A Wrestling Year – 29.01.1986-04.02.1986 (Part 2)

In some ways, shows like this are the payoff for my time spent watching Ron Bass squashes and Jimmy Valiant shenanigans. A show that consisted of fans’ ‘dream matches’, it allowed the culmination (or escalation) of some of the biggest feuds in the NWA at the time. It was a precursor to the eventual format of the Clash cards that would have some of wrestling’s greatest moments ever. At the top of the card, we were going to see Ronny Garvin get his shot at the NWA World Heavyweight Title against Ric Flair, but that wasn’t the only notable match on show. Each had a belt to wager, respect to be won.

Magnum TA and Linda Curry are our hosts, and Magnum TA couldn’t look more out of place in a tuxedo. Curry seems to primarily be there to breathily talk about her excitement and look wide-eyed, so it is a bit of an odd combination really.

After footage of The Rock and Roll Express defeating The Russians, we head to the ring. The first match of the show sees The Rock and Roll Express defending their NWA World Heavyweight Tag Team Titles against The Midnight Express. The Midnights had dogged the champions, both on TV and at the live shows, and this was a chance for Gibson and Morton to get their revenge. The Midnights realise how important this chance is though, and jump the champs, only for Morton to slingshot both men to the outside from the apron in one pull! The fans are crazily into the Rock and Roll Express, and the champs control the early stages of the match, with the Midnights happy to ‘show ass’ as they collide, whilst Eaton takes a brutal back body drop on the floor at ringside from Morton – ouch.

As has been the norm in their squash matches, The Rock and Roll Express target a body part, working Condrey’s leg with a flipping wishbone into a double punch on Eaton on the apron. Eventually, Condrey manages to tag out to Eaton, and a caught dropkick turned into a slingshot into Condrey’s knees turns the tide just before they head to adverts. Eaton has a sleeper locked in as we return, and Condrey locks in one of his own shortly after, using the hair to control the man on the mat. Gibson is playing the Morton role, and almost gets a tag following a kneelift on Condrey, but Eaton is tagged in just before Gibson makes the tag.

Gibson almost steals the victory with a sunset flip, only to get dropped by Condrey with a back breaker. The Midnights sense victory, but a Rocket Launcher is missed, finally allowing Gibson to make the tag. The match breaks down as Morton goes to work on both Midnights, and the ref takes a bump following the Rock and Roll Express’ double dropkick. Unsurprisingly, Cornette finds an opportunity to get involved, and after getting dragged into the ring, he clocks Morton with the tennis racket. The ref is revived and counts the three count to give us new tag team champions!

An interview with the new champions is made by Bobby Eaton laying on the floor throughout the whole of it, really selling the beating the Rock and Roll Express.

The second match sees another tag team battle as The Road Warriors face off against The Russians. We see two lots of footage where the Russiasn have taken out the Warriors, the second one involving Hawk getting hung with a chain over the top rope.

Whilst I’ve always really enjoyed him, Ivan Koloff does feel a little out of place here against the muscle bound men that surround him. The initial stages with Animal and Nikita Koloff give both an opportunity to show off their power, with Animal catching a leaping Nikita into a bear hug, before both men slam each other before missing a follow-up strike on the ground.

Ivan seems out of place. Hawk is brought in to allow for several shoulder blocks that move neither man. The Russians are able to take control, with Ivan hitting a double sledge off of the top rope, but Hawk manages to block another jump with a shot to the stomach. A shoulder breaker, big boot and press slam on Ivan forces the Russians’ hand, as Baron Von Raschke heads down to ringside to keep an eye on the action.

An atomic drop on Ivan sees him met with a top rope punch for good measure, but he is eventually able to send Hawk into Nikita in the corner. From there, the Russians begin to work over Hawk. Ivan hits a legdrop and a swinging neckbreaker, whilst both enter the ring to land a back elbow. Behind the referee’s back, they even manage to use the chain for a choke hold. Hawk manages to land a flying tackle, but with the referee distracted, Raschke comes into the ring and drops an elbow – only good for a two count though. Ivan then eats a powerslam by Hawk, and Raschke has had enough, interfering and costing the Russians the match by DQ. It initially feels like the Russians are going to overwhelm the Road Warriors again, including an attack on Paul Ellering, but Ellering avoids a chain clothesline and the Warriors are able to steal the chain before landing several chain clotheslines of their own. A nothing match really, but the crowd are hugely into the feud.

Another title is on the line in the third match as Dusty Rhodes defends his National Heavyweight Title against Tully Blanchard. Unsurprisingly, Baby Doll is in the corner for Rhodes and JJ Dillon joins Blanchard at ringside. Rhodes has initial success by taking Blanchard down and teasing an elbow drop to the thigh, landing it twice in a row to raucous response from the crowd. An early figure four attempt sees Blanchard quickly into the ropes, before Blanchard takes respite on the outside. Even with this break, he is caught shortly afterwards trying to escape the ring and Dusty uses a spinning toe hold to continue his work on the legs.

There is no way of avoiding it, but the match does feel very slow at the start. The crowd are firmly against Blanchard, including a ‘break it’ chant as Dusty continues to work the leg. However, Dusty ‘re-injures’ his own leg when coming off of the turnbuckle, giving Blanchard a way back in and building some much needed tension in the match. Blanchard drops several knees, before using a leglock with leverage to further damage the leg. He even locks in his own figure four, yet Dusty is able to turn it, then break it. Blanchard’s control sequence isn’t very long, as Rhodes catches an attempted crossbody off of the second rope and turns it into a backbreaker.

Dillon begins to have more of an influence at this point, distracting the ref after a belly to belly by Rhodes, and putting Blanchard’s leg on the rope following a suplex into the ring and a three count. The ref restarts the match, and Dusty goes after JJ, only to get cut off and rammed into the apron belly first by Blanchard. Back in the ring, Rhodes has a backslide attempt broken up by the ropes, and follows this with an atomic drop and a football tackle. Dusty’s desire to take on Blanchard does see him shove the ref to one side (a DQ? Should be in my eyes), allowing JJ to get involved once more and trip Dusty for a two count. Rather than build up the action as the announcer informs us of the waning time in the match, Dusty grabs Blanchard and puts him into a boston crab. The bell rings for the time limit draw with neither man that close to victory – a completely unsatisfactory finish to a completely unsatisfactory match.

To add a little sizzle at the end, Blanchard piledrives Dusty and runs off with the National Heavyweight Title. Still, a complete let down of a match I had high hopes for.

The Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup is discussed, and we even get a Willie Nelson interview to boot.

The main event comes off the back of continuous interaction on TV, as Ronnie Garvin gets a NWA World Heavyweight Title shot against Ric Flair. This is a match I’ve seen mixed reviews about online, but is one I personally really enjoyed. The main reason? It was just a brawl that felt pretty legitimate; both men blasted each other with punches, chops and kicks – there was very limited pretence that this was a worked wrestling match. Garvin in particular, as would be expected in a match where Flair plays into his hands, is vicious, blasting Flair with punches, headbutts and dragging Flair around by the nose at times.

Even when Flair chucks Garvin to the outside to try and get some respite, Garvin is straight back in and throwing punches, one even having enough power to knock Flair over the top rope and out of the ring. A sleeper reversed into a back suplex finally gives Flair some time on offense, but he continues to brawl with Garvin, dropping knees to the forehead and slapping him when he is down. This only seems to revive and annoy Garvin, who punches him back several times, shortly before a combo of five headbutts have Flair all over the show. There are multiple pinfall attempts in short order, with Garvin getting particularly close with a backslide for two.

Garvin comes very close several times to taking the victory: a crossbody gets a two, whilst a punch to the gut during a Flair jump off of the top turnbuckle and a small package gets another two. A roll-up leads to the ref taking a bump, allowing Garvin to hit his Hands of Stone punch to lay the champion out. Unfortunately, the referee is down and out, and whilst Garvin tries to revive him, Flair lands a weak looking knee to the back. A pin with the ref unable to see Garvin’s foot on the rope is enough for the champion to retain. A good, unique match, marred by a weak finish. I can’t imagine this is the end of the Garvin/Flair feud however.

For its time, a very interesting show. Sure, Rhodes/Blanchard was dross considering the two men in the ring, but the tag title change and the main event both had more than enough to keep things interesting. Well worth seeking out, if only to see a fairly historical event, what with the move towards several Clash shows a year.

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