The Great American Bash: Pride, Patriotism & Pain from NWA to WWE

When Dusty Rhodes came up with the idea of The Great American Bash in July of 1985, it’s no surprise that the event was an unqualified success. In fact, the Bash was successful enough–and its name catchy 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. Not Starrcade, not Fall Brawl.

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.

Related: An appreciation for the life of The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes

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.”

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.

WarGames is often one of the most well-remembered matches from fans of the 1980s, and the question often arises: Why doesn’t WWE revive WarGames? Other than the fact that the WarGames concept wasn’t the brainchild of Vince McMahon, there seems to be no real reason. But the fact is that a WarGames match today might pale in comparison to matches very much like it, the Elimination Chamber and Hell in a Cell.

Trivia: 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.

Last Week

Wish a happy birthday to Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart, who turned 60 last week. But even though it was a time of celebration for Bret, it was also a time of mourning. His brother, Smith Hart, passed away after losing his fight against cancer. Current WWE wrestler Natalya posted the news on her Instagram account. While our best wishes go out to Bret, our condolences go out to the entire Hart family. Smith Hart was Stu and Helen Hart’s oldest son.

Related: BRET HART: Revealed! A Feel-Good Tell-All on the Man Who Wore Black and Pink

And 19 years ago last week, the Undertaker threw Mick Foley off the top of the Hell in a Cell cage–and later choke slammed him through the roof of the cage–at the height of the WWE’s Attitude Era. Foley, who had long admired Jimmy Snuka’s leap off the top of a steel cage onto Don Muraco’s prone body in Madison Square Garden when Foley was just a young fan had finally topped ‘the Superfly’ in a bump that lives on in YouTube clips forever.

Related: UNDERTAKER and MICK FOLEY Talk About Their Legendary Hell in a Cell Match

This Week

Hey, it’s Independence Day here in the good ol’ U-S-of-A. (You might’ve figured out that’s why we’re talking about the Great American Bash this week.) Like any good wrestling fan, I hope you’re saluting the flag, cheering on Sgt. Slaughter, and dancing to ‘Real American’ while you celebrate the Fourth of July. Be careful out there, OK? If you’re playing with fireworks, please follow all safety instructions. Have a great and safe time, and we’ll see you back here soon, OK?

We’ve got a real treat for you this Saturday when April F’n Hunter joins us to talk about the Netflix series GLOW.’ I’ve known April since we were in high school together, and she’s been involved in the wrestling business for many years, from appearing in WCW to working indies and traveling the world plying her craft. She’s also a hell of a writer, so check back for that piece on Saturday.

Want More? Choose another story!

Follow us:  Twitter / Facebook / Instagram

The Pro Wrestling Stories Podcast - your favorite stories, in the form of audio!
Listen/Subscribe (it's free!): Apple Podcasts / Google Podcasts / Spotify / Stitcher / YouTube
Bobby Mathews
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.