Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The History of NWA/WCW Great American Bash (1985-1987)

What's up everybody?  It's July, and that means it's time for yet another stroll down Wrestling History Boulevard, with's PPV History series!

Since July was the month of the NWA's Great American Bash, (which became a month-long tour before morphing into a standalone PPV and later WWE/NXT event), let's take a look back at this glorious summer tradition.  For the purposes of this piece I'm only including the original NWA/WCW lineage, not the ill-advised WWE retread from 2004-2009 or the newfangled NXT versions.  Before I get to the actual PPV history though I'd like to talk a little about the '85 show and the '86-87 tour highlight tapes.

GAB '85 - American Legion Memorial Stadium - 7.6.85

The Great American Bash was originally a one-night supercard held on July 6th, 1985 and co-headlined by a Ric Flair-Nikita Koloff World Title match and a Dusty Rhodes-Tully Blanchard cage match for the TV Title.  No uncut copies are available to my knowledge (Come on WWE, throw that shit up on Peacock!), but in the 80s Pro Wrestling Illustrated released a severely hacked-up VHS tape where they boiled the entire show down to one hour.

Not sure who the babyface is here, but ok.

Sadly it wasn't much of a watch since nothing got adequate time.  And looking at the undercard lineup we probably didn't miss a whole lot.  The Road Warriors faced Ivan Koloff & Krusher Kruschev (later known as Smash from Demolition), and Magnum TA fought Kamala.  Moving on...

GAB '86 - Numerous Venues - 7.1.86-8.2.86

The first full Bash tour took place in 1986 and was notable for Ric Flair defending the NWA Title on literally every show.  Guy worked like a horse!  His challengers were as follows:  Ricky Morton, Hawk, Ron Garvin, Nikita Koloff, Robert Gibson, Animal, Magnum T.A., Wahoo McDaniel and Dusty Rhodes.  What I wouldn't give to see a full DVD set of just those Title defenses.  Anyway, Turner Home Entertainment would release a highlight VHS tape consisting of 9 matches.  Top bouts from that cassette included Flair vs. Hawk, Ronnie Garvin vs. Tully Blanchard in a Taped Fist match, The Road Warriors vs. Ivan & Nikita in a chain match, The Rock n' Roll Express vs. Ole & Arn Anderson, Nikita Koloff vs. Magnum TA in Match 4 of their Best of 7 series, and of course Flair vs. Dusty in a cage, which culminated in Dusty capturing the NWA Title (He'd lose it back three weeks later but this was a huge moment at the time).  As I recall this was a solid two-hour collection of matches.  The Flair vs. Dusty match was included on one of WWE's DVD collections (Greatest Stars of the 80s I believe), and is probably the best Flair vs. Dusty match I've seen.  It's tough to give this tape a full grade based on two-decade-old memories, but roughly:

This match wasn't too shabby

Best Match: Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes
Worst Match: Jimmy Valiant vs. Shaska Watley
Overall Rating: 7/10

Okay, now for the first real recap.

WarGames - Numerous venues - 7.2.87-7.31.87

The Bash tour resumed in 1987 and the company (specifically Dusty) introduced the wrestling world to one of the most brutal match types of all time: WarGames.  Two teams of five would battle in a double ring with a steel cage wrapped around it.  Two men would begin the match and at set intervals an additional wrestler would enter.  Once all ten men were inside the structure it was time for "The Match Beyond," which could only end via submission.  The '87 tour featured two of these bouts and they bookended the VHS highlights tape, which I bought in 1989 and watched literally dozens of times.  The WarGames concept blew me away at the time and was easily worth the price of the cassette.  And that's a good thing because aside from those two matches the tape was pretty uneven.

So much awesome in one match....

The first WarGames kicked off the tape and pitted Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, The Road Warriors and Paul Ellering against The Four Horsemen and JJ Dillon.  Dusty and Arn started things off and within minutes there was blood spilled (Nearly every participant bladed by the end).  The Horsemen won the coin toss to determine which team would get the one-man advantage (as they did in basically every WarGames match - some luck, huh?), and after 20 or so minutes of increasingly chaotic brawling, Hawk and Animal isolated JJ with double team moves (one of which resulted in a legit dislocated shoulder) to get the submission victory.  Watching it now, this match is messy and a little illogical, but I don't care, it's still loads of fun.

The tape included three throwaway matches, none of which went more than four minutes (at least after the edits): Barry Windham vs. Rick Steiner, Dick Murdoch vs. Steve Williams, and The Freebirds vs. Ivan Koloff, Manny Fernandez & Paul Jones.  All three were pretty pointless inclusions except as a way to get more names on the tape.

The rest of the non-WarGames matches had a purpose, even if none of them exceeded *** or so.

Nikita Koloff faced Lex Luger in a cage for the US Title, and in the 13 minutes shown Luger showed a massive over-reliance on rear chinlocks.  But Nikita fought back gallantly, leveling Luger with the Russian Sickle but accidentally nailing the referee as well.  JJ Dillon then tossed Luger a chair, with which Luger blasted Nikita into next Thursday before applying the Human Torture Rack.  Referee Earl Hebner woke up and declared Luger the winner over the unconscious Koloff.  Nothing great here but it was an historic start to Luger's NWA run.

Easily the worst real match on this tape was Dusty vs. Tully in a Ladder Match with barbed wire wrapped around the ropes.  What a convoluted gimmick match.  Turner Home Entertainment only showed about seven minutes of this, and it was awkward and sloppy.  Dusty eventually won the match and the $100,000 suspended above the ring.  It should be noted that this was the first Ladder Match I ever saw.  I was less than impressed.

The best non-WarGames match pitted Ric Flair vs. Jimmy Garvin for the NWA Title, and if Flair won he got Garvin's wife Precious for one night.  This was another cage match but had much more energy than the Luger-Koloff bout.  Flair would've been hard-pressed to have a bad match in 1987, and while this isn't among his classics, it was still a fine contest.  Most noteworthy about this was the fact that Flair actually won the match with a Figure Four, albeit because he was holding the top rope and Garvin's shoulders were down for three.  Solid story work by both guys.

This tape also featured a Rock n' Roll Express vs. Midnight Express match, which wasn't exactly one of their best showings, but wasn't bad either.  This felt sort of abbreviated (probably due in part to THE's editing), and rushed to the finish where the RnRs hit their double dropkick on Stan Lane but Big Bubba Rogers ran in and hit the side slam while the ref's back was turned.  Tommy Young noticed Rogers' hat and sunglasses in the ring and called for the disqualification.  There have been far better RnR-Midnights matches.

For some reason Dusty and Arn were always the starters for their teams

The tape closed with the WarGames rematch which took place on the final date of the tour.  The participants would all be the same as in the original except for a masked Bubba Rogers (dubbed War Machine) subbing for an injured JJ Dillon.  It certainly helped having an actual wrestler in place of a manager, and the action here was just as furious as in the first WarGames.  The Road Warriors once again won the battle for their team, this time by gouging one of War Machine's eyes with a spiked wrist gauntlet.  It's hard to pick a preference between the two WarGames bouts - the first obviously had novelty being the original, but the action in the second was slightly stronger.  I'll give WarGames II the nod by a hair.

Overall the Bash '87 tape was a very entertaining two hours with a good variety of matches.  I could've done without the three filler matches and would've preferred a more complete presentation of the Luger-Koloff and Midnights-RnR bouts.  But the two WarGames made it worth every penny I spent on it all those years ago.

Best Match: WarGames II
Worst Match: Dusty Rhodes vs. Tully Blanchard
What I'd Change: In terms of the tape, cut the filler.  In terms of the actual tour, I'd probably make the WarGames matches four-on-four and leave the managers out of it.  Why would The Horsemen for example want a vulnerable non-wrestler on their team in a "submission or surrender" environment?
Most Disappointing Match: Barry Windham vs. Rick Steiner
Most Pleasant Surprise: Not much in this category
Overall Rating: 8/10 - Two tremendous WarGames matches and a few other decent bouts.  Hard to complain about that.


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