Hello again, my Common Denomi-Nation.
First off, if any of you are Jimmy Snuka fans, I’m just going to go ahead and tell you this article has nothing to do with Tamina’s daddy. Let me explain…
One of my favorite aspects history is counterfactual history, also sometimes called alternate history, point-of-divergence history, or just “what if?” history. Take one or more events and ask “what if ‘x’ had happened instead of ‘y?'” and go from there. These can be large-scale broad questions like, “What if the South had won the Civil War?” to very specific, “What if Lee Harvey Oswald had missed JFK?”
This is also tied to a phenomenon you’ve probably heard of called the Butterfly Effect. The Butterfly Effect is not just an Ashton Kutcher movie, it’s the idea that a single incident reverberates in all directions over time having a potentially exponential effect over a lot of different things (or something like that…I think you get the idea). So, history + point of divergence + cause and effect + wrestling = “The Superfly Effect” – what might have happened if very plausible things had gone just a little bit differently.
Some of you may have already read the first part of this, but I wanted to include everything as one storyline. I also went back and made some slight fixes and what-not, so I hope this all makes sense. Yes, it’s a lot, so I won’t hate you if you don’t read all of it, but I think I included some nice surprises along the way, while some of this might sound eerily familiar.
April 24, 1983 – The cocky and arrogant heel Nick Bockwinkle, having had a virtual stranglehold on the AWA World Heavyweight champion since 1975, is challenged by the red-hot challenger Hulk Hogan. Hogan has recently become the focus of a media sensation thanks to a well-received minor part in Rocky III, and “Hulk-Mania” has made Hogan an easy pick to be the one for the aging Bockwinkle to pass the torch to. The problem: Hogan has also been making good money in Japan and on Hulk-related merchandise, and in exchange for the AWA belt, AWA owner Verne Gagne wants Hogan to give up a share of his Japan money and merchandising. In the meantime, Hogan has been getting attention from Vince McMahon, Jr., who has recently begun a national expansion out of his WWF home base in the Northeast.
Seeking the security of steady pay, the notoriety of being a World Champion, and a deal to give only 5 percent of his outside earnings, Hogan signs a long-term deal with Verne, and in front of a rabid crowd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Hulk defeats Bockwinkle, despite the effort’s of manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, and becomes the new AWA World Heavyweight Champion.
In the ensuing months, Hogan’s celebrity status only grows. He appears on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, “Saturday Night Live,” and “The A-Team” with Rocky III co-star and friend Mr. T. After a licensing dispute with Marvel Comics, an agreement is struck to allow Hogan to be referred to as “The Incredible” Hulk Hogan. In exchange, Marvel is paid an annual fee and AWA wrestlers including Hogan, Mad Dog Vachon, Baron von Raschke, the Crusher and even Mr. T star in a well-received Marvel Comics mini-series, featuring a “Hulk vs. Hulk” battle.
Having failed to woo Hogan to the WWF, McMahon plots his next move. He feels longtime WWF Champion Bob Backlund lacks the necessary charisma to carry his promotion on a national level. He considers other regional stars, such as “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, but Flair is in the midst of having the torch passed to him by Harley Race as the NWA Champion and standard-bearer. Greg Valentine is considered as well as a long-term heel champion. A few other names are touted as well, including trying to nail down Andre the Giant or bringing back “Superstar” Billy Graham, but ultimately Vince makes his decision.
June 10, 1983 – “Handsome” Harley Race defeats “Nature Boy” Ric Flair in Race’s home town of St. Louis to regain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, ending Flair’s first run with the the belt, having defeated Dusty Rhodes for the title back in September of 1981. It is Race’s seventh NWA title reign. In order to protect his championship, Race puts a “bounty” on Flair, effectively turning Flair into a face and sending a bevy of heels after the “Nature Boy.” Eventually Flair is granted a re-match, to be held as part of a special “super-card.” Like Race’s title win, Flair will receive his shot in his own “back yard,” Raleigh, North Carolina. The event will be called “Starrcade.” (no one is suree why it is spelled
November 24, 1983 – At the inaugural NWA “super-card,” Jim Crockett Promotions holds the first Starrcade, live from Raleigh, South Carolina and broadcast via closed-circuit to many sites throughout the southeastern U.S., featuring a number of top-level matches, including Greg Valentine and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in a dog-collar match. The match is so vicious, Piper loses partial hearing in his right ear. The story of the show, though, is the Main Event. In a steel cage, Ric Flair regains the NWA title from Harley Race.
Although the match and the card are considered a success, and Race has all but named Flair as the guy he is “passing the torch” to, there is still some question about whether or not Flair is acceptable to the NWA Board of Directors as the long-term champion. Some feel that Flair’s previous first run with the belt was enough of Flair and he has had his run at the top. Race cuts back on his ring appearances, going into semi-retirement, as Flair becomes the NWA’s touring champion, defending the belt against the likes of Dick Slater, Dusty Rhodes, Manny Fernandez, Wahoo McDaniel and Dick Murdoch. While Flair draws solid crowds as a touring champ, a contingent of NWA promoters begin to weigh other options, including Valentine and Piper as possible champs. However, both men soon leave the area to begin competing full-time in the WWF.
December 26, 1983 – The reviled Iranian strongman The Iron Sheik wins the WWF World Heavyweight Championship from Bob Backlund when Backlund’s manager Arnold Skaaland throws in the champ’s signature towel as Backlund is trapped in the Sheik’s camel clutch submission hold.
The Iron Sheik begins a reign of terror in the WWF, with manager Freddie Blassie in tow, Sheik disposes of a few minor challenges from the likes of Pedro Morales, Tito Santana, and others. Blassie and the Sheik begin to build the Foreign Legion, which includes Nikolai Volkoff, Killer Khan, Ivan Putski, and the Cuban Assassin.
February 8, 1984 – David Von Erich of the popular Texas-based promotion World Class Championship Wrestling and a member of the famed Von Erich Wrestling Family, cancels a planned tour of Japan due to severe stomach pain. Von Erich is ultimately diagnosed with acute enteritis, and emergency surgery avoids what could have been a potential life-threatening situation.
February 14, 1984 – Bob Backlund receives a rematch for the WWF title against The Iron Sheik, but both he and the crowd are shocked when Skaaland turns on Backlund in the middle of the match and joins the Foreign Legion, even adopting the attire of a sheik. The entire heel stable then storms the ring, giving Backlund a heinous beating, as well as destroying every wrestler who comes to the ring to try and save the former champ. It becomes known as the “Valentine’s Day Massacre.”
Captain Lou Albano and his charges, the Wild Samoans and Kamala the Ugandan Giant join the Legion as well. Volkoff wins the Intercontinental Championship from Tito Santana in March after Santana, who had just won the belt a month earlier, refused to join the Foreign Legion. In April, the Samoans regain the Tag Titles from Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson.
April 3, 1984 – On a trip to Texas, Ric Flair makes an appearance on WCCW television and insults the still-recovering David Von Erich. David’s brothers Kevin and Kerry intervene on David’s behalf, setting up a NWA title match between Flair and Kerry at a super-card WCCW promoter dubs the Parade of Champions, taking the name from a similar event in 1972 at Texas Stadium.
May 1, 1984 – In a segment of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s “Piper’s Pit,” Piper is interviewing singer Cyndi Lauper, who mentions that Captain Lou had a role in her video for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Albano crashes the interview, bringing along the Samoans. The trio intimidates Lauper and Piper, when Piper tries to protect Lauper, the Samoans beat him down and destroy the Pit setting. Piper is left bleeding and Lauper tends to him.
This sets up a segment that airs on MTV, wherein Lauper and Albano have a war of words. Albano threatens to become physical, but Piper, bandaged and on a crutch with a wrapped knee, comes to her rescue. The Samoans arrive, and it looks bad for Piper and Lauper, but Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda, the U.S. Express, make a dramatic save, attacking the Samoans and running them off.
To capitalize on the publicity, the WWF and MTV hold a special event on July 23, called “The Big Brawl,” airing live on the music network from Madison Square Garden. Three matches are shown. Nikolai Volkoff successfully defends the I-C title over Tito Santana, losing by disqualification when Koloff hits Santana with the Soviet flag. The Iron Sheik defeats Rocky Johnson in a WWF title match. And then in the Main Event, The U.S. Express w/ Cindy Lauper and Roddy Piper in their corner defeat the Wild Samoans, with Albano and Blassie in their corner, to win the WWF tag-team championship.
However, after the match, the entire Foreign Legion storms the ring and commence a massive beat down. Suddenly, a rock and roll version of the “Marine Hymn” begins to play, and Sgt. Slaughter bursts through the curtain. He single-handedly turns the tide and vanquishes the Legion, save for the Iron Sheik. The two briefly have a stare-down, before the Sheik is dragged out of the ring.
May 6, 1984 – At the WCCW Parade of Champions, Kerry Von Erich appears to have won the NWA World Title in front of 50,000 fans at Texas Stadium, but the decision is reversed after a second referee reports Flair having used a chair earlier in the match, changing the decision to a DQ win for Kerry. On the undercard, David Von Erich impresses NWA officials in attendance by press slamming the colossal King Kong Bundy and by drawing the loudest cheers from the crowd after defeating Bundy in a “loser leaves Texas” match..
August 2, 1984 – Hulk Hogan successfully defends his AWA World Championship against Jesse “The Body” Ventura before more than 45,000 fans at Soldier Field in Chicago. The undercard features a steel cage match in which the Crusher and Dick the Bruiser take on the Road Warriors in an epic brawl so bloody the Bruiser has to have a transfusion after the match and manager Paul Ellering has a concussion from being knocked off the ring apron. The Warriors, who had officially been heels in the months since their debut, are cheered rabidly by the fans. They soon appear in their own Marvel Comics mini-series and engage in an epic series of matches with the Fabulous Freebirds throughout the late summer and fall. Freebird Terry Gordy and Hogan also engage in a well-received feud.
Eventually, on Halloween night, before a sell-out crowd of more than 60,000 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Hulk Hogan and the Road Warriors defeat Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts in a six-man “Thunderdome” match, taking the name from the new Mel Gibson movie, fitting since the Road Warriors took their name from another Mad Max movie. An influx of talent from other promotions, including the NWA, bolsters the ranks of the AWA as Gagne begins plans for a huge card, similar to the Starrcade event the NWA put on the previous year, he plans to call it “SuperClash.”
November 22, 1984 – Thanksgiving night, and Jim Crocket Promotions holds its second Starrcade. It is a modest success, but the Main Event, featuring a “$1 Million” NWA title match between Flair and Dusty Rhodes fails to excite. However, following the match, a surprise appearance from David Von Erich in Greensboro, North Carolina, far from his home base of Texas, creates a buzz. He confronts Flair in the ring and the two have a pull-apart.
November 24, 1984 – Just two days after Starrcade ’84, and again airing live from Madison Square Garden, the WWF and MTV co-promote a super-card of their own, dubbing it “Rock N’ Wrestling Mania.” The AWA, having trademarked “Hulk-Mania,” threatens to sue over the name, so Vince renames the show the “Rock N’ Wrestling Rumble.” While the event will eventually be shown for free on MTV, the live broadcast is available nationwide on closed circuit. Millions pay to watch the event unfold in theaters across the country. On the card, Big John Studd defeats “Playboy” Buddy Rose in a record 9 seconds, Tito Santana defeats Kamala, the Wild Samoans defeat Rocky Johnson and Ricky Steamboat, the U.S. Express defeat Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper wins the Intercontinental title from Nikolai Volkoff. Piper and Lauper kiss in the middle of the ring after the match, but Piper insists they are “just friends.” And in the Main Event, Sgt. Slaughter defeats the Iron Sheik with the Cobra Clutch to win the WWF Championship. The event is notable for an appearance by Van Halen, Billy Martin, guest referee Muhammad Ali, and “Dr. J” Julius Irving who shares an interview with Studd to sell the big man’s height. Slaughter’s title run includes decisive wins against all the members of the Foreign Legion. A huge wave of patriotism smack in the middle of the Reagan Era makes Sarge a popular guest on many TV shows, much like Hogan. In fact, there develops a great deal of debate among wrestling fans about who is more popular. In the year-end issue of “Pro Wrestling Illustrated,” Hogan wins “Wrestler of the Year,” but Slaughter wins “Most Popular Wrestler,” while incidentally, the Road Warriors-Bruiser/Crusher match wins “Match of the Year.” The WWF begins airing a weekly show “Rock N’ Wrestling” on MTV featuring squash matches, interviews and a live music performance from various music stars of the 80s.
December 26, 1984 – To complete the 1984 super-card season, Gagne’s “SuperClash” takes place in Las Vegas, airing live via closed-circuit. The numbers will show that while Vince’s Wrestling Rumble generated more revenue, Verne’s show sold more tickets. In the months leading up to the show, the AWA held a battle royal to determine who would face the champ at the Clash. Bruiser Brody won the event and immediately attacked Hogan at the next AWA show. AWA President Stanley Blackburn suspended Brody for his actions, but Hogan demanded to have him reinstated, with the stipulation that the two not appear at the same event before SuperClash. Two weeks before the big show, Hogan was attacked by a mysterious masked man calling himself Red River Jack. It was clearly Brody, but no one was able to prove it. However, Hogan was badly beaten and looked vulnerable going into the show.
At SuperClash, the “Magnums” Terry Allen and Scott Hall won a 20-team Tag-Team “Jackpot” Battle Royal to gain a shot at the Road Warriors, who battled Ivan and Nikita Koloff to a double-disqualification on the card. Ivan is “forced to retire” due to injuries sustained in the match, and he begins grooming Nikita for singles competition. Curt Hennig defeats Greg Gagne in the finals of a tournament to crown the first AWA Americas Champion, intended to serve as the promotion’s answer to the WWF Intercontinental Championship. Although Hennig and Gagne are both faces, a skirmish between their fathers, Verne and Larry “the Axe”, who have accompanied their sons to ringside, kicking off a slow heel turn for Hennig that eventually leads to a tag match between the Hennigs and the Gagnes.
In the Main Event, turned into a “Las Vegas Death Match” at Hogan’s request, Hogan is bloodied and battered by the wild Brody as the two brawl all over the Showboat Sports Pavilion, but the Hulkster eventually wears Brody down and nails him with a series of chair shots until Brody can not answer a 10-count.
To counter the exposure the WWF has gained from MTV, Verne negotiates a deal with emerging sports network ESPN to carry AWA programming. “AWA Superstars” begins airing a two-hour show on Wednesdays nights, with “All-Stars of the AWA,” a half-hour squash match/highlight program airing weekday afternoons.
Jan 21, 1985 – Following a WWF title match in which Sgt. Slaughter defeated Kamala via the Cobra clutch, Slaughter is attacked by a huge masked wrestler wearing all black and led by Lou Albano. Captain Lou later introduces the man as the Giant Kong. Astute fans note the similarity between Giant Kong and King Kong Bundy. NWA imports the Rock N Roll Express make their WWF debut with a win over Nikolai Volkoff and Killer Khan. Morton and Gibson engage in a series of friendly matches with the U.S. Express, but can not win the titles. Slaughter, needing allies against the Foreign Legion, enlists the services of Mike “Corporal” Kirchner and Ed “Major Pain” Wiskoski.
The three are approached by the Hasbro Company and have their likenesses turned into GI Joe action figures and characters in the GI Joe cartoon, but the AWA forbids the characters from being featured in Marvel’s GI Joe comics. Several of the Foreign Legion “join” Joe’s nemesis Cobra as action figures and cartoon characters.
March 1, 1985 – A new player on the national scene arrives as Bill Watts expands his Louisiana-based Mid-South Wrestling and acquires a time slot on the emerging “super-station” WTBS, despite the station already airing NWA-affiliated Georgia Championship Wrestling. Watts, Jim Crockett, and Georgia promoter Jim Barnett begin to work on an arrangement to curb the expansion of the “Big Two,” the AWA and WWF.
Before long, Fritz Von Erich is brought into the mix. Ric Flair begins an extended tour of the involved territories, including big matches against Mid-South’s Junkyard Dog, Crockett’s Dusty Rhodes, Georgia’s Butch Reed and Texas’ Kevin Von Erich. The last of these sees Flair “break” Kevin’s neck following a Ole and Arn Anderson-assisted spike piledriver. On the same card, the Andersons, NWA tag-team champs at the time, win a tough match against Chris Adams and Gino Hernandez.
May 7, 1985 – The Parade of Champions returns to Texas Stadium, only this time with the cooperation between Watts, Crockett, Von Erich and Barnett. The show has received massive promotion on all of the various territories’ programming and is available throughout the Southeast, Deep South, Texas and Mid-South, as well as a few select other cities. On the card, Kerry and Mike Von Erich with Fritz in their corner defeat the Andersons to win the NWA World tag-team titles. After the match, Arn turns on Ole and beats him down. The Fantastics, Tommy Rogers and Bobby Fulton, make the save. Also, Mid-South North American champion Ted DiBiase drops the belt to Junkyard Dog. A six-man tag match of Terry Taylor, Chris Adams and Gino Hernandez vs. Steve “Dr. Death” Williams and the Midnight Express (Dennis Condrey and Bobby Eaton w/ Jim Cornette) turns out badly for Taylor as his partners abandon him mid-match, turning heel.
In the Main Event, before a rabid crowd of more than 53,000, David Von Erich defeats Ric Flair to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Over the next few months, Von Erich begins a feud with Jake “The Snake” Roberts that draws tremendous crowds in the Mid-South circuit, including more than 30,000 fans to the Superdome Supershow in New Orleans over the July 4th weekend. As part of the angle, Roberts also harasses the champ by hiring “hitmen” to take Von Erich down throughout the territories and other NWA regions to build the feud by proxy. Among the memorable moments in that series took place in Tulsa, when David is “blinded” by the mist of the Great Kabuki. Meanwhile, Flair and Anderson go after the other Von Erichs’ tag titles in an extended and bloody feud, while the free exchange of talent between the territories makes the organization a de facto mega-promotion rivaling the “Big Two,” though with not quite the mainstream media attention or nationwide audience. Flair and Anderson decide to gain a numbers advantage, and form a stable with Adams and Hernandez, along with Adams’ valet Sunshine and manager Gary Hart. Dubbing themselves the “Four Horsemen,” the group terrorizes the faces throughout the circuit.
May 21, 1985 – Having been AWA champ a little over a year, Hogan feuds with Stan “The Lariat” Hansen. The series sees the two pair off all over the country and on a tour of Japan. Hogan also has a match against Giant Baba featuring a controversial finish wherein it appears that Baba has won the title, but the official is seen on camera knocking Hogan’s leg off of the bottom rope as he counts the pin. Baba proclaims himself the champion, and temporarily seizes the belt, but on the last day of the tour, Hogan defeats Baba decisively to decide the matter. None of this gets much attention in the U.S. In June, the Magnums, having chased the Road Warriors for months, finally win the AWA tag titles. The two men create a bit of a scandal by getting arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct and public intoxication celebrating the win at a local bar. The Road Warriors turn heel shortly afterward by ambushing Greg Gagne in the middle of a match with Curt Hennig. Hennig watches the beatdown for some time before deciding to make the save.
Verne decides to hold a new super-card in the spring, deciding on the name WrestleRock for the event. There is some talk about the name being somewhat of a rip-off of Rock N’ Wrestling, but no threat of legal action comes from Vince. The plan is to build up to a Hulk Hogan-Nikita Koloff main event, and to that end, Koloff has been booked as an unstoppable monster since December, with a gimmick of giving opponents whiplash with his patented Russian Sickle clothesline. He even bests Hansen in a heel vs. heel “Lariat vs. Sickle” match. The event is set for July 5, but Koloff no-shows a TV taping. Uncle Ivan fills in, which isn’t too much of a problem, as he has served largely as Nikita’s mouthpiece, keeping the younger Koloff’s mystique alive, by having him only pose and growl. Behind the scenes, no one has heard from him.
June 15, 1985 – The reason for Nikita’s disappearance becomes clear on the night’s edition of “Rock N’ Wrestling,” as Freddie Blassie makes good on a promise to “shock the world” and “take care of that rat fink Slaughter.” In the middle of a Slaughter interview in front of the live crowd, the Russian National Anthem begins to play. When Volkoff appears, Slaughter laughs it off, saying, “how many times do I have to beat you, you maggot.” It’s all a set-up, however, as coming out of the crowd and jumping Slaughter from behind is Nikita Koloff. The “Russian Nightmare” attacks the WWF Champion and bloodies him. Koloff and Volkoff drape Slaughter’s American flag over the downed Sarge and pose over him. It turns out that Nikita’s contract was up, and he was pressuring Verne for more money and a title reign. When Gagne and Koloff could not come to terms, Koloff accepted an offer from Vince to jump to the WWF.
July 5, 1985 – Without Koloff, Hogan is left without a major feud. That problem is solved by inserting AWA mainstay “Crusher” Jerry Blackwell. To hype Blackwell’s ability, vignettes are shown of Blackwell performing feats of strength, such as driving nails into boards with his forehead, tearing “steel” chain links with his bear hands and turning over a car. The claim that Blackwell has never been body-slammed (not true, but no one refutes the claim) gives the match an added attraction. On the AWA TV show before WrestleRock, to cement Blackwell’s status as a heel, he is aligned with Sheik Adnan El-Kaissey and crushes “Rock & Roll” Buck Zumhofe’s ribs after a match with five big splashes. Hogan makes the save.
On the WrestleRock card, the Magnums defeat the Freebirds in a AWA tag title bout, after which the ‘Birds leave the AWA. Bruiser Brody and Stan Hansen battle to a double-countout and brawl all over the arena. Curt Hennig and Greg Gagne lose to the Road Warriors in a number one contenders’ match. The Road Warriors keep Gagne cut off from the tag, punishing him severely. When Greg does finally manage to reach his partner’s corner, Curt jumps off the apron to save his father Larry (who is at ringside) from an attack by Warriors’ manager Paul Ellering. Greg soon loses and Hawk and Animal deliver a vicious post- bell beating. When Curt realizes what has happened, he storms the ring…and then attacks Greg. Larry “The Ax” joins in the assault wherein Greg is bloodied. Verne attempts a save, but the Hennigs attack him, too. Curt spits on the downed Gagnes before leaving under a chorus of boos.
In the Main Event, Hogan gets all he can handle from Blackwell. It looks like the end for Hogan when “The Crusher” delivers a second-rope splash, and in fact most of the crowd thinks the pin is scored, but the ref say it was only two. As El-Kaissey protests on the apron, Hogan gets up, whips Blackwell into the Sheik, grabs Blackwell on the rebound and delivers a huge body slam. One leg-drop later and Hogan has won the match. El-Kaissey attacks Hogan after the match, with Blackwell joining in, as well Bruiser Brody. The three are beating Hogan down, but the crowd begins to buzz and Andre the Giant, one of the last true free agents in the nation and fresh off a tour of Japan and Australia, storms the ring. He vanquishes the heels and helps Hogan to his feet. The two men, former rivals just a few years earlier in the old WWWF, shake hands. The AWA tours its strongholds with Hogan/Andre vs. Brody/Blackwell (dubbed Bruiser & Crusher II) and Gagnes vs. Hennigs, selling out most nights. In August, in a rare example of openly acknowledging the existence of other promotions, AWA announcer Ron Trongard says “our thoughts and prayers go out to the famous and beloved Von Erich family as young Mike Von Erich is battling for his life in a Dallas hospital, suffering from an unknown illness.” The Road Warriors leave on a tour of Europe and extended tour of Japan.
August 27, 1985 – Vince scores a major deal to broadcast a show on NBC, the first pro wrestling card on major network television in decades. The show is dubbed “The Saturday Night Main Event,” with plans for a quarterly show and occasional WWF guest stars on “Saturday Night Live.” On the first show, Nikita Koloff faces Roddy Piper for the Intercontinental title. A vicious Russian sickle knocks Piper out of the ring, where Nikita pounces and slams Piper’s throat with the ring bell. The match is thrown out and Piper is carted off on a stretcher. Piper is actually taking a leave of absence to try his fortunes at acting out in Hollywood. Also on the card, Giant Kong and Big John Studd win the WWF tag titles from the U.S. Express, and the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff defeat the Rock N Roll Express.
September 25, 1985 – Piper is stripped of the WWF Intercontinental title due to being unable to defend the title for 30 days. A special event at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto is set, “The Wrestling Classic,” a 16-man tournament to crown a new champion. The entire card will be carried live on pay-per-view television as well as select closed circuit broadcast. The line-up includes first-round match-ups The Iron Sheik vs. Mike Rotundo, Nikolai Volkoff vs. Tito Santana, Robert Gibson vs. Greg Valentine, Barry Windham vs. Kamala, Nikita Koloff vs. Cpl. Kirschner, Giant Kong vs. Big John Studd, Buddy Rose vs. Ricky Morton, and Major Pain vs. Killer Khan.
The second round match-ups are Sheik vs. Santana, Valentine vs. Windham, Koloff advances to the semi-final after Kong and Studd refuse to wrestle each other and are both counted out, and Morton vs. Khan. In the semi-final round, Windham defeats the Sheik in what is considered a big upset, and Koloff destroys Ricky Morton, with Morton selling like death. In the final, Koloff defeats Windham (who was getting massive cheers during the match) to win the Intercontinental title.
September 25, 1985 – In what would later be considered the first real move in the “3-Way War” of the mid-80s, the NWA syndicate hold a card of their own on WTBS free to all cable subscribers at the same time the “Wrestling Classic” takes place. The WWF show still does good numbers, with a less than hoped pay-per-view buyrate and much lower than hoped numbers overall in the South and Southwest, but the NWA joint-promotion, dubbed “World War III” does huge ratings, largely on the draw of a 2-ring, steel-cage enclosed match called “War Games: The Match Beyond.” The match features The Von Erichs: David, Kerry, Fritz and the returning Kevin, along with “honorary Von Erich” Terry Funk vs. The Four Horsemen: Flair, Anderson, Adams and Hernandez and Gary Hart. The match ends when Hernandez is forced to submit while trapped in Fritz’s Iron Claw. A frail but smiling Mike Von Erich is at ringside. On the undercard, U.S. Champion Terry Funk and Mid-South North American Champ Steve “Dr. Death” Williams unify the two titles, when Williams defeats Funk in a wild brawl. Also, Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat battle. Roberts claims NWA champ David Von Erich has been ducking him and decides to make an example out of Steamboat, delivering a pair of DDTs on the concrete floor.
A few weeks later, the Four Horsemen turf Hernandez and beat him down. In reality Hernandez is battling a severe cocaine addiction and has been told to clean up. In an NWA tag-team title match, Kerry and Mike Von Erich vs. Arn Anderson and Chris Adams, Jake Roberts interferes in the match, costing the Von Erichs the titles. Roberts becomes the new Fourth Horseman, and quickly becomes the central character in the stable.
October 23, 1985 – Vince plans to capitalize on Barry Windham’s sudden surge in popularity by having him join Sgt. Slaughter’s “All American Heroes,” and wants to rename him “Captain Blackjack.” Windham balks at the idea. Slaughter has a run of defenses against Giant Kong, with Kong coming close to winning the title. Eventually Blassie agrees to put Kong’s mask on the line for another shot. Kong loses a big MTV main event and has to remove the mask, revealing it is in fact King Kong Bundy under the mask. Blassie then puts Bundy’s hair on the line for another match, and Slaughter wins again. Finally, Blassie wrangles a match with the condition that if he loses, he will leave the WWF. In reality, Blassie’s health and age just won’t allow him to maintain the busy full-time schedule. On the November edition of “The Saturday Night Main Event,” Thanksgiving weekend, Slaughter defeats Bundy, forcing Blassie to retire. Captain Lou carries on the Foreign Legion without him. On the undercard, Nikita Koloff and Nikolai Volkoff defeat the U.S. Express when Koloff pins Rotunda. Also, Big John Studd defeats Tito Santana in a squash, and a new team, The British Bulldogs debut with a 20-minute draw against the Rock N’ Roll Express.
November 2, 1985 – The NWA Board of Directors meets at its annual conference in St. Louis. Fritz Von Erich is appointed president in what is seen in a major shift in power. Bill Watts in given serious consideration but prefers to work as an overarching storyline coordinator with booking power over all NWA World Title matches and a large amount of overall creative control over TV shows. There is discussion on the success of David Von Erich as NWA Champion. The general feeling is that David and his brothers touring as a group give promoters a number of options to mix and match the Von Erichs in singles, tag, six-man and even eight-man matches. While there are some Flair supporters as well as some support to bring Race back or transition to someone else, it is agrees that David is seen as the long-term heir to the throne.
November 23, 1985 – David Von Erich vs. Jake “The Snake” Roberts in a steel-cage match headlines Starrcade ’85. For the first time, the NWA group are able to branch out nationwide on the closed circuit market as well as overseas, where the Von Erichs are a huge draw. Von Erich wins the match but there is some question about the officiating of special referee Harley Race. During the match, Race appears to be favoring the champion, knocking Roberts’ foot off of the rope during a pin attempt and other perceived favoritism.
On the undercard, Steve Williams defeats Ric Flair to defend the U.S./North American titles. Anderson and Adams defeat Mike and Kevin Von Erich in a defense of the NWA tag titles. However, Flair and Gary Hart join in an attack post-match, broken up by the returning/debuting Fabulous Freebirds, who help the Von Erichs turn the tide. In the weeks that follow, The Horsemen feud with various combinations of the Freebirds and Von Erichs headlining shows across the NWA territory. Other matches include Tully Blanchard and Buddy Landell vs. Ted DiBiase and Hacksaw Duggan, Abdullah the Butcher vs. The Missing Link, and The Midnight Express w/Jim Cornette vs. The Sheepherders.
December 21, 1985 – Deciding not to crowd the market, Vince decides to move Rock N’ Wrestling Rumble ’85 to the weekend before Christmas, a decision made easier by Verne deciding to hold off a few months before holding another super-card. The card features a 20-man battle royal with the winner receiving an immediate WWF title match with Sgt. Slaughter. Vince decides pay-per-view is the future and does not make use of closed-circuit venues. The move proves successful as many prefer watching the event at home rather than facing the winter weather in WWF strongholds. On the card, the British Bulldogs defeat the Rock N’ Roll Express in a 2-out-of-3 falls match, a match that most agree stole the show. Nikita Koloff defeats Cpl. Kirschner in an I-C title match. The U.S. Express drops the tag-titles to the makeshift combination of Brutus Beefcake and “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant, in what is deemed a major upset. In the battle royal, the final two are Barry Windham, Big John Studd and Nikita Koloff. Anticipation begins to build among the announcers and the crowd about a possible Slaughter/Koloff match or possibly even Slaughter/Windham in a battle between the company’s top two faces (at least with Piper out). However, as Koloff and Windham tussle along the ropes, Studd seizes the opportunity and flips both men over the top and out. Koloff pitches a fit at ringside, as one would expect, but Windham seems especially angry. He confronts commentator Vince McMahon at ringside and has to be restrained by Gorilla Monsoon and a pair of referees, who escort Windham backstage. As the Main Even unfolds, with Slaughter successfully defending the WWF title against Studd, Windham throws a tantrum backstage. Word begins to leak out, it turns out Windham was promised the win and the WWF title in exchange for not jumping to the NWA. Jim Crockett had approached Barry with a lucrative offer to make the jump down south. Vince apparently balked at the idea and orchestrated the move to have Studd dump Windham and Koloff, telling other WWF executives “Barry wasn’t ready,” but likely harboring a grudge after Windham turned down the “Captain Blackjack” gimmick. Studd was used as a way to avoid having to do Slaughter/Koloff with no real build-up. After show, Windham and Vince get into an altercation and Windham is fired. Chants of “We want Barry!” become a staple of WWF live shows for the next several weeks.
As the year comes to a close, “Pro Wrestling Illustrated” hands out its annual awards. Hulk Hogan wins Most Popular Wrestler, Jake Roberts wins Most Hated Wrestler, the U.S. Express wins Tag Team of the Year, and David Von Erich wins Wrestler of the Year.
January 11, 1986 – The Memphis-based CWA, owned by Eddie Marlin and Jerry Jarrett agree to join the NWA. It is a natural fit, due to geography and similar episodic booking and storylines. Memphis’ top draw Jerry “The King” Lawler receives an NWA title match against David Von Erich. A huge crowd fills the Mid-South Coliseum, and Von Erich is taken aback by the vicious boos from the crowd – a first for the champ. Lawler appears to win the title, but is disqualified for using the piledriver, illegal in Tennessee, with a rematch set for the next week. Von Erich wins the rematch. Also on the card, rookie Bam Bam Bigelow defeats “Superstar” Bill Dundee for the NWA Southern Heavywieght Championship. Also, “The Universal Heartthrob” Austin Idol defeats Kevin Von Erich. Unlike his brother David, the crowd sheers Kevin against the hated Idol. Memphis is chosen to host the inaugural Ben & Mike Sharpe Memorial Tag-Team Cup tournament, featuring the top teams throughout the territory over a two-week period. In the semi-final Arn Anderson & Chirs Adams defeat local favorites Jerry Lawler & Bill Dundee, while The Midnight Express defeat Kevin & the returning Mike Von Erich. Mike is not back in top form, but insists upon performing. In the championship, the Express beat the Horsemen, leading to a series of tag title matches, but the Horsemen manage to keep the belts.
January 19, 1986 – The Road to SuperClash 2 begins with a primetime special on ESPN on the Sunday night between the AFC and NFC Championship games and Superbowl XX, entitled the “Battle Bowl.” Several members of the Chicago Bears are at ringside. Bear William “The Refrigerator” Perry gets into a scripted altercation with Crusher Blackwell. The Main Event is a 30-man battle royal with the winner being declared the number one contender for Hogan’s AWA title and a main event slot at SuperClash 2. Among the participants are a wave of young talent, including Shawn Michaels, Lex Luger, Rick Steiner, and the “Baby Bull” Leon White, but the end comes when Andre the Giant tosses Crusher Blackwell to win the match. Also during the match Greg Gagne suffers a torn ACL and elects to retire from wrestling. Hennig will claim for the rest of his career that he “ended the Gagne legacy.” After Larry Hennig decides to step out of the limelight, Larry Zbyszko is turned into Hennig’s manager and mouthpiece.
Seeking to expand the market, Verne buys out Stu Hart’s western Canada-based Stampede Wrestling, although Hart will continue on as a promoter and executive in the AWA. Hart had once commanded a strong territory, but had been losing money for the past couple of years, coming very close to selling out to the WWF. Verne agrees to add Hart’s biggest cities to the AWA loop and the talent exchange between the two territories gives fans a lot of exciting new match-ups.
During an ESPN show, AWA Americas Champ Hennig faces Shawn Michaels in a non-title match-up. Michaels scores a fluke pin after Hennig is knocked unconscious by being monkey-flipped into the turnbuckle. Hennig and Zbyszko maul Michaels after the match. On the same card, Steve DiSalvo and Bret Hart make their AWA debut against the Magnums in a losing effort. Bret moves on to singles competition, scoring his first AWA win against Buck Zumhofe. Stampede import Bad News Allen begins working his way up the rankings, promising to take out the winner of the Andre/Hogan match at SuperClash 2, scheduled for March 31 in the Metrodome.
February 3, 1986 – Roddy Piper gets his first significant acting role, being cast as Sgt. Elias in the Oliver Stone film “Platoon” alongside Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger. It is a small but important role for the Rowdy One and critics praise his work. He will eventually even receive a Golden Globe nomination and there is talk of an Oscar nod, but none comes. Piper’s work on the film is featured in several “Behind the Scenes” vignettes on WWF television. The British Bulldogs turn face when they refuse an invitation to join the Foreign Legion and are attacked by the heel stable. They win the WWF tag titles from Beefcake and Valiant on an episode of “The Saturday Night Main Event.” On the same card Nikita Koloff defeats “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka in an Intercontinental title match. Also, Sgt. Slaughter & Cpl. Kirschner defeat King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd. Greg Valentine is given a gimmick of an effeminate flamboyant character and takes the name “Gorgeous” Greg. He is given a segment called “Greg’s Garden” to replace “Piper’s Pit.” During one segment, Valentine’s guest is Mike Rotundo. Greg asks for the whereabouts of Mike’s U.S. Express partner while the crowd chants “We want Barry!” Valentine proceeds to bury Windham as someone who “couldn’t take the heat” and “not good for the company,” when Mike attempts to refute those remarks Valentine smashes a lawn chair from the set over his head. Greg then smears make-up on Rotundo’s face, drawing tremendous heat. This becomes a new part of Valentine’s gimmick. He soon adopts Missy Hyatt as his valet. She carries a spritzer full of noxious perfume, often spraying it in Valentine’s opponents’ eyes during matches. Hyatt also brings in “Hollywood” John Tatum and “Pretty Boy” Doug Sommers as a tag-team. The pair feud with the Rock N’ Roll Express winning often as the RnR’s are on a bit of a losing streak, and get a few unsuccessful shots against the Bulldogs.
On an April edition of “Rock N’ Wrestling,” the Rock N’ Roll Express are facing the Moondogs (Spot & Rex). The ‘Dogs are pounding away at Gibson, who goes for the “hot tag,” but Morton “slips” off the apron and lays on the outside mat area holding his knee. Gibson eventually is defeated. He goes to check on Morton after the match, but Ricky waves him off and limps to the back with Robert following.
The next week, the pair appear on Greg’s Garden where they seem to have patched things up despite Greg egging them on about “weak links” and “which one is better.” Gibson gets in Missy’s face and says “bring on your little boyfriends next week.” The next week the Express squares off against Tatum & Sommers. This time it is Morton who becomes trapped in the ring. When Missy tries to get involved, Gibson chases her to the backstage area and never returns. Morton overcomes the odds and scores a fluke pin on Tatum. He then gets a post-match beatdown. Afterwards, he finds Gibson in the locker room laid out. Gibson says he must have been jumped, suspecting Valentine.
The pair return to the “Garden” the next week. Valentine says he had nothing to do with the incident. Morton says it doesn’t matter, the Express is as strong as ever. They shake hands, and suddenly Gibson kicks Morton in the gut. He then grabs a vanity mirror from the set and smashes it over Ricky’s head. He follows that up with a piledriver onto the broken glass. He grabs Valentine’s mic and says, “Rock and roll is dead, but Robert Gibson will live on forever, baby!” The crowd is in shock. Many girls in attendance are crying.
March 18, 1986 – On an episode of “The Saturday Night Main Event,” Robert Gibson defeats Mike Rotundo in a one-on-one match. Gibson is in full heel mode. Gloating in the ring after the match, Gibson doesn’t see Ricky Morton sneaking up behind him. Morton attacks, jumping on Gibson’s back and pummeling. He is heavily bandaged, and although he has the upper hand, Gibson eventually turns the tide, ripping Ricky’s bandages off. Morton is so bloody, NBC kills the video feed for the rest of the segment, leaving McMahon and Monsoon to call the action with audio only. When the video feed is restored, Morton’s blood (though ignored) is still visible on the mat. The show also features a contract signing for a WWF title/Intercontinental title match between Sgt. Slaughter and Nikita Koloff, to take place at a new pay-per-view to be called the “Royal Brawl.” During the signing, Koloff only stands menacingly behind the seated Albano while the Captain and Slaughter sit at a table in the middle of the ring. After the contracts are signed, Koloff grabs the mic, and says the first words he has said in front of a WWF audience: “I must break you!” says Koloff, echoing the words of Russian boxer Ivan Drago in the recently released “Rocky IV.” Vince tries to work a deal to have Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren appear at the Royal Brawl, but Stallone declines due to his friendship with Hulk Hogan. Lundgren agrees, even appearing in character on WWF TV, vowing that “Comrade Nikita will succeed where Drago fail! Comrade Nikita will destroy puny American and take WWF title home to Mother Russia!” Slaughter counters by asking if Koloff is using the same steroids Lundgren’s character used in the movie, prompting a pull-apart at a press conference.
March 20, 1986 – On an episode of “AWA Superstars,” Shawn Michaels is wrestling Larry Zbyszko in the TV main event with Curt Hennig at ringside sitting in on commentary, mostly noting how the “punk kid” Michaels “just got lucky” when he pinned Hennig previously. He says “The Living Legend” Zbyszko will make an example of the youngster. And for a while, Zbyszko indeed schools Shawn, but Michaels then launches a comeback and eventually rolls out of a suplex attempt and cradles Larry for the upset win. Larry and Curt then proceed to work Michaels over until another promising youngster, Bret Hart makes the save, fending off the heels. Hart and Michaels decide to form a tag-team, taking the name The Heartbreakers and quickly become one of the most popular draws – especially with the ladies – on the circuit. Over an off weekend, Scott Hall is arrested for aggravated assault and resisting arrest at a music festival in Miami. The arrest causes a quickly arranged AWA tag-title match in Dearborn, Michigan in which the Magnums, actually Terry Allen and a substituting Buck Zumhofe, drop the belts to the Heartbreakers, making Hart and Michaels the youngest tag champs in history. Only a very clipped version of the match is shown on TV, editing out any part of the action involving Zumhofe. The end comes when the Heartbreakers introduce their double-team finisher, a monkey-flip into a superkick dubbed the “Showstopper.” The new champs establish their legitimacy with a win over Hennig and Zbyszko at SuperClash 2. SuperClash 2 is a huge success, filling the Metrodome to capacity for the Hogan vs. Andre clash. Verne offers Andre a run with the belt, with Hogan agreeing, with the plan for Andre to become a villain and have Hogan chase the title, but Andre declines, feeling he can make more money as a traveling attraction, plus he has already agreed to be in a movie, “The Princess Bride,” and can’t commit to a full-time wrestling schedule. Instead, the end of the match comes as Hogan hits Andre with the big leg drop, but before he can make the pin attempt, Bad News Allen comes out of the crowd and levels Hogan with the timekeeper’s bell, drawing a disqualification. Andre actually makes the save, and he and Hogan shake hands after the match. Allen demands a match with Hogan. Two weeks later, Stanley Blackburn announces that Andre and Allen will have a number one contender’s match on an edition of AWA Superstars. Allen shocks the crowd by knocking the Giant out with an enzuigiri kick, scoring the extremely rare pinfall on Andre. In reality, Allen, an Olympic gold medalist in judo, was supposed to win by count-out, but the kick legitimately knocked Andre out instead of out of the ring as planned. Allen will use “I pinned Andre the Giant” as a bragging point the rest of his career. Scott Hall is fired, leaving Terry Allen to continue as a solo, going by “Magnum TA.” On April 24, Hogan is honored with a ceremony celebrating his 3rd Anniversary as AWA World Champion. The celebration is interrupted by Bad News Allen, however, who trashes the stage and breaks a trophy given to Hogan over the champ’s head.
May 5, 1986 – At the WWF’s “The Royal Brawl,” Ricky Morton defeats Robert Gibson in a tough match, drawing a huge pop. The British Bulldogs retain the tag titles in a match against Sommers & Hyatt when Missy accidentally sprays the perfume in Sommers’ eyes. The heel trio argue all the way back to the backstage area. “Gorgeous” Greg defeats Mike Rotundo. As he is about to smear make-up on Rotundo, bagpipes begin to play over the loud speakers. The crowd erupts when Piper, sporting his signature kilt, but wearing a camouflage tank-top, dog-tags and sporting the crew-cut he wore in the film. He attacks Valentine and scares him away before celebrating with the crowd. In the Main Event, Slaughter vs. Koloff has the crowd on edge as Nikita has Albano, Lundgren, Volkoff and the Iron Sheik at ringside, and the crowd knows the Russian sickle can come at any moment. After one too many attempts at interfering, the Foreign Legion draws out Cpl. Kirschner and Major Pain. This leads to a ringside brawl, during which the ref is distracted. Slaughter locks on the Cobra Clutch, but referee Joey Marella is distracted, trying to get Volkoff off of the ring apron. Lundgren seizes the opportunity t sneak into the ring with the Soviet flag, but Sarge sees him and blocks the blow he then boots Dolph out of the ring, but turns around in time to eat a vicious Russian Sickle from Koloff. Marella turns just in time to see the sickle and count the 1-2-3. The winner and new WWF Champion, Nikita Koloff. Along with a new champ, MTV begins to change its programming format, and no longer wishes to carry pro wrestling. Vince signs a new TV deal with the USA Network to carry “Prime Time Wrestling” on Tuesday nights and a “WWF Superstars” squash match and highlight show on Saturday mornings.
May 21, 1986 – Jake Roberts introduces a variation on his gimmick of hiring other wrestlers to take out David Von Erich, instead instituting a “bounty” system, offering money to anyone who can take out any member of the Von Erichs or the Freebirds. Top prize is $100,000 for anyone who can put the champ out of commission. One bounty is claimed when Skandor Akbar’s Devastation Incorporated, One Man Gang, the Angel of Death, and “Wild” Bill Irwin team up to break Mike Von Erich’s leg in a six-man tag match, earning $10,000 from Roberts. In reality, Mike has been persuaded by his family to take some additional time off to recover from the lingering effects of his bout with toxic shock syndrome. Jerry Lawler also gets $10,000 for taking out Freebird Buddy Roberts with a series of piledrivers, although the Memphis crowd cheers up what elsewhere would have been a heelish act. This leads to a special “War Games: Battle of the Alamo” match in San Antonio with The Four Horsemen plus Jerry Lawler taking on David, Kerry and Kevin Von Erich plus Michael Hayes and Terry Gordy, with the winner getting to choose the special guest referee for a David Von Erich vs. Jake Roberts steel cage NWA title match at an upcoming Texas Stadium show. The match comes down to a showdown. While Lawler is trapped in the Iron claw by Kerry,. Flair has Hayes locked in the figure-four leg-lock. It becomes a matter of who can hold out the longest, with Lawler eventually submitting, earning a beatdown from the Horsemen afterward.
At the Texas Stadium show, in front of a packed house, David and Jake square off. Von Erich has chose Hayes as the referee as per the stipulations of the War Games match. Though Hayes is mostly fair, he does occasionally seem to favor the champ, much so the chagrin of Roberts and the other Horsemen who are at ringside along with Gordy, Buddy Roberts (wearing a neck-brace) and Kerry. The climax finally comes when Roberts locks David in a front face-lock and signals for the DDT, but just as he is about to deliver the move, Hayes superkicks Roberts. Although the crowd goes wild as Hayes motions for Von Erich to make the pin, David refuses to take the cheap win. Hayes argues before motioning toward the champ in an “I’m through with you” manner and leaving the cage, with Gordy opening the door for his fellow Freebird. As David tries to follow, Hayes gives Gordy a signal and the big man slams the cage door right on Von Erich’s head, knocking him unconscious. With both the champ and the challenger out cold and no referee to render a decision, the match erupts into chaos and is thrown out. Jake eventually regains his footing, picks up a limp David Von Erich, and delivers three DDTs. The announcers speculate that Von Erich’s career is over. In reality, David embarks on a World Tour, defending the title in South Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Australia. In Japan he works a series of matches with IWGP Champion Antonio Inoki. Inoki actually wins the title in a huge Tokyo Dome show, but drops it back four days later to Von Erich. The exchange is not acknowledged in the U.S. While David is gone on tour, Kerry and Kevin battle Hayes and Gordy in a series of matches.
The Horsemen turn their attention to the eastern territories. Roberts feuds with Dusty Rhodes over the NWA National title. Anderson and Adams engage the Midnight Express in a series of NWA tag title matches, while Flair and Buddy Landell feud over the “Nature Boy” moniker, drawing the original “Nature Boy,” Buddy Rogers out of retirement. The spry 65-year-old Rogers convinces the pair they can do more together than as enemies. Shortly thereafter, Flair announces he is leaving the Four Horsemen. He tries to exit peacefully, but Roberts, Anderson and Adams put the boots to him. Landell and Rogers make the save. The three form “The Nature Boys,” with Rogers serving as manager and very occasional participant in 6-man matches against Arn, Adams and Gary Hart. During one particularly notable match at the Omni, all three Nature Boys lock the other three men in matching figure-fours. However, on another card, during a steel cage match between Rhodes and Roberts, the match breaks down after Anderson, Adams and Hart break into the cage. As they lay the boots to Dusty, the crowd goes nuts when Barry Windham storms the ring and makes the save. Standing over the downed Rhodes as the Horsemen retreat to the corners. Windham stands Rhodes up. He shakes Windham’s hand and the two men stand back-to-back in the middle of the ring. Windham then points to Roberts who nods and smiles and Barry spins around and clotheslines Rhodes. He then scoops Dusty up and nails a piledriver. Barry holds up four fingers indicating he has become the new Fourth Horseman.
May 31, 1986 – Jim Crockett Promotions heads up a five week-long NWA tour called the “Great American Bash,” starting in the southwest and culminating in a pay-per-view of the same name on July 2 at the Charlotte Sports Arena. The tour features largely David Von Erich defending the NWA World Title on alternate nights against territorial headliners and Anderson & Adams defending the tag belts against the top teams in those areas. In Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 18, Barry Windham wins the North American and U.S. titles from Steve “Dr. Death” Williams. Three days later in Kansas City, Windham defeats Buzz Sawyer to win the NWA National title. He begins referring to himself as the “Triple Crown” Champion. On that same card, Von Erich is scheduled to face Tully Blanchard for the NWA belt, but Blanchard suffers a knee injury the day before. In his place, a popular youngster named “Uptown” Marty Jannetty. Jannetty impresses in a losing effort. The tour includes a series of steel cage battle royals called “Bunkhouse” matches. The winner is the first to escape the cage, which is full of various weapons. Winners include “Outlaw” Ron Bass, Phil Hickerson, Plowboy Frazier, Terry Funk, Dick Slater, Dusty Rhodes, Terry Gordy, Manny Fernandez, Hacksaw Duggan, Randy Savage, and Kevin Sullivan. The 12 men will meet at the pay-per-view in the $50,000 Bunkhouse Stampede.
July 2, 1986 – At the Great American Bash, David Von Erich and Michael Hayes battle to a double-disqualification in an NWA title match. The Nature Boys defeat Anderson & Adams but the decision is reversed after the official determines that the Anderson was not the legal man when he was pinned. Barry Windham defends his “Triple Crown” against “Big” Scott Hall, who has jumped to the NWA, scoring a count-out win. And in the Main Event, Dusty Rhodes wins the Bunkhouse Stampede and the $50,000 prize. The match, suddenly changed to having to force the other competitors out of the cage and become the last man in the ring to win, is not well-received, nor are the other less than satisfying finishes in the top-level matches. The card, booked by Rhodes, is seen as so unsuccessfully put together, Rhodes loses much of his backstage clout, already fading due to the rise in influence of Watts and Von Erich over their eastern partners.
July 15, 1986 – Seeing his numbers solidly behind the AWA and fighting for second place with the NWA conglomerate, Vince Mc Mahon guts his roster, turfing long-time WWF performers, many of whom are past their prime, and relegating a few to enhancement for new talent. That new talent comes in the form of a signing spree of AWA, NWA and independent stars. Among those lured to the WWF are Rick Rude, Bam Bam Bigelow, Austin Idol, Rick Martel, the Midnight Express (without Jim Cornette), the MOD Squad, Ted Dibiase, Lex Luger, Scott Hall and “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Veteran wrestler and manager “The Tennessee Stud” Robert Fuller is brought in as a manager and part-time wrestler. He quicky builds the “Stud Stable,” consisting of the Midnight Express, Scott Hall, Robert Gibson, and “Big” Bubba Rogers. The group quickly becomes a major heel faction, as most of the Foreign Legion have been released and the remaining few, including of course WWF Champ Nikita Koloff, are no longer working as a group. Nikita drops the Intercontinental title to focus on the work title. A tournament is scheduled to anoint a new champ. Matches take place over the course of four weeks of WWF programming on USA. The tournament serves as a way to showcase the new influx of talent and gauge crowd reactions. Ricky Morton defeats Stan Lane. The match is a technical masterpiece. The two are very familiar with one another from their Memphis and NWA days. Savage is put over Tito Santana in the first round. Despite acting as a heel, the crowd wants to cheer Savage. Partly to blame may be Savage’s valet, the lovely Miss Elizabeth. Roddy Piper defeats Ted Dibiase. Ted is approached later by Vince with a new gimmick idea. Gorgeous Greg beats Rick Martel after Martel is hit by a spritz from Missy Hyatt’s perfume bottle, “blinding” him. Lex Luger squashes The Iron Sheik in a matter of seconds with two quick clotheslines, a gorilla press slam and the torture rack. It is the Sheik’s last match in the WWF. King Kong Bundy defeats Major Pain. Pain also exits the WWF after this match. Rick Rude defeats Brutus Beefcake. The male fans hate Rude, but the ladies in the crowd seem to enjoy the “eye candy.” Austin Idol defeats Robert Gibson to finish round one.
In the second round, Savage defeats Morton. He also manages to get more over as a heel by being rude to Elizabeth and using her as a shield in the match. Piper and Valentine have a major brawl in their match, drawing a double count-out and giving Savage a bye into the finals. Luger impresses the crowd by not only defeating Bundy but performing a trio of gorilla press slams on the big man. Rude defeats Idol thanks to interference from Robert Fuller. Fuller takes off his cowboy boot and smashes Idol while the ref is distracted. In the only semi-final match Luger defeats Rude with a roll-up. After the match, the entire Stud Stable attacks Luger. Despite his condition Luger puts up a valiant effort against Savage in the finals, but succumbs to the Macho Man’s patented flying elbow drop, and Savage is crowned the new Intercontinental Champion. On the same card, the Midnight Express defeats the British Bulldogs for the WWF tag-team titles. Bulldog Dynamite Kid suffers a severe back injury during the match and is eventually forced to retire. Bulldog Davey Boy Smith forms a tag-team with Sgt. Slaughter called the Allied Powers, but the pair also remain singles competitors. Big Bubba Rogers begins a series of squash match wins against preliminary guys. Fuller acts as Rogers’ mouthpiece.
Koloff’s run as champ begins strong, soundly defeating Slaughter in a series of rematches, followed by a brief feud with Jimmy Snuka which features a memorable moment when Snuka is attempting to deliver the Superfly Splash, Koloff pops up and nails the Russian Sickle on the Superfly mid-air. Slaughter’s value seems to be fading, and he is pushed futher down the card, being used to build up Randy Savage, putting the I-C champ over in an episode of “The Saturday Night Main Event.” The show also features a Steel Cage match between Piper and Valentine. Piper wins the match, but Adonis and Missy Hyatt, Doug Sommers and John Tatum brutalize Piper after the match, handcuffing Piper and beating him until Rick Martel makes the save. In reality, Piper is leaving to make another movie, this one about a bouncer who cleans up a bar. The movie will be Piper’s first leading role. Terry Funk will have a supporting role in the film, entitled “Road House.”
July 23, 1986 – Bad News Allen defeats Hulk Hogan by count-out on a big AWA show in Las Vegas. Stealing the intended finish of the Allen-Andre match, Hogan is standing on the apron when Allen hits Hogan with the enzuigiri kick, knocking Hogan to the floor. Allen steals the AWA World Title belt and parades around the ring with it, refusing to relinquish it after the announcement that the title doesn’t change hands on a count-out. It is the first defeat of any kind for Hogan in the AWA since winning the belt. Magnum T.A. defeats Curt Hennig to win the AWA Americas title as his star status begins to skyrocket as a singles competitor. Hennig’s time without a belt is short, however, as he wins a battle royal to become the first AWA Superstars TV Champion, last eliminating Rick Steiner. This kicks off a feud between Hennig and Steiner which grows to include Hennig’s partner Larry Zbyszko and Rick’s younger brother Scott.
Leon “Baby Bull” White returns from an extended stay in Japan with a new gimmick, that of Big Van Vader, complete with a huge smoke-spewing helmet and a strap-based mask that adds to his fearsome new character. Baron Von Raschke serves as Vader’s manager and mouthpiece. In a memorable match shortly after his debut, Vader legitimately breaks Brad Rhengins’ back with a devastating power-bomb. An extended program begins in which the other wrestlers refuse to face Vader. Finally, Scott Steiner agrees to face Vader, and the two face off in an AWA Superstars on ESPN episode. Steiner is able to land some offense, but Vader eventually gains the upper hand and pummels Scott. After winning the match, Vader continues to punish Scott until Rick Steiner makes the save, clotheslining Vader out of the ring.
August 22, 1986 – The AWA holds WreslteRock ’86, live from the Kingdome in Seattle, Washington and airing on pay-per-view. The card features a Main Event of Hulk Hogan vs. Bad News Allen for the AWA title, Rick Steiner vs. Big Van Vader, Magnum TA vs. Bruiser Brody for the AWA Americas title, the Heartbreakers: Shawn Michaels & Bret Hart vs. new arrivals the Sheepherders in an AWA tag-title match, and Curt Hennig vs. Butch Reed, another recent import from the NWA, for the AWA TV title.
During the Hennig/Reed match, Major Pain, now with the gimmick of being a South African pro-Apartheid white supremacist and calling himself Colonel DeBeers, interferes on Hennig’s behalf, bashing Reed across the back of the head with a loaded riding crop. The Heartbreakers take a beating from the wild Sheepherders but retain the tag belts. Magnum TA defeats Brody with a running powerslam. Vader gets all he wants from Steiner, but he eventually puts Rick out with a power-bomb.
The shock of the night, however, comes when Bad News Allen defeats Hulk Hogan to win the AWA World Heavyweight Championship, becoming the first African-American to hold a major World title in wrestling history. Hogan appears to have the match won, hitting the big leg drop, but at the last second, Allen drapes a foot across the bottom rope. When the referee taps Hogan on the back to tell him, Hogan believes he has won the match. As he celebrates, Allen recovers and hits the enzuigiri kick, putting Hogan down. After nearly three and a half years, Hogan’s run atop the AWA is over. Behind the scenes, Hogan requested to drop the belt, as he is headed to Hollywood to accept a role in the action movie “Masters of the Universe” playing the role of He-Man.
In the weeks following WrestleRock, Butch Reed and Col. DeBeers begin a feud. DeBeers’ racist attitude quickly makes him one of the most hated men in the promotion. His constant interference in Reed’s matches and refusal to face Butch in the ring because of his “genetic inferiority” rallies fans to Reed’s side. DeBeers draws further heat by aligning with Adnan El-Kaisey and bringing in Kevin Kelley as Major DeKlerk as a partner. Reed finally goads DeBeers into a match on ESPN. During the match, Reed lays a beating on DeBeers. At one point, Reed goes up to the top rope, but is distracted by DeKlerk. DeBeers takes the opportunity to sneak up and push Reed off the ropes, sending him to the floor where the back of his head is busted open. DeBeers and DeClerk, along with the Sheik, pummel the bloody Reed all around the ring and back into the ring, where he is beaten and whipped as the crowd threatens to come unglued. Suddenly, there is a commotion and none other than Bad News Allen rushes up the aisle and makes the save, nailing everyone with a steel chair. The crowd erupts with cheers. This leads to a series of matches between Reed and Allen vs. DeBeers and DeKlerk and Reed and Allen against the South Africans’ hired goons, the Sheepherders, who also continue to feud with the Heartbreakers over the tag-titles but Shawn and Bret manage to hold on to the belts. The one match that doesn’t take place is a one-on-one between Allen and DeBeers. Instead, DeBeers challenges a series of other black wrestlers, including Brickhouse Brown, Savannah Jack, Iceman King Parsons, Pez Whatley, and Tony Atlas, beating them all. Meanwhile, Magnum TA is fed a continuous line of mid-carders in defense of the America’s title on ESPN.
September 10, 1986 – David Von Erich defeats Terry Gordy in an NWA title match at the Sam Houston Coliseum. After the match, the Four Horsemen make an unannounced return to Texas, confronting the champ. The confrontation ends without violence after Kerry and Kevin Von Erich come out to somewhat even the odds. On the same show a new tag team, calling themselves the Power Warriors, makes their debut. They are Jim “The Rock” Hellwig and Steve “Flash” Borden. Recent arrival Eddie “Hot Stuff” Gilbert recruits the team into his heel stable “Hot Stuff International,” which also includes brother Doug Gilbert, Al Madril, and the Hockey-masked Lord Humongous, played by several wrestlers, but mostly by Randy Culley. Over the next several weeks of NWA television, the Von Erichs and the Horsemen square off in a series of different match-ups, with the Nature Boys teaming up with the Von Erichs from time to time. A match between Barry Windham and Kerry Von Erich have a great technical match for Windham’s Triple Crown titles that goes nearly 30 minutes before devolving into a brawl involving both factions. On another show, when Buddy Landell misses due to a weather-delayed flight, Ric Flair teams with Kevin Von Erich to defeat Anderson and Adams to win the NWA tag-titles, but the decision is reversed when the Horsemen clarify that the contract for the match was Anderson & Adams vs. Flair & Landell, so the title change is invalid. Roberts challenges David to give him a title shot, but the champ says he has beaten Jake enough times. The tune changes, however, after a vignette shows Roberts stalking Tricia Von Erich, David’s wife, at home and threatening to unleash a deadly cobra into the Von Erich home while David is at the show. The match, a steel cage match, is set for Starrcade ’86. Bill Watts is given almost exclusive control over the direction of the NWA, much to the chagrin of the eastern area promoters, specifically Jim Crockett. To placate them, the NWA board of directors promises Dusty Rhodes a run with the NWA World Title “sometime next year.”
October 30, 1986 – On a special Halloween weekend edition of “The Saturday Night Main Event,” the road to Rock N’ Wrestling Rumble III (as becomes the standard, rather than using the year) kicks off. Rick Martel, Sgt. Slaughter & the British Bulldog defeat Doug Sommers, John Tatum & Greg Valentine in a six-man tag match. Randy Savage defends the Intercontinental title against Ricky Morton in a very tough and exciting match including several near falls wherein Morton almost wins the title before the Macho Man puts him away with the elbow drop. Rick Rude and Lex Luger have a pose-down with the ladies in the crowd applauding both men. When Luger is announced as the winner, Rude attacks him. The two brawl. During a segment of “Greg’s Garden,” Ted DiBiase is interviewed. He is now wearing a white tuxedo and being accompanied by his “butler” Alfred Hays. Calling himself the “Million Dollar Man” and claiming “everyone has a price,” he promises to buy his way to the top of the WWF. In the Main Event, a 20-man battle royal is held, with Nikita Koloff and Lou Albano watching from ringside and being asked by commentator Vince McMahon who he thinks will be the challenger at the Rumble (Nikita ignores Vince and watches the match qhile Capt. Lou rants about the lack of competition). The last four men in the ring for the battle royal are Ted DiBiase, Austin Idol, Bam Bam Bigelow and Tito Santana. As the four men assess their situation, DiBiase calls Alfred over and whispers to him. Alfred takes out a stack of bills and makes it clear that DiBiase wishes to “buy the battle royal win. Idol quickly accepts the offer and exits the ring. Santana refuses the money, so Alfred offers his share to Bigelow if Bigelow will eliminate Tito, which after a quick tussle, he does. DiBiase then smiles and motions for Bigelow to exit the ring. He steps halfway out but then changes his mind and attacks DiBiase. He bangs DiBiase and Alfred’s heads together and then tosses DiBiase, making Bam Bam the winner and an unlikely crowd favorite. This begins a series in which DiBiase is scheduled to face Bigelow, only for Ted to send out a “hired gun” to take his place.
November 27, 1986 – Starrcade ’86, held at the Orange Bowl in Miami, is a huge success, especially when compared to the debacle that was the Great American Bash. The Nature Boys finally get the best of Anderson and Adams, taking the NWA tag titles. The Horsemen suffer another blow when Kerry Von Erich takes the Triple Crown from Barry Windham in a match that would go on to win “Match of the Year” in Pro Wrestling Illustrated. However, in the Main Event, Jake “The Snake” Roberts defeats David Von Erich to win the NWA World Championship. The match is not without controversy, however, as the end comes when the Horsemen attempt to rush the cage, drawing out the Nature Boys and other Von Erichs. During the melee, Horsemen manager Gary Hart tosses a steel chair over the cage and into the ring. Roberts delivers a DDT on Von Erich onto the chair to score the pin. The crowd riots, pelting the ring with debris and several fans rush the ringside area. The Horsemen require a police escort to get out of the stadium. There is a bit of a flap backstage after the show as Rhodes and Crockett are overheard planning on when and how to transition the belt from Jake to Dusty. Roberts says it will be a “cold day in hell” before he lays down “for a washed up bum” like Rhodes.
December 2, 1986 – With Rumble III just a few weeks away, the WWF Championship Committee decides to hold a press conference to announce the number one contender for Nikita Koloff’s WWF title. Invited, Heisman Tropy-style, are Rick Rude, Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, Ricky Morton, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Lex Luger. WWF President Jack Tunney announces that Luger will receive the shot. Savage is livid. He cries conspiracy. Rude is very vocal in his objection as well, going so far as to push Luger as he stands up to accept the match. The next week on Prime Time Wrestling, DiBiase attempts to buy the title shot. When Luger refuses, DiBiase motions and Rude and Savage attack Luger, beating and bloodying him. Rick Martel and Ricky Morton make the save, but Luger has been given a “concussion” and the next week, it is announced that Koloff will now be facing Rick Martel at the Rumble. The rest of the card will feature “hired gun” King Kong Bundy w/ Ted DiBiase in his corner vs. Bam Bam Bigelow, a WWF Intercontinental title re-match between Randy Savage and Ricky Morton, the Midnight Express vs. Sgt. Slaughter & the British Bulldog for the WWF tag-titles, and Rick Rude & Austin Idol vs. Brutus Beefcake & Tito Santana. Also, Big Bubba Rogers will get his first real test in a match against Jimmy Snuka. Behind the scenes, Vince decided to take Luger out of the title match to save the match to build for a new pay-per-view in the summertime. The influx of new talent continues in the WWF, with the arrival of Al Perez, Chavo and Mondo Guerrerro, Hillbilly Jim & Uncle Elmer, and the One Man Gang.
December 27, 1986 – Rock N Wrestling Rumble III arrives, with a less than hoped pay-per-view buyrate, but still solid enough to be a success. To no surprise, Rick Martel is fodder for Koloff’s run atop the WWF, though he does make a decent showing. Ricky Morton again comes very, very close to upsetting Randy Savage for the Intercontinental title, but Savage uses a foreign object and his feet on the ropes to steal the win. Bam Bam Bigelow defeats King Kong Bundy, but earns a beatdown post-match for his efforts. The Midnight Express defeat Bulldog & Slaughter. It is Slaughter’s last match with the WWF before exiting the promotion. Just two years after winning the WWF title and becoming arguably the biggest wrestling star in the world, Vince no longer has faith in Slaughter’s relevance and character. Austin Idol no-shows the event. He is replaced with Al Perez. Idol is fired from the WWF. Perez & Rick Rude defeat Beefcake & Santana. After the match Beefcake turns on Santana. The next week on WWF TV, manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan makes his WWF debut, announcing Rude, Perez and Beefcake as the first members of the Heenan Family, which Bobby dubs “The Brain Trust.”
In the Pro Wrestling Illustrated end-of-the-year awards, it’s a surprising clean sweep for the WWF. Ricky Morton surprisingly wins Most Popular Wrestler of the Year, while Nikita Koloff is named Most Hated. Wrestler of the Year goes to Koloff as well, The Midnight Express were voted Tag-team of the Year, while Morton vs. Savage at Rumble III wins Match of the Year honors. In the pages of the magazine heel-favoring columnist Eddie Elner suspects there was some sort of “backroom deal” to deny Jake Roberts and the Horsemen their due honors. Though kayfabe in its nature there is also talk among fans about how Col. DeBeers should have been voted at Most Hated and how the Heartbreakers deserved top tag-team honors.
January 1, 1987 – For the next several weeks, it seems that none of the “good guys” in the WWF can catch a break. Heels rule the show, with Koloff on top, Savage with the I-C title, DiBiase buying wins, and the Heenan Family running roughshod over a series of jobbers. The Stud Stable, including tag champs the Midnight Express and Big Bubba are also on a roll. The only bright spot seems to be Bam Bam Bigelow, who manages to keep getting the better of Ted DiBiase’s hired goons, including a tag-team TV main event in which Bigelow & British Bulldog defeat the MOD Squad, only to be attacked by the Moondogs, another set of hitmen, but they too are vanquished. In early February, an official match between the faces and the Moondogs ends with a win for Bam Bam and Davey Boy, earning them a WWF tag title shot, which they win by DQ after the entire Stud Stable rushes the ring. The heels lay the boots to Bigelow and Bulldog until Lex Luger makes his big return, running the Stud Stable off and standing in the ring triumphant with Bam Bam & Davey Boy.
January 6, 1987 – Jake “The Snake” Roberts defeats Ronnie Garvin in an NWA title match in a WTBS TV main event. Roberts then delivers a post-match DDT, drawing out Garvin’s brother Jimmy. This prompts the rest of the Horsemen to come down to the ring, making it 4-on-2. Eventually, Dusty Rhodes and “Wildfire” Tommy Rich come out to even the odds again. The Horsemen retreat amid a bevy of threats. The next week, the Garvin brothers are wrestling against a pair of jobbers when Anderson and Adams rush the ring. The heels and the two prelim guys team up to punish the Garvins. Gary Hart and Barry Windham join the attack, leaving Ron and Jimmy laying, including Jimmy having suffered a legitimate shoulder injury. Later in the show, Windham is scheduled to face Kerry Von Erich in a re-match for the Triple Crown titles, but before the match can even begin, the two get into a wild brawl all over the ringside area. Jake Roberts slowly walks over to the announce table and gets on the microphone, taunting Kerry to “try and take back what I took from your brother,” referring to the NWA title. When Kerry turns his attention to Roberts, Windham seizes the opportunity to smash Von Erich with a chair. All of the Horsemen then join in a beat-down until Tommy Rich and the Nature Boys make the save. The next week, Kerry demands a match with Roberts, but Gary Hart shows up with Lord Humongous instead and turns the big man loose on Kerry. When Von Erich turns the tide in the match, only then does Roberts emerge, attempting to sneak in and grab a DDT on Kerry, but Von Erich catches him coming in and nails a discus punch. He mistakenly turns his back on Humongous, however, and is jumped from behind. Von Erich is taken down and left bloody and beaten. Later in the show, Barry Windham is wrestling Tommy Rich. Dusty Rhodes is guest appearing on commentary. Windham takes umbrage with something Dusty says about the Horsemen and begins yelling at Rhodes. Distracted, Windham is surprised and falls victim to a roll-up pin by Rich. The next week, Rich is brutalized by the Horsemen, and has his neck “broken” from an assisted power-bomb by Humongous. By the time the faces make the save, Rich has to be taken out on a stretcher. In reality, Rich is heading to the Memphis territory to form a team with Austin Idol, recently fired from the WWF.
This leads to the return of War Games at the Charlotte Coliseum, with Jake Roberts, Barry Windham, Arn Anderson, Chris Adams & Lord Humongous vs. Dusty Rhodes, Kerry Von Erich, Ric Flair, Buddy Landell & Ronnie Garvin on a prime-time special dubbed “Clash of the Champions: War Games ’87.” It is the highest rated program in the station’s history. After Humongous appears to be working overly stiff, especially against Rhodes, in the backstage area Jim Crockett and Bill Watts begin to argue, with the insinuation that Humongous is trying to “take Dusty out,” to which Watts counters, “the marquee above the door says ‘rasslin’, Jim. That’s all that’s going on out there.” As the match reaches its climax, the Horsemen unveil their plan. Gary Hart slips sets of handcuffs to Roberts. One by one, the Horsemen isolate and then handcuff the faces to the cage walls. First, Landell, then Flair, then Garvin, and finally Von Erich, leaving Dusty alone against five men. Finally, they position Rhodes for the assisted power-bomb, with Humongous holding Dusty, while Arn and Adams prepare to push Dusty toward the mat once Humongous flips him. Just as they are about to perform the move – the same move that “broke Tommy Rich’s neck,” notes announcer Jim Ross – Von Erich gets the referee’s attention and submits, ending the match. Roberts gets a microphone and laughs, saying “You fool! You think this was ever about winning match?” He then gives a signal and Humongous power-bombs Dusty, complete with the assist from Anderson and Adams. There is a hush from the crowd as the Horsemen exit the ring. Paramedics tend to Dusty while security works to get the handcuff off of everyone. The next week, Dusty is announced as “fortunate to only have suffered a concussion,” while Roberts gloats about ending “The American Dream.” Rhodes’ son Dustin makes his TV debut, beating prelim wrestler Randy Mulkey. The next week Dustin is wrestling Rocky King when Jake Roberts comes to the commentary table and chats with Ross and David Corckett. Dustin wins the match and then sees Jake. Angrily, he approaches the commentators’ area. Jake warns him about taunting a snake and getting bitten. Ric Flair and Buddy Landell come out and keep Dustin from getting into trouble. The next week, the Horsemen attack the Nature Boys, with the storyline that Buddy Rogers is beaten down and hospitalized. This is to get Rogers off TV and into retirement at his request. The Nature Boys eventually replace Rogers with a valet, Nancy Sullivan, who goes by the name “Woman.” She is the wife of Kevin Sullivan, who arrives from the Florida territory and begins to build a stable of heels, including Manny Fernandez, “Maniac” Mike Davis, Abdullah the Butcher, and a wild rookie named Cactus Jack. Sullivan’s gimmick is that he holds some sort of power over his charges, like a cult leader of sorts. Of the four, only Manny seems to have any sort of free will.
Feb 13, 1987 – Curt Hennig defeats Butch Reed in an AWA on ESPN main event TV title match. After the match, Reed asks for a rematch, but he is interrupted by Col. DeBeers, who insults Reed and tells him to “get to the back of the line, just like you should be at the back of the bus.” This leads to a brawl. The Sheepherders join the fracas and Reed is overwhelmed. A match between the Sheepherders and Reed and a partner of his choice is signed for the next week. Most expect it will be Bad News Allen as Butch’s partner, but the crowd is just as happy when none other than Magnum TA comes out to ringside with Reed. Reed and TA take out the ‘herders. After the match, DeBeers emerges with a microphone, ripping Magnum for “lowering himself” to team with a black man. This leads to TA challenging DeBeers. DeBeers says he will accept if Magnum will put the AWA Americas title on the line, which TA accepts. The next week, it’s Magnum TA vs. Col. DeBeers. The match ends in a no-contest when the two men ignore the referee and refuse to break up an in-ring melee. A re-match is signed for two weeks later. However, the next week, DeBeers is giving an interview with ringside announcer (and wrestler) Sherri Martel. DeBeers insults Magnum’s manhood and his family, particularly his mother. Incensed, TA runs down to ringside and attempts to hit DeBeers with a chair. DeBeers ducks, though, and he hits Martel by mistake. TA is shocked, while DeBeers laughs. The next week, on the episode in which the return match is set to take place, AWA president Stanley Blackburn announces that Col. DeBeers, “on behalf of Sherri Martel and the other wrestlers who are concerned about the reckless behavior of Magnum TA,” is threatening to file a lawsuit against the AWA for “creating an unsafe working environment” if action is not taken after TA hit Sherri with the chair the previous week. Therefore, Magnum TA is hereby suspended for 30 days, and because the match had already been signed, he forfeits the AWA Americas title to Col. DeBeers. DeBeers accepts the belt while TA protests vehemently and the crowd boos, throwing debris into the ring. Even Bad News Allen comes down to try and talk Blackburn out of the suspension. Blackburn warns Allen not to get physical, lest he prove the colonel’s point about the working environment. Allen, for his part, has been on a solid run with the AWA World title, including a big sell-out show in Calgary, called Canadian Homecoming, the week after Christmas, which featured Allen defending the AWA title successfully against Bruiser Brody, the Heartbreakers defeating Curt Hennig & “Playboy” Buddy Rose in an AWA tag title match, and Big Van Vader vs. Chris Benoit. Though Vader wins in what is basically a squash match, Benoit is impressive in his selling and his ability to look good in defeat.
DeBeerrs furthers antagonizes fans by “renaming” the Americas title the “South African” title and vowing to use his title reign to show the superiority of the pure South African race. Allen petitions Blackburn for a match with DeBeers, but the decision is that “each champion should focus on their own championship.” Hennig gets a stiff challenge in a TV main event against Chris Benoit, though he is able to handle the young challenger. DeBeers brings in Vancouver-area wrestler Mike Shaw as “Giant Van der Merwe.” The 6’4″, 450 lb. monster acts a “buffer” between DeBeers and the faces. Bad News Allen becomes the first man to pin the Giant during a big show in Denver.
March 2, 1987 – Jerry Lawler receives an NWA title shot against Jake Roberts in Memphis. Lawler appears to have the upper hand when Austin Idol and Tommy Rich rush the ring and attack Lawler, giving “the King” the DQ win but allowing Roberts to keep the belt. The incident is mostly ignored outside of Memphis, especially the idea that Rich – whose neck was supposed to have been broken by Roberts and the Four Horsemen just a few weeks before – would help Roberts. The stop in Memphis is just one of several Roberts is making as he makes his way back to Texas with the NWA championship. Bill Watts is traveling with Jake to gauge the various territorial promoters and their opinion of the world championship title situation. Jim Crockett is working on a big April pay-per-view called the Slamboree. The plan is to create a fan-friendly interactive weekend featuring many wrestling legends and autograph and Q & A sessions and to launch a Wrestling Hall of Fame. The event will climax with a big NWA wrestling show. All indications are that the show is building toward a Jake Roberts vs. Dusty Rhodes Main Event for the NWA World Championship.
Roberts spends a few weeks in Texas, working a program with the Von Erichs, including a re-match with David Von Erich for the NWA title, which Roberts wins thanks to help from the Freebirds. A six-man match with Roberts, Michael Hayes and Terry Gordy vs. David and the Power Warriors at the Texas State Fair (Rock and Flash) leads to a wild finish in which the entire concession stand becomes the fighting arena. Straw bales, filled garbage cans, and even a goat get thrown into the mix. The crowd loves the match, even though there is no official winner. Michael Hayes gets dumped into a pile of manure and “counted out” (no one will make the pin) to end the match.
On NWA Championship Wrestling on WTBS, Rhodes challenges Roberts to “get his skinny tail” back to Georgia so the American Dream can skin the snake and take the NWA Championship. Roberts goads Dusty via taped interviews and hires Kevin Sullivan to take Dusty out before he gets back. A particularly nasty episode takes place in late March, when Dusty is taking on Abdullah the Butcher. Sullivan and Cactus Jack join the match and triple team Rhodes. Abdullah slashes Dusty with his signature fork, hitting a vein on Dusty’s forehead. The puncture creates a massive bleed which airs in on a Saturday afternoon, drawing a massive number of complaints from parents of younger viewers. The match, however, is signed for Slamboree.
April 10, 1987 – Slamboree: The Legends Return is held in Atlanta. Dozens of veteran wrestlers attend the convention, including Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino, Dr. Jerry Graham, Harley Race, Dory Funk, Jr., Gene Kiniski, Fritz Von Erich, Buddy Rogers and more. Buddy Rogers and Dory Funk even wrestle in a “Legends” match with Terry Funk and the Nature Boys at ringside. Rogers wins with a figure-four leg-lock after reversing Funk’s stepover-toehold. Also on the card, the Nature Boys vs. the Power Warriors goes to a draw in an NWA World Tag-title match. Kerry Von Erich defeats Terry Gordy in defense of the Triple Crown title. Kerry has brother Mike at ringside. There has been talk that with his deteriorated mental and physical condition Mike’s wrestling days are over. Lord Humongous defeats Ronnie Garvin. Kevin Sullivan has taken over managing Humongous. Arn Anderson & Chris Adams defeat Steve Williams & Hacksaw Duggan. Barry Windham defeats Dustin Rhodes. The Main Event starts out according to plan. Rhodes beats Roberts all over the place until eventually Roberts gets the upper hand. The match goes for a little over 20 minutes and then Rhodes begins his comeback. Finally he locks Roberts in the figure-four leg-lock. Suddenly, Gary Hart jumps into the ring and attacks Rhodes. Referee Randy Anderson looks confused, but the match continues. Then the rest of the Four Horsemen rush the ring. Windham drops a leg across Dusty’s chest. Again the referee looks confused. Roberts breaks free of the hold and grabs the referee and tells him to call to ring the bell, which he does. Suddenly most of the locker room pours out and into the ringside area as the bell rings over and over. The equally confused announcer calls the match a “no contest,” and then the winner as Dusty Rhodes. At ringside Roberts quickly grabs the NWA title belt and slips away.
Backstage Jim Crockett is pitching a fit while Bill Watts and Fritz Von Erich tell him to calm down. Eventually Dusty makes his way back stage and is equally irate. It turns out that Rhodes had been booked to win the title from Roberts, but Watts and Von Erich had secured enough support to keep the belt on Roberts for now with unannounced plans for the future. Rhodes takes a swing at Watts, knocking his cowboy hat off, but otherwise not harming him. There is a decided fracture in the NWA.
April 12, 1987 – News breaks, first in Texas and then on national broadcasts that Mike Von Erich, “youngest of the wrestling Von Erich family to have entered the ring,” had been found dead of an apparent suicide via prescription sleeping pills. Toxic shock syndrome and a later car crash had apparently taken their toll on Mike and he was hooked on drugs and alcohol and clinically depressed – facts the Von Erich family had kept well-hidden from the public. Even amid the chaos that was taking place within the NWA, a Mike Von Erich Memorial show is planned for May 10 at Texas Stadium. In the meantime, an emergency meeting of the NWA Board of Directors takes place in St. Louis, with Jim Crockett and Jim Barnett and their supporters on one side and Bill Watts and his supporters (Fritz Von Erich does not attend) on the other. There is some attempt to placate both groups, but Watts’ view that the harder-edged storyline-based plan with episodic TV and more serious booking is better than “old-school” southern wrestling and cheap finishes and gimmicks that the eastern promotions are touting wins out. Even the promise of an immediate but brief Rhodes title run and an increased amount of influence of the overall booking from the eastern promoters is not enough to save the agreement. Crockett, Barnett and a few others officially withdraw from the NWA. Within a month, they have severed with the NWA, retaining the 6 p.m. Saturday time slot on WTBS (though the NWA keeps the Saturday morning slot and the existing syndication deals) for their newly christened operation, World Championship Wrestling, or WCW. The “Big Three” has become a “Big Four.” Because individual wrestlers were signed with individual promoters and very few were working with exclusive contracts, the rosters begin to sort themselves out, new contracts are negotiated to retain certain stars, and the two entities begin a race to copyright names and trademarks.
May 10, 1987 – The Mike Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions takes place before more than 56,000 fans at Texas Stadium. Governor Bill Clements attends the event, declaring Mike Von Erich Day. The Charlie Daniels Band performs a tribute song. On the card, The Fabulous Freebirds defeat Arn Anderson, Chris Adams & Barry Windham. Kevin & David Von Erich defeat the Missing Link & the Great Kabuki, the Power Warriors defeat Eddie & Doug Gilbert. Steve “Dr. Death” Williams wins a 25-man Mike Von Erich Memorial Battle Royal Cup match. And in the Main Event, Kerry Von Erich defeats Jake “The Snake” Roberts to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Kerry dedicates the win to his brother. The entire Von Erich family comes into the ring. Kerry places the title belt on a wreath hung over a picture of Mike. In a rare dropping of kayfabe, Roberts breaks character and walks over and shakes Fritz’s hand and hugs Kerry. On May 31, just three weeks after winning the title, at a Memorial Day show in St. Louis, Kerry Von Erich drops the NWA title back to Jake Roberts. Roberts vows no one will be able to take the belt away from him again. Meanwhile, the newly-created WCW is declared the rightful owners and originators of the “Great American Bash.” Plans are set for a month-long “Great American Bash ’87” tour across the nation culminating in a pay-per-view in which the first WCW World Champion will be crowned, scheduled for Fourth of July weekend. The NWA World Tag-team Champions, Ric Flair & Buddy Landell, have decided to remain with WCW. They are simply referred to as the WCW tag champs without any mention of the NWA. The NWA holds a “Showdown in Shreveport,” featuring a 20-team, 2-ring battle royal to crown NWA tag-champs. The card is not advertised outside of Louisiana and not mentioned on TV. The battle royal is won by the Power Warriors, who are only said on TV to have “won” the titles, implying that they defeated Flair & Landell, though Pro Wrestling Illustrated covers the entire saga. On World Championship Wrestling, a tournament to crown a WCW World TV Champion is won by Dustin Rhodes, who defeats Kevin Sullivan in the finals. Sullivan begins running his charges against Dustin. No mention of the wrestlers who aligned with WCW are mentioned in any way on NWA programming, with no references to those who stayed loyal to the NWA likewise never being referenced on WCW TV.
June 1, 1987 – Vince McMahon announces the establishment of a new pay-per-view, to be called Summer Slam ’87. Scheduled for Fourth of July weekend, one day before WCW’s first pay-per-view since their split with the NWA. Vince tries to strong-arm cable providers into an either/or situation, but after the Crocketts threaten to sue, an agreement is reached. In fact, several cable companies package two shows together as a “Wild Wrestling Weekend” double-bill. In the lead up to the show, Ricky Morton tries to get one more match with Savage for the Intercontinental title, but Savage dismisses him every week. Lex Luger is named number one contender for Koloff’s WWF title. Lex begins assuming patriotic undertones, including red, white and blue trunks. In interviews, he begins taunting Koloff by promising “American Justice.” During a tag-team match Luger & Davey Boy Smith are taking on Rick Rude & Brutus Beefcake when Koloff attempts to run in and ambush Luger, but Luger sees him an gets the drop on Nikita, lifting him up into the torture rack briefly before Koloff breaks free and retreats. Luger gets a microphone and tells the champ “at SummerSlam you’ll have no choice but to submit to the Scales of Justice,” which the announcers begin calling the torture rack.
June 16, 1987 – On a “Saturday Night’s Main Event” show, Bam Bam Bigelow finally gets his hands on Ted Dibiase in a lumberjack match. Despite DiBiase having apparently paid off all of the lumberjacks to leave him alone and only attack Bigelow, Bam Bam fights his way through the gauntlet and lays out all of the lumberjacks. He then beats DiBiase from pillar to post before finally pinning The Million Dollar Man after a flying headbutt and a piledriver. The crowd goes nuts. Chavo & Mando Guerrerro score a big tag-team win over the MOD Squad Big Bubba Rogers squashes Tito Santana. Also on the show is a 20-man battle royal to see who will face Randy Savage for the Intercontinental title at Summer Slam ’87. The final four men in the ring are Rick Rude, Brutus Beefcake, Ricky Morton and The British Bulldog. Thanks to interference from Bobby Heenan, Davey Boy is double-teamed and eliminated, leaving Morton alone with the members of the “Brain Trust.” They pummel Morton for several minutes, until he manages to block an attack and throw a desperation dropkick that sends Beefcake over and out. Heenan jumps on the apron to protest, allowing Morton to ram Rude and Heenan’s heads together and then flip Rude out, giving him the shot against Savage. Rude, Beefcake and Heenan, livid about the preceding events, jump Morton and bloody him. A stretcher has to be called out as the commentators speculate about whether or not Morton will be able to compete at Summer Slam.
June 22, 1987 – Having ducked Magnum TA for months following TA’s return from suspension, Col. DeBeers is finally forced by AWA President Stanley Blackburn to face Magnum in a steel cage match. However, just days before the match, Magnum was attacked by Giant Van der Merwe who delivered several spashes on the concrete. Magnum’s ribs are heavily taped for the match, and although he tries valiantly, Magnum can’t overcome the injury and DeBeers scores the win. He demands a match for Bad News Allen’s AWA World Title. Allen comes out, having already competed in a match for the show against “Playboy” Buddy Rose, and holds the AWA title belt up. He grabs ringside announcer Ken Resnick by the collar and drags him up to the ring. “You want some of this, DeBeers?” he asks. To Resnick: “You get Stanley Blackburn out here, Kenny. You tell him to bring the lawyers, to bring a contract, and to bring whoever he wants, because me and this fool are goin’ one-on-one for both belts, winner take all…and loser leaves the AWA forever!” DeBeers tries to beg off, but now Allen is smiling and motioning for DeBeers to make a move. Sheik Adnan, Major DeKlerk and Giant Van der Merwe try to rush the ring, but they are cut off by the Heartbreakers. Magnum TA recovers a bit and helps join in the stand-off. Eventually, Blackburn and the AWA “legal team” come to the ring and the deal is put together. The match will take place live on ESPN, on a special called “Friday Night Fireworks,” on Friday July 2, just one day before Summer Slam and two days before the Great American Bash pay-per-view.
July 2, 1987 – Friday Night Fireworks is a huge ratings success, becoming the highest rated non-football program in ESPN history. On the card, Big Van Vader defeats Bruiser Brody in Brody’s last match before leaving the AWA for a tour of Florida and Puerto Rico. Curt Hennig and Chris Benoit wrestle to a double count-out. Rick & Scott Steiner defeat The Cuban Assassins. The Heartbreakers defeat Maj. DeKlerk & Giant Van der Merwe in defense of their AWA tag titles. In the Main Event, for the AWA World title and the AWA Americas title, it’s Bad News Allen vs. Col. DeBeers, loser leaves the AWA. DeBeers stalls for nearly seven minutes, driving the crowd into a frenzy. DeBeers’cronies attempt to interfere, but Magnum TA and Butch Reed vanquish them. All alone with DeBeers at last, Allen completely dismantles the Colonel, finally finishing him off with an enzuigiri as the crowd erupts.
July 3, 1987 – The first Summer Slam Saturday, as it will eventually become known over the years, arrives. The Midnight Express defeat the Guerrerros in a tough match. Big Bubba Rogers defeats the British Bulldog. Ted DiBiase defeats Hillbilly Jim, but after the match the massive Uncle Elmer gets a measure of revenge on DiBiase by dumping a bucket of hog slop on Ted’s head. When the time comes for the Savage-Morton I-C title match, Savage comes to the ring first, oddly. Howard Finkel then announces that “due to injuries sustained at Saturday Night’s Main Event,” Ricky Morton will be unable to compete. Savage grabs the microphone, goads Morton, and challenges “anyone with the cajones, come out and face the Macho Man.” After nearly a minute of waiting, a referee comes from the back and gives Finkel a slip of paper. The Fink reads it and begins, “replacing Ricky Morton in this next match, for the WWF Intercontinental Championship…from Asbury Park, New Jersey…” The crowd goes insane as Bam Bam Bigelow’s music begins to play. The roar is so loud, Finkel’s intro can barely be heard. Bigelow emerges from the curtain, sprints down to the ring. Savage tries to protest, but the referee signals for the bell. Bigelow scoops Savage up, slams him down, picks him up, whips him into the corner, delivers a vertical splash, throws Savage to the mat, climbs the turnbuckle and delivers a flying headbutt to the prone Savage. He pounces on top of the Macho Man and the ref counts the pin 1-2-3. Your winner and new Intercontinental champion, Bam Bam Bigelow. Savage never even had time to remove his robe and bandana. Bigelow picks up Savage’s shades, knocked off during the carnage, and throws them into the crowd. In the Main Event, Luger and Koloff go toe-to-toe in a brutal affair. At one point, the two spill out to the floor, where Nikita nails Luger with his steel chain, bloodying the challenger. After about 20 minutes, the match breaks down to Koloff trying to nail the Russian Sickle with Luger evading and trying to get Koloff into the Scales of Justice. Koloff finally nails the sickle, only to send Luger out of the ring. Luger is covered in blood but he fights Koloff off and the two return to the ring. The announcers begin to speculate on Luger’s vision, and sure enough at one point, Luger accidentally tries to hoist the referee up into the rack. Koloff actually puts Luger in the rack briefly. The end finally comes when Koloff misses a charge and Luger slips the Russian up and into the Scales. Koloff refuses to submit and Luger is fading due to loss of blood. After more than two minutes, Luger simply collapses and falls backward with Koloff sill on his shoulers. With Luger on top, the pin is counted 1-2-3, the winner and new WWF Champion, “American Justice” Lex Luger. Both men have to be helped to the back. The match would go on to win PWI’s “Match of the Year” for 1987.
Sunday July 4, 1987 – Throughout the month of June, the WCW “Great American Bash” Tour traveled around the country, with several “qualifying” matches to determine which wrestlers would compete in a one-night tournament to crown the first ever WCW World Heavyweight Champion. In reality, there was no true qualifying system or point system for deciding who would be in the tournament. Finally, on the episode of World Championship Wrestling on TBS a week before the show, the field of eight was announced using a completely bogus “point” total. In the tournament are: Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk, Hacksaw Duggan, Kevin Sullivan, and Jimmy Garvin, as well as “international qualifiers” (from completely bogus events), Mil Mascaras, Otto Wanz, and Tatsumi Fujinami. In the first round, Rhodes defeats Wanz in a terrible match. Wanz somehow arrives from Europe under the impression that he is supposed to win the tournament. Upon being told otherwise, he refuses to cooperate with Rhodes, who eventually forces Wanz’s shoulders to the mat long enough for the ref to make the three count. Next, Fujinami defeats Mascaras. Despite his age (Mascaras was already in his late 50s) the masked man from Mexico puts on a good match with Fujinami. Kevin Sullivan defeats Duggan through nefarious means. And in the final first round match, Terry Funk is announced as having missed a flight to the show. A masked man billed as “Mr. V” comes out to take his place against Garvin. After a solid match, Mr. V eventually traps Garvin in the Figure-4 leg-lock, pcking up the submission win. After the match, Tony Shaivone attempts to interview Mr. E, only to have the masked man grab the mic and rip off his mask, revealing himself to be Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, having ditched the “Gorgeous” Greg gimmick, dropped about 30 lbs, and sporting a flat-top hairdo. He launches into how “up north, they want to make you into a cartoon character or a joke. Well, I ain’t no joke. I’m Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, and I will be the first WCW Champion!” In round two, Rhodes defeats Sullivan despite interference from Sullivan’s cadre of charges. In the other semi-final, Valentine and Fujinami put on a clinic, with the crowd not exactly sure who to cheer or boo. Valentine pins Fujinami with an inside cradle. And in the final, it’s Rhodes vs. Valentine. The crowd is split evenly for the title match. Eventually, Valentine locks Rhodes in the figure-four, but Dusty reverses it. They exchange blows with Dusty hitting the bionic elbow. He covers for the pin, but Valentine’s foot was on the ropes, but the referee didn’t see it, and Rhodes gets the pin and the title. The winner and first WCW Champion, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. After the match, Valentine shakes Rhodes hand, raises Dusty’s arm in victory…and then clotheslines the Dream down. He beats on Rhodes until the other wrestlers come from the back and pull him off.
So, that’s where we leave off. Four major, thriving organizations in the U.S., each offering a unique take on the professional wrestling business. The WWF, with Lex Luger as their champion, the AWA with Bad News Allen on top, Jake “The Snake” Roberts as not only NWA World Champ but also leader of the Four Horsemen, and Dusty Rhodes having been crowned the first ever WCW World Champion. So, yeah, I could conceivably go on forever, but it was fun just to revisit and re-imagine the wrestling of my youth. I hope you enjoyed. Feel free to praise or bash me in the comments section.
Thanks for reading.
Tags: awa, Hulk Hogan, Lex Luger, Nikita Koloff, NWA, Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, Sgt. Slaughter, WCW, WWE, WWF