A lot has changed for JCP since their January PPV debacle I covered last time: Long time top babyfaces the Rock and Roll Express quit JCP in protest of booker Dusty Rhodes’ asking Ricky Morton to lose his hair in a angle. After failing to compromise on a new deal that would lead them to return, Dusty signed The Fantastics to replace them as the top pretty boy team for JCP.
Then on March 27th, the NWA fought back after having both Starrcade and the Bunkhouse Stampede ruined in part by the WWF scheduling events opposite of them. This was done by presenting a free special live on TBS opposite of the WWF’s mega event Wrestlemania 4. Dusty dubbed the event “The Clash of Champions” and presented a lineup that was largely superior to their two PPV efforts that preceded it.
The main event saw Ric Flair taken to the limit for 45 minutes by young powerhouse Sting. This was the moment that made Sting a true star and established a much needed fresh face in the upper card. The undercard featured a six man tag team clash between Dusty Rhodes and The Road Warriors facing off with Ivan Koloff and the Powers of Pain with BARBED WIRE wrapped around the ring ropes! The World tag championship changed hands when Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson were upended by Barry Windham and Lex Luger – Lex’s first major strike against his former buddies the Horsemen. The other major bout on the docket was a work rate friendly battle between the Fantastics and The Midnight Express. Jim Garvin and Mike Rotundo wrestled in the opener in a match that was tied into Kevin Sullivan’s tormenting of Garvin’s valet Precious.
The afterglow of success wouldn’t last long for Windham and Luger as Windham turned on Lex during a rematch on April 20th and Tully and Arn regained the gold. This would set up a program between Barry Windham and Dusty Rhodes as Rhodes was Windham’s friend and mentor.
The next big event for JCP took place on April 22 and 23 and that was the third annual “Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Tag Team Tournament”.
Unlike previous Crockett Cups, the wrestling world was now very much existing on the strengths of only two leagues, and not having teams developing in Florida, the Mid-South, and other areas made for a very depleted line up for the 2 night affair. Downsizing to a 8 team, one evening affair would probably have helped the prestige and perhaps the attendance for the events.
Look at the jabronis who JCP promoted for their big event: Johnny Ace and John Savage, Brad Armstrong and Tim Horner, Chris Champion and Mark Starr, Tiger Conway, Jr. and Shaska Whatley, The Cruel Connection (Masked jobbers), Joe Cruz and Ricky Santana, The Green Machine (Al Green) and The Terminator (Road Warrior Animal’s brother), The Italian Stallion and Kendall Windham, Rocky King and Nelson Royal, and The Twin Devils (more jobbers). The “star” teams included Ivan Koloff and Dick Murdoch, Lex Luger and Sting (Sting replaced Windham – Sting was scheduled to team with Ron Garvin originally) The Fantastics, Arn and Tully, The Midnight Express, Mighty Wilbur and Jimmy Valiant, Al Perez and Larry Zbyszko, The Powers of Pain, The Road Warriors, The Sheepherders, Steve “Dr. Death” Williams and Ron Simmons and The Varsity Club (Mike Rotunda and Rick Steiner). Ultimately Sting and Luger continued to cement themselves as the next big things by winning the tournament.
Only a few weeks after the Crocket Cup show, Jim Crockett suffered the worst news of his promotional career. Crockett had become the first wrestling organization to offer actual contracts to talents for guaranteed money over a yearly basis. (Booker Dusty Rhodes was against the move as he figured the talent would lose incentive to bust their asses if the money was coming to them no matter how they performed or drew). This was in reaction to Vince’s raids on JCP talent such as the prior year when he signed Rick Rude away while Rude was one half of the NWA World tag team champions. The contractual system JCP established came back to bite him now as several top talents were due their “balloon” (lump sum) payments (some in the six figure range) and since JCP’s PPV money was much smaller than expected (thanks to the WWF’s cock blocking) Crockett simply didn’t have the funds to pay off the wrestlers. Morale was in the toilet and Crockett realized he needed to sell the business. He used an Omni show soon after to bring in prospective buyers and show them the product. Around this same time, Crockett struck a deal with the company that ran his TV shows, Turner Broadcasting, and they agreed to use their mass media power to stop Vince from blocking any more PPVs. Their efforts, along with the cable companies being upset over the sabotaging their money windfall from Wrestlemania 4, led to the end of head to head WWF vs. NWA battles by and large.
Of course Ted Turner would ultimately buy out JCP and turn it into WCW, but before that happened JCP was able to run its final PPV “The Great American Bash”. It’s interesting to note that Crockett himself hinted in a recent interview that had the PPV money for this event came in quicker (it took several months to process) then JCP may have very well continued in business. Jim’s family was against the sale, as the house show series of rematches between Lex and Flair following this event boosted the house show business and the Crockett’s felt business was finally turning around. Well enough backstory, let’s take a look at the Bash ’88!
July 9th, 1988
“The Price for Freedom” (quite the tagline, given the aforementioned backstory)
Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone host.
We open with clips of Luger being beaten by the Horsemen at Clash of the Champions 2. Dusty whupping Barry Windham during a in-ring confrontation, Jim Cornette whipping one of the Fantastics, and Kevin Sullivan kidnapping Precious. Well that got us caught up on angles nicely.
Nikita Koloff and Sting vs. Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard (World Tag Team Champions)
This is the swansong for Arn, Tully and their manager JJ Dillon as less than three months later Arn and Tully would quit due to repeated issues with Dusty’s booking as well as financial issues (IIRC they found out Dillon made as much as them – however Dillon was paid for office work as well, not just his managing). Dillon’s contract came up a few months after Arn and Tully left and with the turmoil of the company being sold and such, his contract fell between the cracks and he went to work for Vince McMahon as a key backstage and office figure. This led to an Apter magazine article the following year suggesting Dillon was rebuilding the Horsemen for a hostile WWF takeover. (Windham had signed with Vince by then as well.)
4 way brawl to start and the heels are sent to the floor. The crowd is HOT. JCP should have learned sooner that leaving their home base for big shows would cost them crowds as excited as this one. Sting leaps over the top rope on top of Arn! That was a wild move for 1988! Nikita is already slimmed way down from his roided prime and he has a full head of hair besides. Nikita and Arn work some basic stuff until Nikita hits a pair of “Russian Sickle” clotheslines and the crowd explodes again. Arn is back as the aggressor quickly considering he was just blasted by two finishers. Sting is in now and wipes out both heels. Nikita enters again to club away at Tully. Koloff works a hammerlock and I start having nightmares of he and Bobby Eaton’s snooze fest that I covered last time. Sting and Nikita take turns working arm bars on Tully. If you’re working with two limited workers like Sting and Koloff, the heels should be taking control of the match to avoid making the faces do the rest holds. Nikita and Tully flip over the top rope together. Koloff gets a suplex, but Dillon pulls him off of the cover. Koloff then chases JJ and ends up posting his own arm into the steel. Now Arn and Tully can smell blood and they work Koloff’s damaged limb. Nikita commie’s up and tries to abuse Arn but he eats a DDT for his efforts. The crowd pops for the heel’s finisher. Arn and Tully wear on him more, until Arn eats Koloff’s knees and Sting is tagged in. The heels are tossed about from pillar to post. Double noggin knocker. One minute left and Sting locks in a sleeper on Arn. Tully sneaks in but Nikita takes care of that issue. Stinger splash on Tully and Scorpion Death Lock. Time expires. A bit of a buzz kill for the fans. The faces walk off with the belts. Perfectly acceptable wrestling here.
(US Tag team champions) The Fantastics vs. The Midnight Express
The heels will be lashed with a strap if they lose the match. The Express’ theme is dubbed over. I am a sad panda. Ditto the Fantastics. Licensed music FTW. Cornette is put in a straight jacket and suspended above the ring to keep him from interfering. Jim screaming “CAN YOU BE BRIBED?!?!?!” to the ref is awesome! Eaton and Fulton start. Feeling out process until Eaton drops him with an awesome punch. Lane comes in and uses “karate” to wound Fulton. Fulton slams Lane into the ringpost and nails a sliding dropkick and that allows Tommy Rogers to be tagged in. Rogers rocks Lane with a series of dropkicks and that’s enough for Lane to tag out to Eaton. JR mentions the “Maryland State Athletic Commission” is at ringside to set up their presence for later on. The Fantastics dominate both Lane and Eaton and the Express are so out of wack that Eaton is backdropped by his own partner. The ring is cleared and The Fantastics strut. The Express regroup and start cheating to regain the advantage. Tommy Rogers is leveled with a big clothesline, karate kicks and a nasty backbreaker. Eaton with another great punch and a gut wrench suplex. Vintage heel team work as several “hot” tags are missed and blocked as the Express keep turning the torture level up on Rogers. Alabama Jam hits but Eaton hurt himself on the landing. Crowd pops for another heel finisher off that. The Express set up the “rocket launcher” but Eaton lands on Rogers’ knees and that allows Fulton to finally be tagged back in. His flurry ends quickly as Lane dumps him onto the floor. Ref is bumped. Eaton hits Fulton with a chain for the pin. Crowd explodes in celebration. Smarks in 1988?!?! JR mentions this match had a 30 minute time limit and yet the World tag title match had only a 20 minute time limit. Hats off to JJ Dillon for orchestrating a smarter contract for his men! Eaton hid the chain in Fulton’s tights and Bobby pulls it out and attacks the Express. Cornette is dragged in the ring and whipped with a belt. Fun stuff.
Cornette tries to cut a promo, but WCW was always WCW and the microphone isn’t on. I can excuse JCP when that happened with Dusty at Starrcade 83, but 4 and a half years and millions of dollars later, it’s pretty sad.
TOWER OF DOOM~! (3 cages stacked on one another) Dr. Death, Ron Garvin, Jimmy Garvin and The Road Warriors vs. Al Perez, Ivan Koloff, Mike Rotunda, Russian Assassin and Kevin Sullivan
Backstory: Precious is Jimmy Garvin’s valet and Sullivan has been tormenting her. The reason was never made clear. He called her “Patti” and hinted that they had a past and even had papers in his robe that were suppose to bother her. None of it was ever revealed so the actual angle is ambiguous. This is basically the high point of the angle and it would end unresolved in early September when Kevin Sullivan smashed a cinder block over Garvin’s knee and “broke his leg”. Garvin would leave until the next summer and come back without Precious and without any angst for Sullivan.
Backstory II: Michael Hayes was part of the UWF when JCP bought them out. He stayed around in the UWF and then JCP working in the upper card (and even a brief foray on top with the Freebirds vs. The Horsemen). Hayes ended up quiting in early 88 over how he was being used. Before he left, Hayes heard about the concept for this match and told his new boss Ken Mantel (the World Class booker) about it, so WCCW created their own 3 tier cage and they debuted it before JCP could.
The match concept sounds awesome, multi-man tag matches tend to be awesome, the storyline makes sense and the wrestlers fit the gimmick. With all that said, this match just doesn’t work well. The heel squad looks quite a bit weaker than the babyfaces as the Powers of Pain were scheduled to be on the heel squad but they quit JCP after Dusty booked them to lose a series of scaffold matches at house shows to the Road Warriors. They refused to risk that kind of injury and went off to the WWF.
WCCW’s booking of the match seemed to make more sense as they had everyone start inside and the goal was to climb to the top. This match has the men start at the top one pair at a time and fight their way down to Precious who is holding the key to escape. She’s wearing all black in a subtle tease that she may be brainwashed by Sullivan.
Ref Tommy Young has to climb the billion foot tall ladder to the top and he looks scared. The cage opening gizmo seems to be not working so we stall as a technician helps Young fix it. Ivan and Ronnie start. Not much room on top to do much but punch. The fans probably can’t see shit. Garvin bails at the 2 minute mark as Dr. Death pounds both Rotunda and Koloff. The whole damn cage shifts as they are tossed into it. I’d crap my pants. 2 minutes later Garvin makes it to the bottom and he leaves. Animal and Perez come in. Doc and Koloff go to cage two. Everybody is punching and clubbing as there just isn’t space. Animal and Perez join Ivan and Doc in tier 2. Hawk and the Russian come in. Doc uses the cage to lift himself up for stomach stomps and to leg vine Koloff’s neck. Garvin and Sullivan come in last. Animal escapes the structure, so the heels have a 5 on 3 advantage (great planning by the faces thus far). The camera misses Perez escaping just as JR is in the middle of praising the camera work. Hawk beats up the commies and escapes. The Russians follow him out. It’s down to Rotunda and Sullivan vs. Jimmy Garvin. Mike escapes. All the escaped guys brawl on the floor. Sullivan and Garvin both make it to the ring and Sullivan tries to get Precious before Garvin makes the save. Garvin hits a brainbuster and escapes to win the match. Sullivan proceeds to win the war by locking the cage from the inside and stalks Precious who is all alone. Sullivan crawls on all four after her like a creeper. Hawk and Garvin manage to climb back in. Sullivan CHOKES Precious until Hawk makes it down and hits a flying clothesline. Garvin saves his valet to a big pop. Rick Steiner comes out and that makes me wonder why he wasn’t on the heel team since he’s in the Varsity Club. God help me, but I didn’t find this to be too bad. A little tweaking and this concept could have joined “War Games” as a once a year mega match.
Dusty Rhodes vs. Barry Windham (US Champion)
Background: Dusty was friends since the 70’s with Blackjack Mulligan – Barry’s daddy. When Windham started wrestling in 1980 he and Dusty were aligned in Florida and that relationship lasted right until Windham joined Dusty’s nemesis in the Horsemen.
Dusty won the US title in November from Lex Luger at Starrcade then in spring Tully Blanchard and JJ Dillon started a physical encounter with a crippled Magnum TA. Magnum was shoved to the ground and Dusty rushed in with a baseball bat to make the save. During the run in, Dusty hit Jim Crockett and that was enough to earn Rhodes a suspension and to have the title stripped. Rhodes came back almost right away as the masked Midnight Rider. A tournament was held in May to name a new US champion and a newly turned heel Barry Windham was paired off in round 1 with the “Masked Rider”. Windham won the match and Rider was unmasked as the Italian Stallion. I’m sure the fans were thrilled by that bait and switch booking. The Rider angle bombed and soon Dusty was reinstated and this bout was signed.
Rhodes armdrags Windham right away and scares him off by teasing the big elbow. Rhodes gets a mini press slam and a DDT. JR calls Dusty old and fat in diplomatic terms. Rhodes hits a crossbody from the top rope. That gets a near fall that sends Windham on a walk to regroup. Windham pounds away but Dusty no sells that, dances around while dropping punches, then sends Windham down with a big haymaker. Dillon gets an elbow for good measure and the crowd explodes! Dusty teases Barry a bit and finally Windham has enough of being schooled and he slugs Rhodes to the floor. Windham is backdropped on the cement and rocked with a big punch. JR and Tony are both doing a great job of selling the melodrama of the friends fighting for a title, as well as destiny coming to fruition as Barry chose the path of evil knowing that Dusty would have to stand up as a man of righteousness. Windham is flipped to the cement floor via the always goofy rope yanking = a slingshot spot. Dillon distracts Rhodes and Barry attacks from behind. Dusty is locked into the iron claw. Rhodes flops his way to his feet, but then collapses under the pressure of the claw. Dusty dances his way to his feet and climbs the ropes, but again collapses to his knees. How was that not a rope break? Dusty finally escapes after a series of elbows. Rhodes tries a figure four, but the claw is locked on again. Dusty scales the ropes again and Windham is forced to let him go. Barry tries a superplex but Rhodes blocks it and Barry is knocked into the ref. Rhodes slams Windham from the top rope and drops the big elbow but no ref is there to count. The crowd seemed to get pissed about that ref bump – I think they didn’t want a BS finish(?) Ronnie Garvin comes in and cold cocks Dusty with the “Hands of Stone” punch. Windham locks on the claw and pins Dusty. Fans mildly approve. This was a fun match and the 5 minute long claw hold was text book “working” a hold and not using a “rest” hold. This went nowhere as Garvin left for the AWA of all places soon after. We see Gary Hart and JJ Dillon paying off Garvin in the back.
Lex Luger vs. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair (World’s Heavyweight Title)
Backstory: While a green horn in Florida in 1986, Lex Luger received a NWA World title match. Despite having been in the business for under a year, Luger took Flair to the absolute limit – winning a fall in a best of 3 falls match and then battling to a time limit draw in the deciding round.
Flair realized he better find a way to keep Luger from getting anymore title shots as the kid was just going to get better, so Flair and the Horsemen eventually convinced Luger to become an “associate” and once Ole Anderson was given the boot, Luger was awarded full membership status. Luger was groomed for greatness and would end up as US Champion under JJ Dillon’s watch. However in late 1987 Luger started to buck the system. Firstly at Starrcade, Luger refused to use a chair to beat Dusty Rhodes (Luger had used a chair to beat Nikita Koloff for the title) and Luger ended up losing the match and the title. Then a few weeks later, JJ Dillon and the Horsemen were the last men standing in a battle royal and Luger refused to go along with the other Horsemen and let JJ get the win. He tossed his manager and ousted himself from the Horsemen.
Flair was able to spend 6+ months avoiding this match – even paying off Luger’s friend and partner Barry Windham to turn on Luger and join the Horsemen. Now the time for running is over and it’s man on man.
Luger shoves Flair down and flexes. Press slam. Flair bails out and flops over the guardrail. Flair tries to get himself DQ’d but ref Tommy Young hides behind Luger. Lex no sells some chops and hits another press slam. Then a bear hug. Lex gets a big suplex. Flair starts to work over Lex’s ribs but Luger rebounds quickly and nails a flying tackle. Flair tries a top rope move and is slammed off. Luger misses a dropkick to give Flair control briefly until Luger blasts him with a big clothesline. Ric starts to work the leg and he locks on the figure four. Luger escapes and starts to no sell Flair’s chop’s again. A press slam hurts Lex’s own leg and then he misses a knee drop. (Idiot). Flair is caught on the top rope and slammed off again. Luger pounds Flair in the corner but Flair hits a reverse atomic drop but Luger no sells and clotheslines Flair. Flair is flung out of the ring. They totally botch a dual tumble over the top rope. They had to keep going for it though as it set up the finish. Dillon slams Lex into the ring post (and blades him because Lex didn’t want to cut himself). Lex starts to no sell again and power slams Flair and props him in the torture rack. The “Maryland State Athletic official” starts to talk to the ref. The bell sounds and the crowd is MOLTEN. “Luger!!” chants from the crowd as the babyfaces pour in to celebrate. Alas it’s announced Luger has lost due to his cut. Crowd is pissed. “Bullshit” chant. Way to kill the town Dusty.
Final thoughts: That finish was so silly, as Baltimore has seen tons of gory blade jobs over the past 20+ years of hosting wrestling. Add to that all the title matches ended with some screw job finish and you have to say that ending the show with yet another of them really leaves a bad taste in your mouth. No matter how solid the wrestling was, finding ways to have heel champions screw over all the babyfaces equals shitty booking. The main event should have been Lex’s moment to shine and to become the NWA’s dominant champ. Between rematches with Flair and matches with Barry Windham, Luger could have carried the belt til Spring. At that point bring in Ricky Steamboat and turn Luger heel. Drag that out till Halloween Havoc and you can have Flair and Sting vs Luger and Muta to set up Sting beating Lex at Starrcade ’89 and taking WCW into the 90’s.
Shit finishes aside, this is well worth the watch!