By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor – Classic Wrestling
Welcome once again Bruthas and Sistas, as we examine the happenings and title transitions that took the company from the first Starrcade through the days of it’s battle with the newly re-formed WWF, as it was on it’s own road to reformation and rebirth into WCW. We covered the developments in the tag team division in our last installment, and this time we will look at how the race for the three major titles in the company fueled an arms race in the singles division that produced several standout superstars in not only MACW, but in the future of the wrestling business as a whole.
After the first Starrcade, Ric Flair emerged as the leading force, and standard bearer of the company as he began his tour with the NWA Heavyweight Title. During this time, the United States Title, and the Television Title were the other main singles championships being vied for in MACW. The US Title was held by Wahoo McDaniel going into 1985, but he was soon challenged by one of the new faces in the company that was turning heads in the back, and drawing money at the ticket booth. This, along with the mind of Dusty Rhodes in the booking office, caused the title scene to explode.
Born in Virginia in the Summer of 1959, Terry Allen achieved in wrestling in his high school years. He won the state championship in his weight class, and eventually went on to wrestle at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. After leaving college he followed his love of wrestling to the NWA and broke into the business working at CWF in Tampa. He traveled to Portland, and continued to learn his craft in that fertile soup of wrestling knowledge, before making his way to another of the great greenhouses of growth and character development, Mid-South Wrestling. It was there that he took the raw materials he had been acquiring along the way and molded them into the name, and persona that he would be know for. After working with Watts, and listening to some some sound advice from Andre’ the Giant, Allen marketed on his likeness to the wildly popular Tom Selleck television character Magnum P.I., and simply added his own initials to the end of the moniker. From then on out, he would forever be Magnum TA.
Magnum arrived in MACW late in 1984, and he immediately went into the hunt for the US Title, and took it from Wahoo McDaniel on March 23, 1985. Magnum had his first title defense only four months later at the first Great American Bash, when he defeated Kamala. The Bash was the brainchild of Dusty Rhodes, who saw the need for a large summer event built around the July 4th holiday that would be a similar offering to the large drawing Starrcade. Like much of his career, he was thinking ahead of his time. The Bash would go on to be one of the top draws of the company and be used as a “build to” event for many heated feuds and storylines. The main event of the first Great American Bash saw Rhodes in a steel cage match against Tully Blanchard for the Television Title, and over the contract to have Baby Doll serve as valet to the winner, in which Rhodes prevailed. It co-main evented with the NWA Title match between Flair and Nikita Koloff, with David Crockett as guest referee. Flair prevailed in the encounter and that set up the feuds that were highlighted in that year’s Starrcade.
Starrcade ’85 was billed as The Gathering, and it was the redemption match for Dusty Rhodes, who was still in the hunt for the NWA Heavyweight Title since his loss to Flair at the ’84 Starrcade. Rhodes was a big match player, and there was no bigger scene in the world of professional wrestling at that time than Starrcade. The McMahon machine was still building steam and the NWA was still the established leader in the United States. This allowed JCP to draw in some of the best talents in the business, before Vince began collecting them for his own use.
While many people point to WrestleMania II as being a ground breaking event with it’s three separate venues, it was The Gathering that actually broke that mold by having the event from two venues, one at the Greensboro Coliseum, and it’s sister event at the Omni in Atlanta. Both venues simulcast their show to closed circuit broadcast locations all over the country. Starrcade ’85 was something special for all of us that were able to watch it, and those men and women who were privileged to work the event. The promos that were cut by both Flair and Rhodes leading up top the event were amazing and, Dusty’s “Hard Times” promo is considered by many, myself included, to be one of the best free-form promos of all time. The passion and sincerity that the Dream shows in those few minutes encapsulate the reason he was the man’s man, the chosen gladiator of the people, as he reaches out to the screen, grabbing each and every person watching it individually, investing them in his struggle to overcome Flair and obtain the Ten Pounds of Gold that had thus far eluded him.
The event also was host to the “I-Quit” steel cage match between Tully Blanchard and Magnum TA. The two battled until both were a bloody mess with Allen coming out victorious after a botched attempt by Baby Doll to help Blanchard by throwing a chair in the ring to him, that Magnum took and used to aid his win. The Rhodes and Flair match was broadcast from the Omni, along with the Manny Fernandez defeating Abdullah the Butcher in a Mexican Deathmatch, and tag team action from the Midnight Express, as well as Minnesota Wrecking Crew. It was the eventual reversal of the decision, and its new ruling of victory by DQ, when Arn Anderson interfered in the match, that allowed Flair to regain the belt. This started the feud between Flair and Rhodes that led to the assembly of The Four Horsemen and the rematch with Rhodes at the 1986 Great American Bash. The shared charisma between the two men, as well as their ability to sway an audience made this feud the one that most people remember from those glory days of MACW.
1986 was a year that saw a sad turn in the career of Magnum TA. He was in the position to be the next break out star of the promotion, when all that was taken away in a split second. After having an amazing year feuding with Nikitia Koloff, where the two went to war over the US Title. On October 14th of that year, Allen was driving back home in his Porsche when he lost control due to the rain and slammed into a telephone pole. The car was totaled, and Allen was rushed to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, where it was discovered that the crash had destroyed his C3 and C4 vertebrae in his neck. Though doctors said he would never walk again, he proved them wrong when he walked to the ring in Baltimore. He walked with a cane and needed the help of referees, but he went to the ring and was showered with applause and the love of the fans. Magnum was the next big thing to appear on the scene in the NWA of the Mid-Eighties, and he was set to be the next World Heavyweight Champion, had he not been involved in the accident. He went on to work on the announce team and in the offices for MACW, and the NWA. He is also the step-father of one of the brightest stars in the women’s wrestling scene at the moment as well, in Tessa Blanchard.
There were many new faces and creations for MACW during 1987. Jim Crockett Jr. began usher in a new period of growth for his company. This was begun in 1985 when he acquired the Saturday evening timeslot from Vince, who was beginning to raise monies for his new Saturday Night’s Main Event and WrestleMania ventures. That led him to establish the Great American Bash as an annual event, once his programming started to turn big profits. He was also re-elected as President of the NWA and set to task of bringing all the major NWA territories East of the Rockies into his fold. He solidified the St. Louis Club, CWF, Heart of America, as well as Watt’s Mid-South/UWF. Crockett had the strongest NWA conglomerate to date once he managed to put all these deals together. It was a stroke of promotional prowess that would have made his father proud, and caused McMahon to take a serious accounting of this threat from the South, to his own newly formed empire.
Born June 2, 1958, Larry Pfohl got his start in professional wrestling in 1985, after his football career started to wind down. He had played for Penn State, was a Hurricane at the University of Miami, and spent time in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos, and worked in the USFL in the cities of Memphis, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay. The man better known as The Total Package, Lex Luger arrived in MACW, like many others, after a run in CWF. He fell into a feud with Nikita Koloff and the two fought over the US Title through the first half of 1987. He would then become involved in a feud with Dusty Rhodes over the title that would see his reign end in November of that year to The Dream.
As part of the Horsemen, Lex Luger had been a part of another of Dusty Rhodes’s creations that summer when he competed in the Great American Bash tour of WarGames: The Match Beyond against Rhodes, The Road Warriors, and Nikita Koloff. The WarGames offered a unique idea that put two rings, side by side, under one huge steel cage, in which both teams competed in an elimination style match. It was always one of my favorite matches from that period of time. Luger would grow to be one of the most popular wrestlers, and his feared Torture Rack finisher sent many screaming to the mat, after tapping out in submission.
McMahon moved to strike the first blow in their game of chess by booking his newly launched PPV, Survivor Series, during the Thanksgiving holiday. This was in direct competition with Starrcade, the flagship yearly event from MACW. This was just the first step in Vince’s plan for domination.
The ‘87 Starrcade also suffered the first of the ebbing away of talents from it’s roster to NYC, which prompted Crockett to bring in talents from other territories that he worked with. The Chi-Town Battle as it was dubbed, featured a double steel cage main event, along with a title unification match where Nikita Koloff beat Terry Taylor from the UWF, and brought together their respective Television Titles together under the NWA banner. Ric Flair defeated Ronny Garvin to regain the NWA Title, and Dusty Rhodes finally captured the US Title from Lex Luger. The Expresses also battled in the first ever Skywalkers match atop the scaffold, while The Road Warriors lost to one half of the Horsemen, in Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson.
In January of the next year as things started to heat up in the rivalry between Crockett and McMahon, Vince leveled another shot across the bow of JCP when he purposely scheduled his first airing of the Royal Rumble on the USA Network, on the same night as the JCP production of Bunkhouse Stampede that was on PPV from the Nassau Coliseum in New York. It took a serious bite out of the buyrates for the Stampede, and in like fashion, Crockett returned the favor when he unveiled his Clash of the Champions. The Clash offered up regular PPV level events three to five times a year free on TBS. The first Clash was set in direct competition with WrestleMania IV, and indeed, managed to draw numbers of fans from the McMahon event.
Clash I was held at the Greensboro Coliseum on March 27, 1988. With over six thousand fans in attendance, it featured matches with The Midnight Express defeating the Fantastics for the NWA US Tag Titles, the Road Warrior once again teaming up with Dusty Rhodes to overcome the Powers of Pain along with Ivan Koloff. Kevin Sullivan rolled out his Varsity Club, with Mike Rotunda going up against Jimmy Garvin in Sullivan’s quest to win Precious from him, while the Horseman team of Anderson & Blanchard came up on the losing end of things against Luger and Barry Windham, who oddly enough were a pairing of a former, and future Horsemen themselves. It was the main event that got all the attention however, as the styling and profiling Ric Flair battled the screaming fan favorite, with his painted face, and high flying attack to a forty-five minute time limit draw, and established the youngster as one of the core workers that would lead MACW into it’s next phase of competition with NYC.
Steve Borden was born in Nebraska in the Spring of 1959, but was raised in sunny California, where he gravitated towards body building, basketball and football. After seeing a WWF show in Los Angeles, he decided to turn his attentions to professional wrestling. He took his training from Red Bastien to start and continued his education when he hit the roads. He formed a tag team with fellow body builder James Helwig, calling themselves Power Team USA while in CWA, and the two became the Blade Runners when they got to Watt’s Mid-South/UWF. The pair also had a short run in WCCW before they split up and Blade Runner Sting ended up in MACW in July, 1987. Dusty Rhodes saw the young man’s marketability and drawing potential with the fans early on, and took him under his wing, schooling him on the psychology of the business. He started to push the new arrival and it wasn’t long before he in matches with Flair that led to their brawl at the first Clash. This performance garnered him the attention of his peers, and they all soon would realize that Sting would not live up to the hype surrounding him, but surpass it many times over.
Well that is going to wrap it up for us this time Bruthas and Sistas. Next week, we will see the final installment in the legacy of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, and set the stage for our WCW coverage in the future. As all the money, talent, and business minds begin to settle on the East Coast from all across the country, we will see the sides established and loyalties pledged to the warring companies as we enter the WWF/WCW era. I hope you enjoyed Part V of MACW, and will come back to join me as we continue to delve into the history of the business we love. The history is gold Bruthas and Sistas….DIG IT!!! Peace.