CLASH OF THE CHAMPIONS III
September 7, 1988
Five years before Fall Brawl became known as the PPV that showcased War Games, it was the subtitle given to the Autumn Clash of Champions specials. And where exactly was all of the talent on this night? No Flair, no Midnights, no Tully and Arn. It says a lot when 1988 Ivan Koloff is one of the better workers of the night
Gary Hart . . . does the job in a match that he wasn’t even wrestling in, sounds like something you’d see in WC . . . never mind.
Ricky Morton . . . has the most watchable chain match that I’ve ever seen.
Barry Windham . . . becomes the second Horseman to carry Sting to a decent outing during a Clash of Champions special.
MIKE ROTUNDO © vs. BRAD ARMSTRONG (NWA World Television Title)
The work isn’t as good as the crowd heat would suggest. The fans seemed to be on the edge of their seats for this, but, all things considered, this isn’t much better than the Armstrong/Windham match from the previous clash. It’s got some good work to it, but it’s also got quite a bit of time killing in the form of headlocks from Rotundo. In a way that makes a bit of sense, a Varsity Club member should know what to do on the mat, but it’s not like Mike is taking Brad to the mat and punishing him the way you’d expect a Brad Rheingans or William Regal to do. Rotundo does add a few nice touches in the form of cheating, he grabs Armstrong’s hair to prevent a headlock and at one point when he’s got Brad on the mat in a headlock he uses the ropes to add pressure. And in the closing moments of the match, with the time running out, Mike’s urgency is on full display when he goes for the pin literally after every move.
The crowd heat seems to give the illusion that Brad is on his way to the title, but the match never gets to that point. The only times that it looks like Brad can even sniff the win are when he surprises Rotundo with flash pins, a small package and a sunset flip, and everyone knows that Rotundo isn’t going to lose to something like that. Armstrong going the distance with the champion looks to be due to luck as much as it is anything else, Armstrong isn’t pinned after the Airplane Spin because Rotundo was dizzy afterwards and couldn’t pin right away not because of anything that Armstrong did. The announcers try to spin the result as Brad getting a moral victory, but I don’t see why. If Rotundo was against a rookie like Dustin Rhodes then that would make sense, but Armstrong was an eight-year veteran who spent most of the match in trouble and looked to be a hair away from losing when he was saved by the bell.
STEVE WILLIAMS/NIKITA KOLOFF vs. BUTCH MILLER/LUKE WILLIAMS
I don’t think Doc and Gordy could get anything decent out of the Sheepherders, let alone Doc and Koloff. The Sheepherders just don’t have anything to do other than heel tactics that a green rookie starting out in Memphis could do, punching, choking, kicking, biting etc. There’s a nice moment when Rip Morgan hits Koloff with the flag and then Williams throws him into the guardrail, Nikita’s selling is surprisingly good here, but then Nikita tanks it when they get back into the ring and he hits a single punch that sends Luke over the top rope. If it’s that easy to take him down, why didn’t Nikita do that five minutes earlier? The long (long) heat segment on Nikita goes nowhere and Doc’s tag only lasts a minute before he tags Nikita right back in and he finishes off Luke with the Russian Sickle.
DUSTY RHODES vs. KEVIN SULLIVAN
If nothing else, this match is a nice example of showing that the people booking at the time didn’t understand how to promote on a national level. This match is only happening to build up to a Dusty/Sullivan dog collar match, which isn’t on PPV. Why use a prime time special to build up to something that’s going to be on regular programming (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s not a house show)? When was the last time that WWE used an edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event to build up to a match on a future RAW or Smackdown? The match itself isn’t anything to write home about. They brawl a lot, and Sullivan cheats and uses a foreign object behind the ref’s back, even thought there’s no disqualifications. Gary Hart interferes and Al Perez runs in and attacks Dusty with a chain and then Dusty cradles Hart and gets the pin. Whatever.
RICKY MORTON vs. IVAN KOLOFF (Russian Chain Match)
Hey, this is actually pretty watchable. Of course, it helps that it’s Ricky Morton getting beaten and choked with a chain. It also helps that Koloff isn’t afraid to stooge around for Morton. There’s a little backstory given so we know why this is taking place on show like this. Paul Jones thinks Koloff is the weak link in his stable and gave him a chance to prove himself, so Koloff picked this sort of match (his specialty) and picked his opponent. Given that they’re attached at the wrist by the chain and that it’s the ‘touch four corners’ rules for the match, they’re more than a bit limited on what they can do, but they’ve got just enough good ideas, like Ricky yanking the chain across Ivan’s grapefruits, and their little tug of war while Ricky was on the floor that shot Koloff into the ropes and rebounded him on his ass, to make something out of this.
BARRY WINDHAM © vs. STING (NWA United States Heavyweight Title)
Even with the stupid finish, this is still match of the night. Like Sting/Flair, most of the good stuff here comes form Barry while Sting is just along for the ride. He’s smart about using Sting’s mistakes to take advantage, such as the way he goes after the midsection after Sting misses the big elbow, and switching to Sting’s knee after he escapes Sting’s sleeper with the knee buster, but Barry is lacking the vicious edge that you’d expect from a Horseman. Flair, Arn, or Tully would have made it their goal for Sting to need help leaving the ring thanks to the damage they’d caused, but Barry is very casual about it. Barry uses the figure four with Dillon’s assistance again, and it works much better here thanks to Barry already singling out Sting’s knee.
Sting isn’t horrible or anything, but it looks pretty clear that he’s taking cues from Windham. When Barry misses the big charge and posts himself, Sting goes after Windham’s forehead (which he’d cut open), not unlike the way that Barry went after Sting’s ribs when he missed the elbow. Sting’s use of the sleeper also works very well, it’d normally look odd for Sting to be using it against someone so much taller, but having already bled for a bit, it looks more plausible that Sting could pull off the upset with it. What’s noticeably lacking is anything as far as build to the Scorpion Deathlock. The blood loss and time in the sleeper is more than adequate to explain why he can hit the Stinger splash, but there ought to be something more than the fact that it’s his finisher as far as why anyone thinks Sting will take the title when he gets the Scorpion on. The ref bump and DQ finish is typical for the time period, and the John Ayers run in is fine for building up to Flair/Luger with Ayers as the ref, but, again, that’s the sort of angle to run on the regular TV show the week before the match, not during a prime time special.
Conclusion: Yet another letdown from a Clash special. This looks more like a card for a house show or a taping of Worldwide, not a prime time special seen nationwide, recommendation to avoid.