NWA Starrcade ‘86 (11.27.86) review
Night of the Skywalkers
November 27, 1986
We’re in both Greensboro, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia, as Crockett learned nothing from doing the show in two venues last year. 16k in one, 14k in the other, for a total of 30,000 fans. Compare this to WrestleMania III, when they went to one venue and gave the fans a match they wanted on top…and the attendance was slightly different.
Hosts are Bob Caudle & Johnny Weaver in Greensboro and Tony Schiavone & Rick Stewart in Atlanta. Who the fuck is Rick Stewart? The only thing I know about Stewart is he hosted “All Star Wrestling” for Central States. Crockett bought out Central States wrestling and Stewart was part of the commentary team for a while but there’s nothing after Starrcade ‘86. Here today, gone tomorrow.
I was going to watch the build for Starrcade ‘86 but then I remembered the card for it. There’s a scaffold match. The main event was originally going to be Magnum TA vs. Ric Flair for the NWA title and TA was going to win. However, he crashed his Porsche into a telephone pole on October 14, 1986. The main event was gone. Magnum TA would never wrestle again. His place was taken by Nikita Koloff, turned babyface by booker Dusty Rhodes. The glasnost policy of Mikhail Gorbachev had changed American views on Russia and the tradition heel boundaries were breaking down. A babyface Nikita would challenge Flair on Magnum TA’s behalf.
Tim Horner & Nelson Royal vs. Don & Rocky Kernodle
Rocky is Keith Larson, renamed to try and get a rub from Don. It didn’t work and both of them were finished soon after this. Crockett’s expansionism and desire to match the WWF saw guys like this disappear. Horner just about made the cut and ended up in the WWF. I’ve seen more of him in Smoky Mountain Wrestling than anywhere else. Cornette rated him because he’s vanilla. Royal is a couple of tours in AJPW away from retirement. The Horner-Rocky pairing works as they’re both young and ambitious, with similar ideas about changing the biz. Horner ends up reversing a reversal on a roll up for the pin. See what I mean about how they clicked? It’s a shame Keith Larson got binned off, he looked like he could have gotten good. **½
Brad Armstrong vs. Jimmy Garvin
This is our first match from Hotlanta and the scaffold is already up, casting a spectre of doom over the ring. I do not like Jimmy Garvin. This is my first time seeing Brad on this odyssey. The son of Bullet Bob, he’s the first of the clan to appear. They tried like hell to get Brad over. He was Badstreet. He was Arachnaman. He’s the kind of wrestler who is technically proficient but never got over. Referee here is Scrappy McGowan, who has an amazing Prince Valiant blonde bob.
Look at that luscious referee mane! Another bonus here is the commentary, which just stops when nothing is happening. Rick Stewart a clear believer in minimalism. I don’t know if that’s what got him canned but the duo barely talk. It’s fantastic. The ‘no dead air’ constant yapping of modern commentators is offensive. You’ve got nothing to say? Then say nothing. Let the match breathe. The match is long, 15:00 draw, and most of it is hair pulling, tights pulling and Precious distracting to allow it to happen. They don’t sit there doing nothing but also, the match is very basic. It gets a bit spicy towards the finish, with them going through the gears but we hit the 15:00 and get out of here. Crowd enjoyed this and Brad Armstrong definitely gained popularity from the whole thing. Call it a win but they could have gotten the same reactions in half the time.
Barbarian & Shaska Whatley vs. Baron von Raschke & Hector Guerrero
What the hell are these teams? Von Raschke has turned face, having teamed with Shaska until turning on Paul Jones on TV about a month ago. That still doesn’t explain what everyone else is doing here. Hector is a decent wrestler but when you look at him, all you can see is a less good Eddie due to the similarities between the two. Hector hits a fucking slingshot crossbody (the old ‘pescado’) and the crowd loses their minds. It’s funny how it went from this incredible high spot to a house show dive. Von Raschke gets a hot tag after Hector basically works the entire match. The Claw is broken up, so Von Raschke just wins with an elbow drop. Revenge, complete!
NWA United States Tag Team Championship
Ivan Koloff & Krusher Kruschev (c) vs. Kansas Jayhawks (Dutch Mantel & Bobby Jaggers)
With Nikita having turned babyface, we’ve got this goddamn pairing. Can Ivan carry Darsow?
Babyface Dutch Mantel doesn’t compute. Also, the rest of the Russians have not embraced the spirit of glasnost. This is no DQ, but everyone keeps on tagging like it’s a normal match. I hate that. If there’s no DQ, then just pile in there and fuck each other up. Where’s the logic? Far from me to criticise the refereeing performance of a man named Scrappy. At one point Jaggers tries to just jump in there and Scrappy, fuckin’ SCRAPPY, stops him. Just let them go, Scrappy, ffs! Tony Schiavone is critical of Jaggers for not understanding the stipulation. Drag him Tony! They finally start to use the stipulation and Ivan waffles Jaggers with his chain for the pin. This was an enormously frustrating match to sit through. It’s stupid they didn’t figure out the rules until the finish.
Indian Strap Match
Wahoo McDaniel vs. Rick Rude
Jesus, no wonder Rude jumped to the WWF. The biggest show of the year and Rude, one of the territories highest potential heels, is in with Wahoo. It feels like Wahoo does this same match with everyone. This might be the last time we see Wahoo in JCP as he joined AWA in 1987 and stayed there for four years. The Injun gimmicks of the 1970s were dying a death in the late 80s. Cowboys and Indians was just ceasing to be part of the national identity in the 80s. Both guys bleed here and Rude does a lot of overblown selling. To be fair to Rude, he tries hard to get this over, but the match structure limits him. Paul Jones tries to jump on the apron but Wahoo chops him off and Rude attacks from behind to send Wahoo into the winning fourth buckle. Meh. Bleeding and goofy finishes, the Wahoo McDaniel 1986 Story.
Central States Championship
Sam Houston (c) vs. Bill Dundee
NWA Central States got absorbed into Crockett promotions in 1986. Hence Rick Stewart on commentary. So, we have this mid-title on the show. This is the last of the undercard crap before the actual top end of the card kicks in.
Bill has this awesome sparkly ring jacket. Dundee did great things in Memphis but always seemed out of place when he wrestled elsewhere. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this so far about Houston, but he’s Jake Roberts’ half-brother and he married Baby Doll in 1986. He’s also on his way to WWF in 1987. Jesus, they just signed everyone! Houston was a persistent drunk driver and party animal. It’s hard to feel sympathy for the way his career collapsed. Dundee controls this match, which allows Houston to get flurries of comebacks. The crowd is dead for the first time all night. I’m into the match until a horrible ref bump. Dundee pulls Houston’s boot off and whacks him with it but Scrappy sees it, despite being bumped, and calls a DQ. The finish killed this for me. It was a decent match beforehand but the dead crowd didn’t help.
Hair vs Hair
Paul Jones vs. Jimmy Valiant
This is a re-match from earlier in the year when Valiant lost his hair. Valiant’s hair is not on the line here but rather Valiant’s valet “Big Mama”. Big Mama has some delicious looking hair, so that would be a travesty. Manny Fernandez is in Jones’ corner, which seems unfair but it’s ok, because they put him in a shark cage and suspend him over the ring. Valiant gets busted open early, although Jones completely misses his head with the foreign object that causes it. Valiant steals the object, bashes Jones with it and gets the pin. Big Mama’s hair is saved!
Valiant is straight on Jones and shaves him bald in a matter of seconds.
They let Manny out of the cage, and he destroys Valiant. Rude is out here too and they DDT Valiant on a chair. Big Mama is distraught.
“Way to go, Big Mama” yells someone at ringside. Yes, friend! The theatre of the hair match was in evidence here. Jones embarrassed, Valiant busted open and left lying, Big Mama bringing the acting. It’s all good.
Video Control takes us to Nelson Royal, who explains the rules of the Bunkhouse Stampede and the origins of it. He claims if a bunch of guys were rooming in a bunkhouse and there was a disagreement, they’d all go outsight and fight until there was only one man left standing. We also get a shill for the 1987 Jim Crockett Sr Memorial Cup. I’ll be reviewing that.
Louisville Street Fight
Ronnie Garvin vs. Big Bubba Rogers
Bubba aka the Big Boss Man debuted late in 1985 as a jobber but JCP saw something in him, took him off TV and repackaged him as Big Bubba.
A gigantic terrifying man, who became Jim Cornette’s bodyguard. He’s only 23 years old. He has that angelic babyface he’s trying to hide behind a beard. He was originally a corrections officer in Cobb County, Georgia. A prison guard, in plain English. Bubba is one of the great big men wrestlers because he’s scary to look at but he can also take spots and bump around. He is fairly green here, still in his first year as a worker, but he already looks special. A guy of his size and mobility is unheard of at this point. His selling leaves a bit to be desired. He walks around the ring in a daze. Garvin has it won with a piledriver but Cornette whacks Ronnie in the back of the head with his tennis racket. Tommy Young counts them both out but then declares the first man to his feet is the winner. Garvin beats the count but Cornette hits him again and Bubba gets the win. Cornette really earned his pay here! ***¼. A legitimately good contest with Bubba looking like a star in the making.
Apparently, this is where Jim Cornette hurt his knee. He slipped off the apron after hitting Garvin with the tennis racket. That tore his ACL. Then he fell off the scaffold later in the evening and that properly fucked it up.
First Blood Match
NWA TV Championship
Dusty Rhodes (c) vs. Tully Blanchard
First Blood merely serves as a way for Dusty to lose this belt, one he didn’t need at all, without losing.
Dusty has shaved his head at the sides and written “Tully” on there. I don’t know what that signifies? If anything, it means Tully is in his head. This is all antics, zero action. Tully tries to wear amateur headgear, but Earl Hebner makes him take it off. JJ’s next gambit is covering Tully’s face in Vaseline but Earl rubs that off too. JJ and Dusty get into it and Rhodes elbows Dillon, busting him open. The idea being that Dusty’s elbow strike is enough to open someone up.
Which creates an easy story of Tully fearing taking one of those elbows. Both guys cover up and run from each other. Dusty throws all of this psychology away by randomly working the leg. First Blood match Big Dust, not first knee bar match. They work in a dumb ref bump to allow Dusty to open Tully up with JJ Dillon’s shoe. Earl is still down so JJ towels Blanchard’s blood off and Tully socks Dusty with a roll of quarters to bust him open and, of course, Earl sees this immediately and awards the match to Tully. Dusty, a big petulant baby who’s been outsmarted, throws a tantrum after the match. **½. The psychology was fascinating, and the finish is one of the most interesting things about the match. JJ Dillon earning his coin both through support of Tully and by selling the gimmick of the match and Dusty’s strikes. I liked this quite a bit but also got annoyed that Dusty gave himself so much to work with here and yet his booked finishes of title matches elsewhere were lazy and stupid by comparison. It just made me mad at the whole era. Look at tonight’s main event for a prime example.
Road Warriors vs. Midnight Express
The “Skywalkers” match is a scaffold match. Scaffold matches are fucking shit. The whole point of them is that some poor bastard gets thrown off and probably injured. That’s the only way to win the match. It’s stupid. While certain matches (ladder, TLC, Hell in a Cell) can include sick bumps, they’re not necessary. They are in this. There’s no escaping it.
They can’t do anything on the scaffold because there’s no space. The best you can hope for is tentative brawling and they can’t even do that because no one can move around. The space is just too small. It does freak a lot of people out watching it but fuck me, it’s a dreadful match.
Bobby Eaton tries his best to make things interesting but it’s just frightening to watch. It’s so high up. They bail on it to hang to the underside and both heels bump, relatively safely, into the ring. Then the really dumb part, where Jim Cornette gets chased up onto the scaffold. He drops off but Bubba, who was supposed to catch him, is nowhere near him and Cornette fucks up his knee. “My knee, my right knee”. The ACL was torn in his right knee and his left knee wasn’t much better. Cornette’s knee is still fucked. And that’s why this match, friends, is fucking stupid. Sure, they drew a big house, but they would have done anyway. This was dumb and exploitative. Putting people’s wellbeing at risk for no good reason. Also, the action in this was terrible because they couldn’t do anything! DUD
Tony stops off to shill the Great American Bash ‘87. In 1987, they’re doing 27 nights of the Great American Bash tour. 27!!! In 1988, they extended it to 39 dates! The common sense of having a tour and one big PPV show only started in 1989.
NWA Tag Team Championship
Rock n’ Roll Express (c) vs. Minnesota Wrecking Crew
This is the Greensboro main event. RNR beat the Midnights in August to claim the straps. The Anderson’s are here to upset that apple cart. Due to the Flair association, the Anderson’s are always mega over but it does help that they’re also masters of the heel domination tactic. Arn is also game for putting over RNR’s opening shine. Gibson gets picked off, as per, but the hot tag to Morton is short lived as Ole runs Ricky right into the cage.
Ricky proceeds to get the piss beaten out of him. Morton is so good at saying “no” when he’s in a hold and just dragging the crowd into the action. The loud shrill noise that greets every hint of a comeback is wonderful. They beat the hell out of Ricky Morton here. It’s sensational. Just when you think it’s over and he’s going to catch a break, he’s face first into the cage again. The way he keeps the fans waiting for that tag is masterful, from everyone.
The problem with formula is it became so cliché and predictable that fans recognised it as formula and got tired of it. The reaction was so severe that it almost killed tag team wrestling completely in the 1990s. At this point, the crowd is still invested in it.
The finish here is Ole going to slam Morton and Gibson dropkicking him over for the pin. I don’t like formula as much as some people and I don’t like this match as much as some people do. However, I am willing to agree that RNR were one of the best teams to ever run formula as the babyfaces and the Anderson’s were a cracking heel team to go against. ***½
Video Control gives us a music video dedicated to Magnum TA. Ah, what could have been. For those who never got to see Magnum TA; he was the perfect mixture of vulnerability, strength, manliness, showmanship and pure talent. If he’d have stayed healthy he could have not only gone on to be NWA champion, that was a given at this point, but he’d have been around during the Attitude Era. Who knows where he’d have slotted into that? He was 27 years old in 1986. When the next boom hit, he’d have been a surly veteran.
NWA World Championship
Ric Flair (c) vs. Nikita Koloff
I watched all those Magnum TA matches, which were leading to this show, and he goes and ends his career the month beforehand. Very inconsiderate, if you ask me. I can’t help but wonder what could have been as Flair vs. TA had been getting steadily better. Instead, we get a freshly babyface Nikita Koloff in the biggest match of his life.
I love this picture. Koloff is all steely eyed and determined to not like Flair psyche him out. Flair looks borderline bored. He’s very relaxed and expects to have no issues defending now he’s dodged that TA bullet. The storyline starts there and becomes Koloff’s power versus Flair’s cunning. This is really the start of Flair Formula, where he’d just plug the dude into his match and it’d be great. Prior to this everything felt more collaborative, but Koloff just doesn’t have the experience to do anything beyond follow Ric’s lead.
Despite showing improvement, Koloff is still clunky, and the match works best when Koloff completely no sells everything. Flair eventually finds the chink in Koloff’s armour, by going after the knee. Koloff’s knee isn’t as jacked as the rest of him. Koloff’s selling is very silly though. He’s also not very good at blading and you can see him pull his blade out, not to mention the cutting taking place on camera. Flair’s bladejob is also obvious but at least you can’t see him taking the blade from his wrist tape.
They work in a Tommy Young ref bump to give Nikita the visual pin. Scrappy McGowan replaces Tommy, and Koloff accidentally batters him. Tommy Young tries to restore law and order and can’t so it’s a DQ. BOOOO! What a shitty finish. ***½
If we’re reaching for positives, the wrestling is better here than at WrestleMania 2. So, if we’re doing a ‘who had the better big show in 1986’ then it’s Jim Crockett Promotions. However, it’s a disappointing Starrcade. Tully feels wasted in that Dusty Rhodes match. The last gasp substitution of Koloff for Magnum turns the main event into a disappointment. I hate the scaffold match. I’m not at the top end on either of the main events.
1986 is such a weird year because the wrestling storylines are red hot all over the place but not a single big show delivers in any satisfying or meaningful way. When I have to pick ‘best big show’ for the 1986 Awards, I will struggle. Starrcade is probably in the running, which says more about the poor nature of 1986 big cards than it does about the success of this show.