Time for another retro recap, this one for the 1989 Great American Bash put on by the NWA. The show was their third pay per view event of 1989, two months after Wrestle War 89 (which I recapped here a few days ago) and was headlined by a World Title Match where returning legend Terry Funk challenged Ric Flair, coming back from an injury he’d suffered at Funk’s hands after winning the title back from Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat at Wrestle War. There were nine matches altogether. For a long time this show was considered among the best pay per view events ever, and it was easily the best one of the NWA pay per view era.
This show was a crucial one for the now Ted Turner-owned company. The first half of the year saw a massive purge/exodus of guys who’d been around for a while, and their replacements weren’t exactly setting the world on fire (with the exception of Japanese sensation the Great Muta). Wrestle War had been a one match show (although it was a great one), offering nothing for posterity beyond the Flair-Steamboat main event. The attempt at being more WWE-like was failing badly; in trying to trade in their grittier persona they’d lost the sheen of realism that separated them from the WWE but didn’t capture the better production values either. So there was a lot at stake here and they delivered.
- Triple Crown Battle Royal – this was the final in a series of two-ring battle royals that had been going on around the country and featured winners of all of those. This kind of battle royal was unique in that instead of throwing people over the top rope of one ring you had to first throw them in the second ring and then throw them out of that one. And the last guy standing in the first ring would face off with the last guy in the second one. What was really great about this was Jim Ross’ commentary in which he put over the athletic background of everyone in there, making them all sound like the greatest to ever get cut from a training camp roster in professional sports. The last two men were Sid Vicious and Dan Spivey, who were teaming together as the Skyscrapers. Instead of fighting each other their manager Teddy Long grabbed the mic and said they weren’t going to fight each other and were going to split the money. The match was basically a vehicle to get them over as badasses. It succeeded there.
- Brian Pillman vs Bill Irwin – Irwin was part of the first new wave of people working for the company while Pillman was kicking off the second one. Irwin was around to put guys over in competitive matches, and that’s what happened here. They got a good ten minutes to work, and had a pretty good back and forth match.
- The Skyscrapers vs The Dynamic Dudes – The Dudes were a fairly new team that debuted at Wrestle War with an upset win over the Samoan Swat Team. And once that was through, the bookers apparently felt the way to go was to have them put other people over. This one went about nine minutes, and eight of those were worked by Dan Spivey. This match should have been a fair warning as to just how bad Sid Vicious was. He was way over with crowd; they went nuts when he tagged in. But both times he tagged back out 30 seconds later. Spivey carried this match for them, to such a degree that he should have gotten both of their paychecks. In a foreshadowing of things to come Sid botched his half of their finisher and Spivey had to do a follow up just to make it look better. OK match, served it’s purpose of presenting the Skyscrapers (or should I say Dan Spivey) as a dominant force.
- Jim Cornette vs Paul E. Dangerously (Managers Tuxedo Match) – You know Dangerously now as Paul Heyman. As silly as the stipulation sounds, having to strip the tuxedo off your opponent to win, it was the right one for two non wrestlers. The pre-match interview segments for both men were as good as the match itself, which was entertaining enough and served its purpose of blowing off the feud between the two, which had gone on since the Fall of 1988.
- The Steiners vs Kevin Sullivan and Mike Rotundo (No DQ Texas Tornado Match) – This was short, intense, and violent. It served a dual purpose as a blowoff to almost a year of feuding between Rick Steiner and Sullivan, and a launching pad for the Steiners as a team. They packed about as much as you can get into a four and a half minute match here. Might be the best four minute match between two teams you’ll see.
- Sting vs The Great Muta (TV Title Match) – Muta had everyone captivated going into this match on the strength of a good three months worth of squash matches against mostly jobbers and Sting was, of course, Sting. Going in the prospect of seeing Muta get in there with someone of Sting’s stature was a big deal. The match was good but wasn’t as long as you’d expect, only about eight minutes. Looking at it in 2015 it’s clear that Muta was very much a mirage in the ring once you got past a few moves that we hadn’t seen stateside before his arrival (the moonsault and springboard elbow in the corner), and he messed up what was supposed to be a dive over the ropes from Sting about a third of the way through. Sting carried this match and made it what it was, which was a fairly exciting affair. The finish was a clusterf- double pin that resulted in the title being held up.
- Lex Luger vs Ricky Steamboat (US Title Match) – Luger had gone heel about a month before this match, turning on Steamboat and beating him down. This was not supposed to be the last match between the two but Steamboat ended up leaving the company shortly after this match. And it was supposed to be no DQ but Luger in true heel fashion demanded that Steamboat waive that stipulation or he would walk out. Steamboat being the eternal sucker obliged and it cost him. The match was good; Steamboat’s style was similar enough to Ric Flair’s that he was able to play it the same kinda way and make Luger look good. Luger wasn’t as anywhere near bad as Vicious, but he needed the right dance partner to have a really good match. It’s no coincidence that the best in ring stretch of his career was from 1988 to 1990 when he mostly faced Flair, Barry WIndham, Steamboat, and Brian Pillman. The match was a good one and Luger escaped when Steamboat got DQ’ed for using a chair.
- The Road Warriors, The Midnight Express, and Steve ‘Dr. Death’ Williams vs The Freebirds and the Samoan Swat Team (Wargames Match) – The longest match of the night and a good all around brawl between the two teams. The Wargames is the one match I really want the WWE to bring back at some point as it’s lots of fun. What makes the match work is getting the guys with the most stamina in there at the beginning and working in the other guys so they don’t get exposed. Even though he wasn’t in the ring, Paul E. (Heyman) Dangerously added to the fun by doing some strategy sessions with Freebird Michael Hayes on the outside until Hayes finally went in the match. Everybody got their best stuff in, and we even got some aerial stuff from Hawk and Animal. Great match.
- Main Event: Ric Flair vs Terry Funk (World Title Match) – I remember wondering just what kind of match Terry Funk was going to have with Flair, and if Flair would be able to work as a face after so many years of working heel. The few times he did it before (most recently against Nikita Koloff back in 1985), it was just ok. But both guys pulled it off nicely. They just beat the hell out of each other for 17 minutes in very convincing fashion. Flair was able to remove the bits of his act that didn’t go along with working as a face, like the begging for mercy and Flair flop, and without losing a beat and Funk was able to keep up and deliver a good brawl in return. Great comeback match for the Nature Boy and a great effort from Funk.
Overall Grade: A
The show had the right number of matches, and only one was a complete skipper (the Battle Royal). The two matches that were intended to showcase people (Pillman, the Skyscrapers) had valid, worthy opponents who could get in some offense while ultimately putting the new star over. The guys who were limited in the ring didn’t get exposed by being in there too long, and the better workers brought their A-games. This was a huge bounce back after the Wrestle War fiasco that happened a few months before, and managed to set things right for the company for a while after a not so good first half of the year. I highly recommend checking this one out.