Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pro Wrestling Primer: Ringmasters

Back when I first started paying closer attention to the True Sport of Kings via wrestling magazines, one ad that always jumped out at me was one for a video titled Ringmasters: The Great American Bash. The cover boasted epic battles featuring the likes of NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair, the Road Warriors, and what was sure to be a brutal cage match between Tully Blanchard and “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Unfortunately, I could not afford the $44.95 price tag and never added the tape to a budding wrestling video collection. By the way, what was with the price of videos back then? Did anyone ever actually pay that much to own any movie, much less a 60-minute wrestling video?

Ringmasters was released by Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine, bringing the inaugural Great American Bash into homes and video stores above the Mason-Dixon Line. Produced by the NWA’s Jim Crockett Promotions for Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, the Bash was intended to capitalize on the patriotism surrounding Independence Day. What better way to do that than a double main event in which the Nature Boy defends his title against Russian badass Nikita Koloff, plus the American Dream himself in a steel cage?

Gordon Solie (aka “the Dean of Wrestling Announcers”) and PWI senior editor Bill Apter are your hosts, taking the time to explain any backstory behind each match. The intro rules. Unfortunately, you will never see a serious intro presenting wrestling as an important competitive sport ever again. Although there are five championships being defended on tonight’s card, there are also bouts that are about standing up for one’s personal pride. Our opening contest, pitting Cowboy Ron Bass against “Nature Boy” Buddy Landell, is all about pride and bruised egos. Apparently, the Cowboy was miffed when his manager J.J. Dillon began focusing more on the career of his new protégé. Fisticuffs ensued and the challenge was made. Let’s go to the American Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, NC and see if big Ron Bass can gain a measure of revenge.

Bass is already in the ring as Landell enters wearing the budget version of one of Ric Flair’s sequined robes. Tony Schiavone is on commentary, pointing out the differences between our combatants as the footage jumps to the Nature Boy and J.J. Dillon working over the tough Cowboy. Every match on this tape is edited for commercial release, by the way. For whatever reason, nobody had the foresight to recognize that wrestling fans with VCRs might want to collect videos with matches in their entirety. Anyway, Buddy Landell is kicking ass on Bass outside of the ring, even choking him with a microphone cord. *CLIP* and the big Cowboy begins to rebound and take the fight back into the ring. Landell begs off, but Bass will have none of it. A right hand puts Buddy on his back and *CLIP* to Ron Bass taking him back down to the canvas with a knee to the gut. An elbow drop gets a two-count and Bass begins the GNP on a hapless Buddy Landell. J.J. Dillon is beside himself as his charge exits the ring, choosing to provide enough distraction to swing the tide back in Landell’s favor. The bell rings as Bass begins to make his comeback, signifying a time limit draw. Not done fighting, the big Cowboy takes out Landell and applies his dreaded claw hold to Dillon’s cranium before the Nature Boy drags him back to the locker room. A fine opening match for this crowd. Ron Bass was well known in various Southern wrestling territories, most notably for his bloody wars with the Yellow Dog in Florida. Buddy Landell was a new kid on the block, clearly aiming for Ric Flair’s throne but never quite getting there. J.J. Dillon would upgrade about a year later when he began managing the Four Horsemen. Speaking of which

The Mid-Atlantic National tag team titles are on the line in this next match, in which the Minnesota Wrecking Crew of Ole & Arn Anderson defend the titles against “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer and the unpredictable Dick Slater. With contestants like these, it is sure to be quite the Pier 6 brawl. The challengers storm the ring and the proverbial shit is on. Slater tosses Arn Anderson to the floor as the Mad Dog takes Ole into the corner. Ole swings his championship belt at Sawyer’s head and misses. Things do not look good for the champions as we *CLIP* to Arn Anderson in a test of strength and will against a tough SOB named Buzz Sawyer. It doesn’t work. The referee is having a hard time keeping this match in order as we *CLIP* to Ole Anderson taking over with an arm bar on Dick Slater. Mr. Unpredictable fights his way out, but is cut off in classic double-team fashion by the Andersons.

They go for their finisher where Arn holds the opponent’s arm so Ole can try to break it with a flying knee, but Slater thwarts the attempt and makes the hot tag to the Mad Dog. Sawyer puts down Arn with a powerslam that would have been good for a three-count had referee Sonny Fargo been in position. After nailing Arn with a flying clothesline, Sawyer goes for the cover again. Unfortunately, Fargo is preoccupied with trying to get Dick Slater out of the ring and misses Ole come in with an elbow drop on the Mad Dog. The Andersons pull a switch and Ole covers Sawyer for the 1-2-3. The Minnesota Wrecking Crew retains again through their usual chicanery.

In 1977, Superstar Billy Graham was the WWWF Champion and the top dog in New York. Eight years later, he is working his evil martial artist gimmick in the Great American Bash lower card. Tonight, the Superstar is teamed up with legendary gorehound Abdullah the Butcher and newcomer Konga the Barbarian against “Ragin’ Bull” Manny Fernandez, rookie Sam Houston, and “Avalanche” Buzz Tyler. The story being told in this match is that the more experienced heel team doesn’t take the young babyface tag team as a serious threat. We join the match in progress as the Barbarian is being battered around by the babyfaces. Manny Fernandez displays athleticism that the Southern crowd isn’t used to seeing very often. *CLIP* to Sam Houston taking a beating courtesy of the heel team, which is to be expected since he is a scrawny bastard. Abdullah takes Houston down with a shoulder block that flips him around in a near 360-degree turn. Poor Sam Houston gets the ever-loving shit kicked out of him as the Butcher throws him from the ring and over the guardrail. Konga drops him with a press slam and a vicious clothesline. However, the scrawny rookie is able to rebound against Superstar Graham, reversing his body slam into a pin attempt that causes the other combatants to enter the ring. The fight is on and the camera misses Houston cover the Barbarian for the upset victory, instead choosing to focus on Avalanche Tyler peppering Abdullah with punches.

Our next match concerns the never-ending feud between “Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant and Paul Jones’ Army. This rivalry had been going on for at least two years in other territories, in which Paul Jones (aka Manager #1) and the Assassins attacked the Boogie Woogie Man and shaved off his prized beard. A year later, Jones and his henchmen would claim Valiant’s hair as well, but that’s another story for another time. This most recent wrinkle in the Valiant/Jones feud saw Billy Graham and Konga the Barbarian attack the Boogie Woogie Man with Jones’ walking stick, causing a serious throat injury. Fed up with Paul Jones’ antics, Jimmy Valiant challenged him to a one-on-one match at the Great American Bash. Jones accepted, but was upset at the discovery that the NWA had sanctioned the bout as a dog collar match. Both combatants would fight wearing dog collars around their necks—with a length of chain attached.

Jimmy Valiant has his collar already attached and is ready to fight. Naturally, Paul Jones is stalling and doesn’t want to lower himself to this level of combat. Instead, he tries to put the collar on Abdullah the Butcher, who he insisted on having in his corner. “Avalanche” Buzz Tyler is seconding Jimmy Valiant, so he grabs the chain and goes after Paul Jones, attempting to put the collar around his neck. Abdullah jumps the Boogie Woogie Man in the fracas and we *CLIP* to Paul Jones taking advantage of a stunned and bleeding Jimmy Valiant. Jones uses the chain as a weapon, punching and beating Valiant about the head. He drags Valiant around the ring by his neck as we *CLIP* to the Boogie Woogie Man rebounding by yanking the chain into Jones’ balls as he straddles the second rope. *CLIP* as we see Valiant use the chain to his advantage again by pulling Jones into the steel ringpost from the outside. Manager #1 Jones is running scared and nearly falls victim to Valiant’s sleeper hold. Abdullah and Tyler both come in for the save, but referee Earl Hebner preoccupies himself with the Avalanche. Valiant goes after Abby, enabling Paul Jones to attempt a blindside attack that fails. The Boogie Woogie Man hits his patented elbow drop for the 1-2-3. Abdullah attacks again after the bell, but Buzz Tyler grabs a chair and clears the ring. No way was this all-out war going to end tonight.

Next up is the first of two “America vs. Soviet commie scum” matches that is sure to make every patriot’s blood boil. It is champions versus champions as the Road Warriors travel from the AWA to take on former WWWF champion Ivan Koloff and Krusher Kruschev, the NWA World Tag Team titleholders. Gordon Solie does a fine job comparing this bout to the inevitable destruction of a third World War when introducing this match. However, he saves his best Commie-baiting rhetoric for later.

“Iron Man” may not be on the PA, but the Road Warriors charge in and clear the ring of any Russian opposition anyway. *CLIP* and Ivan is coming up short in his exchange with Hawk. After a powerslam, the magic of editing enables Koloff to briefly take back control of the match. The tide goes back in the LOD’s favor as Hawk slams his Russian foe from the top rope and smashes him face first into the mat. Ivan Koloff is being battered from pillar to post as the Roadies pound him, press-slam him, and even sink their teeth into his scarred forehead for good measure. The Road Warriors are still working as a heel team, goading Kruschev into the ring to distract the referee as they double-team Uncle Ivan. I’m sure the crowd doesn’t mind this time, since those sneaky Russians are getting a taste of their own medicine. However, this distraction enables Ivan to tag in his fresh partner to beat on Animal. Suddenly, the crowd isn’t so happy. The Soviet team takes over on the Animal, working over the midsection and tagging in and out. *CLIP* to Animal nearly making the tag, but getting smashed back into the canvas by a Kruschev forearm. A double clothesline puts both combatants down as LOD manager Paul Ellering pounds his copy of the Wall Street Journal on the mat, encouraging Animal to get to his feet. Krusher tags in Koloff while Animal finally makes the hot tag to Hawk. Hawk is a house on fire, battering the evil Russians by himself. Kruschev breaks up a pin attempt, bringing in Animal to run him out. The Road Warriors position Ivan for a powerslam from the second rope, but Krusher nails Animal from behind with a chair. Hawk grabs the chair and begins kicking Russian ass before the referee throws the match out and disqualifies both teams. The ring is cleared of any Soviet menace and the Road Warriors stand tall. I’m sure fans were unhappy that the Road Warriors didn’t win, but this rivalry would be renewed once the Legion of Doom returned to the Mid-Atlantic area.

Modern wrestling fans probably have no idea who Magnum T.A. is, but back in 1985, the Tom Selleck knockoff was an up-and-comer being groomed to chase Ric Flair for the NWA world title. Had his career not been cut short by a car accident in 1986, I’m sure that would have been a legendary series of matches. His belly-to-belly suplex (stubbornly pronounced “su-play” by Solie) finisher put away many a great wrestler, but could Magnum execute it on a 400-pound giant like Kamala, the savage from the Ugandan jungles? Would he be able to retain his United States heavyweight championship?

We join the match in progress as Kamala is putting a Uganda-style ass-kicking on our US champion. It is in his interests to end this match quickly, as he is the bigger man and does not have stamina on his side. Magnum rebounds with a high-cross body and begins taking control. Kamala exits the ring and editing allows the tide to shift back into his favor. The Ugandan warrior powers Magnum down to the mat with his primitive jungle offense, slipping from nerve holds to blatant chokes as manager Skandor Akbar distracts the referee. *CLIP* as Kamala nails Magnum with the big splash. He actually gets a decent amount of distance on it too. We’re sure to have a new United States heavyweight champion, but NO! Magnum kicks out! Kamala goes back on the attack, flipping Magnum onto his stomach and going for another big splash. *CLIP* and Kamala is pummeling the champion. However, you can clearly see that Magnum is still in this fight, even after taking the big splash and every other bit of Kamala offense. The challenger misses a charge into the corner and the champ is FIRED UP! Kamala is frightened half to death! Three dropkicks put the mighty headhunter on his ass, but Skandor Akbar runs in for the save and the disqualification. Kamala misses another charge and sends Akbar sailing from the ring. Magnum scoops up the 400-pounder and puts him back down on his fat ass with a bodyslam! Kamala gets up and attacks again…and is put right back down with Magnum’s belly-to-belly suplex! Despite the match being over, Magnum makes his own three-count as the crowd goes wild.

Great match, even with the editing. Magnum T.A. proves that he can hang with different challengers, even super heavyweights like Kamala. Boy, do I miss watching him wrestle!

Wrestling fans; it is now time for our DOUBLE MAIN EVENT! Our first of two matches pits NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair against newcomer Nikita Koloff. Trained by his legendary Uncle Ivan, Nikita was nicknamed “the Russian Nightmare” for a reason. Koloff dispatched opponents left and right with his lethal Russian Sickle clothesline, bringing the Cold War to American shores and TV sets. Gordon Solie and Bill Apter’s introduction to this match is ‘80s wrestling xenophobia at its finest. Apter claims that Nikita is Russia’s most lethal export while Gordon speaks of the Red Menace and their desire for world supremacy in the field of athletics. Under orders by the Kremlin itself, Ivan Koloff showed Nikita’s training video on NWA television, intoning that their road back to Moscow was going to be paved in gold…the gold of Ric Flair’s NWA title. To add to the fury, Nikita attacked announcer David Crockett with the dreaded Russian Sickle during an interview. These damned Russians were bullies and cowards!

The NWA was prepared to suspend the Koloffs for their actions, but Ric Flair stepped up to the plate and demanded that the Board of Directors allow him to extract some in-ring justice on the dastardly Soviets. After a wild brawl on television, the stage was set for the Great American Bash. David Crockett would be the special referee as the Nature Boy seemingly took on the entire USSR single-handedly.

Nikita and Uncle Ivan enter ringside to the Soviet national anthem blaring over the PA. Nikita looks focused and ready as Ric Flair flies into the stadium via helicopter. I gotta say, that is a fantastic way for the world champion to make his entrance. It is similar to the Rolling Stones arriving at Altamont in Gimme Shelter. Actually, this may have been the first time a helicopter was used as a wrestler’s entrance. Flair would repeat this at subsequent Bashes too. The Nature Boy does his patented strut for the USA and he’s ready to go as the bell rings. Nikita powers his way out of several collar-and-elbow tie-ups, demonstrating that Flair stands no chance at matching him in strength. *CLIP* to further proof of Koloff’s superior power, but Flair takes over in the corner with a flurry of chops. *CLIP* to the Nature Boy fighting out of a bear hug before falling victim to the Russian Hammer. The Hammer is different from the Sickle in that there is more of a fist involved with this deadly blow. Anyway, Nikita re-applies the bear hug and *CLIP* to Flair fighting back out of it with an atomic drop. The Nature Boy attempts to chop down this big Russian redwood, but Koloff takes him down with a forearm and *CLIP* to Flair dropping Nikita with a back suplex. The champion goes for the figure-four, much to the crowd’s approval. Nikita is able to get out of the hold by raking Flair’s eyes. *CLIP* and the Russian Nightmare is back in control with a big bodyslam.

Nikita whips Flair into the corner, causing the Nature Boy to do his usual flip over the turnbuckles to the ground. *CLIP* to Nikita sending Flair’s cranium into the corner post. *CLIP* and the bloody champion is in BIG trouble as Koloff covers him for a pair of two-counts. The Russian Sickle connects, but Koloff becomes overconfident and takes too long to make the cover. Flair kicks out at two and Uncle Ivan is beside himself. The Nature Boy begins to rebound, barely able to stand while fighting on instinct. A rollup gets a two-count. A knife-edge chop sends sweat flying off Nikita’s burly chest. Flair is ready to take this bald-headed Commie to school as he pounds away at his head with a flurry of punches. Ivan breaks up Flair’s serving of chops in the corner by tripping him off-camera. Nikita gets back in control, pounding away at Flair’s bloody forehead. David Crockett is knocked down by Nikita, compelling Uncle Ivan to scale the top turnbuckle to lay down some damage on the Nature Boy. The camera doesn’t quite pick up how Flair manages to break Nikita’s grasp, but Ivan’s forearm comes crashing down on referee Crockett instead and everyone goes down in a heap. As Nikita gets to his feet, a fan actually jumps into the ring and tries to tackle him from behind! This was actually something of a regular occurrence in the Southern wrestling circuit back then. The cops and security take the guy out as Nikita powers Flair into the corner by biting a chunk out of his bloody forehead. An Irish whip into the opposing corner sends Flair on his other flip over the buckles, in which he runs down the apron and attempts to scale the top rope. His high-cross body causes Nikita to trip over Ivan, who is still laid out on the canvas. Flair covers for two and Tony Schiavone is not far off the mark when he says this is an incredible match on commentary.

Ric Flair fires away at Nikita, but the big Russian remains on his feet. The Nature Boy goes to the ring apron and drapes Nikita backwards over the top rope for an elbow to the jaw. Koloff picks up Flair and carries him over the ropes and into the ring for a bodyslam, but the Nature Boy holds onto the top rope and causes him to lose balance. They go tumbling to the mat with Flair in position to make a three-count. David Crockett makes somewhat of a fast count and the match is over. Your winner and still NWA World Heavyweight Champion, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair!

*CLIP* and Uncle Ivan has knocked down David Crockett in disgust. The Russians team up on the Nature Boy as a riot begins to break out in the crowd. The ring announcer actually gets on the microphone and begs the fans to stay clear of the ring! If you look at the crowd, you can clearly see the cops struggling to hold fans back from jumping the guardrails. Tony Schiavone thinks the fans are excited that Flair is still champion. No, Tony—they are pissed that Flair’s being beaten up and want to kill the Russians! This is awesome! Southern wrestling RULES! Scrawny Sam Houston runs in but is no match for Nikita Koloff. Other wrestlers try to break it up, but they are taken out as well. The Russian Sickle sends Flair over the top rope to the ground where he lies in a crumpled heap. This ain’t no Cold War and it is definitely not over. Great match, though. Nikita was new in the main event scene and barely knew a wristlock from a wristwatch, but looked like quite the formidable threat to the NWA title. Ric Flair did a great job in the hero role without any sort of cheesy “God bless America” sort of sentiment.

Insider fans may believe that our main event of Dusty Rhodes vs. Tully Blanchard headlining over a world championship match was the product of the American Dream’s egotistical booking mind. Virtually no wrestling fan back then was aware that Dusty was Mid-Atlantic’s booker and that the Great American Bash was, in fact, his concept. The critics can say what they want, but the truth is that cage matches often took place last due to the amount of time it took to set up the cage itself. Ric Flair was still the traveling NWA champion then and I think the rivalry between Dusty and Tully Blanchard was the focus of Crockett television otherwise.

Tully Blanchard was making waves as the newest asshole heel in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. The son of Texas wrestling legend Joe Blanchard also had a valet by the name of Baby Doll, who was his “perfect 10,” at least by wrestling standards back then. Baby Doll had come in from WCCW, where she had been the bodyguard for Tully’s onetime tag team partner Gino Hernandez. As she had with Gino, Baby Doll demonstrated a propensity for interfering in Blanchard’s matches. In fact, her interference brought us to this cage match in the first place. During a TV match, Baby Doll played a vital role in an incident that saw Tully Blanchard attempt to blind the American Dream by throwing a fireball into his face. Like Ric Flair did when challenging the Russians, Dusty demanded that the NWA allow him to play the role of judge, jury, and hangman in the in-ring trial of one Tully Blanchard. Blanchard’s NWA World Television Championship was on the line, but he was so confident that he would retain that he added a month-long contract for Baby Doll’s services as an extra stipulation. Gordon Solie labels this match as the ultimate poker game—Tully Blanchard, the Dealer, versus the Riverboat Gambler, Dusty Rhodes playing for the gold and the girl in the steel cage. A great way to sell the story of the match. Ego booking or not, I’d say this deserves to be in the main event.

We join the match in progress, as Dusty Rhodes is busy working over Tully Blanchard’s leg. Blanchard fights back and sends Rhodes crashing headfirst into the steel, opening a cut just over his eye. Baby Doll is outside; talking shit at the top of her lungs as her man makes the Dream bleed red. Rhodes comes back with a series of bionic elbows and runs Tully into the cage. Referee Tommy Young goes to check on Dusty’s cut and is shoved to the canvas for his troubles. No way will the American Dream allow for a wimpy ol’ blood stoppage. Dusty rams Tully’s head into the steel repeatedly and *CLIP* to Blanchard in serious trouble. He reverses out of a suplex, but eats a Dusty flying clothesline for a two-count. Baby Doll is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Both combatants are battered and bloody as Rhodes applies his version of the figure-four leglock. Tully tries shortcuts to break the hold, but ultimately is forced to roll over and reverse it instead. *CLIP* to a shot of Tully’s bloody face as he attempts to work on Dusty’s injured leg. Not registering that he felt the blows, the American Dream nails a pair of elbows and backdrops Blanchard into the cage. Tully attempts to climb out of the cage, but there goes Dusty with a series of headbutts. Another bionic elbow sends Blanchard to the canvas. Rhodes goes for a flying elbow from the top rope that doesn’t quite connect, giving Tully some breathing room. While the referee checks on Rhodes, Tully climbs the cage to get his loaded elbow pad from Baby Doll. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get a chance to use it as Dusty nails him with a piledriver for the 1-2-3…the NWA World Television title…and Baby Doll for thirty days!

Baby Doll is in tears at the result and the fact that this stipulation does absolutely nothing for the women’s liberation movement. It’s kinda funny how blatantly sexist stipulations like this was accepted fare, but I guess you have to consider the fan base. Still, think about the implications! What exactly did the American Dream have in mind for the Perfect 10 over the next month? Who knows, but Baby Doll did align herself with the Dream for a little bit before turning on him to reunite with Tully Blanchard. She would do this yet again during Dusty’s war with Ric Flair, proving that the American Dream was a real sucker for the horse-faced punk rock valet.

We’re back with Gordon Solie and Bill Apter to sign off with some sporty outro music and there you have it. It took over twenty-five years, but I finally got to check out this video for myself thanks to some dude on YouTube. The clipped matches don’t really bother me much, as I know that this was standard practice for most of these early wrestling videos. Sure, it would have been better to have the complete matches, but I have definitely seen way worse editing jobs on other tapes from this period. I think Pro Wrestling Illustrated probably saw this as being a good, solid introduction to hard-hitting NWA action and they certainly accomplished that if you were willing to spend nearly fifty bucks on the video.

For Gordon Solie and Bill Apter, this is The Evil Eye saying so long from ringside…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fuck yes! Too bad they had cut some of their best talent. Guys like Brad Armstrong, Stan Hansen, Wahoo McDaniels, and Tommy Rich built the Atlanta wrestling scene. I was always partial to the Road Warroirs and Paul Orndorff. WTBS worked those guys. Back then WWF was on USA Network. Rowdy Roddy and George the Animal were my faves. Excellent write up!