NWA Starrcade 1987 Chi Town Heat (11.26.87)
We’re in Chicago, Illinois for the NWA’s biggest show of the year. This is the start of some real pettiness between Crockett and McMahon as the WWF ran the inaugural Survivor Series the same night, just to fuck with Crockett’s buyrate. This pettiness would continue into 1988 but while Vince could afford to fuck with his own buyrates on PPVs, because house shows were going amazingly well in 1987, the NWA couldn’t afford to lose a huge chunk of buyrate cash on what was, at the time, their only PPV of the year. Prior to this they’d not explored the PPV model. This is the first one, which makes the WWF’s meddling (as if to say PPV was their business) even more petty.
Hosts are Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone. Crockett had just spent big on acquiring Bill Watts’ UWF so the talent roster was refreshed. The original plan was to run two separate promotions and have them crossover at Starrcade. That was abandoned and soon UWF talent was on NWA TV. Including Sting, Steve Williams, Terry Taylor and commentator Jim Ross. How did this whole thing pan out for Jim Crockett? Well, a year from now the NWA is broke, Crockett sold his entire company to Ted Turner and WCW was born. So, not great?
Michael Hayes, Jimmy Garvin & Sting vs. Larry Zbyszko, Eddie Gilbert & Rick Steiner
So yeah, first PPV for Sting and he walks out to “Badstreet, USA”.
Larry has jumped ship from AWA to jerk the curtain here. Sting is so over. He’s explosive, charismatic and catches the cameraman out with a dive in the first minute. Yes, a DIVE. It’s the first one I’ve seen. Sting makes the Freebirds look like two uncoordinated clods. Zbyszko looks like a clown in this too. Over bumping and selling, mistaking this for WWF cartoon wrestling. He’s better on offence. As I type that, he puts on an Abdominal stretch. JR does NOT mention Wilbur Snyder. What is this? Time killing in a six-man tag is a crime. “This baby is breaking down in Chi-Town” screams Ross as Hayes gets a hot tag. Signs this might be a draw; Rick Steiner applying a bearhug with 30 seconds left. Sting was crazy over here. He’s come in hot and will only get more over. This was a hit and miss 15:00 draw. **½
Missy Hyatt officially welcomes us to Starrcade. What is with that NWA logo? It looks like the W is trying to escape.
UWF Heavyweight Championship
Steve Williams (c) vs. Barry Windham
Barry’s Western Heritage belt is not on the line. UWF’s title only came into being in 1986, so it doesn’t have much history to it.
For anyone getting excited about this match, don’t. Doc didn’t get good until his AJPW run, which doesn’t start until 1990. Windham had very little chemistry with him and, for whatever reason, couldn’t turn those great Flair matches into anything else. Both guys are babyfaces and Barry gets booed for refusing to fight on the floor. Just fucking punch him, read the room! They do a leapfrog and Barry runs right into Doc’s balls. Was that deliberate? I assume so, as Windham barely ducked. Barry, babyface hero, refuses to follow up. 1987 and the crowd are begging for an anti-hero. Steve Austin was ten years late.
Look at WWF at the same time. Look at who got over; Randy Savage, Jake Roberts, Paul Orndorff, Roddy Piper. All heels, forced babyface because the crowd loved heels. A white meat babyface is always going to be hated at the top end. Only guys like Ricky Steamboat, who were just great at their job, managed to get and stay over. Windham takes a spill into the announce table, rolls back in and Doc rolls him up for the pin. An absolute wet fart of a finish that the crowd HATES. They fucking loathe it.
Rock n’ Roll Express vs. Midnight Express
These two teams could have a classic match in their sleep. However, it’s a fucking scaffold match so it’s doomed from the start. Scaffolding might be the worst stipulation in wrestling history. All that happens is a bunch of hugging of the scaffold and guys being scared to get hurt. Bobby Eaton is the only person insane enough to deviate from that. They try and create intrigue by having Bubba hit Morton with the Bossman Slam before he’s even climbed up top. That leaves MXP with a 2 on 1. There’s two of you, just throw him off?
Morton recovers before Bubba can climb the scaffolding to make it 3 on 1. A load of hugging of the scaffolding follows. God, I hate these matches. What a fucking waste of both teams. They do try and work a match making this arguably the best scaffold match of all time. Lane tries to climb under the scaffold but falls off. Eaton follows him and that’s the match. Well, this was terrible but at least they tried?
Backstage we get Bob Caudle interviewing Jimmy Garvin and Michael Hayes. Garvin doesn’t stop talking the entire interview. Caudle moves on to Steve Williams. He calls himself a wrestling machine who goes “110-210%”. What maths is that?
NWA TV Championship
UWF TV Championship
Nikita Koloff vs. Terry Taylor
This is Taylor’s fourth UWF TV title run. He’s the most successful champion in its brief history. The NWA TV title still exists, as it got brought back in 2020. Nikita won it from Tully in the summer. Taylor is heel and cornered by Eddie Gilbert. Terry is one of those guys who brown-nosed his way to the top, because he knew he didn’t have it in the ring. Taylor went into the office as soon as he possibly could. He’s not a good worker and Nikita isn’t either, although he’s improved a lot since the face turn. Personally, I’d have had Nikita run straight through Taylor here, Gilbert too. Instead of Nikita just blowing past Terry, he spends the whole match working an armbar.
We get ten minutes in and Nikita has just worked an armbar the whole time. Taylor busts out but Nikita goes right back to it. Jesus, this is so bad. JR calls his tactic “simplistic”. I would call it boring, mate. I literally couldn’t commentate on this. The tide turns and Taylor works the arm. At least he’s more interesting doing it but it merely continues the theme of the contest. JR tells us that Nikita’s left arm is now useless, despite 10 minutes of him working Taylor’s arm apparently his arm is now fine. After an entire match of armbars Gilbert clocks Nikita in the leg and Terry gets a Figure Four. There is some logic here in Gilbert being the true mastermind and the guy who discovers Koloff’s weaknesses, whereas Taylor is just the mug who executes the plan. Nikita ends up just battering Taylor with the Sickle for the pin and the crowd goes wild.
I had a complete disconnect to this and thought it was tedious. Gilbert did add some necessary heat to proceedings and Nikita was over, so it was an easy sell for him winning but the length of the match was needless. Especially as Koloff spent so much of it in charge, just working a rest. A bad match.
NWA Tag Team Championship
Four Horsemen (Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard) (c) vs. Road Warriors
Arn & Tully beat the RNR in September to get these belts. You would think this was a deliberate set up for them to lose again here. Surely, the Roadies are long overdue the belts? It’s the biggest show of the year. Just pull that trigger, boys. We’re even in Chicago! It’s a total no-brainer.
Arn and Tully are a sensational team. They’re both able to do the dirtbag heel work but also take all the big power moves. Which means the Road Warriors can kick the shit out of them for most of the match and it’s completely convincing. Both guys are perceived as big stars, for being in the Four Horsemen, so they can get away with being beaten up for the entire match. It’s easily the best thing on the show, which has been very underwhelming. Arn & Tully were fun on offence and they chopblock Hawk to work their heat segment. Hawk’s bizarre attempts at selling are a detriment to the match unfortunately. Hawk sells like a guy who doesn’t know what pain is. After the hot tag we get a ref bump and the match degenerates into total shit. Arn eats the Doomsday Device for the three and the Road Warriors win the belts.
Or do they? Fucking Dusty Rhodes strikes again. Having gotten this massive pop for the title change Tommy Young retroactively disqualifies the Road Warriors for throwing Tully over the top rope and it’s a goddamn Dusty Finish. What a fucking slap in the face this was. **¾.
Video Control takes us to Nikita Koloff for an interview and he puts over Terry Taylor at length, saying it was the best match of his career. You what mate? Koloff makes a point of dumping the UWF belt on the floor during this. A sad day for Cowboy Bill Watts. Koloff thanks the fans in Russian. I love that Nikita learned Russian to make his character seem more realistic. He was the best of the ‘Russians’ for this. Most of them didn’t even speak with an accent.
NWA United States Championship
Lex Luger vs. Dusty Rhodes
So, Dusty’s idea of sending the crowd home happy is not putting over the home town tag team but rather putting himself over a promising young champion in Lex Luger. The only common sense for the keeping the tag belts on the Horsemen would be so the entire stable had titles. The final piece in that is Luger, so naturally Dusty books himself to beat him. Just to make it super obvious that it’s going that way, Dusty puts his career on the line here too. Wait, it’s billed as belt vs career but essentially, it’s just an enforced holiday as Dusty gets ‘retired’ for a whole 90 days. “His career is at stake”. This is also a cage match. Johnny Weaver holds the key to the cage, with Dusty having adopted Weaver’s sleeper as a finish for tonight.
Dusty could have really helped Lex to get over here. Lost clean to the Torture Rack. Launched Luger to a higher level. He could even have come back after 90 days for revenge but no, we’re not letting Dusty appear weak. His best days are behind him at this point, but he’s still clinging on.
So, the actual match. It is dogshit. Dusty works the arm, aimlessly, for ages. JR puts it down to an attempt to eliminate the Torture Rack. Sure, sure. If you want to eliminate the Rack, then work the back. See, it even rhymes! Or hell, the leg even. Just admit they’re killing time. Luger works the back, to set up the Rack, and the crowd pop him calling for it. They know Dusty fucked them in the last match!
Dusty gets the Weaverlock (it’s just a sleeper, don’t get excited) so JJ Dillon nails Johnny Weaver so he can steal the key. But he doesn’t? He just throws a chair into the ring. Dusty just about manages a DDT on it for the win and the title. Urgh. A pointlessly frustrating shit show. A really bad, sluggish match. Dusty at this point was basically useless and booking himself for his own amusement. Luger having to wait around for the DDT, like a chump, is particularly embarrassing.
Ronnie Garvin (c) vs. Ric Flair
Hey, Naitch, there’s a show that needs saving here buddy. Garvin won the belt in September, just so Flair could win it back on the biggest show of the year. The spot, for Garvin, was only ever going to be a placeholder and most workers who were offered the spot turned it down. Knowing it would make them look like a chump in the long run. Rugged Ronnie was 42 at the time though, and figured why not? Get a world title on the resume. He would probably never get another chance.
Garvin’s most convincing work is his chops and seeing as Flair is starting to lean into those in his offence as well, they match up nicely. The crowd chant “Garvin sucks”, which should give you an idea of how well received his title run was with the NWA faithful. The crowd just fire Ronnie up and he starts potatoing the hell out of Flair. Ronnie does a few useless spots like back rakes and the Garvin Stomp. Luckily whenever they feel they’re losing the crowd they just go back to the chops.
Flair starts wooing and THIS IS FLAIR COUNTRY. Flair goes early to the leg and has the Figure Four a long time. Garvin isn’t the best at selling an injured body part, but he does try, and I appreciate his unique stance on pretending to have a sore leg. He sort of ‘wobbles’ when he tries to stand. Flair, while deviating from formula here, does take a load of his trademark spots and eventually gets colour. Garvin seems to struggle to get on the same page. It looks like they have a spot set up, with Garvin up top, but Flair doesn’t see it and just takes his face bump instead, leaving Garvin standing there with his dick metaphorically in his hand.
They end up in the same spot but Garvin hits a high crossbody, instead of the sunset flip that won him the belt. That is the spot that Flair won the title with at Starrcade ‘83. We’ll call it a tribute. Garvin continues to wallop Flair with those chops. Say what you like about Garvin, but he hit like a motherfucker. Hands of Stone! They do a repeat of the set up for the sunset flip, which is how Garvin won the belt, but this time Flair grabs the ropes to block it. The last few minutes of this are HOT. The crowd are so into it. Garvin accidentally flies into the cage and Flair pins him for the win and the title. ***¾. This has a bad rap, but it fucks. Maybe it’s because Flair deviates from his more obvious formula and maybe it’s because Garvin stiffs the hell out of him, but I loved this. Easily MOTN and almost enough to save the show.
The Dusty booking of NWA was starting to show too many cracks at this point. They kept going to the well and the Dusty Finish for the Road Warriors on this show is almost unforgiveable. Why would you even do that? At least Flair won the main event and did so clean as a heel but the fact they couldn’t find a replacement for him was already a concern. Although, Flair was clearly the top guy in the NWA for almost the entire decade. By the NWA’s lofty standards, this isn’t the best of shows. Especially as it’s Starrcade and also going head-to-head with the WWF. This needed to be an unmissable home run of a show and it just isn’t.
More worryingly, for Crockett, is that from an in-ring perspective the WWF put on a better show the same day. That was the thing the NWA had over the WWF in the 1980s; the in-ring was superior. Starrcade also can’t match up to WrestleMania in 1987 thanks to Savage vs. Steamboat. And this is the same year that the NWA debuted War Games! Madness to think they would be sliding so badly behind.