Thursday, December 12, 2013

Starrcade--"The Granddaddy Of Em All" Turns 30

I was a few weeks shy of a year old for its debut, but in the thirty years since I'm not the only wrestling fan who has come to celebrate and cherish what Starrcade stood for.  It was the event, and concept, that combined southern territorial wrestling with the advent of going beyond the walls of the host arena via closed circuit television.  With no one denying the boundaries broken by WrestleMania less than two years later, the door was opened by Starrcade.

Growing up as a "WWF kid," to me Thanksgiving wrestling tradition meant the Survivor Series.  As my fandom grew, I learned that Starrcade has an equally large space at the wrestling holiday table.  These two events were actually a then new-era equivalent to traditions that had been going on for decades.  For many years, after wrestling fans enjoyed their Thanksgiving dinner or opened their presents on Christmas, a night out at the matches was in order.  While it probably wasn't the ideal night to be working for the wrestlers themselves, I would imagine that some of the hottest crowds of the year packed armories and arenas for these special shows.  With the advent of Starrcade, the talent no longer had to be split up among towns.  Finally, one huge holiday supercard could be seen in multiple towns on the same night.

That first Starrcade in 1983 was subtitled "A Flare for the Gold."  Inside the brutal confines of a steel cage, "Nature Boy" Ric Flair was looking to regain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from the man who wanted him out of the business altogether, Harley Race.  Gene Kiniski, a former NWA Champion himself, officiated the match which saw Flair capture his second NWA title in a blood-soaked celebration that has been replayed many times since.

Championship grandeur aside, others look to another match that night as the most memorable portion of the event.  Rowdy Roddy Piper and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, two men who would go on to participate in the first WrestleMania as well, battled in an absolutely vicious dog collar match.  If certain ECW matches made fans of the '90s think that the participants were truly brutalizing each other, then this match did the same for the audience of a decade earlier.  Dog collars were wrapped around each man's neck which were connected by a heavy chain.  The chain ultimately became one of the stars of the event, helping each man to wreak havoc on the other.  Although Piper emerged victorious, he has since claimed that the effects of the chain hitting his ear caused hearing loss.

In 1984 and 1985 the event grew with subtitles of "The Million Dollar Challenge" and "The Gathering," respectively, but it was in 1986 that the event became "The Night of the Skywalkers."  It was on this night that one of the most awkward match concepts in wrestling history suddenly became one of the most memorable.  Jim Cornette's Midnight Express battled Paul Ellering's Road Warriors in the notorious scaffold match.  The only way to win?  Toss your opponents off of the scaffold.  While Hawk and Animal were successful in tossing "Beautiful" Bobby and "Loverboy" Dennis from the elevated war zone, it was a third fall that became the most memorable.  The fans rabidly wanted to see the much-hated Cornette get his just desserts that Thanksgiving.  Cornette's bodyguard Big Bubba Rogers was supposed to catch the loud-mouthed manager as he fell, but was legitimately just a few seconds too late.  Cornette blew his knee out thanks to the fall and says that he still feels the effects to this day.  Thanks to the moment being played on a commercial for the videotape that aired for weeks on end, it became one of the most seen wrestling "bumps" in history.

Due to the Survivor Series and the WWF's tactics of promotional war, Starrcade was later moved to late in December.  When Jim Crockett Promotions became WCW, the event continued and many fans point to the tenth anniversary of the event as its last great moment.  Once again Ric Flair, the man who arguably could add "Mr. Starrcade" to his list of nicknames, was on another quest for the gold.  This time, Flair would be up against the monstrous Big Van Vader.  A dramatic build insinuating that Flair was too old to defeat the behemoth from the Rocky Mountains only helped to bring the true Starrcade "feel" to the event.  Flair was victorious, in his hometown of Charlotte, NC to boot.  A few months later, Hulk Hogan would enter the company much to the chagrin of some fans who had been with the event and the NWA/WCW brand of wrestling for many years.

Although I was never able to attend Starrcade, my own "live" memories of the event were first created four years after the last one was held.  In 2004, my very first wrestling convention was the Thanksgiving weekend Mid-Atlantic Legends Fanfest in Charlotte.  The event was a tribute to Starrcade and included many of the stars that made the events what they were.  Fittingly, the first autograph that I obtained that weekend was from the original voice of the event, Bob Caudle.  Many of the Fanfests since have had Starrcade themed moments such as Flair and Race reuniting as well as Piper and Valentine posing for photos with the original dog collars, still owned by Piper today.

At press time, we're at just about the time of the year that would be the halfway point between Starrcade's two "homes," Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We're just a few weeks removed from the 30th anniversary of the event's premiere and just days away from the 13th anniversary of its end.  What would Starrcade be today?  I always held out hope that, like the Great American Bash, WWE would someday resurrect the name.  It's most likely not to be, but recent reports indicating that WCW-themed home video releases outsold most of the other WWE titles this year could be good news.  Will more DVD and Blu-Ray releases join the 2008 Starrcade collection?  Time will tell.  In the meantime, memories and memorabilia from the event like those just displayed here will continue to ensure that "The Grandaddy of Em All" is remembered for another thirty years...and beyond.

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