Monday, December 4, 2023

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (1986)

Starrcade took to the sky in 1986.....

Starrcade '86 - Greensboro Coliseum/The Omni -

Starrcade '86 was the first one I was aware of as a wrestling fan.  On Saturday mornings I'd watch World Wide Wrestling and see ads for the VHS release.  I must say those commercials were GOLD.  Whoever put those together had me at "hello."  When I used to watch those Turner Home Entertainment tapes I looked forward to the previews as much as the event itself.

The 1986 edition suffered greatly from its main event plans being derailed only a month out.  Jim Crockett Promotions had intended a major World Title push for Magnum TA, which would've kicked off at Starrcade with a huge win over Ric Flair.  Who knows what would've happened, had that come to fruition.  Magnum was enormously popular, built like a brick shithouse, and had rugged good looks that appealed to a crossover audience.  The NWA could've had another Hulk Hogan on their hands, and may very well have been able to compete with Vince.  But unfortunately it was not to be, as Magnum suffered a career-ending car crash in October, and the promotion had to scramble to put together a new main event for its biggest show of the year.  The bookers cleverly turned Nikita Koloff babyface by having him show compassion and remorse over his longtime enemy's injury.  I like that choice a lot actually.  Thus Nikita took Magnum's place in the main event and became one of the NWA's top faces for the next two years.

The company also put the spotlight on one of the secondary main events, even naming the show after it.  Starrcade '86 was the television debut of the Scaffold Match - a horribly dangerous gimmick bout where the combatants are forced to fight twenty feet above the ring on a three-foot-wide platform.  They renamed it The Skywalkers Match (I wonder if George Lucas ever considered suing) and it took on a pretty mythic quality.  But before we get to the top-billed matches, let's take a look at the rest of the show.  For the second consecutive year Starrcade emanated from both The Omni and the Greensboro Coliseum.

Starrcade '86 opened with Tim Horner & Nelson Royal vs. Don & Rocky Kernodle, which sounds pretty nondescript on paper but featured surprisingly good action and a fast pace.

Next was Jimmy Garvin vs. Brad Armstrong in a very strong undercard bout.  These two had good chemistry and worked hard.  Brad Armstrong was a pretty underrated talent, always good for a solid opening match to rev up the crowd.  This went to a time limit draw which was probably a mistake given its spot on the card.  A blazing ten minute match with a decisive finish would've been more appropriate.  Still, this was good stuff.

The next two matches were throwaway tag bouts - Hector Guerrero & Baron von Raschke vs. Barbarian & Shaska Watley; and Ivan Koloff & Krusher Kruschev vs. The Kansas Jayhawks.  Both were quite forgettable and about the only intrigue came later during the evil Russians' promo on their former friend Nikita.  One thing that I found disturbing was the sound of the live crowd cheering when von Raschke did his goosestep bit.  That's not something a sane person would cheer.

The first of many gimmick matches was next, as Wahoo McDaniel faced Rick Rude in an Indian Strap Match.  While the concept of two enemies bound together is always intriguing, I hate the "touch all four corners" rule.  I find it silly and cumbersome and it really disrupts the flow of the match.  As expected this was mediocre, and I found it strange that both guys were bleeding from a piece of leather.  This would be the first of many blood-soaked bouts on this card.
The Central States Championship was next, as Sam Houston defended against Bill Dundee.  The NWA certainly had a lot of regional belts back in the day.  This was well-worked while it lasted.  Sam Houston was actually quite good in the ring; it's a shame the WWF never did anything with him.  After a ref bump Dundee tried to get away with using Sam's boot as a weapon, but the ref saw it and called for the DQ.  That was certainly different.

The second half of this show had nary a match without blood.  I said this about Starrcade '85 and it's true here as well: when every match results in one or both guys bleeding all over the place, it takes away meaning from the instances where it really matters.  It's just a bad idea to overuse this effect.  Case in point the Hair vs. Hair match between Jimmy Valiant and Paul Jones.  As far as I could tell this wasn't a No DQ match, but both guys ended up using a foreign object, sometimes in plain sight of the referee.  And about halfway through, Valiant was bleeding profusely.  If ever a match didn't need blood, this was it.

Things picked up in the Street Fight between Big Bubba Rogers and Ronnie Garvin.  While nothing fancy, this match was realistic and gritty, and had some nice stiff action.  Garvin relied way too heavily on right hands, but this was still fun to watch.  The object was to either pin your opponent or knock him down for a ten-count.  Garvin eventually piledrove Bubba, but Jim Cornette whacked him in the head with his tennis racket, leading to a double countout which prompted the referee to declare the first man up the winner.  Bubba then distracted the referee long enough for Cornette to hit Garvin in the knee, allowing Bubba to get to his feet first.  Decent little fight with a clever finish.

The next match was more or less the same type of bout, as Tully Blanchard faced Dusty Rhodes in a First Blood match.  JJ Dillon got in Dusty's face at the outset, and Dusty responded by elbowing him in the forehead, which broke Dillon's head open.  Now, I'm pretty sure hitting someone with a padded elbow would absolutely NOT cut their forehead open.  See what I mean about unnecessary blood?  Since this was a First Blood match the announcers talked about neither guy wanting to get hit with a punch.  Nevermind that every wrestling match consists of both guys getting punched in the face repeatedly and they bleed basically never.  This was terribly dull and ended with yet another screwy finish - Tully bled after a ref bump, so it was missed, but then Tully hit Dusty with a roll of quarters (a weapon Bubba just used in the previous match - did the two booking committees not talk to each other first?) and the ref only saw Dusty bleeding.  Game over.  This match was not good.

The titular Skywalkers match was next as the Road Warriors took on the Midnight Express.  It should be noted that Hawk wrestled this match with a broken leg.  Twenty feet above the ring.  On a scaffold only three feet wide.  He was more man than I will ever be.  The match itself was literally all spectacle.  Visually it was very cool; four dudes brawling while precariously balanced two stories above the ring.  I mean it's horribly dangerous and not at all worth the risk considering how limited the wrestlers are in that situation, but I can absolutely see why people paid to see it.  After less than eight minutes of pretty forgettable action the two teams dangled from the scaffold and took turns kicking each other until the Midnights dropped to the mat.  I can't imagine being asked to take that bump, especially during that era.  Anyway, not much of a match, but it looked cool.

Wow, look at 'em up there......wait, how come they aren't doin' anything?

The semi-main slot went to what I had previously considered the best match on the card, the World Tag Title match between The Rock n' Roll Express and The Andersons.  I remembered this being a dramatic, balls-out, back-and-forth affair.  I'm not sure what I was watching at the time, because this was terribly one-sided.  Almost from the beginning Ole and Arn dominated the action, first picking apart Robert Gibson and then in the second half isolating expert babyface seller Ricky Morton.  While this made for solid storytelling, it was honestly kinda dull to sit through.  It reminded me of the SummerSlam 2002 Chris Benoit vs. Rob Van Dam match, where Benoit controlled almost the whole thing only to lose at the very end.  When you have two exciting high-fliers they need to be on offense for a little while to get the crowd excited.  Also, this type of match would've worked much better if the Andersons had been the Champs going in.  Then it would be a case of the underdog good guys getting destroyed but pulling out a surprise win.  This didn't even have a hot tag at the end, Gibson just ran in and all four guys brawled before Gibson dropkicked Morton on top of Arn.  I found this match pretty disappointing.

The main event was another story however.  Ric Flair and Nikita Koloff had very compelling little man-big man chemistry, and this reminded me of the later Flair-Luger matches.  Nikita controlled the early parts of the match before Flair's strategic cunning took over.  This ended up an engaging battle, and after a ref bump it got so out of hand that Tommy Young disqualified both guys.  Now, on a show that didn't already feature several screwy finishes, this would've come off as a "Holy shit, this is wild!" kinda moment.  Sadly there were already so many ref bumps and bladejobs, it became more of a "one too many times to the well" sort of ending.  The biggest show of the year should have some kind of definitive finish, not a shmozz.  Regardless this was still the best match of the night.

Nikita was a formidable-looking foe.

Starrcade '86 was a sprawling four-hour event with a smorgasbord of gimmick matches and just too much going on.  It felt very unfocused and while a few of the matches were solid, nothing exceeded three stars.  Granted the company's long-term plans got totally effed when their intended new top babyface had his career yanked out from under him, but the rest of the show was still just not that good.  This event is mostly remembered for the spectacle of The Road Warriors and Midnight Express trying not to fall to their deaths for eight minutes.  Not the NWA's best event...

Best Match: Ric Flair vs. Nikita Koloff
Worst Match: Jimmy Valiant vs. Paul Jones
What I'd Change: Trim this down to three hours and cut maybe three matches.  And for God's sake, not every big match needs blood!
Most Disappointing Match: Rock n' Roll Express vs. Andersons - just way too one-sided and methodical
Most Pleasant Surprise: Flair vs. Koloff
Overall Rating: 5.5/10


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