You Can’t Kill The Great American Bash

Holidays and professional wrestling used to go hand in hand. Starrcade and eventually WWE Survivor Series would carry on a tradition of wrestling on American Thanksgiving Night for years. When Ric Flair said he repeatedly worked two shows on Christmas Day he wasn’t kidding. Up until the 1990’s it was a slice of American pop culture to hold a wrestling show that revolved around or either directly on a holiday. Throughout the days of the territories the houses were usually sold out and if they weren’t the gates still paid very well. There was no reason not to run wrestling shows on traditional Christian holidays.

A few months after the first Wrestlemania in 1985 Jim Crockett Promotions who was now in possession of the NWA banner would invent a new tradition and would try something so grandiose that if it took off could really help take a run at Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation. They would concoct The Great American Bash and it wouldn’t be confined to a single show. This would be a month long tour that kicked off on the 4th of July weekend wrapping up at the end of the month. Many cities would be visited, gimmick matches would fill the marquee, months long scores would be settled, the NWA title would be defended, minor league ballparks would host outdoor shows, and musical acts would be brought in guaranteed to draw more casual fans. On a deep dive of this very subject Jim Cornette states that after the announcement of this tour Jim Crockett and Ric Flair were seeing dollar signs and allegedly Flair himself said this tour would pay out like fourteen Starrcade events. Its no wonder the company was abuzz but in true fashion of Jim Crockett Promotions they just didn’t get it quite right.

A quick word on when the NWA was run by Crockett before he sold to Turner that would later become WCW. At this point the NWA was one of the few territories still standing against McMahon. It took a bold approach at doing the opposite of the WWF’s glitzy, kid-friendly, showmanship and took a more rugged, violent approach that didn’t rely on gimmicks to be turned into toys for kids. When he was their play by play announcer Jim Ross would frequently quote “This is the NWA….we wrestle!”….meaning that the ‘entertainment’ factor would be more gritty and realistic than what was seen as the ‘cartoonish’ WWF. A couple of major advantages they had was the oldest ‘World’ title in history which would be rigorously defended by war horses like Flair, Race and Rhodes. They had more consistently ‘athletic’ wrestlers on their roster that were aloud to bleed in a match to heighten drama. They also had more raucous fans that would make the environment maybe less family-friendly but more intense.

However unlike Vince and co. their tv production was spotty, the routing of their shows was bewildering and they never managed to properly budget their big ideas. This tour being one of them. From Cornette’s deep dive the routing was insane and they would go to cities that would draw really low houses. The biggest example is San Antonio, TX. A city where they never had a strong hold and would set a record-low house at their respective stadium on this tour. What did the company do in response? They went back there again (???) and drew an even lower house than before. Then there were the country music stars. Don’t get me wrong a well-timed and connected musical performance can enhance a wrestling show. But it was abundantly clear that acts like Waylon Jennings and George Jones didn’t jive with most of the audience and were there to pop Dusty Rhodes who was a fan and would spare no expense to have them perform. Most of the performances were met with apathy and sometimes turned into disaster as (I may not have this right) George Jones went over his set time to where Riverfront Stadium staff in Cincinnati simply pulled the plug on him.

This tour would last from 1985-1988 and while the box office was up and down the in-ring product was pretty awesome. It can be hard to find footage of some of these tours but the Youtube page GetWrestlingNow recreates old cards in the WWE2K series and they masterfully recreate the 1986 tour stop from Greensboro, NC. They nail the wrestlers and the ring apron while Lillian Garcia announce the wrestlers and Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler call the match. Quite a bizarre sight to see but cool nonetheless as footage of some of these tour dates are hard to come by.

Perhaps the most rightfully touted and memorable match from this period of time was the introduction of War Games on July 4, 1987 from the Crockett stronghold The Omni, in Atlanta, GA. Dusty thought up the concept for the match after watching Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Two teams would enter and only one would make it out victorious with two rings and two cages. Flair and the Horsemen vs. Dusty, Nikita & Road Warriors. What would ensure would be mayhem that would never be forgotten. It was the perfect storm of the right talent being in the right place at the right time in front of the right audience. I swear as a fan that crowd in The Omni is one of the loudest I have ever heard in my nearly four decades of watching wrestling. The copy I own of this match is on VHS and was from the original broadcast and at various point the commentators get drowned out by the crowd noise (see when Hawk enters the match….wow!!). The other infamous part of this match was JJ Dillon taking one of the more disgusting looking Doomsday Device’s you will ever see and breaking his shoulder in the process. Due to the overwhelming success of this unique gimmick it would be done at other tour stops over the next couple of years and would eventually become an annual feature on PPV in WCW.

I’m guessing after bleeding money and Crockett selling to Ted Turner that The Bash would only be an annual event on PPV instead of a full tour. 1989 and 1990 produced some really good shows and then 1991 would hit and would be touted as arguably one of the worst wrestling PPV’s of all time. It’s not even funny-bad, it’s just warning and should be avoided unless you are really craving D-grade WCW content. They would hold another in 1992 and it would disappear until being returned in 1995. The show in 1996 was memorable due to Kevin Nash powerbombing Eric Bischoff through the stage, Rey Mysterio debuting, and a memorable Falls Count Anywhere match with Benoit & Sullivan.

This tradition would continue until WCW would get bought by McMahon in 2001. The quality of this PPV would deteriorate for whatever reason and reach a low point at the company’s last show in 2000 that includes a PPV match featuring G.I. Bro, a human torch match and a pathetic nonsensical ‘heel turn’ of Bill Goldberg that didn’t go anywhere. This brand survived transitioning from a tour to a single PPV, to bouncing back after a hiatus but after the buyout from McMahon this brand would be considered dead and gone, right?

For whatever whimsical reason Vince would resurrect the brand as a single PPV (usually taking place in June or July) from 2004-2008. Like most WWE PPV’s this one would have some highlights but would also give birth to a lot of lows. These lows include JBL upsetting Eddie Guerrero for the WWE Title, Mohammad Hassan getting a match with The Undertaker, Hornswoggle becoming cruiserweight champ, a Dusty Rhodes match, and the worst being the debut of the Punjabi Prison Match and the guy it was made for (Great Khali) got removed from the match because Undertaker wouldn’t work with him. So they put in The Big Show and an epic train wreck ensued. Also in 2009 WWE rebranded the show as simply The Bash (don’t know the story behind this one) and then it would quietly go away to the complaints of nobody.

Surely this would be it as the relaunching of this WCW brand name did not go over that well nor produced a lot of memorable moments. However on the July 4th weekend in 2012 WWE named their Friday Night Smackdown special…you guessed it…The Great American Bash. Wrestling on television usually does low ratings on holiday weekends so this was probably meant to pop the rating and a one time use. This would be until recently when this time the NXT brand would resurrect the name which has had more deaths than Lazarus himself.

NXT would have a knack at resurrecting old WCW concepts like Starrcade and the War Games match which now takes place the night before Survivor Series. It should come as no surprise that a two-part television special would don this moniker to go head-to-head with the much anticipated AEW Fyter Fest. This is smack dab in the middle of what is known as the Weds. night war with these two opposing promotions going head to head on television for the first time since WWE vs. WCW in the early 2000’s. While this may have looked like a cheap resurrection of the brand name stitched together more than a zombie on The Walking Dead, they actually made this a memorable event.

The most memorable part of the event was the crowning of the new NXT double champion, Keith Lee. Lee has had a remarkable career and has deservedly risen to the top of the NXT card. Having him score a big win like this over Adam Cole on the show with the classic Americana name in the middle of a pandemic, riots and endless talk about systematic racism, it was a breath of fresh air to see WWE give this warrior his due. I always say Keith Lee became a star after his performance last November in Chicago at the Survivor Series but now his star is shining brighter than ever before with the big title win and becoming the face of WWE’s most popular TV show. I have a feeling Mr. Lee may become the hero and role model that many will need right now in the USA and worldwide. I look forward to him and Djakovic headlining a bigger show one day.

So where does this resilient brand name go from here? Should NXT do another special with this name next summer? I don’t see why not but for the time being I want to play pretend that the next event will be held in a post-pandemic world. In this world fans would be allowed to pack venues in capacity and nobody would be in fear of their health and safety. When that in fact does return I challenge NXT to resurrect The Great American Bash tour. They have the funds, the talent and the resources to pull it off. They’ve had metal bands like Code Orange and Asking Alexandria perform in the past so their audience would be engaged with the musical acts. They can easily fill indoor or outdoor venues and fix the mistakes made by Crockett Promotions in the past. I think this would be absolutely huge and could become a tradition. Minor league ballparks can be done as Jeff Jarrett did the Grand Slam Tour (great name don’t you think?) in the summer of 2015 with Global Force Wrestling. NXT has a much bigger name and audience than Global ever did and I feel there is just something awesome about wrestling, music & fireworks outdoors on a hot summer night. Those will be the days my friends, those will be the days. I believe one day in one fashion or another we will kill COVID-19 in order for this to happen, but on the other hand you can’t kill an ego the size of Nicky Martin’s and you apparently can’t kill the brand of The Great American Bash no matter what gets thrown into its long twisted path.

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