Growing up a wrestling fan, the month of December always meant the arrival of WCW’s biggest show of the year, Starrcade.
For me, it was a December tradition, even though the show got its roots as a November show, airing on Thanksgiving night from 1983 until 1987. After Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation strong-armed pay-per-view providers into exclusively carrying his 1987 Thanksgiving night show, Survivor Series, Starrcade was moved to December.
The move was the first major change within the company as it transitioned from being a Jim Crocket Promotion of the NWA into the Ted Turner ran World Championship Wrestling. Turner purchased JCP in order to keep the promotion on his TBS network. After almost naming the promotion the Universal Wrestling Corporation, Turner completed the purchase and transitioned into WCW on November 2, 1988. Less than eight weeks later, Starrcade made its December debut.
And that’s why I wanted to look back at Starrcade this month. Because for me, Starrcade and December just go together. So, in this four part series, I’m forgoing the November shows and instead focusing on Ted Turner’s Starrcade. Also, since the first December Starrcade was basically fleshed out prior to Turner’s ownership, I want to start with the 1989 edition. It’s the first one to really have Turner’s fingerprints on it… and boy does it show.
Ted Turner’s Starrcade
Part 1: 1989-1991
Starrcade ‘89 (Future Shock)
Held on December 13, from The Omni in Atlanta, Georgia
Before we dive into this show, you should know that these first three Starrcade’s that we’re going to look at are three of the strangest shows I’ve ever seen. That word, strange, might come up quite a bit, as it’s the only word that I can come up with that adequately describes these shows.
The concept of this show was very unique. There are only four singles wrestlers throughout the entire show. Yes, that’s right, only four singles wrestlers were booked to compete on the show. The same is true with tag teams as only four teams were booked as well. It was a very unorthodox booking decision and it does not pay off at all.
So, here’s the deal, WCW had a pretty good year in 1989. The main event scene was highlighted with the legendary matches between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat. As the year wound down, the main event picture began to cool off. For reasons I don’t quite understand, WCW decided to blow off their major main event feud of Flair and Sting vs. The Great Muta and Terry Funk at the previous PPV, Halloween Havoc. With not enough time (I’m assuming) to build up a proper main event for the 1989 Starrcade, WCW decided to throw a gimmick on this year’s event in hopes that it would create the same buzz that a hot feud would.
Speaking of gimmicks, I should mention that the Executive Vice President of WCW at this time was the infamous Jim Herd. Herd was known for having terrible ideas and knowing nothing about the wrestling business. It’s no wonder that the first Starrcade under his leadership was the steaming mess we got here.
The gimmick for the show was that Sting, Lex Luger, Ric Flair, and The Great Muta would all wrestle each other in a series of singles matches in a point-based, round robin style, tournament. The same was true for the tag teams of Doom, The Steiner Brothers, The Road Warriors, and the hastily put together “The New Wild Samoans” which was just two thirds of the new Samoan SWAT team, The Tonga Kid and Rikishi (known at the time as The Samoan Savage and Fatu, respectively).
The point system kind of made my head hurt. A pinfall or submission win got the winner 20 points, a countout victory got the winner 15 points, a disqualification victory got the winner 10 points, a draw got the winner 5 points, and a loss resulted in no points. Each match had a “15 minute” time limit, though the time was gimmicked as Flair and Luger fought to a time-limit draw in 17 minutes and 15 seconds. Oh, and the matches were “random” so we saw the Steiners, Road Warriors, and Doom all wrestle twice before the Samoans even wrestled once. In short, it was a mess.
The Road Warriors ended up winning the tag team tournament, defeating The New Wild Samoans by pinfall in about five minutes, passing the Steiners’ point total in the process.
The final match of the night was the only one worth watching, as Ric Flair and Sting both tried to secure a win and gain the points necessary to pass Lex Luger’s point total. Sting got the victory and the tournament win. Gordon Solie tried to interview the winners at the close of the show, but time ran out and the show closed in the middle of his interview.
And that’s basically it.
The win for Sting led to he and Flair feuding for the world title, which would culminate in a five star classic match at next year’s Starrcade in a great example of the success of long-term booking. Hahahaha, just kidding, the two had a clunky match with Flair under a mask as the Black Scorpion! But I’ll get to that in a minute.
Since these shows are all on the WWE Network, I figured I’d give a few reasons why you might want to watch the show or skip it all together.
Jim Cornette is on commentary with Jim Ross during the tag matches, so that’s something.
Also, The Tag Team of Doom is kinda cool, even if they were jobbed out all night.
That’s all I got…
Starrcade ‘90 (Collision Course)
Held on December 16, from the Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis, Missouri
This is the worst show I think I’ve ever seen.
It’s a clustery mess, capped off by the lame reveal that Ric Flair was the Black Scorpion character. But, WCW loves their gimmicks, so they threw together a lame “Pat O’Connor Memorial Invitational Cup Tag Team Tournament.” Boy, that name just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
The tournament takes up a whopping SEVEN matches on the card, bloating it to 14 matches total, and features some of the botchiest (is that a word?) finishes I’ve ever seen. The deal was that eight teams from eight different countries would compete for national pride. We here in America were gearing up for Operation Desert Storm, which would officially commence 32 days later, and we all know how wrestling likes to capitalize on that kind of thing. So, basically, WCW booked a “USA is better than all the other countries” tournament and shockingly, the USA won, with The Steiners defeating Mr. Saito and The Great Muta to bring home that cup for our boys overseas. Scott basically said that in his interview, alongside Jim Herd himself. Rick Steiner added to the patriotic moment by telling “those guys over there” (IE the American troops) to go out there and “kick someutt.” That’s not a typo, he really said something to the effect of “some mutt.” I have no idea what that means.
As I mentioned, the tournament was filled with botches. It started with Jim Ross referring to Rey Mysterio (Sr.) as “Ray Mysteric” and ring announcer Gary Michael Cappeta calling him “Rey Mysterioso.” Mysterio inexplicably killed himself with a plancha after the match was over and the camera didn’t even catch it. Referee Nick Patrick had to hold down the shoulder of one of the Australia guys, because it wasn’t down for the finish. And they showed it on replay. Then, the Russians basically accidently beat the Canadian team when the referee appeared to make a four count (yes, four) on a submission attempt. The Canadian team looked the worst of any of the others, by the way, as they seriously looked like two tubs of goo walking around in human form.
Anyway, the rest of the card wasn’t much better. Alexandria York blathered on about her stupid computer, The Skyscrapers won a squash match against Captain Nobody and the No Name Kid, and Lex Luger and Stan Hansen had the worst “Texas Bullrope” match in wrestling history. That bullrope match (dubbed a “Texas Lariat Match”) had a reverse Dusty finish, where Hansen was declared the winner before it was changed to Luger. It made no sense.
This extended episode of WCW Worldwide was ended with a sloppy cage match between Sting and Flair with Dick the Bruiser (who looked like Popeye the Sailor) as the special guest referee. Flair was under the Black Scorpion mask and no one cared. It ended with Bruiser and Sting fighting off a bunch of imposter Scorpions and the Four Horsemen. The camera never even got a proper shot of Flair being unmasked, so Jim Ross just had to yell about it. The Bruiser was probably the worst guest referee I’ve seen, outside of Mongo McMichaels in TNA of course. He ruined what little momentum Sting and Flair were trying to build with his painfully slow pinfalls.
Yeah, this felt like a weekend syndicated show from WCW, not their “Biggest Show of the Year.” To compare, that years WrestleMania sold out the SkyDome in Toronto, with Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior wrestled in front of 67,678 people. The state of this company, it’s a wonder WCW lasted long enough for Vince to buy it in 2001.
The Soviets vs. The Canadians is so bad that it’s kind of hilarious. The fat “indian” (their word, not mine) falling over himself after the botched ending is priceless.
Jim Ross and Paul Heyman are on commentary and are the only good things featured on this show.
I believe this was the final wrestling show inside the Kiel Auditorium. I assume they tore it down as a direct result of how bad this show was. It was the only way to get rid of the stench.
Starrcade ‘91 (Battlebowl – The Lethal Lottery)
Held on December 29, from the Norfolk Scope in Norfolk, Virginia
Oh, you have no idea how bad I wanted to like this show. As a kid, I used to watch this PPV all the time. But, I was usually only half paying attention as I created my own “Battlebowl” with my WWF Hasbro and WCW Galoob figures. I paid attention this time and basically destroyed my childhood.
Seriously, I loved this PPV as a kid. My parents ordered the show for me when I was four and taped it on VHS for me and I watched it constantly. I now have no idea why I did that.
This show features yet ANOTHER gimmick taking over the “Biggest Show of the Year” for WCW. Imagine if WrestleMania one year had the Andre Memorial Battle Royal as the main event next year, and every undercard match featured people trying to qualify for it. That’s basically what this is tantamount to for WCW. Introducing BattleBowl… or The Lethal Lottery… or both, I guess…
The undercard is filled with random matchups, which is weird because the draw is obviously gimmicked as we get the Freebirds facing each other right out of the gate. Maybe WCW wanted fans to really believe in the gimmick so they purposely booked the show to make no sense. Hey, Jim Herd is still in charge here, so anything is possible.
We actually get a bit of fun on the card, as the Freebirds facing off was entertaining enough. Abdullah the Butcher goes nuts on Sargent Buddy Lee Parker (the guy that teamed with Goldberg in his final WCW match) and tries to be Cactus Jack’s tag partner. Also, the Lex Luger/Arn Anderson vs. Terry Taylor/Z-Man match was the only good match on the card.
The Battlebowl Battle Royal was utter garbage. There were two rings set up side-by-side. All wrestlers started in “Ring One” and had to be eliminated into “Ring Two.” So, if you threw someone over the top and to the floor in Ring One, they just got to come back in. You had to throw them to the area between the two rings, with no real explanation given as to whether you had to go over the top rope. Several guys just walked from Ring One into Ring Two for no reason whatsoever. Ron Simmons fell through the ropes, but was deemed eliminated into Ring Two. From there, the Ring Two battle royal was more traditional, as you were eliminated if you were thrown over the top and to the floor. Luger rested up in Ring One and waited for Sting, who eliminated Rude to win in Ring Two. Rude took him out with a Rude Awakening after the fact, but Stinger overcame the odds and dumped out Luger to win.
The end was kind of lame, as Sting didn’t really overcome that much to beat the WCW World Champion. And the rest of the eliminations had little drama around them. Also, Luger had to overcome Vader in Ring One in order to win there, which seemed weird since he was a heel. But, yeah, there you go. That was supposedly WCW’s version of WrestleMania for the year of 1991.
The gimmick was not effective, so of course they brought it back for 1992 (more on that next week). It made the show drag on and it wasn’t really worth the finish which was early WCW’s version of “lol Cena wins.” Also, we didn’t get Kevin Nash as Oz, as was originally advertised.
You should at least take a look at this show just to see Arachniman’s only WCW PPV appearance and his only WWE Network appearance. The Spider-Man ripoff is one of the strangest characters Herd ever came up with.
WCW in 1991 was stuck in an identity crisis and it’s kind of fun to skim over. Go to the Network and use the Milestone feature to just watch the finishes. It’s worth it just to see DDP.
PN News. That is all.
Wrapping Up Part 1
I was so disappointed to see how terrible these three shows were. I had never watched 89 and 90 and thought I’d get at least a taste of NWA wrestling. But, I didn’t. Starrcade can really be seen as existing in four distinct eras with Ted Turner. You had these three “NWA Hangover” years. You had next week’s “This is how Vince does it” years. Then you have 1995-1997 years which is the “Peak” for WCW. Then you have “The End” in 1998-2000.
I thought this would be a fun trip down memory lane for the month of December, but I’m starting to think that this series might be a sad look at why WCW failed and WWF prevailed. It’s interesting to see how WCW treated their “Biggest Show” compared to WWF. None of these three shows had a “Big Show Feel” to it. I’m hoping that changes next week (but I won’t hold my breath).
Until next time, let’s go out there and kick someutt…