Retro Recap – Bunkhouse Stampede

The Bunkhouse Stampede was the second attempt at pay per view for Jim Crockett Promotions and the NWA just two months after their first try, Starrcade 87, was dealt a pretty heavy blow by one Vince McMahon putting the screws to the cable companies and running an event on the same day. It was also the second foray into New York and the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. 1988 was the year it all came crashing down for Crockett and this was the tip of the iceberg. After a Starrcade show that was good in the ring but didn’t do so great financially would they be able to bounce back here?

TV Title Match – Nikita Koloff (c) vs Bobby Eaton

I was wondering what the reasoning behind this match was, and I ended up having to go look it up. Turns out Dusty and Nikita had been taking on the Midnight Express in a series of house show matches during January. That still doesn’t make it logical to do a match on a pay per view where you know there’s no chance of a title change. At the same time the midcard section of the roster was in flux and they didn’t have any heels ready to go who weren’t involved in other matches so now it does make sense.

Anyhow! We got a good match here and that’s ultimately what matters. This may be Eaton’s first big singles match and he showed out really well. He sold great, got some good offense and put on a good 20 minute match. Nikita was always as good as his opponent and kept up just fine. The ending made no sense here as Nikita hits the Russian Sickle and covered Eaton right as time expired. A time limit draw is just dumb here.

I mean, Eaton was half of a tag team and wasn’t going to win the title anyway. Why not just have Nikita pin him? He didn’t need to be protected here. This is the kind of thing you do on TV to set up a future match, not on a pay per view. Good match, dumb finish.

Western States Heritage Title Match: Barry Windham (c) vs Larry Zbysko

The Western States title was a holdover from the UWF and had been created the prior basically so that Barry could have a reason to show up on UWF TV while there was still a facade of it being a separate company while Jim Crockett was buying it. Once the sale and merger was complete all the other titles had been retired or unified with their NWA counterpart. Zbysko was new to the NWA, having just come over in November and was being managed by Baby Doll.

Barry was a top five in ring worker at this point and carried the action here. Zbysko was notorious for stalling tactics and cowardly heel stuff, and often looked like he was barely doing anything in his matches, and continued that practice here. Windham got in all the good offense and sold great when it Larry got the advantage. If I had a time machine I’d get Barry and put him in the ring with Roman Reigns right now.

This was another good match on the show, largely thanks to Barry. Zbysko would win with Baby Doll’s help to win the title. This one was the title change we all knew would happen and it was the right call. Larry needed momentum after a meh debut and Barry was moving into feud with Horsemen (before he would eventually turn and join them). Good job all around.

NWA World Title Match: Ric Flair (c) vs Road Warrior Hawk

A textbook 1980s Ric Flair title defense here. And by that I mean that he got a really good 20 minute match out of someone that had no business going more than 10. The man went almost 10 minutes before he got any offense in and it didn’t even feel like it. The selling, the screaming out in agony when Hawk did simple stuff like a side headlock, falling out of the ring at the right moments, you name it. Ric was a master at eating up minutes in ways that made his opponent look good without exposing their weaknesses.

Matches like this one are why I still have Ric as my number one all time. He went out there night after night for a decade and worked miracles like this with limited guys and made them look great. Guys like Sting, Lex Luger, and Koloff all were made and went on to be title contenders for years thanks to Ric doing this kind of thing with them. And I don’t think you can say that about anyone else.

We knew Hawk wasn’t going to win the title here but he and Animal were one of the most protected acts during their prime so we get a DQ finish, which in this case was fine. There was nothing to gain by having Ric cheat to win the match. The point was to have a good match here and they did that.

Main Event – Bunkhouse Stampede Finals

This match had eight people in it – Rhodes, Luger, Ivan Koloff, the Powers of Pain (Barbarian and Warlord), Road Warrior Animal, Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson. It was a battle royal inside a cage, so you had to either throw someone out over the cage wall or through the door. Like so many of these NWA specialty matches the guys involved and the crowd popping for them made up for an absurd premise of a match. Seriously, trying to make sense of how you’d get someone in position to throw them over the wall of the cage is enough to make you want to throw the whole thing out. But here you had some of the biggest acts in the company – Dusty, Arn & Tully, Lex, and Animal – so there was plenty of heat from the crowd for was essentially a punch and kick match with some theatrics thrown in (and some bionic elbows from Dusty of course), which made it entertaining enough. The heel-face dynamic was weird in that it was lopsided five to three, and they kept the heel vs face thing up as the match went on so there were some spots where one of the heels was knocked down so that it wouldn’t be one big beat down by the bad guys.

All in all it was perfectly fine. Not match of the year but imminently watchable if you’re a fan of anyone in there. The eliminations were spaced out and done well enough. But as for the finish, well……that hasn’t aged well. As a big Dusty Rhodes fan I was happy that he won at the time, but with some added insight into what was going on there backstage and a little more looking at the big picture it wasn’t a good idea. Tony Schiavone and Conrad Thompson did an episode of What Happened When on this show and Tony spelled out that Tully and Arn in particular were really pissed off over the way things went, because Dusty as the booker put himself over again in the main event. This was the third year of making the Bunkhouse Stampede a big deal (the prior two years it had been a house show match), and Dusty won it every time. This time he was already U.S. Champion going in so it was like a double whammy. It also turns out Arn and Tully were getting paid less money than their on screen manager J.J Dillon (J.J. had a behind the scenes role too but still), which was just stupid. So you could look at this as the beginning of the end for Dusty as a booker.

Dusty wasn’t so egregious a booker as to crown himself World Champion nine times like Verne Gagne but he always managed to carve himself out a favorable spot like beating Luger for the US Title at Starrcade 87 or teaming with a mega popular act like the Road Warriors or winning this event. And when he did lose it was almost always in a way to garner sympathy for himself. And that was fine when he was in his prime but at this point Luger was ready to go, Nikita was still pretty hot, and Sting was just about to get launched into orbit. He didn’t need to get a win here just for the sake of continuing a streak. Now obviously we have 20/20 hindsight and all today but it’s hard to not look back on this at a macro level and see it as a bellwether of more questionable decisions to come.

Final Verdict

I’m on the fence on this one, but leaning towards a good grade. The first three matches are very good and the last one was good enough. If you don’t play fantasy booker then the finishes I criticized probably won’t bother you. The card only having four matches on the show was kinda weird, and a five match card in total is something that I wouldn’t have been too eager to make the hike out to Uniondale for. The event itself took a bath with a not so hot crowd of only 6,000 (another bad sign for the coming year) many of whom missed the first half of the show because the tickets had the wrong start time of 7:30 instead of 6:30…..oof. It’s things like that where you can see why Vince and the WWF/E have managed to outlast everyone else. It also didn’t help that Vince ran a free show on USA Network, a little thing called the first Royal Rumble, during the same time for obvious reasons. Crockett and Dusty would get some payback by running the first Clash of the Champions on TBS for free opposite WrestleMania IV, but that wasn’t enough to stem the tide that had been building.

But as far as this show? It’s worth a watch for sure.

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