I’d like to introduce Joel Geraghty to Retro Ramblings with his Chrononaut Chronicles, where he goes back in time and reviews old wrestling shows! I’ve been a fan of his work for a while, and I’m sure you’re going to be as well. He’ll be dropping his great reviews on us on a regular basis, so take a minute and help me welcome to the family.
Along with his actual reviews, I’ll be popping into them as well with little comments of my own personal memories of what he is reviewing to add another level of nostalgia. You’ll see my comments in bold wherever I drop them in. With that said, I proudly present to you the first edition of The Chrononaut Chronicles here on Retro Ramblings, as Joel takes us back to the very first Clash of the Champions show from 1988…..
The Chrononaut Chronicles: NWA Clash of the Champions – Sunday, March 27, 1988
– The Clash of the Champions was the NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions’ answer to Saturday Night’s Main Event and came as a result of the intense promotional war with Vince McMahon and the WWF. Riding high on the success of WrestleMania, McMahon had added another PPV event in 1987 entitled Survivor Series and scheduled it on the same night as Starrcade, pressuring cable companies to drop the NWA’s signature supercard. Not satisfied with that major victory, in January of ’88 the WWF presented the first televised Royal Rumble for free on the USA Network opposite the NWA’s Bunkhouse Stampede PPV. In response, the Clash of the Champions was conceived as a special TV event broadcast live on TBS the same night as WrestleMania IV, featuring PPV caliber match-ups.
This was a huge deal and proved so successful that the Clash became a Superstation staple, spawning thirty-four more broadcasts over the following nine years. By 1997, the introduction of weekly two-hour shows such as Nitro and Thunder rendered the Clash obsolete. In this series, I will take a look at each Clash in chronological order. Let’s go all the way back to the very first Clash of the Champions as it aired opposite the WrestleMania IV tournament for the WWF Heavyweight Championship. Years before the Monday Night Wars, it was WrestleMania vs. Clash of the Champions live and head-to-head!
– LIVE from Greensboro, North Carolina! Bob Caudle and Tony Schiavone welcome us to the Clash live on the Superstation, but it’s actually Tony and Jim Ross who handle commentary at ringside.
– NWA World Television Title – Amateur Rules: “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin (w/Precious) vs. Mike Rotunda © (w/”Gamesmaster” Kevin Sullivan)
I never understood what kind of connection the occult-minded Gamesmaster had with a group of standout collegiate athletes like the Varsity Club. Sullivan as a brutal taskmaster of a coach would be logical, but he was still wearing black robes and being billed from Singapore. In accordance with the stipulations of the match, three five-minute rounds are scheduled with a one-count sufficient for a pinfall, so more emphasis is placed on Rotunda and Garvin staying off their backs. The first round is pretty even, ending with Rotunda using his considerable amateur skills as he struggles and fails to pin Garvin’s shoulders to the mat. Rotunda sneaks in a quick cheapshot during the 30-second rest period and assumes control in the second round, but Gorgeous Jimmy mounts a comeback and hooks up the champ for the brainbuster.
Before he can execute the maneuver, Sullivan and Precious get into an altercation on the apron and Garvin gets distracted. Making Syracuse proud, Rotunda rolls Garvin up for the one-count to retain the NWA World Television Championship at 1:10 of the second round. Afterward, Garvin brainbusters Rotunda and punches Sullivan, but another Varsity Club member strikes in the form of Rick Steiner. Precious swiftly makes the save and completely emasculates her husband by whacking Steiner with a 2×4 and garrotting Sullivan with a coat hanger. Seriously. She strangles the Gamesmaster until Garvin drags Precious off of him and out of the ring. I knew Precious was spunky, but damn girl.
I guess we know who wears the pants in the Garvin family.
(The Retro Rambler Says….I was so pumped for this show as it was coming up. It was on Sunday afternoon, so I had been to church with Mom, and with her stopping to pick up lunch, I didn’t get home in time for this opening match. I was pretty bummed to miss the start of the show.)
– Bob Caudle interviews “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, who clearly knows as much about the angle involving Dusty Rhodes and Magnum TA as I do. Which is to say, nothing, as Caudle asks him about it and Williams blindly supports the American Dream. Doc rambles on and wants to wrestle the winner of tonight’s World Title bout between Ric Flair and Sting. This promo was a great example of why Doc wasn’t known for his promos.
– For only $19.95 you too can ride like the big boys by using the Four Horsemen Top Performance System! Is this a Saturday Night Live parody? No, apparently it’s a real commercial. According to the ad, they are chewable tablets, available in two different formulas – one for endurance and energy, the other for strength and power. It’s like ICOPRO, only more vague.
– NWA United States Tag Team Title: The Midnight Express © (w/Jim Cornette) vs. The Fantastics
As soon as the Fantastics hit the ring, a brawl breaks out with the US Tag Team Champions and spills out of the ring. Bobby Fulton ducks a chairshot and hits Bobby Eaton with it instead, but the chair comes back to haunt his partner when Tommy Rogers is thrown by Stan Lane into a chair held by Jim Cornette. Tables are overturned and more chairs are used before the competitors finally return to the ring. I was not expecting a ringside brawl from these two teams, but this underscores the intensity of their rivalry, which was based mainly on the value of championships and in-ring action. What a concept.
The Midnight Express isolate Rogers and Cornette gets involved again, holding a table up vertically so that Beautiful Bobby can hurl him into it head-first. The punishment continues with a sweet flying elbowdrop from Eaton and some classic double-teaming, including a top-rope version of the Demolition Decapitation. Rogers is dumped from the ring and Eaton bodyslams him on the prone table, then drops poor Tommy with a running bulldog on the table. The sound quality is muffled on my copy so it’s hard to tell the crowd reaction, but this is a fantastic heat segment. Back in the ring, we get the old false tag bit, as Rogers manages to make the tag, but OF COURSE the referee was distracted and didn’t see it.
Who says wrestling fans don’t know how to spell?
Cornette enters the ring while ref Randy “Don’t Call Me Pee Wee” Anderson grapples with Fulton, but Fulton is all “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and tosses Anderson over the top rope. Eaton grabs Fulton and holds him for Cornette, but Fulton ducks and Cornette whacks his own man with the tennis racket. The Fantastics quickly follow up with the Rocket Launcher and Senior Official Tommy Young races in to register the pinfall at 10:15, initially awarding the US Tag Team Championship to Rogers & Fulton. Alas, when Fulton tossed Randy Anderson over the top rope, he also tossed all hope of winning the title, as Anderson disqualifies the Fantastics and returns the belts to the Midnight Express.
More Retro Wrestling | Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Supercards ’87
Why would you count that pin anyway, Tommy Young? You just came to ringside BECAUSE the original ref was thrown over the top rope. As the Senior Official, shouldn’t you of all people be aware that that is grounds for a disqualification? Nooo, you wanted to be the hero and give the belts to the babyfaces, and all you did was get everybody’s hopes up, only for it to come crashing down only moments later. You suck, Tommy Young. I hope you’re happy with yourself. Anyway, chaos reigns as Cornette clobbers both referees with the tennis racket, Rogers is discarded from the ring, and Fulton is laid out with a Flapjack. The Express hold Fulton over the ropes and Cornette whips him with a leather strap until Rogers chases the heels off with a chair. That was a hot match and it was just building with the epic heat segment when the finish kicked in, but the post-match activity set up a series of rematches.
(The Retro Rambler says….. This, this right here is one of my absolute favorites matches of the 80’s)
– In exchange for the souls of their unborn children and the 47 timeslots they had on TBS, the NWA had to promote the Superstation’s revival of the Leave It To Beaver “franchise” with Ken Osmond reprising his role as Eddie Haskell thirty years later. So we get a promo recorded before the show in the empty arena with Osmond, dressed in character, interviewing Jim Cornette. Osmond is also acting in character and suggests that Jim invite him to Mama Cornette’s estate sometime.
“You’re looking lovely today, Mrs. Cornette.”
– Bob Caudle interviews Gary Hart and his new protege Al Perez, who plans on taking the United States Championship from Dusty Rhodes. I don’t think it quite worked out for him.
– Frances Crockett is standing by to announce the top ten seeds for the 1988 Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup. Magnetic television personality that she is, let’s go to Frances!
– Barbed Wire Match: The Road Warriors (w/Paul Ellering) & Dusty Rhodes vs. The Powers of Pain & Ivan Koloff (w/Paul Jones)
This is on the heels of the Powers of Pain attacking the Road Warriors during a bench-press competition and injuring Animal’s orbital bone, so Animal is wearing a Jason-style goalie mask to protect his face. In a show of solidarity with the Legion of Doom, Dusty has his face painted up. I always thought that was a neat touch, like when Lex Luger and Randy Savage painted their faces like Sting during the early nWo feud. The single strands of barbed wire are wrapped around the ring ropes, so the heels make a big scene out of getting in. When they do slither in under the ropes, IT IS ON and all six men are slobberknockin’ all over the place. With all the scar tissue between them, Koloff and Rhodes only have to look at the barbed wire and they’re both bleeding.
Auditions for the next Mad Max movie are down the hall, gentlemen.
The Roadies and the American Dream basically dominate a short brawl and Animal pins Warlord at 3:39 after Barbarian accidentally lands the diving headbutt on his own partner. Although they lost the battle, Paul Jones’ Army is determined to win the war, as Barbarian kicks the mask off Animal’s head and the Powers of Pain crack him in the face with Ivan’s chain. Dusty and Hawk finally make the save and the heels head for the hills. Not much of a match, but if you were an older wrestling fan who didn’t like the family-friendly product of the WWF, a barbed-wire match on TV was pretty mind-blowing in 1988.
(The Retro Rambler says….. I was looking forward to this match more than the others in the lead up to the show, because I thought for sure that it would be bloodshed, destruction, and carnage the likes of which had never been seen before in wrestling on television. Not so much, but it was still unique to see a match featuring barbed wire on television.)
– Tony hypes the very first episode of NWA Main Event this Sunday on TBS at 5:35pm. Main Event was originally designed as a weekly showcase of exclusive, high-caliber matches and would remain on the Superstation for 10 years, after it had been moved to Saturday mornings and retooled as a recap show in the mid ’90s.
– Bob Caudle interviews the new-look Nikita Koloff, slimmed down and with a crewcut, wearing a white suit and tie. Nikita had taken time off to be with his sick wife and apparently this was his return to TV. He alludes to her illness by mentioning that he sees “someone close to me” fighting for their life and he feels that he is fighting for his life when he’s in the ring. That’s a questionable analogy considering the worked nature of Our Great Sport. She died the following year.
– NWA World Tag Team Title: Barry Windham & “Total Package” Lex Luger vs. “The Enforcer” Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard © (w/James J. Dillon)
Big pop for the “Twin Towers” – Windham & Luger had been given this name less than a year before the WWF nicked it for the Big Boss Man & Akeem – and they start strong as Lex cleans house and quickly lifts Tully into the Torture Rack, but Arn makes the save by taking out Luger’s leg. The Horsemen work over the quadricep and the knee, but Luger tags out and Windham is a house of fire. He catches Blanchard in a sleeperhold and Tully tries to break it by bailing out of the ring, but Barry maintains his grip and comes out with him, holding the sleeper on all the way. Barry continues his dominance until typical Horsemen shenanigans ensue with JJ Dillon providing a distraction while Anderson sneaks in with a left hand and a DDT for a near-fall. Spinebuster gets another near-fall and the Horsemen prevent Windham from tagging out, going back-and-forth with him.
Blanchard earns a near-fall with the slingshot suplex, but Windham finally makes the hot tag and the Total Package enjoys total ownage of the Horsemen. All four men end up in the ring and Dillon holds up a chair, but Luger reverses Anderson’s Irish-whip and the Enforcer hits the steel. Lex covers him for the 1-2-3 in 9:35 by the blind and useless Tommy Young and the original Twin Towers are your new NWA World Tag Team Champions. Oh, Tommy Young, you were determined to give a babyface a championship, weren’t you? Kiss-ass. Ross declares “a new era in tag team wrestling” but that was a bit premature; Windham turned on Luger a month later and joined the Four Horsemen, losing the belts back to Anderson & Blanchard in the process.
(The Retro Ramblers says….. damn, that was one fine match, with a great ending, that made the 10 year old me jump up and down in the living room as it was happening.)
– Ring announcer Tom Miller introduces a motley crew of judges for the NWA World Title bout: a nerdy NWA executive named Gary Juster, former wrestler Sandy Scott, (Penthouse) Pet of the Year Patty Mullen, Ken “Eddie Haskell” Osmond, and of course everyone’s favorite boy wonder, Jason Hervey of The Wonder Years. I guess Gary Coleman and Eddie Munster were busy.
She doesn’t seem to know why she’s there, either.
So potentially, if this match ends in a time-limit draw, the fate of the NWA Heavyweight Championship of the World rests in the hands of two sitcom stars and… Frankenhooker.
If it’s good enough for Bill Murray, it’s good enough for the NWA.
– NWA World Heavyweight Title: Sting vs. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair © (w/James J. Dillon)
JJ Dillon is suspended overhead in a small cage to prevent him from interfering. This match is basically Sting’s coming-out party and easily the biggest match of his young career. Only a few months earlier, he was curtain-jerking at Starrcade ’87 in a six-man tag team match and now here he is challenging Ric Flair for the Big Gold Belt. The story of the match is pacing and Jim Ross sets that up early on, noting the experience of the Nature Boy might give him an advantage over the young Stinger. Schiavone explains that they have a couple of stand-by matches depending on how long this bout goes, but we all know it’s going the distance. It’s pretty back-and-forth for the first few minutes until Sting works a never-ending headlock and then a bearhug, which Flair sells by biting his own hand to block the pain. The difference between this bearhug and an Andre/Hogan bearhug is like night and day. Flair avoids a Stinger Splash in the corner and Sting sells an arm injury that Flair ignores as he takes control, punishing Sting in and out of the ring.
Sting mounts a comeback at ringside, but he misses a clothesline and posts his arm. Flair works the arm back in the ring, but Sting clotheslines him for a two-count. If this had been under Amateur Rules, Sting would be World Champion RIGHT NOW. The crowd comes alive when Sting applies the Scorpion Deathlock, but Flair scrambles to the ropes to break it. Undaunted, Sting persists on offense and hits a flying bodypress for a close near-fall. However, Flair counters a side-headlock with a kneebreaker and goes to work on the knee in Vintage Ric Flair fashion. The Nature Boy locks in the figure-four and uses the ropes for leverage while Tommy Young counts Sting’s shoulders down for a few two-counts, but Sting finally turns it over and reverses the hold. Flair quickly makes it to the ropes and tries to suplex Sting out of the ring, but the Stinger reverses it and takes control.
After Flair escapes an abdominal stretch, Sting crotches him on the ringpost and applies his own figure-four that takes its toll before the champion can get to the ropes. Taking a page from Flair’s playbook, Sting pounds the knee and unloads on Flair at ringside, ramming him head-first against the judges’ table and the ringpost. Sting continues to build momentum, but he misses a Stinger Splash and crashes over the top rope to the floor. He manages to climb back in the ring and goes back-and-forth with Flair, earning a near-fall with a sunset flip. Flair goes through his usual routine of running up to the top turnbuckle, but instead of getting slammed off, he actually hits a bodypress that Sting rolls through for another close near-fall. The challenger Stingers-Up and unloads on Flair, culminating in a successful Stinger Splash and Scorpion Deathlock, but Flair holds on until the 45-minute time limit expires without submitting. Well, this should be a fairly easy decision. Sting dominated a majority of the match and had Flair locked in his signature hold when the match ended.
And the winner is…
Unfortunately, it’s up to the Island of Misfit Judges and they score it as follows: Patty Mullen votes for Flair and gives him a little wave; Gary Juster scores it for Sting; and Sandy Scott declares it a draw, so it’s a split-decision draw and Flair retains the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. I guess Wayne Arnold and Eddie Haskell were just hanging out at the judges’ table. Tell me again what the point of having the judges was? Flair retaining via time-limit draw was the right decision as a way to get Sting over to a national television audience without having him win the belt, but having this ragtag group of judges at ringside specifically in case of a time-limit draw and then STILL declaring it a draw made the promotion look like a joke. Nonetheless, even this terrible finish couldn’t mar such a tremendous match. Flair carried his challenger as usual, but Sting held up his end of the deal and looked very sharp against the best in the business. This was the beginning of the Sting legacy and it more than lived up to the hype.
Afterthoughts: Stacked up against WrestleMania IV, the very first Clash of the Champions delivered in a huge way and is generally regarded as the superior show. Nothing that happened in Trump Plaza that afternoon came close to the phenomenal work in the Ric Flair vs. Sting main event, the intensity of the Fantastics/Midnights rivalry, or the crowd heat for the World Tag Team Title bout. The Clash drew a 5.8 rating and earned more viewers than WrestleMania that day, including both the Pay-Per-View and closed-circuit audiences. The Flair/Sting match alone scored a 7.1, making it the most watched wrestling match on cable television up to that point. Crockett’s NWA had finally made an impact after suffering the previous embarrassment of the WWF upstaging their PPVs. For now, the shoe is on the other foot.
Join me on my time travels and check out my other reviews on The Chrononaut Chronicles!