Written By: Matt Peddycord
NWA Starrcade ’88: True Gritt
December 26, 1988
Your hosts are Jim Ross and Bob Caudle!
NWA U.S. Tag Team Champions The Fantastics vs. “Dr. Death” Steve Williams & Kevin Sullivan
The Fantastics had won their second and final NWA U.S. tag team championship in a tournament finals match three weeks earlier at the Clash IV over Eddie Gilbert and Ron Simmons, but now they have to contend with the heelish Varsity Club. It’s your basic speed vs. power match. Sullivan tries to wear out Fulton to start, but he breaks free and hits a middle-rope Thesz press for two. That allows the Fantastics to tag in and out while keeping Sullivan in their corner. Sullivan backs Fulton into his corner and tags in Doc, but Fulton rolls past the heels. The Fantastics take control of Doc’s arm and work on that for a bit, until Doc shoves Fulton off a monkey flip in the corner. Fulton ducks a clothesline, but then runs into a military press slam. They cut to Fulton thumbing his way out of a bearhug from Williams and tagging in Rogers. Sullivan tags in and catches Rogers coming in with a boot to the face. Sullivan heads up top, but Rogers is there to slam him down. Rogers attempts a top-rope splash, but Sullivan gets his FEET up to block it! Doc tags in and does some damage on Rogers, but then tags Sullivan back in for a clothesline for two. Rogers fights up out of a chinlock, but Sullivan quickly catches him with a knee in the gut. Hotshot by Doc gets two. Rogers elbows out of another chinlock, but then dropkicks Doc right into his own corner for an easy tag to Sullivan. He runs in and cuts off the tag to Fulton and delivers two DOUBLE-STOMPS for a near-fall. Rogers counters a suplex into one of his own, leaps over Sullivan, and makes the HOT tag to Fulton. Ten-count corner punch on Doc! He tries to counter with an atomic drop, but Fulton slips away and nails him with a clothesline. Fulton goes for another Thesz Press, but Doc catches him for a hotshot for 1-2-3! We’ve got new champs. (9:50/15:50 shown) Well, it looked pretty good. All I can rate is what I saw though. This was basically curtains for the Fantastics. **½
The Original Midnight Express (w/Paul E. Dangerously) vs. The Midnight Express (w/Jim Cornette)
There’s a funny pre-match segment here where Cornette actually begging to FIGHT Paul E. I mean, he does everything possible to taunt Paul, but nothing works. The simple story for this match was that Randy Rose and Dennis Condrey (the original pair who went by the name Midnight Express) jumped from the AWA to the NWA to feud with these “Midnight Express” imposters. It was a great, hot feud with the Eaton/Lane/Cornette team playing as the incredibly over face team. Once all the pre-match stuff is settled, Condrey starts off with Lane. Condrey gets dumped immediately and WHACKED in the back with Cornette’s tennis racket. On the other side of the ring, Paul E is LIVID and starts ringing the bell saying it should’ve been a DQ. Back in, Condrey takes an inverted atomic drop and tags in Rose. Lane tags in Eaton for a drop-toehold/elbow drop combo, which totally rules you. Eaton sends Rose out with a right hand for Cornette to whack him with the racket! Paul E gets all upset again and rings the bell! Lane tags in and delivers a crossbody for a one-count. The teams switch as Eaton wins a slugfest from the APRON and then follows up with a flying elbow drop to a HUGE pop. Lane comes in for a bit and puts on a chinlock, but then tags in Eaton for a bulldog! Both teams switch again. Rose tries a monkey-flip out of the corner, but Lane shoves him off. Eaton/Lane follows up with a leapfrog backbreaker. Eaton tags back in, but then he misses a charge in the corner that turns everything around for the Original Midnight Express. Rose brings him out to the floor for an atomic drop. Back in, they go to work on Eaton’s mid-section. The originals for it all with a ROCKET LAUNCHER, but Eaton moves out of the way! MOLTEN HOT TAG TO LANE! He’s got savate kicks for everybody! ENZIGURI to Rose! He covers, but the ref Teddy Long is with Eaton and Condrey. That allows Paul E to hop in the ring and nail Lane with his HUMONGOUS cell phone! He puts Rose on top of Lane, but then gets grabbed by Cornette and punched out to the floor! Meanwhile, Teddy Long comes over and counts two, but he looks over and sees the phone lying there! He asks the crowd if the phone was involved while Rose protests. While all this happening, Lane and Eaton are setting up in opposite corners for the DOUBLE GOOZLE! Lane covers for 1-2-3! (12:14/17:46 shown) The proverbial roof is blown off the building. Condrey and Rose grab Cornette for a beatdown, but Eaton makes the save with the tennis racket. That thing comes in handy! By the way, this is one of my personal all-time favorite matches. ***½
The Russian Assassins (w/Paul Jones) vs. Ivan Koloff & Junkyard Dog
You talk about a weird combination; JYD was brought in to replace Nikita Koloff for this match once he decided to step away from wrestling because of his wife’s illness. JYD had quit the WWF in August of 1988 and signed with the NWA and made sporadic appearances (by sporadic, I mean in between firings) in the NWA for the next several years. This is all about Ivan’s revenge on the Paul Jones Army though. The Russian Assassins are Jack Victory and the Angel of Death under Assassin-like masks, but I can’t tell them apart. If Koloff & JYD win, Paul Jones must retire and the Assassins must unmask. JYD starts off with his typical headbutts and clotheslines. He eventually knocks one of the Assassins out to the floor. Ivan tags in for a double-back elbow and follows that up with a whole bunch of choking. He comes off the middle-rope with a SICKLE for two. JYD comes in and misses a diving headbutt, which allows a tag and a little dominating on the faces. Some heel miscommunication occurs, but Teddy Long is too busy getting Ivan out of the ring to count. JYD gets caught in the Assassins-corner, but avoids the RUSSIAN MISSILE (partner-to-partner corner whip) and makes the tag to Koloff. He catches one of the Assassins with a SICKLE, but while Teddy is busy with JYD, the other Assassins loads his mask with something and headbutts Ivan for the save. Cover, 1-2-3. Assassins win! (6:48) Typical Assassins-formula match. They get beat up the whole match and then stuff an object in their mask and headbutt someone for the win. *
NWA World Television Champion Mike Rotundo vs. Rick Steiner
Interesting story: Rick Steiner is an idiot, but he was hanging out with these arrogant jocks known as the Varsity Club. Well, the Varsity Club started to make fun of him. He had finally had enough and beat up Rotundo, turning him into an instant babyface. Kevin Sullivan is put inside a cage ONCE AGAIN to prevent any shenanigans. Steiner knocks Rotundo out to the floor to start, but then IMMEDIATELY we cut to Rotundo applying a chinlock at around the 11-minute mark. He cheats using the ropes and finally gets caught for the break. Rotundo begins to paintbrush Steiner, but he punches back. Rotundo puts him down with a back elbow and then an elbow drop for only one! Back to the chinlock, Steiner elbows out and then takes a SICK clothesline. Rotundo ducks low off a whip for a sunset flip from Steiner which gets 1-2-NO! Ha, Rotundo gives the thumbs down to the crowd because he’s ready to PUT STEINER AWAY! Just as he does that, he whiffs on a dropkick. Steiner gets an inside cradle for two and then NAILS Rotundo with the Steinerline! That one calls for some barking. DR. DEATH comes down to ringside while Steiner gives Rotundo a huge backdrop. Steiner follows up with a powerslam for 1-2-NO! BELLY-TO-BELLY SUPLEX! That’s his finisher! 1-2-what? Dr. Death rings the bell to confuse Steiner (because it doesn’t take much) and then he leaves. Sullivan is released from the cage and argues with a second referee up on the apron. Steiner shoves Rotundo off into him and covers Rotundo as both refs count for the 1-2-3! NEW TV CHAMP! (6:51/17:59 shown) Ha, the crowd goes completely insane while Rick Steiner runs around the ring with his new belt as he points and yells at Rotundo, “I beat you! I beat you!” This was way too clipped for me to rate it, but that was a great finish.
NWA U.S. Heavyweight Champion Barry Windham (w/JJ Dillon) vs. Bam Bam Bigelow (w/Sir Oliver Humperdink)
Bigelow left the WWF shortly after WrestleMania IV, had some knee surgery, and then showed up in the NWA for a very short tenure. Man, there were a lot of commas in that sentence. Bigelow overpowers Windham to start. He lifts Windham up for a fireman’s carry gutbuster, which gets a HUGE pop. Windham takes a breather and then comes back in with rights. He hits a back suplex, but Bigelow NO-SELLS! Windham rolls out again, but comes back in for more domination. Bigelow delivers a ten-count corner punch and dropkicks Windham out to ringside. Back in, Bigelow hits a suplex and hooks on a chinlock. Windham fights out and tosses Bigelow out to the floor where he falls weird on his leg. Don’t forget, he’s had knee surgery earlier in the year. Nevertheless, Bigelow headbutts Windham from the apron and sets him up for the Slingshot Splash for 1-2-NO! Bigelow just stands up out of the pin attempt! We all know that’s a mistake. Bigelow goes up top for a TOP-ROPE DIVING HEADBUTT, but Windham moves out of the way. The crowd seems split 50/50 now. Windham talks some trash and fires back with the Lariat. Windham gives Bigelow the same treatment he received earlier with a ten-count corner punch and a dropkick to send him out to the floor. Back in, Windham applies the CLAWHOLD! Bigelow reaches the ropes, but then gets SLAMMED to set up a top-rope elbow drop. Will Windham connect with it?! NO! Bigelow tries a comeback, but then they both end up on the floor. Bigelow charges at Windham up against the ringpost, but Windham moves out of the way and slides back in the ring for the countout win. (16:15) Wow, a whole match! Lame ending aside, this was pretty good showing that Windham was smarter than a cartoon character that pounds on his chest and says, “BAM BAM!” You got to love Bigelow though, rest his soul. **¼
NWA World Tag Team Champions The Road Warriors (w/Paul Ellering) vs. Dusty Rhodes & Sting
What easier way for the Road Warriors to turn heel than for them to beat up on the loveable Dusty Rhodes and the SUPER over Sting. LOD attacks before the bell and they pay for it. By the way, the crowd remains INSANELY mixed for the whole match, but insane nonetheless. Sting starts off with Animal and gets overpowered, but then he dropkicks Animal out to the floor. Back in, Sting and Dusty trade tags and work on the arm. Dusty goes for a CLAWHOLD, but Animal escapes and rolls back out the floor. Hawk gives it a try, but he takes some elbows from Dusty. Sting tags in and grabs an armbar. Hawk goes to the eyes and stomps Sting down in the corner, but Sting comes back with a powerslam to set up the jumping elbow drop off the ropes. Animal gets a tag and press slams Sting with no problem. He tries a hotshot on Sting, but he no-sells and clotheslines Animal down. Animal crawls out to the floor, but Sting LEAPS on him in the aisle way! That was easily the most dangerous spot of the night. Back in, Dusty posts Animal’s leg just like at the Clash and then lets him make a tag. Hawk wants a test of strength, but it’s Dusty who kicks him in the groin and applies the Figure-Four. Animal breaks it up with an elbow to the eye. You see, LOD turned heel by JABBING a spike from one of their shoulder pads in Dusty’s eye. They go to the floor where Hawk kicks and gouges at Dusty’s face. Back in, Dusty starts to SHAKE IT LOOSE and gives Hawk a standing dropkick! Animal gets a desperation tag and stomps Dusty back down for a neck vice. Once Dusty begins to rise up, Animal goes over and tags Hawk. He applies a sleeper, but Dusty comes out of it with a jawbreaker. HOT TAG TO STING! Face Slam! Stinger Splash! SCORPION DEATHLOCK! Immediately, Hawk breaks it up and tosses Sting over the top rope (would be a DQ in ’88, but ref Tommy Young didn’t see it) to double-team Dusty. Meanwhile, Sting is perched on the top and hits a flying crossbody on Animal for 1-2-NO! Paul Ellering pulls the ref out of the ring to interrupt for the DQ. (11:17) A fun match that screams “It’s not over yet!” with the finish, but the Road Warriors would return to being babyfaces due to the crowds in early ’89 and Dusty would soon be fired. **½
NWA World Champion Ric Flair (w/JJ Dillon) vs. Lex Luger
The DQ rule is waived for this one – meaning that if Flair loses by DQ, Luger is the NEW champion. After being cheated out of the title at the Great American Bash by the Maryland State Athletic Commission because of the excessive blood issue (which more blood exudes from an extremely mild scrape on the knee than from Lex’s forehead in that match), and with Flair losing by DQ on numerous occasions, he’s finally receiving a fair shot at the belt. The crowd is cut 50/50 down the middle for this one as well. Flair plays his typical mind games on Luger to start. He plays them a little too long though, as he takes a clothesline out to the floor! After some regrouping, Flair returns to the ring. They trade hammerlocks, but it’s Flair who grabs the ropes for a break. Flair takes a hard shoulderblock; causing him to draw Luger in for a test of strength. He kicks him in the knee and chops away, but then runs right into a powerslam. That’s followed by a press slam for two. Luger wrenches on the arm for a bit and then whips him hard into the corner. Flair tries to come back with a chop, but Luger NO-SELLS. Flair rolls out for a serious breather, but Luger follows him out. Back in, Flair begs away in the corner. Did I say beg? I meant draw Luger in for a kick. Luger fires back after a chop and whips Flair again hard into the corner. Luger grabs a hammerlock down on the mat, but Flair elbows out. That’s all the offense he gets though, as Luger comes at him with clotheslines and a hiptoss. Flair goes to the eyes this time, but he starts chopping again and we all know where that leads. Luger chases Flair out to the floor, wraps his arm around the steel railing in a NASTY fashion, and then sends Flair shoulder-first into the ringpost. Back in, Luger applies an armbar. Flair escapes, but then gets nailed with another clothesline for 1-2-NO! Flair rolls out onto the apron, but Luger grabs him and gives a NICE suplex back in the ring for 1-2-NO! Luger tries one of those Sting jumping elbow drops, but it misses big time. Flair kicks back at him and then takes Luger off his feet with a running forearm. Luger gets tossed and taken face-first to the steel railing around ringside. Back in, Flair follows up with a snapmare and the rolling knee drop. Flair snapmares him again and gives Lex a double-stomp! OH MAN! Flair starts chopping on Luger again, but you know Luger doesn’t sell those, Ric! Luger punches back and puts Flair in a sleeper, but he escapes with a back suplex. Out of nowhere, Flair goes for the FIGURE-FOUR, but Luger counters it with an inside cradle for 1-2-NO! Flair heads up top, but instead of slamming him off, Luger gives him a FREAKING superplex for 1-2-NO! Crowd can NOT believe Flair kicked out of that. Now Luger applies the FIGURE-FOUR, but Flair gets to the ropes. Luger inadvertently back elbows ref Tommy Young out of the corner. He then turns around into an eye rake and gets tossed over the top rope (which justifies the DQ rule being waived for this match). However, Luger NO-SELLS that and hops up on the top for a flying crossbody (from LEX LUGER! HOLY CRAP!) Tommy Young turns around and counts 1-2-NO!! Luger blocks a hiptoss and turns it into a backslide for 1-2-NO! Luger heads over to the corner for a ten-count corner punch and then sends Flair across the ring for the Flair Flip. Luger gives Flair a suplex back in from the apron for 1-2-NO! Luger delivers a press slam and a powerslam to set up the TORTURE RACK! Dillon gets up on the apron and distracts Tommy Young long enough for Flair to trip Luger up and beat his knees with a steel chair! Hahaha, Flair is a genius. WOOOOOO! Flair DESTROYS Luger’s leg for the next several minutes to set up the FIGURE-FOUR for real this time. Luger gets that adrenaline pumping and reverses the hold! Still in control, Flair knee drops Luger’s knee and heads up top, but gets slammed off. Luger’s knee buckles though, so you know he’s not THAT well off right now. He gives Flair another press slam, but once again his knee buckles. Flair tosses Luger out to wear down the bad leg some more, but then Luger comes back with a sunset flip for 1-2-NO! Flair catches Luger with a running forearm, but Luger NO-SELLS and delivers a clothesline for 1-2-NO! Luger hits a powerslam and calls for the TORTURE RACK once again! He hoists Flair up on his shoulders for the RACK, but his knee buckles again! Flair falls on top and puts his feet on the ropes for 1-2-3! (31:02) Classic Flair-Luger match to end their feud. ****½
Final Thoughts: This was a great show to cap off a wonderful year of wrestling for the NWA. Not every thing done was right on in ’88, but they got this show right from beginning to end. I’m going with thumbs up for Starrcade ’88, as it’s the first truly great PPV from the NWA.
31-year old currently living in Syracuse, New York. Longtime fan of the New York Mets, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Vikings. Avid fan of professional wrestling and write reviews/articles on the product. Usually focusing on the old school wrestling.