Throwback Thursday: Starrcade ’83: A Flare for the Gold (WATCH)
Welcome back for another installment of Throwback Thursday here on WDN. This week we’ll be looking at “The Granddaddy of ’em all”, Starrcade ’83: A Flare for the Gold.
The event that started it all. Before WrestleMania there was Starrcade, the first true “Supercard” of the modern era to capture the imagination of wrestling fans across the country. Trouble is, you wouldn’t know that by watching the WWE Network, for to watch Starrcade ’83 on the Network is to watch an incomplete event. While the entire card is presented in full there is a glaring lack of context available. Unlike many of the more modern PPVs on the Network, none of the preceding programming for Starrcade ’83 is currently present, leaving many viewers clueless as to why they should care in the least about the most important night of wrestling in the last 35 years.
The brainchild of Dusty Rhodes and Barry Windham, Starrcade ’83 was the NWA’s parry to Vince McMahon’s charge to take the Federation national. With a stellar roster of talent and incredible global reach the NWA bet everything that Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV), the “Over-the-Top” of its time, would be their ticket to national exposure. Secondarily the event was a retake of Ric Flair’s failed coronation of Sept. 1981.
With all that out of the way, let’s get down to the ring and kick off Starrcade ’83…
Starrcade ’83: A Flare for the Gold
Date: November 24, 1983
Location: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, North Carolina
Closed Circuit Attendance: 30,000 – 40,000 est.
Live Gate: $500,000 est.
Commentators: Gordon Solie & Bob Caudle
Interviews: Tony Schiavone & Barbra Clary
Ring Announcer: Dr. Tom Miller
— Tag Team Match
The Assassins (Jody Hamilton & Hercules Hernandez) w/Paul Jones vs. Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion Rufus R. “Freight Train” Jones & Bugsy McGraw
This match is all about the Mid-Atlantic territory. However, since no prior Mid-Atlantic footage is present on the Network new viewers will be somewhat lost as to who is who. Though the match devolves into a “Battle of the Armbars” there are a number of good spots and great examples of tag team psychology that make the match worth watching. The finish comes when Assassin #1 rolls McGraw up in schoolboy for the 1-2-3 at 8:05. As far as openers go, this isn’t too bad.
WINNERS are The Assassins (Pin, 8:05)
— Tag Team Match
Kevin Sullivan & “Purple Haze” Mark Lewin w/Gary Hart vs. Johnny Weaver & Scott McGhee
Again, a lack of previous footage on the Network hurts the understanding of this match. This is our Championship Wrestling from Florida portion of the night. Kevin Sullivan at this time was heading his infamous evil “Cult” stable with “Purple Haze” Mark Lewin in CWF. Johnny Weaver remains one of the biggest stars the Mid-Atlantic territories ever produced, while Scott McGhee went on to mid-card status in the WWF. This is another solid match with crisp, tight action and great tag team psychology. The finish comes as Lewin tries to break Weaver’s arm with a dive off the top rope, scoring the 1-2-3 at 6:42. After the match we see a brutal display of ’80s disregard when Sullivan openly gigs Scott McGhee’s head wide open. I’m all for blood and blading, but third-party blading has always made me queasy.
WINNERS are Kevin Sullivan & “Purple Haze” Mark Lewin w/Gary (Pin, 6:42)
— Grudge Match
Abdullah the Butcher vs. Carlos Colon
This match is for the fans in Puerto Rico. The angle going in was that Capital Sports Promotions (CSP), the forerunner to WWC in Puerto Rico, had banned the Butcher/Colon rematch due to excessive violence, leaving Colon to chase Abby to the States for the rematch. After seeing this match you may ask yourself what all the fuss was about. It’s hands down the worst match on the card. The finish comes when Hugo Savinovich attacks Colon while Colon has Abby in the figure-four leg lock, allowing Abby to score the 1-2-3 at 4:27. Abby would have a much better showing at Starrcade ’85 in the “Mexican Death Match” with Manny Fernandez. This match marked Colon’s first and last Starrcade appearance. In fact, aside from this match Colon’s only other match on the Network is an appearance in the 1993 Royal Rumble.
WINNER is Abdullah the Butcher (Pin, 4:27)
— Tag Team Grudge Match
Bob Orton, Jr. & Dick Slater vs. “Chief” Wahoo McDaniel & Mark Youngblood
Another Mid-Atlantic match here, this was all about revenge for Slater and Orton, Jr. cashing in on Harley Race’s $25,000 bounty on Ric Flair. Originally, Hulk Hogan was to team with Wahoo but that ended up not happening, which after seeing this match, you will be glad of. In my opinion this one of the great tag team matches in the history of Starrcade. The action, story, and psychology are all top-notch and even by today’s standards this is what tag team wrestling is all about. The finish comes when Orton delivers a superplex to Youngblood for the 1-2-3 at 13:52. I cannot recommend this match enough.
WINNERS are Bob Orton, Jr. & Dick Slater (Pin, 13:52)
— NWA Television Championship
No Disqualification Mask vs. Title Match
Charlie Brown from Outta Town vs. Great Kabuki(c) w/Gary Hart
This match, a Georgia Championship Wrestling match, is seriously hurt by a lack of previous footage on the Network. The angle here was that Jimmy Valiant, after losing a “Loser Leaves Town Match”, donned a mask and changed his name to “Charlie Brown…”. Gary Hart, looking to get rid of Valiant, put Kabuki’s title up against the mask in hopes of getting Valiant banned for life. This is a fun match that starts as a street fight before slowing down. There isn’t much Valiant on the Network aside from his matches at the first four Starrcade’s, and Kabuki is better represented throughout the archives in the WCCW section as well as his one-time showing in the 1994 Royal Rumble. The finish comes after Brown hits a big elbow at 10:21 to keep the mask and win the TV title.
WINNER and NEW NWA Television Champion, “Charlie Brown” (Pin, 10:21)
— Non-Title Collar Match
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper vs. NWA United States Heavyweight Champion Greg Valentine
This match was for the Portland Wrestling crowd. When I think of this match, without fail, the words of Larry Merchant come to mind. Speaking before the first epic battle between Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward in 2002 Merchant said of the two: “The only title that means anything is ‘Warrior’. The only belts that matter are the ones they punch each other with.” He could have been talking about Piper and Valentine on this night. This is easily one of the greatest matches of all-time. Wherever there is pro wrestling, this match will be watched and studied. Few matches are as brutally perfect as this. All these years later the match still has the ability to shock and disturb. If you’re looking for old-school, ass-kicking, balls to the wall action on the Network, this is it. I cannot recommend this match enough. The finish comes when Piper all but hogties Valentine for the 1-2-3- at 16:09.
WINNER is “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (Pin, 16:09)
— NWA World Tag Team Championship
No Time Limit, Disqualification Rule Waived
Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood vs. Jack & Jerry Brisco(c)
This match is yet another where the lack of prior footage is devastating to its understanding. These two teams had been trading the tag titles since June of ’83 and this was the big blow off of the angle. Steamboat and Youngblood were looking to become the first to win the NWA tag titles 5 times while The Brisco’s were looking to just get out of Greensboro alive. The angle here was Jim Crockett buying the Brisco’s contract for a match in Kansas City, putting it in Greensboro, and installing Steamboat and Youngblood as the contenders. This match, a masterclass in all things psychology, holds up extremely well and is often cited as one of the best matches in Starrcade history. The end comes after Steamboat press slams Youngblood on Jack Brisco for the 1-2-3 at 13:00. Sadly, this is the only Jay Youngblood match on the Network. Youngblood passed away on Sept. 2, 1985 from what was reported to be a ruptured spleen. Stellar match regardless and another I cannot recommend enough.
WINNERS and NEW NWA World Tag Team Champions, Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood
— NWA World Heavyweight Championship
No Disqualification Steel Cage Match
“Nature Boy” Ric Flair vs. Harley Race(c)
The main angle going in to this match was Race’s attempts to end Flair’s career by offering a $25,000 bounty to anyone who could get it done. Though Flair at first retired, he came back and the rest is history, if you weel. This is the only pre-WWF match of Harley Race’s in the archives of the Network, but it is a classic war. For my money is the most important match in the modern era of the business. Not only did it fill the Greensboro Coliseum, but brought over 30,000 fans to various CCTV locations. Kiniski’s refereeing aside, this match all but erased Flair’s first run as Champion. There are only a handful of World title matches in Starrcade history that even come close to this one. It is at once a wrestling clinic, death match, and blood bath. It has everything a fan would want and then some. For those who want to know why the “Nature Boy” is considered the best, look no further. The finish comes when Flair hits a crossbody on Race for the 1-2-3 at 23:47.
WINNER and NEW NWA World Heavyweight Champion, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair (Pin, 23:47)
While this is largely considered the first “Supercard” in wrestling, it’s not, as those date back as far as 1883. It’s not the first CCTV event ever either. Mike LeBell’s NWA Hollywood Wrestling ran the first-ever CCTV wrestling event in June 1971. And it’s not even the first attempt at a national CCTV card, either, which was actually the WWWF’s Showdown at Shea II card in June of 1976, the night of “Ali vs. Inoki”.
Starrcade ’83 is, however, the first genuine “Supercard” to hit wrestling since 1961 when Rogers met O’Connor. In doing so it proved that CCTV could work for pro wrestling. In drawing over 45,000 fans for a single event in 1983, Dusty Rhodes and Jim Crockett rewrote the book on how to make, produce, sell, and watch professional wrestling. Starrcade ’83 became the blueprint by which the industry still runs. Times may change, styles may change, and wrestling stars will come and go, but the blueprint set on Thanksgiving 1983 will live on forever.
The wrestling boom of the 1980s didn’t start with Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan. It started in Greensboro, North Carolina on Thanksgiving Night 1983 with Ric Flair and Harley Race in a steel cage for the World Heavyweight Championship.
That wraps up this week’s edition of Throwback Thursday. If you’re a WWE Network subscriber, check out the event, see it for yourself, and let me know what you think.
Until next time, see ya at ringside.