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Looing Back at AWA Superclash III

The Show Where The Territories said “This Had Better Work…”

Superclash III: It was a final throw of the dice. A last show of strength. Even a circling of the wagons. Against the rampaging hordes of the World Wrestling Federation, this was the remaining territories showing what they could do.

And that’s why 1988’s Superclash III was such a disaster. Big players—the AWA, World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW, or World Class Wrestling Association for belt accuracy), the Memphis based-CWA and, ahem, the Powerful Women Of Wrestling (POWW – shouldn’t that be PWOW?) came together in a show of territory might. In ages of yore, we know the NWA was a great idea, protecting the territories and the business. We also know that it struggled to hold together; as Vincent K came calling, it didn’t even exist in that form anymore. This is one of the reasons why a card with talent from 4 territorial promotions, plus a Title vs. Title main event (well, it should have been—more on that later) with Kerry Von Erich taking on Jerry Lawler, didn’t really work. The discussions were said to be more like negotiations, which is not surprising; no one wants to accept their promotion is less important.

Superclash III didn’t succeed. No, it certainly didn’t. Why?

The Way It Looked

The event was held at the UIC Pavilion, Chicago. That’s apparently a 10,000 seater. It became apparent when watching the event that it wasn’t a sell out. Not even close. In fact, they had around 1,600 paying audience members. What do you do in that situation? You at least make it look good for the PPV: you move people to the hard camera side and cover empty seats with curtains. AWA supremo Vern Gagne and his men didn’t do that, and so, a sparse collection of fans made it all too apparent that Superclash III wasn’t ‘the most exciting event in wrestling history.’

The presentation looked ‘mid 80’s’, not the supercharged WWF look of massive full arenas and screaming fans. The AWA presenters Larry Nelson and Lee Marshall were on hand, along with Ray Stevens on rather good colour commentary, but despite Lee’s hype and Larry’s overexcitement (more of which later), it came over as a little desperate, as if everything had to be louder, grander, bigger. It just had to: snake eyes, baby, don’t give me snake eyes…

And I know this seems a small point, but the separation of the crowd from the action? A thin rope. Not a guardrail, or even a barricade. That rope made the whole thing seem, well, a little small-time. So the music pumped, the credits danced around, the colours jarred, just as expected, but the whole thing seemed a little dowdy.

The Matches

This was about the Over The Top Women’s Lingerie Battle Royale, wasn’t it? That’s what you might have thought, as we went to the back after each early match to find Mr Nelson telling another woman how gorgeous she was. After that match was over, everyone seemed spent and yet we still had the Title vs. Title match to come.

Larry Nelson gets 'over-excited' interviewing Luna Vachon and Peggy Lee Leather at AWA Superclash III
Larry Nelson gets ‘over-excited’ interviewing Luna Vachon and Peggy Lee Leather at AWA Superclash III

And the other matches? By God, they were short. But the opener had the Guerrero Brothers, who treated the somewhat odd combo of the RPMs and a lean looking Cactus Jack to a fine, energetic and quite high flying display. After that, we had a match for the WCCW Light Heavyweight belt, which would have been great had Jeff Jarrett not injured his arm; it was shaping up to be a fast and fluid match with Eric Embry, which is more than can be said for Wayne Bloom vs. beardless Boogie Woogie Man Jimmy Valiant, which lasted all of 1 minute and ended with a roll up and a winning Jimmy getting out of there pronto.

There was an uneventful Texas Heavyweight Championship match in which Ice Man King Parsons went over Brickhouse Brown via brass knucks. Then there was the AWA Women’s and Tag Team titles match, with intergender teams but single gender rules. This was a mess and led to Badd Company, Paul Diamond and Pat Tanaka losing their belts, as Madusa was pinned by Wendy Richter and, in an alarming moment, winning team Top Guns Derrick Dukes and Ricky Rice briefly spanked her. Loudmouthed manager Diamond Dallas Page didn’t help the quality either.

And before the main event, the Lingerie Match (they certainly sold it as if it was), Greg Gagne, Verne’s boy, faced off against ‘Hands of Stone’ (and charisma of stone) Ronnie Garvin in a stiff but boring encounter; were those boos I heard when Gagne won after a Garvin count out?

It isn’t over yet! Although by now I’m wishing it was; Sgt Slaughter versus Colonel DeBeers, who wasnot selling his pro-apartheid gimmick (thank goodness), which saw the pair trading helmet shots (don’t get worked up, it’s an army helmet), punches and kicks, with the only wrestling move a cobra clutch, and DDP in the colonel’s corner bringing in nefarious ‘foreigners’ Colonel Adnan and the Iron Shiek to brutalise Sarge. To think, they would all be in the same corner within 2 years…then Michael Hayes, looking out of place and out of sorts, tagging with Steve Cox against the Samoan Swat Team—ex-Freebird Buddy Roberts was in the SST’s corner, see? After Roberts hit Hayes and rolled him over for the SST pin, Hayes just hung around the ring selling the punch, with the crowd clapping sporadically.

You can’t really do much with a strap match, can you? Wahoo McDaniel and Manny Fernández didn’t even do the crotch shot with it; it was mainly whippings and chokings. Both bled ‘cracked open like a couple of eggs’ apparently and guest Tatsumi Fujinami, who Fernández had bad mouthed at the start, saved Wahoo after he touched all 4 corners—this was a big bore, despite what McDaniel would have us believe when talking to Lee Marshall after.

Elsewhere, Bill Apter tried to give Jerry Lawler an Inspirational Wrestler of the Year PWI award. He wouldn’t come out to collect it, so we go to the back with Larry Nelson, where Lawler, wearing that odd little horned goatee he favoured, tells us he deserves it. Kerry Von Erich is also interviewed, looking a little unfocused.

The Over The Top Rope Lingerie Battle Royale

Up to this point, whenever we go to the back, it seemed to be a woman talking about this match. And it was an anticlimax, both for those who wanted wrestling and those who wanted wantonness; they fought, but not with any real wrestling moves. Despite POWW owner David McLane virtually jumping up and down with excitement on commentary, this is not Attitude era bra & panties stuff, the combatants were demurely dressed and, even though one of them was apparently wearing ‘cashmere shoes’, this isn’t what some who bought the PPV would want. The Terrorist (yerss…) wins and gets $10,000 (we don’t see much of the money) and Larry Nelson is probably spent.

The Main Event

This actually did live up to the hype. Two Champs, neither wanting to be shown wanting, both able to sell, both good at psychology, particularly Lawler, whose smile when things were going his way was great to see. The headlines from this were Kerry no selling a Lawler piledriver and coming back with a discus clothesline, Kerry hitting a piledriver of his own and leaving Lawler’s head in there, Kerry segueing the ridiculous claw from the abdomen to the cranium and Lawler seeming to have something in his tights, but leaving his hand there so long we can’t see what it is. It cut Kerry open though, ‘like an old can’ we’re told, and if any match illustrated the phrase ‘crimson mask,’ this was it.

A bloody Kerry Von Erich locks Jerry Lawler in the Claw
Never mind The Muta Scale—This is a 10 on the ‘Kerry Scale!’

The finish? There was no DQ or time limit, so there must be a winner. Except it’s a Dusty Finish; the ref stopped it because Kerry’s eye was messed up, and awarded both belts to Lawler. It’s an odd sight to see Kerry raging at genial management gent Stanley Blackbird afterwards, who ‘fesses up to raising the blood issue because of the previous strap match.

No one could have been happy with this ending—a cheap outcome to a really well-done piece of wrestling theatre. But there you had it, that was the last match and—

—hang on! You wouldn’t put a match on after the main event…would you? Superclash III did. The Stud Stable vs. The Rock & Roll Express was perfectly serviceable, but why after the main event? Even Robert Fuller’s charisma, a kendo stick and a brawl couldn’t take us home happy. And it ended in a DQ, so no one would be happy anyway.

Final Thoughts

What a mess. Superclash III didn’t sell well on the night; it didn’t sell well on the PPV; it didn’t look new and exciting and the action was basic. It didn’t match Vince’s WWF or Crockett/Turner’s WCW. There were reports that some were upset about their payoff, apparently because of the poor PPV rate. The AWA limped along for a couple of years with the Team Challenge and Larry Zbyszko front and centre; WCCW and CWA merged, calling it the USWA, but this was the death knell for the big territories. If they couldn’t match the two big guns with all their main talent on show, what could they do?

Well, the AWA could do Superclash IV, but that’s another story…

Written by Steve Swift

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