wrestling / Video Reviews

The Name on the Marquee: Starrcade ’88: True Gritt! (12.26.1988)

December 21, 2018 | Posted by Adam Nedeff
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The Name on the Marquee: Starrcade ’88: True Gritt! (12.26.1988)  

-Okay, so here’s all the high school drama that was going on in The Company Formerly Known As Jim Crockett Promotions leading up to this show.

-Ric Flair damn near almost quit over the summer (remember, the Summerslam ’88 Brother Love segment that was originally going to have a “surprise guest making his MSG debut”?) Flair was talked into staying, but made it known that #1, he wanted actual finishes in his house show matches, #2, he was sick of wrestling Lex Luger, and #3, he was done dealing with Dusty Rhodes.

-So Dusty, as a show of good faith, re-books a bunch of house show Flair vs. Luger matches to tag team main events, with Flair/Al Perez vs. Luger/Nikita. They did these matches three times, and then Dusty went right back to booking Flair vs. Luger with Dusty finishes. At this point, Flair began no-showing the matches in protest, at which point they caved in and booked Flair against a fresh opponent: Bam-Bam Bigelow. Bam-Bam had not been lighting the NWA on fire at all since his arrival, with Flair maintaining that it was because he had “WWF wash-out” stink on him and NWA fans didn’t buy into him as a credible threat to anyone. So naturally, the deafening silence during Bigelow’s squash matches prompted Dusty to book him against Flair around the horn, with a ref bump DQ every night, and once Flair learned the planned finishes, he began no-showing again.

-In the meantime, Jim Crockett sold the company to Ted Turner, and overnight, the stroke backstage shifted from Dusty to Flair. While Jim Crockett backed Dusty even while watching wrestler after wrestler depart from the company due to issues with Dusty, Turner was a money mark whose view of wrestling revolved around Ric Flair, so if Flair went to TBS and said he was mad about something, they were probably going to back him up. Meanwhile, Turner had evicted Dusty from his fancy Dallas office and Dusty did a gory bladejob on TBS in the name of stickin’ it to the man, so he’s on the thinnest of ice now.

-Around this time, Dusty started booking the Starrcade card, originally with himself vs. Barry Windham, Road Warriors vs. Sting & Lex Luger, and Ric Flair vs. Rick Steiner. Que? Yes. Ric Flair vs. Rick Steiner. If you’ve been reading my stuff–and if you haven’t I can’t say I blame you, but if you HAVE–maybe you remember a while back on the TBS show, they did an angle where Rick Steiner begged Kevin Sullivan to sign him in a match against Ric Flair, and Sullivan refused to do it. Well, they did Step #1, which was Steiner snapped and turned face. Step #2 was going to be an angle where Steiner got the match signed on his own, Step #3 was going to be Steiner winning the title at Starrcade in a five-minute near-squash…at which point Flair started no-showing house shows again.

-Jack Petrick talks Flair into sticking around and gets him to agree to a Starrcade match, against Lex Luger…an opponent Flair is sick of, but to sweeten the deal, Petrick promises Flair that Dusty will be excluded from all the booking for the match, which causes Dusty to shit a brick. Dusty and Jim Crockett go to TBS and say that Flair vs. Luger as a main event for Starrcade “won’t work,” whatever that means, and Dusty suggests, for some reason, Flair vs. Tenryu. TBS: “LOL Nope.” Dusty’s next move: He calls an old confidant of Flair’s, Jim Barnett, and asks him to talk to Flair and convinces him to do Dusty’s idea. Flair: “LOL Nope.”

-Dusty’s next ace in the hole is taking a page from Flair’s book and no-showing house shows himself, and since he’s booker AND wrestler, he figures that leaving them with a bunch of unfinished storylines and a missing main eventer is going to fuck everyone over. Kevin Sullivan gets put in charge as temp booker for the house shows and gives everything cohesive stories and actual finishes, which means the house shows are actually…like…GOOD. And the complete lack of fans demanding refunds indicates that nobody gives a shit that Dusty isn’t there for his advertised match, so Dusty actually came out of it looking worse and having less clout than before.

-With the writing very much on the wall for him, Dusty does that gory bladejob on TBS, sensing he’s about to lose his job but booking a hot enough angle that he figures he can at least guarantee himself a spot as a wrestler through Starrcade. And that’s what it took to get this show to happen.

-It’s the day after Christmas, 1988. Regardless of night of the week, how has that not become a traditional night for SOMETHING?

-We’re in Norfolk, VA.

-Your hosts are Tony Schiavone & Magnum TA, whose interview segment “Straight Talk with The Boss” was quietly dropped with no notice. I guess Corporal Kirchner and Don Knotts both fell through.

-Your ringside commentators are Bob Caudle, Jim Ross, and a wobbly, wobbly handheld camera.

U.S. TAG TEAM TITLES: THE FANTASTICS (Champions) vs. VARSITY CLUB

-Sullivan is wearing his dumb Games Master robe, so he woke up on the “cult leader” side of the bed this morning. Even the “hard camera” appears to be handheld, there are no smooth shots of anything in the opening minutes of this show.

-Right hands by Bobby Fulton daze Kevin Sullivan. Williams tags in as we get a shot of Jason Hervey at ringside. Fantastics work Steve Williams’ arm, but Williams is so strong it takes both Fantastics to monkeyflip him. Fulton looks a little shocked by how strong he is as Williams lifts and presses him six times before dropping him. Hit and run seems to work, though, so Fantastics connect with a double dropkick to take Doc down. He gets right back up and back suplexes Fulton, but misses an elbow and Tommy Rogers dropkicks him.

-Sullivan winds up for a clothesline, but Rogers ducks and Sullivan propels himself over the top and onto the concrete. Rogers sticks with dropkicks because they keep working so far in this match. Varsity Club attempts to double-team, but Rogers fights them both off and the Fantastics clean house. Williams catches Rogers with his back turned and gives him a knee to the back to turn the tide. Ring is cut firmly in half, but Rogers manages to tag out, and Williams simply picks up where he left off, trapping Fulton in a bearhug. Fulton rakes the eyes and brings Rogers back in, but he gets booted down on an attempted corner charge. Rogers slams Sullivan off the top rope and heads to the top himself, but Sullivan raises the knees.

-Williams stunguns Rogers and follows with a diving headbutt for one. This match is doing a HELL of a lot more to make Williams look like a killer than a white tuxedo or a 15-minute match against Italian Stallion did, so kudos to the NWA for finally figuring out what to do with him. Rogers elbows out of a chinlock and goes back to the dropkick. Williams tags out quickly and Sullivan does his finisher, the double-stomp, twice, so it’s a quadruple stomp, really, but Rogers kicks out at two. Hot tag to Fulton, and he’s such a house of fire he’s no-selling Doc’s punches. Fulton goes for a Thesz press, but Williams catches him and turns it into a stungun to get three and take the title belts. 1 for 1. Good story, and like I said, they finally figured out how to use Steve Williams.

MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (with Jim Cornette) vs. ORIGINAL MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (with Paul E. Dangerously)

-Midnights storm the ring and clear the Originals before the bell, and Cornette whips his coat off and demands a piece of Paul E. Original Midnights hold him back. Everyone retreats for the ring intros, and then the Midnights go right back to kicking asses. Cornette just UNLOADS with the tennis racquet on Dennis Condrey, and Dangerously is so outraged that he rings the bell himself, trying to stop the match. Condrey reluctantly goes back in and walks right into an inverted atomic drop. Cornette takes another shot at Randy Rose, and Dangerously throws another tantrum and rings the bell again.

-We get the awaited Condrey/Eaton battle in the ring, and Condrey lights into his ex-partner with hard shots, but Eaton wallops back and comes off the top for good measure. Bulldog by Eaton, and Condrey has just had enough and tags out. Randy Rose avoids a corner charge and Eaton goes crotch-first into the turnbuckles. Condrey pretty much begs to tag in when he sees that and goes on a full assault. Ring is cut in half and Rose applies a front face lock to prevent the tag. Condrey chokes Eaton over the rope and the Original Midnights try to finish it, but the rocket launcher misses and Stan Lane unleashes all his fury on everybody. Paul E. heads in to attempt some outside interference but Jim Cornette blocks it and knocks Dangerously out of the ring. Teddy Long turns around and finds Paul E.’s dropped phone in the ring and interrogates Randy Rose in the middle of the ring, and he gets distracted by the argument and the Midnights sneak up and double-goozle him to get the three-count. Original Midnights destroy Midnight 2.0 after the bell and turn their attention to Cornette, but the Midnights revive and rescue their manager, and everyone will live to fight another day. 2 for 2.

IVAN KOLOFF & JUNKYARD DOG vs. RUSSIAN ASSASSINS (with Paul Jones)

-If the Assassins lose, they must unmask AND Paul Jones must retire.

-Rolling headbutts by JYD on #1. Koloff hammers #2 and jerks him by the neck down to the mat. Sickle off the second rope nearly finishes early, but #1 breaks the pin and tags in. JYD tries to finish, but hellzapoppin’ all around and Teddy Long is too distracted to count the pin. All four Assassins end up in the ring, but in the confusion, a mask gets loaded, Koloff gets KOed by a headbutt, and the Assassins win. 2 for 3. The Russian Assassins keep their masks, and Jones gets to continue being a manager. All three of them plus Koloff would disappear from the company within three months after this show, with JYD departing six weeks later, making this the most meaningless match on the show.

TV TITLE: MIKE ROTUNDA (Champion, with Kevin Sullivan) vs. RICK STEINER

-Kevin Sullivan is suspended over the ring in a shark cage. Fist fight to start and Steiner clears Rotunda out of the ring immediately. Rotunda tries working the arm, but Steiner just flings him off and applies a side headlock. Rotunda fights out and sends him into the ropes, but Steiner clotheslines him and Rotunda’s just plain having a bad night. Back in, he gets caught in a hammerlock. Rotunda gets something going with a suplex and headscissors. Steiner charges at him for a clothesline and Rotunda ducks and just whips him by his head out to the concrete, then follows him out there and rams him into the barricade to be sure.

-Rotunda stays on him with a chinlock and a clothesline, with Steiner breaking out a Hennig bump to sell it. Steiner fights back with his own clothesline, and it’s enough to put the fear of God into Rotunda. Steiner makes his comeback as Steve Williams drifts to ringside. Meanwhile, a powerslam by Steiner gets two. Belly-to-belly looks to finish, but Williams rings the bell and Teddy Long thinks it’s a time limit draw, so he stops the count. The timekeeper waves it off and Tommy Young comes to ringside to tell Teddy what happened. The confusion gives Rotunda ample time to recover.

-Due to the confusion, the cage has been lowered and Sullivan is allowed out right as Teddy Long restarts the match. Rotunda charges, Steiner gets out of the way, and Rotunda collides with Sullivan, knocking himself loopy and allowing Steiner to pin him instantly and take the belt. Holy shit the pop for that….Steiner’s gleeful victory lap after the bell is a great moment after a year of watching him get shit on by these two. Just a perfect ending. 3 for 4.

U.S. TITLE: BARRY WINDHAM (Champion, with JJ Dillon) vs. BAM-BAM BIGELOW (with Sir Oliver Humperdink)

-Bigelow shoves Windham on his ass to start and just knocks him around. He no-sells a back suplex and Windham gets out of town for the moment. Bam-Bam no-sells everything Windham throws at him and press slams him. This is seemingly Bam-Bam’s last chance to get over, and he’s doing everything in the babyface monster playbook to pull it off. Suplex and a chinlock by Bam-Bam. Windham gets to his feet and manages to throw him out to the floor to hurt Bam-Bam’s knee. Back in, a lariat connects and there’s a very vocal pro-Windham contingent, as there has been through his entire heel run.

-Back suplex, and now Bam-Bam is selling it. JR predicts that Barry will “take Bam-Bam to places he’s never gone, and his tongue will be hanging out,” but fortunately, it turns out that Barry wants to do an iron claw instead. Bam-Bam fights it and Barry slams him, but a flying elbow misses and Bam-Bam mounts his comeback. Both men tumble out to the floor and fuck up the camera on the way down. They slug it out and Barry beats the count back in to retain the title, which seems to scream “Bam-Bam didn’t want to job.” Underwhelming finish to a decent match. 4 for 5. Bam-Bam had a run of house shows, but we’re not seeing him in the ring on TBS after this, so we might as well call it the end of his run, which makes the cop-out finish even sillier.

-Magnum TA talks to Rick Steiner, who is only just now realizing he actually has to defend the belt now that he’s won it.

WORLD TAG TEAM TITLES: ROAD WARRIORS (Champions, with Paul Ellering) vs. DUSTY RHODES & STING

-The camera at ringside is still kinda messed up from the prevous match and I think it’s staying that way. Dusty and Sting clear the ring before the intros, presumably because Dusty saw someone else do it and get a pop earlier in the night and he decided “We doin’ that for my match, daddy!” That above all else drives me nuts about Dusty’s in-ring work; if anybody else gets ANYTHING over, invariably, Dusty will do it at least once for his own stuff.

-Sting and Animal start the match proper and Sting dropkicks him to the floor. Dusty hits an elbow and applies A MOTHERFUCKING CLAW. I swear I typed that tangent before I knew Dusty was going to do that. Animal goes to the floor to escape the hold. Hawk tags in and absorbs chops and elbows. Sting tags in and Hawk does an Austin-style mudhole stomp to cheers. That was kind of the problem with this heel turn. They were such badass heels that it went full circle and they were right back to being faces.

-Sting comes back and starts working the arm. Animal tags in and presses him. Sting no-sells a stungun and clotheslines Animal down. Animal retreats to the floor and Sting just launches himself off the top turnbuckle and bodypresses Animal out there. Everyone tags and Hawk demands a test of strength with Dusty. Dusty heelishly counters it with a boot and goes for the figure four, but Animal blocks it and the action goes to the floor, with Hawk intensely noogying the forehead in a manner that JR calls working the eye.

-Back in the ring, Dusty fights back with a dropkick but Animal cuts off the comeback and goes after Dusty’s forehead. Neck vice by Animal, but Dusty fights it. Hawk comes in and tries a sleeper, but Dusty breaks it with a stunner, and it’s hot tag Stinger. Scorpion looks to finish Animal, but Hawk breaks it with a big boot and we have all four men in there. Bodypress by Sting on Animal looks to win the titles, but Paul Ellering breaks the pin to get a DQ. And Dusty puts a claw on him afterward. 4 for 6. This just felt all wrong. Sting had been cutting promos for two months about hunting for the Road Warriors but not catching up to them. Dusty damn near lost an eye. And the Road Warriors are the Road Warriors…and then they just went out there and had a match.

WORLD TITLE: RIC FLAIR (Champion, with JJ Dillon) vs. LEX LUGER

-Flair can lose the belt on a DQ tonight, so this is definitely Lex’s night.

-Flair dodges a punch and celebrates like he’s already won the match. Camera catches Lou Thesz sitting in the crowd. The camera pulls out to reveal some unnamed guy sitting near him, and you might as well cue up an ominous violin because it’s Jim Herd. Side headlock as JR goes through Lex Luger’s college achievements and mentions the time he spent with Joe Paterno. Lex’s clumsy promos are probably due to being taught to keep his mouth shut.

-Chops by Flair, but Lex just shakes them off and powerslams him. Some fan in the crowd is signaling for him to go for the claw. He might as well at this point. Luger chases Flair around the ring and follows him back in, applying a hammerlock. Flair gets free and throws chops, even tough the story they’ve been telling through the whole match is “chops don’t work on Luger,” he’s no-sold all of them so far. Flair goes to the floor and Luger gives chase again.

-Luge suplexes Flair while Tommy Young is alert enough to keep an eye on JJ and stop him from hooking a leg. Flair rolls out of the way of an elbow and takes control, bringing Luger out to the floor and attacking him with every part of the ring and the barricade. Back in, Flair stays on Luger with punches and chops, although again, chops seem to recharge Luger’s battery and Flair needs to re-think the strategy. He hits the ropes and charges, but Luger catches him in a sleeper. Flair breaks it with a back suplex and goes upstairs, but Lex superplexes him off for two.

-Figure four by Luger, but Flair makes the ropes. Luger comes off the top with a bodypress but JJ gets the referee’s attention just long enough that he’s delayed and Flair can kick out at two. Suplex by Luger gets another two. Flair tries more chops, Luger just no-sells them and press slams him. JJ distracts the referee some more while Flair takes out both knees with a folding chair.

-So Flair finally has a plan of attack and he stays on the legs before clamping on the figure four. JR’s shift in tone is great here, as he just declares it “a matter of time” and sounds like he’s waiting for Luger to submit or pass out so he can get to the car and beat the traffic, because obviously this match is over…but Luger hangs on and reverses. Luger is injured enough that Flair is able to just kick him away to break the hold. Flair heads to the top but gets slammed off. Flair fights back and connects with a forearm, but Luger shakes it off and lights into him. Powerslam by Luger gets two. Torture rack looks to finish, but Luger’s legs buckle and Flair happens to land on top of him for a fluke three-count…with feet on the ropes, of course. 5 for 7. It was fine but I didn’t love it. They lost the thread of that story, as Luger was moving around just fine through the final minutes of the match and effortlessly lifting Flair for other moves, and then he just HAPPENS to buckle on that one moment.

-Commentators vamp while Gary Capetta tells the crowd to stay in their seats for the Bunkhouse Battle Royal that starts as soon as they’re off the air.

-Magnum TA talks to Ric Flair. Flair’s keeping that belt, woooooooooooooooooo! He declares no more rematches are coming for Lex Luger.

7.1
The final score: review Good
The 411
Not as good as '87 but at least a damn sight better than '86.
legend