Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The History of NWA/WCW Starrcade (1993)

Ric Flair's big homecoming resulted in a very good main event atop a mediocre Starrcade....

Starrcade '93 - Independence Arena - 12/27/93

The Bill Watts experiment ended in early 1993 and a young, ambitious fella named Eric Bischoff soon took the reigns of WCW.  Initially the product didn't change a whole lot except in cosmetic ways.  But a host of new and returning talent found themselves on WCW TV, such as Davey Boy Smith, Sid Vicious, and of course the company's former cornerstone, Ric Flair.  The "Nature Boy" was brought in as a babyface and immediately reformed the Horsemen with Arn and Ole, and a mystery partner, who was revealed as Paul Roma.......ummmmmm.....okay....

The WCW Title was kept in a stranglehold by the monstrous Vader, who was set to feud with Sid Vicous leading into Starrcade.  Then during an overseas trip Sid and Arn Anderson got into an absolutely insane real-life slugfest which escalated into a scissor stabbing contest.  Both men were hospitalized, and Sid was fired.  The company scrambled, but found a much more suitable challenger for Vader, taking Starrcade back to its roots.  Ric Flair would now vie for the WCW Title in his hometown, with his career on the line.  The top of the show included a vignette shot live at Flair's home as he kissed his family goodbye to leave for the arena.  The cameras followed Flair into his limo, where he discussed with Gene Okerlund the grave situation he was about to face.  This came off as quite melodramatic, but it made for a nice little bit of window-dressing.  Before we get into the Flair-Vader showdown, let's look at the rest of the card.

The show kicked off with a tag match, as Pretty Wonderful (Paul Orndorff and failed Horseman Paul Roma) faced Marcus Bagwell & 2 Cold Scorpio.  This was a fun little opening match, and I liked both combinations.  Bagwell was actually a decent wrestler before he got Buff, and Roma & Orndorff made a fine heel team.  Solid work by everyone involved.

Speaking of failures, The Shockmaster made his Starrcade debut next against Awesome Kong.  Everyone of course remembers The Shockmaster as "Tugboat" Fred Ottman, who was supposed to be Sting's big equalizer at that year's WarGames, against Vader and Sid's team.  Ole Anderson provided the easily-identifiable voice for this character, and the fools in charge stuck a glitter-bedecked Stormtrooper helmet on Ottman as a disguise.  Ottman was supposed to break through the wall of Ric Flair's talk show set and make a grand entrance, but unfortunately he tripped on the way through and fell on his face, losing the helmet in the process.  This was all broadcast on live television, so the gimmick was D.O.A., and Ottman became more of a comedy wrestler instead.  Anyway, this match went 94 seconds.
Third up was the Television Championship, as Lord Steven Regal defended against Ricky Steamboat.  Let me preface by saying I loved Regal's European grappling style; so fluid and subtle.  This match had excellent chain wrestling and really should've been a classic.  Unfortunately Steamboat worked the match like he had an hour to burn, rather than the standard fifteen-minute time limit of a TV Title match.  So this barely had time to get going before Steamboat picked up the pace in the final three minutes.  This should've been booked in a way that Steamboat moved urgently while Regal constantly tried to stall.  Had their storytelling matched that dynamic, this would've really been excellent, but instead the match was just decent.

The second throwaway of the night was next, as Cactus Jack and Maxx Payne wrestled the future Godwinns, Tex Slazenger and Shanghai Pierce (Who came up with those ridiculous monikers?).  Cactus was fun to watch, doing moves no one else did in 1993, but otherwise this was totally skippable.

Things picked up in the fifth match as US Champion Dustin Rhodes defended against "Stunning" Steve Austin.  It's so weird to go back and watch these two before they became the world-famous characters they would be best known for.  Seems like two other guys fighting.  Anyway this was a very strong, intense fight, and Rhodes and Austin had great chemistry.  I think the 2/3 Falls stip actually hurt the match though, because they only had 15 minutes to work with, and after a long first fall the deciding second fall was totally anticlimactic.  Rhodes accidentally threw Austin over the ropes for a DQ, and two minutes later Austin pinned Rhodes with his feet on the ropes to take two straight.  Had they either been given 20+ minutes, or just had a one-fall match, this would've been greatly improved.

It's Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Goldust!!

Resuming their WWF feud from 1990 (but not really), NWA World Champ Rick Rude defended against The (Big) Boss(man).  These two plodded through a 9-minute NWA Title bout that felt like a 1989 Saturday Night's Main Event midcard match, and it was a bit of a harbinger of what WCW would become in 1994: 1980s WWF.  Terribly boring offense eventually led to a sunset flip ending out of nowhere for the Rude win.

That was nothing compared to this fiasco - The Nasty Boys vs. Sting and Hawk for the WCW Tag Titles.  Holy jeezus, what were they thinking giving this 29 minutes??  This should've been no longer than 15 at the absolute max.  First off, the Nasty Boys were awful.  I seriously don't understand why they won championships everywhere they wrestled.  I always found it postively excruciating to watch Knobbs and Sags, and they had annoying characters to boot.  Second, while the Hawk/Sting combination was intriguing, Hawk and Animal were never the same without each other.  The Road Warriors were greater than the sum of their parts, and every attempt to team one of them with someone else always fell short.  This match just kinda felt like a waste of Sting's talent and star power.  It was nice to see Hawk & Sting break out the Doomsday Device though.  But seriously, avoid this calamity of a match.  It goes on FOREVER.

Finally we came to the marquee matchup, WCW Champion and leviathan heel Vader vs. the returning hero Ric Flair.  This was a damn fine main event; dramatic and intense with great storytelling and a real David vs. Goliath narrative.  Vader was just ungodly awesome back then; everything he did looked like it fucking killed.  It's a shame his stock plummeted after feuding with Hulk Hogan.  The problem with a match like this is that Flair's offense wasn't very believable in terms of actually hurting a guy like Vader.  Flair really should've switched up his game for this match and added some more painful-looking strikes or increased his speed.  They could've shown training montages and had Sting help prepare him, thus adding a whole new layer to the story.  That being said, Flair and Vader worked in enough shortcuts and lucky breaks to keep the match realistic.  Flair whacked Vader's knee with a chair, Harley Race's interference backfired, Vader missed both of his top rope/second rope moves.  My only real complaint about this match was the finish, which looked amateurishly terrible.  Flair crouched down and just sorta pushed Vader's leg out from him, then awkwardly climbed on top for the pin.  Really bad-looking, almost on the level of Austin vs. Owen Hart from SummerSlam '97.  Otherwise though, this was a helluva good World Title match and a great moment for Flair, ten years after the first Starrcade.

I'm still amazed that the 450-pound Leon White did moonsaults.

While Starrcade '93 was no instant classic, it had four good matches out of eight, one of which was among the better main events of the series.  On that basis I'd give it a slight passing grade.  Plus it was the first SC in five years to have a traditional match format with no stupid tournament gimmicks.  This show felt like the company's flagship PPV again, regardless of its uneven match quality.  Flair was back as the WCW Champ, and things were ok.  For the next six months anyway....

Best Match: Vader vs. Ric Flair
Worst Match: Shockmaster vs. Awesome Kong
What I'd Change: Clearly the World Tag Title match was twice as long as it needed to be.  Cut that down, skip the Shockmaster nonsense, and give the extra time to the US Title match so it could be three full falls
Most Disappointing Match: Steven Regal vs. Ricky Steamboat - This wasn't bad, but it should've been great
Most Pleasant Surprise: That Buff Bagwell used to be able to wrestle
Overall Rating: 6/10

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