On This Day: March 27, 1988 – Clash of the Champions #1: The Man Called Sting

Sorry for missing this as I got very busy on Wednesday.

Clash of the Champions
Date: March 27, 1988
Location: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, North Carolina
Attendance: 6,000
Commentators: Tony Schiavone, Jim Ross

There’s quite a bit to say here. This show likely should have been called Crockett’s Revenge. Twice Vince had sabotaged Crockett’s attempt at a PPV debut. First he put on a show called Survivor Series on the same night as Starrcade 87, which was their version of Mania. He had told the PPV companies that if they didn’t show his show, they wouldn’t get Mania 4. The last PPV had been Mania 3, so this terrified the PPV guys. All but like 3 went with Vince. Crockett tried again in January with an awful show called Bunkhouse Stampede which focused on a battle royal. Vince put on a free show about a battle royal and called it the Royal Rumble.

So now it’s late March, which means Wrestlemania time. In fact, this is Wrestlemania night. So Crockett, the nice guy that he is, puts on this: a free show of PPV quality. The main event is Ric Flair vs. a former Horseman (bet a lot of you didn’t know that) who won a title shot and dared to ask Flair for it. He’s incredibly athletic, young, strong and popular. His name is Sting. This show is universally considered his coming out party as he went from a local guy in the UWF to a solid guy in Crockett, to a national star immediately after this match. In short, without this match, Sting means nothing to wrestling. Let’s get to it.

The opening video runs down the show in an incredibly laid back tone. The announcer is talking about revenge etc and sounds like he’s ordering dinner. Keep in mind this was on TBS (a cable channel) so there will be commercials.

Tony is kind of rocking a porn stache.

TV Title: Mike Rotunda vs. Jimmy Garvin

Rotunda is in the Varsity Club here, which is based on the idea of them all being college athletes. Therefore, this is under college rules. There are three five minute periods and only a one count is needed. Teddy “I still have hair here” Long is referee. Rotunda (IRS later on) is kind of like Swagger-Lite. Garvin is nowhere near as good as Rotunda is on the mat so he’s the underdog here by a long stretch.

We see a LOT of the fans. We know they’re there dudes. There’s a lot of feeling out here with both guys doing basic stuff, which is the idea of the match so I can’t complain about it. The audio on this tape is horrible so I’ll have to do my best on it but I apologize if I miss something. The weird thing is that there’s basic pro stuff here which is almost completely against the idea. Rotunda goes insane on him and almost gets him as we go to the bell to end the first round.

There’s a 30 second rest period. Mike jumps him almost immediately and we get a slam, likely the most high impact move so far. We then have a slam off the top for a change of pace. Kevin Sullivan, Rotunda’s stable mate goes after Precious, Garvin’s wife. That allows a rollup on Garvin to end it. Rick Steiner, the other member of the Varsity Club, comes down and they beat up Garvin but he saves Precious in the end. This was part of a WEIRD angle where Sullivan tried to “get” Precious and had some kind of papers to make that happen. We never found out what they were and the angle never was finished, but dang it was out there.

Rating: D+. This is a hard one to grade as it was just so different from the traditional match, but this was really just a small piece in the epic feud between Garvin and the Varsity Club. This would dominate the midcard for most of a year as the Varsity Club was incredibly successful. Had the Horsemen not been the greatest stable ever and not been around at that time, it would be very interesting to see just how far these guys could have gone. They were that good. Anyway, this was just to have more Precious vs. Sullivan and Garvin vs. Rotunda so they could be introduced to the audience. No harm there.

Dr. Death talks about Dusty and Magnum who have been having some problems with heels lately. He wants the winner of Sting vs. Flair. DAng I’d pay to see either of those matches.

Ad for the Four Horsemen Vitamins. Take that Flintstones!

US Tag Titles: Midnight Express vs. Fantastics

The heels are the champions and if you don’t know who the heels are then you fail. It’s Eaton and Stan here for the historically challenged. The Fantastics jump them to start and it is on quick. We go immediately to the floor as this is a huge feud and has been for months. This was the golden era of tag wrestling and these two along with the Rock N Roll Express led the charge.

It’s still just a wild brawl with chairs and tables all over the place. Keep in mind this is 1988 so this stuff is incredibly extreme at the time, at least to the masses. Ross is panicking over all this stuff. This was when he was relatively young and got even more excited than he would later on. It was a regular tag situation for about 9 seconds before we hit the brawling again. Lane’s karate was always cool. The heels beat on Rogers for awhile in textbook fashion. They should be able to anyway since they were half of the guys that made up the modern tag formula.

He gets thrown to the floor and Eaton hits a bulldog on a table. This is an incredibly brutal match. Rogers is pretty much dead at this point and can barely stand but he keeps going. He makes a tag but the referee doesn’t see it. Fulton is like SCREW THAT and throws the referee out. The Rocket Launcher (Assisted top rope splash, the finisher of the Fantastics and later stolen by the Midnights) ends it. And then the original referee says no as it’s a DQ due to Fulton throwing the referee. Say it with me: DUSTY FINISH. The heels and Cornette beat the heck out of Rogers afterwards.

Rating: B+. Entertaining match here, but too short for my taste. This got about ten minutes and after a three minute brawl, seven minutes just feels too short. You give this another five minutes or so and it goes way up, possibly to near A+ levels. They never stop moving here and it’s just flat out entertaining. Very, very good match. The Fantastics would get the belts about a month later.

Ken Osmond, the guy that played Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver, is here and talks to Cornette. Comedy ensues.

Gary Hart and Al Perez issue a challenge to Dusty Rhodes for the US Title.

We get the top ten seeds for the Crockett Cup. We’ll have to do that someday.

10. Ivan Koloff/Dick Murdoch
9. Sting/Ron Garvin
8. Varsity Club
7. Fantastics
6. Barry Windham/Lex Luger
5. Powers of Pain
4. Midnight Express
3. Road Warriors
2. Nikita Koloff/Dusty Rhodes
1. Arn Anderson/Tully Blanchard

Shockingly, Dusty would win the cup. Yeah imagine that: the booker and US Champion gets another trophy for himself.

Road Warriors/Dusty Rhodes vs. Powers of Pain/Ivan Koloff

There’s barbed wire between the ropes and Animal has a mask on his face because of an injury. Animal had been doing bench presses and the heels jumped him, hurting his face. The fans are one sided to say the least. The one thing they haven’t told us is how the guys get in the ring now that there is barbed wire set up around the ropes. Ah the crawl under. Well that was anticlimactic.

Animal is in a hockey mask due to face injuries. A grand total of nothing is going on here. No one is going near the barbed wire and it’s a bunch of punching and people doing their normal stuff. Hawk goes up for a punch from the top to really mix things up a bit. Tony points out how tired everyone is which is true and is quite sad really. Animal gets a powerslam on Warlord for two and then Barbarian misses a headbutt on Animal, hitting Warlord which lets Hawk get the pin. The heels beat down Animal after the match until Dusty makes the save. Well who else was going to do it?

Rating: D. Boring stuff here but just three and a half minutes or so. This feud never really went anywhere but it’s not like there was any substance to it anyway. At least this was short so that’s really all that matters. Dusty was just worthless in the ring at this point so he gave himself the US Title anyway.

There’s a new NWA show coming up and it meant nothing.

Nikita Koloff, in a suit, says he’s a new Russian and says he’s against drugs now. What the heck am I watching? He yells about Kevin Sullivan and says he’s going to win the world title.

Tag Titles: Barry Windham/Lex Luger vs. Arn Anderson/Tully Blanchard

Luger is still fairly green here so I wouldn’t expect much out of him here. Blanchard is in the Rack in less than a minute so you can tell this is going to be a fun one. The champions have made three tags less than two minutes in. Windham comes in as the crowd is red hot here. In a dumb camera move Windham hits a big powerslam and covers but at two we jump to a shot of Dillon for no apparent reason.

Windham puts Blanchard to sleep on the floor. This is an incredibly fast paced match. Anderson gets the DDT and this is going too fast for me to type. The spinebuster hits Windham before it has a name. Windham hits a gutwrench suplex on Blanchard and both are down, marking the first time in the whole match where nothing is going on. Not bad for six minutes in.

Slingshot Suplex gets two on Windham and Blanchard is STUNNED. We’re waiting on the hot tag to Luger and there it is. The Package cleans house and Tony is losing his mind off of this. Dillon gets a chair for Arn but Luger reverses to send Anderson into it for the pin and the titles. The crowd ERUPTS over this as the Horsemen finally lost the belts, which was something people had been begging for since the day they won them, an agonizing six months ago. JR’s completely over the top announcing just makes it all the sweeter.

Rating: A-. This match is just shy of ten minutes and at most there are 30 seconds where something isn’t happening. I don’t even remember the cruiserweights going this fast during the Nitro shows. The idea here was do something completely different here which they did: no one went this fast at this time, at least no one major and it worked. I know it sounds really basic and it is but the fans HATED the Horsemen and were dying to see them lose the belts.

They had made a habit out of cheating or winning by DQ so many times that the fans were furious at them, so to see someone actually get the win, especially Luger who was kicked out like six weeks ago, was just a massive orgasm moment for everyone. And then Windham turned on Luger in a legit shock to join the Horsemen and make them into the unit that is considered the A-Team of the Horsemen if you can imagine that.

There are judges for the main event. There MUST be a winner. Remember that. The judges are Sandy Scott (former wrestler), Patty Mullin (Penthouse Pet), Ken Osmond (Leave it to Beaver) and Jason Hearvey (Wonder Years). Yeah I’m sure this isn’t going to go badly at all. There are four judges. No one saw a problem with this at all.

NWA World Title: Sting vs. Ric Flair

Sting is BRAND new at this point so this should be little more than a glorified squash. Flair’s entrance is nothing short of epic. Dillon, Flair’s manager, is in a cage at ringside. This would be like Evan Bourne getting a title shot. Ok maybe not that low but somewhere between him and Kingston. This is a legendary match but not for the in ring stuff. There we go.

We start with a lot of basic stuff as you would expect. You can get away with a lot of stuff like this with a long time limit like they have to work with. We hear about Flair’s strength which is definitely not something you hear about on a regular basis. Sting dominates early so Flair bails like a good heel. There’s a lot of arm work going on in there which is a basic tactic that works well enough. Sting busts out a flying headscissors which isn’t something you see every day from him. We’re five minutes in and nothing of note has happened.

Tony tells us that if the match ends early we have some standby matches ready, one of which is Shane Douglas vs. Larry Zbyszko for the Western States Title. A title match is a standby match. Does that just sound odd to anyone else? Now of course those matches were never going to happen, but still it makes the belt sound even weaker than it already was. Sting STILL has that headlock on. Well there’s something going on at least….kind of.

Sting’s chest is bleeding from Flair’s chops. There’s headlock #4. Again thought hey have a lot of time left in this. The idea here makes sense though as Sting is young and nervous so he found something that works and he’s sticking with it. He’s trying to get a bunch of little victories where he can, such as a headlock like this. He’s won that battle so he can go from there. That’s probably looking into it too much but I love Sting so I’ll grasp at straws, especially when they come close to making sense.

He uses the headlock one more time as this is starting to get boring with nothing else going on. We look at the Penthouse Pet and Ross says she’s likely used to seeing action. Well ok then JR. We hit ten minutes and it’s the same situation as it was at five minutes past. Sting’s offense is shall we say limited. He hooks a bearhug which is a weird move for a face to use the majority of the time.

Well to be fair though the Scorpion works on the back so there’s a thought there. Fifteen minutes in and Sting has him on the mat in a bearhug which isn’t something you see every day but it works at least. Sting lets him go and is all fired up. The jumping elbow of course misses to get us back to even. Flair hasn’t controlled at all in fifteen minutes so far. And of course that changes just after I type that.

He works on Sting’s back for some reason instead of the legs, but I guess it could be because it slows Sting down. We’re twenty minutes in now as I think we’re speeding up the clock here. Either that or this is a rather uninteresting match. It’s not terrible or anything but there isn’t much going on here. Sting Hulks Up and the crowd wakes up with him. Ross loses his mind over this as I don’t think we’ve had any commercials in this match.

Sting goes for a Stinger’s Splash against the post and just guess how that goes for him. You would think a face would learn over time but apparently not. Flair goes to the wrist but Sting nips up in a cool move. He gets the Scorpion but Flair is in the ropes almost immediately as we have 20 minutes to go. Flair fakes Sting out of his shoes and puts him on the floor again. That looked great.

The idea here is that Flair can’t put Sting away as he just keeps coming back but Sting can’t finish Flair since all he has is the Scorpion. Ah and now we go for Sting’s knees. Now that’s more like it. The judges look at something completely different, showing how brilliant of an idea this was. We’re down to fifteen left. Figure Four goes on and Sting is in real trouble as it’s in the middle of the ring.

After being in it for like a minute and a half Sting turns it over to a very shocked reaction. Both guys have bad knees now so of course Sting is able to do a delayed vertical suplex on a 240lb man. We go abdominal stretch of all things over thirty minutes into a match. Well this is old school so that’s fine I guess. Ten minutes to go. Even after thirty five minutes Flair can’t get the top rope whatever. You have to call it that since there’s almost no way to know what it would be.

Sting hooks a Figure Four on Flair but since he’s not Jay Lethal it doesn’t work. They’re doing a lot of basic stuff here but extending it out to kill time. It’s working though so it’s not so bad. Nature Boy tries to get disqualified and that gets him nowhere. The fans are way into it now as things have cranked up a lot. Sting throws Flair over the judges’ table in a good looking spot.

We have five minutes left and Flair is reeling. You can see the ending coming a mile away but it’s still good stuff. Four minutes left and Sting no sells an atomic drop, apparently having balls of steel. The Splash misses though and Sting crashes to the floor. Three minutes left and they slow things down. Two minutes left and Sting gets a two count off a sunset flip.

I love how Sting no sells chops. He’s all like BRING IT ON BLONDIE as we hit one minute. The Splash hits and he gets the Scorpion with thirty seconds left. Just like Shawn in the Iron Man match, Flair doesn’t give up in the same hold. The time limit expires so we’re going to go to the judges. Sting controlled longer and likely did win the match if you go on a scoring system.

After a break for the judges to tally their scores, we get the results. The Penthouse chick says Flair. Some guy that hasn’t been mentioned at all yet says Sting. Hervey says Sting. Leave it to Beaver dude says Flair. The wrestler says it’s a draw, so Flair keeps the belt.

Rating: B. Well it’s long and solid but far from a classic. This was meant to do one thing though and that was get Sting over. To say that worked is an understatement. This is the definition of a match where even though he lost the guy got elevated a lot. This match flies by and is definitely worth checking out. Flair vs. Sting is a match that was always at least worth watching and this was one of their better ones. Coupling that as something historic and it’s easily recommended.

Overall Rating: B+. This is definitely a more fun show than Mania was. Everything has a purpose and it’s only about two hours long. With a great tag match and a very solid main event, how can you go wrong? The Mania numbers were higher than Mania 3 though so it’s not like this made a huge difference. Crockett was in trouble though as soon after this he was more or less broke and sold to Turner. Anyway though this was a great show and well worth checking out.

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