ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... 23 years ago on December 13, 1989, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) held its annual Starrcade super event. This would be the 2nd consecutive Starrcade event held in December, as Starrcades 1983 to 1987 were held in November as a Thanksgiving event until Survivor Series 1987 pushed it back one month for future years. Starrcade remained WCW's top event and gave WCW the premiere December Pay Per View for the next decade until WCW's final few years before the promotion was bought by the WWE during March 2001.
Starrcade 1989 wasn't exactly a standout Starrcade. On paper, you'd look at the matches and go "WOW!" because of the talent but the matches came up short. The gimmick of this event was to pair 2 separate groups of wrestlers and have them combat each other (all match possibilities): 4 singles wrestlers and 4 tag teams. For the singles wrestlers, it was Ric Flair, Sting, Lex Luger, and Great Muta and for the Tag Teams, it was Road Warriors, DOOM, Samoan Swat Team, and the Steiner Brothers. Each wrestler would combat against the other 3 wrestler(s) and points were actually scored based on the outcome of each match. Wrestler(s) would receive 0 points for losing, 5 points for a time-limit draw, 10 for disqualification wins, 15 for countout wins, and 20 for pins/submissions. Thus, for the singles competition with Sting won when he scored 0 points for losing to Lex Luger, 20 points for defeating Great Muta, and 20 points for (finally) defeating Ric Flair for a combined 0 + 20 + 20 = 40 points, the highest score of the 4.
What makes the Starrcade 1989 compelling to me is not the event itself. In my opinion, Starrcade 1989 lacks that standout match that the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) might consider for a DVD/Blu Ray collection or to possibly put on the WWE Network (whenever that happens). WCW attempted to stuff 6 singles matches and 6 tag matches, which each wrestler(s) forced to wrestle 3 times during the evening... Worse yet, because of the many matches stuffed into one evening, none of the matches were given much time to develop. Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger was the longest at 17 minutes but that was after both wrestlers already fought one of their matches and were probably tired. The last match of the night, Sting vs. Ric Flair, went for under 15 but keep in mind that both Sting and Ric Flair had wrestled twice each during the evening. Possibly a great idea on paper but the execution was flawed with time constrictions. Plus, all of the matches were non-title. Ric Flair, World Champion, and the Steiner Brothers, Tag Champions, weren't forced to defend the belts. The winner of these series of matches was just declared the "Iron Man" tournament winner, though it made Sting #1 contender afterward. Just not much of a "sense of urgency" pushed for the winner of the Starrcade 1989 events, much like you see today with Money in the Bank, Royal Rumble, and Elimination Chamber matches granting #1 contenders by winning those matches.
But what made Starrcade 1989 compelling is that it was the end of a great year for World Championship Wrestling. 1989 stands out to be the BEST YEAR EVER in professional wrestling history. On one hand, you had the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) doing absurd business with the Mega Powers, Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage, colliding along with a white hot tag division (Demolition, Hart Foundation, Rockers, etc.) and the continued rise in popularity of the Ultimate Warrior. Wrestlemania 5 by the WWF did CRAZY business back in 1989 and the buyrate was off the charts even by today's standards despite Pay Per View still being an infant model.
On the other hand, WCW, still operating in conjunction with the old National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) lineage, put forth one of the best years for an in-ring product ever that was possibly equaled or topped only by the WWF's 2000 year. And 1989 all centered around the "Nature Boy" Ric Flair... But things weren't so rosy for 1988 for Flair, the year before. Ric Flair was clashing repeatedly with then head booker Dusty Rhodes. Rhodes was big on a still green Lex Luger during 1988 and wanted him to become WCW/NWA Champion at Starrcade 1988. Ric Flair, with clout and a down payment on the NWA Title (NWA champs used to put acutal cash down on the belt as incentive to carry themselves well as champion), disagreed with Rhodes on the Starrcade title change. In attempt to prove a point, Dusty Rhodes then attempted to book Rick Steiner to squash Flair at Starrcade 1988 instead. It failed. Dusty was FIRED as booker, Ric Flair defeated Lex Luger at Starrcade 1988, and Ric Flair was given Creative Power for 1989 by WCW management along with a former NWA Mid-Atlantic booker that returned and I've always heard that Jim Ross had some influence then while working as WCW's commentator.
The creative table was set for a huge year but WCW needed a few more pieces of talent to really make it work. Immediately, Flair/WCW went after free agent Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat. Steamboat, who co-authored the incredible Wrestlemania 3 match with "Macho Man" Randy Savage at Wrestlemania 3 in 1987, was available after seeming to dislike the grueling WWF schedule in light of his wife about to give birth to their son later in the year. WWE management (Vince McMahon) frowned upon Steamboat's request for time off or a lighter schedule and thus the Intercontinental Title that Steamboat won against Savage at Wrestlemania 3 was switched soon after to Honky Tonk Man and Steamboat would be used sparingly by the WWE through 1988. Thus, Steamboat, like pro wrestling columnist Mr. Tito, would "retire" in 1988.
However, with Ric Flair having a bigger voice in WCW for 1989, he wanted Steamboat. Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat did battle on the NWA Mid-Atlantic midcard during the late 1970's and had great matches then. 10 years later, both were in-ring veterans and about to have arguably the best Trilogy of matches in a single year EVER. Flair/Steamboat would do battle at Chi-Town Rumble 1989 where Steamboat would become NWA/WCW Champion, Clash of the Champions 6 for the epic 2 out of 3 falls match, and then at WrestleWar 1989 where Ric Flair would gain the title back. WWE has proudly released these matches on several DVD collections and they remain critically acclaimed matches to this day. Here is Ricky Steamboat's WCW debut (or NWA return) in 1989:
As a sequel to the Steamboat/Flair matches, Ric Flair brought in Terry Funk, who at age 44, was thought to have no tread left on the tires. Funk was brought in as a "judge" for the WrestleWar 1989 match between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat but once Flair celebrated his epic title win, Terry Funk was there to attack! Unseen of for 1989, Terry Funk piledrove Ric Flair on top of a table! This put Ric Flair out of action briefly and turned him babyface until he'd get his revenge on Terry Funk for one of the most STACKED Pay Per Views of all time, Great American Bash 1989. In addition to Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk, Sting vs. Great Muta, Lex Luger vs. Ricky Steamboat (best match of Luger's career, no question!), and a War Games match. Even the "Tuxedu Match" between managers Jim Cornette and Paul E. Dangerously or as you know him today, Paul Heyman, was amusing.
Terry Funk and Ric Flair would go on to wrestle an epic "I Quit" match at Clash of the Champions 9 which set the stage for many "I Quit" match imitations throughout the years. Possibly this author's favorite match of all time, while also earning a major praise and a 5-star rating from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (along with the 3 Ricky Steamboat 1989 matches against Flair). The way Funk and Flair tormented each other and beat each other senseless with the microphone, insisting that the other say "I Quit", was pure magic.
Also in WCW... Sting's popularity continued to rise. Ric Flair took good care of Sting at Clash of the Champions 1 in 1988 by wrestling Sting to a 45 minute draw, the match that made this author a full blown wrestling fan. In 1989, Flair and bookers had Sting first win the Television Title (defended at every televised event) to build him up in the midcard before the eventual WCW/NWA Title push set for 1990. Luckily for Sting, WCW brought in a very unique individual as an opponent: The Great Muta. See, during 1989, Japanese wrestlers were not at all known to wrestling fans. But Muta was the perfect introduction for many younger fans... He had the facepaint, the mist, and a ninja like look to him that drew interest. After younger fans enjoyed the Karate Kid movies from the 1980's, seeing a wrestler resemble a real ninja fascinated them. Plus, that Moonsault of Muta's just wowed people in 1989 while the different colors of mist sprayed into opponents' eyes (colors other than green were "dangerous"!) drew my interest. Muta and Sting had great matches during 1989 and gave fans something to look forward to in the Midcard. Here's an example of Muta squashing a wrestler in 1989:
In addition to enjoying Sting/Muta in the Midcard, Ric Flair battles in the Main Event... WCW had a LOADED Tag Team division in 1989. Before 1989, it was already great... The Road Warriors (Animal & Hawk) were badasses and were turned faces by the fans rooting them on as they attacked Dusty Rhodes in 1988. Plus, the Road Warriors introduced the DOOMSDAY DEVICE which possibly remains the most devastating Tag Team finisher of all time (Animal holds opponent on shoulders while Hawk comes off the top with a clothesline!). But you also had the Varsity Club who would pound you with a rotation of 3 guys (Mike Rotunda, Steve "Dr. Death" Williams, and Kevin Sullivan). While WCW had great finesse teams like the Midnight Express (Stan Lane & Bobby Eaton version) and the Fantastics, it was the creation of 3 new teams which thickened up the division.
First of all, you had the newly created Steiner Brothers tag team. Rick Steiner was a former member of the Varsity Club, as mentioned above. Taking routine beatings from them and even losing his TV Title to Mike Rotunda, Rick Steiner enlisted his real life brother Scott Steiner to become his tag team partner. Better yet, Scott Steiner was a fast learner and they made a strong team in their first year wrestling together in WCW during 1989. And then there was DOOM. Put Ron Simmons and "Hacksaw" Butch Reed, two very thick black wrestlers under masks and they looked very intimidating together. They were the perfect rivals for the Steiner Brothers at the time, as the Steiner Brothers were thick in build themselves and DOOM looked credible enough to defeat them. Then, WCW added more flavor to their Tag Division by adding Samu and Fatu the Samoan Swat Team (SST) to the Tag Division. They actually came out to the John Carpenter Halloween theme back in the day. When a SST member jumped off the top rope with a splash, it was OVER!
Loaded tag team division and great singles stars for this "Iron Man" concept at Starrcade 1989, what could go wrong, right? Well, nothing went wrong actually, it's just that the event didn't have the "pop" that other events had in 1989. But on paper, this show is loaded with the WCW Superstars that made 1989 special. Too many matches, wrestlers worn out wrestling 3 times, too much fuzzy math for the scoring system... Probably a regular event could have added to the legend known as WCW 1989.
1990 would not be as successful for both WCW and WWF as 1989 would be. Both WCW and WWF would attempt to give their World Titles to guys wearing identical facepaint who actually tagged up with each other during the past (Bladerunners!). At Wrestlemania 6, the WWF gave the WWF Title to the Ultimate Warrior. At Great American Bash 1990, WCW gave the NWA/WCW World Title to Sting. His Starrcade 1989 Iron Man match victory eventually made Sting the #1 contender and put him in the crosshairs of Ric Flair and the reformed 4 Horsemen. After a knee injury due to a Horsemen attack and even fictional movie character Robocop providing security (I'm not kidding), Sting beat Flair for the WCW/NWA Title at Bash 1990.
However, like the Ultimate Warrior in 1990, Sting was fed weaker main event opponents and just wasn't pushed as hard as a main eventer like the person who dropped the title to him. Sting had to endure the Black Scorpion character in particular which was a wrestler made-up by the WCW new booking staff in 1990. Ric Flair had lost booking responsibilities after Sting's knee injury upset management while Flair could never get along with WCW Executive Vice President Jim Herd. Herd, like many others before and after him, thought that Ric Flair was too old for the main event scene despite Flair consistently being able to prove that he was still a draw and had tread on his tires. Things came to a head with Ric Flair and Jim Herd during 1991 when Ric Flair was fired weeks before Great American Bash 1989. Fellow 4 Horsemen member, Ole Anderson was installed as WCW booker instead and disaster known as the Black Scorpion looked really bad heading into Starrcade 1990... But that's another "On this Day in Pro Wrestling History" to discuss... By 1991, WWF returned their Title to Hulk Hogan and WCW returned their Title to Ric Flair, the same guys Warrior/Sting defeated to become World Champions. Ouch.
ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... WCW held its Starrcade 1989 event 23 years ago after quite possibly the best year in pro wrestling history. Go out of your way to obtain the WWE based Ric Flair DVD collection to get a taste of the Steamboat and Funk matches sent to us by the Wrestling Gods.