Going Old School: Starrcade '85
Posted by Matt Adamson on 01.28.2008
The gold standard of Starrcade's and the origin of the "Dusty Finish".
The glorious continuation of my Starrcade series. I’ve made it through the big storm that flooded out parts of the Oregon coast and dropped a literal boat load of rain here in Portland. Fortunately, because of the storm, I was able to watch this show and the next back to back which was nice. I don’t get that much time very often. Don’t forget to drop me some requests, I am looking forward to having some shows lines up once I’m done with these, but keeping up with one J.D. Dunn can be tough and who knows how long it’ll be till I’m through with these. The man is a work hose I tell ya, a real workaholic.
After two years of successful events, Jim Crockett Promotions decided it was time to shake up how they ran the Starrcade event. Both years previous, the event had taken place in Greensboro, North Carolina. While they didn’t want to fix what wasn’t broken, they did want to expand the footprint of the event. So they decided to run it in two cities by adding Atlanta, Georgia to the mix. It would be the first time an event was broadcast live from two locations, while both also acted as closed-circuit locations for the matches taking place at the opposite arena. It was November 28th 1985 and Jim Crockett Promotions was once again making history.
November 28th 1985 from the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina, and The Omni in Atlanta, Georgia.
Starrcade ‘85 - The Gathering
Hosts: Bob Caudle & Tony Schiavone
Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship: Krusher Khruschev vs. Sam Houston
The title had been vacated back in July which basically killed what little interest was left in it. Khruschev is Barry Darsow, who is one of the most underrated wrestlers I can think of, mostly because he jumped from gimmick to gimmick for most of his career. His longest stint was as half of the tag team Demolition as Smash. He was also known as The Repo Man, Blacktop Bully and “Mr. Hole-In-One” Barry Darsow. At this point, he had only been wrestling for a little over one year. Houston was a youngster who had been wrestling for under a year by this time. He would go on to win this title in January from Khruschev who was forced out by injury. His career in 1985 was at it’s peak.
This was a fun little back and forth match with nothing that sticks out as being bad, but also nothing really stuck out at all. It had a fast pace, which is always nice for an opener. Houston is so lanky and Darsow is so solid that they really have to work a style of compromise in order to make things work and they pull it off. Khruschev gets the 3 count following a Russian Sickle. Houston’s leg was on the bottom rope during the pinfall, which would lead to 2 more months of feuding before Darsow was injured.
Winner and NEW Champ: Krusher Khruschev
Match Rating: **
Mexican Death Match: Abdullah The Butcher vs. “Raging Bull” Manny Fernandez
This would be nearing the final months of Fernandez as a face as he would join Paul Jones by the time the next Starrcade rolled around and became a pretty wicked heel. A Mexican Death Match is an interesting one. In fact, I believe Russo has a time machine and went back in time to book this match in order to plant seeds for what would come later. The basic idea is a no holds barred match where to win you must climb a pole and grab a sombrero. Seriously, I’m not lying.
I really enjoyed this match as it’s about the most enjoyment I’ve had watching the Butcher besides his brawls with Bruiser Brody. Fernandez actually dominated much of the match, which I didn’t expect at all. It was a nice surprise. Butcher sells Fernandez’s offense quite well and makes him look like an animal. Abdullah climbing the pole is some real fun as it looks so out of place and uncharacteristic of him and his character, but he does a great job. I should also note that there is a NUT SHOT in this gem of a match, which gets the rating bonus. Fernandez picks up the win after the Butcher hits the ringpost after charging at Fernandez, allowing him to climb the pole and retrieve EL SOMBRERO~!
Winner: Manny Fernandez
Match Rating: **½
Texas Bull Rope Match: “Outlaw” Ron Bass vs. Black Bart
This is the payoff for the breakup of the Long Riders which had happened earlier in the year in order to set the stage for the Four Horsemen. Bart is the heel in this one as he has stuck with JJ Dillon. This version of the Texas Bull Rope match is won by pin fall. If Bass wins, he gets JJ Dillon for 5 minutes with the bull rope.
I’m not a huge fan of this style of match, but I’ve seen it work well a few times so I don’t ever rule out the possibility that it can happen again. Match goes back and forth and they use the cowbell to its fullest potential before Bass wins after hitting Bart in the head with the cowbell. Bass gets JJ Dillon for 5 minutes.
Winner: Ron Bass
Match Rating: **¼
Texas Bullrope Match: “Outlaw” Ron Bass vs. JJ Dillon
This match has a 5-minute time limit and is designed for Bass to get his revenge on his former manager. Dillon starts the match before he is roped to Bass, but it isn’t enough to stop Bass from beating him down hard, which goes on for about 3 minutes before Bart interferes and hits Bass with a Piledriver. He then pulls Dillon onto Bass for the 3 count. A silly little match, but I love it. Where have the days gone where managers were hated at that level. I think the only one getting it right these days is James Mitchell.
Winner: JJ Dillon
Match Rating: *¾
$10,000.00 Arm Wrestling Challenge: The Barbarian vs. “Superstar” Billy Graham
This is what Graham had become at this point. He had come full circle from where he started. He was very much near the end of his career here and had thankfully gone back to the “Superstar” hippie gimmick that made him famous in the first place. He is a shell of himself, but is able to hide it sense it’s an arm wrestling match. The two would wrestle after this, but the booker did their best to hide Graham’s weaknesses by using him in filler like this. Graham wins the match exactly how you can imagine.
Winner: Billy Graham
“Superstar” Billy Graham vs. The Barbarian
Barbarian is with Paul Jones who taunts Graham. The match is very short in order to hide the fact that Graham could hardly wrestle at this stage of his career. What little time the match is given is devoted to punches, kicks and a bear hug. Graham wins by DQ when Jones hits him with a cane. This isn’t exactly Starrcade material. A bunch of filler to have the “Superstar” on the show.
The National Title was a title that existed between 1980 and 1986 that was considered a step below the U.S. title, possibly equal with the TV title. Taylor had won the title from Black Bart in June of ‘85, but soon after this match would be headed for Mid-South. Landel was a guy who had the look of a star, had ability in the ring (though some would beg to differ), but he was unable to control his substance abuse problems. His drug and alcohol problems would control his career as he never really got to the next level as a result.
Landel is with JJ Dillon who really doesn’t look enthusiastic, which is unusual. Taylor shows his in-ring prowess by using a wide variety of moves and holds throughout the match. His execution is direct and flawless for the most part. The match isn’t terribly long, which is unfortunate, because what was there was good, thanks to Taylor. The match is over when Taylor goes for a Superplex, but is tripped by JJ Dillon which allows Landel to reverse it so he landed on top for the three and the title.
Winner and NEW Champ: Buddy Landel
Match Rating: **¾
National Tag Team Championship: Arn & Ole Anderson vs. Billy Jack Haynes and Wahoo McDaniel
This marks the early days of this (the most important) version of the Minnesota Wrecking Crew. Arn had been wrestling for a couple years at this point, but was already a tremendous talent. I hold that Arn Anderson had a greater understanding of what a match should be than all but a small amount of wrestling. Only so many that you could count them on one hand. Wahoo had recently lost the U.S. title to Magnum T.A. so when they had nothing for him, they would throw him in tag matches with young bright eyed guys like Billy Jack Haynes, who is a Portland legend who spent a very limited time in the Mid-Atlantic.
Haynes is really at his in-ring peak at this period and it shows as he and Ole do some great work, back and forth in the early part of the match. The two of them just ooze emotion. Haynes would always do well in that department, but it wasn’t always Ole’s strongest asset. When Wahoo is in control of the match he results to restholds, which is the biggest downfall of the match, which is made up for by Ole who works Wahoo’s arm. The Anderson’s do a fantastic job of cutting the ring in half and being consistent by working the same body part. The arm they work is the arm Wahoo uses for his finisher, the Tomahawk Chop. I love this type of psychology. The Anderson’s are just amazing throughout the entire match, using every bit of common sense to make the match look as realistic as possible. They hold Wahoo during tags and have great double team tactics. The hot tag to Haynes is huge, but it doesn’t help as Wahoo would eventually end up back in and is tripped and held by Ole from the outside, allowing Arn to get the pin. Amazing stuff and proof of the genius of Arn and Ole Anderson.
This match was a real blood feud which had started when they originally exchanged the U.S. title earlier in the year. Magnum is a hero to the fans at this point and is headed straight to the top of the card. Unfortunately, less than a year after this match, he would be severely injured in an automobile accident and never wrestle again. It’s one of the saddest stories in wrestling and had he have not experienced that accident, professional wrestling today might be entirely different. Tully Blanchard had spent the summer of 1985 feuding with Dusty Rhodes over the TV title. He was one of the most recognized stars in the NWA by this time, but was on the verge of being a legend when the Horsemen would form two months after this show.
This match is one of the most emotional, passionate and brutal matches ever wrestled. Back in the early 90’s when everybody was talking about how hardcore ECW was and how they invented hardcore, I laughed and said, “watch Tully vs. Magnum from Starrcade ‘85”. They’d always come back amazed. This is one of the true great matches in history and for my money is the greatest Steel Cage match of all time. The brutality is endless as Tully cuts open his arm and Magnum goes in and bites the wound repeatedly. Just raw emotion and passion flow through this match. The two make use of everything they can. With the microphone in the ring they use it as a weapon. The mic is also used to offer submission to which both ofthem SCREAM their questions and answers. Absolutely astonishing emotion. The story in the match is so compelling that Bob Caudle and Tony Schiavone actually stop talking through most of the match. The match comes to a close with one of the most gripping and violent scenes in civilized (as opposed to hardcore) wrestling history as a chair is thrown into the ring by Baby Doll. Tully smashes the chair into the ground, breaking it into pieces. He grabs the sharpest stake of the broken wood and goes after Magnum, trying to stab him in the head. Magnum fights back and uses the stake on Tully, grinding it into his forehead. The mic isn’t in front of him but Tully SCREAMS “yes” over and over so loud that it can be clearly heard and the match is over and Magnum T.A. is the winner. An absolutely amazing brawl. Of all the matches in the history of professional wrestling, if there are any that have more emotion than this one, you can count them on one hand.
Winner and NEW champ: Magnum T.A.
Match Rating: *****
Atlanta Street Fight: Jimmy Valiant & Miss Atlanta Lively vs. The Midnight Express
At the time, Miss Atlanta Lively was the worst kept secret in professional wrestling. It was Ronnie Garvin dressed in drag and since this is an Atlanta Street Fight, he is wearing a dress and heels, while the Midnights are wearing suits. An Atlanta Street Fight is basically just a no holds barred match with formal wear. This is the first Starrcade for the Midnight Express as they had only been in Jim Crockett Promotions for a few months. Of course, this is the Dennis Condrey and Bobby Eaton version of the team with Jim Cornette as their manager.
The match is an absolute mess of a brawl, but it’s still a whole lot of fun. There is no real method to the madness. Powder is used several time, clothes and ripped, men are stipped of their clothes and a tennis racket is used. Garvin’s bare ass gets exposed at one point, a sight I was never too keen on seeing. If you can bare with the analogy, just imagine a Streetfight all hocked up on coke. Uppercut on Eaton by Garvin gets the pin. After the match is over, Valiant and Garvin undress Cornette to his boxers (which have hearts on them). Garvin gets hit in the after match brawls and bleeds the hard way. It’s one of the worst gushers I’ve ever seen and it appears that the camera crew is trying to avoid showing it. There is a bunch of paper towels in the ring that Big Mama is using to try and stop Garvin from bleeding to death. That’s the only time I’ve ever seen that happen inside the ring. Believe me, a GUSHER. This match was extremely entertaining.
Winners: Jimmy Valiant & Miss Atlanta Lively
Match Rating: ***
It’s amazing the talent in the ringhere considering how inexperienced 3 of these guys were at the time. The Rock & Roll Express had been wrestling for about 2 year time and Nikita Koloff just a little over 1 year. This was a natural feud as Gibson and Morton were all-American boys who the fans loved, while the Russians were national heels due to Xenophobia. These two teams had been feuding since the summer when they exchanged the titles. It was a case of the most loved vs. the most hated in tag team wrestling.
The Russians are with Khruschev while the Rock & Roll Express are with Don Kernodle. The match is filled with fast paced action. Nikita wrestles a good power match with in control. His execution is crisp and well planned. The Russians do a poor job of cutting the ring in half, so Gibson has to hold out, and it makes the Russians look lazy, which hurts an otherwise very good match. There are some great near falls scattered throughout, which keeps the interest high. Funny reversal of the typical roles of the Rock & Roll Express as Gibson plays Ricky Morton. Sunset flip on Ivan by Morton after the hot tag gets the three and the titles for the Rock & Roll’s second Tag Title win. After the match, Gibson gets cornered in the cage with the Russians who beat him down until a bunch of wrestlers from the dressing room come and make the save.
Winners and NEW champs: The Rock & Roll Express
Match Rating: ***¾
Ric Flair had spent the last 18 months as the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, which was a good length reign for that title at that time. It felt like he was never going to lose it. He defended it a heck of a lot, but always managed to hang on. He had feuded with Magnum T.A and Nikita Koloff during the course of the previous year while Rhodes feuded with Tully Blanchard. This was the big money match of the time even though they had Magnum T.A. waiting in the wings. Rhodes was a two time champion and Flair was a four time champion. Rhodes was also the booker and would make history with this match for his work as booker rather than his performance in the ring.
The roles are reversed from their encounter at the previous Starrcade as Rhodes is the clear-cut baby face here and Flair the biggest heel in the company. The match is surprisingly fast paced considering their Starrcade ‘84 match, which was essentially what I was expecting here. Rhodes has great timing and sells everything sharply. Flair works the leg in preparation for the figure four as does Dusty. A great example of selling during this match comes when Flair goes for a suplex, but can’t get Rhodes up as his leg keeps giving out. Some jackass fan yells “whoo” during every single second of this match, practically ruining it. If you are that fan and are reading this review, you owe me my sanity for at least 15 minutes. The guy literally whoo’s for every single move and then some. Dusty calls Flair a “son of a bitch” which of course, I love. Ref is knocked down and Anderson and Ole run in and attack Rhodes. A second ref comes in and Dusty roles Flair up for the three. Nice match with good psychology and a great pace. The problem with the match isn’t in the match itself, which I’ll get to in a little bit.
Winner and NEW champ: Dusty Rhodes
Match Rating: ***¾
Tony Schiavone interviews Dusty Rhodes in the locker room. He is carrying the World Title belt and the other baby face wrestlers are celebrating with champagne and pouring it on Rhodes. Rhodes dedicates his title win for all the blue collar workers and says, “Nobody can beat The American Dream.” And that ends Starrcade ‘85: The Gathering.
WAIT A MINUTE!
How is it that when I look at title histories, Rhodes never won the title in 1985. Well, that’s because this match marks the original “Dusty Finish”, at least as it relates to the booking of Dusty Rhodes. While Rhodes may have appeared to have won the title that night, in actuality, he did not. The next NWA TV show had Tommy Young explain that he had seen the Anderson’s interference and the match is officially ruled as a disqualification in favor of Rhodes. Under the rules that means that the title stayed with Flair. I guess only Dusty Rhodes can beat himself. Oh! See what I did there!
The 411: With five match being rated at three stars and above, while one of them is one of the greatest matches I’ve ever seen can only indicate that I give this show the highest honor possible. Starrcade ‘85 was a great show then and still holds up as a great show now. From beginning to end it was packed with action and was wildly entertaining. When a show can keep me glued to my TV from beginning to end 22 years after it happened is the sign of something special. This show has it all, from great singles match, to tags. From mat classics to bloody emotional brawls. It doesn’t get much better than this.