Rebuilding The Bash
1986 saw Jim Crockett Promotions turn its one-night Great American Bash show into a touring show of 13 events (a figure that’s been disputed by some wrestling sages) that ran from July 2 to August 2. As discussed last time around, the 1986 Bash tour was a mixed success with some shows drawing well and others faring poorly. This, despite a strong product made it paramount that JCP learn from the past year’s show if it wanted the 1987 Bash to become a success. As we’ll see, it was a lesson JCP learned from, correcting its past mistakes.
Like its 1986 product, 1987 was a strong year for JCP in terms of talent and storylines. The feud between Dusty Rhodes and the Four Horsemen was as wild as ever while Ric Flair also found time to feud with other babyfaces as he defended his NWA World Heavyweight Championship and Lex Luger chased Nikita Koloff for the United States Heavyweight Championship. The tag team division was enjoying a white-hot feud between United States Tag Team Champions the Midnight Express and the Rock-n-Roll Express as they fought for the NWA World Tag Team Championship. In addition, JCP had purchased Bill Watts’s Universal Wrestling Federation, adding several big names to JCP including Sting, Rick Steiner, and Steve “Doctor Death” Williams.
The 1986 Bash tour could have been a big financial success, but JCP overreached, booking the tour in stadiums, featuring country music acts, and booking outside the promotion’s strongest base. The result was too much overhead and not enough revenue. The 1986 Bash wasn’t a disaster (other than the Memphis show we looked at last time). JCP wasn’t about to repeat these mistakes, instead booking most of the shows in indoor arenas and skipping the country music concerts (with two exceptions—the July 4 show at the Omni and the July 11 show in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma). However, JCP went all in when it came to the number of shows.
As noted by Jim Cornette:
The 1987 Bash tour consisted of 25 Bash dates in the month of July, which along with double shots, TV tapings and a few non-Bash events meant that most talent worked at least 35 times during the month. The highlights this time around were the debut in the Capitol Centre in Landover, Maryland, that drew 15,000 fans and $195,000—Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Baltimore drawing over 12,000 fans each—Norfolk, Virginia setting the all-time state gate record at $180,000, and Chicago drawing 10,000. Charlotte in 1987 was disappointing, only doing around 15,000 fans paying $174,000, but there were live Bash events in almost every city in the Carolinas now, so it took some out-of-towners away from Charlotte. But the big one this year was the Omni in Atlanta on the Fourth of July, where over 13,000 fans paid a quarter of a million dollars to see the first-ever War Games.
The 1987 Bash proved to be a success financially and creatively, with Dusty Rhodes’s creation War Games becoming an instant classic as two five-man teams battled in a double cage match designed to settle a feud once and for all. The first War Games featured the team of Dusty Rhodes, the Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff, and Paul Ellering battling the Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and Lex Luger) and executive director James J. Dillon. Up until the dying days of WCW, War Games always meant something special to the fans as it was used to settle some of the promotion’s biggest feuds.
As big as War Games was, it was only run two times (at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia on July 4 and at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida on July 31) in 1987. It might have proved for the best as the first match saw James J. Dillon botch his taking of the Road Warriors’ finisher “The Doomsday Device” and he landed awkwardly on his shoulder, resulting in a serious shoulder injury. While the matches were worked, they were bloody and hard-hitting nonetheless, not exactly the type of situation you want your wrestlers competing in on a regular basis.
War Games was just one component of the many storylines developed and advanced at the Bash. While Dusty and his allies also fought the Horsemen in traditional steel cage matches, there were other feuds to be enjoyed. The 1987 tour saw Jimmy Garvin unsuccessfully challenge “Nature Boy” Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, with Flair winning a date with Garvin’s valet Precious (hey, it was the 80s, you had to be there). This led to Jimmy’s brother Ronnie Garvin later challenging Flair for the NWA strap and pulling off the upset of the decade when he won the belt. On another night, Lex Luger defeated Nikita Koloff for the United States Championship thanks to an assist from manager James J. Dillon, setting Luger up with his first major singles belt in a national promotion. Dusty Rhodes also chased Tully Blanchard for the NWA World Television Championship in several matches including a $100,000 “Lights Out” Barbed Wire Match.
Sadly, the 1987 Bash would be Jim Crockett Promotions’ last profitable supershow for the year as the WWF sabotaged 1987’s Starrcade by telling pay-per-view providers they had to choose between the WWF’s Survivor Series or Starrcade if they wanted to air 1988’s WrestleMania IV (which was a no-brainer for cable companies who had profited heavily from WrestleMania III).
The 1987 Great American Bash remains one of wrestling’s biggest promotional endeavors at the time and in hindsight, Jim Crockett Promotions excelled that summer. Fans got to see the birth of one of wrestling’s most iconic matches as well as some fantastic wrestling and storylines. As good as 1986’s product was for JCP, its inability to properly promote it at that year’s Bash hurt it, but it would be a hard-learned lesson that would lead to success in 1987, satisfying fans, wrestlers, and promoter Jim Crockett Jr.
Cawthon, Graham. “Great American Bash Tours.” History of the WWE. Accessed 25 July 2020.
Cornette, Jim. “HOW THE BASH GOT BASHED--FSM#166.” Jimcornette.com. Accessed 25 July 2020.
Dillon, James J. Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls: From McMahon to McMahon. Crowbar Press, 2005.
Hornbaker, Tim. Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal and the War that Changed
Pro Wrestling Forever. ECW Press, 2018.
“Jim Cornette Looks at the 1987 Great American Bash Tour.” YouTube. uploaded by Arcadian Vanguard, 26 Oct. 2017. Accessed 25 July 2020.