* 31 years ago in 1984, the WWF ran Madison Square Garden for a card that was broadcast on the MSG Network. It was headlined by the blowoff to the legendary Sgt. Slaughter vs. Iron Sheik feud in a Boot Camp Match.

If you haven’t seen it before, it’s one of the very best matches in (W)WWF(/E) history, a wild, bloody brawl that’s very unlike most WWF style wrestling, especially back then. Sheik puts in his career performance and there were few American wrestlers back then who were as good as Slaughter was in major, feud-ending matches. Make sure to take note of the crowd heat: MSG is completely unglued for the whole match, with a sustained roar that gets louder for the big spots. This match IS pro wrestling.

* 23 years ago in 1992, WCW taped Clash of the Champions XIX at the McAlister Field House in Charleston, North Carolina, the only pre recorded Clash special in the event’s nine year run. It aired on June 22nd, after the live Beach Blast pay-per-view. This show featured the first round of the tournament to determine the first ever NWA board-approved NWA World Tag Team Champions, as all previous versions of the title were regional titles billed as world titles. Bill Watts, who was running WCW at the time, wanted the tournament to have real international credibility, so they legitimately brought in teams from around the world, though there was still a little bit for fakery when push came to shove.

The tournament featured all of WCW’s top tag teams plus a number of interesting international and makeshift teams, including Dean and Joe Malenko (“Hungary”), father/son duo Larry and Jeff O’Day (Australia), “The Silver Kings” (Mexico, actually the Los Cowboys/Los Effectivos team comprised of Silver King and El Texano), Brian Pillman and Justin Liger (USA/Japan), Chris Benoit and Biff Wellington (Canada), and finally Akira Nogami and Hiroshi Hase (Japan). Miguel Perez Jr. and Ricky Santana were announced as the Puerto Rican team only to be attacked backstage without ever being shown on camera, while Dominican Republic representatives The Headhunters turned out not to be the actual Headhunters tag team from the Dominican Republic. They no-showed upon realizing that being that since they worked for the W*ING promotion in Japan, it might not be the best idea to lose to NJPW’s Nogami and Hase. WCW replaced them with Bob Cook and Joe Cruz under masks.

It was a very good show marred by an earlier spoiler controversy: A WCW magazine ad hyping the Great American Bash pay-per-view (which featured the rest of the tournament) revealed all of the winners before the Clash took place. With Bill Watts booking, he changed one finish (the Freebirds beat the Silver Kings when the original plan was the other way around) to make it look like the magazine ad wasn’t based on advanced knowledge of fixed wrestling matches.

The big angle saw Williams and Gordy attack the Puerto Rican team, who was set to face the reigning WCW Tag Team Champions, the Steiner Brothers, who in turn got a bye. Watts booked the Williams and Gordy vs. Steiners second round match as the new main event of the show, and the Steiners shockingly lost semi-cleanly. It’s an excellent match that’s very unique for American wrestling with a lot of hard-fought amateur style matwork. The whole show is worth watching, though, and lucha libre fans will get a huge kick out of the Silver Kings trying to work around the Freebirds.

* 22 years ago in 1993, WCW aired Clash of the Champions XXIII live on Superstation TBS from the Scope in Norfolk, Virginia. The big story of the show was the main event, as Ric Flair, who had been back on TV as a personality for a few months, wrestled his first WCW match in two years. Flair and Arn Anderson took on Unified WCW/NWA World Tag Team Champions The Hollywood Blondes (Steve Austin and Brian Pillman) in a two out of three falls match for the titles, and even won in two straight, but they didn’t win the titles due to the deciding fall being a disqualification for Barry Windham attacking Flair.

TBS brass greenlit Flair’s return after Bill Watts, late in his tenure running the company, aired a number of classic Flair matches as part of a series of specials about WCW in 1989 on Sunday nights after WCW Main Event. The ratings were so strong that it was considered a given that he’d be a huge TV draw when he returned. Instead, this was both the lowest rated and least viewed Clash in its five year history up to this point, drawing a lower rating than a rerun of a Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat match had in December. Pillman and Austin were scapegoated and their team was split up.

There wasn’t much of note on the rest of the show. The in-ring highlight was, by far, Windham’s successful NWA World Heavyweight Champion defense where he defeated 2 Cold Scorpio. This could very well be the last great singles match of Windham’s career, as he blew his knee out a few weeks later and was never the same. It’s a tremendous performance where he convinces everyone in the crowd and watching at home that Scorpio could win the title. You’d think that it could be a style clash, but it isn’t at all.

* 20 years ago in 1995, Aero Flash won the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship in a tournament final in Nezahualcóyotl, Mexico. The title had been created in 1981 for the UWA in Mexico when the promotion worked closely with both the WWF and NJPW, and obviously it survived long past the end of the relationship. Villano III had been champion since July of 1994, but he vacated the title when jumped to rival promotion PROMELL. This led to the tournament.

Where it gets interesting is that Aero Flash dropped the title to The Great Sasuke on a Michinoku Pro show in Shirakawa, Japan on March 24th. The UWA was basically dead, so it was no skin of their nose. Sasuke dropped the title to NJPW star El Samurai on June 22nd, and that led to the title becoming part of NJPW’s J-Crown tournament that August to unify eight different lighter weight titles (including NJPW’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title) and have one unified champion.

Sasuke took the tournament, fractured his skull in the process, and lost the J-Crown to Ultimo Dragon in his first defense. Dragon then won the WCW Cruiserweight Title as well as one of the Mexican NWA titles, meaning he held ten titles simultaneously including the WCW and (technically) WWF titles. When the WWF demanded the title back in 1997 for themselves, it was the beginning of the end of the J-Crown.

* 19 years ago in 1996, WCW ran the annual Great American Bash pay-per-view live from the Baltimore Arena in Baltimore, Maryland, which was WCW’s strongest market and the home of eight of their eleven Bash PPVs. The show was WCW’s best in years and felt like a real turning point, which turned out to actually be the case.

The big news, storyline wise, came out of an angle where Eric Bischoff interviewed The Outsiders, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, who had yet to be named on WCW programming and wouldn’t be named until the following month’s Bash at the Beach PPV event. The first matter dealt with was for both wrestlers to say they don’t work for the WWF as a way to deal with the lawsuit that had been filed. It built to the big moment where Bischoff announced the six man tag team match for Bash at the Beach, wouldn’t name the WCW team members, and Nash powerbombed him through the stage.

The big surprise was that not only was the Ric Flair and Arn Anderson vs. Steve McMichael and Kevin Green match good, but McMichael turned heel after Flair and Anderson paid him off. While the story didn’t make much sense (the feud started with Flair hitting on McMichael’s wife Debra while Green was not a television character until McMichael needed a partner), the angle was tremendously executed.

In the ring, the big highlights were Rey Mysterio’s debut (as a challenger losing to WCW Cruiserweight Champion Dean Malenko) and the Chris Benoit vs. Kevin Sullivan falls count anywhere match. Mysterio-Malenko was excellent, though Malenko’s decision to ground Rey for much of the match (instead of giving him more of a showcase) was subject to a mixed reaction since it was his debut and he was losing. Regardless, Rey got over, so it all went well.

Benoit-Sullivan is the famous match where they brawled into the men’s restroom, fans followed, and color commentator Dusty Rhodes screamed “THERE’S A LADY! THERE’S A LADY IN THE MEN’S ROOM!” That was followed by Anderson and Benoit beating down Sullivan together, showing that the Four Horsemen’s tenuous relationship had been repaired to a gigantic pop from the crowd full of long-time heel fans.

* 2 years ago in 2013, WWE held the Payback pay-per-view live from the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. With hindsight, this show was probably the beginning of the end of CM Punk in WWE. He was taking time off after WrestleMania both to freshen up after three consecutive clean jobs on pay-per-view to part-timers (The Rock twice followed by The Undertaker at WrestleMania 29) and heal various injuries (including a knee injury suffered in the WrestleMania match). He was enjoying living a normal life when he got called back earlier than expected to have a local hook for this show (wrestling Chris Jericho) since they were in Chicago.

He looked rusty in this match, moving slowly and gingerly. The match was very good, but he looked off, and excluding his program with Brock Lesnar, he looked off and uninterested for the entirety of the period that started with this return and ended with him walking out. The seed had been planted that he could get out and live a normal life, and it was clearly driving him crazy now that he wasn’t enjoying work anymore.

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