GREAT AMERICAN BASH 1987
It’s funny. The idea of NWA/WCW in the ‘80's gives me a nostalgic feeling, even though I never saw much of it during my childhood. The mere thought of it seems so wholesome and innocent, just like the preconceived notions that I have about living in a small town in Iowa.
Arn Anderson . . . steps into War Games for the first time, something that he’d do many times in the future.
Michael Hayes . . . and the Fabulous Freebirds make their triumphant return to Badstreet USA.
Ric Flair . . . shocks the world by getting quite the good match out of Jimmy Garvin.
War Games: RIC FLAIR/LEX LUGER/TULLY BLANCHARD/ARN ANDERSON/JJ DILLON vs. DUSTY RHODES/NIKITA KOLOFF/HAWK/ANIMAL/PAUL ELLERING
One thing that holds true in virtually every walk of life is that things aren’t perfect the first time out. Books go through several stages of editing and revision before publication, there’s often a couple of sequels to a video game before all the kinks are worked out, and movies routinely have rewrites to the script before shooting. Wrestling is no different, there’s a reason that the WWE often runs matches slated for upcoming PPV events on house shows or uses them as dark matches after taping or airing their weekly TV shows. Hell, look at the Steamboat/Savage WrestleMania III classic, they went over it for months on end. The point? That just because this is the historic debut of War Games, the match that would become the signature gimmick match of WCW and produced some absolute classics, that this isn’t one of them, it scores major points for historical impact and originality, but that’s about it.
The problem this match has, and something that would be a recurring trend with future War Games matches, is that the bulk of the match is simply filler until all ten are in the rings and “The Match Beyond” officially starts, the match has always been formulaic to a degree and it shows here right from the beginning, the Horsemen bump and sell for the babyfaces (Flair and Blanchard appeared to be competing to see who could stooge better) when it’s a fair fight. When the Horsemen have the one-man advantage, they’re able to turn things around and maintain control. There is a bunch of fun moments and smart touches to that effect, such as Animal sending Tully soaring into the other ring over both sets of ropes, and Flair being unable to hurt Animal until Luger blind sided him and they both worked him over. But moments like that are completely self-contained and they didn’t have any great effect on the match as a whole.
The parts surrounding Dusty’s leg and Nikita’s neck were better as far as making things matter, but neither really accomplished all that much. Dusty’s leg is the worst of the two, because it happened fairly early and the Horsemen made a point of working back to it several times, but Dusty didn’t see fit to sell it very much, and there wasn’t any point in time when the Superpowers seemed to be in danger of losing because of it, despite Flair using the figure four at one point. Nikita’s neck injury was worked better because Nikita sold the spike piledrivers like death, but the Horsemen didn’t bother going back to him. How great would it have been to see JJ Dillon (the weak link and obvious loser of the team) go right after Nikita, clamp on a headlock, and be in a position to possibly cause The Russian Nightmare to submit or cause his teammates to surrender? Yet, despite having two golden opportunities present themselves to cause some doubt, they’re ignored, and as soon as the Road Warriors get their hands on Dillon the match is as good as over.
While there’s certainly no shortage of action, there’s a noticeable lack of action that really matters, the bulk of the match resembles the middle of a Battle Royal or Royal Rumble, where they’re just trading shots for lack of anything else to do, and I’d be rich if I had a quarter for every time one of them was hit in the groin. The brawling makes sense in a way, because this is supposed to be something full of hatred, so much so that the NWA had to think up this match to contain all their hate. Thankfully, that would be one thing that future War Games matches greatly improved upon, with the later matches being worked as controlled chaos rather than the simple chaos of this.
BARRY WINDHAM vs. RICK STEINER
I have no idea what the point of this was, unless they just wanted to get Barry on the tape. There’s not much of this shown anyway, and the bulk of it is Steiner throwing Barry around like a ragdoll until Steiner attempts a pin and Barry reverses into one of his own and wins. It looked like Barry was supposed to cradle him after Steiner’s suplex into the ring from the apron but they somehow got crossed up and just improvised. I’m a big fan of Windham, but this is forgettable to say the least.
NIKITA KOLOFF © vs. LEX LUGER (NWA United States Heavyweight Title - Steel Cage Match)
If nothing else, this is competent from a psychological standpoint, Koloff’s neck is still banged up from the War Games match and Luger takes full advantage of that throughout the match. Sometimes Luger is good with his offense, the knee drop across the back of the neck and the swinging neckbreaker are both good spots from him, and the Full Nelson and attempted piledriver are both met with good heat. But Lex is just as often to be found sitting in a headlock for an extended period of time. It does seem like Lex is genuinely trying, when he’s got the headlock on, he does wrench on it, but for every time he does that, there’s two instances where closeup camera angles show him sucking wind. All the headlocks wind up being good for is for Nikita to make the spunky babyface comeback. Why this is in a cage is something else that’s probably worth pondering. They certainly didn’t need the cage to tell their story and the overbooked finish with the ref getting bumped from the Russian Sickle, and Dillon giving the chair to Luger to KO Nikita for the title could have been just as easily done in a regular match.
STEVE WILLIAMS vs. DICK MURDOCH (Texas Death Match)
Like the Windham/Steiner match, far too little of this is shown, but there’s at least enough shown to get a feel for the story they were telling, which is Murdoch going after Doc’s arm, which is wrapped in a cast (broken by Murdoch and Eddie Gilbert), and trying to keep him down for the ten count that way. Which is much more creative, and less dangerous, than what we’ve seen in most of the WWE’s Last Man Standing matches. Murdoch sneaks in a wrench, and also bends the elbow and stomps on it. Doc makes a comeback with some fists and Murdoch’s subsequent stooging leaves both Flair and Tully in the dust. Gilbert distracts the ref so that Murdoch can come of the top, no doubt with something devious in mind, but Doc blasts him with the cast on the way down, turning Murdoch’s best chance to win into his reason for losing.
MICHAEL HAYES/TERRY GORDY/BUDDY ROBERTS vs. IVAN KOLOFF/MANNY FERNANDEZ/PAUL JONES
Aside from being their hometown, I really don’t see the point of including this on the tape is either. It only goes about three minutes anyway. Hayes struts to get the crowd to pop. The three heels work over Roberts and Jones tags in thinking he’s on easy street. Gordy gets tagged in, Roberts and Hayes keep Fernandez and Koloff at bay, and I think you figure out the rest.
TULLY BLANCHARD vs. DUSTY RHODES (Barbed Wire & Ladder Match)
Dusty tried to do a dropkick, a million stars! Actually, there isn’t much to see here. Most of what’s shown is Dusty and Tully trying to use the wire to cause blood to flow. There’s a couple of nice moments from Tully, going after Dusty’s leg when he tries to climb the ladder, and a good line of Schivone about Dusty’s leg having been broken by the Horsemen. Dusty’s “dropkick” is the highlight though. He knocks Tully off the ladder, KO’s him with a loaded glove, Windham keeps Dillon from interfering, and Dusty is able to climb the ladder and get the money.
RIC FLAIR © vs. JIMMY GARVIN (NWA World Heavyweight Title - Steel Cage Match)
This is a lot like the Luger/Koloff match, it’s largely based around an injury to the babyface, which makes the psych fairly straightforward. It’s for the best though, because Garvin isn’t very good, and despite Flair’s efforts, he can’t cover for Jimmy’s lack of real offense. This is also where the cage helps, because between Garvin using stolen heel spots like the eye raking and figure four, and using the cage to his advantage, Garvin appears to be on his way to the World Heavyweight Title. Then he hurts his knee after landing wrong on a leap frog and Flair takes him to school.
The best moments of the match come when Flair takes advantage of the lucky break. His mean streak is quite welcome, Flair’s offense is perfect, even though it’s nothing new from him, and Garvin’s selling is outstanding. I could have done without Garvin’s comeback, not that it was bad, Flair tried moving away from the leg and chopping him, and Jimmy got fired up and handed it back, and Jimmy even remembered to keep selling the leg. But I really didn’t need to see Flair’s bare ass hanging out. Garvin’s knee buckles on the suplex attempt and Flair gets the figure four and uses the ropes, and not the half-assed stuff you usually see him do when he grabs them, he’s really trying to add pressure and it’s totally believable that Garvin passes out from the pain. I don’t know who deserves the praise, Flair and Garvin for putting on such a smart match that worked around Garvin’s limitations or the Turner people who edited this, and decided what to show on the tape and what to leave on the cutting room floor. In any case, what’s shown here is pretty damn good. ***1/4
RICKY MORTON/ROBERT GIBSON © vs. BOBBY EATON/STAN LANE © (NWA World Tag Team Titles & NWA United States Tag Team Titles)
The stupid disqualification finish is obvious given the title for title stipulation, but this is still the Rock ‘n’ Rolls against the Midnights, if they didn’t invent the formula for tag matches, they perfected it. The wrestling is good, as you’d expect from this pairing, but there’s a few odd things that keep this from being great. The obvious one is that Ricky isn’t the one in peril, Robert is, and while Robert takes the abuse just fine, he’s not in Ricky’s universe for taking punishment and making a show of it. This is also a bit rushed, Eaton and Lane only get about three minutes or so to work Gibson over, they use the time well, but there’s only so much they can do with that little time. And Robert’s hot tag comes a little too easy, which also goes back to why Ricky got the face in peril segments named after him. Robert’s hot tag leads to the finish and Bubba’s interference backfires and gets the Midnights disqualified, and keeps the Rock ‘n’ Rolls as the World Champs and the Midnights as the U.S. Champs. ***
War Games: RIC FLAIR/LEX LUGER/TULLY BLANCHARD/ARN ANDERSON/WAR MACHINE vs. DUSTY RHODES/NIKITA KOLOFF/HAWK/ANIMAL/PAUL ELLERING
Wow. This makes the first War Games look like a masterpiece. This is little more than a bunch of half-assed brawling, without any of the fun or smart touches that the first one contained. Nikita gets hit with a piledriver as soon as he gets into the match and he proceeds to pop and up and completely blow it off. There’s a couple of things from the first match that get repeated, like Tully getting hurled from one ring to the other, Animal’s repeated slingshots that send Tully into the cage, and Flair not being able to hurt Animal until Luger gives an assist. But nothing they do means anything and Tony Schivone winds up coming with the comment that perfectly describes this match, “There’s no pattern to what’s going on, it can’t end until all ten are in the ring and The Match Beyond begins!” There’s no drama to anything, nothing to tease someone being hurt or a weak link a la JJ Dillon, they just plod along until Hawk and Animal start trying to take out War Machine’s eye with the spiked wristband. The first one wasn’t great, but it at least had some value to it, this is just a mess.
Conclusion: Between the first War Games and the two good title matches, there’s plenty of fun, they could have done to cut some of the filler out and maybe show more of Doc/Murdoch, but on the whole this is a fine tape, and something worthy of being checked out.