Reflections: Starrcade 1985 (The Gathering)

It’s December so like I did last month for Survivor Series, I will do the same for a few Starrcades. For all my wrestling nerd-dom, I have never seen Starrcade 1985, the first ‘Cade from Jim Crockett Promotions after the purchase of the Saturday Night TBS timeslot from the WWF in March of that year. While on closed circuit only, the show was held in two cities: Greensboro and Atlanta, both with longstanding Thanksgiving wrestling traditions.

The main event is the same as the prior year: Dusty Rhodes challenging Ric Flair for the NWA World title. But there seems to be more heat around this one; Flair is a true heel aligned with the Horsemen, having broken Dusty’s leg in a famous beatdown in Atlanta’s Omni. But would something else steal the show? Spoiler: yes.

  • The hosts in Atlanta are Tony Schiavone and Bob Caudle, and there is clearly something wrong with the audio on their first match. Caudle speaks, then you get a long period of silence, as if Tony’s mic failed. And they are so careful not to talk over each other there are several long pauses.
  • Johnny Weaver comes off so terribly in his open from Greensboro I am shocked that he was a regular announcer. His mouth is constantly open, like he is in a constant state of shock or surprise.
  • Match #1: Krusher Kruschev vs. Sam Houston for the vacant NWA Mid-Atlantic title
  • The title was vacant under very odd circumstances: Buzz Tyler had left the promotion over FOUR MONTHS previous, and didn’t give back the belt because of money he felt he was owed.
  • Give Barry Darsow credit for having incredible range. Here he is an evil Russian, next he would be a character out of Mad Max as Smash, then a cartoonish repo man, whatever a Blacktop Bully is, and the 2nd best evil golfer of the 1990s behind Shooter McGavin.
  • Darsow didn’t really wrestle like Smash either, so he changed his whole style to fit into what Demolition became. Also impressive.
  • I could never buy Sam Houston as a threat to anyone. He’s so small, and even I have better legs than him.
  • Sonny Fargo is the referee and apparently their outfits are full mustard yellow shirts and pants. Cripes, who the hell green lit that?
  • Kind of a sudden finish, with Houston thinking he won like a jackass when Krusher got his foot on the rope, then a sickle clothesline and Houston gets pinned even though he also had his foot on the rope.

    For our next match...
    For our next match…
  • Match #2: Abdullah the Butcher vs. “Ragin’ Bull” Manny Fernandez (Mexican Death Match)
  • Going to get out the stopwatch to see how long it is before Abdullah blades or uses a weapon. Literally less than three seconds. I guess it’s no DQ so that’s fine. Manny is bleeding after that, and Abdullah looks to have a permanent cut on his forehead which was red on his way to the ring.
  • To win, you must climb a pole and get a hat and all that does is make me want to see Abdullah climb a pole. It also tells me that this is a way around Abdullah’s notorious reputation for not doing jobs, which is fine if you can get away with it.
  • Pretty sure it’s this match and the cage match later that caused the ultra-conspicuous warning at the top of the show with instructions on parental controls. How many 9 year old kids are looking to watch Starrcade 85 I wonder?
  • Abdullah goes for the hat and is kicked in the groin, so he does a slow flat back bump off the turnbuckle. The camera cuts away in the middle of it, because whoever is directing this is a total dumbass.
  • I don’t get why this is a “Mexican” death match. Just because there is a hat? Is there a Sudanese thing they could have put on a pole? I took a lot of international relations classes in college and I still don’t know much about the ins and outs of Sudan beyond their very long civil war. If someone asked me to do word association with Sudan, I would say “Abdullah the Butcher”.
  • Manny gets stabbed in the groin with the Butcher’s weapon, which prompted me to yell loud enough to scare my cat. He recovers enough to dodge a charge by Abdullah and grab the hat and get the hell out of there because he’s bleeding like a stuck pig. I often find these brutal matches to be a bit much but I enjoyed the hell out of this.
  • Interview with Krusher Kruschev: He’s got a totally different voice than Smash. In case you wonder why he doesn’t do a Russian accent, his gimmick dating back to Mid-South was that of a turncoat American who became a Soviet sympathizer.
  • Match #3: “Cowboy” Ron Bass vs. Black Bart (w/James J. Dillon) – Texas Bullrope match
  • So that’s why the last match was “Mexican”…can’t have two “Texas” matches in a row. If Bass wins, he gets five minutes to beat up Dillon.
  • I haven’t watched a lot of Florida wrestling, so it is very weird to see Ron Bass as a babyface, a sort of Blackjack Mulligan clone.
  • Bart bleeds less than a minute in and it looks less like a cut and more like a dark red headband from the original camera angle.
  • Speaking of camera angles, I love the one they use on this show with the camera slightly above the ring, but much closer than the standard hard camera position you see in WWE today.
  • Bass gets some color also, so that’s now four guys bleeding on this show. It was a very different time, yes.
  • This match is a little boring, since all they can really do it hit each other with the cowbell because they are tied together. It’s why I am not a fan of matches with guys tethered together, with the exception of Piper vs Valentine from the first Starrcade.
  • For some reason, I am really bothered by Bass wearing blue kneepads when the rest of his getup is black. Very OCD of me. Despite his lack of fashion sense, he gets the win leading to….
  • Match #4: “Cowboy” Ron Bass vs. James J. Dillon
  • Dillon looks quite rotund here, as he hadn’t been a full time wrestler for over a year by this point. In light of that, it’s weird that Dillon is kicking ass for about two straight minutes.
  • Once Bass makes his comeback, Dillon bleeds so make it five on the night.
  • Bass knocks ref over by accident, and Bart comes in to hit Bass with a piledriver to give his manager the win.
  • This always struck me as peculiar booking in looking at results of this show, but they had larger plans for Dillon in 1986 as he would lead the original Four Horsemen.
  • Match #5: The Barbarian (w/Paul Jones) vs. “Superstar” Billy Graham
  • I am quite fond of a podcast called “Where the Big Boys Play” which reviews all WCW supershows. Their “worst wrestler of the night” award is called the Billy Graham Award, so name for Graham’s putrid showings at Starrcade 84 and 85. I forget which one they considered worse.
  • In order to cover up for the fact that Graham can barely move, they start with an arm wrestling contest. The crowd is shockingly into it since they could barely see what was happening. Graham wins and gets a cash prize, which I am sure will go to pay for hip surgery next year. Jones attacks with his cane the match begins.
  • Graham somehow manages to bleed less than two minutes in, so we’re at a half dozen.
  • No move causes me to lose interest faster than a bear hug. Jones is in with the cane again, and it’s a DQ finish which I am fine with because at least this was short. I think the arm wrestling was longer.
  • Match #7: “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel vs. Terry Taylor (C) for the NWA National Heavyweight Championship
  • Despite the name “National”, the title was actually just a vestige of the title from the old Georgia Championship Wrestling.
  • I gained a whole new appreciation for Landel after his death in 2015 after listening to a tribute episode of “Exile on Badstreet” on his life and career. Like many of his contemporaries, Landel had substance abuse issues but when he was right, he was a terrific performer. He just couldn’t stay on a straight path long enough.
  • Dillon was also the manager for Landel but he was not there for this match at the start which is good since he would just bleed all over everything. He shows up later wearing a giant head bandage.
  • There is something just a bit off with this match, like it is less than the sum of its parts. Given 10-12 minutes on this stage, I would have expected more.
  • Landel hits Taylor into the referee, so that’s two ref bumps. Then the ref is knocked down again. Interference by Dillon backfires, so it looks like Taylor is on his way after setting Landel up for the superplex. Dillon trips Taylor, who is then pinned. The ending seemed very screwed up and I think the referee was “late” recovering so Taylor had to lay there for a bit.
  • Match #8: Ole and Arn Anderson (C) vs. Wahoo McDaniel and Billy Jack Haynes for the NWA National Tag Team Titles
  • Much like the singles National title, this also descended from Georgia. Except this belt was never seen on WWF TV after their purchase of GCW in summer 1984 since the tag champs at the time (Ron Garvin and Jerry Oates) were not signed. So when Ole started up the new Georgia promotion he put the belts back on them like nothing had happened.
  • To further confuse things, Wahoo and Haynes are introduced as the United States tag team champions, which is not the belt that would sontinue through the WCW days. This is the Florida territory version of the belts. It would be vacated shortly after Starrcade.
  • If I watched more Ole Anderson matches, I would probably enjoy him a lot. His reputation as the biggest curmudgeon of all time precedes him. If anyone ever asks “did anyone like Ole Anderson?” be sure to answer yes, since J.J. Dillon likes him personally as explained in his book. I’d review Ole’s book but I think that one would be an absolute grind to get through. Ole along with Jerry Lawler have two of the best working punches ever.
  • Speaking of guys who are jerks, Haynes had an altercation with Jim Crockett shortly after this show and left the promotion to go back to Portland for a spell. Seems he was unhappy about being paid less than the other three guys in the match, which while understandable, could be justified on the grounds that all three were much bigger stars than he was.
  • Something happened with the lights on this match, it’s much darker like they lost a bank of lights.
  • This one never really got going for me, and a very strange finish. Ole trips Wahoo from the outside and Arn gets a two count. Then Ole does it again and they get three. Almost like they were told to go home immediately. Ole was also holding the leg from the outside.
  • Interview: New National Champion Buddy Landel and J.J. Dillon: Dillon says this has been the greatest night of his life. It’ll get even better, Mr. Dillon. He then says Landel will hold the title for a very long time. Fact check: Landel would lose the title after being fired three weeks later in a fictitious match to Dusty Rhodes back when you could get away with that sort of thing.
  • Match #9: Magnum TA vs. Tully Blanchard (C) (w/Baby Doll) in an I Quit steel cage match for the United States Heavyweight Championship
  • This is the blowoff to the famous feud, which included moments like Magnum kissing Baby Doll against her will with David Crockett screaming “she likes it!” three seconds before Baby Doll smacks Magnum across the face. I am a fan of the brawl they had after a Tully squash as that classic World Championship Wrestling music plays and credits roll.
  • Funny that the ring announcer introduces the challenger as “the vastly popular” Magnum TA.
  • Trying to think of one but I don’t recall a babyface ever losing an I Quit match, at least cleanly. So Mankind at the 1999 Royal Rumble does not count. Count me as not a fan of the microphone bit since it’s so intrusive. You have a referee in there anyway.
  • Magnum bleeds early and Tully bleeds later so make it eight.
  • This is worked exactly like a cage match should be; they use the cage, it doesn’t run too long, and they cut a good pace. There is even a “slugging it out on their knees” spot, made famous in the Last Battle of Atlanta. Not that anyone could watch that by the 1985, though.
  • One thing I love about this match is that Schiavone and Caudle don’t talk too much, they let the action speak for itself. I love when broadcasters in sports let the picture speak for itself. This didn’t need a Jim Ross yelling over the top things.
  • There’s something amusing about how they are clawing at each other’s cuts one minute, and the next Tully hits an inverted atomic drop as a counter against corner mount punches. Also funny, how Tully just throws referee Earl Hebner with no provocation right after that point, then a chair is tossed in. Tully breaks off a piece of the chair into a spike but kicks Hebner again. Bold move, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off.
  • Just a spike to the head. No biggie.
    Just a spike to the head. No biggie.

    Magnum is down but wrestles his way out of it and gets the spike and Tully yells “YES” but in a muffled enough way to protect himself. After he wins, Magnum goes back but then lets go of Tully in disgust and just leaves. Awesome match, don’t even need to know the pre-existing story to enjoy this. As good as the hype.

  • Post-match fun factoid: Magnum later married Tully’s ex-wife in real life, and is the stepfather to current NXT women’s division competitor Tessa Blanchard.
  • Another factoid: Dave Meltzer in his newsletter review of the show said that it was “not as good as their usual matches” which is about the most jaded thing ever for 1985. He blamed the microphone bit I just complained about.
  • Match #10: Jimmy Valiant and Miss Atlanta Lively (Ron Garvin in drag) vs. The Midnight Express (w/Jim Cornette) in an Atlanta Street Fight
  • Probably to drive people like me insane, Cornette’s name is spelled wrong in the pre-match graphic as “Cornett”.
  • While I wish they could keep the original Midnight Express theme (which was once my ringtone), I don’t have the overdub like so many others profess.
  • Jimmy Valiant is such a southern phenomenon so I don’t quite get it. But it is refreshing that this is a match that doesn’t involve Paul Jones or his group. As for Garvin, apparently he just liked dressing in drag as a gimmick, which is funny because he’s a babyface in an area of the country not known for its support of drag queens.
  • The Midnights wearing white tuxes, and this is a show where just about everyone bleeds so I can see where this is going. And Condrey’s forehead is lacerated about 90 seconds in. I do like how they stashed all manner of foreign objects in their formal wear.
  • “This is crazy, this is wild!” says Schiavone. Credit to Garvin, his wig stayed on while taking a tennis racket shot. Eaton bleeds but they have their jackets off now, and Valiant is busted open too. So that makes an eleven for the bleeders.
  • Atlanta Lively punches Eaton as he comes off the top and gets the pin. Cornette is stripped of his clothes post-match. Fun match that didn’t run longer than it needed to.
  • Match #11: Rock N Roll Express vs. Ivan and Nikita Koloff in steel cage for the NWA World Tag Team titles
  • The Russians come to the ring with an instrumental of the Soviet anthem. Again, how pro wrestling is this: A Canadian and two Minnesotans as evil Russians.
  • How much money did Nikita cost himself by not jumping to the WWF to be a Hulk Hogan opponent circa 1986/87? On the other hand, the WWF road schedule might have been worse for him along with the more notorious steroid culture.
  • Again I am going to play the role of Northerner who doesn’t understand the South: I just never “got” the Rock and Rolls. Good team and all, but heartthrobs? I would have sworn that they were like mid 30s at this point but they were 27 and 29 years old.
  • Ivan bleeds first, so that’s 12. Gibson eats a bunch of cage to become lucky 13.
  • Tony makes a point about “saves” to break up pins and seems to imply that you are allowed one in a normal match but because they are in a cage it is permitted at all times. I’ve never seen a DQ because of a pin breakup by a partner and if there has been a match like that, I want to see it.
  • Morton is famous for being the face in peril, but Gibson does a great job with the role here. This match did not need a ref bump since there have been way too many and I know there is one in the next match too. Morton gets the hot tag and rolls up Ivan right away for the pin. He is then tossed into the cage and blades himself wildly, creating a crimson mask in seconds. Jesus, Mary and Joseph. That’s a five alarm Mexico-style blade job. Don Kernodle, who was with the Rock and Rolls, is bleeding on the floor but I suspect that is just sympathy blood. So the number is now 15.
  • Match #12 Ric Flair (C) vs. Dusty Rhodes for the NWA World Heavyweight title
  • This one is in Atlanta, lest Flair get cheered. To sum up the build: Flair broke Dusty’s leg, created Hard Times (daddy), and Big Dust is out for vengeance.
  • Flair is in the purple and I wonder if there was any rhyme or reason to which color he would wear. Maybe it was because of Dusty’s Boston Celtics fandom and the purple-clad Los Angeles Lakers beat them for the NBA title in the Boston Garden earlier that year. Yeah, I’m reading too much into that.
  • I do like that both guys fight the first few figure four attempts instead of just doing the spot-reversal combo.
  • Flair bleeds after being run into the ring post then the guard rail. Sweet 16 for Slick Ric.
  • The asshole in the crowd yelling “woooo” and not for Ric Flair just in general, is kind of ruining this match for me. Shut the fuck up, you are even worse that the “wooo” guy in the background of the Eric Clapton MTV Unplugged version of “Layla”.
  • The match was alright, not a true classic because Dusty was not the greatest Flair opponent IMO. Yes, this was a shit finish. Just do a short term title switch, have Flair win it back on Christmas in Greensboro (a show they promoted before this match). Just don’t change the result of the main event of the biggest show of the year. It’s insulting to the audience. Yet, it would only get worse because nobody learned a damn thing about why this was damaging since the promotion stayed hot for much of 1986. That type of stuff builds up over time. Good and bad booking precede upticks and downturns in business because it is a leading indicator of the business. People see good stories, they’ll tune in. If it’s crappy, people will turn away in droves.
  • The most surprising thing? Dusty didn’t bleed! So the final score is 16 with blood by my count.

Summary: An excellent show, but also a very gruesome show when it comes to the blood. None of the matches drag on for too long and the majority are great fun. I also liked Schiavone and Caudle on the call since they let the action speak for itself. The shitty main event finish shouldn’t detract from an overall great card.

I can be reached on Twitter @Bruins309; next time in the series I will look at Starrcade 1988.

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