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World Wrestling Entertainment may have a stranglehold on the Pay-Per-View audience today, but that organization did not invent the concept. Back in 1983, the National Wrestling Alliance wanted to put on a huge supercard on Thanksgiving Day and make it a tradition. In conjunction with Jim Crockett Promotions, who ran wrestling shows out of North Carolina, the NWA debuted Starrcade in the Greensboro Coliseum with some of the biggest wrestling stars of the decade; future legends top to bottom. Between the live show and the closed circuit audience, the NWA cashed in big time and set the stage for the Wrestlemanias, Summer Slams, Great American Bashes, and Hog Wilds that would reliably pull $30-plus out of fans' pockets at least once a month.
For 18 years, through good times and horrible, through the transition from the NWA to WCW, the tradition of Starrcade lived on. After PPV became successful, Crockett and the NWA wanted to expand their idea from its closed circuit origins to where anybody could see the show in the comfort of their homes but, unfortunately, Vince McMahon's then-WWF had the Survivor Series booked for the same day and, as a strong arm tactic, gave burgeoning cable companies an ultimatum: carry Survivor Series for the right to broadcast Wrestlemania or broadcast Starrcade and lose the right to both. Typically, cable caved and, to keep the tradition alive, Starrcade was moved to the company's year-end extravaganza and the rest is history.
Starrcade: The Essential Collection from WWE presents the top 25 matches in the history of the event as voted for by the fans in a survey on WWE.com. Given the source, it's hard to say if the voting was in any way legitimate but, nonetheless, let's take a look at the countdown:
25) Hollywood Hogan vs. "Rowdy" Roddy Piper 12/19/96: Dubbed "The Match of the Decade," I'm not sure which decade WCW was talking about, maybe the '80s. I have a lot of respect for Piper's general craziness, but Hogan was a terrible wrestler from day one until today. A decade earlier, these guys wrestled a similar match and were getting over the hill then. This is a dubious way to start any kind of collection, let alone an essential one.
24) Sting vs. the Great Muta 12/13/89: One of three matches from Starrcade '89's Ironman Tournament, in which Sting, Muta, Ric Flair, and Lex Luger battled each other in round robin fashion with a point system based around how the match finished. Sting and Muta fought many times during this period. This match may not be one of their best, but they go at each other with innovative moves and great athleticism in this contest.
23) Barry Windham/Brian Pillman vs. Ricky Steamboat/Shane Douglas 12/28/92: Grizzled veterans team with young upstarts in the first tag team match on the collection. This is a hard-hitting, high-flying match with four of the greatest stars over three decades. Future ECW champion Shane Douglas, as the junior member of the foursome, takes a heck of a beating in this contest.
22) Kevin Nash vs. Bill Goldberg 12/27/98: This match, for the WCW Heavyweight Championship, is often marked as the beginning of the end for the once proud company. In reality, these were two sub-mediocre wrestlers battling in one of the most over-hyped main events in PPV history.
21) Battlebowl 12/29/91: It goes from bad to convoluted in this extra-large take on the Royal Rumble. Forty wrestlers and two rings make for a confusing match and, when the object is to throw your opponents from one ring into the next and from that ring to the floor, you know you're in for a hard one to watch. The match is interesting, however, for the cavalcade of future wrestling superstars in their younger days.
20) Stunning Steve Austin vs. Dustin Rhodes 12/27/93: Before he was Stone Cold, Steve Austin was red hot coming up in the WCW ranks. Before he was Golddust, Dustin Rhodes was just the son of the son of a plumber, trying to learn the business his dad helped to revolutionize. This best 2-out-of-3 falls match for the Television Championship is fast-paced and clearly shows how these two could take it to the next level in later years.
19) The Road Warriors vs. Tully Blanchard/Arn Anderson 11/26/87: Two of the best tag teams of their time in a match for the NWA Tag Team Championship. One, raw power; the other, technical mastery and a cheater's will to win, these teams pull out all the stops for the biggest prize in tag wrestling.
18) Rey Mysterio, Jr. vs. Jushin "Thunder" Liger 12/29/96: Liger was one of my favorite wrestlers at the time, and this match definitely shows why. He was at the tail end of his career by this point but, with Mysterio in his prime, this is a lighting-paced match with innovative moves that are still being ripped off today.
17) The Midnight Express vs. the Rock 'n Roll Express 11/26/87: This match between these two legendary tag teams features action atop a twenty foot scaffold and the winner is the team still standing on top. Scaffold matches are rarely performed, first because they're dangerous but, second, because the matches were just never very good. If anyone can pull this match off, though, these two teams can.
16) Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger 12/26/88: The Nature Boy takes on the Total Package in Luger's first big title match. Flexy Lexy was never much of a wrestler, but he could bounce his pecs like a madman. Flair could lead anyone to a good match, but even he struggles to help Luger.
15) Eddie Guerrero vs. Shinjiro Otani 12/27/95: Young rivals in Japan, Guerrero and Otani would go at each other full bore until they were forced to stop. This match, from the WCW/New Japan Pro Wrestling cross-promotion, doesn't match the length or technical skill of their work in Japan, but it's still a great match.
14) Dusty Rhodes/Sting vs. the Road Warriors 12/26/88: Still young in his career, Sting teams with the legendary American Dream to battle the nearly indestructible team of Hawk and Animal: the Road Warrior for the NWA Tag Title. This match shows why all these wrestlers were great. Dusty's charisma, Sting's athleticism, and the Road Warriors' power are all on full display in this short but sweet contest.
13) Sting vs. Big Van Vader 12/28/92: This match was the King of Cable Tournament final. What was the King of Cable? I can't remember, but Sting is a strong foil for Vader's immense power and amazingly brutal style. A scary man with or without his mask, Vader mauls his opponent, but Sting's resiliency is second-to-none.
12) The Brisco Brothers vs. Jay Youngblood/Ricky Steamboat 11/24/83: One of three matches on this set from the original Starrcade, all four of these wrestlers are bona fide legends fighting for the Tag Team Championship. Jerry Brisco may now be remembered as one of Vince McMahon's stooges, Jack Brisco and Jay Youngblood may be all but forgotten, and Steamboat may be the only wrestler that kids today will have heard of but, at this time, you couldn't find four harder working technical wrestlers to go at it in the ring together.
11) Dusty Rhodes vs. Ric Flair 11/28/85: One of wrestling history's great rivalries, Rhodes vs. Flair was a big money match anywhere in the world for over a decade. Rhodes may not have looked like much, but he was shockingly athletic and he had the crowd wrapped around his little sausage finger. Combined with Flair's mastery of in-ring psychology, this is one of the most compelling matches on the set, no matter how many times I've seen it.
10) Eddie Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko 12/28/97: Eddie and Dean, great friends in real life, worked as hard as humanly possible when in the ring together. Guerrero's hard hitting, high flying style compliments Malenko's technical superiority perfectly, making for just one of many phenomenal matches between the two.
9) The Steiner Brothers vs. the Road Warriors 12/13/89: If you like hugely built men beating the hell out of each other, the Steiners and the Road Warriors are about as good as you can get. Since neither team really cared about the wellbeing of their opponents, they have free reign to go crazy on each other. Anybody who has ever scoffed that clotheslines don't work needs to see the "Steinerline" that Rick delivers to Hawk. They will never laugh again.
8) 3 Count vs. the Jung Dragons vs. Evan Karagis/Jamie Noble 12/17/00: The shining light from the final Starrcade, this was a three way ladder match in which the person, not the team, to take the contract hanging above the ring would get a match with then Cruiserweight Champion Chavo Guerrero. All six wrestlers were extremely young, and the match is far from polished, but they lay their bodies on the line flipping out of the ring from the tops of ladders to thrill a crowd who, by that time, couldn't have cared less about them.
7) Sting vs. Ric Flair 12/13/89: The Stinger and the Nature Boy were friends at this time, but things would soon change. The start of Sting's first big title push, this was the final match in the Iron Man Tournament that saw the athlete beat three others in a round robin tournament. Fighting his friend and chief rival, all of Sting's skills are put to the test.
6) Roddy Piper vs. Greg Valentine 11/24/83: It's rare in my life that I have liked a dog collar match. Usually, they are slow, plodding, and obvious. That said, the first major big shot at this match is one for the ages. It may be plodding at times but, when Valentine has the chain wrapped around his fist and pounds Piper's ear while it drains blood, I'm hooked.
5) The Road Warriors vs. the Midnight Express 11/27/86: The second scaffold match of the set, dubbed "Night of the Skywalkers," is less compelling that the one that would occur the next year, but this does feature a huge fall from a non-wrestler (Jim Cornette), which is why this match is remembered more fondly than the other.
4) Sting vs. Hollywood Hogan 12/28/97: It had to be on here since this match was Sting's return to wrestling after an eighteen month absence, but the match is simply awful. In an amazing turn, however, it was not the worst match on Starrcade that year, as the main event, Eric Bischoff vs. Larry Zbyszko match for control of WCW, was one of the biggest debacles in wrestling history. At least they didn't put that on here.
3) Ric Flair vs. Harley Race 11/22/83: We're getting to the good stuff now. Flair's quest for his first NWA Title, a quest he entitled "A Flair for the Gold," culminates with the Main Event on the inaugural Starrcade in a cage against the legendary Harley Race. At once a look into past and the future of wrestling, this is a phenomenal match full of drama.
2) Tully Blanchard vs. Magnum T.A. 11/28/85: In an "I Quit" match inside a steel cage, legendary villain Tully Blanchard defends his title against the up-and-coming fan favorite Magnum T.A. This match was the definition of a brutal match and its inclusion as number two is very solid. After his outstanding performance in this contest, Magnum would have shot to the top of the card had a tragic, paralyzing car accident cut his career short.
Finally, the number one match in the history of Starrcade, as voted by you, the fans…
Ric Flair vs. Big Van Vader 12/27/93: His career on the line against one of wrestling's most punishing heels, Ric Flair had a choice: he could be squashed under 400 pounds of monsters or he could stand up and climb to the top of Space Mountain once again. I'm surprised this got the top vote, but it makes me happy. It's a phenomenal match and one that hasn't had nearly the attention of far worse action. Flair's one of the best of all time and Vader was the best big man of his generation.
Quibbles about voting aside, WWE's Starrcade: The Essential Collection is a fantastic set. At least 15 of the matches I consider legitimately great and those that aren't so much have historical importance. The 45-minute documentary is fluffy but informative (at least in WWE's version of history) in their usual production style. The video quality varies over the twenty years of footage, but is generally as good as I've seen. My only complaint with the audio is that I have to listen to the wretched announcing team of Tony Schiavone, Bobby Heenan, and Dusty Rhodes. They may be the worst ever and, even just looking at WCW announce teams, that's saying something. The only extras are optional commentaries with Todd Grisham and Road Warrior Animal, which are interesting and fairly amusing. I'd like to see additional commentary tracks on every match; those who spend money on this sort of collection is definitely someone who wants more "inside" information.
This is one of the best collections WWE has released to date.
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