WTF Are With The Clash
of the Champions 1 Judges?
Clash of the Champions was a semi-regular special presented by Jim Crockett Promotions (and later WCW) on TBS. For a point of reference, these specials were a key part of the NWA's early television exposure, giving the group much-needed play in prime time, without the goofiness factor of WWF's Saturday Night's Main Event. Maybe they're equivalent of today's WWE Network specials.
The first such Clash of the Champions was held on March 27, 1988, which by the way was also the date of WrestleMania IV. This was done on purpose, to persuade potential WrestleMania viewers to not pay $50 a pop and instead watch wrestling on free television.
I recently watched the match over again, mostly for an upcoming review of WWE's Best of Clash of the Champions DVD, but also because I hadn't seen the match in a good 15 years and wanted to see whether this classic had aged well.
The good news is, it still holds up! How refreshing to see a long match that (a) the fans are completely into and (b) doesn't rely on 35 finishers being kicked out of in rapid succession. But there were two things I noticed upon further viewing.
For beginners, JJ Dillon was suspended in a shark cage above the ring. Not the worst stipulation in the world; heck, Paul Ellering did the same thing at NXT TakeOver: Toronto, and WWE's current line of action figures has a "shark cage" playset. So that part is fine.
The main event of the first Clash of the Champions was an NWA World Title match featuring champion Ric Flair defending the gold against relative newcomer Sting.
This contest is a must-watch: 45 minutes of excellent ring psychology and both guys are in top condition. I'd argue this is Sting's best singles match ever.
But I won't get into the match itself too much: our own Mike Rickard did a wonderful job of that in a column about two years ago.
But the other peculiar thing was that a panel of five judges were assigned to the match, just in case (and this becomes important later) the match ends in a draw.
This is not the only time wrestling has used a "panel of judges" gimmick before. I remember there being one for the final Flair-Steamboat match in 1989, and I vaguely remember a bunch of WWF legends being trotted out to judge a bikini contest at the 2000 Royal Rumble.
Now.... I understand why there are judges present for boxing and MMA contests; there are particular things they're looking for and are able to score the match accordingly. Not so in pro wrestling, where it's pretty much a "do whatever the hell you want" mentality.
But the folks at Jim Crockett Promotions and TBS couldn't let just anyone judge a match of this importance. The very sanctity of the National Wrestling Alliance, whose title goes back to 1684, and George Hackenschmidt and Jim Londos and all that, was at stake.
Instead of going for the "obvious choices", e.g. former NWA Champions such as Harley Race, Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes or Stanislaus Zbyszko.... the NWA went in a different direction.
The all-star panel consisted of:
Sandy Scott - an old-timer best known for being a heel referee in the Stampede territory, and pissing off The Dynamite Kid to the point where he gave Scott diarrhea for days. At the time of the Clash, he was a front office employee for Jim Crockett Promotions.
Gary Juster - a member of the NWA Board of Directors, and arguably the only person who had any business being part of this panel.
Jason Hervey - the guy who played Kevin Arnold's annoying big brother on The Wonder Years. Obviously, he had a lot more to do with wrestling in later years and is Eric Bischoff's business partner to this day, but in 1988... this was simply a bizarre choice.
Ken Osmond - the guy who played the "always scheming but creepily-polite to Mr. & Mrs. Cleaver" friend Eddie Haskell on Leave It To Beaver. Yes, that's right - Leave It To Beaver, a show that ended its run in 1963. The only thing Osmond did of significance after that show was the New Leave It To Beaver, which lasted just slightly longer than the Sting-Flair match.
Patty Mullen - The current "Penthouse Pet", who later went on to acting fame in the critically-acclaimed film FrankenHooker. Look.... in 1988 I was in the full throes of puberty and even I had no idea who Patty Mullen was. Watching her appearance as an NWA judge right now, she looks to be maybe 16 years old.
Your panel of judges, ladies and gentlemen!
The match began and every time our panel of judges was shown.... they couldn't seem to care less. Hervey was openly flirting with Mullen (I suppose this was before his relationship with Missy Hyatt... and before his relationship with Eric Bischoff, for that matter). Scott sat there with his arms crossed and Eddie Friggin' Haskell looked completely uninterested.
As we now know, the match ended in a forty-five minute time-limit draw.
After the commercial break, referee Tommy Young collected the scrap pieces of paper the panel of C-list celebrities quickly wrote their scores on (why not keep notes the entire match?). The ring announcer then announced the results:
Gary Juster (who was barely shown through the duration of the match) voted for Sting to win.
Patty Mullen voted for Ric Flair, which must have seriously pissed off Jason Hervey. All that flirting for nothing, when the Penthouse Pet was going to (probably) go home with The Nature Boy that night. Wooooo!
Sandy Scott voted for a draw, which prompted a fan at ringside to stand up and begin yelling at the guy. I can't say I blame him - HOW CAN YOU VOTE FOR A DRAW? I MEAN, WASN'T THE WHOLE POINT OF A PANEL OF JUDGES TO AVOID THAT?!?
And then -- here's where things get a little weird -- the announcer never reveals the judgments of Jason Hervey or Ken Osmond. WHAT THE ACTUAL F*CK???
Were aging sitcom stars not allowed to vote on the outcome of an NWA World Title match? Did they withhold their vote out of protest? Did Tommy Young forget about them? The answers weren't forthcoming and as a result, the match was called a draw, and Flair retained his championship.
Look, I have NO problem with the match ending as a draw; it was an all-time classic and helped the careers of both men immensely. But don't bring in the shittiest panel of judges EVER and then not fully utilize them when the reason they were there was to avoid a split decision! WTF?