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NWA Bunkhouse Stampede 1988
One of the great aspects of the WWE Network is the archives and diving into stuff that was before my time as a fan. In this case, I would have been the ripe old age of two and wouldn’t see my first wrestling show for a few years.
Going into this, while I appreciate the reverence and following Jim Crockett Promotions and the NWA of the 1980s had, there has always been a bit of a disconnect with me. Sure, there is stuff I’ve enjoyed, but I’ve never held it in as high of regard as a lot of people do. I think my age is a definite factor, but there is just something that doesn’t fully connect.
I lead with all of that and you’re probably wondering why I’m looking to watch one of the most notoriously bad shows. Well I’m a glutton for punishment for a few reasons. One, listening to Tony Schiavone talk about it on his podcast, What Happened When. Two, I want to see what the NWA offered as counter programming for the original Royal Rumble. Of course, that last part is because Vince offered the Rumble for free after cable companies told him not to go head to head again as he did with Survivor Series the fall before.
The thing that took me off guard as I started this show is that it started with the title “Bunkhouse Stampede Finals.” Not being familiar with the Bunkhouse Stampede concept, I didn’t know it even had finals and had to look up that the final match actually had qualifying matches.
Nikita Koloff is on his way before the show is even introduced by announcers Jim Ross and Bob Caudle. Bobby Eaton was in the ring before the broadcast even started with Jim Cornette on the outside. Nikita sure did look like a million bucks but that couldn’t help with just how lifeless and boring this match was. Bobby Eaton was great but going to a time limit draw with someone as limited as Nikita was always going to be an issue. This may have the longest Hammerlock I’ve ever seen. The crowd is more reacting to Tony Schiavone noting the time remaining in the match than the match itself, which is a really bad sign. Stan Lane shows up at the end and made me just wish there would have been a Midnight Express match instead of this.
One thing to note that you will surely notice as this match is so boring is all the empty seats at this show. The reason behind this was that the time printed on the tickets was for an hour later than the show was going to start. That is a level of incompetence that would make 2000 WCW blush. On top of it all, they were doing this show not in JCP territory, but to the backyard of the WWF at the Nassau Coliseum in New York.
Larry Zbyszko is out next against Barry Wyndham in a Western States Heritage title match. Until just a few years ago, I never got the praise for Wyndham as my first exposure to Barry was his horrendous run in mid-90’s WWF as the Stalker and part of the New Blackjacks. That said, in his prime, Barry was a heck of a talent. Zbyszko is kind of a weird one to me. Anytime I’ve seen his stuff from the 80’s I’m usually not a fan, but I enjoy a lot of his stuff from his time in the Dangerous Alliance a few years later. This match had a lot of Larry stalling to begin with. The bright spots appear when Barry takes control of the action. There are a few missteps including a botched suplex and a ring ropes spot that causes some awkward pacing and announcing. The ending sees a ref bump, followed by Barry pinning Larry. Babydoll then slaps the mat three times and Barry thinks he has won the match. Zbyszko then hits Barry with Babydoll’s high heel and pins Barry to win the Western States Heritage title. This just made Barry look very dumb and was not a satisfying end to a match that was having issues aside from a bad finish.
The Network version of the Flair vs Hawk match is joined in progress due to some technical issues with their copy of the event. I know it was a different era and I’d be curious to find out what fans at the time thought, but did anyone actually think that Hawk was going to walk away NWA Champion? I know the business is very different today, but in an era with so few pay-per-views, I can’t imagine this was the best course of action. Not just from a storytelling or business standpoint either. From what I can tell by a bit of research, there wasn’t a whole lot of reason for the Hawk title match outside of the Road Warriors beating Arn and Ric in a tag match.
In their corners were JJ Dillon and Paul Ellering respectively. Hawk looked magnificent which I think is half the match. Ric is in fine shape here, but Hawk is jacked. The match was perfectly fine. Hawk was limited when you took him out of tag matches and even more so when he wasn’t squashing someone. I feel like they told the story of Hawk using his power and Ric having to cheat to stay ahead very well. And yes, they go on too long because this is peak Flair, the part that really drags the match down is after Hawk takes out the ref with the clothesline. That period seemed ridiculously long even for wrestling. In this period are some weak chair shots including the one which caused Ric Flair to lose by Disqualification. For a singles Hawk match, this was solid enough but the finish was just not good which was only made worse as we had a time limit draw and the ref bump shenanigans in the previous bout, which means there hasn’t been a clean finish on the show yet.
The cage was then constructed so the announcers had to kill some time. This includes Bob Caudle reading off the credits of the crew which I actually thought was very cool. As someone that has done crew work for live sports, I appreciated that NWA and WCW presented credits, unlike WWE. Some highlights are shown, but I feel this time could have been better spent with a promo for the main event, or even a Flair promo about how he escaped Hawk. As I did some research I see Steve Williams, Big Bubba Rogers, and Might Wilbur were also supposed to be in the match. Wilbur was injured but it isn’t known why Williams and Rogers didn’t end up competing.
Ross and Caudle talk about how Dusty has won the last two Bunkhouse Stampede matches and explain the rules of the Bunkhouse match. It’s a cage battle royal where you have to throw your opponents out of the cage – either over the top or through the cage door. I didn’t know what this match was before. I was thinking it was some sort of weapons cage match. This is a match stipulation so stupid that it would make TNA at it’s most ridiculous jealous. If I have to find a positive to start, I’m a real sucker for gimmick matches where the wrestlers are not in their traditional ring gear and instead in jeans with taped fists. I don’t even know what to say about this match, it’s a mess with all these guys as the rules of the match are such a severe impediment. Battle royals aren’t supposed to be like this, and I guess I assume that the reason there aren’t pins or submissions was to try to differentiate this match from War Games. If by chance you forgot that the prize was $500,000 Caudle and Ross would be sure to remind you as they are emphatic in are emphatic to remind you that the prize awaits the winner.
There’s a lot of screwing around with a belt, and almost everyone bleeds in this. All of these eliminations are bad for the most part, the person who gets eliminated has to get themselves into a position to do so. I will say I think Lex Luger has some decent fire in this match and it is understandable why they would want to go with him, but Lex was just never up to the job. The three-way elimination between Arn, Tully, and Luger just takes forever to finally happen. Dusty and Barbarian are the last two in the match and dusty hits a few elbows after Barbarian gets himself into position. Dusty gets a comically giant cowboy boot and his check as the prize for winning the Bunkhouse Stampede.
I went in knowing this show had a bad reputation from fans to those involved. After watching it, this is a horrendous show and one of the worse pay-per-views that I’ve seen. None of the four matches are good and the passable match is pulled down by an interminable ref bump recovery and the match still ends in a DQ. Two months later would be the inaugural Clash of the Champions show so this company was entirely capable of producing a good show but this was not it. Let’s just hope of all the concepts of Dusty’s that Cody wants to revive for AEW, the Bunkhouse Stampede is not one of them.
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