Thursday, November 6, 2014

Starrcade Was Turning Japanese

When you think of "The Granddaddy Of Em All," Starrcade, you think of huge NWA supercards held in November or December.  Japan, The Tokyo Dome, or the month of March usually aren't in the equation, unless you're thinking back to 1991.  Ric Flair was still holding "Big Gold," WCW had just broken away from the NWA, and stars such as Sting, Lex Luger, and The Steiner Brothers were at the top of the card. An alliance between WCW and New Japan Pro Wrestling was born, thus creating the first Starrcade '91, or WCW Japan SuperShow as it was known here in the United States.

It was a star-studded card headlined by Flair defending the championship against Tatsumi Fujinami.  It was this match that led to the main event of the first WCW SuperBrawl event a few months later.  At the time, WCW seemed to be trying to position SuperBrawl against WrestleMania and replace Starrcade as its biggest yearly event.  I've always felt that, despite respect from a wrestling standpoint, the Flair-Fujinami rematch wasn't the main event to use to build a new supershow, but that's another argument for another time.

Although WCW was gone from the practice of event-specific programs, NJPW produced an amazing looking publication that was sold at the Tokyo Dome.  It is an oversized glossy program in the style that the WWF would not adopt for a few years.  Perhaps as a reflection in the advancement in photography by the Japanese, wrestling publications from their country almost always have a modern look and feel that holds up today.

Kicking off the program is a proclamation from James (Jim) Herd.  It is presented in both Japanese and broken English.  For those of you that have heard Jim Cornette rant about the former WCW Vice President, you can only imagine what the "Louisville Lip" would make of this. This is the WCW side of the program, and traditionally the "American" side.  Publications in Japan are generally read in what Americans would consider a "backwards" format, due to how their language is printed.  The other side of this program has a NJPW logo cover and contains opening statements from their officials at the time as well as their own rundown of the card.

To say that the card was star-studded is almost an understatement.  The top WCW and NJPW talent of the day is featured as well as men like Big Van Vader and Bam Bam Bigelow who competed regularly on both continents.  Sting battled his longtime rival The Great Muta in a match that would make any classics list, while El Gigante took on "Big Cat" Hughes probably to appease Japanese wrestling fans longtime fascination with "big man" wrestlers. 

WCW merchandise from the era is shown several times throughout, including the Wrestling Wrap-Up magazine and many now-collectible shirts.  One page displays merchandise made exclusively for this Starrcade In Japan event.  A pair of what appear to be pre-paid phone cards are particularly interesting looking.  T-shirts and even a beach towel were offered, but the crown jewel has to be the shiny silver Starrcade In Japan jacket.  With Ribera Steakhouse jackets becoming more and more common among Japanese wrestling lore, I would imagine that this jacket would be considerably rarer.  There's a treasure for puroresu collectors to hunt!

Interestingly, the ads are not limited to wrestling related goods.  Full page ads appear several times throughout the program for liquor, food, and other items.  Japanese ads often appeared quirky to Americans back in those days, as was often lampooned by shows like The Simpsons.  If you haven't sought out commercials featuring Hulk Hogan singing or Abdullah the Butcher frolicking on a beach with a young Japanese girl, you truly need to.  Nonetheless, in this program we see a rather creepy ad featuring a robot holding a baby in a wooded area, and girls dressed as Geisha advertising what is probably a ramen-style soup.

Although three of these SuperShows (all labeled Starrcade in Japan) were produced altogether and eventually sold in the United States on pay-per-view, this 1991 event is the only one to be released on VHS.  It was released as "Rumble In The Rising Sun" and appeared in many rental stores at the time.  All three would definitely be great additions to WWE Network, especially since "all" pay-per-views are supposed to be included.  So while these events aren't included in the regular Starrcade chronology, all are interesting footnotes in the history of both WCW and NJPW.

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