We’re back! After taking a month off because of other engagements, the PPV Throwback is…well…back. I hope within the next few weeks to get last month’s piece finished, if only because it was a very good choice that played perfectly into the May selection of Slamboree 2000.
Unlike the piece that came out in May, this PPV doesn’t really require all that much setup. One thing of note, though, is that while Slamboree 2000 was in WCW’s dying days, the 1989 Great American Bash took place in its infancy. The history of WCW is very long, and often convoluted. And that history has been written about hundreds of times by people more versed in the matter than myself. I say early in the WCW days because the Ted Turner purchase in late 1988 is what is regarded as being the unofficial official start of the company. With the struggles of the NWA and its many territories after Vince McMahon took the WWF national and launched his PPV empire with WrestleMania, 1989 would prove to be a very pivotal and transitive year down south.
Since all of the events the PPV Throwback focuses on each month are viewed on the WWE Network, most of the footage is very dependent on how well the archives were kept. In the case of WCW, it wasn’t kept well. And that’s mainly because of the massive vault it brings with it. Each week WCW programming would broadcast multiple shows on WTBS which lead to some material being lost in time, or in the case of the 1989 Great American Bash, at least some problems in the recording and preservation. WWE Network acknowledges this at the start of the broadcast with a nice message stating the PPV is represented in the most complete form possible. Which is an incredible thing to try and wrap your brain around in the current day and age.
The show itself kicked off with an incredible late 80’s graphic and voice over. You can check it out over here. It is truly something to behold. We make it through that and are greeted by the voices of Jim Ross and Bob Caudle to kick things off. Full disclosure: I have no idea why, but I have zero recollection of Caudle. I know I should remember him, but I honestly had to fire up the Google machine to jog my memory.
Kicking off the show is a two-ring King of the Hill battle royal, I tell ya what. Unfortunately, the winner’s prize won’t be sweet lady propane. Instead the match is for $50,000. Or maybe it’s $15,000. I honestly think it flip-flops between the two multiple times over the course of the match. The rules for this debacle were so convoluted I had to go back multiple times to try and decipher just what the heck was going on. And even then I wasn’t exactly sure what I was watching. It took a few minutes to finally figure it out once the action kicked off.
Oh, I guess I should also go back and point out with a WarGames match later in the card, the entire event took place with two rings situated side-by-side. So that’s where the two-ring bit comes in for the title of the match. In case that wasn’t clear.
Anyways, J.R. explains that the mass of wrestlers in the ring are the finalists. Of what? I’m not quite sure, because it really just looks like the guys already on the card, plus a few others. Among those others is a completely unrecognizable Scott Hall–he of nWo and Razor Ramon fame. As far as I know, this was the only appearance he would make in WCW during this initial run. Why was he so unrecognizable? Well, the slicked back Bad Guy who would ooze machismo a handful of years later was stuck dead in the middle of the muscle-bound, huge hair, mustachioed look of the times. That boy ain’t right.
So, the match kicks off with fourteen guys taking up one ring. “But there are two rings, Brandon. Why are they only in one?” You may be asking. Well, dear reader, that’s part of the gimmick here. Once a wrestler is eliminated from the first ring, they then go to the second ring, where the rules function as though it were a regular battle royal. I told you it was confusing. From there, the final wrestlers in the first ring would then match-up with the final wrestlers in the second ring. It’s been 26 years and I don’t think anyone can make sense of its purpose. I guess it would’ve just been too easy to split the group down the middle, throw seven guys in each ring and then cut it down to the final two guys. Nah, that would be too obvious.
I really don’t have all that much to say about the match besides the fact it was confusing as hell and a total waste of everyone’s time. Why? Because Sid Vicious and Dangerous Dan Spivey would be the final two participants, and since they made up the team of The Skyscrapers, they refused to fight one another, and the whole thing was a wash. No got dang way. Thanks for wasting fifteen minutes for a build to nothing at all. Also could’ve used some pocket sand.
Before we head off to the card’s second match, Gordon Solie was performing backstage interviews as the card progressed, and the first one of the evening was with Theodore Long. If you’ve followed the sport at any point in the past thirty years, you probably know who Teddy Long is. Doom, The Skyscrapers, Ice Train, a referee turned manager turned General Manager in WWE–you name it, he’s been there. Why do I say all of this? Because the man had a black mullet so glorious its likeness should be flown from federal buildings to this day.
It always amazes me whenever I go back and watch old WCW events just how over with the crowd Brian Pillman was. He truly was one of those transcendent talents who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time when it came to reaching the height of his potential. During the apex of his career, he was the juniorweight in a world full of heavyweights. Nowadays, weight and physical stature have almost no impact on who runs at the top of the card. But back before the industry was revolutionized by the likes of Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart during the start of the WWF Attitude era, you weren’t in the main event unless you were a legacy name or were big enough to throw people around the ring.
Pillman brought it all. He was trained by the infamous Stu Hart in the equally infamous Hart Dungeon in Calgary that produced the entire Hart family and helped mold Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Lance Storm, and tons of other marquee names over the past four decades. While most people remember Pillman as a high flyer, working memorable matches with the likes of Jushin Liger and others in the Light Heavyweight division, it’s often overlooked how versed he was at classical mat work–a testament to his time in Calgary.
Unfortunately, none of that was on display here.
Pillman’s opponent for the evening was a wrestler by the name of Bill Irwin. While he cut his teeth in WCCW under Skandor Akbar, he’s remembered by most modern fans for a ridiculous gimmick he had in the wonderful pre-Attitude, gimmick-driven WWF. You see, at the time, the WWF was trotting out characters under just about every profession imaginable–Garbage Man, Repo Man, Canadian Mounted Police, Circus Clown, the list goes on and on. Irwin? A hockey player known as The Goon. God truly blessed us all when we were given that painful yet unforgettable era.
The match pretty much consisted of Irwin throwing Pillman out of the ring every couple of minutes and rest holds aplenty. The finish of the match was a very nice spot. Pillman hit a flying crossbody from the top turnbuckle of one ring onto Irwin in the opposite ring. It looked good, but it hardly made up for the trainwreck of a match. Overall, it was just underwhelming because we got to see very little of why Pillman was so energetic and captivating.
Backstage we go again Gordon Solie after the match. His guest? The always polarizing Paul E. Dangerously (real name: Paul Heyman). I could write anthologies about how much I absolutely love Paul–be it as a manager, as the man behind ECW, commentator, his current role as advocate for Brock Lesnar. It doesn’t matter. Heyman is the top of the mountain for me. The true standard bearer for what a mouthpiece should be. In this interview, he’s going off on fellow manager Jim Cornette. I don’t want to spoil the build to what happens between the two later in the night just yet, so I’ll just say there has never been anyone as captivating as Paul on the mic.
Man. Seriously. The Dynamic Dudes. You know how old, disconnected people like to form their own completely off-base stereotype of the cool kids of the time? Every generation has seen it. Take a couple aspects, ramp them up to about 100, and make them completely outrageous. That, my friends, is The Dynamic Dudes and the perception of kids in the late 80’s and early 90’s. They are out wearing plenty of neon and pastels. Highlighter bright baseball caps. Oh, and they actually grabbed a kid out of the front row to start throwing a frisbee with during their entrance. You couldn’t make this shit up if you tried.
Who were these rambunctious cool kids? Johnny Ace and Shane Douglas. Douglas I touched on previously in the Slamboree piece, so I’ll skip over his importance in shaping the modern landscape of wrestling. But Johnny Ace has always been a guy just behind the curtain playing a huge part. Recent fans know him as an on-air authority figure of the past decade under his real name, John Laurinaitis. At this point he was still very green, and was being partnered with the equally green and babyfaced Douglas. It wasn’t until Laurinaitis went to All Japan Pro Wrestling the following year that he truly reached the height of his in-ring success. Once he retired from in-ring action and began working behind the scenes for WCW, and later WWF, he truly became an influential and recognizable face to US fans.
On the other side of the rings were Sid Vicious and Dangerous Dan Spivey from the aforementioned King of the Hill Battle Royal, I tell ya what.
Dangerous Dan Spivey had a stare that I still have nightmares about. Seriously. Pre-pubescent Brandon was permanently scarred by how frightening Spivey was during his run with the Skyscrapers. He was almost like a man possessed, his look was so terrifying. Sid, on the other hand, has always been a bumbling doofus. Sure, he was huge and imposing. Sure, his powerbomb was one of the best in the business. But let the man open his mouth and he sounds like an excited toddler who just can’t focus on the words he wants to relay. The promos he cut over the course of his career are the stuff of legend. If by some grace of God I was to become head of programming for the WWE Network, my first order of business would be to do an episode of Countdown with the ten best (worst?) Sid promos.
The unfortunate thing about this incarnation of The Skyscrapers was the fact it was a few months before the duo became Spivey and another tall gentleman known as Mean Mark Callous. While Callous’ time with WCW would end up lackluster, amazing things were coming. A little over a year after becoming a Skyscraper, he’d take on one of the greatest gimmicks in the history of the business and cement himself as a true legend. The man who would become The Dead Man, WWF’s The Undertaker, just never could get things off the ground in WCW. But I’ve strayed on a bit of a tangent here.
This match ended up being another stinker. Spivey threw around Ace and Douglas for about five minutes. The Dudes were never allowed to build any kind of momentum. Sid made a brief appearance in the ring. And Spivey proceeded to almost break Ace’s neck with a horribly botched powerbomb to finish things off.
Really the only highlight was The Skyscrapers manager Teddy Long parading around the ring before the match with the King of the Hill crown–a crown which looked like it was from a Burger King kid’s meal. And that may be giving it too much credit.
Long before Vince McMahon discovered that teenage males would love to see women ripping each other’s clothes off under the guise of something called a bra and panties match, the only ripping and stripping the industry saw was that of the skinny knucklehead managers. Which is why we got this trainwreck.
I’ve touched on Paul E., but haven’t said much about Jim Cornette. Aside from being the two best manager promo men in the history of the business, the two really couldn’t have been more different in their mindset about the business behind the scenes. While Dangerously would go on to start a revolution as the man behind the hardcore boom with ECW, Cornette was wrapping up his run as head of Smoky Mountain Wrestling. On the surface, the two companies were at opposite ends of the wrestling spectrum. Smoky Mountain was where the traditionalists played and where a lot of eventual stars would begin etching their names in the wresting lexicon. And despite the stark contrast in style to the casual fan, a lot of talent from SMW would eventually make their way up north and thrive under Paul E.’s banner in Philadelphia.
When I was taking notes during the match, I scrawled out, “OMG IT’S ONLY BEEN FIVE MINUTES!” followed seconds later by, “PLEASE GOD MAKE THIS END!” That really tells you all you need to know. As hard to watch as this card had been to watch so far, at least the participants to this point had been trained to do work in the ring. That was far from the case with Dangerously and Cornette. The height of their in-ring experience was running in to help their clients with either their handy clunky cellphone or tennis racket, respectively.
Remember how I dropped the pocket sand reference earlier? That’s how the match ended. Really. Earlier in the match Dangerously had a spot where he threw powder in Cornette’s eyes. Goofy, hokey, but that’s how the game was played back in the day. This was actually a gimmick that would occasionally be used at the high end of the card, as well. Times were crazy. Anyways, Paul went back to the well a second time and this one backfired when Cornette kicked it back in his face. So there you go. We came full circle. Cornette strips his opponent down to his underwear and what’s done is done. Damnit, Paul E., where are your pants?
The basis for The Varsity Club was that they werea stable of former collegiate wrestlers who came to the ring wearing letterman jackets and spouted how much better they were because of their background. The core of the group was the duo represented here–Kevin Sullivan and Mike Rotunda.
Kevin Sullivan is arguably the most insane person to ever enter the squared circle. He got his big break using a devil worshiping gimmick which would stick with him for most of his career. He was so convincing in the role it even began bleeding over into real life. Rumors have always persisted that it was more than just a character. Still probably the craziest thing attached to Sullivan’s name is another conspiracy theory, rumor, whatever that has popped up over the past few years. Without getting into detail, because it could be an article in itself, the infamous WCW feud between Sullivan and Chris Benoit was very much intertwined with real life. In a matter of real life and storyline mirroring each other, Sullivan’s wife (Nancy) would end up leaving him for Benoit. As many of you likely know, Nancy was the wife involved in the tragic double-murder suicide of the Benoit family of 2007. How does Sullivan tie into that twenty years after the fact? You guessed it, there’s a theory that has circulated the internet that Sullivan was the person responsible. It’s also currently unknown if Sullivan can burn hot enough to melt steel.
Rotunda, on the other hand, would go on to have a storied career of his own. After his run in WCW with The Varsity Club, he’d jump to the WWF and take on the gimmick of Irwin R. Schyster. Yes, this was during the time of the ridiculous occupational gimmicks in WWF. And yes, he was a tax collector. Seriously. Name a gimmick and it was represented. His career would eventually taper off in the States, but he would have some successful years in Japan before his things wrapped up. His claim to fame in 2015? His two sons who are both current WWE superstars; Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas.
The Steiners, well, they were the Steiners. Always ridiculously over, always top notch in the ring. Rick was the brawler, Scott the more athletic. Both were very well pedigreed as amateur standouts at the Univesity of Michigan. And it would be a hard argument to go against them as the greatest tag team of all time.
The match was disappointing overall. Rick and Sullivan brawled on the outside. Scott and Rotunda grappled inside. It was so lackluster, even as I type this I don’t remember anything else or the actual finish, just that the Steiners took the victory. I may have dozed off at some point because of how this event was dragging along.
Even to this day I have very fond memories of the Sting and Muta matches from my early days as a wrestling fan. And going back and revisiting some of these matches now, it was with very good reason. Pretty much, if you were an NWA/WCW fan during this era you were one of two things: A Sting guy or a Flair guy. Think of it as Ultimate Warrior and Hogan. The Rock and Stone Cold. Everyone had their favorite. I was a Sting guy. And given I was coming of age as a wrestling fan at the time, that’s really no surprise. Face paint, flashy outfits, never-ending charisma. It was like a kid wanting chocolate cake, it was just meant to be.
I don’t know why this feud sticks out so vividly in my mind. Maybe it was because it was around the time I first started really paying attention to pro wrestling. The Great Muta’s time in WCW was ultimately very short-lived before he would return to Japan. He would bounce around in a couple different feuds, so the time spent with Sting only lasted a couple months. But still, these two working together left an impression on me.
Muta always had this total badass vibe to him. Maybe because the mysterious Japanese gimmick and style was still a relatively new thing to mainstream wrestling in the States. There was just this aura of cool around the guy, even if he was the one billed as a top villain in the company. His entrance only solidified all of this: an actual gong to signal his intro, some pyro, and then there the enigma was.
When Sting’s music hits, the pop from the crowd is as loud and deafening as anything we would hear a decade later for Austin or The Rock. If you’ve ever doubted how much the crowd bought into Sting, I highly recommend you at least hop on YouTube and watch some of his entrances. The crowd went nuts for Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes, but Sting was that guy in the south who really started the ball rolling in more of a flamboyant, showy direction. And he was able to back it up. The one thing that Sting never gets credit for was his ability to work so many different styles with so many different wrestlers. He could do methodical with Flair. He could match Vader in power. He could work a mixed style with Muta. He could brawl with Cactus Jack. Every style, every wrestler. His versatility was completely unmatched at this point.
The matchup with Muta was the perfect pairing. Both men are extremely athletic and capable of grinding it out, basic grappling, and taking it to the air. Just a perfect storm of combatants.
As I said, the Japanese style was still a relatively new thing for most fans in the US. Ricky Steamboat displayed some of the style in the previous decade, but his was still more mixed. It’s a concept that seems outlandish watching today’s product, given how much all styles have become intertwined in the past three decades. The strikes and kicks. The complex throws. And while the high flying moves and suicide dives weren’t as elaborate and synchronized as the luchadore style was, they were still featured prominently. All this brought a huge breath of fresh air to the American style which still relied very heavily on basic grapples and mat wrestling. There simply wasn’t a lot of variety.
This match brought it all. Muta and Sting were both all over the ring. The crowd was finally very much awake. The match was very back-and-forth, but it was in a way that worked. It didn’t follow the usual match format, but when you have two untouchable talents, you can get away with a glorified spotfest and not have it seem like one.
One of the big spots of almost every Muta match, at least in the States, was the mysterious red or green mist. At some point, there would always be a moment in the match where someone would get caught with the legendary spray. In this match it happened to be the referee, Nick Patrick. The match continued on, and we get a second ref running down to try and maintain order. As the backup arrives, Sting hits Muta with a suplex and we get a gimmick finish where both mens’ shoulders are counted down for the three. A total non-finish for a match the crowd had been very into. Needless to say, “bullshit” chants rained down as the participants all tried to make sense of what had happened. As the decision was given to Sting, Muta and manager Gary Hart proceed to beatdown the TV champ, steal his title belt, and then escape through the crowd. A very hot finish to easily the best match on the card so far.
Next was Solie backstage again, this time with United States champ Lex Luger. Luger is rambling incoherently about not wanting his match with Steamboat to be a no disqualifications match. It was Luger, so honestly, I kind of zoned out.
Ricky Steamboat was in the peak years of his career. We were barely two years removed from his match with Randy Savage at WrestleMania III, which is widely regarded as being one of the best matches of all-time. He was also only a couple months removed from a series of matches with Ric Flair that are almost held in the same breath as the one with Savage. This was all Steamboat at truly the top of his game. It was an amazing run. And he would need to pull out all the stops to get a memorable match out of Luger, whom I hate with a passion that still burns to this day.
Steamboat comes out first with his wife and kid, which had become pretty standard fare for him at this point. Oh, and he also had a freaking big ass lizard, who also had a jacket of some sort on. The whole thing was very surreal. It made for an amazing entrance and very good television.
Even though Luger was working a very cocky and conceited gimmick at the time, he was still over with the crowd and got a good pop from them despite being the heel in the match. He continues to protest the no DQ stipulation until he finally gets it thrown out–which means one thing, this one is ending in a disqualification.
Now, I dump on Luger all the time. I make it no secret how the mere sight of the man is enough to either send me into fits of rage or a week-long coma, depending on the match or situation. But from 1988 to 1990, he put together a string of matches that were highly entertaining and highly regarded. He managed to put together a run of matches with Barry Windham, Ric Flair, and Steamboat here that were as good as anything he would do the rest of his career. It pains me to say it, but if you’re gonna watch Luger, this is definitely the era to partake in.
This ended up being a very good match, on the same level as Sting and Muta, and maybe even a little step above. Luger was working stiff as a board and his only offensive approach was power, but Steamboat did an excellent job of filling in the holes. Steamboat was another guy, comparable to Sting, who could just take an opponent and build them up to that next level. As much as people hate to hear it, and refuse to acknowledge it, it is very similar to what John Cena has been doing for the past decade. He may not be as talented as the other two, but pair him with just about anyone on his level or higher and they can absolutely tear the house down.
And that is what Steamboat was able to do with Luger here. Plenty of energy, crowd was invested, and there was a very good flow to the match. The only drawback was the finish. Sure enough, as I alluded to above with the no-DQ stipulation being dropped, Steamboat went and got himself disqualified after using a steel chair that Luger had brought into the ring. In a vacuum the finish would have been perfectly fine and made sense, but with the crowd coming off of a non-finish in the previous match with Sting and Muta, this only made them even more hot. And it wasn’t exactly the good type of heat you want coming out of a match that had the fans on the edges of their seats.
Backstage we go again, this time to the first team in the War Games match: The Fabulous Freebirds (Jimmy Garvin, Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy) and The Samoan Swat Team (Fatu and Samu). It was a high-energy promo that came off working really well, but the true highlight came at the very end when Hayes wrapped it all up by alluding to their heel tendencies by saying they, “Go in through the out door, up through the downstairs.” Oh, my.
Next, we got their opponents, The Road Warriors (Hawk and Animal), The Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane), and Dr. Death Steve Williams. A lot of energy from the faces all around, but Dr. Death truly brought the bizarre when he wrapped up their time by saying he was, “Back here looking for bug spray to squash the Samoans.”1 What?
Let’s first talk about The Samoan Swat Team. The duo of Fatu and Samu would end up going by a number of names during their time tagging together: Samoan Swat Team, The Headshrinkers, The New Wild Samoans. But the story here is in the name. Both Samu and Fatu were descendants in the legendary Anoa’i line of wrestlers from American Samoa. The lineage is truly remarkable, and contains many of the biggest names in the industry over the past forty years: The Rock, Yokozuna, Roman Reigns, Umaga, and recently The Usos. While Samu would be one of the lesser names in the family, Fatu would go onto become one of the biggest. He reached moderate success teaming with Samu, but it wasn’t until the late 90’s when the WWF rebranded him as Rikishi that his career skyrocketed.
Their partners for this evening would be The Fabulous Freebirds. While they are one of the greatest factions in wrestling history, their legacy is two-fold. (1) They were the originators of the infamous “Freebird Rule” for a tag team consisting of three members. When they possessed any tag team championship, any two of the three members were allowed to compete and defend the titles. It’s an idea that has been kept alive through the years by the likes of Demolition (Ax, Smash, and Crush), The Jersey Triad (Dallas Page, Kanyon, and Bam Bam Bigelow), and lately The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods). And (2) the fact their entrance music “Badstreet USA” was performed by member Michael Hayes and had an accompanying music video. The whole thing was spectacular, and actually lead to the Freebirds having multiple spots during NWA/WCW events where they performed “concerts” and mimed their songs. Man. What a time to be alive.
After that, does it even really matter what was going on with the face team of the Midnight Express, the Road Warriors, and Dr. Death? Nah, not really. Especially Steve Williams, who is one of the biggest wastes of spaces the industry has ever seen. But hey, he went to Oklahoma. And where there is Jim Ross, Williams is never far behind.
The WarGames match itself is quite the spectacle. Two rings side-by-side, a steel cage enclosure surrounding both rings, and ten participants. A member of each team starts the match going one-on-one for five minutes before a member of each team rotates in at two minute intervals. Once all ten members are inside the cage only then does WarGames actually begin. There are no disqualifications and no pinfalls, only submissions or someone being unable to continue. It is wrestling carnage at its absolute best. Until Hell In A Cell came along a decade later, this was the absolute peak of in-ring destruction.
Given the build, there is usually a slow lull in the first five minutes unless there is a good pairing. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here, as Bobby Eaton and Jimmy Garvin kicked things off. It was a very slow start until fellow Freebird Terry Gordy came in and the two were able to start a heel beatdown on Eaton that finally got the crowd worked into a frenzy. That is one of the perks of how WarGames is setup, every two minutes you have a guaranteed heel beatdown to get heat from the crowd or you have a babyface coming in to shine and get the crowd back on their feet.
And that is exactly how this match went. Total back-and-forth just as you would expect it to. I dunno what it was, maybe I’ve become kind of numb to any WarGames match not including The Four Horsemen, Sting, or the nWo, but this one just fell flat for me. I’m normally all over the blood and gore the match can create, but this one didn’t hold my attention at all. Maybe someone who has a rooting interest in the combatants could be more invested, but it just wasn’t for me. It came off well enough because of how stiff all the participants were, but for the most part I was just bored.
To be fair, though, the WarGames match at WrestleWar 1992 with Sting’s Squadron taking on The Dangerous Alliance is probably my favorite match of all time, so my bar is pretty high already.
And here we go.
Just two months ago I was going off about these two embarrassing themselves by still going at it in Slamboree 2000. Now here they are, a decade earlier, giving it every thing they’ve got.
Flair and Funk are both on the Mount Rushmore of professional wrestling. Well, if Mount Rushmore were extended out a few thousand acres to include about ten heads, at least. Still, when all is said and done, these two are the biggest names we will ever have. And even at 45 (45!) Terry Funk was still on the top of his game. Flair was right in the middle of his prime.
The basis for the feud and the match here dated back a couple months to WrestleWar. That night, Flair matched up with then world champ Ricky Steamboat. The match had three special guest judges who would determine the winner of the match in case it reached its 60 minute time limit without a finish. One of those judges was Terry Funk. So the match ended up having a clean finish with Flair winning the belt and the judges weren’t needed. Funk jumped up and challenged Flair to a match for the title, but was denied. Funk then attacked the Nature Boy, ultimately piledriving him through the judges table.
So the entire build and hype for the match was Flair being out of action because of a neck injury and this was his first match back since winning the NWA world title.
Funk got amazing heat on his way out. Security flagged him the entire way down because fans in the first row down the aisle were just trying to get their hands on him. The entire arena was just ready and willing to rip him apart. Flair, on the other hand, gets one of the biggest reactions you will ever hear. Like Sting earlier, this is as big of a pop as you have ever heard. The crowd went absolutely nuts for the returning champ.
The hot start to this match is what dreams are made of. Both guys giving their all right out of the gate. Blistering chops from both, excellent brawling all around the ringside area. Textbook work from Flair and Funk on how you build up a match. The best aspect was both men using heel tactics (low blows, eye pokes) in order to get the upper hand. Even as a babyface, Flair was always so good at doing whatever it took to get the win.
And then there is Funk. If there is one thing he has ever done better than any other wrestler it is bump all over the place to get his opponent over. During Flair’s run at the start of the match he was just treating everything like a gunshot. Until probably Austin in the late 90’s, no one ever did more to help get the other wrestler over better than Funk.
This match was the perfect diagram for timing and psychology. Hot start, face shines early, both get blows in, heel cheats to get the upper hand, face makes comeback, and you lead into the finish. If you lay out every match under that same staging, you’re going to have fans eating out of the palm of your hand.
The turning point came when Funk’s manager Gary Hart distracted the ref and allowed Funk to hit Flair with the branding iron he brought down during his entrance. In true Flair fashion, this got the red flowing through the champ’s blonde mane.
As an aside, that leads me into another point: Guys getting color (blading, bleeding, etc.) was such a great prop piece before things changed within the past few years. It’s completely understandable why the WWE banned it, but once upon a time it played a very crucial part in telling the story. You can still get everything across now that you could before, but it does take away some urgency and intensity. Anyways, I digress.
The match continued to progress perfectly. In true heel fashion, Funk did a great job focusing on trying to injure Flair’s neck further with repeated neckbreakers. The quality of storytelling within the match itself cannot be overstated. It is something that is so desperately missing from today’s product. Anyone can work an angle, get a gimmick over, keep the crowd interested with a mic in their hand. But it takes a special kind of worker to take that same mindset and mentality to do it inside the ring.
The finish came about just as well as the rest of the match. After Flair hit Funk with his own finisher, the piledriver–once upon a time the most brutal move in the sport–there was a final push from both sides before Flair reversed a Funk reversal of his figure four leglock into a cradle for the pin and the victory.
After the match, as the champ tried to gain composure, The Great Muta, Hart’s other charge, made a run-in to set up a beatdown on Flair by Funk and himself. Sting ran in for the save and set up ten minutes of all-out brawling between the four to wrap up the show. The crowd was absolutely electric and into every last punch.
This all lead perfectly into a tag match between the four at Halloween Havoc, which itself lead into a legendary “I Quit” match between Flair and Funk at Clash of the Champions IV in November.
All told, this was a card that finished very strong. The bottom of the card dragged to the point where I was itching to find something interesting, but Sting/Muta, Steamboat/Luger, and Flair/Funk was a trio of matches that would standout on any wrestling card ever put together. It was an amazing time for WCW, as their roster was really taking shape and turning into one of the strongest group in history.