30 years ago next month, at the NWA’s biggest show of the year – Starrcade 1986 – the promotion introduced a new type of match: the scaffold match. In today’s piece we take a brief look at the history of this highly dangerous in-ring spectacle.
In 1986, the National Wrestling Alliance in conjunction with Jim Crockett Promotions brought an otherwise regional concept and brought it to the national level. On November 27, 1986 at the NWA’s biggest event, Starrcade ’86: Night of the Skywalkers, the promotion introduced the Scaffold match.
The scaffold match was not a new concept, but rather a match that was used as an attraction on a regional level.It came from the mind of wrestler/booker Jerry Jarrett who competed in the very first scaffold match in Memphis, Tennessee back in 1971 against a wrestler named Don Greene. The rules were simple, each side of the scaffolding had a flag. You needed to take your opponents flag and move it to your side of the scaffolding. Either that, or you had to knock your opponent off the scaffolding and onto the arena floor.
Dusty Rhodes and Jim Crockett Jr. saw potential with such a unique match and booked it as the featured attraction for Starrcade ’86. The match booked two of the NWA’s top tag teams to compete in this truly unique match. The Road Warriors (Hawk and Animal) versus The Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey.) To spice up the match, they decided to raise the scaffold to tower above at 25 feet above the ring.
Eaton and Condrey were no strangers to this match as they had competed in one while wrestling in Memphis against the Rock n Roll Express. Despite the experience, Bobby Eaton readily admitted a true fear because the structure was raised higher. Add to the fact that the Road Warriors were involved and at times didn’t realize their own strength and this match was extremely, and legitimately, dangerous.
The match itself was never anything to write home about. It was slow and methodical mainly because both teams couldn’t actually wrestle but were limited to doing a few kicks and punches. They were all more concerned with maintaining their balance and not falling off the structure. The Road Warriors were booked to win the scaffold match and it was originally booked to have the Road Warriors manager Paul Ellering chase the Midnight Express manager James E. Cornette up the scaffolding and have both Hawk and Animal throw Cornette off the scaffold and into the arms of Cornette’s bodyguard ‘Big’ Bubba Rogers.
The ending of the match went on as planned and Ellering chased Cornette up the scaffold and into the waiting team of the Road Warriors. What changed, however, was Cornette did not get thrown off the scaffold by Hawk and Animal but would fall off it by himself. Rogers was still suppose to catch Cornette, but Rogers at the time was new and still extremely green. When Cornette dropped himself straight down Bubba was in the wrong spot and Cornette landed hard onto the ring mat, blowing out both knees in the process.
Despite the lackluster performance of the first scaffold match at Starrcade and the serious injury to Jim Cornette, the NWA felt they had a signature match on their hands and planned to continue using it. They did so the following year at Starrcade ’87 with the Rock N Roll Express victorious over the Midnight Express. The match again as expected was dull and boring. That still didn’t stop the NWA/WCW from marching on with the concept.
The Road Warriors were booked to face the Powers of Pain in a series of scaffold matches but the Warlord and Barbarian refused and instead of risking injuries, decided to leave the company altogether and join the WWF instead.
Other promotions and territories tried to emulate their own version of the scaffold match including World Class, ECW, TNA and XPW.
Overall, the scaffold match was very high risk and low reward for the wrestlers and most hated being booked in them for fear of a career ending injury.