Greg Valentine vs. Roddy Piper (NWA Starrcade ’83: A Flare for the Gold 11/24/83)

Match Reviews

What a lovely thing this is.

I’d seen it years before, but of course, I was driven back to it by Punk’s recent invocation of this match’s history on Dynamite. And it’s one of those special matches that really only gets better with time. One of those timeless cornerstones of American professional wrestling, fittingly set on the grand stage of the first ever Starrcade. What a thing to behold.

Unlike the July match which is all fury and rage, both men come to this with much cooler heads. That’s not a bug, however, but a feature, at least in my eyes. The dog collar itself adds a new element of danger that both these men don’t feel quite comfortable with. The trepidation can be read as these two adjusting to the new environment, and not wanting to be the one to make the first mistake. I love the way that the opening moments play out as this test of strength with both men pulling back only with their necks against the chain, trying to see who will be the first to break. It’s a simple spot, but one that reminds me of something like Go and Fujita’s death stare in terms of trying to gain the slightest psychological advantage with the smallest movement.

There’s a suddenness when the chain comes into play too. This doesn’t have a lot of clever uses of the chain the way one might expect from a modern iteration of this match. Here, it’s as simple as it gets, just whack your opponent with it as hard as possible. Even with things pulled back to that basic idea, these two get so much out of the stipulation. They whip with the chain, they punch with the chain, they choke, they thrust the chain for more targeted attacks. It’s surprisingly varied in ways I didn’t quite expect on the rewatch.

On top of that, the chain just looks so fucking cool. It gives us so many iconic visuals. One of my favorites is probably Valentine wrapping the chain around Piper’s eye, yanking back on it like a choke. It just looks violent and crazy despite not even being the most brutal thing about this match.

The real highlight, of course, is the ear work. Where the July match saw Valentine unable to fully capitalize on his attack of the ear, here he really gets to work. Valentine busts that thing open, he punches at it, bites at it, it’s all great heel work from the guy. On his part, Piper sells it beautifully. He perfectly gets across the loss of equilibrium caused by the attack. He can barely get his feet under him, the damage is that bad. Also, I don’t know if he bladed that thing or just let Valentine catch him the hard way, but the ear blood looks great through this whole damn thing.

I love the way that the early tentativeness just fully breaks down by the time the match approaches its close. While this never quite reaches the same peaks of energy as the July match, there’s a crazed sort of desperation to it all the same. The way these two throw themselves at each other, drag each other down to the mat, throw hands wildly, it’s just excellent stuff. The finish isn’t some flashy, climactic thing, but rather Piper just wailing on Valentine’s chest with the chain before wrapping his legs up with it for the three. I can see how some might read that as anticlimactic, but I found it a suitably gritty finish for something this violent.

Truly a classic of American professional wrestling, it’s not hard to see why it’s the measuring stick that all dog collar matches are held up against.

Better than 6/3/94. Given that one of my frustrations with 6/3/94 was that it failed to capitalize on the drama of Misawa’s busted ear, this was really a no contest from the start. Add to that the fact that this match just feels far more concise and certain about its goals, and Piper and Valentine take the win.

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