The Wrestling War Before The Monday Night Wars

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Brian Damage

Many reading this blog will have gotten the wrestling bug during the infamous ‘Monday Night Wars’ in the late 90s. It was a time that saw millions tune in week in, week out to catch WWF and WCW. But by no means was it the first wrestling war between the two. Today we head back to the 80s and see what kicked off the battle between Jim Crockett jr. and Vince McMahon.One cannot deny, that one of the biggest boon times of pro wrestling came in the 1990’s during the infamous Monday Night Wars. Wrestling saw higher TV ratings, higher pay per view buy rates and bigger stars than ever before. It was truly a war between two promotions (WCW and the WWF) for the ultimate supremacy.

While many will look fondly over that period of time as a great era for wrestling fans….it certainly wasn’t the first bitter war that transpired in the industry. In 1987, there was another war that raged on. Unlike the Monday Night Wars…this “war” was pretty much one sided. Make no mistake though, this was a bitter battle that eventually led to mass casualties.

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The two combatants in this particular heavyweight bout featured the then World Wrestling Federation run by Vincent Kennedy McMahon and Jim Crockett Promotions (WCW’s predecessor) run by Jim Crockett Jr. Both promoters were born into the business of professional wrestling promoting. Both had high ambitions of running national companies in a time of territorial wrestling. The battles these two promoters had were extremely cutthroat and extremely costly (At least for Crockett)

1987

As I was saying earlier, the real war started back in 1987…when Jim Crockett Jr decided to get involved in the highly lucrative pay per view business by running his crown jewel show…Starrcade. McMahon would have none of it, and actually threatened pay per view distributors that if they went ahead and aired Starrcade ’87 on Thanksgiving night…they would be banned from getting to air Wrestlemania IV. A shrewd move indeed, considering if all the cable companies told Vince and the WWF to go to hell and aired Starrcade ’87…Vince would either have to take his signature event off of pay per view OR go back to these companies and eat crow.

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Luckily for Vince, most companies took the threats seriously and considering the boffo box office that the previous Wrestlemania III did that year…many companies refused to air Starrcade ’87 severely hurting the shows buy rates and revenues. To add to JCP’s misery, the WWF decided to air their own pay per view on the same exact night…the first ever Survivor Series. As expected, the inaugural Survivor Series crushed Starrcade in buys.

The war between the two didn’t stop there. Vince McMahon would go to various arenas across the country and demand that they sign exclusivity deals with the WWF. In layman’s terms, it meant that only the WWF could operate out of the arenas that signed such a deal. If the NWA wanted to go to a city that the WWF had signed deals with…they had to operate shows in smaller, less profitable venues. Again, many of these arenas could have told Vince to F off…but McMahon seemed to have the balance of power on his side. He had the bigger national stars like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Macho Man Randy Savage and Junkyard Dog. He had the merchandise machine of T shirts, action figures and posters. Because of all of this, many arenas bowed down to McMahon and signed deals. Limiting where and when Jim Crockett Promotions could operate.

By the time 1988 rolled around, the war reached another huge point. Crockett decided to try his hand again in the pay per view market. He and his top booker Dusty Rhodes decided to run a pay per view in Vince’s own backyard of New York City. The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Island, New York to be exact. The event was the 4th annual Bunkhouse Stampede.

Bunkhouse

The Bunkhouse Stampede was an idea from the mind of Dusty Rhodes which was basically a “come as you are” battle royal where street clothes and weapons were allowed. This event took place on January 24th, 1988 and if that date sounds remotely familiar…it was the same night the the WWF held an event of their own…the Royal Rumble. It was the WWF’s unique version of the classic battle royal concept. The difference was, the WWF decided to air this wrestling event for free on their home television station of the USA network.

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So wrestling fans had a choice, either pay money to see a concept from Jim Crockett Jr or watch something free of charge from the WWF. In the end, the Bunkhouse Stampede ’88 was a disaster both financially and creatively. The Nassau Coliseum which had a capacity of close to 18,000…only had roughly 6,000 in attendance for the Stampede. Some say, it was even less than that.

While the Royal Rumble was unpredictable and had Hacksaw Jim Duggan win the match…the Bunkhouse Stampede remained as predictable as ever with its creator and booker Dusty Rhodes winning the event for the fourth straight year. Chalk up another win for the WWF, as the Royal Rumble generated a massive 8.2 rating and became (at the time) the most viewed show on cable.

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To think these losses would curtail Jim Crockett from going head to head with the beast that was the World Wrestling Federation…you would be sorely mistaken. Crockett decided to turn the tables on McMahon and hold a show on the exact same day that the WWF was airing their top event Wrestlemania IV on March 27th, 1988. The event that Crockett put together was called The Clash of the Champions and like Vince’s idea earlier with the Royal Rumble…the Clash would air on free TV on Ted Turner’s Superstation TBS.

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While Wrestlemania IV was a decent show that featured Randy Savage winning the vacant WWF title in a one night tournament. A tournament that also had a rematch from Wrestlemania III between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. On the other hand, Crockett pulled out all the stops and had an excellent card that featured a barb wire match, the Midnight Express versus the Fantastics and the 45 minute classic between NWA world champion Ric Flair go to a time limit draw with the young up and comer called Sting.

While the inaugural Clash of Champions wasn’t as successful on free TV as the Royal Rumble…it still pulled in an impressive 5.8 television rating. No doubt putting a dent in the WWF’s Wrestlemania armor. It was the real last shots fired by Jim Crockett…as by October of 1988…Crockett sold his promotion to Ted Turner. Turner would rename the company World Championship Wrestling and as you know…the biggest war was yet to come….

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2 thoughts on “The Wrestling War Before The Monday Night Wars

  1. Pingback: This Week in Wrestling 2016 week 16 | Ring the Damn Bell

  2. One arena that did not sign on with Vince & booked JCP/WCW cards was in the WWF(E) own backyard. The New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum in New Haven, CT hosted 2 Pro-Wrestling USA cards (A 3rd was canceled do to poor ticket sales) & signed on with JCP for almost 18 months showing about 8 shows. The paid gate was very poor, with the last show only drawing about 800. The owner of the arena took the trip to Stamford & begged the powers-that-be to show in the Coliseum & the WWE returned. The inaugural SmackDown was taped there & the WWE remained until 2001 when the Coliseum closed.

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