Six of the Best – Starrcade matches from the 80’s

I decided to cut Starrcade down into an 80’s and 90’s section, just because there were so many matches to select from and I wanted to give them their fair due.

As always, these are just my own personal picks. This isn’t supposed to be some sort of objective list or anything. If I leave out a match that you think warrants inclusion, then please feel free to put it down in the comments section below. As with previous lists, I’ll be listing the matches in chronological order.

So without further to do, let’s get to it!

Starrcade 1983
Collar Match
Greg Valentine Vs Rowdy Roddy Piper

We start out with a truly vicious brawl, and possibly the best ever match to have this stipulation. Both men being attached with a chain around the neck is already a brutal scenario to begin with, but they sell it so well that it makes the whole situation even more intense. The image of both men standing across the ring from one another, bracing their body weight against one another’s necks, is a fantastic visual that’s sells the enormity of the situation before a single punch is even thrown.

When the fight finally starts up, it is suitably brutal and violent. This isn’t a wrestling match; it’s a war between two grizzled tough men who refuse to back down. Piper wrapping the chain around Valentine’s face never fails to make me feel a little queasy, nor do the constant chain shots to Piper’s ear from Valentine. You just don’t get matches with this sort of intensity anymore, certainly not in the anodyne modern WWE product.

Starrcade 1983
Cage Match
Harley Race Vs Ric Flair

The slower pace to this match can be a bit of a culture shock to modern fans, but it’s for that reason that I really enjoy it. There is literally no wasted motion here in this match, as both men gradually build the drama with every move they perform and every strike they throw. The goal is to make everything look believable and build suspense as to whether Flair will be able to overcome the cunning veteran within the confines of the cage, and it really is gripping stuff.

In a lot of ways, if professional wrestling was actually real, this is kind of how I think it would look. Rather than nifty intricate spots, the big moments in this match come from things like vertical suplexes and missed splashes, which get as big a pop from the crowd as head spike finishing moves would get today. The crowd are truly invested in the action and really want Flair to win, which makes for a great atmosphere. It feels like sports fans cheering on the home team in the big game, which is something that has been lost now that wrestling is presented more as entertainment than sport.

The only downside to the match is the guest refereeing from Gene Kiniski, who has a drama sapping slow count and usually spends most of the time getting in the two wrestlers way. Despite this however, this match is a genuine classic and one of my favourite Flair title wins. Would I want every wrestling match to be paced and structured like this? Probably not, but it would still be nice if this style of wrestling could make a comeback as a specialty attraction, as this really is a pleasant slice of something different when put up against the modern genre.

Starrcade 1985
I Quit Match
Tully Blanchard Vs Magnum Terry Allen

This is not only probably the best “I Quit” match ever, but it could honestly be in for the running when it comes to the greatest match of all-time list. This match is brutal, tense, barbaric and unapologetically violent, as both Tully and Magnum leave nothing on the cutting room floor when it comes to getting across the pure hatred between them. At times it feels like the climatic fight scene in an espionage thriller, when the protagonist and antagonist finally settle their issue in a gruelling clash.

The yelps and yells of both men as they clobber one another with the microphone whilst demanding the other quit make it hard not to feel uncomfortable. I struggle to think of many other matches where the two competitors do such a convincing job of making you truly believe that they absolutely hate one another. It’s almost mesmerising at times. The finish to the match is suitably violent as well, with Tully’s makeshift spike ending up in Mangum’s hands, in one of the most gruesome examples of the heel being hoisted by his own petard.

The ending image of Mangum throwing the spike away and walking out of the cage with his belt in disgust, whilst Tully lies sobbing on the mat, is incredibly powerful, and will last with me forever. This match really is just perfect. It gets the balance between violence and storytelling just right, with the finish giving the feud the payoff it deserved. I just love how Tully is the one who brings the weapon in, but ends up on the receiving end of it. Wrestling at its heart is the ultimate morality play, and this match encompasses that sentiment beautifully.

Starrcade 1986
Cage Match
Arn and Ole Anderson Vs The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express

This match is like a seminar in tag team wrestling, with The Andersons showing how to do it as heels whilst The RNR show how it’s done from the babyface side of things. Honestly, they should just have this match on repeat at the WWE Performance Centre and sit every tag team down to watch it, as the work from both teams is utterly sublime and the crowd are with the match throughout. In a lot of ways, both teams were the perfect opposition for the other, with the gruff grizzled Andersons making great foils for the exuberant pretty boy RNR.

The selling from both Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton is absolutely on point at all times, with the aggression from both Andersons being equally excellent. Morton in particular takes the absolute battering of a lifetime from the vicious challengers, and sells it all in his usual outstanding way. The crowd are literally begging for him to fight back at certain points, with even so much as an errant punch sending them into raptures. It’s an absolutely masterful working of a crowd, so much so that when the RNR get a rather cheap win (Gibson comes in without a tag to help Morton get the pin) they still erupt in joy because The Andersons do such a great job earning their ire.

Starrcade 1988
Dennis Condrey and Randy Rose Vs Stan Lane and Bobby Eaton

This is yet another great example of tag team psychology, as these two teams wrestle for fifteen minutes but make it feel like five. The story going into this match was that Condrey and Rose were the original team to name themselves the “Midnight Express”, and they’d come in to the NWA to take out Lane and Eaton for using the name themselves, bringing along Paul Heyman to manage them. With Lane and Eaton having their own manager in Jim Cornette, it created a fantastic dynamic between the two squads, with fans salivating for the two teams to finally do battle.

In a lot of ways, this match is a delightful first course to a meal, as both teams establish their excellent tag team credentials in a great match. Eaton and Lane manage to eke out a victory, but the Original Midnights attack both them and Cornette at the end to leave the door open for future matches between the two teams. Sadly, a change of booker meant that Rose was left on the outs and due to be written out of the storyline, so Condrey decided to take his ball and go home, thus killing the feud before we could get the main course.

It’s a massive shame as this match really is fantastic, with great tag work from both teams and also good involvement from the managers. These teams just looked right feuding with one another, with their dynamics matching up perfectly, and it’s unfortunate that the feud wasn’t able to be given the ending it truly deserved. This match lasts as a wonderful example of what could have been however, and is definitely worth a watch if you’ve never seen it.

Starrcade 1998
Ric Flair Vs Lex Luger

This is probably my favourite match between Flair and Luger, as they tear the house down and actually deign to have a rare pin fall finish as well. Sadly this is the match that cemented Luger as a career choker, as he fell to Flair in a fair fight after months of chasing him, but at least we got a great match of it in the process. Luger actually does an excellent job here, as he goes toe to toe with Flair for just over half an hour and does a decent job selling.

Flair spends most of the match getting battered by his larger foe, and tries to protect him in the finish by putting his feet on the ropes. The finish is the only part of the match I don’t particularly like. The idea of Flair working Luger’s leg so it buckles when he goes for the Torture Rack is a solid bit of storytelling, but the way Luger collapses in the move is really sloppy and he kind of throws Flair on top of him, which looks phoney. It probably would have been better for Luger just to fall back and for Flair to roll onto him. It doesn’t help as well that it seems impossible that the referee wouldn’t catch Flair putting his feet on the ropes. Aside from that however, this is a classic bout and possibly Luger’s best ever.

Honourable Mentions

Jay Youngblood and Ricky Steamboat Vs Gerry and Jack Brisco (Starrcade 1983), Tully Blanchard Vs Ricky Steamboat (Starrcade 1984), Ric Flair Vs Nikita Koloff (Starrcade 1986), Ric Flair Vs Ronnie Garvin (Starrcade 1987)

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Scott Keith has been going Starrcade Crazy the past couple of days, posting up all his vintage Starrcade reviews in preparation for WWE’s half arsed version of the event from this year. You can peruse all of this content at your reading pleasure by clicking right HERE

Thanks for reading and take care until next time!