Wrestling on Thanksgiving and Christmas is a long-standing wrestling tradition. The idea was that after dinner and spending time with their families people wanted to get out and go do something. Thus, every southern territory would have a major show on Thanksgiving and another on Christmas. The key was that wrestling was a big enough deal that the entire family wanted to see it: the grandparents, the parents, and kids. Including the women of the family. Try to convince your family to watch wrestling with you on TV today. Go ahead, seriously. See how that goes.
The 1980s was the decade wrestling went big time. And on Thanksgiving Night in 1983, wrestling took a big step forward with its first (sort of) pay-per-view broadcast. Jim Crockett was the promoter of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, the strongest of the southern NWA territories. He wanted to promote a super show with a card so big that people would fill arenas around the south to watch it. He would use his top talents as well as bring in top wrestlers from other promotions to supplement the card.
The main event for the show would feature Ric Flair challenging Harley Race for the NWA Championship. Flair was already well-established at this point, with his NWA Championship reign lasting well over a year. He lost the title to Race in June. Race didn’t want to fight Flair in a rematch, so he put a $25,000 bounty on Flair’s head. Bob Orton and Dick Slater made their attempt to claim the bounty on August 31 when they hit Flair with a Spike Piledriver. Flair was portrayed as seriously injured, and actually initially announced his retirement. A few weeks later he returned, beating down Orton and Slater with a baseball bat. He would get his rematch at the Greensboro Coliseum, the heart of Flair Country. With all that out of the way, let’s get to the action:
November 24, 1983
Greensboro, North Carolina
Gordon Solie and Bob Caudle are our hosts tonight. Tony Schiavone and Barbara Cleary will handle interviews and Tom Miller is the ring announcer.
The Assassins vs. Rufus R. Jones and Bugsy McGraw
The Assassins are Jody Hamilton and Ray Fernandez under masks. They were a popular heel team in the southern territories throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Ray Fernandez is better known as Hercules from the WWF. Jones is the reigning Mid-Atlantic Champion, the highest title in the territory. Solie either forgot who McGraw was or just didn’t know. Preliminary matches on these shows didn’t used to be built much. McGraw opens with a series of slams. He tries to unmask the Assassin, but can’t do it. Big Forearm by McGraw.
The other Assassin tags in. Solie just butchered Schiavone’s name. McGraw slams the Assassin. Rufus Jones tags in. He’s an African-American powerhouse, reminiscent of Dusty Rhodes in his mannerisms. Rufus works over the arm of the Assassin and tags McGraw back in. The Assassins manage to make a tag and McGraw dances more. Jones tags back in and works on the arm. The Assassin rakes the eyes and makes a tag. The other Assassin takes some shots, but Jones starts Hulking Up. Tag to Bugsy. Atomic Drop by Bugsy, then a Back Drop. Bugsy gets rolled up and pinned at 8:11.
Analysis: *1/4. Nothing spectacular or terrible there. Notably, the Assassins got in almost no offense before getting the pin.
We go to Tony Schiavone in the dressing room. He just says he’ll be interviewing people tonight.
Johnny Weaver and Scott McGee vs. Kevin Sullivan and Mark Lewin
McGee and Weaver are typical clean-cut good guys. Sullivan is part of the “Army of Darkness” in Florida, so he’s basically the same character he played throughout his career. Lewin is part of Sullivan’s stable and is managed by Gary Hart, a premier heel manager throughout his career. McGee controls early with fast-paced offense. Weaver tags in. Solie states that “many people have accused Sullivan of being a druid. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he were.” I mock Solie, but he’s pretty great, even though he’s pretty old by this point.
Sullivan gets control and works on McGee’s arm. Weaver makes a tag, but apparently he reached between the ropes, which isn’t allowed. Sullivan hits a big headbutt and tags in Lewin. Weaver manages to tag in. Oklahoma Stampede by Weaver. He goes for a Bulldog, but Sullivan slams him into the corner. Both Lewin and Sullivan proceed to work the arm. A double team blow to the arm results in a pin at 6:43.
Analysis: 1/2*. That match felt like one long headlock.
Sullivan and Lewin beat down McGee and Weaver after the match. Lots of blood gets spilled.
Schiavone interviews Harley Race, Greg Valentine, and Jack and Jerry Brisco. All of them are champions: Race the NWA Champion, Valentine the United States Champion, and the Briscos the Tag Champions. Race says he’s gotten insight into Flair from Valentine and the Briscos and he’s going to hurt Flair tonight.
Carlos Colon vs. Abdullah the Butcher
These guys had an everlasting feuding the spanned decades and territories. They claim that Colon and Abdullah aren’t allowed to fight in Puerto Rico, and that’s why the match is taking place here. That adds a nice extra bit to this match between two guys the people watching wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with. Abdullah controls early with lots of punches. Colon fights back with punches of his own and gets Abbie’s foreign object.
Abdullah is already bleeding. Leg Drop by Colon. Abdullah tries an Elbow Drop and accidentally hits the referee. Colon works on Abdullah’s knee. He locks on the Figure Four. Hugo Savonovich, future WWF Spanish Commentator, interferes and gets a shot on Colon. That allows Abdullah to get the pin at 4:30.
Analysis: 1/2*. Nothing interesting there.
Tony talks to Angelo Mosco, who was wounded in the fracas after the Sullivan match.
Wahoo McDaniel and Mark Youngblood vs. Bob Orton and Dick Slater
Cowboys vs. Indians. But the Indians are the good guys here. Wahoo and Slater start. Gordon unleashes a classic Solie-ism, stating that Slater “would fight a buzzsaw and give it the first two rounds.” Wahoo and Youngblood control early. Slater takes over with a Russian Legsweep. Solie referes to it as having been “Excellently Executed.” Perhaps Bret Hart was taking notes. Orton tags in and hits a big Backbreaker. Orton misses an Elbow Drop and gets Hip Tossed. Nice Backbreaker/Elbow Drop double team by Orton and Slater.
Gutwrench Suplex by Slater. Youngblood is thrown to the floor, where Orton beats on him. Orton drops Youngblood’s back across the guardrail. Youngblood needs Wahoo’s assistance to get back in the ring. Youngblood continues to get worked over for the next bit. Slater sets up for a Piledriver and gets Back Dropped. Hot tag to Wahoo! He comes in house on fire with the chops. Inverted Atomic Drop by Wahoo. Body Slam gets two. Seems like the tape skipped, because Slater is now in control. Orton and Slater work a heat segment on Wahoo. Orton holds Wahoo for an Ax Handle, but Slater misses and hits Orton! Atomic Drop by Wahoo and he tags in Youngblood. Double chop floors Slater.
Orton makes a blind tag but gets caught with a series of Dropkicks. Youngblood misses a Dropkick and gets Superplexed by Orton! That’s enough for the three count. Something of a flat finish there, as the crowd thought it was broken up.
Analysis: **3/4. Nice tag match. All four of those guys could go and they were in their primes. Finish was a little dodgy. The Superplex was perfect, but the crowd thought Wahoo broke up the pin and just went silent when it turned out he didn’t.
The heels attack Wahoo’s arm, including a Knee Drop off the top rope onto it.
Tony is in the back with Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, and Jay Youngblood. Subdued promo from Flair. He wishes Steamboat and Youngblood luck in their challenge to the Briscos later.
Barbara Cleary tries to interview Dusty Rhodes, but the sound is screwed up and you can’t hear him. He’s challenging the winner of the Flair/Race match. He would get his shot at the next Starrcade.
NWA World Television Championship vs. Mask: The Great Kabuki (c) vs. Charlie Brown
“Charlie Brown from Outta Town” is Jimmy Valient under a mask. This was a common storyline in the territory days: A face wrestler would get suspended, or lose a “Loser Leaves Town” match and then return under a mask with a different name. Dusty Rhodes even won the NWA Championship as “The Midnight Rider” before he had to forfeit it because masked wrestlers couldn’t hold the title. This is Mask vs. Title, so Brown has to unmask it he loses. They brawl out of the ring right off the bell. Brown chokes Kabuki with a chair and throws it into the ring, allowing him to crotch Kabuki on the ring post.
Gary Hart is not amused by these antics. Brown applies a Sleeper. Kabuki eventually breaks out of it. Another Sleeper from Brown. Hart helps Kabuki make the ropes. Chops and kicks from Kabuki, who proceeds to apply the Iron Claw. Brown breaks out and Back Drops Kabuki. Kabuki gets a kick and goes back to the Claw. Brown comes back and punches the Claw off. Side Kick by Kabuki. He applies the Claw again. Brown makes the ropes. Chops and kicks from Kabuki. Brown makes a comeback. Kabuki misses a charge, Brown drops and elbow and gets the pin at 10:35.
Analysis: 1/2*. Dull match with a cheap finish.
Schiavone interviews Harley Race again. This time he’s joined by Bob Orton and Dick Slater.
Barbara Cleary is with Dusty Rhodes again. Sound works this time. He challenges the winner of the main event and says he hopes it’s Race.
Dog Collar Match: Roddy Piper vs. Greg Valentine
This is a famously brutal match. Piper lost the United States Championship to Valentine, starting this feud. The two men have dog collars around their necks and are connected by a chain that appears to be about ten feet long. Piper is recovering from an ear injury. Piper smacks Valentine with the chain to start. Valentine swings with the chain, but Piper ducks. Piper whips Valentine with the chain, then wraps it around his fist and hits some punches. Valentine comes back with some chain shots to Piper’s injured ear. Valentine chokes Piper with the chain.
Piper fights back and wraps the chain around Valentine’s face. Valentine gets Piper down and strangles him. They head outside and Valentine smacks Piper with the chain. Piper sends Valentine into the rail. Valentine gets another shot to Piper’s ear. Valentine throws Piper into some chairs. Piper sells the ear injury by stumbling around, struggling to find his equilibrium. Valentine goes for a Suplex, but Piper blocks. Valentine responds with an elbow to Piper’s ear. Elbow Drop by Valentine. Valentine goes to hit the ropes again, but Piper drags him down by the chain. Piper goes into a flurry, pummeling Valentine. Hard chain shots from Piper. Valentine is floored. Both men are busted open at this point.
Valentine continues to go after Piper’s ear. Piper responds with punches of his own. Valentine drops Piper with a chain shot and chokes him. Knees to the gut by Valentine. Piper Suplexes Valentine. Sleeper by Valentine. Piper wraps the chain around his fist and drills Valentine with it to break out. Valentine drops Piper and hits an Elbow. He goes to the second rope, but Piper yanks him off with the chain. Piper hog-ties Valentine with the chain and gets the pin at 16:08.
Analysis: ***3/4. Brutal, in a very good way. Blood and stiff shots abound. That’s how a grudge gets settled.
Valentine beats and chokes Piper after the match. I love that you can hear female fans screaming threats at Valentine.
Schiavone interviews Flair again. He says he wants Race’s best tonight.
NWA World Tag Team Championship: Jerry and Jack Brisco (c) vs. Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood
The Briscos are both classic wrestlers, with Jack having been NWA Champion in the 1970s. They turned heel on Steamboat and Youngblood a few months before this. Steamboat shows off his athleticism to start with a series of leap frogs. The Briscos get the advantage with quick tags. Steamboat takes both of them down with his signature Arm Drags. Steamboat hits some chops and tags in Youngblood. Youngblood gets Brisco on the mat and rides him. Steamboat gets tagged in and comes off the top with an Ax Handle. Youngblood does the same thing. Jack gets a tag drops Steamboat’s throat across the top rope.
Steamboat fights out of a Chin Lock, but gets hit with a Back Drop. Double Underhook Suplex by Brisco. Brisco lands a Hip Toss and then applies a Key Lock. In a great feat of strength, Steamboat lifts him off the mat with one arm. He drops him from up on his shoulder and makes the hot tag to Youngblood. Brisco cuts off Youngblood’s comeback with a Suplex. Nice Double Football Tackle by the Briscos. Brisco applies an Abdominal Stretch and then rolls it back into a pin. That gets two. Brisco gets in the face of Angelo Mosca, the guest referee, and shoves him. He gets shoved to the mat for that. Tag to Steamboat, who lands a Fist Drop. Big chop by Steamboat. Steamboat Scoop Slams Brisco, then Military Presses Youngblood onto him for the win at 13:24.
Analysis: ***1/2. Nice tag match there. Three pretty great technicians plus Youngblood equaled a very sound match. Nothing too flashy, but just some good, basic tag psychology and more athleticism than we’ve seen from most of the matches tonight.
Schiavone interviews Charlie Brown, who sounds mysteriously like Jimmy Valient. Next up is Roddy Piper, who’s delightfully coked up as ever and promises to get Valetine’s United States Championship. Then we hear from Steamboat and Youngblood, who have a generic good guy promo.
Back in the arena the lights go dark and Flair makes his entrance. I can’t see, but it sounds like they have a live orchestra there to play his song. Race is out second and we’re about to get it on.
NWA World Heavyweight Championship Cage Match: Harley Race (c) vs. Ric Flair
Former NWA Champion Gene Kiniski is the referee. This match is won by pin or submission, no escape. They lock up and Flair takes Race down with a Headlock. On their feet Flair hits chops and elbows. Flair works a Headlock until Race knees him in the gut. Kiniski drags Race off and they have words. Flair connects with a Snapmare and then applies a Chin Lock. Race breaks out and drops Flair with a High Knee. He goes for a Falling Headbutt and misses. Flair gets Race down with another Headlock Takeover. Caudle points out that Flair has more urgency and Solie explains that Race can afford to stall, because he keeps his title with a draw.
Race gets out of the Front Face Lock with a Suplex. Race misses an Elbow Drop. Flair goes for a Scoop Slam, but Race falls on top for a two count. Race goes after Flair’s neck, which makes sense for two reasons: 1) Flair has an injured neck and 2) Race uses a Piledriver as a signature move. Race hits the Piledriver! Race leisurely drops an elbow. No cover. Odd mistake from the veteran. Swinging Neckbreaker by Race. Perhaps he’s just trying to hurt Flair. Race sends Flair into the cage head-first. Powerslam by Race gets a two count. The crowd gets restless, waiting for Flair’s comeback. Flair hits a couple shots to the gut.
Race drops Flair and hits the Falling Headbutt. Race sends Flair into the cage twice. Flair starts to mount a comeback. He’s bleeding, as Solie says “a proverbial crimson mask.” Flair reverses a whip into the corner, then puts Race into the cage. Snapmare, then a Knee Drop by Flair. Now Race is busted open. Piledriver by Flair! That only gets two. Double Underhook Suplex by Flair gets two. Flair sends Race into the cage twice more. Race comes back with a headbutt to the lower abdomen. Race puts Flair into the cage, then drops him with a big Headbutt. But Flair pops right back up. Flair drops Race with a hard chop, then hits an Elbow Drop right to the jaw. Back Suplex by Flair.
Flair locks on the Figure Four! He pounds the mat, but he’s not tapping out. Tapping out didn’t come to wrestling until Taz in ECW in the late 1990s. Race manages to turn it over and escape. Race goes for a Suplex but Flair comes down on top after his leg gives out. Race puts Flair down and connects with the Diving Headbutt from the second rope. Delayed cover only gets two. Vertical Suplex by Race. He’s closing in on the kill now. Race chokes Flair with his boot and gets dragged off by Kiniski. By his hair. Flair blocks a Suplex and hits a Suplex of his own. He misses an Elbow Drop. Flair gets a gut shot on Race and goes to the top rope. He comes off with a Flying Cross Body and connects for the win at 23:49.
Analysis: ***3/4. Damn fine main event there. No big high spots, just heaps of drama and intensity. Both guys were methodical in their offense, but that just lent weight to the proceedings and built the drama.
Kiniski hands Flair the title as all the faces spill out of the locker room to celebrate with Flair. An emotional Flair gets on the mic and thanks the fans for their support.
We go to Gordon and Caudle, who wrap up the show.
Overall: A good show, especially for the time, and tremendously important historically. This was a primitive pay-per-view, as they broadcast the show on closed circuit TV to arenas in the Carolinas. The show drew a crowd of over 15,000 in Greensboro, plus another 30,000 to the other arenas. A big success that inspired Wrestlemania and other future wrestling pay-per-views. On another note, this solidified Ric Flair as the NWA’s top guy. He had already been a long-reigning champion, but being put over on the biggest show in history meant he was undoubtedly the man.