Editor's note: The following is the lead story from the December 6, 2010 edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. From all of us here at F4WOnline, we hope you have a great Thanksgiving. We're incredibly thankful for all of the support that our subscribers and readers give us.
A long time ago....In a galaxy far far, well, not that far away.....
“Starrcade 83, don’t miss your chance to be part of the sports event of a lifetime. See Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. Greg Valentine, first time ever in a collar match. A Flare for the Gold, Ric Flair vs. Harley Race for the world heavyweight championship and Jack & Jerry Brisco vs. Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood for the world tag team title. Starrcade 83, Greensboro Coliseum, a Flare for the Gold, don’t you miss it.”
Tony Schiavone: “Fans, 9 super spectacular matches that night. You’ll see Maniac Mark Lewin & Kevin Sullivan vs. Johnny Weaver & Scott McGhee, The Assassins 1 & 2 with Paul Jones against Bugsy McGraw & Rufus R. Jones, another big tag team match, Dick Slater & Bob Orton Jr. vs. Chief Wahoo McDaniel & Mark Youngblood. You’ll also see Abdullah the Butcher there, against Carlos Colon. TV title against the mask, Kabuki with Gary Hart against Charlie Brown from Outta Town. The world tag team title is at stake, Jack & Jerry Brisco taking on Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood w/2 special stipulations we will talk about in just a minute (the title can change hands via DQ and Angelo 'King Kong' Mosca as special referee). The collar match you want to see, Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. Greg Valentine. And in the cage, no disqualification, for the world heavyweight championship, former champion Ric Flair taking on Harley Race.
Ric Flair: “Alright Harley, it’s come down to this, brother. You and I in the cage. Two men walk in, you the world heavyweight champion, me wanting it. The people in this part of the country have never seen the world championship change hands. Thanksgiving night, they’re going to see it. Believe it, Whooo!”
A lot of people, when thinking about when Thanksgiving was the biggest night of the year in wrestling, think about Starrcade 83. In many ways, it was the show that launched the modern era of pro wrestling, some 16 months before the first WrestleMania. The event was held not only live at the Greensboro Coliseum, but closed-circuited to 17 locations around the Carolinas as well as into Puerto Rico.
The actual debut of pro wrestling on closed circuit television was in 1971, shortly after John Tolos threw Monsel’s powder in the eyes of Freddie Blassie on KCOP-television’s live Saturday night wrestling show from Hollywood, CA. But that era, when the promotion was on fire in 1971 and 1972, was limited to broadcasting some shows that they knew the Olympic Auditorium couldn’t hold to two or three large movie theaters in the city.
Closed circuit wrestling had been done similarly by the mid-70s in Madison Square Garden during Bruno Sammartino’s second title reign, where when the Garden would sell out well in advance, they would book what was then called the Felt Forum, a 4,000-seat arena that was part of the MSG complex, to get the overflow.
In 1976, there was actually an event much bigger than Starrcade, the Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki fight, which was on closed circuit throughout North America. The wrestling promoters booked the show and in hundreds of closed-circuit locations around the country. The idea was to combine the boxing audience with its biggest draw, and the wrestling audience by using Andre the Giant (against boxer Chuck Wepner) and closed circuit of top stars in the area. There were a number of live events, in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago and Shea Stadium in New York to air the area’s biggest wrestling stars for the undercard that night.
But outside of the Northeast, where the real draw was Sammartino coming back from a broken neck against Stan Hansen and drawing 32,000 fans, and not Ali vs. Inoki, the event was a major financial disappointment.
This was something different, as there was no Ali involved, which meant no mainstream publicity. This was a regional wrestling company booking most of its regular major arenas for a closed-circuit showing of the biggest event it ever produced. The event is still probably the single most memorable and talked about wrestling show ever held in that part of the country. Closed-circuit was hit-and-miss, with the promotion blaming terrible weather, but there were still an additional 30,000 fans watching besides the 15,447 which sold out the Greensboro Coliseum in advance. Flair won the title for a second time, beating Race in a match with Gene Kiniski as referee. Flair vs. Race is generally considered one of the two best memorable wrestling matches in the history of Carolinas wrestling. The other, held eight months earlier in the same arena, was Steamboat & Youngblood vs. Sgt. Slaughter & Don Kernodle in Greensboro. That match was actually responsible for Starrcade. That even sold out the Coliseum, turned away 6,000 at the door (which has been exaggerated as the years have gone by), and was responsible for one of the cities most famous traffic jams, with fans coming from all over the territory for the match. Between the traffic jam and turning so many people away, this led to the idea of the first Starrcade. Instead of having their fans who wanted to see what they were promoting as a once-in-a-lifetime event have to drive into town, they would beam the show into their home arenas.
Every major match had a storyline, but the key was that Flair had become the area’s biggest star in the 70s, and on September 17, 1981, became the first wrestler based in the Carolinas to win the NWA world heavyweight title, when he beat Dusty Rhodes in Kansas City. However, on June 10, 1983, in St. Louis, Race regained the title. There was politicking over who would beat Race for the title, which mostly came down to Flair and David Von Erich. At the time Flair was clearly the stronger candidate, and they ran a series of angles for months. Race came into the territory in July for defenses against Flair in most of the major cities, and after disputed finishes, announced he would never defend against Flair again. He then put up a $25,000 bounty to anyone who would injure Flair and put him out of action. Dick Slater and Bob Orton Jr. gave Flair a stuff piledriver, putting him out of action. Flair even did a retirement speech with a neck brace in one of the most memorable interviews of his career, only to come back chasing Slater and Orton Jr. around with a baseball bat, and then working around the territory in grudge matches beating both men. Race agreed to one last title shot, with no DQ, in a cage.
An interesting note regarding that show. Dusty Rhodes, who was at the show, but didn’t wrestle, and was soon to take over as booker of the territory, came up with the actual name “Starrcade.” Gordon Solie, the Florida and Georgia announcer, who did not broadcast in the territory, was flown in to be the lead announcer even though he wasn’t fully familiar with all the wrestlers and their angles. And forgotten in history, is that the head booker of the territory, who set up all the angles, was not even there for the event, as Dory Funk Jr. was in Japan for the annual All Japan Real World Tag League tournament.
The show was nearly ruined. A far bigger story than Starrcade and the first closed circuit event was going on in pro wrestling. Vince McMahon Jr., Vince McMahon Sr., and Jim Barnett (their Director of Operations at the time) all resigned from the NWA at its 1983 convention, as a prelude to the WWF’s national expansion. They were attempting to sign every big star with the strategy that they take the top draws in the local areas, and buy the television time slots in the existing areas, and then run in those areas using the local stars and a crew of national stars. It didn’t work out exactly like that everywhere, as many wrestlers liked who they worked for, including Flair, but that was the idea. McMahon Jr. had a secret meeting with Race right before Thanksgiving, offering him a big guarantee to bring what most fans believed to be the legitimate world heavyweight title to WWF, where no doubt he’d drop it in a unification match with Hulk Hogan, who McMahon had just signed to be his flag bearer and was about to make champion.
Race, who was part owner in a money losing regional promotion in Kansas City, as well as a traditionally strong St. Louis promotion that had just started a decline, turned it down out of loyalties to the companies he owned, his partners, and the people who trusted him for so many years to hold the championship. Race claimed he told McMahon, while in a bathroom where the secret discussion was taking place, to look in the mirror. McMahon didn’t understand where he was going, but Race said that every day when he wakes up, the first thing he has to do is look in the mirror. And if he signed that deal, he’d have no respect for the reflection for the rest of his life. One version of the story Race used to tell, but now when asked changes the subject (as noted by Race’s high placing in the recent WWE DVD) is that McMahon was so furious, as they were walking out of the bathroom with the deal dead, McMahon charged and tried to tackle Race, who quickly reversed and subdued him. Whether true or not, the story, minus the physical aspect, was identical to the story Howard Cosell, the legendary sportscaster told, when he was approached by McMahon to be his lead announcer at that same time, and Cosell gave it no consideration and turned down McMahon, noting McMahon snapped and laid into him verbally like he couldn’t believe.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 24, 1983
Greensboro Coliseum - Starrcade ‘83 A Flare for the Gold
- Rufus R. Jones & Bugsy McGraw b The Assassins (Jody Hamilton & Ray “Hercules Hernandez” Fernandez)
- Kevin Sullivan & Mark Lewin b Johnny Weaver & Scott McGhee
- Abdullah the Butcher b Carlos Colon
- Dick Slater & Bob Orton Jr. b Wahoo McDaniel & Mark Youngblood
- Charlie Brown (Jimmy Valiant) b Great Kabuki to win the NWA TV title and retain his mask
- Roddy Piper b Greg Valentine in a dog collar match
- Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood b Jack & Jerry Brisco to win the NWA world tag team titles with Angelo Mosca as referee
- Ric Flair b Harley Race to win the NWA title in a cage match with Gene Kiniski as referee
Attendance: 15,447 sellout
Closed-circuit attendance: 30,000
Thanksgiving in most of the 80s meant some of the biggest wrestling shows of the year. The tradition was at its peak from 1983 to 1987, with the early Starrcades in Greensboro and later Atlanta as well, Star Wars at Reunion Arena in Dallas, the AWA at the St. Paul Civic Center, Mid South Wrestling at the Superdome in Louisiana and the early Survivor Series events. But it’s been largely extinct for almost two decades.
The mentality espoused by the wrestling promoters who had success that night was that families would get together in the afternoon and by evening, wanted to go out and do something. The movie business had its traditional best weekend of the year, that showed that at night, people wanted to go out, often with their families. That meant bigger crowds. It was not just Thanksgiving night, but the Thursday through Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend that, along with Dec. 25-30, became the two best periods of the year for the industry. But those holiday traditions are now long gone, and few modern fans even think of wrestling on Thanksgiving, Christmas or any other holiday.
It’s hard to know exactly what started the tradition, but it was not something that was part of wrestling as long as people can remember. In the 1950s, Thanksgiving was avoided for major shows, thinking you couldn’t draw well on that holiday. Except in Greensboro, it really wasn’t until the 70s that there was really evidence of Thanksgiving being a great date to draw people to shows. Sure, some regular Thursday night cities, like Sacramento, drew well above average, running normal shows, but Greensboro (and later Norfolk as well) for Jim Crockett Sr. would try and build that date for its big show of the year, and by the late 60s, had created a tradition.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 23, 1972
Sacramento Memorial Auditorium
- Manuel Cruz (Jose Gonzalez) b Beauregarde
- The Samoans (Reno Tuufuli & Tio Taylor) b Fritz Von Goering & John L. Sullivan (later to become Johnny Valiant)
- Crazy Luke Graham d Pepper Gomez
- Great Mephisto b Pepper Martin (later to become a movie actor)
- Paul DeMarco & Lars Anderson b Pat Patterson & Rocky Johnson via DQ in a three out of five fall match to retain NWA world tag team championships
Attendance: 4,200 sellout
The earliest record we can find of a major Thanksgiving event was November 26, 1959, when Barnett promoted a show at the Indianapolis State Fairgrounds Coliseum headlined by Roy & Ray Shire (Ray Stevens) defending the NWA world tag team titles against Dick the Bruiser & Yukon Eric, and drawing a sellout of 13,000 fans. This was when the Shire Brothers were on fire as world tag champs and they drew three crowds of that size in a five week period against Bruiser and partners, so it wasn’t as if it established Thanksgiving as a special day to draw.
But the two cities where Thanksgiving wrestling was the longest lasting tradition started over the next two years.
Minneapolis-St. Paul had a Thanksgiving tradition from 1960 to 1987, until the AWA could no longer draw decently. The only exception was in 1972, when the promotion ran Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend.
And it’s little known trivia that the first pro wrestling event ever held at the Greensboro Coliseum was on November 23, 1961, Thanksgiving night, and wrestling was held in the arena on Thanksgiving through 1987. Unlike Minneapolis, where Thanksgiving was not really pushed as anything bigger than a usual show, it was Greensboro that had the biggest cultural Thanksgiving wrestling tradition of any city in the country.
A 1984 newspaper story in the local paper noted, “In Greensboro, Thanksgiving has become synonymous with the spectacle of big men hurling each other about in a small ring in front of thousands. Wrestling has become part of Thanksgiving in this city for more than a quarter of a century.”
The newspaper story for that debut talked more about the main event than the beginning of pro wrestling in what would be one of its most successful arenas, or the idea of a show on Thanksgiving night.
“Big Bob Orton (grandfather of Randy Orton), rough and rugged part-Indian from Kansas City, will provide the championship tests for world-famed Argentina Rocca in the feature wrestling event at the Greensboro Coliseum Thanksgiving night at 8:15. These two giants of the wrestling world met at New York’s Madison Square Garden a month ago in the feature (sort of true, the MSG main event in October of that year was Rocca & Miguel Perez vs. Orton & Buddy Rogers), and they will be renewing their 1961 competitive series in the Coliseum’s first wrestling performance which is expected to draw a near-capacity crowd.”
The Coliseum held live wrestling every Thanksgiving night through 1986, drawing many of the largest crowds in the history of the territory. Ric Flair even points to the decision of moving Starrcade out of Greensboro, to Chicago, in 1987 as the key moment that killed the Carolinas territory. While that is a little simplistic, there was a lot of bad will among the fans in Greensboro when they took Starrcade away from them. Pretty much at the time, everyone thought it was a bad move. With the benefit of hindsight, it was still a bad move, but not one that changed history any.
Still, Thanksgiving 1987 was among the most pivotal days in the history of the industry, and played a big part in the death of Jim Crockett Promotions. Although that was probably inevitable as well, as Jim Crockett Jr. simply didn’t have the money, the developed revenue streams and cash flow to compete on an even playing field with Vince McMahon. He expanded into new markets second, wasn’t as good at making stars, didn’t have as much money to spend on production and was facing insurmountable odds by not being from New York.
Crockett announced his company would do its first PPV event, the fifth Starrcade event, on November 26, 1987, called “Chitown Heat,” at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. At the time, Crockett was desperately trying to combat the perception that his company was a Southern wrestling promotion strong in the Carolinas, and thus, secondary to Vince McMahon’s WWF, based right outside of New York. Moving the company offices from Charlotte to Dallas, and moving Starrcade from Greensboro & Atlanta (the prior two years were dual events closed-circuited with half the matches in each city, alternating back-and-forth), to Chicago was part of that strategy.
But the big story of that night was not Crockett taking Starrcade from Greensboro, killing the Thanksgiving tradition his father had started 26 years earlier. It was Vince McMahon creating the Survivor Series to run on PPV from Cleveland that same night to prevent Crockett from a successful debut. In those days, PPV events were rare, and most systems only had one channel, so you couldn’t run two PPVs at the same time. The key was, McMahon was a proven success on PPV, coming off WrestleMania III, which was a huge success, doing in excess of 400,000 buys at a time when there were only about 5 million addressable homes.
Knowing who had the leverage, Crockett agreed to move his show to the afternoon, which negated the whole key of why Thanksgiving worked. The afternoon was when families were together and not a time for live events. There was fear that in Chicago, with no wrestling tradition on that day, and an afternoon show, which seemed to be a bad idea given that’s when families get together, there was fear the live event could be an embarrassment. But that turned out not to be an issue, as the UIC Pavilion only held 9,000 fans, and actually sold out two weeks ahead of time.
Cable companies, short on PPV product, were thrilled, looking at marketing the two events together as a package deal, Starrcade in the afternoon, and Survivor Series at night. McMahon, realizing that what he just did may have benefitted him as the greater awareness would have helped both sides, did not run a show to also benefit his competitor. He told the cable companies that they would have to pick one show or the other, knowing he had all the leverage as a proven PPV winner. To make it more emphatic, he said that any company that aired Starrcade would not be allowed to have WrestleMania on PPV in 1988. Only five cable companies bucked the system – four in the Carolinas where Starrcade was expected to do more business, and one in San Jose, CA, where the company said they had made a verbal deal with Crockett, and unlike every other company in the country, their word was their bond, and, despite WWF being the home promotion and them admitting they were making a decision that would cost them business. But they said they weren’t going to be strong-armed. Despite the threats, all five companies were allowed to air WrestleMania the next year.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 26, 1987
The most important Thanksgiving night in history
First Survivor Series - Richfield, Coliseum
- Jim Duggan & Randy Savage & Ricky Steamboat & Brutus Beefcake & Jake Roberts b Harley Race & Hercules & Honky Tonk Man & Danny Davis & Ron Bass 24:00 **1/4
- Velvet McIntyre & Itsuki Yamazaki & Noriyo Tateno & Rockin Robin & Fabulous Moolah b Leilani Kai & Judy Martin & Dawn Marie (not the later WWE/ECW valet) & Donna Christanello & Sensational Sherri Martel 20:00 **
- Brian Blair & Jim Brunzell & Jim Powers & Paul Roma & Tito Santana & Rick Martel & Dynamite Kid & Davey Boy Smith & Jacques Rougeau Jr. & Raymond Rougeau b Greg Valentine & Dino Bravo & Demolition Ax & Smash & Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart & Haku & Tama & Nikolai Volkoff & Boris Zhukov 37:00 ****
- Andre the Giant & One Man Gang & King Kong Bundy & Butch Reed & Rick Rude b Hulk Hogan & Bam Bam Bigelow & Paul Orndorff & Don Muraco & Ken Patera 22:00 ***3/4
Attendance: 21,000 sellout
PPV buys: 350,000
Starrcade 87 Chitown Heat - UIC Pavilion - Final Starrcade on Thanksgiving
- Michael Hayes & Jimmy Garvin & Sting d Rick Steiner & Larry Zbyszko & Eddie Gilbert 15:00 **3/4
- Steve Williams b Barry Windham to retain the UWF title 7:00 DUD
- Ricky Morton & Robert Gibson b Stan Lane & Bobby Eaton in a scaffold match 9:35 ***
- Nikita Koloff b Terry Taylor to unify the NWA & UWF TV titles 18:20 *
- Tully Blanchard & Arn Anderson retained the NWA tag team titles losing via DQ to the Road Warriors 14:00 ***½
- Dusty Rhodes b Lex Luger to win the U.S. title 16:00 *
- Ric Flair b Ronnie Garvin to win the NWA world title in a cage match 17:25 **½
Attendance: 9,000 sellout
Closed-circuit attendance: 41,000
PPV buys: 16,500
Crockett had signed his top talent to lucrative contracts, and spent heavily, including using private planes to transport his top talent to shows–and on vacations and to party after shows in Las Vegas. He was counting on the idea of doing four PPV shows per year with an expanding PPV universe that would bring in millions of revenue with each show. Not getting the expected PPV revenue from Starrcade caused him to fall behind in his contract payments and run deeply in the red. Realistically, the McMahon move cost Crockett $2 million, or possibly a little more. While he eventually was $5 million in the red in early 1988 before feeling forced to sell, the $2 million may have given him some breathing room and hope. And the ability to generate that money, and hope that larger numbers would follow and more people had PPV capability, for four similar events per year, could have given at least degree of hope of turning that red into black. But after McMahon was able to sabotage his first and second PPV shows by pressuring systems not to carry them, Crockett had to go to Turner Broadcasting, a powerhouse in cable, for the muscle to get all the cable systems his third PPV show. But in doing so, Turner Broadcasting became a partner, garnering a sizeable percentage of the PPV revenue. But even if the day had gone as expected, Crockett would have faced serious problems in continuing because he financially wouldn’t be able to compete with McMahon’s ability to do bigger PPV events and draw more fans at the live shows.
Fortunately for the competitive balance of the industry, Turner Broadcasting wanted to maintain the programming as wrestling was among the most popular shows on TBS, and at times the most popular show on the station, since it went from being a local UHF channel in Atlanta to becoming the first major satellite station in 1976. In November 1988, Turner Broadcasting purchased a majority interest in Jim Crockett Promotions, creating the company that would be known as World Championship Wrestling for $9 million. While some members of the family, most notably David Crockett, were against the sale, thinking it was a cyclical business that would turn around, Jim Crockett Jr. felt that the losses were going to threaten their mother’s retirement account that their father worked his life to build up, and that was the one thing they couldn’t risk. Eventually, Turner Broadcasting purchased the remainder of the stock from Crockett Jr., who when selling, expected that he would be kept on to run the company, which didn’t happen. Vince’s move, attempting to keep Crockett out of PPV and eliminate him as competition, backfired. His rival operation, instead of being run by a family out of Charlotte that had overspent in order to compete, was run by a major media corporation with far deeper pockets then McMahon had, and led to McMahon having to fight for his life a decade later, although eventually the constant mismanagement of the promotion ended up its undoing despite its advantages of being owned by such a major corporation.
Of course, the benefit of hindsight also showed that the new company didn’t have the understanding of the industry that Crockett had, and wrestling on TBS, with the exception of the period from 1997 through the first quarter of 1999, could never match the level of popularity the Crockett brand brought to the table.
A lot of people don’t remember it, but there was a show at the Greensboro Coliseum on Thanksgiving of 1987, an afternoon show featuring five forgettable live matches, headed by Ivan Koloff vs. Mighty Wilbur, an aging Hiro Matsuda vs. Kevin Sullivan and a women’s Battle Royal. The Chicago card followed on closed-circuit. Between the weak live matches and being in the afternoon, only 6,000 fans attended. The next year, Starrcade was moved to the day after Christmas, to Norfolk, and wrestling was held on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend in Greensboro, so that Atlanta’s Omni, which had its own tradition, could get Thanksgiving night.
The Minneapolis tradition began in 1960 with a four-match show at the St. Paul Auditorium, opening with Bob Rasmussen going to a draw with a young Pretty Boy Larry Hennig, Judy Glover & Annette Palmer beating Lorraine Johnson (the mother of Nickla “Baby Doll” Roberts and along with Penny Banner considered the best worker of the women wrestlers of that era) & Ella St. John, amateur great Joe Scarpello beat Aldo Bogni in the semifinal, and AWA champion Verne Gagne retained his title beating Gene Kiniski, before 10,661 fans. That show may have been the first example of Thanksgiving being a great night for wrestling as the crowd was far larger than for any wrestling show in the Twin Cities that year.
Cleveland also held a major event that night, drawing 10,105 fans to the Public Auditorium for top babyface Lord Athol Layton facing Duke Keomuka, and a battle of top heels with Sato Keomuka (Kinji Shibuya) facing Fritz Von Erich. That’s notable since Von Erich years later, after the big Dallas office broke into different pieces meaning Corpus Christi was no longer the weekly Thursday town, would promote regularly on Thanksgiving.
For most of the 60s, Gagne and Jim Crockett Sr. seemed to be the only promoters who pushed the idea of Thanksgiving as a great night for wrestling. And it wasn’t the case consistently immediately. A lot of promotions in the 60s and 70s ran shows, but they were not in the company’s key arena as much as simply running their weekly Thursday down, like in cities like Jacksonville, Amarillo, Bakersfield, Corpus Christi, Kansas City, Indianapolis and Sacramento. Crowds were usually up from usual, often the biggest of the year in those cities, but the idea of running major shows on those dates was still largely relegated to Minneapolis and Greensboro.
Minneapolis had some big matches in the 60s. In 1962, it was the battle of The Crushers, with The Crusher (Reggie Lisowski) against Krusher Kowalski (Bert Smith, who played college football with Gagne and Leo Nomellini at the University of Minnesota), with the loser never being able to use the Crusher name again, won by Lisowski. Kowalski for the rest of his AWA career was known as Stan Kowalski, the Big K, although in the 70s he did use the name Krusher Kowalski at least once at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.
In 1963, Crusher beat Gagne to win the AWA title before 5,594 paid and 1,300 kids who were let in free that night.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 26, 1964
- Ivan Kalmikoff b George “Catalina” Drake
- Bob Boyer d Eddie Sharkey 30:00
- Mighty Igor b Klondike Bill
- Larry Hennig & Harley Race b Rene Goulet & Reggie Parks
- Mad Dog Vachon retained AWA title losing via DQ to Verne Gagne
Attendance: 9,109 sellout
In 1965, a near sellout of 8,116 saw Vachon retain the title beating Crusher via DQ. 1966 was a Battle Royal won by Killer Kowalski. 1967 was notable for the Twin Cities debut of one of the city’s all-time most memorable performers, Indianapolis manager Bobby Heenan. Heenan managed Harley Race in the main event, as Race lost to Gagne, on a show that included Cowboy Bill Watts & Rock Rogowski (who later became famous as Ole Anderson – both of whom became promoters and bookers who pushed Thanksgiving as one of their key nights of the year) beating Mitsu Arakawa & Dr. Moto (later known as Tor Kamata), and Victor the Wrestling Bear beat Dr. X (Dick “Destroyer” Beyer) via DQ. In the 70s, the shows mostly drew average crowds of 5,000 to 6,000. It wasn’t until 1977 when there was another Thanksgiving night sellout, for a gimmick match as Crusher teamed with long-time opening match job guy George “Scrap Iron” Gadaski, to beat Super Destroyer (Don “Spoiler” Jardine) & manager Lord Alfred Hayes, who had been harassing Gadaski.
The real glory days of Thanksgiving in the Twin Cities started with the Hulk Hogan era, in 1981, where 17,000 fans came to the St. Paul Civic Center for a Hogan vs. Jesse Ventura arm wrestling match as well as a Nick Bockwinkel AWA title defense against Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissie.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 25, 1982
St. Paul Civic Center
- Lone Eagle & Tiny Tom b Little Tokyo & Hillbilly Pete
- Tom Lintz b Kenny “Sodbuster” Jay
- Steve Olsonoski d Bobby Duncum
- Ken Patera b Baron Von Raschke
- Jerry Blackwell & Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissie b Mad Dog Vachon & Jim Brunzell via DQ
- Nick Bockwinkel no contest Rick Martel to retain the AWA title
Attendance: 18,000 sellout
The 1983 show did 13,163 with Bockwinkel over Vachon via DQ in an AWA title match, with Ray Stevens as referee. In 1984, they drew 16,000 with the Road Warriors against Blackwell & Boom Boom Bundy (King Kong Bundy) and Martel vs. Billy Robinson.
The peak of the Thanksgiving tradition in the Twin Cities was 1985, with the AWA and WWE running head-to-head. The AWA ran with The Road Warriors vs. Freebirds and a Battle Royal, drawing 14,300 fans to the St. Paul Civic Center. The same night, the WWF drew 15,000 to the Met Center in Minneapolis, with Hogan, managed by Mr. T, vs. Randy Savage, managed on that night only by Heenan. But after two shows did nearly 30,000 fans the year before, by 1986, the AWA was dead, as even on Thanksgiving they were down to 4,000 fans.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 28, 1985
St. Paul Civic Center
- Leon White (later to become Vader) d Bill Irwin
- Mongolian Stomper b Kevin Kelly
- Scott Hall b Boris Zhukov via DQ
- Buck Zumhofe b Steve Regal (not William Regal) to win AWA light heavyweight title
- Jerry Blackwell b Michael Hayes
- Road Warriors b Michael Hayes & Buddy Roberts
- Scott Hall won Battle Royal
Minneapolis Met Center (prelim results unavailable)
- Uncle Elmer b Jesse Ventura via DQ
- Paul Orndorff b Roddy Piper via DQ
- Hulk Hogan (managed by Mr. T) b Randy Savage (managed by Bobby Heenan) to retain WWF title
The final Thanksgiving event was in 1987 before 1,800 fans at the Minneapolis Auditorium, headlined by Curt Hennig defending the AWA title against Greg Gagne. The finish saw Larry Hennig try to interfere, when Verne Gagne, 61, with the idea of building for another comeback match, cleaned house on Larry Hennig, and then knocked out Curt with a roll of coins to apparently give Greg the championship. Like the people who left Starrcade ‘85 thinking they had seen the title change hands, when they watched television a few days later they were told that due to the outside interference, the title change was rescinded. If you were a wrestling fan who lived in Minneapolis, on that day you had the chance to watch Starrcade on closed-circuit, Survivor Series on PPV, or see the local matches, and at that time for most fans the AWA was a distant third. In 1989, when WWE tried to revive the tradition with a show the night before Survivor Series, Hogan vs. Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig drew only 3,700.
Greensboro’s Thanksgiving tradition continued as Jim Crockett Sr. would put in a bid to get the world champion to Greensboro for the traditional show. Lou Thesz defended in 1963 against Swede Hanson and 1965 against Pat O’Connor. Gene Kiniski then defended in 1966 against the Missouri Mauler and 1967 against Johnny Weaver. The Coliseum held 8,600 fans before its expansion in 1967, and 9,000 through 1972. The Thanksgiving shows in the 60s usually drew right near capacity.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 23, 1967
- Bulldog Lee Henning b Bob Nador
- Rip Hawk & Swede Hanson b Rudy Kay & Les Thatcher
- Haystacks Calhoun & Amazing Zuma b Missouri Mauler & Pampero Firpo
- George & Sandy Scott & George Becker b The Infernos & J.C. Dykes
- Gene Kiniski retained NWA world title going to a 60:00 draw with Johnny Weaver
Attendance: 9,017 sellout (turn away crowd, largest crowd for any event in the arena up to that point)
In 1968, they didn’t get the world champion, and instead brought in Joe Louis, the boxing legend, to referee Weaver & George Becker vs. Lars & Gene Anderson, drawing a near sellout. The next year, Weaver & Becker vs. The Infernos, managed by J.C. Dykes, for the Atlantic Coast tag title also drew a near sellout.
During the 70s, there was a dual tradition, as Greensboro and Norfolk both had big shows.
1970 featured Dory Funk Jr. as world champion, going to a one hour draw with Jerry Brisco, drew only 5,968 fans. It was the first time Funk Jr. had ever appeared in Greensboro even though he had been champion for more than 18 months.
In 1971, they debuted a cage match, with Weaver & Bobby Kay (of the famed Cormier wrestling family) & Argentina Apollo vs. Missouri Mauler & Brute Bernard & Art Nelson with Louis as referee, which drew a sellout of 9,000 fans. Interestingly, they had Funk Jr. in the territory, but booked him at the Norfolk Arena that night against Jerry Brisco.
In 1972, after the Coliseum was expanded to 13,000 seats, a match with Jack & Jerry Brisco beating Dory Funk Jr. & Dory Funk Sr. in two of three falls set the territory’s all-time attendance record, and also set the all-time attendance record for the arena for any event, and was the largest indoor sports crowd up to that point ever in the city, as well as the largest pro wrestling crowd in the history of the territory. To show how much things have changed, 9,500 of those tickets were sold the night of the show. Keep in mind that at this point in time, there were only 150,000 people living in the city.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 23, 1972
- Ronnie Garvin b Joe Soto
- Randy Curtis b Billy Hines
- Klondike Bill b Evil Eye Gordon (Guillotine Gordon aka Enforcer Luciano)
- Gene Anderson b Les Thatcher
- Sandy Scott d The Menace
- Freddy Sweetan & Mike DuBois (later to become Alexis Smirnoff) b Jim Dillon (J.J. Dillon) & David Finlay (David Crockett)
- Thunderbolt Patterson b Ole Anderson in a lumberjack match
- Jack & Jerry Brisco b Dory Funk Jr. & Dory Funk Sr.
Attendance: 13,000 sellout (largest crowd in the history of the promotion and for any event in the history of the expanded Greensboro Coliseum
In 1973, the show was billed as a memorial for Jim Crockett Sr., who had passed away at the age of 64 earlier that year. As part of honoring their father, the Crocketts brought in the classic match of the generation, with Jack Brisco defending the NWA title against Dory Funk Jr., with Thesz as guest referee, which drew 8,000 fans. The semifinal had Jerry Brisco defending the Eastern states title against Terry Funk.
In 1974, Jack Brisco retained the title via disqualification against Wahoo McDaniel by throwing him over the top rope before 11,268 fans in a match where Brisco played heel. Louis was brought in to referee a cage match with a battle of long-time tag partners, Rip Hawk vs. Swede Hanson. It was noted in local publicity that even though the attendance wasn’t as high as 1972, the show did almost a duplicate of that show’s record gate in excess of $50,000.
The 1975 show had Brisco defending against McDaniel in a no DQ match, losing via count out, while U.S. champion Terry Funk dropped the title to Paul Jones before 12,102 fans. Mid Atlantic had head-to-head competition from the rival IWA running in Winston-Salem that night with Mil Mascaras vs. Bulldog Brower. Mid Atlantic also ran at the Scope Arena in Norfolk the same night with an Andre the Giant vs. Superstar Billy Graham arm-wrestling match and Andre & Ken Patera & Rufus Jones vs. Graham & Ole & Gene Anderson.
In 1976, Greensboro featured a two-ring 24 man Battle Royal built around Andre, Haystacks Calhoun, McDaniel, Blackjack Mulligan, Dusty Rhodes, Missouri Mauler, Ric Flair, Superstar Graham, Chris Taylor, Patera, Greg Valentine, Dino Bravo, Angelo Mosca and Jerry Blackwell ending when McDaniel pinned Mulligan before 11,063 fans. Norfolk ran the same night with Terry Funk as world champion defending against Paul Jones.
In 1977, Greensboro again ran the two-ring Battle Royal, won by Mulligan, again featuring Andre, and a Valentine vs. McDaniel match. World champion Harley Race went to Norfolk to defend against Ricky Steamboat.
In 1978, a Flair vs. Mulligan cage match broke the area’s attendance record with 13,447, while Race wrestled Paul Jones in Norfolk in the world title match. Even though some shows drew better, within Greensboro, with the exception of the Starrcade shows, the Flair-Mulligan blow-off in the cage after the two split up their tag team is probably the most remembered of the Thanksgiving matches.
When Flair does sports talk shows these days in the Carolinas, the fans in the area rarely talk about anything after 1986, and the Flair-Mulligan feud to this day remains a topic he’s constantly asked about.
In 1979, Andre winning a Battle Royal plus Jimmy Snuka vs. Tim “Mr. Wrestling” Woods for the U.S. title and a Mulligan vs. John Studd street fight drew 11,387 fans. The same night in Norfolk, Flair vs. Buddy Rogers and Steamboat & Youngblood vs. Jones & Baron Von Raschke drew 10,000 more.
In 1980, a double main event of a cage match with Snuka & Ray Stevens losing to Jones & Masked Superstar with the titles vs. Superstar’s mask, plus Stevens & Snuka having to hand out $1,000 to the fans if they lost, co-headlined with a Flair vs. Valentine cage match for the U.S. title, which drew 12,000 fans.
In 1981, a cage match with Flair, now as world champion, beating Ole Anderson in a cage match set the record with a sellout 15,136 fans.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 25, 1982
Greensboro Coliseum - This time the Carolinas guy is the defending world champion against the outsider
- Mike Davis b Masa Fuchi
- Bob Orton Jr. b Private Jim Nelson (later to become Boris Zhukov)
- Johnny Weaver b Ken Timbs
- Frank Monte b Ron Ritchie
- Bad Leroy Brown won 20 man Battle Royal to become Mid Atlantic TV champion
- Abdullah the Butcher & Jimmy Valiant b Jos LeDuc & Sir Oliver Humperdink in a cage match
- Jack Brisco b U.S. champion Greg Valentine in a non-title match 23:00
- Ric Flair b Roddy Piper via DQ to retain world title in 24:00
Attendance: 15,498 sellout
The second Starrcade, in 1984, was built around the $1 million challenge. Jim Crockett Jr. was shown going to the bank and withdrawing $1 million, with the idea the winner of Flair vs. Rhodes for the world title would get the money, and borrowing what his father did with Joe Louis, he brought in Joe Frazier as referee. The show drew an advanced sellout of 15,821 live and another 26,000 on closed circuit around the territory, ending when Frazier stopped the match because Rhodes was bleeding. The idea was to build to a Rhodes vs. Frazier match, but that never materialized.
Things got even bigger in 1985. Crockett Jr. that year had bought the TBS time slot contract from Vince McMahon for a real $1 million, as opposed to the money Flair got. Atlanta’s Omni by that point had its own long Thanksgiving tradition, so the idea was “Starrcade ‘85: The Gathering,” with half the show in Greensboro and the other half in Atlanta. This was the first Thanksgiving event promoted on a national basis, as the first two Starrcades were really just promoted within the territory. Rhodes pinned Flair in the main event to apparently win the title, and people left the arena believing they had seen a title change. However, on television that Saturday, it was announced that due to outside interference coming before Rhodes pinned Flair, that the correct result should have been a DQ, and Flair retaining. This led to a lucrative series of rematches throughout the U.S. That show was also notable for the Magnum T.A. vs. Tully Blanchard I Quit match, one of the most famous I Quit matches in history and a match recently voted on an Observer on-line poll as the greatest Thanksgiving match of all-time.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 28, 1985
Starrcade ‘85 The Gathering
- Don Kernodle b Tommy Lane
- Denny Brown b Rocky King to retain NWA jr. heavyweight title
- Krusher Khrushchev (Barry Darsow/Demolition Smash) b Sam Houston to vin vacant Mid Atlantic title
- Ron Bass b Black Bart in a bullrope match
- J.J. Dillon b Ron Bass in a bullrope match
- Buddy Landel b Terry Taylor to win National heavyweight title
- Magnum T.A. b Tully Blanchard in an I Quit match to win U.S. title
- Ricky Morton & Robert Gibson b Ivan & Nikita Koloff to win NWA world tag team titles
Attendance: 16,000 sellout
- Thunderfoot (Joel Deaton) b Italian Stallion
- Pez Whatley b Mike Graham
- Manny Fernandez b Abdullah the Butcher in a strap match
- Jimmy Valiant & Miss Atlanta Lively (Ron Garvin in drag) b Dennis Condrey & Bobby Eaton in a street fight
- Superstar Billy Graham b The Barbarian via DQ in an arm wrestling match
- Ole & Arn Anderson b Wahoo McDaniel & Billy Jack Haynes
- Ric Flair retained NWA world title losing via DQ to Dusty Rhodes
Closed-circuit attendance: 31,000
In 1986, “The Night of the Skywalkers,” built around the Road Warriors vs. Midnight Express scaffold match, as well as Flair defending against Nikita Koloff and Rhodes vs. Tully Blanchard in a first blood match, drew another sellout in Greensboro and the Annex of more than 19,000, plus 14,900 at the Omni and 29,000 more on closed-circuit with a total gross of more than $1 million, the only non-WWF/WWE show in that era to ever hit that mark when it comes to tickets sold. The tradition of wrestling on Thanksgiving in Greensboro had never been stronger. And nobody in the Coliseum that night could have had a clue that it would be the last time wrestling was held in that arena on Thanksgiving night.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 27, 1986
Starrcade ‘86: The Night of the Skywalkers/The Super Bowl of Wrestling
- Tim Horner & Nelson Royal b Don & Rocky Kernodle 7:30 ***
- Baron Von Raschke & Hector Guerrero b Shaska Whatley & The Barbarian 7:25 **½
- Wahoo McDaniel b Rick Rude in an Indian strap match 9:05 *
- Jimmy Valiant b Paul Jones with Valiant’s wife’s hair up against Jones’ hair 4:00 *1/4
- Tully Blanchard b Dusty Rhodes to win the NWA TV title in a first blood match 7:30 *1/2
- Ricky Morton & Robert Gibson b Ole & Arn Anderson to retain the NWA world tag team titles in a cage match 20:20 ****1/4
Attendance: 16,000 sellout plus 3,500 closed-circuit next door
- Brad Armstrong d Jimmy Garvin 15:00 *1/2
- Ivan Koloff & Krusher Khrushchev b Dutch Mantell & Bobby Jaggers to retain the U.S. tag team titles in a no DQ match 9:10 ***1/4
- Sam Houston b Bill Dundee via DQ to retain the Central States heavyweight title ***1/4
- Big Bubba Rogers (Big Bossman) b Ronnie Garvin in a Louisville Street fight 11:50 ***3/4
- Road Warriors b Dennis Condrey & Bobby Eaton in a scaffold match 7:00 ***½
- Ric Flair b Nikita Koloff via DQ to retain the NWA world title 20:00 ****
Closed-circuit attendance: 29,000
They continued to run Thanksgiving weekend in Greensboro, and by 1990, with a show headlined by Ron Simmons pinning Ric Flair in a cage match (it was scheduled as Doom vs. Flair & Arn Anderson for the tag titles in a cage), they were down to 700 people.
Atlanta’s Thanksgiving tradition at the Omni dated back to 1975. Even when business in the city was bad, the Thanksgiving show almost always drew well. Thanksgiving in Atlanta in that era included lighting of the Christmas tree lights downtown at sundown, which saw hundreds of thousands of people out. So people were already out, and Barnett would put on often his most loaded up show of the year. For several years, Thanksgiving would feature a traditional tag team tournament, as they would always have some sort of controversy leading to the titles being vacated.
Unlike the other cities, which would base their shows around one strong main event, Atlanta, like the later Starrcades, was about a complete loaded show.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 27, 1975
Atlanta Omni’s first Thanksgiving show
- Crazy Luke Graham d Dean Ho
- Tony Charles b Ronnie Garvin
- Jerry Brisco & Bob Backlund b Dick Slater & Bob Orton Jr.
- Lonnie “Moondog” Mayne b Chief Bold Eagle
- Chief Jay Strongbow b Brute Bernard
- Ernie Ladd & Bobo Brazil b Harley Race & Ox Baker
- The Spoiler (Don Jardine, managed by Gary Hart) b Mr. Wrestling II in a mask vs. title match to win the Georgia heavyweight title
- Abdullah the Butcher b The Sheik (managed by Eddie Creachman) in a cage match with no referee
In 1976, Ole & Gene Anderson beating Mr. Wrestling I & II to retain the NWA tag titles, plus The Sheik over Mighty Igor via count out and Thunderbolt Patterson over Georgia champ Dick Slater via count out drew 11,300.
In 1977, with Tony Atlas over Abdullah the Butcher, Ernie Ladd & Thunderbolt Patterson over The Sheik & Pak Song and Dick Slater & Mr. Wrestling II over Stan Hansen & Ole Anderson, they drew 11,000.
In 1978, the first of the traditional Thanksgiving tag team tournaments drew a sellout of 16,500.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 23, 1978
Atlanta Omni - The first tag team tournament
- Rick Martel & Tommy Rich b The Islanders (Afa & Sika Anoa’i)
- The Assassin (Jody Hamilton) & The Superstar (Bill Eadie) b Bugsy McGraw & Rufus R. Jones via DQ
- Jack & Jerry Brisco b Pak Song & Angelo “King Kong” Mosca
- Dory Funk Jr. & Terry Funk b Haystacks Calhoun & Klondike Bill
- Ernie Ladd & Stan Hansen b Mr. Wrestling I (Tim Woods) & Mr. Wrestling II (Johnny Walker)
- Dory Funk Jr. & Terry Funk b Rick Martel & Tommy Rich
- Jack & Jerry Brisco b The Assassin & The Superstar
- Dusty Rhodes & Dick Slater b Ernie Ladd & Stan Hansen
- Dory Funk Jr. & Terry Funk b Dusty Rhodes & Dick Slater
- Thunderbolt Patterson b Ole Anderson
- Dory Funk Jr. & Terry Funk b Jack & Jerry Brisco to win the Georgia tag team championship
Attendance: 16,500 sellout
The second tag team tournament in 1979 drew 12,000, which also included Rich over Bobby Heenan in a loser leaves town match, a lights out match with babyface Ole Anderson & Thunderbolt Patterson beating Ladd & mystery partner (Anderson’s former tag partner Ivan Koloff), and Mr. Wrestling II no contest with the fake Mr. Wrestling II. Austin Idol & Superstar beat the Briscos in the finals of the tag team tournament which also featured Hansen & McDaniel, Atlas & Ray Candy, Ox Baker & Killer Khan and Rhodes & Wrestling II.
In 1980, they drew another sellout of 16,000 plus with Race going to a no contest with Atlas and The Freebird team of Terry Gordy & Buddy Roberts winning the tournament beating Robert Fuller & Plowboy Frazier. Other teams included Afa & Sika, Ole & Gene Anderson, Idol & Kevin Sullivan, Jack & Jerry Brisco and Terry Taylor & Steve Keirn. They also pushed a women’s lib match which was unique for its time as Joyce Grable & Judy Martin, the world women’s tag team champions, demanded to be in the tournament. They worked an interesting, believable match with the babyface team of Steve Olsonoski & Jerry Roberts (Jacques Rougeau Jr.), where the faces were cautious, didn’t attack, got slapped around, but quickly came back to win.
In 1981, the talent went way down, drawing 10,000 with Bob & Brad Armstrong over Mr Saito & Mr. Fuji and Superstar winning the National title in a Texas death match over Rich. The tournament was loaded with no-shows of major advertised teams including three of pro wrestling’s most legendary duos, Ole & Gene Anderson, Jack & Jerry Brisco and Pat Patterson (scheduled to team with most famous partner Ray Stevens, who instead teamed with Scott Irwin).
In 1982, business was even lower, and the talent level had gotten bad. The Moondogs won the tournament over Tommy & Johnny Rich. In 1983, a crowd of 12,000 saw Butch Reed & Pez Whatley win the tournament over the unique team of Randy Savage & Magnum T.A., on a show headlined by long-time rivals Tommy Rich & Buzz Sawyer over the Road Warriors in a non-tournament match.
The tradition continued in 1984, but by this point Vince McMahon purchased Georgia Championship Wrestling. With the purchase, he got the already booked Thanksgiving date. Ole Anderson started up opposition and ran the Omni on the Sunday before Thanksgiving with the tag team tournament, with Bill & Scott Irwin beating Brad Armstrong & Jacques Rougeau in the finals. The talent was way down from prior years, with the Road Warriors and Jerry Lawler & Jimmy Valiant the only name teams. WWE ran on Thanksgiving with a Battle Royal won by Paul Orndorff and Sgt. Slaughter vs. Nikolai Volkoff, but in the 80s, the WWE brand wasn’t clicking in Atlanta. Even with all those people downtown, they only drew 4,800 fans to the show.
The Omni tradition as far as the show on Thanksgiving night being a big deal in town ended in 1986. There was no show a the Omni in 1987, but Crockett brought it back in 1988, drawing 8,000 with Sting & Lex Luger no contest with the Road Warriors and Rhodes & Bam Bam Bigelow over Flair & Barry Windham via DQ. In 1989, they ran with Flair over Great Muta via DQ, drawing 7,500. They drew 6,500 in 1990 with Sting over Sid Vicious, Doom (Butch Reed & Ron Simmons) over Flair & Arn Anderson in an elimination match and Steiners over Nasty Boys in a cage match. In 1991, after Flair had left for WWF, it was down to 3,800 for Luger vs. Rick Steiner for the WCW title and Steamboat & Dustin Rhodes vs. Arn Anderson & Bobby Eaton 45:00 draw for the tag titles. The final Thanksgiving show was in 1992, drawing 5,715 for Simmons & Sting & Van Hammer & Dustin Rhodes over Windham & Rick Rude & Vader & Cactus Jack cage match.
The Dallas tradition was actually rather short, but still was memorable. Dallas had run Thanksgiving shows at the Sportatorium, but moved to Reunion Arena in 1983, drawing a sellout of 18,500 fans for the Kerry Von Erich vs. Michael Hayes loser leaves town cage match. In one of the most heated matches I ever saw live, a short match with a great finish including Buddy Roberts on the top of the cage, and Fritz Von Erich shaking the cage, causing Roberts to crotch himself, and Fritz slamming the cage door on Hayes’ head (as retribution for the angle that started the Freebirds vs. Von Erichs feud when Terry Gordy slammed the cage door on Kerry Von Erich’s head when Von Erich was facing Ric Flair in a world title match). Hayes did end up returning in late January, with the storyline that The Freebirds had cheated to win the World six-man tag team titles in Atlanta over the Von Erichs (no such match took place), and the Von Erichs, in order to get a rematch for the titles in Texas, had to let Hayes return. What made this hard in Dallas is that the world champion was always in the Carolinas, and that meant they had to run a major show without a world title match on top.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 24, 1983
Dallas Reunion Arena
- Johnny Mantell & Mike Reed & Jose Lothario b Boris Zurkov (later to become Zhukov) & Black Gordman & Tonga John (later to become The Barbarian)
- The Missing Link (Dewey Robertson) b Buddy Roberts
- Kevin Von Erich b Terry Gordy
- David Von Erich b Kimala via DQ to retain the Texas title
- Mike Von Erich (Dallas area debut, billed as first pro match but actually he had debuted a week earlier in San Antonio) b Skandor Akbar
- Super Destroyers (Bill & Scott Irwin) retained American tag team titles going to a double disqualification with Junkyard Dog & Iceman King Parsons
- Chris Adams (managed by Sunshine) b Jimmy Garvin (managed by Precious) to win the American heavyweight title
- Kerry Von Erich b Michael Hayes in a loser leaves town cage match
Attendance: 18,500 sellout - thousands turned away
In 1984, they drew 15,325 with Chris Adams over Kevin Von Erich and Terry Gordy over Killer Khan in a death match with Kerry Von Erich as referee. In 1985, they drew 12,000 with Gino Hernandez & Adams over Kevin & Kerry in a cage match to win the American tag titles. In 1986, they were down to 6,000 for Fritz Von Erich, at the age of 57, beating Abdullah the Butcher via DQ. In 1987, before 7,000, Kerry Von Erich beat Al Perez the last time they ran a major Thanksgiving event.
New Orleans ran Thanksgiving shows in the early 70s at the St. Bernard’s Civic Center, but it wasn’t any kind of a big deal. But when Bill Watts opened up the Superdome, they started the holiday tradition there. Watts was part owner of the Georgia office so was well aware of how it was always successful in Atlanta, and also worked for Gagne in the 60s and appeared on some of the Minneapolis Thanksgiving events. Thanksgiving was tough for Watts, because his quarterly Superdome shows used both the local crew and brought in the biggest names from around the country to make the events seem special. But on Thanksgiving, it was very difficult to get the top outside talent, particularly when Starrcade and the World Class shows came around, plus with All Japan and New Japan both running their tag team tournaments at that time of the year, that also removed a lot of the biggest stars from the equation.
The first Superdome Thanksgiving show was in 1980, drawing 18,000 fans with Ladd over Orndorff in a lights out match, The Grappler over Killer Karl Kox to keep the North American title, Junkyard Dog & Bill Watts over Ladd & Leroy Brown and Dusty Rhodes over Ivan Koloff.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 26, 1981
New Orleans Superdome
- Terry Orndorff b Don Serrano
- Jerry Novak b Tony Charles
- Ed Wiskoski (later Col. DeBeers) b Jimmy Garvin
- Frank Monte & Barbie Doll b Rick Ferrara & Diamond Lil
- Iron Sheik b King Cobra
- Ernie Ladd b Kerry Von Erich via count out
- Dusty Rhodes b Great Kabuki
- Ted DiBiase b Bob Roop to retain the North American title 23:00
- Junkyard Dog & Mike George b Paul Orndorff & Bob Orton Jr. to retain the Mid South tag team titles 46:00
The 1982 show drew 15,000 as Stagger Lee, who was JYD under a mask, beat DiBiase to win the North American title. They didn’t even run in 1983, going the week before Thanksgiving because of so much top talent working Dallas and Greensboro, and were down to 8,000 fans with JYD over Butch Reed, Rhodes no contest Volkoff, Road Warriors over Wrestling II & Magnum T.A. and David Von Erich over Kimala via count out. The 1984 show drew 14,000 with Rock & Roll Express over Midnight Express in a scaffold match and Magnum over Ernie Ladd via DQ in a North American title match. In 1985 they drew about 10,000 for a closed-circuit of Starrcade. It was kind of an ugly scene as even though the TV hammered home it would be a closed circuit show, when the fans got to the arena, a lot of them were furious thinking all the stars would be there live. The final show was in 1986, where they drew 13,000, but that was with cutting ticket prices way down as the company was having trouble drawing by this time. In early 1987, the promotion, falling deeply in debt due to a combination of a local collapse of the oil industry and a failed national expansion, was sold to Jim Crockett promotions. The show featured two cage matches going on at the same time, with Steve Williams vs. Michael Hayes and Terry Taylor vs. Buddy Roberts, and the winner of the cage match that ends the quickest was allowed to join his partner in the other cage to make it a handicap match.
The final Thanksgiving tradition was the best known nationally, the Survivor Series, which debuted on Thanksgiving night of 1987, and still exists 23 years later. The show was originally built around ten-man elimination tag matches, with the debut event selling out the Richfield Coliseum just outside Cleveland with 21,000 fans. The original main event was Andre & One Man Gang & Reed & Rude & Bundy over Hogan & Orndorff & Don Muraco & Patera & Bigelow.
The 1988 version saw attendance fall to 13,500 in Cleveland, with a main event of Hogan & Savage & Hercules & Koko Ware & Hillbilly Jim over DiBiase & Big Bossman & Akeem (One Man Gang) & Red Rooster (Terry Taylor) & Haku. Because the crowd was so far down, it was moved from Cleveland the next year.
In 1989, in Chicago, they drew 15,294, with Hogan & Jake Roberts & Demolition over DiBiase & Zeus & Warlord & Barbarian.
THANKSGIVING FLASHBACK - November 22, 1990
Hartford Civic Center - Survivor Series - The Final Curtain
- Ultimate Warrior & Legion of Doom (Road Warriors) & Kerry Von Erich b Mr. Perfect (Curt Hennig) & Demolition (Ax & Smash & Crush) 14:19 **½
- Ted DiBiase & The Undertaker (WWE big show debut) & Greg Valentine & Honky Tonk Man b Dusty Rhodes & Koko B. Ware & Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart 13:59 ***½
- Rick Martel & The Warlord & Paul Roma & Hercules b Jake Roberts & Jimmy Snuka & Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty 18:06 ***1/4
- Hulk Hogan & Jim Duggan & Tugboat (Fred Ottman) & Big Bossman b Earthquake (John Tenta) & Dino Bravo & Haku & The Barbarian 14:50 **
- Nikolai Volkoff & Tito Santana & The Bushwhackers (Luke Williams & Butch Miller) b Sgt. Slaughter & Boris Zhukov & Pat Tanaka & Akio Sato 10:37 *
- Hulk Hogan & Ultimate Warrior & Tito Santana (all surviving babyfaces from previous elimination matches) b Ted DiBiase & Rick Martel & Hercules & Paul Roma & Warlord (all surviving heels from previous elimination matches) 9:08 *1/2
PPV buys: 380,000
The last true major Thanksgiving show was in 1990, at the Hartford Civic Center. The WWE Survivor Series drew 13,000 paid (2,000 shy of capacity) and $216,000. The main event of Hogan & Warrior & Tito Santana won a three-on-five handicap match over DiBiase & Martel & Warlord & Hercules & Paul Roma in just 9:08, winning five falls to one, in a battle of the survivors of a series of elimination matches underneath, was anti-climactic and a poor main event overall, and the last time they did a show with that format. The show drew what at the time was considered disappointing numbers on pay-per-view, leading to the mentality that Thanksgiving was a good night to get people to go out and see live matches or go to the movies, but it wasn’t a great night to get them to stay home and watch on television.
In 1991, Survivor Series was moved to Thanksgiving Eve, which actually worked out a lot worse. It was later moved again, and now takes place on a Sunday in mid-November, and stays away from the Thanksgiving weekend.
Thanks to help from files from James Zordani, Matt Farmer, Mid Atlantic Gateway and Wrestling Observer historical files