NWA Great American Bash 1988 – The Price for Freedom (7.10.88) review
July 10, 1988
We’re in Baltimore, Maryland. Hosts are Tony Schiavone and Jim Ross. We’re at the Baltimore Arena. This building starting selling naming rights in 2003 so it is currently sponsored by a bank, which I’m not going to bother naming because it’ll probably change next year. It’s a building with a lot of history as it was built in the 1960s and renovated rather than being replaced. It was home to the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA (now the Washington Wizards). It also hosted a lot of gigs over the years including the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley.
For wrestling it was used by the WWWF and this is where Billy Graham won his world title, beating Bruno Sammartino. Jim Crockett’s NWA were also frequent visitors. The Great American Bash was held here eight times. Sting and Ron Simmons both captured the WCW title in this building for the first time. Vince McMahon ran multiple PPVs here including King of the Ring 1994, No Mercy 2003, No Way Out 2006, Backlash 2008, etc, etc. The latter saw Triple H capture the world title from Randy Orton.
This event aired live on PPV. It was the first time Jim Crockett got to run a PPV without the WWF attempting to fuck with it after PPV providers got quite annoyed with Crockett and McMahon for their antics and attempts to ruin each other’s buyrates. The event didn’t sell well, due in part to a downturn in NWA’s general business in 1988 but also the poor quality of the previous PPV; the Bunkhouse Stampede. Crockett is in so much shit, financially, that the entire company was sold off to Ted Turner just four months after this show. By their next PPV, Starrcade, the company will have rebranded as WCW, although still flying the NWA flag and banner.
NWA World Tag Team Championship
Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard (c) vs. Sting & Nikita Koloff
In a company where ‘over the top rope’ was a DQ Sting happily hits a fucking DIVE in the first minute.
Then here comes Koloff. The time killer. The arm barrer. I would get upset but I kinda love his flattop haircut. As with the Arn & Tully vs. Sting & Dusty match, this would benefit from someone else bringing the fire with Sting. Koloff is reluctant and rarely brings that fire. You have to keep in mind that Arn & Tully were fantastic in 1988 and Sting is a top tier babyface. This should be outstanding.
They do work the Horsemen’s heat in nicely. JJ Dillon draws a lot of hate as the champs pick off Koloff. There’s too much Koloff and not enough Sting. The crowd roar at everything and this might be the first incarnation of the modern favourite; the “hot opener”. Sting’s hot tag is a bit of a mess, which is reflected in the crowd’s reactions. Arn Anderson can’t seem to get on the same page as him during it. Sting has Blanchard beaten with the Scorpion Deathlock but the 20:00 time limit expires. ***¼
A decent hot opener. Sting did great here, for the most part, and they manged a Dusty-ish Finish with the babyfaces celebrating with the belts although Tully never quit. The challengers were so convinced they’d won, they’re even sporting the tag belts as the outcome is revealed by Gary Michael Capetta.
NWA United States Tag Team Championship
Fantastics (c) vs. Midnight Express
Back-to-back tag title matches? Someone hasn’t read card formatting 101. The Fantastics are a weird deal. The NWA doesn’t seem that enamoured with them, and their two big Crockett runs seem due to an absence of the Rock n’ Roll Express.
Personally, I think they’re underrated, and Tommy Rogers is unlucky not to be held in higher regard, historically. Due to his bullshit, Jim Cornette is put in a straitjacket and a shark cage over the ring. “This thing hasn’t been properly tailored”. “I’m appealing to your baser instincts. CAN YOU BE BRIBED?” – Cornette asks the ref for help. It’s a shame Cornette can be a bit of an asshole because his talking skills are unparalleled.
He’s so good here. Anyway, we get underway, and Fulton busts out a rana. This normally would get no reaction from me at all, but I think it’s the first one I’ve seen in the USA. JR starts talking about the State Athletic Commission and oh no, it’s this show, isn’t it? The match is fun enough. Fantastics land some innovative double teams. Tommy Young lets them get away with murder in terms of the tag rules.
Eaton looks slick tonight. His back elbow is flawless. The swinging neckbreaker he does here is outstanding. The only real flaw in the match is the strikes, which are mostly poorly worked punches. Everything else looks great. Eaton busts out the Tennessee Jam here, but doesn’t even pin, using it as such a high impact move that he hurts himself. Tommy Young gets poked in the eye, which looks ok. I’ll give them a pass. Eaton punches Fulton with a chain and Young recovers to count the pin. New champions! ****
This was energetic and well put together. Both teams were cooking. Fantastics had great double teams. Midnights did a great job too. Fantastics get their heat back by assaulting the defenceless Cornette with Tommy Young’s belt. Boo! A disgraceful display from the babyfaces.
Tower of Doom
The Dusty obsession with weird cage matches hits the final level. The Boss Level. This triple deck cage needs ladders for the wrestlers to enter the top. Inside it are trap doors. The winning team is the one that gets all its members out of the cage. The whole thing merely serves as a background to the Kevin Sullivan-Precious angle, as the latter holds the key to the cage and we’re left to wonder if she’ll side with her husband Jimmy Garvin or the evil Gamesmaster, who’s tried to get into her head in recent weeks.
Team Garvin is Jimmy, Ronnie, Doc and the Roadwarriors. Sullivan’s team is Sullivan, Rotunda, Ivan Koloff, Al Perez and Russian Assassin #1. A bit odd there’s no Rick Steiner. Also a bit odd that the Varsity Club, a team that espouses a Kurt Angle-esque love of amateur wrestling is allied with a Satanist. Russian Assassin #1 is David Sheldon, better known to Stampede and UWF fans as Angel of Death. They’ve stuck a mask on him here and he’s a generic Russian heel.
Animal has a look on his face as he arrives that screams “fuck me, another bullshit gimmick match”. The top cage is way too small. They needed to make the bottom cage much bigger to make the whole thing work. The top cage is like a double shark cage. WWE has bigger pods in Elimination Chamber.
Anyway, they’re fighting above the lights because the structure is so tall. You see Tommy Young in there. He’s controlling the trap door, which opens for ten seconds every two minutes. They’ve given him a little reel to control it and it’s so slow. Everyone is falling over each other trying not to kill themselves. It’s very hard to see what’s happening. Every crowd shot shows a fan looking confused and staring towards the ceiling.
While everyone is scuffling around in the top two cages, Ron Garvin literally just climbs all the way down and escapes. Why would he do that?* Now the whole team is a man short. Not the sharpest tool. The match is a mess. Not even close to having the excitement nor logic of War Games. Animal hops out and that leaves the faces 3 on 5 inside the cages until Al Perez, left on his own in the bottom cage, simply walks out.
*Maybe he was about to turn heel? Huh, you ever think of that?
I don’t think anyone thought about strategy in this in the slightest. The first hint of strategy comes from the Russians who both make it into the bottom cage and wait for Hawk to come down there so they can kick his ass. Hawk, dipshit that he is, hits a double clothesline and escapes. The Russians shrug and leave the cage. Instead of waiting for Jimmy Garvin and simply beating the shit out of him 4 on 1 and then leaving.
The heels still have a 2 on 1 but Rotunda walks out leaving Sullivan on his own. What a fucking idiot. The story becomes Jimmy Garvin vs. Kevin Sullivan and what will Precious do??? It’s not as dramatic as I’m sure Dusty thought it would be. Precious just lets Jimmy Garvin out and the faces win.
Sullivan pushes Garvin out at the finish, so he can lock himself into the cage with Precious. Oh, you dirty bastard. So, the babyfaces have to climb back up the structure to go and save her. Sullivan comes across as a complete sicko and Hawk gets a monster pop for finally getting to him. Anyway, this was a mess, and they gave up on this after one event, only bringing it back in 1996 for Hogan & Savage vs. The Alliance to End Hulkamania. That match was even worse than this.
NWA United States Championship
Barry Windham (c) vs. Dusty Rhodes
Windham looks badass here. Dusty was US champion but got stripped of the belt. Barry won the title in a tournament but is seen as a bit of a puppet champion, because he never beat Rhodes. Barry looks up for this and bumps around a lot for Dusty. I’m never quite sure what version of Windham is going to turn up. Case in point is Barry taking a slingshot to the floor. That was a hefty bump on the apron.
Dusty spending ages in the Iron Claw rather derails the match though. It’s supposed to be Barry’s finisher and Dusty is here juking and jiving his way out of it. It’s just stupid. Not only does it hurt Barry’s finisher, but it also slows the match down and makes it suck. This is followed by a ref bump so Dusty can get the visual pin. Ronnie Garvin walks out here and turns on Dusty, for reasons, I guess. Barry gets the pin with the Claw to retain but Dusty is selling the punch, not the Claw. This was great for 5-6 minutes but the rest of it sucked. Call it **½
Garvin’s turn never made any sense here. It went nowhere and he left for the WWF a month later. Dusty himself would follow after falling out with the new owners of the NWA towards the end of 1988 but that’s a story for another time.
Video Control shows Ron Garvin counting cash that JJ Dillon has given him. So, it’s a cash situation eh? Tony Schiavone makes a point of telling us that Ronnie left the Tower of Doom first and never came back. Huh. Maybe there was some logic in that match.
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Ric Flair (c) vs. Lex Luger
Luger’s career path going into this includes a stint in the Horsemen and a babyface run since that screams ‘young world champion’. I’m not a big Luger fan but this was a real chance to do something special. He’s more popular than Ronnie Garvin was when he won the title and could have been Crockett’s belated answer to Hulkamania.
Flair’s match is becoming very familiar and Luger is ideal for his formula. There’s lots of no selling and big power moves. Luger is only four years in but that’s ideal for him. He would get jaded later in his career and stop caring. He’s already as good as he is going to get. JR points out how focused Luger is on the back, to set up the Torture Rack. Lots of slams and holds. Tony talks about Flair taking a lot of bumps, which could cause a back issue for him before JR gives us the proper history. No one mentions the plane crash though.
This is Luger’s first big shot. He’s had big matches before, but they’ve been as a heel or in tags. As a babyface hero vs. Flair, he’s now operating at his highest level so far. Flair spends some of this match going through the motions, which is to be expected when you do the same match, repeatedly. Luger also has a few issues with selling the knee. His general “argh, I’m in pain” selling is fine but the knee specific stuff he struggles with.
I like that Luger is revived by Flair’s chops. The idea being that he can’t be hurt by stuff like that, but the leg injury is serious. They have a horrible crossbody over the top spot, which goes badly wrong, and they struggle over there. Oh lads, just no. Luger gets posted and busted. The idea is that Luger bleeds a gusher so we can get the ‘excessive blood loss’ finish. However, it’s not a bad cut at all. JR points out the state athletic commissioner is asking to talk to the ref about it. Luger gets the Torture Rack and it’s over, but the referee has already stopped it thanks to the fucking State Athletic Commissioner. ***¼
The match gets a bad rap because the finish sucks. If Luger had bladed properly maybe people would have bought it. The crowd, and Luger, naturally think he’s won the belt. This is the very worst of Dusty Finishes. Cappetta announces it got stopped for blood loss and the crowd are horrified. This is the kind of bullshit that ruined the company financially and led to Ted Turner coming in. You can do it a few times but when it becomes the norm, the Dusty Finish is bad for business.
The in-ring here was decent throughout and only the daft Tower of Doom match and the booking of the main event dragged it down. Jim Crockett’s promotion always leaned heavily on a big heel main event star, which was Ric Flair. The trouble with this is that every challenger who stepped up to him would end up looking like a failure for being unable to get the belt off Flair when over in the WWF, the babyfaces would routinely cream the top heels. You could argue the WWF had weaker heels at the top of their cards but surely at some point someone has to beat Flair. He’s been their top guy for five years at this point. I would have given Luger a shot at this point. They could have made big money with him as a face champion.