Retro Recap – Clash of the Champions 8

This recap is brought to you by the quarantine! Yeah, I was looking for something I hadn’t watched in a while and I settled on this one. I was a big NWA fan back in the day so I saw this when it happened, but I haven’t watched it in a long time. The Clash shows after the first one had turned towards angle advancement first but this one managed to focus more on the matches themselves as several of them were de facto blowoff matches to the feuds that had been going on the past few months. This was an interesting year for the NWA in that it was one of their best year as far as their booking and in ring product but it wasn’t being reflected at the box office outside a few shows. Houses were down all year, which is all you need to know about how the quality of a company’s product may or may not be reflected in their receipts. Their stuff from 1989 was not only really good in the moment but it holds up very well 31 years later.

But there was a lot of roster turnover that year and a lot of old familiar names were gone like Dusty Rhodes, Ronnie Garvin, Barry Windham, Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson were gone to the WWF while some returning names like Ricky Steamboat and Junkyard Dog came and went and guys like Bam Bam Bigelow were gone before they got going good. Having their midcard hollowed out and losing a big name like Rhodes gone were big blows and their replacements were largely a bunch of guys who were young and hungry but hadn’t built up a rapport with the existing fanbase. The other thing was that the new aesthetic for the company post Turner takeover was not sitting well with loyal NWA fans – trying to be WWF lite after years of being the grittier, realer alternative just was not a good move; for the first of several times after taking over the Turner folks just did not get who their company’s core fanbase was

This show was essentially a bridge from the summer’s very successful Great American Bash show and the next pay per view, the first ever Halloween Havoc. The were some feuds to close out and others to move along. Ric Flair and Terry Funk were still going strong while Sting and The Great Muta was heating up. The Steiners had gotten their legs as a tag team and were challenging the Freebirds for the World Tag Team Titles. And Lex Luger was defending the US Title against Tommy Rich, who was filling in for Steamboat after his abrupt departure. And then lastly there was business to finish between the Road Warriors and Samoan Swat Team, and Steve Dr. Death Williams and Mike Rotundo. So how did all turn out? Let’s see.

The Road Warriors vs The Samoan Swat Team

This is the first of the blowoff matches on the show. Hawk and Animal were feuding with the Samoans all summer and were on opposing teams in the Wargames match at the Great Amercian Bash in July (see what I said about that here). Four big guys who were brawlers and power guys, sometimes that works out and you get a good hoss fight and sometimes you get a sloppy, plodding kind of match that stinks. This one was the former. They kept it to six minutes and some change and everyone landed clean, good looking shots on each other. Hawk even did a good job playing face in peril for a bit and sold the Samoans stuff pretty well. Good, hot opener that popped the crowd to start things off.

Hawk and Animal at this point were better workers than they had been before but weren’t as menacing either. It’s one of the things that was lost in going to the shinier, happier kind of look for the whole product. Not that they didn’t still look like some tough ass kickers but those darker arenas added something extra to their overall presentation that I don’t think they ever got back. A few other things of note here. Fatu of the SST is of course Rikishi of WWE fame, and it’s fun to see him here now knowing that in 10 years he’d be doing a complete 180. And Paul Heyman, under his old name Paul E. Dangerously with not just the ponytail that he would keep for way too long but a near full head of hair and the old brick phone. Ah, the 80s.

Tom Zenk vs The Cuban Assassin

This was Zenk’s debut in the NWA, and as part of their WWF lite direction they were billing him as the Z-Man………yeahhhhh………that sucked. Cuban Assassin was a journeyman jobber to the stars. I didn’t watch this, I’ll admit it. Matches like this weren’t much fun in 1989 and have very little rewatch value in 2020. Zenk was always the less charismatic partner to his former and then future tag team partners like Rick Martel and Brian Pillman, and it was evident even here. And because Zenk had neither a whole lot of personality or real devastating/spectacular moves these kind of matches – competitive, but obviously meant to showcase the one guy – were and still are pretty boring.

Sid Vicious vs Ranger Ross

And here we have the opposite end of the showcase spectrum. Sid Vicious was on the Mount Rushmore of squash match killers. While he was never more than an ok worker and disappointed often in big matches when he got to toss some smaller dudes around to the point that you were legit worried for their safety few were better. And Sid had that it factor, that aura that just energized crowds when he stepped through the curtain. Ross was a jobber to the stars, a nice enough guy but with a pretty low ceiling. He got a little offense in but ultimately got murdered here. Short and to the point, this match was a quick outing to showcase Sid against someone who was a bit above the typical Saturday morning jobbers. Like every company he worked for the people in charge saw money in Sid and you could tell that the eventual plan was to split him from his tag partner Dan Spivey and give him a solo run. And just like every other place that employed him they would soon be let down for a number of reasons from injuries to Sid just not giving enough of a damn to reach his potential.

NWA World Tag Team Title Match: The Freebirds (c) vs Rick and Scott Steiner

This match was a step in the ascension of the Steiner Bros to the top of the tag team ladder. After getting past The Varsity Club at the Bash in July they’d gelled really well and were ready to become a big deal. At this point Rick was still the considered the bigger prospect of the two but Scott was making major progress really quickly and was mainstreaming moves like the hurricanrana (which would be dubbed the Franksteiner), fallaway slam, and double underhook power bomb. Rick had the clotheslines and the suplexes. These things are fairly commonplace today but in 1989 they were brand new in the US. The Steiners had started a feud with the Freebirds over the World Tag Team Titles and there was also a sidebar angle of Rick’s relationship with a young fan Robin Green (more on that in a minute). The Steiners were normally accompanied to the ring by Missy Hyatt and recently Robin had been joining them as well. Those were fun times if you were 14 years old…if you get it, you get it.

This was one of the longer matches of the night and it was a good one. Everyone did well and the crowd was hot for it. While not the best version of the Freebirds, Michael Hayes and Jimmy Garvin weren’t bad and made for perfectly good heel champions. The ending of this match was angle advancement; Scott went to the ropes and was tripped coming off them which led to him stumbling into a DDT to take the pin. In a rare moment of good camera work they kept the shot tight enough so that us watching at home could not see who did it. Scott thought it was Robin and pointed the finger at her while Rick was adamant that his girl wouldn’t do that and blamed Missy. Within a few weeks we’d find out that it indeed was Robin and she’d turn on Rick and align herself with a new team, Doom, who would face the Steiners the next month at Halloween Havoc (which I talked about here). Good match, good storyline development here.

Flyin Brian Pillman vs Norman the Lunatic

Pillman had been on a tear since his debut in July and Norman was a member of Teddy Long’s stable along with Vicious and Dan Spivey. They’d been working the house shows against each other and this was of blowoff match of sorts. This match was short, under four minutes, but both men managed to get a lot of stuff in and told a good story over that time in what was a good big man (Norman) vs smaller man (Pillman) match.

Dr Death Steve Williams vs Mike Rotundo

This was another blowoff match. Williams had been kicked out of the Varsity Club faction and was feuding with Rotundo who was the last man standing in the group. Basically, Dr Death needed something to do so they gave him this. And it was just kinda there. Match was fine, but totally inconsequential as Doc rode his win here to……spinning his wheels until he left in a few months, while Rotundo was downshifted to putting people over. This was basically a filler match, they didn’t have much else they could have run in this spot based on who was available.

U.S. Title Match: Lex Luger (c) vs Tommy Rich

And we’re at the last blowoff match of the night. These two had been working the house shows since Steamboat left the company, and this was the last chapter here. Luger was in the middle of his peak as an in ring worker. From late 1988 through 1991 he was performing at a level that far preceded his reputation. Now a lot was due to the quality of his opponents, particularly Flair and Steamboat, but there were also matches like this one in there so you have to give him some credit for it all. Rich wasn’t a bad worker, but he was a bit past his prime here and was better at the nuances of the game than the big, splashy stuff. Add it all up and you got a pretty good, entertaining match here. Luger would move on to his next challenger in Pillman and Rich would head down to putting people over like Rotundo.

Main Event: Ric Flair and Sting vs The Great Muta and Dick Slater

Slater was a kayfabe fill in for Terry Funk here; throughout the show Funk and Muta’s manager Gary Hart was telling the backstage interviewers that Funk was in the hospital due to injury and they even did a remote interview with Funk in a hospital bed to put it over. Now if you were new to the game here it was a great work but if knew how things turned out then you knew it was all a ruse and that Funk would show up in the building at some point. Now Funk did have a legit injury that kept him off the road for a bit, where Slater was filling for him against Flair, so it wasn’t a total work. But it was easy to smell a trap being set here by Funk and Hart. That doesn’t mean it was bad, just that it would come down to the execution. And that part went great, but first to the match itself.

Sting was red hot here, and Flair working face was still going well. The initial weirdness of seeing Ric Flair as a sympathetic figure had worn off and he was doing pretty well as a fighting champion. The feud with Funk was a good one and bringing in Sting and Muta’s beef to make it a two on two deal was smart. Muta was ahead of his time in 1989, bringing some things that are common today like the handspring elbow and moonsault to the forefront for the first time. He was a true wonder to see and it really felt like he was holding back so that everyone else could keep up with him, because he often stuck to five or six things every match when it seemed like he could do more. Slater was an old veteran and while he wasn’t much in the way of offense he sold the hell out of everything Flair and Sting hit him with. This was a good entertaining match and the crowd was hot for it. And then when the moment came, Funk appeared and tried to choke Flair out with a plastic bag! It was a pretty dastardly moment and pretty effective to keep the heat going for the feud.

Final Verdict

The aftermath of the main event would lead to the first ever electrified cage match at the next pay per view, Halloween Havoc, and to a final blowoff in an I Quit match at the next Clash in November, and all the important players on this show would have a match there as well. Good show here. The matches were all well worked and the finishes were all good to either end the feuds or keep them going. Some Clashes leaned way too much into angle advancement and not enough having a good, satisfying card but this was not one of them. This is definitely worth checking out if you’re interested.

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