The Great American Bash: From the NWA to WWE

When Dusty Rhodes came up with the idea of The Great American Bash in 1985, it’s no surprise that the event was an unqualified success. The Bash was successful enough to survive WWE’s acquisition, as it was revived from 2004-2009 (and used again as a one-off in 2012) in the WWE, making the event the only one promoted in the NWA, WCW, and WWE.

Graphic of an American flag with The Great American Bash written in front of it to promote the brainchild of the late Dusty Rhodes
The Great American Bash was the brainchild of the late, great Dusty Rhodes.

Dusty Rhodes was a genius. Say what you want to about how the American Dream booked himself on top for too long in Jim Crockett Promotions, or how limited his ring-work became in his later years, Rhodes had his finger on the pulse of the business of professional wrestling as it skyrocketed during its 1980s heyday.

The First Great American Bash

The first bash featured Rhodes against Tully Blanchard in the main event for the NWA world television title. If Rhodes won, Blanchard’s valet, Baby Doll, would be required to work for Rhodes for 30 days. Of course, Rhodes won. The angle got over so well that Baby Doll would eventually turn face and be the valet for Rhodes and Magnum TA.

But the event was unusual in a way. Ric Flair also worked that evening, defending the NWA world title against the Russian Nightmare, Nikita Koloff. The NWA’s rules at the time required that the world title be defended in the main event.

The inaugural Great American Bash was one of the few times that rule was suspended.

Another unusual match: Jim Crockett, AWA promoter Verne Gagne were testing the waters of co-promotion in order to fight back against the national expansion by Vince McMahon and the then-WWF.

One of the featured matches at that first Bash was the NWA world tag team champions, Ivan Koloff and Krusher Khruschev (Barry Darsow) battle the Road Warriors to a double DQ.

Read about the Road Warriors’ debut for Georgia Championship Wrestling here. 

Other featured matches included the Minnesota Wrecking Crew of Ole and Arn Anderson defending the national tag team titles against Buzz Sawyer and Dick Slater.

"I don’t know if Buzz didn’t like me, or what was going on," Arn told an interviewer years later. "It was like being in a bar fight every night."

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Trivia: The Road Warriors appeared at the first Bash due to the short-lived Pro Wrestling USA, which featured bouts co-promoted between NWA promoters Jim Crockett and Fritz Von Erich, and AWA promoter Vern Gagne. It fell apart due to a dispute between Crockett and Gagne over ticket revenue/payoffs.

Two years later, in 1987, the Great American Bash became famous for one thing: the debut of WarGames. Billed as ‘The Match Beyond,’ the concept was simple: The Four Horsemen had been running roughshod over the NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions specifically, so the War Games match — featuring two rings enclosed in a steel cage. And to ensure the Horsemen couldn’t run away, the cage was completely enclosed, with a roof above the ring.

The Road Warriors, Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, and Paul Ellering won that first WarGames match, defeating Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger, and J.J. Dillon. It was a bloody, wild affair, and Crockett had a hit on his hands.

Did you know? Sting won his first world championship by defeating Ric Flair at the 1990 Great American Bash on July 7, 1990, in Baltimore, Maryland. The event also featured the debut of Big Van Vader.

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Bobby Mathews is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories as well as a veteran journalist whose byline has appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Birmingham News, The Denver Post, as well as other newspapers around the country. He's won multiple awards for reporting and opinion writing, and his sports journalism has garnered several Associated Press Managing Editors Awards. He has covered Division I college athletics and professional sports including MLB and NFL games. He has won awards from press associations in several states, including a General Excellence award from the Georgia Press Association while sports editor at The Statesboro Herald. He currently lives in suburban Birmingham, Alabama and can be reached on Twitter @bamawriter.