Starcage ’85

Verne Gagne returns to the ring, plus the Road Warriors, Blackwell, Slaughter and others take part in grudge matches!

April 21st, 1985

From St. Paul, Minnesota

This was shown on Minnesota cable TV. I’m not sure if any other markets aired this super card.

Verne Gagne cuts a bit of a rambling promo to Ken Resnick about how his family took the news of his return to the ring.

The AWA’s lack of experience with doing TV in a live arena setting becomes obvious quickly as Resnick is caught talking without knowing it. The feed cuts back to commercial. I can’t rag on them too much since Wrestlemania had plenty of gaffes 3 weeks earlier.

Ken Resnick and Doug McLeod call the action. McLeod is a Minnesota based sports announcer who has enjoyed a 30+ year career. He sounds a lot like Bob Uecker.

Steve O and Tom Zenk vs. Dave Wagner and Rick Renslow  (The Alaskans)

Resnick can be heard asking “Do you have my mic?” as we watch the men enter. This is the quintessential pretty boys vs. big ugly heels match. The heels accidentally hitting each other early on gets a decent pop – the crowd was educated to accept simple and safe spots. The babyfaces control things, overcoming the size of the burly baddies with technical grace. Zenk finally gets caught at the five-minute mark and is flung into the turnbuckle violently. Steve O takes over and falls into the face-in-peril position as the heels wear at him with clubberin’ (TM Dusty Rhodes), headlocks and bear hugs.

Resnick talks about how the crowd is roaring for Steve O to make a comeback. McLeod injects that the crowd is silent due to the Alaskans not having any fans. Zenk tags in and flings both heels around. Steve O joins him for some dual dropkick action, which leads to the pin at around the 11-minute mark. This was perfectly acceptable wrestling – although it went perhaps a hair long.

Baron Von Raschke and Buck “Rock n’ Roll” Zumhofe vs “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin and “Mr. Electricity” Steve Regal

The Baron had been feuding with Jimmy Garvin, going so far as to aid AWA champ Rick Martel in his matches against Garvin. Zumhofe and Regal have been battling over the AWA Light Heavyweight title. The heels come down to “Sharp Dressed Man”…well the AWA had the tape from the Fabulous Ones run here laying around anyway.

The heels do a lot of stalling at the start, with the announcers putting over an old man at ringside who always gets into it with the heels. Baron gets a big reaction for gouging Garvin’s eyes and banging his head into the turnbuckle. The good times don’t last too long as the heels double up on the Baron and turn him into the Nazi-in-peril. The heels do the “distract the ref when the faces tag, then do the switcharoo yourself” spot, always a sure heat getter. Baron starts to no sell Garvin’s assault and goosesteps towards his foe, which sends Garvin fleeing in fear. The heels take back control almost right away regardless.

Zumhofe tags in and briefly takes the fight to Regal. He runs into a boot and becomes the rapist-in-peril. The Baron tags in and goosesteps at Garvin, locking in the iron claw before Regal runs in. Zumhofe cuts him off and we have a 4-way skirmish. Zumhofe falls back into trouble in the heel’s corner. Garvin hits Regal accidentally and Zumhofe scores the pin as the Baron traps Garvin in the claw. This dragged slightly, but the heels were full of charisma and the Baron was over, so the fans were invested in the match.

Resnick talks up “The Dakota Connection” of Bob Backlund and Brad Rheingans and how they were Olympic coaches for the American wrestlers. He lists their opponents tonight as Bobby Duncum and Billy Robinson but then….

Brad Rheingans and Bob Backlund vs Butch Reed and Larry Zbyszko

Zbyszko is the Americas champ, and Backlund is one of his top contenders. Verne Gagne’s dream team of Backlund and Rheingans get a tepid reaction despite the ring announcer putting over their Olympic coaching success. Their combined 0% charisma is a serious downfall. Reed is a hired gun for Jimmy Garvin, which I don’t believe played a role here.

The announcers push the fact that Backlund is the real WWF World champ and cite fan polls on the East coast as evidence. Rheingans gets beaten down by Reed, but Backlund doesn’t get a pop for tagging in fresh. Backlund no sells an eye rake and works Reed’s arm. The heels corner Backlund in order to choke and batter him as they please. Backlund sells a clothesline by falling FORWARD like some rookie. What in the world? The heels wear on Backlund for what feels like an eternity.

Backlund and Zbyszko have an ugly sequence where they tangle and pull on one another several times in a manner that made it obvious that they were on totally different pages as far as what spot was being called. This turns into a piledriver attempt for the Living Legend, only Backlund flipped out of it and lands on Zbyszko for the win. A total bore of an encounter. Rheingans blocks the camera as he cuts his post match promo, but at least Backlund has the smarts to pull him to the side and look at the lens.

Sgt. Slaughter promises to fight fire with fire tonight while locked in the cage with Sheik Adnan and his army.

The Tonga Kid and “Jumpin” Jim Brunzell vs “Big, Bad” Bobby Duncum and Billy Robinson

Duncum returned to the AWA briefly around this point to help fill out the cards with another familiar face. Duncum’s abilities had slipped badly by this point and he did not last long. Robinson was about 47 years old here. Duncum is 41. I would assume this was just meant to help get Tonga Kid over by putting him with an established star to beat two former main event level heels.

After some early shine by Brunzell, the heels began the torturous process of wearing away at Jumpin’ Jim’s endurance. Duncum misses a charge, which allows Tonga Kid to make the tag after watching Brunzell take abuse for several minutes. Tonga’s burst only lasts a few seconds before he makes the mistake of taking Duncum to the ground, which allows Duncum to grab his chin and wrench on it. Kid becomes the Tongan-in-peril until Brunzell gets back into the action.

Brunzell finds himself in trouble rather quickly, but makes a blind tag during a back suplex attempt, allowing Tonga Kid to leap from the top rope with a splash onto Duncum for the pin which gets the biggest pop of the night. The heels dominated, but the babyfaces only garnered more love from the fans for overcoming their oppressors.

We get a promo from Paul Ellering and the Road Warriors. They mock the Hennings, but make sure to put over Verne Gagne. This leads to a music video with the Road Warriors doing some (so cheesy it’s awesome) spoken word threats disguised as “singing”.

“There’s going to be a rumble…tonight. Cause we’re the Road Warriors…that’s right.”

Here it is, with the Memphis clips intact instead of the AWA’s version:

Greg & Verne Gagne vs Nick Bockwinkel & Mr. Saito

The Gagne’s come to the ring to some 80’s synth pop song, which amused me since Verne is a spry 59-years-old here. The father and son clear the ring before the bell to a huge reaction. Greg controls at the start as he uses his speed to outperform Bockwinkel. Greg’s shine doesn’t last too long, and he finds himself at the mercy of the heels. A “We want Verne!” chant breaks out. Greg makes the tag behind the ref’s back, but Verne is denied entry once the ref catches back up with the action.

Greg is locked in a knee bar, but fights just enough to twist partly out of it. Saito tags in Bockwinkel, who smugly stands over Gagne, who is still locked in Satio’s grasp. This draws in Verne, who occupies the ref and allows Bockwinkel to kick the prone Greg in the ribs. That was an awesome spot.

Verne finally makes the hot tag and he comes in with fists flying. Both Saito and Bockwinkel sell the blows as if Hulk Hogan was throwing them, as they coast through the air from the impact. Verne twice throws the heels together. Greg cheap shots Saito while Verne distracts the ref, even dropping a flying knee down onto “Mr. Torture”. Verne attempts a sleeper, but Bockwinkel breaks that up.

Bockwinkel tags in formally, and the Gagne’s dominate him in their corner. Verne blasts Bockwinkel with a pair of dropkicks. The second one didn’t land too clean, so Verne ends up hurt when landing in one of those bizarre wrestling physics issues that will make your suspension of belief dissolve if you dwell on it for too long.

Verne is briefly your AARP-member-in-peril, but a four-way donnybrook breaks out and Greg dropkicks Verne’s back while he was being lifted by Bockwinkel, which caused Verne to fall on top for the pin.

The brawl continues for a bit after the match, with Bockwinkel piledriving Verne on the CEMENT. Verne at least sells it for a minute before attempting to crawl back to his feet. Greg chases off the heels with a chair as doctors are called to ringside. The tape cuts off before I am able to see how well they put over what should be a serious injury. The match was fun, with an up tempo, great crowd heat, plus violence and hatred being shown by all competitors. It’s a shame Saito’s trial for assaulting the police in Wisconsin would soon cut off the heels from being properly avenged for their misdeeds.

AWA World Tag Team Champions The Road Warriors vs. Curt & Larry “The Axe” Hennig

Larry is on the cusp of being 49 here. Papa Hennig still looks like a beast here, so I have no problems with his comeback. This is the first big blow off from the angle where the Warriors beat Curt bloody during a TV taping, causing the Axe to save his son.

Animal and the Axe exchange several tests of strength. The tape abruptly jumps around to Curt using his speed to out maneuver Animal, then Hawk. The Warriors’ size allows them to lay a beatdown to Curt before Hennig makes the hot tag to Larry….and the tape edits to a music video of the AWA stars beating up jobbers as Prince sings “Let’s Go Crazy”. The match seemed entertaining from the snippets I was able to see.

Steel Cage Match: Sgt. Slaughter & Jerry “Crusher” Blackwell vs. The Masked Superstar, King Tonga & Sheik Adnan El Kaissey

We are joined in progress to the match having just begun as Blackwell uses his size to barrel over the Masked Superstar. Tonga (Haku) doesn’t fair much better. Blackwell crushes him with a “Ohhhhhhh” inducing elbow. Sarge batters the heels, before letting Blackwell have his fun as well. Blackwell is tossed into the cage and blades as he falls back and crashes. Sheik Adnan volunteers to come in now that Crusher Blackwell is down and vulnerable. Tonga chops at Blackwell’s prone body and the Superstar chews on his wound.

Blackwell finally makes a comeback when he catches the Sheik as he tries to drive Blackwell into the cage, driving Adnan into the steel instead and drawing blood. Sheik runs in fear but Blackwell does not tag out despite having spent several minutes being beaten. Tonga ends up bloodied after Blackwell drives him to the cage, but all 3 heels gang up on the “Mountain from Stone Mountain” in their corner to keep control.

Blackwell finally gets the tag and Slaughter goes wild on all three heels. He downs the Superstar and tries to climb to the top of the cage, after slipping twice he thinks better of it and climbs down to leap off the top rope. Sarge misses his target and finds himself at the mercy of the 3 sadists. Slaughter winds up bloody after a trip into the steel.

Blackwell tags in and crushes Adnan in the corner. Sarge is battered by Tonga and Superstar elsewhere as Blackwell mounts the top rope. Slaughter delivers a double clothesline to the Sheik’s men as Blackwell leaps off onto Adnan to score the pin. The crowd leaps to their feet in jubilation. A fun, bloody hate filled brawl is hard to complain about!

Final thoughts: The AWA did well enough with this special event. They had several big grudge matches to draw an audience in with, some young guys went over to build up some new stars and then things finished with a hot gimmick match. They even put together several music videos to give their fans a taste of the WWF’s MTV infused production.

Where was AWA champ Rick Martel? He worked in Washington D.C. and Montreal around this date, but was apparently free otherwise.

The crowd needed to be mic’d better  as the music and commentary was plenty loud and clear, but it sounded like they were wrestling in front of a flat crowd, which I doubt was the case.


Written by Andrew Lutzke

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

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