Monday, June 27, 2022

Magnum T.A. and the Myth of Starrcade '86

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

The story has been told so many times over the last three decades that it's accepted by many today as fact. "Magnum T.A. was going to win the NWA title at Starrcade '86." 

Yes, Magnum was a sure bet to eventually wear the ten pounds of gold, but it wasn't going to happen at Starrcade '86.  That's nothing but romanticized wishful thinking by fans over the years out of love and respect for a guy whose career was cut short by the tragic automobile accident of October 1986, just over six weeks away from Starrcade.

A sure bet to be champion? Magnum T.A. leaves the ring with the Ten Pounds of Gold
after a confrontation with champion Ric Flair on the nationally televised
"World Championship Wrestling" program in June of 1985.

There is no doubt Magnum T.A. would have been a top choice for the NWA title, especially once it basically became a Jim Crockett Promotions company-title by 1986, and especially with Dusty Rhodes in charge. Magnum was Dusty's guy, and he had proven himself to be a big box office draw for the company.

Magnum T.A. was perfect in the role of challenger. He was brilliant in it, in fact, and had already proven to be so three times over in his relatively short main event career.

Let's take a look at each of those three cases, all which drew very well at the gate:
  1. MAGNUM T.A. VS. WAHOO McDANIEL - After arriving in Jim Crockett Promotions in late 1984, Magnum chased Wahoo McDaniel for the U.S. title for roughly three months and beat him cleanly in front of a crazy Charlotte crowd in March of 1985. The message was clear - Magnum had defeated a bona fide wrestling legend in McDaniel, and it immediately propelled him into the upper tier of babyfaces in the promotion, second only to Rhodes.
  2. MAGNUM T.A. vs. TULLY BLANCHARD - Then in the summer and fall 1985, Magnum chased Tully Blanchard for the same title. These two guys were opposite sides of the same coin. This feud was a bit different than the shorter program with Wahoo. It was a long hard five month chase that culminated in one of the most memorable, brutal Starrcade matches of them all - the 1985 "I Quit" match in Greensboro.
  3. MAGNUM T.A. vs. NIKITA KOLOFF - Finally, after having the U.S. title stripped from him by an overly-legislative NWA president Bob Geigle, Magnum would chase the title again in a legendary best-of-seven series with the "Russian Nightmare" Nikita Koloff in 1986. This was made to order during the era of the cold war: the Great American Hero vs. the hated Communist Russian. Magnum found himself down 0-3 in the series before heroically battling back to tie the series 3-3 in what was the best match of the series in Asheville, NC. But then the unthinkable happened. Koloff won the title in match #7 in Charlotte, once again setting up Magnum as the classic babyface challenger chasing the title. Except this time it wasn't a regional battle against venerable aging legend in Wahoo McDaniel. It wasn't a national battle on the Superstation against the man on the other side of the mirror in Tully Blanchard. No, this battle now seemed world wide in scope - - the U.S.A. vs. Russia. And there can be little doubt that this program, which started way back at the beginning of 1986 would culminate in Magnum's greatest triumph ever up to that point, at Starrcade '86. It was one of the greatest wrestling stories ever told, except sadly we never got to see the finish.

The story with Nikita pretty much shatters any Magnum-wins-the-NWA-title-at-Starrcade-'86 theories, because Magnum was always going to regain the U.S. title from Nikita at Starrcade. Dusty had spent the entire year of 1986 setting that up. And consider these facts: Magnum's accident was on 10/12/86 which was only six weeks before Starrcade. There was NOTHING at that moment in time that even hinted at a Flair-Magnum match-up at Starrcade '86. In fact, all of Magnum's interviews that were taped in some cases mere hours before the accident were focused on a program with Jimmy Garvin. It was a program to run a few short weeks to keep Magnum out of the ring with Nikita at house shows in the weeks leading up to Starrcade. Magnum was going to face Nikita Koloff at Starrcade to get his U.S. title belt back, a match Dusty had meticulously booked toward since February of that year. Six weeks out from Starrcade, he wasn't going to suddenly put Magnum with Flair and abandon his entire year-long Magnum/Nikita program he had worked so hard to create.

And it doesn't even matter if Dusty or Jim Crockett or Ric Flair or anyone else - - some 30 years later through the fog of time - - ever said that it would have happened at Starrcade '86. I'll never be convinced that it was going to happen. Never. Not ever. To assert otherwise is an insult to the memory of the booking acumen, prowess, and style of Dusty Rhodes, especially during the hottest booking year of his entire career.  Everything about Dusty's booking in Jim Crockett Promotions up until that point during that era was gold. And everything about the Magnum-Nikita story that had been told for the entire year of 1986 pointed to a giant Starrcade finale.

If Magnum were to eventually win the NWA title from Flair after Starrcade '86, my guess for his earliest opportunity would be after a six-month build at the Great American Bash '87 or, much more likely, at Starrcade '87. Nothing can be really known for sure. Keep in mind that during Flair's title era with Jim Crockett Promotions in the the 1980s, guys like Barry Windham and Lex Luger that were also "certain" to win the NWA title from Flair never got the strap in that era, either. And they were both Dusty's boys just like Magnum.

A sure bet to be champion? One can certainly envision Magnum eventually carrying the Ten Pounds of Gold. Just not then. But the photo above lets us actually see what it might have looked like. Magnum knew how to carry a belt.

Still, though, the best story to my way of thinking would have always been Magnum chasing the belt. And Dusty Rhodes was really good at writing those great stories.

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Edited and expanded from an original post titled "A Sure Bet to Be Champion?" in 2012 on the Domed-Globe website.