This Sunday will be the culmination of Sting’s career, as he challenges Seth Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions. With that, it only makes sense to look back on the night his career was launched, the first Clash of the Champions special. On this night the young upstart Sting would challenge Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in front of a national TV audience.
The backstory to this show is probably more interesting that the show itself. It grew out of the war between the WWF and Jim Crockett Promotions. In 1987 Vince McMahon decided to ruin NWA Starrcade by scheduling the first ever Survivor Series on the same day and time. He told the pay-per-view companies that anyone who chose to broadcast Starrcade would be shut out from showing Wrestlemania IV. With that threat, virtually everyone decided to show Survivor Series and Starrcade was ruined.
McMahon pulled a similar trick when Crockett broadcast Bunkhouse Stampede in January, as he scheduled the first Royal Rumble on USA Network at the same time. When Wrestlemania came around, Crockett decided to get even and scheduled the first ever Clash of the Champions opposite Wrestlemania. Clash was a huge success, drawing a massive 6.6 rating on TBS. Meanwhile, Wrestlemania IV was a disappointment. It was a fleeting victory, before the year was out Crockett went bankrupt and sold the promotion to Ted Turner.
Clash of the Champions I
March 27, 1988
Greensboro, North Carolina
Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone are our hosts.
NWA World Television Championship: College Rules Match: Mike Rotunda (c) vs. Jimmy Garvin
“College Rules” means three five minute rounds and you win with a one count. This is to further Rotunda’s Varsity Club gimmick. This is a little weird, as we’re programmed that every move gets a two count, but here nothing gets any count. Garvin is mostly in control and Rotunda keeps bailing out. In the second round Garvin gets Rotunda up for a Brainbuster, leading Kevin Sullivan to attack Precious, Garvin’s valet. Garvin goes after Sullivan, allowing Rotunda to roll him up for the pin at 6:10.
Analysis: 1/2*. Pretty lame.
We get an interview with Steve Williams. He says he wants to challenge the winner of tonight’s NWA Championship match. And I want a pony, but neither is going to happen.
NWA United States Tag Team Championship: The Midnight Express (c) vs. The Fantastics
The Fantastics are Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers. This should be some good, old school southern tag team wrestling. They rumble on the floor to start. The Fantastics are on fire early. This is crazy, everybody is beating the shit out of everybody all over ringside. There are chair shots, tables, and someone no one gets disqualified. The Fantastics go through a nice shine sequence until The Express turn the tables with a high/low on Fulton. The Express proceed to put on an absolute clinic of tag psychology, cutting off the ring and making the fans beg for a comeback. Whenever it looks like the tag is going to get made, the Express cut it off. Thing are going so well for the Express that Jim Cornette even dances a happy jig.
The Fantastics get fed up after the referee doesn’t see their hot tag. They toss him over the top rope and proceed to go to town on The Express and Cornette. They hit the Rocket Launcher as a new referee slides in to count the three. You can see where this is going. Midnight Express retain by disqualification.
Analysis: ***1/2. Not in love with the Dusty Finish, but it made some sense here. Very well done southern tag match.
The Express and Cornette beat Fulton with a belt after the match. Presumably this was used to set up a strap match for future house shows.
Barbed Wire Match: The Road Warriors and Dusty Rhodes vs. The Powers of Pain and Ivan Koloff
This is somehow simultaneously called a “Chicago Street Fight” and a “Texas Barb Wire Match.” Not a ton to recap here, as it’s just a short messy brawl. The Road Warriors and Dusty get the win at 3:39 after Barbarian misses a Flying Headbutt and hits Warlord.
Analysis: 1/4*. At least it was short.
Nikita Koloff cuts a promo that is literally the most incomprehensible thing I have ever seen. No idea what he was saying. Eventually he holds up a sign that says “Get High on Sports, Not On Drugs.” So I guess it was an anti-drug thing.
NWA World Tag Team Championship: Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard (c) vs. Lex Luger and Barry Windham
Four Horsemen vs. two big studs. Luger is a former member of the Horsemen, Windham a future member. Luger and Windham throw the Horsemen all around the ring early and the crowd is throwing babies in the air. Luger gets Blanchard in the Torture Rack, but Arn clips his knee. The Horsemen immediately go to work on that leg. Luger does eventually manage to tag in Windham, who cleans house. Windham locks on a Sleeper. Blanchard makes it out of the ring, but Blanchard manages to keep the hold on as they spill to the floor! Never seen that before. Back in the ring, Windham gets Blanchard in an Abdominal Stretch, but Anderson sneaks in and DDTs Windham.
Somehow, we’re only five minutes in. Blanchard hits the Slingshot Suplex, but Windham kicks out at two. Windham manages to tag in Luger and he goes Clothesline crazy. JJ Dillon gets up on the apron with a chair, but Luger throws Anderson head-first into the chair, knocking him out. Luger covers for the pin at 9:35.
Analysis: ***3/4 really good match. Could have been a classic with a bit more time, but they really went balls to the wall for that ten minutes.
The crowd is going absolutely crazy. It looks like a football crowd whose team just won the Super Bowl. And this isn’t even the main event.
The judges for the main event are announced. In the event the match goes the time limit, the decision of the judges will determine the winner. The judges are: Gary Juster, Sandy Scott, Jason Hervey, Patty Mullen, and Ken Osmond. I could go into who these people are, but it doesn’t really matter.
NWA World Heavyweight Championship: Ric Flair (c) vs. Sting
This is Sting’s first big break. The crowd is into him, but it’s not a huge response. Flair is cool and confident on his way to the ring. J.J. Dillon is in a cage hanging above the ring for the match to prevent him from interfering. Flair is only a five time champion at this point. It’s one fall to a finish, a 45 minute time-limit due to TV time remaining. As always, the title cannot change hands on a disqualification or count out.
The theme of the early portion of the match is Sting’s strength and invulnerability. Flair can’t get anything going as Sting continually overpowers him. Sting gets fired up and knocks Flair over the top with a punch. Not a disqualification because that rule is speciously enforced. He goes for the Stinger Splash and hits his arm on the post. Flair immediately targets the arm. Sting comes back and locks on the Scorpion Deathlock, but Flair makes the ropes as we hit 25 minutes gone by.
Sting misses a Clothesline and falls to the floor, further injuring his arm. Sting comes off the top and hits a Flying Cross Body for a two count. Flair responds with a Knee Breaker and we transition to the leg portion of the match. Flair locks on the Figure Four with thirty minutes gone by. Sting eventually manages to turn it over, reversing the pressure. Flair breaks out and gets Suplexed into the ring from the apron. Sting goes for a Splash, but Flair gets his knees up. Flair goes to the top and gets thrown off. Thirty five minutes gone by. Sting locks on the Figure Four! Flair manages to make the ropes.
Sting sends Flair into the corner and he takes the big bump to the floor. Sting hits another Stinger Splash with five minutes left. Sting gets a Sunset Flip for a near pin with two minutes left. Flair comes off the top and connects with a Cross Body, but Sting rolls through! Only gets two. JR is going nuts. One minute left. Sting hits the Stinger Splash with 40 seconds to go! He’s go the Scorpion Deathlock on with 30 seconds to go! The clock ticks down and Flair refuses to give up. We hit the time limit and the bell rings at 45:00.
Patty Mullen gives the match to Flair. Gary Jester to Sting. Sandy Scott scores it…a draw. There are two other judges, but they don’t announce their decisions. It’s 1-1-1, and the match is declared a draw. Flair retains the title.
Analysis: ****. Damn fine match. Put Sting over huge. He went toe-to-toe with Flair for the entire match, never giving an inch. If the match had gone 30 seconds longer, he would have been the world champion.
This match turned Sting into a star overnight, and he would never look back. He would defeat Flair to become NWA Champion in 1990 and go on to become the cornerstone of WCW and one of the most legendary performers in wrestling history.
Overall, that was a very good show. A great main event and few good matches on the undercard. Crockett also succeeded in his objective of screwing over Vince McMahon, as Wrestlemania IV drew a disappointing buyrate. Clash of the Champions would go on to become a regular special for WCW, featuring top matches a few times a year.