Going Old School: Starrcade '88
Posted by Matt Adamson on 02.06.2008
Starrcade would never be the same again.
1988 had been an interesting year for Jim Crockett Promotions. Ric Flair had been their champion through it all, they had two new Pay Per View events and started showing a super card called Clash of the Champions for free on TV of which there were four during the year. Dusty Rhodes had been the booker for the promotion for much of the previous 4 years. It wouldn’t last as Rhodes was about to book Rick Steiner as the World Champion at this show. That didn’t set well with Ric Flair who threatened at that point to jump ship to the WWF. So, what did JCP do? They made Flair the booker and it would lead to Flair making it through this show with the title and bringing Steamboat back shortly into 1989. I’d have say that was a good decision. This show would also be the last Starrcade until 1993 to feature a traditional wrestling card format as they would experiment with gimmick cards and tournaments over the next four. In order to avoid the scheduling disaster of Starrcade ‘87, they moved this one to just after Christmas, a time that the WWF typically did not want to run.
December 26th 1988 from The Scope in Norfolk, Virginia in front of a crowd of 10,000 fans.
The Fantastics had won the U.S. Tag Title in early December at Clash of the Champions IV in a tournament final. They had seen a lot of success in 1988 in the NWA after having seen the dying days of WCCW. Kevin Sullivan & Steve Williams were part of the Varsity Club. The buildup to this match had been short and was recent.
Fun fast paced match that really surprised me. Lots of reversals and variety. Williams wrestled a power match, but was able to keep up with the speed of the Fantastics. This match also contains one of the coolest looking hot tags I’ve ever seen as Rogers rolls over the back of Sullivan to tag Fulton. Looked like something straight out of Drunken Master. Fulton goes for the Lou Thesz Press, but Williams reverses it & drops Fulton’s neck on the top rope & gets the three count for the titles. Decent little match, I wish it were a little longer, it was just hitting its stride.
Winners and NEW champs: Kevin Sullivan & Steve Williams
Match Rating: ***½
The Midnight Express vs. The “Original” Midnight Express
The “Original” Midnight Express were two of the original three members of what was originally a stable called The Midnight Express in Southeast Championship Wrestling (Smoky Mountains/Northern Alabama). They were Randy Rose and Dennis Condrey. Rose and Condrey were the official first members of the stable as they were tagging before the table was formed and named. Paul E. Dangerously brought them in toward the end of 1988 to feud with the Eaton and Lane version of the Midnight Express. They turned out some great stuff during this run.
Eaton and Lane are with Cornette. It’s very strange to hear a pop for Jim Cornette, but it happened, and it was good. Lots of action for most of the match, both in and out of the ring. Dangerously is awesome as he goes & rings the bell when Cornette hits Condrey with his racket. The WWE totally ruined Heyman’s ability as they put him in a box and kept him from being himself. Eaton has excellent execution & movement in the ring. His high flying stuff is great. He was always underrated as a high flyer. Great double team work from both teams. Cornette gets a piece of Dangerously after he hits Lane with his phone. Double Goozle on Rose for three. A great match and a great way to showcase the history of the Midnight Express.
Winners: The Midnight Express
Match Rating: ****
The Russian Assassins vs. Junkyard Dog & Ivan Koloff
The Russian Assassins were a couple of masked guys with Russian looking tights. They were David Sheldon & Jack Victory. As a team they did much of nothing. Their only importance being filler matches such as this one during this period of time. Ivan Koloff was a few years past being of any use. JYD on the other hand was still fairly relevant as he was just coming off success in the WWF.
Assassins are with Paul Jones. The stipulation of the match is that if the Assassins lose, they must unmask. Wow, that would have shook the wrestling world. There was another, slightly more significant stipulation in that if they lost Paul Jones would have to retire. Problem is, Jones was past his time and was close to retirement as it was. If this match ended up forcing his retirement, people might have actually noticed that it happened. Match is nothing great, and is over when Jones places an object in one of their masks. When The Assassin head butts Koloff, he goes down like a brick and the Assassins get to keep their masks.
Rotunda had been the TV champion for 11 months by the time this match rolled around, which was a huge accomplishment for this particular title, considering how often it was defended. Steiner was a former member of the Varsity Club, of which Rotunda was a part of. The story went that the leader of the stable, Kevin Sullivan preferred Rotunda, and thus they kicked him out of the group, turning him from badass to goof in a matter of minutes. Sullivan is in a cage above the ring during this match.
I like to call this match, “The match of 100 clotheslines”, because there are damn near that many clotheslines in this relatively short match. For as many clotheslines that there are, there is an importance to them all, and any other moves during the match. Both men do a great job of building the match up as important to them both. The end of the match is one of the most memorable of any non-main event I’ve ever seen. Steve Williams comes down to the ring close to when the time limit was to expire and rang the bell which confused the referee. The guy in charge of the cage Sullivan is locked in lowers it when he hears the bell. Then Senior Referee Tommy Young comes down and explains that they match must be restarted. Irish whip by Steiner throws Rotunda into Sullivan who is standing on the apron and rolls him up for three. Steiner immediately starts his celebration by running around the ring pointing and laughing at Rotunda. THIS is why Rick Steiner was so great. Top notch match with an original finish and five-star celebration.
Winner and NEW champ: Rick Steiner
Match Rating: ***
Bigelow had just arrived in the NWA and was set up with this match. The build was rather quick and meaningless. Bigelow didn’t find much in the NWA as he would make his way to Japan not too long after this. Windham on the other hand was at his peak at this period. The Horsemen were hanging by a thread here as Arn and Tully had recently left for Stamford, but they were still relevant to this show. Windham had turned on Lex Luger earlier in the year to join the Horsemen, which was much of what set of the main event of this show. While this show was never important, the guy who held the title in this match was very important to much of what was going on in the NWA at this time.
Windham is with JJ Dillon, while Bigelow is with Sir Oliver Humperdink. Power match for the first half. Windham sells the offense and bails to the outside often to stall. Bigelow dominates most of the match. He has the match won after a splash, but pulls Windham up & sets him up for the Atomic Splash, which is blocked by Windham. Lots of emotion for a match so meaningless in the scheme of things. Both men go over the top to the outside, Windham returns before the ten count to hold on to the title. It had its moments, but it could have been so much better.
Winner: Barry Windham by countout
Match Rating: **¾
This was epic booking at it’s finest. The Road Warriors, who was hugely over with the fans and were practically default baby faces whether the company wanted them to be or not were made into heels, which was thought at the time to be an impossible task. There were very few wrestlers the fans loved more, but they found one to have them turn on. It was their Six Man Tag Champion partner Dusty Rhodes. They turned on Rhodes and tried to take his eye out with a spike. Rhodes found a partner in Sting when the Road Warriors attacked him unprovoked. This was a huge angle at the time.
Match starts off quick and the Road Warriors sell nothing. Sting has so much energy in this match. I guess it would be the second biggest match of his career, behind the epic draw with Flair at the first Clash of the Champions. Warriors work Rhodes eye. Ah, see that? Continuity. Lots of brawling and Rhodes does the classic “fatting up” which is much like “Hulking up”, only he jiggles fat instead of rock solid muscle. Paul Ellering broke up the count after Sting hit a beautiful flying body press on Hawk which disqualified the Road Warriors. Good match, drama from bell to bell and Sting was just breaking out of his shell here in such a huge way.
Winners: Sting and Dusty Rhodes by DQ
Match Rating: ***½
This is the rematch from the Great American Bash. Luger had been a Horsemen until one of the preliminary Bunkhouse Stampede battle royals, when he eliminated JJ Dillon against the wishes of the Horsemen. He then became their prime target. When he and Windham had won the World Tag Titles, Windham shocked the world by turning on Luger and joining the Horsemen in his place. At Clash of the Champions II, Luger was beat down by the Horsemen. That led to the Great American Bash match was was stopped by a small amount of blood. This match was made in an attempt to salvage what could have been the worst show ever with Rick Steiner winning the World Title in 5 minutes. It was THAT close. Thanks for saving us AGAIN Flair!
There is the stipulation that if Flair is disqualified he loses the title. This was match darn near perfect if not for a few rest holds that shouldn’t have been there and a tiny bit of miscommunication. Luger works Flairs arm and Flair sells it. Flair works Luger’s leg to near death and Luger sells it tremendously. In fact, Luger’s selling of the leg is what made this match so great. Flair plays the cowardly, cheating heel like the master he is. Even JJ Dillon works well into the psychology of Flair’s approach telling him to go “right to the leg.” Luger sells the leg even to the end when he has Flair in the Torture Rack but his leg can’t hold up Flair as he tries to gain leverage. Flair Reverses it into a pinning combo and gets the three with his legs on the second rope. Fantastic match, Luger wouldn’t wrestle a match at anywhere near this level against anyone else. This is the best of the matches in their series, but they are all worth checking out. It’s Ric Flair at just about his best (not quite Steamboat level, but damn near) and Lex Luger at his unquestioned best.
Winner: Ric Flair
Match Rating: ****½
The 411: For a show that could have been a disaster, it turned out to be pretty great. Two matches that are must-see’s and really only one throwaway. This would be the first in a series of amazing shows for the NWA and one of the best Starrcade shows. Sadly, it would be the last Starrcade to feature a traditional wrestling card for another 5 years. Don’t miss out on this one.