Creation of the Clash
I just started watching the WWE DVD The Best of WCW: Clash of the Champions and started thinking about the show’s origin.
For those of you who don’t know, the Clash of the Champions was a wrestling special developed by Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) in 1988 to counterprogram against Wrestlemania IV. JCP got burned by the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1987 when Vince McMahon launched his pay-per-view (PPV) Survivor Series against JCP’s annual Thanksgiving extravaganza Starrcade.
Vince stacked the deck by telling PPV operators that if they carried Starrcade, they wouldn’t get to carry Wrestlemania. Since Wrestlemania III made a mint both for the WWF and PPV operators, the PPV operators dropped Starrcade like a bad habit and carried the Survivor Series. The result was that Starrcade failed to bring in the cash that JCP was counting on.
In January of 1988, the WWF continued to sabotage JCP PPV’s, this time running a free show on the USA Network entitled The Royal Rumble against the JCP PPV the Bunkhouse Stampede. Once again, the WWF’s counterprogramming hurt JCP in the pocketbook as wrestling fans chose a free show over the JCP PPV.
By March 1988, the powers that be at JCP were ready for some revenge. They chose to strike back at Vince McMahon and the WWF by running a free show of their own against the WWF’s Wrestlemania. This show would feature PPV level matches, one of which would transform a budding star into a superstar. I’m talking of course about the Man Called Sting.
Sting had entered JCP after working in several regional promotions. Before JCP, he’d begun to make a name for himself in Bill Watts’ Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF). After the UWF was bought out by JCP, Sting came to work for JCP. His star was on the rise but it was at the first Clash of the Champions that Sting went from rising star to main event player.
Sting and NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair wrestled in a 45 minute
classic. The match contained two very interesting stipulations. The first was that Flair’s manager and
advisor James J. Dillon would be suspended above inside a steel cage. The second would be that the
match would be judged by a panel of five in the event of a time limit draw.
The judges included former wrestler Sandy Scott, Penthouse Pet Patty Mullen, celebrities (in name only) Jason Hervey (Wayne Arnold of The Wonder Years) and Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver), and a guy named Gary Juster who I still haven’t figured out how he got on the show.
The match featured Sting taking Flair to the limit with the “Nature Boy” fighting for his title against Sting’s onslaught. With less than a minute remaining in the match, Sting applied his submission finisher the Scorpion Deathlock on Flair. Despite having wrestled for three quarters of an hour, a weary Flair managed to hold out until the bell rang at the end of the 45 minutes.
Sting’s performance established him as a main event player. Although he hadn’t won the title, he demonstrated that he was able to go to the limit against a world class star like Ric Flair. Fans were left wondering whether or not Sting would have won the belt had he had another minute to go. In the end, Sting was now a star that fans could see as a true contender for the gold and a potential world champion.
For those of you wondering how The Clash of the Champions fared against Wrestlemania IV, it
did very well, registering a 5.6 rating for WTBS. More importantly, it put a serious dent in Wrestlemania IV’s buyrate, leading to PPV operators issuing the WWF and JCP an ultimatum-don’t run shows head to head against each other. Unfortunately for JCP, by the time this ultimatum was ordered, the damage was done and the company was on the verge of bankruptcy when it was sold to Ted Turner in November 1988, becoming World Championship Wrestling.