I've mentioned before that I watched Mid-Atlantic Wrestling and the National Wrestling Alliance growing up, and while I remember when the first Starrcade pay per view was created, I didn't know much about the backstory behind it. One could have made the case that holding a marquee pro wrestling event on a major holiday would be financial suicide, but Mid-Atlantic promoter Jim Crockett Jr. not only was aware of the audience for an event, but decided that Starrcade should be held on Thanksgiving evening. The subsequent impact it had on the sport was historic. Its popularity helped spawn closed circuit airings and events simulcast in multiple areas, and helped lead to the adoption of pay per view services for such events. It was held approximately 18 months before the first Wrestlemania from the then-World Wrestling Federation and featured some of the biggest names in the sport, bringing them increased visibility.
As it turns out, the show's 25th anniversary has just come and gone, and the 25 top matches of Starrcade (as voted by the fans) were initially presented on the World Wrestling Entertainment 24/7 cable channel, featuring introductions by Jim Ross, Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes and several others who were in the know about the production and their participation in it. Counting down from 25 to 1, the matches (spread out over three discs) are as follows:
Roddy Piper vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan (The Match of the Decade - December 29, 1996)
Sting vs. The Great Muta (Iron Man Singles Tournament Match - December 13, 1989)
Barry Windham/Brian Pillman vs. Ricky Steamboat/Shane Douglas (Unified World Tag Team Match - December 28, 1992)
Goldberg vs. Kevin Nash (WCW World Heavyweight Championship - December 27, 1998)
Battlebowl (Battle Royal - December 29, 1991)
Dustin Rhodes vs. Stunning Steve Austin (WCW U.S. Championship 2 out of 3 Falls Match - December 27, 1993)
Road Warriors vs. Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard (NWA World Tag Team Championship - November 26, 1987)
Rey Mysterio Jr. vs. Jushin Thunder Liger (December 29, 1996)
Rock N Roll Express vs. Midnight Express (Scaffold Match - November 26, 1987)
Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger (NWA World Heavyweight Championship - December 26, 1988)
Eddie Guerrero vs. Shinjiro Otani (December 27, 1995)
Dusty Rhodes & Sting vs. Road Warriors (NWA World Tag Team Championship - December 26, 1988)
Sting vs. Big Van Vader (King of Cable Tournament Final - December 26, 1988)
Brisco Brothers vs. Jay Youngblood & Ricky Steamboat (NWA World Tag Team Championship - November 24, 1983)
Dusty Rhodes vs. Ric Flair (NWA World Heavyweight Championship - December 26, 1988)
Eddie Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko (WCW Cruiserweight Championship - December 28, 1997)
Road Warriors vs. Steiner Brothers (Iron Man Tag Team Tournament - December 26, 1988)
3 Count vs. Jung Dragons vs. Jamie Knoble & Evan Karagias (Ladder Match - December 26, 1988)
Ric Flair vs. Sting (Iron Man Singles Tournament Match - December 13, 1989)
Greg Valentine vs. Roddy Piper (Dog Collar Match - November 24, 1983)
Rod Warriors vs. Midnight Express (Scaffold Match - November 27, 1986)
Hollywood Hulk Hogan vs. Sting (WCW World Heavyweight Championship - December 28, 1997)
Ric Flair vs. Harley Race (NWA World Heavyweight Championship - November 24, 1983)
Magnum T.A. vs. Tully Blanchard ("I Quit" Match - November 28, 1985)
Ric Flair vs. Vader (Championship vs. Career - December 27, 1993)
Now upon first glance, some of these matches can be found on other discs; the Flair-Race match is on the first compilation of Flair matches that WWE Home Video produced, and the "I Quit" Match is on the WWE produced disc entitled Bloodbath. That said, as part of a compilation on Starrcade, these matches are musts. The former helped launch Flair into the national spotlight for pro wrestling fans, and the latter is the culmination of one of the more visceral feuds between two characters the sport had witnessed over the last quarter century. The bout is on the Bloodbath discs for a reason; both men beat the crap out of each other for fifteen of the bloodiest minutes you're likely to see. You've also got a Flair-Luger match that many people consider to be one of Luger's finest moments, and the cruiserweight matches (save for the Ladder match) are all excellent work. You've also got the top three matches from the first Starrcade ever, and enough Ric Flair to last you long time. That said, there are some questionable choices for inclusion. I would have dropped he Hogan stuff myself, the Rock and Roll Express match could have been replaced with the match against the Andersons from 1986 for a little better representation, along with a couple other minor wrinkles. Otherwise, this is a decent compilation of matches and rediscovered gems worth checking out again.
Full frame viewing, not to any real surprise, since they're pulling from the original broadcast tapes and not doing touch up work, remastering or the like. It's like someone pulled the tape and mass produced these things on DVD or something...
I was surprised to have a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack attached to all three of these Starrcade discs. With that said, there's very little surround to be gained here, aside from replicating what occurs in the front channels. I appreciate the thought by the WWE folks, but it wasn't necessary here.
The only extra of note is a documentary (49:20) on the first disc. It includes interviews with Crockett's brother David, Flair, Rhodes and a whole host of others who were part of the creation of the event, or who took part in the card's notable matches through the early and mid-'80s. The "Dog Collar" and "Scaffold" match origins are discussed, and Magnum T.A., a.k.a. Terry Allen, recalls the car crash which ended his career and a push to the top of the card in the 1986 version of the event, and the suffering that the NWA endured with it. The WWF's Survivor Series moving into the cable horizon (and it's implied strong arming cable companies to stop offering Starrcade on its schedule) is covered, along with some other of the warts of the NWA, later WCW, like the Nash-Goldberg match, among others. There seems to be another implication that Hogan's entrance into the WCW gave it a breath of fresh air, which was true, but the guaranteed contracts and backstage clout pretty much had the product wither on the vine down the road. It's a nice compliment to the matches. There's also an alternate commentary on the Warriors/Arn & Tully match, along with the Warriors/Midnights match with Animal and Todd Grisham, and the former recalls his experiences on those bouts with the latter.
WWE Home Video fires a couple of blanks on Starrcade - The Essential Collection, but there's enough quality matches that make this an easy recommendation to wrestling fans. For those who are remotely curious about the history of pro wrestling before the pay per view era making things huge, then exploring these discs and the accompanying documentary are recommended viewing for you.