NWA Bunkhouse Stampede 1988 (1.24.88) review
January 24, 1988
This show represents Crockett vs. McMahon II. Having destroyed Starrcade ’87 by debuting Survivor Series on the same night, thanksgiving 1987, McMahon scheduled the first Royal Rumble to go head-to-head with Crockett’s second venture into the PPV market; the Bunkhouse Stampede. A show they’d been running around the horn to great success. Essentially a battle royal but in street clothes (and a cage). McMahon’s gambit was to show the Royal Rumble on free TV and destroy the buyrate for the Bunkhouse Stampede. In all honesty, the most destructive thing he could have done was allow people to watch the Bunkhouse Stampede, because it sucks. The show did a similar buyrate to Starrcade and had a notoriously bad reputation, thanks to the advertised start time being 7:30 when it was 6:30. A lot of attendees missed half the show.
We’re in Uniondale (Long Island), New York at the Nassau Coliseum. The arena was home to the New York Islanders and various other sports teams. The Islanders have recently moved to the UBS Arena, closer to NYC. The Nassau Coliseum is often a promotion’s way into enemy territory. Both WCW and AEW have hosted shows there (AEW’s in December 2023, which is the past for the bulk of people reading this but the future for me). It also hosted the New York leg of WrestleMania II, SummerSlam 2002 and Evolution, WWE’s first all-women’s PPV.
If Starrcade was the beginning of the end for Jim Crockett and Dusty Rhodes as the principle antagonists in Vince McMahon’s life story, the Bunkhouse Stampede is just another step on the way to Ted Turner and Eric Bischoff replacing those men. Hosts are Jim Ross & Bob Caudle. The latter reminds me this is the third annual Bunkhouse Stampede, but the first one to be televised.
NWA TV Championship
Nikita Koloff (c) vs. Bobby Eaton
Finally, a singles push for Bobby Eaton, right? Yay, right? Yay? I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. Eaton mysteriously shit the bed here and didn’t get pushed in singles again until 1991. He’s still one half of the tag team champions here, so he’s not fallen down the pecking order but this was a big shot for him to move up the card and he did not take it. This match is not well put together, which has to be on Eaton, as Koloff was still letting people lead, even at this point in his career.
The formula is this; Eaton tries something, Koloff overpowers him, Eaton goes to chat to Cornette. Rinse, repeat. If Koloff had a stunning range of power moves, it might work but Eaton goes from trying interesting things to headlocks and the match just dies a death. The mechanics of it all are fine, so it’s not a bad match but there’s too much dead time for an opener. Eaton’s leading is so obvious. The little hand signs to Koloff. Cornette’s screaming from ringside is about as entertaining as the match gets.
We get to 15:00 and I’m not sure how long I’ve been watching Eaton work a hammerlock, but we get the 16:00 time call before it’s broken. Clothesline and back to the hammerlock. Fucking hell lads. 17:00. 18:00. Koloff fires up, no, back to a hammerlock. 19:00. We finally break free with 30 seconds left in the time limit. What a complete waste of time. Koloff hits the Russian Sickle but the time limit expires at 20:00. This was actually ok, until Eaton stopped trying and then it was rest hold city.
Western States Heritage Championship
Barry Windham (c) vs. Larry Zbyszko
Barry’s made up belt is on the line here. The title reserved for people who had banging matches with Ric Flair but can’t do it with anyone else. Larry is cornered by Baby Doll, in the short spell she had back there before Crockett decided not to employ someone whose partner (Sam Houston) was working for the WWF. Vince McMahon did give her a shot, as he was looking for lady wrestlers in 1988, but she never caught on.
Here she is asking Barry for hair care tips. Larry was an entertaining wrestler in AWA. He used to take a boat load of bumps but when he joined Crockett, he became a dull, stall heavy heat machine. Larry is only 36 here but he’s reached the point in his career where he thinks he needs to slow it down. The pacing here is, uh, deliberate. Barry hits a spot, Larry takes a powder, rinse, repeat. It might be more boring than the opener. They do something to pop me though. Larry puts on a hammerlock, which Koloff just sat in for five solid minutes, and Windham counters out of it immediately. A real “fuck your match” moment to the previous workers.
The story of the match is that the Horsemen injured Windham’s leg, so Larry works it. I start to question why we got this match instead of the US title and then I realise Dusty was US champion and he’s in the Bunkhouse Stampede. All this is Dusty’s fault. Larry’s exaggerated selling comes to the forefront again here. He seemed to do this a lot more in the NWA than in the AWA. They look like they’re trundling towards a bore draw when Windham takes an incredible bump. Barry goes for a clothesline, but Larry collapses and Windham goes clean through the ropes at pace. It’s a great spot.
Windham does a fantastic job of making spots look like a struggle. The backslide in stages or the backdrop with multiple failed attempts are both prime examples. Just as I’m starting to feel the match the ref gets bumped. Larry whacks Windham with Baby Doll’s shoe for the pin. There were some decent spots in this but the finish killed what they’d been building towards. The title meant nothing anyway, just put the babyface over, for fuck’s sake.
NWA World Championship
Ric Flair (c) vs. Roadwarrior Hawk
Caudle claims Hawk could “crush his skull” because he has so much power. Look, Bob, Hawk is strong but he’s not Superman. Flair’s formula has been perfected by this point. He could walk in there with any powerhouse wrestler and just run through it. Hawk is barely involved in the process but when he is, the match has diabolical spots. Jumping fist drop anyone? Fuck off, mate.
Hawk won’t sell anything, as was his gimmick, so Flair does a lot of running and bumping. Eventually Naitch just punches Hawk in the balls to turn the tide. The referee is somewhat lenient to let that one go. I can only assume JJ Dillon had him distracted off camera. Hawk, bizarre man that he is, goes for another of those terrible fist drops and manages to injure his knee.
Flair smells blood but Hawk struggles with the concept of being hurt. You’re in the big leagues now, boy! Figure Four time but Hawk reverses it. How does Ric take it? “ARGH. AAAAAARGH. ARARRRGH MY LEG”. I think he’s fine. As if having one lame ref bump on the show isn’t enough, Hawk cleans out Dick Kroll here. This leads to shenanigans including Flair getting busted open, JJ Dillon running in and Flair hitting Hawk with a chair. I’m convinced Kroll was supposed to see the latter because Flair just grabs the chair and hits Hawk again for the DQ. ***.
This was an exercise in smoke and mirrors. Flair made Hawk look good over the course of the match. Mainly because Hawk was no selling everything that Flair had been using for the past five years to be the best wrestler in the world. It still can’t save a poorly booked finish with a bad ref bump and assorted business around it.
We get some replays while the crew sets the cage up in “record setting time” – JR. Obviously, you’ve never been to Mexico. As a rib, they have Bob Caudle read out the credits. He’s literally there saying “technical support; Barry Faulk”. JR eventually gets into the rules. It’s a battle royal inside a cage, which is insanely dangerous and stupid.
Participants are Dusty Rhodes, Barbarian, Warlord, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Roadwarrior Animal, Ivan Koloff and Lex Luger. We’ve had two previous Bunkhouse Stampede’s, both won by Dusty. His logic was probably that he invented the match, he might as well win it. Caudle suggests that Dusty’s tactic (standing in the corner doing nothing) is to protect himself from being attacked from behind. Sure it is!
Caudle also suggests it would be a “remarkable feat” for Dusty to book himself to win three Bunkhouse Stampede’s in a row. It would be remarkable alright. Luger still looks green here, which is worrying three years in, but he’d work Flair later in 1988 and get much better. He’s been booted out of the Horsemen and has natural enemies in Arn and Tully.
The concept is so deliciously stupid. You have to throw someone over the top of the cage to get them gone and then there’s this huge bump to the floor, which no one should be taking. We spend about 15 minutes with everyone hugging the ropes, punching and bleeding. The pace picks up when Luger mounts a comeback and obviously Dusty has to scoop his heat by doing the same thing right afterwards. Dusty was such a selfish wrestler in the late 80s. I’m glad he was able to redeem himself in retirement by helping a new generation of workers. Maybe he felt guilty.
For the bulk of the match the five heels team up against the three babyfaces, thus giving themselves a man advantage.
Animal throws Koloff out to make it 4-3 heels. Animal is supposed to be some sort of Bunkhouse savant but Dusty is the one who wins them. In the process of kicking Warlord out of the cage Animal gets dropkicked out by Blanchard. 3-2 heels. With more space to work in, Luger vs. Horsemen is pretty cool. The Horsemen get obsessed with Luger to the point where they both fall out getting Lex out of the cage. That leaves Dusty vs. Barbarian. Jesus fucking Christ. They brawl on top of the cage and Dusty elbows Barbarian out to win.
The Bunkhouse Stampede is a shit concept, shitly executed. It only got good when there was space to work and even then, they went with fatigue selling instead of having fun. Of course Dusty had to win, again.
A diabolical show from Crockett. Clearly rattled by Vince McMahon, he’s leaning harder and harder into Dusty’s booking to try and fight back. It was clear by this point that Rhodes, while a creative genius at times, had lost the plot.