Friday, 9 September 2016

United We Slam: The Best Of The Great American Bash

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 430 Minutes
Certificate: 15
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: July 14 2014

Similar to the WCW PPV compilation released a few months earlier, United We Slam (hosted by Dusty Rhodes in his own unique, at times confusing yet ultimately entertaining way) is a straight-forward collection of matches from the history of The Great American Bash. The artwork of the DVD is quite nice and somehow fits with the theme, and I liked the minor touches, such as the fireworks going off during transitional scenes. The DVD does not cover the WWE years (2004-2008, or 2009 when the event was simply renamed The Bash), which is probably a good thing: few fans want to relive the abomination that was the Concrete Crypt, or the excitement of the original Punjabi Prison match (I jest).

Anyway, TGAB actually began in 1985 as a tour of Jim Crockett Promotions/NWA wrestling shows held in the summer rather than a stand-alone card. Some were filmed, and some were not. Of those that did make it onto camera, we get some worthwhile action, as the DVD opens with Ric Flair defending his NWA World Title against Nikita Koloff, following a spectacular helicopter entrance for The Nature Boy. Dusty and Larry Zbyszko provide new commentary for this match, which becomes bizarre when Dusty openly states "I don't care about this match". Better is The Rock 'N' Roll Express challenging The Andersons for the Tag Team Titles in 1986, which is your typical logical and well-executed doubles outing from the mid-1980s NWA that has your classic 1980s post-match hand-slap by Rock 'N' Roll, to celebrate their, erm, non-victory (by the way, Dusty and Larry commentate on this one as well; it's worth remembering that both had announcing experience from the Nitro era of WCW). Next, it's a Flair vs. Dusty Cage match from 1986, but this has clearly the version that we had on Dusty's own DVD, released in 2006, because it has commentary from Rhodes, Steve Romero (who left WWE years ago) and Mike Graham (who passed away in 2012, nearly two years before this DVD was released). It's always amusing to hear Dusty mention his "belly-welly" though, so I'll give them a pass on that.

Then, we're taken to the first (or one of the first; the timeline is confusing) War Games match from 1987, which sees Dusty, Nikita Koloff, The Road Warriors and Paul Ellering battle The Four Horsemen and JJ Dillon in a great brawl; it makes one wish for the return of War Games in the modern era, although most followed the basic same formula and weirdly enough, the match usually ends around five minutes after the final participant enters, which nowadays would have fans shouting "Refund!" Anyway, the first disc concludes with The Road Warriors battling Sting and Lex Luger in 1988, as a part of the Bash tour but not as a part of the Bash PPV, as the show made its Pay-Per-View debut that year. Confused? Never mind. The match is alright, and we have Dusty and Larry commentating once more, with Larry randomly mentioning that he once saw Hawk slap some guy in an airport. (By the way, original match listings for this DVD had the inclusion of a Dusty/Sting vs. Road Warriors match from Starrcade 1988, which would have made no sense; fortunately, it was an error by those reporting on the DVD rather than an inexcusable mistake by the producers of this collection.)

From there, disc two brings us into the PPV era, and to the 1989 Bash, often considered one of WCW's greatest ever shows. Two reasons come on this compilation: a Sting-Great Muta clash, which is a little on the short side, and an intense Flair-Terry Funk main event, with the four aforementioned names having one hell of a post-match brawl (this would set up a tag match at Halloween Havoc later that year). Although it's a familiar match, Flair-Sting from 1990 had to be included for historical value, and it's a very good match in its own right. The 1991 Bash is skipped over, possibly because many considered it to be a dire show (even though Luger-Windham from that event made it onto WCW's Greatest PPV Matches), so we go directly to 1992 with a double-header: an entertaining tag match pitting Rick Rude and Steve Austin against Dustin Rhodes and Barry Windham (the presentation of the match ending is handled clumsily by WCW), and a very enjoyable main event between Sting and Vader which has a shock outcome.

For some reason, WCW abandoned the Bash tradition in 1993 and 1994, but the card was resurrected in 1995. That being said, the Bash felt like a B-show for the next few years judging by the absence of certain key players, although '95 did feature a Ric Flair-Randy Savage clash. Flair-Savage opens disc three, but whilst entertaining, it's clear that Flair had passed his prime by this point; the match can't hold a candle to the earlier Flair-Funk showdown. The year 1996 is represented by a short yet momentous angle that saw The Outsiders attack Eric Bischoff (the great Dean Malenko-Rey Mysterio Jr match from the same event is a notable absentee), before we're taken to 1997 and a wild clash between Diamond Dallas Page and The Macho Man. From the same card (but held earlier that night), we have an awesome cruiserweight battle between Psychosis and Ultimate Dragon, which benefits from a hot-as-hell crowd, making a nice change from the WCW audiences that would generally sit in silence for most of the high-flying clashes.

After that, we have three 1998 matches: Chris Jericho vs. Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero vs. Chavo Guerrero Jr and a dream tag match pitting Hollywood Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart against Randy Savage and Roddy Piper. All three are worth watching, but they still have a slight filler feeling to them, as none are really classic encounters. Perhaps this is partly to cover the gap left by the DVD not including any matches from 1999, held at a time when WCW was firmly on the proverbial slippery slope (the most memorable part of that event was probably Sting supposedly being attacked by a bunch of dogs, which says it all really). That being said, the DVD closes with two matches from 2000, when WCW was even further in the s--t, and the booking of the final two bouts emphasise why: a needless betrayal on DDP (the third in as many WCW PPVs at the time on poor Page) and other interference overshadows the action in his Ambulance match with Mike Awesome, and a Jeff Jarrett-Kevin Nash main event is highly overbooked (the wealth of interference does provide us with perhaps the only appearance by an unmasked Rey Mysterio on a WWE DVD compilation), and ends with the ridiculous-in-hindsight Goldberg heel turn on Nash. One could say that turning its only true remaining babyface superstar into a villain was the moment when WCW entered the point of no recovery, but that probably came a month later with the Bash At The Beach 2000 fiasco. I know Goldberg loathes Vince Russo for switching him into a bad guy for no reason, and you wouldn't want to disagree with Da Man, right?

Anyway, the Bash ended along with WCW after that, but WWE brought back the Bash name in 2004 for its annual SmackDown PPV each summer. Unfortunately, the 2004 Bash was atrocious, and the 2005 Bash wasn't much better. The 2006 Bash was a slight improvement, and with all brands contributing, the 2007 and 2008 Bash cards at least provided some memorable moments. But after "Great American" was dropped, the 2009 Bash marked the end of the tradition, besides a one-night return for a random 2012 edition of SmackDown, which was hosted by Zack Ryder (don't ask). And so marked the end of The Great American Bash, unless WWE brings it back again (which it might just do, since we're apparently getting 19 PPVs a year in this Brand Extension II era).

Summarising the DVD, then: it's obvious to say, but if you were a die-hard fan of JCP/NWA/WCW, then you'll get a real kick out of reliving the matches and moments which formed the legacy of The Great American Bash. Newer fans will get a good education of why the event meant so much to fans of World Championship Wrestling, too. But I felt the WCW's Greatest PPV Matches set was superior (as it should be, when you think about it), as it boasted several matches that were true classics, whereas on this DVD, the action only reaches the "Outstanding" mark on one or two occasions; and whilst the spectacle of nWo-era WCW is always fun to watch back, the two 1997 bouts are arguably the only two really good encounters on the final disc. Nevertheless, if you're a longtime fan, you'll probably enjoy this DVD, and if nothing else, you'll get a chuckle from the random yet endearing comments made throughout by the late, great American Dream.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good

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