The SmarK Retro Repost – Starrcade 88

– Live from Norfolk, VA

– Your hosts are Jim Ross and Bob Caudle.

– Opening match, US tag titles: The Fantastics v. Steve Williams & Kevin Sullivan. This is the Fantastics’ second US title reign, as they won the tournament for the vacant titles at the end of 1988 and were supposed to be fighting the Sheepwhackers in a flag match here, but Vince signed them away to f*ck the NWA over, and we’re left with this. This would be the clipped Turner Home Video version. I’ve never seen the full version, because Canada didn’t get PPV until 1992. Fulton and Sullivan trade stuff to start, and then Williams gets in and gets double-teamed by the faces. One of them backfires, however, and Williams gives Fulton six presses on the press slam to take control. Match is clipped to Fulton getting the hot tag to Tommy Rogers at the 10 minute mark, who proceeds to take out Sullivan. A flying splash hits the knees, and Doc comes in for damage control, kicking the hell out of Rogers. He goes to the chinlock, however, taking the heat down a few notches. Fulton finally gets the hot tag, and the usual pier-six results. Ugly ending as Fulton goes for a sleeper, but releases it and tries a leapfrog, only to get hot-shotted on the top rope for the pin, giving the Varsity Club the US tag titles. Seemed about ***-ish.

– The Midnight Express v. The Midnight Express. The story: The Midnights lost the World tag titles to the Road Warriors, a week or so later they were wrestling a squash on World Championship Wrestling and were jumped by Paul E. Dangerously’s “Original” Midnight Express, fresh from the AWA. A super hot feud erupted, and this is the blowoff. Well, one of them. Lane and Eaton clean house a couple of times, and the fans are CLEARLY on their side. Cornette whacks Dennis Condrey with a wicked racket shot early on, causing Paul E. to ring the bell in protest. The heat here is amazing. Cornette makes gay references about Paul E. at ringside. The OME are getting nowhere, meanwhile. Another racket shot, and another indignant bell-ringing. JR: “This is like smoking a cigarette in a munitions dump — you just know something bad can happen at any time”. Pretty slow start to the actual match — mainly the Midnights showcasing their stuff. Bobby misses a blind corner charge, however, to put him in the Ricky Morton role (oh, the irony!). Paul E. is wearing a pink shirt, white suspenders and a red bow tie…yeah, that doesn’t look gay at all. Original Midnights miss the Rocket Launcher and Lane gets the hot tag and destroys the imposters. Enzuigiri knocks Condrey senseless, but the ref is distracted. Dangerously smashes the CELL PHONE OF DOOM in Lane’s head, but Long sees the evidence and stops the count. Crowd is FUCKING BATSHIT! Rose argues, and the Midnights nail the Double Goozle (clothesline-legsweep) for the pin. The heels pound the shit out of Cornette after the decision. Total old school NWA booking. ***1/2

– The Russian FatAssassins v. Junkfood Dog & Ivan Koloff. For those who complain that Roddy Piper is past his prime, witness Ivan. Let’s go over it again: FatAssassin #1 is Angel of Death, FatAssassin #2 is Jack Victory. If the Russians lose, they unmask *and* Paul Jones retires. Man, that’s just setting the faces up for a big fall. Sure, they clip the first two matches but leave this intact. I have to question why this was even on the card. Well, at least it’s got a decent pace. Chaos reigns as Ivan cleans house and hits the Russian Sickle on one of the bad guys, but the other one loads up his mask and headbutts Ivan for the pin. *1/2

– World TV title match: Mike Rotundo v. Rick Steiner. This is the blowoff for the Varsity Club split and one of my favorite matches, ever. Kevin Sullivan is locked in a cage at ringside. This is one of the matches that truly makes you feel good to be a wrestling fan, with Steiner the huge, lovable underdog and Rotundo the brainwashed, bullying, arrogant jerk of a champion. The match itself isn’t great, but the buildup was so classic and the characters so compelling that it really doesn’t matter. JR mentions that Steiner had dedicated the match to his mother before the match, and that pretty much gives away the ending right there. The story for those not aware: Rotundo stole the TV title from Nikita Koloff a year previous, with the help of Kevin Sullivan. The next week Sullivan announced his “Varsity Club”, headed by former Syracuse alumnus Mike Rotundo, and they also imported Florida alumnus Rick Steiner as cannon fodder. Steiner was pushed around, badmouthed and abused by the other two for months, until finally the maladjusted Steiner snapped and attacked Rotundo, turfing him from the Club. Anyway, this match is clipped to about the 15 miute mark, with Steiner making the big comeback and Dr. Death wandering down to ringside. Steiner hits the belly-to-belly, his finisher, and Williams rings the bell, so the ref stops the count, because he thinks the time limit is up. Tommy Young comes out to restart the match as Sullivan gets released from the cage. Sullivan attacks Tommy Young, and Steiner simply shoves Rotundo into the duo, and covers for the pin (counted by both refs) and the World TV championship. Loudest pop you’ll EVER hear. The phrase “the place comes unglued” doesn’t even do it justice. Steiner grabs the belt and runs around the ring yelling “I beat you!” and celebrates with the fans. Okay match, terrific ending. **1/4 It still brings a smile to face today, and it makes me that much sadder when I see what’s become of Rick “Hope I don’t kill my opponent today” Steiner.

– US title match: Barry Windham v. Bam Bam Bigelow. Bammer was fresh off leaving the WWF after his initial mega-push there, and this was the peak of his mega-push in the NWA. Neither one worked. Kind of an odd choice for US title defense — it’s a huge style clash. Windham hits some STIFF shots on Bigelow, and he no-sells a Windham backdrop suplex in repsonse. Bigelow seems to think he’s still in the WWF, playing the monster face. Windham pulls out a Flair Flop and gets dropkicked over the top rope and into the railing. He’s certainly getting practice on his selling. Bigelow gets tossed out and messes up his knee, but still nails Windham and hits the slingshot splash…but picks Windham up at two. Huh? What a head-full-of-shit level stupid move that was. He goes for the top rope splash, which of course misses. Windham comes back, hitting the lariat (and dividing the crowd). He gets the HEAD MASSAGE OF DOOM (aka the clawhold) but Bam Bam makes the ropes. Windham goes for a flying elbow (when does he EVER do that?) but misses. Both guys go tumbling out of the ring and Bigelow misses a charge to the post and gets counted out. Anti-climactic ending. But boy, Windham was DAMN good in 1988. **1/2

– World tag team title match: The Road Warriors v. Sting & Dusty Rhodes. Short and sweet: The Warriors turned heel on longtime partner Dusty Rhodes and beat him to within an inch of his life, then turned on Sting and did the same to him. They steamrolled over the Midnight Express, finally giving them the elusive tag titles, and this match was born. Btw, Dusty did a five-alarm, Mexico-worthy bladejob on national TV during the dinner hour during his beating, which earned him a one-way ticket to the WWF, thank you very much. Warriors are MONSTER heels in every sense of the word at this point. Ironically, they’re so over as heels that they turned face again, a syndrome which came to the forefront with everyone’s favorite rattlesnake, Steve Austin. Sting is wearing blue and white facepaint…could this be a secret alliance with the bWo? TUNE INTO NITRO TO FIND OUT! Sting and Rhodes dominate Hawk, no-selling all and generally being all pissed off. Sting is FEELING IT tonight, hitting a dive from the top rope to Animal, who’s like halfway down the aisle. Amazing. Dusty gets in and gets beat on (and DOESN’T blade) and even pulls out a dropkick. JR tells us to mark our calendars. Dusty is a pretty bad choice to play Cow in Peril. Sting gets the hot (and I mean HOT) tag and nails the Stinger splash and deathlock on Animal, but Hawk breaks it up. The Warriors brutalize Rhodes, and Sting comes off the top with a bodypress on Animal for the pin…but Paul Ellering pulls Tommy Young out before the fatal three count, giving the faces the win by DQ. Better than it had any right to be. ***3/4

– NWA World title match: Ric Flair v. Lex Luger. DQ rule is waived, which means DQ = bye bye title. This was intended to be Flair v. Steamboat, but contract negotiations delayed that until Chi-Town Rumble. Booker Dusty Rhodes had his own idea for the main event, which I’ll get into in the Bottom Line. Luger was firmly my favorite wrestler at this point in my life. I just did NOT like Flair. So I guess both guys were doing their jobs well. Flair acts all arrogant and Luger tosses him around like a ragdoll, as Flair goes into Punching Bag mode, yelling “Oh god” every 10 seconds. The Broomstick Rule applies here: From 1984 until 1994, Flair could carry a broomstick to ***, so the true measure of greatness was how *far* over *** he could carry someone. In an era of compressed wrestling matches, it’s pretty astonishing to see this match go almost 15 minutes before Luger blows an elbowdrop to allow Flair to take control. The first fifteen minutes was ALL Lex. Flair rams Lex into the STEEL railing and goes to work. Luger makes a mini-comeback at about 20 minutes in with a series of punches and a sleeper, but Flair cheats and escapes. Luger gets a superplex for two, and puts Flair in the figure-four. While not quite cliche at this point, the “Irony of Flair getting his own move” thing was certainly approaching it. Luger nails Tommy Young by accident, and Flair tosses Luger over the top rope, which should have ended the match and given Luger the title right there. Luger continues the assault with a suplex for two. You’d think Flair would have taken note of the fact that CHOPS DON’T WORK WITH LEX. Crowd is rabid. Luger hits the powerslam and goes for the rack, but JJ distracts the ref and allows Flair to grab a chair and slam it into Luger’s knee. Again, that should have ended the match and given Lex the title. And nooooooowwwwwwww, whoo, we go to school. Flair dismantles the knee and slaps on the figure-four. On the wrong leg. Ric, Ric, Ric, it’s THE STRAIGHT FUCKING LEG! You’d think after 20 years the guy would remember that. Luger hulks up and reverses the move, and the crowd is nutso again. Flair goes back to work on the knee. Luger makes the final comeback, blocking out the pain. He press-slams Flair, and his knee gives way after the move. He no-sells Flair’s fivearm. Clothesline gets two at the 30 minute mark. Another setup powerslam and he racks Flair, but the knee gives out again and Flair falls on top (and of course puts his feet on the ropes) for the pin to retain. ****1/2

The Bottom Line: Well, it could have been worse for Flair. The original booking in the endless Flair v. Rhodes backstage soap opera had Lex Luger getting mugged by the Varsity Club before the show, with Rick Steiner making the save. Luger, being a babyface, would then give his title shot to Steiner, who was booked to beat Flair in FIVE MINUTES. WCW World champion…Rick Steiner? Almost happened, folks. Flair threatened to quit on the spot, and in a Cuban Missile Crisis moment, was THAT close to signing with the WWF over the dispute before Jim Crockett stepped in and fired Rhodes as booker in favor of Flair, whose first act was to put himself over Luger and bring in Steamboat. Huzzah.

Anyway, a pretty darn good Starrcade. Worth a rental if you can find the damn thing anywhere.

Recommended.

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