NWA Great American Bash 1987 (7.4.87) review
July 4, 1987
We’re at the Omni, in Atlanta, Georgia. Two words here. Two words that changed the business and pushed Crockett’s NWA to a new and exciting places. Those two words? War Games.
This is the comp tape NWA released detailing the fun time they had over the course of the tour, rather than just the July 4 show. Commentary comes from Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone.
War Games I: The Bomb
Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger & JJ Dillon) vs. Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, Road Warriors & Paul Ellering
The whole War Games concept was so far ahead of its time. It took WWF a decade to come up with something comparative; Hell in a Cell. The match is a double cage with two guys starting. In this case Arn and Dusty. After five minutes another guy joins in, it’s always a heel that wins the coin toss. The heels then have a man advantage for the entire time until all ten guys have entered. When everyone is in there it becomes submission or surrender. Someone has to quit. Arn takes a beating in the first segment and bleeds all over the place.
The Horsemen, shockingly, win the coin toss and Tully Blanchard is next in. Dusty gets his big old carcass shredded for a couple of minutes. They take his leg and he blades. Road Warrior Animal comes in to even it up and his ‘hot tag’ entrance is awesome.
Ric Flair makes it 3 on 2 and the brief period of babyface dominance ends. Dusty comes in for even more abuse here. Nikita Koloff levels it at 3 on 3 and as with Animal the crowd go wild for his ‘hot tag’ entrance. Flair helps to make it special by walloping Nikita with chops and Koloff no selling everything. He’s fired up! Lex makes it 4 on 3, and he needs to take out Koloff, the fresh man. Hawk makes it 4 on 4. It’s a third stunning ‘hot tag’ entrance of the match. The match is carnage and JR does a great job of selling the chaotic nature of the match. Nobody was doing anything like this in 1987.
JJ tries to go after Hawk, which has been the formula of the match, but Hawk just creams him. Ellering is the last man in and we’re at The Match Beyond!
All the tactical business is now at an end. Now it’s a case of survival. Who has the weakest will? Road Warriors manage to isolate JJ and give him a variation of the Doomsday Device. He lands awkwardly, legitimately hurts his shoulder and Dillon gives up. The match is over. I’ve never seen this in the same light. Watching everything around it, you can see what an absolute madness this match must have been the first time around. I’m not a big War Games man. I don’t like the constant periods of handicap throughout. However, I am willing to admit the first one is an exciting experience. ****¼
Rick Steiner vs. Barry Windham
Windham is the Western States Heritage champion. A belt they made up so Barry could hold a title after his great matches with Ric Flair. Yanno, like they gave Triple H a world title in 2002. They don’t seem to click and Barry finishes by countering a pinfall. Rick literally had to flip himself into the pinfall because the setup was so bad.
NWA United States Championship
Nikita Koloff (c) vs. Lex Luger
Koloff has been champion for 11 months and has been this unstoppable force, but he’s got a bad neck and it’s time to change the guard. How does Lex Luger change the guard? With chinlocks. Lots and lots of chinlzzzzzz. Remember this is a comp tape. Imagine what they cut out if this got left in? Luger is like two years in at this point and he is not good. Hidden away in tags with Tully he looks passable. In War Games, he was fine. In a singles match against another meathead? Oh, just get all the way fucked. Koloff hits the Russian Sickle but does so with such force he also knocks the referee out. JJ Dillon chucks a chair in, Luger KOs Nikita with it and puts him in the Torture Rack.
And thus ends the 11 month US title reign of Nikita Koloff. Flexi Lexi’s reign of terror would last less long.
Texas Death Match
Steve Williams vs. Dick Murdoch
Magnum TA is out here in Doc’s corner to offset “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert, whose stable Dick is in. Doc comes in with a cast on his left arm and Murdoch brutalises it. Murdoch brings the goofiest selling on Doc’s comebacks. The one where he sells a punch by bouncing around on one leg and leaning as far over as he can is bizarre. Dick comes off the top, eats the cast to the face and Doc wins. Gilbert eats cast as well but Murdoch hits Williams in the arm with a chair so the feud must continue!
Fabulous Freebirds (Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy & Buddy Roberts) vs. Ivan Koloff, Manny Fernandez & Paul Jones
The original Freebirds line up, in Atlanta. You’d better believe they’re over as shit. Hayes is getting so much love for the moonwalk and a couple of scoop slams. Gordy beats Jones with an elbow drop in short order. JR rants about the Freebirds being the greatest six-man team going as if beating Paul Jones means anything. It was fun but short.
$100,000 Barbed Wire Ladder Match
Dusty Rhodes vs. Tully Blanchard
A lot to process here for people who thought the ladder match was invented by Shawn Michaels in 1995*. So, Dusty’s ladder match concept is to hang a bag of cash over the ring. Only that’s not enough for Dusty so he’s also chucked barbed wire all over the ropes for a laugh. I’m surprised they didn’t get the word “Bunkhouse” in there somewhere. “Lights Out” means there’s no rules. Which there shouldn’t be because it’s a ladder match. You can’t have DQs in a ladder match or the bag of cash just stays hanging over the ring forever.
Tully slips on the dreaded coal miner’s glove and nails Dusty between the eyes.
Windham makes the save after JJ Dillon jumps in there and Dusty attempts to dropkick Tully off the ladder. Let’s just say he doesn’t get a lot of height on that. Dusty pulls the cash down. Why does Dusty always win so much cash?
*The first recorded ladder match was in 1972 in Stampede Wrestling. By the late 80s they’d even done a ladder match on World of Sport. The prize was a disco ball. What else would you hang over a ring?
NWA World Championship
Ric Flair (c) vs. Jimmy Garvin
Hey, they’ll give anybody a fucking title shot around here! To put some heat on this, Flair refused Jimmy a title shot unless he gets something in return. That something? A night with Precious, Jimmy’s wife. I’d have been all “nah, Ric, that’s too far mate”. Jimmy Garvin is a good test of Flair Formula. Garvin mirrors a lot of Flair’s trademark stuff like the chops and the Figure Four. Flair is happy to sell like crazy and turn Jimmy into some sort of powerhouse freak. Flair bumps and bleeds all over the place as the crowd eat this up. Garvin blows his knee on a leapfrog and Flair goes to town on the knee. This brings out an angry Ron Garvin, who’s due a title shot too. Jimmy refuses to quit but he also can’t stand. It’s a moment of heroism that draws the crowd in like never before.
Jimmy isn’t fighting for the title. He’s fighting for his wife. Flair, feeling a little Looney Toons, displays his entire arse twice and falls off the top rope crotching himself. By contrast Jimmy is pulling out a performance for the ages. He tries a suplex and just collapses because his knee is fucked. Flair gets the Figure Four and he grabs two handfuls of ropes. The crowd are so mad a fan tries to climb in. Flair has got them that fucking rabid. In the end Jimmy just has to give up. His knee is destroyed, he can’t get out. Precious jumps in there to help her husband and Flair tries to make a play for her so in comes Ronnie to kick his ass and set up the title matches later in the year. Holy shit, this whole thing ruled from started to finish. I’ve never seen a Jimmy Garvin match I was this invested in. Flair is an elite tier worker. ****
NWA World Tag Team Championship
Rock n’ Roll Express (c) vs. Midnight Express
There’s no Jim Cornette because he tore his ACL trying to stomp Ricky Morton on a show a few weeks beforehand. The Midnight’s are instead managed by Big Bubba. This is a chance for Stan Lane to show off a bit. He does various sequences involving chasing with Ricky Morton and he can keep up, and often sets the pace. Morton himself is having a nice time. He literally climbs over Bobby Eaton to escape a lock up. Gibson eats the heat after Stan Lane socks him in the jaw in mid-headscissors. Big Bubba jumps in and spears Ricky Morton but he leaves his hat behind and the ref sees it, and calls for the DQ. He probably didn’t need to do that. The Midnight Express had been cooking. Two great teams doing their thing. ***½
War Games II: The Explosion
Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson & Lex Luger) & War Machine vs. Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, Road Warriors & Paul Ellering
This is a tour ending second go around for War Games from 31/7. JJ Dillon is still nursing the shoulder injury from the first one so he’s replaced by a mysterious masked man called War Machine, which is just Ray Traylor in a hood. This should give the Horsemen a sizeable advantage. The match is similar to the first. We start with Dusty vs. Arn and the Horsemen win the coin toss (I am shocked, how does this keep happening) but this time War Machine makes it 2 on 1. This time Dusty stupidly makes his own save before Roadwarrior Hawk comes in. Flair again makes his appearance as the Horsemen’s #3. Koloff is again #3 for his team. The babyfaces are not making it easy for themselves as none of them are selling. The crowd are red hot though, so what do I know? Tully is #4 for the heels. Animal is #4 for the faces. Leaving Luger and Ellering to be the last two men in.
This match really lacks the intensity and structure of the first one. There were defined runs for each guy in the first one. Especially the faces when they came in. In this one the babyfaces mischievously stepped on each others pops. The Road Warriors murder War Machine with a spiked wristband until he gives up. Hey, nobody knows it’s Big Bubba so that’s fine. This is definitely a step down from the first War Games. It was less Explosion and more meh. ***¼
1987’s Great American Bash tour was the entire of July, so they had plenty of matches to choose from. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t. It is however worth checking out. It’s a consistently fun 2 hours of wrestling and if you love War Games, you get two of them. It’s also got that incredible Flair-Jimmy Garvin match, which if I’d not seen I wouldn’t have believed existed. If this was one card, it would arguably be the best show of the year. Certainly the best tape release of 1987, I would wager.