In 1985, promoter Jim Crockett Jr. came up with an idea for a summer wrestling spectacular called the Great American Bash. One of the most anticipated events on the wrestling calendar in the 80’s, the Bash has survived the inept booking of Dusty Rhodes, the exodus of Ric Flair and a two-year sabbatical and celebrates its 14th anniversary this Sunday on pay-per-view.
The history of the Great American Bash is a storied and sordid tale of a once proud regional promotion and its journey into corporate America. Jim Crockett Jr’s Mid-Atlantic territory was the cornerstone of the fledgling National Wrestling Alliance during the ’80s. The single most underrated promoter in history, Crockett had a flair for staging major wrestling productions that drew the best talent from around the world. Crockett routinely presented the best wrestling cards in the U.S. with a stacked line-up from opening match to main event. The Great American was a shining example of Crockett’s ingenuity as a promoter.
It all started on July 6th, 1985, in Charlotte, NC, the home base of Jim Crockett Promotions. On that historic afternoon, 30,000 fans jammed into Memorial stadium to watch NWA World Champion Ric Flair defeated Nikita Koloff by DQ in a special grudge match with play-by-play man David Crockett serving as the special referee. The under-card included a star studded roster as Jim Crockett secured the services of AWA World tag-team champs as the Road Warriors battled NWA World tag-team champs Ivan Koloff and Krusher Kruschev (Barry Darsow) to a DDQ and Dusty Rhodes defeated nemesis Tully Blanchard in a Steel Cage match.
The show was such a critical and financial success for Crockett that the following year he came up with the bright idea of staging an entire Great American Bash tour. His idea was simple: the top stars of the NWA would compete in marquee matches in major markets across the U.S. as the major feuds unfolded out as the tour progressed.
Several major story lines played out during the first Bash tour in 1986. The question on everybody’s mind was whether or not World Champion Ric Flair, who decided to take on the ambitious task of facing 14 different wrestlers during a 30 day period, would make it to the end of the Bash with the title. After Flair went through the likes of Ronnie Garvin, Magnum TA, Wahoo MacDaniel, Ricky Morton and Nikita Koloff, Dusty Rhodes eventually up ended the Nature Boy on July 26th in Greensboro, NC, in a steel cage match to win the title. Dusty’s reign was short-lived, however, as Flair would regain the title on August 9th in St Louis, MO.
1986 also saw the drama of the famous Nikita Koloff vs Magnum TA feud. Magnum was stripped of the U.S. Heavyweight title in May and NWA President Bob Geigel ordered a best of seven series between Magnum and Koloff to fill the vacancy. Tensions built as the two traded wins and momentum switched before Koloff vanquished the former champion in the seventh and deciding match on August 17th in Charlotte, NC.
War Games debuted at the 1987 tour as the SuperPowers (Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff) teamed with the Road Warriors and manager Paul Ellering faced The Four Horsemen (Flair, Blanchard, Arn Anderson and Lex Luger and manager J.J. Dillion) in this specialty match. Close to 15,000 fans packed Atlanta’s Omni on July 4th to watch the carnage as Road Warrior Animal forced a bloody and beaten Dillon to submit.
The Great American Bash made its debut on PPV in 1988. In one of the all time screw jobs that will never be forgotten, Ric Flair retained his NWA World title against Lex Luger when a ringside doctor stopped the match when Luger began bleeding from his head. Making matters worse is that Luger had Flair in the Torture Rack at the time and when referee called for the bell the crowd erupted into pandemonium. Little did they know they were about to have their hopes dashed as a new twist on the legendary Dusty Finish kept the title around Flair’s waist.
Jim Crockett, facing near bankruptcy, sold his company in late 1988 and the Ted Turner Era began. Jim’s brother David, vice-president with Jim Crockett Promotions, was kept on staff and remains with the company to this day as VP of production. After canceling the Jim Crockett Memorial Tag Team Tournament, there was a great fear that the Great American Bash, another event started by Jim Crockett Jr., would fall by the wayside under the Turner regime.
The Bash lived on with another tour and 1989’s PPV broadcast stands as the greatest wrestling pay-per-view ever. In the main event, Ric Flair defeated Terry Funk in an epic match and was followed by a great post-match brawl involving Flair, Sting, Funk and The Great Muta. The under-card was action packed as U.S. Champion Lex Luger defeated Ricky Steamboat by DQ, Sting fought The Great Muta to a draw and The Road Warriors, The Midnight Express and Steve Williams defeated The Fabulous Freebirds and The Samoan Swat Team in WarGames.
With a year of experience under their belts, the Turner executives flexed their muscles and replaced an aging Ric Flair as NWA World Champion with Sting at the 1990 PPV broadcast.
The under-card featured Vader, in his American debut, defeating Tom Zenk and Lex Luger retaining his U.S. Heavyweight title against “Mean” Mark Callous, a wrestler who go on to achieving a fair bit of fame as The Undertaker.
Controversy rocked the 1991 Great American Bash as Ric Flair was fired by WCW a mere two weeks before the PPV show. Flair had been negotiating a contract extension with WCW Executive Producer Jim Herd in June and Herd wanted to cut his salary in half. Feeling he wasn’t getting anywhere in his negotiations, Flair no-showed an Atlanta TV taping where he was scheduled to drop the title to Barry Windham. The next day, Herd fired Flair for breach of contract, thus ending Flair’s 16-year association with the company. The Ric Flair era in the NWA/WCW was officially over.
WCW had a hard time telling that to its fans at the 1991 PPV broadcast. Having witnessed several of Flair’s historic matches and Baltimore being an NWA/WCW stronghold, fans inside the Baltimore Arena that evening disrupted the telecast with loud, boisterous chants of “We Want Flair”, telling Jim Herd and his gaggle of corporate stooges exactly what they thought of Flair’s release.
The NWA returned to national prominence in 1992. The Bash PPV broadcast that year served as a tournament to crown NWA World Tag team champions. Terry Gordy and Steve Williams defeated Barry Windham and Dustin Rhodes in the finals while Vader claimed his first World title, upsetting Sting in the main event.
The Great American Bash was missing in action for two years before returning in 1995 when WCW’s prodigal son Ric Flair, making his triumphant Great American Bash return, defeated Randy Savage in the main event.
The 1996 PPV broadcast helped usher in a new era in WCW. Kevin Nash and Scott Hall had debuted the previous month on Nitro and the Bash was to be their first appearance on a WCW PPV. And they made the most of it.
In an angle that will go down as one of the all time greatest, Hall and Nash pummeled Eric Bischoff before sending him crashing through a wooden table 10 feet below the ramp leading to the stage! That single angle laid the groundwork for the formation of the N.W.O., while the classic tilt between Rey Misterio Jr and Dean Malenko put the cruiserweight division on the map, helping to swing the tide in the heated wrestling war away from the WWF and into WCW’s favor.
The past two PPV telecasts have been non-descript, plagued by uninspired booking and unimaginative matches. This year’s card doesn’t appear to be breaking from that trend. Still, it’s important to never lose sight of the spirit, genius and promotional gusto that Jim Crockett Jr. exhibited his entire career. His is a promotional legacy that gave us the original supercard, Starrcade, and the idea about promoting seasonal events. Before there was ever a SummerSlam, there was The Great American Bash.
Top 10 Great American Bash Moments
- 1. The wild brawl between Ric Flair and Terry Funk following their match in 1989.
- 2. Ric Flair’s arrival via helicopter in Charlotte Memorial Stadium in 1985.
- 3. The deafening “We want Flair” chants during the 1991 PPV telecast.
- 4. A deranged fan attempts to scale the cage and attack Flair after he beat Jim Garvin in Greensboro, NC. Due to a pre-match stipulation Flair won a dream date with Garvin’s valet (and wife) Precious.
- 5. Nikita Koloff standing over a bloody Magnum TA after winning the best of 7 series to determine a new U.S. Champion in 1986.
- 6. The original Four Horsemen attacking Dusty Rhodes in a parking lot in St Louis prior to his match with Ric Flair during the 1986 tour.
- 7. Kevin Nash power-bombing Eric Bischoff through a wood table at 1996’s PPV telecast.
- 8. Ric Flair calling Road Warrior Hawk “Chicago, gutter trash” prior to their match in Philadelphia during the 1987 tour.
- 9. Lex Luger being screwed out of the title in a new twist on the “Dusty Finish” at the 1988 PPV telecast.
- 10. J.J. Dillon being carted out of the ring after competing in the first WarGames match in Atlanta’s Omni on July 4th, 1987.
Top 10 Great American Bash Matches
- 1. Ric Flair defeats Terry Funk on July 23rd, 1989 on PPV in Baltimore, MD.
- 2. Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, The Road Warriors and Paul Ellering defeat The Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger and J.J. Dillon) in the first War Games on July 4th, 1987 in Atlanta, GA.
- 3. Ric Flair defeats Nikita Koloff on July 6th, 1985 in Charlotte, NC.
- 4. Ric Flair defeats Jimmy Garvin in a steel cage match on July 16th, 1987 in Greensboro, NC.
- 5. The Road Warriors, Midnight Express and Steve Williams defeat Michael Hayes, Jimmy Garvin, Terry Gordy and the Samoan Swat Team in War Games on July 23rd, 1989 on PPV in Baltimore, MD.
- 6. Dean Malenko defeats Rey Misterio Jr to retain the WCW Cruiserweight title on July 14th, 1996 on PPV in Baltimore, MD.
- 7. Dusty Rhodes defeats Tully Blanchard in a barbwire match on July 18th, 1987 in Charlotte, NC.
- 8. Ric Flair defeats Lex Luger on July 10th, 1988 on PPV in Baltimore, MD.
- 9. Tully Blanchard defeats Ronnie Garvin in a taped first match on August 2md, 1986 in Atlanta, GA.
- 10. Nikita Koloff defeats Magnum TA in the seventh match of their series to determine a new U.S. Champion on August 16th, 1986 in Greensboro, NC.