The Great American Bash: From NWA to NXT (1985-2020)

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On Wednesday, July 1, WWE revives the former NWA/WCW staple event The Great American Bash for the first time in eight years, as a two week special event under the yellow-and-gold of the NXT brand. It’s an event that has a lot of historic memories for longtime fans, many whom have followed the event since it first debuted with the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) produced by Jim Crockett Promotions thirty-five years ago. It started as a concept conceived by “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes in 1985, but by 1988 became one of the company’s staple Pay-Per-Views events, arguably second only to Starrcade (which had begun on Closed Circuit TV with the inaugural 1983 edition and moved to PPV in 1987).

National Wrestling Alliance (1985-1990)

The first Great American Bash appeared on CCTV as a special event on July 6, 1985, and saw Ric Flair defend his NWA World’s Heavyweight title against Nikita Koloff and Magnum TA defend the NWA United States Championship against Kamala, but it was the steel cage match between NWA World Television Champion Tully Blanchard and Dusty Rhodes, that saw not only “The American Dream” depart the new TV Champ, but also acquired the valet services of Baby Doll. But the second year, The Great American Bash became a 13-date tour that ran from July 5 through August 2, 1986. Once again, Dusty Rhodes stole the show, defeating Ric Flair for his third NWA World Championship, once again in a steel cage on July 26 in Greensboro.

The third-year was also a touring event but reduced to just three shows. But the first one on July 4, 1987 in Atlanta, Georgia, saw the very first WarGames match, as Dusty Rhodes led an army featuring Nikita Koloff, The Road Warriors (Hawk & Animal) & Paul Ellering against The Four Horsemen unit of Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger & JJ Dillon. The Horsemen added more gold on the second show, when Luger beat Nikita for the NWA United States title. In 1988, Luger had left the Horsemen, replaced by Barry Windham, and the new Horsemen retained all their gold live on PPV for the event’s first time – Anderson & Blanchard retained the NWA World Tag Team titles after a time limit draw versus Sting & Nikita, Windham defended the NWA US Championship against Dusty Rhodes, while Flair retained his World title against former stablemate Luger.

World Championship Wrestling (1989-2000)

Photo: WWE

By 1989, Jim Crockett Promotions had been acquired by Ted Turner and while they were still aligned with the NWA, the company rebranded as World Championship Wrestling (WCW). For the next two years, the NWA and WCW would co-promote the PPVs, but in 1991, it became a sole production from WCW. By 1993, WCW had seceded from the NWA as its own self-governing entity. Ric Flair defended his World title against Terry Funk in the first NWA/WCW edition, while Sting retained his NWA TV title against The Great Muta. Sting defeated Ric Flair for the NWA World title in 1990, the same year that The Undertaker would make his major PPV debut (as “Mean” Mark Callous in defeat against Lex Luger for the NWA US title).

In 1991, WCW took sole possession of The Great American Bash as a brand, Lex Luger defeating Barry Windham for the vacant WCW World Heavyweight Championship inside a steel cage match. That year also marked the first Great American Bash appearance of Dustin Rhodes (in 1992, he would make the finals to crown the NWA World Tag Team titles alongside Barry Windham, but lost to “Dr. Death” Steve Williams and Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy. It would be his last appearance at the event. Sadly, as Goldust, he would never work one of the WWE editions). In 1992, Vader won his first WCW World title against Sting in a show with plenty of Japanese influence with Shinya Hashimoto, Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, and Hiroshi Hase all on the card. “Macho Man” Randy Savage made his Great American bash debut in 1995, in the main event against Ric Flair. In 1997, All Japan Women’s Wrestling (AJW) star Akira Hokuto, the reigning WCW Women’s Champion retired Madusa in a Title vs. Career Match, while Randy Savage and Diamond Dallas Page had a brutal falls count anywhere match.

Madusa vs. Akira Hokuto (1997) Photo: WWE

In 1998, both “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan and Bret “Hitman” Hart would make their American Bash debuts together as partners from the nWo to face Roddy Piper and Randy Savage. The final WCW produced version of The Great American Bash was held in 2000, when Jeff Jarrett defended his WCW World title against Kevin Nash, while Ric Flair defeated…his son, David Flair. Really? You couldn’t give Naitch a better match for The Bash? But I digress…

World Wrestling Entertainment (2004-2012)

Photo: WWE

When WWE purchased WCW in early 2001, they acquired all the trademarks but it wasn’t until 2004 that they held the first WWE-produced Great American Bash. It was held on June 27, 2004, and during the first Brand Extension, with it being a SmackDown exclusive PPV. While the main event was The Undertaker in a handicap match against both Dudley Boyz, it’s best remembered as the event where John “Bradshaw” Leyfield (JBL) defeated Eddie Guerrero for the WWE Championship. They remained SmackDown exclusive through 2006, and in the final Blue Brand Bash, King Booker defeated Rey Mysterio for the World Heavyweight Championship. In 2007, Dusty Rhodes returned for his first Great American Bash match since 1988, taking on Randy Orton in a Texas Bullrope Match. The final annual event was in 2009, when it was rebranded simply to The Bash. Several titles changed hands that final night, as Rey Mysterio defeated Chris Jericho for the WWE Intercontinental title and Melina lost her WWE Women’s Championship to Michelle McCool. Chris Jericho reclaim gold later in the night alongside Edge, capturing the WWE Tag Team Championships in a Triple Threat match of prior champs The Colons (Epico & Primo) and Legacy‘s Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase Jr. (marking Cody’s inaugural Great American Bash).

The Great American Bash would disappear from the WWE PPV schedule after 2009, although it returned as a one-night special event on SmackDown in 2012 on July 3, 2012. Cody Rhodes would work his final Great American Bash in a singles match against ChristianFollowing that event, The Great American Bash was seemingly retired from WWE programming.

NXT (2020-?)

Photo: WWE

Early last week, WWE announced that the weeks of Wednesday, July 1, and Wednesday, July 8, would see the return of The Great American Bash as a two-night special event exclusive to NXT (some would say to compete against All Elite Wrestling‘s Fyter Fest event over the same two nights). And NXT came out swinging, with NXT Women’s Champion Io Shirai defending her title against Sasha Banks on night one, and NXT Champion Adam Cole facing NXT North American Champion Keith Lee in a “Winner Takes All” match on the second. The return of The Great American Bash in July of 2020 marks almost thirty-five years to the date of the original one, born out of the mind of “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Some dreams, last forever.

Photo: WWE

What are some of your favorite Great American Bash moments from history? Let us know in the comments below!

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.  Watch WWE programming with Raw on Monday (USA Network, 8pm EST), NXT on Wednesday (USA Network, 8pm EST), and SmackDown on Friday (FOX, 8pm EST). You can check out an almost unlimited array of WWE and NXT content on the WWE Network.

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