Thursday, November 23, 2017

Starrcade 1983: A Flair For The Gold

1983... the year the Granddaddy of them all was born.

This is my first time watching the inaugural Starrcade. I have seen bits and pieces of it via DVDs and online clips, but never got around to watching the whole thing until I got access to the WWE Network. In fact, a lot of the old NWA stuff is new territory from a bygone era that I was never that widely exposed to.

This is a point worth mentioning because it can certainly color my perceptions of the matches and all that stuff. Another point worth re-iterating when it comes to these musings is that they are just that; random thoughts, brief thoughts, observations, and just general impressions. Don't take this to be some kind of critical review because that's not my intention. (They're labeled MUSINGS, not REVIEWS, which should be very distinct from each other.)

I'm watching this off the Network, which opens the show with a match between the Assassins (two guys in masks) and Rufus Jones and Bugsy McGraw; two guys I've never heard of. Your commentators for this match are the legendary Gordon Solie and Bob Caudle, a name I've heard mentioned numerous times but never actually heard as far as I know. Solie is the deep-voiced sportscaster type who sounds intelligent, while Caudle sounds a bit rambly and incoherent at times. Maybe it's a case of letting Caudle grow on me or something, but I don't know. Maybe he gets better over time or something.

Oh, by the way, the Assassins win the match when one of them rolled up McGraw. Not quite the spectacle of wrestling to open up a card, but wrestlemania opened up with Ricky Steamboat beating the Executioner, so offhand, we're off to an okay start, I guess.

Kevin Sullivan and Mark Lewin defeated Scott McGhee and Johnny Weaver in another ho-hum tag-team match. Two matches in and I finally spot a name I know of in Kevin Sullivan, who I know of through his Dungeon Of Doom stuff years later. Pretty short, pretty straightforward little tag match that I probably would've enjoyed more if I were following the product back in the day, but at the very least, I haven't fallen asleep and some level of interest is still up there, so... that's something, I suppose.

Abdullah the Butcher defeated Carlos Colon in a match that was apparently banned in Puerto Rico and so we're having it here because I guess we needed to fill a spot on the card. Almost three decades later, a match like this would be banned in the US and you'd have to have it in Puerto Rico to fill a spot on one of their cards or something. This was punches, headbutts, a bit of blood, the ref getting beat up, and eventually a Colon figure-four broken up by Abdullah's manager, future WWE spanish announce table occupant Hugo Whatshisface. Hey, you try and care about someone whose sole purpose in life is to seemingly sit at a table destined to be destroyed by WWE Superstars night after night.

By the way, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the occasional bits where some woman I've never heard of is interviewing the local natives and asking who their favorite wrestler is. Spoiler alert: their answer is always going to be Ric Flair.

Oh, and Dusty Rhodes shows up to challenge the winner of tonight's match at some later time.

Bob Orton (a.k.a. Randy's Dad to you younguns, Ace to the rest of use) and Dick Slater defeated Wahoo McDaniel and Mark Youngblood, two guys with Native headdresses. The ring announcer then announces a very special guest... it is Dusty Rhodes, who never shows up during the match... so why mention him other than for a cheap pop? Yes, the show is supposed to be about Ric Flair vs. Harley Race, but god forbid we don't forget to mention the guy who created the Starrcade concept.

Charlie Brown (Jimmy Valiant in a mask, not the popular Peanuts character) defeated NWA Television champion The Great Kabuki (managed by the late Gary Hart) to win the title. The whole Charlier Brown thing is similar to the Mr. America deal in WWE from a decade or so ago; I guess Jimmy Valiant was fired or suspended, so he comes back in a mask under a different name. Problem is it's not hard to tell it's the Boogie Woogie Man under the mask because a mask can only cover so much of your head and not so much your extremely long hair (and beard.) Lots of holds, too slow, too lethargic, way before my time, and even then, just not a good match whatsoever. Pass.

Roddy Piper defeated United States champion Greg Valentine in one of the more famous Dog Collar chain matches in wrestling. This is one of those matches I recall watching from an old compilation tape ages ago and it just blew my mind on multiple levels. It's one of those matches that I make a point NOT to give one too many repeated viewings because I find myself less excited or less involved in a match as I watch more of it. So I haven't seen this match in years and can watch this with a fresh perspective.

It still holds up.

This is a bloody good match and just an outright vicious battle between two guys who hated each other and would do whatever it took to get the win and lay claim to being the better man. There's no pulled punches, there's never a moment where it feels like it's planned out or even dragged out. Each move had a purpose, each blow felt and looked painful, and satisfied those who were looking for blood on the ground and brains on the pavement. Nothing flashy, nothing fancy. This enthralled me throughout the match, I winced with every use of that chain, and... oh man, if you want to watch a wrestling match that blurs that line between real and pretend without resorting to cheap tactics, watch this match because it just sucks you in, you don't question it, you're into it, and it tells a very simple story within that time frame. Great, great match that holds up three plus decades after the fact.

Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood defeated NWA Tag-Team champions Jack and Jerry Brisco to win the titles. Yes, Jerry is known today as Gerald "Stooge" Brisco, but back in the day, we

In our main event, Ric Flair defeated NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race in a steel cage match to win the title. This match has also been featured on a number of DVD compilations (probably on one of the Ric Flair ones if I recall correctly). This match... I didn't enjoy as much as the Dog Collar one; possibly because I knew the end result and also the near forty-minute match time might have done a bit of a number on me, but this was still very good and probably worth watching to see one of Flair's early great moments.

What should've been a good time to close out the show is followed by nearly fifteen minutes of random interviews, recaps, and other assorted bits that feel more like an aftershow recap. I'm sure I missed something important when I tuned out, but considering this is over 34 years old, I don't think it'll kill my overall impressions of the important stuff.

There is a bucket list of events for wrestling fans to watch and Starrcade 83 is on that bucket list. It's always interesting to see the beginnings of one of wrestling's long-lasting traditions from a historical standpoint and certainly any excuse to check out a wrestling show outside your field of interest is very welcoming. Starrcade 83 has a great match in Flair vs. Race, a brutal display of violence in the Piper vs. Valentine dog collar match, and a smooth watch in the tag title match. Those three matches alone make the show worth watching and while the undercard matches didn't hold my interest that along, it was an interesting lookback at an era of wrestling that I have largely been unexposed to.

Does it make me want to follow the rest of the old NWA stuff? Probably not religiously, but it's something that I wouldn't mind digging into every once in a while, so why not?

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