Hogan Re-Signs With WCW & Raven 'Crucifies' The Sandman: The Cultaholic Time Capsule - October 1996
We go 25 years back in time...
Twenty-five years have passed since one of the more seminal moments of the Monday Night Wars - Bret Hart signing a 20-year deal to remain with the WWF.
Of course, Hart would barely see one year of that eclectically-staggered contract, but at the time, it appeared the WWF had pulled off a major coup. After all, WCW offered Hart a substantial offer for far less service time, but Hart chose to remain with his longtime employer.
All of the following stories took place in the fallout of "The Hitman" putting pen to paper, and cover round about the final week of October 1996. I looked back through the Wrestling Observer Newsletter that was published at this time a quarter century ago, and picked out 15 snippets that I found interesting for one reason or another.
This is a look back at a specific point in wrestling history, to see what was, what was to come, and ponder the perception of certain moments at the time they occurred.
If you lived through this time as a fan, here's a nice bowl of nostalgia for you. If this is new to you, well, this is what life was like the last time we had a legitimate "wrestling war". Enjoy.
1. Rowdy Roddy Piper made his surprise debut for WCW at Halloween Havoc, confronting Hulk Hogan following Hogan's win over Randy Savage in the main event
Piper and Hogan's verbal back-and-forth proved to be an extensive history lesson, covering acrimony from over a decade prior, while going past the satellite cut-off time on some pay-per-view providers.
The crux of the dialogue was Piper noting that Hogan had never really beaten him, prompting bitter Hulk to take interest in having a war that actually would settle the score. The renewed rivalry between icons would lead into Starrcade and, unfortunately, wouldn't actually be settled there.
2. Hulk Hogan signs new deal with WCW, turning down a supposed five year offer from the WWF
This really merits more mention in discussions of Monday Night Wars-related "what-ifs?". What if Hogan jumped back to New York in 1996, at a time when WCW was riding high on both nWo momentum and the star power therein? So many future dominos fell because of precise circumstances, so how different is the future of wrestling if Hogan decides to spend the next five years of his career working with Bret and Austin and Shawn and Taker?
I feel like we were robbed of Hogan vs. Mankind, actually - that could've been a fun style clash.
3. The Outsiders became WCW World Tag Team champions, defeating Harlem Heat at the Havoc pay-per-view
Months after making the move to WCW, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash captured their first titles with the organization after defeating by-now seven time Tag champs Booker T and Stevie Ray.
The most notable moment from the match occurred when Hall (in a bit of improv) spat at Stevie Ray, prompting Stevie to express obvious dismay. Somewhat fearing for his life, Hall quickly tagged out to Nash. Stevie later insisted that he wasn't actually mad, and had no intention of shooting on Hall (who he considers a friend).
4. On the same card, Dean Malenko defeats Rey Mysterio to win the Cruiserweight title
You're never going believe this, but this match ruled. Mysterio (or "Misterio", going by pre-WWE spelling) was stealing the show back then at age 21, with Malenko as the perfect complement for his flashy style. Misterio's daredevilry has put to great use against other high-flying marvels, but was always in rarer form against Malenko's form-perfect technical wrestling.
5. WWF announces that Raw is moving up one hour, from 9 PM EST to 8 PM, beginning November 4
With WCW Nitro now winning the weekly ratings battles for over four straight months, it made sense for Raw (a one hour program to Nitro's two hours) to move up, in order to keep Nitro from using an unopposed first hour to tease big happenings in the second hour (whereas Raw didn't have that same forum to build its audience).
The WWF celebrated its earlier time slot by running the Pillman-Austin gun angle, which is exactly the sort of thing you wanna put on earlier in the night. Needless to say, Vince got quite a talking-to from the USA Network for that ratings stunt.
6. Chris Candido quits WWF, immediately turns up in ECW
Though he reigned as Tag Team champion earlier in 1996, the man known as Bodydonna Skip parted ways with the WWF. One reported reason was due to extensive heat between he and Shawn Michaels, while another was the WWF wanting him to transition into a trainer's role, helping develop their in-house projects (even though Candido was still only 24).
Candido proceeded to show up at ECW's "High Incident" in Philadelphia, just days after quitting. Fans merrily chanted "SKIP IS DEAD" as Candido defeated Spike Dudley in the undercard.
7. At the same event, Raven and his underlings "crucify" The Sandman in a controversial angle
The act was enough to repel Olympic gold medallist Kurt Angle, who appeared on that night's card, and threatened ECW with legal action if he was shown on the same telecast as the storyline. Raven even had to break character and apologize to the audience, which he loathed having to do.
8. The ECW card ends with Tommy Dreamer defeating "Prime Time" Brian Lee in a "High Incident" scaffold match, where the ring was filled with stacks of tables
Longtime ECW fans will recall the image of Lee teetering on the scaffold edge as Dreamer slugged him, particularly because it ran incessantly in home video ads for years after the fact. Though the tables "broke" Lee's fall to a fair degree, it was still a pretty nutty bump to take, given the unpredictability of how the tables may end up collapsing.
9. Mean Gene Okerlund was absent from WCW due to an ongoing contract situation
Okerlund would indeed return to WCW before too long. Though he was very much an institution of a previous era, Mean Gene could've definitely spruced up New Generation WWF in this period, through both his credible-sounding interview style, and his obvious familiarity to the wide audience. Alas.
10. Brian Pillman undergoes a second surgery on the ankle he'd destroyed in a vehicular accident earlier in 1996
Pillman's ankle didn't heal properly, so doctors had to literally re-break it and start the whole process over again. Over half a year would pass before Pillman was actually be able to wrestle with the WWF, with whom he'd signed in June. Sadly, his ankle would be mostly fused into a "walking" position, robbing him of much agility and grace.
To write Pillman out, Steve Austin attacked him in an in-ring angle, after Pillman put over Bret Hart a little too much for his liking. This led to Austin going to Pillman's house to finish the job and, well, see entry 5.
11. Debut vignettes air for "Rocky Maivia"
The hook for Maivia was that he was a third generation athlete that was following in the footsteps of grandfather "High Chief" Peter Maivia, and father Rocky Johnson, combining their names as a way of honouring them.
Wonder what became of that guy?
12. At a house show on October 25 in Chicago, the WWF announces that WrestleMania 13 will take place in the city, at the Rosemont Horizon (Allstate Arena, today)
Today, we know the location for the next WrestleMania at least one year in advance, and there's a huge promotional video and/or press conference to herald that fact. In 1996, it was a mere house show announcement, with five months to go until show day. How things change.
Imagine being a patron that night, wondering, "Should I get a ticket for that?", not knowing that Bret Hart and Steve Austin would deliver one of the greatest and most important matches in Federation history at that event. It's a one match show, but Jesus, what a match.
13. New Jack was reportedly involved in an altercation with a police officer at an ECW event in Jim Thorpe, PA
The Wrestling Observer's write-up notes, "After The Gangstas beat Eliminators in the main event, a police officer from a nearby town and New Jack got into it. Who started it depends on whose version one chooses to believe but New Jack hopped the guard rail after the guy and punches were exchanged ... Saturn, Buh Buh Ray Dudley and maybe Taz ended up out there and there was what was described as a riot lasting from 15 seconds to three minutes, in which New Jack ended up collapsing and paramedics came."
14. Atsushi Onita took part in an angle at an FMW event, where he refused to team with Mr. Pogo, noting that he was retired from wrestling
A quick check of cagematch.net shows that Onita has wrestled 406 matches since then, including ten in 2021. Even Terry Funk thinks Onita's teased retirement way too much.
15. Brian "Grandmasta Sexay" Christopher loses the USWA Southern title to "Macho Warrior Ric Hogan"
"Hogan" was a super heavyweight that dressed like Savage and Hulk, and somehow combined the interview styles and trademarks of all four men in his name. There's nothing else terribly interesting about this anecdote; I just wanted to write about Macho Warrior Ric Hogan, because who knows when he'll come up for discussion again?