Tuesday, July 12, 2022

The History of NWA/WCW Great American Bash (1989)

This one's generally considered the best of the bunch....

Glory Days - Baltimore Arena - 7.23.89

1989 was in my opinion the best year in NWA history.  The company had undergone major management and booking changes with the sale to Ted Turner, but the emphasis was still on simple storylines and athletic wrestling.  It's no surprise that the 1989 Great American Bash was and is considered a classic PPV, with loads of star power and several standout matches.  It's also a source of a bit of frustration for me, because with a bit of retooling this show could've been basically perfect.  It was the first hour that got in the way.

The show opened with a two-ring Battle Royal showcasing several midcard stars and some of the company's newest talent.  The 14-man bout included Eddie Gilbert, Terry Gordy, Steve Williams, Scott Hall, Bill Irwin, Brian Pillman, Ranger Ross, Mike Rotunda, Ron Simmons, Rick & Scott Steiner, Kevin Sullivan, and the Skyscrapers, who won the whole thing and split the winnings.  While the two-ring format set this apart from traditional Battle Royals (and made for a nice unusual visual the whole night) this was pretty nondescript stuff, really only notable for monster heels Sid Vicious and Dan Spivey getting a big win.

I thought the Skyscrapers were pretty boss at the time

What didn't make sense were the next two bouts that followed.  First Brian Pillman faced Bill Irwin in a ten-minute squash that clearly didn't belong on a PPV, then The Skyscrapers showed up again to annihilate The Dynamic Dudes, in another glorified showcase match.  These two matches took up nearly 20 minutes that should've gone to some of the later bouts.

Another pointless match was next as Jim Cornette faced Paul E. Dangerously in a Tuxedo Match.  I'm generally against manager vs. manager bouts full-stop, but especially when both of them are involved in one of the headlining matches designed to help settle their issue.

The show really got going in match 5, as the Steiner brothers faced Mike Rotundo and Kevin Sullivan in a wild Texas Tornado match.  This was about as good as could be expected, with all four guys doing a lot with what little time they were alotted.  Imagine how much better this could've been with five more minutes.

The really stacked portion of the show kicked off with Sting vs. Great Muta for the TV Title, a blazing match that's about as good as any 8.5-minute match you'll ever see.  Sting began the bout by diving from one ring to the other on top of Muta.  They crammed everything they could into this, with lots of wild top-rope spots and over-the-rope dives which were unheard of in 1989.  It's too bad they weren't given fifteen minutes to really steal the show.  After Muta accidentally spit mist into Nick Patrick's eyes, the finish was the old back suplex into double-pin spot, where it wasn't clear whose shoulders were down.  Sting was declared the winner but the belt was later held up and Muta won the rematch.  This was a damn fine little match but should've been a MOTY contender.


Another excellent short match followed as Lex Luger defended the US Title against Ricky Steamboat.  Originally this was to be a no disqualification match but Luger refused to defend the belt under such rules.  Steamboat agreed to a traditional rules match, and this was a high-energy, back-and-forth affair.  Luger played the cowardly bully to perfection, while Steamboat was the smaller veteran in peril.  After ten fantastic minutes the action spilled to the second ring, where Luger attempted to use a chair and draw the DQ.  Steamboat slingshotted Luger into the turnbuckle while Luger held the chair, and his head bounced off.  Steamboat then grabbed the chair and proceeded to bludgeon Luger with it, getting himself disqualified - a pretty weak ending to a helluva good match.  I always hate it when a wrestler, especially a babyface, gets himself DQd in a title match.  Surely a veteran like Steamboat should be smarter than this.  I get that they wanted to have the rule change figure into the finish, but maybe have Luger use the chair when the ref isn't looking and get the cheap win instead?  Steamboat left the company right after this, so we never got a rematch unfortunately.

This match should've happened again

Next up was the annual WarGames match, as The Road Warriors teamed with The Midnight Express and Steve Williams against the Freebirds and the Samoan Swat Team.  It was your usual 10-man WarGames brawl with chaos all over the two rings.  The Road Warriors and Steve Williams got in the most memorable spots, with Hawk and Animal each diving from one ring to the other to hit a flying tackle, Hawk hitting multiple top-rope clotheslines, and Dr. Death repeatedly military-pressing Terry Gordy into the roof.  The Midnight Express seemed perhaps a bit out of place in this type of match, but at the time I loved that they and the Road Warriors were working together.  The match eventually boiled down to Hawk beating the crap out of Jimmy Garvin and submitting him with a hangman's neckbreaker.  Not the best WarGames ever (and for some reason this was devoid of blood), but still a fun match.

Jeezus, Steve was a strong dude

The main event was two months in the making, as Terry Funk had attacked Ric Flair at WrestleWar, piledriving him onto a table.  Flair sold the neck injury, taking two months off to build to this huge showdown.  And what a violent match it was!  These two had flawless chemistry together and pushed the boundaries of what could be done in a traditional wrestling match (Seven years later Shawn Michaels and Mankind would have an insane match similar in style to this one, and I wonder if this was their template).  The fight frequently spilled out to the floor and by the end both guys were bleeding after Funk's branding iron came into play.  Both men utilized the piledriver, which had been built up as a debilitating move during the WrestleWar angle.  Flair would win this match by reversing a small package, but the fight continued as Muta and Sting both got involved.  This was unquestionably the match of the night and also managed to out-crazy its undercard; no small feat on a show like this.  It also had a surprise finish to signal that this feud was far from over.  Flair had followed up his athletically-based rivalry with Steamboat with a completely different but equally compelling feud with Funk, making 1989 easily the best year of his storied career.

One of Flair's best rivalries

The Great American Bash '89 is deserving of most of the praise it gets, but as I said, three of the good bouts got shortchanged just so they could include three non-PPV-worthy matches in the first hour.  I don't know if the NWA was trying to adapt a PPV format closer to the WWF's, but for me it kept this show from being a perfect 10.  Still it was arguably the best PPV of 1989 and the best Great American Bash, and the last four matches are what the show's remembered for.

Best Match: Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk
Worst Match: Skyscrapers vs. Dynamic Dudes
What I'd Change: Lose the two glorified squashes, as all six participants had already appeared in the Battle Royal.  Lose the tuxedo match, as Cornette and Dangerously's feud was represented in the WarGames match.  Give some extra time to the Steiners match, the Sting-Muta match and the Luger-Steamboat match.  This would've been a perfect six-bout card.
Most Disappointing Match: Probably the Battle Royal
Most Pleasant Surprise: The Steiners match
Overall Rating: 9/10


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