Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade, part 1 (1983-1985)

Hey there everyone.  Welcome to Enuffa.com, your home for pro wrestling, movies, music, and other life-altering forms of pop culture.  I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking, "Hey Justin, it's been a while since you posted the complete history of a beloved wrestling supercard.  Can ya help us out?"  You my friends are in luck, because without further ado, I'd like to present.....

The Enuffa.com Complete History of WCW Starrcade!!!

That's right, it's time to hop into the ol' DeLorean and travel back to 1983, when Jim Crockett Promotions envisioned a wrestling event so magnanimous it couldn't be just for the live crowd in attendance.  It had to be broadcast on closed-circuit television throughout the South!  Big wrestling events on Thanksgiving night had long been a tradition in the region, and Crockett correctly surmised that a supercard held on that date would draw big business.  Starrcade '83 is the real Granddaddy of Them All - the first wrestling event broadcast on closed-circuit, and the prototype for the modern PPV event.  The show was a tremendous success, famously causing massive traffic jams in downtown Greensboro, and JCP made Starrcade an annual tradition.  Quickly it became the promotion's flagship event, and by 1987 it was also carried on pay-per-view.  When Ted Turner bought out Jim Crockett in 1988 he kept the Starrcade brand but moved it to December to avoid having to compete with the WWF's Survivor Series, and that's where it stayed until WCW folded in 2001.

So let's look at the highs, lows and everything in between, of Starrcade!

Starrcade '83 - Greensboro Coliseum - 11.24.83

The inaugural Starrcade was by today's standards a very barebones production which featured quite a few obscure names from the early part of the decade.  It was a very uneven show with a pretty forgettable first half.  But it's the final three matches that make Starrcade '83, and they're all first-rate classics of the era. 

The NWA event lineups back then were different from the WWF approach, in that they stuck all the undercard bouts early on the card and saved the important ones for the second half - quite often the last four matches would all be for championships.  By contrast Vince would spread the big matches around to give each show peaks and valleys, often inserting "buffer matches" between some of the headliners.  There are pros and cons to both philosopies of course.

After three matches that could be considered throwaways (The Assassins vs. Rufus Jones & Bugsy McGraw; Kevin Sullivan & Mark Lewin vs. Scott McGhee & Johnny Weaver; and a brief Abdullah the Butcher-Carlos Colon showdown), the show began for real with a solid tag match: Bob Orton (Randy's dad) teamed with Dick Slater against Mark Youngblood and Wahoo McDaniel.  This was no five-star classic, but it was easily the best match thus far.

Next was a TV Title vs. Mask match between The Great Kabuki and Charlie Brown (actually the "suspended" Jimmy Valiant under a mask).  I've never been much of a Valiant fan, so for me there wasn't much to this, but it does stand as the first-ever championship match on a Starrcade show.
From here on out the show was pure gold.

I'd have tapped out right here.

The sixth match of the night saw Roddy Piper and US Champion Greg Valentine each have a dog collar buckled around their necks with a chain binding them together.  What transpired next was an incredibly brutal fight in which both men bled profusely and created inventively violent ways to use the steel chain as a weapon.  After sixteen grueling minutes Piper won by hammering Valentine with clubbing blows and simply climbing on top, wrapping Valentine's legs with the chain.

Next up was the Tag Team Championship, as Jack and Jerry Brisco defended against Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood.  This was a lean, thirteen-minute back-and-forth battle, with the babyface team winning back the Titles after Steamboat dropped Youngblood onto Jerry for the a splash, and the pinfall.

The match Starrcade '83 is most remembered for is of course the Steel Cage World Title match between Harley Race and Ric Flair.  Race had defeated Flair five months earlier through nefarious means, and then placed a $25,000 bounty on Flair's head, offered to anyone who could put him out of action.  Bob Orton and Dick Slater obliged with a spike piledriver, and it seemed like Flair's career was over until his surprise return a few months later.  The babyface challenger vowed revenge at Starrcade, and after a bloody 24-minute war Flair took back the Championship with a top-rope cross-body (You read that right, Ric Flair actually connected with a top-rope move).  This match would likely come across as plodding and stilted to today's young wrestling fans, but it holds up for me as one of the last great examples of 70s southern-style wrestling.  These two future Hall of Famers told a basic but compelling story and it culminated in one of the illustrious moments in Flair's career.

I'd have tapped out here too.

Starrcade '83 was most definitely of another era, where the product was simple and rugged, and heroes and villains adhered to old-fashioned archetypes.  But I still find it a fascinating time capsule and a tremendously enjoyable old-school event full of positive intangibles.

Best Match: Harley Race vs. Ric Flair
Worst Match: Abdullah vs. Carlos Colon
What I'd Change: Tough to say since it was before my time really, but I'd maybe spread out the top matches a little so the show quality feels a bit more even.
Most Disappointing Match: Abdullah vs. Colon - These two had a legendarily violent feud over the decades but this clearly wasn't one of their standouts.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Probably Orton & Slater vs. Youngblood & McDaniel
Overall Rating: 8/10

Starrcade '84 - Greensboro Coliseum - 11.22.84

The NWA's sophomore Starrcade effort was rather a far cry from the original, with eleven matches crammed into a three-hour format, and precious few of them memorable.  On paper the top-billed bouts looked solid but unfortunately nothing was given enough time, and some of the booking was questionable at best. 

I'm just gonna get this out there: I know Gordon Solie is right up there with Jim Ross as the most respected wrestling announcer ever, but I've always found his style pretty bland.  He never seemed emotionally invested in the matches, and he drastically overused the phrase "There's no question about it."  Legit, on this PPV he says that phrase 3-5 times per match.  If there's no question about anything, why even bring it up?

The opening match, Mike Davis vs. Denny Brown had decent enough wrestling but it was too short, and the finish with Mike Brown pinning himself after a back suplex was so confusing even the ring announcer and Gordon Solie called it wrong.  Next up was Brian Adidas vs. Mr. Ito (Mystery Toe?), which had promising action but only went four minutes.

The first standout of the show was Jesse Barr vs. Mike Graham.  This was easily the best thing so far, and possibly the best match on the card.  Really strong mat wrestling and reversals, and Barr had some great heel moments like quick hair pulls and stepping on the ropes momentarily to gain leverage.  Barr won with a schoolboy while hooking the tights.

How was this not a four-star classic?

The next few matches were various degrees of forgettable.  Assassin & Buzz Tyler vs. Zambuie Express; Manny Fernandez vs. Black Bart in a Brass Knuckles Championship match (which was odd since I didn't see any brass knuckles, unless they were under their fist tape); and Jimmy Valiant vs. Paul Jones in a pretty awful Tuxedo Match, which Valiant kicked off by tying Paul Jones by the neck to the top rope - not very heroic there, Jim.

The next big match was Ron Bass vs. Dick Slater.  These former allies had a pretty nondescript brawl but the crowd was electric for this.

Then we had Ole Anderson & Keith Larson vs. Ivan & Nikita Koloff.  This was fairly dull, with the babyfaces working over Ivan for almost the first ten minutes.  Nikita finally tagged in late in the match and relied mostly on bearhugs until the heels finally won using a foreign object.

On paper the next match, Tully Blanchard vs. Ricky Steamboat, should've been far and away the show stealer.  Sadly this was not as good as you'd think.  The match started out hot until Steamboat's kayfabe rib injury caught up with him.  Tully worked the ribs for a while and once Steamboat came back Tully stalled a lot.  The last few minutes were heated but a little slow, and Tully won with a foreign object right in front of the referee.  A lot of reliance on hidden weapons on these old NWA shows, huh?

After a nothing US Title match between Wahoo McDaniel and Billy Graham, we finally got to the main event: Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes for the NWA Title.  This was very enjoyable until Dusty got rammed into the ring post and started bleeding.  They managed to cram a lot of good stuff into the first ten minutes, but the match came to a screeching halt after the bladejob, as guest ref Joe Frazier kept checking Dusty's cut and eventually stopped the match.  This was pretty nonsensical given that about four previous matches featured blood and not one of them was stopped, and Dusty's cut wasn't much worse than any of the others.  Terrible finish to an otherwise solid match (though 12 minutes is pretty paltry for the main event of a major show).

Joe Frazier: Most squeamish referee ever.

So Starrcade '84 doesn't win any Major Show of the Year awards.  It's hard even picking a standout match because nothing exceeded 2.5 stars or so.  There were just way too many matches and not enough time for any of them.  Plus the main event finish was about as unsatisfying as any major Title match I can remember.

Best Match: Jesse Barr vs. Mike Graham
Worst Match: Jimmy Valiant vs. Paul Jones
What I'd Change: Cut some of the fat and give more time to the matches that mattered, and for God's sake have Flair win with a hook of the tights or something if you need to protect Dusty.
Most Disappointing Match: Tully Blanchard vs. Ricky Steamboat
Most Pleasant Surprise: Jesse Barr vs. Mike Graham
Overall Rating: 4/10

Starrcade '85 - Greensboro Coliseum/The Omni - 11.28.85

Now this was more like it.  Starrcade '85 was broadcast from two venues again, but this time there were really only ten matches, thus the important bouts all felt long enough.  While not at the level of Starrcade '83, this edition had a handful of memorable bouts, one of which is still considered an all-time classic battle. 

For this show Tony Schiavone replaced Gordon Solie on commentary, and right away I noticed two things: #1 Schiavone and Bob Caudle didn't talk much during the matches; there were long stretches of action with no commentary at all.  #2 Schiavone was asked to plug the upcoming Bunkhouse Stampede event (and others) way too many times, during actual matches.  This distractive shilling should've happened in between bouts.

The show opener was Krusher Kruschev vs. Sam Houston.  This was a decent little match, with a good speed vs. power dynamic.  Houston looked good and reminded me of early Shawn Michaels.  Kruschev won after escaping Houston's bulldog with a foot on the ropes and then hitting Houston with the Russian Sickle, after which the referee missed Houston's foot on the rope.

Next was Manny Fernandez vs. Abdullah the Butcher in a Sombrero on a Pole match.  What a ridiculous gimmick; what'd Vince Russo book this?  This was just ok - both guys bled within the first couple minutes, which became a pattern on this show.  That struck me as diffusing the tension very quickly.  After missing a top-rope headbutt Manny then just leapfrogged over Abdullah and climbed the ropes to get the hat, which was a strange ending.

What followed were two 2-part matches in a row.  The first was Black Bart vs. Ron Bass in a Bullrope match where if Bass won he got five minutes with JJ Dillon.  Storyline-wise this was awfully similar to the previous year's Bass vs. Dick Slater match, with two former partners fighting.  Again the blood flowed right at the beginning, and by the end both guys were covered in it.  The finish came out of nowhere (in a bad way) when Bass hit Bart with the cowbell off the second rope and abruptly covered him.  This match could've used more cowbell!  Sorry, had to do it.  Dillon then attacked Bass, starting their followup match.  Short and forgettable, Dillon won after a ref bump when Bart knocked Bass unconscious.

My god this was sadistic.

The other two-part event was an arm wrestling match, followed by a wrestling-wrestling match.  Billy Graham vs. Barbarian was the third match in a row with blood, again right at the beginning.  Graham won the arm wrestling match and Barbarian attacked him, leading to a five-minute throwaway.

Refreshingly we got a gimmick-free bout next: Buddy Landell vs. Terry Taylor.  This was a well-worked wrestling match, though it was like watching Ric Flair's stunt double wrestle his son.  It's so odd that JJ Dillon managed the fake Ric Flair only months before he traded up for the real one.  The ending was clever - Taylor went for a superplex but Dillon quickly swept his leg out from under him and both wrestlers fell to the mat hard with Landell on top for the pin.  Definitely the highlight of the show so far.

The second half picked up pretty well, with multiple Championship matches, starting with Ole & Arn Anderson vs. Wahoo McDaniel & Billy Jack Haynes.  Decent enough little match that started out fast-paced before the Andersons took over on offense.  Sadly this had a pretty silly ending with Arn pinning Billy after a simple forearm strike with Ole holding his leg down.

The most memorable bout on the show was unquestionably Tully Blanchard vs. Magnum TA for the US Title.  A classic I Quit Steel Cage match that was gritty, realistic and brutal.  This was just a slugfest with lots of vicious ground & pound, great selling, and buckets of blood.  The closing moments with the two fighting over a piece of broken chair are iconic.  Nothing fancy, but a helluva fight.

The I Quit match was tough to follow, and this next match didn't really bother.  The Midnight Express faced Jimmy Valiant & Miss Atlanta Lively in what was a very wild brawl, but the babyface team was impossible to take seriously, particularly with Ronnie Garvin dressed in drag.  Also, three of the participants were bleeding within the first minute, which was unnecessary coming after such a great gorefest.  Not much of a match.

The semi-main slot went to Ivan & Nikita Koloff vs. The Rock n' Roll Express for the Tag Team Titles.  This was a very enjoyable Steel Cage tag match.  Morton & Gibson were expert underdog babyfaces and at the time probably the most consistently good team in the company.  This fine bout built to a cleverly executed finish, as Morton blind-tagged Gibson, bounced off the opposite ropes, and rolled up Ivan for the pin.  Then all hell broke loose as the Russians beat the piss out of the good guys.  One of the best matches on the show.

Flair's hair looks dented; no wonder he's upset.

In a rematch from Starrcade '84, the main event was Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes for the World Title.  This was light years better than its predecessor, but rather unremarkable overall.  The action was a little slow, and I always thought Flair and Dusty had better chemistry as characters than in the ring.  Flair bladed pretty unnecessarily, bringing the total number of matches with blood to eight (if you include the tacked-on Bass vs. Dillon match).  That's pretty excessive; when the majority of matches on a given show feature blood it becomes numbing and it takes away some impact from matches that need it, like the brutal Tully-Magnum bout.  Since Flair's bleeding didn't play into this match at all, it was just gratuitous.  The end came after a ref bump.  Arn and Ole interfered unsuccessfully and then Dusty rolled Flair up into a small package (which Flair visibly assisted with) while the secondary ref counted the pin.  Dusty appeared to win the Title but a week later it was overturned when Tommy Young retroactively disqualified Flair for outside interference.  Rather questionable if you ask me - why reward Flair after the fact for the Andersons' illegal conduct?  Anyway, this match was decent but not great.

Starrcade '85 holds up thirty years later as a pretty good show featuring one bona fide classic, four or five decent bouts, and nothing I'd call truly bad.  The NWA definitely relied much too heavily on blading to ramp up the drama, when less of that would've made it much more meaningful and dramatic.  But this show had a lot to like, so it gets an easy passing grade.

Best Match: Tully Blanchard vs. Magnum TA
Worst Match: Billy Graham vs. The Barbarian
What I'd Change: Tone down the blood so it means something when it's needed.  The I Quit match was brutal but would've come off much more strongly had it not followed four other bloodbaths.  Sometimes less is more.  Also I generally hate the Dusty Finish.
Most Disappointing Match: The Andersons vs. Wahoo & Haynes
Most Pleasant Surprise: Terry Taylor vs. Buddy Landell
Overall Rating: 7/10

                                                                                                                                                         Part 2

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