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The WWE Network Pick Of The Week: A Flair For The Gold

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A new weekly series here at Joe Montana’s Right Arm offers a weekly pick for viewers of the new WWE Network.

Before there was WrestleMania, pay-per-view and buy rates, there was professional wrestling first real supercard…Starrcade ’83.

Before the WWE had a firm grasp on the wrestling industry, territories existed throughout the country.

In other words, each region typically had it’s own wrestling promotion. For example, the major east coast markets (New York, Philadelphia, Boston) were manned by the World Wrestling Federation. Texas was controlled by the Von Erich family and World Class Championship Wrestling.

The Crockett family ran the Mid-Atlantic area including the Carolinas and Virginia.

Ultimately, several territories worked under one large banner known as the National Wrestling Alliance.

The NWA spanned throughout the country with the assistance of several promoters including the Crocketts.

Heading into the fall of ’83, the Crocketts presided over one of the hottest buildings in the country, the famous Greensboro Coliseum.

With assistance from the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, who was coming into the area to serve as the territory’s booker, a supercard was designed to showcase the NWA’s major talent throughout the world including Roddy Piper, Greg Valentine and Ricky Steamboat; provide a major setting for Flair to accept the torch from Race as the industry new standard bearer.

Alas, Starrcade ’83 was born.

Starrcade ’83 – November 24, 1983 – Greensboro, North Carolina: 

The Greensboro Coliseum (and several closed circuit locations) served as the backdrop for the first and most critically claimed 18 versions of Starrcade. 

The Skinny: The show centered on Ric Flair’s quest to regain the NWA title from seven-time champion Harley Race. Dubbed “A Flair for the Gold,” the challenger’s quest for redemption began on June 10, 1983 when Flair lost the title to Race in St. Louis.

Flair began a dizzying chase that led to Race getting fed up with the younger challenger’s pursuit. It led to a famous promo where Race put a hit out on the former champion, offering $25,000 to any wrestler who could put Flair out of wrestling.

Cowboy Bob Orton and Dick Slater (more on them later) took up Race’s offer and decided to injure Flair during a title bout. Subsequently, Flair announced his “retirement” after suffering an apparent neck injury at the hands of Race, Orton, and Slater.

Flair’s “retirement” didn’t last long.

He interrupted an Orton/Slater tag match weeks later by charging the ring with an aluminum baseball bat.

Flair vowed his revenge…and that he would win the NWA title from Race.

Besides the epic Flair/Race tilt, the show was headlined by the first-ever dog collar match between Roddy Piper and United States champion Greg Valentine and a match for the world tag team titles between the Brisco Brothers and Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood.

Best Match: Ric Flair vs. Harley Race. Not only was this the best match on the show, it is easily one of the greatest title bouts in wrestling history. It featured the area’s most popular good guy versus one of the most universally despised men in wrestling. Nothing spectacular versus today’s standards but it’s just two guys beating the holy hell out of each other for the NWA title. The bout was gritty, bloody, awesome, and featured a good touch of realism.

In retrospect, the post-match celebration is slightly hilarious. Flair gets carried around the ring by the good guys and delivers a heartfelt speech to the crowd, which is preceded by Flair’s second of four wives, Beth, storms the ring to give her hero a hug.

Then, in the locker room, Flair and the rest of the good guys brigade celebrate with champagne and Budweiser because in 1983 I guess that’s how people got down.

Dusty Rhodes plays party pooper though by showing up and challenging Flair for the belt.

It doesn’t ruin what is perhaps the high-water mark of Flair’s illustrious wrestling career.

Worst Match: Bugsy McGraw and Rufus R. “Freight Train” Jones vs. The Assassins #1 and #2.

You know what’s entertaining? Watching a Rufus R. Jones promo.

You know what’s not entertaining? This match.

This caliber of match was something you’d see on Saturday morning television. Slow. Slower. Slowest.

Best Moment:  From the non-Flair/Race division: The mere sight of Piper and Valentine wrestling with dog collars linked by a chain around their necks is a sight to behold.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Sullivan and Mark Lewin wrestled Johnny Weaver and Scott McGhee in a rather humdrum match. Following the bout, Lewin and Sullivan nailed McGhee with a spike. Angelo Mosca Sr. ran down to assist matters but he was promptly stabbed in the arm with the aforementioned spike.

Following the match, Tony Schiavone conducted a post-match interview with Mosca. As he was ranting about all things evil, the camera slowed panned back to see a battered McGhee, who looked like he should have been anywhere but in front of a camera.

Historical Significance: Welp, besides being the supercard forerunner of WrestleMania, a few other notes on why this remains a notable card historically:

  • The event sold out the Greensboro Coliseum and netted $500,000 gate. Plus, attracted 30,000 people through a series of closed circuit locations.
  • Starrcade marked the last major card that Valentine, Piper, and Orton would work for the NWA. They would eventually bolt for the WWF in 1984.
  • Race never won the NWA title again (unless the unofficial overseas title switches with Flair the following year). However, he had an opportunity to leave a major dent in the NWA’s hopes that night. Prior to the show, a promoter offered Race an unspecified amount of money to no-show Starrcade and in turn, damage Flair’s coronation. That promoter’s name? Vincent K. McMahon.
  • Speaking of Vince, here is one of my favorite notes about the inaugural Starrcade. As mentioned earlier, the show was built on the back of the blow off of the Flair/Race feud. Orton and Slater wrestled Wahoo McDaniel and Mark Youngblood. However, that wasn’t the originally booked match. McDaniel, a friend of Flair in storyline terms, would enlist the help of a guy from California to help extract revenge on Race’s henchmen…Hulk Hogan.
  • Hogan’s scheduled appearance was such a done deal that promotional posters for Starrcade were made featuring the founder of Hulkamania. Yet, opportunity came calling before Hogan made it to Greensboro. That pesky Vince McMahon called Hogan up to New York. The rest as they say is history.

Overall, it’s one of the most famous shows in wrestling history and a must-watch  for wrestling fans.

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