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Starrcade Countdown: 1988

The SmarK Retro Rant for NWA Starrcade 88

This rant was really bugging me because it was originally written based on the chopped-up Turner Home Entertainment 120 VHS copy I’ve had forever. So most of the matches are edited to nothing and I wasn’t even doing match times at that point. However, thanks to the magic of YouTube and my previous Essential Starrcade rant, I can now piece together the entire original PPV in full, and you get a full redo in lieu of 2011 Scott sez.

Live from Norfolk, VA.

Your hosts are Jim Ross & Bob Caudle

US Tag titles: The Fantastics v. Steve Williams & Kevin Sullivan

This was previously announced as the Fantastics defending the belts against the Sheepherders, but a WWF talent raid changed that plan. Fulton evades Sullivan and gets a Thesz Press for two, as the champs double-team him for a bit. Over to Doc, but the Fantastics work on his arm. Williams misses a charge and the Fantastics give him a double-team monkey-flip, but Fulton walks right into a military press. I’m always such a mark for Dr. Death pressing a guy six times before he slams him. Awesome. Williams tosses Fulton for a big babyface pop, and then completely cuts off a Tommy Rogers comeback attempt by basically punching him in the face after no-selling his offense. Sullivan misses a charge and hits the floor, though, allowing Rogers to use his speed to control things again. The heel fans in the audience REALLY just want to see Dr. Death come in and beat the shit out of people. The Fantastics double-team Williams again as the boos get louder, but Doc cuts off the comeback again and puts Rogers down for more of a beating. Delayed suplex gets two. Rogers comes back with a sunset flip for two, but Doc uses a wrestling takedown to prevent a tag, and Varsity Club double-teams him again. Rogers with a small package on Sullivan for two, and a bodypress sets up the hot tag to Fulton. Fans aren’t buying into it at all, and Varsity Club just calmly cuts him off and beats on him. The Fantastics just can’t get any heat on themselves here. Doc with a bearhug that Fulton escapes from and tags Rogers again, but HE charges and hits Sullivan’s boot right away. Sullivan goes up and gets slammed off, but then Rogers stupidly goes up and hits knee. So it’s back to the Club beating on Rogers again, and Sullivan clotheslines him for two. This getting uglier and uglier as the Varsity Club just won’t let the Fantastics get into the tag team formula rhythm properly. Williams drops Rogers on the top rope for two and goes to a chinlock, but Rogers fights out…and gets cut off AGAIN. Sullivan gives him the double stomp for two, but Rogers finally gets the hot tag to Fulton and it’s BONZO GONZO. Fulton pounds away in the corner and gets a sleeper, but stupidly releases it and charges at Doc, walking into a stungun to give Williams the pin and titles at 15:55. You can’t say they didn’t give them time, but the heels were having no part of selling anything for the Fantastics here and they just didn’t mesh at all. **1/2

The Midnight Express (Stan Lane & Bobby Eaton) v. The Midnight Express (Dennis Condrey & Randy Rose)

This was the absolutely brilliant feud that paid off Condrey’s original disappearance the year before, and also introduced Paul E. Dangerously to the national stage. The Original Midnights jumped from the AWA, giving the thing a dangerous “these guys aren’t supposed to be here” edge to it, as they attacked the Midnights on TV and instantly turned them into mega-babyfaces. Lane chases Condrey out of the ring, right into an awesome shot from Jim Cornette’s racket. Dangerously goes off on a rant against the fans as a result, and this is all great stuff. Back in the ring, Condrey tries to hammer on Lane and suffers an atomic drop. This gives Cornette the chance to get on the apron and make accusations towards Dangerously’s sexual preferences. Over to Eaton, who chases Rose out of the ring…right into a Cornette tennis racket shot. And Dangerously spazzes out AGAIN. Tremendous. Lane sends Rose into the post as Jim Ross unleashes his patented array of crazy metaphors, in this case one of my personal favourites about smoking a cigarette in a munitions dump. Back in the ring, Lane gets a bodypress on Rose for two, and Rose quickly bails to bring Condrey in. Condrey offers a handshake, so Lane kicks him in the head and Eaton comes in with a flying elbow on his former partner. Lane rolls him up in a crucifix, but Condrey wisely gets out of the babyface corner. Eaton bulldogs him anyway, and over to Lane for an elbow on Randy Rose. Lane puts him down with MARTIAL ARTS and they double-team him with the Broken Arrow. Eaton finally misses a blind charge to make him face-in-peril, and it’s the crushing irony of Bobby Eaton having to play Ricky Morton. Dangerously immediately declares victory to the fans at ringside, milking his moment for everything he can. The Originals work Eaton over on the floor and Rose gets a fistdrop from the top to the floor, and it’s back in for more abuse from Condrey. This time Dangerously gets the managerial cheapshot, and Condrey gets two as Cornette chases him away with a chair. Well we knew Cornette had a temper problem. Bobby gets a neckbreaker, but Rose comes in with a clothesline for two. He cuts off the ring as JR notes that Bobby is a true Alabaman – he doesn’t say much, and when he does you can’t understand him anyway. Apparently this was supposed to be a compliment. The Originals work him over in the corner, and Lane’s hotheaded save attempt costs his partner another shot. Condrey powerslams Bobby to set up the ROCKET LAUNCHER, but it misses and it’s HOT TAG Lane as these guys have timing run by an atomic clock. Enzuigiri for Rose, but the ref is distracted by the other two, allowing Dangerously to hit Lane with the phone and put Rose on top. It gets two and Teddy Long finds the phone, which is a classic Midnight Express bit. Rose argues, but this allows Lane & Eaton to hit the DOUBLE GOOZLE for the pin at 17:00. How the fuck could they cut this down to like 2 minutes on the tape?!? ****1/4 It’s the heel beatdown of the century after the win, as even Jim Cornette gets the boots put to him until Bobby finds the tennis racket and cleans house again. Sadly, the rematch at Chi-Town Rumble was ruined by Condrey flaking out and leaving the business completely. Unbelievable energy from everyone here, as they had a hot angle and ran with it.

Junkyard Dog & Ivan Koloff v. The Russian Assassins

I don’t know who thought that turning Koloff into a babyface would be a good idea, but it wasn’t. This was obviously supposed to be the reunited Koloffs, but Nikita left the promotion and we were stuck with JYD instead. Assassins were Dave “Angel of Death” Sheldon, aka the Black Scorpion, and Jack Victory. Dog throws #1 around and gets a clothesline for two, and #2 comes in as JR stresses that he’d like to have a VICTORY over the Dog here. Hee hee. Dog tosses #2 and Ivan comes in for the CLUBBING FOREARMS and Russian Hammer choke that gets two. #2 charges and hits boot, allowing Ivan to get a clothesline off the middle for two. When fucking Ivan Koloff is the best worker in the match, it’s not gonna be very good. Dog & Ivan get a double clothesline on #1, but Dog misses the headbutt and knocks himself out. I’ve never understood the physics behind that – the mat is far softer than someone’s head! Heel miscommunication quickly allows Dog to come back before we have to sit through him taking a beating any longer. “You might say that was a DUD” notes Bob Caudle about the Russian Missile finisher, although he could be referring to this match as well. Everyone collides, but the Russians load up their masks, switch places, and one of them pins Koloff at 7:00. Given that the stipulations were that the Russians had to unmask AND Paul Jones had to leave the NWA if the heels lost, the finish here was pretty obvious. DUD

World TV title: Mike Rotundo v. Rick Steiner

Here’s where I get my money out of this show I’m watching for free on the internet. Kevin Sullivan is suspended in a cage here, and this is the blowoff to end all of them, as Rick Steiner had been abused and demeaned by the Varsity Club all year, with the jock heels basically bullying him until he finally stood up for himself and snapped. Perhaps someone told him to be a STAR. Funny to think now of Rick Steiner being an underdog babyface, actually, but at the time I can tell you it was incredibly effective booking. Despite the match and angle behind it holding such an important place in my fandom, this will be the first time I’ve seen the full match. Steiner starts with the headlock and they do a fun bit where the ref keeps catching Rotundo using the hair while Steiner gets away with it. Rotundo escapes, and Steiner gets the Steinerline for two. Rotundo bails, and Steiner goes back to the headlock again before controlling with a hammerlock on the mat. They trade headlocks off that and it goes nowhere. Steiner tries another headlock, but Rotundo breaks with a sweet backdrop suplex and a headscissors on the mat. Steiner stops to laugh at Kevin Sullivan as this thing is taking forever to go anywhere. I can see why they clipped it all to hell now. Long stall from Rotundo until Steiner finally goes back to the headlock, but Rotundo dumps him to take over and hopefully pick up the pace. Back in, Rotundo gets a backdrop and goes to the chinlock and that goes on for a long time until he finally uses the ropes one time too many and gets caught. Steiner slugs back, but Rotundo puts him down with an elbow for two. Back to the chinlock, and Rotundo cuts off a comeback with the lariat. He misses a dropkick as it seems like we’re headed for the 20 minute time limit and Steiner makes the comeback with a backdrop and powerslam as Steve Williams joins us at ringside. Belly to belly suplex looks to finish, but Doc rings the bell and Teddy Long thinks that it’s a time limit draw. Ah, now the drawn-out match makes more sense. Luckily, Tommy Young is there to set him straight as Sullivan is released from the cage, and we start again. Steiner rams the Varsity Club together and pins Rotundo to win the TV title at 18:00 (with both referees counting at the same time for a neat visual), drawing a monster pop from the crowd. Very very disappointing after all the wait, although that finish was genius. **1/4

US Title: Barry Windham v. Bam Bam Bigelow

This was kind of a weird deal, as they brought in Bigelow, and manager Oliver Humperdink, after his year in the WWF, and he basically only did the Windham feud and then disappeared again for a long time. Doesn’t seem like this will be a good style fit for either guy. They fight for the lockup and Bigelow overpowers Windham and catches him with a gutbuster, and Windham bails for advice from Dillon. That advice: “If your brother asks if you can make change for $100, SAY NO.” Back in, Windham hits a backdrop suplex and celebrates far too soon, as Bigelow no-sells it and Windham has to run away again. Windham can’t get anything going, and Bigelow hits him with a press slam to send Barry running away again. Back in, Bigelow hammers away in the corner and puts Windham on the floor with an enzuigiri. Back in, delayed suplex gets two, and Bigelow goes to the chinlock. Finally Windham takes out the knee and they fight to the floor, but Bigelow headbutts him on the way in and gets the slingshot splash for two. For some reason he picks Windham up and makes the idiot decision to go up top, missing the flying headbutt as a result. What a dick move that was. Windham now makes the comeback as if he was the babyface, hitting the running lariat and a backdrop suplex. He dumps Bigelow and runs him into the post, and back in for the IRON CLAW. Bigelow falls into the ropes to break, so Windham goes up and misses a flying elbow. Brawl outside again, and this time Windham beats the count back in to retain at 16:30. Boy, that was quite the cop-out finish. I’m thinking Bigelow decided he didn’t want to a job here.

NWA World Tag team title: The Road Warriors v. Dusty Rhodes & Sting

This was all backstory and no payoff, unfortunately, as the Warriors turned heel on Dusty and tried to blind him with a spike, and then on Sting with equally violent results, and this should have been the bloodiest bloodfeud to ever bleed on PPV with super babyfaces Dusty and Sting avenging themselves against monster bully heels the Road Warriors…but it just never found that next level. Maybe if people WANTED to boo the Warriors it might have clicked. I think this one was rated highly in the Essential Starrcade poll because it SOUNDS like an awesome dream match. Actually, to be perfectly accurate, it should have been Dusty Rhodes & Nikita Koloff for the perfect dream match, but Koloff was long gone by that point in the year and probably couldn't have lived up to the hype anyway.

Sting dropkicks Animal out of the ring to start and works on the arm in the ring, and Dusty comes in and slugs away. Over to Hawk and he exchanges shots with Dusty before the faces switch off on the arm to control. Hawk pounds on Sting in the corner to break and stomps a mudhole some 10 years before Steve Austin, then throws big fake-looking haymakers until Sting slugs back and powerslams him. Sting actually hits his usual missed elbow, but Hawk tags out to Animal. Press slam draws a face pop for the supposed hated heel, but Sting no-sells a stungun and clotheslines Animal out of the ring. He follows with a dive off the top rope and the Warriors back off. Back in, Dusty goes to work on the leg, but Hawk goes to the eyes and takes him to the floor for a quick beating to take over. Back in, Hawk puts Dusty down with a standing dropkick and works on the bad eye again (He's not supposed to get anything in his eye!), but Dusty fires back with his own dropkick (!!!) before Animal charges in and bites him on the eye to stop the LUCHA DUSTY EXPRESS. Animal goes to a neckvice and Dusty fights up, but walks into a sleeper from Hawk. Dusty quickly escapes with a jawbreaker and makes the hot tag to Sting, but the crowd is kind of not wanting to cheer or boo either side. Sting dropkicks Animal into the corner and follows with a Stinger splash into the Scorpion, but Hawk breaks it up and tosses Sting. The Warriors double-team Dusty, but Sting comes in with a flying bodypress on Animal, resulting in Ellering pulling out the ref for the DQ at 11:18. You'd think these guys would have some chemistry, but they just didn't and it was basically a tag match and nothing more. You thinking blood, chairs, mayhem…but nothing. And a lame finish to boot. Dusty was gone soon after so that might have had something to do with it. **1/2

NWA World title: Ric Flair v. Lex Luger

The story behind this one is far more interesting than the match, and that's saying something because it's a hell of a match. As you probably know, but might not, Dusty Rhodes tried to screw with Flair one last time as booker, first booking Luger to win the title here, and when Flair refused that, booking Rick Steiner to take Luger’s place and win the title in a 5 minute squash instead. Finally new WCW honcho Jim Herd stepped in, fired Rhodes, and told Flair to go over Luger cleanly to retain. Sorry, spoiler. The DQ rule is waived here. Flair does some strutting and throws a chop, but stops to style and profile and gets clotheslined to the floor as a result. Flair regroups and heads back in with the headlock, but Luger reverses to the hammerlock and powers him down. Flair comes back with chops, which Lex no-sells, and they criss-cross into a good powerslam from Luger, which sends Flair running out. Back in, Lex gets a press slam this time, and that gets two. Flair's like a demo of ragdoll physics out there tonight. Lex starts working on the arm and whips him into the corner, but Flair fires back with a chop. That does nothing, and Flair runs away again. Back in, Flair tries the cheapshot, but Lex runs him into the corner again for the Flair Flop, and he follows right away with a hammerlock. Flair fights out, but runs into Luger like a brick wall and gets hiptossed as well. Flair finally goes to the eyes and throws the chops, but that’s going nowhere and Lex chases him to the floor and wraps Flair's arm around the railing to really work on it. He hammerlocks Flair and sends it into the post, and back in for an armbar. Flair bails and Lex suplexes him back in with a long delay, for two. Elbow misses, however (I know, I'm shocked), and Flair puts him down with a forearm to take over.

He tosses Luger and rams him into the railing, and back in for the kneecrusher. He adds a double stomp and fires away with chops, but Lex catches him with the sleeper. Flair escapes with the backdrop suplex and takes him down with a snapmare, but a figure-four attempt is reversed to an inside cradle for two. Flair goes up and Luger brings him down with a superplex, for two. And Lex follows with his own figure-four, then slugs away in the corner. Flair tosses him over the top behind the ref's back to escape, but Lex pops in with a flying bodypress for two. LUCHA LEX! Flair hits a cheapshot and tries a hiptoss, but Luger powers him into the backslide for two. Lex slugs away in the corner and we get the Flair Flip, followed by a Luger suplex for two. Flair fires back with chops, which Lex no-sells, and he hits the press slam to set up the seeming end for Flair. Powerslam signals the Rack, but he stops to go after JJ and that's all Flair needs. He takes Luger down and smashes a chair into his knees (with the ref distracted by JJ of course), and now Luger is in trouble. Flair goes to work on the knee like a surgeon, using all the greatest hits to set up the figure-four. JR is something else on commentary here, perfectly conveying the story and writing off Lex's chances. Luger uses his last energy to reverse the hold, but Flair goes right back to the leg and drops a knee on it. He goes up for whatever stupid reason and Luger slams him off, but the exertion hurts the knee further. Flair tosses him, but Luger has his adrenaline surge and presses Flair, only to see the knee give way again. FORESHADOWING. Flair tosses him again, but Luger flips in for two. Flair tries a flying forearm, but Luger is still pumped up and no-sells it, then slugs away in the corner. He follows with a clothesline for two, but he's still limping. A powerslam sets up the rack again, but the knee gives out and Flair falls on top for the pin to retain at 30:54. Flair was actually told specifically to go over clean as a sheet, but he insisted on cheating to keep Luger strong. What a guy. Flair and Luger together were like some kind of wonderful magic that Lex couldn't duplicate with anyone else. Brilliant finish, as Flair out-thought the power-focused Luger and basically sucked him into causing his own downfall. Great, non-stop action from start to finish. ****1/2 In case you're curious, a clean pin would be ****3/4 and ***** would have been if Luger hadn't no-sold all the chops and had mixed up the offense a little more than powerslam/elbow/press slam the whole match.

The Pulse:

This show holds a lot of sentimental value for me, and sadly outside of the main event and awesome Midnights v. Midnights showdown there’s not a lot of great wrestling here to back that up.