Halloween Havoc 1998: 20 Years Later

Let’s go back to a simpler time. A time before hybrid cars, streaming video and political correctness.

1998.

Pokemon Red and Blue were released. Bill Clinton told us he didn’t have sexual relations with some lady in a blue dress. A new search engine was released by a small company called “Google”.

Ahh…the good ol’ days.

But I’m obviously not here to wax poetic about the 90’s….although, I definitely could. I’m here to talk about a wrestling event that’s closest to my heart: WCW’s Halloween Havoc. It was my 12th birthday. I was at my friend Traden’s house (names have been changed to protect the innocent). Why? Because his dad bought all the PPV’s and my parents would never shell out 30 bucks for wrestling. That night, a group of pre-teens and teenagers sat down with some burgers, Doritos and what we now know is a lethal amount of Jolt Cola and Pepsi…and we proceeded to watch what is know commonly known as…

THE WORST WRESTLING PPV OF ALL TIME

20 years later, I think I’m finally ready to re-open those old wounds. With much thanks to the original programming wasteland that is the WWE Network, I have gone back and watched this crap show. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes, it was downright painful. I think this is the first time my son has seen me cry. But I did it for you, the reader…so that you never have to. And I did it because I want to know, for sure, why this event is remembered with such disdain. Even as a 12 year old, I know this wasn’t what wrestling was supposed to be, but maybe as an adult, I can make some sense of this. Why is Halloween Havoc 1998 the worst PPV of all time?

The Storylines, Or Lack Thereof.

Um…this is probably where the problems started for WCW. I was around for all of the Monday Night Wars and let me tell you, WCW wasn’t much better at story continuity than WWE is today. They usually had one main story line, always involving a member of NWO, and usually that member being Hulk Hogan. This time around, the entire event was built around Hogan having a rematch with the Ultimate Warrior, who beat him at Wrestlemania VI in 1990. They literally built an entire PPV around the belief that Hogan was so petty and small that he wanted Ultimate Warrior to come to WCW just to he could face him again, despite the fact that it was a different wrestling company, neither of them was holding a championship and Halloween Havoc is about 1/10 the size of WrestleMania…as I typed this, I realized that Hogan does have that level of pettiness and this is probably all true.

If memory serves, the Ultimate Warriors lead up to the match was mostly coming out to the ring in an airbrush artists wet dream of a trench coat and saying really weird things into the mic. I wasn’t around for the 80’s and I didn’t follow Ultimate Warrior’s career much, but from what I’m told, if you swap out “weird things” for “homophobic and racist rants,” you pretty much get the gist of who Warrior was as a person.

The next most prominent story line was Diamond Dallas Page finally getting his shot at the undefeated Goldberg for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. Immediately, there’s another glaring problem. One of the things that made WrestleMania VI so special was that Warrior and Hogan were both champions, holding the WWF(E) Intercontinental and World Championships respectively. In WCW in 1998, neither of these men were champions and both were obviously at the very end of their “prime.” Yet, the event was built around them. It wasn’t a title match and it wasn’t even the last match! I wouldn’t be surprised if people that watched this live all those years ago flat out forgot that DDP and Goldberg fought for the belt that night, for more reasons than one…I’ll get to that later.

WCW made the mistake that they made continually until they were out of business: only Hogan matters. I’m sure when they saw the opportunity to sign Ultimate Warrior, they thought that a WrestleMania rematch would be a big draw. But even in wrestling, recapturing the past rarely works. There’s only so much you can do with nostalgia. WWE is going through that right now, reforming DX, Evolution and the Brothers of Destruction. They’re getting backlash for it and people actually LIKE those guys! By the time Halloween Havoc happened, Hogan was known to be an arrogant jackass who wouldn’t lose to anybody clean, while Warrior couldn’t keep a job in wrestling because he was always on drugs and had never met a special interest group he didn’t want to discriminate against. Burying homegrown talent like DDP, Jericho and Sting so that an almost decade-old pseudo-rivalry from another company can be rehashed is a huge mistake. And since we’re talking about the talent…

The Misuse of Talent

If you look at this event on paper, some of the greatest names in wrestling history were on the card that night. The opening match was Raven vs. Chris Jericho for the WCW TV Title. Other names include Meng (Haku), Juventud Guerrera, Fit Finlay, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Diamond Dallas Page, Bret “Hitman” Hart and Sting. FREAKIN Sting. It’s easy to see why, as a kid, I was so excited about this. The card is a who’s who of wrestling mainstays, and I didn’t even mention Hulk Hogan. But what’s good on paper doesn’t always translate to success in real life.

As I re-watched this event, I so badly wanted to reach through my screen and give Jericho an “It gets better” speech. It’s crazy think about the Chris Jericho that we know today, the rockstar that holds championships on several different continents, and remember that, in WCW, he was barely an afterthought and only got TV time because he was really good at getting himself over. It’s true that the Cruiserweight division was one of the very few things that WCW got right, but this event was toward the end of Jericho’s run in WCW and Eric Bischoff obviously was too busy blowing smoke up “Hollywood” Hogan’s rear to pay any attention to the fact that he had an international superstar on his hands. Jericho was holding their lowest title on him AND they made him open the show. And having Raven job to him is even worse. Raven was and is a hardcore legend and was a fantastic worker. This match would have been at the top of the midcard in WWF and a main event in ECW. But when you have to save the spotlight for two old guys with bad spray tans, real talent gets shoved to the back.

This card also featured three segments with Rick Steiner. Was he really that much of a star that we needed to see him that many times in one night? While we’re at it, why was Disco Inferno so great that he got two matches in one night? To be clear, I like when a wrestler fights to become the #1 contender, then fights for the title in the same night, but was Disco the guy? Disco?! If you take nothing away from this article, remember that, 20 years ago this week, Chris Jericho was in the ring for 7 minutes and Disco Inferno got a combined 21 minutes. Let that sink in. WCW decided that Disco Inferno was a better draw than Chris Jericho. There are no words.

Tasteless Booking

Kevin Nash vs Scott Hall. This is where things get sad. In 1998, it was apparent to anyone with two eyes that Scott Hall had a really big problem with drugs and alcohol. By this time, he had already been showing up to events high on painkillers.For reasons I’ll never understand, they decided to make his very real substance abuse problem – you know, the one that was tearing apart his family and killing him – and work it into a storyline. This event was aimed at kids. I’m all for art imitating life, especially in wrestling, but this was a bit too far. The story was “real” in all the wrong ways. It was just sad.

Even as Scott Hall comes out, he’s obviously inebriated, and Schiavone says “What’s he got in his hand? A “refreshment?” I like Tony, but…bad form. Very bad form.

In 2015, Hall did an interview on Sam Roberts podcast and talked about the incident:

Eric came to me and said, ‘now, I’ve got this [idea]’ because he was really big into all the mark stuff, all the dirt sheets that were online now and he’s going, ‘we’ll do this [substance abuse storyline] because the word’s out’ and I said, ‘Eric, I’ll do whatever you want because I still need them big checks rolling in.’ I said, ‘I personally I think it’s in bad taste, but you’re the boss’. I said, ‘I’ll do it and I’ll do it as good as I can even if I think it’s wrong’, so we went that way.” Hall continued, “they went with it until it came down from the higher ups at Turner, like, ‘hey, that’s not funny’ because everybody, unfortunately, knows someone who suffers from mental illness or addiction, so, obviously, one of those big shots in Turner had somebody in his family [struggling with such issues] and went, ‘that’s not funny. Stop now.

I don’t care how bad you want realism. I don’t care if blurring the lines of reality is what’s “in.” I don’t care that Scott Hall was OK with it…he needed a job and it was his boss that was asking for it. There is no excuse for this. NONE. This wasn’t about building drama or creating suspense. The substance abuse angle was disgusting. Hall and Nash were friends going through an extremely difficult time and Eric Bischoff thought that putting that in the ring was “drama.” It wasn’t. It was exploitation. I felt uncomfortable as a 12 year old. Now, as an adult, with friends and family that have had issues with substance abuse, this just makes me angry.

Warrior vs. Hogan Was A Train Wreck

Watching this match 20 years later, I’m convinced that Warrior and Hogan had not spoken to each other between WrestleMania in 1990 and Halloween Havoc in 1998. These guys stumbled into every move. Within 5 minutes, they were pouring with sweat. Half the match is one guy putting in the other in a headlock so they can get some rest. I wonder what Eric Bischoff was thinking as he watched this match. Hopefully, it was something like “Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to entertain people with two old guys whose signature moves are a standing splash and a leg drop.” But knowing what we know about him, he probably thought that two old guys, holding each other in a sweaty embrace while grunting made for great TV.

And then there’s the fire spot. THE spot. Hogan was supposed to throw fire at Warrior. As he kneels down to get the flash paper, Warrior has to basically pantomime with the ref because Hogan is taking way too long to get this stuff together. Finally, Hogan lights the paper, but he does it wrong and he burns his own mustache and eyebrows! Pathetic! Oh, and by the way…the spot was Hogan’s idea. Not Warriors. Not Bischoff’s. It was Hogan’s idea.

Watching this match back just reminds me how much of an egomaniac Hulk Hogan was and is. He made Eric Bischoff hire the Ultimate Warrior just so he could beat him and make up for one of the few times in history he lost to someone clean. This has been denied multiple times over the years, but if you don’t believe me, watch the match. Watch the build up to the match. Try your hardest to find a reason for this match to happen other than making Hogan feel better about losing at WrestleMania. There isn’t one. I’ll give Hogan some credit for saying in later years that the horrible match was all his fault, but that doesn’t make up for how bad this was.

FINALLY, DIAMOND DALLAS PAGE vs. GOLDBERG

So we’ve finally made it to the main event. DDP is going to take on Goldberg for the….

Wouldn’t it be crazy if I just ended the article here? Well, that’s what happened 20 years ago. Since PPV is becoming a thing of the past, people may not remember that, back in the day, a PPV had to have a very specific amount of time. If the event was 3 hours, then it was 3 hours. Period. So since so many matches were given WAY more time than they deserved (Hall and Nash was almost 15 minutes and it was essentially a throw-away match), there wasn’t much time left for the last match. You know…the main event. The World Heavyweight Championship match. The match that should be the most important on the card. Great booking, WCW!

So right as Goldberg and DDP locked up, hundreds of thousands of screens around the country…including mine…went black. Nothing. The most important and arguably the best match on the card was not seen by most of the TV viewing population. They had to make up for it by showing the match for free on WCW Monday Nitro the next day. Giving that match away was the right decision, but the fact that the people that paid for it didn’t get it sums up how WCW fell apart as an organization. A lot of big promises, but the fans never get what they pay for. In a way, Halloween Havoc really is a good representation of WCW. On paper, it looks really good, but when it comes time to deliver to the fans, we basically end up with Hogan getting his ego stroked. That’s what killed WCW and, yes, that’s what killed this event. 20 years later and it’s still so sad.

Alex Watts

Alex is a lifelong sports fan and writer that has (against the better judgement of several producers and program directors) appeared on ESPN Radio and CBS Sports Radio. He lives in Washington D.C. with his wife, 1 child, 1 cat and an unhealthy amount of video game consoles.

Alex Watts

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