This weekend marks the official end of a pro wrestling tradition. The WWE will no longer promote the Great American Bash as an event. The show has been officially renamed the WWE Bash. Mark this as yet another once great wrestling tradition put into extinction by the WWE.
It is almost 24 years ago that Dusty Rhodes created the Great American Bash for the NWA and Jim Crockeet Promotions. Vince McMahon wasn’t the only one to take big risks on big shows. Jim Crockett Promotions and Dusty Rhodes may have bit off more than they could chew with the first Great American Bash on July 6, 1985.
In 1984 Dusty Rhodes made one of the biggest jumps in pro wrestling history. Rhodes jumped as booker of Eddie Graham’s Florida Championship Wrestling into the same seat within Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. Would a new audience and a new clientele eat up Rhodes’ crazy angles and super hero babyfaces like the fans in Florida?
Rhodes wanted to bring the same stadium concept to a bigger stage. Florida was a territory while Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling was making a national presence due to its WTBS programming. Rhodes cherry picked the best of the territories, booking a true super card of pro wrestling. Rhodes’ gambling didn’t just end with the show itself.
Rhodes took an equally big gamble on the main-event. Rhodes took a virtual rookie and entrusted him with the biggest main-event of Rhodes’ tenure as booker. Rhodes took Nikita Koloff with only a year in the business and put him in the main-event against the NWA world champion. This was a move that would have had the Internet buzzing with controversy if it were done in 2008.
A big part of the first Great American Bash was the pro wrestling magazines. Cable television was still in its infancy. Unable to gain access to the burgeoning WWF, the magazines were happy to devote coverage to the territories. Wrestlers like the Road Warriors, Magnum TA, Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Jerry Lawler, the Freebirds, Kamala, and others were almost mythical to readers who never got the chance to see them in their towns.
It should be no surprise that Pro Wrestling Illustrated was a big investor in the first Great American Bash. Pro Wrestling Illustrated sponsored a Ringmasters VHS video release of the event. The video was heavily promoted for years in their sister publications and was the only way for most fans around the country to see their favorite stars in action that they have only read about.
The event was a huge success. The stadium drew 27,000 people with an estimated live gate of $300,000. If you take inflation into account, that is a tremendous gate for a relatively small promotion. I am sure the company made hundreds of thousands of dollars on video sales in addition to the live gate, and merchandise sold at the event.
The show was built around Nikita Koloff vs. Ric Flair for the NWA world title. Flair was a tweener at the time which means he would play dual babyface and heel depending upon where he would wrestle. In the Carolinas, Flair was coming off a feud with the popular Magnum T.A. Koloff clotheslined announcer and Flair friend, David Crockett to turn Flair completely babyface.
The match itself was quite a spectacle. The ripped up, muscle bound Koloff promising to take the belt back to Russia against the blonde haired, cocky, arrogant champion. Koloff talked quite a bit about the match and the event on my radio shows a few years ago.
That particular match again, I feel pretty privileged to have been in it. I was only 13 months into the business, and here I’m wrestling in front of 30,000 plus people for the World Heavyweight Title, and needless to say I was pumped and ready brother. I was pumped, and I just look back on that match and feel thankful that I had an opportunity to partake in that.
The introductions of the match are probably more memorable than the match itself. Flair entered the stadium via helicopter with one of the greatest entrances of all-time. Flair pinned Koloff to retain the title and make the fans happy. David Crockett acted as special referee for the match. As a representative of the United States, Flair was cheered wildly by the fans.
In another match of note, the Road Warriors came to town for one of their first appearances in Jim Crockett Promotions. Dusty followed his successful title vs. title formula and booked the AWA tag team champion Warriors against the NWA tag team champions, the Russians. The Road Warriors fought Krusher Khruschev and Ivan Koloff to a double disqualification.
Dusty Rhodes would take the Bash on the road to stadiums around the country the next year. Rhodes turned the Bash into a summer touring series which proved to be disastrous at the box office. The Bash would move into arenas the following year and rebound with the War Games. The Bash would never return to its roots after 1987 with stadium shows.
The first Great American Bash deserves recognition for one of the gutsiest and innovate shows in pro wrestling history. It is fair to argue whether Vince McMahon would have had the same ambitions for WrestleMania without the first Great American Bash.
In other results;
Magnum T.A. defeated Kamala by disqualification to retain the U.S. title
The Andersons defeated Buzz Sawyer and Dick Slater to retain the NWA national tag team titles
Ron Bass and Buddy Landell fought to a draw
Manny Fernandez, Sam Houston, and Buzz Tyler defeated Superstar Billy Graham, Konga the Barbarian, and Abdullah the Butcher
Jimmy Valiant defeated Paul Jones in a Dog Collar Match
Grab a copy of Ringmasters – The Great American Bash 85 on VHS by clicking here.