by Daniel Johnson
I recently had the chance to re-watch NWA Starrcade ’83: A Flair for the Gold and NWA Starrcade ’84: The Million Dollar Challenge in their entirety. Although matches like Ric Flair wrestling Harley Race and Roddy Piper facing Greg Valentine are remembered as classics, plenty of matches from these events aren’t celebrated at all. I’m talking about matches thought of way less than even Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood taking on Jerry Brisco and Jack Brisco.
One thing I found may surprise wrestling fans familiar with Black Saturday. You know that time when southern wrestling fans were exposed to WWF programming and were horrified by what they saw after being able to watch good old wrestling for so long. Oddly enough, even though Starrcade took place before the first WWF Wrestlemania, the two events had a lot in common. As Wrestlemania would later do, Starrcade was also built around some marquee matches while at the same time trying to fit a bunch of other guys on the card, match quality be damned! As such while this list (done in chronological order) may not consist completely of classics these were the matches that still managed to be worth checking out with that kind of booking. Taking the classics out of the equation it may come as a surprise that the 1984 show actually has a stronger card. It is a good thing too because that main event between Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes sucked!
Anyway, onto some good stuff!
1. Wahoo McDaniel and Mark Youngblood vs. Bob Orton, Jr. and Dick Slater (1983)
The 1983 Starrcade was slim pickings as far as the undercard goes. While the top promoted matches were classics, which elevated the event greatly, nearly everything else was just rotten and is only fun to watch for nostalgia’s sake. However, this match stands above all those forgettable showings. One factor that really helped get fans interested in this tag affair was that it was attached to the main event. In short Bob Orton, Jr. and Dick Slater were mercenaries for Harley Race while Wahoo McDaniel and Jay Youngblood had Ric Flair’s back. A large part of the match is spent on Orton and Slater just beating the crap out of Youngblood. They take shots at him, kick him, rip into him with submissions, etc. Youngblood has at least a few chances to make the tag, but for whatever reason doesn’t. There are no worries for Wahoo though. After the bout Orton and Slater beat McDaniel up just the same as Youngblood though perhaps even more viciously. This match is a nice little memory of a time when major promotions could book strong heel teams without having to go out of their way to show how vulnerable they really are.
2. Mike Davis vs. Denny Brown (1984)
The opening bout of the 1984 Starrcade was fought for the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship. Don’t let the junior heavyweight in that name fool you! Although Starrcade would later include action featuring some great light heavyweights or crusierweights as they would come to be known this match is all about about the mat wrestling. The match is less than six minutes long so performers Mike Davis and Denny Brown can’t tell much of a story, but they keep their energy up with what little time they have, which gets the crowd fired up nicely. In essence the match does what any good opener should do. Plus, there is a screwy finish where Davis pins the challenger, Brown with a belly-to-back suplex, but ends up losing not only the match, but his title. The reason? Davis’ shoulders were down! This contest should get an extra point or two because this was before that finish was done to death.
3. Black Bart vs. Manny Fernandez (1984)
Manny Fernandez defends his NWA Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship in this encounter, which would sound badass enough, but then he comes out to “Beat It” by Michael Jackson, which makes Fernandez double badass in my book. His opponent is Black Bart, who I can’t help but think of as the worst top champion in WCCW history. Actually, Bart was a pretty good brawler in his day and it’s not surprising at all that a few years later Antonio Inoki had Bart come to NJPW to take him on in some stiff contests few love as much as Inoki. Despite the name this match was actually fought with taped fists instead of brass knuckles. While fans who love concepts such as the workrate of a match may tear this performance apart, a big piece of booking a solid card is having some variation in the matches. Since garbage wrestling hadn’t really developed into it’s current state and this wasn’t Puerto Rico, this was essentially the hardcore match for the night. As for the conclusion it is simple and sweet. After the two slug it out for a while, Fernandez gets the victory by rolling Bart up.
4. Ivan Koloff and Nikita Koloff vs. Ole Anderson and Keith Larson (1984)
Perhaps surprisingly this was the longest match of then night and features a good amount of psychology before breaking down into all out mayhem. There was a neat storyline going into this match where Ivan Koloff and Nikita Koloff severely injured Keith Larson’s kin, Don Kernodle. Kernodle, who is in the corner of Larson and partner, Ole Anderson reminds me of one of those defendants in court who has a crooked lawyer even though he is a face. Kernodle comes out with a neck brace, crutches, the whole nine yards really. After Larson and Anderson dominate much of the match, Anderson finds himself in a brutally long bear hug until he can make the hot tag to Larson. Larson clears the ring and as Nikita is on the outside he attacks Kernodle. Meanwhile Ivan knocks Larson down with a chain while the referee has his back turned. The Koloffs get the victory, but after the match Larson, Anderson and Kernodle obliterate the Russians.
5. Tully Blanchard vs. Ricky Steamboat (1984)
As bad as some of the non-marquee matches were in the early days of Starrcade this bout almost single-handedly makes up for them. After watching it for the first time it is almost impossible not to wonder why this match isn’t talked up more as the true classic that it is. Tully Blanchard held the NWA Television Championship going into this bout and aside from defending his title, Blanchard agreed to put up $10,000 if he lost. Opponent Ricky Steamboat also put up another $10,000 with yet another condition added that if Blanchard lost by disqualification or running away he would forfeit his title and cash. Although some more observant fans may realize the bet of the two looked miniscule in comparison to the main event between Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes where the two were fighting for $1 million, Blanchard and Steamboat’s respective mic work went miles in selling the match. Especially Blanchard. Man, what a heel! Blanchard charges at Steamboat just seconds into the encounter and targets his ribs. For the rest of the bout Steamboat sells the pain to his ribs and relies on a methodical style that meshes well with Blanchard’s natural ability to mat wrestle. That doesn’t mean this is akin to an amateur wrestling match. Blanchard plays the cowardly heel to perfection and when he tries to dodge Steamboat, it is up to Ricky to get him back in the ring such as he does early on with a suplex, which again allows him then to sell the rib injury. Ever the opportunist Blanchard keeps looking for shortcuts and finally finds the shortest one there is when he wallops Steamboat with something from his tights to win.
Photos 2, 4, 6: en.wikipedia.org
Photos 1, 3, 5: onlineworldofwrestling.com
Categories: Wrestling Lists