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Florida Goes Big For The NWA Battle of the Belts

Credit: YouTube

The NWA’s Battle of the Belts show was a supercard held on September 2nd, 1985, at the Sundome, Tampa, Florida and was the first of three instalments in the ‘Battle of the Belts’ series. The card was promoted by Championship Wrestling from Florida, one of the NWA’s most successful territories outside of Georgia and Mid-Atlantic.

A success throughout the 70s and early-80s, CWF was starting to founder by 1985, losing talent to the likes of Jim Crockett Promotions and the WWF, the effects of Vince McMahon’s national expansion really taking its toll on the territories. Longtime owner Eddie Graham had committed suicide in January 1985, leaving ownership in the hands of Hiro Matsuda, Duke Keomuka, Mike Graham, Skip Gossett, Dusty Rhodes and Buddy Colt. Still, even with all these hands on deck, CWF folded in 1987, merging with Jim Crockett Promotions as the world of American pro wrestling continued to get smaller at that point.

Championship Wrestling from Florida logo

Battle of the Belts was the promotion’s attempt at putting on a supercard in the style of Crockett’s Starrcade, Vince’s WrestleMania and World Class’ Parade of Champions. While having a cult following now amongst old-school fans, the shows were not enough to turn around Florida’s fortunes and not usually considered to be on the same level as the aforementioned Starrcade.

Still, Battle of the Belts is noteworthy for being one example of the NWA’s short-lived partnership with the AWA (an attempt to counteract Vince McMahon’s expansion) and features a big main event between then-NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair and Wahoo McDaniel in a two out of three falls match.

One interesting aspect of this show is that there was a major weather incident, Hurricane Elena, a few days before the event, something that resulted in substantial numbers of people being evacuated from the Tampa area and only being allowed back on the day of the card. This in turn had an impact on the attendance figures, a fact which is noticeable when watching the card, where empty seating is plentiful on the screen. A shame, but it’s an interesting backstory nonetheless

So, with all that said, let’s ring the bell and jump into the Battle of the Belts!

‘The Crippler’ Rip Oliver & The Grappler vs. Hector and Chavo Guerrero

This match was probably a wise choice for an opener as the fast-paced action of the Guerrero brothers really warmed up the crowd. The heels didn’t really do much but they didn’t need to; they were there for the Guerreros to abuse with their athleticism and it worked well. It also didn’t overstay its welcome, which was a bonus.

A fun opener.

Talking Points:

  • Is ‘The Grappler’ the most generic names for a wrestler ever? I think possibly so.
  • Eddie was the spitting image of Hector, not surprising as they were brothers. Google yields up the info that Hector was 12 years and 4 days older than his younger brother. Big age gap!
  • One of the pleasures of watching a show like this on YouTube and not on, say, the WWE Network, is that you still get the original music (come on WWE: you’re not exactly struggling for money). The Crippler and The Grappler come out to ‘Roll On Down the Highway’ by Bachman Turner Overdrive, which is a…choice. The Guerreros come out to what appears to be generic Mexican music and in traditional Mexican costume. Whether that was their own choice is unknown.
  • The lights dimmed in the arena a couple of times during the match. Possibly evidence that you’re best not running a show in the aftermath of a hurricane…
  • The Guerreros are more athletic, unsurprisingly, than their opponents, utilising some nifty flying head scissors, as well as a neat rowing boat spot. The Grappler and The Crippler are typical punch-kick-bearhug merchants, and proud.
  • Hector plays the ‘Ricky-Morton-in-peril’ role here for the faces.
  • Chavo explodes in after the hot tag and displays an early use of the moonsault, landing on his feet as The Grappler moved. Hector made up for it with a flying crossbody on The Crippler.
  • In a neat move, The Grappler tried to Irish whip Hector into Rip Oliver but Hector instead caught Oliver on the charge and locked in an abdominal stretch.
  • The Grappler tried to nail Chavo with a loaded boot but hit Rip Oliver instead. As Chavo and The Grappler brawled on the floor, Hector, who was not the legal man, crawled back and made the cover for the three count. Oh, ref…
The Guerreros do the rowing boat on The Crippler and The Grappler
The Guerreros do the rowing boat on The Crippler and The Grappler

Cocoa Samoa (w/ Lady Maxine) vs. ‘The Hustler’ Rip Rogers (w/ Miss Brenda)

This wasn’t an awful match per say. The crowd were behind Samoa and Rogers was nicely heeling it up. It’s just that it never got out of first gear. The ending was also a little bit sudden too. Still, it was great seeing Rip Rogers again; I’ve always enjoyed his work.

Talking Points

  • Cocoa Samoa is billed as Koko Samoa here, although Google does state he actually did wrestle predominantly as ‘Cocoa Samoa.’ He is a complete Jimmy Snuka clone, which you never really saw back then, thinking about it. Not to this extent, anyway. In fact, Wikipedia helpfully points out that Samoa did have a feud with Snuka years later, which must have disorientated audiences, I’m sure.
  • Cocoa Samoa came out to ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ which I’m sure ‘The Hulkster’ was less than impressed by. I don’t recognise Rip Rogers’ music, unfortunately.
  • Rip Rogers was in WCW when I first started watching wrestling, so I always have fond memories of him and think he’s a bit of an unsung great. Saying that, Mick Foley’s autobiography has left me with the indelible image of Rip plunging his hand into a ‘full’ toilet bowel to retrieve someone’s ring. Thanks for that, Mick. Thanks a lot.
  • Cocoa Samoa controlled the early going with a headscissors, a wrist lock and an armbar.
  • Samoa flipped out of an armbar and kicked Rogers in the face in a nice spot.
  • Rogers took control when he dodged out of a Samoa charge into the corner. Samoa came back quickly but Rogers kicked him in the gut as he was backed into the ropes, before tossing Cocoa to the outside.
  • Rogers unloaded with fists and a choke but made the mistake of going up top. Samoa threw him down to the mat but missed a splash, Rogers rolling out of the way.
  • A headbutt saw Rogers end up tangled in the ropes but again, Rogers moved out of the way of a charge and Cocoa Samoa ended up crashing off the ropes.
  • Rogers showed the ref how it was done, slapping the mat for a three count in frustration.
  • A foot on the ropes saved Rogers from being pinned on a headbutt and on a dropkick also.
  • As the ref was distracted by Maxine at ringside (why? I’m not sure), Miss Brenda came in and cracked Cocoa in the head. As the ref turned and tried to get Brenda out of the ring, Maxine snuck back in and pulled Rogers down by the hair as he had Cocoa in a bodyslam position. Cocoa landed on top of Rogers and three slaps of the mat later, Cocoa was your winner.

NWA Florida Heavyweight Champion Jack Hart (w/Percy Pringle III) vs. Kendall Windham

The first great match of the card, this was for CWF’s major title and told a great story; the more experienced heel champion dominating his younger, less experienced challenger, only for the younger man to break through at the end with fire and heart and win the belt. It’s a story as old as time but when done right, like here, it really works.

Plus points to Hart for the crispness of his work and to Kendall for the fire he displayed.

Talking Points

  • Wow, it’s Barry Horowitz and Paul Bearer! Ok, I remember Barry’s run in ’95 as super jobber beating Skip the Body Donna but I didn’t know he’d been the Florida champion, so I’ve learnt something new. Meanwhile, Kendall Windham was Barry’s younger brother and was much skinnier than his brother at this point. Google points out that Kendall had only been wrestling for just under 15 months at this point so it was definitely a big match for Kendall.
  • Jack Hart attacked right from the bell and beat down Kendall with nice energy before applying a chin lock to stop Kendall from fighting back with big fists.
  • Kendall nearly took Hart’s head off with a big jumping shoulder block.
  • Percy Pringle III at ringside was screaming at anyone who would listen; the fans, Hart, Kendall, the ref. He looked like he was going to pop a blood vessel!
  • Kendall moves out of the way of a charge in the corner and Hart sells it Curt Henning-style, which is a compliment.
  • Hart utilised a nice three-quarter nelson, ‘The Horowitz Roll’, which you don’t really see anymore.
  • Hart sat down on a Kendall sunset flip and somehow made it look crisp and brutal, which is a hard thing to achieve, Good stuff.
  • Kendall moved out of the way of a legdrop but an eye rake cut off his come back.
  • Hart put Kendall on the top rope but Windham caught Hart with a sunset flip over the buckle for a near-fall.
  • Percy Pringle choked Kendall on the ropes.
  • Kendall managed to Irish whip Hart into the corner but the champ springboarded up and off the second turnbuckle. Unfortunately for him, Kendall moved out of the way of his crossbody.
  • Kendall unloaded with a big barrage of fists, two flying forearms and a flying knee for a two count.
  • Hart managed to block a bulldog attempt and reached in his tights for a foreign object. Kendall ducked, however, and nailed Hart with a flying crossbody for the 1-2-3! New Champion! The crowd were on their feet for that decision.
  • Kendall embracing the ref before the man could raise his hand, as well as parading around the ring and swinging the title belt, was genuinely endearing. Kendall was apparently only 17 years old at the time of this match, according to other reviews and google, and you can see how genuinely made up he was to have won the title.
  • Meanwhile, Hart raises his own hands in the ring and embraces Percy Pringle III to boos. It’s a hard life, being an ex-champion.
  • Kendall Windham hits a crossbody on Jack Hart
    Kendall Windham hits a crossbody on Jack Hart

Harley Race Dreams of Number Eight (Well, Nine)

Backstage, Harley Race is introduced as a seven-time NWA World Champion (which was incorrect, technically; the NWA did not at the time recognise Race’s eighth reign, when he beat Ric Flair in New Zealand in 1984 and dropped the belt back to Flair two days later in Singapore). He was asked about facing the AWA Tag Team Champions The Road Warriors for the belts later in the evening, to which Race responds that he and Larry Henning held the AWA tag belts for 4 consecutive years, undefeated. Again, not correct (but this is wrestling, after all); Race and Henning did indeed hold the belts, between 1965 and 1967, but they had three reigns altogether, having dropped the straps to The Crusher and Verne Gagne, The Crusher and Dick the Bruiser, and finally Pat O’Connor and Wilbur Snyder.

Race cut an impassioned promo, verbally attacking the ‘Road Hogs’ and telling them that if they’ve got the guts, there’ll be a title switch that night. But of more interest to Race was the Flair-McDaniel main event for the NWA World title. Race said that he didn’t particularly like either man but that he’d be watching closely, as the dream was to bring the gold back home in ’85 for reign number eight.

As always with Race, a great promo. But it’s crazy to think that this absolute icon of the NWA would, only eight months after this promo, enter the WWF to begin the last real run of his in-ring career.

NWA Southern Heavyweight Champion “Ravishing” Rick Rude (w/ Percy Pringle III) vs. Billy Jack Haynes

It’s my boy, Rick Rude! I’ve been a Rude fan ever since I saw him in the WWF as a kid and although he is very much respected by the wrestling community, I’ve always thought he deserved more than he got. Not that he had a bad career, but I wish he’d had at least one major Heavyweight title run, perhaps with WCW.

In any case, he puts a solid encounter here with Billy Jack Haynes, the only thing stopping it from going from good to great being the presence of perhaps one too many chin locks and that the match seemed to go from 30 to 90 in the closing moments without building properly to it. But I might be nitpicking. The crowd were loving Haynes and couldn’t get enough of him, while they despised Rude, as it should be for this match. That made all the difference, and the pairr worked the crowd masterfully.

Good stuff, even if I hoped for better.

Talking Points

  • Billy Jack Haynes coming out to ‘I Need a Hero’ by Bonnie Tyler is very, very odd. It’s not exactly a great wrestling theme, is it? Conversely, and it surprised me, Rick Rude coming out to ‘Smooth Operator’ really did work!
  • No ‘sweathogs’ speech here but there was a nice staredown to start before Percy disrobed Rude. Both men look jacked.
  • Rude challenged Billy Jack to a pose-off. Unsurprisingly, the crowd cheered for Haynes and booed Rude.
  • Rude lost a test of strength and was atomic dropped and dropkicked in a nice sequence.
  • Billy Jack challenged Rude to shoulder block him and Rude can barely move the man. Haynes leapfrogs Rude on the last attempt and hit a backdrop before going for the full nelson. Rude got his foot on the ropes in a panic!
  • A ringside artist is drawing a picture of Rude and Haynes tangling (?!)
  • Rude can’t get a handle on Haynes, as Billy Jack moves out of a charge and locks Rude in a chin lock.
  • The crowd were hot for this match!
  • The pair ran the ropes, Rude getting the upper hand with a clothesline and a diving fist for a two count.
  • Rude kicks Haynes to the outside, throws him into the barricade before suplexing him back in for a two count.
  • There’s been quite a few chin locks in this match…
  • Rude hits a backdrop, shots to the kidney and an Irish whip, trying to work over Hayne’s core.
  • Rude misses a fist from the top and Haynes responds by driving Rude’s head into his knee and wearing Rude down with a backbreaker and a gut wrench suplex.
  • As Haynes picked up Rude for a press slam, Percy Pringle trips him with his cane. Haynes grabs Pringle and decks him on the apron but that leaves Rude free to sneakily crack Haynes in the back twice with his cane to get the pinfall victory. The crowd were not happy with Rude.

“Tell ‘Em, Hawk!”

The Road Warriors and Paul Ellering lay down the law
The Road Warriors and Paul Ellering lay down the law

After a quick interview with Kendall Windham, he seemed a bit dazed, bless him, we got word from The Road Warriors and Paul Ellering, who were in the midst of their 80s pomp here.

Ellering told off Harley Race for going on about Ric Flair in his interview and said that Race should be focussing on the Roadies instead. Hawk made a point of telling Race and partner Stan Hansen that they need to do their talking in the ring, where the Road Warriors do it, and Animal called Race and Hansen ‘good’ wrestlers (only good for the eight-time former champ?) but they’ve never had their heads kicked in by 10-15 men at once in Chicago.

I don’t know, I can imagine Harley getting into a few fights…

AWA World Tag Team Champions The Road Warriors (w/Paul Ellering) vs. Stan Hansen & Harley Race

This is a great little match that I never see anyone mention, for some reason. Both teams are absolutely game and because of that, we get a wild, very fun brawl, with Hansen, in particular, throwing himself into proceedings with gusto.

The match does noticeably slow a little bit when the Warriors take over in the middle and apply the rest holds, but as a whole, this is a really underrated hidden gem.

Talking Points

  • Harley and Hansen coming out to the Olympic theme is pretty odd…especially when Hansen is swinging that bull rope at anything that moves (and everything that doesn’t!)
  • The Road Warriors come out to ‘Iron Man’, of course, which is still one of the greatest ring themes ever used.
  • Hansen goes straight for Animal as the Warriors make their entrance and it all kicks off immediately into a wild brawl at ringside!
  • Animal and Hawk were well known for no-selling, but Stan Hansen does them one better here, no selling a punch he misses that hits the ring post! How the hell do you not sell that? My hand’s twinging just thinking about it.
  • Harley cracks Hawk twice in the head with Hansen’s cowbell, knocking Hawk to the floor, where he and Hansen exchange headshots to the ringside table.
  • Back in the ring, things slow slightly as Hawk and Harley square off. Hawk gets a couple of blows in but Harley makes him think twice with a headbutt.
  • All four men end up back in the ring and Hawk knocks Hansen to the outside with a back elbow. Hansen and Hawk go brawling into the stands, where they bash each other across the head with chairs—and they’re not the folding kind either!
  • Hawk gets Harley in a front face lock but Race drops him with a double leg pickup and an elbow drop.
  • The Road Warriors take turns wearing down Stan Hansen, Hawk struggling but eventually nailing a body slam on the big Texan.
  • It’s interesting; the Road Warriors are dominating Hansen but not in their usual brutal, pulverising way, instead using wear down holds to grind him down. I’m sure the Warriors, as tough as they were, they were not going to risk p*****g Hansen off. I mean, would you?
  • Hansen brings Animal to the outside but is sent into the ring post. He sold that one!
  • Hawk lifted Harley up by the throat and threw him across the ring! Harley got him back by suplexing him off a headlock.
  • Hansen and Harley nail Hawk with a piledriver and a suplex, but Hawk lifts Race up for a press slam and drops him so that Harley landed on his legs. That looked awkward.
  • Harley no-sells a Hawk headbutt and punches but not an eye-rake. Both men end up on the outside and the ref calls for a double count-out as all four men go at it again on the outside, ending when Animal wields a chair in the ring and drives Hansen and Race off. Awesome.

“I’m Going To Take It To You All Night Long”

Backstage, Ric Flair is interviewed about his two out of three falls match with Wahoo McDaniel in the main event. Flair says that, although McDaniel has said that no man can beat him twice in the same night, Flair says that he is the best athlete alive and will take it to McDaniel all night long.

A nice, understated promo by Flair. It’s nice to see sometimes when Flair puts himself over a little more sportingly. Not that I don’t love Space Mountain and all that, but sometimes you need a change. WOOO!

 Nick Bockwinkel vs. Frankie Lane

This was supposed to be Bockwinkel vs. AWA World Heavyweight Champion Rick Martel, but Martel couldn’t get a flight into Florida due to the hurricane, so this match was very quickly put together to give Bockwinkel someone to wrestle. A big shame, because Bockwinkel-Martel would have been a big marquee match for the show.

This was a quick match that saw Bockwinkel win in a strange way, by literally no-selling a crossbody then falling on top of his opponent for the pin. Very weird. In any case, Frankie Lane didn’t look bad but you knew he was no competition for Bockwinkel. If they put this match on second after the spirited Guerreros’ opener, then it might have been ok. But it just felt so out of place in the penultimate spot. Worst match of the show, but I appreciate them at least giving Bockwinkel something to do.

The People Are Ready For a Change

Backstage, Chief Wahoo McDaniel is asked for his thoughts as he is just moments away from his shot at the Ten Pounds of Gold. He claims that two out of three falls is his type of match and he doesn’t believe there’s anyone who can beat him twice in one night. McDaniel knows Flair is ready, and he’s a great champion, but McDaniel thinks people are ready for a change and what better place to make that change than Florida?

Nice promo. But if only Wahoo knew that every time Crockett/WCW got stuck for a headline draw, they’d repeatedly turn to Flair to carry the load…

Two Out Of Three Falls: NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair vs. Chief Wahoo McDaniel

Ric Flair tries to escape Wahoo McDaniel's sleeper hold
Ric Flair tries to escape Wahoo McDaniel’s sleeper hold

This is a great match, plain and simple. An underrated Flair title defence in as much as I rarely see people mention it, both the ‘Nature Boy’ and the ‘Chief’ were over as hell with the audience there and put on a real clinic, pacing the match out well so as to build to the falls, as well as using great psychology (Wahoo focussing his efforts on the sleeper after it won him the first fall; Flair repeatedly sending Wahoo to the outside and into the ring post in desperation). Both men have excellent chemistry together; of course, it wasn’t the first time they’d met in the ring, and it showed

If you watch nothing else from this show, watch this match. It’s a must-see bit of NWA history.

First Fall

  • Flair teases McDaniel to start by smoothing his hair in classic Flair style.
  • Wahoo locks in a headlock before winning a test of strength, trying to pin Flair’s shoulders to the mat. Somehow, Flair gets a little trickle of blood down his forehead but I can’t see how it would have happened? Wahoo must have the most brutal headlock in the world!
  • Flair shouts at ref Bill Alfonso (whistle-less, thank god) for not breaking McDaniel’s hold sooner.
  • Wahoo wins a battle of the chops. McDaniel, of course, had hands like slabs of stone. Throughout the match, Wahoo’s chops look absolutely lethal.
  • Flair’s in a nicely aggressive mood for this match.
  • Flair took Wahoo down with either a chop or a wild poke to the eye—it was hard to see clearly (like Wahoo, if it was a poke in the eye!)
  • Flair went from a front chancery to a pinfall attempt but he had his feet on the ropes. Bill Alfonso pushes his feet off before getting into a pushing fight with Flair—and Bill won!
  • Wahoo took Flair down with a drop toe hold and worked the leg over with hard knees before manipulating the legs so as to keep Flair’s shoulder’s pinned to the mat. It’s a neat spot. Flair breaks free with a shot to the face though.
  • Wahoo fights back but Flair takes him down and goes for another pin with his feet on the ropes. The swine!
  • Flair sent Wahoo to the outside and straight into the ring post before twisting his arm around the barricade. Flair noticeably limped back into the ring.
  • Flair locked in an armbar to work the weakened shoulder, holding the second rope for leverage. He was able to shout abuse at the cameraman from this position in a funny moment.
  • Flair worked the arm for a while until Wahoo grabbed him in the corner and just dropped him with a headbutt, before obliterating him with a series of chops.
  • Flair tries to chop back but Wahoo locks in a sleeper, taking Flair to the mat, where his shoulders are pinned. Three slaps of the mat later, Wahoo wins the first fall!

Second Fall

  • Bill Alfonso had revived Flair during the break.
  • Flair looked intense, going for chops, but Wahoo took him down with a single chop and went straight for the cover, showing smart psychology by wanting to get that second fall as quickly as possible.
  • A series of chops near-cave Flair’s chest in before Wahoo goes once again for the sleeper hold. Flair quickly goes to the ropes, knowing the danger he’s in.
  • Wahoo chops Flair right over the ropes to the outside, but Flair grabs Wahoo’s left leg and smashes it into the apron and then the ring post. Guessing Flair was thinking Figure Four?
  • Flair worked over the leg before applying a toe hold, pinning Wahoo’s shoulders down with the pain.
  • Figure Four! Eventually, Wahoo turned over and broke the hold, so Flair tried to reapply it. Wahoo blocked Flair’s leg so Ric just let him have some vicious hands to the head instead.
  • Knees, elbows and a suplex only earned Flair two counts, so he locked in an abdominal stretch, which he then turned into a cradle, only for Wahoo to get his foot on the ropes. Nice move.
  • Wahoo fires up but accidentally sends Flair into the ref, knocking him down. A backslide gets Flair down but the ref is only stirring and Flair looks like he gets out quickly anyway.
  • Flair sent Wahoo outside and into the ring post head-first twice, busting him open in the process. A knee drop to the head in the ring and Flair was the winner of the second fall, bringing it to one apiece.

Third Fall

  • Flair had the edge going into the fall, kneeing Wahoo in the gut. But McDaniel was able to block a suplex attempt and nailed a suplex of his own.
  • Flair sent McDaniel outside once more but Wahoo prevented a shot to the ring post and sent Flair headfirst into the steel instead! Twice!
  • A bleeding Flair was Irish whipped into the corner and goes over the post and to the floor.
  • A massive chop on the apron drops Flair before a war dance in the ring got the crowd on their feet as Wahoo landed another big chop. The crowd were completely in the palm of Wahoo’s hand by that point.
  • Wahoo locked in the sleeper again and Flair appeared to be drooping but he was able to push off the turnbuckles, Bret Hart-style, and land on top of Wahoo for the three count. Ric Flair was your winner!
  • Wahoo thought he was the winner and was furious when he realised what happened. He tried to snatch the belt off of Bill Alfonso after, and cut a quick promo backstage telling Flair that he would be back!

Final Thoughts

Battle of the Belts is an interesting show to watch. Considering the emphasis is on champions, the early matches, as entertaining as they are, are a little insubstantial perhaps. It also hurts the card that AWA Champion Rick Martel couldn’t appear, but that was beyond the promoter’s control of course.

Saying that, there’s only really one bad match on the card—Bockwinkel’s replacement match. The Guerrero’s match and the Rude-Haynes encounter are enjoyable, and the Florida title match between Jack Hart and Kendall Windham, and the AWA tag title match between the Road Warriors and Hansen and Harley are both very good. Add to this an excellent title bout between Ric Flair and Wahoo McDaniel and you have show that might not have the gravitas of that year’s Starrcade and WrestleMania but is an entertaining show in its own right and definitely worth a watch.

And, if we’re making comparisons, it might not have the same historical weight and influence, but in terms of in-ring quality, Battle of the Belts beats WrestleMania I hands down.

Written by Chris Flackett

Wrestling obsessed since '91. Lived through the Monday Night Wars and is still here to tell the tale. Major fan of Strong Style, technical and Super Jr. Wrestling, as well as big versatile hosses smacking the hell out of each other. Lives in Manchester, England.

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