NWA Starrcade 1983: “A Flare for the Gold” review
November 24, 1983
Side note: I reviewed this for 411 back in 2007 and I didn’t look until I finished to see if I’d changed my mind on any star ratings and they were the same (for the three matches I rated here).
We’re in Greensboro, North Carolina. Hosts are Gordon Solie & Bob Caudle. Over 15k in attendance to witness the start of the Flair Era. 1983 was an important year for two of wrestling’s most iconic figures. As Hulk Hogan was about to ascend to the WWF throne, having been dicked over so many times by Verne Gagne that he quit the AWA to do so. Over in the NWA, it was all about passing the torch from Harley Race to Ric Flair. While Hogan beat transitional champion the Iron Sheik a few months after this, Flair had to beat the man if he wanted to be called “The Man”.
Starrcade ‘83 also has the honour of being the first ‘Supercard’ in wrestling history. Normally cards were made up of various opening and midcard attractions with one clear cut main event. For Starrcade we had Flair vs. Race but also a big tag match with the Brisco’s vs. Steamboat & Youngblood, a dog collar match between Greg Valentine and Roddy Piper and the Great Kabuki defending his NWA TV belt against Charlie Brown (I wonder who this mysterious masked man is?). There are a bare minimum of scrubs. There is another show like this, called “The Final Conflict”, which took place in March 1983. An NWA show featuring a trio of main events; Piper/Slater, Flair/Valentine and the tag titles in a cage match.
A note on Flair here; as a kid I always thought he won his first title at Starrcade ‘83 because of how that was hyped as such an important match up. Flair actually won his first NWA title in 1981 and racked up a staggering 399 title defences before losing it to Harley. This is about Race putting him over on the biggest show of the year to fully pass the baton to the new kid.
Solie starts out by telling us people were turned away tonight and have had to go and watch on closed circuit TV.
Bugsy McGraw & Rufus R. Jones vs. The Assassins
The Assassins are Jody “The Assassin” Hamilton and Hercules Hernandez. Bugsy McGraw looks like Will Cooling if he liked to dance. Dancing babyfaces against masked heels. That’s the story. Unlike the AWA, which I just watched, the opening acts, while bad, actually try hard.
While there is effort, McGraw & Jones are clearly working for the back row with the wild haymakers. McGraw is too busy juking and jiving and he gets rolled up for the loss. Another L for Will Cooling*.
Johnny Weaver & Scott McGhee vs. Kevin Sullivan & Mark Lewin
Lewin is ancient, as is Weaver. It feels like they’ve gone for a mentor/mentee set up for both teams. Sullivan has already been wrestling for 13 years at this point. I was this many years old when I found out that Scott McGhee is from Yorkshire. There are a lot of tag tropes here and poor Johnny Weaver gets himself double teamed and pinned. The heels continue the beatdown afterwards.
Poor McGhee is busted wide open. Just like a Friday night out in Leeds, am I right lads? Angelo Mosca runs in for the save and manages to get stabbed in the arm. McGhee bled an absolute gusher here. The next match has Abby in it. Were they trying to piss him off?
We head backstage and GOD DAMN Harley Race was a fashionable motherfucker.
Abdullah the Butcher vs. Carlos Colon
This match is banned in Puerto Rico, so Colon had to come to America to get his hands on Abby. Colon spent his whole career feuding with Abby.
Predictably there’s a lot of bloodshed here. The match stinks. Abby bleeds all over the place and Hugo Savinovich runs in to twat Colon with a sock full of quarters and that’s it. Whole thing was under five minutes, thankfully.
We go backstage for comments from Angelo Mosca and he’s sat next to Scott McGhee, who appears to be dead. Mosca will be referee for the tag title match later. Scott McGhee will be cremated on Monday.
Wahoo McDaniel & Mark Youngblood vs. Bob Orton Jr & Dick Slater
If you had Wahoo as the first guy to show up on these for multiple promotions, pat yourself on the back, as he was in AWA at the start of the year and jumped to NWA around August. Youngblood is 2 years into his career and they need Wahoo to help him out. Orton is about six months away from joining the McMahon revolution. He’s good, Slater is better. Slater has a bad reputation because he was a bit of a dick outside the ring. You can’t split time between NWA and All Japan and be bad in the ring.
They run formula here and Youngblood gets beaten up all match. He is horrible at everything. Wahoo is a great hot tag, but they work heat on him too, which is not the best of ideas. Mainly because it involves Youngblood hot tagging and hitting a bunch of weak dropkicks. Orton hits a slick superplex on Youngblood for the pin with Dumbass McDaniel deciding to try and break it up. This was good and me, sudden fan of nostalgia, is looking forward to all the formula tags I’m going to watch very soon.
We go to Flair for an interview and after that Dusty Rhodes rants at ringside but the sound keeps cutting out so we can’t hear his ramblings. A shame. He was a champion talker. Gordon Solie ribs him saying “if you can read his lips, you can tell what he’s saying”. Dusty is challenging tonight’s winner to a match. Of course he is.
NWA TV Championship
The Great Kabuki (c) vs. Charlie Brown
The whole Jimmy Valiant gag in the 80s was that he’d lose a ‘loser leaves town’ match then re-appear under a hood as “Charlie Brown, from outta town”. Here it’s title vs. Mask so if Brown loses he’ll be unmasked, Scooby Doo style, and Gary Hart gets to prove he’s Jimmy Valiant. I’ve never liked Kabuki. Valiant at least has a good time goofing around.
Kabuki’s offence looks like he’s making it up as he goes along. The biggest offender being him climbing the ropes, jumping off and applying a Claw. Like, what are you doing dude? Brown hits the People’s Elbow (it really looked like it) and picks up the belt. This was bad but I doubt Kabuki wrestled a good singles match in his career so what can you do?
Dog Collar Match
Roddy Piper vs. Greg Valentine
This is a Goldberg/Lesnar kinda deal because they’re both jumping to the WWF at the end of the year. Valentine is the US Champion so it seems odd they wouldn’t have him job it to someone on this show. He’d end up losing to Dick Slater a couple of weeks after this.
Piper had an ear injury just before this so Valentine hits it with the chain, which is disturbing.
For 1983 they do some violent shit. Choking, punching and Greg pounding on that ear. Who works an ear? You sick fuck. At least he works the left side, worker style, but the sight of blood pouring from someone’s ear is icky. Hammer does some really stupid things in this match. Usually involving the ropes. He tries to go outside and gets tangled up. He goes to run the ropes and gets pulled back. There’s a chain around your neck mate.
Piper eventually gets tired of bleeding all over the place and beats on Valentine with the chain until he can pin him. ***¾. I don’t like this as much as some people do but it is brutal, especially for the age of it.
Post match: Valentine chokes Piper over the ropes. They did a bunch more of these matches around the loop until the end of the year when they both left for the WWF. Piper, an NWA guy for a decade, wouldn’t return to the deep south until 1996.
NWA World Tag Team Championship
The Brisco Brothers (c) vs. Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood
These teams have been trading the belts all year. Switching the tag belts felt like a good way to pop the crowd in the NWA. Steamboat did a lot of ‘big’ offence around this time. I feel like he toned it down a bit later on, when he was working the TV audience. Likewise, Jerry Brisco does wild overselling. He’s embracing the nonsense. Jack is more an amateur wrestling fan and a guy who doesn’t like silliness. He’s 18 years into his career at this point and would retire in 1985. He still looked very solid and, given his history, obviously didn’t want to work in Japan for an extended period. While the Brisco’s are technically the heels here, they don’t work that way. There’s no cheating. They just dominate. The finish is a bit sudden. Steamboat just drops Youngblood on Jerry for the pin. The Brisco’s take it out on Angelo Mosca, the special referee, and kick his ass. He’s supposed to catch Jerry coming off the ropes but falls over and fucks it up. The match was good, not great, and the weird finish put me off the whole thing. ***
Backstage: Tony Schiavone interviews the winners tonight and it’s been all babyfaces in the big matches. TAKE HEED WCW OF 1997.
Steel Cage Match
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Harley Race (c) vs. Ric Flair
The referee is Gene Kiniski, which is a bad choice because he’s very slow and gets in the way. He’s around 55 years old and hasn’t even retired yet but he’s still slow as shit. I’m sure I’ve pointed this out before but Flair’s entrance is magnificent. Music, lighting, dramatic construction. It’s all there. The lights go down and “Thus Spake Zarathustra” plays. Flair then walks out here through dry ice.
He’s over as hell. A lot of modern fans probably haven’t seen much of Race, which is a pity because he’s one of the great sellers. He retired in the late 80s and even when I was young, he was already a manager.
He was quite the character. Big afro, handlebar moustache. Eight-time NWA World Champion. Larger than life. This is a lot slower than I remember it, which is partially down to Kiniski constantly getting in the way, and partially through personal choice. Race works the neck. You can tell because he stops at one point to yell “the neck” at the crowd. Although, you’d hope they’d notice all the neckbreakers and such.
I’m pretty sure the NWA invented cinematic wrestling. Look at some of their shots. It’s a thing of beauty. We’re in a cage match so naturally Flair blades, as does Race. Blood and guts wrestling! The best! Maybe Vince hates the style because Crockett was killing him with it in 1983. The NWA product was miles better. This slowly turns into a war with them grinding each other down. It is a slow-paced match but everything they do is logical. It’s two guys just wearing each other out. There’s a cracking spot where Race goes for a suplex and his leg gives out, after the Figure Four, with Flair falling on top for a near fall. Little things like that all add up to a good match. Kiniski continues to get in the way at the finish with Race falling over him (deliberately) as Flair hits a crossbody off the ropes for the win. The actual spot would have been far better had Kiniski just not been there. One of those instances where a special referee hinders a match rather than enhancing it. ****¼. Flair and Race were two of the best wrestlers in the world at the time. I disagree that this was a truly great match but it should have been, with a normal referee.
Having watched an AWA show right before this, it heightens my appreciation of what the NWA were doing. It’s a more intense, modern, innovative and exciting product. While the slow pace of the main event may make it seem less thrilling to modern viewers, the overall vibe of the show was good. Piper vs. Valentine might be the better match to show people from this show to detail how the NWA was winning the wrestling war at this point. With wrestlers defecting to Vince in huge numbers, how long would it last?