Starrcade ’84: Retro Review
After the massive success of the inaugural Starrcade the previous year, Jim Crockett knew he had a certified money maker on his hands. All he had to do was repeat the pattern and he’d be laughing all the way to the bank, hopefully starting with Starrcade 1984.
The only problem was that they no longer had the same amount of top stars as the previous year. Vince McMahon’s national expansion was claiming talent from all over the territories, depleting rosters, and eradicating competition at an alarming rate.
From just the performers at the previous Starrcade, the WWF had already claimed Roddy Piper, Greg Valentine, Bob Orton, and The Brisco’s (the latter for backstage roles), while Ricky Steamboat would be heading for Stamford shortly after this. Within a couple of years, both Dick Slater and Harley Race would be gone also.
So, Starrcade ’84, held on November 22nd, 1984 at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, presents a transitional event, an NWA that was still to find or build new stars for those who had left (what a difference a year will make). Reviews of this event have always presented it in a negative light. Will I agree?
There’s only one way to find out…
As opposed to the previous year, we get an opening of sorts, although we’re still a long way away from the slick opening video packages that we’re so used to.
We get a clip from the previous year of Ric Flair pinning Harley Race in the main event. We then get Gordon Solie and Bob Caudle, who’ve been upgraded to a box overlooking the arena this year. Lucky them. As they talk about the main event, the lights drop in the arena and the excited roar of that crowd is LOUD. I’d love to hear that at events now. Although I do think the ring announcer is overegging it by calling Starrcade ’84 “the premier wrestling event of the century”. The fans don’t seem to disagree, though.
NWA World Jr. Heavyweight Champion Mike Davis vs. Denny Brown
This is not junior wrestling as the later WCW would bring to the masses in 1996. Both men look like middleweights to my mind, which says a lot about the same. Even by the standards of the time, this is not the most athletic contest. There’s none of the fluidity of a Ricky Steamboat or Dynamite Kid.
Having said this, Denny Brown does have some speed and agility to him, but his offense pretty much consists of head scissors, dropkicks, armbars, and the occasional uppercut. Mike Davis, meanwhile, seems to be a basic power man, hitting punches and bodyslams, but doesn’t get much offense in at all, considering he’s the champion.
In the end, Davis reverses a whip, sending Brown front ways into the corner, then hits a belly-to-back suplex with a bridge for the pin. That looked quite good. The best bit of the match. Until it leads to some confusion that isn’t explained to the live crowd. Brown takes the title and parades with it, which I thought was a heel move until Solie confirms Mike Davis had his shoulders down and it was DAVIS who was counted out. Ok…
A short, inoffensive match, marred a little by that cheap ending.
Meanwhile, not learning from the pacing issues of the previous year, Tony Schivone is backstage again. He’s in Ric Flair’s dressing room but doesn’t interview the champ. Thanks for that, Tony. A pleasure.
Mr Ito vs. Brian Adidis
I’ve heard of both gentlemen, but can’t recall seeing them wrestle before. And now that I have seen them, I’m not sure I’d lose any sleep if I never saw either again.
A short match dominated by headlocks and armbars, this was rest hold city until Adidis’ winning airplane spin at the climax. Gordon thinks we’re going to have a pier six at one point. Don’t get my hopes up, sir. I will say this: Adidis was over with the crowd. Maybe I caught him on a bad night? Let me know in the comments if there are any Adidis matches worth checking out.
Florida State Champion Jesse Barr vs. Mike Graham
Again, two men who I’ve heard of, but not seen in action.
And for the third match straight, we’re to the mat for the rest holds. Had Jim Crockett told the locker room to pace themselves or something? To be fair, this match is a lot more spirited than the previous two, which helps to make it more entertaining.
There are more power elements too, with Graham having to power himself up from the mat and Barr’s holds, exploding with aggression when he gets loose. At one point, Graham had Barr in a beautiful, painful-looking inverted death lock I’ve not seen before, maybe for good reason – legs aren’t meant to bend that way…
The match followed a pattern of Barr taking control and taking it to the mat, Graham powering back and hitting a flourish of offense, only for Barr to take it back to the mat. This did give the match a bit of a stop/start feel. Graham viciously battered Barr’s legs with brutal knees, but in the end, a single leg pick up with his feet up on the ropes was enough to get Barr the 1-2-3. The villain.
I quite enjoyed that match. Barr’s offense did sometimes take away from that enjoyment, but overall it was a fun little scrap between two tough men. That’ll do me.
All Tied Up
I take it back: the pacing is a lot better on this show, even if the action isn’t. Only one appearance of Tony backstage across three matches is a lot better of a ratio.
Now we get taken back to the previous TV – Mid-Atlantic I presume? – which shows a tag match between Rick Steamboat and Dick Slater against The Long Riders (Black Bart and Ron Bass) turn to chaos as JJ Dillon ties up Slater in the ring and Tully Blanchard turns up in street clothes to batter the faces, giving his pointed toe cowboy boot to Bart to drive into Steamboat’s back. This put Steamboat out with a kayfabe injury.
Gordon Solie confirms Steamboat has put up $10,000 of his own money to lure Blanchard into the ring tonight. So the main event AND Blanchard-Steamboat have money up for grabs? If only I was that rich to throw my money so easily around…
Tag Team Elimination Match: Assassin 1 and Buzz Tyler vs. The Zambuie Express
The Express is accompanied by Paul Jones, who never seems to get talked about, sadly, when people bring up the classic managers. Buzz Tyler unfortunately seems to have a gimmick where he dances in a manner that looks like he’s desperate for the toilet!
This is a basic punch-kick affair that is over as quickly as it starts. Assassin 1 gets the pin over Mohammed after a mid-ring collision. This means it’s two against one, except the other member of the Express leaves the ring and somehow gets counted out without the referee counting, and all the men leave the ring!
Best forgotten and never to be mentioned again, methinks.
The Dream Speaks!
Backstage, Tony Schivone interviews Dusty Rhodes, who, if I’m being honest, looks bored s******s and cannot be bothered to stand up.
It’s a shame, the Dream at his best was one of the greatest mic men in the game. This promo is Dusty-by-numbers, as he gives some spiel about people coming to find out, at last, who is the greatest wrestler.
He also warns special ref Joe Frazier to stay out of the way, which means he’s going to get involved in the finish without question.
I guess you could call that a real Dusty finish!
Brass Knuckles Champion Black Bart vs. Manny Fernandez
It’s mad seeing JJ Dillon managing a western-themed stable when you’re used to seeing him run with the Horsemen.
The Brass Knuckles title is an anything goes, taped fist precursor to the various hardcore titles.
Manny Fernandez was the tag team champion here but his partner was Dusty Rhodes, which is why he was in singles action here. I like Manny. He had charisma without needing to flaunt it, and he always threw a mean punch. Which is useful here…
This is a one-move match, for obvious reasons, but those reasons at least make the punches meaningful and exciting. Manny is a fiend, knocking Bart over the top rope with a hard fist, following that up with a leaping punch from the apron to the floor. Bart sells Manny’s punches beautifully and the fact both men bleed helps to inject a little tension into proceedings.
Bart took control with a low blow, but his reliance on cheap tactics would fail him. As JJ threw the bull rope in for Bart to use, Manny quickly snuck behind Bart for the roll-up and the title. Manny is now a double champion! That’s pretty cool.
An enjoyable match, and probably the best of the evening so far.
Tony’s back again and this time he’s with Ricky Steamboat, tormenting him with clips of The Long Riders injuring his back. Sensitive guy, that Tony. Ricky gives a litany of his pain that makes him sound like a little bit of a wreck. But he’s laid down some heavy stipulations because he knows Tully is a yellow-bellied coward, and he’s going to give it his best shot.
Ricky Steamboat was never much of a talker, but you know what? When you’ve got that much in-ring talent, I’ll forgive you nearly anything.
Meanwhile, Gordon and Bob speculate that Tully is going to have a tough evening of it. Solie does give Tully credit for being a psychological competitor. Meaning he’s a mind game-playing son of a bitch.
The Superior Wrestler
Tony has JJ and Tully backstage, where Tony asks if they were trying to injure Steamboat before the match. JJ, not in the best of moods after the Bart incident, is in no mood for conspiracies and believes Steamboat is trying to make excuses before the match because he knows Tully is the superior wrestler (now there’s an argument to have!)
Tully agrees, of course, that he is the superior wrestler, believing all the stipulations and such are just excuses for Steamboat because he knows he can’t win. God, Tully was good in his day. Shame he can’t find Shawn Spears a tag partner, but still.
Knowing that the Horseman are only a couple of years away from forming, it’s also interesting to hear Tully challenge the winner of Dusty vs. Flair. He would be having wars with Dusty soon enough.
Loser Leaves Town, Tuxedo Street Fight: Paul Jones vs. Jimmy Valiant
Now. I know Jimmy Valiant was massively popular at the time. I can hear the crowd go wild for him here and now, he’s over. But my idea of hell would be an eternity spent in a room with nothing but a streaming network full of Jimmy Valiant matches for company. Needless to say, I’m not a fan.
I will admit, though, he made me laugh when he kissed the ring announcer during his entrance. Judging by the announcer’s laughter, he wasn’t expecting it either.
Jones does sell his fear of Valiant well, especially when Valiant ties Jones by the neck to the top rope. A quick disrobing followed, until a near-naked and bloody Jones, just in trunks, escaped and gave Valiant a kicking, to little effect.
Valiant knocked Jones out with a sleeper, but before the ref could ring the bell, he found himself the filling of a sandwich between Kareem and Valiant, at which point Assassin #1 interjected himself into proceedings.
Distracted by the melee, Valiant left himself open to a crack to the head from JJ Dillon with a foreign object. The ref came to, counted the three, and Valient was to be the one to find a new home.
Short and inoffensive for what it was.
Why the tuxedos though? A strange Jim Crockett fantasy?
The Number One Wrestler in Professional Wrestling
Tony is backstage with the champ, and we get solemn Ric, usually a sign of face Flair, but he plays it a little tweener-ish, telling Dusty that, whether the people like him or dislike him, they know he is the best wrestler and most qualified athlete to be champion and that Dusty better be half the man he told people he is because he is jumping on the number one stud in professional wrestling.
Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion Ron Bass vs. Dick Slater
It’s strange to see Slater as a face but the crowd pop big for him. Slater himself is straining at the leash, desperate to get his hands on Bass.
It occurs to me that Slater was a better comparison for The Artist Formerly Known As Dean Ambrose than the Terry Funk and Brian Pillman comparisons that were thrown around at the time. Slater was wild but he always had a purpose. He also could be a little goofy too, as can Mr. Moxley (that is a compliment by the way!)
Slater is cool here, desperate to pound Bass as you should in a grudge match. But considering how Bass wanted to put Slater out of action, there’s very little heat on his part here, relying on a dull punch-kick routine. Slater tries his best but can’t pull the match out of second gear.
Slater also doesn’t get the satisfaction of winning, either. He gets disqualified when he knocks the ref out of the way for trying to back Slater off a cornered Bass.
A letdown, sadly. This had the makings of a good, hard-hitting grudge match, Slater tried his best, but it wasn’t to be.
Ole Anderson and Keith Larson vs. Ivan and Nikita Koloff
Ah, American wrestling xenophobia: what would the eighties have been without it?
The Russians come out to their national anthem and are naturally booed. At least the crowd didn’t have the Koloffs sing at them ala The Bolsheviks!
It’s very strange seeing Ole Anderson as a face, but thankfully there was a young man with a physical similarity waiting for him just around the corner. Keith Larson is Don Kernodle’s brother. The Russians injured Kernodlle, leading to this match.
It’s quite a one-sided match for a long time, with Larson and Ole dominating Ivan, cutting the ring in half, and making quick tags, which gives the match a good pace.
Ivan eventually rakes the eyes and makes the tag to big Nikita. He looks big but just a little green. His offensive consists of shoulder barges and a bear hug. Thankfully, Nikita got better quickly. I was always a fan.
The crowd goes wild for Ole’s comeback – we’re talking Hogan-level cheering which is bizarre to see, but cool. It amounts to nothing as Ivan hits Ole, still in the bear hug, with a double ax handle from the top as Larson distracts the ref with his protestations.
We get another bear hug, which is a little wearing, but Ole hits a cool jawbreaker-type move for the hot tag to Larson. Nikita ends up outside and knocks Kernodle down but Ole gets out there and smacks Nikita. This distracts the ref and Ivan cracks Larson in the head with a chain for the win.
After the bell, the Russians go to attack Larson but Kernodle breaks his crutch over their backs.
A fun match with an invested crowd and some great heat for the ending and post-match shenanigans.
TV Champion Tully Blanchard vs. Ricky Steamboat
We are very much in the home stretch of the card here and this is the first real match that I’d argue has a big match feel, as compared to the previous year where several matches gave the night that big event feel.
It’s easy to imagine with the two names involved, but this was easily the match of the night so far. It benefits from the fact that two of the greatest are telling a story on the ring: Blanchard the wily veteran honing in on the injured ribs, forcing Steamboat to change his style and take it to the mat so as not to overexert his injured body. It’s classic human chess from two masters of the game.
Tully makes a mistake, though, by spitting on Steamboat, firing him up into a flurry of high-impact offense that sees Tully get split open in the process.
Never let it be said, though, that Tully wasn’t a clever heel. Steamboat hits a sunset flip but struggles to get Tully over. Ref Tommy Young is looking at Steamboat’s shoulders, so Blanchard takes the opportunity to pull a knuckle duster out of trunks and crack Ricky in the head for the win.
A great little match and a standout on an underwhelming card. If you’ve not seen it, make an effort to. It is worth it.
US Champion Wahoo McDaniel vs. Superstar Billy Graham
This was such a throwaway match, it was ridiculous. The worst match of the evening, no question. The problem was, Graham was in the middle of his karate gimmick, which just didn’t work at all. Not only that, Graham, a former heavyweight champion, dominates the match, just to fall to a single chop from Wahoo.
If you skip any match, skip this one.
NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes
A match a year in the making, as Dusty had thrown down a challenge to the winner of last year’s title match, the winner would get a payoff of $1 million. Both men are faces, although Ric acts a little tweenerish here. I’ve seen reports saying there were more boos for Dusty here, but I can’t hear that. The crowd seems to love him like usual.
A quick note: I’m watching the WWE Network edition of this event. I understand this version tidies up some of the production issues from the original event, but like other events using copyrighted music, WWE has replaced Dusty’s entrance music with some generic 80’s soul. Dusty’s original music was Purple Rain, which seems an odd choice, while Ric had a country song play after Also Sprach Zarathustra. Bizarre.
This match is much maligned, and I understand why as I’ll explain, but it is a little unfair. It’s not a bad match in and of itself. Both Dusty and Flair are business-like in mood, which adds to the big match feel. Dusty, in a reversal of the usual setup, goes for Ric’s legs, locking a figure four in pretty quickly. Ric is more aggressive than normal to counteract this.
The match is building up nicely until Ric throws Dusty into the ring post, cutting his eye quite nastily. At this point, you feel the match is switching up a gear and is just starting to go somewhere special. Ric takes advantage and viciously pounds Dusty’s eyes with punches.
And this is where special guest ref ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazer stops the match as if it was boxing.
Whoever booked that ending needs to hang their head in shame. A good match was just hitting its stride. To pull a cheap stoppage ending a world title main event on the biggest card of the year after just 12 minutes of action? I’ve not been able to get to the bottom of why it was booked like that, but it takes so much away from the good work Flair and Dusty did before that it’s no surprise the match has the reputation it does.
Post-match, Ric Flair cuts a good, tweenerish promo where he says he can’t comment on whether Joe Frazier made the correct choice in stopping the match, but he’s still got the title and he’s got his million dollars and he’ll see us at next year’s Starrcade. It’s a cool little promo, heelish but without being obvious about it. Dusty on the other hand is fuming, cutting a brilliantly angry promo where he says Joe Frazier needs to hide to avoid a beating and Ric needs to spend his money because the Dream is still alive. Dusty then gives Tony a shove for good measure. It’s brilliant, really selling how p****d off Dusty is.
And with that, we get some final words from Gordon and Bob, who pretty much promise us Starrcade ’85, then we get some final highlights and we’re outta here!
Researching this show before watching it, it was clear Starrcade ’84 had a reputation as being a dog of a show and I’m sad to say I don’t disagree with that perception. The Dusty-Flair match, on its way to becoming something really good, is cut short by bad booking. The lack of real star power hurts things. And the quality of the action was pretty stale at times. If there’s one reason to watch this show, it’s Steamboat and Blanchard executing a masterclass in-ring psychology. Please do check it out if you’ve not seen it before, even if you skip the rest of the show.
On the plus side, the show is well-paced and works a lot better for not having an interview after every match But it’s far from enough to save the show.
Luckily for the NWA (and for your humble reviewer), the next year’s show happens to be one of the greatest Starrcade’s ever produced…
Join me next time for Starrcade ’85 – I’ll see you at ringside!