The Great American... Bust?
Spurred by the success of the first Great American Bash, the surge in wrestling’s popularity, and a strong business, Jim Crockett Promotions decided to capitalize on all three factors and to transform its one-night event from 1985 into a touring show of 13 events (some historians argue there were more than 13) that ran from July 2 to August 2.
The first Bash had been held at the American Legion Memorial Stadium and drew an impressive 27,000 fans. If JCP could repeat the success at 13 stadiums, they could bring in some serious bank. However, as we’re about to see, JCP and Dusty overreached, leading to some of the shows falling short, case in point the Independence Day event that became the Great American Bust.
Booker Dusty Rhodes decided to build the tour around the storyline of NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair defending the belt against a variety of contenders every night of the tour, with the idea being he had to drop it one night given the intense competition. In an era when world championships rarely changed hands, this could be a great experience for fans.
Each Bash featured the top stars of JCP competing in some of the promotion’s hottest storylines including the Best-of-Seven series between Nikita Koloff and Magnum T.A. for the United States Championship, Dusty Rhodes and Baby Doll’s quest for revenge on Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express, the feud between the Road Warriors and the Russians, and the ongoing rivalry between the Four Horsemen and JCP’s top babyfaces such as the Rock-n-Roll Express, Dusty Rhodes, the Road Warriors, and Magnum T.A.
If you were a fan of JCP, this was a great show to attend and the promotion likely counted on families bringing their kids to a special event unlike a typical wrestling card. Add in country music concerts at select events and the Bash was looking like a JCP fan’s destination, much like a concert tour featuring a popular band.
According to the site The SmackDown Hotel, the July 4 Bash featured the following matches. Keeping in mind Memphis wrestling’s penchant for gimmick matches, the card seemed like a good fit for fans who had seen innovations such as the scaffold match and the empty arena matches. Memphis was also known for taking stipulation matches to new heights (or lows depending on your point of view). For example, on at least one occasion a hair vs. hair match stipulation was booked where the losing wrestler’s wife’s hair was on the line.
On paper, the 7/4/86 Great American Bash seemed like a good fit for Memphis in terms of the types of matches. Two previous collaborations between JCP and Memphis in 1985 had fared well with a 9/30/85 show drawing a gate of $100,000 at the Mid-South Coliseum and an 11/18/85 event at the Mid-South Coliseum drawing $37,000. With that in mind, JCP booked the following card:
Black Bart vs. Todd Champion
Héctor Guerrero vs. Thunderfoot
Wahoo McDaniel vs. Jimmy Garvin
Bunkhouse Match: Manny Fernandez vs. Shaska Whatley
Coal Miner’s Glove Match: Jimmy Valiant vs. Baron von Raschke
The Rock 'n' Roll Express vs. Arn & Ole Anderson
Taped Fist Match: Tully Blanchard vs. Ron Garvin
Russian Chain Match: The Road Warriors vs. Ivan Koloff & Krusher Kruschev
NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Ric Flair (Champion) vs. Nikita Koloff
Steel Cage Match: Dusty Rhodes, Magnum TA, and Baby Doll vs. Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton & Dennis Condrey).
They shouldn’t have been. Unlike the previous show, this one featured no stars from CWA. Even worse, the ticket prices for the Bash were high something that turned fans off even in loyal JCP markets. The 1985 shows featuring JCP stars battling CWA stars were worth the extra price, but with no Memphis stars at the Independence Day show, there was little interest. The show at the Liberty Bowl drew a paltry 1,900 people.
Ultimately, the Bash would be a mixed success. In the book The Death of the Territories, Tim Hornbaker writes:
Attendance ranged from 1900 in Memphis to 23,000 in Charlotte. High ticket prices hurt fan enthusiasm, but with a steep overhead, JCP wanted to ensure box-office returns. Many stadiums were less than half-full, and the revived country music gimmick fell flat again.
Jim Cornette claims the 1986 Bash tour grossed $1.9 million and JCP learned from its mistake in Memphis, booking more wisely when the Bash returned, something we’ll look at next time.
Cornette, Jim. “THE GREAT AMERICAN BASH--FSM#131.” Jimcornette.com. Accessed 25 June 2020.
“The History of Wrestling at the Mid-South Coliseum.” Pro Wrestling History. 1985. Accessed 5 July 2020.
Hornbaker, Tim. Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal and the War that Changed
Pro Wrestling Forever. ECW Press, 2018.