wrestling / Columns

The Contentious Ten 12.17.12: The Top 10 Starrcade Matches

December 17, 2012 | Posted by Gavin Napier

I’ve mentioned before that growing up, I was very much an NWA fan. The first pay per view I truly remember was “Night of the Skywalkers”, or Starrcade ’86. That means that December quickly became the highlight of my personal wrestling calendar. It was where the National Wrestling Alliance blew off the second half of the year, usually after a partial reset at The Great American Bash over the course of the summer. Through the years, Starrcade was host to more than a few great matches, and with only a couple of weeks left in 2012, it seemed appropriate to count down the best of the best for this column.

Here’s the criteria forThe Top 10 Starrcade Matches.

-Match quality
-Crowd reaction
-Historic significance
-Personal preference

I know this will come as a disappointment to many, but that first criteria all but completely excludes the Rick Rude vs. The Big Bossman match, or the scaffold matches that happened at Starrcade involving the Midnight Express. Crowd reactions go a long way towards determining the quality of a match (in North America, at least), and so crowds being involved and excited for matches will give them a little boost in the case of a tie. Historically, title matches, title changes, or “changing of the guard” moments serve as the “second tiebreaker” on this list, and finally personal preference helps determine the spots for everything.

As always, DailyMotion is used as much as possible to bypass work filters. However, if they don’t cut back on some of the ads I’m just going to abandon them because it’s not worth the hassle.

Ivan and Nikita Koloff vs. The Rock N Roll Express (1985), Lex Luger and Arn Anderson vs. Tom Zenk and Terry Taylor (1991), 3 Count vs. The Jung Dragons vs. Jamie Knoble and Evan Karagias (2000), The Rock N Roll Express vs. Arn and Ole Anderson (1986), Tully Blanchard vs. Ricky Steamboat (1984)

Shinjiro Ohtani vs. Eddy Guerrero (1995)size=6>

Not even close to Eddy’s best work in WCW.
-Part of the WCW vs. New Japan “World Cup”

One of the trademarks of WCW in this era was the Cruiserweight Division. It made use of guys like Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko, Ultimo Dragon, Juventud Guerrera, Rey Mysterio, Jr., and Eddy Guerrero on a regular basis, which was a good thing. Unfortunately, it also made use of guys like Alex Wright. Can’t win em all, right? Matches like this reinforced why the Cruiserweight division was such a brilliant idea for WCW. There was simply nothing like it in their main competition, the WWF. Granted, they were poaching from ECW to get a lot of these guys, but all it took was offering checks that actually cleared at the bank. This match is about fifteen minutes of great cruiserweight action. Amazingly, this isn’t even close to Eddy’s best work in WCW. Ohtani was brilliant as well, and has better stuff than this from Japan. These two blended perfectly, and it would have been nice to see a prolonged feud between them.

Lex Luger vs. Sting vs. Ric Flair (1995)size=6>

Watch the old guys go!
-Triple Threat match
-#1 Contender to WCW World Championship match

Generally speaking, triple threat matches are thought of as something for younger, faster, lighter wrestlers. They gained popularity in ECW after that promotion ran Terry Funk vs. Shane Douglas vs. Sabu in February of 1994 and built from there. Through the years, variations of them have been used for Cruiserweight matches, X Division matches, TLC matches, ladder matches, and so forth. In WCW, though, they started with Sting vs. Vader vs. The Boss and then moved on to this one. Proving that it’s not just a young man’s game, watch the old guys go! Granted, all three of these men have incredible history and chemistry with each other. Granted, they’re all experienced main event hands. The fact that they were able to take a relatively new match type and make it work so well, though, was impressive. This remains one of the better three man matches (whether you call them three way dances, triangle matches, or triple threats) in history, falling short of Benoit vs. HBK vs. HHH and not much else.

Sting vs. Big Van Vader (1992)size=6>

Arguably Sting’s best feud.
-King of Cable Tournament Finals

The King of Cable was a neat concept for WCW in 1992. Virtually all of WCW’s big stars were in the tournament which was essentially for bragging rights and not much more. The brackets unfolded like this:

Rick Rude (US Champion) defeated Barry Windham (1/2 tag team champion)
Sting defeated Brian Pillman
Big Van Vader defeated Tony Atlas
Dustin Rhodes (1/2 tag team champion) defeated The Barbarian (sub for Jake Roberts)

Sting defeated Rick Rude
Big Van Vader defeated Dustin Rhodes

That led to this match. Looking back, his wars with Vader were arguably Sting’s best feud. As much history as he and Flair have, and as many great matches as they turned out, the Sting vs. Ric Flair feud became a soap opera of sorts. There were so many double crosses and friendships and matches and partnerships that it sort of became a parody of itself after a while. On the other hand, Vader and Sting fit into a distinctive time frame, was well booked, produced great matches, and elevated both men when all was said and done. This was another fine chapter in that feud and one of Starrcade’s best.

Ric Flair vs. Big Van Vader (1993).size=6>

These matches never felt natural.
-WCW World Heavyweight Championship match

This match is odd to me. For some reason or another, these matches never felt natural to me. Honestly, this era of Flair’s career seems odd to me. He never really fit in the World Wrestling Federation after the 1992 Royal Rumble. The feud with Savage was well done, and he had good matches with Mr. Perfect, but other than that it just never seemed right. When he returned to WCW, it took a while for him to get his footing. The matches with Vader always felt like eras colliding to me, and without much chemistry. However, as Ric Flair is known to do, he made the matches work. That’s not to say that Vader doesn’t deserve any credit here, because he was certainly no slouch, either. It’s a credit to both of these men that these matches turned out as well as they did. This match would be higher on the list if not for the rare significant botch by Flair. The “clip” on Vader’s knee and pinfall didn’t come off smoothly at all. Still…it’s Flair and prime Vader. Hard not to like it.

Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger (1988)size=6>

The match starts at 2:26 in the first clip.
-NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match.

I’m sorry. This match is impossible to find. That’s the best I could do. You can’t see the ending and you can barely see the last half of the match because of a terrible upload. However, my lack of ability to track the match down doesn’t change how good the match was. Flair and Luger carried the NWA through most of 1988, and did a very good job of it. For all the crap that Luger gets thrown his way online, he was an outstanding United States champion and a perfect foil for Ric Flair when Sting and Dusty Rhodes needed to move on to other programs. This was probably their best chance to put the strap on Luger and have it mean something, but it wasn’t meant to be. One day, I’ll find a quality video of this match online and I’ll post it to make up for this.

Juventud Guerrera vs. Rey Mysterio, Jr. vs. Billy Kidman (1998)size=6>

This is the “not much else.”
-Triple Threat match
-Cruiserweight Title match

Above, I said that the Flair vs. Sting vs. Luger match was one of the best triple threat matches ever, and was behind Benoit vs. HBK vs. HHH and “not much else.” Well, this is the “not much else.” This is arguably the peak of the Cruiserweight division, with established international stars and “homegrown” talent as well. This match is constant motion, full of speed and high spots that the fans expect from a match such as this. It was the perfect choice to open the pay per view in 1998 in that it got the crowd going. The downside to this match is that nothing else on the show lived up to it, or even really came close. To Kidman’s credit, this match would lead directly into a second four star match immediately following with Eddy Guerrero. This is the most recent match on the top 10, as WCW would start to take a noticeable downturn shortly after this point.

Ric Flair vs. Harley Race (1983)size=6>

The match starts 6:00 in on the first clip.
-NWA World Heavyweight Championship match

For a long time, I heard people talk about how good Harley Race was. It was hard for me to wrap my head around. I mainly knew of Harley Race as the “King” that wrestled Junkyard Dog at Wrestlemania III. This old, oddly tattooed man with bleached blonde hair didn’t strike me as one of the all time greats. Then the internet happened. As years passed, I had the chance to see Harley Race at his best. Whether taking on Dusty Rhodes or Ric Flair or any of the greats of NWA past, Race was a wrestling machine. Every move made sense. Every strike looked brutal. It always felt like he was in control of the matches, no matter who he was in there with. That he was willing to pass his torch to Ric Flair speaks volumes about how good Ric Flair was and the promise that Race saw in him. This match was for the National Wrestling Alliance what Hogan defeating The Iron Sheik less than two months later would mean for the World Wrestling Federation: the beginning of a new era.

Doom vs. Arn Anderson and Barry Windham (1990)size=6>

One of the best brawls of all time.
-NWA World Tag Team Championship match
-Street Fight

Doom is a tale of two teams. Underneath the masks, they never got any traction. For whatever reason, the team didn’t catch on until after they lost the masks. Once the masks came off, they were a force and remain one of my favorite teams of all time. Simmons and Reed were two big, strong guys that looked like they could beat people up – and that’s what they did. Naturally, this led to a conflict of interest with the Horsemen, who were used to being the bullies. This match was originally scheduled to be Doom vs. Arn and Ric Flair, but Flair was “injured”, which may or may not have had something to do with the Black Scorpion angle later in the show. This match is a four star classic, but it could have been so much better. All it needed was another five minutes or so and a better finish. The finish here sees Doom retain after a double pin and some more brawling, but even that mess can’t water down one of the best brawls of all time. It’s intense and looks as much like a real fight as anything in professional wrestling would until Benoit and Sullivan started feuding.

Greg Valentine vs. Roddy Piper (1983)size=6>

This is a grudge match.
-Non title match
-Dog Collar Match

We have seen our share of disappointing blow off matches. For example, Triple H vs. Randy Orton. Hulk Hogan vs. Sting. Chavo Guerrero vs. Hornswoggle. They all could have taken lessons from The Rowdy One and The Hammer. This is a grudge match. Greg Valentine was United States champion but the title wasn’t on the line. This was simply two men that hated each other looking for a pound of flesh. It remains one of the most legendary matches in professional wrestling, a spectacle of brutality that fit beautifully into a story that had been told by these two men. It was as if CZW made sense and had the best wrestlers in the business. The sheer punishment that these two legends inflicted on each other is cringe worthy. Legend has it that Piper lost hearing permanently in one ear. Take that with a grain of salt, but everyone involved in the match swears to it. Watching this, it’s not hard to fathom.

Magnum T.A. vs. Tully Blanchard (1985)size=6>

One of my five favorite matches ever.
-United States Title match
-I Quit Match
-Steel Cage Match

There’s not much I can say about this one that hasn’t already been said. This is one of my five favorite matches ever and is a study in ring psychology. This is one of the three best matches of the 1980’s in my opinion (along with Steamboat vs. Savage at WM III and Flair vs. Steamboat at Music City Showdown in 89). Unbelievably violent, the match conveyed exactly what Magnum and Tully were going for – that they hated each other. Even the finish remains one of the most iconic in wrestling history. Magnum should have been a megastar. He should have been Flair’s primary rival for all of 1986 and beyond. Some things just weren’t meant to be. As it is, we’re left with this incredible match as proof of how good he could have been.

What’d I leave out? What’s there that shouldn’t be? Let me know. Leave your list and discuss the above list in the comment section below. You can find me on Twitter @GavinNapier411 and check out my new podcast on iTunes by searching for The Casual Heroes, or go to www.thecasualheroes.com and I’ll be back here in 7..6..5..

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