Retro Recap – Great American Bash 1988

I was inspired to go back and look at this by the shark cage Chris Jericho is going to be in at the Rumble, because this one had such a match on the card.  More on that later.  What’s more interesting about this one is that it was essentially the last hurrah for the Four Horsemen and the beginning of the end for NWA stalwarts Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, and Ronnie Garvin as well as promoter Jim Crockett.  It was also the place for some uncharacteristically bad booking, the kind that would spawn 1,000 word thinkpieces were it done for a WWE show today.  Crockett was in dire straits, having taken on a lot of bills in buying up some of his former partner territories in an effort to hold the line against Vince McMahon and the WWF, and the talent drain that crushed so many of his contemporaries was now hitting him.  And his previous forays into pay per view had been thwarted by Vince’s strongarm tactics with cable companies (pitting the first Survivor Series against Starrcade 87 and forcing cable companies to carry the former) and pitting a free show on basic cable in opposition (the first Royal Rumble vs Crockett’s Bunkhouse Stampede), so what was hoped to be a new revenue stream wasn’t panning out yet.  So amidst all that turmoil we got this show, which would be Crockett’s first unopposed foray into pay per view as well as his only one.  How did it go?  Let’s see.

NWA World Tag Team Title Match: Tully Blanchard & Arn Anderson (c) vs. Sting & Nikita Koloff

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This match, and the one that followed, are the kind that the participants The could put on in their sleep.  Blanchard and Anderson were an all time great tag team while Sting and Koloff both had a lot of experience in tag teams before breaking out to singles matches.  Great back and forth, everybody hit their signature stuff, and Sting broke out the dive through the ropes (the camera guys hadn’t quite figured out the best way to capture that kind of move so it doesn’t come off as good on TV as it did for the live crowd).  Koloff did the face in peril bit before making the hot tag to Sting, who came in and cleaned house.  The finish was a harbinger of things to come.  Sting locks in the Scorpion Deathlock, the bell rings, then he and Koloff put on the belts and celebrate before being informed that time ran out and the match is a draw.  Very good match with a finish that has been done a million times already at house shows and on TV matches.  Doing it at a big show like this was not a good look at all.

U.S. Tag Team Title Match: The Fantastics (c) vs The Midnight Express

Two more teams that could have great matches in their sleep.  This was the match where the shark cage was involved.  The Midnights’ manager Jim Cornette was put in the cage to prevent him from interfering, and in a straightjacket to boot.  And if that wasn’t enough, if the Fantastics won they’d get to give Cornette 10 lashes with a belt afterwards (Cornette had gone to town on both of them in March with a belt after the first big match between the two teams).  The two teams had been tearing it up across the country and this match was just as good as any of those.  The Midnights win with a foreign object to become new champs, but the Fantastics get hold of Cornette after he’s released from the cage and whip him anyway.  The crowds were showing the first signs of going rogue during the matches between the two; the Midnights were NWA legends while the Fantastics were substitutes for the beloved Rock n Roll Express, and while it went over ok at first over time people just weren’t feeling Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers like they did Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson.  While they weren’t booed heavily, the crowd reactions died down for them and turned up for the Midnights, to the extent that they would soon turn face.

Tower of Doom Match: Jimmy Garvin, Ronnie Garvin, Steve ‘Dr. Death’ Williams, and The Road Warriors vs Kevin Sullivan, Mike Rotundo, Al Perez, Ivan Koloff, and The Russian Assassin

And here’s where we see signs of the bad turn for for the company.  The Garvins had been feuding with Sullivan and Rotundo; that was fine.  But the Warriors had been battling The Powers of Pain, who left town for the WWF in the spring and were replaced by Koloff & The Assassin who had zero appeal as foes for Hawk & Animal.  Williams and Perez were there because the teams each needed a fifth man for some reason (Actually no they didn’t but five man teams for these kind of matches were all the rage).  As for the match itself…..it was a bad attempt to add some variation to the Wargames double cage matches of a year before.  This was three cages stacked on top of each other like this:

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Each team sent in one guy at a time, and the goal was to fight and go through each level of the triple cage and escape to the floor.  The small cage at the top made for a really cramped space, not allowing much other than punching and kicking, and the middle one wasn’t much good either.  But when you got to the bottom and could use the ropes and turnbuckles, you were supposed to try and get out.  This made for a somewhat boring, not very good match.  What’s notable about this match is that it’s the one match on the show where the faces got a win.  Too bad nobody really cared much.

U.S. Title Match: Barry Windham (c) vs Dusty Rhodes

Windham had turned heel in April and joined the Horsemen, and his longtime mentor Rhodes was out for revenge and to regain the U.S. Title that he never lost in the ring (he was stripped of the title when he was suspended for hitting Crockett during a brawl, then Windham won a tournament to become champion).  Match was ok – Rhodes was doing his usual stuff but had clearly slowed down at this point and needed to be carried more by Windham.  The finish was screwy to say the least – ref bump, Rhodes hits the bionic elbow and then Ronnie Garvin comes to the ring.  Rhodes and Garvin are longtime allies, which of course means a turn is coming.  Garvin KOs Dusty with his knockout punch, the refs comes to, Windham gets the pin to retain the title.  There was just something missing from this match.  I think at this point people had moved on from Rhodes as a title holder and we’d seen him get screwed out of a belt so many times that the novelty was gone.  The Garvin turn was a shocker that no one saw coming but it never turned into much.

NWA World Title Match:  Ric Flair (c) vs Lex Luger

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This was the first big match at this level between the two.  Luger had spent the previous six months in matches with Anderson and Blanchard to get ready while Flair was going at it with Sting.  Now it was time for them to meet for the first time since 1986 when Flair defended the title in the Florida territory Luger was working in.  So they weren’t unfamiliar with each other but in previous encounters Flair carried almost the whole load.  Now, Luger would get a chance to contribute more evenly and show that he was worthy of the being the man to take the mantle from Flair as face of the company.  It was the first look at Luger in an extended length match that a lot of us got to see, and he did…..ok.  Flair still did most of the work here and the match was good but not great.  And the finish……oh boy.  Luger puts Flair in his human torture rack finisher, the ref checks his forehead a bunch of times (Luger was bleeding but not that badly, really) and then calls for the bell.  The crowd and Luger, of course, think that he won and erupt.  And then………the bottom falls out.  We get the worst kind of Dusty Finish ever.  Turns out the ref wasn’t ringing the bell to signify Flair submitting, but to stop the match for blood.  That’s a horrible finish as it is, but in this case Luger wasn’t even bleeding that badly (it was obviously supposed to be worse) so it wasn’t justified.  The crowd goes into a full throated chant of ‘Bulls-, bulls-!’ at the result.

Why on Earth do you book this finish?  On a night where every heel on the undercard that mattered either won their match or retained their title, you have to do the title change in the main event.  Everything was lined up for Luger to win the title here, usher in a new era, and lose the belt back to Flair at Starrcade to take things into 1989.  If not, then do a DQ finish after a Horsemen run-in.  Anything was better than this.  Anything.  To end the show on this note, after multiple screwjob finishes to lead in, did the worst thing you could possibly do: send people home with a bad taste in their mouths.  At the very least call an audible and do a Horsemen run-in for the DQ once it was clear the blood spot hadn’t gone right.  This was an NWA match in front of an NWA crowd that had seen men’s faces covered in blood without the match being stopped; what made anyone think they would accept this kind of result?  This is one of the worst booking decisions ever, hands down.

The aftermath of this show was more turmoil.  Within two months Anderson and Blanchard would be off to the WWF.  The Garvin-Rhodes feud that was supposed to come out of the U.S. Title match would not happen, as Garvin would be off to the AWA (and then ultimately the WWF) within a few weeks.  The Midnights would turn face and then the Warriors would turn heel to settle the World Tag Team Title situation.  Sting and Rhodes, suddenly with nothing to do, would feud with Hawk and Animal while Luger would continue to take on Flair.  Rhodes’ days as the booker would be soon over and he’d be off to the WWF within a few months himself.  Starrcade in December would right the ship somewhat but the ship was sailing.  And in the background Crockett would be bought out by Ted Turner, saving the company but taking out of the hands of a wrestling promoter and into the hands of a TV man who would soon wash away the old southern style wrestling show and embark on a failed quest to become more like Vince’s product.  It would be the end of an era and this show was the beginning of that end.

Final Grade

It’s worth watching for historical purposes, and the first two matches are a good example of great tag team wrestling that was common to the company.  The rest you can skip, to be honest.

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