Squared-Circle Science: United We Slam – The Best of The Great American Bash

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Is it safe to assume that WCW is a bigger cash cow now than it was during its dying days in spring 2001? World Wrestling Entertainment must think so, or the company wouldn’t make the effort to push World Championship Wrestling on DVD and Blu-ray. Last year, The Best of WCW Monday Nitro, Vol. 2, Goldberg – The Ultimate Collection, and WCW War Games: WCW’s Most Notorious Matches were some of the most popular WWE home video releases.

This year we’ve already seen the release of WCW’s Greatest Pay-Per-View Matches, Vol. 1, and in a few weeks we will have the second volume of OMG! (Oh My God!) with the focus this time on the Top 50 Incidents in WCW History (though from the moments included it might as well be called The Rise and Fall of WCW, Vol. 2). And in the fall we get the highly anticipated set on WCW icon Sting. So in total, 2014 will see WWE release four WCW-specific titles.

I’m here to discuss the third WCW home video release of the year, United We Slam – The Best of The Great American Bash. Hosted by “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, the compilation spotlights an annual event that originated in the National Wrestling Alliance back in 1985 and finished its WCW run in 2000. After purchasing WCW, World Wrestling Entertainment would bring the event back as a PPV in 2004 and had it run through 2009. The Bash name was brought back in 2012 for a special live episode of SmackDown! For the purpose of United We Slam, the compilation does not include any matches from any WWE-produced events. Which is nice, because when I think of the Great American Bash, NWA and WCW comes first, with the WWE version being a distant second. This, despite memorable matches including Eddie Guerrero vs. JBL in a “Bullrope Match” (2004); a match involving William Regal and Fit Finlay (2006); and a pair of matches involving Chris Jericho taking on Shawn Michaels (2008) and Rey Mysterio (2009).

Prior to a segment from 1996, where Eric Bischoff brings out Scott Hall and Kevin Nash only to get powerbombed through a table off stage, Dusty Rhodes makes a remark about Bischoff and how he described himself as a visionary, to which Rhodes would rebuff acknowledging, “There’s only one visionary, and I get a check from him every two weeks.” Rhodes knows who butters his bread, but I think he is discounting his own achievements not related to competing inside the ring. Not only did he invent arguably the second-best gimmick match after the Royal Rumble – War Games: The Match Beyond – the Great American Bash was an event also devised by Rhodes. Originally conceived as NWA’s mega card event for the summer, predating WWE’s SummerSlam by three years, the Bash would see itself morph into a road tour in 1986 and 1987, where NWA would host events in southern and eastern states. With the advent of pay-per-view it would become an annual event every July (1988-1992) then slotted in June after a three-year hiatus in 1995.

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Much like the format with the War Games release last year, Dusty Rhodes offers up brief comments before a series of matches. There are no less than 10 vignettes with him standing in a NXT ring with a red, white and blue logo on a TitanTron. Providing historical insight is a plus, especially for those whose personal history of The Great American Bash event may be limited.

Since the introduction of the Bash was house shows instead of PPV, there was no commentary. So the first few matches have newly recorded commentaries with Dusty Rhodes and Larry Zbyszko. The only exception is the cage match involving Dusty Rhodes taking on Ric Flair for the NWA title inside a steel cage. This commentary is ported over from Rhodes’ original three-disc DVD, The American Dream: The Dusty Rhodes Story. While commentary isn’t necessary to enjoy the action in the ring, it is a nice addition. As a means to separate from repeat matches on compilations having an alternate commentary track involving participants from the match or from wrestling historians would be a nice touch. Sort of like pulling back the curtain a little and getting more perspective on the match beyond typical play-by-play.

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With nineteen matches on three-disc DVD and an extra five matches on the two-disc Blu-ray, United We Slam: The Best of The Great American Bash is a more unified release than WCW’s Greatest Pay-Per-View Matches, Vol. 1, which included three matches from The Great American Bash, though only one has made it onto this release. Honestly, the format is very similar to WWE’s Best of In Your House. What held that compilation back was not including dark matches that have never been seen, gems like Shawn Michaels/Owen Hart (Feb. 1996), Steve Austin/The Rock (Backlash, April 1999) as well as the classic Shawn Michaels/Undertaker Hell in the Cell match, but that one has been on numerous home video releases already, so its omission isn’t with fault.

For those looking for star ratings and play-by-play reviews of matches included in this set, I’ll leave that for Scott Keith and Jacob Ziegler; that’s not my style. I’ll instead look at some of the wrestlers included in this compilation and what it entails for new and old school wrestling fans.

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Ric Flair dominates the set with six matches (eight if you include the Blu-ray exclusives) with Sting following with four (with a fifth on Blu-ray). Can’t argue with that. Flair was known to have wrestled a broomstick to a four-star match, and he was dominant with NWA in the ‘80s, engaged in feuds with the likes of Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat and Terry Funk. When I think Sting I think about his Great American Bash match against Flair in July 1990, where he was sporting red, white and blue face paint and would go on to win his first and only NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Along with that match, when discussing Sting you have to bring up his feud with Vader. They may have not have had as many one-on-one encounters like we seem to have with John Cena facing Randy Orton for 1000 times, but each wrestler brings something to the table. While Vader is a powerful big man with success as a Gaijin in Japan (much like Stan Hansen, Steve Williams, et al.), his matches with Sting are almost equitable to Cena squaring off against Batista. Those two met a few times on PPV, and while neither is a mat technician, they had strong chemistry as far as power versus power is concerned.

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One-on-one matches may dominate the compilation, but it does have a few tag team encounters. Unfortunately, when selecting tag matches they did a few things wrong. First was including a tag match that didn’t occur at The Great American Bash. The listing has Sting and Lex Luger squaring off against The Road Warriors at Bash ’88. Yet at that event Sting was tagging with Nikita Koloff against Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard; The Road Warriors were in a Tower of Doom match; and Lex Luger was trying to pin Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship (this match is included on the Blu-ray). The tag match between Sting/Luger and The Road Warriors happened in November 1988. My guess is that the master tape was mislabeled or filed improperly in the library and was selected by mistake. Also, whoever selects matches made a poor decision by picking The Steiners versus The Fabulous Freebirds in 1990. Of course, there’s the Michael P.S. Hayes connection and Rick and Scott Steiner, but for a release called The Best of The Great American Bash how can you overlook The Midnight Express taking on The Southern Boys from the same event? That’s easily the best tag team match of 1990 and in the discussion for best of the decade. Ah well. You win some you lose some, I guess. Though, to be honest, the tag matches skewed heavily on star power and name recognition: Sting, Luger, The Road Warriors, Dustin Rhodes (aka Goldust), Steve Austin, Rick Rude, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Hollywood Hogan and Bret Hart. None of the tag matches selected are masterpieces, but it is funny that the non-Bash tag team match is the best of the bunch.

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For history sake you can’t talk about The Great American Bash and not mention War Games. The match was born in 1987 and was the main event for the first house show as part of the Bash tour. I remember watching this in my youth and being blown away. The concept is perfect. Two men start the match and after five minutes another wrestler would enter the cage and it becomes a 2-on-1 affair. But it isn’t until all ten men are in the ring that it actually becomes its tagline “The Match Beyond.” And it just isn’t War Games unless you have at least one cohesive faction. This time it was the Four Horsemen and manager JJ Dillon against Dusty, Nikita, The Road Warriors and manager Paul Ellering. In today’s WWE where Hell in a Cell is supposedly the biggest way to blowoff a feud, and the Elimination Chamber determines heavyweight champions or contenders for the top prize, there’s got to be a way to resurrect War Games for a new generation. 2014’s Elimination Chamber would have been the perfect opportunity with The Shield and The Wyatt Family. Just imagine Seth Rollins and Erick Rowan starting the match, then five minutes later we have Luke Harper, followed two minutes later by Dean Ambrose. When Bray Wyatt joins in two minutes later the crowd would reach a fever pitch anxiously counting down the time for Roman Reigns to enter the match to a thunderous pop.

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Not forgetting about the athleticism, WWE has wisely included the gem that is Sting against The Great Muta from 1989, plus a number of cruiserweight matches involving Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Ultimo Dragon and Psicosis. At a time when WWE programming was sucking in-ring wise, WCW was my outlet to see the athleticism (minus Shawn Michaels and a few others) that was sorely lacking. Much like Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage from WrestleMania III, Sting and Muta’s match was very ahead of its time. And it was for a television championship, no less. The story from the match would carry on later in the night during Ric Flair’s match against Terry Funk (also included on this set).

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We now arrive at the let’s throw him a bone portion of the compilation. Diamond Dallas Page is one of those unlikely stars that rose to prominence in WCW due to his hard work and determination. Transitioning from nightclub owner to wrestling manager he would ultimately make his way up the ladder when he arrived in WCW in 1991. However, his most memorable feud would occur in 1997 against Randy Savage. The feud would lead to Page’s first main event (at Spring Stampede) to which would be followed by a rematch three months later in a Falls Count Anywhere match at The Great American Bash. As far as garbage-style matches go this was a pretty entertaining one, including a moment where Savage goes nuts and punches a cameraman. I’m not a fan of falls count anywhere matches in general, but these two had good chemistry during this feud and Page was on a meteoric streak with the fans so the atmosphere was hot.

We also get another gimmick match with Page when he takes on Mike Awesome in an Ambulance Match in 2000. If any of you saw the Cena/Kane Ambulance Match then you know how dumb this gimmick match is. And of course this being WCW in its dying days you get a dumb ending as well. The same can also be said for the WCW Championship match at the same PPV involving Jeff Jarrett and Kevin Nash. Yep, it made the compilation and it is a bore to watch. The ending is horribly booked with interference galore, including a heel turn of a returning Bill Goldberg. Having not seen it as it occurred back in 2000 my thought was that Goldberg was finally unloading a cold dish of revenge at the man who snapped his streak at Starrcade 1998. But that’s just me.

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Surprisingly, United We Slam: The Best of The Great American Bash is a better all-around release than the previous WCW match compilation that put an emphasis on its best pay-per-view matches overall. We get a good mix of decent matches, great matches, and the forgettable (what you would call “WCW bad” – circa 1999-2001). But the forgettable ones are akin to driving past car accidents; it’s hard to not look. Heavy on Ric Flair and Sting, at least they sought to include tag matches and cruiserweight action to keep things fresh throughout. Not a perfect set (are they ever?), but it was a nice nostalgia trip to relive some of the matches from events I remember renting from mom and pop video stores.

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