Kayfabe Lies and Alibis: 1988 NWA Timeline Shoot Interview

Presented by Sean Oliver and the Kayfabe Commentaries Crew

The Year: The war between Jim Crockett Promotions and Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation was the last battle in the war over the territories that covered North America’s wrestling landscape. 

Since the late 70’s, satellite TV had started to erode the traditional boundaries that had separated the many organizations that made up the wrestling world.  Incidents such as Terry Funk cutting a racist heel promo in a competing organization – only for his own hometown Hispanic fans who thought of him as a “good guy” seeing it – forced the promoters and wrestlers to adapt or go out of business.

McMahon brought in a star studded roster from around the country starting in late 1983 – buying up the Georgia and Stampede territories and snagging cable TV shows on both the USA network and TBS. Along the way McMahon “bribed” arena promoters to block others from running in those cities major arenas as well as paying off local TV stations to remove the local wrestling from the channel and replace it with McMahon’s syndicated shows. McMahon basically cut off his competition’s supply lines and watched as they died off.

Jim Crockett prepped his own impressive war chest in this battle: Firstly bringing in Dusty Rhodes from Florida to be his booker and top babyface. Rhodes’ abandoned Eddie Graham’s Florida territory and took a good number of Graham’s top names with him- essentially killing the legendary Graham’s business off and helping add to a downward spiral that would see Graham commit suicide in early 1985.  The meager remains of the Florida area were then bought up by JCP. The area was then basically used to groom talent like future WCW World Champions Lex Luger and Ron Simmons.

Crockett also spent millions on acquiring the Universal Wrestling Federation owned by Bill Watts – a promotion on the down swing and with an unsustainably large national syndication deal and not much usable talent to draw with by the point in 1987 when Crockett purchased it. Notably however, a green muscle head named Sting did come in to JCP through this deal.

Crockett also bought out the shell of the St. Louis Wrestling club (despite McMahon already snagging the key area TV show “Wrestling at the Chase”) as well as Bob Geigel’s Central States promotions – both minor bumps on the wrestling landscape by the mid 80’s.

JCP’s expansion saw a lot of money going out and not enough revenue coming in thanks in part to running stadium shows and hiring country acts to try and prop up attendance in summer, as well as unneeded offices in Dallas and buying a private plane for its wrestler’s travel. 

Meanwhile McMahon was expanding his revenue bases through action figures, T-shirts, board games, toothbrushes, and dozens of other merchandising that JCP simply wasn’t even attempting.  Most importantly the WWF was breaking into “Wrestlevision” aka pay per view. After a very limited PPV audience for Wrestlemania 1, McMahon ran PPV’s the following November and again in Spring of ’86 – raking in millions in one night. JCP could only answer with closed circuit events like their yearly Starcade events.

 By the time JCP got into the PPV game, McMahon had a viable monopoly over the genre and that allowed Vince to go to the PPV providers and flat out tell them that the WWF would not allow them to run WWF PPVs unless they agreed to not air JCP events.   McMahon then added Survivor Series to his yearly PPV schedule to go head to head with JCP’s Starrcade show and give further reason for PPV providers to ignore JCP’s offerings.  JCP would run Starrcade ’87 on PPV– however the booking of the show was uninspired:

  • Ron Garvin was an aging upper mid carder who wrestled Ric Flair around the horn many times before upsetting him for the World title. Starrcade was to feature another re-match between the two – with a cage stipulation that had already been done during the feud.
  • The Rock and Roll Express versus Midnight Express match was made without an angle. Jim Crockett showed up on TV and simply announced “due to previous issues” the match would be made.  Both teams had other feuds being built on TV before the announcement came down.  JCP added the scaffold gimmick to the match, since it was a decent draw at the previous Starrcade, however such a stipulation hindered these two workrate friendly teams significantly.
  • Dusty Rhodes versus Lex Luger would have been a fresh match up, however the build-up was focused on Dusty proclaiming he would retire if he lost.  Then it was announced the “retirement” was only to last for 90 days.  J.J. Dillon had to then go on TV and lamely sell that this three month break would greatly hinder Dusty’s career and of course as with all of Dusty’s opponents, Dillon also had to mention what an all-time great and international draw Rhodes was. In addition much of the angle was revolved around the retired Hiro Matsuda and Johnny Weaver arguing over sleeper holds.
  • The Road Warriors versus Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard for the World tag team titles made sense at least since Starrcade was being held in Chicago –The Warriors gimmick hometown- however the Warriors were booked to fail to win the titles – pissing off the fan base with another screw job and hurting future Chicago attendance.

On top of everything else, JCP’s choice to run Chicago for the biggest show of the year was considered a slap in the face to their home town fanbase since the previous four events had been in JCP strong holds.

JCP attempted another PPV that January called “The Bunkhouse Stampede” and various factors made the event a debacle as well:

  • The tickets were printed out with three different start times, so many fans arrived after the PPV started. Even the JCP-friendly Apter magazines had to report that the event ended with the fans chanting “refund!”
  • The booking was again underwhelming as the event had only four matches shown – Ric Flair and Nikita Koloff defended their singles belts against tag team wrestlers whose credibility as challengers had to be questioned, and the main event was a steel cage battle royal that saw Dusty Rhodes put himself over most of the remaining  upper card roster.
  • The WWF once again one upped JCP, putting on a free “Royal Rumble” event on the USA network and setting a ratings record for the channel. Many potential eyes went for the free show rather than pay to watch JCP’s event.

Having been thwarted twice, Crockett was determined to get his revenge on the WWF and JCP took on Wrestlemania 4 head to head by offering their own free mega card on TBS.  After this effort took a nice chunk of change away from both the WWF and the PPV providers, both companies were ordered to knock it off by the PPV companies, who were sick of losing profits to a “war” they didn’t have a true stake in.  However it was too little too late as JCP had contracts to pay off and without the PPV revenue they had been counting on, the books were showing an awful amount of red ink. 

Enter Ted Turner – he and Vince had issues in the early stages of this wrestling war, as Vince’s TBS show was not being taped live in a studio as Turner wished, and the show often showed matches that had previously aired on WWF TV and Turner wanted fresh product.  Add in struggling ratings and Vince needing a cash influx and the final result was Vince selling the timeslot to JCP.  Now in 1988 Turner was preparing to buy a wounded animal in JCP. The crowds were down, the fans burnt out from gimmick matches and screw job finishes, nearly everyone of note on the roster had switched from heel to face or vice versa in an attempt to freshen things up, the WWF merchandising machine offered wrestlers a chance to make obscene amounts of cash and many JCP stars had jumped ship and the power structure in Turner’s new purchase would also have to be re-worked – a process that took the soon to be rebranded WCW nearly 5 years to really settle.

But that’s another story….

The Shoot:

In early 1988 J.J. thought the Horsemen angle was going strong yet, by the final months the whole thing was in shambles

Ole Anderson wrestled his rough style even as a babyface.

Dr. Death is caught with steroids, marijuana and cocaine at an airport and has to pay $25,000 in fines.

 Terry Taylor left for WCCW after having too much heat with people in power.

The NWA guys were almost all willing to jump to WWF, simply because the money potential was so much better.

Michael Hayes was fired after no showing some shows in protest of his contract. Dillon feels his push and placement on the card was part of his issues.

Vince couldn’t claim exclusiveness on any arena, but many promoters were convinced to make the WWF the only wrestling company allowed to use them in order to not lose a good draw like the WWF show.

The NWA’s first PPV was screwed on multiple levels – PPV clearance, tickets misprinted, WWF giving away a free TV show opposite of it, and an underwhelming line up.

Dillon says NWA had so many titles in JCP that he can’t even remember some that were superfluous. (This is in regards to a question on the Western States Heritage Title)

Dusty Rhodes is put over hard by Dillon.  Flair felt the Horseman should have got more heat on Rhodes rather than getting pounded down so often.

The Rock and Roll Express are fired in January; rumor has it that Dusty wanted Ricky Morton to lose his hair in a stipulation match and Morton refused.

Tully Blanchard would get heat with Dusty for bitching and end up working more small spot shows to hurt his bottom line.

Dillon felt Sting wanted the stardom but didn’t love the business.

The infamous Larry Zbyszko/Baby Doll mysterious blackmail envelope angle was lost in the shuffle and Dillon doesn’t have a resolution for it either.  (IIRC Dusty said once that it was supposedly going to have pictures of Dusty with a black woman)

(This video is also notable for Dusty’s “meh” reaction to being awarded a trophy by JCP – I laughed)

Eddie Gilbert leaves to headline in Memphis, rather than be lost in the mid-card.

Flair worked the night his son was born, but being World champ he had to headline or the company would be hurt.

The Fantastics are brought in to replace the Rock and Roll Express in March.

Vince McMahon has arenas start signing 60 day no compete contracts in order to block the NWA from running key arenas.

Al Perez was missing the “it” factor and thus a NWA push never materialized, even with Gary Hart by his side.

The Midnight Rider angle drew well in Florida, but trying it again here in the NWA would prove to be a failure.

The NWA messes with Wrestlemania; running a free loaded card on TBS at the same time.

Jim Crockett nearly bought WCCW at this point.

JCP sold some merchandise but the talent seemed to be lacking compensation for it.

Dillon feels the Tully, Arn, Windham and Flair version of the Horsemen was the best – alas it only lasted a few months before Arn and Tully jumped to WWF.

J.J. didn’t like to be suspended above the ring in a cage for certain angles, as he felt his role ringside engaging the fans added to the matches he managed.

Dick Murdoch bar fights are discussed.

May 1st was a bad night for Jim Crockett – over 10 guys under contract are due a large pay out on their contracts – some as high as six figures.  The checks don’t arrive and the locker room is upset.

Dillon says Crockett kept too many office guys around from the territory days that hindered the national expansion attempt as they didn’t understand how to work on a national basis.

Crockett realizes he’s in a lot of fiscal trouble and invites potential buyers to an Omni show to try and gauge interest.

They run the Great American Bash tour but scale it way back – Flair only defends the World title once instead of the 7+ times that would often be the case of previous years. They also cut back on music acts and renting stadiums.

Luger was scared to blade, so Dillon had to blade him instead.

Puerto Rican fans would put sand in plastic cups, and urinate in it – then used the cups as “bombs”.

Dillon heard the WWC office delayed the ambulance from getting to Bruiser Brody after being stabbed.  J.J. also heard someone showed up when Brody was on the operating table and convinced the doctors to quit the surgery.

WWF invaded JCP’s home base and brought Hogan versus Andre into Charlotte.

Arn and Tully leaving didn’t thrill Dillon in the least, but he understood the business side of their decision.

November 1st is the end of JCP, as Ted Turner takes over after this final TV taping.

Turner had many closet wrestling fans in his WTBS offices who wanted to meddle with the product.

Dillon’s contract was ignored – perhaps due to the management turnover and he ends up jumping to the WWF soon after.

Dillon defends Dusty’s booking and says he’s just a scapegoat for all the bad business moves.

Final Thoughts:

Dillon articulates very well and has natural smarts in addition to his good memory, so he tends to be an excellent performer for his part in these shoots interviews.  This proved to be no exception. All in all, this was an interesting look at a year that set up the next stage in the pro wrestling wars. 

 

Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

One Comment

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  1. Great read as always.

    During my VHS hunting days, the oldest WCW tape I was able to get my hands on was a copy of Starrcade 88. I always hold the event, and World Champion Ronnie Garvin, in special esteem because of it.

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