Two simultaneous tournaments at the same time?
THREE Lex Luger matches in the one night? Ric Flair, Sting, The Great Muta, the Road Warriors, Steiner Brothers and dodgy refereeing all round? That could only mean one thing… Starrcade 1989!
The NWA, pay per view, and the month of December will bring back a lot of good memories for those of us who can remember back to the days of the National Wrestling Alliance, Jim Crockett Promotions and World Championship Wrestling. And on December 15th, Dave Lagana and Billy Corgan’s newly revamped NWA will return to pay per view with Into The Fire live from Atlanta, Georgia.
A lot of comparisons have been made between the original 80s NWA and the reincarnated version we see weekly on NWA Powerrr on Tuesday evenings. The style, production and presentation all look nostalgically familiar to the original, but a roster full of hungry athletes gives the show vitality, energy and excitement.
Interestingly though, most of today’s NWA main event level stars are on average 10 years older than the wrestlers that competed in 89’s Iron Man Tournament. Lex Luger, The Great Muta, and Sting all hovered around the 30 mark in 1989, while only Ric Flair is of similar age to the likes of Ken Anderson, James Storm and Colt Cabana of today. Current NWA champion Nick Aldis bucks the trend, however, having just turned 33, he matches up quite nicely with 3 out of the 4 competitors who competed in the Iron Man Tournament 30 years ago.
In this TWM Retro Review, we will step back in the time machine 3 decades almost exactly to the day to review the NWA’s pay per view offering from December 1989. Ladies and Gentleman, from the Omni (not coincidently) also in Atlanta, Georgia (the same location for NWA Into The Fire), this is Starrcade 1989!
Jim Ross, Terry Funk and Jim Cornette were the appointment eclectic trio who ran down the points system of the night’s round-robin tournaments. Pinfall or submission win = 20 points, count-out win = 15 points, DQ win = 10 points, draw = 5 points each. There will be both a singles 4 man round-robin tournament and a 4 team, tag-team round-robin tournament going on simultaneously throughout the night. No titles were on the line even though we had the World, US and tag champs all involved. The only thing at stake was pride, honour and the chance to call yourself/selves the Iron Man or the Iron Team of the NWA. Got it? Good.
We started with the opening match of the Iron Team Tournament where the Steiner Brothers defeated Doom (Butch Reed and Ron Simmons) by count-out. With the tournament matches having a 15-minute time limit, Terry Funk said everyone would be going all-out and 100 mph to get the full 20 point pinfall or submission victory as quickly as possible… But someone should have also told Doom this. Don’t get me wrong they hit their power moves and used their outside muscle well, but never with any real sense of hurry. With four minutes to go, Ron Simmons had a chin lock set in and he continued to squeeze and squeeze away.
Rick Steiner eventually got the hot tag and ran wild but after a four-way brawl on the outside, it was he who jumped back in at the nine-count to pick up the count-out win and 15 points for the team. The weak finish didn’t take away too much from the match, and in hindsight was necessary to set up the situation going into the final bout later on. Steiner’s clotheslines are something else and the thought of them running into the Road Warriors later was mouthwatering.
Sting and Luger were next to open their accounts and they did with a fine match but a weak finish. Luger was the reigning United States champion so he had to be kept strong, but the extremely popular Sting was also destined for the big time so had to be protected here too. Largely walk and brawl stuff before they settled into a slower pace and traded big moves in between catching their breath.
Similar to the tag opener, this also went down to the wire. Sting fired up with two minutes to go and the finish came when from the apron Sting (eventually) got Luger over the top rope back into the ring with a Cactus clothesline, but Luger ended up landing on top of Sting, and when Nick Patrick finally got into position to begin counting- Luger grabbed the rope and picked up the 20 point tainted pinfall win.
The Road Warriors defeated Doom (0) by pinfall next as Doom’s woes continued. The rampaging Road Warriors: Hawk and Animal dominated most of this match, the only blip was Hawk striking the ring post after missing a charge into the corner. However, this did let Doom get TWO chin locks in during the heat so every cloud and all that…
In these early bouts, you get the feeling everyone was holding back a bit and saving themselves for their matches later on so similarly this match didn’t get going and was over before they settled into any real rhythm. If you like four big guys running into each other then this match is for you. Animal picked the winning raffle ticket for this match and got to run wild after the hot tag and picked up the pinfall after Hawk hit a doomsday clothesline behind the referee’s back.
Ric Flair opened his account by defeating The Great Muta by pinfall. I was well prepared for the event to eventually really kick into gear but you could imagine my disappointment when the action was over within two minutes. But the average pace of the event did skyrocket here (briefly) as Flair and Muta went for it right from the opening bell.
Flair locked in a Figure Four leglock after only a minute and this brought out the Dragonmaster (Kazuo Sakuraba) and Buzz Sawyer to brawl with Ole and Arn Anderson who had accompanied Flair to ringside. As everyone was distracted Flair got his knees up after a top rope Muta moonsault attempt and rolled him up and got the win with a small package. I wish this could have gone longer as it was two excellent minutes of action.
Next, the Steiner Brothers (15) defeated The Road Warriors (20) by pinfall to put them in the driver’s seat with 35 points after two matches. On paper, this sounds like a dream match, but in execution, it was nothing memorable and boasted nothing of real interest -apart from the finish. That being said it was a nice babyface vs babyface display with the action always flowing and both teams going for the win early on. Hawk got dropped on his head after Scott tried to belly-to-belly suplex him off the middle rope and it all broke down soon thereafter.
The Road Warriors hit a Doomsday Device on Scott but Animal had him in a back suplex position so when the ref (Nick Patrick again!) counted the pin both sets of shoulders were on the mat, but it was Scott who lifted his at the last minute and the ref counted Animal’s to give the win and the 20 points to the Steiners. That was the second win for the Steiners but the second time they have had to slip in the back-door to just pick up the victory.
Sting (0) defeated The Great Muta (0) by pinfall in a great, (but again) short match. This started slow but Sting sped it up when he was on offence hitting his gorilla press slam and a dropkick to crotch Muta on the top rope. The resulting superplex was enough to give Sting the win and the 20 points to get him on the scoreboard. Quite like the Flair match, this seemed like a waste of Muta here as this fell foul of the tournament style of the show. If given more time the Flair vs Muta or Sting vs Muta matches would no doubt be great but to fit in TWO round-robin tournaments in the one show these had to disappointingly be restricted to two and seven minutes each.
So at the halfway mark, we had Sting, Flair and Luger all on 20 points, with Muta still to score. In the tag team group the Steiners were leading with 35 points, the Road Warriors were on 20 and neither Doom nor the Wild Samoans had scored points at this stage, but it was well pointed out that the Samoans had yet to feature.
The New Wild Samoans (Fatu and The Samoan Savage) opened their account by defeating Doom (0) by pinfall. With two losses to their name already, Doom’s chances of winning the tournament were already (apologies) doomed before this match. But this didn’t stop Doom from putting a beating on the Samoans here. Doom dominated the majority of the match.
The momentum eventually shifted when Fatu got the hot tag and you guessed it, the action broke down into a four-way brawl. Fatu clashed heads with “a masked man” from Doom as Jim Ross called him, and due to the Samoan strong foreheads… both collapsed to the mat but Fatu landed on top Butch Reed and the ref counted the pinfall.
Doom finished with 0 points.
The next match was champion vs champion as United States Champion Lex Luger (20) and World heavyweight champion Ric Flair (20) fought to a time limit draw. This started slow and technically based and went back and forth with neither gaining much advantage over the other. As the time limit slowly ticked down, both started taking more chances. Flair went to the top but on each occasion was slammed off. Flair locked in the Figure Four with 30 seconds to go but Luger held on and did not give up, ending the match in a time limit draw and only gaining them five points each.
The New Wild Samoan’s (20) continued their winning ways when they defeated The Steiner Brothers (35) by disqualification next which brought their points to 30 with a match still to go. This left it all to play for in the final tag match between the Samoans and the Road Warriors later on. This slow match didn’t have a lot of talking points.
Fatu had a hair braid ripped out early on, Samoans got the heat on Scott for most of the contest and even a Frankensteiner couldn’t halt the Samoan’s onslaught. But before long you guessed it, wash-rinse-repeat, the action broke down into a four-way brawl.
During this melee, Scott hoisted Fatu over the top rope and due to the bizarre NWA rules at the time, this was deemed an illegal move so Scott was disqualified and the Samoans got the DQ win and 10 points. The referee missed seeing the move so the commentary team had to cover and say he saw it out the corner of his eye, even though he didn’t react at all when the move happened and seemed to just believe the Samoan’s manager Oliver Humperdink when he told him what happened from ringside.
The Steiner Brothers finished with 35 points.
Next, a hobbling Lex Luger (25) defeated the Great Muta (0) by disqualification in what was the third non-decisive finish in a row. Luger played babyface here as he begged off and got some sympathy from the crowd as Muta focussed his attack on Luger’s injured knee. In a nice piece of selling and storytelling, Muta whipped him from corner to corner and Luger just barely made it, stumbling and tripping in the process due to his injury. Something today’s wrestlers could take note of perhaps? An Indian death lock couldn’t put Luger away, and soon after the US champ started fighting back. He hit a big power slam with one minute to go but couldn’t get him up for the torture rack. When he turned around, Luger was sprayed with Muta’s green mist and got the win via disqualification.
Luger finished with 35 points.
The Great Muta finished with 0 points.
Both the Road Warriors (20) and the New Wild Samoans (30) went into this final match knowing a pinfall or submission win would win them the tournament- The Samoans could also win with a count-out or DQ but surely we would see a clean fall in the final tag match? Within five minutes we had our answer as The Road Warriors defeated The New Wild Samoans via pinfall. Animal no-sold a piledriver early on and had a sloppy exchange with Fatu that ended with both falling and rolling around on the mat. Hawk got the hot tag AND WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT the action broke down into a four-man brawl. Hawk got the win after a clothesline from the top rope, not before Animal tried to ruin everything by stumbling into Fatu and nearly ruining him taking Hawk’s clothesline.
The Road Warriors finished with 40 points and won the Iron Team Tournament
The New Wild Samoans finished with 30 points
In the final match of the night Sting (20) needed a pin or submission to win the tournament. Flair (25) needed a pin, submission or count-out. If they went to a draw- Luger would walk (or limp) away with the win. Flair and Sting are so seamless that everything they did here was of the highest quality and they made it look so easy. With only 15 minutes they kept a decent pace and both had an equal amount of offence early on, but soon enough Flair’s natural heel tactics took over and he reverted to working over Sting’s knee. He also tried to put Sting away with some clever pinning combinations but the Stinger kept kicking out.
With five minutes to go Flair began chopping, but Sting no-sold them and stood strong and stern-faced, staring the world champion down. Sting fired up and hit his Stinger splash in the corner and locked in the Scorpion Deathlock but Flair was too close to the ropes. Flair got to his feet and dropped Sting with a knee drop and locked in the Figure Four, but Sting was also too close to the ropes and broke the hold. Flair continued the lower limb attack but his downfall came when he started slowing down and taking too much time between attacks and flaunting to the crowd. When Sting saw a chance he reached up and grabbed Flair, rolled him up and pinned him in a small package to get the 20 points and to win the tournament.
In a nice touch to end the show, Flair got to his feet and along with Ole and Arn, raised Sting’s hand in victory.
Ric Flair finished with 25 points.
Sting finished with 40 points and won the Iron Man Tournament.
Well, there you have it. That was Starrcade 1989. It was a combination of the best of the NWA and unfortunately some of the worst. In my opinion there were too many disqualifications and count out finishes, albeit they were to set up both final tournament matches needing pinfall wins for the babyfaces (which thankfully DID happen), but to open a pay per view with a count-out finish definitely wasn’t the best way to open the biggest show of the year, and enough said about the over-the-top-rope disqualification ruling the better.
On paper, tournaments seem exciting but the wrestlers exponentially lose their heat with the fans after they appear before them for the first time. As each team or individual came out the crowd reactions were less and less each time. The tag matches all seemed to have the same set-up too: Heels beat down the faces, hot-tag, four-man brawl, finish. And we didn’t need the dodgy finishes involving the referees, especially when the referees can’t execute the plans properly.
But onto the positives! Flair was excellent in all his outings. His two minutes with Muta should have been longer and would have brought the in-ring quality up a few notches. For all intent and purposes, Lex Luger was fine too. His style is walk and brawl and big power moves and he performed them fine. But the man of the night was Sting. He is still a few years off his absolute best here but this night showed how he can go with Muta, Luger and Flair in three different matches and look superb in them all.
Will NWA Into The Fire live up to the heights of Starrcade 1989? Will someone be disqualified for throwing an opponent over the top rope? Will we have count out finishes on pay per view in 2019?
Hopefully, these answers will be no, as in all seriousness this revamped 2019 NWA has so much to offer from an in-ring talent perspective and also an interview perspective that given the right platform these guys could rock the wrestling landscape and throw a spanner into a lot of “Best of 2019” compilations. Keep an eye on TWM as we continue to cover NWA in the run-up to their PPV Into The Fire next week.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @oli_iai. Thanks for reading!