Starrcade 88 "True Grit"
December 21, 2011
I saw this show live, and I remember at the time thinking it was awesome. With that said in many ways this show did not hold up over time. I think the reason this show didn't hold up well is that the business has changed so much, and the standards have changed. Watching this show through today's eyes the matches on the whole were not very good, but if you judged the show by the reaction of the crowd in attendance the show was awesome.
This show really was a perfect example of how the business has changed, both for the better and the worse. Today wrestlers do so much more in their matches; the action is bigger, faster, and often more thought out. I constantly hear comments on matches about how the guys worked really hard and had a good match but that the crowd didn't care; well this was the exact opposite. The crowd absolutely loved the baby faces on this show and hated the heels and had a definite vested interest in the outcome of the matches. Everything just seemed so important contrary to how so much feels so insignificant now.
Starrcade 88 "True Grit" was held on December 26th from the Norfolk Scope. The show was hosted by Tony Schiavone and Magnum T.A. with Jim Ross and Bob Cadle doing commentary from ring side. They pitched back and forth between matches and this whole event felt so much more like a sporting event than anything you see today. SmackDown general manager Teddy Long was the referee for the first half of the show and some how he managed to look older in 1988 than he does today. Tommy Young refereed the second half of the show and was tremendous; I always loved Tommy Young as a ref.
The Fantastics vs. Steve Williams and Kevin Sullivan (US Tag Titles): This was back when Sullivan was running the Varsity Club, where each member was a stand out athlete in College. It started with Mike Rotunda and Rick Steiner. Rick had just turned face and was replaced by Dr. Death. I liked the concept of this group and think WWE could bring it back with Ziggler and Swagger. The Fantastics gimmick, while over at the time would be death to a baby face today. This match was very clearly not planned out ahead of time and was often clumsy, including the finish. The heels did no favours for the Baby face in this match shutting them down on a couple Hot Tag attempts and eventually pinned them pretty much clean, without the faces getting any near falls, to win the titles. They made a huge deal out of the Title change and continued to mention it through out the night.
The Midnight Express vs. The Midnight Express: This match pitted the "Original" Midnight Express, Dennis Condrey and Randy Rose managed by Paul E. Dangerously against the "Current" Midnight Express, Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane managed by James E. Cornette. No reference was made to the fact that both managers shared the same middle initial. Cornette's combo were the baby faces and man was the crowd hot for this match. They both came out to the same music which was okay by me because I loved the old Midnight Express music. This was so much fun and they utilized both managers to excite the crowd. Bobby Eaton was every bit as awesome as I remember him being; my God that man was great. Great back and forth in this match feeling each other out at the beginning and just a superbly worked match. Faces picked up a quick win only to get jumped post match to keep this feud alive.
JYD & Ivan Koloff vs. The Russian Assassins: The Assassins were managed by Paul Jones and if they lost Paul Jones would have to retire and they would have to unmask. This was the match that I realized this show featured a lot of non-jacked, non-tanned bodies. This match was absolutely dreadful, but the crowd still cared about it. I don't know who the Assassins were but I'm all but positive one of them was Jack Victory. Nothing went well in this match including the finish. Whoever was supposed to hold Teddy Long didn't do a very good job and Teddy came back early and clearly saw the outside interference and illegal switch by the heels but still made the count when they pinned Ivan Koloff. This was SOOOO bad. During the post match analysis it was very clear by the look on JR's face that he knew we had just witnessed a match so ugly not even bowling shoes would want to be associated with it.
Mike Rotunda vs. Rick Steiner (TV Title): Kevin Sullivan was locked in a Shark Cage suspended from the ceiling for this match. Rick had just turned face and left the Varsity club and was doing an almost Eric Young mentally challenged type gimmick. He talked to Alex who was a face he drew on his hand and could make talk by moving his thumb when he made a fist. The gimmick was very bad but he was super over. This was a super slow match that would get booed out of the building today, but the crowd was into it because even the TV title meant something back then and the crowd genuinely cared about both guys and who won this important title. TV Title matches had shorter time limits so to tease a time limit draw Steve Williams came out and rang the bell before official time had expired. Sullivan was released from the cage in the confusion and I think fans were expecting a real screw job here. Tommy Young came out from the back to back up Teddy who restarted the match and Steiner immediately pinned Rotunda and the place went absolutely bat shit crazy. This is what can happen when Titles mean something and fans can relate to and care about the baby face. Horrible match but a great finish.
Barry Windham vs. Bam Bam Bigelow (US Title): Windham was part of the Horsemen here and managed by J.J. Dillon. Barry was so freakin awesome; if you haven't seen Windham in his prime you are really missing out. Crowd was super hot and this was a really good match. Barry was playing up to the crowd during the heat almost turning him self baby face. Bam Bam blew a quick comeback into a really shitty count out finish. I think Bigelow had just jumped from the WWF so maybe he refused to do the job, but this was a really bad ending to a very solid match.
The Road Warriors vs. Dusty Rhodes & Sting (World Tag Titles): Warriors were heels and managed by Paul Ellering, but still cheered somewhat by the crowd. Sting and Dusty were both over like crazy. The set up for this match was The Road Warriors attacking Dusty with one of the Spikes from their shoulder pads and trying to take his eye out. This was the first match after the attack, and the promo Dusty cut in the opening video package of the event is still one of my all time favourites. "If Sting has to carry me on his back damn it all...if he has to drag me in a wagon...I'm breathing, you understand what 'm saying, I'm breathing...You should have got it done. It's violence for the sake of violence, but I will turn it around...to my violence, to my thunder, to my lightning bolt" Sting did a huge cross body off the top rope to the floor early. Not a whole lot of psychology but the crowd was super hot. They got heat on Dusty and Sting blew the big comeback and Ellering interferes for the DQ and another very flat finish.
Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger (World Title): Stip for this match was that if Flair gets disqualified the title will change hands. J.J. Dillon was in Flair's corner. I popped huge for Luger's music; I always thought it was great and still do. Commentary was awesome for this match; they talked about how Luger had actually dropped 13 lbs training for this match because he was focusing on cardio and conditioning because of Flair's rep for longer matches. Luger was shredded and actually looked to be a few pounds lighter than normal. Crowd was super into this and the announcers and everyone made this match and the Title mean so much; the crowd was into everything. Luger actually botched the opening spot, but Ric covered it well; Luger was quite green here. That said this match went over 30 minutes and Lex was quite good. All the criticism he gets for not being any good, his performance in this match was in many ways far better than much of what you see today. Luger's selling in particular was way better than many in the business today. They got the initial heat from Luger just missing an elbow drop. Luger just hooking a back slide in the heat got a bigger crowd reaction than most finishes today. After a comeback Dillon distracted the ref and Flair hit Luger in the knees with a chair garnering nuclear heat from the crowd, to start the second heat. Luger was extremely good here. Finish had Luger get Flair in the Torture Rack but his knee buckled and Flair landed on top of him and used his feet on the ropes to get the pin and retain his title. In his post match protest Luger completely stopped selling his knee which was bad, but on the whole he was very very good.
They did a fairly extensive post show wrap up with everyone discussing the important fall out from the show putting big emphasis on the two Title changes of the night. Flair also did a post match promo that was great.
In the end this show came off so much better than it actually was because the crowd was super hot for everything. Nothing was treated like a joke, the wins/losses, and titles all meant something so even the bad matches came off feeling important. The Main event really delivered, and apart from the bad finishes the last 3 matches on the show were really good. In an interesting side not, I watched this show as a fan almost 2 years before I broke in and I ended up working with nine of the performers on this show (Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Sting, Bam Bam Bigelow, Rick Steiner, Paul Heyman, Jim Cornette, Tommy Rogers, and Steve Williams.) Someone from every match but the Russian stinker, and actually if Jack Victory was one of the guys under the mask we worked in ECW together.
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