Off The Ropes: Classic NWA Wrestling On WWE Network Brings Back Fond Memories by Hab Rich

I was thrilled to learn that WWE Network had added episodes of the National Wrestling Alliance’s World Championship Wrestling added to its vault.  Growing up in North Carolina, Jim Crockett Promotions ran the territory there; my hometown of Winston-Salem and the neighboring city, Greensboro, were like second homes for the NWA.  

The setting was Turner Studios in Atlanta, and the tv taping crowd couldn’t have been any more than 75-100 people.  Being able to relive these episodes is like stepping into a virtual time machine in order to rediscover why I fell in love with wrestling in the first place.  

These shows were promo heavy, with superstars sometimes getting two or three interview segments with hosts Tony Schiavone and David Crockett, to whom I will dedicate a later paragraph.  The format was pretty simple; how simple?  One match followed by an interview segment; that simple!   A lot of the promo segments were golden, especially when you had mic masters like Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair and Jim Cornette. Other superstars like Arn and Ole Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Magnum T.A., Jimmy Valiant, The Midnight Express and the Rock-n-Roll Express were also featured and brought the action into our living rooms.

Watching the promo segments brought to mind Paul Heyman on the Stone Cold Podcast telling Austin about the time that Dusty asked him where the money was.  More specifically, Heyman had delivered a passionate promo about his guy’s next opponent and what was going to happen in the match.  He failed to mention the date and venue of when the event was going to take place and Dusty let him know about it. This is important enough to mention now, in my opinion, because to a man, every superstar that did a promo mentioned the date and venue of where they were going to be next or the next upcoming pro wrestling extravaganza.  If they aren’t already studying the craft of creating effective promos, today’s superstars and divas would be well-served to just watch, listen and sit under the learning tree.  But hey, I’m not in charge of superstar development, so I’ll keep my unsolicited advice.

The in-ring action was…different. I began watching the 1986 collection, and I must say that I’m glad wrestling has evolved in the last thirty years because some of those matches would put me to sleep today.  The tried-and-true ‘grab a hold’ and ‘work a body part’ was in full effect in every single match. Superstars took on local talent, mostly jobbers, whose job was to make the big stars look good on television.  Where it went a little off the rails with me was the fact that these matches were going 10 to 12 minutes long, knowing good and darn well that Arn Anderson didn’t need that long to beat up Tony Zane or Rocky King (Google those names).  But I guess when you have a two hour block of programming to fill, some of the matches were gonna get more time than one would think.

I was fortunate enough to catch one such match that featured Chief Wahoo McDaniel taking on local jobber Ray Traylor, who would then become Big Bubba Rogers and more famously The Big Boss Man.  The match went on for over 10 minutes with Wahoo chopping Traylor’s chest until it was bright red.  All I could think of was that I was witnessing young Ray Traylor really pay his beginning dues.  He mounted a little offense here and there, but was mostly on retreat from getting chopped into oblivion.

As I stated earlier, Jim Crockett Promotions was the territory and the promoter’s son David, was the show’s co-host alongside Tony Schiavone.  With all due respect to David, his commentary just blew chunks, seriously!  I was 8 years old in 1986, so I really wasn’t concerned with who was calling the action, but as a 37 year-old, I wonder (not really wonder, he WAS the promoter’s son after all) how the heck he landed that gig.  He couldn’t get through a sentence or two without fumbling his words or repeating the same thing over and over again. He introduced his talking points with the excitement of a 3rd grader who really knew the answer to a question and was just dying to give it, often cutting Tony off before he could finish his thought.  The absolute worst of David’s many commentary sins was him saying “Look at him” during every match, during every hard camera shot. I’m just speculating here, but he strikes me as an adult kid whose father ran a wrestling promotion and he just wanted to be part of it. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but for pure listening aesthetics, he was horrible.  

Tony Schiavone on the other hand, was the embodiment of what I would my earliest “Voice of Wrestling.” Along with the legendary Bob Caudle and later Jim Ross, he helped to shape some of my earliest wrestling memories through commentary. He was always cool and collected, very professional.

Something else I found interesting was that there were quite a lot of titles.  The Western States Heritage, Junior Heavyweight and the National Heavyweight Championships were just a few that I’d completely forgotten about because even at 8 years old, the only titles I knew that mattered were The Big Gold Belt, the United States and World Television championships.  If I could contrast it with a little later history, it reminded me of the Invasion, right after Vince McMahon had purchased rival WCW in 2001.  Go back and watch some of those pay per views and see if it doesn’t seem like every other match had either a WWE or WCW title on the line.  I feel that today’s simplified title structure is probably better because the titles mean a little bit more.

The way I look at these episodes now, after being a professional wrestling fan for over thirty years, is not much different than someone recalling significant childhood experiences that shaped the passions they have as an adult. The superstars themselves have aged, some have even passed away, but to be able to relive the action that first got me hooked into the squared circle is what will always keep the memories fresh for me.