CLASH OF THE CHAMPIONS
March 27, 1988
So let’s get this straight. The WWF had sabotaged both of the NWA’s attempts to get on PPV, but now the WWF is on PPV tonight with the blowoff to the situation that saw the WWF Title get held up. What better way to get revenge than by sabotaging the WWF’s show, and also putting on the best show of the night?
Tommy Rogers . . . makes the Greensboro crowd forget all about Ricky Morton leaving by taking over his role and doing it awesomely.
Barry Windham . . . seems to be lucky that the Horsemen didn’t try to break any bones, or maybe it’s a sign of things to come.
Ric Flair . . . almost carries Sting on his back to one of his first good matches, which shows why he’s one of the best of all time.
MIKE ROTUNDO © vs. JIMMY GARVIN (NWA World Television Title)
This seems to have the same idea as the Flair/Garvin NWA Title match, with the idea of using the stipulation (College rules - five-minute rounds and only a one count for a pin) to keep from exposing Garvin. But the combination of the short length and the fact that this sort of match doesn’t play well to Garvin’s strengths prevent this from coming together as well as the Flair match. It also didn’t help that the best thing that Rotundo could do to keep things moving was stalling, with things like rolling to the floor and refusing to break cleanly and forcing the referee to separate them. Despite the fact that the stipulation gives Rotundo the obvious advantage they don’t go that route, this looks like just any other pro match aside from the brief tussle on the mat at the end of the first round. The Sullivan distraction that allows Rotundo to get the pin would make sense if it seemed like Garvin was about to win, and maybe cinching up Rotundo for the brainbuster gives that idea. But the fact that Garvin was clearly out of his element, and it showed with the ease in which Rotundo was able to outwrestle him, negates that notion. The really good stuff is afterwards though, when the Varsity Club attacks Garvin and Precious levels Steiner with a 2X4 and then chokes Sullivan with a coat hanger. Wild stuff.
BOBBY EATON/STAN LANE © vs. TOMMY ROGERS/BOBBY FULTON (NWA United States Tag Team Titles)
It’s not an NWA show without a southern tag match, and these two teams sure brought the goods. They stick to the typical tag team match formula, and while it’s true that sometimes being formulaic is an excuse to not be original, this isn’t one of those time, and they prove that by showing how well all four of them understand their roles and do their part to move things along. The crazy brawl at the beginning was certainly unexpected, especially with the chairs and tables becoming involved, but it got the fans going in a hurry and it caused them to get behind Rogers that much more when he was being worked over and trying to tag.
If you’re wondering why the Midnight Express is the standard by which most tag teams in the U.S. are held up to, then look no further than their control segment on Rogers. They dismantle him with double teams early on like their Double Goozle and even the Demolition Decapitation (ironic given that the Demos would be winning the WWF Tag Titles on this night). There’s a great false hope moment when Rogers surprises Lane with a sunset flip and Eaton distracts the ref. Eaton bulldogging Rogers on the table is pretty hardcore for ‘88. This is by no means a one-team show though, Rogers’ selling is great, the reaction to the bulldog is the best stuff, but he’s very good throughout, especially his Kawada-like spot where Lane tries to whip him into the ropes and he crumples to the mat. Fulton’s frustration building up is fun to watch, and when he loses control after the ref missed the tag and Cornette hit Rogers with the racket it’s easy to see why he threw the ref out and it’s easy to forget (even for a second) that he just cost them the titles. People might complain about the Dusty finish, with the second ref counting the pin after the Fantastics’ Rocket Launcher, but it was a necessary evil, the alternative was the first ref just calling it right then and there which would mean that the Midnights don’t get their comeuppance. ****1/4
DUSTY RHODES/HAWK/ANIMAL vs. IVAN KOLOFF/WARLORD/BARBARIAN (Barbed Wire Street Fight)
Enclosing this many big guys into the ring at the same time probably wasn’t such a good idea. Nobody really has the room to do anything. The only real bumps are the press slam to Koloff by Hawk and Animal’s powerslam to Warlord, but other than that they just brawl and trade punches. And, of course, Dusty makes sure to bleed. Warlord gets pinned by Animal after Barbarian headbutts him on accident. The heels attack afterwards and remove Animal’s mask and target the eye, which would have been nice to see during the match, at least then the brawling and lack of wrestling would have at least had some sort of purpose.
TULLY BLANCHARD/ARN ANDERSON © vs. BARRY WINDHAM/LEX LUGER (NWA World Tag Team Titles)
Two good tag matches on one show! Yeah, it’s safe to say that Crockett beat McMahon on this night. This doesn’t hit the same level as the other tag title match did, mostly because the Horsemen’s control segment on Windham isn’t nearly as wrestling-oriented. Tully and Arn are just content to punch and kick Barry rather then use their wrestling skills to wear him down. It makes sense in a way since this is supposed to be based more on hatred and less on the tag titles, but the Midnights/Fantastics were ten times better with both the wrestling *and* the conveying of their hatred. The champs don’t even pick a bone and try to break it, the way they singled out Lex’s leg in the early going. Of course, if you know what happens on 4/20/88 in Jacksonville, you might not think it’s so odd that they don’t go out of their way to hurt Barry the way they seemed to with Lex.
There’s also a few missteps from Barry that drag this down a bit. There were several times that it was obvious that he was able to make the tag to Luger, but because it wasn’t time for it yet, Barry had to find something else to do and it looked obvious that he was killing time. Tully had a moment like that, but was much smarter in covering it, he hit Barry with the Slingshot suplex and stopped to celebrate and thus made Barry’s kick out look plausible. Luger is great as the hot tag, he’s almost as fired up as Fulton was, and he’s smart to stick with using his power advantage to take the fight to Tully and Arn. Some might take issue with the misfire with the chair that leads to Luger pinning Arn, but it doesn’t detract from anything at all. This was supposed to look somewhat like a fluke with the Horsemen’s cheating catching up with them and costing them the titles. The fact that two teams could churn out such a good match, despite its flaws, shows just how good these four were at this time and also speaks volumes for why the tag match formula is the tag match formula. ***1/2
RIC FLAIR © vs. STING (NWA World Heavyweight Title)
Aside from the simple fact that he was able to go forty-five minutes with the champion of the world, I fail to see how this is any sort or real star-making performance for Sting. It’s pretty clear that this is a Flair match, and Flair is the better performer here by a decent margin. Sting’s problem is that it never seems like he’s got a genuine chance at winning the title, watch the ways that Sting goes on offense and watch what Flair does. Flair’s method of going on offense is always predicated on Sting making a mistake. He lets Flair up from a bear hug, stops to play to the crowd, and misses a charge in the corner. Sting uses the lariat quite a bit here, and at one point Flair sees it coming and ducks, sending Sting over the top. Sting uses a side headlock and Flair counters into a knee buster and it’s time to go to school. Sting isn’t nearly as smart. He just takes control whenever it seems like a good time. It doesn’t matter if Flair was just busting up his knee or if he’d just gone over the top rope. He just casually stops selling the figure four and pulls Flair into the center (which keeps Flair from using the ropes) and turns him over, he’ll climb to the top and hit a cross body press, or he’ll just no-sell a chop (despite a Flair chop opening a small cut on his chest) and start throwing punches.
Sting’s best run of offense comes less than one-third of the way into the match, Flair is crisscrossing the ropes and showing good shape he’s in, and Sting catches him by surprise with a big press slam and Sting follows that up with a bear hug, complete with Flair screaming about his back. Incidentally, it also will weaken Flair for the Scorpion Deathlock. Sting never goes back to it though, he’s more concerned with busting up Flair’s leg and using the figure four in revenge for Flair busting up his leg. Sting would have been better served to spend that time doing stuff that might lend credence to the notion that he could win the title. Nobody would think for a second that Flair would submit to his own move. Maybe if Sting spent that time continuing to set up the Scorpion, then Flair might not have been able to last in the hold until the time limit ran out.
Thankfully, Sting isn’t in the ring with just any Roody Poo Candy Ass that’s walking down Know Your Role Boulevard, he’s in there with Ric Flair, and Flair is good enough to overcome Sting’s limitations. His bumping and selling are as over the top as ever, especially the Flair flip that sends him right over the judge’s table. He acts like the Figure Four and Scorpion are killing him, and he’s eons better than Sting with making his offense mean something and showing *why* he’s the champion of the world while Sting is just a punk kid. One of Sting’s better offensive moves was when he surprised Flair and was able to outwrestle him for an Abdominal stretch and instead of cheating, Flair decides to just outwrestle him right back and easily counters it. Much of Flair’s work here is the typical Flair formula where he plays cowardly heel, but, like the previous tag matches, Flair’s performance is so good that you see why this is such a proven formula and it doesn’t reek of Flair going through the motions for lack of anything else to do. I’m not sure what the point of having the judges were, aside from possibly trying to show how important the Clash of Champions is, since the WWF had made a habit out of using celebrities at WrestleMania in various capacities. The concept of bringing in judges in case the match goes to a draw so that there is a decisive winner, and then having the finish be a draw anyway is certainly backwards, but would anyone expect anything less from World Championship Wrestling? ***1/2
Conclusion: You simply can’t go wrong here. There’s tons of good wrestling, and the stuff that isn’t so good in the wrestling department has some good stuff afterwards to make it salvageable. It’s rare that something with a lot of hype lives up to it, but this is certainly one of those instances, huge recommendation for this show.