Pro Wrestling USA Night of the Champions 2 (12.29.85) review
December 29, 1985
Pro Wrestling USA, the combined forces of the NWA and AWA, were not quite done. This amalgamation of promotions also included Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler from Memphis. They clubbed together in 1984 to battle Vince McMahon’s expansionism. They deliberately ran competitive shows around the New York area, attempting to undermine Vince’s business by showcasing their own stars in his market. They drew decent crowds until Rage in a Cage, the show that finally broke the company and saw them all go off to fight their own battles with McMahon in their own way. We’re in East Rutherford, New Jersey at the Meadowlands Arena. 13,000 in attendance for this one.
We get some interviews to start with. The Road Warriors shout about the Russians. Tully Blanchard is ready to take on Magnum TA again and says he’s not just coming for the belt. “I’m coming for your eye”.
Ron Bass vs. JJ Dillon
VQ is low for production, so sadly no screenshots of the action. There’s also no commentary. It looks like a fancam. Without the NWA’s hot build, and Bass having to go through Black Bart first, there’s not much doing here. Dillon is only 43 but he’s in horrible condition. The match has a weird structure, where they go 50-50 and Dillon gets to measure up on the mat and in striking. Quite why Bass would want himself to look that bad is hard to fathom. Bass wins with the Iron Claw as the ring announcer tells us we’re at five minutes. We’re at finished mate. This sucked.
NWA World Midget Championship
Little Tokyo (c) vs. Cowboy Lang
Cowboy Lang is good. He’s technically proficient and capable with various counter holds. Tokyo does all his usual stuff for yucks and chucks from the New York brigade. They do some comedy kick outs and Tokyo gets his barefoot bitten. They have a bad finish though with a coming together in the corner and Tokyo pinning with one foot on the rope. I can see what they were going for but it didn’t work.
AWA Women’s Championship
Sherri Martel (c) vs. Debbie Combs
Sherri runs the same shtick she did when she won this belt. The New Yorkers, unaccustomed to seeing attractive women wrestle, do a lot of catcalling and holler walling. Debbie struggles to sell for Martel, whose offence isn’t clinical, but offers up some decent striking of her own. Combs takes a cracking bump to the floor after missing in the corner. It’s not quite the Sgt Slaughter bump but not far off. Debbie gets a bit of flak for being overpushed due to her mom, Cora Combs, who retired in 1985 after being a mainstay of NWA in the 60s and 70s. I like her. She’s definitely a better worker than Sherri Martel, who would be better suited to being a manager where she could use her wrestling strengths without being exposed. This match would be fine it if was given the same 5-6 minutes as the opening two, but they go over ten minutes and the crowd get on them for every rest hold. They have an incredible finish with Combs hitting a fantastic airplane spin, with Sherri starfishing it, getting dizzy and Sherri gets a roll up with a handful of tights straight out of it. Great stuff.
Universal Heavyweight Championship
Carlos Colon (c) vs. The Barbarian
This is Colon’s fourth run with this title. He’s go on to win it 26 times. It serves as the Puerto Rican version of the NWA belt, only in reverse. So, Colon sometimes loses it to stars from elsewhere and then wins it back. Barbarian is a stereotypical powerhouse heel from this era. He doesn’t have the moveset to back up his intimidating look and resorts to a bearhug pretty quickly. The rule of thumb in wrestling is that if you use a bearhug, you suck. It’s a shame because when he does clobber Colon with a lariat, it looks good. He should have done more striking. Barbarian chucks Colon outside, goes to slam him back in and gets rolled up in the process. That’s another innovative finish. The match kept a decent pace but wasn’t executed particularly well.
Buddy Roberts vs. Paul Ellering
A rare match from Ellering, the manager of the Road Warriors. He has some fun ideas around the ropes and the ring post. I guess you come up with this stuff if you’re stood at ringside normally. The best spot is him tying Buddy’s face behind the ring rope and then booting the ropes into his face. Ellering appears to have a neck brace, which is an obvious target for Roberts. Buddy works it over for a few minutes and the Road Warriors have had enough of this shit and run in to murder him for the DQ. YOU DON’T WORK OUR MANAGER’S NECK OVER BROTHER. It’s a brutal assault. They kill him. Huge pops for all this.
NWA Tag Team Championship
Rock N’ Roll Express (c) vs. Long Riders
RNR just won these belts at Starrcade and would go on to feud with the Midnight Express in 1986, in a series of matches I’m excited about seeing again. This one? Less so. Scott Irwin mishears an early call and almost runs straight into Gibson. Naturally they re-do the spot because it’s the lead into a sequence and it was a hip toss. The Irwin boys were an underrated team. They were decent. They’re happy to play second fiddle in this one and take all the high spots until five minutes in when they suddenly have enough and start to kick Gibson’s ass. The crowd love it, which is a marker of how New Yorkers tend to treat high flying babyfaces. See: Michaels, Shawn. Despite this they still go nuts for the hot tag and Morton gets a sunset flip for the win. This was way better than anything else so far. Not quite notebook territory but the Rock N Roll Express was so good at this formula that the crowd hated them and still cheered it. **¾
Russian Death Match
Boris Zhukov & Chris Markov vs. Sgt Slaughter
Sarge is taking on not one but two evil Russians, making him twice the hero of that mark Hulk Hogan. Markov was born in Yugoslavia, so that’s getting closer to Russia than the standard for “Russians” in the AWA. He did move to Minnesota as a kid though. Zhukov, on the other hand, was born in Roanoke and used to wrestle under the name Jim Nelson. The Russians double team Sarge and the crowd chants “USA”. It is a bad match. 1984 full of beans Sgt Slaughter seems to have disappeared completely now and been replaced with a guy who wants to do as little as humanly possible. Sarge does at least blade and lounges around on the ropes so the crowd can see the blood before he mounts a comeback. They have a miserable finish where Zhukov gets knocked out of the ring and Sarge half clips Markov with a clothesline for the pin. Jesus, this stank. It reeked. It fucking sucked.
NWA United States Championship
Magnum TA (c) vs. Tully Blanchard
This is hot on the heels of the “I Quit” match, which is a tough one to measure up to. They opt to go New York style and punch each other a lot. They manage to get more hatred and contempt into a punch up than Sarge did defending his country against evil foreigners in the last match. Magnum goes into the rail and bleeds, but this just leads to another fist fight on the outside. These punches are enough to bust Tully open. They barely do anything but punches in this, but it works. Proof that two great wrestlers can have a great match by just about any means. They just punch away until one, or both, guys collapse from it. Eventually Magnum weakens Blanchard enough to hit the belly to belly to retain. This was all kinds of great. Two guys punching each other for 12 minutes until one of them couldn’t stand anymore. Art. ***½
NWA World Championship
Ric Flair (c) vs. Dusty Rhodes
So, it’s Flair and Dusty, again. Rhodes beat Flair at Starrcade only for them to do the Dusty Finish. This is a joint production with AWA and there’s lots to get through, so they sensibly limit them to 15 minutes. Flair even remembers the broken leg here and goes after it early in proceedings. It took him 20 minutes to remember the whole angle at Starrcade. Here we get five minutes in and he’s stomping that ankle like it owes him money. I mean, it’s 1985 and Dusty so it might. Ask Buzz Tyler. This feels like the kind of match WWE put on Backlash. In that, yeah, they’ve fucked it up once, BUT this is a chance at getting it right a month later. After Dusty survives the Figure Four he puts a beating on Flair and Ric blades on the floor.
The ref gets bumped, Dusty gets a visual pin and backdrops Flair out of the ring for what should be a DQ. There’s a second referee at ringside, who sees it, and jumps in there to count Flair down after Dusty suplexes him back in. So, Dusty finally wins the NWA title again, right? Wrong. They only go and do it again. A second Dusty Finish in a month. The original referee reverses the decision and Dusty is disqualified. As if they did it TWICE in a month. Haha. This match was much better than Starrcade as it cut out a lot of the crap to get to the same conclusion. It still has the same stupid finish though so I probably wouldn’t recommend it. **¾
The Russians vs. The Road Warriors
This is the first time I’ve heard the Roadies called the “Legion of Doom”, which would be the WWF name for them. After the Road Warriors beat the shit out of Buddy Roberts you’d think they’d be wrestling the Freebirds here, but nope. Sadly, Nikita is only at ringside and Barry Darsow tags with Ivan Koloff. I like the Ivan & Nikita pairing because Nikita knows his limits and Ivan does all the work. Darsow keeps wanting to do things and he’s not very good. The last time they had one of these cross-promotion shows the Russians took a beating off a bunch of AWA retirement home guys but here they go 50-50 with one of the most exciting teams in wrestling. It doesn’t make much sense. At least they get the hot tag right with Hawk cleaning house, Ivan bleeding and the heels get their comeuppance. That is until Nikita Koloff tries to switch with Ivan. IVAN! The referee doesn’t notice until Paul Ellering points out Ivan just grew four inches and his wound miraculously healed. That’s a DQ. The Russians attack Ellering to set up a bizarre tag against Animal & Ellering in March.
AWA World Championship
Rick Martel (c) vs. Stan Hansen
This is an interesting mesh of styles with the more technical Martel getting battered by the brawler Hansen and having to pepper the match with dropkicks and the like. Martel has a simple tactic here; work over the arm to stop the lariat. Stan does him the service of switching arms to beat Rick up for a while but forgets about it and is soon dropping elbows with the bad arm. Martel’s second control period, he switches to just beating Stan up but that doesn’t work because he gets overpowered on a suplex. Tactic #3 from Martel is going after flash pins, which is the best tactic he’s come up with thus far. Hansen fucks him up though by getting a Boston crab in the corner and using the buckles to stop Martel from powering out of it. Martel, who can’t overpower Hansen and the ring structure, gives up and Hansen is the new AWA champion! HUUUUUUWWWW! While Martel’s tactics didn’t exactly play out how he wanted here, that played into the storyline of the match. The finish is an interesting one. If Martel had simply reached sideward and backwards he’d have been able to grab the ropes but he’s a babyface in 1985 so he wanted to power out of it. Chump. ***
Aside from not having that big killer match (“I Quit”) I think I preferred this to Starrcade. It had the same number of matches but felt less bloated. It does also have lower lows. Bass-Dillon and the Slaughter handicap match are both horrible. The Rock N’ Roll Express match, TA-Tully, Flair-Dusty and Hansen-Martel were all pretty good.
My general opinion of 1985 shows is that the standard is better than I remember but also, none of these shows are consistently good. I’ll debate it some more when I get into the ‘show of the year’ award in my next column but there are pros and cons to almost all the top shows from 1985; WrestleMania, Starrcade, AWA Superclash, Wrestling Classic etc.