We have finally reached the end of Mike Reviews Main Events, with NWA/WCW Starrcade being how I’m set to bow out. I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read these ever since I started doing them earlier in the year. It’s kind of amazing that we’ve reached the end, and I have to say I’m a little bit relieved as it looked like a daunting prospect at first.
Starrcade was traditionally WCW’s biggest event of the year (Although you wouldn’t think that considering how they booked it sometimes) and in the earlier days especially it produced some of the best matches in the company’s history.
Originally held in the Carolina’s and Georgia (Two strongholds for Jim Crockett Promotions) WCW eventually took Starrcade on the road starting in 1987, with the 87 event being the catalyst for Vince McMahon to create the Survivor Series out of pure spite. The latter events in places like Nashville and Washington never really lived up to the great ones in Greensboro and Atlanta, but Starrcade still remained a focal point of the WCW promotion, even into the nWo era of the company.
This week we’ll be covering 1983 to 1988
NWA Starrcade 1983
Guest Referee: Gene Kiniski
NWA Heavyweight Title
Champ: Harley Race Vs Ric Flair
I know Ric Flair is on record saying he never enjoyed being a babyface because he didn’t think he was any good at it, but I think storylines like this would beg to differ on that front. Race had put a bounty on Flair’s head because he was sick of The Nature Boy always nipping at his heels, which led to Dick Slater and The Bodyguard Ace Cowboy Bob Orton Jr laying him out with a spiked piledriver to collect it. Flair returned with a neck brace and baseball bat though to cut the big money promo and the match for Starrcade was on, with it taking place in long time Flair stronghold Greensboro. As you can imagine, the crowd is jazzed for Flair and hates Race as a result of both the build-up and the fact that this is essentially a “home game” for Flair.
A lot of this is patient work on the mat, which I could see being a bit of a culture shock for the modern fan who is used to seeing the much faster paced style that WWE and AEW present today. This sort of wrestling is my own personal jam though, so I really enjoy the fact it’s a bit more meticulous. It helps that Gordon Solie is wonderfully in his element commentating on this style of wrestling, as few men over the course of history have manged to successfully nail the “sports caster” vibe that Solie brought to the table when he called these sorts of matches.
It really does help give the match a “real sports feel”, with Solie treating this like a legitimate athletic competition and the two men working it like a sporting contest. There is little to no wasted motion from both men, as they gradually build the bout and allow the drama to grow with every move they perform and every strike they throw. Their goal is to make everything look believable and to build suspense as to whether Flair will be able to overcome the cunning veteran, with Race being suitably gruff and unpleasant whenever he has the chance to control flings, focusing on pounding the downed Flair so that he can wear him down.
Flair of course does his customary blade job, which you kind of have to do when you’re working in a cage like this. I’m hardly a gore freak who demands copious amounts of blood in every match, but when you’re fighting inside a cage and you’re actively using it as a weapon then it becomes silly when both men’s faces are spotless following it all. Again, I wouldn’t want to see it in every match, but I think you can completely justify it in climatic feud ending cage matches like this one is supposed to be. Flair of course sells everything perfectly, registering the pain but also defiantly fighting on like the good babyface he is.
In some ways, this match is kind of how I think Pro Wrestling would look if it was actually a real sporting event. Rather than going for nifty intricate spots and sequences, the big moments in this match from both men 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.
Race ends up bleeding also as the match progresses, and I love it how there is genuine fear and worry from the fans when Flair is down and Race has a pin. It’s rare to get this sort of engagement from a crowd these days, even with the most over of stars. I mean, there’s no way they’re going to end this big match with Race pinning Flair clean off a vertical suplex, but this crowd is so wrapped up in Flair’s challenge for the belt that they totally buy that he might, which is great. The finish has an out of nowhere feel to it too, as Flair comes off the top with a cross body block and manages to hold Race down for three. They tried to do a story that Race tripped over Kiniski in the process, but Kiniski was out of position because he sucks as a ref. Still, it added to the real fight feel, as fights in boxing and MMA regularly end in a heartbeat when you don’t expect them to.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: RIC FLAIR
The only downside to this match was the guest refereeing from Kiniski, as he had a drama sapping slow count and spent most of his time in there just getting in both wrestlers’ way. Despite that 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 was a pleasant slice of something different when put up against the modern genre. I fully accept that it might not be for everyone, but I would at least give it a try if you haven’t really seen this old school style of match, as it’s probably one of the best examples of it available on the WWE Network
NWA Starrcade 1984
NWA Heavyweight Title
Guest Referee: Joe Frazier
Champ: Ric Flair Vs Dusty Rhodes
This one came about because Flair and Dusty were not only rivals but also arguably to the two top singles wrestlers in the whole territory, so they set this up like a super important big Title fight, with the added stipulation that the winner would also receive…
Oh yes! I’m sure Scott worked that one into his review, but I’m going with it too because sometimes there isn’t such a thing as fruit hanging too low! Dusty came out to “Purple Rain” in real life, which is of course dubbed out on The Network with something that sounds like mood music from a spa changing room. I know that Flair and Dusty were big rivals from a character perspective, but I’ve never really dug their matches together. I’m not a huge Dusty fan, but I like him in situations like this as they work a quicker clip than usual in the early going, and it’s generally entertaining stuff. I know that Dusty was great at selling, but the long matches he had where he’d have to lie around in a hold for 10 minutes on end just did nothing for me. Thankfully there isn’t any of that here.
It’s pretty back and forth, with Dusty getting to work over Flair’s leg when the Champ misses a knee drop, even going so far as to lock him in his own Figure Four. Well I certainly wasn’t expecting Dusty to work over Flair’s legs in this one, so they’ve subverted my expectations I’ll give them that. The match in general has some good heat, with Flair having his fans in the house, even though he’s working the more heelish of the two men, taking his usual big heel Flair bumps. Frazier isn’t much of a ref sadly, which means some of the two counts don’t have the drama you’d like. I think having a regular ref and sticking Frazier outside the ring as a special enforcer might have worked better.
Eventually both men end up duking it out around ringside, which leads to Dusty taking a trip into the ring post and doing a blade job above his right eye. Thus the main story of the match kicks in, with Flair working the cut and the eye, which eventually forces Frazier to step in and stop the bout, thus giving Dusty a way to win without actually having to eat and pin or submission. I kind of like it as a finish actually, but I think they probably needed it to be gorier blade job and they also needed to have Flair work over the cut a bit longer before Frazier finally stopped it. A good idea in concept that didn’t really work in execution for me.
WINNER BY REF STOPPAGE AND STILL CHAMPION: RIC FLAIR
This was fine, as the abbreviated 12 minute match length suited Dusty to a certain degree and the finish was a creative way to get out of someone doing a proper job without ripping off the crowd on an actual finish, but the execution wasn’t quite there for me. Still, a watchable outing and I enjoyed it for what it was
NWA Starrcade 1985
NWA World Heavyweight Title
Champ: Ric Flair Vs Dusty Rhodes
This one came about when Ric Flair and The Andersons broke Dusty’s ankle in a cage after Dusty had actually saved Flair from an attack by the Evil Russians. Thus we get proper heel Flair this year, rather than subtle heel Flair from the 1984 match. I’m not sure what music Dusty is using this time, but they dub a generic rock song over it so it was probably a bit more high tempo than Purple Rain. One good thing about Flair’s entrance music is that it doesn’t normally need to be dubbed over due to it being public domain (Although they did go through a phase of dubbing over it in Video Games and DVD’s during the 00’s, usually going with his 92 Era WWF theme, although on Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain they got around it by just having him enter to the Evolution theme song)
They’re going 20 minutes this time instead of the 12 from 84, with a more traditional Face/Heel alignment, so they give Dusty the babyface shine as he gets to bump Flair around with his usual array of punches and elbows. I happen to think Dusty’s elbow strikes look good, but I just never really got on board with his punches. Flair smartly goes after Dusty’s previously injured foot so he can get a foothold (pun partially intended) in the bout, but Dusty shakes it off at first and continues to throw some more elbows, which again look good and Flair sells them well. Dusty then starts kicking away at Flair’s ankle in a quest for vengeance, before working it over with some holds.
Flair’s selling for all of that is top notch of course, with Dusty also doing a good job as a vengeful babyface looking to settle a score. Flair eventually goes to the eyes to rescue himself, but he can’t suplex Dusty due to a combination of his leg hurting and Dusty’s girth, which allows Dusty to get a suplex of his own before going back to the leg. The story they’re telling here makes sense and the wrestling itself hasn’t been bad, so I’m having fun with it for the most part, as are the crowd. Flair keeps trying different things to get himself back into the match, but Dusty always seems to have an answer and keeps going back to the leg whenever the opportunity presents itself.
In a nice bit of symmetry, both men fight outside like they did in 84, but this time it’s Flair who gets thrown into the ring post and does the blade job. I’m not sure if that was an intentional call back, but if it was then it was a clever one. Dusty moves from the leg to target the cut instead, with Flair continuing to sell it big, and the crowd is loving watching Dusty hand Flair his arse like this. Flair finally gets lucky by dodging a Dusty kick, which leads to Dusty kicking the ropes instead and hurting the previously injured body part. That allows Flair to start working some heat by taking Dusty to school with the usual leg work, with Dusty selling that well.
Hey, they’re going 20 minutes, anyone who thought there wasn’t going to be a period where Dusty got to lay around selling whilst Flair wrestled around him for a bit was deluding themselves. To Dusty’s credit, he’d been working hard up to this point and Flair is so entertaining as a villainous heel that the section isn’t boring at least. Flair goes to the Figure Four, but Dusty rolls it over to counter, leading to Flair grabbing the ropes to break. Both men are limping now, but Dusty starts Dreaming-Up following some chops and makes the comeback, getting a big clothesline for two. However, Flair accidentally charges into the ref following that, sending him tumbling to the floor.
This is the cue for Arn Anderson to run down whilst Dusty has Flair in the Figure Four. Dusty fends him off, which leads to Ole Anderson sneaking in with a running knee strike, which gives Flair two in a great near fall. Dusty manages to catch Flair with an inside cradle right after and that’s enough for three to give him the Title.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: DUSTY RHODES*
This was a good match and I had fun with it. I liked Dusty going after Flair’s foot in an attempt at revenge for what Flair did to him, and the resting was kept to minimum for the most part
*Flair would get the belt back due to a Dusty Finish DQ when the original ref decided that Flair should have been DQ’ed for The Anderson run in.
NWA Starrcade 1986
NWA World Heavyweight Title
Champ: Ric Flair Vs Nikita Koloff
Originally the plans were for Magnum Terry Allen to get the shot at Flair here, with the common thought being that Magnum would win the World Title from Flair to cement himself as the company’s top star. Sadly Magnum suffered a terrible car crash that ended his career prematurely, which meant they didn’t really have a contender for Flair. They decided to turn Nikita, with the idea being that Nikita had previously feuded with Magnum and had gained respect for him during the course of the rivalry, causing him to take on Flair in tribute to his once former enemy. That’s not a bad excuse for a babyface turn to be honest.
We get a music video prior to the match starting showing Magnum running on a beach, set to a 00’s sounding indie track that doesn’t suit the 80’s aesthetic whatsoever. It’s a song that band like Cold would release. It is a shame that Magnum never got a chance with the top belt to be honest. He might not have been a Hogan level guy, but I think he certainly would have been a popular star in the company and a group like WCW could have done with more of those when it became time to properly try to challenge the WWF at the end of the 80’s.
They do the classic “Heel Flair Vs Big Strong Babyface” shtick in the early going, with Nikita no selling everything and Flair hamming up his frustration over none of his attacks working. It’s a Ric Flair match from 1986 against a competent opponent, so it’s pretty much automatically good just by default. Nikita remains a guy whose work I haven’t seen a lot of and my personal view has always been that he was perfectly fine as a power wrestler but he wasn’t an elite level guy. Against a super talented guy like Flair you were usually assured something good, and against a more average guy you were likely to get something at least watchable. Here he’s pretty much a warm body plugged into the usual Flair formula, and he does just fine in that role.
I’m thinking Danny Burch might have enjoyed himself some Nikita Koloff matches in his younger days, and he pretty much looked like an English version of him back when he wore a singlet. Flair eventually goes to the leg to finally get some traction in the match, doing the rope assisted Figure Four just to make sure any new viewers know who the villain is supposed to be in this one. Nikita sells the leg well actually, hobbling around and such, but Flair makes the mistake of throwing more chops and that leads to Nikita Stalining-Up. Flair manages to put a stop to the comeback though by flinging Nikita to the outside and then throwing him into the scaffold that was set up earlier for a match between the Midnight Express and Road Warriors.
Nikita blades following that and Flair works the cut back inside. I’m liking Nikita’s selling here, as he’s getting the right mix between registering the pain but still being a big powerful Communist lug who treats pain as something to be overcome. Flair is great as well, begging off whenever it looks like Nikita will fight back but being super cocky whenever he thinks he has things under control. I love it in wrestling when you get two diverse characters and just let them react to one another in a sporting setting. It’s so much harder to do that when everyone is so cookie-cutter most of the time these days.
Flair goes into the scaffold next and that leads to him bleeding as well, as they’re really throwing everything at this one in pursuit of having a great match. That leads to the ref taking an accidental bump inside, just in time to be out when Nikita clocks Flair with his Russian Sickle clothesline, leaving no one to count. Flair gets a cheap shot following that and makes the cover, but Nikita kicks out at two in a good near fall. The second ref (Scrappy McGowan) ends up taking a stray Sickle and then the first ref comes in to get shoved down by both men, leading to both men brawling to a Double DQ in a super lame finish.
Good match with a lousy finish. I get they didn’t want to have Nikita lose right after his face turn, but couldn’t they have just gone with him getting the DQ win at the very least? Doing the draw means he failed and it was his own fault. If he’d had the winning pin and someone had run in to attack him, he would at least have had the moral victory, which would have been a bit better than the finish we got
Flair and Nikita have a big pull-apart brawl following that, with the locker room emptying to split them up.
NWA Starrcade 1987
NWA World Heavyweight Title
Champ: Rubbish Ronnie Garbage (Go Watch OSW Review!) Vs Ric Flair
Garvin had won the Title from Flair in an upset earlier in the year, but he’d been a weak Champion owing to no one really wanting to put him over because it was pretty obvious that he was a placeholder. He also disappeared for a while in the build-up so he could dedicate his time to training for this re-match, which made him look like even more of a goober for what happens here. This was the first time they’d taken Starrcade out of the South, with the event taking place in Chicago instead. They ended up drawing 8,000 people to the UIC Pavilion, which according to Wikipedia has a 9,500 capacity for wrestling, so it wasn’t exactly a disaster on that front at least. It did get destroyed on pay per view though, as the WWF ran Survivor Series the same day and threatened the cable companies into carrying their show instead of the NWA otherwise they wouldn’t get Mania IV, which led to a lot of the cable companies folding and not carrying Starrcade. Help yourself don’t hurt the other guy etc.
Garvin has some super wacky surfer style music dubbed over whatever he was using at the time. I think I do have the pay per view cut of this somewhere, but I decided to just watch these on the WWE Network because it was easier. The crowd seems to have sided with Flair here, as Garvin gets quite a few boo’s during his introduction. This was after the UWF had been bought out by Crockett, so Jim Ross is on the commentary team now. Garvin and Flair both liked throwing chops and slaps, which they waste no time in going to here. I’m assuming Garvin must have been booked in Japan at some stage right? Something tells me he’d fit right in there with his penchant for throwing snug shots. There is an audible “Garvin Sucks” chant in the early going whilst Garvin shines on Flair and bumps him around. Flair sells the shine in his usual animated fashion, bumping and feeding nicely as you’d expect.
We get to see the Garvin Stomp, and I have to say that I love that as a spot. I know some make fun of it, but I personally think it’s pretty cool. Flair finally manages to get himself back into the match by clocking Garvin right in his Rugged Package, leading to him working some heat. Man, some of these chops are echoing throughout the arena. Flair does a good job on offence in the heat and Garvin sells it well, acting almost like a wounded animal in parts by lashing out at Flair and acting like he’s trying to hide how much pain he’s actually in whilst still showing that he is indeed hurting.
Flair targets the leg and goes to the Figure Four, which gets a big pop from the pro-Flair sections of the crowd, with Garvin again selling it really well but refusing to submit. Flair grabs the ropes to cheat, which should actually be allowed in this one being that it’s a cage match and all, and keeps yelling at the ref to “count him down” in an obnoxious manner. This one has a nice intense feel to it in general actually, with Flair showing off a mean streak and Garvin desperately fighting with everything he has to avoid defeat. Garvin does finally manage to get himself back into it by reversing a Flair attempt at throwing him into the cage to send Flair into the mesh instead, which leads to Flair doing the blade job. Yes, Ric Flair just bladed in a cage match, I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaws up from the floor.
Garvin shows a nice vicious streak by biting away at Flair’s cut, as they’ve done an excellent job at making this feel like a hate filled fight. Garvin originally won the Title by pinning Flair with a sunset flip off the top rope, and they tease on a few occasions here that he might get Flair with it again, with Flair always trying to avoid it. It’s a nice call back to the previous contest between the two and I’m a sucker for continuity like that anyway. Garvin tries targeting Flair’s leg in payback for earlier and does his own Figure Four before going up with a cross body block for two in a good near fall.
The finishing stretch is done well, with Garvin getting some more near falls with pinning holds, as a bleeding Flair is desperately hanging on as best he can whilst Garvin continues to take the fight to him. Man, some of these slaps from Garvin are UNREAL. Imagine prime era Garvin Vs Tomohiro Ishii or Minoru Suzuki? Garvin finally gets the sunset flip again, but Flair grabs the ropes to counter, only for the referee to kick his hands off and allow Garvin to complete the move for a nail biting two. That was executed superbly! In another great near fall, the ref Tommy Young gets momentarily squished in the corner which means there is a slight delay on him making the count when Garvin takes down Flair with a big punch, thus allowing Flair to kick out without killing Garvin’s big move. I’m an absolute sucker for stuff like that and they got the timing absolutely spot on. Flair looks done, but gets a desperation Stun Gun and that’s enough for him to sneak the win.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: RIC FLAIR
That was an absolute WAR and I loved it!
NWA Starrcade 1988
NWA World Heavyweight Title
Champ: Ric Flair w/ James Jay Dillon Vs Lex Luger
This one had a tad bit of controversy surrounding it, as rumours abound that originally booker Dusty Rhodes wanted Rick Steiner in Luger’s slot instead, with Steiner in fact going on to win the Title. This supposedly contributed to Dusty getting ousted from his position, with Jim Crockett taking over for a bit until George Scott got the book. In the end they went with Luger instead, which actually made sense in story as Luger had formerly been a part of Flair’s Horsemen faction, only to leave and challenge Flair for the Title at Great American Bash 88. Luger had ended up losing that one via blood stoppage, even though he had Flair on the ropes and was all but assured to win if the bout hadn’t been curtailed early, meaning he had a legitimate gripe going into this pay per view rematch.
Luger’s music gets dubbed out here, so I’m not sure if that means he was using some form of licensed song or if they didn’t have the rights for Overdrive by De Wolfe at the time they originally uploaded this one onto the WWE Network. Flair is rocking the classic yellow boots and green trunks look here, which is the attire I always picture him in. Interestingly Luger has gone for a red and white theme, meaning that both men are actually wearing colour schemes that Manchester United has used in the past, with Flair wearing the colours the team wore back when they were still known as Newton Heath.
Flair is super cocky to start, and that ends up leading to Luger clotheslining him over the top rope to the floor, which Flair sells with a fantastic facial expression that suggests “Oh, yeah, Luger is really strong, I should probably take this one more seriously”. Lou Thesz is shown in the crowd having a good time, and I believe he was never really into Flair’s work that much. He did a list of the best wrestlers ever in his book and I don’t think Flair even charted. Luger continues to mostly get the better of things, having a long babyface shine, which Flair of course sells with his usual aplomb. It’s an effective way of making Luger look like a deserving challenger whilst also making Flair look resilient by holding on despite being on the defensive for such a long period of time.
Luger’s offence looks good too, and the crowd is into the idea of watching him give Flair a good battering, so the elongated shine works well, especially when they keep doing false cut offs where you think Flair is finally going to start working some heat, only for Luger to pull the rug out from under him once again. The cut off does finally come when Luger misses an elbow drop and Flair throws him out to the floor for some cheap shots into the metal railings. Luger looks ready for it to be honest, as he’s drenched in sweat and the chance to sell for a bit whilst Flair does the work is probably what the doctor ordered. Flair makes the mistake of throwing some chops though, which is about as good an idea as hitting Hulk Hogan with your finisher, as it fires Luger up and he fights back with a sleeper hold of all things.
Flair manages to survive that and back suplexes his way out of trouble, which leads to him attempting to take Luger to school by going after the legs in preparation for the Figure Four. Luger fights that off with an inside cradle for two and then follows up with a superplex for another two in a great near fall. Luger actually goes to a Figure Four of his own, which Flair sells big until eventually making the ropes to break. The ref takes a stray elbow from Luger though following that, which means he is slow to count when Luger gets a nice top rope cross body. High Flying Lex Luger, they’re going all out in this one! Flair is bumping and selling for about 20 people here, and it’s highly entertaining, with the crowd having kittens over some of the near falls.
Luger starts prepping for The Human Torture Wrack, but Dillon provides a distraction and that allows Flair to hit Luger in the leg with a chair, which means that now we are indeed going to go to school. Luger of course sells that big, even swearing at one stage and needing to be bleeped out. I’m guessing the WWE guys added that in after the fact, unless the pay per view in 1988 had the six second delay thing going on? Flair manages to apply the Figure Four for the submission tease, and the crowd gets behind Luger, with their claps and stomps vibrating through the arena. Luger does finally manage to get out of the hold, but his leg has been destroyed from the combination of the chair shot and the hold.
Luger keeps coming though, getting the one legged comeback, ending with a sunset flip for two. Flair is now back to begging off like the good despicable heel he is, but Luger shows no mercy and gets a clothesline for yet another two. Luger fires up once again and goes for The Human Torture Wrack, but his leg buckles under him and Flair lands on top, getting the pin via illegal use of the ropes for the skin of his teeth victory
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: RIC FLAIR
Personally I would have had Luger win there just due to how amazingly over he was in this and the superman comeback win would have probably given WCW a genuine chance of having their own Hogan level babyface. That being said, it’s not like the World Title scene was a washout in 1989 or anything, so the result wasn’t the end of the world. The match itself was excellent, with the extended babyface shine for Luger working really well and Flair managing to retain due to heel chicanery. The notable thing here was that Flair did cheat, but he orchestrated his own victory so he looked intelligent and resourceful. That’s an aspect not everyone seems to understand with heel Champions these days. Flair didn’t win because someone came in and hit Luger with their finisher before draping his limp body on top. He won through his own villainy, thus he didn’t look like a chump who needed help, which is a trap WWE fell into with the likes of JBL, Miz and Jinder Mahal during their respective Title reigns.
Three absolute corkers here, with nothing else being bad, making this probably one of the best Main Event compilations I’ve reviewed since I started this feature. Ric Flair was a really good wrestler who could have great matches with all kinds of different opponents. Who knew?
Hopefully I’ll see you next week for 1989 to 1994!