The SmarK Retro Rant for Great American Bash ’89: Ultimate Director’s Cut Edition!
– This is yet another one of those rants from 1996 that I was never entirely happy with, so here’s a redone version, now with proper play-by-play and match times. Most of my comments and feelings on the show still stand, though, so don’t expect much in the way of new insight here. This is being done from the Turner video, not the live PPV version, so it’s been hacked down to 125 minutes, albeit in expert form by the Turner video guys.
– Live from Baltimore, Maryland.
– Your hosts are Jim Ross & Bob Caudle.
– Opening match: “King of the Hill” double ring battle royale finals. Kinda like the Bunkhouse Stampede of years past, the NWA held a series of battle royales, with 20 of the winners competing here in the finals for a bunch of money. Whee. When you’re eliminated from the first ring, you go to the second ring and another battle royale ensues for the losers. Winner of A v. Winner of B for the money. Our contestants this evening: Mike Rotundo, Kevin Sullivan, Ranger Ross, Eddie Gilbert, Steve Williams, Terry Gordy, Rick Steiner, Scott Steiner, Sid Vicious and Dan Spivey. Meandering brawl to start. Ranger goes first, and thus moves to the other ring. Ron Simmons (with a huge Foley-ish ass going on there) gets tossed, and moves to the other side to pummel Ross. However, he misses a charge and goes out. Man, eliminated by Ranger Ross AND forced to wear a gladiator outfit in 1996. Could Ron’s career suck any more? Scott Hall (with well-conditioned blond hair and a porn star moustache) and Terry Gordy move to the other ring, taking Bill Irwin with them. We’re clipped closer to the end, as Sid runs the table in Ring A until it’s down to him and Brian Pillman. Insert obvious squeegee joke here. In Ring B, it’s down to Dan Spivey, Steve Williams and Mike Rotundo. Williams & Rotundo slug it out until a botched spot sees Captain Mike going over the top, and Spivey disposes of Doc shortly thereafter, at 8:28 shown. So of course, to completely negate the point of the thing, Sid Vicious wins ring A and Dan Spivey wins ring B and they agree to split the money rather than fight. Damn that SD Jones for setting that precedant in the 80s. An interesting opener with a cheap ending. I don’t rate battle royales.
– Wild Bill Irwin v. Brian Pillman. JIP as Brian gets tossed. This is pretty much right after Brian’s debut in the NWA. Back in, Irwin chokes away, but crotches himself on a charge. Pillman comes back with a pair of dropkicks and a lariat. Splash gets two. He goes up, but misses a dropkick. Irwin pounds on him and hits a gutwrench for two. He dumps Pillman right into the other ring, but Brian outsmarts him by hitting a bodypress from that ring back into the original ring for the pin at 2:42 shown. Good enough. *1/2
– The Skyscrapers v. The Dynamic Dudes. Here’s a kicker for ya: The Skyscrapers had the love and respect of the smark fans in the audience here, and those fans hated later smark darlings Shane Douglas & Johnny Ace. When Sid is in they cheer, and when Sid isn’t in they chant “We want Sid!”. That, my friends, is why Sid got pushed as much as he did despite sucking: Because the NWA *listened* to what the fans wanted to see. Not just company line like the WWF spews, but they actually paid attention and got rid of what didn’t work instead of pushing it down people’s throats. We’ll pretend that the Dynamic Dudes didn’t exist for the sake of argument here. The same argument applies somewhat to Hogan today, but in this case the argument generally isn’t “Hogan shouldn’t be on TVÃ¢â‚¬Â, it’s “Hogan shouldn’t be booked in serious angles as World champion and put into a position to carry the companyÃ¢â‚¬Â. JIP as Sid works Shane’s back over as only he can Ã¢â‚¬â€œ by applying a clawhold to the back. What’s he trying to do, massage him to death? Sid tags out and the crowd boos. Spivey slams Shane as the “We Want SidÃ¢â‚¬Â chants start. Spivey misses a flying headbutt as the world over asks “What the f*ck was he trying that for?Ã¢â‚¬Â Hot tag Johnny, but even the awesome power of the rampaging babyface isn’t enough to do any damage. Man, that’s just cold. A flying clothesline gets two, but Sid calmly dismantles both guys to the delight of the jaded crowd. The Skyscrapers clothesline each other in a very contrived spot, but Sid doesn’t sell, then stops to nail Johnny again before Spivey puts the poor guy out of his misery with a powerbomb at 3:11 shown. See, now THAT was a squash. Ã‚Â½*
– Everything from this point on is complete on this tape.
– Tuxedo Match: Jim Cornette v. Paul E. Dangerously. Of course, today everyone is VERY familiar with the Cornette/Heyman two-sided snipefest that seems to result every time one of them mentions the other, but back then they were just a pair of managers feuding with each other in storyline terms. The relationship only went downhill from there. In storyline terms, it’s the final match in the Midnight Express feud, as both of Dangerously’s Express pretenders had been bounced from the NWA by Cornette’s team until this was all that remained. Cornette pops Dangerously in the mouth, but Paul uses powder to take over. Dangerously slugs away and Cornette bails, so Paul injects a little psychology into things by pounding on Cornette’s infamous injured knee. Cornette gets posted, but crawls in. Both guys are selling like nuts. Paul gives him some shocking stiff shots for a comedy match, but misses an elbow. JR’s comment about how Paul was “watching the mat the whole time, but still missedÃ¢â‚¬Â is one of the funniest lines he gets here. Cornette hulks up, however, and lays in his own stiff shots. Bob Caudle seems exceptionally excited to see male nudity. Paul’s shirt gets torn off, but they collide for a double KO. Sneaky Paul E goes for more powder, but irony rears her ugly head as Cornette kicks it back in his face and yanks his pants off for the win at 3:54. Among manager v. manager comedy gimmick matches, this was certainly near the top of the heap. I don’t rate tuxedo matches, though.
– Texas Tornado match: Rick & Scott Steiner v. The Varsity Club. Notable for three reasons:
1) It’s the final blowoff for the whole Varsity Club feud, end of the line, fini, everyone lives happily ever after;
2) It’s the PPV debut of Scott Steiner and the debut of the Steiner Brothers, period;
3) It’s the first appearance on PPV of the Kevin Sullivan style ECW-ish brawl that he would book into the ground over the next 9 years.
Big brawl to start, and it never lets up. Rick & Kevin head outside for some mindless violence and pound each other with chairs, but Rick gets crotched on the railing. It’s like Kevin Sullivan’s signature or something to have one of the guys crotching themselves on the railing. In the ring, Rotundo and Scott do some wrestling, while Rick hits Kevin with a nearby table. I mean, he literally picks the whole thing up and uses it like a weapon as if this were an N64 WWF game or something. So Kevin uses the stairs while Scott hammers Rotundo and gets a hiptoss. The Varsity Club double-teams Rick with lariats, but Rick suplexes Sullivan. Scott puts Rotundo in the Tree of Woe while Rick powerslams Sullivan. Rotundo escapes and suplexes Scott, and Sullivan & Rick take the opportunity to brawl out again. Rick loses that battle, allowing the Varsity Club to double-team Scott and try stereo pinfalls. Rick then blocks a sunset flip by headbutting Kevin Sullivan in the groin about 18 times. No wonder Nancy left him for Benoit. Scott cradles Rotundo for two. Another double-team on Scott, and Sullivan grabs a STRETCHER for use as a weapon. Scott tosses Rotundo and when Sullivan tries to slam Rick, the Steiners dog-pile him for the pin at 4:44. Literally all action, bell-to-bell. ***1/4
– World TV title match: Sting v. The Great Muta. Sting is mighty mighty over here, and Muta is no slouch himself. How they managed to develop two overnight sensations like these guys, build them to main event level, and then destroy both of them by the end of 1990 boggles my mind to this day. Sting dives over the ring to attack a stalling Muta to start, and they head back to the intended ring, where Muta hits a precise chop off the top and pounds him. Handspring elbow and backbreaker set up the moonsault, which misses. He lands on his feet, however, and readjusts with an enzuigiri that puts Sting on the floor. Muta follows with a pescado. Back in, Sting clotheslines him and heads up for another one. It gets two. Dropkick and Muta bails, and they brawl. Back in, Sting gains control and gets a plain old slam for two. Muta reverses a suplex into the sleeper. Jim Ross is truly in his glory here playing up the “All American Boy v. Evil Japanese MonsterÃ¢â‚¬Â angle. If he had better material to work with these days, he might not be such a parody of himself. Sting makes the ropes and gets a press-slam. Elbow misses, so Muta hits the Power Elbow (still the best elbowdrop I’ve ever seen) and hits the chinlock. He takes it to an abdominal stretch, and into that cradle that Hogan is so fond of these days. I am proud to note that he both remembers to hook the left leg (as Gorilla Monsoon would have pointed out) AND use the ropes for leverage (as Jesse Venura would have pointed out). He tosses Sting, but Sting has had enough of Muta’s shenanigans and pops right back in. Muta casually pokes him in the eyes to end that bit of jingoism. He starts throwing the low kicks in the corner, but the Handspring misses. Sting comes back with a bulldog and JR is about 3 seconds removed from waving the American flag and signing the Star Spangled Banner in Sting’s honor. That’s not a knock on him Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Evil Foreigner angles will always have a place in wrestling when done properly. Standing dropkick sends Muta out, but they mistime the tope spot. Back in, the dreaded RED MIST OF DEATH is unleashed, but the ref gets it and he’s blind! So how do you tell the difference? Stinger splash misses, and Muta gets this awesome cocky look on his face as a result, before hitting a beautiful moonsault as Tommy Young runs in to count two. JR, the entire audience and (originally) myself all thought that was the finish. Muta gets frustrated and throws a high kick that misses by a mile, allowing Sting to get a backdrop suplex for the pin at 8:06. However, video replay would reveal one or more shoulders being lifted at two, leaving the title vacant for months, until Muta won the rematch. This was total state-of-the-art high-impact speed/power wrestling at the time, and remains really peachy keen today. ****
– US title match: Lex Luger v. Ricky Steamboat. The storyline here is that everyone in the NWA and the audience wants this to be a no-DQ match, except of course for Lex Luger. He protests on general principles, and finally Steamboat caves and drops the stipuation. Even a monster heel turn couldn’t dent Luger’s popularity, as he gets one of the biggest superhero pops of the night. Lex overpowers him to start, but gets cradled for one. Small package gets two. Cradle gets two. Two dropkicks and Ricky starts chopping like a motherf*cker. Man, I remember the days before Luger’s scrotum fell off. He wisely bails before his chest starts swelling up. They brawl and Steamboat is like “You think those were bad? Take THIS and THIS and THAT!Ã¢â‚¬Â and just unloads monster chops that are like 1.2 Benoit. He gets an atomic drop, too, but being that he’s a total idiot he lets Luger get into the ring first and walks right into a kneelift coming back in. They head out and Luger beats him to a pulp, but Steamboat pulls out the chops again. Back in, Steamboat goes up, but gets caught. Backbreaker follows and Luger goes for that general area. Press slam pops the crowd. Elbow to the back gets two. Then a really cool spot, as Luger protests the speed of the count, and specifically instructs Tommy Young to count “123Ã¢â‚¬Â instead of “1..2..3Ã¢â‚¬Â next time. So of course Steamboat cradles him and Tommy gets off an ultra-fast two count. Little details like that are missing nowadays. JR & Caudle don’t even pound the joke into the ground like Michael Cole would today Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it’s just a subtle little thing that’s put there for people who are paying attention. Steamboat is about to make a comeback, so Luger just MURDERS him with three clotheslines, allowing Steamboat to do his most dramatic punch-drunk oversell. Luger hotshots him, but Steamboat goes back to the chops again. A cheapshot ends that, and Luger gets a powerslam for two. Steamboat tries again with a bodyblock for two, but Lex atomic drops him. However, he puts his head down and falls prey to a neckbreaker. Luger, now frustrated, charges and goes over the top, and Steamboat won’t let him back in, smartly fighting from a distance and forcing Luger to expend energy while trying to make it into the ring again. See, it’s the DETAILS. Steamboat tries a slam back in, but Luger reverses for two. Steamboat charges and misses and Luger goes up, but gets slammed off. Steamboat goes for the kill with more chops, and gets the flying karate chop to set up the finish. However, Luger backdrops him into the other ring and we move there. Luger fetches a chair, obviously trying for the DQ, but Steamboat catapults him into it, which Tommy Young appears ready to ignore. However, Steamboat snaps and starts pounding him with the chair, and Tommy can’t ignore THAT and gives Luger his DQ at 10:26. Steamboat makes sure to get his money’s worth, though. See what happens when a match is smartly laid out and both guys are unselfish enough to sell the shit out of each others’ offense? You only help yourself by taking the chops like a MAN and not trying to hog every bit of offense for yourself. This was probably Luger’s best singles match outside of Flair, bar none. ****1/2
– WarGames: Michael Hayes, Jimmy Garvin, Terry Gordy, Samu & Fatu v. Stan Lane, Bobby Eaton, Steve Williams, Hawk & Animal. This was, for all intents and purposes, only the second year for WarGames, as the 1988 version was never shown anywhere that I’m aware of. Garvin starts with Eaton as the first two victims. They slug it out, which Eaton of course wins. He gets a neckbreaker, but Garvin slugs back. Eaton gets an atomic drop, but runs into a foot. Eaton tastes the cold steel of cage (which, as JR would note some 12 years later, does not taste like chocolate), and gets choked. He slugs back, but gets forearmed by Garvin. Hayes lays on the badmouth for good measure, as a running gag develops on the outside with Dangerously promising to the camera every chance he gets that Hayes will be the next one in the match. Eaton comes back with a pair of backbreakers that set up a Boston crab, but Gordy (and not Hayes, as promised) is the next in. Dangerously assures the camera that Hayes is coming right up. Things go badly for Bobby in the 2:00 2-on-1 segment, as they send him to the cage repeatedly. Dr. Death is next in for the babyfaces to make the save, and it’s MIRACLE VIOLENCE time. He goes for Gordy and presses him into the ceiling of the cage an insane EIGHT times. Garvin chokes Eaton as the heels regain the momentum. Williams sends Gordy to the cage, and Samu is in next. But don’t worry, Hayes is coming right away. Yup. They target the good Doctor and Gordy gives him a backdrop suplex while Garvin handles Eaton. Doc keeps coming back, but Gordy & Samu double-team him. Animal comes in to even the odds again, and he whomps righteous ass on everyone. Big boot for Samu, and when he retreats to the other ring to escape, Animal follows with a shoulderblock over the ropes. The faces clothesline anything that moves until Fatu makes it 4-on-3 again. The SST work Animal over with lots of headbutts. Gordy chokes out Doc to keep him occupied. Stan Lane is next, and various heels taste the unforgiving steel. Doc & Animal just clothesline the shit out of the SST while the Express handle Garvin. Hayes is finally in last for the heels (“I gotta go in?Ã¢â‚¬Â he asks Dangerously. “There’s no one left!Ã¢â‚¬Â Paul replies. “Damn.Ã¢â‚¬Â ) , and he starts DDTing everyone. He celebrates with some strutting. Things look bleak for our heroes as the heels pound away, but Hawk enters to begin the Match Beyond. Bodies are flying everywhere and now Eaton returns the DDT receipt to all the heels, and everyone moves to one side and slugs it out. The LOD try a Doomsday Device on Gordy, but Garvin breaks it up. However, he’s actually walked into a trap, as Hawk kills him with a lariat, gives him a bunch of neckbreakers, and then puts him in the Hangman for the submission at 22:22. That was, to coin a phrase, a true slobberknocker. **** Just for fun, the heels wait until everyone but Animal has left, and then jump him for the huge post-match massacre. Hey, they’re the bad guys, you expect sportsmanship?
– NWA World title: Ric Flair v. Terry Funk. The storyline is simple: Flair regained the title at WrestleWar, and jealous ringside judge Funk decided to come out of retirement and make a grandstand challenge on the spot. Flair rightly turned him down, so Funk threw a tantrum and piledrove Flair through the ringside table, breaking his neck. And now Flair’s back and he wants sweet, sweet revenge. Flair wastes no time, attacking on the floor, and Funk wants none of that action. Flair chases and pounds away, so Funk runs for cover again. Into the ring, Funk chops away, but Flair returns fire with cherries on top. Funk takes a powder again, so they brawl outside. Flair gets posted, and Funk pounds him. Back in, a suplex gets two. He starts targeting the neck, so Flair takes a breather of his own. When he gets to the apron, they fight over a suplex, and both guys tumble to the floor. Chops are exchanged, and then eyepokes. Back in, Funk goes for his first try at a piledriver, but Flair reverses. More brawling and now Flair works the neck. Back in, he drops the knee on it, twice, for two. A pair of piledrivers and Funk is dead. Finished. Kaput. Done. DOA. However, he has enough left to bail and make a run for it. Flair heads him off and they slug it out, which Flair wins back in the ring and gets two. Backdrop suplex sets up the figure-four, but Funk is smart enough to grab the branding iron and tattoo Flair with it to break the hold. Flair starts bleeding as a result, and now Funk chooses that moment to hit the long-awaited piledriver. It only gets two, so Funk rips up the mats on the floor. Flair reverses that piledriver attempt, but Funk gets three neckbreakers back in the ring. Flair gets that branding iron for himself, however, and soon both guys are bleeding. They brawl out and in, and Flair hammers away on the cut. He misses a charge and hurts his knee, so Terry goes for the spinning toehold. Ric grabs his free leg and trips him up to set up the figure-four, but Terry reverses to an inside cradle for two, which Flair reverses again for the pin at 16:20. The psychology was a little goofy, but the brawl was super-intense and had tons of blood. ****1/4 Muta & Funk then do the classic beatdown of Flair that leads to Flair & Sting v. Funk & Muta at the first Halloween Havoc.
The Bottom Line: Untouched by the ravages of time and sports entertainment bullshit, this show remains the pinnacle of the early NWA PPV era and the single greatest wrestling PPV ever produced. The matches, while slightly shorter than usual, have absolutely no wasted space in them and almost zero resting, as everyone turned it up about 150 notches for this show and put on a blowaway effort in every sense of the word.
But is Wrestlemania X-7 a better show? Well, comparing the top matches
– Rock/Austin v. Flair/Funk Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Better storyline for Bash, better match for WM. Give the edge to the WWF here.
– TLC3 v. WarGames – Better gimmick for the Bash, more eye-popping spotfest for WM. Since the styles are so drastically different, call it a push.
– HHH/Undertaker v. Steamboat/Luger Ã¢â‚¬â€œ No contest here, I think, comparing power v. technique matches. Luger could MOVE back in the day, whereas UT has been in slow motion since he returned in 2000. Definite edge to the Bash here.
– Sting/Muta v. Benoit/Angle. Too close to call. Both featuring state-of-the-art stuff and hot new workers. However, Sting/Muta had an actual backstory and buildup, whereas Benoit/Angle was just thrown together the week before the show, so I’m gonna give the edge to the Bash again.
So the final tally: 2-1-1 for the Great American Bash, winner and STILL PPV champion for the foreseeable future.
And in case you haven’t figured it out, HIGHEST recommendation. Ever.