Mike Reviews Every WCW Starrcade Main Event – Part Two (1989 to 1994)

Hello You!

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 1989 to 1994

WCW Starrcade 1989

Main Event
Ironman Tournament
WCW Champ Ric Flair Vs Sting

1989 represented the first year where they tried to “theme” Starrcade with some sort of gimmick, rather than just building up the biggest matches to culminate at the year ending event. The gimmick they had in 89 was a mini G1 Climax styled Round Robin Tournament, with Sting, Flair, Lex Luger and Great Muta going at it. Coming into this match, Muta had already been eliminated but the other three guys all had enough points that one of them could win it, thus adding a bit of drama to proceedings.

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 time’s 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

Lovely Stuff

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…

WCW Starrcade 1990

Main Event
Cage Match
Guest Referee: Dick The Bruiser
NWA World Heavyweight Title
Champ: Sting Vs The Black Scorpion

Sting had defeated Ric Flair for the Title at Great American Bash 90, and as the year wore on head booker Ole Anderson decided to create a mysterious mask clad villain named The Black Scorpion who would harass Sting by cutting creepy promo’s and turning women into tigers etc. It was all very silly, but if they’d actually had an interesting pay off for who was behind it all then it might have ended up being a fun little journey. However, WCW didn’t really have a proper idea for who The Black Scorpion would actually be. I think at one stage they were going to give the gig to one of Sting’s old tag team partners, but they scrapped that when they came to the conclusion that no one would actually know who that person was. In the end they did manage to work out who to have in the role, and it would ultimately lead to Anderson getting replaced by Dusty Rhodes in 1991.

Bruiser seems to be wearing an outfit that is a cross between a sailor and Cody from the Street Fighter Alpha games. The ring entrances are something else, as a number of fake Scorpion’s enter until the real one comes down in a spaceship. I mean, this stuff would be silly even if a company like CHIKARA did it, let alone a supposed mainstream one like WCW was aiming to be at this time. The Scorpion has an infamous Dr. Claw/Noob Saibot evil voice, which I believe was Ole Anderson through some kind of voice modifier. When you know who The Black Scorpion is it’s kind of easy to see it, but I imagine that if you didn’t at the time then there might have been some mystery to it all. They smartly cover up most of The Scorpion’s body, with only his mouth and jaw being visible, which means we can rule out the possibility of it being Jimmy Hill at least.

It’s funny watching this as The Scorpion is clearly fighting his natural tendencies to wrestle the way he normally he does so as not to give away the game too early, but he does just enough that some in the crowd work it out almost immediately. I honestly think they should have just done this as a heel Midnight Rider thing, where The Scorpion is blatantly someone and the fans all know it, but he refuses to take the mask off and the babyface has to prove his identity by removing it. If you happened to read Maffew’s excellent ECW on Sci-Fi reviews here on the Blog, then you’ll know they did a similar thing there where Paul Burchill left but then came back in a mask, with everyone knowing who it was to the point and it led to a mask match with The Hurricane. The match itself is fine, if a bit dull, as the person playing The Black Scorpion knows how to work at least, meaning that they can at least deliver an actual proper match to pay this whole thing off.

The Black Scorpion actually controls most of the match with basic offence, with Bruiser getting involved now and then to kick his legs off the rope when he tries to use them for extra leverage in a chin lock. Paul E Dangerously is handling the colour commentary here and takes jabs at Bruiser by comparing him to Popeye, which has thus far been the most entertaining moment of this match to be honest. Things do finally pick up once Sting starts making a comeback, but when he tries a Stinger Splash the Scorpion moves and Sting goes flying over the top rope into the cage in an impressive bump. The crowd heat has been disappointing here outside of when Sting has been on offence, which I think highlights that they haven’t really done an effective job making The Scorpion come across as a genuine heel threat to the babyface World Champ, because if they had then they would be more invested in the parts where The Scorpion is controlling things.

The Scorpion shows off some European Style by working a cravat at one stage (He’ll be breaking out a courting hold next) but Sting manages to survive that somehow and makes another comeback with a bulldog, which finally succeeds in waking up the crowd. Man, did the entire audience eat a heavy meal and drink a warm milky beverage before the show or something? Sting applies The Scorpion Deathlock to The Black Scorpion, but he doesn’t submit and makes the ropes to break the hold. Sting finally removes the mask, but The Scorpion has another mask on underneath, which is a spot I’ve always loved, and that leads to both men fighting up on the top rope. The Scorpion is now starting to bump, sell and yelp in a somewhat familiar way. Let’s just say he might have flown into this one in a Lear jet before riding to the arena in a limo if you catch my drift? In a neat touch, The Scorpion blades and the blood starts showing on his secondary mask, which just happens to be white to make the most of such a situation. Fancy that eh? Anyway, Sting comes off the top with a cross body block and that’s enough for the three count.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: STING
RATING: **1/2

As an actual match it was pretty dull due to the lack of crowd heat, but the wrestling itself was fine

Sting and Bruiser fend off the imposter Black Scorpion’s, which allows the real Scorpion to try and escape. Strangely Four Horsemen members Arn Anderson and Barry Windham run down to help The Scorpion, which not surprisingly leads to The Scorpion getting unmasked to reveal Ric Flair! So yeah, after all that they just went back to Flair, which is a feud they could have easily gone back to anyway without the rigmarole of having him being The Scorpion. Flair would end up defeating Sting for the belt in early 1991, even though you could argue that this should have been a pretty decisive end to the feud seeing as it was the second time Sting had beaten Flair clean in a pay per view Main Event that year. Honestly if Flair was going to win the belt not too soon after anyway they just should have had him win it here so that his scheming actually paid off. Sting could always chase and win it back in 1991 under the understandable guise of this match being unfair due to Flair withholding his identity.

WCW Starrcade 1991

Main Event
Battlebowl Battle Royal
WCW Champ Lex Luger, Sting, WCW US Champ Rick Rude, WCW TV Champ Steve Austin, Abdullah The Butcher, Scott Steiner, Firebreaker Chip, Arn Anderson, WCW Tag Champ Dustin Rhodes, WCW Tag Champ Ricky Steamboat, Richard Morton, Ron Simmons, Thomas Rich, Big Van Vader, Mr. Hughes, Todd Champion, Bill Kazmaier, Jushin Liger, Marcus Bagwell and Jimmy Garvin

Battlebowl was an interesting concept that shouldn’t really have been the focus of the biggest event of the year. Basically 40 guys all stuck their names in a hat and a random draw saw them assigned to tag matches, with the winners of each tag match moving on to the big Battle Royal at the end of the night. This meant you got interesting and odd pairings, such as Sting and Abby having to tag earlier in the night against Bobby Eaton and Brian Pillman. Again, as a concept for a TV show like Raw or Nitro this would have been a fun little slice of something different, but for the main pay per view event of the year you kind of needed to have some actual proper matches. They’d do it again in 1992 before finally giving it its own pay per view event so that Starrcade could go back to being a proper show for a couple of years before they brought in yet another tournament concept in 1995.

Rude, Austin and Anderson were all in Paul E Dangerously’s “Dangerous Alliance” stable, and work together for parts of it. They have a two ring set up, which leads to the weird idea that once you get thrown out of the first ring you have to go into the second ring to be thrown out again, thus leading to the winner of Ring 1 taking on the winner of Ring 2. I get that the guy in Ring 1 gets a breather whilst the winner of Ring 2 has to technically fight everyone all over again, but it still seems like a weird rule to be honest to give the eliminated guys a second chance like that. They also have the rule that if you get thrown out onto the ramp then it doesn’t count as an elimination, which again just seems like a weird arbitrary rule that just muddies the waters.

Liger and Morton get to do a bit in Ring 2, with Morton being one of the few guys who actually knows how to work with a guy like him, and it leads to both of them eliminating one another. Oh well, back to people walking around and punching I guess. Some of the guys just voluntarily move over to Ring 2 at one stage, which kind of highlights how silly these rules are. The crowd isn’t really hot for much outside of Sting mixing it up with Rude and Luger, and eventually we’re left with Luger and Vader going at it in Ring 1 whilst everyone else starts gradually eliminating one another in Ring 2. Luger clotheslines Vader into Ring 2 to earn himself some rest, and that leads to the numbers thinning out further in Ring 2.

They give Bagwell the “game rookie” gimmick, where he lasts for a while in Ring 2 before getting dumped out by Austin so that the commentators can put over what a good effort he’s shown. We eventually come down to Austin, Rude, Sting and Steamboat going at it as the Final Four of Ring 2 whilst Luger rests in Ring 1. All four of those guys can go, so it’s an entertaining segment, even though it’s a bit lacking in crowd heat at points. Rude accidentally eliminates Austin and then gets dumped by Steamboat. Rude is a poor sport though and pulls Steamboat out before attacking Sting, thus leaving Sting at a disadvantage against cocky heel Luger. You can’t argue with that for storytelling at least. This means of course that we’ve reached…

Yes, we’ve reached that

Anyway, Luger works over the hurting Sting, being a good arrogant jerk in the process whilst his manager Harley Race cheers him on. Race wants Luger to win it pretty quickly whilst Sting is on the defensive, but Luger goes with the classic heel mistake of trying to beat the babyface up some more even though he doesn’t have to. I have to say, for a Sting/Luger match this is pretty good, especially as they normally had pretty boring matches together despite being good mates in real life. We even head out to the entrance way ramp for a bit, where Luger flings Sting off the ramp onto the railings. Sting fires up though and gives Luger a kicking to pop the crowd before putting him back into the ring. Race comes in to take some bumps for good measure, as they are throwing everything they have at this one to get it over, and it’s working for the most part. Sting survives an elimination attempt and does a big comeback before dumping Luger to win.

WINNER: STING
RATING: ***

It was just a Battle Royal until it came down to the last five, at which point it became an enjoyable bit of storytelling, with Sting’s win at least sending everyone home happy after a so-so night of action. There isn’t much fanfare following the result and they don’t even play his music, which kind of highlights the difference between WCW and the WWF at the time. If Ultimate Warrior or Hulk Hogan won a match like that in the WWF we’d get close to five minutes of them celebrating to give the crowd their monies worth and to end the show on a high. Instead we get Sting walking to the back and people filing out whilst Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone talk for a bit into the closing credits

WCW Starrcade 1992

Main Event
Battlebowl II – Bill Watts’ Boogalou
Dan Spivey, Dustin Rhodes, The Great Muta, Barry Windham, Steve Williams, Van Hammer, Big Van Vader and Sting

They’re just doing the one ring this year, which works much better. Sting and Vader start us out brawling in the aisle as they were feuding and had also had a fantastic match with each other earlier in the same night. Once they get in then things settle into a standard Battle Royal, with guys ambling around the ring and sporadically trying to eliminate someone. It’s a bit boring if I’m honest, but it’s not like any of the action is particularly bad. They do keep the silly rule that it doesn’t count if you get thrown out onto the ramp, but then they decide that they randomly will with Spivey at one stage, even though they’d just done a spot where Rhodes and Windham had fought out there without being eliminated. I mean, if you’re going to have daft rules then at least be consistent with them.

Sting and Vader end up eliminating each another, leaving us with a Final Four of Rhodes, Windham, Williams and Muta. Rhodes and Windham were actually feuding at the time, which gives some storyline interest to things at least. Again, the action is fine considering all four of these guys can work, but the crowd aren’t especially invested and the match just isn’t that interesting. You almost get the feeling that the crowd just want someone to win so that they can go home and they’re not especially bothered who it is. Williams and Rhodes end up tumbling over the top at the same time, which leaves Muta and Windham. The crowd decides that they’ll support Muta, and they eventually get what they want when Muta dumps out Windham to pick up the Battlebowl ring.

WINNER: THE GREAT MUTA
RATING: **

A mostly boring Battle Royal, but the crowd favourite won it at least

WCW Starrcade 1993

Main Event
WCW Title Vs Ric Flair’s Career
Champ: Big Van Vader w/ Harley Race Vs Ric Flair

Vader was originally supposed to face Sid Vicious for the Title here, but Sid ended up having a bloody brawl with Arn Anderson at a Blackburn hotel which led to him getting the sack from WCW. With a lack of any real sort of alternative Main Event to present, WCW decided to go back to proven commodity Ric Flair, having him put his career on the line in order to give the match some spice. The fact the match is taking place in traditional JCP ground of Charlotte, combined with Flair working as a face, gives this a feeling of the early Starrcade events.

Scott Keith once described this match as watching someone take on The Undertaker on WrestleMania 2000 for the N64 on the highest difficulty level, and I honestly couldn’t think of a better description if I tried. Vader just utterly dismantles Flair for large periods of this, with Flair finding it close to impossible to get a foothold of any kind. It works a treat because Flair isn’t a big strong power babyface like Sting or a psychotic brawling one like Cactus Jack, so it makes sense that he’d be on the defensive a lot more than they would be when taking on a monster heel like Vader.

Flair’s selling is great and the crowd reacts whenever it looks like he’s going to do anything. This is actually a pretty gutsy match structure in some ways, especially in front of a hometown crowd like this, as Flair isn’t even close to an all-conquering hometown hero here. Instead he gets whomped continuously and has to keep rolling outside of the ring to save himself. It’s a testament to how over Flair was in Charlotte that they could work a match like this and the crowd still sticks with him throughout it all. It also continuously amazes me that Flair supposedly thinks he was an awful babyface, as his performance here is spot on and everything it needs to be to make this story work.

Vader is so good as the unstoppable monster heel too, being constantly believable both with his offence and the occasional moments where he’s required to sell. I do think there is some sentiment out there that this isn’t that good of a match (And we may even see that in the comments section) and guys have tried to copy it over the years to differing levels of success (Bam Bam Bigelow and Shane Douglas especially in ECW) but I personally think they tell a great story and the work is really strong from both men. All three men (Because Race is great as the heel manager at ringside) really play out their roles perfectly and they have the crowd in the palm of their hands as a result. It should shock no one that Flair is bleeding from the mouth at one stage, as Vader is throwing BOMBS out there.

Race gets his cheap shots in when the opportunity allows and throws in some smack talk for good measure, which makes you feel like the crowd just can’t wait for Flair to pop him. Flair finally manages to put Vader down with some punches and he wastes no time going after the leg, letting some of his heel character come out by hitting Vader with a chair whilst Race squabbles with the ref. Man, the pop for that was incredible. He may be a dirty cheat, but he’s THEIR dirty cheat and they love him for it! Flair continues to throw punches at Vader, and even bites him at one stage. I love how Flair is using every trick he knows, despite being a face, because his career is on the line and he needs to, and the Vader/Race tandem are so dislikeable that you don’t begrudge him it.

Flair keeps trying for the Figure Four and eventually gets it, which leads to the crowd having kittens as a result. Vader manages to make the ropes, but his legs are hurting and it’s slowing him down a bit. That plays into a good near fall, where Vader is slow to climb the ropes for a moonsault and that allows Flair to dodge it and make the pin. Vader kicks out of that, at just the same time that Race is coming off the top with a head butt, leading to Vader taking it instead. The ref decides that it serves the heels right and throws Race out of the ring for a big pop, which leads to Flair chop blocking Vader and rolling him up for the three and the gigantic reaction from the crowd.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: RIC FLAIR
RATING: *****

I’m going Full Monty for this one. I could nit-pick certain aspects of it, mainly the Race head butt, but you can explain that as the ref using his discretion due to Race ultimately hitting his own man and thus getting what he deserved, thus no further punishment being required. Wrestling is the ultimate morality play at the end of the day, so I’m alright with the face overcoming uneven numbers in such a manner.

WCW Starrcade 1994

Main Event
WCW Title
Champ: Hulk Hogan w/ Jimmy Hart Vs The Butcher w/ Kevin Sullivan and The Avalanche

Hogan had hit WCW during the summer of 94 and initially things had been a success. He had drawn two good buy rates taking on Ric Flair and the company had received a boost from having him come on board. However, once the Flair feud was over things started getting a bit cartoony, with Kevin Sullivan putting together a wacky 80’s styled heel faction of himself, Earthquake/Avalanche and Brutus Beefcake/The Butcher, with their goal being to destroy Hulkamania. The group was named The Three Faces of Fear, with Butcher getting his name because he had “butchered” his long-time friendship with Hulky in order to join the group.

Though Hogan had done good business with Flair, Butcher wasn’t anywhere near as interesting an opponent for him, even with the whole betrayal angle they had going on. Certainly not for a Starrcade level event at least. They might have gotten away with it on a Clash of Champions or B-Show pay per view, but there was no way people were buying that as the Main Event for the biggest show of the year. They honestly would have had a better chance at popping a buy rate by going with Avalanche, as he had been a big Hogan foe at one stage and it had been nearly five years since their initial feud by this stage, so they might have been able to drum up some interest by going back to it, especially for lapsed fans who hadn’t been around for John Tenta’s mid-card babyface antics in the WWF for the previous couple of years.

It says everything really that the big selling point for this show wasn’t the actual match between Hogan and Butcher but whether the debuting Randy Savage would slap Hogan in the face or not. I can see it now “Quick honey, fetch me a telephone and my credit card, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage might actually SHAKE HANDS on pay per view! We won’t want to miss a moment like that! I don’t care if that money has been set aside for our daughter’s medication, we need to see if Randy Savage will slap Hogan or not. She’ll understand”

I do love “American Made” as entrance music though, especially as WCW Era Hogan was the first time I ever saw him rock the Red and Yellow, meaning the song has some nostalgia for me. WCW Commissioner Nick Bockwinkel sends Sullivan and Lanche to the back prior to the match, leaving this as a one on one encounter, which leads to the usual Hogan match breaking out, which is fun when the opponent is interesting and kind of boring when they aren’t. Butcher would fall more into the latter category sadly. He was a decent enough babyface act prior to breaking his face in 1990, but I never really cared for his heel work in the WWF and I only really dug his heel run there when he was teaming with Greg Valentine.

Butcher’s main problems here are that his selling is overly cartoon-like and goofy, his offence doesn’t really look that good, his character is pretty generic and it’s close to impossible to actually buy him as any sort of threat to Hogan. It would be like Main Eventing WrestleMania with Drew Galloway taking on someone like Baron Corbin, except in that scenario Vince would probably put Corbin over just to mess with people, but pretend this happened in a universe where Vince wasn’t a spiteful cry arse who made stupid booking decisions just to screw with his fan base. Hogan treats him as a bit of a joke too, even busting out some wacky Kung-Fu styled attacks at one stage.

When Hogan is actually taking the match seriously he does fine, selling well and bumping for Butcher’s offence as best he can. Butcher angers up my blood by working a nerve pinch at one stage, which long-time readers of my work will know is my all-time least favourite rest hold. Hogan has his fans in the building who are into this, but most of the crowd don’t get overly invested in the action and spend a lot of time looking over to the entrance way, possibly because they know this is unlikely to end until either The Faces of Fear or Randy Savage show up.

Butcher eventually locks in the sleeper, although it looks pretty loose, and they do the old hand drop spot which leads to Butcher letting go of the hold just before the hand drops for three. So not only is Butcher an ineffectual goon he’s also a moron to boot! Hogan does the old Hulk Up routine following that, which is finally the cue for Sullivan and Lanche to run down and attack him. Hogan fends them off and drops the leg on Butcher for the three count. Wow, they didn’t even give Butcher the dignity of a DQ loss, that’s how you know how low he was on the totem pole.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: HULK HOGAN
RATING: *

This was pretty lousy, even by mid-90’s Ed Leslie standards, as his offence looked horrid and the booking made him look like an absolute chump. Hogan alternated between working hard and not appearing to be that bothered. You’d think that considering he was wrestling his real-life close friend on the biggest show of the year he would have bust a gut to have the best match he possibly could in order to help his friend out, but that’s not exactly what we got here

Savage runs down and looks to be siding with the heels (Which I guess would have made them The Four Faces of Fear?) but it’s all a SWERVE and he ends up helping Hogan fight them off to remain a babyface. Interestingly I think Scott mentioned in one of his Wrestling Observer recaps that at some stage in 95 they wanted to do Hogan, Savage, Sting and Flair as the new Four Horsemen, which honestly strikes me as the most lopsided strong babyface faction ever. I mean, seriously, who in WCW at that time would have been any kind of a threat to those four guys if they decided to team up? I’m not surprised they didn’t go with it.

In Conclusion

This one was all about Vader Vs Flair, which I’d strongly recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it before. The rest isn’t really required viewing.

Hopefully you’ll all join me next week where we cover the nWo years and close the book on reviews of Main Events by looking at 1995 to 2000.