November 26, 1987
This is a very historical event for a number of reasons, all of which have been heavily documented elsewhere. We all know about the hoopla surrounding the event from the business standpoint, but how does it fare from a wrestling standpoint? Let’s find out!
Barry Windham . . . learns the hard way that it’s better to be a winner first and a sportsman second.
Terry Taylor . . . proves his worth as a worker by dragging something watchable out of Nikita Koloff.
Ric Flair . . . once again shows why he’s the one of the best wrestlers to lace up a pair of boots.
MICHAEL HAYES/JIMMY GARVIN/STING vs. EDDIE GILBERT/RICK STEINER/LARRY ZYBYSZKO
For all of the talk of Chicago crowds being almost ECW-like in their rowdiness, they sure seemed to be into this. This doesn’t really pick up until halfway into the match, which doesn’t seem like a good thing for a fifteen-minute broadway, but the first half is smartly worked. It’s established that while Steiner is easily the most powerful guy in the match, he’s not the smartest guy out there and that keeps the heels from getting a real advantage. Steiner ambushes Sting before the bell with a big lariat, and Sting makes a quick comeback. Eddie and Larry will soften up Sting or Hayes and then tag in Steiner to really put the hurt on, but he’s outsmarted and the heels are back to square one. So, it’s halfway into the match, before the heels finally get a control segment and stick with it.
The work itself isn’t much to write home about, it’s a lot of punch and kick stuff, which makes sense with the feud between Sting and Gilbert/Steiner. There are a few surprisingly clean spots, such as Garvin’s sunset flip near fall, and Hayes’ aping of that spot as the time runs out (although the ref blows it by counting to two and then having to wait for the time to run out). Sting has a nice dive and Steiner’s bear hug followed buy belly to belly suplex is a very smart touch. But those are the exception, not the rule, and this loses steam very quickly after Garvin starts getting worked over, and they essentially hit reset on the action and start working over Sting. The saving graces to this are Eddie and Larry’s willingness to stooge and Sting and Garvin’s selling during the heel control segment. Hindsight shows that Sting should have gone over Steiner or Gilbert here, since he was on his way to a program with Flair, but, while this has issues that aren’t the booking, this isn’t a total waste either.
STEVE WILLIAMS © vs. BARRY WINDHAM (UWF Heavyweight Title)
It’s too bad that this is only known for the booking of the finish, because this was actually quite the good little wrestling match. They set the stage for the finish by showing their mutual respect for each other several times throughout the match, even congratulating each other after a counter or an escape, such as when Barry escapes Doc’s press slam and rolls him up. At one point they wrestle each other to the floor and stop, shake hands, and roll back in. Doc tries to use his power and Barry his technical skills, but they also show that they can do the opposite as well, Doc using technical skills and Barry using power. Doc’s sleeper and Barry’s inability to escape right away highlight Doc’s technical ability.
What it comes down to is the willingness to do what’s necessary to win, and that’s what Barry lacks, and what Doc has. Barry accidentally catches Doc low on a leap frog, and refuses to go for the kill, the fans are even encouraging him to do so. Barry gives Doc time to recover, and then has his own mishap and goes sailing to the floor and into the table. As soon as Barry gets in, Doc cradles him for the win. It wasn’t dirty or heelish of Doc, but it was Doc simply doing what needed to be done. It seems odd to think that one of the best workers in the U.S. if not the world, had to learn a lesson this far into his career, but he definitely learned it, and five years later, the world saw just how much he’d taken it to heart. ***
BOBBY EATON/STAN LANE vs. RICKY MORTON/ROBERT GIBSON (Skywalker Match)
If nothing else, both teams deserve some credit for attempting to put a show on. There isn’t a whole lot that they can do that high up, especially on such a narrow platform, but they do try. It’s mostly fists and racket shots, but there’s some double teaming in the form of Stan holding Robert for Bobby, and Bobby trying to blind Ricky with powder. There’s a few teases that Ricky might fall off, and Bobby getting opened up when Ricky bounces his head off the scaffold. Robert also finds a creative way to get out of trouble by using the railing of the scaffold to his advantage.
It’s puzzling why this sort of match was chosen, other than to play off the fact that the Midnights had this sort of match at the previous Starrcade, although it was the Dennis and Bobby version. Unless it’s this sort of match, you can’t really go wrong with the Midnights against the Rock ‘n’ Rolls, Bobby and Stan both take the plunge and Cornette is smart enough to stay grounded this time around.
TERRY TAYLOR © vs. NIKITA KOLOFF © (UWF Television Title and NWA World Television Title Unification Match)
The jokes that one could make about this classic are endless! The Red Rooster vs. The Red Menace, The Taylor Made Man vs. The Chemically Made Man. This isn’t a classic by any means, but, thanks to Taylor, it’s at least watchable, especially when you consider how little Nikita gives him. Nikita gives him next to nothing for the first ten plus minutes, none of Taylor’s attempts to go after Nikita’s arm are sold at all, and even when Taylor hits a cheap shot like a punch to the face or tries to go for the eyes, Nikita blows him off. It’s only thanks to a missed Russian Sickle that Taylor gets control of things, and while the match quickly picks up as a result, it’s not long enough to fully salvage it.
Their work is mostly made up them working over the arm, with some cheap tactics from Taylor, using the ropes, going to the eyes, Eddie Gilbert interfering, etc. Taylor kills Nikita as far as his selling goes, he’s great at showing his frustration at Nikita ‘outwrestling’ him early on by keeping on his arm, and it’s fun to watch him stumble and stooge for Nikita. I’ll say this for Nikita . . . he tries, his selling when Taylor works over his arm is way overblown, it’s akin to watching Flair when he gets caught in the figure four by someone else, to someone who doesn’t understand what they’re doing, it looks more like he’s having a seizure or a heart attack. Despite the obvious difference in regards to talent, Nikita is bigger and he’s the NWA guy, so it’s not a shock that he goes over. Tony Schivone didn’t need to give away the finish long before it happened, Tony makes a comment that Taylor is working Nikita’s left arm, but he uses his right for the Sickle, and low and behold, Taylor misses a charge and eats the Sickle. This show may have been dead in the water as far as PPV buys go, but the wrestlers sure seem to be busting their humps on this night.
TULLY BLANCHARD/ARN ANDERSON © vs. HAWK/ANIMAL (NWA World Tag Team Titles)
In a nutshell, this is a shorter, and better, version of the Nikita/Taylor match, though it helps that the Road Warriors are better than Nikita and that Tully and Arn are better than Taylor. Instead of trying to simply wrestle with them early on, and risk getting no-sold, Tully and Arn try to play a little dirty to get an early advantage, but Hawk and Animal don’t take the bait right away. They try to corner Ellering on the floor to draw them out, but only Animal goes, leaving Hawk to keep his eye on them. Arn makes Animal chase him around the ring hoping to ambush him when he rolls in, but he’s too late and winds up getting a press slam.
What Tully and Arn figure out is that there’s nothing wrong with their game plan specifically, but they just weren’t finding the right way to implement it, which they find when Hawk goes to press slam Tully and Arn clips his knee. With Hawk in trouble this picks up nicely, although it’s quite short. Tully and Arn are fun at sharking in on Hawk’s knee, and Hawk’s selling is also a bit overblown, but not nearly as much as Nikita’s. There’s a bit of an exposing moment when Tully uses a figure four and reaches for Arn to give him some leverage, Tully is a bit far away and only barely makes contact with Arn, it winds up being called a tag and the ref makes them switch, although it was clearly not supposed to be. The only big negative to the match (and really, to this card so far) is the Dusty finish, it’s arguably the biggest show of the year and in the LOD’s hometown, it was the right time and place to change the titles, but the bad booking doesn’t take away from the solid action. ***
LEX LUGER © vs. DUSTY RHODES (NWA United States Heavyweight Title - Steel Cage Match)
If you expect a wrestling classic out of this match, you’re going to be disappointed. But, honestly, it’s not horrible in the least. Dusty and Luger couldn’t seem to pick a theme and stick with it. They’d seem to be building some momentum and going somewhere, and then they’d change their minds and go somewhere else. First it was Dusty working over Luger’s arm after he missed an elbow drop, but then they decide to let Luger take over and it’s completely forgotten. Luger goes after Dusty’s back to soften him up, and he almost gets Dusty up in the Rack, which was probably impressive in ‘87. But then, Luger drops that and focuses on Dusty’s arm for no real reason, although it’s arguable that it would prevent the bionic elbow. Luger does that for a while, and then Dusty does his own version of a Hulk-Up, to take over and head toward the finish. The work itself isn’t exactly stellar, although one probably shouldn’t expect stellar work in a cage match. But, it’d probably be interesting to compare Luger’s work here to his matches with Steamboat or Pillman in 1989.
The finish itself, Dillon throwing Luger a chair which backfires on him to give Dusty the title, works good on a couple of different levels. It’s karma coming back around for Luger, given that he won the title from Nikita in a very similar manner. It also perfectly leads to the dissension between Luger and the Horsemen that led to Lex’s departure from the group. In a way, it’s the opposite of the previous match, in this case the underwhelming work doesn’t take away from the good booking.
RONNIE GARVIN © vs. RIC FLAIR (NWA World Heavyweight Title - Steel Cage Match)
Although this isn’t the classic that a Ric Flair Starrcade match ought to be, it’s another good effort. It’s been said many times that the Flair/Garvin matches were legendary for their brutality, and this is an example of why. There is only a few chop and slap exchanges, but the stiffness is sickening. The stiffness isn’t the only good thing though, Flair and Garvin do a nice job of playing off their Detroit cage match where Garvin lifted the title. On three separate occasions, Garvin finds himself on the top rope while Flair is dazed. The first time, Flair sees him getting ready and gets out of dodge. Flair backs up the second time and Garvin goes for the cross body press since he’s too far for the sunset flip. The third time is the charm for Garvin and Flair learns from the loss and grabs the ropes, the ref kicks him away, but Flair has bought himself enough time to kick out.
The only thing that I wasn’t solid on was the treatment of the figure four, both of them spent a considerable amount of time in the hold, including Flair using the ropes for added leverage/heat, but neither of them really played up the damage at all. It’s ironic that I used Flair as a comparison for Nikita’s overblown selling, but Flair’s overselling while in his own hold is much better, not nearly as campy. Some might complain about the ref bump, but it wasn’t a match breaker in the least, all Tommy Young going down did in the grand scheme of things was give Flair an extra ten seconds or so to recover from getting decked. It’d odd, although fitting in a way, that the finish is Ronnie getting pinned after getting rammed into the cage, Flair and Garvin were smart enough to build up to it, with Flair trying to the use the cage, only to have Garvin put the breaks on it and use it on Flair, and then Flair outsmarting him and getting the win. This is an easy pick for match of the night, and while it may not seem like it’s saying a whole lot, when you look at the effort everyone seemed to put in, it really is. ***1/2
Conclusion: This show has a bit of a bad rep, but, honestly, it’s really a fun show. There’s no arguing that some things could have been better, like scrapping the scaffold match and letting the Expresses do what they do best, but it’s something that’s worthy of being seen.