Starrcade 1992: Battle Bowl—The Lethal Lottery II originally aired December 28th, 1992 from The Omni in Atlanta, GA
Bill Watts’ WCW in the early ‘90s was working painfully through a transitional time in the venerable promotion’s history. The company had a bonafide top babyface in Sting and the first Black World Heavyweight Champion in Ron Simmons. They were the main American home of legendary Japanese wrestler The Great Muta, and had fostered a solid working relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling in a corporate precursor to the modern days of “The Forbidden Door”. Sure, the company had lost “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair to Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation, but they still had first-class talent like “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Big Van Vader, Barry Windham, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and Cactus Jack. It was a time with high highs and low lows, marred by the often oddball booking of Cowboy Bill Watts, who was no longer at the top of his game.
In fact, Starrcade 1992: Battle Bowl—The Lethal Lottery II (hereby shortened to simply Starrcade 1992 to avoid having to repeat that mouthful) was not only the last PPV for iconic announcer Jim Ross but the last for Cowboy Bill Watts as well. It’s the pause for breath right before a young, savvy fellow by the name of Eric Bischoff made his first big moves toward changing the business forever and helping to ignite the sport into the stratosphere.
This is the end of 1992, however, and those seeds are just being planted. The second installment of Battle Bowl as a Starrcade feature was to be the last, but the event would return one more time as a standalone PPV in November of 1993. The concept was a fairly clever one: eight tag teams of randomly paired wrestlers (the aforementioned “Lethal Lottery”) compete in four matches. The four tag teams that move on are then deconstructed, and the result is a group of eight wrestlers competing in a Battle Royal to declare the Battle Bowl winner.
Combine that with the fact that most of the wrestlers involved in the Battle Bowl tournament also competed in various championships and other matches, and what you have are the makings of a pretty solid show. What you get is a fifty/fifty show, with some great matches and moments paired with some pedestrian work and a tepid crowd that too often sits on its hands. That tells you something, too—The Omni in Atlanta was a stronghold for WCW/NWA for a long time.
But, I digress. The show features Jim Ross and Jesse “The Body” Ventura on commentary and Lethal Lottery drawings from “The Living Legend” Larry Zbysko and Missy Hyatt. After a standard WCW opening promo (complete with super generic, high-energy ‘90s music), there’s an update from WCW Correspondent Eric Bischoff about the scheduled WCW World Heavyweight Championship match. “Ravishing” Rick Rude is out 5-7 weeks with a herniated disc; he’ll be replaced by veteran tough guy, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams.
Down in the ring, Cowboy Bill Watts is there with the (then) home run king, Hank Aaron! They present the championship ring from the previous year’s Battle Bowl to the winner, Sting. It’s a quick, over-and-done ceremony that serves the purpose of giving us the big Sting entrance (rocking a simple and striking blue and white paint/gear combo); he’s wrestling too many times at this show to blow that much cheap pyro.
“The Living Charisma Vacuum” Larry Zbysko (my words, obviously) and the always stunning Missy Hyatt tell us that the first two teams were drawn at random, and away we go…
Battle Bowl Match #1: “Heavy Metal” Van Hammer & Dangerous Dan Spivey vs. Cactus Jack & Johnny B. Badd
The often-underappreciated Johnny B. Badd (aka ‘Wildman’ Marc Mero) starts against Van Hammer, working a quick pace and keeping the chiseled and mop-headed Hammer on his heels. The intensity picks up with one of the nastier hurricanranas you’re likely to ever see; Badd spikes Van Hammer with no need for a sell. Hammer hangs on long enough to make the hot tag to one of the forgotten big men of his day, Dangerous Dan. Back and forth with Spivey and Cactus Jack for a couple of minutes before Badd tries to break up a pinfall attempt and hits Cactus instead. That’s pretty much all she wrote—Badd ends up decking Cactus Jack with that extremely snug Mero Left Hook and he falls right into a Van Hammer rollup.
Winners: “Heavy Metal” Van Hammer & Dangerous Dan Spivey
Back to Larry Zbysko and Missy Hyatt. A young and spry Tony Schiavone has joined them and upped the energy level a bit, but even the combined power of Missy Hyatt and Tony Schiavone can’t overpower Zbysko. They draw names from a tumbler. It’s very generic and doesn’t need to be mentioned any further. There’s potential to make that setup much more interesting, but again…this is the end of 1992. Pro wrestling was a different beast at that time.
Battle Bowl Match #2: “The Natural” Dustin Rhodes & Big Van Vader (with Harley Race) vs. The Barbarian & Kensuke Sasaki
Vader and Barbarian start with a very sportsmanlike handshake followed by a series of very unsportsmanlike rights and lefts to each other’s ears. Barbarian body slams the 450-pound Vader out of his boots and wakes the crowd up noticeably; they realize they’re seeing the match that probably should have opened the show. After more heavy shots, Rhodes tags in, and before you can say “Hart Foundation”, the two are busting out tandem offense and high-powered clotheslines. Barbarian gets to Sasaki, however, and that changes the complexion. I’ve never seen Vader snap suplexed, let alone with that much force; Sasaki was a low-base powerhouse who would later go on to win the United States Championship in 1995 by defeating Sting in NJPW. Sasaki’s unintentional distraction from the apron post-tag would cost the team, as Rhodes gets the roll-up win in a fashion similar to the first Battle Bowl match.
Winners: “The Natural” Dustin Rhodes and Big Van Vader (w/ Harley Race)
Battle Bowl Match #3: Barry Windham & The Great Muta vs. Too Cold Scorpio & Flyin’ Brian Pillman
The Great Muta enters in his blue robe and pants with red face paint dotted with blue lettering. It’s one of the cooler looks he’s ever rocked, and that’s a damn strong statement. Muta’s look is iconic, and he gets one of the best pops of the entire night. Windham and Scorpio start the match. Scorpio’s high-flying style is grounded early and often by the deceptively strong and talented Windham, whose influence on JBL is clear with every punch. He eventually gets in those high spots, though, in a match that features a fair amount of high spots for only seven minutes. Windham and Muta get the win after Barry Windham nails that nasty double-armed DDT and Muta immediately follows it with his signature Asai moonsault.
Winners: Barry Windham & The Great Muta
Battle Bowl Match #4: Sting & “Dr. Death” Steve Williams vs. Eric Watts & Jushin Thunder Liger
Sting and Liger start the match; it has generally the same tag sequences and general pacing as matches 1 and 3. These are true tournament matches that have a certain time constraint, but the pairings are solid overall. The final match is heavy on the Stinger, of course, though Dr. Death has some fun using Jushin Thunder Liger as a rag doll. Eric Watts (son of Cowboy Bill Watts) finally gets the proverbial hot tag that the youngster was waiting for, only to run into a buzzsaw in Dr. Death. I mean, how often do you see a match end after someone is dropped onto the top rope on their neck?! Watts probably never wants to see Dr. Death ever again; Daddy didn’t do him any favors.
Winners: Sting & “Dr. Death” Steve Williams
THE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCHES
With the field of 8 set for the Battle Bowl Battle Royal, the card shifts into championship mode. The first title up for grabs is the NWA Heavyweight Championship, held by the great Masahiro Chono. This was the big gold belt that eventually came to be fully owned by WCW after 1993.
NWA Heavyweight Championship Match: Masahiro Chono (Champion) vs. The Great Muta (Challenger)
Another big pop for Muta; this crowd is becoming more and more partisan for the Japanese Mist Monster. Lots of joint control and manipulation early on with rapid-fire switches and changes of force. The match is grounded early until Muta starts in with those fluid strikes he was so famous for. Chono effectively keeps the pace slower, which also serves to highlight The Great Muta’s freakishly sudden speed. It’s very much a New Japan-style match, and the crowd isn’t accustomed to it at first. Watching two masters do their thing wins them over, though—Chono is booed out of the building when his vaunted STF proves to be too much for even The Great Muta.
Winner and STILL NWA World Heavyweight Champion: Masahiro Chono
Jim Ross and Jesse Ventura are recapping things when a clean-shaven and clearly pissed-off “Ravishing” Rick Rude crashes the set and launches into a promo about missed championship opportunities and redemption that’s a stark reminder of just how damn good Rude was. Back to the ring…
WCW World Heavyweight Championship Match: Ron Simmons (Champion) vs. “Dr. Death” Steve Williams
If you’ve seen this match, then you know where I’m going with this…the first 5 minutes are a slog of traded shots (most of which look like crap), there are a few too many football spots where moves are done from a three-point stance (both were standout football players in college), and the ending of a double count-out that turns into a DQ for going off the top rope served no purpose and certainly didn’t help push football star, Ron Simmons, as champion. I’m genuinely not sure what they were going for with this match, but it manages to be the worst on the card. The crowd didn’t seem to get it, either.
Winner by DQ and STILL WCW World Heavyweight Champion: Ron Simmons
Unified World Tag Team Championship Match: Shane Douglas & Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat (Champions) vs. Barry Windham & Flyin’ Brian Pillman (Challengers)
This is one of those odd couple matches that are too often less than the sum of their parts. Fortunately, that isn’t the case here as the surprisingly smooth and polished team of Douglas and Steamboat gel wonderfully with Windham and Pillman. Tag team wrestling was a work in progress at that time in WCW, but they were clearly committed to it in a match that featured a lot of heavily physical floor work outside the ring and had Pillman taking an apron-to-railing bump that shows why the wrestlers prefer the big, padded barricades. A sudden and devastating power slam by the deceptively powerful Shane Douglas seals the deal.
Winners and STILL Unified World Tag Team Champions: Shane Douglas & Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat
WHAT THE HELL IS A “KING OF CABLE”?
Next up in this eclectic PPV outing is the final match of the “King of Cable Tournament”, an 8-wrestler tournament to celebrate the 20th anniversary of wrestling on the TBS Superstation. The field consisted of Big Van Vader, Tony Atlas, “The Natural” Dustin Rhodes, The Barbarian, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Barry Windham, Sting, and Flyin’ Brian Pillman. For the record, I seriously have no recollection of this being a thing, and I watched both companies consistently growing up. Furthermore, two tournaments in a single show is such an early ‘90s WCW thing to do.
King of Cable Championship: Big Van Vader (w/ Harley Race) vs. Sting
This is the second match of the night for both men, and each of them will be in the Battle Bowl Battle Royal at the end of the night. That’s no problem for either of these workhorses. Sting and Big Van Vader had one of the defining rivalries of WCW in the early ‘90s, and matches like this are a big reason why. The early going is essentially Vader bodyslamming Sting so many times that you lose count before following up with some straight-up tossing about. Sting is one of the all-time great sellers, and he has plenty of opportunities to do so in this match.
The pairing of Vader and all-time great Harley Race is a great one; Race isn’t afraid to get physical, even at this point in his career, taking a crossbody from the Stinger that also takes out Vader! Sting even takes Vader to an early prototype of Suplex City, showing that legendary power that earned him the nickname “The Icon.” It’s not just Sting, though—this is a better outing for Vader than his match against “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels in 1996 at SummerSlam, and that’s high praise. Vader goes deep into his playbook for a 17-minute classic with a favored rival that’s also the best match on this card by a country mile. Sting turns a Vader flying cross body into a huge power slam for the win.
Winner and the “King of Cable” Champion: Sting
THE BATTLE BOWL BATTLE ROYAL (that’s a lot of battling)
Tony Schiavone interviews Notre Dame and Green Bay Packers legend Paul Hornung to hype up the ring that goes to the winner of the Battle Bowl Battle Royal. With appearances by Hank Aaron and Paul Hornung and the college football subplot, if you will, for the Ron Simmons and Steve Williams match, it’s clear that WCW wanted to push the product in a more legit sports and fighting direction. That direction wouldn’t hold once Ric Flair and, eventually, Hulk Hogan arrived from the WWF, but the flavor makes this an interesting time period in the history of WCW.
8-Man Battle Bowl Battle Royal (Winner Gets the Battle Bowl Ring): Barry Windham vs. “The Natural” Dustin Rhodes vs. The Great Muta vs. Van Hammer vs. Dangerous Dan Spivey vs. “Dr. Death” Steve Williams vs. Big Van Vader vs. Sting
The ring fills and Sting is the last to enter; Vader meets him on that elevated ramp that always ended up as the unofficial brawling zone, and they do just that. The other 6 men in the ring go at it, with Dr. Death eliminating Van Hammer first. Sting and Vader make their respective ways back into the ring, and Sting tosses Dangerous Dan shortly after that. Vader throws caution and all safety to the wind and eliminates himself and Sting! Dr. Death follows that up with a double elimination of his own, taking himself out to eliminate Dustin Rhodes. Tag team partners earlier in the night, Barry Windham and The Great Muta find themselves the last two left in the ring. The final 3 minutes of the match see a red-hot pro-Muta crowd work themselves into a frenzy. Windham appears to have tossed Muta before he “skins the cat” as smoothly as HBK ever could, storming back in and eliminating Windham with a series of vicious back kicks.
Winner and Battle Bowl Champion: The Great Muta
Starrcade 1992 exists in something of a bubble here nearly 30 years later. A shining example of a promotion in transition and needing that transition, it’s a show with some stellar multi-match performances (The Great Muta, Barry Windham, Sting, Big Van Vader) and a different feel than what you’re used to.
Besides, any show that closes with The Great Muta standing tall is still a pretty good show in my book.