Thanksgiving has traditionally been a big night for professional wrestling.

    I say “traditionally” because in more recent times the night has been vacated to let the talent enjoy one of the few holidays they can before the now more traditional Friday night show (SmackDown!) or weekend house show loop (pre-Covid) kicks off. And when I say “traditionally”, to me, this is more of a personal term as I see the 80s and 90s being my own personal “traditional” times when I was growing up. So to me, the Thanksgiving tradition of early Survivor Series and Starrcade shows are what I am referring to when I say traditionally. So with last Thursday, November 26 2020, being Thanksgiving for this year, I thought it best to give the traditionally big wrestling night a bit of spotlight for this week’s edition of TWM’s Last Week In Wrestling.

    It all started (for me) in 1983 with NWA Starrcade from the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina, Ric Flair beat Harley Race for the NWA world heavyweight title inside a steel cage, and Roddy Piper beat Greg Valentine in their famous Dog Collar match. This event would pre-date WWF’s WrestleMania in 1984 so one could guess that Vince saw this mega-card event on close circuit TV and lightbulbs started going off above his head.

    Two years later Flair retained the NWA title against Dusty Rhodes, losing via DQ but keeping the title, but the night belonged to Magnum TA and Tully Blanchard and their I Quit match for the United States title. A match still looked upon as one of the better I Quit matches ever.

    Flash forward three years and we had two major events and one major situation that would help shape the course of history.

    Jim Crockett was set to promote the fourth annual Starrcade event but for the first time on pay per view. In a bid to counter programme and drive buyers away from their rival, Vince McMahon and the WWF created the Survivor Series event which would go head-to-head with Starrcade, also on pay per view.

    Seeing his competition promote a show that would clash with his, and smartly seeing where audiences would tend to lean towards the WWF in terms of buying “one or the other”, Crockett moved his show to the afternoon of Thanksgiving 1987 giving wrestling fans the opportunity of watching two huge events one after each other and pay per view companies the chance of a very rare double wrestling pay per view windfall in the one day.

    Where the story takes a turn and shows McMahon’s cut-throat ruthless side is that McMahon issued a warning to pay per view companies that had already run the hugely successful WrestleMania III (Hogan vs Andre) earlier in 1987, that if they ran Starrcade ’87 then the WWF would not allow them to run the upcoming WrestleMania V in 1988.

    All but five pay per view companies in North America ran Starrcade that year, and it hit Crockett big in terms of pay per view revenue in what would have been their debut in the PPV market and no doubt a hugely successful one. WWF again showed they were the true leader in the pay per view market: picking up the big win in the head-to-head buy rates.

    To make matters worse, after issuing the initial threat, all five PPV companies that ran Starrcade were still able to run WrestleMania V the next year, brandishing McMahon’s threat gut-less and in fact just that, a threat- nothing more. Bottom line is McMahon would not turn away revenue no matter what he said six months prior.

    The cards that night read a whos who of 1980s wrestling. Starrcade had Ric Flair against Ronnie Garvin, yes- Ronnie Garvin- in the main event, but the undercard was impressive: Dusty Rhodes vs Lex Luger, Tully & Arn vs The Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff vs Terry Taylor, Rock ‘n’ Roll Express vs Midnight Express (Scaffold match), Dr Death Steve Williams vs Barry Windham, and The Freebirds (Michael Hayes & Jimmy Garvin) teaming with Sting against Eddie Gilbert, Larry Zbysko and Rick Steiner.

    Survivor Series only had four matches but 50 competitors in single-elimination matches. Two men’s elimination matches, one female elimination match and a 10-on-10 tag team elimination match. That’s right, while two men started EIGHTEEN men were standing on the apron waiting for a tag. Everyone you could think of when you think of 80s wrestling was here: Jake the Snake, Macho Man Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, Harley Race, Honky Tonk Man, Brutus Beefcake, Jim Duggan, Moolah, Velvet McIntyre, Sensational Sheri, The British Bulldogs, Hart Foundation, Demolition, Hogan, Andre, Bundy, Rick Rude, and all the managers of that era: Jimmy Hart, Bobby Heenan, Mr Fuji and Miss Elizabeth. All narrated by the excellent Jesse Ventura and Gorilla Monsoon.

    McMahon’s move in 1987 cost Crockett a reported $2 million but it also eventually opened the door for Turner Broadcasting to become a partner for their PPVs before buying the company outright and changing the name to World Championship Wrestling in 1988. (source: Wrestling Observer).

    Fast forward another three years and we have a very memorable night given how the 2020 Survivor Series ended this year. Thanksgiving night 1990, Survivor Series and the debut of the Undertaker. This was obviously a very poignant night in wrestling history, as one of the mainstays for the last 30 years debuted in the company where he would stay for the rest of his wrestling career. But at that time no one could truly see how much of an impact The Undertaker would have on the WWF.

    Being led to the ring by Brother Love, The Undertaker appeared as Ted DiBiase’s mystery partner to team with him, Greg Valentine & The Honky Tonk Man against Dusty Rhodes, Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart and Koko B Ware, who would have thought that 30 years later the WWF would be dedicating Survivor Series 2020 to that same Undertaker character who Roddy Piper called a ham hock and was a walking zombie who worked in a funeral home?

    From this night on, the Thanksgiving tradition of hosting a major wrestling event was gone. The once guaranteed hot ticket was no more. Survivor Series 1990 didn’t do well at the PPV box office, so instead future years moved to the now more traditional weekend slot like all other PPVs. The tradition has yet to return, but with 2020 being the year it is, who knows what this year might create going into 2021 and beyond.