CLASH OF THE CHAMPIONS IV
December 7, 1988
This must have been WCW’s idea of an early Christmas present to their loyal fans, finally putting some good wrestling action back on TBS in Prime Time. And, coincidentally, it also just happens to be the first time that Ric Flair and the Midnight Express have wrestled on a Clash special, since they both helped make the first one so special.
The Fantastics . . . spend the better part of thirty minutes showing why they’re deserving of the name.
The Italian Stallion . . . has the longest match of his NWA career, and it’s a painful sight to behold.
The Midnight Express . . . makes the World Champ and the United States Champ look like a pair of chumps.
TOMMY ROGERS/BOBBY FULTON vs. EDDIE GILBERT/RON SIMMONS (Finals of NWA United States Tag Team Title Tournament)
Matches like this are indicative of how good a team the Fantastics were. They weren’t as flashy as the Midnight Express and they weren’t as cunning as Blanchard and Anderson, but they were more than capable of pulling the weight of their opposition when they needed to. Despite the match not really picking up until nearly two-thirds of the way through, this never drags or gets boring at all. It’s your stereotypical scientific match between two babyface teams. You know, the kind that of match that two babyfaces have that usually results in one of them turning heel by beating the tar out of the other one. Rogers and Fulton use their speed to offset Simmons and use their wrestling skills on Gilbert, with lots of quick tags, dropkicks, arm drags, etc. They also let Simmons look good by giving him openings to use his power to bump them around.
It first appears that the key to the Fantastics’ winning their second U.S. Tag Titles will be Simmons’ inexperience. He gets outsmarted several times, and it culminates in him twice charging into the corner for a tackle and hitting the post, which gives Fulton and Rogers that much more reason to use the arm drags. However, its Gilbert’s mistakes that wind up making the difference, and, ironically, the first one is the same mistake as Simmons, in that he charges for a tackle and hits the post. Gilbert’s arm was already busted up according to Bob Caudle and The Fantastics take full advantage. Again, they’re not as inventive as the Midnights or as overtly brutal as the Horsemen, but they’re surprisingly aggressive about it, especially when Fulton starts dropping knees on it and Rogers busts out fancy armbars. Gilbert’s second mistake comes when he gets an opening and catches Bobby with the Hotshot, but doesn’t tag in Simmons. Gilbert’s last mistake is not learning from the last time he tried to charge into the corner, he tries again, hits the post again, and Fulton gets the easy pin afterwards. The only thing that seems to hold this down a bit is a lack of plausibility. Why would a veteran like Gilbert make the same sort of mistake, twice, that his far less experienced partner had already made, especially considering that he was apparently going into the match hurt? The underlying idea seemed to be Simmons not being able to cut the mustard and Gilbert needing to do the heavy lifting, but Gilbert doesn’t come out of the match looking much better than Simmons. ***1/2
STEVE WILLIAMS vs. THE ITALIAN STALLION
I can only assume that Doc’s scheduled opponent either injured himself or didn’t make it to the arena, because this should have only lasted about five minutes tops, and it goes for triple that amount of time. It’s clear that they don’t know what they’re supposed to do, Stallion’s job description has always been to get killed in short order, and Doc’s has always been to kill jobbers in short order, but they have a painfully boring fifteen-minute competitive match. Stallions’s submissions aren’t much more than just rest holds and openings for Doc to try to get heat by using the ropes to block or prevent him from doing something. Stallion’s selling is mediocre at best, and they’ve got nothing for real transitions, when Stallion wants to take over offense, he doesn’t need to do anything more than a kick to the gut or a lariat and he’s in control. The Oklahoma Stampede couldn’t come fast enough.
IVAN KOLOFF vs. PAUL JONES
This actually isn’t a total waste. It’s just a little shy of being one. It’s an over-the-hill wrestler, with one arm tied behind his back, against a manager. There’s one nice moment, when Jones uses the post to work over Ivan’s free arm, which is a nice throwback to the first match and it also gives Jones’ goons something to do when they attack Ivan afterwards to set up the Starrcade match. Beyond that, it’s a ton of punching (Ivan can’t do anything else) and Jones looking like he taught Larry Zybyzsko how to stall. Jones tries to use a foreign object, but it backfires on him and Ivan uses it for the win, the goons attack, and the JYD saves.
DUSTY RHODES vs. ANIMAL
This almost isn’t worth mentioning, aside from the irony involved since the first Clash had Dusty and the Warriors teaming up to avenge Animal’s eye injury, and now Dusty has the eye problem. They brawl for a few minutes and Animals stooges for Dusty as much as I’ve ever seen him do. Dusty throws the ref to the floor for no good reason to cause a DQ and then Hawk and Sting run in to trigger a brawl that looks like the end of most Nitro episodes from 1997-98.
RIC FLAIR/BARRY WINDHAM vs. BOBBY EATON/STAN LANE
This is a lot like the U.S. Tag Titles match, the work is perfectly fine, but it’s held back by believability to a certain degree. The Midnights aren’t intimidated by the remains of the Four Horsemen, as shown in the opening moments when Bobby Eaton slaps both Flair and Windham right in the face. The Midnights spend the next ten minutes or so dominating the match, the only of their double teams that the Midnights need to use is the flapjack, but it’s a lot of use of Lane’s educated feet and Eaton’s fists, and the Midnights playing the Flair game and putting him in position for his usual bumps and spots. It’s only thanks to a Windham cheap shot that the heels get a real control segment. It’s fun to watch and reflect that the Midnights used those kind of dirty tactics for so many years, and now they’re the ones being victims to it. It’s ended rather abruptly when Eaton easily escapes Barry’s sleeper (too easily given the size difference) and makes the hot tag to Lane. The Midnights appear to have things back in control, hitting the Double Goozle on Barry and Bobby follows up with the Alabama Jam, but Flair uses Dillon’s show to KO Bobby and give the match to the heels
As much as I enjoyed the work, and appreciated the story they tried to tell, the idea that a tag team is superior to two singles wrestlers, it’s not quite believable on all fronts. You’d think that the World Champion and United States Champion would be able to hold their own against two wrestlers who’d never amounted to much as singles wrestlers. It might be a tag team match, but it’s still one against one while they actually wrestle, so the two champions should still be able to hold their own, instead of being dominated in such a manner. Bobby couldn’t even beat Nikita Koloff for the TV Title, while Flair had beaten Nikita several times and Nikita was who Barry had beaten to get the U.S. Title in the first place. Had this been a different set of thrown together singles heels, then the match playing out like this would be OK, but the World and U.S. Champions ought to have looked a hell of a lot better. ***
Conclusion: A couple of good tag matches and running angles to build up to Starrcade easily make this better than the last two Clashes. This one still has its problems (Italian Stallion anyone?), but it’s good enough for a mild recommendation.