Previously on the Best and Worst of Starrcade: The second year of WWE’s appropriation of WCW’s flagship event was pretty much just a house show in Cincinnati (not even Starrcade country!), main-evented by a non-title cage match between AJ Styles and Samoa Joe. This year it’s at least in Atlanta, and seem a little more like an actual thing. Not much, but a little more.
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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Starrcade, originally aired on December 1, 2019.
Best: The Only Living Nature Boy In Atlanta
Look, I could choose to be cynical about this. I could focus on how they’re dragging an ancient and decrepit Nature Boy out just to put a blessing of authenticity on WWE’s half-assed version of Starrcade, and how he puts over this show and the WWE product in general as the true legacy of Starrcade creator Dusty Rhodes, as if Dusty’s literal sons aren’t out there running their own company that can’t use names like “Starrcade” and “WarGames” because somehow Vince McMahon legally owns almost everything their dad built.
But honestly? It’s the holidays, and that’s not where I want to dwell. Kevin Owens is probably the most likable guy in WWE right now, and he’s the perfect host to put over Ric Flair in a talk segment without it seeming too fawning. The best thing about the Ric Flair who exists right now is his emotions. He’ll go anywhere you hire him to go, and say anything you pay him to say, but when he talks about fighting Harley Race and Dusty Rhodes at the early Starrcades, or for that matter when he expresses his pride in Charlotte, you can always tell that the feelings he’s feeling are as real as they could be. That’s what makes the Nature Boy worth having around for events like this. It’s not that he remembers wrestling history better than anybody else, and certainly not that he can talk coherently about it. It’s the sweep of that history exists within him as a raw emotional narrative, and we can see it play across his aged face and know that it’s real.
Best: You Love To See It
This whole thing is still kind of a house show for WWE, and the Street Profits versus the Good Brothers is a bit of a house show match, but it’s an enjoyable one. Gallows and Anderson aren’t exactly high-value targets in the tag division, but they get boos and they can go in the ring. The Street Profits are themselves still very early in their Main Roster WWE careers, but they get cheers and they can also go in the ring. So there’s no real consequence to this match, and it’s the sort of thing where you’d be mad if the Street Profits lost, but it doesn’t do much for them that they won.
But this show clearly isn’t about consequence (it’s like the AEW Dark of WWE), and this is a fun, fast-paced match between two charismatic good guys who are friends with Ric Flair, and two unlikeable bad guys who were mean to Ric Flair. The good guys win and then they pose and dance around with the Nature Boy. Sometimes, that’s all you need.
Best: François Ozon, 2002
You know what would be great? If WWE had a women’s tag division. Or even if they just showed some interest in building one. Don’t get me wrong, the Kabuki Warriors are super great, and as random as their debut was they really feel like a proper team now, especially since their heel turn. Bliss Cross Applesauce feel like a proper team too, against all odds, and Nikki Cross is the perfect friend and partner to help sell Alexa’s face turn, much like R-Truth did for Carmella.
But on the other hand, Sasha and Bayley no longer feel like a real tag team. They can’t be the Boss-N-Hug Connection (which was a terrible name anyway) because Bayley’s not into hugging anymore, and they Bayley’s Smackdown Women’s Championship ought to be the main story.
Similarly, Charlotte and Becky Lynch have never felt like a tag team, and Becky ought to have better things to do as the Raw Women’s Champion and one of the company’s biggest stars than compete for tag belts. It honestly just feels like WWE is tempted to put the Tag Belts on these two so that Charlotte will have held as many different belts as Bayley has. And hey, maybe when Becky drops the Raw Title she can go down to NXT on a mission to win that belt, and then there can be three Grand Slam Women’s Champs instead of just one. At least until Rhea Ripley starts winning main roster belts after winning the NXT UK Women’s Championship as well as (most likely) the regular NXT Women’s Championship, and then everybody else’s counts get messed up again.
But here’s the other thing, getting back to the theme of this being a glorified house show: This is about as amazing a four-way tag match as you could ask for. All four horsewomen, plus Asuka and Kairi Sane and Nikki Cross, plus a still-being-somewhat-protected Alexa Bliss. There are some messy bits, as there always are when this many people get in the ring, and I know everybody says this but the two-at-a-time multi-team tag matches are a pretty weird way of doing things. But there are also a lot of great spots and brief enjoyable little matchups between different combinations of women.
I also like seeing that the Kabuki Warriors can still win a match without Asuka green-misting anybody. That comes at the expense of Nikki Cross, but we all knew going in that it pretty much had to. So yeah, I’m here for it.
Worst: The Bait & Switch
I’m one of those people who never has come around on the Lana/Rusev/Lashley storyline. I’ve been avoiding it, but oh boy here it is. I wasn’t terribly excited to watch a Last Man Standing Match between Rusev and Bobby Lashley, but hey it least it meant things were finally coming to ahead. When WWE’s telling a soap opera story that’s not really working (or just not working for you), it’s a relief when it finally turns from segments to matches, because usually the people involved are better at matches, and plus you know it’s getting somewhere.
Unfortunately, this story has not yet turned to matches, because this turns out to be a segment. As Lana reveals on mic with Bobby at her side, she filed another restraining order in the state of Georgia, and therefore Rusev can’t legally show up for the match. That means Lashley technically wins by default, but an annoyed Kevin Owens shows up to take one for the team, and ends up in a match with Lashley instead. Not a Last Man Standing Match, mind you, just a match.
As matches go there’s nothing terribly wrong with it, although I find Bobby Lashley a bit boring in the ring, but it’s just another transitional match of no consequence, and then of course it has no ending, because Rusev inevitably shows up to attack Bobby Lashley.
Worse Still: Too Little, Running Late
The Network Special, which was advertised as being an hour long, ran 15 minutes over while Rusev and Lashley were brawling. It probably has something to do with how much I don’t care about their story, but I was getting pretty annoyed waiting for it to end. Not because 75 minutes is too long for a show (it’s only like one-sixth of a WrestleMania), but because I had no idea when the show was actually ended. When they used to overrun on USA, you knew that Chrisley Knows Best had to start eventually, but when something goes over on the Network all bets are off.
Mostly I just feel like, if we were going to watch Rusev beat up Bobby Lashley until he can’t stand up — if that was definitely happen anyway — why couldn’t it have been the main event as promised, instead of just a thing we had to stick around to watch after the show was supposed to be over, which is just going to lead to a match further down the road. Why can’t you just do the thing, WWE? Just do the thing.
But now I guess we’ve done the thing, because that’s all there was of WWE Starrcade 2019. There will probably be one next year, barring unforeseen calamity, and we’ll probably still be here to cover it.