Friday, February 12, 2021

Top Ten Things: Wrestling PPVs of the 80s

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things here at, where I count down the ten best whatevers.....

Hey, who remembers a time when there wasn't a PPV or "special event" every 2-3 weeks and wrestling promotions could actually build their big shows up for months at a time?  Back in the 80s during the dawn of PPV, most of the big matches took place at house shows and occasionally on free TV specials like Saturday Night's Main Event.  But a few times a year the WWF and the NWA would assemble a card so big and so special it could only be seen on TV if you paid for it.  Initially the PPV calendar only included 1-2 shows, but by the end of the decade the WWF had established a Big Four, while the NWA expanded to five events.  Here now are the ten best PPVs of the 1980s....

10. SummerSlam '89

The sophomore SummerSlam holds a special place for me.  It was far from a perfect show but at the time it just felt like a big deal, and from a star power perspective it was a pretty stacked PPV.  I was at the Saturday Night's Main Event taping a month prior when the company started building in earnest toward SummerSlam, so I really got into the hype for this show.  The main event was like an updated version of the '88 edition except now Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage were on opposite sides, tagging up with Brutus Beefcake and Zeus, respectively.  The match was similar in tone to the previous year's main event - lighthearted, with a feelgood ending.  But the undercard was where this show really shined.  From the amazing Hart Foundation-Brain Busters opening tag, to the Rockers/Tito vs. Rougeaus/Martel six-man melee, to the fantastic Rick Rude-Ultimate Warrior Intercontinental Title rematch, SummerSlam '89 delivered big where it counted.  Sure there were some throwaways, but overall this is still a very fun watch.

9. Starrcade '83

Technically this wasn't a PPV event, but I'm still including it since it was the prototype for the medium.  Before the phenomenon known as WrestleMania swept the country (and later the world), Jim Crockett Promotions assembled what was at the time the biggest televised wrestling event in history.  Headlined by an epic Harley Race-Ric Flair cage match for the NWA Title, with a brutal Roddy Piper-Greg Valentine dog collar match and an athletic Brisco Brothers-Steamboat/Youngblood Tag Title bout, the inaugural Starrcade had more than its share of memorable early 80s action.  While the first half of the show could certainly be deemed forgettable, the big matches are all considered timeless classics.  On November 24, 1983 the NWA gave birth to the modern supercard, and it still makes for a fascinating pro wrestling history lesson.

8. Halloween Havoc '89

The first Halloween Havoc is sentimental for me because it was the first PPV event I ever ordered.  Why I chose this particular show as my first I'm not exactly sure, but it was actually a pretty stacked PPV with a ton of NWA star power.  The action-packed main event was the first-ever Thunderdome cage match pitting Ric Flair and Sting against Terry Funk and The Great Muta.  Elsewhere on the show, Lex Luger and Brian Pillman nearly stole the show for the US Title, The Road Warriors and the Skyscrapers engaged in a monster slugfest, the Steiners faced the brand new masked team called Doom, and The Midnight Express teamed with Steve Williams in a wild battle against the three-man Samoan Swat Team.  I consider HH'89 a bit of a forgotten gem, as it was one of the most consistently entertaining shows of a pretty packed NWA calendar year.

7. Starrcade '87

The first NWA PPV I ever saw start-to-finish (I sent away for the VHS copy and couldn't stop watching it at the time), Starrcade '87 felt like an amazingly robust card.  Jim Crockett Promotions was attempting a rapid expansion like the WWF had accomplished, and this was technically the company's first event broadcast on PPV.  Unfortunately it went head-to-head with the first Survivor Series, and took place in Chicago, which was hardly an NWA stronghold.  Thus it was not the financial success Jim Crockett hoped for.  But from a wrestling standpoint it's still one of my favorite old shows.  The biggest highlights were a fantastic Road Warriors-Anderson & Blanchard Tag Title match (which inexplicably ended in a Dusty Finish), and an incredibly intense struggle between Ric Flair and Ronnie Garvin for the NWA Title.  Starrcade also featured a surprisingly good Nikita Koloff-Terry Taylor TV Title match, a fun Rock n' Roll Express-Midnight Express Skywalkers match, and Dusty Rhodes vs. Lex Luger for the US Title.  I've read several reviews suggesting this show hasn't aged well, but I loved it at the time and still enjoy it thoroughly.

6. Chi-Town Rumble

1989 is considered by many to be the NWA's best year from an in-ring standpoint, and Chi-Town Rumble set the tone.  A rock-solid undercard was highlighted by a Midnight Express vs. Original Midnight Express rematch from Starrcade, a Rick Steiner-Mike Rotunda TV Title match, and a much-anticipated Lex Luger-Barry Windham US Title showdown.  But of course the centerpiece was the Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat World Title classic, where after 23 near-perfect minutes of wrestling, Steamboat dethroned the NWA's franchise player for his first and only World Championship.  Thus began their legendary 1989 trilogy of matches, all of which were instant Match of the Year nominees.  Chi-Town Rumble initiated a banner NWA year, where four of their five PPVs were good-to-great, while the fifth (WrestleWar) contained arguably the best match of 1989.

5. Starrcade '88

The first PPV broadcast during the Ted Turner era, Starrcade '88 stripped away the multiple gimmick matches so prevalent in Jim Crockett's NWA and presented a loaded wrestling show that took the company back to basics.  Every major title was on the line and multiple top feuds were represented here.  Lex Luger was in the middle of a huge babyface run as he challenged former mentor Ric Flair for the World Title in a 31-minute war, Sting and Dusty Rhodes teamed up to get revenge on former allies the Road Warriors, and US Champion Barry Windham faced NWA newcomer Bam Bam Bigelow.  Also once-Varsity Club teammates Mike Rotunda and Rick Steiner faced off for the TV Title, and Jim Cornette's Midnight Express faced Paul E. Dangerously's Original Midnight Express in a spectacular tag team battle.  Top-to-bottom, Starrcade '88 was a streamlined, well-rounded PPV that kicked off the Turner era with a bang.  Also the original theme song for this show, entitled "Knockout," was BOSS.  Not owning the rights to the song, WWE of course changed the music for the Network.

4. Survivor Series 1987

The original Survivor Series was an absolutely colossal extravaganza.  The three-hour PPV consisted of only four matches, three of which pitted teams of five against each other.  The show opener kicked things off in style with Randy Savage leading a loaded team (which included his longtime rival Ricky Steamboat) against The Honky Tonk Man's team of midcard heels.  Next was a surprisingly good women's elimination match where the Jumping Bomb Angels became stars for the night.  In the third slot (and this was absolutely genius) was a 20-man match that stacked five tag teams to a side, and when one man from a tag team was eliminated, both members were gone.   This match was glorious, and demonstrated how incredibly deep the tag team division used to be.  Finally Hulk Hogan's team of powerhouses faced Andre the Giant's squad which included the three largest men in the company (Andre, King Kong Bundy and One Man Gang).  The inaugural Survivor Series is still one of my all-time favorite PPVs.  Everything about it felt grand, and the concept proved to be one of the most enjoyable gimmick matches the company has ever pioneered.  I'll still pop this one in from time to time.

3. WrestleMania III

WrestleMania III was, and possibly still is, the biggest wrestling supercard of all time.  No single wrestling match has carried the sheer magnitude or mainstream appeal of Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant.  There's a consensus among internet wrestling fans (i.e. the harshest, most cynical critics in the business): when it comes to WrestleMania III, star ratings do not apply.  WrestleMania III was like a perfect sampling of everything the WWF was in 1987, displayed on the grandest stage imaginable.  The Pontiac Silverdome itself became one of the stars of the show.  No wrestling venue before or since has looked so spectacular or enormous.  Aside from the huge headliner, WM3 is most remembered for Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat for the I-C Title.  WWF fans in 1987 hadn't seen any contest so crisp or athletic, with so many near-falls and reversals.  It's a match that still holds up as a transcendent in-ring display.  Other 'Mania III highlights include the Hart Foundation and Danny Davis vs. The British Bulldogs and Tito Santana, Hercules vs. Billy Jack Haynes, and Roddy Piper's "retirement match" against Adrian Adonis.  WrestleMania III was for years the yardstick by which all major PPVs were judged, and its influence can be felt even now, over 30 years later.

2. Great American Bash '89

In a fantastic year of NWA PPVs, The Great American Bash was probably the apex.  While the first hour was a tad cluttered, the last four matches all delivered huge, with the company's three top stars all defending singles gold.  Sting vs. Muta was an innovative, fast-paced TV Title match, Lex Luger vs. Ricky Steamboat turned up the ferocity and featured non-stop action (I wish these two had gotten some rematches later on), and the first-ever PPV edition of WarGames was a wild melee featuring The Road Warriors, The Midnight Express and Steve Williams vs. The Freebirds and the Samoan Swat Team.  But once again it was Ric Flair who stole the show in a chaotic, bloody war against Terry Funk for the World Title.  They'd top themselves that November in an infamous I Quit match, but this was still one helluva main event.  In retrospect I wish the Sting and Luger matches had gotten more time, but there's no denying that GAB '89 was an excitement-filled and tremendously satisfying PPV.

1. Survivor Series 1988

Amazingly the WWF managed to top the near-perfect 1987 Survivor Series with an EVEN BETTER show in 1988.  They crammed 50 wrestlers on the show and presented four huge elimination matches once again.  Because of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage being presented as co-faces of the company, each team this year had two captains instead of one.  From the opening contest pitting Team Warrior/Beefcake vs. Team Honky Tonk/Ron Bass to the surprisingly good Jake Roberts/Jim Duggan vs. Andre/Dino Bravo undercard match, to the dramatic MegaPowers vs. Twin Towers main event, this show was already quite memorable.  But what put this PPV over the top was the spectacular 10-team elimination match, with The Powers of Pain, the Hart Foundation, the British Bulldogs, the Rockers and the Young Stallions facing Demolition, the Brain Busters, the Rougeaus, the Bolsheviks and the Conquistadors.  This blazing 40-minute epic perfectly showcased the company's amazing tag division and featured a double-turn, as Demolition and The Powers of Pain switched places to continue their feud.  Survivor Series 1988 is still the best edition of them all, in my opinion.  All four matches were loads of fun, and one of them was a true classic of the genre.  The show featured an absolutely stacked card that measured up brilliantly against the original.  I'm not sure any Survivor Series card will ever outshine this one.

And there's my list for the ten greatest PPVs of the 1980s.  Comment below with your picks and join us on Facebook, MeWe and Twitter....

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