Thursday, July 7, 2022

The History of NWA/WCW Great American Bash (1988)

We've entered the PPV era of the Great American Bash.....

The Price for Freedom - Baltimore Arena - 7.10.88

Jim Crockett's NWA dove into the PPV market in late 1987 and again in January of 1988.  Both events flopped, largely due to the WWF airing shows opposite, but in July of '88 JCP finally had a chance to run a PPV unopposed.  This PPV would be a streamlined, five-match card, much as the first two Clash of the Champions specials had been.  The buyrate hinged on the popularity of new babyface Lex Luger, and his quest to dethrone former mentor Ric Flair for the NWA Title.  While the lineup was strong and most of the matches worked to some degree, the booking would be questionable at best.

The show opened with a wild, very exciting World Tag Title match, Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard vs. Sting & Nikita Koloff.  Structurally this was your typical Tully & Arn match where they get their asses kicked for the first ten minutes before using some underhanded tactic to take over on offense.  In this case it was JJ Dillon distracting Koloff and baiting him to go for the Russian Sickle on the outside.  Koloff missed the clothesline and hit the post, and the Horsemen smelled blood.  Tully and Arn worked over Koloff's arm until the hot tag spot when Sting cleaned house.  Sting nailed Tully with the corner splash and applied the Scorpion Deathlock, but time ran out before he could get a submission (Strangely this match only got a 20-minute time limit).  Aside from the formulaic structure this was a helluva fun tag match with an absolutely NUCLEAR crowd.

The biggest standout of the show was the Fantastics vs. Midnight Express US Tag Title match. Taking over where the Rock n' Roll Express left off, Tommy Rogers and Bobby Fulton gave the Midnights one of their greatest feuds, as both this and their previous match at Clash of the Champions were full of athletic, high-impact tag wrestling.  The big stipulation here was that Jim Cornette was locked above the ring in a cage, wearing a straitjacket - a hilarious visual, but it took forever to get Cornette in there due to his repeated protests.  The match finally got underway and was almost non-stop motion.  Just a super display of tag team work that didn't follow the traditional formula.  The Midnights won the US Tag belts when Bobby Eaton hit Fulton with a chain.


The gimmicky centerpiece of this PPV was the first-ever (and last-ever) Tower of Doom.  Jeezus this match was boring.  Instead of repeating the WarGames format from 1987 (which they saved for non-televised house shows on the tour; one of these is on the WarGames DVD set and is a thousand times better than the Tower of Doom), JCP decided to stack three cages on top of each other and have two teams of five - The Road Warriors, Jimmy and Ronnie Garvin, and Steve Williams vs. Kevin Sullivan, Mike Rotundo, Rick Steiner, Ivan Koloff and Al Perez - climb ladders to the top cage one by one, fight in there until someone escaped through a trap door to the second cage (while new guys entered the fray through the top at regular intervals), and then escape to the full-size bottom cage, take a key from Jimmy's wife Precious, and escape the structure.  The object was for all five of your guys to escape before the other team could.  Now, these rules are so dreadfully convoluted I'm shocked Vince Russo didn't invent them, and it's made worse by the concept of a brutal cage match variation where the object isn't to incapacitate your opponents, but to essentially run away from the fight (not to mention if three guys from your team get out before any of theirs, you've left your other two guys in a 5-on-2 situation).  Nothing about this match made any sense and it wasn't any fun to watch.  The top two cages were so restrictive the wrestlers could barely move around and the trap doors took up so much space everything had to stop when they were being opened.  The live crowd must've been simultaneously bored, confused, and sore in the neck region from having to focus their attention on action taking place forty feet above them.  After twenty-plus minutes the good guys won, but inadvertently left Precious alone in the cage with Kevin Sullivan, who was about to do something terrible to her before Jimmy broke in and rescued her.  See what I mean about the escape rules being stupid?

Looks like it'd be cool, right?  Yeah, not so much.
In the semi-main event slot we got a mentor vs. student battle, as newly crowned US Champion Barry Windham (who'd just turned heel and joined the Four Horsemen) faced former Champ Dusty Rhodes.  In terms of the story being told, this had a lot of intrigue, and the first half of the bout was pretty good, with Windham bouncing around like crazy for Dusty.  Then Windham took over on offense and quickly went for the claw....which lasted an agonizing five minutes.  I hate the claw hold.  It's unrealistic that the victim of this move wouldn't simply punch you in the stomach until you let go.  Dusty finally escaped the claw after several attempts, accidentally knocked Windham into the ref, and hit the bionic elbow (another finisher I despise) for a seemingly easy win.  Suddenly Ronnie Garvin showed up and knocked Dusty out with a punch, allowing Windham to reapply the claw for the pinfall.  This ranks high on the list of nonsensical heel turns.  If Garvin was going to sell out (It was later revealed that either JJ or Gary Hart, or both, paid him to screw Dusty over), why wouldn't he have done so during the Tower of Doom match, in which he was an active participant?  Why go through with that schmozz at all?  This match was middling, and the finish was confounding.

The main event was the long-anticipated meeting between Ric Flair and former Horseman Lex Luger.  The result was typically pretty good Flair-Luger match, but a step below their pretty excellent Starrcade '88 bout.  Flair and Tommy Young had a great moment where Flair shoved Tommy, Tommy shoved Flair and then ran to hide behind Luger.  Luger definitely relied a bit too heavily on a handful of moves (clothesline, press-slam, etc.), as he often did.  This match infamously ended by ref stoppage at the behest of the Maryland State Athletic Commission, due to Luger's bleeding from the forehead.  Luger had Flair in the Torture Rack at the time and was obviously fine to continue, but why get bogged down in logic?  The Ref Stoppage Due to Blood finish is beyond stupid, and it didn't work here.  As with the opening match, the fans thought the babyface had won the Title only to have the rug yanked out.

Lex was on FIRE

Jim Crockett Promotions was hemorraging money at this point after multiple failed PPV outings.  Some of it wasn't their fault - Vince McMahon had hobbled Starrcade '87 out of the gate - but the company did themselves no favors with the booking decisions on this show.  Of the five matches, only the Tower of Doom had a decisive finish, the show opened AND closed with a Dusty Finish, and the heels all retained their Titles (To be fair it was the 1988 Four Horsemen, but still).  I can't imagine many fans went home terribly happy.  Still some of the matches - the two tag bouts in particular - were quite strong, so overall the show is worth a watch.  But JCP really needed to learn the art of giving the people what they wanted on these big PPVs.  I get that the money is in the chase, but eventually you have to give reward your audience with a big payoff.

Best Match: The Fantastics vs. The Midnight Express
Worst Match: Tower of Doom
What I'd Change: The booking. So convoluted and infuriating. Also the Tower of Doom should've just been a WarGames match.  I'd probably have given Luger a six-month run with the belt and had him lose it back to Flair at Starrcade.
Most Disappointing Match: Tower of Doom
Most Pleasant Surprise: The opener, given that Sting & Nikita were clearly not winning the straps
Overall Rating: 6.5/10


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