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Spring Stampede 1994: The End of an Era

Spring Stampede 1994 is a show that reviewers often say is one of the best PPV’s that WCW ever put on. It’s a fact that’s all the more amazing as the Hogan era of WCW was just beginning to be teased out before it took over completely. The fact that Ric Flair vs. Rick Steamboat was the headline match feels significant in more than one way. But has time been kind to the show? Does it live up to the hype?

Let’s find out!

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I can’t remember many WCW PPV’s starting with the singing of the American National Anthem, but Spring Stampede 1994, after some initial comments from Mean Gene, who is wearing a less than aesthetically pleasing bow tie, we get just that. with Aaron Neville’s retention being nice enough, soulful even. Not sure about the leopard skin print top, though.

Tony Schiavone and Bobby Heenan are your commentators this evening, and ‘The Brain’ can’t wait to see Ric Flair take Ricky Steamboat apart. We’ll have to wait and see…

Johnny B. Badd vs. Diamond Dallas Page (w/The Diamond Doll)

Johnny, complete with red glittery stetson, gets a mixed reaction from the crowd here, while DDP, in terms of his ring gear, looks only one step ahead of being a glorified jobber. It’s amazing to think that three years on from this, Page would be over as hell and taking part in a career-making match with Randy Savage, while Badd would be floundering a little in the WWF.

Badd was fiery and athletic here, pulling out dropkicks and flying headscissors while Page was slower, more methodical, hitting big power moves which actually really looked like they counted. I know that’s what you would expect, by my memory of Page in this period from numerous Worldwide squashes, was that DDP wasn’t particularly good at this point.

DDP tries to pull Johnny B Badd's head off at Spring Stampede 1994

The ending was exciting, with Badd flying over the top rope onto Page on the floor with a pescado, which the crowd loved, followed by a sunset flip from the top rope for the 1-2-3. The crowd popped for that; Johnny had won them over by the end. Badd always deserved better in WCW.

A good opener; short and to the point, with a few exciting moments. Badd and Page would go on to have some better matches against each other in late 95 and early 96.

Afterwards, Jesse Ventura helps Mean Gene plug the WCW Hotline with Gordon Solie, to which Jesse makes the crack that you should call because Solie might not be around much longer to hear again. Ouch! Solie, of course, would die a few years later in July 2000.

WCW World TV Champion Lord Steven Regal (w/Sir William) vs. Flyin’ Brian Pillman

Lord Steven had previously pile driven Flyin’ Brian on the concrete at ringside on an episode of Saturday Night to set this one up. Pillman, as a consequence, starts this one off hot and heavy, attacking Regal in the corner before the bell and overwhelming him with his usual speed and with some real aggression, slapping Regal across the face HARD. It is quite strange though that Pillman should focus on the arm and smash it against the guard rail and the ring post twice when Regal’s left thigh is bandaged and is therefore clearly vulnerable.

Pillman dominates initially, despite absorbing some tough European uppercuts, countering a leapfrog into a capture suplex in a beautiful moment before coming back from a Pillman small package with a variation of an STF. Regal kept the pressure on but Pillman countered a powerbomb attempt with a lovely hurricarana. Regal responds with a Regal Roll before stretching Pillman again in ways the human body shouldn’t stretch. And that’s the story of the match in a lot of ways as Pillman keeps fighting back only for Regal to tie him in knots. It’s beautiful wrestling but it does sap the match of some of the earlier heat it had.

Lord Steven Regal ties up Flyin' Brian Pillman at Spring Stampede 1994

With two minutes to go, Regal caught Pillman’s legs on a dropkick but Pillman flipped Regal out of a Boston Crab attempt in return. Regal made the mistake of going outside of his comfort zone by coming off the second rope, only to be caught by a Pillman dropkick that bought the crowd to life. Rather than go for the pin though, Pillman carried on hitting high-impact moves until Regal pulled them both to the outside. Pillman hits Sir William for good measure then tries to suplex Regal back in as the time limit expires. The crowd does not like that result!

A good match with some lovely wrestling, but the fact that they were clearly working towards the time limit draw in the latter part took away some of the heat, and if they were insistent on a draw, having Pillman hit the dropkick and the time expire at the two count would have done the job better.

Backstage, Mean Gene calls Bunkhouse Buck “a fertilizer salesman” and Colonol Parker tells ‘The Natural’ Dustin Rhodes that he’s about to take a natural whooping. Gene seemed to enjoy that one.

Falls Count Anywhere: WCW World Tag Team Champions The Nasty Boys vs. Cactus Jack & Maxx Payne

This match is legendary and with good reason. Even though WCW, in contrast to the WWF over the same period, had never shied away from putting on rough and ready street fights on their programming, this one amped the violence up further to, if not quite ECW levels, then certainly approaching it. Yes, I’ve seen all sorts of hardcore matches and street fights since, but this one still hits hard because, well, all four men were hitting hard here!

For starters, it feels real spontaneous and not planned out much at all. I’m sure some spots were planned—they’d have to be—but the wildness of the action suggests thinking on the fly, rather than a thought out series of spots, and it works because it feels like a real fight. Adding to that is the genuine viciousness with which they go out at each other. They really don’t hold back. Jerry Saggs seems to have a thing for hitting people with unfolded chairs and at one point, he hits Payne and Jack with incredible stiffness with the chair before unleashing a wild flurry of shots on Jack with a broken pool cue in a manner that I’ve only seen the police do with batons. Those shots are legit hard and evil.

Cactus Jack swings a pool cue at Brian Knobbs

Jack gets revenge later by cracking Saggs in the head with the chair with a stiff shot. Meanwhile, Knobbs flips a merchandise table over on Maxx, but that’s ok because Maxx picks up and just drops him lack a sack of potatoes down onto and through the table. Of course, this being a Mick Foley match, he takes some brutal punishment, such as being Irish whipped into the guard rail and flinging himself over the metal onto the concrete with thunderous force, and Saggs hitting him HARD on the head with a table—repeatedly. That’s ok, because Jack lays Saggs out on the raised rampway WCW used regularly then and suplexed a table right on him! But that’s ok, because Knobbs avenges that by smashing Jack in the head with a shovel! And guess what? That’s ok, because Payne clobbers Knobbs with the shovel in return! My god. This is legitimately crazy.

Meanwhile, Jack tries to piledriver Saggs through the table, but the table breaks. Rather than shit on it, the crowds roar in approval as it just fits in well with the mayhem they’ve so far. And the best was yet to come, as Saggs then just decides to shove Jack—hard—backwards off the ramp straight down to the concrete floor with a sickening bump. He then tops this off with a single, sickening smash of the shovel onto a prone Jack’s head—it looked like an execution. There was no getting up from it either, as Saggs got the pin on Jack to retain the belts.

What a match! A stone-cold, solid, 100% hardcore classic. If you’ve never seen this one, track it down immediately. It’s still got the power to shock and enthral, even after all these years.

WCW U.S. Champion ‘Stunning’ Steve Austin (w/Colonel Robert Parker) vs. The Great Muta

If you were watching Austin during this period, you could imagine he was being groomed for success. Not the ‘Stone Cold’ kind, but at the time of this match, he was relatively fresh from the previous year’s hot run with Brian Pillman as The Hollywood Blondes, and had held the U.S. title since winning it at Starrcade 1993. Muta was well known to WCW fans, having had a major run with the company in 1989, as well having won ‘Battlebowl’ in 1992 and the NWA World Championship in 1993. Muta was used pretty cleverly by WCW; by bringing him in sparingly, they kept his mystique, which in turn ensured he remained a draw when he did appear on American soil.

The Great Muta picks Steve Austin up for the Stun Gun at Spring Stampede 1994

So, with all that said, you might expect this encounter to be some kind of lost classic. Sadly, it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad match per se, it’s just a little…dull. A large part of that seems to be that there is a substantial reliance on so-called rest holds. In the early going, Muta has moments when he explodes with action, but then he returns to the same side headlock on the mat each time, cutting off any momentum or drama the match might have. Austin, once he has control after Parker distracted and attacked Muta, went in turn for the abdominal stretch. Exciting. Muta attempted a comeback but a missed dropkick sees Austin go for the short-lived ‘Hollywood & Vine’ leglock (I honestly don’t remember that one!) but Muta escapes, and finally, this is the Muta fans came to see as he nails a handspring back elbow and a hurricarana off the top as the fans go wild! Just when it looks like things are picking up then, Muta throws Austin over the top rope and…it’s a DQ. What a rubbish ending for a big marquee match!

This was a case of two men not really wanting to be there in the ring, going through the motions. Judging by the body language, I’d say that’s more down to Muta than Austin, but I couldn’t say for certain. What I can say for certain is this match should have been great, but it was merely a disappointment.

Meanwhile, backstage, Dustin tells Bunkhouse Buck that there’s a difference between the T in Tennessee and the T in Texas, before going on to make some metaphor about a possum in a tree. So, Cody got the interview genes then…

WCW International Heavyweight Champion ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude vs. Sting

It amazes me that Rick Rude and Sting had a legendary house show feud through the end of 1991 and through 1992, and yet this was their only singles match on PPV. Crazy when you think about it. Rude comes out brandishing the Big Gold Belt, and boy does he look good with it. Harley Race appears out of nowhere and interrupts Rude’s usual speech to announce Vader wants to face the winner. Vader vs. Rude, now that would have been an interesting encounter. Race can’t help himself and tries to take a cheap shot at Sting. Sting, though, is prepared and cuts Race off before throwing Race into the corner, where he does a sick flip and bumps to the outside. Incredible he was still doing things like that at his age, and they looked good too.

Sting throws a fist at Rick Rude at Spring Stampede 1994

From here though, the match begins to pale against expectations. It’s a shame, but you can tell that Rick Rude’s herniated disks were really disrupting his ability to perform at the amazing level that only 18 months earlier he had been more than capable of. Sting makes up for it with enthusiasm, showing off his athletic and physical prowess, but Rude really struggles on the offence, resorting to chin locks and appearing to even have difficulty with his famous hip swivel. It’s heartbreaking to see, especially when he seems to mess up the landing of something as simple as a backdrop.

There are some missed timing cues near the end which see Rude labour setting up Sting for the Rude Awakening so that Harley Race can enter the ring, Sting can move and Rude can take a weak chair shot to the back for Sting to get the win and claim the International title. On paper, it doesn’t come across as a good match at all. And yet, whether it be nostalgia for simpler times or just subconsciously being lenient because of Rude’s condition, I didn’t hate this. Not a classic by any means, but perhaps just an end of an era.

Bunkhouse Match: ‘The Natural’ Dustin Rhodes vs. Bunkhouse Buck (w/Colonel Parker)

This one came about after Buck had smashed a trophy over Dustin’s head on Saturday Night. It’s basically a good ol’ fashioned come as you are, no DQ match. Dustin is fuming and makes his entrance by running down the ramp and leaping over the top rope with a great flying clothesline before pounding on the helpless Buck. I wish more blood feud matches began with that kind of passion and hatred. Dustin pounds Buck in and around the ring until he misses a flying crossbody and rolls with the momentum right out of the ring and into the guard rail. Nice! Buck then ramps up the violence by breaking a length of wood over Dustin’s head in a vicious spot, then jabbing Dustin in the head with one of the halves, splitting Dustin open. Buck finds time amongst all of this to make friends with the audience, calling someone a ‘silly bastard,’ which I’m sure Turner were thrilled about…

Dustin’s selling is great throughout; it’s almost at Henning-level as he flips around for a Buck clothesline on the ramp before getting throttled with Buck’s suspenders. He’s also bleeding a gusher, though not at Double or Nothing ’19 levels. Dustin brings out the powder to the eyes; Buck brings out some nasty belt shots. Ouch! Eventually, Dustin gets Buck strewn across the top rope and lays in some big kicks and a bionic elbow before wrapping his belt around his fist and cracking Buck right between the eyes, and Buck’s bleeding now too.

Dustin Rhodes mounts Bunkhouse Buck and nails him with the Bionic Elbow

A boot heel from the top rope, hard belt shots to the exposed back, and a bionic elbow to the outside batter Buck, and a bulldog nearly finishes things until Colonel Parker distracts Dustin from the outside. He suplexes Parker in for his trouble and gives him a few shots with the belt for good measure, allowing Buck to go for a sneaky roll-up for a near fall. An exchange of fists sees Dustin come out the better of it, but The Colonel slips Buck a knuckle duster (why sneak it? It was a no DQ match) and one hard shot to the head later, Bunkhouse Buck is your winner!

This was just a great, bloody, old-school brawl and was all the better for it. Dustin worked his ass off and Buck was a solid foil. The result may have seemed a little deflating for fans at the time, but it did allow the feud to continue, taking in a bull rope match at Slamboree, a tag match at Bash at the Beach, and culminating in War Games at Fall Brawl. An underrated classic—this one is well worth seeking out!

Meanwhile, backstage, Rick Rude is furious and shouts at Jesse Ventura that he needed no help. Vader appears and shouts back that Rude that he wasn’t the man he was supposed to be, leading to a nice little pull-apart moment. That was intriguing; imagine a Rude face turn to feud with Vader! Yet, only three weeks later, Rude would get hurt yet again, this time in Japan against Sting, and his in-ring career would be over for good…

The Boss vs. Big Van Vader (w/Harley Race)

This was a grudge match between two big horses who just didn’t like each other and wanted to fight for supremacy. Works for me. Again, we have a nice heated start with The Boss running out onto the ramp as Vader makes his entrance to attack from the off. See how that adds excitement and heat? The Boss gets the better of it and Harley gets squashed, bless him—he was never afraid to take a bump, even in his older years.

The Boss runs riot over Vader, but the Mastadon takes over on the ramp, collapsing Boss with some STIFF shots. Then, in an impressive sight, Vader runs down the ramp and leaps over the top rope for a splash.  A shame for him then that The Boss got his knees up. It’s not often that you see Vader get Irish whipped into a guard rail and he flips right over it like a lightweight, but that’s exactly what happened here. Vader’s being really generous in putting The Boss over and it’s great to see; he could have guarded his position as the premier big man with more jealousy if he chose to, but he was very giving here.

A bloody Vader hails the crowd at Spring Stampede 1994

Case in point: The Boss nails Vader with a massive body slam. Nice. Vader fights back with punches and he appears to be bleeding from the mouth and definitely the eye. This doesn’t stop hi from throwing The Boss over the top rope and to the floor with a scary backdrop. Thank God The Boss was able to grab the ropes on his way down to steady himself. Vader unleashes his stiff as hell strikes in the corner but The Boss responds with a belly to back suplex and smashes Vader with a forearm. Vader throws a clothesline of his own and it echoes! That eye is looking nasty, though. Vader goes up top for the moonsault or Vader Bomb, but The Boss throws him off before fumbling a superplex attempt off the top so it looks more like a DDT.

A leap from the top saw The Boss caught by a Vader power slam but he was able in turn to kick out of a Vader Bomb. So Vader takes it further and goes up top for the moonsault and he nails it! Three slaps of the mat later, and Vader is your winner. Wow. This was a great big man match, with both men just pounding the snot out of each other. The cut on Vader’s eye legitimised The Boss as an actual contender to Vader and Vader himself, although the winner, helped to make The Boss look good here. Great stuff.

Bockwinkel Lays The Law Down on The Boss

I’ve never actually found out if the WWF was threatening legal action, or if WCW just got scared. Either way, they decided to run this angle and it wasn’t too bad, actually.

After the match, Harley Race tries to handcuff The Boss to the ropes, but The Boss fights Race and Vader off before beating Race with the nightstick with some hard shots. Commissioner Nick Bockwinkel steps in to prevent Vader from killing The Boss in retaliation and escorts The Boss out. Backstage, Bockwinkel, who was a fine speaker in his prime and was right for the Commissioner role in ’94, tells The Boss that, well, he’s no longer the boss and is having his nightstick and handcuffs taken away because, while he sympathises with The Boss, he also can’t act that way. The Boss storms off and there you have it. Bockwinkel has the power to strip gimmicks off people!

Saying that, it was done in a convincing way that didn’t mess with kayfabe particularly and Bockwinkel was eloquent in his speech. Shortly, The Boss would return as another law enforcer as the Guardian Angel, and by the end of the year would return to his Big Bubba Rogers gimmick. It did Ray Traylor no harm, but it’s certainly a curious moment.

WCW World Heavyweight Champion ‘The Nature Boy’ Ric Flair vs. Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat

What is left to be said about Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat? They had perhaps one of the greatest rivalries of all time, the pinnacle of which was their trilogy of matches in 1989 which saw them exchange the NWA World Heavyweight Championship between each other. Indeed, it was in Chicago that Steamboat beat Flair for the title, which adds some weight to their match here.

I can’t describe this match hold for hold—I don’t have enough words! But I will make some observations. First, this is a match between two veterans who might not be as on top of their game as they once were, but they’re still a hell of a lot ahead of most other people’s games. The way they build the match up from slow, technical mat work and a prolonged feeling out process to a faster-paced edge-of-your-seat desperate tussle for the title is something to behold. Case in point: the crowd are sitting in respectful silence for the first ten minutes or so of the match, By the end of it, the crowd are exploding for every near-fall, especially a Steamboat roll-up counter to a figure four attempt that saw a very close two count. People were on their feet!

Secondly, it’s usually the case that Flair loses his temper and starts to brawl first. Here, it was Steamboat who lost his temper, early in the match as well as he slapped Flair right across the face, much to ‘The Nature Boy’s surprise. Flair more than made up for it later, directing Nick Patrick out of the way so he could hit Steamboat with illicit closed fists, and the blistering chops were much in evidence, but it was fascinating to see Steamboat crack first—it showed how much the title still means to him.

Ricky Steamboat holds Ric Flair up in the double chicken wing at Spring Stampede 1994

Thirdly, the fact that Flair and Steamboat knew each other so well allowed them to play nicely off each other’s moves. Steamboat countered a Flair knee drop by grabbing the leg and locking Flair in a figure four of his own. Steamboat manages to block the figure four momentarily, but Flair persists and eventually gets the move locked in. Counters to counters; this pair at their best were a class apart.

Steamboat goes for the double chicken wing, the move he used to win the title in Chicago five years previous, but it’s a double pin situation and Nick Patrick awards the title to Flair, with Nick Bockwinkel stating he would have to talk to WCW’s board of directors about the controversy. It’s a little bit of a cheap ending, but ultimately it doesn’t detract from a genuinely great match. Does it live up to the standards of the 1989 trilogy? Not quite, no, but it’s still a hell of a match and proved that both men still had a hell of a lot to give. That Steamboat would be retired by the end of the year and Flair would be off TV whilst WCW became the Hulk Hogan show makes this match, Steamboat’s last PPV headline match, all the more beautiful and bittersweet.

Final Thoughts

Spring Stampede 1994 ultimately does live up to the hype, if not without criticisms. Muta-Austin is a real disappointment and pretty damn dull, and Sting-Rude is a shadow of the match they could have had 18 months previously, but outside of that, you get two solid openers in Badd-DDP and Pillman-Regal, one of the best hardcore bouts ever between The Nasty Boys and Cactus Jack and Maxx Payne, a hell of a Bunkhouse brawl between Bunkhouse Bunk and Dustin Rhodes, a great big man match between Vader and The Boss and another classic from Flair and Steamboat. It almost seems churlish to complain about the two lesser matches.

Certainly, Spring Stampede 1994 is in the top ten of WCW PPV’s and was the best WCW PPV at the time since Beach Blast ’92.

Spring Stampede 1994 also functions as the end of an era. Hulk Hogan had already signed and was being featured on WCW programming in segments with Mean Gene to build enthusiasm for his debut proper. He even casts a shadow over Spring Stampede, with Bobby Heenan trying to brush off comments from Tony Schiavone that Flair was concerned about Hogan. Soon, all Hogan’s charisma-less friends would be riot running over WCW cards, but here was proof that, if WCW had the production levels and promotional saturation that WWF had, then they could have had more of a fighting chance to offer Vince competition without the need for Hogan. By the evidence of this show, they clearly had the talent and could get the booking right when they tried.

Furthermore, as mentioned before, Steamboat and Flair would both be in very different positions by the year’s end. This would be the last time, even in the heyday of the Nitro years, that such a technical, dare I say pure, display of professional wrestling would headline a WCW PPV. You could even say this match was the last hurrah of the classic NWA style of main event wrestling in WCW.

The end of an era indeed then. A much-recommended show.

Written by Chris Flackett

Chris Flackett is a writer for 25YL who loves Twin Peaks, David Lynch, great absurdist literature and listens to music like he's breathing oxygen. He lives in Manchester, England with his beautiful wife, three kids and the ghosts of Manchester music history all around him.

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