Throwback Thursday: NWA/WCW Starrcade ’89: Future Shock, As Seen on WWE Network

December 15, 2016 by Brock Allen

WWE Network Throwback Thursday - Logo

From 1988 to 2000 December was the month of Starrcade, World Championship Wrestling’s “Super Bowl” event. This week Throwback Thursday is going deep in the vault of the WWE Network to revisit an often overlooked gem: Starrcade ’89: Future Shock – Night of the Iron Men.

27 years ago this week NWA/WCW produced the most unique Starrcade event in company history. The entire event centered around two separate round robin tournaments that, according to advertising, were to determine the “wrestler and team of the ’90s”.

WCW Starrcade '89: Future Shock - Logo
WCW Starrcade '89: Future Shock - Tournament Point System

Billed as having 12 main events, Starrcade ’89 was designed to be the wrestler’s wrestling show, where an athletic competition, not a cartoon soap opera, was the selling point of the show. Originally The Skyscrapers (Dan Spivey and Sid Vicious) were to be the fourth team in the tag team tournament until Sid suffered a punctured lung at COTC IX in a wild match against the Steiners. Another thing to watch is the time limit, which magically shrinks and expands to fit any given match!

Context exists but it isn’t great. All previous COTCs and PPVs are available on the Network as are editions of World Championship Wrestling from the fall of 1985 to July of 1989.


NWA/WCW Starrcade ’89: Future Shock – Night of the Iron Men (WATCH)
Date: December 13, 1989 – Location: The Omni, Atlanta, Georgia
Attendance: >6,000 – PPV Buyrate: 1.3 (<130,000 homes) Commentators: Jim Ross, Terry Funk, & Jim Cornette – Interviews: Gordon Solie


NWA World Heavyweight Champion: “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
NWA United States Heavyweight Champion: “The Total Package” Lex Luger
NWA World Tag Team Champions: The Steiner Brothers (Rick & Scott)
NWA United States Tag Team Champions: VACANT
NWA World Television Champion: The Great Muta

The show opens with the national anthem before Jim Ross introduces the unique broadcast team for Starrcade ’89. Joining Jim Ross for the singles matches is Terry Funk while Jim Cornette joins JR for the tag team matches. Briefly Cornette goes over the rules: in either round robin a pinfall/submission is worth 20 points, count out 15 points, a disqualification win is 10 points, and a time limit draw earns both men/teams 5 points while a loss (shockingly) gives no points. The theme throughout will be that it’s “almost as important how you win as if you win.”

WCW Starrcade '89 on WWE Network - Jim Ross, Terry Funk & Jim Cornette Commentating

Ring announcer Gary Michael Cappetta then introduces the four teams in the “Iron Team Tournament”: Doom, The Road Warriors, The New Wild Samoans (sub for The Skyscrapers), and WCW World Tag Team Champions The Steiner Brothers.

Iron Team Tournament Match #1 – “Non-Title Match” (WATCH – 4:52)
Doom (Doom #1 & Doom #2) (0 pts.) w/Woman & Nitron vs. NWA World Tag Team Champions The Steiner Brothers (Rick & Scott) (0 pts.)

Doom was the worst kept secret in wrestling; everyone knew it was Ron Simmons (#1) and Butch Reed (#2). This is a great opener that features some decent psychology and action. “Nitron”, Tyler Mane, best known for starring as Michael Myers in the Rob Zombie Halloween movies, gets involved late and the match turns to a brawl on the floor. Rick Steiner rolls in the ring at the last second for a count out win at 12:25 and 15 points for the Steiner Brothers, zero for Doom.

WINNERS are The Steiner Brothers (Rick & Scott) (15 pts.) (Count out, 12:25)

Next Gary Michael Cappetta introduces the four wrestlers in the “Iron Man Tournament”: NWA World TV Champion The Great Muta, Sting, NWA United States Champion “The Total Package” Lex Luger, and NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.

Iron Man Tournament Match #1 – “Non-Title Match” (WATCH – 22:37)
Sting (0 pts.) vs. NWA United States Heavyweight Champion “The Total Package” Lex Luger (0 pts.)

WCW Starrcade '89 on WWE Network - Sting vs. Lex Luger
WCW Starrcade '89 on WWE Network - Sting vs. Lex Luger

This is a just a great match from start to finish. Sting starts the match as a ball of fire with Luger a bump machine before the match slows down with Luger seizing the momentum. The finish is a hot mess, though. On the ring apron Sting tries to clothesline Luger over the ropes and flip over with him but Luger can’t get the momentum and referee Nick Patrick has to pull the two over. After some awkward re-positioning to get closer to the ropes Luger scores the pinfall at 11:33, with a foot and hand on the ropes, to score 20 points. Sting gets zero.

WINNER is NWA United States Heavyweight Champion, “The Total Package” Lex Luger (20 pts.) (Pin, 11:33)

Iron Team Tournament Match #2 (WATCH – 22:37)
Doom (Doom #1 & Doom #2) (0 pts.) w/Woman & Nitron vs. The Road Warriors (Road Warrior Hawk & Road Warrior Animal) (0 pts.) w/Paul Ellering

This one feels more like an ’80s WWF tag team match than an NWA marquee match-up. Lots of high-impact moves and rest holds here with Doom holding the Road Warriors down for much of the match. As Doom #2 tries for a piledriver on Animal, Road Warrior Hawk hits #2 with the flying clothesline to score the pin at 8:33. Road Warriors earn 20 points for the pin while Doom remains scoreless through two matches.

WINNERS are The Road Warriors (Road Hawk & Road Warrior Animal) (20 pts.) w/Paul Ellering  (Pin, 8:33)

Iron Man Tournament Match #2 – “Non-Title Champion vs. Champion Match” (WATCH – 47:36)
NWA World Television Champion The Great Muta (0 pts.) w/Gary Hart vs. NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair (0 pts.) w/Ole & Arn Anderson

WCW Starrcade '89 on WWE Network - The Great Muta Moonsault to Ric Flair

Muta entered this match undefeated, having not lost a televised match since debuting in NWA/WCW in March of ’89. You wouldn’t know that watching this match. In short order Flair makes the previously unbeatable Muta look like a jobber, putting Muta in figure-four leglock in less than 60-seconds. Buzz Sawyer and Dragon Master run to the ring but the Anderson’s fight them off. After blocking Muta’s moonsault with his knees, Flair rolls up Muta in an inside cradle for the pin at 1:57. Flair scores 20 points, Muta zero.

WINNER is NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair (20 pts.) w/Ole & Arn Anderson (Pin, 1:57)

Iron Team Tournament Match #3 – “Non-Title Match” (WATCH – 52:07)
The Road Warriors (Road Warrior Hawk & Road Warrior Animal) (20 pts.) w/Paul Ellering vs. NWA World Tag Team Champions The Steiner Brothers (Rick & Scott) (15 pts.)

This babyface match marked the first time on NWA/WCW TV that these two Hall of Fame teams had ever squared off, and it’s a fast, stiff fight that features some great action and bumps. The match breaks down near the end with all four guys fighting in the ring. As Rick is escorted out the Warriors hit a modified Doomsday Device. Both Animal and Scott’s shoulders are down for the count but Scott lifts his at the last moment giving the win to the Steiner’s at 7:27. Steiners are at 35 points, Road Warriors at 20.

WINNERS are NWA World Tag Team Champions The Steiner Brothers (Rick & Scott) (35 pts.) (Pin, 7:27)

Iron Man Tournament Match #3 – “Non-Title Match” (WATCH – 1:01:39)
Sting (0 pts.) vs. NWA World Television Champion The Great Muta (0 pts.)/ w/Gary Hart

WCW Starrcade '89 on WWE Network - Sting vs. The Great Muta

These two had battled over the TV title for much of the late summer with Muta getting the upper hand. This is a very good wrestling match, just what Muta needed after his last match with Flair. It’s just not Muta’s night, however, as Sting cuts Muta off and hits a superplex on Muta for the pinfall win at 8:40.

WINNER is Sting (20 pts.) (Pin, 8:40)

After the match JR and Funk discuss the three-way tie atop the “Iron Man” scoreboard with Luger, Flair, and Sting tied at 20 points and Muta stuck with zero. Next JR and Cornette discuss the “Iron Team” standings with the Steiners in the lead with 35 points and the Road Warriors in second with 20. Doom and the New Wild Samoans, who have not yet competed, are tied with zero. Cornette predicts the Steiners will hang on for the win and Terry Funk predicts Lex Luger will win the singles tournament.

Iron Team Tournament Match #4 (WATCH – 1:13:27)
The New Wild Samoans (Samoan Savage & Fatu) (0 pts.) w/”The Big Kahuna” Sir Oliver Humperdink vs. Doom (Doom #1 & Doom #2) (0 pts.) w/Woman & Nitron

The Samoans first match in the tournament is a stiff, physical fight. It’s not a classic, by any means, but perfectly positioned on the card to keep the fans in to the show but not burn them out. All four guys are in the ring when Fatu and Doom #1 hit heads. As Doom #1 falls to the mat Humperdink pushes Fatu forward on top of him for the upset win at 8:21. The Samoans get 20 points while Doom remains scoreless after three matches.

WINNERS are The New Wild Samoans (Samoan Savage & Fatu) (20 pts.) (Pin, 8:21)

Iron Man Tournament Match #4 – “Non-Title Champion vs Champion Match” (WATCH – 1:24:31)
NWA United States Heavyweight Champion “The Total Package” Lex Luger (20 pts.) vs. NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair (20 pts.)

WCW Starrcade '89 on WWE Network - Lex Luger vs. Ric Flair

Though Luger does what he can in the match it’s Flair who largely carries it. Filled with near falls and false finishes this is a very good, very exciting match. Luger looks to be on the verge of winning when Flair sinks in the figure-four, nearly getting the win as the time limit expires at 17:09. Flair and Luger each get 5 points and are tired with 25 points total.

NO WINNER declared (Draw, 17:09)

Iron Team Tournament Match #5 – “Non-Title Match” (WATCH – 1:45:28)
The New Wild Samoans (Samoan Savage & Fatu) (20 pts.) w/”The Big Kahuna” Sir Oliver Humperdink vs. NWA World Tag Team Champions The Steiner Brothers (Rick & Scott) (35 pts.)

Another stiff match here, but that’s about it. The flaws of the format are evident here as the Steiners look worn out. For the most part it’s all the Samoans with Scott Steiner taking the brunt of the punishment until, as usual on this night, the match ends in a brawl. The referee misses the finish, though, when Scott tosses Samoan Savage over the top rope. But the referee jumps out of the ring and calls the DQ anyways at 14:09. Steiners end the night with 35 points while the New Wild Samoans have 30 with one match to go.

WINNERS are The New Wild Samoans (Samoan Savage & Fatu) (30 pts.) w/”The Big Kahuna” Sir Oliver Humperdink (Disqualification, 14:09)

Iron Man Tournament Match #5 – “Non-Title Champion vs Champion Match” (WATCH – 2:04:46)
NWA World Television Champion The Great Muta (0 pts.) w/Gary Hart vs. NWA United States Heavyweight Champion “The Total Package” Lex Luger (25 pts.)

WCW Starrcade '89 on WWE Network - The Great Muta Green Mist to Lex Luger

This, the first meeting between these two, was the third and final match of the night for both men and is Muta’s strongest showing of the night. After a fast-paced nip-and-tuck match, and with time winding down, Muta sprays the green mist in Luger’s face to give Luger the win by DQ at 11:47. Luger finishes the tournament with 35 points while Muta ends with zero.

WINNER is NWA United States Heavyweight Champion “The Total Package” Lex Luger (35 pts.) (Disqualification, 11:47)

Iron Team Tournament Match #6 (WATCH – 2:19:25)
The New Wild Samoans (Samoan Savage & Fatu) (30 pts.) w/”The Big Kahuna” Sir Oliver Humperdink vs. The Road Warriors (Road Warrior Hawk & Road Warrior Animal) (20 pts.) w/Paul Ellering

In order to win the tournament the Road Warriors and Samoans both need a pinfall/submission to surpass the Steiners. A draw would mean the Samoans and the Steiners would have to have a “wrestle-off” as they would be tied, while a double DQ/count out would give the Steiners the tournament win. This match plays out like many of the others and, with both teams tired, lacks any real chemistry or psychology. After brawling, Hawk hits Samoan Savage with the clothesline from the top for the pin, and the tournament victory, at 5:47. Road Warriors end the tournament with 40 points and the New Wild Samoans with 30.

WINNERS are The Road Warriors (Road Warrior Hawk & Road Warrior Animal) (40 pts.) w/Paul Ellering (Pin, 5:47)

After the match the Steiners come out to congratulate the Road Warriors. Final “Iron Team” standings: The Road Warriors, 40 pts.; NWA World Tag Team Champions The Steiner Brothers, 35 pts.; The New Wild Samoans, 30 pts.; and Doom, 0 pts.

Iron Man Tournament Match #6 – “Non-Title Match” (WATCH – 2:28:14)
Sting (20 pts.) vs. NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair (25 pts.)

WWE - Sting vs. Ric Flair, Main Event of WCW Starrcade 1989
WWE - Sting vs. Ric Flair, Main Event of WCW Starrcade 1989

In order for Sting to win he must get a pinfall/submission. Flair can score either a pinfall/submission or a count out to win while a DQ win for Flair would mean a “wrestle-off” with Luger. A draw would give the tournament to Luger. It’s anybody’s tournament (except Muta).

This match is an often overlooked classic in the career of both men. Despite it being the third match for both men this match is fast-paced and on point in terms of physicality and psychology. It should be pointed out that at this time in 1989 both Sting and Flair were babyfaces, with Sting joining Flair off and on since September ’89 to fight Gary Hart’s J-Tex Corporation, most notably the first “Thunderdome Cage Match” at Halloween Havoc ’89. Since their initial TV match at the first COTC Flair and Sting hadn’t faced one another on TV, one-on-one, very often, so this was a match fans were eagerly looking forward to. After a back-and-forth battle, with time winding down, Sting reverses the figure-four leglock into a small package for the pinfall, and the tournament victory, at 15:54.

WINNER is Sting (40 pts.) (Pin, 15:54)

After the match the Andersons some out and celebrate with Sting, holding up the sign of The Four Horsemen. Final “Iron Man” standings: Sting, 40 pts.; NWA United States Heavyweight Champion “The Total Package” Lex Luger, 25 pts.; NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, 25 pts.; and NWA World Television Champion The Great Muta, 0 pts.

Next Gordon Solie interviews the Road Warriors on their “Iron Team” tournament win before trying to get Sting up the ramp for an interview. The closing credits start to roll, including music, though. Ric Flair talks over the music and the credits and by the time Sting gets to talk the PPV is off the air!

Final Thoughts

This isn’t a perfect show by any stretch, but it is, for my money, a great one nonetheless.

The timing of the night’s proceedings is a bit odd with the first half being so rushed and the time limit issues can be annoying, as is Muta’s booking, but the PPV event features nothing but top tier talent in matches fans weren’t going to find anywhere else.

WCW Starrcade '89 on WWE Network - Ric Flair Raises Sting's Hand in Victory
WCW Starrcade '89 on WWE Network - Ric Flair Raises Sting's Hand in Victory

If you’re already subscribed to the WWE Network, then what are you waiting for?! Check out Starrcade ’89 for yourself and, as always, let us know what you think in the comments.

Thanks for reading — until next time, see ya at ringside!

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  1. Richard says:

    I haven’t watched this in a long time, but I remember when this was announced, being quite perplexed at the idea, considering Starrcade had traditionally been a card that settled feuds from the year and wrapped up key storylines. It was Wrestlemania before Wrestlemania.

    Keep in mind, the NWA was coming off a stellar 1989, that saw the Steamboat/Flair classics, the maniacal return of Terry Funk, the emergence of Lex Luger as a top heel again, and the debut of guys like Great Muta, Brian Pillman and Sid Vicious to the scene. The roster was as stacked as any time during that era with great tag team work by Road Warriors, Steiners, Varsity Club, Midnight Express, the Freebirds(!) and (in my opinion) a vastly underrated Samoan Swat Team. The company was in really good shape here despite losing both Barry Windham and Rick Steamboat earlier in the year.

    Looking back, it’s fairly obvious the card was essentially designed to build toward a Sting/Ric Flair showdown the following February at WrestleWar (where many expected Flair to drop the title to Sting). This show also teased a Road Warriors v Steiners feud, but with LOD fresh off a failed heel turn and the Steiners unlikely to turn either, what was the payoff supposed to be? Did we absolutely NEED this card to get to Sting/Flair (for example)? Did we NEED this card to even further solidify the Road Warriors as the dominant team? I really don’t think so.

    With such a talented roster at hand, I think Crockett Promotions dropped the ball here by failing to utilize a deep roster, but also exposing a few critical matchups we didn’t necessarily need to see at the moment. Did we need Luger-Muta? Doom-Road Warriors? Honestly, with the injury to Sid Vicious in late ’89 – the tag tournament took a substantial hit with it becoming basically a two man race.

    One thing that bugs me here is the inexplicable burial of the Great Muta. Was he already out the door? After making a big splash onto the scene in early 89, essentially winning his feud with Sting, and then getting involved with Ric Flair that October, how much sense did it make to have Flair squash him in under 2 minutes? Or to have him lose all three of his matches? He had been built up so well during the year, and then – outta nowhere – squashed at Starrcade ’89.

    Personally, I would have pushed to have Great Muta challenge Ric Flair for the NWA Championship at Starrcade. With Gary Hart as his mouthpeice and and a youthful, dynamic Great Muta capable of delivering in the ring, why not? It would give Muta a high profile match to solidify him, it gives Flair a platform to pin the NWA’s new rising, undefeated young star – further cementing him as a great champion closing out a great year.

    Looking at the roster, I *THINK* this is what I would have done with Starrcade ’89:

    – Ric Flair v The Great Muta : NWA World Championship. Flair retains by pinfall at 26:10

    – Sting v Lex Luger: US Championship; Luger retains by DDQ.

    – The Road Warriors v Steiner Brothers; Steiners retain World Tag Team titles via pinfall at 10:45.

    – Terry Funk vs “Mad Dogg” Buzz Sawyer (w Gary Hart) : Retirement Match. Buzz pins Funk at 8:20.

    – Brian Pillman def Tom Zenk at 7:56 to win World TV Championship (Tournament Finals)

    – The Midnight Express vs The Dynamic Dudes (Atlanta Street Fight)* If Dudes win they get 5 mins w Cornette; Midnights win by pinfall at 13:04.

    – “Dr Death Steve Williams def Kevin Sullivan & Mike Rotunda (Handicap Match) at 5:44.

    – The Destruction Crew (Enos & Bloom) vs DOOM (15:00 DRAW

    Maybe this doesn’t jump off the page as looking that impressive, but I played with some of the matchups to reflect what was happening at the time and how the NWA booked shows in 1989. I also added a few names of some talent who would show up in the first half of 1990, and just brought them in earlier for this show.

    After the Flair/Muta match, Buzz Sawyer and Destruction Crew attack the ring with Gary Hart to attack Flair. Arn & Ole Anderson hit the ring to help Flair but he’s still out numbered. At which point STING hits the ring to even the odds and clear the ring. With Ole Anderson pointing an accusing finger at Sting (holding Flair’s title belt), Flair and Anderson calm Ole down as Flair asks for his title.

    After looking at the title, Sting slowly gives it to Flair and raises his hand. Arn Anderson lifts Sting’s arm, and gives the sign of the Horsemen as Starrcade ’89 ends.

    • Brock Allen says:

      While this is one of my favorite PPV events of the era I agree that it was a bit odd that they used the Starrcade event as the vehicle for the concept seeing that, as you pointed out, the event was historically the big blow-off. The thing was, though, that they were on such a roll that they just never took their foot off the gas pedal. In some ways I think an argument could have been made that the “I quit” match between Flair & Funk should have headlined Starrcade with, as you also point out, Sting being elevated in another spot on the card.

      I can understand why they did this, though. To me the event felt like a reset. In many ways it was the first chapter of the 1990 as opposed to the last chapter of 1989. I’m okay with that. Muta’s booking still mystifies me and I guess I’m a little confused why there had to be a tag team tournament at all, but I get it. The Road Warriors weren’t the team of the ’90s, they were more the team of the ’80s. Harlem Heat, the Steiners, and the Dudley Boyz (hell, even Sting & Lex Luger) all had a better decade in the ’90s than the Road Warriors did. But, hey, it is what it is.

      At the end of the day, whether one likes this event or not, this wasn’t the brainchild of a wrestling booker but Jim Herd and TBS, who were looking to do anything to differentiate themselves from the WWF at the time. There was an audience for the disenfranchised WWF fan who wanted wrestling over fluff and this event went to the heart of that. Whether it be the King of Cable or BattleBowl, WCW continued to tinker with the idea of tournaments in December as a way of pushing rising talent under Jim Herd.

      I wonder, though, if an 8-man tournament wouldn’t have accomplished the same goal but allowed for more variation on the card. What’s not in doubt, though, is that fact that all these years later Starrcade ’89 still has us talking. In that respect it was a complete success.

      Thanks for reading, Richard, and taking the time to leave a comment. It’s always respected and appreciated. Happy holidays!

      • Richard says:

        Having Flair and Funk finish their feud at Starrcade ’89 would have certainly been brilliant considering what they accomplished at NY Knockout.

        It did indeed feel like some kind of reset, or even an alternate reality type of event, where nothing (on the surface) was going to affect ongoing storylines. The handling of Great Muta was just bizarre considering how well he’d been presented. I wonder if this was the main reason he decided to leave, and only coming back periodically for shots here and there. It’s a shame cause he was an electrifying star.

        I’m not sure Jim Herd was involved with the booking here. I thought he didn’t taker over until 1990? This may have been Ole Anderson, but not 100% sure. This concept was kind of “out there” for a guy like Ole, so it may have also been a committee involving Ross, Cornette and others.

        I never liked how they used Starrcade for things like Battlebowl cause it just seemed unnecessary to stray from the traditional “culmination” type show that ended many storylines. With the exception of Wrestlemania IV, how often was the format or the idea behind Wrestlemania changed? I think they should have kept this event simple.

        1989 was in many ways, the end of a great era that started in 1985 with JCP landing the TBS time slot and never looking back. Starrcade ’88 was the last to feature Dusty Rhodes, so maybe some will consider that the end, but 1989 was such a terrific year that I thought it should have closed out differently.

  2. Cherie Smith says:

    Very unique event for its time which I found very enjoyable for anyone interested Road Warriors/Steiners Sting/Muta and Sting/Flair are all on Starrcade:The Essential Collection would love to see this format used in WWE at some point if possible

    • Brock Allen says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Cherie Smith, in the uniqueness of the event or the desire to see WWE do something like this somewhere down the line. They certainly have the wrestling talent now to pull this off, that’s for sure. Then again, round robins are more of a Japanese thing, they never quite caught on in the US.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment! Happy holidays!

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