Mike Reviews: NWA/WCW Starrcade 1989

Hello You!

Back again with some NWA/WCW stuff (I’m not exactly sure what Turner’s company was called at this time and Wikipedia isn’t especially that helpful either as it lists both groups as hosting the event. The box art for the VHS release says WCW, but that might have been added in after the fact). Seeing as we’re creeping ever closer to December I decided I’d have a look at a show that I’ve never seen in full before with Starrcade 1989.

I remember watching the Turner Home Video cut of the show many moons back, but that featured a lot of clipped matches so that they could trim it down to fit onto the tape. However, thanks to the miracle of the WWE Network, I can now watch the near 3 hour show in its entirety.

Whether that’s a good idea or not is yet to be seen, as this Starrcade fell into the dreaded category of “concept show” (Which is something that happened quite a lot with Starrcade actually now I think about it. It’s strange how they did that so often with their biggest gala event instead of just promoting some big matches that fans cared about and then delivering them) with the concept being Round Robin tournaments for both the singles and tag divisions.

Of course the tag section is immediately weakened by not having The Midnight Express in it, with Jim Cornette relegated to commentary of all things, but the singles tournament features four genuine stars in the form of Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Sting and The Great Muta. It’s hard to think that having those four guys all working with one another couldn’t produce at least a couple of good matches.

I actually did this the old fashioned way by watching the show with an actual notepad and pencil before going away and typing it up later. Of course hand writing stuff takes a bit longer than typing so if I miss something pertinent it might be because I was busy scribbling something down, so apologies in advance if that should it happen.

The event is emanating from the “Madison Square Garden of the South”, The Omni, in Atlanta, Georgia on the 13th of December 1989. Wikipedia says that there were 10,000 people in the audience but I’m not sure if that’s a worked number or not.

Calling the action is Jim Ross, with Terry Funk doing colour on the singles tournament and Jim Cornette coming in for the tag tournament

We get the national anthem of the good ol’ U S of A to kick us off

Here’s the run down for the tournaments;

– Everyone in each tournament wrestles everyone else once

– Every match has a 15 minute time limit

– You get 20 points for pin or submission

– You get 15 points for winning by count out

– You get 10 points for winning by disqualification

– You get 5 points for a time limit draw

– You get nothing for losing or for a DDQ/DCOR

So right away the fact you get different amounts of points for different kinds of finishes already opens the door for screwiness and probably means we’re going to see some questionable results in order to keep people guessing.

Gary Michael Capetta introduces the competitors in the Iron Team Series. We have Doom (Ron Simmons and Butch Reed), The Road Warriors (Hawk and Animal), The New Wild Samoans (Fatu and Samoan Savage) and The Steiner Brothers (Rick and Scott). The crowd reactions feel quite muted actually, which could be down to the crowd not being especially into this concept or because they aren’t mic’ed that well (Or that there isn’t the 10,000 in here that Wikipedia promised).

Opening Match
Iron Team Series
Doom w/ Woman and Nitron Vs The Steiner Brothers

The Steiner’s were actually the World Tag Champs during this period, whilst Doom were still wearing masks and weren’t known as anything other than “Doom #1” and “Doom #2” at this current juncture. Both of The Steiner lads fling Doom around with scary ease in the early going. Have no doubt in your mind that both Rick and Scott Steiner were big strong scary blokes who would have no trouble throwing around most people. You can see quite a few empty seats on the hard camera side, which Ross explains away by saying that people are still coming in. Not all of them get filled as the event goes on but enough of them do to make me think there was some truth to the explanation.

This match kind of meanders, with the crowd not especially engrossed by what is going on, until Scott misses a charge and takes a spill to the outside, where Nitron works him over with punches. Doom works some heat on Scott following that, getting a very nice double team back body drop along the way. A big spine buster gives away who Simmons is, as we get the 4 minute call from GMC. Scott eventually manages to block a piledriver from Reed and catches him with a lovely side belly to belly suplex before getting the tag to Rick. Rick runs wild, heading outside to clock Nitron for the biggest pop of the match. Both teams brawl outside the ring and Rick makes it back inside to break the count and pick up the win.

WINNERS: THE STEINER BROTHERS VIA COUNT OUT (15 POINTS)
RATING: *1/2

The work was fine I guess, but the crowd was pretty flat and the finish sucked (A trend I’m afraid we might see more than once tonight)

The competitors in the Iron Man Series are introduced. They are Great Muta, Sting, Lex Luger and Ric Flair. The men are actually revealed behind curtains like they’re prizes on a game show or something.

Match Two
Iron Man Series
Sting Vs Lex Luger

Thankfully both men’s entrance music remains intact here, which is great as they’re both what I believe the youth of today would call “bangers”. This was of course meant to be WCW’s big time feud and rivalry once they could finally get that pesky Flair out of the way, but when it finally came time for them to feud with one another it never really captured people’s imaginations. Luger was in the midst of an impressively long United States Title run during this period and he immediately tries to run away from Sting in the early going.

Sting drags him back however and then proceeds to pinball him all over the ring in entertaining fashion. The crowd is digging watching Sting pummel Luger, but he eventually manages to catch Sting with an inverted atom drop to take over. Basically the first ten minutes of this match were Sting destroying Luger from pillar to post, which I think we can all agree is one heck of a way to shine up a babyface. It wouldn’t surprise me if you could see your reflection in Sting after such an impressive bit of stooging and bumping from Luger there. Nice to see that Luger will whip out the working boots when he’s wrestling his mate at least.

It’s interesting to see how wrestling has changed actually, as I can’t imagine tuning into Raw or Dynamite these days and watching a 15 minute match where the babyface took close to 80% of the offence, especially in WWE’s chin lock ridden formula matches that focus primarily on getting heat and seem to treat the shine as a necessary evil that needs to be gotten out of the way as quickly as possible. Luger tries the Torture Wrack, but Sting slips out and then starts making his comeback, as we get the 2 minute call from GMC. Luger tries to run away again, seemingly happy to take the draw, but Sting chases him outside and up onto the apron. The two tumble in however and Luger ends up on top, which leads to him getting the rope assisted cheap pin.

WINNER: LEX LUGER (20 POINTS)
RATING: **1/2

That finisher was sloppier than a fried egg butty served on a greasy plate in the greasiest greasy spoon café in town. The match itself was fine though, as shockingly two long-time friends actually had some decent chemistry with one another.

Luger is happy to have the win and gets out of there sharpish.

Match Three
Iron Team Series
Doom w/ Woman and Nitron (0) Vs The Road Warriors w/ Paul Ellering

Woman has changed both her dress and her hair style for this one. I’m always a sucker for people having different attires on tournament shows, with the benchmark being Randy Savage at WrestleMania IV. Ross says that Doom are out here again so soon because the match order was done by random draw, which seems like an odd way of doing it. I can’t picture that flying in the World Cup for instance. “Well done on that hard fought win over Czech Republic there Brazil, we’ve got you scheduled to play Bolivia tomorrow, so good luck with that!”

The Warriors dominate the opening 5 minutes, but Doom manages to get some heat on Hawk when he misses a charge into the corner. Hawk eventually manages to shift his weight on a body slam and makes his way over to tag Animal. Animal does a brief hot tag segment but gets caught by Reed in the commotion, who sets him up for a piledriver. However, as the referee is making sure Simmons gets out of the ring, Hawk comes off the top with a clothesline to Reed and that leads to the three count.

WINNERS: THE ROAD WARRIORS (20 POINTS)
RATING: *1/2

Reed made sure to kick out at 3.1 by the way, because apparently doing a job to one of the most dominant tag teams of all-time via an illegal clothesline wasn’t adequate enough protection for him. This wasn’t terrible or anything but it wasn’t especially good either and it was pretty dull. The crowd liked the finish at least.

So that’s Doom essentially out of the tournament running.

Match Four
The Great Muta w/ Gary Hart Vs Ric Flair w/ Ole and Arn Anderson

Muta was the TV Champion and they were pushing that he hadn’t been pinned or submitted yet, although he technically was pinned by Sting at Great American Bash but the finish was disputed and the TV Title was held up as consequence. Flair was the World Champion during this period and The Anderson’s had recently returned to watch his back. We see that Norman The Lunatic (Mike Shaw/Friar Ferguson/Bastion Booger) is dressed as Father Christmas at ringside for some reason.

They start brightly and Flair almost immediately manages to get Muta in the Figure Four Leglock. This brings down Muta’s stable mates of Bart Sawyer and The Dragon Master, who promptly get into a brawl with The Anderson’s. Flair is distracted by this and goes over to join the brawl, but this allows Muta to take him down and head up top for the moonsault. Flair manages to get his knees up however and immediately follows up with a small package to pick up the flash pin.

WINNER: RIC FLAIR
RATING: N/A

Too short to rate but it was all action and the crowd was digging it. I can only imagine they had this one go so quickly so that they could fit all the matches in under 3 hours and thought that having the brawl between the two factions would give Muta an out for losing so quickly as there was so much chaos going on.

If you’d like to see a good long match between Flair and Keiji Mutoh then they had a good match in New Japan when Flair was in the 1995 G1 Climax. It was a good and bloody battle between them and one of the highlights of Flair’s participation in that tour.

Match Five
Iron Team Series
The Steiner Brothers (15) Vs The Road Warriors w/ Paul Ellering (20)

This was of course a huge match at the time and they probably could have just booked this for the show without the whole palaver of the tournament and people would have been interested to see it. Both teams do the respect deal to start by shaking hands. Cornette earns his commentary fee for the evening by saying that he favours The Road Warriors if it becomes a brawl but thinks The Steiner Brothers will have the advantage if it stays as a technical wrestling bout, which makes complete sense and is some good analysis.

This is mostly a back and forth affair, with both teams easily flinging the other around in impressive fashion. The crowd isn’t quite sure who to cheer for, so they just sit back and react to the moves. The Warriors eventually isolate Scott but it’s more of a control segment rather than a heat segment, as they aren’t cheating and are just looking to win the match fairly. In case you ever needed an example of how tough Road Warrior Hawk was, Scott tries to belly to belly suplex him from the top rope, but he isn’t able to get Hawk all the way over onto his back and Hawk pretty much goes face and shoulder first into the mat.

Rather than putting him out of commission like a normal mortal being, Hawk merely tags out and then rolls outside for a bit to catch his bearings before fighting on. That’s like walking off a torn hamstring or something. Rick eventually tries to come in and help his brother, but The Warriors deal with him and then set Scott up for a back suplex/flying clothesline combo move. They succeed in performing the move but when Animal pins Scott his shoulders are down also, so when Scott lifts his shoulder it actually means that Animal is pinned for the three count to give The Steiner’s the fluke win.

WINNERS: THE STEINER BROTHERS (35 POINTS)
RATING: **

This wasn’t bad but it was also kind of underwhelming as well, with the crowd not wanting to pick sides hurting the atmosphere. I get what they were going for with the finish as The Road Warriors hardly ever got pinned unless there was some kind of shenanigan, but I’m not really sure that it helped anyone. Ultimately it made Animal look dumb and Scott look lucky, so no one got over and no one was really protected either.

Well the draw has favoured The Samoans there as they’ll now be one match fresher than every team they face until the final fixture.

Match Six
Iron Man Series
The Great Muta w/ Gary Hart (0) Vs Sting (0)

Neither guy gets music here, as they seem to be continuously rushing to get everything done in time. Hey guys, here’s an idea, maybe don’t book 12 matches for a three hour pay per view next time? Muta and Sting had quite the rivalry in 89, so hopefully they can tap into the chemistry they had in those matches and deliver something good here.

The action in the match is decent, with Muta even busting out the Cattle Mutilation, but the crowd isn’t really up for it for some reason. To be fair, both men had wrestled A LOT during the past year and it could just been that the jaded Omni crowd felt like they’d seen it all before and weren’t invested for that reason. I really don’t get why the NWA/WCW fetishized this venue so much to be honest, especially as I always felt the Greensboro crowd was better whenever they’d do the simulcasts from both venues on the early Starrcade events.

Sting eventually breaks out of the hold and picks up the pace a bit with slams and elbow drops before settling into a chin lock. Muta works his way out of that and then starts attacking Sting in the corner, which needs to a neat bit from Hart where he tells the referee to show his fingers to Muta when doing the 5 count as Muta can’t count in English. This is more than likely a heel ploy to confound the ref, but it could also possibly true within in kayfabe, which is why it works so well as a bit of character development. I love the little touches like that.

Muta eventually attempts the moonsault, but Sting is able to avoid it. Muta lands on his feet however and takes Sting down with a nice spin kick before heading up top for something. Sting is able to cut Muta off however and brings him down with a superplex, which actually gets the pin!!!

WINNER: STING (20 POINTS)
RATING: **1/2

Hey, I’ve been banging on for months that I think the superplex should be a finisher, and there we see Sting using as one and getting a big pop in the process! It’s almost as if you protect big moves then fans will buy them as finishers. Who knew? I thought the match itself was okay, as these two guys would have to actively try to have a bad one I think, but it wasn’t at the same level of some of their better ones.

We now get a quick break to check the scores and see what the commentators think. Cornette thinks that The Steiner Brothers will win the Iron Team Series but is interested to see what The Samoans will do, whilst Funk is sticking with his earlier prediction that Luger will win the Iron Man Series. I’ve just noticed that Cornette actually has a Father Christmas cover for his tennis racquet, which is awesome.

Match Seven
Iron Team Series
The New Wild Samoans w/ Sir Oliver Humperdink Vs Doom w/ Woman and Nitron (0)

Woman is sporting her third clothes change of the evening, as I ponder why they didn’t do the same gimmick with Flair considering how self-satisfied the Flair character can be. We see that Norman is still stumbling around the arena in his Father Christmas outfit, apparently giving candy to the kids in the arena. Both teams are heels and fight to stalemate to start, but Doom is eventually able to cut off Samoan Savage and work him over.

Savage manages to dodge a Doom attack and tags in Fatu, who runs wild on the opponents. Savage and Simmons come in for the brawl and distract the referee whilst Fatu and Reed bang heads. Reed goes down to the mat whilst Fatu is held up by the ropes, so Humperdink pushes his man forward so that he lands on top of Reed for the three count.

WINNERS: THE NEW WILD SAMOANS (20 POINTS)
RATING: *1/2

Stuff happened, it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good either, the crowd didn’t especially care and then someone won.

Cornette sells on commentary that Woman isn’t going to be happy about her clients poor performance here, which I think eventually led to her dropping them and Theodore Long becoming Doom’s new manager.

Match Eight
Iron Man Series
Lex Luger (20) Vs Ric Flair (20)

These two had their fair share of matches with one another, and even met in the main event of the previous year’s Starrcade, but usually it’s Flair who is the heel instead of Luger, so this could be potentially interesting to see the dynamic switched. Luger stalls to start, and then gets frustrated when Flair gets the better of things in the technical wrestling battle and tries to bail once Flair starts throwing chops. Flair follows Luger outside though and throws some more chops, beforacke putting him back inside and controlling things.

I don’t think it gets said enough just how good a babyface Ric Flair was. Yes, I know he preferred to work heel and it’s as a heel that most people think of him, but he good be a darn good face when he wanted to be. Luger tries going to eyes to buy himself some respite, but Flair recovers with a series of roll ups for some multiple two counts. Luger eventually drops Flair throat first over the top rope and stomps away, as they’re doing a decent job with this alternate universe match. Luger continues to heel on Flair with stomps and the like, but when he tries a suplex Flair is able to counter it into one of his own and then starts making the comeback.

Luger manages to catch Flair with a clothesline when he tries something off the top for a two count, as we get the 2 minute call from GMC. Flair actually busts out a sunset flip of all things for two, but Luger manages to knock him down again before he can get some momentum going. Luger isn’t really wrestling with any sense of urgency here, and when he misses an elbow drop it opens the door for Flair to lock in the Figure Four. Luger sells it big but is able to hold on as the time limit runs out.

WINNER: TIME LIMIT DRAW (BOTH MEN GET 5 POINTS)
RATING: ***

This wasn’t on the level of some of their better matches but was enjoyable for the most part and I got a kick out of both men reversing their usual roles.

That result keeps Sting alive at least, but that could change if Luger can get a pin or submission over Muta in his next match.

Match Nine
Iron Team Series
The New Wild Samoans w/ Oliver Humperdink (20) Vs The Steiner Brothers (35)

Who came first, Humperdink or Lou Albano, because I can see quite a few similarities between them seeing as they’re both big bearded blokes who tend to manage to scary tag teams. The Steiner Brothers bring down two kids with them to ringside, which seems a perfectly sensible thing to do when you’re wrestling two supposed crazy savages. Those kids would probably have been safer off with King Herod than sitting ringside at an 80’s WCW event.

Rick actually hits the Samoan Savage so hard in the early going that he manages to knock one of his braids out, which kind of encapsulates Ricks entire wrestling style if I’m honest. The Steiner’s continue to hit The Samoans seemingly as hard as they possibly can, which The Samoan’s appear to kindly tolerate. Eventually The Samoans manage to attack Scott outside the ring and drop him groin first on the guardrail. I’m sure a young impressionable lad in Yonkers watched this show and a lightbulb went off in his head after witnessing that cut off.

The Samoans do the usual biting, choking and head butting as they work Scott over, but eventually he is able to catch Fatu with a Frankensteiner out of nowhere. Scott is too hurt to capitalise however, which allows Fatu to tag out to Samoan Savage. Rick has eventually seen enough and comes in without a tag, which seemingly leads to the referee calling for the bell to give us another lame finish in a series of them tonight.

WINNERS BY DISQUALIFICATION: THE NEW WILD SAMOANS (30 POINTS)
RATING: *1/2

Apparently the DQ was for Scott throwing Savage over the top rope rather than Rick just charging in, but I guess either would have made sense. This was another match that meandered, as everyone in this tag series seems to be just doing the bare minimum.

The Steiner Brothers now need the final match result to go their way so that they can win the tournament.

Match Ten
Iron Man Series
The Great Muta w/ Gary Hart (0) Vs Lex Luger (25)

Hey, I’ve just clocked that Luger has been wearing different trunks for each match tonight. Luger is limping due to the Figure Four from earlier, whilst most of Muta’s face pain has been worn away due to his previous two efforts. Muta has no chance of winning the tournament now and is playing purely for pride, which seems like a weird way to book all this considering that he was doing a good job of getting over.

Muta immediately targets Lugers leg, although we don’t get to see a Dragon Screw or a Shining Wizard like we would see in 2001 when he became Wrestler of the Year by working that formula in most of his matches. Luger sells all of Muta’s leg work well, but he’s not going to draw any sympathy from this crowd so it’s kind of all for naught. Luger makes sure to yell “Argh, my leg” just in case the people in the cheap seats can’t tell what part of his anatomy is hurting and think he just has an overactive thyroid or something. Luger eventually mounts a comeback and looks to have Muta on the ropes, so Muta just spits mist at him for the blatant DQ in another terrible finish.

WINNER BY DISQUALIFICATION: LEX LUGER (35 POINTS)
RATING: **

This one wasn’t bad or anything but it really felt like both men had just had enough and were going through the motions until they could take it home. Considering that Ross was hyping it as a first time meeting, it didn’t especially deliver any real excitement.

That finish was abysmal but it does at least keep Sting, Luger and Flair all alive going into the main event.

Semi-Main Event
Iron Team Series
The New Wild Samoans w/ Sir Oliver Humperdink (30) Vs The Road Warriors w/ Paul Ellering (20)

Right, let’s go through all the possible outcomes here. A win of any kind will see The Samoans win the tournament, whilst a time limit draw will see The Samoans and Steiner Brothers tie, meaning they will have to meet one another in a “wrestle-off” to decide the winner. A DQ win for The Road Warriors will see The Steiner Brothers win the tournament, but a count out win will see those two teams going at it again to decide the win. Finally, if The Road Warriors win by pin or submission then they will win the tournament. I hope everyone brought their abacus with them today!

There’s seemingly some communication issues between both teams, as they botch a back body drop attempt from Fatu to Animal, which means Animal has to sell it like a head butt to the gut. The Samoans get the heat following that, which at least gives the crowd a chance to get behind The Warriors. The match just kind of falls apart during the heat however so Hawk seems to just think “Sod it, that’ll do” and comes in with a top rope clothesline to Samoan Savage to pick up the win.

WINNERS: THE ROAD WARRIORS (40 POINTS)
THE ROAD WARRIORS WIN THE IRON TEAM SERIES
RATING: ½*

The match was pretty bad but the fans were happy with the result at least.

The Steiner Brothers come down to congratulate The Road Warriors and don’t look particularly bothered that they didn’t win it themselves. I can’t blame them really, it’s not like much was even at stake.

Main Event
Iron Man Series
Sting (20) Vs Ric Flair (25)

Sting needs to win by pin or submission here in order to win the tournament, with a count out seeing him tie with Luger and a DQ win seeing Luger win it all. If Flair wins by DQ then he’ll wrestle-off with Luger, whilst any other kind of win will see him win the tournament. A draw sees Luger win the tournament. Seeing as he has a penchant for it anyway, Flair gleefully reverts to defacto heel here, even though he and Sting had been watching one another’s backs for the second half of 1989. I’m sure it didn’t take much to convince Flair to work it that way. It would have probably have been about as difficult as trying to convince him to walk around a hotel lobby in just his robe.

Sting controls things in the early going, which frustrates Flair, and both men quickly go to their usual formula with one another and it’s good as always. Flair eventually takes the fight outside, which has Funk decrying his actions on commentary. Hey, maybe Funk was right about Flair all along? Flair suplexes Sting back into the ring for two and then lets his heel personality start to peak out when he yells at the ref over his count. Flair works Sting over in deliberate fashion but Sting eventually starts Stingering up and stalks Flair around ringside.

Sting tries a sunset flip back inside, but Flair punches him to block that and then tries to finish Sting off once and for all by suplexing him off the apron to the floor. Sting is able to block that however and suplexes Flair back into the ring and then makes his comeback, with Flair even begging off for old times sake. Sting gets the Stinger Splash and goes to the Scorpion Deathlock, but Flair is able to get his body under the ropes to cause the break. Flair tries the Figure Four after that, but this time it’s Sting who is able to grab the ropes to break the hold. Flair targets Stings leg with the usual but Sting manages to catch him with a backslide for two. Flair goes back to the leg and tries the Figure Four again, but Sting is able to counter that into a small package and that’s enough for the win.

WINNER: STING (40 POINTS)
STING WINS THE IRON MAN SERIES
RATING: ***1/2

These two could probably have a good match in their sleep if they wanted to.

The Andersons come down to the ring following the result, seemingly to lay a whupping on Sting, but Flair prevents that and instead offers a handshake. Arn Anderson raises Stings hand and flashes the four fingers, which would lead to Sting joining The Horsemen. I’m sure that didn’t end in tears for him…

Gordon Solie interviews The Road Warriors on the ramp, and they put over the fans and declare themselves the Iron Men. Solie tries to get a word with Sting but the closing credits start rolling before he can do so. We hear in the background that Flair refers to Sting as The Man as the show comes to a close.

In Conclusion

Though I can appreciate what they were going for with the tournaments (Realistically they set up both The Road Warriors and Sting as potential challengers for the main Titles) but there were just too many sucky finishes in order to accommodate the point system. Ultimately the points system was there to “protect” guys with count outs and DQ’s, but if you’re not willing to beat guys then you shouldn’t book these sort of tournaments. New Japan can do these sorts of things with G1 because they aren’t afraid to have their guys get pinned or submitted.

“Protecting” all the tag guys stood only to make Muta look even worse for doing two pin fall jobs as well. Again, in New Japan pretty much every G1 match ends in a pin or submission, so it lessens the negative effect of someone getting pinned because everyone gets pinned at some point anyway so it’s not as big a deal. This was pretty much a burial of Muta, which baffled me because he’d been such an impressive star for the company during 1989 and this only served to make him look weak in comparison to the other three singles stars.

To be honest they should have just do standard 7-9 match card without the tournaments, as I doubt having the tournaments sold any additional tickets or pay per view buys. They could have just done Flair/Muta, Sting/Luger, Steiner’s/Road Warriors with some supporting matches in the undercard and the show would probably have been paced better and those particular matches would have had more time to breathe.

I’d struggle to recommend this one but if you have WWE Network then you should certainly seek out the Flair Vs Sting match, as it’s very good and is yet another chapter in one of wrestling’s greatest ever rivalries.