The SmarK Rant for AWA Super Clash III – 12.13.88
(Originally written 12.03.20)
Well, we’re getting close to the 32nd anniversary of this trainwreck, and with promotional crossovers suddenly on everyone’s minds, I guess it’s time to take another look at it.
I would think we all know the basic story behind this one by now, but if not, here goes. Verne Gagne’s AWA is on the fast track to nowhere in 1988, especially with Curt Hennig jumping ship to the WWF in May, so he makes a deal with Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler to have Lawler win the AWA title and become a traveling champion like in the old days, crossing over between the AWA, Memphis, World Class and Continental in Alabama. And then this is presumably going so well that Verne decides to run a PPV based off this mish mash of dying territories, and basically everything that can go wrong, does. The various promoters and bookers involved are unable to, in the words of Vince McMahon, “agree on ordering a cup of coffee together” and it’s an instant trainwreck.
Now, to be completely fair, this isn’t like a Heroes of Wrestling level of disaster. It wasn’t a success by any means and it likely contributed to the death of the AWA, but the show itself barely ranks in the “Worst of all time” lists and frankly the batshit crazy story behind it even existing and what happened afterwards is far more compelling than anything that occurred between the ropes. But it remains an abject lesson in what happens when multiple people who think of themselves as the alpha dog all try to work together and come up with finishes. Most egregiously, the show was built around an outright promise of delivering a definitive winner to unify the World Class and AWA World titles, and boy did we not get that at all.
Live from the UIC Pavillion in Chicago, a particularly baffling choice of arena, drawing 1700 people and a national buyrate reported at 0.8, good for worst of all time at that point. Also they gave out 3000 freebies and most of them didn’t bother showing up.
Your hosts are Lee Marshall & Ray Stevens
Cactus Jack & The Rock N Roll RPMs v. Hector, Mondo & Chavo Guerrero
Obviously this is very early in Mick Foley’s career, and late in the career of the Guerreros. Hector takes the RPMs down with headscissors and Mondo comes in with a sunset flip on Jack for one and Lee is WAY overdoing the announcing while the crowd is already bored. Jack fights with Chavo on the floor and takes a backdrop onto the concrete. I bet future Mick would go back in time and have a talk with this Mick about doing that kind of stupid shit for shows where you’re unlikely to get paid much. Mondo works on Jack’s knee back in the ring, but Mike Davis comes in, playing what looks like an evil Ricky Morton two years before actual evil Ricky Morton, but Chavo hits both RPMs with a bodypress and the Guerreros all dogpile on him and clear the ring. Jack takes Chavo down with a snapmare and drops an elbow, and at least the timekeeper is able to call the 5:00 mark correctly so you have to give them that much. Chavo gets caught in the heel corner and worked over, but he doesn’t particularly sell and just rolls away to make a tag to Hector. It’s BREAKING LOOSE IN TULSA and Lane hits his own partner by mistake, allowing Chavo to finish Davis with a moonsault at 6:36. This was an OK opener with a lot of action that didn’t amount to much of anything. **1/4
Meanwhile, POWW champion Nina has words with Larry Nelson about the upcoming Lingerie Street Fight, which by the way was false advertising on multiple levels.
World Class Light Heavyweight title: Jeff Jarrett v. “The Flambuoyant” (sic) Eric Embry
Again, very early in the career of Jarrett, when he was just a skinny babyface with great hair. Embry was the long term light heavyweight champion, and dropped the belt to Jarrett in a hotshot switch in Memphis to set up this rematch where the result was never in doubt. They do a bunch of reversals to start and Embry hits him with a cheapshot clothesline, which the Chicago crowd cheers loudly. Jarrett makes a comeback, but misses a bodypress and lands on the floor, and the hostile Chicago crowd cheers him getting injured. Yes, there was once a time when Jarrett used to get booed for being too much of a pretty boy babyface. Back in the ring, Embry goes to work on the arm, but he charges and misses, and Jarrett gets a missile dropkick and a sunset flip for two. Small package gets two. Sunset flip again gets two, but Embry reverses for the pin and the title at 4:11. This was very short but OK. **1/4
Meanwhile, Larry Nelson chats with The Terrorist from POWW. That’s a thing.
Jimmy Valiant v. Wayne Bloom
Wayne attacks to start and slugs away, but Valiant finishes him off with the elbow combination at 0:23. This was originally supposed to be Valiant teaming up with Jeff Jarrett for some kind of tag match, but plans changed rapidly leading up to the show.
Meanwhile, Larry chats with David McLane and Bambi. She’s got nothing much to say and Larry abruptly cuts her off and sends it back to the ring. David McLane is creepy as ever, declaring that the only ways to win the street fight are over the top rope or “ripping the clothes right off” your opponent. Again I wonder if Bash Howard on the GLOW series was supposed to be the analog for David.
I will say, at least this show was far more briskly paced than, say, Wrestlemania IV.
World Class Texas title: Iceman Parsons v. Brickhouse Brown
Iceman gets a shoulderblock and stops to dance, but Brickhouse dropkicks him out of the ring. Back in, Brickhouse grabs a headlock and then gets something between a backslide and a neckbreaker that’s somehow worse than either one, and that gets two. Iceman bails to regroup and catches Brown with a knee on the way back in. Iceman gets a suplex for two, but Brickhouse gets a bodypress for two and Iceman cuts him off again and slugs him down. He tries a piledriver and Brown backdrops out of it and makes a comeback while Iceman calls for time. Lee Marshall is just the WORST here, trying for some kind of 70s TV announcer vibe and failing miserably. Brown gets a headbutt for two and thinks that’s he won the match because he’s a moron and the timing of the near-fall was all messed up, and Iceman pulls out a foreign object and knocks him out to retain the title at 5:55. * Sadly, poor sportsmanship rears its ugly head after the match, as Iceman declares him to be a ROOTY POOT.
Meanwhile, Larry Nelson chats with Brandy Mae and Pocahontas.
The Top Guns & Wendi Richter v. Badd Company & Madusa Miceli
The stips for this one are bizarre and convoluted, as Wendi is the AWA Women’s champion at this point, and Badd Company are the tag team champions, and both sets of titles are on the line. However, as was clarified AFTER the match, the titles only changed hands if the specific champions got beaten. So although “all the titles on the line”, there’s no actual scenario where both sets of titles could change hands in this match. That’s what we call “bait and switch” in the review biz. The Guns double-team Tanaka with a backdrop and Dukes gets two and works the arm. Diamond gets a knee from the apron and follows with a sideslam to take over, and a butterfly suplex gets two. Diamond misses a blind charge and Wendi Richter gets the hot tag, so Madusa has to tag in as well. Wendi misses a dropkick, but comes back with a powerbomb for two. That looked awkward as fuck. Everyone brawls, but Tanaka accidentally superkicks Madusa and Richter gets the pin at 5:48. I don’t think Ricky Rice even tagged into the match. Capetta announces the Top Guns as the new tag champions as a result of Wendi getting the pin, but that proved to be incorrect. This was a complete mess. ½*
Meanwhile, Larry Nelson talks with Kerry Von Erich, who has a mind-blowing epiphany, seemingly on the spot: There’s only one Eiffel Tower, and only one Mona Lisa, so how can there be more than one World champion?
Whoa. That’s deep.
AWA International TV title: Ron Garvin v. Groovy Greg Gagne
The title was held up at this point because as usual Stanley Blackburn stepped in and reversed a decision after the fact. He was truly the Dino Bravo of figurehead presidents. Garvin throws some overhead chops and goes to a chinlock, but Gagne comes back and works the arm. Garvin fights out with headbutts and slugs him down for two, but Greg gets a sunset flip for two. Greg goes to the armbar and takes him down for two. They slug it out in the corner and somehow Gagne is able to go toe-to-toe with RON GARVIN, but Ronnie beats on him in the corner as the crowd cheers him on. He was supposed to be the heel, by the way. Gagne makes his comeback, but misses the famous Gagne dropkick, and Garvin gets two. Greg tries a bodypress and spend about 5 minutes on the ropes before Greg gingerly takes a bump to the floor off that, and then he sends Ron into the post and beats the world’s fastest count at 5:55 to regain his vanity belt by countout. You have to at least give Garvin credit for showing up to this shitshow and losing, since the belt was held up presumably in case he decided not to honor his commitments on the way to the WWF. Ironically Garvin had far more desire to keep to his word than anyone involved in running this show. But man, Greg looked like a relic of the past even moreso than usual here. DUD
Meanwhile, Jerry Lawler thinks that working the leg against Kerry is a dead end because it’s 100% healed after his motorcycle accident. Waka waka.
$10,000 POWW Lingerie Street Fight Battle Royale:
So yeah, this is a bunch of two-bit POWW “talent”, with only Nina (Ivory) and Luna Vachon being worth anything. Despite all the promises of people getting clothes ripped off, no one does and all the eliminations are over the top. Also the commentary team of Lee Marshall and David McLane is like something out of my nightmares. Long story short, it comes down to Brandi Mae (who had her PRIZED SHORTS ripped by the heels to set this up) against Luna and the Terrorist, but Brandi puts Luna out and the Terrorist walks around the floor stalling forever. Finally she gets in and Brandi starts tearing her catsuit off (“They’re yelling for Brandi Mae!” notes David while the crowd chants “Take it off”) and they’re both just laughing in this supposed serious battle, but Terrorist fights to the ropes and puts her over the top to win at 8:50. Apparently Brandi Mae is the last person to allegedly have the rights to the existing GLOW footage, although I guess rights for the show are a huge mess.
Bill Apter joins us to award Jerry Lawler the Inspirational Wrestler of the Year plaque, but Lawler isn’t here to accept it. TREMENDOUS TELEVISION.
Boot Camp match: Sgt. Slaughter v. Col. DeBeers
Sarge warns us before the match that if we can’t stand the sight of pain, we should “go to the refrigerator right now and do what you gotta do.” Ew. Also, the “sight of pain”? Slaughter has ballooned to the size of the Hindenburg at this point and he attacks to start, but DeBeers chokes him out with his belt and we get a weird audio edit where they obviously dub in booing while he does it and mute the announcers. What the hell was THAT about? Sarge slugs away while Lee talks about the “massive crowd” in Chicago and you can LITERALLY SEE THE ROWS OF EMPTY SEATS behind him. They slowly waddle to the floor and Sarge gently lays on top of him for two, but DeBeers “hits” Slaughter with a nearly pole, barely making contact like someone play-acting wrestler in their basement. Back in, DeBeers puts on a helmet and hits Slaughter in the gut, so at least he had padding, but he charges and knocks DDP off the apron by mistake. So then Sarge teaches us that two wrongs do make a right, as he uses the headbutt and beats on DeBeers with it. This sets up the cobra clutch and DeBeers holds on longer than any other human being ever, but Adnan El-Kaissie runs in for what I guess is a DQ, but he’s about two minutes late and they have to call for the bell and call it a submission at 6:00. So then another 2:00 later, Iron Sheik “runs” in and adds to the assault, but the Guerreros make the save and everyone brawls to the back. Slaughter was a pathetic shell of his former self at this point, and astonishingly he would be WWF World champion two years later and main event a Wrestlemania! Anyway, this was horrible. -** Slaughter does his usual promo afterwards and some guy in the front row yells “Shut UP!” at him during a pause with perfectly timed snark.
Meanwhile, Bill Apter finally gets to present that plaque to Jerry Lawler. Apparently Lawler and Von Erich had been negotiating the finish the whole time and thus Lawler couldn’t make it out earlier. All that prep time and the ending we got was the best thing they could come up with?
World Class tag team title: The Samoan Swat Team v. Michael Hayes & Steve Cox
Did they REALLY not have a better tag team title match to send from World Class? So Lee Marshall would like to assure us that PS stands for “PURELY SEXY” and he sounds pretty confident about it so I’d believe him. Over to Cox, who is nicknamed “Do It To It” and has wrestling boots with “COX” written in big letters down the side and a silhouette of himself flexing at the top. So keep in mind, he had to go to a gear-maker and specifically have a conversation where he requested those boots to be made, and probably had to provide the drawing of himself flexing so that it could be situated on top of his name. “Do we really need the picture of you flexing in addition to your name?” I imagine the poor seamstress asking, and Steve would have to insist that, yes, because without the flexing picture, you might as well not even have the boots at all. Cox gets some shine on the SST for a bit, but he gets dumped and takes a bump into the railing, as the heels take over. Fatu gets a hotshot as Lee has to work the phrase DO IT TO IT into the call of the action more times than should be legal. Fatu goes to a nerve hold as Lee lets us know that manager Buddy Roberts demands that his men squeeze Cox some more. Cough. He said it, not me. Hayes gets the hot tag and runs wild, and Cox does a nice dive on Samu while Hayes hits Fatu with the DDT, but Buddy Roberts nails him and puts Fatu on top for the pin at 7:59 to retain. This was a totally cromulent tag team match, which isn’t surprising since they worked together about a million times that year and could probably do this match in their sleep. *** So then Hayes sells FOREVER after that, which I’m thinking is because there’s some kind of fight or disturbance in the crowd. Probably Jerry Lawler asking Verne for cash up front.
Strap Match: Wahoo McDaniel v. Manny Fernandez
Tatsumi Fujinami, the IWGP champion at that point, shows up in the ring for a cameo for no adequately explored reason and then helps Wahoo chase Manny out of the ring. So they start trading chops and the crowd could not give any less of a shit about it, which is really sad because Manny was only a year removed from being half of the NWA World tag team champions! Wahoo unsurprisingly is busted open right away and they trade chops. Manny gets busted open as well and Wahoo drags him to three corners, but Manny goes low to break the momentum. Lee Marshall relating the thrilling story of how this match came about should be required viewing for anyone dreaming of becoming a wrestling announcer now or in the future. You see, Wahoo challenged him to the strap match, but Manny didn’t want it, so the AWA said YOU GOTTA DO THE MATCH and Manny said “OK, I’ll sign the paper”. Obviously I’m not doing justice to the nuances of the story and the layers imparted by Lee Marshall here, but you get the idea. And since this is a strap match, they do the same ending they always do in strap matches and battle for three corners before the heel accidentally shoves the babyface into the fourth one for the win at 7:45. If you like old guys bleeding, this is your jam. * Manny attacks Wahoo afterwards, but Fujinami (“the Japanese champion” according to our announce team) makes the save.
Meanwhile, Verne Gagne and Stanley Blackburn complain that the referee should have stopped the previous match due to blood, coming off like the incredibly old men that they were.
AWA World title v. WCCW World title: Jerry Lawler v. Kerry Von Erich
So another famous story from this match, as Kerry was messing around with the blade before the match and got it caught in his robe, cutting his arm open in the process. So Lawler immediately rams Kerry’s arm into the turnbuckle to supposedly cut him open and explain the blood. Speaking of explanations, the idea behind this match is that they’ve been building to it for months, even though they had already run the match literally a hundred times and it was basically burned out and meaningless at this point. In fact, they had already done a title change between them with Lawler unifying the titles for a couple of days before Kerry won it back. And then Lee does his famous bullshit speech about how both guys have beaten Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Randy Savage, which is a complete lie. Lawler beat Savage a million times and Kerry beat Flair the one time, but Kerry never even worked with either Hogan or Savage in his entire career. They trade clotheslines and Kerry gets a rollup for two as Lawler defaults to Memphis heel mode and backs off. So Kerry does the test of strength and powers Lawler down, and then puts Lawler down with the discus punch for two. They slug it out on the mat and Kerry is supposedly busted open off that although no blood is evident, and Lawler punches him out to the floor to take over. Kerry hits a discus punch from the apron to put Lawler down, but misses a slingshot splash and Jerry goes to work again. Jerry with a knee to the gut to set up the piledriver, but Kerry no-sells it while Lawler struts. So Kerry gets a discus punch for two and goes for the Iron Claw, but Lawler fights him off and the ref gets bumped. Another discus punch but the ref is out for the moment, and then revives for two. They fight to the floor and Kerry misses a discus punch and hits the post, and then back in for Lawler’s greatest hits as he uses the phantom foreign object to do some damage. Kerry is finally busted open for real and not just in Lee Marshall’s mind, and Lawler goes up with the fistdrop and pounds on the cut. Lawler goes up again with another punch, but Kerry catches him with a stomach claw on the way down and Lawler makes the ropes while the referee checks the cut. Yes, in a match where the announcers explicitly note that there MUST BE A WINNER and the match could go “until next Wednesday” because there’s no time limit, the referee is threatening a blood stoppage. Frank Dusek, at ringside, gets the line of the match with “He’s from Texas, don’t worry about it!” Kerry charges and goes headfirst into the post to bust himself open further and Lawler uses the phantom object for more damage and all credit to Lawler because he knows EXACTLY how to work this crowd into a frenzy. So he slugs away on Kerry’s eye and does the Ali Shuffle in the corner to rub it in while the crowd gets more infuriated, and he adds another shot with the “object” behind the ref’s back to put Kerry on the floor again. Back in, Dusek yells “He’s fine, he bleeds all the time!” to make his case. Kerry slugs away in the corner and makes the comeback with a discus punch, but they both hit each other at the same time and both are down. Kerry gets two off that and goes to the Iron Claw to finish things off, clearly in control and able to see, but the ref calls for the bell at 18:55 and awards the match to the guy unconscious on the mat with his shoulders down. So Jerry Lawler is the “unified” champion, which lasted for what felt like about a week before Verne wanted his belt back. All time stupid finish aside, this was a hell of a match and as always made me appreciate the genius of Jerry Lawler all the more. ****
Meanwhile Kerry Von Erich rightly bitches to Stanley Blackburn about the stoppage, but #1 90 year old heel Blackburn basically tells him to eat a dick. Did no one think that maybe the fix was in with the AWA President deciding that the match would be stopped and awarded to the AWA champion?
The Rock N Roll Express v. Robert Fuller & Jimmy Golden
I have no idea why they put this out there to die after the main event and with time running out. The RNR do their usual shenanigans and frustrate the heels to start, and Gibson does an extended criss-cross with Fuller before landing on the floor with help from manager Sylvia. Golden (the future Bunkhouse Buck) comes in with a bearhug on Gibson and tosses him over the top behind the ref’s back, allowing Sylvia to beat on him with her kendo stick. Lee: “What can you do when you’re getting hit by a woman? You can’t hit her back!” Tell that to Alberto Del Rio. Wait, sorry, she “recanted”. Let’s put Jimmy Snuka in that joke instead. Ricky gets a hot tag and they hit the double dropkick, but everyone brawls and it’s a double DQ for no particular reason at 7:00. They were almost out of time and the match was going nowhere anyway. *1/2
And with that limp noodle of a finish, that’s the end of the AWA’s one and only foray into PPV. You know what, with a brisk pace and a great main event, I’d call this not the worst PPV I’ve ever seen. It was definitely a better show than the dreary Wrestlemania IV, for example. It’s a trainwreck, but it’s a fascinating trainwreck that’s worth watching as a piece of wrestling history.
Crap, I really am getting soft in my old age.