DECEMBER 18, 2002: AIRTIME #50
The landmark 50th edition of WCW AirTime could be the last. This Sunday at Starrcade, the cruiserweight division will be abolished altogether – the titles, the weight class and this cruiserweight-orientated TV show – if Sports Entertainment Xtreme win two eight-man tags that would give Vince Russo 100% control of WCW in two straight of a best-of-three series.
Even if WCW lose the series 2-1, it’s hard to imagine a Russo ownership being too kind to a genre he has shown nothing but contempt since the day he was given power in professional wrestling and AirTime may be left to struggle until executives give up and pull the plug anyway.
Whatever happens, Ric Flair has, according to WCW.com, given the cruiserweight roster creative licence to make this 50th episode a memorable one, just in case it is indeed all downhill from here. Adding to the show’s special feeling is an in-ring appearance from Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, who challenges AJ Styles for the cruiserweight title at the PPV.
Taped on December 17, along with the following Nitro, in Orlando.
We began with a Four Corners Dream Partner bout, as the four men competing in Ultimate X on Sunday each picked their own partner before they go at it singles-style on Sunday in the innovative and dangerous contest at the PPV.
With Jushin Liger handpicking Kaz Hayashi as his opponent for later tonight, Tajiri recruited the other Jung Dragon, Jimmy Yang. Super Crazy gave impressive rookie The Amazing Red an opportunity alongside him. Psicosis picked compatriot, friend and famous former rival Rey Mysterio while Juventud Guerrera selected from the very top shelf and brought with him the cruiserweight champ himself, AJ Styles!
The action was very difficult to keep up with and made for a breathtaking start to the show in what is now trademark AirTime fashion. The finish came when Yang spiked Styles with Yang Time, only for Psicosis to come off the top and hit Jimmy with the Guillotine Legdrop mid-cover. Psicosis then covered Yang for the fall after 12:22 of pulsating wrestling, scoring a psychological edge heading into Starrcade over his three opponents.
We are treated to a highlight reel looking at the very best moments of the first year of AirTime, including clips of some amazing and very innovative matches.
Brian Kendrick was set to go one-on-one with American Dragon next, but Kendrick ended up with a nasty surprise. He attacked Dragon as soon as he rushed down to the ring, only to see one Bryan Danielson sat in the front row. Kendrick screamed that Bryan wasn’t allowed in WCW, but it appeared Danielson on this occasion had a ticket like any fan who pays their money to be there. The confusion allowed Dragon to hit Kendrick with a beautiful dropkick and a Shooting Star Press for the pin in just 1:34. Dragon unmasked afterwards to reveal… Paul London!
As London headed to the back, happy to have got one over his rival, Kendrick grabbed a mic and said this proves American Dragon is Bryan Danielson and he wants both fired for good. Interim Commissioner Ric Flair joins London on the stage and says Dragon doesn’t seem to have signed into the building at all, despite being booked to wrestle, so while Kendrick could be right there’s no proof that it’s definitely the case.
Ric does say, however, that when he advertises someone he expects them to be there and he like the fans want to see this saga end so, on the Starrcade pre-show, Dragon vs Kendrick will happen properly. And to ensure no trickery, Paul London must be at ringside for the match.
If Dragon wins, Bryan Danielson can return to WCW, since he never signed off on two top young talents putting their careers on the line and never would have if he was in full-time charge. But, if Kendrick wins, Dragon will unmask and regardless of who it is, Bryan Danielson will not return to WCW at all.
The commentators plug the hour-long free Starrcade pre-show that has that match as well as David Kash vs Jamie Knoble and the Jung Dragons vs Siaki and Bentley.
Finally, Kaz Hayashi made his way to the ring followed by his opponent, to a huge reception and entrance, Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger! Hayashi was competitive enough and even displayed a bit of a mean streak trying to keep the legendary Liger down in their exhibition, but the masked man ralied and ran through some of his trademark moves before a palm strike set up a running Liger Bomb in 9:55.
Liger requested, and eventually received, a handshake from his beaten opponent after the bout, as Tajiri and Yang joined their Team Japan comrades in the ring with their trophy where they took one more bow on the show that helped make the World Cup happen.
The Team Japan posing was stopped by the music of AJ Styles, who came out clutching his title belt with one hand and a sore neck with the other. He approached the ring and stopped on the walkway just short of the ropes.
Liger nodded to his team-mates and they exited the ring… except Yang, who walked up to Styles and stared him down, seemingly still frustrated a huge pin on the singles champ was dashed by Psicosis earlier on. Styles, still feeling Yang Time, returned the staredown until Kaz and Tajiri talked Yang away.
AJ then entered the ring and went face-to-face with Liger in what on this occasion was a non-physical confrontation ahead of Starrcade.
The 50th AirTime concluded with the commentary team thanking us for tagging along for the ride, whether it continues after tonight or not, and no matter how it may end up continuing.
DECEMBER 21, 2002: SATURDAY NITRO #85
Starrcade has all but taken shape, with the huge four-hour show just one day away. While we’re expecting the PPV to answer several important questions regarding the future of the company and its champions, we also have a few things as-yet unanswered going into the big weekend.
Who will replace Low Ki on WCW’s cruiserweight squad, after the brutal assault to leading candidate Jorge Estrada? Who will Vince Russo name as the fourth man in the second match? Will Booker T indeed join Sting’s crusade to join WCW’s leading company men together, or will he be forced to look elsewhere? And who will accept Lance Storm’s open challenge to battle Team Canada on the show?
We begin with the arrival of Ric Flair, the man in charge of matchmaking until Starrcade has come and gone and the fate of WCW has been decided. He welcomes us to Starrcade weekend and says he just wanted to tell everybody watching it has been a pleasure putting together what he hopes will be an all-time great Starrcade, and an opportunity for him to do the right thing in a position of power in WCW at the third attempt.
That brings him to a message he has for the winner tomorrow and the man who ends up in 100% control: as tempting as it may be to let the power get to your head, please do not make the same mistakes Flair made in 1999 and 2001, or the same mistakes both Bischoff and Russo have made themselves more than once.
Flair says WCW is in a great place with phenomenal talent and he would love to see them get their chance to become as big a name as a Sting, a Goldberg, a DDP or a Booker T. When the crowd chants Flair’s name, he relents and adds his name to that list. He says enjoy the show, enjoy Starrcade and he hopes we all enjoy WCW in 2003 and beyond. He’s set up an opening match with a bit of a twist for us all to enjoy.
That match is a six-man tag with unique casting, as Billy Kidman teamed with Jerry Lynn and Christian York to face Guido Maritato, Shannon Moore and Christopher Daniels. Featuring a first-time combination of WCW representatives and a first-time combination of SEX representatives, the fast-paced opener inevitably led to Elix Skipper, Tony Marinera, Joey Matthews and Rey Mysterio all being ejected for brawling at ringside.
That left Shane Helms, however, and WCW being a man short for their high-stakes cruiserweight eight-man at the PPV allowed Helms to stick around on the down-low until York had Moore in trouble. Shane dropped Christian’s neck across the top rope from the apron and Shannon pounced with Bottom’s Up for the fall at 7:17.
Not only could a fourth team member such as Jorge Estrada have intercepted Helms’ interference there, but Lynn himself was particularly rueful that he has been without backup much of the time during his war against SEX and the New Church.
We cut to Ric Flair’s office, where he’s watching the action on a nearby screen. Vince Russo strolls in confidently and boasts about his men’s start to the evening, proclaiming that his model of a cruiserweight wrestler will thrive in his new-look WCW after Starrcade. He then says he’d seriously consider keeping Flair on as matchmaker, since he’s been doing such a great job so far. Ric implores him to cut the ass-kissing and get to his point.
Russo says he wants to apologise for antagonising Flair in the past and that he understands why Flair would want five minutes in the ring with him at the PPV, but he hopes that when SEX destroy the possibility of that ever happening they can be friends and work together. “Didn’t you try to fire me in September?” Flair asks.
Russo “swears tah gawd” that was just a misunderstanding, then adds that while he’s here, he wanted to enquire about WCW’s fourth cruiserweight team member. He heard Flair is allowing them to keep it a mystery until the match itself, but asks Flair to divulge the name “in the interest of fairness”. Flair asks if he really means so he can send his boys to take out another wrestler.
Vince swears to… well, you get the drift… that he did not mandate those attacks and that his men are just super ruthless and ready to redefine the division from the ground up. Ric then points out that he is keeping a member of his heavyweight team under wraps until the PPV, so it’s even. Oh, and while Vince is here, Flair wants him to sign paperwork drawn up by Turner that ensures neither he or Bischoff can immediately just fire a bunch of people they don’t like if they win tomorrow. Russo reacts to the news, but Flair shows him that Eric has already signed. Russo reluctantly signs and leaves.
We cut to Sting walking into a locker room, where the camera picks up Diamond Dallas Page sitting down… and then Goldberg not too far along. Page cuts through Sting’s greetings and wants to know what was up with Sting trying to recruit Booker T.
Sting says Book is the missing piece of the jigsaw, the man to help them win tomorrow. Goldberg points out what Booker has done to him, to Page and even to Sting. He even walked away while they got their asses kicked last week. Sting says there’s a reason he walked away, in Booker’s own mind.
It’s the same reason Booker has acted the way he has for a year and a half, Sting claims. And he wants DDP and Bill to come with him in a little bit because they’re going to fix it. “Booker is one of us,” Sting concludes, “he just doesn’t realise it yet.”
Mark Jindrak is accompanied by Mike Sanders for his singles match with Curt Hennig. The SEX man weathers a strong start from the veteran before catching him with a big boot and taking over. During his period of control, however, the music of Jeff Jarrett hits and JJ comes racing down after Sanders, who flees through the crowd with Jarrett in hot pursuit. The distraction takes Jindrak out of the match long enough to turn around into a sharp knee to the midsection and the Hennigplex for three in 4:42.
Soon after the bell, the Sanders/Jarrett chase continues as ‘Above Average’ leaps up onto the stage after running the entire circuit of the arena. Jeff follows and chases across the stage after him – and right into a spinebuster from CW Anderson, who popped out from the curtain at just the right time. CW and Sanders stand over Jarrett as he clutches his already-damaged, now much worse midsection.
A pre-tape features Jamie Knoble warning David Kash that it went without saying who led their tag team, and if he has to demonstrate it physically and put Kash on the shelf with the likes of Evan Karagias to be able to move on from him, he will.
We then get a video package documenting RVD as WCW champion, a reign that was ended unjustly by a New Church assault that put him out for months until Van Dam returned to stick it to the faction at Victory Road. He goes one-on-one with the man who injured him, Malice, tomorrow in a No Holds Barred match.
Jushin Liger made his return to Nitro, winning a six-man tag alongside the Jung Dragons to defeat AJ Styles and the Maximos. Liger crushed Jose with an Avalanche Brainbuster in 8:43, though an interesting part of the match moments before the finish saw Yang pin AJ’s shoulders down to the mat for more than three seconds, only to discover that Jose had blind tagged in first.
When Liger was celebrating, Styles blindsided him with a springboard forearm and rolled out to the ramp. The challenger’s reputation and form appear to finally be getting to the man who has held the cruiser division on his shoulders for much of the last year.
Booker T is warming up backstage when he suddenly finds himself surrounded by Sting, DDP and Goldberg. Expecting a beatdown, Booker asks them if that’s really how they’re going to go about their business. Sting says, actually, he is here to apologise. This confuses Booker.
Sting says through the 90s, Booker was a homegrown WCW star. In the late 90s, Eric Bischoff-led politics got in his way. In 2000, he made it to the top… and the Vince Russos of the world undermined it. The company survived extinction in 2001 and Booker was the face of the company, only for new stars to come through and take some of the spotlight, just as Book did to guys like him, Page and Goldberg.
He says he realises that Booker feels like his time on top has been cut short unjustly and his legacy hasn’t been given the same respect as guys like the three of them. Book, after a pause, says maybe that’s the case… but why does he think three guys who got what they wanted who just want a tag partner to save their asses apologising means anything to him?
“How about from me?” says the voice of Eric Bischoff, who enters the frame. Eric says everything Sting said is right. Booker’s name should be up there with the legends of WCW and Book has every reason to feel like he has been denied that. So, he just wanted to say sorry himself, and thank you. Thank you for helping WCW through its toughest periods. He says Sting could have a number of people in that fourth slot, but he wants Booker T because Booker’s name is up there with DDP, Goldberg and Sting. Booker looks across all of them, sighs and walks off.
Ric Flair is once again visited by Vince Russo, who moans about Flair apparently denying his application for Stacy Keibler to have a manager’s licence for the three major matches at Starrcade. Flair says Keibler has been a Trojan horse for Russo several times in the past and there will be no seconds for the three high-stakes matches except Vince and Eric themselves. Russo flies off the handle a little, saying he’s trying to be reasonable but Flair is screwing him like he always does. Russo storms out.
Lance Storm leads Team Canada to the ring and says no American has the guys to accept his challenge for tomorrow night. He’s cut off by Dustin Rhodes, who says if Storm’s issuing challenges then they can fight right now. The big Texan then lands a right hand leading to…
…Rhodes beating Storm by DQ in 6:49 when Team Canada jumps in for the beatdown. Kanyon, who has been subject to similar in the past, runs down but 2-to-4 remains a struggle until Los Guerreros even the odds and force Lance to call a retreat. Kanyon gets the mic and says it looks like there are four Americans up for the challenge.
We see Russo backstage, pacing and fretting about things. He then finds himself confronted by Shane Douglas, who asks Russo when he was planning on telling him he’s already got a mystery partner for Starrcade and the fourth spot is spoken for. Before Vince can respond, in comes Glenn Gilbertti raving about Stacy Keibler being his choice for a manager. As the two moan at Russo simultaneously, he simply storms off.
Sean O’Haire teamed with America’s Most Wanted to face Ken Shamrock, Simon Diamond and Johnny Swinger with no Glenn Gilbertti around. That hole in the tag champs’ usual repertoire was somewhat fixed by a run-in by Chuck Palumbo that broke up a Death Sentence attempt on Diamond for the DQ at 8:02. O’Haire and Shamrock’s first interaction took place during the match but did not go beyond a stalemate – though Ken did level his challenger with the WCW title belt during the post-match kerfuffle.
We see Eric Bischoff leading a pep talk to the WCW roster, telling them that no matter how unbearable Russo has ever become, no matter what the Herds, the Watts’s and even the Bischoffs have told them, the WCW wrestlers have always gone out to the ring with dignity and determination.
He tells them whatever happens tomorrow, he’s proud of them for coming this far and he’s proud of himself for sticking around long enough to see them all do this well. He finishes by telling them to stand up for their beliefs at Starrcade – no regrets. As the room cheers and chants, the camera picks up one Booker T stood in the doorway, trying to stay out of sight but listening intently.
Our main event featured two members of Team WCW against two from Team SEX ahead of the big eight-man tomorrow, as Sting teamed with DDP against BG James and Sean Waltman. The two ‘degenerates’ worked over Page until the Icon tagged in, but his Stinger Splash spree was cut short by Scott Hall blatantly pulling Waltman out of the way for the DQ in 8:29 as the three men started their beatdown of the faces.
Of course, this brought out Goldberg and he tore through the three with clotheslines only to be nailed with a chain-wrapped fist by Shane Douglas as he crouched in the corner near the walkway for a Spear.
The crowd began to chant for ‘Booker T’… and they got their wish as Booker, looking deadly serious and pretty certain about where he stands, marched out and began laying waste to the SEXers.
Eventually, the rest of Team WCW regained their composure and sent Hall, Waltman and James packing – leaving Douglas to eat a Stinger Splash, Ax Kick and Spear before bring dragged up by the others for a Diamond Cutter.
The four men who bleed WCW united in the ring with almost a superhero-like group handshake of sorts. If WCW is to survive the Russo reign of terror after tomorrow night at Starrcade, this could indeed be the team to make it happen.
However, before we can go off the air we cut to Ric Flair’s office, where the interim commish is laid out on the floor with a bunch of broken objects from his desk beside him.
A pair of shoes and the end of a baseball bat enter the frame… and it pans up to show Vince Russo, looking like his last nerve has evaporated, who tells Flair he warned him to be fair.
Final Starrcade 2002 card:
- Fight For Control Match #3, WCW World title: Ken Shamrock (c) vs Sean O’Haire
- Fight For Control Match #2: Sting, Goldberg, DDP and Booker T vs Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, BG James and ?
- Fight For Control Match #1: Rey Mysterio, Kidman, Jerry Lynn & ? vs Triple X & The Rejected
(Whichever side wins two out of three Fight For Control Matches will win 100% ownership for either Eric Bischoff (WCW) or Vince Russo (SEX). If WCW wins the FFC series in two straight, Ric Flair gets 5mins with Vince Russo. If SEX wins the FFC series in two straight, the cruiserweight division will be abolished)
- WCW World tag titles, steel cage match: Simon & Swinger (c) vs America’s Most Wanted
- WCW United States title: Ron Killings (c) vs Ernest ‘The Cat’ Miller
- WCW Cruiserweight title: AJ Styles (c) vs Jushin Liger
- WCW Cruiserweight tag titles: Full Blooded Italians (c) vs York and Matthews
(The titles can change hands on a count-out or DQ. If Y&M lose, they will leave WCW.)
- Ultimate X: Juventud Guerrera vs Psicosis vs Super Crazy vs Tajiri
- Bunkhouse Brawl for a WCW title shot: Jeff Jarrett vs CW Anderson
- No Holds Barred: Rob Van Dam vs Malice
- Open Challenge: Team Canada vs Dustin Rhodes, Chris Kanyon & Los Guerreros
Next time: Starrcade 2002 – Winner Takes All! Who will end the year as 100% owner of World Championship Wrestling?