Tuesday, December 12, 2023

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (1992)

Now this felt like a Starrcade show....

Starrcade '92 - The Omni - 12/28/92

Well this was a whole lot better.  The previous Starrcade featured ten forgettable, awkward tag matches and a convoluted battle royal main event.  Yes, the Norfolk Scope was dressed up nicely, adding to the splendor of the event, but not one match from that show stood out or warranted a second viewing.  SC'92 on the other hand featured a handful of big matches (two of which were truly inspired) and even though half the card was still taken up by Battlebowl proceedings, the four mongrel tag bouts were concise, fast-paced, and moved along with a purpose.  I still had no interest in the tournament format but Starrcade '92 was a rare show with nary a bad match.  This PPV took place during the Bill Watts era, thus The Omni had a stripped-down, barebones look with gloomier lighting and minimal Starrcade decor.  The focus in 1992 WCW was almost entirely on the action in the ring, and the play-by-play was called by the dream commentary team of Jim Ross and Jesse Ventura.  While their chemistry wasn't as strong as say Jesse & Gorilla or JR & Lawler, I loved hearing these two work together; my favorite play-by-play announcer with my favorite color man.

Side note: I know Rick Rude was injured but where the hell were Steve Austin, Arn Anderson & Bobby Eaton??

The first four matches were all Lethal Lottery tag bouts, none of which overstayed their welcome, fortunately, and all of which were at least a little fun on some level.  Cactus Jack teamed with Johnny B. Badd vs. Van Hammer & Dan Spivey in a decent opener with some good wrestling from Team Cactus.  I'm not sure what they were thinking giving Hammer & Spivey the win though; what's the point of two obvious non-winners being in Battlebowl?  Next was Vader & Dustin Rhodes vs. The Barbarian & Kensuke Sasaki in a very entertaining slugfest reminiscent of a Japanese Strong Style match.  This didn't go long but felt urgent.  Vader beat the piss out of Rhodes after getting the win.  The standout of these tag matches was next - The Great Muta & Barry Windham vs. Brian Pillman & 2 Cold Scorpio.  I liked the Muta-Scorpio/Muta-Pillman exchanges a lot; Muta vs. Pillman should've been a major feud at some point.  Another brief match where they crammed in a lot of good action.  Finally we had Sting & Steve Williams vs. Jushin Liger & Erik Watts, which had good wrestling all around except for Watts, who was clearly not ready for prime time but was being pushed due to his father's position as head booker.  Still this was a fine match, particularly when it was Sting vs. Liger.

Lotta talent in that ring.

With the Lottery bouts out of the way the show settled into a more traditional format with four title matches.  First was The Great Muta challenging Masahiro Chono for the NWA World Title (now separated from the WCW version).  I liked this quite well actually.  Nothing about it was mindblowing, and at 12 minutes it couldn't be epic, but it was well-worked by both guys.  Muta unexpectedly submitted to Chono's STF.
The one disappointment on this card was WCW Champion Ron Simmons vs. Steve Williams, who was substituting for the injured Rick Rude.  Without the Simmons-Rude heat this match was already somewhat handicapped, and sadly Simmons and Williams never fully gelled.  There were multiple miscues and the pace was kinda plodding.  Some moments were nice, like the shoulderblock contest, plus Jim Ross was clearly very much into this pairing, but overall it just didn't click.  The finish was pretty lame too, as it went to a double countout before Williams attacked Simmons and got retroactively disqualified.

The show picked up huge with the next two matches.  First it was WCW Tag Champions Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas vs. Barry Windham and Brian Pillman.  This was a goddamn helluva tag match featuring wild action that ranged all over, and nice extended heat sequences with the heels working over Douglas first, then later Steamboat.  It's not often you get a match with two hot tag spots either.  The finish came when Steamboat hit Windham with a cross body that took both guys over the ropes, and Douglas caught Pillman with a belly-to-belly for the win.  Really good bout.

Battlebowl may have inexplicably gone on last, but the real main event of Starrcade '92 was Sting vs. Vader in the finals of the King of Cable Tournament (don't ask what the eff that means).  This was all kinds of awesome - stiff, snug and believable all the way through.  Vader's size and dominant style would realistically make most of his matches into rather unwieldy squashes, but Sting was so freakishly strong he was able to manhandle Vader for much of the match.  This resulted in some amazing spots, like the second-rope superplex, Sting's over-the-top plancha on both Vader and Harley Race, and the finish where Vader dove off the top rope and Sting caught him midair and slammed him to the mat.  Just a great main event, and I could watch these two beat the shit out of each other all day long.  Vader may have been Sting's greatest opponent.

Wait, why is Randy Anderson trying to prevent this suplex?

Finally we arrived at the Battlebowl, which was actually a pretty fun mini-battle royal.  There were few enough guys in the ring that the action was easy to follow and they could put together some decent spots.  The single ring also kept things streamlined - double-ring battle royals sound fun in theory but in execution they're just a convoluted mess.  I'll never understand why Van Hammer and Dan Spivey made it to the Bowl, but they were fittingly the first two eliminated.  Sting and Vader went out shockingly early, leaving only Windham, Muta, Dustin and Williams.  To their credit, those four were able to keep the crowd invested even after the two favorites were gone.  It came down to Muta and Windham, who had a decent little final run until Muta's false elimination.  My only complaint was how fast Muta knocked Windham out with two dropkicks.  They could've milked that climax much longer.  But overall a decent if anticlimactic main event.  Had the roster been more robust they could've kept Sting, Vader, Muta, Windham, Williams and Pillman out of the Lethal Lottery and therefore Battlebowl could've gone before Sting vs. Vader, as it really should have.

Starrcade '92 certainly wasn't an A+ PPV, but after the back-to-back fiascos of Starrcades '90 and '91 it was refreshing to see an understated Starrcade with a heavy focus on gritty in-ring action, where the high-concept nonsense didn't completely get in the way.  The Lottery tag matches were entertaining enough to justify their inclusion, and short enough that the four top-billed matches got adequate time.  Also the King of Cable final and the World Tag match are worth going out of your way to see.  This show didn't have that "biggest PPV of the year" feel to it, but I'll be damned if it wasn't a pretty neat little show.

Best Match: Sting vs. Vader
Worst Match: Cactus & Badd vs. Van Hammer & Spivey, but even this wasn't bad
What I'd Change: Again, save the Battlebowl stuff for a separate PPV.  Making half your roster pull double and triple duty seems excessive, plus it exposes how thin your roster is.
Most Disappointing Match: Ron Simmons vs. Steve Williams - The pieces were in place for a great rough-and-tumble fight, but they just never synched up.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The four tag team qualifiers.  The previous year's tag matches were almost universally tedious, but these four were all short, to the point, and had a sense of urgency.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10

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