Throwback Thursday: Looking back at NWA Clash of the Champions

Each and every Thursday I will look back at a different pay-per-view event from the past via the WWE Network. Want to see a certain event covered? Send your suggestions to @VaughnMJohnson on Twitter.

Last time, I covered the WWE Backlash 2004.

NWA Clash of the Champions

Date: March 27, 1988

Venue: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C.

Some random notes

Since WWE Clash of Champions is happening this Sunday, I figured it would be appropriate to review the event that was the inspiration behind the name WWE is using today.

Since WWE removed the “the” from the event’s title it’s slightly different. On top of that, WWE doesn’t seem to be acknowledging the event’s lineage, which is not surprising given WWE has no qualms about revising or blatantly disregarding history.

In some ways it makes sense, as Clash of the Champions was never a pay-per-view. It was a live television special on Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) that Jim Crockett Promotions put on to compete against WrestleMania 4. The two events went head-to-head on the same night.

On commentary for the event were Tony Schiavone, Bob Caudle and WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross.

At one point of the show, Frances Crockett, the younger sister of Jim Crockett Jr., announced the top 10 the seeds for the second annual Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup, which was a tag team tournament where the winning team received $1 million.

NXT currently uses a similar concept with the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, but obviously doesn’t reward the winning team $1 million.

Sting and Lex Luger won that year’s tournament.

Schiavone mentioned on multiple occasions that there were “standby matches” just in case the main matches didn’t fill out the television time slot. I had never heard of such a thing.

With that said, let’s get to the matches.

NWA World Television championship (College Rules match) – Mike Rotunda def. Jimmy Garvin

This match was contested under collegiate wrestling rules, which meant there were three five-minute rounds and the wrestlers only needed a one count to win instead of a three count.

These rules were put in place at the behest of former collegiate wrestler Rotunda, who wrestled at Syracuse University and was one of the members of the famed Varsity Club faction alongside Kevin Sullivan and at that point only Rick and Scott Steiner.

The Steiner brothers both wrestled at the University of Michigan. In case you didn’t know, Rotunda is the father of current WWE stars Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas.

Although the match was under “college rules,” strikes were still allowed in the contest. Rotunda began the match by using his wrestling prowess to his advantage, but both men eventually threw punches.

Sullivan attempted to jump in the ring, but Precious, Garvin’s valet, thwarted him. Sullivan eventually got his hands on Precious, which prompted Garvin to run over to take care of Sullivan.

However, this allowed Rotunda to roll up Garvin for the one count to retain his television title.

The fireworks were just getting started though, as Rick Steiner ran down to keep Garvin away from Rotunda and Sullivan, but Precious took matters into her own hands.

Precious jumped into the ring with 2x4 and hit Rick Steiner in the back.

She then took a coat hanger and began choking out Sullivan. The fans couldn’t contain themselves they were so happy to see this.

Garvin eventually crawled over to get Precious off Sullivan or else that might have been the last we ever saw of him. I’m not sure Precious would have let up on that coat hanger.

NWA United States Tag Team championship – The Midnight Express def. The Fantastics

If you grew up a fan of only the WWE, you’re probably unfamiliar with Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers, collectively known as The Fantastics, but they were one of the more popular tag teams in the NWA during the 1980s.

One of the few teams that topped The Fantastics in popularity (and probably the only) was The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express.

Because this was a match between two teams that did not like each other, the match didn’t start with a lock-up and chain wrestling. The Fantastics hit the ring and began throwing punches and swinging steel chairs.

This is something that is lost in WWE today, in my opinion. Far too often do we see matches between supposed bitter rivals start off with a lock-up. Even in cage matches or even in a Hell in a Cell, the matches sometimes start of with basic chain wrestling.

If two sides really don’t like each other, they’re not going to try to out-wrestle each other. They’re going to fight each other as soon as the bell rings.

Eventually, things began to resemble an actual wrestling match, as both teams settled into their respective corners.

I think the crowd was alive for the entirety of the contest, which was a testament to how over both teams were at this time.

The Midnight Express used time-honored heel tag team tactics to isolate Rogers away from Fulton. The Fantastics even landed a tag that the referee didn’t see.

When the referee ran over to stop Fulton from getting involved in the match, Stan Lane and Bobby Eaton had Rogers set up to receive the wrong end of Jim Cornette’s tennis racket.

Fulton took matters into his own hands and tossed the official out of the ring and cleaned house. The Fantastics eventually hit the rocket launcher and pinned Eaton. A second referee jumped into the ring and counted to three, making everyone believe that The Fantastics had just won the United States Tag Team titles.

But as was often the case in the NWA, the original official disqualified The Fantastics and reversed the decision, meaning that The Midnight Expressed escaped with the titles once again.

The Midnight Express celebrated their victory by hitting everyone in sight with Cornette’s tennis racket and even his belt.

Barbed wire match – The Road Warriors & Dusty Rhodes def. The Powers of Pain & Ivan Koloff

People may think barbed wire matches became popular in Extreme Championship Wrestling, but here they were a decade earlier in the NWA. As tradition of a barbed wire match, the ring ropes were wrapped in barbed wire. The barbed wire even nicked Koloff as he was just getting into the ring.

Road Warrior Animal started the match with a hockey mask on because his eye was apparently damaged in storyline. He looked like Jason Voorhees, which I guess was fitting since the Friday the 13th movie franchise was at its peak in the late 1980s.

This match didn’t last very long, as Animal pinned The Warlord in less than 10 minutes. After the match, Animal’s protective mask was knocked off, which allowed The Powers of Pain to hit him in the eye with a chain.

They pummeled Animal’s eye until Rhodes and Hawk saved him from further damage.

NWA World Tag Team championship – Lex Luger & Barry Windham def. Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard

Luger wasn’t known to be in the class of Blanchard, Anderson and Windham in the ring, but he could hold his own when he was in there with that level of talent.

The match itself was a classic tag team contest, which was the norm for the 1980s. Both WWE and the NWA had tremendous tag team wrestling at the time. It was truly a golden age for tag teams.

When Luger and Windham won the titles, the roof came off the Greensboro Coliseum. You would have thought the Tar Heels or the Blue Devils had won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in basketball or something.

It was March after all. Maybe the fans in Greensboro were in a madness-type of mood.

A side note, Anderson and Blanchard left Jim Crockett Promotions later that year, as they both went to WWE to become The Brain Busters.

NWA World Heavyweight championship – Ric Flair vs. Sting went to a time-limit draw

The NWA wanted to accomplish a good deal in this match and had to have the right people involved in order to get it done.

The NWA realized that it had a rising star on its hands in Sting. He was young, handsome, built like an Adonis, and had a wild and unique look with the charisma to match.

He wasn’t the most polished wrestler in the world, but he was very popular amongst the fans and that had to be taken advantage of.

The NWA decided to put him in the main event of the Clash of the Champions, but since this was merely a television special, it didn’t really want to have the world title to change hands. That was to be saved for a bigger event.

But how do you have Sting not win the world title, but somehow keep the mountain of momentum he had built up to that point?

The answer: Put him in the ring with Flair and have him wrestle to a 45 time-limit draw.

Why Flair? Well, Flair was the champion, but he also had a knack for making people look like a million bucks while maintaining his status as the No. 1 man in the industry.

At the risk of sounding like Ross venting on his podcast, the use of time limits is a truly lost art in WWE today because it takes away one of the best ways to keep a feud going, the time-limit draw.

Want to make a guy look strong without having him being pinned? Have him wrestle to a time-limit draw. Want to determine someone is worthy of a title shot without having to actually pin the champion? Have them wrestle to a time-limit draw.

It’s that simple. Plus, what sporting event besides baseball doesn’t have some type of clock involved? Every combat sport does. WWE not using them only makes it seem less realistic, as the matches always seem to magically reach their conclusion when its time to go off the air.

Before we get into the meat of the match, let’s set up the circumstances here. The time limit was only 45 minutes because the match was on television. Had it not been on regular television, the time limit would have been 60.

The ring announcer said before the match there must be a winner. In case of a draw there were five judges placed at ringside to decide the winner because, as the ring announcer said, there must be a winner.

The funny thing was that only two of those judges had ties to the wrestling industry. The other three were celebrities.

I understand tying in celebrities in an effort to bring in mainstream attention, but having them decide the World Heavyweight championship match is kind of silly.

Gary Juster, who was on the NWA board of directors and is still involved with Ring of Honor today, and Sandy Scott, who wrestled in the NWA, were the two judges with wrestling connections.

The three celebrities were Patty Mullen, Ken Osmond and Jason Hervey.

Mullen was a model that had earned Pet of the Year honors for 1988.

Osmond was famous for playing Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver and The New Leave it to Beaver, which was moving to TBS that year.

Hervey was known from playing Wayne Arnold on The Wonder Years. His love of professional wrestling led him to forge a friendship with Eric Bischoff. The pair now runs a television production company together called Bischoff/Hervey Entertainment or BHE TV.

Flair’s manager J.J. Dillon was placed in a cage that was suspended high above the ring so that he could interfere in the match.

From the beginning of the match the mission was clear: Make Sting look like a credible threat to defeat Flair. Only about half of Flair’s offense registered on Sting and the few times Flair had the advantage it came after a mistake on Sting’s part.

I lost count of how many times Flair yelled “Nooo!!!” because he was begging off from Sting so much.

Eventually, time had run out for these two and it was left for the judges to decide the winner because there must be a winner.

Mullen ruled the match in favor of Flair. However, Juster ruled it for Sting. Scott, on the other hand, didn’t rule the match in favor of anyone and declared it a draw.

For whatever reason, they never announced what decision Hervey or Osmond came to. I guess it didn’t matter. Crockett Promotions got the finish it wanted, which was keeping the title on Flair without beating Sting.

Kudos has to go to Flair for giving as much as he did to Sting during the match. Flair was already a five-time world champion by this point and didn’t have to give anyone anything.

Instead, he knew that Sting was a budding star and could use the proverbial rub, so he allowed Sting to bounce him around the ring for 45 minutes in an effort to get him even more over than he already was.

Kudos must also go to Sting for stepping up in the biggest match of his career to that point. He could have wilted under the pressure of going 45 minutes with the world’s heavyweight champion, but he came through when he had to.

As the end credits rolled, you might have noticed that the senior producer of the event was Virgil Runnels, which, of course, was the real name of Dusty Rhodes.

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