Power Ranking the 10 Best WCW Clash of the Champions Shows on WWE Network
As the first big dump of content on WWE Network since it launched a few months ago, WWE has added every single WCW Clash of the Champions show to the "Vault" section of their on-demand library.
It's hard to describe the Clash shows to younger fans other than to say they were like free pay-per-view shows. They aired every few months live on TBS and were appointment viewing for me as a kid. Some of my favorite childhood wrestling moments were during Clash shows: Ricky Steamboat's return, the Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk "I Quit" match, Flair vs. Steamboat, Barry Windham vs. 2 Cold Scorpio...the list goes on and on.
These shows were truly special, and it's great to see them on WWE Network since they bridge the gap between the PPV shows that were already up.
Weren't around then or have a bad memory and need a refresher? Then read on to find out which Clashes to watch first.
Honorable Mentions: Matches of Note on Shows Not Ranked
Ric Flair and Sting vs. The Great Muta and Dick Slater (Clash of the Champions 8: Fall Brawl - 09/12/89 in Columbia, S.C.): An absolutely wild match, it opens with a dive train that sees Slater of all people join Sting and Muta with a plancha to the floor. Non-stop action ending in one of the most memorable and controversial angles in WCW history. I won't spoil it.
The Midnight Express vs. The Rock 'n' Roll Express (Clash of the Champions 11: Coastal Crush - 06/13/90 in Charleston, S.C.): The latest chapter in the greatest tag team feud of all time sees the two teams try to have a great match while using none of their trademark spots. It's not their best match, but it's really good and very interesting if you know what to look for.
Sting vs. Rick Rude (Clash of the Champions 21 - 11/18/92 in Macon, GA): The semifinals of the "King of Cable" tournament, this is the great match they didn't get to have almost exactly a year earlier at Clash 17. A personal favorite of mine.
Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas vs. Steve Austin and Brian Pillman (Clash of the Champions 22 - 01/13/93 in Milwaukee, WI): These teams had an incredible feud, and this is a really cool match. The conceit is that there's a 30-minute time limit instead of the usual 60-minute time limit, so they need to cut a faster pace, and it's all action. A great chapter in the best run of Douglas' career.
Barry Windham vs. 2 Cold Scorpio (Clash of the Champions 23 - 06/16/93 in Norfolk, VA): Kind of odd on paper, but they mesh well, and it's one of the most fun matches ever to happen on a major WCW show. Can 2 Cold of all people win the NWA World Heavyweight Title?
"Stunning" Steve Austin vs. Ricky Steamboat (Clash of the Champions 28 - 08/28/94 in Cedar Rapids, IA): One of Steamboat's very last matches due to a sudden back injury, but he goes out in style against his best opponent of the '90s. Make sure to check out the Dusty Rhodes promo on the same show.
Vader vs. Dustin Rhodes (Clash of the Champions 29 - 11/16/94 in Jacksonville, FL): Possibly the greatest singles match performance of the future Goldust's career. Sting was Vader's best opponent in WCW, but Dustin was right there with him, and the result is an incredible match.
10. Clash of the Champions 2: Miami Mayhem (06/08/88 in Miami, FL)
The first entry on this list is very solid top to bottom with some really strong longer matches. Barry Windham does his thing with Brad Armstrong in the opener, and as two of the smoothest wrestlers of all time with Windham at his peak, it's a treat to watch them work together.
The Fantastics vs. The Sheepherders is the last chapter in a feud that went back to 1986. The Garvin Brothers team for one of the last times against Rick Steiner and Mike Rotunda. Nikita Koloff vs. Al Perez is skippable, but hey, it's just one match. The main event is Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard vs. Dusty Rhodes and Sting in a match that's become very well-regarded in recent years, as they keep the long-running Dusty vs. Four Horsemen issue going.
Nothing absolutely spectacular, but still a very strong show.
9. Clash of the Champions 19 (06/16/92 in Charleston, SC; Aired 6/29)
The only Clash special not shown live, it was built around the first round of the NWA World Tag Team Title tournament. Don't ask why WCW had two sets of world titles. It's confusing.
It's just a fun mix of weird matches featuring WCW regulars and international stars:
- Ricky Steamboat (teaming with Nikita Koloff) gets to show off his technical chops against Dean Malenko and his brother, Joe, who are both representing "Europe."
- Barry Windham and Dustin Rhodes vs. Arn Anderson and Bobby Eaton continues one of WCW's main feuds at the time in a strong traditional American-style tag team match.
- Steve Williams and Terry Gordy squash Australian father/son team Larry and Jeff O'Dea in brutal fashion.
- Los Cowboys (Silver King and El Texano, wrestling as "The Silver Kings"), arguably the best tag team in the world, have a wonderfully odd match with the Freebirds by essentially working around them doing elaborate lucha libre moves.
- The light heavyweight/cruiserweight division is showcased when Brian Pillman and Jushin "Thunder" Liger take on their old friends (all four broke in at the same time in Calgary) Chris Benoit and Beef Wellington.
- When The Steiner Brothers' opponents are mysteriously injured, they take on Gordy and Williams for the first time in a unique, hard-hitting match with a lot of cool amateur wrestling mixed in.
This show is a blast.
8. Clash of the Champions 3: Fall Brawl (09/07/88 in Albany, GA)
A very solid overall show with three really good matches.
Most fans will be drawn to the main event first: Barry Windham vs. Sting. They were feuding over Windham's U.S. Title at the time on house shows, but I believe this is the only time they ever faced each other on TV in their careers. It's too bad, as they had great chemistry, especially being two of the most athletic guys their size in the business.
The opener, Mike Rotunda (father of Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas) vs. Brad Armstrong is one of the best singles matches in both of their careers. They had similar reputations, solid technical workers who weren't expressive enough, but Rotunda was coming into his own as a heel, and they just click.
The big surprise is the show's lone tag team match: Nikita Koloff and Steve "Dr. Death" Williams vs. The Sheepherders, who were about to go to the WWF to become the Bushwhackers. The Sheepherders were the Bushwhackers' polar opposites, bloodthirsty brawlers; but even then, the match is not a great one on paper. Still, the teams had great chemistry and put on a fun, action-packed tag team match that's well worth going out of your way to see.
7. Clash of the Champions 7: Guts and Glory (06/14/89 in Fort Bragg, NC)
This is just a fun show top to bottom with an awesome main event. The show was held in a non-air-conditioned warehouse at Fort Bragg on Flag Day, and the crowd one of the best you'll ever see at a wrestling show.
The semifinals and finals of the NWA World Tag Team Title tournament take place here and are all solid matches, but the real highlights of the undercard aren't technically good. Ranger Ross, a legitimate Army Ranger, takes on The Terrorist (yes, really) in a quick squash that the crowd eats up. The other odd match sees the debut of the Ding Dongs, two masked guys wearing bells whom the crowd quickly turns on.
In the ring, the highlights are Steve "Dr. Death" Williams vs. Terry Gordy and Ricky Steamboat vs. Terry Funk. Doc vs. Gordy is a short, but awesome chapter in the renewed "battle of the bulls" feud. They had better matches in the UWF in 1986 and 1987, but this is a lot of fun and their only high-profile WCW singles match with each other. Steamboat-Funk is the only major match between the two I can think of, and it's as great as you'd hope for, as they have awesome chemistry. Stay tuned for the post-match angle, too; it's a great one.
6. Clash of the Champions 4: Season's Beatings (12/07/88 in Chattanooga, TN)
This show is all about the two incredible tag team matches that bookend it.
The main event is Ric Flair and Barry Windham, then the two best singles wrestlers in North America, against the Midnight Express, then the best tag team in North America. Arguably disappointing in the sense that it's not a stone-cold classic, it's still a wonderful tag team match and one of Windham's best performances. As naturally talented as anyone ever in pro wrestling, he's at his peak here and a treat to watch.
The opener is, surprisingly, as good or better. In the finals of the United States Tag Team Title tournament, The Fantastics take on fellow babyfaces Eddie Gilbert and Ron Simmons. Gilbert and Simmons were something of a makeshift team created upon Gilbert's return to the promotion, but they had solid chemistry and worked well with The Fantastics. The result is a match that goes close to half an hour as one of the best babyface matches you'll ever see, building tremendously to a long finishing sequence.
The rest is pretty uneventful, but those two matches are incredible.
5. Clash of the Champions 17 (11/19/91 in Savannah, GA)
Clash of the Champions 17 made a statement for WCW. Their product had been terrible for months, especially since Ric Flair had left, but that changed starting with this show.
It features easily the best show-long storyline on the Clash shows, as Sting is injured and it becomes very questionable if he'll be able to defend his United States title against Rick Rude. The match itself is in the co-main event slot, and while it's short, it's incredibly dramatic—and WCW feels like a hot company again. The main event of Lex Luger vs. Rick Steiner shows Luger settling into a groove as heel world champion against Rick Steiner in a very solid match.
The in-ring highlight of the show, though, is Arn Anderson and Larry Zbyszko vs. Dustin Rhodes and a mystery replacement for Barry Windham, who turns out to be the returning Ricky Steamboat fresh off WWF TV. It's on the short list of the very best WCW matches, a classic tag match with career performances from all four and one of my favorite wrestling moments ever. Check out the reactions Steamboat gets from the fans, the announcers and Anderson.
4. Clash of the Champions 6: Ragin' Cajun (04/02/89 in New Orleans, LA)
This is a one-match show, but it's a historic show (it aired opposite WrestleMania 5) and an incredibly long match. Ricky Steamboat's best-two-out-of-three-falls NWA World Heavyweight Championship defense against Ric Flair is the last great old-school classic NWA title match. It took up a giant chunk of the show; if another show had three great matches that took up as much time as this match did, it would be on this list, too.
The addition of the Clash shows means that their whole televised trilogy of 1989 title matches (this one is bookended by the Chi-Town Rumble and Wrestle War '89 PPV shows) is available on WWE Network. Considered by many to be the best match of the feud, it's a must-see for any wrestling fan.
The rest of the show isn't bad; it's just nothing special. The Midnight Express vs. The Samoan Swat Team is good, but overly long given their relative lack of chemistry for two very talented teams. In addition, the network version is, for whatever reason, missing the co-main event, which was a tag title change with a very memorable angle.
Still, that main event...you need to see it. There's nothing else like it on WWE Network.
3. Clash of the Champions 9: New York Knockout (11/15/89 in Troy, NY)
It's kind of a ridiculous show, as WCW pretends they're in New York City while 157 miles away from Manhattan, but the main event is one of the best WCW matches and best free TV matches period in the history of wrestling: Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk in an "I Quit" match. It's a crazy brawl with incredible drama, an instant classic that set cable TV viewership records that stood for years.
The co-main event of Lex Luger vs. Brian Pillman is excellent, as well, a rematch of their show-stealer at the previous month's first annual Halloween Havoc PPV. Luger was at his peak here; if you know him as a musclehead with an underachiever reputation, you'll be shocked.
The undercard is very solid, with the absolute highlight being the Midnight Express vs. the Dynamic Dudes. Jim Cornette had been neglecting the Express to "advise" the Dudes, and this match was supposed to settle the issue. The Midnights and Cornette officially turn back heel, but the crowd loved the Midnights and hated the obnoxious Dudes so much that they explode for it as if it were a babyface move. Whoops.
2. Clash of the Champions 18 (01/21/92 in Topeka, KS)
Coming during a transitional period for WCW, this one features one of WCW's strongest top-to-bottom cards for good action matches, especially if you like tag team wrestling. The company was being run by former accountant Kip Allen Frey, who wasn't familiar with wrestling but was willing to learn. As noted in Mick Foley's first book, Have a Nice Day, Frey was giving out performance bonuses to the wrestlers who put on the best match on each card, and it showed, with everyone working hard.
The winning match that night was Foley, as Cactus Jack, taking on Van Hammer in a falls-count-anywhere bout. This was the match that made it Cactus Jack's signature gimmick, going all over the arena and into the rodeo area outside the building. Foley built on this as time went on, but this type of craziness just wasn't seen on national TV back then.
The rest of the card is about great tag team wrestling. The Steiner Brothers vs. Big Van Vader and Mr. Hughes is a must-see for fans of the Steiners, as they throw the super heavyweights around for 10 minutes. Sting and Ricky Steamboat vs. Rick Rude and Steve Austin is a strong main event featuring WCW's top stars at the time.
Dustin Rhodes, Barry Windham and Ron Simmons vs. Arn Anderson, Larry Zbyszko and Bobby Eaton is part of the same WCW babyfaces vs. Paul Heyman's "Dangerous Alliance" feud, an action-packed six-man tag in a year where WCW had a lot of those. Even the thrown-together Brian Pillman and Marcus Bagwell vs. Tracy Smothers and Terry Taylor match is really good.
It's not the most important show, but it's one of the best for quality in-ring wrestling.
1. Clash of the Champions 1 (03/27/88 in Greensboro, NC)
Airing live and for free on TBS opposite WrestleMania 4 on pay-per-view, the first Clash of the Champions was the best possible show that the promotion could have put on at that moment in time. It's a great show top to bottom where every match is either great in the ring or a short bout that effectively moves a storyline forward.
The show is best known for the main event, which sees Ric Flair and Sting battle to a 45-minute time limit draw in their first really high-profile match with each other. They had better matches later, and the historical perception that Sting became an instant superstar isn't really accurate, but it's still an amazing, magical moment that helped propel Sting toward the top babyface spot in WCW.
The Midnight Express vs. The Fantastics for the United States Tag Team Titles is a departure from their usual state-of-the-art tag team wrestling, instead being more of a wild brawl with bodies and tables flying everywhere. If you enjoy this, then make sure to check out their lone PPV match at Great American Bash '88.
Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard vs. Lex Luger and Barry Windham for the World Tag Team Titles is every bit as good as the Midnights-Fantastics match despite being more of a traditional tag team match. These two teams had amazing chemistry, and I wish they got to have more matches, but the tag team feud was over pretty quickly with the rematch (you'll see why). Check out the finish, too; it's one of the loudest you'll ever hear.
Mike Rotunda vs. Jimmy Garvin and the barbed wire match featuring Dusty Rhodes and the Road Warriors vs. Ivan Koloff and the Powers of Pain are both fun, short matches that keep the story going. In the latter match, watch for the replay of The Barbarian kicking Animal's hockey mask off his face. It's nasty looking.
There were another nine years and 34 more shows, but they never topped the first one.