Welcome to the very first edition of The Best And Worst Of NWA World Championship Wrestling, our new vintage column dedicated to the company that would eventually become WCW.
If you want to watch this episode (the first episode of the show available) on WWE Network — and honestly, I don’t expect any of you to remember or even be old enough to remember ANY of this — you can do that here. We’re going to take a fun, mostly objective look back at pro wrestling history in the time and place I grew up in, and I’m doing furious, nerdy research to fill in my knowledge gaps.
If you like this concept and want it to continue, it is your civic duty to share this column, leave us a comment and discuss the show and/or the persons and events involved. If nobody reads it, I’m gonna write a 180-word blog fart about who is reportedly backstage at Smackdown. TRY ME.
And now, God bless us, the Best and Worst of NWA World Championship Wrestling for November 2, 1985.
Before We Begin
Here’s everything you need to know about NWA World Championship Wrestling. The TV show, not the promotion. Your first homework is to dance like Steve Martin to that rockin’ synth beat in the opening. That’s how you do laser noises, NXT intro theme.
Welcome to TBS, the SUPER STATION, on somebody’s television at 6:05 eastern on a Saturday in 1985. What you’re about to watch — uh, read about me watching — is, more or less, WCW Monday Nitro 10 years earlier. To understand that show’s unspoken, lingering, southern charms, you have to go back and learn how impossibly regional and niche it used to be.
♫ Summer lovin’, had me a blast ♫
♫ Summer lovin’, happened so fast ♫
Your hosts are Tony Schiavone and David Crockett.
If you’re up on your Nitro you know Tony, pictured here about 10 years younger, 25 pounds lighter and rocking a mustache. Mustache Tony is OG Tony. It was so unusual to see him clean shaven that when he shaved it off, my dad started calling him “Tony No-Mustache-avone.” You can see where I get my great wrestling jokes from. In that picture he’s internally dealing with some very complicated feelings about KISS’ ‘Asylum’ record.
In addition to being a 19th-century American folk hero, David Crockett is the brother of the guy who owns the promotion (Jim, who you’ll be meeting later) and is, succinctly, an excited 3-year old child in a 40-year old man’s body. His job is mostly to let Tony talk, then point at whatever’s happening and go, “LOOK! LOOK! TONY LOOK!”
They’re broadcasting from the WTBS studios at 1050 Techwood Drive in Atlanta, which looks a lot like somebody stuffed a bunch of flags into a giant McDLT container. Gonna try to keep my references time-specific.
We’re just over three weeks away from Thanksgiving and the third annual STARRCADE event, which was the National Wrestling Alliance’s answer to the World Wrestling Federation’s WrestleMania. Their answer to WrestleMania two years before WrestleMania existed. Shut up, Vince McMahon invented that idea. The event is set to be broadcast on closed-circuit television, which is a lot like pay-per-view, except you have to have to watch it in one location with like a thousand other people and everything’s taped with surveillance cameras.
The major feud here, as you might’ve guessed, is between Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes. Ric Flair is a hip-hop icon in his prime, flying limousines and riding in jets and stealing wheels or whatever. He’s the coolest, smartest, craftiest, best-dressed and most egotistical man in the wrestling business, in command of a ruthless faction of slightly less cool, considerably less rich guys who do his dirty work in exchange for getting to hang out with him. He’s about a week away from making that official. His natural foil is Rhodes, a man who looks and moves like an anthropomorphic cabbage and speaks with a nasally lisp, and is somehow the most charismatic, likeable and identifiable man in wrestling. He’s the common man, the son of a plumber, and while he dresses like he’s stuck somewhere between cowboy, grandpa and movie star, he’s your dude.
The short version is that Dusty’s a nice guy who cares about people, and Flair’s a dick. At the Omni in Atlanta a little over a month before this episode, Flair was stuck in a cage getting his ass kicked by The Russians. I’ll explain them later. Dusty came to his aid, elbowing a bunch of Russians in the face and sending them packing. Dusty turned his attention to helping Flair recover, and that’s when Flair’s “cousins” The Andersons, Ole and Arn, stormed the ring, locked the cage door and broke Dusty’s ankle. These jerks are Vikings at breaking Dusty’s shit.
Dusty has vowed to come back, and has announced that he’s returning soon to prepare to face Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship at Starrcade. The heels think there’s no way he can get back that quickly.
Best: Ric Flair And His Cousins
An important thing to remember about Flair and the Andersons is that they’re the only three cultured, worldly, affluent dudes at the TBS Studios. The Andersons are hard-working Minnesota types, but Flair sees himself as Quicksilver in a world of sloths. He’s traveling the world defending this prestigious action sports championship, and everywhere he goes, his clientele is ’80s southern wrestling fans.
Look at that outfit. Checkered sport coat with a cream vest, periwinkle shirt with a butterfly collar and a gold chain. Also, the 10 Pounds Of Gold. I think the most underappreciated part of 1980s Ric Flair are his Porsche 5621 sunglasses, which were SUCH a crucial part of his image and just ditched in the ’90s. Flair’s fashion just fell the hell apart in the ’90s for some reason. What I’m saying is that those shades should be as important to “Ric Flair” as the robes and the woo.
Slick Ric is chill about Dusty’s promises to return, then LOSES HIS SHIT about it, because he’s Ric Flair. He compares Dusty to Keith Byars of the Ohio State Buckeyes, who returned from injury too early and got “carried off the field yesterday.” He was a Heisman Trophy candidate, and now he’s just another guy hoping to come back. In retrospect this isn’t the best example, as Byars was still drafted in the first round and played 13 years of pro ball.
One of the best moments is when Flair mentions that his dad’s a doctor, so he personally knows Dusty’s foot can’t be healed this fast, and that he won’t wrestle. RIC FLAIR’S DAD WORKS FOR NINTENDO AND GOT HIM SUPER MARIO BROTHERS 5, YOU CAN PLAY AS BOWSER.
Unsurprisingly, the Andersons are also confident that they got the job done. Long before he was a fussy grandpa who wore Canadian tuxedos to Spring Break, Arn Anderson and his smooth Blue Oyster Cult-looking ass could pull off the dark glasses, gold chains and underpants look. I mean, Ole looks like he’s in his wrestling gear. Arn looks like he forgot to put on clothes.
Best: Dusty Rhodes’ Bionic Foot
Everybody loved Dusty Rhodes, but that was partially because Dusty booked the shows to make sure everyone loved Dusty Rhodes. In fact, Starrcade ’85’s subtitle is “The Gathering,” because it’s a gathering of wrestling fans to support Dusty Rhodes. Like any super popular babyface, Dusty got away with shit nobody on a level playing field claiming they’re playing fair should get away with.
On this episode, we get a dedicated “visit the doctor and check up on Dusty Rhodes” segment where Tony Schiavone talks to Dr. Joseph Swanick, Dusty’s physician, about the SPECIAL ROBOT BOOT Dusty’s dedicated bootmaker in Austin made for him using the same technology people use to protect construction workers. He’s gonna have an air cast and a special reinforced super boot with steel toes (what) and a reinforced ankle. SURE, THIS SEEMS FINE.
Best: House Tully
Meet Tully Blanchard, a second generation star born in Canada and raised in Texas who believes he’s the greatest wrestler in the world, and probably would be if he didn’t believe it. Tully is like the dirt mall Ric Flair. He wears nice suits, but they aren’t as nice as Flair’s. He has a Rolex and some rings, but they aren’t as nice as Flair’s. He wears sunglasses too, but they aren’t as dark. He’s shorter, and more weaselly, and he’s got the United States Championship instead of the World Heavyweight. Instead of “kissing all the girls” like Ric Flair, he’s in a selfish, abusive relationship with a 6-foot tall former World Class valet named Baby Doll who he hates, but calls “The Perfect 10.” Tully Blanchard sucks as a human being, in all the best ways.
He’s a former rival of Dusty’s and is currently stuck in a long feud with Dusty’s best friend, Magnum T.A.. His name’s “Terry Allen” and he kinds looks like a pro wrestling Magnum P.I., so that’s the name. Imagine if Sam Elliott was 26 years old and a beefcake pro wrestler. Imagine how much your mom would LOVE him. My mom once bought a program at a show because it had a centerfold of Magnum wearing a towel. He is MOM CENTRAL.
Magnum keeps trying to beat Tully, and Tully keeps fucking him over. This all builds to one big final match in the Greensboro Coliseum, which Tully says is Magnum’s last shot. If he can’t beat him here, he’s never wrestling him again. They beat the Christ out of each other for 45 minutes, and the match ends when Magnum atomic drops Tully into the corner, Tully snaps back and their heads crack, and they’re both knocked out. The match is a draw, and Magnum’s hopes are dashed.
He’s got one last idea: challenge Blanchard to an end-all match at Starrcade. An “I Quit” match, a match that can’t end with a double knockout. It only ends when one man finally, definitively surrenders. Tully’s like, “fuck you, never again.” He’s a bastard, I’m telling you.
Magnum has two responses. The first is to sexually harass Baby Doll in … what is that, a roller-skating rink?
Sexually harass Baby Doll inside of a giant 1980s windbreaker?
Anyway, the point here is that Magnum tells Baby Doll he’s going to show her what it’s like to be with a “real man” and forces a kiss on her. The always classy and completely grown up David Crockett hops around behind them yelling, “LOOK, SHE LIKES IT! SHE LIKES IT!” Forced kisses were the ultimate babyface move in the 1980s for some reason. You couldn’t HIT a woman, so you had to KISS her against her will until she like, fell into a coma. Everybody did it, and it’s endlessly bizarre. There are three (3) forced kisses on this ONE EPISODE.
When Magnum’s done kissing her, she slaps him and tries to walk away. Magnum’s response is to try to RIP HER CLOTHES OFF. Man, I remember the noble face/heel dynamic at Starrcade (which we’ll get to, at length), but wrestlers have always been terrible to each other. Always. Maybe we can say Tully got under his skin and he wasn’t acting like himself. Anyway, Tully rushes in and beats up Magnum for basically trying to rape Baby Doll on television, because he’s the heel.
The second response is to trounce jobbers as fast as humanly possible. On this episode, he wrestles a guy named “Keith Erich.” Here’s a picture of the entire match:
The bell rings, Magnum belly-to-belly suplexes the man, and he’s done. The entire match is like, six seconds. Magnum had a lot of prototypical Goldberg in him, if we’re being honest. He was a big, muscular, cool looking guy who in a world of fancy talkers and 60-minute broadways would just show up, kill dudes in a heartbeat and leave. He’d tip his hat at you but he was always a little mysterious, and always left you wanting more. He would’ve been the biggest star in the world if … well, we’ll get to that.
Magnum is like, “give me the match,” but NWA President Bob Geigel, seen here looking like Shrek standing next to Donkey, says no.
Giegel (who once wrestled in Amarillo as the masked “A-Bomber”) says the feud between Blanchard and Magnum is too personal and violent, and he can’t in good conscience sanction a match that would get that balls-out crazy. Because this is the company that would eventually become WCW, that decision is reversed BEFORE THE END OF THIS EPISODE.
Jim Crockett Promotions promoter Jim Crockett shows up and is like, “bro, we can’t not give the fans this match, if we have a contract I have the power to sign a match and give it any stipulation I want, and we just so happen to have an old contract signed by Tully Blanchard we weren’t using.” So Crockett, seen here looking like the love child of Bill Clinton and George Bush, not only signs Magnum vs. Tully for Starrcade, he signs Magnum vs. Tully for the United States Championship in an I Quit match IN A CAGE.
The Andersons show back up and bring up the very good point that an NWA member shouldn’t be able to overruled the NWA President. You haven’t lived until you’ve watched wrestling shows set in a universe where plot holes like this have to be pointed out and actually addressed. If we’re gonna see Dusty Rhodes get beaten up in a parking lot, it’s because they say the Horsemen want the world to see it, and that they personally brought a camera man with them. *kisses fingers*
Tully, of course, is not pleased.
Best: RIP Denny Brown
Blanchard takes out his frustrations on “Downtown” Denny Brown, who sounds like a tough wrestler, but doesn’t exactly look like one. A pissed-off Tully goes full Chris-R on Denny, accidentally becoming the great, violent wrestler he is on the inside by dropping his pretensions. He and Brown actually end up having a really fun, 3-minute match before Tully puts him away with his finish, the Slingshot Suplex. Vertical suplexes hurt more if you bounce first!
This decision by Jim Crockett not only gets Denny Brown’s ass beat, it sets into motion the events that would finally consolidate Ric Flair and all his heel associates into a cohesive unit. All they’d need is a manager.
Worst: J.J. Dillon Is Slumming It
James J. Dillon, pictured here attending prom with a cowboy from a Universal Studios stunt show, is a New Jersey businessman who secretly enjoys wearing women’s underwear and is one of the greatest managers in the business. He’s going through a dry spell right now, though, and has two spots on this show:
1. Managing Black Bart, who has I guess taken a break from being an extra on The Gospel Bill Show to challenge fellow Cowboy Guy “Outlaw” Ron Bass to a Texas bullrope match at Starrcade. Dillon spends the entire promo complaining that he’s currently only “3rd of 4th” in Pro Wrestling Illustrated‘s annual poll for Manager Of The Year. If this promo happened today, it would straight-up be about smarks on the Internet.
2. Managing “The Nature Boy” Buddy Landel.
Remember when I said Tully Blanchard was the dirt mall Ric Flair? Buddy Landel is the bootleg Ric Flair. I mean, look at him. He’s Single White Female-ing Ric. He’s got Ric’s hair, Ric’s gear, Ric’s nickname and does all of Ric’s moves. He’s got the knee drop, the chops and the figure-four. He’s got everything Ric Flair has, except musculature, charisma, the ability to speak into a microphone, championship belts, millions of dollars or friends. They challenge Terry Taylor for the NWA National Heavyweight Championship at Starrcade, because the NWA National Heavyweight Championship is the Buddy Landel of championships.
Dillon just needs to focus on managing better wrestlers if he wants to get to number 2 or even number 1 on that PWI poll. Any cool heels hanging around, thinking about forming a supergroup?
Best: If Dillon Is 3rd Or 4th, Who Is Currently Number 1?
Paul Jones, seen here attending prom with a gamma-radiated fortune teller, is my very favorite manager of the era. “Number One” is a former wrestler turned occasionally Hitler-esque, always Moe Howard-esque manager who carried a cane, led an Army, and did this great thing where he’d pretend like he was gonna take off his jacket and fight you, but only bring the jacket down to his elbows. He’s the best.
On this episode, Jones has an issue with Superstar Billy Graham, an impossibly influential wrestler who once was so uniquely charismatic that he inspired folks like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura. He was sort of the Gorgeous George of his era. Unfortunately that era was seven or eight years ago in 1985, and he’d spent the past few years as what would happen if you gave Scott Steiner Steve Blackman’s gimmick. At this point in his career, the Superstar looked like 2016 Hulk Hogan trying too hard to fit in at a Grateful Dead concert.
Graham gets put against one of Jones’ clients; future Hall of Fame, future rib joint proprietor and extremely overweight Sudanese fork murderer Abdullah the Butcher. He’s got a California Raisin for a head and he’s so fat his boobs have flattened out and extended around to his back under his armpits like a wraparound porch.
Superstar does okay until interference from his Starrcade opponent, another familiar face from the Nitro reports: The Barbarian.
Classic Barbarian was the scariest guy in the world to me as a kid. He was like a solo Tongan Road Warrior. He shows up and starts crucifying Billy Graham with flying headbutts until a bunch of nondescript extra babyfaces show up to run him off. That includes a Young Boy Teddy Long in a Gold’s Gym shirt, like Teddy Long has ever gone to the gym.
We’re 2800 Words Into This One Episode So Let’s Burn Through The Rest Of These Jobber Matches
1980s NWA shows are built on a foundation of jobber squashes, featuring the jobberiest jobbers that ever jobbed. Here’s like, fifty.
“The Raging Bull” Manny Fernandez gets a quick win over Tommy Lane, who has the best possible NWA jobber look: bleach blonde hair and dark facial hair. There are about a billion Rips Rogers in this alliance. The actual fashion highlight here is Manny Fernandez’s hair, which is a two-tone mullet that looks like a squirrel crawled up his neck and died.
Fernandez wins with a flying forearm called the “Flying Burrito,” which is not only pretty hilariously stereotypical — HE calls it that, not a heel announcer — but a total misnomer. Somebody throwing a burrito at you is GREAT. At Starrcade, Fernandez puts his very nice sombrero on the line against Abdullah the Butcher. That sounds like another Mexican joke, but he’s seriously wagering a prized sombrero. And it results in ALL THE BLOOD EVER.
Note: This screencap has a nice look at the flags hanging up in the World Championship Wrestling studio, including flags for Sweden, the Phillipines, Kenya, and the Lannisters.
That Jenga stack of steroids on the left is Billy Jack Haynes, taking on the BLACK CAT, a black guy in a cat mask. Haynes wins with a full nelson with the opposite of pressure applied. He wins by having muscles SO HARD.
If you’re wondering what Haynes is up to these days, he’s a shoot crazy, muppet-like Zeb Colter that’s suing WWE for giving him Hepatitis and trying to fight Stone Cold Steve Austin in the octagon. Black Cat is presumably dead, because he’s fully grown in 1985 and cats only live for like 15 years.
Here’s a fun bit. The “championship challenge” match of Billy Graham and Abdullah the Butcher ran short, so we got a standby match of Pistol Pez Whatley pinning a guy named “Benny Traylor.” Traylor is wrestling in what appears to be Junkyard Dog’s tights with a star on the ass instead of a “thump.” He may or may not be an unmasked Black Cat.
A few matches later, this guy shows up wearing the same tights:
That’s “Jerry Garmon,” using navigation to find himself in a losing effort to The Russians. At first I was convinced that we’d gotten three jobber squashes featuring the same guy in an extremely low-stakes Three Faces of Foley scenario, but I googled “Benny Traylor” and “Jerry Garmon” together and found out they were in a tag team in Memphis. There’s a chance the Internet is lying to me, though, and this guy got three paydays without anybody noticing, and/or NWA jobbers get dressed from the same lost and found.
Okay, so, the Russians.
It’s the 1980s in the United States, so OF COURSE “The Russians” are the most dreaded bad guys. They’re made up of three very Russian guys:
1. Ivan Koloff, a former WWWF World Heavyweight Champion who’d been wrestling for 25 years at this point
2. Nikita Koloff, who is as physically impressive as he is blatantly not Russian and cuts entire promos that sound like he’s trying to clear his throat, and
3. Krusher Khruschev, a guy from Minnesota who SOUNDS like a guy from Minnesota and is not even attempting a Russian accent
Ivan and Krusher win that tag match against Jerry Garmon and Nikita Russian sickles a guy named Mac Jeffers to complete their squash sweep. After they’re done, Kruschev (aka Barry Darsow, the future Smash of Demolition, Blacktop Bully, Repo Man and about a dozen other characters) cuts a promo on the Road Warriors, who are on a tour of Japan. All Japan Pro Wrestling, in fact, where they’d face some of the greatest pro wrestlers of all time, like Jumbo Tsuruta and Genichiro Tenryu.
Or, as Krusher puts it,
Anyway, the Russians are on a collision course with two five-foot-ten Caucasoids, the Rock n’ Roll Express.
Before Sting existed, the Rock n’ Roll Express were my favorite wrestlers. They (along with the Midnight Express) invented pretty much everything you’ve ever liked about tag team wrestling. They’re Ricky Morton, a fired-up babyface capable of taking absolutely legendary beatings, and his wall-eyed friend Robert Gibson. Together, these two ugly dudes who expressed their love of rock n’ roll by entering to Bob Seger and tying bandanas around their legs for some reason became HUGE HEARTTHROBS. What’s especially funny is that their blood rivals, the Midnights, are even uglier dudes who are observably ugly and get ironic nicknames about how attractive they are. Wrestling is weird.
The RNRs get a strong win over the team of legendary jobber George South and Mike Davis, formerly one half of the Rock n’ Roll RPMs. Here’s their music video, featuring (you guessed it) forced kissing. You should watch all the footage of them you can find.
Oh God: The Boogie Woogie Man And Miss Atlanta Lively
Finally (finally, how long is this episode) we get to our main event, featuring “The Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant vs. Jimmy Black. It’s like Dragon Gate in here with all these Jimmys. Jimmy Black, the guy who looks like pro wrestling Jeff Foxworthy, is rookie year Jimmy Del Ray, future member of the Heavenly Bodies and occasional Nitro jobber Jimmy Graffiti. The Boogie Woogie Man is what would happen if Santa Claus stopped delivering presents and got super into meth.
The action is hot (boring) and heavy (boring) until a MYSTERIOUS WOMAN steps out of the crowd, climbs into the ring and Forced Kisses Jimmy Valiant. This is MISS ATLANTA LIVELY, a gimmick I couldn’t explain correctly if I had 4,000 more words. The short version is that it’s “Rugged” Ron Garvin, future NWA Heavyweight Champion, in drag. Because he liked dressing in drag, and also comedy? Midnight Express manager Jim Cornette is convinced that it’s not a woman but, you know, Ron Garvin in a wig, but nobody else will say that’s true, and Valiant is just super horny for her all the time. The “heels know something obvious and no babyfaces will agree that it’s the truth” angle is a time honored NWA tradition.
After the match, Cornette raises a stink until Valiant runs him off. Valiant sticks around to basically give the world a contact high through his eyeballs and declare his love for this mysterious woman. “Hit the road, Jack! Where’s that old lady? She is the toughest broad I have ever seen in my life! I just want that lady with me! That lady’s mine! I’m in love baby!“
How does this end? How does this EPISODE end?
With Valiant forcing a kiss on Tony Schiavone.
And now, 10 more years of this before we get to Nitro.