Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (1987)

I know most people don't think this show has aged well, but I still love Starrcade '87....

Starrcade '87 - UIC Pavilion - 11.26.87

The 1987 edition was the first-ever PPV broadcast by Jim Crockett Promotions.  Crockett was expanding rapidly with designs on competing with the WWF, and moved into the non-traditional locale of Chicago for his flagship show.  Unfortunately Vince McMahon had designs on squashing the NWA's PPV hopes and ran the inaugural Survivor Series against it.  Not only that but he issued an ultimatum to the cable companies: Run Starrcade and you can't have WrestleMania IV.  The ploy worked, and only a handful of cable providers kept Starrcade, which meant it got destroyed by Survivor Series (which to be fair was an awesome PPV).

Starrcade '87 holds a special place for me, as it was the first one I ever watched all the way through.  I mail-ordered the VHS tape in 1988 after reading glowing reviews in Wrestling's Main Event magazine, and upon viewing it for the first time I was blown away.  The action was athletic, physical and intense, and at the time I loved that the NWA did so many gimmick matches (When you're 12 years old nothing is as cool as a Steel Cage match, except maybe a Scaffold Match).  Amazingly this show ran under 2.5 hours but it doesn't at all feel incomplete.

SC'87 was built around Ric Flair's quest to regain the NWA Title.  The Board of Directors wanted Flair to drop the belt to someone a few months earlier and win it back at Starrcade, I guess hoping to recreate the magic of SC'83.  The problem was, no one wanted to be a two-month lame duck Champion, and the only babyface who agreed to it was perennial midcarder Ronnie Garvin (who was a fine worker but no credible World Champion).  Garvin won the Title in a cage match that September and then announced he wouldn't be defending it until Starrcade.  Not much of a story for a PPV main event, but the match itself was pretty goddamn good.  Flair and Garvin beat the bejeezus out of each other, engaging in a war of chops and Figure Fours, and frequently using the cage as a weapon.  After 17 minutes Flair caught Garvin off the ropes and hotshotted him into the cage (in one of the least painful looking spots ever), and cradled him for the win and his fifth NWA Title.  Lame ending aside this was a pretty great match.

Garvin slaps on the Figure Four

The rest of the show was nothing to sneeze at either.

Three of the undercard bouts involved recently-acquired UWF talent, as Crockett had bought the former Mid-South territory from Bill Watts and staged a UWF Invasion.  Unfortunately he botched it completely by presenting most of the UWF wrestlers as far beneath his homegrown stars (a mistake Vince would repeat 14 years later after buying out WCW).

Still the invasion yielded some decent stuff on this show, starting with a pretty fun six-man opener pitting Larry Zbyzsko, Eddie Gilbert and Rick Steiner against Michael Hayes, Jimmy Garvin, and a young facepainted powerhouse named Sting.  This was nothing amazing but it was a nice way to warm up the crowd, and Sting was already hugely over.  The match inexplicably ended in a draw; Sting really should've pinned one of the heels given how quickly they pushed him.

Second was the only bad match on the show, as UWF Champion Steve Williams defended against Barry Windham.  On paper this sounds fantastic, but when they're only given six minutes and the match ends with a cradle out of nowhere, you can't expect much.  Since the show ran so short this should've gotten at least five more minutes.

The show got a huge boost in the third spot, as the Skywalkers gimmick match was brought out again.  This time though The Midnight Express would face their greatest rivals, The Rock n' Roll Express.  The scaffold match is one of those gimmicks that sounds cool but is very difficult to execute well, given how dangerous it is.  Fortunately the Midnights and RnR delivered an entertaining little fight twenty feet above the ring.  As a kid I thought this match was all kinds of awesome, and it was actually much better than the previous Skywalkers Match.
The sleeper hit of the show was a TV Title unification match between NWA TV Champ Nikita Koloff and UWF TV Champ Terry Taylor.  Oddly this match got the most time of anything on the show, but these two had nice big man-little man chemistry and the match featured very solid mat wrestling.  Koloff unified the belts and Taylor was Stamford-bound soon after.

My second-favorite match of Starrcade '87 was for the NWA Tag belts, as Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard defended against hometown icons The Road Warriors.  I consider this the definitive LOD match, as Hawk and Animal dominated the action almost the entire time, except for a brief second act where the heels worked over Hawk's knee.  The finish came swiftly as the Warriors decimated Anderson with the Doomsday Device (which I had never seen before and it blew my ever-lovin' mind).  It appeared the Road Warriors had won, and the crowd exploded.  Unfortunately the overused Dusty Finish struck again; Animal had backdropped Arn over the top rope moments earlier and was therefore disqualified by downed referee Tommy Young.  That's some pretty bad booking from a business standpoint given how over the Road Warriors were, but I still loved this match until that latent DQ.

You don't want none of this, Tully.

The other main event, for the US Title, was Lex Luger vs. Dusty Rhodes.  Dusty had vowed to retire if he couldn't beat Luger, and insisted on a cage match to prevent Horsemen interference.  The match itself was a bit slow but still pretty dramatic.  After a ref bump, Luger's manager JJ Dillon threw a chair into the cage, and when Luger bent down to pick it up Dusty DDT'd him on it to win the US Title.  This is one of those matches that hasn't aged well, but at the time it felt like a big deal and a worthy semi-main event.

All in all I still consider Starrcade '87 one of the best of the series.  It featured a pretty stacked show with three really strong bouts and a few other decent ones.  I feel like this show gets a lot of undeserved flak just because of Garvin's involvement in the main event.  But the match was good enough to forgive such odd booking.

Best Match: Ronnie Garvin vs. Ric Flair
Worst Match: Steve Williams vs. Barry Windham
What I'd Change: I dunno why Windham couldn't have won the NWA Title and then defended it against Flair here, or just have him challenge Flair here with the stip that it would be his last chance.  Also, for fuck's sake how do you not give Hawk & Animal the straps in their hometown?
Most Disappointing Match: Williams vs. Windham
Most Pleasant Surprise: Nikita vs. Taylor
Overall Rating: 9/10

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