Years before World Championship Wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation went head to head during the Monday Night Wars, the National Wrestling Alliance (a precursor to WCW) conceived of a different way to compete with its Northern rival. In an attempt to steal the WWF’s pay-per-view thunder, the NWA aired it’s own new top-tier event for free on the same night as WrestleMania IV called Clash of the Champions. The first Clash of the Champions was so successful that it returned not as an annual event, but up to five times a year with a total of 35 Clashes between ’88 and ’97.
As has been done with numerous other DVD releases, WWE pays homage to one of WCW’s greatest traditions with The Best of WCW Clash of the Champions DVD set. Hosted by “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, one of the men who helped come up with the Clash of the Champions concept, this three-disc set includes more than 20 matches from 19 different Clash of the Champions events. For those of us who grew up watching wrestling during the ’80s and ’90s, this set is not only a great blast from the past, but also proof of just how good things were for wrestling at that time.
Things start out with the main event from the first Clash, as NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair (with his Four Horseman manager James J. Dillon suspended above the ring in a cage) takes on quickly rising fan favorite Sting. With both Flair and Sting in the prime of their careers, this is a mesmerizing match that ends in a 45-minute time-limit draw when the ringside judges (a mix of celebrities and wrestling industry veterans including Jason Hervey) are unable to declare a winner. This match alone shows the hearty style of storytelling the NWA was putting out at the time, with Flair retaining his title, Sting proving he could take the champion to the limit and the fans being left anticipating the next battle between these two competitors.
The presence of Sting, Flair and the Four Horsemen on all three discs shows just how integral they were to the NWA and WCW. Flair’s cohorts Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard are featured in two NWA World Tag Team Championship matches; one against Lex Luger and Barry Windham at the first Clash and another against Sting and Rhodes less than three months later. We also see Flair defend his title against WWE Hall of Famer Terry Funk in an “I Quit” match in November 1989, then challenge United States Champion Luger in what has to be one of the best matches of Luger’s career (despite Stan Hansen spitting tobacco juice on him after the match). And after Flair took the World Heavyweight Championship to the WWF, only to return to WCW to find Sting holding the new International World Heavyweight Championship that had been created in Flair’s absence, the two meet again in a literal clash of champions in June ’94 to unify the titles.
Other names synonymous with Clash of the Champions featured here in the Clash’s earlier years are Ivan Koloff, the Midnight Express, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and the Fabulous Freebirds. But even more familiar names show up as things progress into the ’90s in matches that might otherwise have been forgotten had they not been included here. For example, at the Feb. 6, 1990 Clash, the deranged Cactus Jack Manson (a much thinner and younger Mick Foley than the one we know today) takes on the luchador legend Mil Máscaras in a clash of styles that is exciting despite the match’s brevity. And in a 1994 World Television Championship match, Lord Steven Regal (better known as William Regal) and Dusty’s son Dustin Rhodes (before his cosmetic transformation into Goldust) go to a draw in an impressive match.
Even though it’s no secret that “Stone Cold” got his start as “Stunning” Steve Austin in WCW, it’s somewhat surprising just how prominent he was at Clash events during the early ’90s. He’s first seen here as part of a 15-man battle royal in ’91, then in a tag team match as part of the Hollywood Blonds in a two-out-of-three-falls match in June ’93, then in a clash against his former tag partner Brian Pillman just a few months later. But it’s his United States title defense against Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat in August ’94 that shows just how good Austin was at the time and why he went on to become one of WWE’s biggest stars.
Even with the influx of former WWF talents like Rick Rude, Hulk Hogan, Randy “Macho Man” Savage and the New World Order, Clash of the Champions maintains the gritty dynamic that set WCW apart from the WWF. And that’s often due to the fact that match-ups such as Hogan and Savage vs. Flair and The Giant or “Diamond” Dallas Page and Luger vs. Scoll Hall and Savage pit WCW-bred tradition against guys who made names for themselves elsewhere. But Clash of the Champions also helped nurture rising stars such as Eddie Guerrero, Harlem Heat, the Steiner Brothers, Dean Malenko and Chris Jericho, allowing them to go on to thrive in WWE and other companies.
Perhaps the greatest thing about this Clash of the Champions collection is that WWE recognizes just how good its competitor was even before the full-on ratings war of the ’90s had started. What’s even more amazing is how many of these people are still involved in the industry, many of them still actively putting on high caliber matches. And whether The Best of WCW Clash of the Champions provides you with some wrestling nostalgia or gives you a glimpse into what happened before WWE was the dominant force it is today, one can’t help but see just how electric the atmosphere always was when Clash of the Champions was on TV.
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