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May 27, 1996 is a date that lives in infamy for all wrestling fans that grew up in the late 1990s. That was the day Scott Hall strolled through the crowd in Macon, GA and kicked off the n.W.o. invasion of WCW. For 19 months, the company laid out a phenomenal storyline and subplots that allowed WCW, once a laughingstock, to become the most powerful organization in professional wrestling.

The centerpiece of the n.W.o. vs. WCW plot was the heel turn of Hulk Hogan into his evil "Hollywood" persona. This captivated viewers young and old and led many a lapsed fan, yours truly included, to once again start tuning into Monday Nitro weekly. The n.W.o.'s dominance over WCW was a departure from decades-old wrestling ideals. The "heels" were now in control and for the first time in modern history, were widely accepted as cool and often more popular with crowds than "babyfaces."

When Hulk Hogan did the unthinkable and joined Scott Hall and Kevin Nash at Bash at the Beach 1996 to form the heel faction, it turned the wrestling world upside down in many ways. It was a rebirth for Hogan's career and led WCW to record TV ratings and profits.

The Build Up

Following the formation of the n.W.o., the group would continue to add new members allowing them to gain power and run roughshod over their WCW foes. Hogan would capture the world title and famously spray paint the letters "n.W.o." on the belt after defeating the Giant at Hog Wild 1996 in a highly controversial moment. This cemented the group's power and influence over the promotion for the foreseeable future.

Hollywood Hogan would hold the belt for all but five days from August 4, 1996 until December 28, 1997. During this time, he would fend off challenges from Macho Man Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, the Giant, and Ric Flair. One name absent from that list was the "franchise" of WCW, the man called Sting.

Sting famously became a free agent following Fall Brawl 1996 when he had his loyalty to the promotion questioned after the appearance of a fake Sting for weeks leading up to the event. Sting would go 15 months without having a match, and in the process undergo a gimmick change that he still holds to this day.

Gone was the colorful surfer Sting, instead he would become an almost carbon copy of Brandon Lee's "Crow" character after taking the sage advice of Scott Hall. For 15 months, the Stinger wouldn't speak and would periodically show up in the rafters by himself. On occasion, he would shoot down from those rafters to aid WCW combatants in their battles against Hogan and the n.W.o. For months, they tried to get the "franchise" to come back only to have their overtures rejected.

Sting had but one man that he was willing to come back and face. He made his intentions clear that he had his sights set on taking down Hollywood Hogan and bringing the belt back to WCW.

The Match

For 15 months, Eric Bischoff had carefully crafted a story arc that captivated wrestling fans. It was a modern twist on the classic hero/villain storyline that is at the core of professional wrestling. The prodigal son of WCW, Sting, returning to vanquish the turncoat in Hollywood Hogan. The stage was set for what is arguably the most anticipated match in wrestling history to take place on December 28, 1997 at WCW's flagship pay-per-view, Starrcade.

The anticipation reached a fever pitch as Sting made his entrance for the first time as his new "Crow" persona. I still remember watching this as a 13-year-old and getting chills, although I was unabashed in my hope that Hogan would break the hearts of the WCW faithful. Regardless, Sting's entrance was a historic moment.

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Once Sting's grand entrance was completed, it was time to get down to brass tacks. The match itself could only be described as a dud. It was 12:53 seconds of sloppy timing, bad sequencing, and a convoluted finish that left fans marveling at how poorly it was executed.

The premise for the finish was that referee, Nick Patrick, would issue a fast count awarding Hogan the match only to have some Canadian crybaby who recently joined the promotion come to the ring and reverse the decision as some act of retribution for what was perpetrated against him a month earlier while in a different promotion. The only problem was, if you go back and watch the match in real time Nick Patrick didn't issue a fast count, rather utilized his normal cadence.

There have been many conspiracy theories throughout the years that Hogan put Patrick up to using his normal cadence in a pre-match meeting, but nothing was ever substantiated. In the end, the match would be restarted with the Canadian crybaby now serving as the referee and allowing Sting to secure the victory after Hogan submitted in the clutches of the Scorpion Deathlock.

It was revealed that the finish had, in fact, been changed the day of the event as Hogan and Bischoff felt that Sting wasn't in the right frame of mind to win the match clean positioning himself as a strong champion. Eric Bischoff and Conrad Thompson famously got into one of the most heated arguments in internet history on the "83 Weeks" podcast while discussing the botched finish, Sting's mental state, and lack of a tan (yes, this is real).

In recent months on the aforementioned "83 Weeks" podcast, Bischoff revealed this was one of only a handful of instances when Hogan exercised the often discussed "creative control" when it came to his character's on-screen portrayal. Regardless, the original plan for Sting to win the match clean was scrapped and what followed was even more chaotic.

Aftermath

The main event of Starrcade 1997 should've been a seminal moment in the history of WCW. It should've been the conclusion to the first act of the battle between the n.W.o. and WCW, with prodigal son returning to bring the title home to its rightful place. That is definitely not what would follow.

The next night a botched rematch on Monday Nitro, that concluded after the show went off the air, added more confusion to the storyline. In the following weeks of television programming, the title would be vacated setting up a final battle between Sting and Hogan at February's SuperBrawl VIII.

All this time, the momentum of the now-returning Sting had fizzled out and what should've been the hottest storyline in the history of the business had become a jumbled mess. Sting's victory was supposed to be the conclusion of the first act, setting up new challenges from various members of the n.W.o. as the hero looks to maintain what he fought so long to achieve.

Instead, we got a splintering of the n.W.o. into two different factions that would oppose each other. Sting's reign as world champion should've been one of the most significant in history, but it would now be a short-lived one as he would drop the title at April's Spring Stampede to Macho Man Randy Savage, putting the belt at the forefront of the struggle between the different sides of the n.W.o.

To further complicate things, the newly formed n.W.o. Wolfpac would be a babyface faction that would have none other than Sting join their ranks. Yes, the man who tried to single-handedly fend off the n.W.o. for 15 months was now in their ranks.

What started as the greatest angle in the history of wrestling, with a phenomenal story arc and layers of storytelling that would make even the best authors blush, had now devolved into a confusing soap opera that was completely off the rails.

Many have cited the botched finish at Starrcade and the subsequent events that followed as a catalyst for WCW's eventual demise as it coincided with the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin and the WWF's re-emergence. While it's hard to cast all the blame on this one fateful night 25 years ago, it surely set in motion a chain of events that were responsible for WCW losing its position as the premier professional wrestling organization.

Starrcade 1997 was billed as "The granddaddy of them all" as the promotion had done so much right leading up to that event. The failures of that night and the main event, in particular, which the entire promotion revolved around cannot be understated. Had the finish gone off as intended with Sting getting a clean victory as the returning, triumphant hero perhaps WCW's fate would've been different.

It's been 25 years since that fateful night in the nation's capital, and even after all this time the events still leave you scratching your head. How could things have gone sideways so quickly and that badly? An event that had so much buzz turned out to be, perhaps, the greatest letdown in the history of the business.

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