Previously on the Best and Worst of NWA World Championship Wrestling: The biggest show of the year is approaching, and there are three major storylines: (1) a common man is coming back from an undeserved injury to take the top prize in the game from an arrogant, cowardly champion, (2) a rivalry to prove who is the better man has devolved into a deeply personal, violent grudge that threatens to take both men’s sanity, and possibly their lives, and (3) Ron Garvin likes dressing up like a woman and it’s gonna cause like six people to get naked against their will.
Click here to watch the 1985 edition of Star Arcade on WWE Network. You can catch up with all the previous episodes of World Championship Wrestling on the Best and Worst of NWA World Championship Wrestling tag page.
Remember, if you like this column and want to see it keep going, your job is to share it around on social media, tell people to read it, and drop down into our comments section to talk about it. We missed a couple of weeks thanks to the holidays and WWE’s ridiculous new pay-per-view scheduling, so we’re jumping ahead a week to knock out one of the most important shows of the era. Let us know what you think!
And now, the Best and Worst of NWA World Championship Wrestling for November 28, 1985.
Best: National Wrestling Alliance BLOOD DRAGON
First and most importantly, this show carries a TV-MA rating. If you are not me and did not grow up in a world where you could walk to your local convenience store and see 3-5 pro wrestling magazines covered in pictures of gory-ass bloody dudes every day, please know that blood was as common and important to the sport as distraction roll-ups are today. Starrcade ’85 is maybe the bloodiest of all of them. Something like 15 guys on the card bleed. If this happened today, the children of the WWE Universe would start mindlessly throwing themselves off buildings like in The Happening.
Here’s what you need to know about the set-up.
For the past two years, Jim Crockett Promotions had done successful “Starrcade” shows in Greensboro, North Carolina, but WrestleMania was a thing now and they had to up the ante. Their idea was to run the event in two locations — one half of the show in Greensboro, main-evented by the Rock n’ Roll Express and the Russians inside a steel cage, and the other in Atlanta, Georgia, main-evented by Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship — with matches alternating locations and closed-circuit TV filling in the gaps for the live crowds. It’s seamless and works really well … so well, in fact, that Vince McMahon decided to innovate the same idea and do WrestleMania from THREE locations four months later. WWE: the worldwide leader in ideas forever.
Your hosts are Tony Schiavone, who we hope you know very well by this point, and my sentimental favorite announcer ever, Bob Caudle. Bob is that really nice, friendly, average old man from church you know and love but aren’t sure you’re related to. Jim Cornette once called him “the epitome of a white man in brown shoes.”
They call the action from Atlanta while wrestling legend Johnny Weaver holds down the fort in Greensboro. Weaver looks like all of the Munsters as one dude. It’s like somebody tried to make a clone of Dusty Rhodes and didn’t leave it in the oven long enough.
So let’s get to the family-friendly action!
Best: Everybody The Butcher
The first match at The Omni is a metaphor for the dangers of cultural appropriation and the steps a woke soul must take to prevent it. It’s also a Mexican guy in jeans offering to put his sombrero on top of a pole, challenging an extremely fat guy to a match where he’d have to climb a tiny pole to grab it, then repeatedly stabbing the fat guy in the face while he tries to do it. THE SOMBRERO MATCH.
This is one of my dad’s favorite matches of all time, because it shocked the hell out of him. My dad’s favorite wrestling thing is when he’s not expecting something and can’t believe it happened. He’ll talk about it for years. It’s why he still laughs so hard about the Shockmaster. But yeah, for some reason my dad didn’t expect extreme violence from a HAT MATCH, even if it features an obese Sudandese fork murderer who is best known for holding people down and jabbing them in the forehead with silverware. Amazingly, this might be the bloodiest match on the card.
It’s also shockingly good, because behind the exploitative punch-gore of 1980s NWA, they had an intense, active understanding of their audience and how to make pro wrestling work. Abdullah’s dangerous as a kind of looming, violent presence, but he’s not exactly an athlete. Manny Fernandez works his ass off and keeps up the pace until the thing has a Cena/Umaga type feel. The crowd is like OOOH GOD OH GOD every time Abdullah goes for the hat, and Manny has to run over and punch him in the 30-foot area where his balls are supposed to be or whatever to knock him down. Abdullah does these great, arms-over-his-head falls off the second rope like he’s King Kong falling off the Empire State Building.
Manny ends up sprinting up the ropes, grabbing the hat and scurrying away as fast as possible to win the match and keep his prized possession. This prevents us from a magical, hypothetical few months of Abdullah the Butcher showing up to wrestle in a sombrero. Kinda want to go back in time and make ABDULLAH EL CARNICERO happen.
Okay, that does it for the bloody portion of the show, let’s move on to the-
Best/Worst: THAT SANDPAPER SNAKE!
Texas cowboy “Outlaw” Ron Bass takes on Texas Cowboy “Black” Bart in a bullrope match, with the stipulation being if Bass wins, he gets five minutes alone with Bart’s manager J.J. Dillon. It’s a lot of fun in that “watching serious occupational adults beat the shit out of each other with a cowbell” way, and less in that “watching guys cut themselves” way. This is the Savage/Steamboat of visible gigging. Bass will fwak Bart on his shoulder with the cowbell and Bart will just fall over and start razoring his forehead. Bart will brush a length of rope against Ron’s leg and Ron will like, jump face-first into a pit of machetes. It’s crazy. I like to get romantic about the way pro wrestling used to be, but honestly it was just a bunch of ugly dudes cutting each other.
Bass wins with, you guessed it, a cowbell to the bloody face. That gives him five minutes with Dillon, who achieves utlimate heel status by being shirtless in jeans and looking like the weakest human male of all time. Like, you could’ve put baby jeans on a shar pei puppy and it would’ve looked more masculine than Dillon.
The good news is that they avoid WWE’s thing of introducing a stipulation and them immediately finding a way out of it by having Dillon opportunistically fight for his life for a few minutes, get caught and get hit with a spinning reverse DDT. Just kidding, Bass punches him in the face with a bell until he’s bleeding.
We heard you like bloody matches, so we put a bloody match inside a bloody match so you can blood while you match.
Up next is an arm wrestling competition, which couldn’t POSSIBLY be bloody as hell.
Here is a picture of an arm wrestling competition:
Worst: Superstar Billy Graham Gets Color From Arm Wrestling
What’s supposed to happen here is Graham’s supposed to arm wrestle the Barbarian, with the winner getting $10,000. Once that’s decided, they’re supposed to have a match.
As you probably guessed, the arm wrestling portion of this is every arm wrestling thing on pro wrestling ever. There’s a lot of stalling and excuse-making and miscommunication. When the match starts, both guys make poopy faces and the heel looks like he’s gonna win, but the face slowly starts to come back, and slowly goes over the top, and is slowly about to win when some cheating occurs and the whole thing gets thrown out. Here, it’s Paul Jones jumping in to bloody Superstar with his cane.
That’s followed by about two minutes of wrestling, leading to a bloody bearhug (pictured) broken up when Paul Jones … uh, jumps in to bloody Superstar with his cane. So not only did they do the same match finish twice, they did the same match finish in exactly the same way involving the same people twice in a row for the same match. Good lord. Afterward, Jones and Barbarian beat up Graham some more, in case the people in the back row of the nosebleeds weren’t already drowning in bodily fluids.
Let’s get to the comedy relief match built around Jimmy Valiant wanting to hook up with Ron Garvin. That should be-
Best: Miss Atlanta Deadly
If you haven’t been following the World Championship Wrestling show reports and for some reason are reading this, here’s what you need to know. “Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant is the dancing corpse of Santa Claus, and he’s in love with one of his male co-workers who likes putting on women’s clothing and catfishing weird old guys. Jim Cornette is furious that it’s happening. Valiant is like, “mad at me? I WILL TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES AND RAPE YOU.” Cornette is like, “take off MY clothes? I’ll take off YOUR clothes! And your wife’s clothes!” Valiant is like, “I’LL TAKE OFF EVERYBODY I SEE’S CLOTHES.” Cornette is like, “I WANT TO SEE RON GARVIN’S NAKED ASSHOLE TO PROVE A POINT.”
Because Jim Crockett Promotions, this escalates to Drag Ronnie Garvin getting stabbed in the face with blades and the Midnight Express wrestling in tuxedos, which I guess makes it harder for them to be stripped nude:
Look at them, they look like Fleetwood Mac.
Anyway, the match is a crazy, fun brawl (if you ignore the weird undercurrent of, like, “Jimmy Valiant is convulsing on the floor so he can’t keep a pair of ugly orchestra conductors from attemptedly murdering his side chick.” Yes, Valiant and Lively spend a lot of it trying to rip off the Midnight Express’ clothes. At one point the Midnights pull down Miss Atlanta Lively’s pants, and Garvin’s got a case of Debbie Combs ass. After everyone’s a mess, Lively counters a flying knee drop with a PUNCH TO THE FACE, and the faces win.
Well, win and lose.
Best: I Quit
I’ll never be able to write something that’ll do this match justice, because I’ve been thinking about it since I was five. This is the match that gave me unrealistic expectations about what pro wrestling can accomplish.
Magnum T.A. is a Good Dude. Capital letters. He’s Dusty Rhodes’ friend. He’s tall and handsome, and he’s in shape, and he’s good at wrestling. He wins matches quickly and slaps everybody’s hands. He’s talented enough to be the biggest star in the world, but he doesn’t know it yet. He doesn’t know the tragedy that’s about to befall him in real life that will stop his fictional life from moving forward. He’s the sun shining when it’s highest in the sky.
Tully Blanchard is a Bad Dude. He’s the “dirt mall” Ric Flair. You know how Flair thinks he’s the coolest and richest and most skilled and most charismatic athlete walking the face of the earth, and has the accomplishments to prove it? Blanchard is all of those things, without the accomplishment. He’s the United States Champion, not the champion of the world. His jackets are a little less tailored than Flair’s. His sunglasses aren’t as nice. Instead of bedding a thousand women in cocaine-fueled jet limousines or whatever, Blanchard has a steady girlfriend he calls the “perfect 10,” even though she’s anything but, and even he kind of hates her. He’s self-hatred and self-loathing mixed with narcissism and entitled greed, without the good luck to ever be on top. He’s a Horseman, but he’s the fourth one.
Tully hates Magnum and Magnum hates Tully, but up until now, it’s mostly been about championships and who’s the better man. They had a match in Greensboro that went to a time limit draw, and Tully used it as an excuse to say Magnum could never have another title shot. Magnum challenged him to one final blowoff — an “I quit” match inside of a steel cage, where nobody could interfere and nobody could make excuses — and Tully tried to dodge him. The NWA executive board overruled him and signed it. Magnum’s constant overbearing insistence on proving who the better man is scares Tully, because Tully KNOWS Magnum is better than him, whether he’d admit it or not. Tully knows how good Magnum is, more than even Magnum does. It’s Mozart and Salieri. Every good wrestling feud is. Tully’s wanking motions to all of Magnum’s idealized challenges and demands has sent Magnum to increasingly darker places, causing him to get physical with Baby Doll. He doesn’t know how to handle it, and it’s making him a worse person. He’s becoming a monster to fight the monsters of the world. This just makes Tully madder. Around and around it goes.
There is no better match in wrestling history to illustrate the hatred two men have for each other. Everything they do is with force, and with anger. It’s only about 15 minutes long, but every second comes with a sense of urgency. When Tully’s arm gets cut, Magnum doesn’t arm-wring it, he BITES it. He tries to rip Tully apart with his teeth so Tully can’t keep going. When Tully wants Magnum to say “I quit,” he doesn’t yell, “ask him, ref!” He holds the microphone in Magnum’s face and SCREAMS “SAY IT.” Magnum screams back. “NOOOO!” Tully’s response? Hitting Magnum in the face with the microphone (with a glorious “thunk”) and demanding he say it again. Every gesture has fury behind it. Every one of them.
In a match where they’re in a steel cage and nobody’s supposed to interfere so they can prove who the better man is, Tully Blanchard cheats and gets outside interference. He gets Baby Doll, his Perfect 10, to toss a wooden chair into the ring. Tully misses it, and it crashes to the mat and breaks. She’s “perfect,” but the chair is made out of wood and not steel, and it doesn’t go in like it’s supposed to. That’s Tully and Baby Doll in a nutshell.
Tully’s big move is to take one of the pointed shards of the broken chair and stab Magnum T.A. in the face with it. He can’t get him to quit via wrestling attacks. He can’t get him to quit via hardcore violence. So now he’s going to get him to quit by literally killing him. That’s how emotional this match gets. That’s how violent it is. That’s how much it matters to both men. And this isn’t me whipping something romantic up in my brain; this is expressed in every moment, gesture, and scream of the men performing it.
Tully is Tully, though. Magnum is able to kick him aside, grab the shard himself and go to the darkest place of all. He jabs the spike into Blanchard’s eye. The crowd is LOSING THEIR MINDS, and the announce team just stops talking for most of it. Tully can’t even say “I quit.” He just screams “YES!” over and over. It’s guttural. He’s in so much pain he can only get out one syllable. He’ll use it as an excuse to say he never actually said “I quit” and didn’t lose the match, but he did. He lost the match. He lost the United States Championship. He lost everything.
The most important moment in my history as a wrestling fan happens when the match is over.
Tully is broken. He’s a quivering mess, screaming and holding up his hands, trying to keep from being finished off. Magnum T.A. is suddenly stronger than ever, empowered by his righteous victory, and has Tully by the hair. He’s got the table shard in his other hand. He can finish Tully Blanchard off, once and for all. But … he doesn’t.
You can read it one of two ways, or, if you’re doing it right, both ways at once. On one hand, Magnum has done it. He’s proven he’s the better man. He beat Tully at his own game, and now Tully’s one strike away from being finished forever. But to truly be the better man, you have to not take that strike. You have to know you’ve won, and that there’s nothing left to prove. The defining trait of a true heel is being a sore loser, and being unable to accept your victories. Rubbing it in and rubbing it in until it comes back around to bite you in the ass. Magnum is better than that. He’s a hero. He tosses the shard away, leaves Tully in a heap, and quietly leaves through the crowd with the United States Championship on his shoulder.
On the other hand, it’s Magnum realizing what he’s doing. Tully made him darker. Turned him into a monster. Turned him into a guy who would rip off Baby Doll’s clothes and stab a man in the face with a wooden spike to prove a point. If Magnum “finishes” Tully, he’s forever dark. By choosing not to, he chooses light. He chooses a future as a good person, who can come back from this. He’s disgusted in himself for letting it go this far, but he did what he had to do.
Visceral, Shakespearean, and absolutely essential. One of the very best pro wrestling matches of all time, performed anywhere by anyone, and my favorite match ever. Everything that is too far and exactly right about the sport. And the best part is that it never ages. It never gets old. It stays in the rays of the sun at its peak. The world took everything from Magnum, but it can’t take this.
(Also it is very bloody.)
Everything Else I Didn’t Mention Before The Main Events:
This is a long card and I don’t have time for shit that isn’t caked in guts, so here’s everything else I need to touch on.
– Krusher Kruschev defeated Sam Houston to win the vacated Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship. Houston — a lanky cowboy guy who is the real-life half-brother of Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts — is still basically a rookie here, and looks legitimately shocked at the positive crowd response he gets. He loses, but he gets the title anyway in a few weeks when Kruschev blows out a knee.
– Buddy Landel defeated Terry Taylor to win the NWA National Heavyweight Championship. So many belts. J.J. Dillon helps Landel cheat to win, which is great because J.J.’s out here with his head bandaged up after getting cowbelled to death by Ron Bass and looks like he’s been shot in the face with a shotgun. Dusty Rhodes magically becomes the National Champion a few weeks later by defeating Landel in a match that never actually happened, because Landel failed a drug test. See a trend here?
– The Minnesota Wrecking Crew defeated Wahoo McDaniel and Billy Jack Haynes to retain the NWA National Tag Team Championship. The Wrecking Crew is Arn and Ole Anderson, for anyone who doesn’t know. Wahoo McDaniel is basically what John Wayne would’ve been if he’d been an Indian instead of a cowboy. The Andersons retain the straps by tripping Wahoo and pinning him in the ropes, which they have to do twice, because Wahoo has the athleticism of an actual wooden Indian.
Anyway, back to the blood.
Best: Ricky Morton Goes Flying
This is another moment that stuck with me for most of my life as a wrestling fan. The Rock n’ Roll Express take on the Russians for the NWA World Tag Team Championship inside a steel cage in the Greensboro main event, and they manage to surprise them and win the belts when Ricky blind tags in and counters a backdrop on Robert Gibson with an O’Connor roll. This pisses the Russians the hell off, and I’m italicizing that because it’s a Ron Swanson “all the bacon and eggs you have” moment. This pisses the Russians ALL THE WAY OFF.
They launch into a two-on-one attack on Gibson, and a tired Ricky Morton tries to climb to the top rope to help out. Nikita Koloff sees it happening, though, and counters by running up under Morton and THROWING HIM OUT OF THE CAGE. Morton goes up and over the top to the floor in a bloody heap, Krusher Kruschev gets in, and the Russians spend like 10 minutes beating the ever-loving holy shit out of Gibson. Just beating him within an inch of his life. Some general backstage jobbers run out and try to help, and the Russians ruin them, too. Don Kernodle tries to help and ends up bloody on the floor. JOBBERS DOING RUN-INS TO HELP OUT ARE BLEEDING AT STARRCADE.
Remind me to never try to pin a Russian, Jesus Christ.
Best/Worst: Ric Flair Vs. Dusty Rhodes
Just to say it, Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes is one of the greatest feuds ever, for about a thousand different reasons. “Great matches” was not really one of them. Dusty was one of the best-ever in his way, but his way wasn’t necessarily Flair’s way, and Flair’s really only “Ric Flair” when you’re doing it Flair’s way. Flair could have a great match with anybody, but only if they allowed themselves to be integrated into his formula. Dusty was Dusty, and didn’t integrate for shit. So Dusty led Flair through a Dusty match instead of being the ultimate opponent in a Flair match, so it’s not the best. It’s not terrible, but it’s one of the weaker matches on the show. And yes, Ric Flair bleeds. Ric Flair screams AH GAD SHIT and collapses in a pool of blood when he sneezes.
Referee Tommy Young gets bumped seemingly over and over, and the match ends with Dusty catching Flair in a figure-four. Arn Anderson runs out, and Dusty manages to fight him off. Ole runs out, too, and Dusty’s still able to fight back. Tully Blanchard doesn’t interfere because he’s still a dead mess. Big Dust surprises Flair with a small package, and another referee slides in to count the three. Dusty Rhodes is your new NWA World Heavyweight Champion.
Backstage, Dusty and the show’s Jobbers Of Color and/or anyone available who hasn’t gone into shock from loss of blood celebrate the win. Dusty is a man of the people!
So hey, have you ever heard the term, “Dusty Finish?” Have you ever wondered where that came from?
Worst: The Original Dusty Finish
This might not be the first time they ever did it, but it’s the first time they did it with Dusty Rhodes himself, in a moment that truly mattered.
Remember how I mentioned the Andersons running in and trying to help Flair? The referee is bumped during this, but look at the bottom right corner of this picture. See the ref?
That’s Tommy Young, the match’s referee, briefly recovering. Dusty knocks out Arn and Arn kinda falls out of the ring into Young, bumping him again. Young stays knocked out for the rest of it, and the new ref counts the title change. But as it turns out, Young was conscious enough to see Arn in the ring interfering, which means on the next show, Young announces that the ACTUAL decision is a disqualification win for Rhodes, which means yeah, he won, but he’s not the champion. Flair’s still the champion.
That’s the Dusty Finish. Giving you the happy moment you came for, then retconning it with some bullshit so you’ll have to pay to see it again. Dusty won, and he won against all odds, but the red tape means he only kinda won, and Flair has an excuse to still be champion. And you still want to see someone take it from him. And the business rolls on.
I guess we’re gonna have to have another gathering.