Thursday, December 7, 2023

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (1989)

This show was a cool idea in theory but in practice it wasn't totally successful....

Starrcade '89 - The Omni - 12/13/89

For Starrcade '89 the NWA inexplicably (for the first of four consecutive Starrcades) went with a non-traditional card format, in this case two round-robin tournaments, one singles and the other featuring tag teams.  I can only assume they got this idea from New Japan's G1 tournament and wanted to try their hand at such a gimmick.  I've already published my own revised version of the show HERE, but in short, there were three major things wrong with using the Iron Man/Team tournament concept at the company's flagship PPV.  1. They'd already given away the blowoff to the year's biggest feud (Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk) on free television a month earlier, so the singles tournament featured no hot rivalries at all.  2. They never made it clear what was at stake in these tournaments other than bragging rights, so the audience had no real reason to invest in the outcome.  3. Twelve matches is a lot for a three-hour PPV.  Oh, and 4. In both tournaments they totally buried someone unnecessarily.

Still this show had a lot to like about it.  Of the twelve matches about eight or nine were watchable or better, and this show marks one of only two times (I think) we ever got to see The Steiners vs. The Road Warriors.  In general the concept of a round-robin tournament is fun and presents some intriguing pairings you wouldn't normally see (just watch some of the recent NJPW G1 tournaments for evidence of that), but Starrcade was just the wrong show for this experiment.  The attendance numbers certainly reflect this; the 17000-seat Omni was only about a third filled, to the point that the house lights had to be dimmed midway through the show to cover up the vast areas of empty seats. 

The singles tourney featured the NWA's top four stars - World Champion Ric Flair, US Champion Lex Luger, and two former TV Champions, Sting and The Great Muta.  On paper every one of the six singles matches should've been gold.  Unfortunately the time contraints (fifteen-minute time limits for all twelve bouts), somewhat hindered the wrestlers' ability to deliver standout matches.  In some cases, mostly those involving Muta, the matches were criminally shortchanged; Flair vs. Muta theoretically could've been the main event of Starrcade had they built it up properly.  In actuality that match was given under two minutes and Muta looked like a chump after it was over.  The innovative, tremendously exciting young Japanese import was jobbed out three times and ended up leaving the company right after Starrcade.  Not the best way to treat one of your top heels of the year.  Flair's other two matches, against Luger and Sting respectively, were both headliner-worthy but not up to their 1988 efforts.  Luger was the only man to go undefeated, beating Sting and Muta and going to a draw with Flair.  But Sting scored a major upset in the final match, defeating his former rival and current mentor Flair with only thirty seconds left in the time limit.  This gave Sting enough points to win the whole tournament, and he was soon named the #1 Contender.  Flair and the Andersons made Sting an honorary Horsemen but soon turned heel on him once the reality of Sting's impending challenge set in.  Had the company made it clear beforehand that the winner of this tourney would receive an automatic title shot, that probably would've gotten people much more interested.  Sadly this wasn't the case, and all Sting officially won that night was a trophy.

It's Champion vs. Champion!
The tag team portion of the show was even more vexing, as top teams The Steiners, The Road Warriors, and Doom were joined by makeshift team The New Wild Samoans, a last-minute substitution for The Skyscrapers after Sid Vicious was injured (the night before as I recall).  The problem was the Samoans didn't arrive at The Omni until about halfway through, thus the tag team match lineup was a mess.  The other three teams each wrestled twice before the Samoans even showed up, and the Samoans had to wrestle the remaining three matches consecutively.  Even stranger was the fact that Doom, the hot new heel team, lost all three matches, yet five months later they beat The Steiners to win the NWA Tag belts.  The Road Warriors on the other hand won this tournament but didn't get anywhere near a title shot for their remaining six months in the company.  Also a match like The Steiners vs. LOD should've been given a full fifteen minutes and been a co-headliner, but on this show it was alotted a paltry seven-and-a-half minutes and was quickly forgotten.  That being said, Steiners-LOD was probably the big standout of the tag tournament.  Finally I'm not sure why The Midnight Express, who had just turned heel again and could've delivered three great matches, weren't asked to replace The Skyscrapers instead.

This was good, but it should've been EPIC.

Starrcade '89 is one of those shows that I can appreciate for what it was - a series of pretty good matches for the most part - but it's still irksome to me how much better it could've been.  Even if the NWA didn't go with a traditional Starrcade lineup, the World Champ and Tag Champs should never have participated since a) the prize at stake should've been a future title match and b) why would a Champion agree to wrestle thrice in one night and risk getting injured for nothing?  Also there were multiple first-time matchups that didn't get anywhere near the time they deserved and should've been saved for a more appropriate setting.  The company took a big risk with this format and lost pretty huge - live attendance was anemic and I can't imagine the buyrate was very strong. 

In early 1990 the NWA more or less reset everything to the way it was two years earlier - Flair turned heel and feuded with Sting, Luger turned babyface again after Sting got hurt, The Road Warriors went back to being a special attraction team that didn't get title shots, Muta went back to Japan, the Midnight Express feuded with the Rock n' Roll Express...  It's like the year 1989, amazing though it was, existed in a different NWA continuity.  What really should've happened was Luger winning the tournament, subsequently beating Flair for the Title as a heel, and later dropping it to Sting.  But that's just my armchair booking.  Anyway, Starrcade '89 is a tough show to rate.  I liked a lot of it but I didn't like the choice of format or the lack of meaning behind it all.  It felt like the company was throwing things at the wall instead of building to a year-end climax (They'd already blown their load with Clash of the Champions IX), and the result was a Starrcade that ultimately didn't feel like the biggest show of the year at all.

Best Match: Ric Flair vs. Sting
Worst Match: Ric Flair vs. Great Muta
What I'd Change: See my Wrestling Do-Over piece
Most Disappointing Match: Ric Flair vs. Great Muta - Seriously, this should've headlined a major show at some point.  Clash 9 maybe.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I guess that the show wasn't a total wash
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 just because it had several good matches

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