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Starrcade ’85: The Gathering

The Stars Align for NWA’s Third Major Event

During the main event at Starrcade ‘84, Ric Flair threw Dusty Rhodes into the ring post, resulting in a nasty cut above his eye. This led to special guest referee, “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier, stopping the match two minutes later. Flair retained the title. No one was happy, especially The American Dream. Now he had a chance for revenge. Welcome to Starrcade ’85.

As with the previous two Starrcades, this event was held on Thanksgiving (Nov. 28, 1985), though not much was said about the holiday. I was really hoping for an NWA version of The Gobbledy Gooker. As a first, the event was broadcast live from two locations: the Greensboro Coliseum Complex in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta, Georgia. Bob Caudle, alongside Tony Schiavone, introduces the show as, “Starrcade ’85. It’s the gathering.” The Gathering seems like an odd name for a wrestling event. Hey guys, we’re just gonna gather in the arena tonight. Wrestling? Nope. Just gathering. Anyway, on to the first get-together.

Sam Houston vs. Khrusher Khrushchev (Mid-Atlantic Title Match)

Sam Houston locks up with Krusher Khrushchev at Starrcade ’85.

First, I must point out that referee Sonny Fargo is wearing a yellow jumpsuit with bell-bottoms. Why? He looks like a janitor who works at Sesame Place.

Khrusher Khrushchev, of course, receives many “Boos” because he’s from the evil U.S.S.R. Sam Houston, however, is a good ol’ boy from Waco, Texas, and he truly excites the crowd. I wonder why he didn’t just call himself Sam Waco.

This is an interesting match because it’s power man versus lightweight, but both men use actual wrestling holds. I’m mostly unfamiliar with Houston, but I assume his hip-tosses and standing-dropkicks influenced guys like Marty Jannetty and other cruiserweight babyfaces. On the flip-side, Khrusher executes a gorilla press slam that would make the Ultimate Warrior nervously take notes.

Houston nails Khrushchev with his finisher, the running bulldog, but doesn’t get the pin because the Russian’s foot is on the rope. He thinks he did, and as he’s celebrating, Khrusher wallops him with a devasting clothesline appropriately called “The Sickle”. Sam’s foot is also on the rope during the count, but the ref never sees it. Khrusher knocks his foot off immediately after the three-count. This classic heel move receives a ton of heat from the crowd as he proudly holds his new belt in the air. He even hilariously calls American referees “prejudiced” during a later interview with Johnny Weaver, despite his victory. Oddly, the ending received zero commentaries from either Schiavone or Caudle. Seriously, we’re just going to pretend that didn’t happen? Okay then, on to the next match.

Ragin’ Bull vs. Abdullah The Butcher (Mexican Death Match)

A bloody Butcher against a bloody Bull at Starrcade ’85.

The rules of a Mexican Death Match are simple: there are no rules. You can bloody or injure your opponent all you want, any way you want. You win by climbing a pole and grabbing a large Mexican sombrero. The same sombrero that Ragin’ Bull Manny Fernandez wore around his neck to the ring. Why didn’t he just keep the hat?

Abdullah is fired up and ready to go before the bell. Within seconds of the match starting, Fernandez is busted open by a tiny rod that The Butcher keeps in his pants (heh). Manny’s face is gushing, perfectly matching his shirt, as well as Abdullah’s pants. At one point, Abdullah smashes him in the head with the bell hammer. This is ECW-level wrestling, and it’s exciting to see it as the second match on a closed-circuit television event from 1985. I often forget how hardcore things used to be.

Manny makes a comeback, bashing The Butcher over the head with his cowboy boot and his belt. Not as effective as metal objects, but the crowd is feeling the rage. Fernandez also manages to suplex the big man. He doesn’t get him up high but it’s still impressive. Abdullah is the first one to go for the sombrero. It’s amusing because he could reach it from the second turnbuckle if he really tried. He’s always so close yet so far away. In this match, it seems that climbing the ropes is the hardest thing both men have ever done. Eventually, Ragin’ Bull escapes with his hat (and national pride) after Abdullah misses a charge into the corner and smashes headfirst into the post. Oof.

Black Bart vs. Cowboy Ron Bass (Texas Bull Rope Match)

Blood soaked cowboys Ron Bass and Black Bart tear each other apart at Starrcade ’85.

It’s outlaw versus outlaw in this gimmick match with a stipulation. Ron Bass gets a five-minute bull rope match with J.J. Dillon if he wins. The suspense is killing me! Bart’s face is sliced open almost as quickly as Fernandez’s, this time at the hands of a cowbell assault by Bass. It doesn’t take ol’ Bart long to return the favor. This is the type of bout that should be in a dirt field instead of a ring. You can count on no hands the number of wrestling moves in this match. These men have a fever, and the prescription is more cowbell.

They really went all out with the gore for this “gathering.” The whole time I was worried they were going to stain the ref’s bright yellow outfit.

Bass gets the pinfall after a flying cowbell shot to the cranium of Black Bart. Dillon wastes no time hopping into the ring and putting the boots to Bass. It didn’t last long. Dillon would have lost if not for the interference by Bart, who delivered a textbook piledriver to Cowboy Ron. Finally, a wrestling move!

Superstar Billy Graham vs. The Barbarian (Arm Wrestling Match)

A Superstar and a Barbarian battle to determine who has the strongest arms at Starrcade ’85.

As a longtime Barbarian fan, I was curious to see if he could take down Graham’s 23” python. Up for grabs was $10,000 dollars. When The Barbarian points out his broken right hand (the one normally used in arm wrestling, as Schiavone explains) you can hear Billy say, “It’s broke? That one’s gonna be broke too.” The balls on this guy! Also, with Graham’s appearance here, you can really see where the Hollywood Hogan look came from.

Some of this is hard to watch because it’s so obviously fake, but they make a good show of it. When both men hulk up and rise out of their chairs, the crowd is LOUD. Graham pins Barbarian’s hand to the table fair and square. Of course, the brute is not happy about this and unleashes a wild assault on the Superstar, painting his face fire-engine red. I’m noticing a theme here. Graham wins the wrestling match (which was never announced) by disqualification when a cane-wielding Paul Jones interferes.

Terry Taylor vs. Buddy Landel (National Title Match)

“Nature Boy” Buddy Landel gets booed hard from the crowd. They are not amused with his Ric Flair impersonations. Neither am I. However, as Schiavone acknowledges, “Say what you want about Landel, but that guy is a fine athlete.”

The match is pretty even but for the most part boring. I kept hoping Taylor would roll around on the mat more and get a little red (rooster) in his hair. At one point, he gets destroyed by a clothesline as he tries to charge at Landel from the corner. It’s a move that is “rewind” worthy. For a second, I thought it was all over. Unfortunately, the match went on for another three minutes, until J.J. Dillon interrupted Terry in mid-superplex, forcing Landel to land on top of him for the 1-2-3. I forgot this was a title match until the ref handed Landel the belt.

Ole & Arn Anderson vs. Wahoo McDaniel & Billy Jack Haynes (National Tag Team Title Match)

The Minnesota Wrecking Crew, Ole and Arn Anderson at Starrcade ’85.

Arn Anderson is another childhood favorite of mine, so it’s cool to see him in action with his brother. Arn and Ole, “The Minnesota Wrecking Crew,” are the National Tag Team Champions, and Wahoo McDaniel and Billy Jack are the United States Tag Team Champions. Wouldn’t National and United States be the same thing? I’m so confused. And why does Arn look older in ’85 than he did in ’95? The world may never know. This match also features a new referee, who wears the traditional black and white stripes. I guess Big Bird was getting tired.

The Andersons are great at making quick tags and attacking specific body parts on Wahoo. Billy Jack barely enters the ring. In a time-honoured tradition, the heels cheat and get the win, with Arn pinning McDaniel while Ole holds down his leg. This contest left much to be desired.

Exclusive Backstage Interview!

Johnny Weaver talks with Dillon and Landel who are quite proud of their accomplishments. Dillon boasts that it’s the greatest night in his 15-year wrestling career. He recognizes the ass-whoopin’ he received from Bass but commends himself for summoning up the “intestinal fortitude” to dish it out right back. Man, I love that phrase. Landel calls out Flair for playing possum and says he’ll take on anyone at any time. Them’s fightin’ words!

Tully Blanchard vs. Magnum T.A. (U.S. Title Match)

Magnum T.A. tries his best to force Tully Blanchard into submission at Starrcade ’85.

What do we have here – an “I quit” match inside of a cage with no time limit? Sign me up! Magnum T.A. isn’t shown entering the ring. He just waits there intensely for Blanchard to meet him. I’m not sure if this was on purpose, or if Landel and Dillon ran their traps too long. Either way, it works. Mangum is introduced as “vastly popular.” Tully doesn’t get a cool adjective attached to his name, but he’s the U.S. champ, and that’s good enough. Earl Hebner is the official. Careful, Blanchard, the fix for The Steel Cage Screwjob might be in!

Watching this for the first time in 2020, I’m surprised how crazy it is. It’s a submission match with zero submission holds. Just absolute carnage. Magnum gets color within the first three minutes (thanks to the cage). Tully follows suit shortly after. Tony mentions how it’s already a “regular brawl,” but really, “bloodbath” would be the more appropriate word. There’s some serious blading going on here.

At first, I thought the idea of having to say “I quit” into a microphone was silly, and it would just get in the way. However, it is a brutal visual every time one of them gets bashed in the head with it, while the other shouts, “Say it!” Their intense cries of “Nooo!” are straight out of a horror movie.

Blanchard tosses Hebner across the ring and gives him a swift boot to the mid-section after he gets up. It’s rare to see a referee abused like this these days. When a broken wooden chair goes flying into the ring courtesy of Baby Doll, Tully tries to drive a piece of it through Magnum’s skull. Unfortunately for him, this is reversed, and the last word out of Blanchard’s mouth is “Yesss!” He’s still screaming in agony as Mangum walks away with the belt.

Once you’ve seen this match, it’s something you’ll never forget. Magnum said it best himself during a later interview: “I think I left a little somethin’ of me in that ring, maybe somethin’ I’ll never get back again.” Both men gave it their all and it’s easy to see why this is held in such high regard. It even kicks off a recently added special on the WWE Network titled Best of United States Championship Matches. In fact, it’s one of only three matches that are pre-2000 on the 11-match program.

Jimmy Valiant & Ms. Atlanta Lively w/ Big Mama vs. The Midnight Express w/ Jim Cornette (Atlanta Street Fight)

The Midnight Express, Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey, made me feel underdressed with their tail tuxedos. I can’t believe they wrestled with the jackets on. Jimmy Valiant and Ms. Atlanta Lively (Ronnie Garvin in drag) made me feel the exact opposite. I guess this is supposed to be comic relief after the rampage of terror that was the last match (though everyone here still gets busted open).

It’s amusing that the announcers are quiet for the first couple minutes, until Caudle exclaims, “Well this is a most unique match, to say the least.” There’s powder and foreign objects galore. Cornette delivers a beautiful tennis racket shot to the giant head of Ms. Lively. Eaton gets pinned after he jumps off the turnbuckle and is met with an uppercut from Atlanta. Schiavone yells, “The street people win!” For some reason that killed me. They celebrate their win the best way possible – by stripping Jim Cornette down to his heart covered boxers. Cornette getting humiliated is something that will always be funny. This is one of those matches I wish Bobby Heenan did commentary for.

Ivan & Nikita Koloff vs. The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express (World Tag Team Title Match)

Robert Gibson gets mangled by Nikita Koloff at Starrcade ’85.

It’s the evil Russian champions against the high flyin’ Rock ‘N’ Roll Express – inside of a steel cage! The original rockers, Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson, always make a match exciting. I think they’re underrated (though not completely forgotten thanks to recent appearances on AEW). I swear those damn kids on my lawn don’t even know about their dropkicks.

This match took longer than the others to spill the blood, but eventually, the chain-linked cage had its way with both Gibson and Ivan Koloff’s face. Poor Robert was tossed into that sucker numerous times. I wonder if these guys got tired of always having to wrestle with their vital fluid in their eyes.

It’s a back and forth matchup. Both sides show great teamwork and skills in isolating their opponent. The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express did it better though, pulling off a nice victory in which Morton rolls up Ivan almost immediately after he backdrops his partner, Gibson. It’s something I’ve never seen, which is cool to say after all the wrasslin I’ve watched.

The comrades don’t take too kindly to this loss and whip Gibson good with a chain. Morton gets thrown over the cage and onto the floor like a piece of garbage. Some boys from the locker room saved them from further annihilation. Poor fellas didn’t even get to celebrate their championship win.

Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes (World Title Match)

Ric Flair prepares to defend the World title against Dusty Rhodes at Starrcade ’85.

And here . . . we . . . go! The rematch of the century. Or, at least the ‘80s. This has to make up for their match at last year’s Starrcade, right?

Dusty looks loose, fresh, and ready to go. He gets to the ring quickly. Flair is more serious and takes his time. It’s interesting that Rhodes was sporting a white jacket, and Flair went with a white robe. Dusty gets a huge pop when he’s announced. The Nature Boy receives more boos than I expected. Maybe it’s because I’m used to viewing him as the legend he is now, who should be greatly respected, instead of the heel he was known as for such a long time. Dusty struts, while Flair stares, but eventually, both men take a methodical approach to the match.

At first, it’s a lot of the same from these guys: Dusty with his elbows to the dome and Flair with his open hands to the chest. Wrestling may not be “real” but the chops certainly are. I always liked the chop because it makes a cool noise, and after a few of them, the receiver’s chest will become beet red. WOOOO! Padded elbows against the skull, however, are lacking in effect and I grow tired of them quickly.

In a silly move, Flair tries to suplex Rhodes but his knees almost give out, enabling a reversal suplex. I would have lost a bet and fell out of my recliner if Flair had got the American Dream up and over (though stranger things have happened in this sport). Another bad decision was Dusty attempting a figure-four on Flair, which his injured foot immediately regretted. This fight took the longest of the night to get some color. This time it was Flair’s head being rammed into the outside rail that produced the crimson mask/mane.

I honestly think Flair should have won when he had the figure-four slapped on in the center of the ring (either by submission or pinfall). Especially since Dusty’s foot was all jacked up. It makes no sense that he had the power to reverse it. I suppose the argument is that Flair’s little stumps were no match for Rhode’s mammoth limbs.

They go at it a good 20 minutes until Arn Anderson runs in to save his buddy Ric but gets knocked the hell out by Dusty’s big boot. Ole has better luck with a flying knee to the back of The Dream. Soon after though, the big Texan musters up the strength, and the skill, to upset Flair with a small package. This was Ric’s dumb fault though, as Dusty was down, but he brought him to his feet to attempt a body-slam. Why would you do that, Natch? You saw how well your suplex idea worked. Such shenanigans.

Schiavone gets the post-match interview with the newly crowned champion, as guys like Billy Jack and Fernandez cover him with champagne. Rhodes hollers about blue-collar workers, textile workers, and auto workers, and how “Nobody can beat the people!” He’s as hype as hype can be, and I must admit, it’s contagious.

The American Dream celebrates his title victory at Starrcade ’85.

Final Thoughts

Ric Flair toasts us with a beer

Overall, this was better than Starrcade ’84. I didn’t expect as much bloody violence as I got, which at times was unnecessary. However, I can’t deny that it will leave a long-lasting impression on me. Tully vs. Magnum is a must-see. As much as I wasn’t a big fan of the small-package ending, I’m glad Dusty had his revenge. It sure beats ending the fight just because of a little red liquid in the eyes. I hope Starrcade ’86 has fewer weapons and gore and more actual wrestling.

Written by Alan Ritch

Alan is a bearded fella from the United State of Pennsylvania. He enjoys reading comics, petting kittens, and blasting his vinyl records. When he’s not taking comfort in those things, he can be found researching, proofreading, or writing content for a lucky client. You can bother him on Twitter @RitchWriter.

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