The Wrestlemania Before Wrestlemania: Starrcade

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Brian Damage

When it comes to large scale wrestling events, the one that many fans think of straight away is Wrestlemania. In this piece we look at the event that was an inspiration for Wrestlemania, namely Starrcade.

Many wrestling fans will point to Wrestlemania as the premier event in pro wrestling today. Despite being one of the biggest globally…some may be surprised that it wasn’t the originator of the “big wrestling event” concept. Two years before Wrestlemania…there was an event in Greensboro, North Carolina back in 1983 entitled Starrcade. Sure, there were many large outdoor wrestling events…but Starrcade was the first to utilize closed circuit televisions…so fans who couldn’t make it into the arena…would be able to view it in theaters and gymnasiums around the territory.

Starrcade would go on to become the NWA/WCW’s signature event until 2000 when WCW met its demise a few months into 2001. The who’s, what’s, where’s and how’s of this event’s birth is an interesting one indeed….

The Inspiration

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Jim Crockett Jr. saw the success of the WWF’s “Showdown at Shea” event in Queens, New York in 1980…where Bruno Sammartino wrestled his student Larry Zbyszko inside of a steel cage. The show drew an estimated 36,000 plus fans. Crockett saw the potential a marquee event like the one at Shea Stadium could do for his promotion in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The Brainchildren

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Promoters and bookers Jim Barnett, Ole Anderson and Dusty Rhodes all collaborated on putting together the card..the talent and the promoting. Many have agreed…however….that it was Dusty’s Rhodes who really was the driving force behind Starrcade. He came up with the name of the event after bouncing a few ideas between himself and Barry Windham.

The Venue

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Since Starrcade was under the auspices of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA)…the NWA board of directors had to decide what territory would be granted the event. Seeing as Jim Crockett Jr. was spearheading this show from day one and also the fact that he regularly held big matches on the date of this show (Thanksgiving) Crockett won the bidding to host Starrcade. It would be held on Thanksgiving night, November 24th, 1983 at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The Card

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Knowing that to really sell Starrcade as a must see event…it needed all of the NWA’s top stars to make it happen. Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat, Jimmy Valiant, The Briscos, Carlos Colon and Greg Valentine were just some of the names booked. The icing on the cake, of course, was having the prestigious NWA world title defended by its champion Harley Race against challenger Ric Flair.

Commercial Success

Starrcade was heavily promoted on various wrestling television programs and marketed as the event not to miss. The Greensboro Coliseum was sold out with an attendance of roughly 16,000 fans. For those who couldn’t score a ticket to the show were able to view the show via closed circuit television. (A first for professional wrestling)

The event altogether was a critical and commercial success…it perhaps could have been an even bigger success, if not for a snow storm that hit the southeast region of the United States…preventing some fans to skip going to a closed circuit location.

Behind the Scenes

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Some of the stories behind the scenes..before, during and after the show were just as entertaining as the actual show itself. Stories involving double crosses, injuries and no shows.

Roddy Piper Vs Greg Valentine in a Dog Collar Match

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The idea for the dog collar match came from watching the Junkyard Dog in the Mid South territory. Jim Crockett wanted a gimmick match for the card, so the idea for this match was proposed. Crockett and Jim Barnett also wanted the match to be violent and bloody…something that would be memorable to do on house shows around the territories. The match was that and a whole lot more. Greg Valentine…who was a notoriously stiff worker….potatoed Piper in his ear with the chain causing Piper to legitimately break his ear drum and according to Piper…lose 50% of the hearing in that one ear.

NWA Champion Harley Race Vs Ric Flair in a Steel Cage

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Jim Crockett Jr wanted Ric Flair as the NWA champion…the NWA board was leery about giving Flair the belt a second time as they were not 100% convinced he would be a fitting champion. Harley Race had some doubts as well…but was ultimately convinced by Flair and Crockett that he would represent the title with great dignity. The match itself was not pre-planned…but rather Flair and Race worked on the fly the entire match.

The special guest referee for the main event was Gene Kiniski…who did have heat with Harley Race through the years. Race went as far as to scream at Kiniski several times during the match for his clumsiness and lack of impartiality.

Hulk Hogan was booked for the show

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Yes, it is true…Hulk Hogan was initially booked for Starrcade to team with Wahoo McDaniel against Dick Slater and Bob Orton Jr. It was reported at the time that Hulk had to back out because of previous commitments in Japan…but the real belief is that Vince McMahon had gotten to the Hulkster and convinced him to join the WWF. As it was, Hogan did not attend Starrcade and was replaced by Mark Youngblood. Hulk would become the WWF champion just two months later.

Vince McMahon tries to Sabotage Starrcade

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In an attempt to sabotage the show from taking place….Vince McMahon scheduled a meeting with then NWA champion Harley Race. In the meeting, McMahon offered Race $250,000 dollars to skip the show and come to the WWF with the NWA title. As Race put it….the two men were very cordial the entire time….then both went to the bathroom. In the bathroom Harley looked at Vince’s reflection in the mirror and asked….”Vince, what do you see?” McMahon responded by saying…”I see you in the mirror.” Race then said, “Well, tomorrow morning I have to see that same reflection in the mirror.” Vince immediately knew then and there that Harley Race had no intentions of bolting the NWA for the WWF.

The Aftermath of Starrcade

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With Harley Race refusing Vince McMahon’s offer…Race was able to put over Flair the proper way and pass the torch onto him. The match at Starrcade solidified Ric Flair as a legitimate world champion. If Race had agreed to bolt…it would have crushed Jim Crockett Promotions and the NWA altogether. Ric Flair would have never gotten the rub of Race and his career might not have been as talked about as it is today.

The success of the event helped make Jim Crockett Jr. into a stronger and more powerful promoter. Who knows what kind of gate Starrcade would’ve gotten if not for that snowstorm. All in all, it paved the way for Vince to create and perfect the pay per view wrestling concept….but we musn’t forget who did it first.

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4 thoughts on “The Wrestlemania Before Wrestlemania: Starrcade

  1. The Piper-vs-Valentine match was, to me, the best match on that whole card. This wasn’t the cartoonish Piper we saw in WWF, but the true real deal in NWA.

    Like

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