wrestling / Columns

Shining a Spotlight 7.07.11: 1991 Great American Bash

July 7, 2011 | Posted by Michael Weyer

Due to the shortened week because of the 4th, not as much time to devote to the Invasion. So instead, I thought I’d look back 20 years to one of the most infamous PPVs of all time. A show that was highlighted by an incredibly messy situation involving one of the most revered stars ever, resulting in a massive change to the card. A change that did not go over well with a fanbase who let the company have it in spades over what they saw as horrible treatment.

1991 Great American Bash. July 14, 1991, Baltimore, Maryland

It may not be truly the worst PPV ever (Heroes of Wrestling is even more painful) but possibly the worst by a major company, especially one with such a rep as WCW. And they only have themselves to blame.

The Flair of a Setup

WCW entered 1991 in a state of serious flux. The previous year was meant to be a huge one with Sting finally taking the World title but sadly, things didn’t work out nearly as well as hoped. Ole Anderson’s booking style helped mar Sting’s reign from the start, the feud with Sid never as great as it could be and Ric Flair shoved down the card. That culminated in the infamous Black Scorpion angle where Ole invented a mystery man to challenge Sting with no idea who to put in the role. With Starrcade coming, Jim Herd was forced to go to Flair and beg him to take on the role, leading to a messy main event.

Flair had a condition for this task, however: He wanted the title back. With Sting’s reign not a major win from a business standpoint (never mind that it wasn’t Sting’s fault in the least), Herd agreed so just a few weeks after Starrcade, Flair won back the title. It was a major surprise, especially to the Bill Apter mags which had been following WCW’s lead and burying Flair as over the hill and his time being done. Flair did well with the title but found himself in a complicated mess when he seemed to lose the NWA title to Tatsumi Fujinami in Japan. However, it was said that the ref had disqualified Flair before the pin but the Japanese didn’t seem to recognize that so they were declaring Fujinami the champion while Flair claimed the belt was his. It ended at SuperBrawl with Flair “regaining” the title.

It was about this time that the name change officially came. Now, it had technically been World Championship Wrestling for some time but it was still said to be the NWA on TV and such. But now, WCW was officially the new name with Flair as the champion. Things seemed to be going well but then Herd made the foolish decision to bring back Dusty Rhodes, fresh off his two-year WWF run, back and back as booker. This didn’t go over well with Flair, never a fan of Dusty’s booking style, leading to multiple clashes with Dusty reportedly trying to get Flair to drop the belt in a five-minute squash to a young Scott Steiner. Flair’s relationship with Herd worsened even more as Herd, feeling that WCW needed to emulate the WWF more to succeed, came up with crazy ideas like having Flair shave his head, wear an earring and armor and call himself Spartacus. With contracts coming up, Herd also wanted to cut Flair’s paygrade down immensely, not seeming to notice how Flair deserved every cent he got because of his drawing power. But few believed things could come to the head they did.

The Departure

The accounts vary depending on who you talk to but the results are all the same. Two weeks before the upcoming Great American Bash PPV, Flair and Herd had one final meeting that devolved into a screaming match and Flair announced he was leaving the company. There was no way they could keep it quiet so Herd just went right on TV and told everyone about Flair’s departure. Keep in mind, the Internet as we know it did not exist then, the TV announcement was the first fans knew of all this and it was shocking to learn the man who had embodied the company for a decade was now gone.

Wasting no time, Vince McMahon was on Flair’s phone in hours and before you knew it, he was signed to the WWF. A bad situation but made even worse due to the fact that Flair was also taking him with the WCW World title belt, which he owned. Well, okay, he really didn’t but he thought he did. See, despite what some like to remember, the old NWA territories were hardly a utopia where everyone got along. Double-crosses were so common that the board of directors decided to put in a condition to make sure their top guy didn’t bolt as every time a guy became champion, he gave the board a payment that varied between five and ten thousand dollars. He would get the money back when he lost the belt, a sure way to make sure that he wouldn’t leave the promoters in a lurch. In 1985, Flair argued to Jim Crockett that he was owed about $15,000 in various bonuses so Crockett created for Flair the lavish huge gold belt that is still used today as the World Championship by WWE. It was a pretty big shift from the rather small NWA title belt but gave it more of a push. But this meant that Flair was under the impression he owned the title and took it with him to WWF, kicking off an ugly string of legal battles which Vince milked on TV big-time just to rub it in WCW’s faces.

It’s interesting that most paint Flair as being in the right here, sticking it to the his bosses for not appreciating him. But you can also approach it as a rather diva move to the extreme. Flair had to know how damaging his departure would be and taking the belt with him seemed to spit on all the history and legacy he claimed to love. The effects were huge down the road; I’m sure in the build-up to Montreal six years later, Vince had to think “if Flair could do it, why couldn’t Bret?” You can see where Flair was coming from, yes, but to literally take the title and run out on the company that depended so much on you was a pretty dick move in retrospect.

What this meant was that WCW faced the ultimate promoter’s nightmare: A major show without either their World champion, major star or title belt. I do remember in the year-end Pro Wrestling Illustrated, a reader sent in a “top 10 reasons Flair left WCW” list with one nice line being “One more Great American Bash pay-per-view from Baltimore would have sent him running off screaming into the night.” The main event had been set to be Flair vs Lex Luger, in what most saw as Luger finally getting the title. With Flair gone, they decided to elevate Barry Windham to face Luger instead. It’s interesting that on the 2007 Four Horsemen DVD, Flair and Windham claim that Flair was going to give Windham the belt but that seems unlikely as Luger was on more of a rise. Regardless, the match was set for the main event of the show…but no one could have predicted just what this card would turn out to be.

The show

One of 411mania’s former contributors was Ken Anderson who, in a review of WCW in 1991, stated as fact that the entire locker room held a meeting and decided to go out of their way to make the show as bad as possible as protest for Flair’s firing. I don’t know if I buy that as surely there’s pride in your work and, as noted, some guys may have been more ticked than others over Flair taking the belt with him (the fact WCW would put on slews of bad shows over the years also deflates the theory). But when you see the show, you can definitely understand his feelings as it’s hard to believe anyone trying could really put on a show this bad.

We kicked right off with the idiotic as PN News and Bobby Eaton faced off against Steve Austin (in his PPV debut) and Terry Taylor in a scaffold match. Scaffold matches are always something that sounds great on paper but doesn’t quite connect in real life. That’s because no one really wants to take a 20 foot drop into the ring (Jim Cornette’s two blown knees can attest to the dangers) but it’s still a sight so starting a show with the match made no sense. Making it even worse, however, was that the rules were to capture a flag on either side of the rampway, which sort of defeats the entire damn purpose of a scaffold match. News was WCW’s attempt to exploit the “edgy” rap demographic and the less said of that attempt, the better. On their own, scaffold matches are boring but this one took it to a new level, News out of his element totally and even Eaton (a veteran of these bouts) seemed to have no clue what to do. After several long minutes of dull “action,” Eaton captured the flag before they climbed down for some brief in-ring action but this was pretty much the best way imaginable to kill a crowd dead right off the bat.

Eric Bischoff (then just the announcer) did an interview with Paul E. Dangerously and Arn Anderson, who looked as happy as you’d expect about being at the show by the company who just fired his best friend. The Diamond Studd was up next, which was basically Scott Hall’s early version of what would become Razor Ramon, managed by a pre-wrestler Diamond Dallas Page. His less than sterling opponent was Tom Zenk, usually a high-flying guy but really slowed down here, even moreso for a Hall match, despite Zenk kicking off with a flying double clothesline on both guys. Hall dominated with Zenk getting a near fall from a nice missile dropkick but Page breaking it up. That allowed Studd to hit a side suplex for the win, after the announcers spent the match hyping how dangerous the Diamond Drop was.

We were then treated to the essence of Wrestlecrap: The PPV debut of Oz. In yet another of his many mind-farts, Herd had decided it’d make perfect sense to use the library of classic MGM movies owned by Turner and promote them with wrestling gimmicks since, after all, it’s well known how many classic movie buffs are also ardent wrestling fans. So, a young Kevin Nash was given green hair and a freaky costume as the great and powerful Oz. Words cannot do justice to his entrance so simply enjoy the clip below and marvel yet again at the money Turner blew on this crap.

Oz faced Ron Simmons, coming of his breakup and feud with former tag team partner Butch Reed and starting his good push in WCW. What’s worse than a slow and awkward Kevin Nash? A slow and awkward rookie Kevin Nash. Simmons got some nice offense to show off his power moves and a series of leg chops before hitting a flying shoulder block and put the fans out of their misery.

Next up was Richard Morton, who had joined Alexandra York’s York Foundation. York (Terri Runnels) was presented as a genius who utilized her laptop computer (which were rather new then) to bring together all data on wrestler, supposedly making her guys unbeatable. With Morton, that meant wearing his hair in a ponytail but still keeping the old Rock n Roll Express tights. He and former partner Robert Gibson were beginning the long-awaited feud and you’d think two guys who’d been partners for a decade would know how to work a good match together. They started off with a lot of stalling and Morton sneaking out of the ring now and then to check York’s computer for tips, which is an interesting bit you’d think someone today would steal. Morton spent the majority of the match working on Gibson’s knee, even tearing off the tights to show the brace on the recently repaired limb, another bit you’d think would be used more. This went on for a while, Gibson making the brief comebacks but then put down again, even trying dropkicks despite his injured leg. They ended up on the rampway, going for dual dropkicks but missing. York distracted the ref so Morton could hit Gibson in the shoulder with the computer and get the pin, despite all the leg work.

The Young Pistols (Tracey Smothers and Steve Armstrong) teamed with Dustin Rhodes to face the Fabulous Freebirds and ally Badstreet (Brad Armstrong under a mask) and if you expect me to remember why these guys were feuding, you’re out of luck. The Freebirds were the US tag champs and, with Badstreet, the six-man tag champs, that title that came and went depending on how the promoters felt about it. At this time, Dustin was still trying way too hard to be like his dad, from moves to talk and that marred his own style in the ring so it was best the Pistols did the majority of the work. This was under elimination rules so when Armstrong was hit by double DDTs, he was pinned and eliminated. Smother charged and Hayes back dropped him over the top which earned him a DQ, ridding us of the most over guy in the match. Another double DDT, this time on Smothers to eliminate him. Dustin raced in to clotheslines Garvin and somehow that was enough for a pin. That left him and Badstreet, the two going up and down before Big Daddy Dink (don’t ask) tried to interfere, allowing Dustin to do that dual bulldog-drop-kick move to win.

Next up was Johnny B. Badd against the Yellow Dog and where to start on this? Badd was pretty much a joke then, poor Marc Mero (an actually damn good worker in his younger years) under a ton of makeup to look like Little Richard and act as gay as possible. Brian Pillman had lost a “Loser leave town” match which resulted in his being suspended from WCW. The next week, a man in a yellow outfit and mask came out with brown curly hair poking under and speaking in a very familiar rasp. Word to any future promoters: This never works. Even worse was how Pillman came out with a dog identified simply as “Man’s Best Friend” and said to hail from “The Kennel Club.” In a move you’d never see today, Pillman led the fans in a “faggot” chant on Badd and wow, that is amazingly bad taste even by wrestling standards. The Dog was a low point of Pillman’s career (his DVD ignores it completely) and he seemed to hate it as well, coming off pretty sloppy. Badd tried to get off his mask to collect a bounty on those who claimed it was Pillman and somehow that got him disqualified. Somehow, the match kept going with the Dog doing that flying cross-body only Pillman could work and Teddy Long breaking up the pin. So Badd just hit his “stunning knockout punch” to end the ugly bout.

We got a precursor to today’s “comedy” with Eric Bischof ogling Missy Hyatt in the shower before a Lumberjack match between Big Josh and Blackblood. Josh was Matt Bourne, better known as the original Doink while Blackblood was Billy Jack Haynes under a mask as an executioner. Josh’s moves of chops and a log roll were actually pretty funny but like 90% of lumberjack matches, we got a huge brawl between the lumberjacks, Blackblood trying to use his axe but Dustin Rhodes using Josh’s own axe to hit him in the knees, allowing Josh to win and this might have been better as pure one-on-one instead of a lumberjack mess. More nightmarish ring action followed as One Man Gang faced arguably the worst wrestler of all time, El Gigante who had four midgets with him for no apparent reason. After kicking powder into Gang’s face and a clothesline, Gigante won and I’ll spare you the agony of a further recap.

Thankfully, we got some polish on this turd as Sting faced off with Nikita Koloff in a Russian chain match. After weeks of being attacked by Nikita and his chain, Sting was ready for battle and they did a good job, a tug-of-war with the chain but then started some hard-hitting action. While Nikita lost a lot of his ring fervor when his wife died in 1989, he was still a great worker, with a cool bit in which he wrapped the chain around his elbow to drop it on Sting a few times. They fought in the corner, touching one turnbuckle and were sent into a second and a third, despite low blows on each other. Nikita slowly made his way to the fourth one and Sting tried to leap past him but ended up pushing Nikita into it instead. A sadly cheap ending to what was a promising bout that makes you wish WCW had been smart and put Sting in the main event instead. Then again, if they were smart, they wouldn’t be in this position in the first place.

After killing a few minutes with video packages, the main event was set, Luger vs Windham in a steel cage. With Flair taking the title, WCW had been forced to dig up an old regional belt (not, as legend has it, the Western States Heritage title), slap a makeshift label on it and use that as their world championship until a new belt could be made. To call the match a mess is to give it a break but it’s not really the fault of the two men who had good chemistry in the ring. Throughout the night, at various spots, the chant would come up of “WE WANT FLAIR!” but now they rang loud and true, the entire arena chanting it out. It’s fascinating to watch from a sociological standpoint, the fans making their feelings known and the poor announcers having to ignore it as best they could while Luger and Windham tried to put on a bout against such absolute fan hate. The bout was pretty rough, lots of fancy power moves but nothing majorly exciting and when Luger was slammed off the top rope like Flair, the boos rang loud and long. Windham did hit a nice one-legged kick from the top when out came Harley Race, accompanied by the massive Mr. Hughes. Luger was on the mat, near the cage when Race yelled at him “now’s the time!” As if shot with an adrenaline needle, Luger was on his feet, hitting a knee on Windham and then a piledriver to win the belt. The fans were pretty confused, still booing as Luger was handed the title, hugging Race, most not even getting that Luger was turning heel.

The video tapes have this as the final match when in truth, there was one more, Arn and Dangerously vs Rick Steiner and Missy Hyatt in an intergender cage match. As Steiner went to the cage, Dick Slater and Dick Murdoch kidnapped Missy, leaving Steiner alone. He did well, shrugging off being hit with a cell phone to hit Steinerlines on both men and pinning Dangerously. So the final bout of the show was a total mess of roughly four minutes which seemed oddly fitting.


Fans today may complain, and rightly so, of the depths WWE and TNA PPVs can sink to. But two decades later and this show still justly holds the reputation as being the worst PPV ever put on by a major promotion. Yes, Flair’s exit shook everyone but that’s still no excuse for the horrible booking, stupid stips and overall ugly work we saw go into this. You truly feel sorry for the fans who paid good money to witness such a travesty unfold before them, a mess that deserves to be remembered, if only for the wrong reasons. After looking at this, one is no longer surprised at WCW’s eventual fall given how low they could get.

Next week, I return to the Invasion but for now the spotlight is off.


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Michael Weyer

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