The Birth of "The Great American Bash." Part Two of Two.
The year was 1985. Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP)’s golden anniversary was being celebrated with a stadium show known as The Great American Bash. As we saw last time, the show was a star-studded event with top stars battling one another, not only from the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) but from the American Wrestling Association (AWA). The NWA and AWA were teaming up to fight off Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and his quest to dominate the wrestling world.
The Great American Bash was held on July 6, 1985 at the American Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. The show consisted of eight matches, ending with a steel cage bout. The first four matches had been action-packed but things were just getting started. Every match from here on would be a championship match.
Next up was an interpromotional match between the American Wrestling Association (AWA) World Tag Team Champions, the Road Warriors (Hawk and Animal) vs. the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) World Tag Team Champions, the Russians (Ivan Koloff and Krusher Krushchev). This was seen by many fans as a dream match to determine wrestling’s toughest tag team. Utilizing the “Freebird rule” (where any two wrestlers from a group could defend a tag team title), the Russians (Ivan and Nikita Koloff; and American turncoat Krusher Krushchev) had terrorized the NWA tag team division. Likewise, with the Road Warriors in the AWA, where they maintained a stranglehold on the AWA tag belts. Here, the NWA tag titles were at stake but not the AWA ones.
The match was the wrestling equivalent of mutual assured destruction. While Ivan and Nikita Koloff were often considered a stronger pairing than Ivan and Krusher, Krusher more than held his own. The Russians proved a formidable foe for the Hawk and the Animal (as announcer Tony Schiavone called them). This match was a true test for both teams as neither the Road Warriors or the Russians often found teams that could match them in power. This match showed this as both teams found themselves struggling at times to overcome their opponents. Towards the end, the Road Warriors seemed to have gained some momentum, setting Ivan Koloff up for a double-team move off of the top rope (it looked like Animal was going for a reverse piledriver or powerslam off the second rope). Seeing his comrade in trouble, Krusher Krushchev hit Animal with a chair. Hawk grabbed the chair, blasting both Krushchev and Koloff. All four men began brawling leading referee Earl Hebner to call for a double disqualification. The Road Warriors and the Russians had settled nothing this day.
Magnum T.A. defended his United States Heavyweight Championship against Kamala the Ugandan Giant (with manager Skandor Akbar at ringside). Kamala attacked Magnum before the bell. This one is mostly a brawl as Kamala uses his size and weight advantage to choke and chop Magnum. Magnum is busted open and looks to be in trouble when Kamala hits multiple body splashes on Magnum. Magnum shows his tenacity by kicking out of a pin and fighting back, eventually downing Kamala with a series of beautiful dropkicks. Magnum was an all-around talent. He could brawl but he could also hit a good amount of technical moves, working well with any type of opponent. The match ends when Skandor Akbar runs in to break up a pin, leading to Kamala getting disqualified. The highlight of the match comes next as Magnum hits his belly-to-belly suplex finisher on the Ugandan Giant. Magnum gets credit for a nice-looking body slam on Kamala earlier on as well.
NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair defended the belt against “The Russian Nightmare” Nikita Koloff. This program began when Nikita’s uncle Ivan revealed that the Kremlin had selected Nikita Koloff as the man to become NWA World Champion. The road to Moscow would be paved with gold (Ric Flair’s gold). Although Nikita was a tag team competitor and a relative newcomer, he and his uncle called out Flair out for months. Flair dismissed Nikita’s challenges until Koloff clotheslined Flair’s longtime friend, announcer David Crockett (promoter Jim Crockett Jr.’s brother). Flair appeared before the NWA Board of Directors and asked that the Koloffs not be suspended. Instead, he demanded a match against Nikita. In an interesting move, David Crockett was named as referee for the match.
Flair called the match, “The Freedom Challenge.” Fans wondered if Flair was playing into Nikita and Ivan’s hands. Flair had a tremendous experience advantage over Nikita but Nikita’s power advantage was incredible and he had Uncle Ivan in his corner, ready to lend his decades of wrestling experience (as well as outside interference if possible).
In a wanton display of capitalist excess, Flair arrived at the stadium via helicopter, making a statement that he enjoyed the high life and that he wasn’t going to lie down for Koloff and the Communism he stood for. The fans cheered as Flair let out his trademark “Woooooooo!” and strutted before the match, drawing Nikita’s anger.
The match began with Nikita’s power getting him the early advantage. Flair and Koloff engaged in a collar and elbow tie-up, only for Nikita to power Flair down to the mat several times. A test of strength went Koloff’s way (as expected) but Flair’s experience showed through when he backed Koloff into the corner, chopping him and driving his shoulder into Koloff’s gut, despite referee David Crockett’s protests. Even in 1985, Flair was the dirtiest player in the game, and he was going to hold on to his belt by any means necessary.
Nikita continued using his power advantage to wear down Flair. At one point, Nikita had “Slick Ric” locked in a bearhug. Flair began to weaken until in a brilliant countermove, he hit a reverse atomic drop on Koloff, breaking the hold. Flair suplexed Koloff then locked the figure-four leglock in the center of the ring. Koloff raked Flair’s eyes, breaking the hold. From there, he threw Flair out of the ring, ramming his head into the ringpost, risking disqualification.
The world champion was methodically getting dismantled by Koloff’s raw power. Nikita wasn’t a mat technician but his strength was testing Flair’s famed resilience. When Koloff hit the Russian Sickle on Flair, the match looked to be over. For some reason, Koloff took his time making the pin and when he did, it was a sloppy pin. Throughout the match, Koloff failed to hook the leg and this time was no different. Flair kicked out, shocking Nikita.
The match continued with Nikita’s impatience showing. When David Crockett tried to get him to break a choke, he shoved Crockett aside. Then Nikita picked Flair up as Ivan Koloff climbed the top rope. Ivan dove at Flair but hit David Crockett instead. Nikita whipped Flair into the corner where Ric somersaulted over the turnbuckle. Since he was a babyface, Flair was able to climb to the top rope and hit a high cross bodyblock on Nikita (had Flair been a heel, Koloff would have caught him and slammed him to the mat). Koloff kicked out of a pin attempt and the action continued. With Flair bleeding profusely, the fans had to wonder how much more he could take. However, when Koloff went for a press slam, Flair shifted his wait, forcing Koloff on his back. David Crockett counted to three (and in fairness to Koloff, it was a fast count). After the match, Ivan and Nikita destroyed Flair in a post-match attack. Even David Crockett got a beatdown for his efforts (no doubt making fans who hated his announcing cheer).
The Flair/Koloff program would continue through the summer, culminating in the famous cage match where Flair defeated Nikita and Dusty ran in to save Flair from another post-match beatdown. Sadly, for Dusty, Flair and his cousins the Anderson, showed ingratitude by locking Dusty in the cage and breaking his ankle, the beginning of what would eventually become the Four Horsemen (check out my book Wrestling’s Greatest Moments for further details).
The card’s final match was Dusty Rhodes challenging NWA World Television Champion Tully Blanchard in a Steel Cage Match. There was plenty of animosity between Rhodes and Blanchard. Blanchard had thrown a fireball at Rhodes in an earlier match, nearly blinding him. Rhodes demanded a rematch and in an instance of true hubris, Blanchard added a stipulation that that Dusty would win Tully Blanchard’s valet Baby Doll for a month if he won the match.
The cage match was a horrid encounter as cage matches still had some value as a match where two wrestlers finished a feud, the cage preventing outside interference and escape. Here, Dusty and Tully used the cage as a weapon, throwing each other into it and grinding each other’s face against the mesh of the cage. Referee Tommy Young (one of the best referees ever because he could subtly add to a match’s drama without drawing attention to himself) tried to maintain some kind of order but both men were out to injure each other. Eventually, things got so bad for Blanchard that he tried to escape the cage (since this wasn’t a World Wrestling Federation cage match where escape was the only way to win, one has to wonder how the referee would have handled things) only for Dusty to stop him. Eventually, Baby Doll handed Blanchard an elbowpad (undoubtedly loaded) but Dusty grabbed him and piledrived him, getting the pinfall victory.
Dusty had won the TV title and the services of Baby Doll. What exactly that meant is open to speculation but Baby Doll emerged as a changed woman after spending thirty days with Dusty. She would turn face and side with Dusty for a time. The war with Blanchard was just beginning though as eventually Dusty would face Blanchard and his allies in the Four Horsemen.
The Bash was a success and it became an annual tradition in JCP. The next year, the Bash became a national tour. By 1988, it became a pay-per-view event. When Ted Turner bought JCP out in 1988 and rechristened it World Championship Wrestling, the Bash continued through 1992. The Bash returned in 1995, continuing through 2000 (WCW would fold in 2001). World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) even revived The Great American Bash as a PPV in 2004 through 2009.
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