February 5, 2011

After watching too many stupid dance offs and absurd matches I needed to restore my wrestling sanity so I sat down to watch some old NWA. I decided on Starrcade 97 ďChi-Town HeatĒ and thought I would share my thoughts on the show. This event was from back when I was first becoming a big wrestling fan and I greatly preferred the darker more realistic atmosphere of the then NWA to the brighter more cartoony WWF. There were no big screens, stages, or ramp ways, they just had lights and a smoke machine where they made their entrance and the guys just walked down a narrow isle through the fans to get to the ring.

Jim Ross and Tony Schivone were doing commentary and they were awesome. They talked about the matches and pretty much nothing else. They never talked about other angles during matches and they did a great job explaining the importance or everything going on in the ring. Boy this felt like so much more of a real sport and every match seemed important. This was also the first big event after the NWA bought out the UWF so there were a lot of ďinter-promotionalĒ type matches on this show.

The Fabulous Freebirds & Sting vs. Eddie Gilbert, Rick Steiner, Larry Zybszko: This match was such a basic simple match and it was great. They took their time did simple stuff and the crowd popped for EVERYTHING. Sting did a monstrous dive early, which the cameramen missed completely. They did a time limit draw which came off a little clunky and flat but the action was fun and the crowd ate it up. You could tell Sting was very green but on his way to being a big star. Fun match

Steve Williams vs. Barry Windham (UWF Title): Barry was the Western States Heritage Champion at the time (likely the least prestigious belt in history) so Williams defending against him shows how little credibility the NWA planned on giving the UWF. Both of these guys where baby faces and this was one of the slowest most boring matches Iíve ever seen. They were trying to tell a sportsmanship story in this match but the crowd wasnít into any of it, chanting boring and booing often. They literally did nothing. There were only 2 spots of note; one where Barry accidently head butted Williams low on a leap frog where Barry would not engage in the match until he was sure Steve had recovered. The crowd booed this. Later Williams ducked a cross body by Windham causing Barry to take a nasty bump to the floor. Rather than return the favour and let Barry recover William immediately rolled Barry up when he got back in the ring to retain his title. Just horrendous!

Midnight Express vs. Rock & Roll Express (Scaffold Match): While this type of match may have been an attraction guys canít actually do much up there so it was just a bunch of punching and tennis racket shots until the R&R finally dumped the Midnights off the scaffold. The key to this match working (which it did) was that people genuinely cared about the baby faces and the out come of the match. Winning meant something so despite the limits of the match the crowd was totally into this and popped huge on the finish.

Nikita Koloff vs. Terry Taylor (TV Title Unification match): This match was awesome and is exactly the kind of wrestling I wish we could go back to. This match told a story, everything they did made sense and furthered that story, and the announcers put over everything going on in that ring so we understood and cared about that story. I think most people today think story telling in wrestling is a bunch of skits and back story about how this guy slept with this girl or how someone had this guy abducted and wanted to get revenge for abuse he suffered as a kid, or bringing up inside stuff like back stage politics, but itís not. Proper story telling in wrestling is having a story told in the ring during a match; telling the story OF the match, not the convoluted dating practices of the combatants involved. Nikita was the bigger, more popular, superior athlete and Terry was the more technically sound, opportunistic heel, and they told the story of the intelligent and cunning Taylor trying to solve the puzzle of how to beat the physically dominating Koloff. In a lot of ways this was a simple match but man it was great. Every change in the tide of the match the crowd was super into. They teased Nikitaís finisher into the heat and the crowd went nuts. The back and forth struggle kept Nikita strong despite Terry remaining in control for a long period of time. When Nikita finally made a comeback the crowd came unglued and after getting cut off one last time very strongly from the outside Nikita managed to hit the Russian Cycle out of no where and the place went absolutely Nucking Futs. They likely did less moves than most 4-minute matches on RAW but got better reactions than the best WrestleMania main events. I miss this time in the business and this style of work.

Tully Blanchard & Arn Anderson vs. The Road Warriors (Tag Titles): Again this match told a great story and had a slower pace allowing us to get into the importance of everything. Arn and Tully were great and the Road Warriors were super over, here in their home town of Chicago. The finish was sloppy and pretty basic leading into the infamous Dusty finish but the beginning and middle portions sure told an awesome story and had the crowd on the edge of their seat. For those of you who are too young, the Dusty finish is when the ref gets bumped, someone does something illegal (in this case Animal threw Arn over the top rope) and then the baby faces score a pin fall when a second ref comes out to count the fall. The crowd then thinks the faces win, but the first ref gets up and says he saw the illegal act and rules the match a DQ so the titles donít change hands. The crowd was super into this match up until the DQ. On a humorous note right at the end The Road Warriors gave Tully a double clothesline but for some reason to sell it, rather than take a bump, he just walked right through it and went to his hands and knees and crawled out of the ring on the other side. Great match, bad finish.

Lex Luger vs. Dusty Rhodes (US Title Cage Match): As much as I love this era in wrestling this match was brutal! They edited this match and it still felt like these guys were doing nothing. Dusty literally held onto an arm bar for 5-10 minutes, then bled for the next 5-10 then it was time for the finish. The only saving grace to this match was that the US Title actually meant something back then so the crowd was into the finish and cared about who won. Dustyís fire on his comeback was awesome. They did one of the worse DDT bumps Iíve ever seen for a near fall leading up to JJ Dillon throwing a chair into the cage for Luger to use, which Dusty managed to hit an even worse DDT on Luger on top of to win the title. Most memorable thing from this match was the purposeful deliberate breathing of Luger through out the entire match.

Ron Garvin vs. Ric Flair (NWA Title Cage Match): Garvin was champ coming into this match and the crowd did not like him holding the title. Despite being the baby face the crowd booed when he was announced as the World Champ. As a fan back then I hated Garvin as Champ too so we were all on the same page here. This match was edited too and to be honest not that much of a match. They traded a lot of chops and punches but didnít do too much else till quite a bit later in the match. Again the saving grace to this match was that the fans actually cared about the match outcome so when the tide of the match changed and someone took over there was a lot of excitement. Crowd was into every near fall, even a back slide, and when Flair finally won the crowd popped huge, despite Flair being the heel.

Its funny looking back, I really liked this show in spite of the fact that more than half of the matches werenít that good. I think the difference was that the show had the atmosphere of an important event and the bad matches never felt stupid or trivial. There was no point when the bad matches made me embarrassed to be watching this show, everything was at least credible. Itís a bit like watching UFC in that not ever match is good but they are all still credible fights. Thumbs Up.

Lance Storm