NWA Clash of the Champions #1 (3.27.88) review
March 27, 1988.
We’re in Greensboro, North Carolina for the show dubbed “Crockett Strikes Back”. Clash #1 was designed to fuck with Vince McMahon and the WWF. After the WWF ran Survivor Series head-to-head with Starrcade (and was told by PPV providers to not do that again) and then aired the Royal Rumble on free TV to mess with the buyrate for the Bunkhouse Stampede, a pissed off Jim Crockett ran a show on free TV head-to-head with WrestleMania IV.
Hosts are Jim Ross, Tony Schiavone and Bob Caudle. The show popped a 5.8 Nielson rating on TBS, which is possibly more impressive than the WWF popping a huge rating on a channel people actually watch.
NWA TV Championship
Mike Rotunda (c) vs. Jimmy Garvin
We’re getting confusing rules here. A one-count is a pinfall and we’ve got a rounds system. It’s because Rotunda is in the Varsity Club. He beat Nikita Koloff for the belt in January. He’s trained by “Gamesmaster” Kevin Sullivan. Who looks like a deranged wizard but is actually an amateur wrestling coach, or something.
For those unfamiliar with wrestler size in the 1980s, Rotunda, who routinely looks small, is 6’3”, 250lbs. Rotunda is out here preaching amateur style but hiding punches behind the ref’s back. There’s some decent technical stuff in here, especially from Rotunda. R2 sees Sullivan and Precious get into a fight on the apron. Garvin is drawn across and rolled up for the loss. Rick Steiner runs in for the beatdown but Precious fucks him up with a 2×4 and chokes out Sullivan with a coathanger! Holy shit, Precious! BADASS.
Bob Caudle welcomes back Dr Death, who’s been in Japan. He worked a bunch of short NJPW tours until switching to AJPW in 1990, when he got good. He’s not good on promos here. “Ric Flair, you’ve been walking down that gold, gold carpet”. What?
NWA United States Championship
Midnight Express (c) vs. Fantastics
I’m confused by Jim Crockett and the Fantastics. They were booked by JCP a lot in 1985 and they ruled but then the bookings just stopped. I know they went to UWF in 1986 and the tag division was strong without them, but on the other hand they fucking ruled. Speaking of things that fucking rule, this does! They start at 100mph and just keep going. PANDELIRIUM out here. Not just in the ring. They use chairs, tip over the ringside tables. Cornette gets involved. It is wild.
Midnight’s take over with double teams and isolate Tommy Rogers. They have a great spot where Cornette pops the table against the ropes while Lane distracts, and Eaton runs Rogers into the table. Interesting to see Eaton do the Savage Elbow and not even pin. A deliberate shot at the competition, surely.
Eaton hits a bulldog on the table, on the floor, and the fans are SHOCKED. Tommy Rogers is taking a beating here. Randy Anderson misses the hot tag so Fulton yeets him over the top rope. Cornette runs in with the tennis racket and whacks Eaton. Tommy Young runs in and counts Eaton down after a Rocket Launcher for the pin and the belts, but it’ll be a Dusty Finish for the attack on Pee Wee. They probably leaned a little too heavily into the heat segment but an otherwise kick-ass 10 minutes of pro wrestling. There was so much happening, but it all made sense. ****¼. Cornette and the Midnight’s lash Fulton with Jim’s belt afterwards and on the way out Cornette lays out Tommy Young and screams in celebration. A great night to be Jim Cornette.
Video Control gives us Bob Caudle talking about Leave it to Beaver, which segues into Jim Cornette doing a bit with character Eddie Haskell. Back to Caudle and he’s got Gary Hart and Al Perez, who have newly arrived from the basically dead WCCW/WCWA. Perez had been a star in Texas but didn’t have the personality to get over in the big leagues. He says he’s coming for the US title but that’s not happening. Al lasted the year before going to WWF, where he barely made it on TV. He briefly played the Black Scorpion in the Sting angle before going to AJPW for a few tours and that was about it.
Barbwire Six Man Tag
Dusty Rhodes & Road Warriors vs. Ivan Koloff & Powers of Pain
Barbarian and Warlord have formally been put together as a team. They’ve strung barbwire up on the ropes and there are no tags or anything. They’ve given Dusty face paint to make him look cool. It’s not working. Animal has a mask on to protect an eye injury. You’d think the vicious heels would go after it with barbwire but no. He uses it as a weapon, the big bloody cheater. Barbarian miscues with a diving headbutt and Animal gets the pin. This was a mess. They try to blind Animal post match, for shits and giggles. Jim Ross made this sound amazing but it sucked.
We get an interview with Nikita Koloff. Why is every interview all about Dusty Rhodes? I swear his ego was completely out of control in 1988. Like, Hulk Hogan thinks he should ease up a bit. That’s how bad it is.
NWA World Tag Team Championship
Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard (c) vs. Barry Windham & Lex Luger
Luger is a former Horseman. Windham is a future one. Quite soon in fact. Beware the Ides of March, Flexy Lexy! It’s bizarre they let Luger & Windham win the belts just to allow the turn. Just have Barry turn here surely? Arn & Tully are about to kick off a run as one of the best tag teams in the world, maybe in history. They’re so good.
This is another ten-minute contest, so they don’t need to hold anything back. Which means we get balls-to-the-wall Lex Luger, who rarely ever makes an appearance. The Horsemen just bump around like crazy and both Luger and Windham go nuts with the moves. Arn gets to hit both his big spots; DDT and the spinebuster, in a rare spell of the champs being charge. The action doesn’t slow down though and the heat on this is unreal. The heat on all Horsemen matches were superb.
Windham gets picked off for a while and survives all the big spots including the Slingshot Suplex. If there’s a weak link here it’s Luger, who doesn’t quite land everything. JJ Dillon, who’s been doing a fine job of looking worried gets a chair in there, but Luger runs Arn into it. JJ diving in but not in time and the belts change hands, for all of two weeks. The heat on this was amazing. ****
Before we get to the main event we’re introduced to the judges for it.
Which include Wonder Years co-star Jason Hervey (get used to that name in WCW), Leave it to Beaver actor Ken Osmond (aka Eddie Haskell) and Penthouse pet of the year Patty Mullen. What are these people’s qualifications for judging a wrestling match? Who did Patty Mullen ever beat? Gary Juster and Sandy Scott, who work for the NWA, make more sense.
At least Patty Mullen has a better movie on her CV than most pro-wrestlers; Frankenhooker. A love story where a guy reanimates his dead girlfriend using spare parts from prostitutes.
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Ric Flair (c) vs. Sting
JJ Dillon, interfering son of a gun, is put in a shark cage and hung above the ring so he can’t do anything. We address the whole judging thing, which exists because of TV tie-ins and a reduced 45-minute time limit because of TV time on TBS. Dick Ebersol would have never done this. JR gets distracted and starts talking about tactics in basketball and how Oklahoma won yesterday despite the other team’s nefarious delaying tactics.
Sting is still a little bit green but the difference between him and Warrior is like night and day. He just gets the dance. They run a double International and you can see the gears whirring, but Sting gets through it clean.
They also have a nice crutch for Sting, which is going to a headlock if he needs to reset. Flair mumbling sweet nothings into his chest in the process. We get the odd miscue. Sting whiffs on a corner dropkick and Flair faceplants it anyway. We cut away to Patty Mullen. “I’m sure she’s used to some action” quips JR, the pervert.
Flair started leaning into chops in 1988. He manages to bust up Sting’s chest in the process. The trouble with a long match, is the almost inevitable rest holds, which is why Flair-Windham was so good. They didn’t rest. In this match, Sting frequently goes to rest holds. The switch from headlock to bearhug makes some sense with regards to the potential Scorpion Deathlock finish. It doesn’t make it any less dull.
If we’re judging this on five-minute segments, after 15 minutes, I’d have Sting up 3-0. He’s bossed it. This is the point where Flair takes over to work over Sting’s back. He’s trying to take away Sting’s power base. No more press slams. Flair is notably better at putting together offence. Stringing one move to the next. There’s no stopping and resting involved. There’s no reset, no chatter.
Sting has the temerity to work over the legs, as he’s trying to set up the Scorpion Deathlock. This baits Flair into going after the legs and setting up his own submission; the Figure Four leglock.
Sting does a great job in this match of being vulnerable, unlike Roadwarrior Hawk, but also showing a lot of fire and getting the crowd up when required. It’s a difficult balance. One that has derailed a lot of monster babyfaces like Nikita Koloff. This match made it very clear that Sting was a different beast to any of the guys they’d tried in the role before. He had that delicate mixture of personality, talent and athleticism.
As get closer to the end of the match, Flair’s crazy ideas get crazier. He takes a bump over the judges and blades on the floor. “I’VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT” screams JR. The final five minutes have some fun near falls with Flair trying to cheat out of desperation and Sting using counters to get close to having his hand raised. It’s true that this version of Sting was a little cartoonish, and it would get worse, but he was so over. We finish the match with the Scorpion Deathlock as Flair refuses to quit and keeps his belt.
BUT that means it goes to the judges as the time limit has expired. Sting is obviously the winner. It’s not even close. Sting dominated huge chunks of the match. While Flair had a spell of control, working the back and the leg, it didn’t get him anywhere and Sting was far closer to victory at the end.
Patty Mullen scores the match for Flair and gives him a cheeky finger guns and wink to boot. Juster scores it for Sting. Sandy Scott calls it a draw. Crowd hate that. Wait, what about the other two clowns? Who did Hervey vote for? Anyway, Sandy Scott’s ‘draw’ verdict means it’s a draw. ****
While this match made Sting as a main event, you can see the flaws in it throughout. He probably wasn’t ready to go 45:00, unlike Barry Windham, but just about held it together. Some of the early going was especially rough before they’d earned the rights to go to submission attempts.
A blow-away success. Clash 1 established a new star for the NWA and showed they could put on a kick-ass TV show in a two hour block. I don’t think another Clash show even comes close to measuring up to this one but it’s a hell of a debut. Come the end of the year, this is the show of the year. Three ****+ matches on the same show, in 1988? Get the fuck outta here. Show of the year.