Bash from the Past
“Everyone busted their ass the make the match exciting.”
-Ric Flair, To Be the Man (in reference to his Bash at the Beach match with Hulk Hogan in 1994)
WWE’s 2011 SummerSlam show is just a few weeks away. For over twenty years the annual summer pay per view has been the biggest show behind WrestleMania. WCW had their own WrestleMania in Starrcade. Actually, the Starrcade event took place before WrestleMania was conceived. What many fans tend to overlook was that WCW also had their own version of SummerSlam with the Bash at the Beach pay per view. Before WCW put on a single Bash at the Beach show, the company had the Great American Bash as its summertime show. It was one of the great creations of Dusty Rhodes that featured county music and played into the company’s southern roots. Over time, Great American Bash was not emphasized nearly as much. The Beach Blast shows, the precursors to Bash at the Beach, didn’t quit live up to the big summer show hype fans were used to. It was in 1994 when WCW launched the Bash at the Beach with one of the biggest matches of the decade: Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair. Eric Bischoff has said himself that he didn’t see Starrcade at first as a huge show. Instead, many of WCW’s shows were equally big at the first part of his run, which would explain in part why Hogan and Flair was not held off until Starrcade. The night Hogan and Flair had their first singles match on pay per view helped set a trend for the Bash at the Beach pay per views that would continue until the company’s end some years later.
The World Wrestling Federation had a golden opportunity to make a huge amount of money with a Hogan –Flair showdown in 1991 and 1992. They never did it. In one what was one of the biggest missed opportunities in the last twenty years, WWF never gave the fans a Hogan-Flair showdown. WCW has been accused of dropping the ball and screwing things up, but they did a phenomenal job of putting together the first Hogan-Flair match when a The World Wrestling Federation couldn’t even book the match on pay per view.
It was July 17th and the eyes of the wrestling world were not paying attention to the WWF on this night. Hulk Hogan was now with the other guys. He was stepping foot into a territory nobody but a few dared dream he would ever go. The entire card was designed perfectly with heels going over in the rest of the matches. Steve Austin retained the United States Championship against Ricky Steamboat, Cactus jack and Kevin Sullivan dropped the Tag Team Championship to Paul Roma and Paul Orndorf, Vader picked up a win over the Guardian Angel (formerly the Big Boss Man), and Arn Anderson turned heel on Dustin Rhodes and cost him a win over Bunkhouse Buck and Terry Funk. Then came the climactic main event between Hogan and Flair. The match can only be described as a success. Financially, the show drew great numbers. Critically, Hogan and Flair had one of the most fun matches of the year.
Hogan and Flair represented two very different schools of thought in wrestling because they were the two men who represented their perspective organizations. When they stepped put in the ring together, the chemistry was so incredible. Yes they were very different wrestlers, but Flair was an ideal Hogan opponent. He played the cheating, chicken heel to Hogan’s superman. On the flipside, Hogan was the perfect Flair opponent. Flair had faced the big muscle heads before, but Hogan’s ultimate good guy brought out the best of Flair’s desperate bad guy.
The fallout from the match was incredible. Many people who considered themselves true wrestling fans saw WCW go the way of Hulk Hogan. The World Wrestling Federation was compared to a circus at this time with all of the goofy characters they had. WCW was supposed to be the alternative, but some fans felt it was no longer that way. I remember reading an old edition of Pro Wrestling Illustrated shortly after the Bash event. In the a letter to the editor, one fan had said he was no longer watching wrestling because he vowed he never would watch again if Hulk Hogan beat Ric Flair. In a classic example of wrestling fans taking things too seriously, WCW lost this fan. Over the next couple of years, WCW would be accused of some of the worst wrestling in the mainstream.
For all of WCW’s faults and all of the things they did wrong, it’s hard to blame them for bringing in Hulk Hogan. He helped take the company to the next level and unseat the WWF as the number one wrestling promotion in the United States. Also, if Hogan had not come in, what would WCW have done. Injures had forced Rick Rude and Ricky Steamboat into retirement within months of each other around the time of Hogan’s debut. Vader had been unseated as the monster heel. The only option appeared to be yet another series between Sting and Ric Flair. It was time for WCW to try something different.
Over the next several years WCW would continue to emphasize the Bash at the Beach show. All the way until the end, the Bash would serve as one of the premiere pay per views for one of the top wrestling companies in the world. The tone was set with the first Bash in 1994 that still stands today as one of the biggest shows of the 1990s. Like his synonymous relationship with the first group of WrestleMania shows, Hulk Hogan would become the main player in most Bash at the Beach shows until his tragic exit in 2000.