It's October again, and that means we make our annual effort to celebrate HALLOWEEN HAVOK. After all these years, it seems like most wrestling related content that falls under the month of October has been covered, with the obvious choice being the WCW Pay-Per-View series, "Halloween Havoc", which ran from 1989 through 2000. If you were a casual fan growing up during the days where WCW was still operational, you probably knew the reputation of Halloween Havoc, and how most shows featured some of the most illogical and confusing booking decisions of all time (fake Stings, the Sumo Monster Truck Match, Hogan vs. Warrior II, SPIN THE WHEEL, MAKE THE DEAL). I could probably go into detail for hours about all these bone-headed blunders, but I won't. No, today we're only going to focus on one Halloween Havoc Pay-Per-View, the 1994 edition that was broadcast on October 23rd from the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, MI.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, this isn't going to be a traditional recap of a wrestling show. I'm not going to go match-by-match with detailed play-by-play. No, we're going to hit the WABAC machine (god, if this wasn't a dated reference 20-years ago, it certainly is now) and find ourselves looking at the show through the eyes of what was an innocent 10-year old boy who was, at heart, a heavy supporter of the World Wrestling Federation. The Summer of 1994 marked the launch of the WWF's "New Generation" campaign, burying guys like Hulk Hogan as relics from another time along the lines of the Wright Brothers airplanes. As someone who only kept up with WCW occasionally (our access with severely limited without TBS provided by our cable company), it was easy to buy into what the WWF was selling. They didn't have the star power they once had, but the wrestlers were more athletic and younger (or in some cases, appeared younger than they were). The WCW roster had plenty of recognizable names, quite a few of them former stars in the WWF, looking a little older, and it was easy to label them the old timer's WWF at this point in history.
As I mentioned before, we weren't regular viewers of WCW. The last time I honestly remembered keeping up with them on a regular basis was the Spring/Summer of 1991, with one of my last memories of the company being the infamous Great American Bash and the ludicrous "Capture the Flag Scaffold Match" that opened the show. We'd buy the occasional issue of "Pro Wrestling Illustrated", but that only covered so much, and we weren't heavy into purchasing the publication until the mid-90's, so it wasn't like there was that much information consumed between viewings. Here we were 3 years later, in the lull for the WWF between SummerSlam and Survivor Series, and someone thought the advertised Main Event of Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair was enough to justify purchasing a non-WWF show. I know we're 25 years removed, but I can honestly say I had no idea what the card was for the show going into that night, nor did I specifically ask for the show. All I knew was we were getting Hogan vs. Flair in a Steel Cage/Retirement Match, and the rest would be penciled in as we got deeper into the night.
Before the Pay-Per-View began properly, we were treated to the 30-minute Countdown. Over the years, the concept of the pre-show has changed drastically, sometimes year after year. In the case of Halloween Havoc '94, the pre-show was partially a simulcast of WCW's "Main Event" (something I figured out years later, since, again, didn't have TBS in 1994), their regularly scheduled Sunday night programming. There's the usual fluff you'd expect from the show trying to hard-sell a Pay-Per-View at the last minute, but there's two notable segments that stuck with me: 1.) An honest-to-goodness wrestling match, between Booker T of Harlem Heat and Brian Armstrong, the youngest of the famous Armstrong family. No, it wasn't a "good" match, but in recent months, the WWF Countdown shows would tease us with matches that happened before the PPV, but never committed to letting the home viewers enjoy it, too. 2.) Two hype videos for Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan. This shouldn't be that memorable, but the video really puts over Ric Flair, almost to legendary babyface levels, highlighting his career, both as an in-ring technician and larger-than-life character. Hogan's, however, came off as second-rate and lackluster, and did nothing to sell the WCW audience that he was the babyface of the feud. Years later, I discovered the music used for Flair's video was used as entrance music by the infamous Arachnaman (Brad Armstrong under a mask, doing a blatant, BLATANT, Spider-Man knock-off).
Kicking off the Pay-Per-View properly, Johnny B. Badd defending the Television Championship against THE HONKYTONK MAN. Oh man, what a way to start your big event. Watching a WCW program for the first time in god knows how long, I didn't know what to expect from the roster, and seeing Wayne Ferris out there doing his gimmick almost 4-years removed from his last WWF appearance felt a little out of place. He also looked a lot older, adding a shoulder strap to his tights, a telling sign for an aging wrestler/wrestlers with physiques that aren't at peak appearance. I never got the TV Title concept, and I don't think it ever had consistent rules. Here, we were informed of a 10-minute time limit, and they were counting it down almost immediately, telegraphing they were going the distance. The match wasn't much, either as a 9-year old viewing it or presently as an adult. Why the heel challenger would work a slow-paced match with such a short window of time never made sense, but here we go with a very poor match to open a major show, with a non-finish, featuring a guy who was working without a contract. Eric Bischoff, years later, has gone on record that firing Ferris was one of his favorite terminations. (Match Rating: DUD)
Second on the card, and our second championship match of the night, the team of "Stars and Stripes" (Marcus Alexander Bagwell and The Patriot) defended the Tag Team Titles against "Pretty Wonderful" (Paul Orndorff and Paul Roma). I'm sure I've seen Bagwell once or twice before this, but he was a completely fresh act to me in 1994, as was The Patriot (Del Wilkes). I honestly had little memory of Paul Orndorff in the WWF, with my only knowledge based on WWF publications like the History of WrestleMania. Roma was easily the person I recognized the most, almost entirely based on his run with Hercules as "Power and Glory." Since he wasn't a big star or title holder, I didn't look down on him like I did other former WWF stars. I found it very odd, even in 1994, that they mentioned Bagwell's reign as co-holder of the titles at the same time the year before with 2 Cold Scorpio, who was long gone from the company at this point. After the stinker of an opener, it was refreshing to get a decent match that had the crowd a little more into it, although at times it seemed like they were more into the heels than faces (to be fair, one of the faces is Marcus Bagwell). Odd how we never get a proper hot tag from Stars and Stripes, but the finish included the Patriot illegally entering the ring for an extended period. Bagwell seemed to have the match won, trapping Orndorff in a fisherman suplex, but an elbow from Roma off the top rope was the deciding factor in crowning new Champions. Don't worry, Stars and Stripes would regain the belts a couple of months later. (Match Rating: **1/2)
One of the more memorable angles of 1994 is arguably the rivalry between brothers Bret and Owen Hart. The same cannot be said of the feud between "brothers" Kevin and Dave (a.k.a. Evad) Sullivan. I don't know where to begin with this one, because it was stupid 25 years ago, too. To try and keep it as simple as possible, Kevin looked down on Dave for becoming obsessed with Hulk Hogan. His relationship with the Hulkster included being gifted a new robe, "the magic slippers" (the recycling of Hogan's relationship with Hillbilly Jim, but this time it's the boots Hogan wore to defeat Andre the Giant), and AWFUL, AWFUL THEME MUSIC. If you've never heard "I Want to Be a Hulkamaniac", consider yourself lucky. It's possibly the worst piece of music ever written, and to this day, my brother and I mock it whenever mid 90's WCW becomes the topic of conversation. At this point, my only knowledge of Kevin Sullivan was that he was a selectable wrestler in WCW World Championship Wrestling on the NES and was one of the easier opponents to defeat. Did I mention how stupid, stupid, STUPID this "brother vs. brother" bullshit is, and seemed like a cheap rip-off of a WWF angle? With all that out of the way, the match barely goes 5-minutes, it stinks, and ends with Kevin being counted-out. We're three matches into a major PPV, and two matches have had terrible finishes. (Match Rating: DUD)
With the show one-hour deep, we finally have something to really look forward to, the continuation of the rivalry between Dustin Rhodes and Arn Anderson that was set up several months ago when Dustin, seeking a partner to combat Col. Parker's Stud Stable, enlisted Anderson, then a babyface, but a long-time nemesis of the Rhodes family, to help. Suffice to say, the decision wasn't the best made, and led to Anderson turning heel. At ringside, in Anderson's corner, was not only his manager, Robert Parker (the Tennessee Stud, Robert Fuller), but MENG, the man formerly known as Haku in the WWF, doing a bodyguard type-gimmick that years later dawn on me was a rehash of the Big Bubba Rogers push, which at the time, was an unknown angle to me. I'm sure 9-year old me tried to draw comparisons to Virgil, but I'm not 100% sure). At the time, I don't remember appreciating the match much, probably since I wasn't familiar with Dustin, and I didn't watch the TV, so I had no investment in the story. Watching it years later with more knowledge of the angle and appreciation of the workers, it's a damn fine match that falls just shy of being great. Rhodes scored the victory with a surprise roll-up, but was left laying immediately afterwards with a DDT. This seems to leave the door open for more matches, but Anderson was shuffled into the TV Title picture and Dustin was paired with newcomer "The Blacktop Bully" (Barry Darsow, formerly Smash and Repo Man in the WWF). (Match Rating: ***1/2)
As we pass the midway point of the show, we're treated to our third of four Championship matches, this time with the United States Title on the line. We're reminded that last month, at Fall Brawl, that "Stunning" Steve Austin was awarded the Championship when reigning Champion, Ricky Steamboat, relinquished the belt due to an injury (and thus ended his career, except for a short return to action 15 years later). In a surprise move, Austin was forced to defend the title against... "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, absent from mainstream wrestling for a year after a 6-year run with the WWF. Duggan immediately pinned Austin for the title, making it one more titles overall held in WCW than he held in the WWF. More fuel to our anti-WCW fire, where a career goofball like Duggan was suddenly holding WCW's equivalent of the Intercontinental Title. Duggan defended the title against Austin on this show, and it was an OK match, marred by ANOTHER TERRIBLE FINISH, with Duggan dumped over the top rope for a Disqualification. Yes, WCW, in 1994, was still doing the over-the-top-rope DQ gimmick, and on PPV. If you're keeping track, we've alternated bad matches and good matches, something that younger me pointed out. Yes, it's a dumb coincidence, but the astonishing number of former WWF faces getting prominent spots on this PPV isn't. (Match Rating: *1/4)
If you thought our next match would feature two established WCW stars, you'd be partially correct, as (no longer Big Van) Vader, accompanied by the former 7-time World Champion Harley Race, continued his rivalry with THE GUARDIAN ANGEL, formerly known as The Boss (Man, is he big!), a.k.a. The Big Boss Man. OK, on his defense, Big Bubba Rogers was a big deal in the mid 80's, but few viewers of 1994 WCW probably remembered watching JCP that far back, let alone reasoned it over "another WWF guy finding his way to the retirement home." As dumb as the gimmick was, Ray Traylor seemed to have rekindled fire in WCW, at least through 1995. He added some weight back, but was having good matches on most major shows, which probably is helped by working with better opponents than stiffs like Nailz or The Mountie. This was no exception, with it being a hard-hitting hoss fight for 9-minutes until Vader improved his overall record against the Angel to a hefty 786-0. I honestly think they went through the entire feud with Vader winning every single time. No wonder the guy turned heel (and back to the Guardian Angel) shortly into 1995! (Match Rating: ***)
The penultimate contest is a tag team match that no one cared about. Hell, even in 1994, it was at the point of the show were we only cared about the Main Event, so this match was just killing time. I probably should acknowledge it's a match between Terry Funk and Bunkhouse Buck, representing the Stud Stable, and The Nasty Boys. Is it sad the only thing I remember from this match, other than the finish, is Knobbs and Sags throwing masks of Beavis and Butt-Head to the crowd? Just paint-by-numbers action with a cute finish, when Sags hit Funk with a piledriver on a Jack-o-Lantern to score the pin-fall. I'm 100% positive this is Funk's last match for the company until 1999, after three retirements and a return to the WWF. I'd call the Nasty Boys even more cast-offs from the WWF, but as the match that leads us into the Main Event, I'm not that interested in mocking it, but it continues the trend of bad match, good match. (Match Rating: *)
Have I mentioned Sting, the most recognizable star of WCW, didn't wrestle on this show?
We've finally reached the pinnacle of professional wrestling, a Steel Cage, Retirement, Winner Takes All Match for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. Hulk Hogan is accompanied to the ring by Jimmy Hart and friend-to-the-end Brother Bruti (formerly Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake), while ’ as the "Sensual" Sherri in his corner because Sensational Sherri is trademarked by the WWF. Oh, and MR F'N T is the special referee, 9-years removed from relevance, but dammit, WCW is trying to recreate mid 80's WWF, so they had to drop an envelope full of dollar bills at his doorstep to get him to abandon higher paying offers from the 1-900-Collect commercials or debt consolidation. All these years later, babyface Hulk Hogan, parading around in the red-and-yellow, coming out to knock-off Real American, seemed as far removed from what I pictured when I would think of WCW. If anything makes the "WCW is trying to be old WWF" argument hold water, it's the Hulkster, and everything else can be thrown out the window. To little surprise, we got a great, though completely over-booked match, where Hogan overcame all odds, including the interference of not only Sherri, but the MASKED MAN, as well as the referee being handcuffed to the ropes. Ric Flair's career was over at this point, and he'd never come back... at least not for 5-months, which was planned out before this show took place. (Match Rating: ****)
If you thought the recap ends there, you've never seen the end of the show, and what a glorious mess things were going to become. As Hogan celebrates his victory, the MYSYERIOUS MASKED MAN attempts another ambush, but makes the dumb mistake of trying to hit Hogan when he turns around to face him. Hogan subdues his attacker and unmasks him as... Brother Bruti? "THAT MAN HAS BUTCHERED A FRIENDSHIP", says Bobby Heenan. The next week, Brother Bruti's name is "The Butcher." 9-year old me assumed he was still "Brutus Beefcake", but now he's The Butcher instead of The Barber, but 9-year old me didn't know what trademarks and copyrights were. It gets better. Soon, The Brother Bruti Butcher is joined at ringside by Kevin Sullivan. Then, without batting an eye, Tony Schiavone feels like there's an avalanche, and out pops John Tenta, formerly Earthquake in the WWF. He'd be branded AVALANCHE on his next appearance. With Ric Flair retired, the best options available as Hogan's nemesis is his washed-up best friend and Earthquake, renamed Avalanche? This doesn't impress me now, and it sure didn't impress me in 1994. Halloween Havoc was a one-and-done for us, but we did check in again for SuperBrawl V, once the Hogan/Butcher angle played out (and HEADLINED Starrcade!).
Halloween Havoc '94 was a mixed bag, and it's surprising to me that after 25-years, my original thoughts have held up (based on match quality and absurd characters and names). WCW wasn't much better than what the WWF was presenting, nor was it any worse. If anything, it felt like the WWF if you weren't fans of the New Generation. It's fun to make fun of WCW for being the old folk's home, but honestly, a lot of the roster was wrestling for the WWF just a year earlier (including Hogan, Brutus, Earthquake, The Nasty Boys, Jim Duggan, and the Big Boss Man). For fans of the New Generation, myself included, I wanted to watch WCW for the alternative I remembered it being in 1990-91, not recycled WWF. Unfortunately, it feels like that was the direction the company went until kicking off Nitro the following Fall. With a quarter of a century passed, why does this show still hold a place in my heart, despite riffing on most of the content? It's a time capsule show that sparks conversation and laughs between myself and my brother. It may not be a great show, barely an average show if you really think about it, but it still makes me smile. I can't recommend it to others with much conviction, but I'll always think of watching it when company comes over.