The SmarK Rant for WWE Network Hidden Gems – NWA Great American Bash 1988 (Greensboro 07.16.88)
This is yet another show where the WarGames main event was thought to be lost back in the day, and then they released a WarGames DVD set and suddenly found it. And now they’ve found the entire damn show and put in on the Network. I’ve been meaning to get to this one since it came out last week, but there’s so much great wrestling to watch right now! It’s becoming a real problem for me.
Taped from Greensboro, NC
Bugsy McGraw & Tim Horner v. Rip Morgan & Larry Zbyszko
Quite the barnburning opening match we’ve got here. So Rip does a New Zealandish war dance to set the mood, although his stalling game is of course hella weak next to his tag team partner’s. Larry comes out of the blocks with a slam on Bugsy, who gives him a slam right back. Bugsy works a headlock and it’s over to WHITE LIGHTNING, who gets a shoulder tackle for two. This is enough for Larry and it’s over to Rip Morgan, who doesn’t have any better luck. Larry pounds on Bugsy to take over and gets a slam for two, and Rip adds a clothesline for two. Rip stomps away on the neck, but Bugsy comes back on Larry and then misses an elbow to keep the heels in control. I like how Bugsy keeps clapping while he’s selling, thus keeping the crowd engaged in the match. Larry misses a dropkick and it’s hot tag Horner, and perhaps the house was struck by WHITE LIGHTNING because it’s ON FIRE! And Tim finishes Rip with a bodypress at 8:10 out of nowhere and that’s that. This was an OK opener and Bugsy is always fun. **1/4
Ron Garvin v. The Italian Stallion
So we are a week removed from Garvin’s betrayal of Dusty Rhodes at the Bash 88 PPV, and thus he’s got Gary Hart managing him and now demands to be announced as “Former World heavyweight champion”. He’s also facing the only man to ever best Dusty at a spaghetti-eating contest, so obviously he’s working his way towards the Dream. Heel Garvin actually could have had a lot of juice but he left pretty soon afterwards, sadly. Garvin won’t even throw his towel into the crowd now, teasing it and then just handing it to Gary instead. He immediately does a leapfrog and then fakes a crippling ankle injury, begging for mercy from the Stallion while clutching his ankle, and then KABOOM, pops up and knocks him the fuck out at 1:11. The fact that everyone in the crowd saw it coming a mile away only made it more awesome. Yeah, they had something here, this was GREAT for what it was and had the crowd screaming murder at him.
Dick Murdoch v. Gary Royal
Was Murdoch still doing the Mirror Universe Superpowers team with Ivan at this point? I forget. Royal grabs a headlock and hangs on through a Murdoch slam attempt, but Murdoch rolls him over with the tights and Teddy Long calls him on it. “I didn’t touch his tights! I don’t need to use the tights!” He makes a convincing argument, but Long still forces a break, which is funny because Royal was the one doing the headlock! So Murdoch grabs his own headlock and hits Royal with an elbow in the corner. I really love these shows without commentary because you can hear all the banter between the refs and the guys (“Shut up! You’re supposed to be in Atlanta!” “No I’m not, come on, quit breaking the rules!”). Royal comes back with dropkicks and Murdoch bails to think it over and then hits Royal with a pretty blatant ballshot. “That’s for you, Tony Schiavone!” he declares. Aw, that’s sweet of him. He runs Royal into the scaffold outside (oh yeah, there’s a scaffold match tonight) and beats on him on the floor and pounds him with elbows on the apron. Back in with a slam, but Royal reverses to a cradle for two, and Murdoch is like FUCK OFF and just beats him down in retaliation and then finishes with the brainbuster at 6:55 after holding him up for a while and making him think about it. Royal was a solid hand and this was a good squash. **
Jimmy Garvin v. Rick Steiner
Rick was still carrying the Florida title around but this is non-title. Steiner immediately plows him with a clothesline and beats him down, but misses a charge and Jimmy makes the comeback. At this point, Kevin Sullivan comes out and tries to kidnap Precious, so Garvin chases him away and Steiner clobbers him from behind. Back in, Garvin gets a quick small package and gets the pin at 1:25. Well I was certainly expecting more from this one.
The Sheepherders v. The Rock N Roll Express
Oooooo! This is rather historic because Crockett basically brought the RNR back after a snit about doing jobs and pay, and then they did this quickie feud with the Sheepherders and Robert Gibson was fired by the end of the month over money again. And that was the end of their relevance as one of the top teams in the business because they were never on that same level again. It’s funny how fickle wrestling can be, as literally one day you’re a top guy, and then the next it’s like…
…and you’re just done and that’s it. Even just 2 years later when they were brought back for Bash 90 to put over Doom, it was like the business had passed them by and they were these anachronistic old farts. And of course now they’ve gone all the way around again to beloved nostalgia act. The Sheepherders stall and insult the crowd for a bit, but the RNR clear the ring for the good ol’ USA and the Herders bump for them for a few minutes before Ricky misses a charge and the Kiwis take over. Ricky slams both Herders and runs their heads together to clear the ring again, but Robert gets double-teamed and tape has a spasm before clearing up with him on the floor and getting hit by the New Zealand flag. Back in, Robert takes a beating and Luke hits the chinlock, and then Rip Morgan takes the ref to allow some more double-teaming. Butch gets two off that, but Robert valiantly fights back with a kneelift, but he’s just too exhausted to reach his corner and Luke cuts him off with another chinlock. Or maybe his good eye couldn’t focus, I dunno. Robert fights out of that, but Ricky gets involved and the Herders double-team again, and this time Robert fights them off with a bodypress and it’s HOT TAG Ricky Morton. Luke collides with Morgan and Ricky rolls him up for two, but Butch tosses him out of the ring to cut that off. Robert meanwhile slugs away on Luke in the corner, but Ricky gets sent into the post and the Sheepherders double-team Robert again. Double gutbuster and things look bleak, but Ricky flies in from the other corner with a bodypress for the pin at 14:08 to save the day. I am of course a sucker for all of this. ***1/2
Al Perez v. Brad Armstrong
Oh my god, the two blandest supposed “heartthrobs” of the 80s together in one match. They’re basically the same person with different hair colors! They fight over a lockup to start and Brad grabs a wristlock and hangs on tenaciously while Al bumps all over trying to escape, but Brad’s just workin’ that arm. He stops to go after Gary Hart outside, but Gary wisely hides behind the scaffold rigging and that allows Perez to attack him from behind. Back in, Perez gives him the dreaded HELICOPTER SLAM and drops a knee for two. This is funny because you hear Brad going “NO! I HATE THIS MOVE!” while Perez does it. We hit the chinlock and Brad fights out of that, but Perez goes right back to it and then starts working the back. I SWEAR TO GOD if they’re doing a 20:00 draw here I will be unhappy. Brad fights back and slugs away in the corner, but misses a blind charge and Perez stomps him down again. Armstrong with a backslide for two and a small package for two, but Perez tosses him and Tommy Young is very offended by this. Brad comes back with a slam on the concrete, but tries a suplex and wouldn’t you know, Gary Hart hooks the leg and Perez gets the pin at 11:14. This was a perfectly competent wrestling match and that’s about it. **1/2
Bunkhouse Match: The Midnight Express & Jim Cornette v. The Fantastics
So I guess this is a handicap match. They couldn’t even find Jimmy Valiant or Baby Doll for a partner? That’s kind of sad. Cornette drawing heel heat with his loving hugs of his men is always amazing. The Fantastics demand that Cornette start the match, but Jim demands that Eaton neither tag nor touch him from here on because he’s not getting in there. Fulton starts with Eaton and they exchange punches in the corner in a funny sequence where Eaton gets his usual great right and then goes to high-five his partners triumphantly before turning around and getting jacked by Fulton. Fulton gets a backdrop and the faces pinball Eaton in the corner, and then haul Stan into the ring and punch him in the nuts for fun. Cornette brandishes a chair and then Tommy just casually stares him down and grabs it away in a great moment, and Cornette is freaking out. The Express regroups outside and has a “break on three” session to get pumped up again. Back in, Eaton slugs Fulton down and grabs Tony’s chair, but Fulton gives him an atomic drop onto it and then smashes him with it to chase them out of the ring. So that didn’t work out well for the Express. Rogers beats on Eaton on the floor and Fulton chases Lane around with a chair, and might I just say that god bless Stan Lane for basically wearing workout spandex pants and wrestling gear to a street fight because that’s 100% in character for him. So the Fantastics beat on the Express with chairs but still can’t get to Cornette, and we reset and try it again.
Rogers hits Lane with dropkicks and he accidentally retreats to the corner and tries to tag Cornette in his confused state, and THAT’S not happening. Rogers accuses Jim of being a feathered creature of some indeterminate nature, but that doesn’t sway him either. So Rogers beats on Lane with more dropkicks and Stan goes for the tag again, and Cornette runs away AGAIN and this time Lane nearly beats his ass in frustration as the crowd goes bonkers. Finally Stan hits Rogers with an enzuigiri in the chaos and Cornette tosses a chair at him in an act of stunning heroism, and Tommy is YOUR Fantastic-in-peril. Cornette drops an elbow on the floor and struts like Jackie Fargo, and then tosses him back in the ring so Lane can choke him out. I just love Tommy Young’s righteous indignation at all the cheating, even in a match with no rules. So finally Cornette tags in and slugs away on Rogers, and Tommy just ignores him in a glorious no-sell until Lane nails him from behind and the Express go to work on him again. Stan atomic drops Rogers into an Eaton backbreaker and now Cornette is ready to finish this off. He comes in with a fistdrop ala Jerry Lawler, but is too weak to slam him, so Eaton comes from behind and does the work for him instead. That’s AMAZING. This sets up the Rocket Launcher for two, but Cornette begs for the tag so he can get the win. So Eaton reluctantly lets him in, and Cornette gets two, at which point Rogers hulks up and makes the hot tag to Fulton. It’s BREAKING LOOSE IN TULSA and Cornette throws powder and hits poor Bobby Eaton with it, and then the Fantastics beat the hell out of Cornette to get their revenge and pin him at 15:08. MILLION BILLON STARS. This was a great tag team match and there were all kind of simple and fun stories going on with Cornette, and basically I love this match and want to make babies with it. Little wrestling babies that work the tag team formula and then do babyface comebacks and make the hot tag at the appropriate time. ****1/4
World TV title: Mike Rotunda v. Sting
Amazingly, a piece of music is left intact in one of these shows, in this case Sting’s original generic butt rock theme. I’m calling this one as Sting by DQ when the Varsity Club interferes before even knowing the result, but we’ll see how it shakes down. Sting gets some dropkicks to start and chases off the heels, and everyone regroups outside. Back in, Sting grabs a headlock and gets some slams for two. Sting slugs him down and splits the legs, but Rotunda calls for a timeout and Tommy Young is disgusted by this. “You don’t get no timeout!” Sting takes him down again and drops an elbow, but this time Rick Steiner takes the ref and Rotunda gets his timeout. Sting with the headlock again, but Steiner trips him up and Rotunda tosses him to take over. Back in, he gets an elbow for two. To the chinlock, but Sting fights up, so Rotunda puts him down with an elbow and it’s back to the chinlock again. Sting fights up and Rotunda puts him down again and goes up, but Sting slams him off and tosses him into the other ring and follows with a dive for a huge pop. He slugs away in the corner to set up the Stinger Splash and Scorpion Deathlock, and of course the Varsity Club runs in for the DQ at 10:00. This was fine, exactly what it needed to be. **1/2
Scaffold Match: The Road Warriors v. Ivan Koloff & The Russian Assassin
So of course, this series of matches was supposed to be the Powers of Pain, but the WWF came calling and Uncle Ivan got to take their place. Ivan immediately throws powder at Animal, but Hawk beats on the Assassin and Ivan nearly trips and falls off the scaffold. So Animal tries to kick him off and Ivan goes low to escape that. He nearly gets Animal down as the crowd shrieks in horror, but Animal trips him up and then does a DROPKICK on the scaffold in a terrifying spot. I love Dave Sheldon clearly trying to stay in the portion of the scaffold with railings on it because he’s obviously terrified of heights, while Ivan is just taking ridiculous clown bumps with no heed for his own safety. Ivan and Animal hang from the scaffold and slug it out, and Ivan drops down to eliminate himself. This leaves the Assassin alone, still not venturing past the railings, but Ivan returns and chokes out Animal with a chain. At this point the Assassin decides to climb down for some reason, and Hawk boots him to the mat for about a 4 foot bump at 5:25 to win it. For someone named The Angel of Death, he sure didn’t like being in the air! This was actually a shockingly entertaining scaffold match due to Ivan. ***
War Games: Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson, Barry Windham & JJ Dillon v. Dusty Rhodes, Steve Williams, Lex Luger, Nikita Koloff & Paul Ellering.
This is notable because, years later, Ric Flair claimed he was in Puerto Rico on this very day cradling Bruiser Brody in his arms while he bled to death in the locker room. Granted, Crockett spent a lot of money on charter jets, but I think that’s beyond even their powers. As usual, Dusty Rhodes starts out with Arn Anderson for the five minute opening period. Slugfest to start and Dusty wins that, so Arn backs off into the other ring and forces Dusty to follow. He tries a sunset flip for no reason I can fathom, and Dusty elbows him to escape and gets his shitty DDT. Arn wisely kicks him in the knee to slow down the fireball of speed that is Dusty Rhodes, and goes to work on the leg, but Dusty (already managing to cut himself) catches him coming off the middle rope and gets his shitty figure-four. Seriously, Dusty has been a wrestler for HOW LONG and he still can’t figure four the proper way to apply the hold? The heels SHOCKINGLY win the coin toss and Barry Windham is next in, and of course Dusty wants a piece of him. It’s elbows for everyone! Arn does his team proud and hits Dusty from behind, however, and the beating begins, as Barry claws him while Arn kicks him in the head and chokes him. Things look bad for Dusty, but the two minutes is up and Dr. Death saves the day. Double clothesline for the Horsemen and he chop blocks everything that moves, leaving Dusty to exact his revenge on Windham again. Barry is just bumping all over the place for him. Next in is Ric Flair., who jumps Williams and quickly regrets it, as Doc no-sells the chops, but can’t no-sell a shot to the junk. Arn and Barry go back to messing up the Dream, and Arn stops by to DDT Williams, trading off with Flair. Lex Luger is next in for the faces, and anyone with blond hair is the target. Powerslam for Flair, and Windham, and he puts Flair in the rack, but Windham hits him in HIS rack. Hope there’s a testicular specialist on call tonight. Luger decides to no-sell, however, and hammers away on Flair in the corner, until Tully is the next guy in. He brings a chair with him and takes care of Luger in short order that way. The Horsemen dominate again, as Arn DDTs Luger the heels pound on the faces, but Nikita Koloff is in and he’s not taking any shit. Of course, this was skinny, crew-cutted Koloff, not the cool roided one, so the threat is not as scary at this point. He puts Flair in the figure-four, but gets jumped and the Horsemen take over again, until JJ Dillon is the last guy in for the Horsemen. He and Windham double-team Luger, and Dillon goes around the ring poking people in the eye and trying to be all bad-ass, while Dream makes his comeback by elbowing four people at once. Paul Ellering is the last guy into the match, and now it’s the Match Beyond portion. Dillon beats on Ellering in a ring by himself, but misses an ill-advised dropkick and Dusty puts him in the figure-four as a result at 20:59. **** Typically good War Games match, but Steve Williams and an unmotivated Nikita Koloff were a pretty poor substitute for the Road Warriors. Too many slow spots here, but much like pizza, even lesser WarGames is still great.
What a great show! This was a strong mix of match styles and I would have killed to have this in my tape trading days. Check it out on the Network, old school fans!