When wrestling supercards were a Thanksgiving tradition

from the Baltimore Sun courtesy of NotJimMelvin:

Thanksgiving for me during my teens and early 20s was more about dropkicks than drumsticks. Back then, there was always a major wrestling event on Thanksgiving night. Unfortunately, that tradition ended nearly 20 years ago. Thanksgiving episodes of Smackdown (before the show moved to Friday nights three years ago) and TNA Impact just aren’t the same.

Some classic matches took place on Turkey Day in the 1980s. Three of them occurred on the same night at Jim Crockett Promotions’ inaugural Starrcade in 1983, which was shown on closed-circuit television. Before WrestleMania came along in 1985, Starrcade was the closest thing to a Super Bowl of wrestling. In the main event, Ric Flair won the NWA world heavyweight title for the second time by defeating Harley Race, as the belt changed hands for the first time in a steel cage.

Also on that card in Greensboro, N.C., Roddy Piper defeated Greg Valentine in a dog collar match, and Rick Steamboat and Jay Youngblood defeated Jack and Jerry Brisco for the NWA world tag team title.

Prior to the days of closed circuit and pay-per-view broadcasts, Georgia Championship Wrestling held a big tag team tournament on Thanksgiving night at The Omni from 1979 to 1983. I was always envious of the fans in Atlanta who were able to go to those shows after finishing off their pumpkin pie, while I had to wait to find out who won until Saturday, when Gordon Solie would announce it on the TBS show.

In 1981, when there was cooperation between promoters from different territories, the WWF (which was run by Vince McMahon Sr.) sent its tag team champions, Mr. Fuji and Mr. Saito, to Atlanta to compete in the tournament. Fuji and Saito made it to the finals, where they were defeated by Georgia fan favorites Bob and Brad Armstrong.

Something tells me that wouldn’t have happened if the current WWE chairman had been in charge. Starrcade took the concept of a major wrestling show on Thanksgiving to another level through 1987. It was moved to December thereafter because WWE forced cable companies to make a choice between Starrcade and the Survivor Series on Thanksgiving night, and the cable industry went with the more mainstream WWE.

My favorite Starrcade match was the Magnum T.A.-Tully Blanchard “I quit” match in 1985. It remains was one of the most intense matches I have ever seen. There is no doubt in my mind that Magnum would have eventually been NWA champion had he not had his career ended in 1986 due to suffering serious injuries in an auto accident. The main event of that ’85 show was a grudge match between NWA world champion Flair and Dusty Rhodes, who was out for revenge after suffering a “broken leg” at the hands of Flair and the Andersons. I was convinced that Rhodes was going to win the belt – back when winning the belt was still a big deal – and he seemingly did.

Fans at The Omni went home that night believing that Rhodes was the champion. However, it was later revealed on television that the decision had been reversed.

The 1986 Starrcade was dubbed “The Night of the Skywalkers,” as The Road Warriors faced The Midnight Express in a scaffold match. Midnight Express manager Jim Cornette took a bump off the scaffold and legitimately blew out his knee. I was unable to watch the first four Starrcades, but I was obsessed with finding out who won, so I would call the local papers in North Carolina and/or Georgia to get the results.

I did watch Starrcade ’87 on closed circuit at the Baltimore Arena. Flair regained the NWA title from Ronnie Garvin that night to become a five-time champion. I could have watched Flair and Garvin wrestle each other every night. Their matches were always intense and physical, as they used to chop the heck out of each other.

WWE came up with the Survivor Series in 1987 to go head to head with Starrcade, and it cornered the wrestling pay-per-view market on Thanksgiving from 1988 to 1990 before moving the event to another night.

The Survivor Series consisted entirely of team elimination matches during the event’s early years, and it had the star-studded roster to pull it off.

The 1990 Survivor Series had two memorable debuts – but for vastly different reasons. The Undertaker, who, oddly enough, was billed as Cain The Undertaker, was the mystery member of “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s team. With his ghoulish look and mauling style, Undertaker instantly got over as a monster heel.

Also making his first appearance was The Gobbledygooker. For weeks, WWE showed a gigantic egg on television and announced that it would hatch at the Survivor Series. Like many fans, I believed a big-name wrestler defecting from the NWA was going to pop out, but instead it was a guy (later revealed to be Hector Guerrero) in a turkey costume.

And speaking of guys in a turkey costume, that Thanksgiving tradition has been renewed by TNA, which will feature its second annual Turkey Bowl tonight on Impact. For the uninitiated, it’s a tournament in which the winner gets a check and the loser is forced to wear a turkey suit.

It ain’t exactly Flair versus Race, is it?

*****from the Baltimore Sun*****

One thought on “When wrestling supercards were a Thanksgiving tradition

  1. Starcade.

    I never went on Thanksgiving but I did go to a few shows in Greensboro back in the mid 80s. Flair, Arn and Ole Anderson, Dusty Rhodes, Wahoo McDaniel, Ricky Steamboat, Ivan and Nikita Kolov, Tully Blanchard. Those were some good shows in packed arenas.

    I wouldn’t waste my time or money on that stuff today.

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