Rebooking Starrcade 91: Battlebowl: The Lethal Lottery

It’s that time of year again.

A time of joy and celebration. A time of reflection on the year passing and the new one coming.

A time of great happiness and a time to share that feeling with others.

It’s also a time to rewrite some Starrcade history.

As is common when December draws to a close, wrestling fans love to reminisce about the premier wrestling event of holidays past, the NWA/WCW showcase known as Starrcade. Inspired by an episode of the always excellent Where the Big Boys Play, I’ve decided to deviate from my usual PTBN offerings of baseball to venture into writing about my all-time favorite promotion, early-90s WCW, and re-book Starrcade 1991: Battlebowl: The Lethal Lottery.

Starrcade 91, in its original form, was not very good. Let's see how to make it better.
Starrcade 91, in its original form, was not very good. Let’s see how to make it better.

I’ll be using the same roster that was present at the time, but modifying the Battlebowl concept ever-so-slightly. First of all, let’s shrink it from a 20-man, two-ring affair to nine wrestlers in a single ring. And instead of the prize being a crappy ring awarded a full year later, we will instead give the Battlebowl winner a World Title match at the following SuperBrawl.

First off, the original card, a night full of (legit) random tag matches that mostly sucked:

  • Marcus Bagwell & Jimmy ‘Jam’ Garvin def. Michael ‘P.S.’ Hayes & Tracy Smothers
  • Steve Austin & Rick Rude def. Van Hammer & Big Josh
  • Dustin Rhodes & Richard ‘Don’t Call Me Ricky!’ Morton def. El Gigante & Larry Zbyszko
  • Bill Kazmaier & Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger def. ‘Diamond’ Dallas Page & Mike ‘SuperBore’ Graham
  • Lex Luger & Arn Anderson def. Terrance Taylor & Tom ‘Z-Man’ Zenk
  • Sting & Abdullah the Butcher def. Bobby Eaton & Brian Pillman
  • Ricky Steamboat & Todd Champion def. Cactus Jack & Sgt. Buddy Lee Parker
  • Big Van Vader & Mr. Hughes def. Rick Steiner & The Nightstalker
  • Scott Steiner & Firebreaker Chip def. Johnny B. Badd & Arachnaman
  • Ron Simmons & Thomas Rich def. Steve Armstrong & P.N. News
  • Sting won Battebowl

That’s a terrible show, to be honest. The pairings mostly suck, the matches were dirt-poor, and the over-abundance of tag matches is a recipe for audience burnout. So, in the re-imagining of this show, the number of Battlebowl contests will be chopped from 10 down to four, with eight winners qualifying, plus a special Fatal 4-Way challenge where the winner also advances, giving us a nine-person, single-ring main event.

There’s always some division with this event, as some of us think the randomness makes it a more interesting show, while others prefer a more predetermined card in order to allow for better in-ring action. WCW never could get this mix right, always leaning too far in one direction (going much too random with this show) or the other*.

*Slamboree 1996, for instance, has WAY too many partner vs. partner, rivals as partners, or established teams together scenarios and it really undercuts the whole concept.

There will be some title defenses mixed in as well, as WCW had a lot of great storylines around their belts at this time, and it was a waste not to further those issues just six weeks after a great show at Clash of the Champions 17.

With all that said, on to the (new) show!

Match 1: WCW Light-heavyweight Championship: Jushin Liger © vs. Brian Pillman

A few days before this event — Christmas night in Atlanta’s fabled Omni, Liger had beaten Pillman for the LHC. This opener is sure to get the crowd on its feet, gives Pillman a rematch, exposes Liger to a much larger audience, and creates a story. Liger wins again here, setting up one last chance for Pillman to get “his” belt back at SuperBrawl II.

Winner: Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger

Match 2: Lethal Lottery Tag Match: Marcus Bagwell & Big Josh vs. Arn Anderson & Michael “P.S.” Hayes

At the time, Bagwell was the new hot-shot rookie, a fact that WCW kept its viewing audience well aware of, so it makes sense to keep him on the card. Teaming him with Big Josh is a slightly unlikely duo, as is the Double-A/Hayes tandem. It keeps the face/heel dynamic, and with three veterans working the majority of the match, it keeps Bagwell for getting over-exposed, and promises a solid match. I’ll put the heels over here, since there’s more use for them in Battlebowl later on.

Winners: Arn Anderson & Michael ‘P.S.’ Hayes

Match 3: Lethal Lottery Tag Team Match: Sting & Bobby Eaton vs. Tom Zenk & Terry Taylor

Zenk and Taylor had a good showing the original version of this show, so I’m keeping them as a team here, while putting the Stinger with his former friend Bobby “You’ve got plenty of time!” Eaton. (Paul E. really was masterful in playing that up in this promo; too bad it wasn’t followed up on … until now.)

Winners: Sting & Bobby Eaton

Match 4: WCW World Television Championship: ‘Stunning’ Steve Austin © vs. ‘Heavy Metal’ Van Hammer

I wanted to show Austin off a bit here, and since these two faced off in a tag match in the original show, this made sense. However, it could be easily be Johnny B. Badd, Bill Kazmaier, or some other mid-card fill here. Austin retains in a short match designed simply to get the TV title on the show and break up the tag matches.

Winner: ‘Stunning’ Steve Austin

Match 5: Lethal Lottery Tag Team Match: Bill Kazmaier & ‘Diamond’ Dallas Page vs. Dustin Rhodes & Big Van Vader

I had originally slotted Cactus Jack and Ricky Steamboat as the first tag team in this one, but given the lack of heel depth once you get past the Dangerous Alliance, I need both of those guys later, so I’m giving Dustin and Vader a fairly predictable path to Battlebowl while still showcasing Bill ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ Kazmaier a little bit against Vader.

Winners: Dustin Rhodes & Big Van Vader

Match 6: Lethal Lottery Tag Team Match: Rick Steiner & Scott Steiner vs. Larry Zbyszko & Abdullah the Butcher

By this point in the show, the pool of Lethal Lottery entrants is whittled down enough to the point where a true team — like the Steiners — makes enough sense. So, I’m using it here. The big comeback of Scott Steiner from his injury deserves a return alongside his big brother, rather than a showing with (ugh) Firebreaker Chip. Rick and Scott get a good challenge here from ‘The Cruncher’ and The Butcher, but the Michigan boys prevail.

Winners: Rick & Scott Steiner

Match 7: Fatal Four-Way, Winner Advances to Battlebowl: Rick Rude vs. Ricky Steamboat vs. Cactus Jack vs. P.N. News

The concept in the original show is that the entire WCW roster is eligible for the Lethal Lottery. I’d cut that back to only have 20 names in the tumbler. After the eight tag pairings are drawn up, that leaves these four to compete in a different style of “Lethal Lottery” contest, where only one of the four moves on.

News is essentially ballast here; he’s merely a body to keep Cactus Jack busy while Rude and Steamboat wage war in a preview of their outstanding series of showdowns in 1992. News could easily be dropped out to make this a triple-threat matchup if you like; I’ve got him here for the sake of numbers. Anyway, Rude wins by pinning News after Cactus destroys him for most of the match.

Winner: ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude

Match 8: WCW World Heavyweight Championship: Lex Luger © vs. Ron Simmons

I’m giving Simmons one final shot at Luger after their solid 2-out-3 showing at Halloween Havoc. There are really no other viable challengers who are not already booked in previous matches, unless we ignore Barry Windham’s wrist injury, but even if we do, I think he’s better utilized earlier in the card, perhaps as a replacement for P.N. News in the four-way.

Regardless, I’m going to have Luger retain in a strong showing, really building him up as a solid champ heading into the new year.

Winner: Lex Luger

Still WCW World Heavyweight Champ, 'The Total Package' Lex Luger.
Still WCW World Heavyweight Champ, ‘The Total Package’ Lex Luger.

Match 9: Battlebowl

With Lex winning the World title contest, I think the outcome here is not in much doubt; however, there are some fun matchups presented, as well as a good Sting’s Buddies vs. Dangerous Alliance storyline to pump some excitement into the battle royal.

To recap, the entrants are: Arn Anderson, Michael Hayes, Bobby Eaton, Sting, Dustin Rhodes, Big Van Vader, Rick Steiner, Scott Steiner, and Rick Rude.

That gives us nine men, with two clear-cut favorites (Sting, Rude), two believable dark horses (Rhodes, Vader), plus four guys (The Steiners, Anderson, Eaton) who can play parts in the overall story of Sting vs The D.A., as well as foreshadow their tag team title feud later on in 1992. Hayes, much like P.N. News in the four-way, is just a body taking up a slot. He’s out first, courtesy of “The Natural”.

After Hayes is tossed by Rhodes, Rick Steiner throws out Eaton, and then Vader dumps him. Vader then dumps Scott Steiner and Bobby Eaton simultaneously. Sting then pops Vader out, setting up things to come next year.

Now we’re down to Sting, Rude, Rhodes, and Anderson. This breaks down into (mostly) Sting vs. Rude and Rhodes vs. Anderson. After subduing the Stinger, The Alliance overwhelms Rhodes, eliminating him.

Sting overcomes the two-on-one disadvantage, last tossing out Rude to keep their rivalry hot while setting up the Sting-Luger matchup (and title change) we get at SuperBrawl II in February.

Sting still triumphs in the revised Battlebowl matchup.
Sting still triumphs in the revised Battlebowl matchup.

And with that, the reimagining of Starrcade 1991 is complete. It’s a tighter, more streamlined show that still promotes what was a very good concept. It’s a shame that WCW never booked this thing right, as the event had a lot of potential to carry on existing feuds, create new ones, build or break up tag teams, and the World Title prize to the winner puts it on par with the WWF’s established tradition in the Royal Rumble.