Starrcade was WCW’s flagship pay-per-view event; their WrestleMania. The tradition began in 1983 when Jim Crockett Promotions, promoted the event under the NWA banner.
The show was an unmitigated success and ran for almost 20 years. The final Starrcade event took place in December 2000.
Starrcade played host to some memorable and not so memorable main events. This article will rank them all.
#18 Ric Flair vs Dusty Rhodes (1984)
The second Starrcade event was headlined by a marquee headliner, between defending NWA World Champion, Ric Flair and former two-time Champ, Dusty Rhodes. Unfortunately, despite the star power of the main event, the match-up was dire.
Legendary Boxer, ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier was the special referee, but didn’t add anything of value to the bout. The match ended in one of those legendary “dusty finishes.” After Rhodes was busted open, Flair kept working on the cut. Despite Rhodes insisting he could continue, Frazier stopped the match. The crowd were incensed. This was not the ending fans were hoping for.
The match was abysmal and the finish was an insult. No doubt, the worst main event in Starrcade history.
#17 Hulk Hogan vs The Butcher (1994)
Hulk Hogan was WCW’s biggest ever signing. It was inevitable that the ‘Hulkster’ would compete in the headliner of his first Starrcade event. However, no-one could have ever anticipated that his opponent would not be Ric Flair, Sting, Vader or one of WCW’s other top stars, but career mid-carder, Ed Leslie.
Last seen in the WWF as Brutus Beefcake, Leslie was repackaged as The Butcher. For months, a masked figure assaulted Hogan during his matches. When ‘The Immortal One’ managed to unmask his mysterious assailant at Halloween Havoc, he was stunned to see his former buddy staring at him.
The Hogan/Butcher bout was what you would expect. Incredibly basic and bereft of heat, the match sucked the life out of the audience, particularly Butcher’s extra long nerve holds on Hogan. The match mercifully ended when the ‘Hulkster’ hulked up and finished off his foe with his patented ‘Legdrop of Doom.’
An awful headliner.
#16 Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart vs Goldberg (1999)
On paper; a clash between the ‘Excellence of Execution’ and ‘Da Man’ had all the hallmarks of a classic encounter. The veteran wrestler vs the young powerhouse.
What complicated matters was that the two participants were babyfaces and actually had been Tag Team Champions leading up to the title match. It wasn’t exactly a compelling feud with a red hot issue burning between the pair. However, the participants were over and the match should have been something to remember.
Instead, it was a disaster. This was entirely down to the booking. In his wisdom, WCW head booker, Vince Russo decided to replay the 1997 Survivor Series Screwjob on WCW television. Notwithstanding, that Hart, the recipient of the Screwjob, was a participant in the match, which in itself was in poor taste, the finish of the bout was utterly nonsensical. The action between Hart and Goldberg in the preceding ten minutes had been decent, but any positives in the headliner were extinguished as the match limped to it’s conclusion.
After a referee bump, Rowdy Roddy Piper ambled down to the ring to seemingly officiate the match. As Hart slapped the Sharpshooter on Goldberg, Piper immediately called for the bell, awarding the match to Hart, despite Goldberg not submitting.
The capacity crowd looked on in stunned silence. The main event of WCW’s biggest show of the year had ended in a confusing mess.
#15 Ric Flair vs Dusty Rhodes (1985)
After the controversy of their Starrcade headliner the previous year, Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes went at it again at Starrcade 1985.
Although the match was as basic as their previous effort, this one at least had a satisfactory finish. The psychology was sound as valiant babyface, Rhodes fought off Flair’s Four Horsemen buddies and reversed a Flair slam attempt into a roll up to win his third and final NWA World crown.
The match wasn’t great but at least Rhodes’s victory was a moment to savour.
#14 Ric Flair vs Nikita Koloff (1986)
The main event of Starrcade 1986 was supposed to be pit NWA World Champion, Ric Flair versus the hottest babyface in the NWA, Magnum TA. Magnum had been groomed to supplant Flair as the NWA’s top star for over a year and had memorably defeated Flair’s Horsemen buddy, Tully Blanchard for the United States Championship in a bloody war at the previous year’s Starrcade.
At Starrcade ’86, Magnum was supposed to go one better and claim the World title. However, fate intervened when a serious car accident almost claimed Magnum’s life in October 1986. Thankfully, he survived but he never wrestled again. Scrambling for a credible opponent for Flair for the Starrcade headliner, JCP abruptly turned foreign heel, Nikita Koloff babyface and thrust him into the World title picture.
Although the bout was decent, Koloff was not a natural good guy or headline act. To make matters worse, JCP booked another screwy finish. After Koloff pushed the referee out of his way while he was working over Flair, he got disqualified and Flair escaped with the belt.
It was an embarrassment of a result and negated the good work that had preceded it.
#13 BattleBowl (1991)
By the time the 1990s rolled around, WCW was struggling to find it’s own identity and a gimmick match to rival the WWF’s Royal Rumble and Survivor Series. WCW effectively merged WWF’s gimmick ideas, with an event wholly consisting of tag team encounters, a la Survivor Series where the winners would qualify for the Battle Royal main event a la Royal Rumble.
The rub was that the tag teams were drawn at ‘random’ via a tombola, meaning faces and heels would team with each other and tag team partners would be pitted against one another. The Starrcade headliner was the two-ring Battle Royal and the winner of each ring would face one another. The winners were reigning WCW World Champion, Lex Luger and Sting. Sting upset Luger by dumping him over the top rope to win.
The match was reasonably exciting but the lack of stakes hurt the drama. However, Sting’s win did ultimately lead to him clashing with Luger and defeating him for the World title at WCW’s subsequent pay-per-view, SuperBrawl II.
#12 BattleBowl II (1992)
Despite BattleBowl in 1991 not exactly setting the world on fire, WCW decided to re-run the gimmick the following year regardless.
There was a slight tweak to the formula. Instead of a 20-Man Battle Royal, the line-up was reduced to eight participants. The wrestlers also competed in one ring rather than two. This resulted in a better match, but it was still an underwhelming attraction as a headliner.
However, the booking was puzzling. The biggest stars in the match; Sting and Vader were both eliminated early, which left Steve Williams, Dustin Rhodes, Barry Windham and The Great Muta as the final participants. At least, the most over of the four won. Muta dropkicked Windham over the top rope to win the bout.
#11 Hollywood Hulk Hogan vs Sting (1997)
What can be said about this match that hasn’t already been said. On one side Hogan versus Sting was the richest main event in WCW history. Starrcade ’97 was a monster success at the box office. However, in the ring it was an unmitigated disaster. Not least, the much anticipated headliner.
Sting, who had not wrestled in over a year showed up to the event out of shape and with too much ring rust. Hogan, for his part also did not have his working boots on. The match was a sluggish, slow paced affair which did not live up to the year’s worth of expert build and hype that had preceded it. However, the atmosphere was electric, which made the bout gripping.
No doubt, the match would be much more fondly remembered had it not been for it’s botched ending. The planned finish had called for crooked referee, Nick Patrick to fast count Sting when Hogan had him down in a pinfall attempt. That would lead to new WCW signing, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart, the ringside enforcer to intervene and restart the match. Then Sting would cleanly pin Hogan to win the match and the WCW World title. The only problem with that booking was, that Patrick, allegedly under instruction from Hogan did not fast count Hogan’s pin on Sting. The life was sucked out of the MCI Center, in Washington DC as fans saw their hero defeating cleanly.
The screwy finish was designed to mirror the Montreal Screwjob, which had occurred the previous month in Hart’s last WWF match. Hart restarted the bout and when Sting rebounded and locked in the Scorpion Deathlock, Hart called for the bell before Hogan even submitted! So, the babyface lost clean and the new babyface signing helped the face screwed the hated heel out of the title. It was mind bogglingly destructive booking and a depressing end to Starrcade ’97.
#10 Scott Steiner vs Sid Vicious (2000)
The final Starrcade main event was not that enticing on paper. Although Scott Steiner was a strong World Champion, WCW had a dearth of top level babyfaces for him to face at the end of 2000.
Sid Vicious, who had been absent from television for months was thrust into a title programme with the champion. Although, it didn’t feel like a big time main event, the action was surprisingly good. The interference on behalf of Steiner built anticipation for Sid’s comebacks. The numbers game eventually told and the champion retained via The Steiner Recliner.
A good big man match and worthy of the headline spot.
#9 Sting vs The Black Scorpion (1990)
Back in 1990, WCW World Champion, Sting had a dearth of main event heels to feud with. The list began and ended with Ric Flair. After dethroning flair for the WCW World title at The Great American Bash in July, Sting’s title reign underwhelmed.
To build anticipation, WCW implemented a long term storyline wherein a mysterious hooded figure called The Black Scorpion terrorised the ‘Stinger’ and other innocent bystanders. This all built to a title bout at Starrcade. Sting and The Black Scorpion contested a decent Steel Cage Match main event. At the end of the match, Sting unmasked his challenger to reveal none other than Ric Flair!
That was an underwhelming ending considering the countless Sting/Flair matches WCW had already presented over the previous two years. However, the headliner would undoubtedly have been better if Flair had not been attempting to conceal his identity by not utilising his trademark offence.
Although the Starrcade 1990 headliner had it’s issues, it was a spectacle and had the right result.
#8 Ronnie Garvin vs Ric Flair (1987)
Starrcade 1987 was main evented by another headline attraction that was not particularly enticing. Although Ric Flair was unquestionably a draw, the reigning NWA World Champion, long-time mid-carder, Ronnie Garvin was not.
The word at the time was that Flair wanted to win the title at Starrcade which meant he had to lose it beforehand. Garvin’s two month reign was nothing more than a stopgap. The bout was contested inside a Steel Cage.
Despite Garvin not setting the world alight as champion, he was a solid wrestler and the action in the headliner was enjoyable. However, not one person in the crowd thought Garvin would retain the belt, which hurt the atmosphere.
The finish came when Flair smashed Garvin’s head into the cage and pinned him, to win his sixth world crown.
#7 Hollywood Hulk Hogan vs Rowdy Roddy Piper (1996)
It was promoted as ‘The Match of the Century’ and although it wasn’t the best in-ring encounter of all time, the atmosphere and the charisma of both participants made the 1996 headliner one to remember.
The psychology was sound as Hogan targeted Piper’s new hip replacement. Despite interference from The Giant on Hogan’s behalf, Piper managed to lock in a Sleeper Hold on the WCW World Champion, which the nWo leader could not escape from.
Piper won the match but not the WCW World title. While, WCW never explicitly stated that the main event of the biggest show of the year was a title match, it never said it wasn’t. The fact that Piper was not crowned champion soured the feel good ending of the bout.
#6 Macho Man Randy Savage vs Ric Flair (1995)
There are better Ric Flair versus Randy Savage matches out there but the Starrcade 1995 top liner was a decent effort. The bulk of the drama had come in the semi-main event in which Flair had earned the right to face Savage for the WCW World title in a superb triangle bout with Lex Luger and Sting.
The headliner pales in comparison to that bout but there was still plenty of drama to be found. Savage busted the ‘Nature Boy’ open with Jimmy Hart’s megaphone but interference from the Four Horsemen led to his demise. After Arn Anderson slipped Flair some brass knucks, it was lights out for the ‘Macho Man.’ Flair won in the main event of Starrcade for the seventh time and captured his 12th World title.
A worthy main event to an excellent Starrcade.
#5 Goldberg vs Kevin Nash (1998)
In 1998, WCW was riding the crest of a wave in their most financially prosperous year ever. Their Starrcade headliner pitted two of their biggest stars, WCW World Champion Goldberg vs the nWo Wolfpac leader, Kevin Nash. Surprisingly, considering it was a match between two giants, the bout was fought at pace as the pair smashed each other with huge power moves.
Goldberg was undefeated with a reported 173-0 streak heading into the bout. However, he left the match with the first blemish on his record. As he set up to spear Nash, Goldberg was assaulted by a cattle prod wielded by Scott Hall. Nash powerbombed ‘Da Man’ and lifted his first WCW World title. This was supposed to set up a nWo reunion of black & white and the Wolfpac (which happened) and Goldberg running through them all to reclaim the WCW World title (which didn’t).
It was an entertaining headliner but what came next sent WCW on its irreversible downward spiral.
#4 Ric Flair vs Sting (1989)
Starrcade 1989 had it’s own gimmick. A round robin singles and tag team tournament to determine the best singles star & tag team in the company.
The singles tournament featured Lex Luger, The Great Muta, Sting and WCW World Champion, Ric Flair. The final match of the tournament saw Flair and Sting go head to head and coincidentally the winner of their bout would win the whole tournament. What are the chances?! Sting and Flair had a typically strong bout as you would expect from these two in this era.
Sting pinned Flair to win the match and the tournament which set up their highly anticipated World Championship bout in 1990.
#3 Harley Race vs Ric Flair (1983)
Starrcade 1983 was the first ever wrestling super-card to be broadcast on closed circuit television which was effectively a pre-cursor to pay per view. Fans would attend their local cinemas and arenas and pay to watch the event.
For a show like this to work, it needed a stellar main event. Harley Race versus Ric Flair was the attraction to pull in fans. Race had held the NWA World title for a combined five of the preceding 10 years as he dominated the crown during the 1970s and early 80s. Ric Flair was the heir apparent to Race. Although he had had a relatively disappointing first reign between 1981-82, he was still the man the NWA saw as the future. Flair delivered an incredible performance in the Starrcade headliner, withstanding a ton of punishment from the champion before making a comeback. A crossbody from the top rope was enough to pin Race and Flair was the World Champion for the second time.
The image of a bloodstained Flair celebrating with the locker room post-match is timeless. One of the greatest main events in all of wrestling history.
#2 Vader vs Ric Flair (1993)
Starrcade recaptured that ‘World Cup’ feeling after the BattleBowl and Black Scorpion fiascos of the preceding three years. The headline attraction pitted dominant WCW World champion Vader versus former 12 time Champion, Ric Flair. To add to the drama, Flair’s career was on the line.
In an expertly paced David vs Goliath battle, Flair used all his veteran tricks to avoid significant punishment from the giant before wearing him down and tripping him for the clean pinfall. Flair won his 11th title and kicked off a career renaissance in WCW main events.
A classic match-up that still stands up three decades later.
#1 Ric Flair vs Lex Luger (1988)
Starrcade 1988 was an expertly built event. The headline attraction pitting NWA World Champion, Ric Flair versus Lex Luger was the culmination of a year’s worth of superb storytelling.
Luger had been turfed out of the Four Horsemen and was seeking vengeance on the stable. ‘The Total Package’ smashed Flair all over the ring for the first half of the bout before the champion began to focus an attack on Luger’s knee. The challenger survived chair shots and the Figure Four Leglock. When he attempted to put Flair in the Torture Rack, his knee buckled and Flair fell on top of Luger for the clean pinfall.
A 31-minute classic. Full of drama and incredible storytelling. Possibly Luger’s best ever bout and one of Flair’s greatest too. Unquestionably the greatest Starrcade main event of all time.
You can view all of WCW’s Starrcade events on the WWE Network.