Starrcade 1988: Luger And Flair Have A Masterpiece And An Amazing Feel Good Moment

Starrcade 1988
Date: December 26, 1988
Location: Norfolk Scope, Norfolk, Virginia
Attendance: 10,000
Commentators: Jim Ross, Bob Caudle

We’re firmly in the Horsemen era here with the main event being Luger vs. Flair for the title in what is considered their best match of their seemingly never ending series. There’s an interesting story to that which I’ll get to at the end of the review. Since this is NWA time there are only seven matches and 6 of them get over ten minutes and 5 of them get over 15 minutes.

That was one thing you could count on in this era: nice long matches. The only other thing you need to know about here is the Varsity Club, a group of guys that were “amateur stars” (most of them were but not all of them. Picture a Jack Swagger stable) who are the upper midcard heel group. They’re around a lot here. Let’s get to it.

Kevin Sullivan and Mike Rotunda (members of the Varsity Club) say they’ll beat Rick Steiner (former member of the Club) and Rotunda will keep the TV Title. Rotunda cannot talk that well. Oh this is actually part of the preshow.

Steiner apparently got electrocuted and can’t remember how to talk that well. Yeah this was a weird time. He has a face painted on his hand named Alex. Ok every gimmick can’t be a Horseman. This show is on a Monday actually, but the Sunday was Christmas Day so the thinking is correct here I guess.

Standing highlight package of the matches tonight opens us up, with the highlight being Dusty, who had his eye stabbed by the heel turning Road Warriors, says “make sure you take both eyes, both limbs, both hearts, both ears etc.” See an issue there?

Tony Schiavone is the host and has a true porn stache going on. Magnum TA is with him and isn’t even 30 years old at this point. Such a shame.

US Tag Titles: Varsity Club vs. Fantastics

Kevin Sullivan and Steve Williams here. Williams is an absolute monster who is far more famous in Japan than he is here. Sullivan is listed as being from Singapore. Ok then. Rogers and Fulton (the Fantastics) are an incredibly underrated team as this era was dominated by teams like the Road Warriors, the Horsemen, the Rock N Roll Express and the Midnight Express. This is a shame as they really were good.

Sullivan and Fulton start us off and Fulton hits a Thesz Press off the top for a fast two. Williams comes in and things slow way down. And Jason Hervey is here to just tick me off. Why did he have to ALWAYS get some quick camera time? The champions use their speed and tandem offense to work on Williams’ arm. Nice double monkey flip by the champions but Fulton gets caught in a gorilla press where Williams literally throws Fulton in the air about 6 times in a row. He had SCARY power.

Williams is 27 here which is scary. Fulton gets a headlock on him and Williams is just like screw that and hits a suplex to counter. He’s almost the Brock Lesnar of his era actually. Sullivan comes back in to give the champions a chance. Williams comes back in and just ends the Fantastics before tagging back out. Ok so he didn’t as Sullivan was just being a jerk.

Rogers gets a sunset flip for two on Williams and that’s about it. Back to Fulton who locks in a big old bearhug that the heel has to resort to the thumb to the eye to get out of. Both guys tag but the face one isn’t seen. Who cares about that though? We go from five minutes gone by to ten in less than 4 minutes so I’m betting on a clip in there somewhere. Actually it’s been about 10 minutes since the match started so maybe the five minute call was late.

Sullivan misses something from the top and Williams is tagged and just MAULS Rogers. This guy is awesome. The heels are tagging incredibly fast in this match. In about 12 minutes we’ve seen at least 8 or 9 tags from them so far which is a tonw hen you think about it. It’s also a ton when you don’t think about it but you get what I mean. Rogers gets a dropkick to send Williams reeling but Sullivan stops the tag.

A pair of double stomps to the ribs of Rogers gets two. Rogers jumps over Sullivan to get the tag to Fulton. We hit fifteen minutes (the ring announcer says this and I figure it helps give an idea of how much we’ve gotten through) and the champions both get sleepers on. Fulton goes for the Thesz Press but Williams catches him in a Hot Shot for the pin and the titles.

Rating: B-. Good match here with Williams being shown off as an absolute ANIMAL. The Fantastics, who were a very good if not great tag team had nothing to stop him with and lost the titles because of him. Sullivan might as well have been a ham and bacon sandwich on the side here as it was so much a one man team out there. Nice opener and the fans seemed into it.

Tony and Magnum run down the rest of the card and we get their predictions.

Midnight Express vs. Midnight Express

No that’s not a typo. Over the years there have been a LOT of people in the Midnight Express but originally they were a tag team comprised of Randy Rose and Dennis Condrey. This evolved into a team of Condrey and Bobby Eaton. In one of the strangest stories in wrestling history, Condrey disappeared for a year. I don’t mean storyline disappeared. I mean no one from his boss to his friends to his wife knew where he was for 12 months. Then one day he popped up in the AWA and reformed the original Midnight Express with Rose. To this day he’s never explained what happened.

Anyway, Eaton had gotten a new partner, Stan Lane, and made the new Midnight Express. Rose and Condrey came to the NWA to jump the new Express during a squash. Their manager: Paul E. Dangerously (Heyman). The new team is managed by longtime manager Jim Cornette and amazingly are faces which is very rare for them. They jump the originals (remember: Rose and Condrey are the originals and Lane and Eaton are the new ones in case you get confused) and clear the ring to start us off. This should be awesome.

Cornette wants Dangerously and of course grabs the mic to say he wants him. Oh hey let’s introduce the teams. Both teams are billed from the Dark Side which is kind of awesome. The new guys clear the ring one more time just to get their point across. Cornette is WAY fired up here. He points at Heyman and dances like a chicken. The fans are eating this up to put it mildly.

Rose and Lane start us off. Rose goes to the floor and Cornette BLASTS him with the tennis racket. He’s absolutely stealing the show here. Teddy Long is the referee and has hair. We FINALLY get the regular stuff going and it’s all new guys. Cornette pops Rose with the racket one more time and the fans are eating it up. Heyman, in his pink shirt, is losing his mind.

Lane comes in and throws his kicks which were always awesome. The originals haven’t been on offense whatsoever here. Condrey gets in like four punches and then gets his head kicked some more. Rose gets in a bit of offense and so much for that. Even jobbers get better offense in than this. Caudle is having audio difficulties. The heels FINALLY take over on Eaton.

Dangerously sneaks in a shot and Cornette SPRINTS after him in a funny bit. We hit the chinlock and get a Bear Bryant reference of all things. Heel dominance ensues for awhile as this is pure 80s formula stuff. While that sounds bad, given the people in there, as in the teams that partially invented it, this is solid stuff. Rocket Launcher misses and Cornette is “tapping like a drunk man”. We hit fifteen minutes and Lane gets the hot tag to a nice pop.

Enziguri puts Condrey down but Heyman gets a shot with his phone. Cornette FINALLY gets his hands on Heyman and lands a decent punch on him. Condrey goes for the cover but Long sees the phone and won’t count it. Lane gets behind Rose and Eaton hits a clothesline (Ross shouts DOUBLE GOOZLE, which is a nickname for a chokeslam and makes no sense at all) to send Rose over Lane for the pin.

Rating: B. More solid tag stuff here with the fans loving all of it. This feud would continue until Condrey just left and Rose was fired also because no one cared about him without Condrey. This was a solid match as expected with classic 80s tag wrestling at its finest. Why would I have expected anything different? Fun stuff and a very good match.

Post match the originals beat up everyone, mainly Cornette. Eaton gets up and gets the racket for the save. Crowd was INSANE for this whole thing.

Magnum talks to the new US Champions and points out the obvious: Williams made the difference. The Club complains about Steiner for later.

Russian Assassins vs. Junkyard Dog/Ivan Koloff

Well you knew it couldn’t be good the whole time. Also notice the INSANE emphasis on tag wrestling with a total of four out of seven matches here being tag matches. The Assassins are just numbered 1 and 2 with 2 being ECW’s Jack Victory. If the non Russians win then Paul Jones, their manager, has to leave the NWA. Koloff is only famous for stopping Sammartino’s legendary world title reign that lasted over seven years.

No real way to tell the Assassins apart so I’m not going to really try to. Dog with a cradle gets zero to start. Ah ok that’s #1 in there. #2 appears to be fatter. That helps a little. Ah and the other stipulation is that the Russians have to unmask. Is there any benefit for them winning here? Koloff sends #2 in and grabs him by the throat to take him down in what could be called the chokeslam’s half uncle by marriage once removed I guess.

Clothesline from the middle rope puts #2 down. Ah apparently that was a Russian Sickle. How could I be so stupid? He curled his arm up slightly. The Dog comes in to cheers so loud you can barely understand the audio. For the life of me I’ve never gotten his appeal. The heels take over on JYD and one of them kicks him in his boneyard. Some double team move misses and both guys are down.

Ivan vs. #1 now. Jones is on the apron and the heels are slammed into each other. Big old brawl now that is boring. There’s the Sickle again which of course is a clothesline but one of the Assassins puts something in his mask and rams his head into Ivan’s for the pin.

Rating: D. Well at least it was short. Total nothing match here with nothing special about it. Other than the JYD’s hot tag there was nothing the crowd got into at all. With that many stipulations in there it was very unlikely for the faces to win which was expected too. This more or less went nowhere at all and had one good thing going for it: it’s the match on the show that didn’t break 10 minutes.

Jim and Bob talk about the show so far for any viewers that missed the first third of the show I suppose.

TV Title: Mike Rotunda vs. Rick Steiner

This is a big old grudge match. Sullivan is in the cage above the ring. Rotunda has held the title for about a year now and is considered to be unbeatable in 20 minutes, which is the max a TV Title match can go. Steiner was thrown out of the Varsity Club where he was more or less considered too stupid to mean anything. They treated him as their lackey for months until he went nuts and hit one of the best belly to belly suplexes ever to just kill Rotunda. He would bring in some dude named Scott to help him in this war. Pretty sure they never went anywhere.

They slug it out early on and Rotunda is out of his game there so he hits the floor. Steiner goes off with some basic wrestling moves and Rotunda has nothing. Long headlock sequence follows with Rick dominating. Rick has dedicated this match to his mother. I think we know what’s coming here. All Steiner so far as Rotunda runs and hides. He keeps pulling Rick’s hair to no avail. We go to the mat and once again Rick controls.

Rick bites his tights in a hammerlock just to be funny I guess. The next PPV is in February. What’s it called? Where is it? Who cares apparently. Rotunda FINALLY gets a suplex to….never mind he’s back on defense already. We’re over seven minutes into this and Rotunda has hit a total of a suplex, a headlock and a drop toehold. He hits the floor to stall and nothing of note is going on here.

The crowd thinks Syracuse (Rotunda’s school) sucks. Steiner goes for a big old clothesline but hits the floor at the ten minute mark. Rotunda gets a long chinlock and uses the ropes to cheat, drawing solid heat. Little things like those can go a long way. And we have no commentary now. After a brief Steiner comeback we hit that chinlock again. Sunset flip a few seconds later gets two.

We hit the fifteen minute mark meaning there are five to go, drawing loud boos. Rick starts the comeback with a Steinerline. Ah there’s Ross again. Steiner beats the heck out of Rotunda and here comes Steve Williams. Belly to belly connects but Williams rings the bell. Teddy Long thinks the time is up but here comes senior referee Tommy Young because Rotunda has done this to steal a win before.

The referees talk and Sullivan is let down. He argues with Young and Rotunda punches Steiner. Steiner shoves Rotunda into Sullivan and they bang heads. Steiner jumps on Rotunda and both referees count three to absolutely blow the roof off the place. This would be like Virgil beating DiBiase as Steiner FINALLY shuts up Rotunda and beats him at his own game after being told he was too stupid to do anything right. Steiner’s celebration is awesome beyond belief. Look it up as it’s incredible.

Rating: C-. Match was pretty meh but the ending is just straight up awesome. Steiner would lose the title back in February but this was the moment that EVERYONE wanted to see and they delivered perfectly on it as Steiner had him twice and actually got the pin on the second time. Just an awesome moment that is reminiscent of Foley winning the title. I loved this and it worked very well.

Tony and Magnum talk some more.

US Title: Barry Windham vs. Bam Bam Bigelow

Windham is champion and a Horseman. Bigelow had left WWF shortly after Mania so he’s wildly popular here. Bigelow shoves him around to start and is just MAD over. He gets Windham in a Fireman’s Carry and drops to his knees for a modified gutbuster. This is back when Bigelow could still go very well and Windham was one of the best in the world so this is far better than it sounds.

We get into a power match and Bigelow starts no selling shots. BIG old gorilla press and Windham is rocked. The fans are really into Bigelow here, even at a rate that surprises me. He gets a dropkick that sends Windham to the floor, making JJ want a DQ. See that’s what a manager is supposed to do. He did something so simple like that but it got heat on both him and his man and at the same time didn’t take anything away from the match because Barry was still down. It also keeps the fans from being taken out of the match by giving them a little something to tide them over. It’s so simple yet so effective.

Windham makes a small comeback and thrown Bigelow to the floor, hurting the big man’s knee. We hit the ten minute mark and it’s a back and forth match. Bigelow hits the slingshot splash, one of his finishers, and lets Windham up. He goes up top and misses the splash completely. Windham takes his head off with a BIG old lariat and Bigelow is in trouble.

Very nice belly to back suplex takes Bigelow down again. Dillon wants the Claw (Windham’s finisher) and there it is. After that is broken by the ropes we get a slam by the champion at the 15 minute mark. Windham misses a top rope elbow and the fans are WAY into this. Bigelow makes his big overblown comeback with the big wild swings. Bigelow goes for a back drop over the top but his knee gives out and we’re both on the floor. Windham sends him into the post and it’s a countout.

Rating: B-. FAR better than I expected here with a white hot crowd. Bigelow could go back in the day and this was no exception. This was a solid match and the countout finish is probably the only thing holding it down. The match isn’t a classic or anything but it’s a lot of fun with Bigelow being over dramatic about everything (in a good way mind you) and Windham being himself. Solid and fun match.

Steiner talks about winning the TV Title and is very confused about a lot of things. He was still a comedy character at the time but a very lovable one. Magnum says a lot of people are going to be coming after Steiner for the title and Rick seems shocked by this idea. After almost freaking out over the concept that people will be coming after his title, Rick calms down instantly and says “eh I’ll beat them.” Much funnier than it sounds.

World Tag Titles: Sting/Dusty Rhodes vs. Road Warriors

BIG blood feud here. The Warriors turned heel and destroyed both of these guys recently (prompting Dusty to botch a blade job and nearly cut his head off, getting fired) before winning the tag titles for the first time ever in a glorified squash over the Midnight Express. The problem was they were so insanely popular and such tough guys that they were turned face again anyway, much like Orton recently.

It’s weird seeing no name graphics for these guys. Something you just get used to in the modern product I guess. Ok so the Road Warriors get them but not the challengers. Ok then. They’re called the Legion of Doom: the Road Warriors here, which is a common thing back in the 80s. Sting and Animal start us off. Dusty is allegedly a power guy. What power? The power of hunger? Sting goes after Animal’s arm and Dusty gets a nice pop when he comes in.

Ah the soon to be named Chi-Town Rumble has a date now. Rhodes’ fat is a sight to behold, although certainly not in a positive way. Hawk in now and he just beats Sting up to a solid pop, doing what we would call stomping a mudhole. It’s weird seeing Sting treated like a jobber like this. A gorilla press into a hot shot is no sold which is weird indeed but it sets up a HUGE dive from the top to the aisle onto Animal. That was SWEET.

Five minutes in now. Dusty of course, rather than going after the arm that Sting spent three minutes working on, goes for the knee because he’s a fat slob that WILL use his stupid figure four. Test of strength between Hawk and Dusty but Dusty suckers him in and of course, goes for the figure four. Hawk wants the eye that he almost put out of Dusty because he’s EVIL.

Dusty starts his fat man dancing stuff as I wonder what Dashing Cody Rhodes would think of his fatness. Dusty goes for a “dropkick” and does indeed drop when he tries it. Dusty plays Ricky Morton in a weird bit and we get a sleeper. Hot tag to Sting and house is rapidly cleaned. Scorpion on Animal but Hawk kicks him in the head. He sends Sting over the top and I can see the finish coming. Top rope cross body by Sting but Ellering pulls the referee out for the DQ.

Rating: C-. Pretty boring match here but the crowd helped it out a lot. These were four very popular guys and that aspect carried the match. Dusty was gone soon thereafter due to his initial booking of the main event and the blade job, sending him into polka dot world. This was a basic super team tag match that didn’t go anywhere but I’ve seen far worse ones.

NWA World Title: Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger

If Flair gets disqualified he loses the title. Ok before I get into this match, here’s the original booking for this show. The idea was to have the Varsity Club jump Luger before the show and injure him. Luger would give his title shot to Rick Steiner of all people, because you know, wrestlers can decide title shots at the biggest show of the year. Steiner would proceed to beat Flair to win the world title IN FIVE MINUTES. Imagine say Eric Young beating AJ Styles in five minutes for the world title completely clean. This match goes over 30 minutes and is borderline classic, so it’s pretty clear that Flair, the new booker, got it right. His next idea was to sign this guy named Steamboat. I think you know the rest.

Luger is the insanely popular young gun and Flair is the evil veteran. You can’t beat that really. It didn’t hurt that other than Sting, Luger might have had the best chemistry with Flair in big matches. Luger has dropped a few pounds for speed and endurance. We get a WOO to start and Flair plays mind games. Flair starts the chops and Luger just drills him with a clothesline to send him to the floor.

Lou Thesz is here. In a surprising spot, Luger gets knocked down by a shoulder block. Gorilla press sends Flair to the floor and another one has Flair in trouble. Luger works on the back which makes sense here as his finisher is a backbreaker. Five minutes in and Luger controls firmly. Luger works on the arm and is apparently hard as a rock at this point for some reason. Chop is no sold and Flair runs.

Flair Flop as Luger has shifted to the arm. He’s working on it for awhile at least though so I can’t complain as much. Flair taps but it doesn’t mean anything for about another 5 or 6 years. The eternally awesome thumb to the eye takes Luger down though and Flair goes into his routine. The chops just tick Luger off though and Luger chases him to the floor where he works on the arm by wrapping it around the railing.

Ten minute mark now. Delayed vertical suplex and Flair is rocked. Luger’s big elbow misses though as it tended to do every single time. We hit the floor with Flair in control for a change. Flair and Young (referee) get into it in the ring which was always a semi-feud which was rather cool. Fifteen minutes in and Flair is finally waking up a bit. Big knee drop “hits” Luger. That move was one of the moves that clearly missed more often than ever before.

The chops tick Luger off once again and here we go again. Flair keeps chopping like an idiot and gets caught in a sleeper to a ROAR. Flair escapes with a belly to back and goes up top. Rather than your typical slam off there he gets a suplex instead for two. And now Luger puts Flair in the figure four just to mess with his mind even though he’s worked on Flair arm and back the whole time so this is really just to be a jerk. We hit 20 minutes.

Luger accidentally hits Young and Flair fires him over the top which should give Luger the title. Luger comes back with a cross body of all things off the top for two because JJ had the referee. Ten punches in the corner and Luger takes over. Another suplex and Luger calls for the Rack. More softening up first and NOW we set for the Rack. JJ distracts the referee though and Flair gets a chair shot into the knee of Luger.

Flair goes for the knee and we get to see some of Luger’s awesome selling. This is the part where both guys are basically awesome. Twenty five minutes in now. Figure Four goes on (the wrong leg of course as was Flair’s trademark) and Luger begins his best orgasm impression. The fans get way behind Luger which is saying a lot as we’re in Flair country here. Luger Hulks Up and shows off his arms which are supposed to scare Flair I guess.

Reversal and the hold is broken. More knee work and Flair goes up again. There’s the slam and Flair is rocked again. It’s Superman comeback time and here comes Luger. Sunset flip gets two. Luger’s selling of the knee is awesome here. We hit the thirty minute mark and a clothesline gets two for the challenger. Crisp powerslam hits and Luger calls for the Rack. There is finally is but Luger’s knee buckles underneath him and Flair falls on top, throwing his feet on the rope for the pin.

Rating: A. This was a GREAT match with both guys controlling for long periods of time. These two were always good for a very solid match and this was no exception. Flair was great here as the heel that simply would not lose while Luger played the Superman role perfectly. The knee being the deciding factor in the end was a very nice touch as no matter how hard he tried Luger just couldn’t get to the finish line. Excellent match with a very good story being told and well worthy of a major show’s main event.

The announcers all talk about the match and how awesome Flair is. They talk about how great Luger is and how great he could wind up being and he’s right. We can hear the announcer talking about a Bunkhouse Stampede Battle Royal which was a dark match won by Junkyard Dog.

Magnum is with Flair. I wonder if he’s thinking that belt should be mine. Flair goes on a long rant about how awesome he is but is drowned out by the announcement for the battle royal. That was Luger’s LAST shot of course.

Tony talks about how great the NWA is as we fill in time. Literally he says stuff and then Ross and Caudle just say how great the company is. A highlight package ends the show.

Overall Rating: B+. Rather good show here with everything working rather well. There’s only about one bad match on the whole show and it’s like 7 minutes long. The main event is well worth seeing and the crowd is a traditional white hot NWA 80s crowd. This is completely different from the stuff you would be seeing in WWF at the time and really does work as an alternative to it. I had a good time with this show, but unfortunately it’s the last good Starrcade in the traditional sense for a LONG time.


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1 comment

  1. I was always a WWF guy growing up but this period (1988-1989) in NWA/WCW was what made me give the other promotion a chance and realize how great they were. They were stacked with so much talent during those two years and we got plenty of off the chart matches.