NWA Starrcade ’88: True Grit

Jim Crockett Promotions had to keep chugging along after the Great American Bash PPV amidst turmoil as Jim Crockett and his family had an internal strife on whether or not to sell the family business to Ted Turner.  David Crockett wanted to keep trying to turn things around, meanwhile Jim saw the writing on the wall and wanted to protect his mother’s retirement funds and not risk total bankruptcy. Ultimately Turner would take over in early November, keeping the Crocketts on in office roles. (Their brother Jackie actually stayed on until the death of WCW I believe; he was a cameraman for JCP/WCW.) Jim would wait out the non-compete contract and actually try and run 2 smaller promotions during the early 90’s – neither made it very long.

In ring, the next major event was the third Clash of the Champions, where nothing much of note occurred other than Ivan Koloff turning babyface after the Russian Assassins attacked him.

The roster endured more turnover as Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson left after dropping the World tag team titles to the US Tag Champions, The Midnight Express. The Express enjoyed the titles for barely a month when they lost them to The Road Warriors, who had just turned on Sting during a 6-man match versus The Varsity Club.  Sting had been subbing for Dusty Rhodes.

Booker Dusty Rhodes was still in power, but he clashed with Turner brass almost right away. Jim Herd was the man assigned to oversee WCW and he ordered Dusty to tone down the gore. Rhodes responded by booking himself to be mauled by The Road Warriors with a spike to his eye.  This incident supposedly garnered over 300 angry phone calls to TBS studios, complaining about the blood being shown on TV. This occurred at nearly the same time that Jim Cornette gushed blood from a shocking sneak attack by the AWA’s Paul E. Dangerously and The “Original” Midnight Express (Dennis Condrey and Randy Rose). These incidents, along with a power struggle with Ric Flair, saw Rhodes fired as booker soon after Starrcade. He would be gone from the NWA by February.

The final set up for Starrcade was Clash of the Champions 4, where Dusty battled Road Warrior Animal for the rights to the NWA World Six Man titles (that disappeared almost as soon as Rhodes left). The US Tag titles were awarded to The Fantastics as they won a tournament final over Ron Simmons and Eddie Gilbert. (The Sheepherders had beaten Simmons and Gilbert in the semi-finals, but they then jumped to the WWF, so Gilbert and Simmons got the spot instead.) Ivan Koloff faced his former manager Paul Jones, and The Midnight Express lost to Barry Windham and Ric Flair in your workrate friendly main event.

So now let’s take a look at the first PPV of the Turner era:

We open with clips of Luger’s controversial loss to Flair at the Great American Bash and a replay of the awesome Dusty Rhodes promo after the Road Warriors injured his eye with their spike. “You should have took both of them!  Violence for the sake of violence!  An eye for an eye!”  Goosebumps!

Jim Ross and Bob Caudle are on the call – Tony Schiavone and Magnum TA are there as special commentators.

US Tag Titles: The Fantastics vs. Kevin Sullivan and “Dr. Death” Steve Williams

Williams is a natural fit for “The Varsity Club” and now Sullivan can cut promos for him. Fulton and Sullivan slug it and out and Fulton catches Kevin with a Thesz press from the second rope. Dr. Death comes in and is too big to be tossed around by the much smaller Fantastics so they rely on speed to survive.  They fling Williams with a dual monkey flip. Death catches Fulton and presses him 5 or 6 times before tossing him to the mat. A brutal clothesline follows. Fulton tries a headlock and Death just suplexes him right out of it. Death no sells a double back drop and the heels keep mauling the Fantastics. Williams holds Rogers up for a vertical suplex, runs in place to show off, then drives him to the mat. Rogers tags out in desperation and Fulton is roughed up as soon as he comes in. Fulton is forced to poke Dr. Death’s eye to escape a bear hug and Rogers is back in to little success. Rogers eats Sullivan’s foot on a flying leap attempt and Death comes in to keep up the beating. Rogers is then battered with legdrops, head butts, forearms and headlocks for several minutes. The Fantastics make a last gasp offensive effort but Dr. Death drops Fulton throat first on the top rope for the pin.  A 15 minute one-sided destruction. Perfectly acceptable wrestling.

Stan Lane and Bobby Eaton vs. Randy Rose and Dennis Condrey

Background:In 1980 Dennis Condrey formed a tag team in Southeast Championship Wrestling with Randy Rose. In 1981 they added another member in Norvell Austin who had been feuding with the men prior.  Together they became a trio known as “The Midnight Express”. The trio captured titles together until late 1983 when they went their separate ways.  Bill Watts recreated the team in Mid-South soon after and used Bobby Eaton as Condrey’s new partner. That duo captured several titles in multiple promotions, including the NWA World Tag titles in February of 1986.  A year later however, Condrey abruptly quit JCP (He was fired by Mama Cornette in kayfabe) and Stan Lane was picked to replace him.  Condrey went on reform his partnership with Randy Rose in the AWA that summer and they captured the AWA World Tag team titles briefly before leaving the promotion.  They worked smaller areas until late 1988 when they sneak attacked Lane and Eaton on NWA TV and left Cornette bloody.

Cornette’s version clear the ring right away. The managers want to go at it but Condrey and Rose won’t let Paul E go in. Lane and Eaton toss the heels together back in and the heels bail. Condrey is cheap shotted by Corny and his racquet and that leads to the heels stalling some more. Cornette prances around to mock them.  Eaton and Rose lock up and Eaton’s beautiful punches send Rose to the floor.  Corny whacks him with the racquet too. Lane tosses Rose into the barricade for good measure.

Condrey takes a licking from both Eaton and Lane. Eaton wounds him with a flying elbow and bulldog. Lane ties him in knots until Condrey is able to reach the ropes. Rose gets in and has no success either until Eaton crotches himself on the ropes. Paul E gets his own cheap shot on Eaton during the proceeding breakdown and Cornette gives chase with a chair. They grind away on Eaton with basic stomps, punches and knees mostly.  The heel Express try and get cute and go for the “rocket launcher” and Eaton rolls out of the way.  Lane is tagged in and he explodes on both men. Double noggin knocker and karate kicks set Rose up for the pin but Paul E hits Lane with his phone. Ref Teddy Long counts to two then notices the phone and he stops the count to ask the fans and the heels if cheating went down. While Rose and the ref argue, Lane and Eaton down him with high/low clotheslines for the pin. The heels beat down Eaton, Lane and Cornette after. Eaton finally clears the ring with the racquet. 16 minutes of solid Southern Wrasslin’

JYD and Ivan Koloff vs. The Russian Assassins

JYD had been fired by the WWF only weeks earlier, supposedly due to an incident where he urinated on a bus floor while on an overseas tour.  In fact he was still be shown in matches on the WWF’s “Prime Time Wrestling” only 2 weeks before this PPV. JYD had been in the (pardon the pun) doghouse with the WWF since 1986 since he was eating himself out of shape and drugging himself to the point that he was missing matches semi-frequently.  Ivan was the latest in character turns booked by Rhodes in an effort to freshen up the roster. Needless to say, this one didn’t catch on with the fans like his “nephew” Nikita’s did.  JYD is replacing Nikita here I believe.

The Assassins are Jack Victory and Dave Shelton under hoods. JYD takes Commie 1 down and gets his trademark head butts on all fours right away.  There’s something ironic about Paul Jones looking like Hitler’s doppelganger and managing Russians. JYD then sends Commie 2 over the top rope with a haymaker. Ivan stomps and chokes away. 2 tags out after eating a flying clothesline.  JYD misses a headbutt and is double teamed until the Commies collide. 4 way brawl breaks out and Ivan hits the Russian sickle on 1. 2 headbutts him with a loaded mask for the pin. Mercifully short.

TV Title: Mike Rotundo vs. Rick Steiner

Backstory: Steiner had been Sullivan’s mentally challenged puppet for much of the year until he was abused verbally one too many times and turned on Rotundo and Sullivan.

Sullivan is locked in a shark cage and hung over the ring for this bout. It’s a little sad that the Florida Heavyweight title, which had a decent lineage to it, had to end with Mike Rotundo giving it to Rick Steiner as an afterthought in early 88 since Mike was already the TV champ.  I think it just faded away a few weeks later(?)

Rotundo tries to match punches with Rick to start-that ends as well as you can imagine.  Steiner grinds away with a headlock and sends him to the floor with a Steiner-liner. Rotundo tries to use finesse, but Rick keeps using brute strength to power out of Mike’s moves. Rick holds him down and gnaws on Rotundo’s bottom. Another headlock by Steiner is turned into a beautiful side suplex by Rotundo. Mike does a long stall in and out of the ring. Mike whips Steiner out of the ring in a nasty looking bump and then he drops Rick onto the railing. Rotundo again tries trading punches and finds himself on the short end of that exchange until a shot to the bread basket. Rick takes another nice bump off a big clothesline. Missed dropkick by Rotundo sets up a big Steinerline. Dr.Death wanders down. Rick with a big powerslam. Belly to belly. Death rings the bell to distract Rick. The match halts as Tommy Young and Teddy Long argue. Sullivan is let out of the cage.  Steiner tosses Rotundo into Sullivan and gets the pin! Rick runs in circles mocking The Varsity Club as the fans explode in glee.  Steiner really looked crisp here and this was very entertaining whenever Rotundo wasn’t stalling or eating up time with headlocks.

US Title: Barry Windham vs. Bam Bam Bigelow
Bigelow was another newcomer to the NWA.  He was put over right away as a threat to Windham’s US title and Flair’s World title. Bigelow tosses Windham around to start. Barry makes him eat some big punches until Bigelow scooped Windham up and dumped Windham with a gut buster. Windham tries a belly to belly but Bigelow no sells. Ross notes that JJ Dillon and Oliver Humperdink are the top two managers in wrestling today, the same thing he said about Cornette and Paul E an hour earlier. Bigelow no sells more punches and press slams Windham. Bigelow pounds on Windham with fists and Barry does a Flair Flop. Barry is then dropkicked to the floor. Big suplex back in the ring. Barry tosses Bigelow to the cement and he lands on his knee. He sells that for maybe 10 seconds. Bigelow knocks Windham down and dives on Windham. He gets a 2 count and stops the count.  Bam Bam wants to drop bomb from the top rope instead. Idiot. Press slam and the diving headbutt misses. Windham with a lariant and back suplex. Weak dropkick sends Bigelow to the floor and he’s sent into the post. Clawhold locked on. Big slam. Windham misses the flying elbow. Both men fly over the top rope and land hard.  Bigelow charges Barry and eats post. Windham gets back in for the count out win after 17 minutes. Terminator Bigelow vs. Pinball Windham was fun.  Bigelow would head to New Japan right after this.

Magnum TA tries to do an interview with Rick Steiner but the audio cuts out. Oh WCW!  Rick cuts a funny promo as he doesn’t understand that he has to defend the TV title.  “Against who?” – “All the NWA superstars!”  – “When?”- “In the coming weeks and months!”-“Eh, I’ll beat’em!”

Dusty Rhodes and Sting vs. The Road Warriors

One would hope Dusty didn’t turn the Road Warriors heel just to give himself another top level program after his feud with Ron Garvin failed to materialize. eye roll Road Warriors attack to start but the faces send them to the floor. Dusty (after building this event around being temporally blinded by the Warriors and dubbing it “True Grit” so he could cosplay as Rooster Cogburn) isn’t even wearing an eye patch. Sting controls Animal and lets Dusty at him, so Rhodes goes right for his eyes, which is good psychology.

Sting gnaws on Hawk’s arm so Hawk stomps him down. Sting drops Hawk with one punch. Animal press slams Sting and then drops him on his throat. Sting no sells that and knocks Animal to the floor where Sting launches himself onto him. Dusty comes in and starts to work over Animal’s leg. Hawk tags in and claws at Dusty’s eye. Hawk punches at Dusty but Dusty just dances and no sells. Animal tears and bites at Dusty’s eye. Hawk comes back in and tries a sleeper but Dusty jaw jacks him and Sting is tagged in. Stinger Splash on Animal. Scorpion Death lock is broken up by Hawk. Sting blasts Animal from the top rope but Paul Ellering breaks up the pin for the lame DQ. Ellering gets his eyes tore at by Dusty after the match. This was entertaining for what it was.

The “celebrations” all seem flat tonight, as for some reason instead of playing the winner’s music (not WWE edited out), they rush right from the finish to get instant analysis from the commentators.

World Title: Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger

A DQ by Flair will cost Flair the title.  Tony dubs Flair “Mr. Starrcade” before Shawn Michaels was ever even in a Wrestlemania match. Flair flexes and mocks Luger. Flair tries to chop down Luger but he’s clotheslined to the floor for his efforts. Luger grins during a Flair hammerlock and reverses it in ease. Flair is shoulderblocked out of his boots and powerslammed.  Press slam. Luger no sells another chop and Flair takes a break. Luger locks in a hammerlock and grinds Flair into the mat. A shoulderblock and hip toss both send Flair flying. A thumb to the eye stops Luger briefly. More chops no sold and Flair is chased to the floor and has his arm wrapped around the railing. Luger gets a big clothesline and a suplex back in the ring. Luger misses the elbow he always misses. Flair sends him to the floor and chops and kicks away at Luger. Flair tries more chops back in the ring and Luger no sells them again. Luger traps Flair in a sleeper. Flair escapes and is superplexed. Luger locks on a figure four. Tommy Young kicks at Flair’s hands as Ric tries to grab the ropes. Odd. Flair finally gets them and Flair is freed. Tommy Young gets too close and eats an elbow. Luger hits a flying cross body from the top but Young isn’t there fast enough to count to 3. Luger tosses Ric around and suplexes him. Flair tries more chops and they are still no sold. Press slam. Powerslam. Dillon distracts Luger so Flair can bail. JJ distracts Young and Flair is able to crack Lex’s leg with a chair. Flair starts to hack away on the leg. Figure four locked in. Luger screams in agony and then fights out of the hold. Flair tries a top rope move but is slammed off. Luger no sells a toss out of the ring and a throat drop on the rope. Luger with another press slam but his leg almost gives out. Big clothesline. Powerslam. Torture Rack but Lex’s leg gives out and Flair lands on top for the pin (thanks to the ropes helping with the leverage).  Well Lex blew that himself by going for such a maneuver when he knew he was hurt. 30 minutes sort of exposed that Luger had a limited move set. Solid outing as always from these two.

 For the record, if the Internet can be believed, Lex was booked to win here and Flair balked. Dusty threatened Ric to put Rick Steiner in and have Rick shoot on Flair if need be to take the title. Jim Herd stepped in and Dusty lost the dick-measuring contest as Flair was soon booking and Dusty was soon in polka dots.

Flair mentions the Crocketts in his post match promo- oops.  Flair promises he’ll never defend against Luger again and he’ll spend all the money it takes in court to avoid a match.

Thanks to Dusty losing power, we never got the proper Luger story arc that saw him actually beating Flair and the black mark never really left Luger. The new owners and new bookers coming in will mean new members to the roster and that all starts with the Steamboat/Flair series…next time!

Final thoughts: One stinker and many other hard fought 15 plus minute matches make this a PPV worth checking out. There’s not really a “classic” to spotlight but just a real solid 3 hours of hard in ring efforts.


Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

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