Mike Reviews Shows Considered To Be Stinkers – NWA Bunkhouse Stampede (24th January 1988)

Good Day One And All!

Back with another Stinker Review this week, where I look at a show that has a reputation for being rubbish and decide whether it deserves its rap sheet or not.

This time out it’s another reader request, with Bunkhouse Stampede fighting its way out of the Stinker Hat courtesy of WChilders 49. I have watched this show before but it was quite a while ago, and I only really remember one of the matches being any good.

This is one of them there concept shows, with the idea being that guys have qualified for the Main Event by winning Battle Royals on House Show events, leading to them all going at it in a big Battle Royal bout to close the show. The extra gimmick though is that the Battle Royal itself is going to be held inside a cage, meaning you have to chuck your opponents out of the cage until you are the sole survivor.

This show is mostly remembered for being the catalyst for the first ever Royal Rumble event, as Vince McMahon threw that on TV in order to mess with the NWA and the concept got so over that it remains to this day. Would the Bunkhouse Stampede Cage Match™ enjoy the same enduring popularity? I guess you’ll have to read on to find out…

The event is emanating from Uniondale, New York on the 24th of January 1988, live on pay per view

Calling the action are Jim Ross and Bob Caudle

I assume some of the music will be dubbed or amended on this as I’m watching the WWE Network version. Tony Schiavone, rocking wild facial hair, has been demoted to ring announcer and it led to some bad blood between he and Ross until they eventually mended fences years later.

Opening Match
NWA World Television Title
Champ: Nikita Koloff Vs Beautiful Bobby w/ Jim Cornette

Koloff had defeated Terry Taylor at Starrcade to unify the UWF and NWA TV Titles, whilst Bobby was one half of the US Tag Champs with Midnight Express partner Sweet Stan. Interestingly they’ve given tag team guys shots at singles belts tonight, as Bobby is challenging for the TV Title here and we’ve got Road Warrior Hawk challenging Ric Flair for the World Title later on. Bobby is now sadly no longer with us, passing away in his early 60’s. He will always be remembered as one of the best in-ring performers of his age.

Koloff always gets compared to Goldberg, but outside of them being bald guys who wrecked dudes I’ve never really seen the comparison. If anything, Danny Burch/Martin Stone reminds me of Koloff way more than Goldberg ever has, especially when he used to rock the singlet during his FWA days. Bobby is a great worker and Koloff could have good matches in the right setting, so I’m initially optimistic that this might be good.

Cornette is great as the motor mouth outside the ring, constantly giving advice to Bobby as well as talking smack to both Koloff and the ref. The crowd seems to want to like this, and they react whenever it looks like Koloff is going to do something. That never really comes though, as the match just doesn’t seem to get going, with lots of slow mat work. Bobby is a solid in-ring technician, but his best matches usually came when he was working at a quick clip, and that doesn’t really happen here.

Occasionally things threaten to get exciting, such as when they fight outside the ring and Bobby takes a big hip toss out on the concrete, but things quickly slow down again once both men get back inside and they lose the crowd again. The deliberate counting of the referee doesn’t help either, as it makes it hard to derive any real excitement from the near falls. I’m not sure who this ref is but he ambles around a pretty glacial pace and looks like he just came in to ref from a game of backgammon with one of his mates in a nearby park.

The wrestling itself is solid meat and potatoes stuff, but the match just stays firmly in lower gear and the crowd eventually starts to turn on it somewhat. I get trying to keep Koloff on the mat selling for a prolonged period so that you can eventually have him fire up to pop the crowd, but that probably works better in a 10 minute match than the 20 minute match they’re working here. It’s just too long to watch Bobby putting Koloff in a variety of rest holds.

Eventually it looks like Koloff is going to finally start doing something, but Bobby grounds him once again, and you can literally see crowd shots of the fans just giving up and sinking back into their seats, accepting that this is going to go the distance and they’re not going to get anything exciting. There are even some scattered “boring” chants. Koloff finally starts making a bit of a comeback with 45 seconds remaining, mostly throwing punches. He hits Bobby with his Russian Sickle Lariat, but the time runs out and we don’t get a finish.

TIME LIMIT DRAW – KOLOFF RETAINS
RATING: *1/2

The NWA used to do draws quite a bit in openers, with Starrcade 87 having one too. Apparently this was down to an old school philosophy whereby you deny the fans a finish in the opener so it builds anticipation throughout the rest of the night. It’s something you tend to see mostly in Japan these days, especially in Young Lion matches. The match itself was pretty dull, and kind of a waste of Bobby. They could have given them 8 minutes and had Bobby pinball around for Koloff, get a little bit of heat and then given the fans a Sickle finish and it would have likely been a hot opener that the crowd would have enjoyed, but instead we got Bobby putting Koloff in a variety of holds in front of a bored crowd for twenty minutes. They did so little in 20 minutes that it was almost bordering on being impressive

Koloff gets beaten up by The Midnight Express following that, so not only did he look like an ineffective goof during the match but he didn’t get to do anything in the post-match either. What a bizarre opening match to a major pay per view event this was.

Match Two
Western States Heritage Title
Champ: Barry Windham Vs Larry Zbyzko w/ Baby Doll

The Western States Heritage Title was originally a UWF belt that Big Bazza won in a tournament, defeating Black Bart in Houston, Texas. Larry was in-between stints in the AWA here, and he would eventually end up jumping back there in 1989 to win their World Title. There was some sort of storyline going on here where Baby Doll had some kind of embarrassing pictures of former client Dusty Rhodes, with both her and Larry bragging about it on TV. I think Larry left before it went anywhere.

This match is actually pretty good, as Barry is a good fiery babyface and Larry is a good stooging despicable Heel, so they have a fun outing as a result, with Barry getting the prolonged babyface shine to start. This match is infinitely better than the previous one because stuff is actually happening and Barry is regularly getting the better of the loud mouthed cowardly villain, which is just plain fun to watch. Eventually Barry misses what looks to be a senton back splash off the top rope and that allows Larry to take over for a bit, focusing his attack on Barry’s knee that was previously injured a match with The Four Horsemen.

Barry sells well from all of that, and continues to sell it when he tries to fight back as well, showing high levels of professionalism as you’d expect from someone that skilled. In one of the funnier moments of the match, Barry drags Larry into the ring post Verne first at one stage, which of course leads to Larry doing the big sell job for it. The finishing stretch is pretty good, with some nice tight near falls and the crowd responding to the teases and counters. Eventually the ref gets momentarily bumped and that allows Larry to hit Barry with Baby Doll’s shoe for the dodgy three count.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: LARRY ZBYZKO
RATING: ***

This was a good effort here, with both men playing their respective roles well and Barry having a very strong performance. He looked like one of the best wrestlers in the entirety of the business at points during this. Some aren’t going to like the finish, but I think it worked well for Larry’s character that he needed a ref bump and his bird to bail him out against an opponent who clearly overmatched him

Larry’s big celebration like he achieved something valiant that you could actually be proud of is a thing of beauty. He just understood how to play that insufferable Heel character down to a tee.

Semi-Main
NWA World Heavyweight Title
Ric Flair w/ James J. Dillon Vs Road Warrior Hawk w/ Paul Ellering

Entrances have been lost with this one for whatever reason, with the Network putting up the disclaimer at the bottom of the screen. Hawk getting a Title shot here is like a tennis player who plays exclusively doubles getting a chance to play Pete Sampras on Centre Court at Wimbledon, but Ric Flair is in his full-on late 80’s pomp here and he carries Hawk to a really good match, with the opening sections of the bout almost exclusively being Hawk kicking the absolute fondue out of The Nature Boy. Flair of course sells that all fantastically and the crowd enjoys watching him getting clobbered, so it’s all gravy.

Flair eventually manages to clock Hawk right in the Titantron’s, which buys him some time and opens a window for him to actually get some offence of his own in for a bit. The crowd is fully behind Hawk here, which is not only a testament to how over The Road Warriors were in general but also a testament to how good a Heel Ric Flair is that he can get a building of people to get behind a tag team wrestler in a World Title scenario like this. Hawk even has to sell his leg at one stage, and blow me if he doesn’t do a good job at it too. So he could sell when he actually wanted to then?

Flair manages to get Hawk in the Figure Four, and of course uses the ropes for an illegal advantage when the referee isn’t look, because he’s Ric Flair. Hawk manages to turn the move over, but Flair doesn’t submit and makes the ropes to break. Just once I’d like to see someone submit from that counter. It has to have happened at least once somewhere but I’ve never seen it. Flair makes the mistake of heading up top following that, which goes about as well as you’d expect and Hawk starts making a comeback, with Flair continuing to bump and sell all over the place to make him look good.

We get our second ref bump in a row, which on a four match show feels a tad too much like overkill for my tastes, and Hawk clotheslines Flair over the top to the floor whilst the ref is down. Flair goes face first into the ring post out there, which leads to him bleeding. Yes, Ric Flair bladed during a wrestling match. I hope this shocking and unforeseen development hasn’t ruined your day. I know it’s unfathomable that such an occurrence could take place, but we must endure. Hawk gets the visual pin fall on Flair following that with a Superplex, which brings Dillon into the ring with a chair.

Hawk goes after Dillon, but that allows Flair to hit Hawk with a chair, which gets a two count to a mega pop from the crowd. In a nice touch, Ellering missed all of Dillon’s shenanigans because he was trying to revive the ref, but when he eventually succeeded and put him back in the ring he quickly panicked because Flair was now pinning Hawk when it was the other way around earlier. It’s a nice way to explain why he didn’t help his guy out earlier and why he still put the ref back in even though his guy was now on the defensive.

Hawk just straight up starts no selling stuff now, and the crowd is going nuts for it. Ric Flair is genuinely one of the greatest of all-time to get this good a match out of Hawk. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like Hawk sucked in 1988, but this was way above the usual level you’d expect out of a guy like him in a big time 20+ minute singles match. Sadly the finish is all kinds of lame, as they’re not switching the belt and Hawk isn’t going to job either, so Flair just hits him with a chair and that’s a DQ. If we’d actually had a finish in the opener it perhaps wouldn’t have been as galling.

WINNER BY DQ: ROAD WARRIOR HAWK (RIC FLAIR RETAINS)
RATING: ***1/4

Darn good match there. Give it an actual finish and I might have rated it higher. Regardless, this was Ric Flair proving why he was the World Champ, by getting a really good match out of a guy who really should have been totally out of place challenging for a big singles Title in this sort of environment

Hawk calmly no sells the match ending chair shot and sends Flair packing. The crowd at least cheers for Hawk winning and he celebrates it like a win for the most part, so the fact he didn’t win the belt doesn’t deflate the crowd too much.

We kill some time whilst they set the cage up for the Main Event, with them running through the production crew credits as well as showing us some replays from earlier.

Main Event
Bunkhouse Stampede Cage Match
Tully Blanchard Vs The Barbarian Vs Arn Anderson Vs Dusty Rhodes Vs Road Warrior Animal Vs Lex Luger Vs Ivan Koloff Vs The Warlord

Dusty had apparently won two previous Bunkhouse Stampedes, so he’s going for the hat-trick here. I don’t want to spoil the result for you, but Dusty did have the pencil around this time, so…yeah. To be honest, anyone other than Dusty or Animal winning would likely upset the crowd, but come on; you couldn’t have put Sting or someone in there as well? Dusty was also the US Champ at this time as well, whilst Tully and Arn were the World Tag Champs. This is “come dressed as you are” so everyone is in street clothes for the most part.

I’ll level with you; I really don’t like this match. I’m hardly a massive Battle Royal fan as it is outside of the Royal Rumble matches, but having it so you have to throw guys out of the cage instead of just over the top causes the match to kind of just grind to a halt. Too much cooperation is required in order to throw someone over a 10-14 foot cage down to the floor, and throwing guys out of the door is just messy and can’t really be done with much snap or excitement.

The brawling that goes on within the cage itself is fine, as it’s mostly just punching and using the cage as a weapon, but the general idea of the match just doesn’t work for me and it hampers any enjoyment I could gleam from it. It’s just silly at the end of the day, and if it were a Monty Python sketch they’d probably send the Colonel in to put a stop to it without a punchline.

I’m thinking Lex Luger had already left The Horsemen at this stage, as he’s happy to fight with Tully and Arn, whilst they are equally happy to clobber him but don’t really attack one another. It’s not long before a bunch of people are bleeding. The crowd seems to mostly dig it in all honesty though, with Luger actually being pretty over and getting some good reactions when he runs wild on people. Dusty whips out a leather belt at one stage and whips a bunch of people with it to the pop the crowd as well.

Dusty does the always sick spot of blading his arm at one stage, because bleeding from your head apparently isn’t gruesome enough. The match goes too long after a certain point and starts to feel like it’s dragging, even though the brawling continues to be mostly good intense stuff. The elimination teases just don’t look right, especially when guys are trying to fling others over the cage down to the floor. Koloff is eventually the first to go, with Animal heaving him out, although again it looked like that would have been impossible without Ivan’s assistance.

First Elimination – Ivan Koloff via Road Warrior Animal (1) – Over The Cage

Animal gets another scalp straight after by shoving Warlord out of the door, but the momentum causes him to spill out as well and both men are eliminated as a result. See, I struggle to buy that one less than the previous one as you can at least suspend your disbelief that one wrestler could fling another out of a cage door and the momentum would carry them out to the floor as well.

Second Elimination – The Warlord via Road Warrior Animal (2) – Through The Door

Third Elimination – Road Warrior Animals momentum causes him to go out of the door as well

Former enemies Dusty and Luger actually team up to take on Tully and Arn next, and that’s a pretty hot segment because Luger going against The Horsemen was still a new thing and they hadn’t managed to “Luger” him yet. Luger ends up next to the door trying to fight off The Horsemen, with Blanchard trying to come up with a contrived way to end up next to him, and it just looks messy. It’s not even messy in a good way either, it just looks awkward as heck when these guys try to come up with ways that they can actually tease these eliminations and it just looks phony. Eventually all three spill out of the door to the floor, leaving Dusty with The Barbarian.

Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Eliminations – Arn Anderson, Lex Luger and Tully Blanchard all tumble out following a contrived skirmish by the door at roughly the same time

Barbarian’s manager Paul Jones hands him some kind of weapon through the fence of the cage and that leads to Barbarian working Dusty over for a bit. This is like one of those Survivor Series matches where Hulk Hogan would be left with a guy like Haku or Hercules though, where there really is no doubt that the babyface is going to win because he’s a level that’s so far above that of the Heel, and I think the crowd realises it too, as Barbarian’s teased elimination of Dusty doesn’t really gain much of a reaction from the crowd, with an “enthralled” audience looking pretty bored when they show them on camera, despite what Ross would have you believe. We get some more contrived stuff atop of the cage, which leads to Dusty “throwing” Barbarian out (We’ll ignore Barbarian clearly putting his own leg over the cage wall to make it easier for Big Dust to chuck him) for the win.

Final Elimination – The Barbarian via Dusty Rhodes (1) – Over The Cage

WINNER: DUSTY RHODES
MOST ELIMINATIONS: ROAD WARRIOR ANIMAL (2)
RATING: *1/2

This concept did not work for me and the crowd seemed to agree for the most part

Dusty wins $500,000 and leaves without much fanfare.

Ross and Caudle close us out, with Ross saying that the NWA has made a statement here. Some of the fans sound to be either chanting “Dusty” or “Refund” whilst the commentators close us out.

Is It Really A Stinker?

Ric Flair and Barry Windham make it hard for me to justify calling this a full on Stinker, because both of them entered superlative performances and Flair’s match in particular was way better than I even remotely expected it to be. The Main Event just didn’t work, either as a concept or in execution, but for a two hour show with four matches %50 of those matches delivered, so I’d feel a bit harsh saying this was a stinker. You don’t need to see it; but there is some good stuff on here if you do.

Final Rating: Stinky (Ratings are based on a scale of Stinker/Stinky/Odourless/Pleasant/Fragrant)