When I was a kid, there was no time each week that I looked forward to more than 6:05 PM Central Correct Time on Saturday nights. No matter what I was doing, I would stop dead in my tracks just before that time knowing that I had to race back home and be plopped right in front of my television set. To this day, my favorite wrestling viewing of all time was watching NWA (later WCW) in the 1980’s. A time before wrestling was glossy and heavily produced, when men were men, and differences were settled in the ring instead of standing around talking for 20 minute stretches. Sadly, all I had ever been able to find online were a handful of scattered episodes from this bygone era which I have longed to relive, especially when the current major player in the game is less than stellar most weeks.
It was with great excitement a couple of weeks ago when classic content began to be added to the WWE Network. As of the time of writing, 95 episodes of NWA Championship Wrestling ranging from November 1985 until September 1987 have been uploaded, and with new HD up-scaling on modern television sets they have never looked better.
I want to begin my retro reviews with the first of the uploaded episodes, November 2, 1985. The show kicked off with a chaotic in-progress clip of the Boogie Woogie Man Jimmy Valiant getting jumped by Beautiful Bobby & Dennis Condrey of The Midnight Express (joined by none other than James E. Cornette and his tennis racket of course). I’m guessing this happened the week prior and was a recap.
Then, just like that…the oh-so-memorable NWA Championship Wrestling theme, which is a perfect time-capsule of everything simultaneously great and terrible about the 1980’s and the synthesizer invasion. I heard that song so many times over the years and hearing it again now, 30 years later, warms my heart in ways that I am not comfortable admitting to most acquaintances. In the wrestling geek bubble which many of us are stuck in, the theme immediately transports us back to that period when some of the greatest wrestling of all time took place.
A series of short clips of Magnum TA vs. Tully Blanchard played next, joined at the 42 minute mark of what was described as a grueling 52 minute war. The stipulation of the match was that Magnum only had one more opportunity to face Tully for his title and he had to win or no more shots. The match ended in a double knockout, leaving the fate of both men in question.
Next up was “The Raging Bull” Manny Fernandez vs. Tommy Lane. The majority of the match was spent with Manny besting Lane. The finish occurred when Manny hit his patented “Flying Burrito” (not the least bit racist) for the win. While I can appreciate Manny’s athleticism by 1980’s standards, my entire focus throughout the match was on his glorious two-tone mullet, brunette on top and front, with a bleached out triangle in the back.
Next up, Ric Flair is interviewed by David Crockett in an empty arena regarding Dusty Rhodes’ impending return after having his ankle broken by Flair. He puts over the NWA belt as the one and only legitimate world championship in a way that only a “custom made, kiss stealin’, wheelin’ dealing, jet flying son of a gun, whooooo! Naitcha Boy!” could. He tells Dusty that he doesn’t have a leg to stand on (pun intended) when it comes to facing him in the squared circle.
Back to the studio, Ole & Arn Anderson are interviewed about Dusty by Tony Schiavone. Arn gets his “long on guts, short on brains” line out while burying the Dream. Side note: he does this promo with no shirt on and in trunks, but still wearing 2 gold chains and some slick shades. Because, ya know, fashion.
Meanwhile, back in the ring, the other “Nature Boy”, Buddy Landel, took on Tony Zane in what could only be described as a good ol’ fashion squash. Post-match, JJ Dillon joined Landel for an interview with Schiavone where he challenged Terry Taylor to a title shot on behalf of his client.
Rock N Roll Express took on Mike Davis & George South next. As anyone with a remotely tenuous grasp of wrestling history knows, RNR was one of the greatest tag teams of all time. Even seeing them against a couple of jobbers (including world class jobber George South with his epic mullet) is a treat. A double whip by Davis & South was reversed by RNR when Morton ducked and was leapfrogged by Gibson over their opponents, bouncing off the ropes and followed by a double dropkick to pin South.
Schiavone interviewed Tully Blanchard & Baby Doll next, with a quick cut to a pre-tape of NWA President Bob Geigel, who denied Magnum TA another crack at Tully’s belt due to safety concerns for both men stemming from their heated rivalry.
A quick squash match followed, as The Black Kat didn’t stand a chance against a young, good lookin’ Billy Jack Haynes. David Crocket sounded massively aroused when he excitedly described Haynes.
Tony Schiavone speaks with “Dr. Schwany”, Dusty Rhodes’ doctor about whether or not he will be able to compete on November 3rd at Starrcade. Dusty’s doc confirms that he is on track to meet the date, but only because of a specially made custom boot that allows him to wear an air cast underneath the boot.
Following the interview was a literally 19-second match with Magnum TA squashing Keith “We Barely Knew Ya” Erich. No need to comment because why, really?
Superstar Billy Graham and his massive pythons come out to arm wrestle The Barbarian. Before the contest, he gets interrupted instead by The Barbarian’s manager, #1 Paul Jones, who brags about the $5000 prize he put up for the winner before informing Superstar that it isn’t going to be as easy as he thought. Prior to flexing his muscles on The Barbarian and snatching up a fat stack of cash, he has to get through Abdullah The Butcher. Superstar & Abby commence to some nice classic ass whoopin’, exchanging blows and introducing each other to turnbuckle posts. Abby drills Superstar pretty heavily before they get into the ring, where Abby commenced to head butt him in his pythons and shoulders repeatedly to diminish his strength. Graham finally started chopping Abdullah back before finally knocking him out of the ring and through the ropes. Graham followed Abby out of the ring and started choking him with camera cables. The tide was reversed after sneaky interference behind the ref’s back by Jones, who rammed his cane into Graham’s throat. Some more back and forth and a bear hug by Superstar later, The Barbarian ran in to the ring, attacked Graham from behind, then delivered a couple of flying head butts to Graham while he was held down by Abby. The faces backstage decided they saw enough, as several ran out to break up the attack. The match was finally thrown out by the ref because of interference.
Due to the abbreviated match above, Crocket & Schiavone threw to a “standby match” featuring “Pistol” Pez Whatley vs. Benny Traylor. To really drive home the importance of the battle, Crockett & Schiavone shout out Joe Laurinaitis (aka Road Warrior Animal) and his new wife Julie before telling the audience to write their favorite NWA wrestler via the United States Postal Service and one of those stamp gimmicks that I hear were all the rage in the 1980’s. Pistol Pez finally finished off Traylor with a spring off the ropes into a flying head butt to get the pin.
Back to Schiavone, this time joined by JJ Dillon (who jockeyed to position himself PWI Manager Of The Year) and his man Black Bart. Bart screamed a lot and hit himself repeatedly with a cowbell in his cast iron noggin.
Next up, Jim Crockett Jr announced Billy Jack Haynes will square off against Thunderfoot on next week’s show.
Schiavone & David Crockett then ran down the Starrcade card, with David managing to sound as uncomfortable as any human has ever sounded. Jim Crockett then came in to announce the signing of a “very special Mexican Death match” where Manny Fernandez will put up his “gorgeous sombrero” (again, not racist at all) against Abdullah. The truck cut to some older footage of Magnum TA groping and forcing a kiss on Baby Doll, while David Crockett screamed “SHE LIKES IT!!!” at the top of his lungs.
Tully then attacks Magnum and got his ass handed to him by Magnum. Jim Crockett disobeyed the orders of Bob Geigel by doing what’s best for business and signed an “I Quit” match with Tully vs. Magnum for Starrcade.
Tully Blanchard stormed out and raged on Schiavone & Crockett, slammed his belt down in a tantrum, then ran to the ring to beat the dog shit out of Denny Brown, who didn’t do anything wrong except pick the wrong night to be in the ring with Tully. In the jobber era, it was nice to see Denny get some offense on Tully, but that couldn’t last forever. Denny attempted an elbow off the second rope, but Tully was ready for him and lifted his knees to crotch Brown. Tully took advantage of Denny’s vulnerable state and got a slingshot suplex to finish things off. Poor Denny, may he rest in peace.
Ole & Arn Anderson were interviewed by Schiavone next. I’m not sure what Ole said because he was too busy screaming to be coherent, and Arn follows that up with more screaming. So much anger.
Nikita Koloff (with Ivan Koloff & Krusher Krushev in tow) took on Mack Jeffers next. Nikita powered his way through the match, with “finesse” not being in his vocabulary. He obliterated Jeffers before finally finishing him off with a brutal Russian Sickle lariat.
The Russians were interviewed next. Nikita screamed unintelligible gibberish in a terrible Russian accent, Krusher (not bothering to even attempt an accent) called out the Road Warriors, who he claimed are off “fighting 5 foot 10 Japs” (not touching that one). Ivan then cut a promo on The Rock N Roll Express, switching accents no less than 5 times.
Ivan Koloff & Krusher Khrushchev then did what heels do against Ricky Reeves & Jerry Garmon. The match was full of lots of stiff shots, clotheslines, fish hooking, and chokes on the ropes. The Russians had a dominant showing throughout before finally landing the Russian Sickle to finish their opponents off.
The final match of the night saw Jimmy Valliant take on Jimmy Black. The match was nothing to write home about, possibly even dreadful, but the memorable part was when Miss Atlanta Lively shows up unexpectedly and kisses Valliant on the mouth. Boogie Woogie Man started firing up his Boogie Woogie dance, flapping his arms and getting those legs moving in a way that only an old white guy could. Black sneaked in a quick attack on Valliant before Miss Atlanta Lively clocked Black on the head with his (I mean her) purse, then walked away from the ring. Valliant saw what transpired and went for a quick pin. While the ref counted to 3, Valliant screamed for her to come back. I’m not sure what it is about Miss Atlanta Lively, but she sure is a whole lot of woman. Whatever the case, Valliant can’t get enough of that funky stuff.
The show ended with Jim Cornette being interviewed regarding Jimmy Valliant. Cornette’s head popped blood vessels and he turned bright red while (seeing a theme here) screaming at the top of his lungs in true 80’s style. He didn’t get to do too much screaming, though, as he is chased off by a fired up Jimmy Valliant, who stormed into the interview area like a man who just did a line of coke big enough to stop an elephant in its tracks.
Valliant then proceeded to give Schiavone what I can only assume was a deep tongue kiss before scurrying off. Yeah, no coke at all involved in the making of that segment. Not one bit.
The thing about a show like this is that there is no way you can get bored. In just 74 minutes (minus commercials), there were 23 segments that flew by like nothing. Unlike much of the current product, on a show like this the audience was never given the opportunity to get bored. I can’t wait to continue to be entertained the more of these classic episodes I get to experience again with new eyes 30 years later.