May 4, 2013
Ben Undelson

BUExperience: NWA Starrcade 1983

With Starrcade, the NWA made the first real attempt at producing a wrestling event for a pay per view market. It was still a primitive version of pay per view, as it couldn’t be ordered in your home, but rather, on closed circuit, and shown in arenas and theaters around the country – or in this case, within the NWA’s territory. It was an outstanding success – drawing well within their market – and cementing Ric Flair’s place as a superstar in the wrestling business once, and for all. Taking place on Thanksgiving, 1983 – it predated my birth, though I have seen a few of the matches since – mostly from a ‘Best of Starrcade’ set WCW issued in the late 90s, which featured the Dog Collar Match, and the main event.

From Greensboro, North Carolina; Your hosts are Gordon Solie and Bob Caudle, along with Tony Schiavone, doing interviews from the locker rooms, which come off as a brilliant representation of the time – as they’re less formal promos, and more groups of heels or faces gathered around couches in their respective locker rooms, shooting the shit, with Tony checking in with them for thoughts regarding their upcoming or just contested matches. The whole thing would be at home as a lost scene from Boogie Nights.

Opening Match: Rufus Jones and Bugsy McGraw v The Assassins: McGraw starts with one of the Assassins (they're both identical, and masked - good luck telling them apart), and slams him around, so Assassin bails. Inside, slugfest won by Bugsy (oh, dude, never engage in a slugfest with a guy named Bugsy, Assassin #whichever), so he tags, but the second Assassin doesn't fare any better. He and Jones take turns working an armbar, but the Assassins go to the eyes, and cut the ring in half on Jones. He randomly starts no selling, however, and gets the tag off to McGraw. Atomic drop and a backdrop look to finish one Assassin, but he gets rolled up by the other for the pin at 8:11. This was a hot opener in 1983, but doesn't hold up so well today. Still a competently worked match, just dull, even by the modern standards I grew up with ten years later. ¼*

Kevin Sullivan and Mark Lewin v Scott McGhee and Johnny Weaver: Sullivan starts with McGhee, and eats a series of dropkicks. He bails to Lewin, who does a better job of wrangling him, then brings Sullivan back in to resume their offensive strategy. They take turns working the arm, including a false tag sequence to antagonize the crowd. Sullivan gets reversed into the corner, however, and McGhee gets off the tag. Bulldog by Weaver for two, but a second try gets him sent to the corner, and Lewin finishes with a flying knee to the arm at 6:43. That finish would have been more effective on McGhee, given they were working his arm for most of the match, and not Johnny-come-lately – but whatever. Afterwards, the heels grab a shiv, and stab McGhee. You know, for fun. Match was your standard formula tag match for the period. ¼*

Abdullah the Butcher v Carlos Colon: Colon gets steamrolled to start, and Abdullah drops an elbow for two. He continues the assault, mostly unloading with headbutts, until Colon starts firing fists of fury! Biting draws blood (though, to be fair, having kittens lick Abdullah the Butcher would likely draw blood), and a pair of legdrops gets two. Dropkick, and Colon locks a figure four, but the referee is down as a result of a collision with Abdullah's ass. Yeah, yeah, sure. That's everyone's excuse. My secretary used it twice last month alone. It allows Hugo Savinovich to run in, whack Carlos, and the Butcher gets the pin at 4:30. Yeah, you read the summary. DUD.

Mark Youngblood and Wahoo McDaniel v Dick Slater and Bob Orton: Orton is current WWE Superstar Randy Orton's father. Dick Slater is AC Slater's uncle. Mark Youngblood's initials spell 'my.' And Wahoo McDaniel went on to release gas from his ass in all fifty states. Slater and McDaniel open, feeling each other out. Youngblood comes in to hit a basic bodyslam - treated like a major highspot - and everyone needs to cool off after that, going to a hammerlock. Orton catches him with a backbreaker, and Slater hits a gutwrench suplex for two. Chinlock, as they cut the ring in half, and a suplex gets two. Piledriver, but Youngblood counters with a backdrop, and both men get the tag. McDaniel is a teepee of arson, unloading with an inverted atomic drop on Orton, and a bodyslam gets two. It's a BODYSLAM!! though, so he covers again, but Orton somehow manages the strength to move a foot to the ropes. Oh, the effectiveness of the bodyslam back then. I remember, growing up, a bodyslam seemed deadly - even though a lot of the other moves performed during this match alone looked far more impressive. But they weren't BODYSLAMS!! Atomic drop on Slater, and all hell breaks loose, with Youngblood firing off dropkicks like a kid in a candy store. Okay, that metaphor doesn't really work, but the point stands – he threw a lot of dropkicks. That is, however, until number six, or so, when the heels somehow unscramble this elaborate jumping feet formula, and move, allowing Orton a superplex to finish at 14:48. Well paced, making good use of the formula (Plus BODYSLAMS!!) – if about five minutes too long. ¾*

NWA Television Title v Mask Match: The Great Kabuki v Charlie Brown: This is Kabuki's title v Brown's mask. See, the angle here is that, over the summer, Jimmy Valiant lost a 'Loser Leaves Town Match' to Kabuki, but returned under a mask, and named 'Charlie Brown,' in a superficial effort to disguise himself. Kabuki was wise to the deal, and this match came about. If Brown loses, and is revealed to be Valiant, he is suspended (kayfabe) from the NWA for a year. Slugfest to start, spilling to the floor, where Brown whacks him with a chair, and posts him. Inside, Brown grabs a long sleeper, but Kabuki's manager Gary Hart puts him into the ropes. Brown flips out, allowing Kabuki to slap on an even longer clawhold, but Brown won't stay down. He tries to reapply it by jumping off of the top rope first, but logic steps in and keeps that from getting him the submission victory. He gives up, and makes an attempt on the mask, as Brown flops around on the mat like a fish. Some sort of very dull fish. Criss cross, and Brown catches him with an elbowdrop to win the title at 10:35. Bad ending to an incredibly dull match. They looked like they were in a car wreck for most of it – and not in the good, ‘holy crap, they’re killing each other’ sort of way. It was essentially a sleeper, followed by a clawhold - and that's it. For a blowoff, you would think they'd go with something a bit more intense (see: the next match), but, I guess the crowds in 1983 really dug their clawholds. - * ½.

Dog Collar Match: Greg Valentine v Roddy Piper: Okay, so, basically, they hate each other so much that they've decided to strap dog collars around their necks - connected by a heavy steel chain – and beat the piss out of each other until one man is left standing. Valentine is the NWA United States Champion at this point - which he won from Piper in an incident where is bashed in his ear with a ring bell so badly that he legitimately damaged his hearing for life - but they don't even bother putting the title on the line, as this is about VENGEANCE! Both men play tug-of-war to start, which is considerably more impressive when you remember that they're playing with their necks - and a three hundred pound pro-athlete attached to the other end. Piper wins round one, whipping him with the non-gimmicked chain, and he starts unloaded shots with it, knocking Valentine off of his feet. He crotches him with the chain, but Valentine wraps it around his fist for a few shots of his own. He wraps it around Piper's eyes as a vice, so Piper retaliates by vicing his entire head - trying to pop it. Just brutal. Valentine is dead, so Piper urges him to keep coming - but that only infuriates Valentine, and he chokes away. They spill outside, and Greg is busted open off of a chain shot. He desperately shoots and shot to Piper's bad ear, flooring him immediately, and proceeds to hammer on it, viciously - actually drawing blood from the ear. The stiff shots to the ear legitimately cost Piper a good deal of his hearing in their previous encounter, and in this bout, distorted his sense of equilibrium. But, hey, what's a lifetime of audiological issues when you have a blowoff to get over, right? It's all fake anyway, right? Valentine just brutally unloads on the ear, as Piper has trouble maintaining a vertical base - part legitimately experiencing vertigo, and part brilliantly selling. Elbowdrop gets two, so Piper yanks the chain, and starts walloping him with it, as his ear splashes blood down the side of his body. Slugfest, and Valentine drops a knee for a series of two counts. Suplex, but Piper reveres, only to get caught in a sleeper. He uses the chain to escape, but again gets caught by Valentine, this time with a 2nd rope flying elbowsmash. He goes to the well once too often, however, and Piper gets a few last licks in, hog ties him with the chain, and gets the pinfall at 16:08. This one wasn't about highspots – it was about two guys brutally beating the shit out of each other, and that they certainly did – leaving just about everything they had out there. An intense, classic brawl, that actually was psychologically sound – with Valentine working the previously injured ear relentlessly, as opposed to just running his usual offense. *** ¼.

NWA World Tag Team Title Match: Jack and Jerry Brisco v Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood: Angelo Mosca is the special referee for this one. Jack and Steamboat start out, and Brisco dodges a few chop attempts, catching him in an armbar. Jerry in, but Steamboat catches him with the dreaded chops, and a flying version attacks the arm. He and Youngblood take turns working the arm, but Steamboat gets caught in the wrong corner, and Jerry hits a shoulderbreaker. Backdrop, and a butterfly suplex get a series of two counts - as Brisco bridges, making sure to fight over every pin attempt. Mat-based wristlock, but Steamboat stands up out of it, and slams him - in an impressive spot. Both men tag off of that, and Youngblood unloads, but a suplex is reversed. The Brisco's hit a double shoulderblock for two, and Jerry hits his own, crisp suplex for two. Abdominal stretch into a cradle gets two, but Jerry starts getting lippy with Mosca, allowing Steamboat to press slam Youngblood onto him for the pin, and the titles, at 13:24. This would definitely be too slow for modern audiences, but it was well paced back-and-forth tag match, well booked, and featured some engaging highspots. * ¼. The honeymoon wouldn’t last for the new champs, however, as they would vacate the titles less than a month later.

Main Event: NWA World Heavyweight Title Cage Match: Harley Race v Ric Flair: Gene Kiniski is the special referee for the main event. Flair gets a brilliant ovation on the way in - women literally throwing themselves at him - and Race looks like he just had lunch with Ron Burgundy. Flair controls with a side-headlock to start - showing Race he won't be a pushover - hanging on to it like a security blanket, and trying to wear the champion down. As Race sees stars, Flair tries to roll the hold into a pinfall, but Harley counters, wrestling him to a vertical base, and hitting a suplex. Bodypress gets two, and Harley drops a knee, choking the challenger. Kiniski literally holds him back - though, that's kind of absurd, considering it's a cage match. Piledriver gets two, and a swinging neckbreaker for two. Race with a running powerslam for two, and a headbutt tries to kill Flair dead, but he keeps coming. Race gets sick of his persistence, and tries a more direct route: ramming his face into a steel cage. That quickly draws blood (I know, shocking!), but Flair still fires back, unloading with chops, and a shindrop draws blood from the champ. Flair with a piledriver of his own for two, and a butterfly suplex gets two. Flair, facing the same frustration, uses the steel, but Kiniski tries to intervene. Seriously, dude? It's a cage match! Next week, he referee's a Ladder Match, but disallows climbing. His meddling allows Race to jump Flair, and grate his face into the mesh - and, frankly, if I were Flair, I would put aside my quest for the World Title for a moment, and shoot Gene Kiniski first. Flair gets a side suplex, and locks the figure four - though, he hasn't even done a token shot to the leg yet, so I wouldn't expect much. Race makes the ropes, and tries a suplex, but Flair counters with a bodyblock for two. Race catches him with a headbutt, and a flying version follows for two. Hanging vertical suplex for two, so Race chokes away, but Kiniski drags him by the afro to stop it. Suplex, but Flair reverses into his own hanging vertical. They jockey for position, and Race 'accidentally' headbutts Kiniski - and even babyface Ric Flair couldn't give a shit. Slugfest, and Flair with a flying bodypress for the pin, and the title, at 23:49. This was a significant moment, as Flair had actually won the World Title before, but defeating Race here was seen as a passing of the torch, and legitimized Flair's status on the card to this day. Match was well worked - with great bits such as mirroring each others offense, building up to the cage spots, and the use of mat-based holds to wear down and try to pin the opponent - and a more than suitable main event for a card of this magnitude, but it doesn't hold up as well today, coming off as slow to a modern observer. ** ¾ BUExperience: Well, there’s historical significance out the butt (literally – as your ass starts leaking stubs from various museums throughout the show), and for an event that aired nearly thirty years ago, it’s surprisingly well produced. It does have that ‘smoke filled arena’ vibe to the wrestling, with most of the action shot from the hard camera only, and the crowd so dark you might think the building was empty – but the interview bits, and vignettes come off looking sleek, and ahead of what you would expect for the time period – certainly setting the template for Vince McMahon, and WrestleMania. The booking is a slice of old school pro-wrestling, as the heels go over in the early matches – building them up to the audience, and developing feuds – setting the stage perfectly for all of the faces to win the major matches on top of the card, and send the crowd home happy. It’s odd to fathom now – but by Thanksgiving 1983, Ric Flair was already winning his second (or third, if you count a back-and-forth switch he did with Carlos Colon in January ’83 – which the NWA doesn’t) world title. Yeah, he’s been around that long. While this isn’t a blow away great show, it does have some fun matches, and certainly the historical significance to warrant checking out. **

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