Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (1988)

Arguably the greatest of all Starrcades, and ironically the first one not produced by Jim Crockett Promotions....

Starrcade '88 - Norfolk Scope - 12/26/88

The first Starrcade of the Turner Era was an unabashed classic.  Held the day after Christmas to avoid having to compete with Survivor Series, this show was the culmination of the year-long Ric Flair-Lex Luger feud, as well as the first Starrcade to not feature a single gimmick match (I was super pissed about this at the time; as a thirteen-year-old I thought gimmick matches ruled).

1988 saw a disturbing number of heel and face turns in the NWA.  It's pretty staggering when you think about it.  Lex Luger turned face, Barry Windham turned heel, Ronnie Garvin turned heel, The Midnight Express turned face, The Road Warriors turned heel, Ivan Koloff turned face, Rick Steiner turned face, Steve Williams turned heel.  That's gettin' to be a lot.  Anyway, the first match saw Williams team with his new manager Kevin Sullivan to challenge The Fantastics for the US Tag belts.  Tommy Rogers and Bobby Fulton had won a tournament for the vacant Titles due to The Midnight Express having given them up after winning the World Tag belts.  Sadly their World Tag Title reign was over well before new US Tag Champs were crowned.  What a gyp.  This opening contest was quite good, and the New Varsity Club captured the belts clean.

The second bout was one of my favorites, as The Midnight Express, Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane, faced The Original Midnight Express, Dennis Condrey and Randy Rose, managed by Paul E. Dangerously.  Prior to this feud I wasn't familiar with Dangerously, but I liked his heel manager antics right away.  These two teams gelled superbly and put on a tag team clinic, which Cornette's Midnight Express won with a Double Goozle after nearly 18 minutes.

The only throwaway match of the night was next, as Ivan Koloff teamed with NWA newcomer The Junkyard Dog, against former allies The Russian Assassins.  Not much going on in this one, and mercifully it was over in less than seven minutes, when one of the masked Assassins stuffed an object into his mask and headbutted Koloff.

The rest of this show was smooth sailin'.
The first singles match was for the TV Title, as Champion Mike Rotunda defended against former tag partner Rick Steiner, with Kevin Sullivan suspended above the ring in a cage.  This was a highly technical, very entertaining match that climaxed with Steve Williams prematurely ringing the time limit bell, freeing Sullivan, who promptly climbed to the ring apron only for Steiner to whip Rotunda into him and pin Rotunda for the belt.  The Scope went bonkers for this.  Steiner was insanely over once he turned babyface.  Very solid match.

Yeah I'm thinking the cage should've been moved off to the side

My favorite NWA wrestler in late 1988 was heel Barry Windham, who exuded such palpable badassery it was staggering.  I'm still disappointed he never got a real World Title run.  Anyway, Windham defended the US Title against Bam Bam Bigelow in a real power matchup.  These two had tremendous chemistry and after sixteen minutes Windham rammed Bigelow into the ring post and took a countout win.  Bigelow left the company almost right after this, which I found puzzling.  This was the only significant match of his NWA run.

Speaking of badassery, next up was NWA Tag Champs and mega-monster heels The Road Warriors defending against the two men they betrayed, Dusty Rhodes and Sting.  Dusty was on the outs with the company at this point after defying orders not to depict blood on the NWA's weekly TV show, and this would be his swan song before jumping to the WWF.  This feud was white-hot, and so while the action wasn't on the level of the Warriors' Starrcade '87 bout, this was a very good semi-main event.  At one point Sting performed a plancha from the top rope to the floor, which was very groundbreaking at the time.  The Warriors' eventually got disqualified to retain.

The main event was a rematch from that summer, between NWA Champ Ric Flair and his former protege Lex Luger.  Luger had been ousted from The Four Horsemen after refusing to lay down for JJ Dillon during the Bunkhouse Stampede series, making Luger (along with Sting) the hottest babyface in the company.  He had come up short in their Great American Bash bout, when referee Tommy Young stopped the match due to a cut on Luger's forehead (more of that shit).  In this rematch the DQ rule was waived, meaning Flair would lose the Title on a disqualification.  After nearly 31 minutes of splendid action, Luger snared Flair in the dreaded Torture Rack but his knee buckled after absorbing several minutes of Flair offense.  Flair fell on top of Luger and put his feet on the ropes for the win.  I always felt like this was a rather unsatisfying end to this feud.  The way Luger was built up as a top babyface, it seemed to me he should've beaten Flair for the gold.  Maybe give Luger the win in July and then have Flair regain the Title here?  Regardless this was a damn fine main event.

Jeezus that guy was ripped.

The 1988 edition of Starrcade ranks right up there with 1987.  I consider them the two best of the series and I'm hard-pressed to pick a favorite.  '87 probably had the best couple of matches but '88 was the better overall event.  This kicked off a full year of the NWA doing A LOT of things right, and 1989 proved to be the best year in the company's history.

Best Match: Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger
Worst Match: Ivan Koloff & JYD vs. Russian Assassins
What I'd Change: I'd have probably given Luger a six month run with the belt leading up to this and then have Flair regain it here.
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing really disappointing except at the time I was expecting Luger to win.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Nothing all that surprising, I expected to like most of this show and I did.
Overall Rating: 9/10

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