The Netcop Retro Rant for AWA Superclash III
(I forget if I ever did a Scott sez version of this one, but since we hit this show in the WON Flashback this morning, we might as well give it another look.)
This is another much-requested rant, even more so today considering the current pathetic state of WCW and the numerous comparisons to the AWA that have come from it. (Including the eventual death of the promotion.) This show is the AWA’s one and only foray into pay-per-view, and after months of promotion with a hot main event, the show drew a mere 1,500 people to the Chicago Pavilion (and even that number is suspect) and a so-so 0.5 buyrate (By point of comparison, the NWA’s poorly promoted Starrcade 88, with a stale Luger-Flair main, did a 1.8 buyrate a couple of weeks later). In other words, if the AWA was the Titanic, this show was the iceberg. The AWA’s answer to their problems was the same one that many desperate promoters have resorted to in order to save their hides: Cross-promotion. In this case, this show was a joint effort of the AWA, World Class (WCCW) and Memphis (CWA). Ironically, the “weakest” of the bunch, the CWA, would be the only survivor two years later. (As we’re discovering in the Flashbacks, Jerry Jarrett had already purchased World Class and become the de facto #3 while Verne continued to spiral.)
– Live from Chicago, IL. Original airdate: Dec. 13, 1988.
– Your hosts are Lee Marshall, Ray Stevens and Verne Gagne.
Opening match: Chavo, Hector & Mondo Guerrero v. Cactus Jack & the Rock N Roll RPMs.
Oh, geez, where to start? This is CWA v. WCCW. The Guerrero brothers here are the older brothers of Eddie, and the uncles of Chavo, Jr. Cactus was nothing at this point – little more than a indy bump machine who generated a bit of buzz in a couple of territories and was thus used for a shot on PPV. (Although seemingly every week in the Observer we hear “Some kid named Cactus Jack looked good in the opener”) The RPMs are Tommy Lane and Mike Davis, a perennial midcard tag team who bounced around the territories in the 80s and didn’t do anything of note. (Trivia note: Tommy Lane played the part of Archie Gouldie’s son Jeff in the famous Stampede angle that spawned the greatest promo of all time.) My tape is missing the first couple of minutes, as we join it with the Guerreros confusing the hell out of the heels. Cactus looks like a deer caught in the headlights here, having not yet learned to deal with the pressures of wrestling on live TV. He also hadn’t started wearing a shirt all the time. Another weird one: Future semi-star and AWA tag champ Mike Enos is a referee at this point. Chavo gets a hot tag and a big brawl erupts, and the Mexicans start pulling out all sorts of crazy-ass highspots that stun the crowd. Chavo moonsaults Tommy Lane for the pin. **1/2
– Larry Nelson interviews POWW champion Nina Ferrari about her participation in the lingerie battle royale later in the show. Those of you three or four steps ahead of the rest will of course realize that Miss Ferrari bounced around the women’s feds for many a year before settling in the WWF in 1998 as…Ivory. (Why the hell were they wasting TV time on interviewing POWW women?)
World Class Lightheavyweight title match:Jeff Jarrett v. Eric Embry.
And again, another rookie sensation, this time Jeff Jarrett. He was built like Jeff Hardy at this point, barely breaking 200. (He wasn’t really a “rookie” but he was pretty early in his career at this point.) He had zero personality at this point, instead relying on the push from daddy to carry him in his early years. He won the title from Eric Embry in Texas to illustrate that the promotions were, in fact, serious about working together. Of course, they weren’t, but this is wrestling and it’s built on little lies like that. Hammerlock sequence to start. Reversal sequence pisses off Embry (who is clearly carrying Jarrett step by step through this) as he plays the heel role, despite drawing big face heat. If you’ve never seen Eric Embry, picture a shorter Ted Dibiase. Although Mick Foley’s book and his description of Embry’s naked booking have weirded me out on the guy for life. Embry clothesline Jarrett to the floor, injuring his shoulder. Embry works on it. Jarrett comes back with a missile dropkick, but lands on his shoulder, which is a nice bit of psychology. Before that can go anywhere, we head home with a series of pinning reversals that ends with Embry on top to regain the title at 4:12. Good enough match for the time given. **1/2 Embry gets a big pop. And in fact, this match would eventually lead to the face turn for Embry that would give him his unbelievable babyface run in WCCW and give birth to the USWA as a result.
Wayne Bloom v. “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant.
This is easily distinguished as one of the AWA’s contributions to the show, because it’s a rookie jobber fighting a 55 year old veteran. But since that’s basically all they had left by this point, it’s understandable. See where the parallels to today’s WCW are coming from now? Bloom attacks from behind and then falls victim to a devastating elbowdrop for the pin at 0:23. No real point to that one. Valiant is Bobby Heenan’s brother, in case you didn’t know. (No, he’s not, that’s just one of those weird wrestling urban legend things because of Heenan’s connection with Jerry Valiant.) DUD
World Class Texas title match: Iceman “King” Parsons v. Brickhouse Brown.
Parsons was a pretty cool guy, but sadly his biggest contribution to wrestling ended up being the originator of the phrase “roody poo” for the Rock to steal. Well, maybe that and the blackout match, but that was more of a group effort. This is WCCW v. CWA again, by the way. Brickhouse is so named because he’s built like one. The actual phrase is generally “built like a brick shithouse”, but “Shithouse Brown” just doesn’t have that same ring to it. He’s a lanky Booker T type of wrestler. He overpowers Parsons to start and gets a quick backslide for two. Parsons hits the dreaded “butt-butt” (it’s not a head-butt, but rather…well, it’s pretty self-explanatory, I think) and a clothesline for two. Snap suplex gets two. Brickhouse comes back with a crossbody for two. Parsons slugs him down for two. Brown reverses out of a piledriver and comes back. Flying whatever gets two. Brown thinks it’s three, and that’s just asking for trouble with guys from the Mid-South around, and indeed Iceman finds a foreign object handy and KO’s Brown for the pin to retain at 5:41. Another good effort from the non-dying promotions involved. **1/2
Pat Tanaka, Paul Diamond & Madusa Micelli v. Derrick Dukes, Ricky Rice & Wendi Richter.
The ridiculous stipulation du jour here: Badd Company’s tag titles are on the line if they get pinned, and Richter’s Womens title is on the line if she gets pinned. Men and women can’t mix, thus negating the entire point of a mixed match. Two separate title matches would have actually made sense, so obviously they didn’t do that. Ricky Rice is a former jobber who is kinda like Lance Storm in that he has 1/4th the talent and all the interview skills, and he makes Paul Roma look like Chris Benoit. (Geez, I know I don’t like Roma, but OUCH.) He was in good with Verne Gagne so they gave him a Marty Jannetty-ish partner in the form of another pretty boy named John Paul and pushed them as a team called “the Top Guns”. They sucked. Oh, lord, did they suck. When it became apparent to even Gagne that this wasn’t working (and trust me, that takes a LOT) John Paul was replaced with a black guy named Derrick Dukes (I guess they figured no one would notice…) who was, if possible, EVEN WORSE. (In fact they had been teaming up as the Top Guns on the indy scene, and Verne signed them and swapped out Dukes for John Paul instead. Because when you think of people who are qualified to judge hot young tag teams, you think Verne Gagne.) Dukes went on to have the dubious distinction of becoming a boxer and taking one of the most widely exposed dives in recent memory, to Mark Gastineau, in a match that stretched the credibility limits of boxing’s already low standards. Tanaka and Diamond are more generally known to the casual fan as Kato and Tanaka, the Orient Express, in the WWF. Madusa is of course still herself, but 20 pounds heavier in the chest. (And a monster truck driver! And a future WWE Hall of Famer!) Their manager went on to the most fame and success of ANY of them, and of course that’s Diamond Dallas Page. Got all that? Well, anyway, the match blows so we can safely ignore it anyway. Dukes plays face in peril for a bit, before hot tagging Wendi Richter, who pins Madusa after a heel miscommunication spot at 5:42. (I think that’s grossly under-representing how clumsy and terrible this thing was.) Then to REALLY complicate things, the referee interprets the stips to mean that the titles are collective in this match, and since the babyface team won, they get ALL the titles, Women’s and tag team. That one is quickly overturned, but the Top Guns walk out with the belts anyway. ½*
AWA International TV title match: Ron Garvin v. Greg Gagne.
You all know how I feel about Greg Gagne, I hope? If not, think about every mean-spirited and cynical comment about Erik Watts I’ve ever made and multiply by 10. Well, that’s not entirely fair, because Gagne has a decent dropkick. Of course, since that’s the only move he can do with any degree of competence, they made it his FINISHER. See also Hogan, Hulk. The story here: Greg “I’m just a Heat Machine, and I won’t work for nobody but Daddy” Gagne had held the meaningless TV title (created just for him, isn’t that sweet) for about a year before this, but “lost” it to Garvin (fresh out of the NWA) in a screwy match a little bit previous to this. About 17 referees and a bazooka were required to take the title off Gagne, and even then Stanley Blackburn, who as figurehead president was so senile that he made Jack Tunney look like Dennis Miller, reversed the decision and held up the title. (And of course Garvin had already jumped to the WWF at the time. Still not sure why he bothered showing up here. I don’t think anyone would have blamed him in the least.) So we get this epic blowoff for the feud with babyface Greg against vile heel Garvin, and of COURSE the crowd completely turns on Greg, booing everything he does. Gagne controls with simple stuff. He works the arm, but Garvin wins a slugfest to take over. Gagne comes back, and Garvin narrowly escapes the DROPKICK OF DEATH and they both go over the top. Gagne beats the count back in to regain his title at 5:50. The crowd absolutely boos that finish out of the building. ½* Greg would hold the title until the AWA folded in 1990 and they pried it out of his hands. (Greg was a good worker and a cool guy, but the business had passed him by, especially in this kind of a role. Doing a tag team with the up-and-comer would have been a better use.)
– We take a look back at one of the numerous Lawler v. Von Erich matches that led up to this show.
POWW Lingerie street fight battle royale.
Speaking of people I hate, this is Scumbag of the Decade David McLane’s contribution to this show. If you ever meet Ivory or Luna, ask them about what a swell guy David was and be prepared to listen for a while. (Well you’re not going to meet Luna any longer, of course. Sidenote: At this point Luna was married to Dick Slater, and Slater went on to marry Madusa a few years later. What the hell is that guy packing to justify this kind of action?!?) There’s 8 women involved here, and Luna and Nina (Ivory) are the only ones who are anything today. This match is actually kind of stunning in it’s influence, because it’s 11 years ahead of it’s time: The winning conditions are over-the-top elimination and/or stripping your opponent. Standard crappy battle royale otherwise, especially because McLane’s method for selecting women for his pet promotions had less to do with wrestling talent than with looks and, shall we say, other talents. (Painting and world history, I assume.) Order of elimination doesn’t matter because you wouldn’t know any of the names anyway, but if you care it goes Laurie Lynn, Pocohontas, Nina, Bambi, Peggy Lee Leather, Luna and then Brandi Mae, giving the win to the Syrian Terrorist at 8:32. Gotta love how he just puts those racial stereotypes right out there for everyone to see. (At the very least, the Terrorist gimmick was 13 years ahead of its time.) Highlights of the match are McLane on commentary working in his favorite verb, “jamming”, every opportunity possible (as in “she’s jamming her on the mat!”) and the crowd chanting “Take it off” near the end just to make the match a total embarrassment to wrestling and human decency, as opposed to the near-total one it had been cruising along as. I don’t rate battle royales normally, but this one is pretty safely a DUD. (And Vince Russo watched and went “Hey! I’ve got an idea…”)
Boot Camp match: Sgt. Slaughter v. Col. DeBeers.
DeBeers is, for those who weren’t around in the 80s, the innovator of the South African white supremecist gimmick. Think Vern Schillinger with a military theme. I suspect he’s currently helping to book WCW. Oh, COME ON, you knew that joke was coming, didn’t you? (In all fairness, Schillinger was 1000 times better as a heel character than DeBeers.) They do a weak brawl for a few minutes before the usual miscommunication between heel and manager (DDP) leads to Sarge getting the cobra clutch for the submission at 5:38. Future Slaughter allies Iron Sheik & Adnan El-Kaissie (Col. Mustafa & Gen. Adnan) do a run-in and beat him down. DUD
– Bill Apter presents Jerry Lawler with the “Inspirational Wrestler of the Year” award from PWI. Hell, anyone who gets to bang Miss Kitty on a nightly basis is an inspiration to me! (This was actually typical AWA-ness, in that Apter had tried to give the award to Lawler earlier in the show, but went out and did the whole speech only to discover that Lawler was still in the dressing room desperately trying to work out a finish with Kerry Von Erich after Verne double-crossed him. So this was actually the SECOND attempt at the promo on the evening.)
World Class tag team title: The Samoan Swat Team v. Michael Hayes & Steve Cox.
The story here is that former Hayes partner Buddy Roberts is managing the SST. The SST was undefeated minus one at this point, with the only loss coming to, you guessed it, Hayes and Cox. They regained the titles at the Parade of Champions 88 and this is yet another rematch. Everyone was pretty much counting on Hayes to turn on Cox and reform the Freebirds, but WCW signed him away before that could happen. Steve, by the way, has the dumbest nickname I’ve heard in years: “Do It To It”. And wouldn’t you know that Lee Marshall just HAS to use it every other sentence. I have no idea what happened to poor Steve, but if the enthusiasm shown by Lee Marshall every time he says “do it to it” in regards to Steve is any indication, I’d check Lee’s closet. (He left the US and worked for Maeda’s UWF before it folded, and then kicked around indies doing nothing in particular until he retired in the early 90s.) Cox controls with basic stuff before SST cheating puts them in control. For the millionth time, Fatu is currently Rikishi Phatu. Come to think of it, I’m surprised Vince Russo didn’t pull Steve out of retirement for name value alone: “But Bill, we can have one of the Nitro Girls manage him and use ‘I like Cox’ as a catchphrase! It can’t fail!” Either that or as a partner for Lenny & Lodi, same catchphrase. Hayes finally gets the hot tag and a brawl erupts. Cox hits a plancha on Samu as Hayes DDTs Fatu, but ref distraction allows Roberts to KO Hayes with his wallet (don’t ask) for the SST pin at 7:49 to retain. Good match. ***
Indian Strap Match: Manny Fernandez v. Wahoo MacDaniel.
This would be roughly equivalent to the Flair v. Hogan strap match coming up next month for WCW. Totally standard 80s strap match, all of which I hated back then and still do today. Both guys bleed, which isn’t surprisingly considering the state of their foreheads. Manny touches three corners and then inexplicably goes to the top rope and gets yanked off. Wahoo touches all four for the win at 7:44. Senior’s tour all the way. * (The justification for the match was that they would go out and bleed all over the ring, prompting Stanley Blackburn to issue a warning to the referee in the main event not to let it get similarly out of hand. This of course was never actually made clear during the show and might have actually made the main event storyline work.)
“Unification” match: AWA World champion Jerry Lawler v. WCCW World champion Kerry Von Erich.
I won’t even go into all the bullshit politics and backroom dealing that went into this match and the events following it, because we’ll be here all day. Suffice it to say, this is the closest thing there’s even been and that we’ll probably ever see to an actual World title unification match. (Tatsumi Fujinami actually ended up for a few minutes in Japan with the IWGP, World Class and Pacific Northwest titles the week before this, too!) Von Erich has Frank Dusek in his corner, a really cool guy to chat with about wrestling. Shoving match, then Lawler rams Kerry’s forearm into the ringpost, drawing blood already! (Yeah, he was stoned in the locker room before the match and managed to slice his arm open with his own blade.) Lawler stalls. Marshall claims that Von Erich beat Flair, Hogan and Savage. The first one, yeah, but Kerry would have to have made his pro debut about 5 years sooner to even be in the same promotion as the other two at any point, let alone go over them. But if you know otherwise (as in YOU’VE SEEN THE MATCH, not “I heard from…” or “I read…”) let me know. (No, what Lee MEANT to say is that BETWEEN them, both guys had beaten Flair, Hogan and Savage.) Kerry cradles Lawler for two. Lawler comes back with right hands, sending Von Erich to the floor. More stalling, then Kerry hops up on the apron and knocks Lawler down with a discus punch. He slingshots into the ring and hits NOTHING BUT KNEE, BABY! Lawler gets the piledriver, but we’re on neutral ground rather than Memphis, so Kerry is able to no-sell and hit another discus punch for two. He goes for the TEMPLE MASSAGE OF DOOM (aka the Iron Claw) but Lawler fights him off. Ref is bumped, and Von Erich gets a piledriver for a long two count. Out of the ring, and Kerry discus punches the ringpost by accident. OUCH! Barry Windham would lift that spot from him a couple of months later against Lex Luger. (Well, they lifted the finish for THIS match from Luger in July, so all’s fair.) Back in, and Lawler finds a foreign object and goes to town with it. Von Erich starts bleeding like a stuck Madden. Big fistdrop results in Kerry catching Lawler with a claw to the stomach. Von Erich’s blood is literally dripping down and staining the ring. Now THAT’S a manly bladejob. The ref keeps checking the cut and Kerry keeps brushing him off. Kerry releases the hold and then charges Lawler, headbutting the post as a result. The cut is thus opened wider, and Lawler pistons it like a maniac until Kerry is up to about 0.8 Muta. Both Lawler and Von Erich are just covered in Kerry’s blood, as it’s EVERYWHERE. Kerry mounts a comeback, and the ref keeps checking the cut. The blood is so thick that he can hardly move Von Erich’s hair out of the way – it’s all soaked and matted with blood. (“Yeah, I was just popping a big bottle of aspirin in the back so I’d bleed more, why?”) Back to the clawhold, and the ref is about to count Lawler out, but thinks better of it and decides to simply stop the match and AWARD it to Lawler due to Von Erich’s gruesome blood loss at 18:50. Bullshit finish to an otherwise excellent match. ***3/4 The “one big happy family” situation with Lawler as unified champion lasted all of a month before internal politics caused the whole deal to self-destruct and Lawler was removed as AWA World champion, thus un-unifying the titles. Politics: Just Say No.
Robert Fuller & Jimmy Golden v. The Rock n Roll Express.
Rather odd choice for the closer. (This was supposed to be AWA tag champs vs. Southern tag champs, but they never got around to putting the tag titles on the Rock N Roll Express before the show due to losing all their TV taping dates.) Fuller is better known as manager Robert Parker, while his partner Jimmy Golden became better known as one of the wrestlers in his stable: Bunkhouse Buck. (Fuller is also more known for some impressive attributes, according to the ladies.) Crap match to kill a few minutes, I guess, as nothing of note happens and it ends in a lame double countout at 7:20. ½*
The Bottom Line:
The show doesn’t look too bad on paper, right? Well, if you eliminate the cross-promotional matches, here’s what you’re left with from the AWA:
– Badd Company & Madusa v. Top Guns & Wendi Richter (1/2*)
– Wayne Bloom v. Jimmy Valiant (DUD)
– Greg Gagne v. Ron Garvin (1/2*)
– Sgt. Slaughter v. Col. DeBeers (DUD)
– Wahoo MacDaniel v. Manny Fernandez (*)
Not exactly a lineup to set the world on fire, is it?
Furthermore, because the show did such a crappy buyrate and a non-existant gate, ol’ Verne started getting cautious about handing out the money promised to everyone involved. His son got his cut, and the Senior Circuit got their cut, but pretty soon the other involved parties started realizing that they had basically lent Verne their talent for free and were never going to see that money. The end result? No one wanted to work with Verne anymore, and his promotion died a quicker death than it would have otherwise suffered.
The AWA was laid to rest for good in December of 1990, although that was really the last shovelful of dirt – the coffin was in the grave by April of 1990 and the funeral arrangements started up as soon as Larry Zbyszko won the vacated AWA title in a battle royale in February of 1989.
And you know what? The AWA had been around since the early 60s, which is roughly 30 years longer than WCW’s been around, and no one thought that Gagne would ever go under, either. But he did, and the lesson was set: ANYONE, given enough stupidity and loss of money, can go broke.
Think about it. (Yeah, we would learn THAT lesson about two years after I wrote this.)