Written By: Mark Armstrong
Running Time: 393 Minutes
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Clear Vision Ltd/Silver Vision
Released: August 6 2012
Clash Of The Champions was the WCW equivalent of Saturday Night’s Main Event. COTC was a major television special held a few times per year, showcasing top talent and major main event matches outside of the Pay-Per-View events like Starrcade and The Great American Bash. The difference between Clash and SNME was that the NWA/WCW roster was more inclined to go out and put on a great wrestling match compared to the more entertainment-based action (which I was a huge fan of at the time, by the way) you would find on SNME. Over time, the Clash would reduce in importance, but it was a key WCW occasion for many years.
This DVD, hosted by Dusty Rhodes, showcased more than two dozen of the most memorable Clash matches from its 35 specials, spanning 1988-1997. It’s not a factor worth mentioning nowadays, but the DVD was delayed by several weeks in the UK due to apparent issues between Silver Vision and WWE. Whatever difficulties the two parties had must have been significant, because this would be the final year that Silver Vision distributed WWE DVDs for the European market; from January 1 2013, that task went to Fremantle Media.
Anyway, back to the review. Perhaps the most famous Clash bout is the main event of Clash #1, which opens this DVD: Ric Flair vs. Sting is a 45-minute classic (by the standards of the time, anyway), which automatically elevated the less experienced opponent and ensured that fans viewed him as a future World Champion. This was more crucial by the fact that Clash was conceived as a way to compete with the WWF: Clash was broadcast on the same night and at the same time as WrestleMania IV, and not only drew a high rating, but had a knock-on effect on the WM IV buy rate (I should mention that the WWF had already launched Survivor Series on PPV and the original Royal Rumble television special to compete with NWA PPVs Starrcade 1987 and Bunkhouse Stampede 1988, so this was a reaction rather than a new competitive direction by the NWA).
From the same Clash, we get a Tag Team Title bout between Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard and the combo of Lex Luger and Barry Windham. This and the subsequent Arn/Tully vs. Sting/Dusty match from Clash II illustrate how good a team Anderson and Blanchard were; think of the Revival on NXT today, and you’ll find the blueprint set by Arn and Tully. After that, we get a fairly short Chain match between Ricky Morton and Nikita Koloff from Clash III, which has some eventful post-match shenanigans.
Strangely, the classic Flair-Ricky Steamboat 2 Out Of 3 Falls match from Clash VI is not here (the Flair-Sting opener does take up a chunk of disc one, admittedly, so a second lengthy bout may not be ideal, even though longtime fans of Clash will have been more than accustomed to long matches), so we jump ahead to a great Flair-Terry Funk I Quit match from Clash IX, rounding off what Ric’s fans consider to be his greatest year ever in the ring. After that, we go to 1990 for a double-header to round off disc one: we get a brief match from Clash X between Mil Mascaras and Cactus Jack Manson, during which Cactus takes a sickening fall that sees the back of his head bounce off the concrete floor (read Foley’s first book Have A Nice Day! for an interesting account of the details behind this contest), and a tag match pitting The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express and The Midnight Express from Clash XI, which I found to be disappointing by the standards of this vintage 1980s tag team rivalry due to some occasional, uncharacteristic sloppiness. (Incidentally, can you believe that the decade began with Rock ‘N’ Roll vs. Midnight and ended with Edge & Christian vs. The Hardyz? Wrestling changed so much in the 1990s.)
Disc two starts strong with a Lex Luger-Ric Flair match from 1990’s Clash XII, with Flair unusually challenging for the United States crown. Both WCW and the Clash would take a dip in quality over the next few months, under the management of Jim Herd, and that comes across on this DVD: The Young Pistols and Tom Zenk against The Fabulous Freebirds from Clash XV in 1991 is alright but can’t hold a candle to earlier matches here and has a contrived finish. The subsequent Battle Royal from Clash XVI, whilst a change in pace from other matches on this release, is even worse: there are notable botches, and some of the characters included are so bad that they actually made me laugh out loud when they were introduced. (Of note, Kevin Nash makes an appearance as Oz, a character that you should Google if you’re unfamiliar with it; we also get one of Steve Austin’s earliest WCW cameos.) Sting vs. Rick Rude from Clash XVII, which also appeared on the recent United States Title DVD, is better but doesn’t last very long and is more of an angle than a match.
I can’t clarify this because I wasn’t regularly watching WCW at the time, but it appears that 1992 must have sucked for Clash Of The Champions (which is saying something based on the 1991 bouts that did make it in), because we have to wait more than 18 months for our next match, although thankfully the quality rises again with said match, a Two Out Of Three Falls match between The Hollywood Blondes and the combo of Ric Flair and Arn Anderson from Clash XXIII in June 1993. Flair is unbelievably over here, and the action is very good; not sure why the Blondes lost in two straight falls, even if the latter was on a disqualification, but that’s WCW for you, I guess. The Blondes would be forced to split soon afterwards, to their genuine dismay, leading to the next match on the DVD, Steve Austin vs. Brian Pillman from Clash XXV. Disc two ends with two matches from Clash XXVI, held in January 1994: Lord Steven Regal vs. Dustin Rhodes for the Television Title and Sting/Ric Flair vs. Vader/Rick Rude. Bobby Heenan debuted as a WCW commentator on this Clash show, and he comes out with some priceless one-liners during both of these matches, especially during Regal vs. Rhodes.
The seeds of the new WCW were planted at Clash XXVII in June 1994 as Hulk Hogan made his first appearance in a WCW arena (to heavy boos, by the way). That segment isn’t here, but disc three does kick off with Sting vs. Flair from the same show, which sets up Hogan confronting Slic Ric in the post-match. After a strong Austin-Ricky Steamboat match from Clash XXXII (which I believe was the match where Steamboat suffered a back injury that ended his career, save for a few appearances in 2009), we once again have a long wait for the next action, which comes from Hogan and Randy Savage taking on Flair and The Giant at Clash XXXII in January 1996. Yes, WCW had now changed a lot, but the biggest change was the introduction of Nitro four months prior. As a result, the Clash no longer held great significance, since Nitro was far more of a priority; for instance, the night before this particular Clash, in the same arena (MGM Grand in Las Vegas), Savage actually beat Flair to win the WCW World Title on Nitro. And yet this show was called Clash Of The Champions, so wouldn’t you think … never mind.
WCW had changed even more by August 1996, due to Hogan’s stunning heel turn and the official formation of the nWo at Bash At The Beach the previous month. So, there’s a weird vibe to Clash XXXIII as fans are adjusting – yet remain incredibly excited – about the new direction for the company. Strangely, whilst Hogan’s contribution to that particular Clash is a DVD extra, three other matches from the same Clash are instead in the main feature: a short Madusa-Bull Nakano bout, an enjoyable yet also brief Diamond Dallas Page-Eddie Guerrero showdown and an intriguing yet confusing three-way tag between Harlem Heat, The Steiners and the team of Sting and Luger (which was a few weeks before Sting temporarily left WCW, only to return as the mysterious Crow character).
After that, we have a great Cruiserweight Title match between Ultimo Dragon and Dean Malenko from Clash XXXIV in January 1997; unlike many Cruiser matches from this era, the fans are well up for it, and go insane when fan favourite Malenko comes out on top. Nevertheless, the Clash felt as insignificant as ever since more would happen on a typical episode of Nitro than all of the year’s Clashes combined by this point. This probably explains why Clash XXXV in August 1997 was the final edition, and we get two matches from the last Clash to close this DVD: a good Eddie Guerrero-Chris Jericho showdown and a decent DDP/Luger vs. Savage/Scott Hall tag match, followed by a belated birthday celebration for the nWo which ends with Sting looking on at the new World order whilst holding a vulture. What a weird end to the history of the Clash, especially since it appears that alternate audio is dubbed over this moment (that Sting’s real nemesis Hogan wasn’t present at the Clash for this angle emphasises how COTC was not at the top of WCW’s to-do list by the summer of ’97). It would be a lie to say that fans really missed the Clash when it went off the air because Nitro had taken the Clash formula (major matches and big angles on free television) and delivered more excitement than ever for WCW fans, every single week. But it’s telling that in August 1997, WCW could afford to drop the Clash, and yet by August 1998, it was consistently losing the Monday Night War to the WWF, and just over 2 ½ years later, the company was a goner.
As mentioned earlier, Hogan’s match from Clash XXXIII is here as a DVD extra, as he defends the WCW Title against Flair. It’s weird to see a Flair-Hogan match where Ric plays the babyface and Hogan plays heel, but even weirder is how Hogan still Hulks Up, as if it were 1991 and the match were taking place in Madison Square Garden. This combined with the poor ending makes one wonder how Hogan’s matches attracted such high ratings for WCW in 1996/1997, since many of his bouts had similarly frustrating outcomes. The other bonus match is The Midnight Express vs. The Fantastics from the first Clash, which starts as an unhinged brawl that seems years ahead of its time, only to suddenly turn into a regular tag bout. How strange.
Unusually, the two bonus matches on the DVD are different to the extra matches on the Blu-ray version. They are Flair and Barry Windham vs. The Midnight Express from Clash IV, Sting/Steamboat vs. Rude/Austin from Clash XVIII (ah, a 1992 match is in then!) and a Thunder Cage match pitting Dustin Rhodes and Sting against Vader, Mr. Wonderful and Barry Windham from Clash XXII. It’s a reason for you to buy both the DVD and the Blu-ray, you see, since to have all the matches in your collection, you would require both (or the WWE Network, which has been launched since this was released and includes every Clash event in their entirety). Oh, those cheeky scamps at WWE.
Summing this one up, longtime fans of the NWA/JCP/WCW will love this DVD; there are plenty of high-quality matches, especially in the 1988-1990 period. The in-ring highlights are less frequent as the Clash goes into the 1990s, but selected Sting matches, DDP vs. Eddie and the Cruiserweight matches towards the end are well worth watching too. Not to mention that two of the most famous Clash matches ever – Flair vs. Sting and Terry Funk from March 1988 and November 1989 respectively – are included. It’s a shame that the epic Flair-Steamboat showdown from April 1989 isn’t here, and for unintentional comedy value if nothing else, I would have enjoyed reliving the Pillman-Guerrero match from January 1996 due to Bobby Heenan’s genuine “What the f–k are you doing?” reaction to Pillman going off-script under his Loose Cannon persona and teasing that he would touch Heenan’s legitimately injured neck. (By the way, this is on the Network, and is completely uncensored, despite that show having a PG rating on the Network.) But you can’t have everything.
On the down-side, some of the action from the early 1990s is very hard to watch, and several matches on the final disc either have a phoned-in feel to them or they have annoying finishes. Mind you, they both embody their respective eras: the 1991 version of WCW was the pits, if we’re being honest, and the mass interference during nWo matches was a big part of their appeal in 1996/7, as strange as it may see today. And since the Clash is (obviously) the subject of this DVD, these particular encounters almost had to be included in order to cover these periods of the Clash’s history. Oh, and Jesse Ventura’s commentary and Michael Buffer’s ring announcements are dubbed over, which becomes bizarre when we can see them actually on-screen (in Buffer’s case, we get full-on close-ups during certain ring entrances).
Although the Clash was never as memorable or as meaningful as its counter-part Saturday Night’s Main Event, it nevertheless had a major role in the WCW calendar for almost a decade, and during its peak years, it was probably the best wrestling television programme that fans who appreciated the actual art of wrestling could find. Maybe WWE will live up to this legacy with its Clash Of Champions (what happened to the “the”?) PPV event on September 25, which promises several potentially great matches that would have been right at home on a Clash show back in the day, as the old-timers would say.
So, should you buy this DVD? If you have a fondness for WCW or you just want to watch some great 1980s wrestling, then this is a very good DVD to purchase. It isn’t the best by any means, due to the quality drop-off on discs two and three, but there’s plenty to savour for longtime fans, and it completes the WCW set, so to speak, if you already own the Best-Of compilations for Monday Nitro and Starrcade.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good