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Pro Wrestling on Thanksgiving: Starrcade vs Survivor Series

When one thinks of Thanksgiving most people think of pumpkin pie, turkey, football, or maybe even parade balloons.  As unlikely as it seems, though, to me pro wrestling and Thanksgiving go together like mashed potatoes and gravy.

Pro wrestling has deep traditions tied to Thanksgiving, going back to the territory days of yesteryear. Mid-South Wrestling frequently held Thanksgiving events in the SuperDome in New Orleans during the territory glory years.  The big two major promotions we all know, WWF and WCW, also have historical ties to the holiday as well.

World Championship Wrestling (WCW), formerly the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), held Starrcade from 1983 to 2000.  Originally on closed-circuit television and eventually broadcast via pay-per-view, Starrcade was the brainchild of Dusty Rhodes and Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP).  JCP was the dominant promotion of the NWA during the dying territory days.  Starrcade was considered it's flagship event of the year, much like WWE today considers WrestleMania it's tentpole event.  As a result, the build to Starrcade featured the largest feuds and most detailed storylines and would be used to "reset" the company as a season finale... and a season premier for the next years major feuds.

Before Starrcade even existed, going back to the 1960's, JCP held a tradition of holding Thanksgiving Day events, mostly in the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina.  Thanksgiving was originally a great day to hold an event because nearly everyone had the day off work and back in those days there wasn't much else to do once the family dinner was over. So why not head out to see some old fashioned 'wrasslin?

JCP produced Starrcade from 83-87 as the NWA, airing the event on Thanksgiving Day.  Due to events created by rival World Wrestling Federation (WWF) that we will discuss later, in 1988 Starrcade was moved to December and eventually moved closer to Christmas than Thanksgiving.  Also occurring that same year, JCP was sold to Turner Broadcasting after facing financial problems.  They changed the name to WCW, although Starrcade kept the NWA name until 1990.

WWF's Survivor Series has a more interesting creation story.  WWF didn't have a tradition of holding major events on Thanksgiving Day, but following the national success of Wrestlemania, promoter Vince McMahon decided it was time to knock his largest rival down a peg.  With this he created the Survivor Series, which has grown to be considered one of the "Big Four" events each year, along with Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, and SummerSlam.  After WrestleMania III was a major pay-per-view success in 1987, McMahon held some clout with the television networks.  JCP's Starrcade was airing on pay-per-view in 1987 for the first time ever and McMahon decided to compete directly by holding Survivor Series on Thanksgiving Day.  He demanded that the networks carry his program and NOT Starrcade... or never receive the ability to air the extremely lucrative Wrestlemania ever again.  His demands worked and hardly any cable company carried Starrcade.  Starrcade was hurt severely and this forced the move to December the following year.

The first few Survivor Series (1987-1990) took place on Thanksgiving but then was eventually moved to Thanksgiving Eve from 1991 to 1994.  After 1995 the event was moved to the Sunday before Thanksgiving to be in line with the company's standard Sunday night schedule for major events.  Survivor Series is best known for the tag-team elimination matches appropriately called "Survivor Series" matches.  The teams would be made of 4 or 5 wrestlers who were loosely connected in storyline feuds.  These teams would compete until every member of one team was eliminated.

Many of these WWF events would feature Thanksgiving based promos or play up American patriotism and history.  Survivor Series and the weekly television shows like Monday Night RAW would often feature backstage feasts (complete with food fights), costumes, and other holiday shenanigans.  Who could forget The Mayflower Melee Match from 2009 or the Diva's Gravy Bowl Match?  Yeah, I had forgotten those too.

Recently here at YesterYear Retro Memories, I went back and looked 30 years into the past to watch and review both Starrcade and Survivor Series from 1989.  You can check out the reviews by clicking the links below:

After you've (hopefully) gone back and read my reviews from the events that took place 30 years ago, I figured I'd list the top 5 memorable things to occur at each show in the nearly 40 year runs of both Starrcade and Survivor Series.  Let's start with my personal list of the:

Top 5 Moments at WWF's Survivor Series:

5.  Gobbledy Gooker - On Thanksgiving Day 1990, one of the central storylines that ran for weeks prior and through the Survivor Series event was "What's in the giant egg?"  Fans tuned into pay-per-view speculating what would hatch from the large egg.  Could it be a Superstar returning from injury?  A new wrestler?  What actually emerged was much less exciting.  Veteran wrestler Hector Guerrero emerged dressed in a turkey costume.  "The Gobbledy Gooker" was booed out of the arena.  As a matter of fact, the "Gooker Award" is website WrestleCrap's award for the worst moments of the year.

4.  WWE Ends the Invasion Angle - Following the purchase of WCW, fans couldn't wait to see how years of fantasy booking WWF vs WCW would play out.  Well, to anyone who lived through it, you know it was a major disappointment.  WWF could not get many of the major WCW stars due to contractual issues and were forced to pretend WCW's B and C team could run with the likes of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock.  At Survivor Series 2001, the WWF team defeated the "Alliance" of WCW/ECW and put an end to the disappointing storyline.

3.  The Rock Debuts - At Survivor Series 1996 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, The Rock debuted as the white meat babyface "Rocky Maivia."  Rocky debuted in a Survivor Series match against Jerry "The King" Lawler, future Attitude era rival Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Triple H), Goldust, and Crush.  On The Rock's team was Marc Mero, Jake Roberts, and The Stalker (Barry Windham.)  The Rock was the sole survivor, eliminating Goldust and Crush during the match.

2.  The Undertaker Debuts - At Survivor Series 1990, The "Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase unveiled The Undertaker to WWF audiences as part of that years "Million Dollar Team."  After eliminating Koko B Ware and Dusty Rhodes from "The Dream Team" the Undertaker was counted out after chasing Dusty backstage.  The Undertaker would briefly be managed by Brother Love (Bruce Prichard) until Paul Bearer made his WWF debut a month later.

1.  The Montreal Screw Job - Ah, yes.  Either the most real thing to ever happen in pro wrestling or the greatest "work" ever, the Survivor Series from 1997 is one if not THE most talked about wrestling event in history.  Even though one could directly attribute the Montreal Screw Job to sparking the hottest period in wrestling in the Attitude Era, it's also one of the ugliest incidents ever to take place inside a wrestling ring.  Bret Hart had signed a 20 year long deal with WWE the prior year but a few months before the 97 Survivor Series event Vince McMahon told Bret he could not afford the deal and so Bret signed with rival promotion WCW.

The problem was, Bret was still the WWF Champion.  With "reasonable creative control" and in the midst of a very popular USA vs Canada storyline, the Canadian legend did not want to lose the Title Belt in his home country at the Montreal show like Vince wanted.  As the story goes, Vince promised Bret he would keep the belt at the end of the night, but during the match, saw to it the bell was rung in order to declare Shawn Michaels the champion.  This sneaky maneuver caused outrage in fans and wrestlers backstage alike.  This single event sparked the evil Mr. McMahon character that was a mainstay of the Attitude Era with the famous line "Bret screwed Bret."

The Top 5 Moments in WCW Starrcade history:

5.  Flair vs Vader -  The Nature Boy Ric Flair would once again come to the rescue of WCW, putting his career on the line as he took on the company's top heel Vader at Starrcade 1993.  Originally supposed to be Sid Vicious' spot, Flair stepped in after Vicious was fired for a stabbing incident you may have heard about involving Arn Anderson during a tour of the United Kingdom.  Flair and Vader put on an incredible match in what is often considered one of the greatest of his 16 World Title wins (this was his 11th.)  It was a 20 minute back and forth classic that involved legendary wrestler (and Vader's manager) Harley Race getting in on the action.

4.  Bret Hart vs Goldberg - At the 1999 Starrcade, Bret Hart's match against Goldberg was one of the best and worst moments in Starrcade history.  Only two years into his already lackluster tenure with WCW, Bret Hart was still one of the biggest wrestling stars of the 90's.  When he was featured in a match with Bill Goldberg, arguably one of the biggest stars of the Attitude era, fans were elated.  The feud started off with the memorable moment when Goldberg was goaded into spearing Hart only to find out that Hart had worn a metal plate under his hockey jersey.  Unfortunately, an errant superkick from Goldberg during the Starrcade match caused Hart to have post concussion syndrome and was forced to relinquish the title days later.  The troubles with this concussion would spell the end of Hart's Hall of Fame career.

3.  Goldberg's Streak Comes to an End -  Bill Goldberg rose to the heights of wrestling stardom during 1998 with his famous winning streak.  Week after week the number of wins would grow to legendary status, but like all good things, must eventually come to an end.  Goldberg was defeated by Kevin Nash when Nash's buddy Scott Hall (dressed as a security guard) used a cattle prod to "electrocute" Goldberg.  Yes, you read that right.  The hot winning streak ended in such a disappointing way.

This match is even overshadowed by what happened the following week at Monday Nitro.  I suggest you google "The Fingerpoke of Doom" and the infamous "butts in seats" comment that occurred on the January 4th Monday Nitro and would signal the turning of the tide in the war with WWF.  Perhaps in January I'll write up a brief synopsis for the 20th anniversary.

2.  Sting Finally Meets Hollywood Hogan - The main event match of the 1997 Starrcade was one that fans had been begging for all year.  In perhaps one of the very few times pro wrestling promotions showed restraint in drawing out a long term story, two WCW icons Sting and Hulk Hogan came face to face.  Sting, upset that fans and fellow wrestlers could think he would join the nWo, spent the year not even wrestling.  He had switched to the black and white "Crow" gimmick and would lurk in the rafters or make sneak attacks on Hogan and his crew while they ran roughshod over WCW.  Hogan and the nWO had been largely unchallenged for 18 months and would finally get their comeuppance at Starrcade 97.

However, the match was a bit of a let down.  According to Eric Bischoff on his podcast '83 Weeks', Sting showed up for the match out of shape and "didn't have a tan."  This caused last minute changes to the culmination of Sting's one-man mission to take down the new World order so that Hulk Hogan could "save some face" in defeat.  Sting got his victory, but the shine was taken off by a botched referee's count.  The match was supposed to end with Hogan winning via a fast count from referee Nick Patrick.  Bret Hart would then come down as the hero, restart the match, and allow Sting to defeat Hogan via submission with the Scorpion Deathlock.  Except Patrick botched the count and made a regular-paced count rather than the dirty referee's fast count.  This made Bret Hart look like a dope when he demanded a restart to the match.  When Sting locked in the submission maneuver, Hogan refused to tap out and the referee called for the bell anyway.  Is this another case of Hogan's famous "This just doesn't work for me, Brother..."?

1.  Sting vs. Ric Flair from 1989 - As you hopefully read in my review of Starrcade 89 last week, for Sting fans everywhere this was a dream match.  After a round-robin tournament, Sting worked his way through Lex Luger and the Great Muta before making his way to the final match against "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair.  Flair and Sting were in the midst of a great storyline involving the Four Horseman and a friendship that was about to go bust.  Sting and Flair had a natural chemistry and put on several amazing matches over the years.

This 15 minute match was absolute perfection to me as a Sting fan.  The "Icon" Sting defeated Flair in what was the most important victory of his career to date.  This victory would lead to a storyline decision about earning a future title match against Flair.  The decision to accept this match would lead to Sting getting kicked out of the Horseman, and after an injury that put Sting out of action for a few months, would see Sting win the WCW World Heavyweight Title in grand fashion at Great American Bash 1990. What Harley Race did for Ric Flair years prior, Flair did for Sting at Starrcade 89.  Sting would go on to be one of the industries top stars and be the face of WCW for years to come.