The Birth of "The Great American Bash." Part One of Two.
The year was 1985. Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) were now national promotions, each running shows around the United States. The WWF had run its first pay-per-view (PPV) WrestleMania successfully and it’d also scored a coup with a NBC network special, Saturday Night’s Main Event. Some in the industry believed that the WWF had taken the lead. Some even believed JCP was a distant second.
Whether JCP was a distant second or not, they weren’t lying down. In fact, the promotion was celebrating its golden anniversary. Although JCP had an annual supercard Starrcade (which they used closed circuit television to increase the number of fans who watched it), there were other ways to bring in revenue. One of them was to hold a stadium show with a much larger seating capacity. The downside was the cost of renting such a facility and the need to fill it. Otherwise you risked a situation like what the World Wide Wrestling Federation experienced at the 1976 Showdown at Shea (Part One and Part Two).
The Great American Bash was held on July 6, 1985 at the American Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a star-studded event to be certain and to be expected. If JCP hoped to fill a stadium, they had to have a special event. Looking at the card, it’s clear that they did. The show consisted of eight matches, ending with a steel cage bout. The show featured five championship matches (including one interpromotional championship match).
The opening bout was JCP favorite “Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant taking on his perpetual nemesis Paul Jones in a Dog Collar Match. Jones, a former championship wrestler was now a manager and he’d spent his managerial career trying to eliminate Valiant from wrestling. One such incident involved Jones attacking Valiant during a match against one of Jones’ men, Konga the Barbarian. Abdullah the Butcher and “Superstar” Billy Graham ran in, laying out Valiant and inflicting a throat injury that prevented him from talking. Valiant demanded a match with Jones and Jones accepted. Jones was horrified when he learned the NWA had sanctioned a Dog Collar Match.
Jones brought Abdullah the Butcher in as his second. Valiant brought in “Avalanche” Buzz Tyler. Before the match began, Jones put the collar on Abdullah, hoping to squirm his way out of the match. While the referee tried to get control, Abdullah nailed Valiant with a foreign object, getting an early advantage for Jones. Eventually, Jones was locked into the dog collar and the match began. Jones used the chain as a weapon, busting Valiant open and punishing his adversary. Jones seemed to be in no hurry to defeat Valiant, which meant that there was still hope for Valiant.
Jones’ mercilessness backfired as Valiant eventually gained the upper hand. Now it was Jones’ turn to pay with Valiant beating him back and forth. At one point, Jones tried to bail out, exiting the ring. Valiant used the chain to pull Jones into the ring post, inflicting more damage. After getting Jones back into the ring, Valiant put him in his finisher, the sleeperhold. Abdullah the Butcher ran in to break up the sleeper. “Avalanche” ran in but referee Dave Hebner ordered him back. Valiant went after the Butcher, choking him out. Paul Jones saw his opportunity and grabbed a fistful of chain, going after Valiant. Valiant got out of the way however, and Jones hit Abdullah. Valiant hit an elbow drop on Jones, covering him for the win. After the match, Abdullah attacked Valiant, bloodying him further with a foreign object until Tyler made the save with a chair.
Although Jimmy Valiant’s best days were behind him, he was still a huge favorite in the Carolinas, despite a very limited move set. Valiant oozed charisma though and he remained a supporting player in JCP for the rest of its existence. His war with Paul Jones would continue until the end of 1986.
JCP had been built on tag team wrestling and while the promotion shifted to singles wrestling by the mid-70’s, tag teams were still an important part. The first tag match saw babyfaces Manny Fernandez, Buzz Tyler, and Sam Houston taking on the heel team of Superstar Billy Graham, Konga the Barbarian, and Abdullah the Butcher in a six-man bout. The experienced heel team eventually isolated the inexperienced Houston, pummeling him in and out of the ring. What Houston lacked in experience, he made up in heart. Houston showed incredible toughness, hanging on until he was able to hit a cross body block on Graham. Both teams entered the ring and as they brawled, Houston surprised Graham with a small package, getting the pinfall victory. The team of Houston, Fernandez, and Tyler would win the NWA World Six-Man Tag Team Championship from the Russians (Ivan and Nikita Koloff; and Krusher Krushchev), holding the belts until October when they dropped them back to the Russians.
Ron Bass took on “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel (with “Manager of Champions” James J. Dillon). Bass had worked for Dillon for a long time and felt slighted when Dillon spent more time with his new charge Landel. This resulted in Bass and Dillon going their separate ways and Bass challenging Landel. This match was an action-packed brawl with a lot of action taking place outside the ring. The match went to a time limit draw but that didn’t stop Bass from placing Dillon in the claw hold. Landel was able to rescue J.J. before too much harm had been done.
The show’s first title match saw the National Tag Team Champions Ole and Arn Anderson (aka the Minnesota Wrecking Crew) taking on “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer and Dick Slater. Sawyer and Slater were aware of the Andersons’ reputation but they were no creampuffs themselves. They attacked the champions before the bell, taking the fight to them. The match featured back and forth action with the Andersons isolating Slater’s arm and working it over until it was nearly useless. However, when Ole goes to the top rope, Slater threw him off (Ric Flair and the Andersons are storyline cousins so top rope mishaps must run in the family), allowing him to make the tag. A fresh Buzz Sawyer cleaned house, then hit a power slam on Arn Anderson, covering him for the pin. Referee Sonny Fargo was out of position, allowing Ole to break up the pin. All four men entered the ring, brawling away. Sawyer whipped Arn into the ropes and hit a flying forearm, covering him again. When the referee tried to get Slater back in his corner, the cagey veteran Ole dropped an elbow on Sawyer. With the referee distracted, he doesn’t see Ole cover Sawyer without the tag. 1-2-3 and the Minnesota Wrecking Crew steals the win.
With four exciting matches out of the way, the fans were anxious to see the big championship bouts up ahead, including a dream match between the American Wrestling Association (AWA) and National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) World Tag Team Champions, a United States Heavyweight Championship match, a NWA World Heavyweight Championship match, and a steel cage match for the World Television Title. Join me next time as we look at the rest of the Great American Bash.
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