Remembering The 80s: Pro Wrestling Landscape In 1987 Through 1989

FRANKCorrespondent IISeptember 5, 2010

This is the fourth installment of the series to recap the wrestling landscape of a particular year, or in this case a period of time.

If interested, here are the articles on 1984, 1985, and 1986.

I hope to bring back some good memories to fans who lived through these years and to peak the interest of the younger fans who missed this era of wrestling.

To recap the series:

  • McMahon bought the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) from his father in 1983, which is identified the date that classic wrestling died
  • Realizing that television was the future method to promote wrestling, McMahon signed Hulk Hogan to be the "face" of the organization and quickly had him win the WWF World Title from Iron Sheik
  • Promoters like Jim Crockett, Verne Gagne, and Bill Watts were nervous that the Vince will look to expand in their markets and derived plans to oppose this expansion
  • Pro Wrestling USA was formed and included big regional organizations like Jim Crockett Promotions(JCP), World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW), and the American Wrestling Association (AWA)
  • Though SuperClash was a big success, the Pro Wrestling USA relationship came to a quick halt due to various accusations like promoters trying to steal top wrestlers from other promoters
  • WrestleMania was held in March of 1985 and was a tremendous success
  • WWF introduced Saturday Night Main Event on NBC and due to the high ratings was given five slots annually starting in 1986
  • It was realized in 1986 that television was extremely important to reach wrestling fans across the nation. Various television shows are aired on national and cable channels
  • Fritz Von Erich's WCCW (now known as WCWA) and Watts' Mid-South Wrestling (now known as Universal Wrestling Federation) looked to compete by going national in 1986


NWA Unification

With the success of WrestleMania I & II and the WWF expansion, smaller promotions either went bankrupt or were bought by Jim Crockett. 

By 1988, Jim Crockett added rosters from St. Louis Wrestling Club, Heart of America Sports Attraction, Championship Wrestling of Florida (CWF), and UWF to his growing promotion.

We are talking about organizations who were cornerstones of the NWA and were in business for up to four decades.

The promoters of these promotions were former NWA presidents, who would appear on Mount Rushmore for wrestling promoters if there was one.

We are talking about big time promotions who could not withstand the expansion of the WWF. 

St. Louis Wrestling Club was created in 1959 by promoter Sam Muchnick and ran a legendary weekly program show until 1983. Top fighters like Harley Race, Ric Flair, Gene Kiniski, Lou Thesz, and Ted Dibiase all started their careers in this promotion.

Heart of America Sports Attraction (recognized as Central States Wrestling) was created in 1948 and was the cornerstone of the NWA until the emergence of Jim Crockett in the late 70s. Many of the wrestlers competed in Sam Muchnick's promotion as well. To become the NWA World Champion you had to win the Missouri Championship first.

After Eddie Graham committed suicide on Super Bowl Sunday in 1985, CWF ratings and earnings went south which resulted in its merger with JCP. More and more of its wrestlers left for the WWF or JCP including Dusty Rhodes, Barry Windham, Mike Rotundo, and Ron Bass.

Unfortunately for Bill Watts, the oil economy went dry in its prime markets of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. The fans were not able to support Mid-South/UWF and it cost Watts millions, which forced him to sell in April of 1987.

I felt the Mid-South/UWF cards and roster was the best in wrestling and had a good shot to compete into the new decade. If only Watts had some better luck, who knows what the future would have been.

Jim Crockett basically swallowed up the top wrestlers from these organizations and moved on. But boy, in hindsight, Crockett missed out on a tremendous storyline when he bought UWF.

Just think, he could have accomplished what was achieved about a decade later with the NWO, the UWF could have invaded JCP. The talent was their with Terry Taylor, Sting, Steve Williams, Fantastics, Eddie Gilbert, Rick Steiner, and the Freebirds. All sorts of story-lines could have been created. 


World Championship Wrestling Is Born

In November of 1988, Jim Crockett sold his promotion to the longtime wrestling fan Ted Turner.

Main reasons identified were:

  1. Acquisitions of the promotions, mentioned above, cost a lot of money and the return was poor 
  2. Expenses to operate and compete national were too high, especially when the top wrestlers are flying around in a jet
  3. Magnum TA, who was expected to become the next Hulk Hogan, had his career cut short due to a car accident in 1986. This left the organization scrambling for a replacement to fight Ric Flair in Starrcade '86.
  4. Moving the Starrcade to Chicago and the Bunkhouse Stampede to New York, alienated the loyal fans of the mid-Atlantic area

To us fans, this sale was seamless and it was business as usual heading to the 90s. The Four Horseman continued to dominate and Ric Flair was still the man.


The Fall of the AWA

Unlike Jim Crockett sudden sale, the collapse of the AWA in 1991 was no surprise and was six years in the making. 

By the late 80s, the AWA World Title lost its prestige and was removed by Pro Wrestling Illustrated as a world title.

Let's recap the demise of this once proud title:

  1. Gagne had Hogan defeat Nick Bockwinkel for the title but the decision was reverse for various reasons. This infuriated the fans who witnessed this on more than one occasion. 
  2. Otto Wanz bought the championship for roughly $50,000
  3. Jumbo Tsuruta , who is not well known in the states, wins the belt by defeating Nick Bockwinkel
  4. Rick Martel loses the belt to Stan Hansen by submission, which is a slap to the Martel and minimized his championship reign
  5. Stan Hansen failing to relinquish his title by losing to Bockwinkel in a match. Stan refuses to lose the belt and take it with him Japan
  6. Bockwinkel is given the belt after Hansen leaves - at least, have him win a tournament



With the increase popularity of wrestling on television and the increase of markets with pay-per-view, WCW and WWF competed to add supercards to their resume.

WCW supercards were:

  1. Starrcade
  2. Great American Bash
  3. WrestleWar
  4. Halloween Havoc
  5. Clash of Champions

WWF supercards were:

  1. WrestleMania
  2. Survivor Series
  3. Saturday's Night Main Event
  4. Royal Rumble
  5. SummerSlam


Survivor Series was created in 1987 and was aired the same day as Starrcade to compete with the NWA's top card.

To ensure he wouldn't lose, Vince McMahon threaten the pay-per-view providers to hold Survivor Series exclusively or they wouldn't be able to air WrestleMania IV.

Since most of the PPV providers obliged and dropped Starrcade, Survivor Series won the buy rate contest with a 7.0 to Starrcade's 3.3.

Starrcade was moved for good to December the next year.

The competition continued with Bunkhouse Stampede in January of 1988. WWF aired the first Royal Rumble on the same day to hurt its rating. The Royal Rumble was aired on the USA cable channel, rather than PPV like the Stampede. This move did succeed in hurting the buy rating.

To get even, Clash of Champions was created in 1988 and was aired on the same day as WrestleMania IV. Clash of Champions was aired on cable channel TBS and drew a huge ratings.


Top Ten Lists

My Top Ten 80s Singles Wrestlers

  1. Ric Flair
  2. Hulk Hogan
  3. Andre The Giant
  4. Dusty Rhodes
  5. Ricky Steamboat
  6. Randy Savage
  7. Kerry Von Erich
  8. Ted Dibiase
  9. Steve Williams
  10. Stan Hansen

My Top Ten 80s Tag Team

  1. Road Warriors
  2. Fabulous Freebirds
  3. Rock N' Roll Express
  4. British Bulldogs
  5. Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard
  6. Ted Dibiase and Steve Williams
  7. Hart Foundation
  8. Midnight Express
  9. Von Erichs
  10. Rockers


The next installment will take a look at the events happening in the early 90s, as the WWF continues to flex its (steroid) muscles, WCW struggles to find its identity, and new regional organizations are created with hope to compete with the two big boys.


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