win, all four retreated to the stage together where Douglas, Bentley and Siaki flashed the Franchise’s old ‘Triple Threat’ hand sign.
Backstage, The Cat and Eric Bischoff are celebrating in Bischoff’s office. Cat has the US title over his shoulder. Eric tells Miller that the night gets even better, as it appears there is no sign of Ron Killings for his scheduled rematch tonight. Eric suggests Cat truly taught his old friend a lesson for betrayal and now Cat has the prize for it. Miller says he wants to defend the title nonetheless, because it’s unfair if he wins it after 18 months of inactivity and is then seen as resting on his laurels. Bischoff tells Cat he’s surprised Miller didn’t want to return as Commissioner, but Cat insists Eric is doing the right thing in asking Flair to stay on. Bischoff says he hopes he says yes.
At that moment, we cut to the arena, where the Nature Boy’s music has been fired up and indeed, here comes Flair. Ric takes the mic mid-ring and says he’s spent the last few days with a tough decision to make. Three years ago, he ousted Eric Bischoff for power only to experience the same corruption course through his own veins. Two years ago, he says he replaced Vince Russo in charge only to make the same mistakes Russo had just made. Now, with the war well and truly over between the two, he has been given the chance to run the show a third time.
He says he doesn’t know if he deserves it, given his mistakes the first two times. But, the last month has shown him that there are key differences. Flair says the roster is far less toxic than it was before, the talent is off the charts and the company is working as one to be the very best for the first time in ages. He says the Stings, the Booker Ts, the Kanyons, the Guerreros and the AJ Styles inspire him to do things the right way at the third time of asking… so, you’re looking at the new WCW Commissioner, full-time.
He says there are a few changes he wants to make in the light of the last few months, first off. The spiked Vertebreaker is banned, permanently. Flair also says he has a bone to pick with the concept of multi-man title matches. He recalls Spring Stampede 1999, where he lost the WCW title without losing the fall. From now on, non-title multi-man matches are one-fall but all title match variants will be elimination.
Finally, he says the finish to Ultimate X 2 was controversial and very close, but from his vantage point both Super Crazy and Tajiri met the conditions of victory and he cannot in good conscience reward one but not the other. So, the first example of the new rule on title matches will be on the one-year anniversary of AirTime when AJ Styles defends the cruiserweight title against Crazy AND Tajiri! Flair says 2003 is set to be huge and he’s thrilled to be along for the Space Mountain-sized ride. Whooooooooooo!
Moment of the year was one that occurred very recently: Bischoff vanquishing Russo from ownership at Starrcade!
Next, it was time for the WCW title rematch from Starrcade. Ken Shamrock came out first, alone, and looking absolutely livid. When we next received the surreal visual of Sean O’Haire emerging with the WCW title around his waist beneath an ominous black trenchcoat and none other than Vince Russo by his side, Shamrock snapped and rushed out to begin the fight on the walkway.
O’Haire and Shamrock brawled all the way through the crowd and then back to the ring where the title contest finally began proper. A scared Russo kept as far away from the man he double-crossed as he could but his presence gave the new champ plenty of openings to attack and ground Shamrock. The former titlist made a comeback late on only for Chuck Palumbo and Mark Jindrak to run down for the DQ in 8:43.
The three-on-one, directed by Russo, was halted by the music of Goldberg who plowed through Palumbo and Jindrak while Russo and O’Haire fled the scene. Goldberg then stared down the prone Shamrock before offering him a hand. Shamrock accepted it and was helped back to his feet. The tentative but begrudgingly respectful pairing took us into the advert break.
We’re next joined by The Cat, who tells us Ron Killings started this with Cat but Miller finished it. He says Killings is so ashamed of ‘the truth’ that he betrayed his friend and his friend beat his ass, and now he hasn’t even shown up for his rematch for the US title tonight.
He says Bischoff and Flair have officially agreed that he has forfeited that rematch. Cat adds he fell into the title match because of his feud with Ron, and he doesn’t wanna rob the fans or the roster of a title match. So, he’s gonna utter the words he thought he’d never again say: “I’ll fight anybody!”
Cat issues an open challenge for the US title, which is answered by… Booker T!
And though Cat goes straight on the offensive and has Booker reeling with some choice kicks, the difference in conditioning and ring time soon shows as one of WCW’s most decorated competitors quickly overwhelms Miller before an Ax Kick gives us a NEW United States champion in only 1:56.
Booker celebrates with the belt he won once before, but was never actually defeated for while Cat rolls outside, looking at least a little bit less dejected than when he last lost a bout way back at the Big Bang.
Glenn Gilbertti is backstage with Simon Diamond and Johnny Swinger. Gilbertti says he doesn’t know why Russo lost the plot and screwed up SEX, but he does know that two of his original boys, Simon and Swinger, were straight-up screwed at Starrcade. He says they’ll become two-time champs when they beat AMW in their Tornado Tag rematch later, and warns Curt Hennig that if he tries to play hero again he’ll personally make sure he regrets it.
The new cruiserweight tag team champions, York and Matthews, retained the belts in their first defence against two more men rewarded for their efforts at Starrcade, Billy Kidman and Jerry Lynn. Full Effect finished Kidman in an action-packed 9:04 but as Jerry Lynn helped a hurt Kidman roll to the walkway, we were then joined by Rob Van Dam and David ‘Kid’ Kash…
…Van Dam took the mic and stopped Lynn from leaving, as officials took over in checking on Kidman. He says tonight wasn’t Lynn’s night but in six short months he has shown WCW what RVD has known for years: that Jerry Lynn is the New F’N Show. Van Dam asks Jerry to look around him. He says these people here are together for a reason, and that he knows Lynn hates the New Church as much as they do. There’s a revolution happening, RVD says… a Hardcore Revolution.
Is Lynn in, he asks? Jerry gives it thought before hi fiving and hugging York, Matthews, Kash and Van Dam. Suddenly, Father James Mitchell appears on the big screen and mocks the ‘reunion’.
Mitchell says what RVD refers to is nothing but a cult, and the most tawdry kind. He says Van Dam won only the battle at Starrcade, and if his ‘Revolution’ wants a war he’s happy to oblige… but it’s not only the men in the ring who can take it to the ‘extreme’.
With that, all five ECW alumni are jumped by the four members of the New Church and… the returning charter member, Mike Awesome. Awesome puts an exclamation on his return from a lengthy injury by powerbombing Kash through a table.
Jeff Jarrett defeated BG James in a heated grudge match with the Stroke in 7:44. Jarrett then fetched his guitar after the bout and smashed it over James’ head just as he pulled himself back up with the ring ropes.
Jeff then grabs the mic and says he spent 2002 paying the price for what he did between 1999 and 2001, but the feeling of redemption is a good one and he says he’s through with CW Anderson and BG James. That leaves one person on his hitlist before he sets his sights back on the WCW title: Vince Russo.
He says after the title match earlier, the belt happens to be on Russo’s latest boy O’Haire and his win at the PPV just happens to make him number one contender for Genesis so he’s planning on a ‘twofer’ in January when he destroys Russo once and for all and finally gets his chance to be the WCW champion he knows he can be.
Ric Flair tells us from backstage that he has co-ordinated with Eric Bischoff to give us a huge main event tonight. Two of WCW’s true icons will collide when Sting goes one-on-one with Goldberg!
Tag team of the year for 2002 is… America’s Most Wanted!
AMW then ended their issue with Simon and Swinger once and for all in a hard-hitting anything-goes Texas Tornado match for the WCW tag titles AMW had just won back from Glenn Gilbertti’s men.
Unfortunately for Gilbertti and his charges, their confidence before the bout was somewhat premature as GG took advantage of the no-DQ setting to help his men on multiple occasions which brought out Curt Hennig, who had helped even the playing field at Starrcade as well.
He chased Gilbertti around the ring and then into it, where Glenn ran right into Diamond who was holding a chair. This collision left both men in no condition to stop a Death Sentence on Swinger for the pin in 14:27.
The Cat is getting changed backstage when Eric Bischoff walks in. Bischoff says now the US title is gone, maybe Miller will reconsider and take a role helping out he and Flair? Cat thanks Bischoff for the offer and all the opportunities over the years, but he says it’s time to try new things.
Maybe he’ll go back to karate, maybe he’ll do some acting… who knows? Maybe he’ll be front row as a fan now and then. But for now, he has his retribution and he had his 15 minutes of fame, and it’s time for the future stars to fulfil their potential. He and Bischoff shake and hug, and Cat takes his gear and exits the room.
Sting and Goldberg provided an epic, almost Greatest Hits-esque main event for a big WCW telecast. The two icons went back-and-forth at a deliberate pace before things heated up as they went for their signature moves but the Spear and the Stinger Splash were evaded multiple times, respectively, until Goldberg caught the Stinger coming into the corner with a Spear and followed up with the Jackhammer for the pin in 8:16.
As expected, the two men who helped keep WCW just the way it is at Starrcade embraced after a bout that was almost a celebration of the company’s last 18 months, the tribulations and the triumphs.
We then find out the 2002 wrestler of the year: AJ Styles!
Speaking of celebrations, we were finally joined by Diamond Dallas Page. He says Starrcade went to plan, and WCW is alive and well. However, win or lose, he knew things were coming to an end on a personal level. He says he’s no spring chicken, and to be honest he cannot think of a better time to hang up the boots.
DDP recounts his journey from the bottom to the very top of WCW, and his role in seeing the company survive and then thrive this decade so far. He says it may be the end of Diamond Dallas Page in the ring, but it’s not the end of DDP and to remember the name. He finishes by saying while it’s tough for him to do this, he got what he wanted at the end of his career and that was to not go out with a whimper but with a… BANG!
Some fireworks go off above the ring as DDP’s old Self High Five music plays, on this occasion. He’s then joined in the ring by Chris Kanyon, as his longtime friend hugs Page before other WCW wrestlers fill the ring to show their respect to DDP. Towards the end of the celebration, the announcers note it’s odd that Goldberg is there and even Booker T showed his face after all his differences with Page, but Sting is nowhere to be seen…
…unfortunately we saw why as the show concluded, with a brief cut backstage to where Sean O’Haire stood over a laid-out Stinger while clutching Sting’s own baseball bat. Sting looked in a very, very bad way while Russo jumped around cheerleading. O’Haire then added just two words of his own: “One down.”
END OF 2002 SUMMARY
WCW has now reached a comfortable point where they can turn a small profit with a TV deal that has maintained their historic audience, a production schedule that doesn’t break the bank and allows for a moderate number of house show events, a less expensive but very talented roster even with the last few Time Warner deals about to conclude and a successful transition of diehard fans from the Monday Night Wars who have not found WWE circa 2001-2002 to be to their tastes.
It does appear, however, that there will be some obstacles in the immediate future. Firstly, several big contracts are up and reports are rife that a number of names synonymous with WCW are looking to move on when their deals expire. With WWE suffering from some staleness in several areas and no doubt not appreciating WCW having a solid 18 months even without posing a direct threat, it’s no surprise they have been linked with a number of those big names. If most or all end up leaving, the task of ensuring the company doesn’t come across as lacking star power will be a considerable one. Work is already underway to create new stars and that will continue.
Of those names, two are already pretty much out. DDP has indeed retired from in-ring competition and will focus his efforts on his yoga and motivational speaking enterprises. His deal expired on December 31, as did that of Sting, who will be taking some time off from wrestling for an undisclosed amount of time. WCW hope that if he does indeed decide to wrestle again, he’ll do so in his home company and sign a new deal with Fusient whenever he’s ready. Until then, he has been written out of storylines.
Those two departures alone, while tough losses to take, free up two million dollars of budget per year with revenue continuing to slowly tick up thanks to a sturdy business model and a strong product positioned as a more purebreed ‘alternative’ to the glitz and glamour of the industry leaders up North. WCW will be attempting to return to more venues across North America as a result, whilst maintaining their sensible schedule which not only keeps costs down but avoids wrestler burnout and further justifies cooling down the salary offerings in a post-Attitude Era environment. The World Cup of Wrestling, meanwhile, will serve as an attempt to make annual forays outside of NA.
AirTime has indeed been continued for another year, though WCW will begin to produce combined AirTime/Nitro tapings featuring two or three matches for AirTime that will then be spliced with Nitro recaps, special event previews and pre-tape promos. This will allow WCW to tape TV fortnightly, with an AirTime/Nitro taping every other Tuesday and Wednesday. This will take effect after the one-year anniversary live AirTime on January 8.
Next time: the new World champion’s vicious side continues to come out as the road to Genesis 2003 begins!