The Legend of Halloween Havoc: Part 1

Outside of Starrcade, Halloween Havoc was WCW’s premier event. With NXT once again bringing the event back to life – pardon the pun – we decided to look at the the best and worst of the event. Initially, this was supposed to be one article. However with such matches and the deep stories surrounding them, it was necessary to stretch this into three separate articles. The first will focus on one of the best matches in the history of the promotion. 

As Mandy Rose and Raquel Gonzalez plan to Spin The Wheel, we take a look back on the not-so-storied history of the match. The first time WCW tried the gimmick was with Sting and Cactus Jack in 1992. Kip Frey had major plans when he signed Roberts after a six-year run in the WWF. However when Bill Watts came into the promotion, he targeted the big money contracts and Roberts was top of the list. Though the showdown between Roberts and Sting was heavily-hyped, the match itself, a coal miners glove match, was decent at best. Roberts left WCW shortly after.

Credit: WWE/WCW

By the time the 1993 Havoc show came around, WCW had undergone a major shift. Watts was out and Eric Bischoff was now the Executive Producer in charge of television. In 1992, the World Champion was involved in a mid-card match. By 1993, then-champion Big Van Vader was a major focus of the promotion and firmly in the main event of the pay-per-view. His opponent, marking his first pay-per-view main event, was Cactus Jack. 

The rivalry started in January of 1993, with Cactus Jack’s unexpected babyface turn in a match with Paul Orndorff. Former Champion Ron Simmons was set to team with Dustin Rhodes, Sting, and Heavy Metal Van Hammer. The fan favorites were set to meet Vader, Rick Rude, Barry Windham, and The Barbarian at the Clash of the Champions. The two teams were to meet in a “come as you are” ThunderCage match. The ThunderCage was first introduced at the 1989 Halloween Havoc.

However, an injury left Rude unable to compete with Cactus Jack and Paul Orndorff. Mick Foley’s reckless style was winning him fans across the country. During the match Vader’s manager, the legendary Harley Race, turned on Jack. With the tide shifting, WCW gave the opportunity to Orndorff to move up the heel ladder. They had other plans for Cactus, who made a huge save during the Clash, smashing the heels with a shovel. With that, Cactus Jack was a fan favorite in Atlanta.

As World Champion, Vader was in multiple programs. The major one being with Sting, the company’s top performer. However, WCW Saturday Night became the home for the Vader/Cactus Jack rivalry which came to a head on the April 24th edition. What happened on that spring Saturday evening was violent and disturbing in an era when wrestling programming was a PG product. The match ends in the most devastating count-out victory. Vader power bombed Cactus Jack on the concrete floor. Today, that might not seem like much, but in 1993 it was much different. Cactus Jack, a man who the WCW faithful saw take a plethora of vicious beatings, was strapped to gurney with his neck braced. It’s one of the most believable angles the company ever achieved. We wouldn’t see Cactus Jack on WCW television for months.

What was WCW’s big plan to capitalize in one of the most successful and captivating television segments? Amnesia. That’s right. The power bomb gave Cactus Jack amnesia. Mick Foley detailed the “Cactus Jack Lost in Cleveland” segments in painful detail in his book, Have A Nice Day. WCW introduced an Inside Edition-esque reporter named Catherine White, who was searching for the missing Cactus Jack. When White finally found Cactus, he was living as homeless man who believed himself a sea captain. That was WCW’s vision for their hot new babyface.

There’s a reason these vignettes are so hard to find. Mick Foley discussed how disappointed he was in the program. Fortunately, the entire “Lost in Cleveland” storyline was dropped when Mick Foley made his return at the August Clash of Champions. After successfully defending the WCW title, Vader was attacked by the returning Cactus, saving Davey Boy Smith in the process. For your eyes, Jack only pretended to have amnesia.… yeah.

Meanwhile Vader, again involved in multiple rivalries, battled Smith, Sting, Dustin Rhodes, and the Shockmaster (a story of its own!) in a WarGames match with Sid Vicious and Harlem Heat at Fall Brawl. To earn a shot at Vader, Cactus Jack would have to defeat Yoshi Kwan, who was actually veteran Chris Champion in yellow face. The less said about that the better.

Credit: WWE/WCW

Finally, the match was set. Big Van Vader would face Cactus Jack at Halloween Havoc. Spin the Wheel had returned. However, Foley was dejected with WCW, who had zero plans for him coming off his first pay-per-view main event. In his book, Foley talks about hoping to get seriously injured by Vader in the match. Injured enough that he’d have to leave professional wrestling. A bold plan that fortunately didn’t come to fruition. 

At the event, the Wheel landed on Texas Death Match and what happened between the two would help set the scene for the hardcore wrestling that grew in popularity later in the decade. But instead of bashing each other with silly “weapons”, Vader and Foley fight in the stiffest match the company could possibly have produced in the era. When Foley reached his planned injury spot, he held on to Vader’s back, as the champion crashed into the elevated ramp. 

Credit: WWE/WCW

“I thought that would be a great way to go out,” Foley wrote. “It was a little bit of a disappointment when I realized I was better than I thought I would be. It’s still a move that makes people catch their breath and say, ‘How did they do that?’ As if there’s some kind of magic trick to it. It was just me with 450 pounds crashing on top of me on that hardwood ramp.”

By the end of the violent encounter, which unfortunately ended with a dumb stun gun spot, both Tony Schiavone and Jesse Ventura are in awe.

“This is unbelievable,” said Tony Schiavone.

“I don’t even know if we can call it a match. It’s just an out-and-out fight,” Ventura responded.