Recently I’ve looked at the two MTV-WWF shows which were the precursors to the first Wrestlemania.
But WWF was not the only promotion looking at expanding their reach through television.
In 1983, before WWF’s first foray into the world of a televisually based product, the NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions decided to see how they’d go. It was not Pay Per View, per se (it was on closed-circuit television), nor was it nationwide (it was shown across the south of the USA), but it was still quite the show. JCP had a Thanksgiving tradition of holding a Supercard; in 1983 they named it Starrcade and this was the one they decided to broadcast.
Thus we come to Starrcade ’83 – Flair For The Gold (Nov 24, 1983), the first of the modern era televised wrestling events.
My tape jumps straight to the first match! No prelims, no hype, just into it.
The Assassins (with Paul Jones) v Rufus R. Jones & Bugsy McGraw
The crowd is hot, cheering everything. Bob Caudle and Gordon Solie are the announcers. Dull match, sloppy at times, and it had dancing. Not a good opener. McGraw is rolled up for the pin after an Assassin switcheroo and the crowd boos. 8 minutes of yawn.
A ridiculously young Tony Schiavone is in the dressing room, talking about how this is the first time they’ve ever been in a dressing room. Is that true? Who knows…
Johnny Weaver & Scott McGhee v Kevin Sullivan & Mark Lewin (with Gary Hart)
This is a better match. Not as sloppy, although a lot of armbars and rest-holds do occur. False tag is defended ridiculously by the commentators. I mean, the excuse was stupid. Slow match, but not horrible. Sullivan takes a bulldog terribly. Hart interferes and Lewin pins Weaver after around 7 minutes. Post-match there is a beat-down, Hart is hit, he gives a spike to the heels and they hit the faces, then Angelo Mosca comes in (who?) and is attacked. Mosca recovers and chases them off as McGhee bleeds quite well. Well, the after match stuff was far more interesting than the match itself.
Barbara Clarey (okay…) interviews some random family about the main event.
Schiavone interviews Harley Race. He gives a reasoned promo, says he knows Flair is injured and that he’s going after the “spots”. Short, sharp and shiny.
Carlos Colon v Abdullah The Butcher
“This match was banned in Puerto Rico.” Typical little v big match. Colon fights back from a beating, manages to get Abdullah’s foreign object away from him (another spike; did people in America carry spikes in the early 80s?) and to the surprise of absolutely no-one who watched wrestling at this time, Abdullah bleeds. Abdullah falls onto the ref, apparently killing him. Colon has the upper hand, then some guy named Hugo Savinovich interferes and Abdullah gets the pin, the referee having survived death.
Tony in the dressing room and Mosca is there with a bleeding arm from the attack earlier. Apparently he is supposed to be reffing the tag team title match later. Mosca cuts a weird promo about carrying his 21 year old son. Or maybe he thinks Weaver is his son? McGhee is next to him, covered in blood… I mean his face is completely red. Yick. But awesome. I mean, it meant nothing, but cool. And then Mosca says Flair will win.
Note bleeding youngster beside Mosca…
Barbara is with more fans. They’re pro-Flair.
Chief Wahoo McDaniel & Mark Youngblood v Dick Slater & Bob Orton Jr
Wahoo and Youngblood are over! They try to announce Dusty Rhodes as being present, but the mic cuts out! I find that funny. They talk about Orton and Slater collecting the bounty on Flair, and give some nice back story to people who didn’t see the rest of the events or who, like now, are watching this over 30 years in the future. Sorry, the match. I’m reminded of the ridiculous throw over the top ropes leads to disqualification rule. The match! Yes… it’s actually not a bad one. I tell you, after the Brawl… and this, Bob Orton is an under-rated wrestler! Long heel beat-down on Youngblood ends when Youngblood finally tags in Wahoo. Note: when Wahoo enters, the entire match slows down. Shame. Anyway, Wahoo goes to town on them until a nice double team (legal, too) turns the tide. But Wahoo moves during a double team and Slater hits Orton, and then the faces take over. This is a classic tag team match-up. Slater and Wahoo fight outside, Youngblood and Orton in. Orton holds the ropes so a drop-kick misses. Youngblood is set up on the top turnbuckle, Orton hits a second rope superplex and gets the pin! 15 minutes; didn’t feel that long. Wahoo – the face – then comes in to beat up the heels after a clean pin. So the heels go after his arm on the ring apron. Well, Wahoo started it! I liked this match, but it was Slater and Orton who did all the work.
Schiavone is with Flair, Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood (Mark’s brother). They all cut intense promos. Flair is sold here as the babyface underdog.
Barbara is with Dusty Rhodes, but there’s still audio problems with the mic. Dusty cuts a promo that no-one can hear. But I’m guessing it’s about Dusty. No, when we hear him, it’s about the show, and apparently Dusty will be challenging the winner of the heavyweight title. Wish we could have heard it, actually.
NWA TV Championship: Charlie Brown v The Great Kabuki (c) (with Gary Hart)
This is title for mask. See, apparently Jimmy Valiant was kicked out of the NWA, so this strangely hirsute masked man named Charlie Brown (“from out of town”) appears and… and this match happens. Sloppy, punchy, with claw holds and sleeper holds and kicks and chops… dull. Hart interferes at one point. 10 minutes of boredom, but the crowd inexplicably liked it. End comes when Brown moves out of a corner charge, drops an elbow and gets the pin and the title. Hart is livid, but Kabuki only has himself to blame. By the way, match 5, and the first face to win.
Someone named Dude Walker comes in and says he thinks Flair is going to win.
Schiavone is with Race, Slater and Orton. Orton gives a nice promo, Slater doesn’t talk to the camera well and his promo is not the best. Race talks to Flair via camera and another intense promo is delivered.
Dusty is with Barbara and he delivers a typical Dusty promo. But he thinks Race is going to win. First non-Flair prediction.
Rowdy Roddy Piper v Greg Valentine (US champ)
A collar match, with the two of them chained together by dog collars, no DQ, no time limit, non-title (though the announcers get that wrong for the first half of the match). The announcers give some nice back-story. But Piper a face? Solie even says Piper saved him from an attack. Valentine looks so young. Piper might be a face but he’s still Piper and fights like a bastard. Starts off slow, but then it picks up and becomes the sort of violent chain match it was always going to be. Some innovative use of the chain as well. Valentine bleeds, the ref gets involved… in a no DQ match? This lets Valentine take over. Valentine goes after the injured ear of Piper… the selling is off the charts. Not just the injuries, but the emotion of hatred. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – selling is becoming a lost art in wrestling. So weird to hear Solie pronounce the word as “su-play” (the amateur way it’s said) and not “su-pleks” (the accepted pro version). Piper’s bleeding from beneath the eye. Ouch! This is a great match! Back and forth. Even a sleeper hold is made to be exciting. Piper wins after pulling Valentine off the ropes and wraps the chain around the legs to get the pin in about 15 minutes. Post-match, Valentine continues to attack Piper with the chain. Forgotten classic.
Valentine tries to kill Piper.
Schiavone is with Flair. Wahoo is there with his arm heavily bandaged. This is how to cut a promo – Flair puts over his opponent while still saying he’s going to win. Modern wrestlers need to learn this. Wahoo cuts a nice pro-Flair promo.
Barbara with Don Kernodle. He says Flair will win.
World Tag Team Championship: Jay Youngblood & Ricky Steamboat v Jack & Jerry Brisco (c)
Special referee Angelo Mosca (from earlier). Caudle explains that the Briscos didn’t want this match, so they signed a contract to wrestle elsewhere on the same night, but Crockett bought that contract and made them do this match! That’s certainly unique – why haven’t other promotions used that more often? Okay, it wouldn’t work with the WWE, but ROH or Impact could certainly utilise it. This match seems to be a clash of styles, but the action does not let up. The crowd is really into this match as well – this crowd has been hot all night. Faces on top, heels on top, back and forth. Maybe a little slow at times, but definitely not a bad match at all. Steamboat pulls out an amazing feat of strength at one point, dead-lifting a Brisco off the mat. After about 12 minutes or so a Brisco argues with Mosca over a slow count, pushes him, Mosca pushes back and this allows a face tag, then some nice double teams leads to Steamboat press-slamming Youngblood onto a Brisco for the pin. And, as has been the norm for most of the night, the heels beat up the faces after their win. But Mosca comes to the rescue. Faces clean house, new champs, crowd goes absolutely ape-shit.
They run the credits, with Caudle saying them as well, for the hard of reading. (I’d make a joke about literacy and stuff like that, but it is 30+ years ago…)
Schiavone is with Charlie Brown (not Jimmy Valiant). He says nothing. Piper talks. His face is swollen; apparently, as he said in an interview some 20 years later, he legitimately lost hearing because of this battle. That’s going above and beyond. Steamboat and Youngblood come; Youngblood self-congratulates, Steamboat is humble in victory.
Solie and Caudle chat. Yes, I know, killing time while the cage is set up.
My tapes cuts a bit, and when we come back, it’s Flair’s entrance music (‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’) and Flair enters the cage. No announcers, just a lot of crowd screaming. And some not brilliant camera work. Race comes out to no music, but crowd boos. Still no commentary.
World Heavyweight Championship: Ric Flair v Harley Race (c)
Special guest referee is Gene Kiniski, former world heavyweight champion. Look, this is a good match, but not a great match. It is at the end of the technical era of wrestling, just before sports entertainment started to rear its ugly head, and so we have lots of holds and few moves we would today consider normal. But for those who like old school wrestling styles, it is really good. I’m in the middle, and to me it lacked some pace, though I still quite enjoy it. Kiniski, by the way, is a terrible referee and seems to be more interested in making it about himself. The cage is used, both men bleed and they get tired and this leads to some sloppy spots as the match progresses. Both work on the other’s necks, which is interesting to see. Flair has the blood colouring his hair red. Nice visual. Nice overhead camera shot of Flair with Race in the figure four. End comes when Flair hits the top rope cross body (that he almost never gets to even execute!) onto Race for the three count and the title after around 25 minutes. Crowds absolutely loses its shit!
Flair tries to rip Race’s head off.
Mosca comes in to congratulate him, Race leaves, and the ring fills with Flair supporters. We have a new champion! Flair’s wife even comes in to kiss him. Flair gives an emotional, short babyface thank-you promo in the middle of the ring.
Backstage, Flair cuts a good promo. He still wears his blood. Then the champagne shower comes. But, of course, Dusty Rhodes appears to remind Flair he is challenging.
And we go back to Solie and Caudle who recap the show, talk about Flair and Race… much like the end of a football match nowadays. That façade of being a legitimate competitive sport was still held so very tightly. Barbara talks to Race who cuts a really good promo. Again, put your opponent over while talking yourself up. And my tape cuts out mid-Solie wrapping it up.
So, that was actually a good show. 8 matches and 4 were really good. Ignore the opener, Charlie Brown/Kabuki and Abdullah/Colon and the rest is worth it. Quite surprising in retrospect. Lots of the older guys putting the younger guys over, setting the sport up for the next generation. The show was a good one, that’s for sure. They put it all on the line to make sure this first CCTV show was a great one, like WWF did with The Brawl to End It All.
However, that wasn’t the end of it for NWA-JCP. A year later they tried again, doing the same closed circuit television broadcast. This occurred after WWF’s The Brawl To End It All, and it followed the same pattern as the previous year’s broadcast.
And so we have Starrcade ’84 – The Million Dollar Challenge (Nov 22, 1984). Now, my tape of this is really awful, so I got some-one in the US about ten years ago to get me a new copy, so if it’s missing anything from the original, I don’t remember it being gone and I apologise.
We open with vision from Starrcade ’83 and Flair winning, then some talking, a brief laser light show (how quaint!), then straight into the first match. This is something that NWA (and later more or less WCW) did well – get into the wrestling right away. Solie and Caudle are our announcers again.
World Junior Heavyweight Championship: Denny Brown v Mike Davis (c)
The fact this would develop into the WCW division with Mexicans flipping all over the place and later into TNA’s X-Division stuns me. While there’s some ‘high-flying’ moves, it’s a sloppy affair. Solie calls it “gruelling” after less than 4 minutes; I think he means for the viewer. They like running into one another. End comes with a belly-to-back suplex, both shoulders are down, but Brown (the one who got suplexed) gets his shoulder up. The announcers are confused, but it seems we have a new champion after about 5 minutes. What a mess to start their “Superbowl”.
Schiavone is in the dressing room. He reminds us that as well as the title, the main event is for one million dollars. That’s it.
Mr. Ito v Brian Adidas
Another mess! A match of armbars! Then Adidas catches Ito in an airplane spin and gets a pin off it after around 4 minutes. Well, that was crap.
Florida State Heavyweight Championship: Mike Graham v Jesse Barr (c)
Look, I like technical wrestling, but it’s good to have more than just rest-holds, you know? Dull match. I mean, boring. Nothing ‘wrong’ with it, just… boring. After 12 long, long minutes, a ref bump and some figure-four attempts, Barr pins Graham with his feet on the ropes. Yes, 12 minutes and that’s all you get. Because that’s all that happened. This show is not starting well…
A look back at some tag match where Steamboat was injured for whatever reason. Not adequately explained.
The Zambuie Express (Elijah Akeem & Kareem Muhammed) (with Paul Jones) v Assassin #1 & Buzz Tyler
This is elimination rules. Well, that’s prescient: Militant Muslims before that was even a thing. Mind you, the two of them are both rather fat and if they set off a suicide bomb, bystanders would more likely be killed by flying adipose tissue than the actual blast. Standard tag team match, albeit as if a 45 was being played at 33 ⅓ (I’m old, leave me alone). There’s a brawl outside, and both those combatants are counted out, though this is never announced, so when The Assassin falls on the last Zambuie Express member, and pins him, the faces win after only 5 minutes. Well, that was a mess. Again. And the announcers don’t even know what’s going on for a while. Well, this show is so not living up to last year!
Schiavone is with Dusty Rhodes. Dusty talks about Dusty. He does not cut a good promo.
Michael Jackson music! Today that’d be overdubbed with some-one far less contentious… say – Gary Glitter? Anyway, it’s the entrance theme for one Ragin’ Bull.
Brass Knuckles Title: Ragin’ Bull Manny Fernandez v Black Bart (with JJ Dillon)
Well, here’s a title I’ve never heard of before! From what I can gather, it was basically a no-DQ match, where they have taped fists and punches are all fine and dandy. Sort of like a watered down Hardcore Championship, though I prefer it without the junk weapons. So this match is a lot of punching. Fernandez is bleeding – quelle surprise! Still punching, but at least it’s back and forth. Crowd is into this. Look, it was just a lot of punching, but it wasn’t terrible and at least it was different. Bart gets his bull-rope from Dillon, but this distracts him long enough for Fernandez to roll him up for the pin and the title after about 8 minutes.
We have a “seven minute intermission”. Some highlights from Starrcade ’83, Schiavone tries to interview Steamboat but they lose the lights. This is amateur hour. Schiavone is back with Ricky Steamboat. Now the earlier video of the attack on Steamboat is explained. Steamboat cuts an intense angry promo on Tully Blanchard.
To the announcers, back to Schiavone who is with Blanchard and his manager Dillon. Dillon gives a typical Dillon promo. Blanchard cuts a decent enough promo.
Tuxedo Street Fight, Loser Leaves Town match: Paul Jones v Jimmy Valiant
I hate these sorts of matches. And this one does nothing to change my opinion. Valiant ties Jones to the top rope by his tie. He then rips the tuxedo off. Doesn’t that mean Valiant wins? O… kay. So the match continues, Valiant pummels him and locks in a sleeper. Jones is bleeding nicely. All over Valiant’s shirt. Ick. He should have won there as well, but the ref is knocked out. So the seconds go at it (an Assassin and a Zambuie), JJ Dillon comes in and hits Valiant with something and Jones gets the pin after 5 minutes. WTF was that mess?
Schiavone is with Flair. He cuts a good promo; this is important to him. The later OTT Flair promos must have come later in his career.
Mid-Atlantic Championship: Dick Slater v Cowboy Ron Bass (with JJ Dillon)
Lat year Slater was a heel in a good tag team with Orton; this year Orton is having a great match with Tito Santana (no sarcasm – see my review of The Brawl To End It All) and Slater is a face here doing… things. Stupid face things like chasing the manager. Once they start wrestling, it’s not too awful for a little while, though rest-holds seem to dominate. Slater over-sells a lot of stuff, the ref gets in Slater’s face a lot. End comes when Slater pushes the ref away (well, to be honest, the reffing was horrible), goes for the pin, but is DQ’ed for pushing the ref away after almost 10 minutes. This was… not good. And in a turnaround, the face beats up the heel after losing. Well, for NWA, that seems to be a change…
National anthem, American flag and really shoddy camera work. Neil Diamond sings ‘America’, we get a (quaint) laser light show – look! the lights make words! – for another intermission, I guess.
Ivan & Nikita Koloff v Ole Anderson & Keith Larson (with Don Kernodle)
They explain Don was injured by his partner, one of the Koloffs, Larson is his brother (but uses a different name to not capitalise on the family) and Ole Anderson is an all-American face. Is this pre- or post- Minnesota Wrecking Crew? Guess I’ll find out as I keep on watching these things… No, I’m told he is a member of the Crew now. We start fast and furious and then… we hit the rest-holds. So many arm-bars and hammer-locks, and then bear-hugs. Look, it isn’t just lying around, there are some actually moves, but it is not the most thrilling match. End comes when Nikita goes after Don (injured, remember), and Ivan does something in the ring to pin Larson. 15 minutes and we don’t see the ending. The camera does not show it. They try to kill Larson, But Don is up and uses the crutch as a weapon to kill the Russians. Match wasn’t awful, it just wasn’t anything great. The replay only shows Don’s attack, not what led to the pin.
Television Championship: Ricky Steamboat v Tully Blanchard (c)
No-DQ, the no-run rule is in force (Blanchard loses the title if he runs away), both men have put up $10,000… Any more stipulations? Why not just say, “You two can rock this joint – go out there and rock this joint”? Well, they do that anyway. Steamboat sells the injuries from the attack shown earlier, Blanchard has to fight the urge to run away. Very few sell as well as Steamboat. I don’t do play by play (well, rarely), but this match probably deserves it after everything else I’ve seen on this tape. They do not let up. Even the ‘slow’ bits are imbued with emotion and story. The crowd also does not let up. Blanchard bleeds. Steamboat is so pissed off he actually spits on Blanchard – that is really telling for the character. Steamboat uses Blanchard’s slingshot suplex. More good stuff, then Blanchard hits Steamboat with a foreign object, but still can’t put him away. Steamboat hits a nice top rope splash. Steamboat goes for a pin but Blanchard hits him with the ‘thing’ again and gets the pin after nearly 15 minutes… and the crowd deflates. Another screwy ending in a series of them tonight. Still, good match from these two, easily best match of the show.
US Heavyweight Championship: Superstar Billy Graham v Chief Wahoo McDaniel (c)
Before hip surgery and aborted comeback to the WWF, there was Kung Fu Billy Graham. He even comes out to ‘Kung Fu Fighting’. Graham uses a Kung Fu hair pull and a Kung Fu full nelson. And in less than 5 minutes Wahoo defeats him with one chop from out of nowhere. Nothing to see here.
Schiavone introduces us to the judges who will decide the winner should the match reach its time limit. Joe Frazier is the guest referee and he talks. Sort of. The other judges say nothing of consequence. Just filler, really. And we follow this with some more technical issues. This show is quite poorly done in that regard.
‘Purple Rain’ by Prince brings Dusty to the ring. Why? We get 2 seconds of ‘Old Time Rock And Roll’, then ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ (with quaint laser lights) and out comes Flair. Eventually. Crowd even chants for him. Hang on, as he walks to the ring Mac Davis’ ‘It’s Hard To Be Humble’ plays. WTF? Sorry, I’m obsessing over music.
World Heavyweight Championship: Dusty Rhodes v Ric Flair (c)
Solie very subtly points out that Dusty is fat (“carrying a little weight”), but he can still move okay. And we go straight to a headlock. Oh… God. Flair tries to bring some life to the party; Rhodes is back to the headlock. Look, this match is dull. Flair is trying, but Dusty seems to be going through the motions. Not sure why; I’m under the impression he was booking at this point in time. Crowd is hot, but match… is… so… dull… Figure-four, grape vine leg lock, punches, we go to the floor (you know the drill – Flair to corner, flips upside down, ends up on the floor). More stuff happens, Dusty goes to a post and, of course, he bleeds. More stuff happens, but after more than 10 minutes Frazier stops the match because of the injury to Rhodes. Cheap ending to a dull, plodding match. And a 10 minute main event? Dusty’s not happy, but too late – Flair is still champ and a million dollars richer. Manny Fernandez (his world tag team partner) applies first aid.
Flair pummels Rhodes…
Schiavone is with Flair. He thanks everyone. That’s it. Back to Gordon and Bob and the strange man watching them through the window. The arena empties quickly, that’s for sure. Schiavone is now with Dusty, and he yells at Frazier, then at Flair. Passionate interview. And that’s it.
What was it with the endings here? All of them were so awfully crappy. Well, sequels are never as good (except Star Trek: Wrath of Khan and Empire Strikes Back).
Anyway, the success of both of these shows – they sold out the arena and had really good up-take on the coverage, so, yes, in that regard, both were a success – even in the limited market they were broadcast to, surely told Vince McMahon that there was definitely mileage to be had out of this concept. The fact he took it and ran with it, upping the showmanship and spectacle and not focussing quite as much on the technical wrestling in order to widen its appeal to a broader market showed that he actually had his finger on the pulse of the nation at the time.
NWA, on the other hand, was always seen as secondary to WWF. Their love for “real” wrestling held them back for many years, even after this particular section became WCW. Only for a brief period in the late 90s did they overtake the WWF. But that was all to come. First there were these two shows. And, as good as ’83 was and as messy as ’84 was, they were not in the end what the wider public actually wanted, what caught their attention, what made wrestling become part of the culture as it is today.
That would come from the WWF with the first Wrestlemania.
Tags: 1983, 1984, Bob Orton, Dusty Rhodes, harley race, NWA, Ric Flair, ricky steamboat, starrcade, Tony Schiavone