Six of the Best – NWA/WCW Great American Bash

Hello You!

Back again with another list, this time for The Great American Bash. Just to quickly explain, I’m only covering full Pay-Per-View events that happened under the NWA or WCW umbrella, so basically the previous Bash tours prior to 1988 aren’t included, which means the great War Games matches don’t make the list. Rest assured that I like them a lot however.

Also I’m ignoring the WWE Great American Bash shows for this list and decided just to focus on the NWA/WCW ones. Apologies if you’re a big fan of JBL winning the WWE Title or Muhammad Hassan getting killed off with a powerbomb, but those events aren’t going to be considered for this list because I wanted to give WCW it’s time in the sun. Maybe I can do the WWE ones on their own one day, but to be honest outside of Umaga Vs Jeff Hardy, John Cena Vs Bobby Lashley and Chris Jericho Vs Shawn Michaels I’d be drawing a blank over what matches would actually qualify to make the cut. It certainly wouldn’t be Undertaker and Big Show in a Panjabi Prison that’s for sure. Maybe I could do Six of the Worst for the WWE Bash events? Something to ponder…

This was actually quite difficult to get this down to six matches as I whittled it down to eight and then had to make some tough choices. If you look at the matches in bold in the honourable mentions, they were the two matches that only just missed out. All eight were perfectly valid choices in my mind, so I just went with the six I personally enjoyed the most. The exclusion of the two matches that didn’t make it is no comment on their quality, but I had to have six so I cut them.

As always, these are just my own personal picks. This isn’t supposed to be some sort of objective list or anything. If I leave out a match that you think warrants inclusion, then please feel free to put it down in the comments section below. As with previous lists, I’ll be listing the matches in chronological order.

So without further to do, let’s take a look at Six of the Best for The Great American Bash!

Great American Bash 1989
Lex Luger Vs Ricky Steamboat

Lex Luger is never someone I have ever actively disliked or anything like that, but I’ve never been an especially big fan of his either, owing mostly to the fact that I’ve always kind of considered him to be a dull muscle man. However, I think part of that may be down to the fact my first real exposure to him came during the late 90’s, where it always seemed to me like he’d pretty much mentally checked out and just was turning up to get paid after about 1998.

However, when Luger was in to a feud or storyline he was very capable of pulling out a great match, and this bout is a good example of that. It helps that he’s in there with possibly the greatest babyface wrestler ever in the form of Ricky Steamboat, but Luger’s general wrestling and heel antics in this match are absolutely spot on. The whole premise of the match is that Steamboat wants the match to be No DQ so he can get revenge for a previous vicious Luger attack, but Luger outright refuses to wrestle in that style of match and Steamboat is eventually forced to accept the removal of the stipulation in order for the match to go ahead.

Considering that story point, the ending of the match is never really in doubt, but the journey to get to it is literally oodles of fun. Luger revels in being the biggest jerk he can be, whilst Steamboat is his usual heroic self, continuously fighting against the odds and even swinging at thin air at one stage whilst totally punch-drunk to show that he just won’t give up. It’s the perfect mesh of two wrestling characters, Luger the arrogant super athlete with his Herculean physique against Steamboat the ultimate babyface and his never say die attitude.

Steamboat also sports his super cool green tights as well, which is pretty much the go-to look I think about when Steamboat comes into my mind. This match is a lot of fun and it’s just a shame that Steamboat left the NWA before it could be paid off, because this match suggests that further collisions between the two would have had a great chance of being awesome!

Great American Bash 1989
Ric Flair Vs Terry Funk

I love practically everything about this match. I love the Steamboat Vs Flair match at Wrestle War 89 that set it up, I love the post-match assault from Funk on Flair following that match and I especially love the pre-match promo Flair cuts before going out to face Funk here. Rather than being his usual extroverted self, Flair is instead quite low-key for the interview and it really helps get across the gravity of the situation. Gordon Solie is superb in the segment by asking sensible and logical questions, such as why Flair didn’t want a match on TV to shake off the ring rust ahead of the match with Funk, and Flair likewise gives sensible answers; he wanted his first match back to be on this show so he could prove he hadn’t missed a step. It could possibly be my favourite wrestling interview ever and I still get chills when Solie says “Good luck to you my friend” and Flair calmly and sincerely thanks him.

And after all the great pre-match build up we actually get the bout itself, and it’s everything you’d want after all the story that has come before it. Flair and Funk unload on each other with stiff chops and punches as hate fills the air. I know Flair is on record saying he thinks he’s a better heel than babyface and didn’t like working face as a result, but he’s a superb babyface in this match. The fans are with him every step of the way as he unloads months of anguish onto his hated rival, whilst Funk is at his most villainous and insane in his quest to put Flair out for good.

What’s so great about the match is that there are points where Funk could probably pin Flair and have a good chance of winning, but he instead demands that Flair verbally submit, to his own manager Gary Hart’s chagrin at times. This match is one of the more violent performances from Flair in his career, as he throws caution to the wind and goes into full on revenge mode throughout. If you’ve never seen this side of Flair then this is the best way to introduce it to you, and there’s a good chance you’ll be surprised with just how good Flair was at being a bad ass babyface.

This one is definitely worth a watch, as is their brilliant “I Quit” match from later in the same year.

Great American Bash 1990
The Midnight Express Vs The Southern Boys

The Midnight Express was a team I didn’t really get into until discovering the internet wrestling community. As someone who never watched the NWA or WCW at the time of the height of their powers, I had never seen any of their stuff and knew Bobby Eaton more for his appearances as enhancement talent on WCW television and the brief stint he had in ECW. However, I kept reading about this team called The Midnight Express and how great they were and it really piqued my interest. The first match I ever saw them in was against Brian Pillman and Tom Zenk from Capital Combat 1990 and I thought they were fantastic, so when I heard there was an even better match from them that year at the Great American Bash I just had to see it.

And it didn’t disappoint!

This match is like the prototypical example of a “hot tag match”, with a big prolonged shine for the Southern Boys that sees them bump both Eaton and Lane around like pinballs whilst the crowd goes nuts, followed by a cut off and decent length heat segment and then a finish that comes almost out of nothing. This match is like a manual for how you work this style of match and it’s enjoyable from start to finish.

Tag Team wrestling is hardly emphasised that much in WWE today outside of NXT, and even companies like New Japan have more of a focus on the singles Titles, with tag matches more being used to further issues between singles competitors rather than actual teams, but matches like this show that not only can tag wrestling be incredibly entertaining but it can also be something that brings a lot to the show. Good tag wrestling, and indeed good managing as Jim Cornette shows here, are both valuable things that can really enrich a show and a wrestling product overall.

Everything about this match is as close to perfect as it could be and it is definitely a must-see bout if you want to know why so many fans make such a fuss about The Midnight Express. They really were one of the best tag teams ever, and possibly even the best.

Great American Bash 1992
Big Van Vader Vs Sting

This match is the picture perfect example of how to make a monster heel. Sting and Vaders chemistry together as opponents is well known, but what often tends to get overlooked is that Vader had actually been in WCW for a couple of years before he finally got fully over as a main event calibre heel, and it was Sting selflessly putting him over here that finally got him to that level. Vader’s biggest match in WCW prior to this match had been a fun, if unsatisfying, brawl with Stan Hansen WCW Wrestle War 91, but by the end of this match he was either the top heel in the company or at least an extremely close second to Rick Rude.

Sting is just superb in this match, as he sells all of Vader’s offence wonderfully and makes it clear that he’s far more than just a “monster of the month” type guy. Sting does get to suplex Vader at one point to show that there is a chance he could beat Vader down the line with a better game plan, but the majority of the match is Vader just picking the Stinger apart with almost ease. To see a top babyface work this style of match and then look at the lights clean as a sheet is pretty crazy, but it was what was needed to truly get Vader to that next level and Sting was the ultimate company man.

I wouldn’t say this was the best Sting Vs Vader match, but it was the first big one that meant anything and it laid the groundwork for many more bruising bouts between the two. Had WCW had a better option that Ron Simmons to dethrone Vader following this then Sting’s sacrifice would have counted for more. This match is paced and booked so well that Sting gets absolutely battered and pinned clean but gets just enough offence and showed just enough fighting spirit that it didn’t really hurt his own standing whilst also elevating Vader considerably.

I think you’d have to call this match an unmitigated success!

Great American Bash 1996
Dean Malenko Vs Rey Mysterio Jr

This was Rey’s WCW Pay-Per-View debut and it essentially got him over in one night. I remember in the pre- WWE Network days whem almost all wrestling wasn’t right at your fingertips that I’d savour WWE DVD releases that would actually have some good classic matches on them. The Rey Mysterio “619” DVD has a pretty rubbish documentary (Mostly all done in kayfabe) and was released prior to WWE confirming the purchase of the ECW library, so it doesn’t contain any of Rey’s ECW work but it does have quite a bit of his early WCW matches, which gave me a chance to watch this one for the first time.

What’s so enjoyable about this match is that they tease the fans early on with some of the stuff Rey is capable of, but then they immediately have Malenko ground Rey and start breaking him down with his clinical “Ice Man” styled offence. This is all done to make Rey’s eventual high flying at the end all the better as it gets built to and happens once the crowd have already established an emotional connection to Rey. Rey gets to sell for a bit and get the crowd on board with him whilst Malenko gets to be mean and cruel, meaning that when Rey finally starts unloading on Malenko the crowd are ready for it and enjoy it all the more.

Seeing as I didn’t really watch WCW until it started getting shown in Channel 5 in the UK in 1999, I’d essentially missed all of Rey’s early WCW stuff, so this match was kind of a revelation for me and I watched that “619” DVD quite a lot back in the day, with the WCW matches being the main matches I kept coming back to. This match is not only a great introduction for Rey to the WCW audience but it’s also a consummate performance from Malenko and it led to many more great matches between the two as well. I think the story goes that some of the people in WCW were actively laughing at Rey before he went out for this match but they weren’t laughing any more when they saw what he was capable of here.

This is as close to as perfect a WCW PPV debut that Rey could have here and it helped establish him as a star almost right out of the gate.

Great American Bash 1998
Best of 7 Series Finale
Booker T Vs Chris Benoit

This is another match that I’ve seen a lot, owing to WWE including it on the 2004 Chris Benoit DVD and the fact it showed up on quite a lot of comp tapes over the years as well. This match is a testament to how WCW squandered the upcoming wrestlers on their roster during their hottest period, as this match is not only well worked but the crowd are going nuts in the closing stages. It’s funny to think that this whole feud was over getting a TV Title shot, a belt that WCW didn’t often treat with much respect and was always distant third to the World and US Titles.

However, both Benoit and Booker did such a great job with the series that the fans were really invested by the time this decider took place. There actually ended up being eight matches in the series when all was said and done, due to the seventh match essentially getting annulled by the mutual consent of both men owing to interference from Bret Hart. What I love so much about this match is not only is it worked like a contest and both men look good in it, but also because the commentators actually do a great job of getting both the story of the match and the wrestlers themselves over.

The match builds gradually, with both men working holds in the early stages before going for big moves down the finishing stretch, and it really works great as a match structure. The fans are totally into it and seem to support Benoit more than Booker, but that doesn’t stop Booker getting a sizeable cheer when he picks up the win. This match and storyline elevated not only both men but the TV Title itself. Unfortunately the good work ended up counting for nothing as Booker’s hard fought series win would lead to him beating Fit Finlay for the Title, only to have him then sign the belt over to Stevie Ray a month or so later.

However, for a brief while both the belt and these two men really benefitted from this program and it was a tantalising look into what WCW could have been if they’d actually elevated both men when they had the chance, instead of waiting for Benoit to leave and waiting till 2000 to seriously push Booker, way past the point when it could have done any good for the company itself. At least Booker eventually got a run in the WWE and is essentially set for life these days, as once he went back to the mid card treadmill, despite getting so over, it looked like he was never going to get off it.

Honourable Mentions

Ric Flair Vs Lex Luger (Great American Bash 1988), Sting Vs The Great Muta (Great American Bash 1989), The Midnight Express, Steve Williams and The Road Warriors Vs The Fabulous Freebirds and The Samoan SWAT Team (Great American Bash 1989), Lex Luger Vs Mark Callous (Great American Bash 1990), Doom Vs The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express (Great American Bash 1990), Sting Vs Ric Flair (Great American Bash 1990), Dustin Rhodes and Barry Windham Vs Rick Rude and Steve Austin (Great American Bash 1992), Alex Wright Vs Brian Pillman (Great American Bash 1995), Sting Vs Meng (Great American Bash 1995), Ric Flair Vs Randy Savage (Great American Bash 1995), Chris Benoit Vs Kevin Sullivan (Great American Bash 1996), Sting Vs Lord Steven Regal (Great American Bash 1996), Ric Flair and Arn Anderson Vs Mongo McMichael and Kevin Greene (Great American Bash 1996), Ultimo Dragon Vs Psychosis (Great American Bash 1997), Randy Savage Vs Diamond Dallas Page (Great American Bash 1997), Chris Jericho Vs Dean Malenko (Great American Bash 1998), Chavo Guerrero Jr Vs Eddie Guerrero (Great American Bash 1998), Buff Bagwell Vs Disco Inferno (Great American Bash 1999), Diamond Dallas Page and Chris Kanyon Vs Chris Benoit and Perry Saturn (Great American Bash 1999), Ric Flair Vs David Flair (Great American Bash 2000)