July 13, 2023

AWA Superclash (9.28.85) review 

AWA Superclash (9.28.85) review 


September 28, 1985 


Sidenote: as with the last show I did, the video quality is not good enough for screenshots. I did try and there’s one of Scott Hall with a porn moustache if you want to see what I was dealing with.


We’re in Chicago, Illinois at Comiskey Park. 20,347 in attendance. To show how dated AWA was, even at this point when they were still successful, here are the top movies of 1985: 


Back to the Future, Rambo First Blood Part 2, Rocky IV, the Colour Purple, Out of Africa, Cocoon, Jewel of the Nile, Witness, The Goonies and Spies Like Us. Back to the Future, in a way, reflected the booking in AWA. Obsessed with 30 years ago and struggling to come to terms with the 80s. But while the bulk of that film is about a kid from the 80s being a ‘fish out of water’ in the 1950s, AWA is Verne Gagne being a fish out of water in the 80s. The other top films; Rambo II and Rocky IV were big action packed blockbusters. The only thing Verne seemed to pick up on was a rise in patriotism in the 80s. Fuelled by Stallone waving Old Glory and the anti-Communist sentiment of the common man in America at that time. Look at Stallone’s big villains in his film this year; the Russians. How many evil Russians are on this show? FOUR. But he’s still got the Road Warriors as heels. He still thought Hogan wouldn’t be a good American role model because he was stuck in that mindset that the champion had to be a shooter first and an entertainer second. In case someone tried to screw him. Well, someone was trying to screw Verne Gagne but that someone was Vince McMahon and he wasn’t using a maverick shooter to do so, he was using money. By the time Superclash IV rolled around in early 1990, the promotion was already dead.  


A few notes about the set up here. We’re in a baseball stadium, which is not the way to do things in the 80s. You can get that 20k attendance in an indoor venue, where the crowd can get close to the action. Running a baseball stadium, with the fans well away from the action, isn’t a good idea. It does allow them to have a more sporting feel, with Larry Nelson, on commentary, interviewing guys on their way to the ring.  


AWA Light Heavyweight Championship 

Steve Regal (c) vs. Brad Rheingans  

This is a horrible idea for an opener too. This is a long show (3 hours, a lifetime by 1985 standards) and these two are boring. You can hear people yelling “boring” as they headlock their way through five minutes of nothing. You’ve got 40,000 eyes on you and this is what you give them? Fuck the both of you. Jimmy Garvin runs in and Rheingans gets rolled up for the pin. Production managed to miss the pinfall, although the finish was blindingly obvious. This was a clear DUD. Awful match to open a big show with. Both guys would inexplicably get a run in WWF, showing Vince would poach anybody from this promotion.  


AWA World Women’s Championship 

Candi Devine (c) vs. Sherri Martel 

Candi, who left her personality at home, has no shot here. Sherri is about 3 matches into her AWA career and is already a clear choice to be pushed. Maybe Verne did learn something from the Hogan thing. Sherri originally broke in a few years ago but got injured and has only just returned.  

Sherri doesn’t want the pervert referee to check her. I don’t blame her, demand a female referee. I like Sherri’s aggression and she’s very entertaining, however she’s not the cleanest. Candi doesn’t help. They do a slingshot spot where Sherri is there waiting for it and I’m yelling at the screen. “SLINGSHOT”. It was so blindingly obvious, I don’t know how Candi didn’t see it. The match is miles off the quality of Japanese women’s work in the same year and it goes over ten minutes! Sherri botches the finish too. It’s supposed to be a double knees off the top, based on commentary, or a splash off the top. It’s neither. She lands next to Candi and then slowly falls on top.  

Chicagoans eh? Sherri accuses Candi of “dodging me for years” after the match, despite Sherri having only just joined the AWA.  


Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta & Great Tenryu vs. Harley Race & The Long Riders 

It’s weird seeing the AJPW guys transplanted into this show. Verne had an arrangement with Baba, which got Tsuruta a reputation boosting AWA world title run. Martel took it off him in Japan and has held it ever since. Commentary announces this as for the Asian six-man titles, which are not a thing. Tenryu is referred to as “Great Tenryu” as they presumably can’t cope with “Genichiro”. Jumbo doesn’t put in any effort at all here and looks jetlagged. “The Asians are in trouble”. It’s technically accurate but it sounds wrong Larry. The Long Riders are alright in this match. Bill Irwin is the MVP. Baba boots him in the face for the pin. This was acceptable wrestling. The crowd didn’t care about the Japanese contingent, but it was way better than the opening two matches. Massive uptick in talent levels though. **¾ 


NWA World Midget Championship 

Little Tokyo (c) vs. Little Mr. T 

I PITY THE LITTLE FOOL! Mr. T is Haiti Kid. He’s cosplaying as Mr. T, chains and all. He’s even done his hair the same. Every time commentary says “Little Mr. T” I smirk. It’s all just so ridiculous.  

“Look at the strain on the face of Little Mr. T”. Oh, I shall. They get bored and stop off to look at the moon for a bit. Little Tokyo wins with a chop to the throat. Nothing much happening here but the constant use “Little Mr. T” made me smile throughout the 9 minutes of the match.  


Buddy Roberts vs. Mil Mascaras 

Of all the fucking luchadores, we get Mil Mascaras? Maybe if it was the 70s but it’s 1985 and he’s well into his 40s. It isn’t like Roberts is a miracle worker who can bump around like crazy to get the match over. Mil is the first guy I’ve seen, in the entire of this 80s project, who cannot do an Irish whip. Mascaras finishes with a high crossbody. They could have drafted in any good luchadore for this spot but they went with Mil Mascaras. Sure, he’s over but he’s over because he’s a luchadore doing lucha spots. He’s just bad.  


NWA Texas Championship 

Kerry Von Erich (c) vs. Jimmy Garvin  

Kerry dedicates the match to Mike Von Erich, who’s in hospital. Mike got injured working in Israel, had shoulder surgery but developed toxic shock syndrome and nearly died. He must surely have suffered some brain damage because of it and was never the same. Kerry is very over here, which speaks volumes for the Von Erich name and territory. I never found Jimmy Garvin convincing. He works best here as a punching bag for Kerry. As for Von Erich, this is his peak. Sandwiched in between his slightly awkward NWA title win and his motorcycle accident in 1986 where he’d lose a foot. He looks great and we only have our imaginations as to whether he’d have hit an elite level as a worker.  


Funny story about the NWA Texas belt here. Kerry doesn’t have it with him. It’s because he isn’t the champion. And I don’t mean he recently lost it off TV or something, he was never the champion. David Von Erich had 7 title reigns with it but the current champion is Brian Adias. Kevin Von Erich would eventually win the title in 1988 but Kerry never held it. Verne had a thing about wanting championship matches on the card so this is what we get. Garvin gets crotched up top and falls off resulting in the pin. The match was good, if Kerry was in charge. He was looking sharp here. The motorbike crash was yet another in a line of Von Erich’s tragedies.  


Larry Zbyszko, Nick Bockwinkel & Ray Stevens vs. Curt Hennig, Scott Hall & Greg Gagne 

We got the young guns of Hennig & Hall, complete with his porn moustache, and Greg is channelling Rambo for some reason. He is the Shane McMahon of his time. That isn’t a compliment. Zbyszko would be an AWA mainstay in the 1980s before jumping to WCW in 1991 when it went tits up. Scott Hall debuted in 1984. Hennig is about four years in.  

They run the ‘heel reaching for a tag’ gets bounced into the ring by the babyfaces bit in this. Second time I’ve seen this great spot. Hennig takes a lot of heat, which is inevitable given his capacity to bump and sell compared to everyone else. Of course he gets the hot tag to Greg, who gets cheered a lot but only because of the situation and how over-pushed he is. Good lord, he stinks. He wrestles like Andy Kaufman for fuck’s sake. Scott Hall thankfully gets in there for the finish and powerslams Ray Stevens for the pin. Take Greg Gagne out of this match and it would be on the recommendation list. **½  


AWA Tag Team Championship 

The Road Warriors (c) vs. The Fabulous Freebirds  

The Freebirds, keen to get heat, come out with the Confederate flag painted on their faces. Road Warriors are from Chicago so they probably shouldn’t have worried about it. If Verne’s brain dead decision to book the Roadies as heels for their entire AWA run wasn’t dumb enough without this match, check out the crowd reaction here. Hawk batters Gordy from the bell and it’s just perfect. Freebirds do attempt to work heat on Hawk. To be fair to Hawk, this is a solid selling performance from him, until he tags out and then just comes charging back in seconds later. Animal’s press slam on Gordy is incredible. The power! Hayes goes in blind behind Animal though and the Freebirds win the belts. This is not a popular title change, it’s fair to say. It didn’t stick and the AWA ended up switching the belts to Jimmy Garvin & Steve Regal instead, which is a bizarrely stupid decision. This match was at least good. The Freebirds did a good job of antagonising the crowd and the Roadies were the over powerhouse babyface team that would dominate the following few years but not in this promotion. **¾  


That’s the third time something on this show was looking like it was going to be good only to fall a bit short. Verne comes out here to demand a replay on the big screen and we see the cheating resulting in the titles going back to the Roadies. 


The Russians (Ivan, Nikita Koloff & Krusher Kruschev) vs. Baron von Raschke, Dick the Bruiser & The Crusher  

They do a pre-match promo and Darsow doesn’t even attempt a Russian accent. Get a load of Team USA for this one! Von Raschke is 44, Dick the Bruiser is 66 and the Crusher is 69. A combined age of 179. There’s a massive contrast between a greenhorn like Nikita and the old gits across the ring from him. Once again Ivan Koloff has to hold together his partners and his opponents. In a six-man tag, this is surely impossible. Why couldn’t they have put one guy on the AWA team to take bumps for the Russians? This is one of the reasons why the JCP-AWA agreement collapsed. Both sides wanted their talent to look good but the NWA’s talent wasn’t pension age. Production, slick as ever, completely miss the finish where Ivan pins Von Raschke. The crowd chant “bullshit” but the Russians got nothing in this match whatsoever bar the win.  


NWA Americas Heavyweight Championship 

Sgt Slaughter (c) vs. Boris Zhukov 

Zhukov is also not Russian, but he at least has a stab at the accent. Sarge gets swamped because there’s no hint of security out here.  

Out come the flags for Sgt Flag-Shagger. Sarge is the one guy who WWF lost during the mid 80s who they wanted to keep. You’d think Verne would want to build around him but no, he’s here with some midcard belt instead. Did they just create this belt to give Sarge a belt to win? Maybe. Did it disappear quietly? Sure it did. Is he even wearing it? Nope.  


It’s at this point where I discover Sgt Slaughter, with his band “Camouflage” released an album in 1985 called “Sgt. Slaughter & Camouflage ROCKS AMERICA”. I would strongly recommend you listening to it.  


This match has no chance of being a hidden Slaughter mid-80s classic because Zhukov, treacherous Commie that he is, stinks. There’s a ref bump here but I rate it because the cameraman also gets bumped in the same spot, so it feels more natural. Sarge blades but the ref sees Zhukov bash him with a foreign object so that’s a DQ baby.  

Sarge cuts a post-match promo about how much he loves the USA and “scum” like Zhukov should leave it. He promises to come after “any foreigners” that disagree with him. That’s a yikes from me, Gene. 


Kamala vs. Jerry Blackwell 

They haven’t made up a title belt for this match but instead it’s a “body slam match”. This is a rip off of the WWF’s bodyslam match from WrestleMania with Andre putting his career against slamming John Studd. Here the winner just gets $10,000 and you can only win by body slam.  


The best part of this is Sheik Adnan-Al-Kassie singing the “Arabian national anthem”, which everyone no sells. When Al-Kassie says there are “more surprises to come” does he mean when he converted Sgt Slaughter to become an Iraqi sympathiser, because that would have been surprising in this context. The Kamala gimmick is fairly offensive the more you think about it. While taking some random guy and turning him into a Russian is dumb, taking a random guy from Mississippi and making him an African savage is…a bit racist. The whole character was Jerry Lawler’s idea. Anyway, I’m rambling because the match is utter shit. Mostly just a bunch of nerve holds. I’m not sure how that helps you to win a slam match. This is actually worse than WrestleMania. Blackwell just wins it out of nowhere. Al-Kassie attacks him with his sword, using it in a manner that suggests he’s never seen a sword before. This was a Bonafide DUD. Maybe negative stars. Absolutely terrible.  


AWA World Championship 

Rick Martel (c) vs. Stan Hansen 

This is about to serve as a contrast between the AWA and the NWA. Hansen jumps ahead of the bell, and they brawl around a bit. They whack each other with chairs and it’s a double DQ after a couple of minutes. So, Verne, are you SURE you want to book a short match with no finish for the AWA title? In his defence, the brawling got over with the crowd and they brawl around back to the locker room afterwards to cheers.  


NWA World Championship 

Ric Flair (c) vs. Magnum TA  

And now, the REAL World’s Champion. I watched their match from Portland recently and if they’d shaved the opening 10 minutes off it, it could have been MOTY. My favourite Magnum TA comparison is that he looks like Sid Vicious shrunk in the wash. He’s a great wrestler with good intensity and he knows when to push the pace of the match. Flair, cranking his Flairness up to 11, starts begging off 3 minutes into the match. They do the spot where Flair throws Magnum out to the floor but this time he holds the rope and comes straight back in, firing away with punches. The idea is that Flair wants to make time for himself by hurting TA but can’t get him to go down.  


Flair seems to take the same beats from Portland; going with the ribs then the arm while TA attacks his leg. Flair does the same sort of cheating too. The little pull on the tights, the pull of the hair, the little shoving contest with the ref. You can almost read what’ll happen next. Maybe I’ve watched these two matches too close together but there’s a strong feeling of reproduction here. Albeit not staggeringly obvious. Magnum TA is less energised than in Portland and his comebacks tend to get cut off earlier. They do the bridge into backslide spot from Portland, which was the near fall in the dying seconds there. Here it has somewhat less drama. Magnum goes for a roll up out of the corner but Flair reverses it by grabbing the tights and gets the pin. Flair retains. This is not as good as Portland but if I’d seen this one first, I would probably rate it so we’ll go ***½.  


The 411: 

Well, this is a success for the AWA but not for the long term of the company. I said it during his match but Verne should have gone all-in with Sgt Slaughter and booked his shows around jingoism like Vince did. The reactions were definitely there for a USA-Russia war in the ring. Or Sarge vs any foreigner would have done the job. He was over enough to do it.  


As for my general thoughts on this show, it felt like the AWA were portrayed as second rate to Jim Crockett’s main promotion. Not even intentionally. They just are. Everyone is in Ric Flair’s shadow here. Even when Verne booked his old men to decimate the Russian team, he’s booking old men. Two guys in that match are in their 60s for crying out loud. I’m sure Crockett was thrilled to learn his monster Nikita Koloff was taking bumps for Dick the fucking Bruiser in 1985.  


Most of the ratings for this show, on the high side, are down to it being ‘better’ than WrestleMania but is it? WrestleMania set out to put on a show with lots of pizazz and pageantry. Celebrities, mainstream involvement and putting on a few matches that would pop the Garden. At no point did they attempt to put on a good in-ring product and succeeded anyway because it’s a quick show. Superclash, on the other hand, is fairly sluggish, much longer and barely has better in-ring than WrestleMania. The one exception being Flair and Magnum re-hashing their Portland match from the previous week on a bigger stage.   


The one thing that makes Superclash feel more important is the sheer number of promotions involved in making it work. From Crockett’s NWA to All Japan and the various other people that showed like Sherri Martel and Kerry Von Erich. It feels important in that respect. However, in order to book that many promotions there are decisions made and some of them are not for the betterment of the card nor the promotion long term. There are 13 matches here. THIRTEEN. Madness.  

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