With WrestleMania just a few weeks away, there are pieces being written about past shows and which ones were great (as well as not so great). There's also nonstop speculation about how this year's main event is going to end. Now with a less than enthusiastic reception for the match itself (Roman Reigns challenging Brock Lesnar for the WWE title for those who haven't been tuning in lately) and for the man poised to win the title that night (Reigns), there's little chance that it's going to be remembered as one for the ages. The only thing that could change that is if the finish delivers something more palatable to the crowd than Roman Reigns walking out as champion. But whether some twist like Seth Rollins crashing the party with his Money in the Bank briefcase happens or we get a straightforward Reigns victory, I can guarantee you that the end result won't be as bad as the way the match I'm about to talk about went down. This match was the biggest squandering of fan interest ever, and started a once proud company on it's road to ruin. The match I'm talking about is:
Starrcade 97 - Sting vs Hollywood Hulk Hogan
This was supposed to be the big blowoff to what had been the hottest angle in wrestling since Hulkamania was running wild. For over a year Hulk Hogan and the NWO had run roughshod over the entire WCW roster while Sting stayed away from it all, disgusted by his WCW mates losing trust in him. Then in the fall of 1997 Sting returned with a new look and began doing run-ins to bail his former friends out of the group beatdowns that had become a weekly occurrence. Everyone knew where it was headed, of course: a showdown between Sting and Hogan. And for anyone who watched wrestling for more than five minutes knew, the finish was going to be obvious: Sting taking it to Hogan and ultimately beating him in the middle of the ring to win the championship and set the dismantling of the NWO. But whether it was because Hogan's legendary refusal to job or just some bad work by the creative team what should have been a layup became a turnover. Hogan hit his big move and then instead of Sting kicking out and demolishing Hogan we got a botched supposed to be fast count that wasn't very fast at all, and sloppily executed submission finish that would be invalidated the next night on Nitro and a rematch two months later that didn't end clean either. This was the beginning of the end for WCW as they never got on track again.
The lesson here is that sometimes you have to do a clean, decisive finish. Yes you have to start moving towards the next big event immediately afterward. And yes, this was long after the day of loser leaves town matches where Hogan would have left the company or just been taken off of TV for six months. Hogan would have had to come out the next night on TV a loser and done something to stay relevant going forward. But that's wrestling; the competition had done that very thing multiple times before so there's no reason they should have deviated from the tried and path here. Sometimes the fans really do just want the straightforward storyline, and not some twist and turn laden enigma. The ending to this match was the bastard child of Hogan's unwillingness to do a straight job to Sting (and again I'm assuming here - Hogan had creative control over his matches in WCW and had already used it in the past so it's not crazy to believe he employed it here) and the infamous Dusty finish - a finish employed by Dusty Rhodes where run-ins and rulebreaking would lead to a false finish where the good guy appears to win a title only to see it overturned shortly after. I remember watching the show with a group of friends and when it was over we were all like 'really?'
And like I said earlier they never recovered. At the time of the show they were regularly doubling up Monday Night RAW in the ratings, but the WWE was starting to right it's ship as they fully embraced the Attitude Era. A strong effort was needed in order to keep from losing any major ground and they totally screwed the pooch here. The end result was a show that came off looking really lame next to what the WWE was doing and made it clear that Eric Bischoff was not in Vince McMahon's league. From there the downward spiral started and never ended. The NWO as a faction and a storyline was kept going and going when it should have been wound down over the next year. Invasion angles aren't hard to transition from, really. Once the outside group has been vanquished you simply come up with an avenue to transfer them over to the main roster and keep it moving. But their inability or unwillingness to do that led to the same people dominating the main event scene long after they after some new people should have been cycled in and the product looking very stale next to the WWE's new stars in Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock. Within a year the war was for all intents and purposes over. So a finish can erase tons o f goodwill in one fell swoop, or restore it just as quickly. It'll be interesting to see if the WWE takes that kind of gamble this year and sends Rollins in with the briefcase to change the end result of WrestleMania 31.