Historically Speaking: The Summer’s Biggest Bash

“History is the narrative of great actions with praise or blame.” – Quoted by Cotton Mather

The Opening Chapter
By the time you read this America’s favorite holiday, the Fourth of July, will be in the books for another year. The Fourth of July, much like most American holidays, has since evolved from its true meaning of celebration into an excuse to grill out, drink beer and watch fireworks blow up. This, by the way, is not something I oppose, just a point to ponder. The wrestling business likes to capitalize on popular trends and Independence Day was no exception. Enter “The American Dream” himself, Dusty Rhodes. So this week I am going to kick open the vault and look back one of Big Dust’s best creations, “The Great American Bash,” to see what it was, where it’s been and what it will be in the future.

The Early Years
The first Bash was a stand alone supercard in 1985. The show had Dusty’s fingerprints all over at as the main event was Stardust winning the NWA World Television Championship from Tully Blanchard while Ric Flair and Nikita Koloff got the semi-main spot for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. It’s funny, I only ever heard the TV championship being referred to as a World belt when Dusty had it or was chasing it. The show did feature other top ‘80s NWA standouts like The Andersons, The Road Warriors, The Russians and Magnum TA.

In 1986 the concept of the “Great American Bash tour” was created. The 1986 tour featuring thirteen events spanning the east half of the country with Flair defending his belt at each stop. He went through both Road Warriors, both members of the Rock & Roll Express, Ronnie Garvin, Magnum TA, and Wahoo McDaniel before dropping the belt to Rhodes on one of the final stops. Dusty later explained in his autobiography that the Bash tour concept was to mimic a music tour, and even went so far to so have some of his country music buddies like Willie Nelson and David Allen Coe perform mini-concerts at each event.

The 1987 tour followed much of the same format as the previous year but this run introduced another of Stardust’s big concepts: The WarGames. The original two WarGames matches were featured on this tour with Dusty and his boys, Nikita Koloff, The Road Warriors and Paul Ellering, going over the Four Horsemen at both stops.

By 1988, the event became a stand alone PPV supercard much like what is seen today. Flair was on top for the next three years of the event, successfully defending the NWA Championship against Luger in ’88, beating Terry Funk in NWA’s glory year of 1989 and dropping the belt to Sting in 1990.

In 1991, the show would reach an all-time low that was maybe only matched by the WWE’s version in 2004. Just weeks before Bash ’91, then WCW head Jim Herd fired Flair, then the reigning, WCW/NWA World Champion. Flair took the now famous “Big Gold Belt” with him, leaving WCW to scramble to find a new main event and a new championship belt. It was decided that Lex Luger and Barry Windham would fight for the vacant WCW Championship, using an old outdated Title belt as the prop. The fans crapped on the show and spent the whole time chanting for Flair. The rest of the matches didn’t do them any favors either, as a terrible scaffold match and bad gimmicks like El Gigante, Oz, Black Blood and Big Josh littered the undercard. This PPV to this day is still considered on of WCW and wrestling in general’s, all-time worst.

Bill Watts was in charge of WCW during the 1992 Bash and it had a significantly different look and feel. The majority of the card focused on the NWA Tag Title tournament and featured quality matches from legitimate wrestlers like Williams & Gordy, Hashimoto & Hase, Liger & Pillman and an assortment of solid WCW talent like Rude, Steamboat, Koloff, Austin, Windham and Rhodes. The other notable moment was the new prototype for a successful monster heel, Big Van Vader, beating Sting for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.

The WCW Years
The Bash then lay dormant until 1995. By this point Eric Bischoff was starting his rise to power in WCW and used The Bash as a marquee pay per view event.

The 1995 event was fairly uneventful as Hulk Hogan wasn’t there to defend the belt, rather Ric Flair and Randy Savage headlined the event in a grudge match while Sting and Meng fought for the US Title on the undercard. Oh and The Renegade debuted as well, but the less said about that, the better.

The show would really pick up in 1996 as this was the monumental event where Scott Hall & Kevin Nash showed up, and Nash powerbombed Eric Bischoff off the entrance stage. It also featured the debuts of Kevin Greene & Steve McMichael in a match against Arn Anderson & Ric Flair where McMichael joined the 4 Horsemen. The card also had the now infamous “falls count anywhere” match between Chris Benoit and Kevin Sullivan, and the mainstream American debut of Rey Mysterio, Jr.

By 1997, the WCW-nWo war was in full swing and featured DDP and Randy Savage in part two of their blood feud and Kevin Greene’s return to defeat McMichael in the blowoff to a feud a year in the making. The story was much the same in 1998 as WCW and the nWo were still battling each other and the same guys like Hogan, Savage, Piper, Sting and Giant were still on top.

By 1999, Nash was booking the show and naturally made himself World Champion. I was personally a fan of WCW this summer and this year’s Bash PPV as new acts like The West Texas Rednecks, The Triad, and the first remnants of The Filthy Animals and The Revolution were featured.

Great American Bash 2000 had the dubious distinction of being the last WCW produced Bash and had Vince Russo’s sticky fingerprints all over it. The show was held at the peak of the New Blood-Millionaires Club angle and featured wacky stipulations and goofy mismatches. There was a two-on-one Asylum match (think the UFC Octagon) with Scott Steiner against both his brother Rick and Tank Abbot. There was Booker “GI Bro” T against Shawn Stasiak doing his best Mr. Perfect impersonation in a “boot camp” match. DDP and Mike in an “ambulance” match. Shane Douglas and The Wall in a “best of five tables” match. And of course there was Hogan and Kidman (remember that fued?), Ric Flair “retiring” to his son David, and the wonderful “Human Torch” match between Sting and Vampiro. Needless to say, it was not the way the Bash should have gone out.

The WWE Years
When WWE decided to pick up the mantle of the Great American Bash in 2004 as a way to add to their already overcrowded PPV schedule, there were high hopes for the Bash’s re-incarnation. Unfortunately the 2004 version was nothing like what people expected or hoped for. The show was headlined by Eddie Guerrero defending the WWE Championship against a newly-renovated and at the time, severely over-pushed John “Bradshaw” Layfield. Bradshaw ending up winning the belt in a match that saw Guerrero tap an artery and draw probably a .08 Muta on the blood scale. The Bradshaw victory was met with a severe backlash by smart and mark fans worldwide. The show also featured the ridiculous Undertaker-Dudley Boyz handicap match that saw Undertaker “murder” Paul Bearer in a vat of concrete. SmackDown!’s mid-card talent was so weak at the time that the PPV undercard was littered with brand new heels winning squash matches (Luther Reigns over Charlie Haas, Mordecai over Hardcore Holly and Kenzo Suzuki over Billy Gunn.) This was not the way to reinvent the brand name.

On paper the 2005 event looked much better but the in-ring work still proved the show to be a dud once again. Heidenreich and mystery partner Road Warrior Animal won the Tag belts off of MNM as a way to cash in on the new Road Warriors DVD that had just come out. Orlando Jordan beat Chris Benoit to retain the US Title in a WTF moment. Undertaker “killed off’ Muhammad Hassan. The Eddie Guerrero-Rey Mysterio match was overshadowed by the ridiculous “Domick’s father” angle. The Blue Meanie and the old bWo got on PPV just as a pay off to Meanie so as not sue WWE from the incident with JBL at One Night Stand. And JBL once again found himself in the main event, this time challenging Batista for the World Championship, in match he won by disqualification.

By 2006 expectations were set pretty low for the Bash PPV and “wellness” issues proved to be the downfall of the Bash this year. The Fit Finlay-William Regal-Bobby Lashley US Title match was dropped to a one-on-one between Finlay and Regal when Lashley couldn’t compete due to “elevated liver enzymes.” The same liver problems took Super Crazy out his match for the Cruiserweight Championship against Gregory Helms and Great Khali was replaced by Big Show in his “Punjabi Prison” match versus Undertaker. Matt Hardy ended up replacing Super Crazy, so in hindsight the three matches were all improved work rate wise anyways. Oh and the big Batista-Mark Henry blow off was sidelined a week before the event when the injury-prone Henry went out with a knee injury. Henry was replaced by Ken Kennedy, another step up in match quality at least. Four of the seven advertised matches were changed either shortly before or on the day of the show, instantly setting the card back. The two bright spots of the card were London/Kendrick-Pit Bulls Tag Title match and the World Heavyweight Championship match that saw “King” Booker T beat Rey Mysterio, Jr. for the belt, thanks in part to Chavo Guerrero, Jr.’s interference.

So this card didn’t come off as intended either but as I was looking back at the 2006 card I realized the strong WCW influence that permeated throughout the show. Think about it. Gregory Helms, a WCW mainstay defended the old WCW Cruiserweight Championship. Finlay and Regal, two guys who first made their mark in WCW, were fighting over the United States Championship, a Title established in the NWA and WCW. The main event was for the World Heavyweight Championship, a direct or indirect (depends on who you ask), link to the old WCW World Championship was fought between two WCW hold-overs in Booker and Mysterio, with interference from Chavo, another WCW guy. If also you count the appearances by Big Show and “Pit Bull” Jaime Noble, you have quite the WCW influenced card. Whether this was done by design or by coincidence it is still a nice reminder to the memory of the old WCW. If only Flair or Rhodes made an appearance it would be just like the old days.

As we look ahead at this year’s card coming up in a few short weeks it looks like some of the old WCW will be found again. Rumors and storylines point to a Finlay-Flair singles match, a US Title defense, a defense of “The Big Gold Belt” and perhaps an appearance by Dusty Rhodes. They always saw third times a charm, maybe for WWE the fourth time will be a charm.

The Perspective
It is often said that Vince McMahon doesn’t like to promote anything he didn’t help create. Other than the character of Ric Flair that theory pretty much rings true. Perhaps he’s getting soft in his old age and is just blatantly borrowing concepts from others without even bothering to change anything anymore. The Great American Bash, in name and theory anyways, is a great way to honor the legacy and tradition that the NWA, WCW and Jim Crockett Promotions built. Or maybe it’s a way to apologize to Dusty for the polka dots. Whatever it is, it’s a good start. Now if we could only see another WCW stalwart or two make a comeback as well.

For this week the vault is closed

Linked to the Pulse
This Pulse Wrestling Top Wrestlers feature is something I really love and am truly proud to be a part of.

Check out the first few entries, including the well written intro by Eric S.

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This Day in History
I figured if we are talking history around here we should pay homage to what has happened on this very day in the years gone by. It will either make you long for the old days or be happy for what we have now.

1962 – Buddy Rogers & Handsome John Barend defeated Johnny Valentine & Cowboy Bob Ellis for the WWWF Tag Team title
1992 – Steve Williams & Terry Gordy defeated the Steiner Brothers for the WCW World Tag Team title
1993 – Jerry Lawler defeated Owen Hart for the USWA Unified Heavyweight title
1993 – C.W. Bergstrom & Melvin Penrod, Jr. defeated New Jack & Homeboy for the USWA Tag Team title
1994 – Tony Anthony defeted Jake Roberts for the Smokey Mountain Heavyweight title
1996 – Beau James defeated Scott Sterling for the SSW Appalachian title
1997 – Justin St. John defeated Colorado Kid for the Music City North American Heavyweight title
1998 – Doug Basham defeated David C. for the Ohio Valley Heavyweight title

The Assignment
It’s important to know your history to know where you have come from and where you are going. Nova implemented history assignments for the students of the developmental territories months ago so they would know pro wrestling’s history and they would learn just how many moves Nova did create. I feel this is a smashing idea and every week I will assign a book or DVD for you to check out and learn from. They are not only educational but very entertaining.

Part of the influence to write this column was the time of year it is, but also because I recently just read Dusty Rhodes’ autobiography Dusty: Reflections of an American Dream. I am really not a big Dusty mark, as I grew up on the WWF and didn’t really see Dusty until the polka dot era. But I did find this book very entertaining. He said in the book, you’d either hate or love it, but I found myself in between.

The road stories and wrestler exploits were fascinating, but was turned off by Dusty constantly stroking his own ego and putting himself over. There were times I when I would re-read a passage just to try and understand what he meant or wonder aloud if he really believed what he was saying. He also does a very good job of promoting the people he respects and loves, especially his family and his best wrestling pals Terry Funk and the late Dick Murdoch. In fact he dedicated the book to Murdoch. His bit on his relationship with his son Dustin is truly gripping stuff. The chapter about booking the ultimate Starrcade card is a bit interesting, as he goes so far to call the dingy Tampa Armory where he made so much money in Florida the “Madison Square Garden” off the south. The card itself is booked with ‘70s and ‘80s stars with himself and Harley Race on top of course. The only new age wrestler booked on the card is of course his son Dustin, in his Goldust gimmick.

Throughout the book he glosses over stuff, especially his run with Ric Flair, and says he could fill a whole book on the exploits of him and Funk, another on road stories, another on backstage gossip and another on how WCW’s management was run poorly. Well those are all books I would be interesting to read so here’s hoping somebody takes Dusty up on his claims and helps him write those, in hopes that they are at least as half as entertaining as this one.

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