For better and worse, WWE is now the curator of pro-wrestling history. While it's uncomfortable to trust WWE as a general rule, this situation has worked out mostly for the better. Outside the pro-WWE slant to their reminiscences of the WCW-WWE blood feud of the late 90s, the promotion has been content to put up their tape libraries as they're digitized, and to put them up pretty much as-is.
WWE has been putting up a wealth of great old 1980s-vintage wrestling on WWE Network in recent weeks, including episodes of AWA, Mid-South, and NWA World Championship Wrestling. That last one is the crown jewel. During the Reagan years, Jim Crockett Promotions, of the Carolinas and Georgia, took the primary mantle of the continent-spanning National Wrestling Alliance, and I-85 from Greensboro, through Charlotte, and down to Atlanta became the primary stomping grounds for a host of superstars: in-their-prime versions of Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Magnum TA, the Rock 'n Roll Express, and other legendary ass-kicking loudmouths.
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The NWA between 1984 and about 1988 nestled into a cozy place where it was just getting everything right, in every respect. It shared the old-school sensibilities of the AWA without lulling you to sleep. It had McMahon's flair for the dramatic without crossing over into four-color territory, and it rolled out Memphis's dirty Southern style without crossing into the darkness too often. World Championship Wrestling made the Carolinas the creative centerpiece of the wrestling world in those years—yes, even more than Hogan's WWF.
Naturally, these episodes have a fair amount of filler matches, and you're certainly not going to see the hyper-athletic style of today. The show is mostly worth watching to see just how hard Jim Crockett Promotions leaned on the idea of the multi-month feud through its top-quality promos and vignettes. You can watch the fabled Rhodes-Flair feud unfold over the span of years, with an internal logic that is lacking in most similar set pieces from the 1990s forward.
Here's a list of ten choice episodes, in chronological order. You'll need a WWE subscription to stream the whole episodes, but we've included some YouTube clips here from around the web that should serve as a taster of their featured wrestlers.
November 23, 1985 - The last episode prior to Starrcade 85, the NWA's premier yearly event. In what will become a familiar refrain going through this list, the episode centers on the blood feud between Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair. Flair and his stable, the Four Horsemen, had broken Dusty Rhodes's ankle. This meant, of course, that Dusty needed to cut a promo about his ankle. He does, saying he's going to kick the hell out of Flair with his boot, which now has a devil living in it. For his part, Flair delivers an underrated, rather sedate promo, challenging anyone who criticizes his tactics.
February 22, 1986 - As wrestling hurtled through its first modern boom, Flair and Jim Crockett decided that the NWA World Title needed to be more impressive. They dumped a bunch of money on a huge gold belt, which Flair debuts in this episode. Despite the import of the moment, Flair's name is misspelled "Rick Flair."
October 25, 1986 - Starrcade '86 is maybe the greatest event in the NWA's history, and loaded with white-hot feuds. One was between the Road Warriors and the Midnight Express. This episode sees a montage of the Warriors working out, before they grab pumpkins—it's nearly Halloween, after all—on which they've written the names of their foils. The Warriors and the pumpkins climb to the top of a scaffold, the pumpkins go off the platform, and the stage is set for a scaffold match.
We also get a replay of the Four Horsemen taking out Dusty Rhodes's arm during a parking lot ambush in an all-time great angle. Dusty parlays the sympathy for him and his friend Magnum TA (seriously injured in a legit car crash) into a full face turn for the Soviet Nikita Koloff, Flair's opponent at Starrcade, in a masterful piece of theatre psychology. The whole episode is must-watch for any wrestling fan.
November 16, 1986 - The last show before Starrcade '86, it's notable primarily for the recaps of all the feuds prior to the big event. If you want an example of the right way to get a big wrestling event lined up for a prospective new viewer, this is perfection. There's great promo work throughout, too.
December 6, 1986 - Notable for a post-Starrcade barnburner between the tag champs, the Rock n Roll Express, and the villainous team of Rick Rude and Manny Fernandez. The four men got 30 minutes and they made them all count. Especially notable because of the early flashes of greatness the young Rick Rude shows.
March 28, 1987 - If you could genetically engineer pro-wrestling jobbers—those beefy guys paid to lose to more charismatic opponents—in a lab, you'd get the Mulkeys. Pasty, dyed-blonde brothers with the type of lumpy dad bods the New York Times Style section couldn't imagine, they served as curtain jerkers and perennial losers for years. Until this episode, when they won, nearly by accident, against a hyped masked team called the Gladiators. Mulkey Mania exploded in the South for a scant few months, and those of us who saw it live were floored.
June 27, 1987 - A big match pitting Flair and new Horseman Lex Luger against the Garvin brothers, Jimmy and Ronnie, who were actually stepfather and stepson in real life, as it happens. It's weird. The perpetually underrated Jimmy was furious afterward, challenging Flair to a match. This chain of events eventually led to a four-month feud between Flair and the Garvins, as Jimmy puts up a night with his wife and valet, Precious, as stakes in the bout. He lost. Gross? Oh, absolutely. Viscerally absurd and raw in the way only wrestling can be? Yes, that, too.
July 25, 1987 - The night of Flair's gross date with Precious. The ordeal turns into one of the most ridiculous, compelling vignettes in wrestling history, as it turns out that Flair goes out with the wrong Garvin.
August 8, 1987 - Jim Crockett coordinated a buyout of the UWF, a rival Southern promotion. This was one of the first episodes that UWF talent showed up in force, with the Fabulous Freebirds, Eddie Gilbert, and Dr. Death Steve Williams making appearances.
September 26, 1987 - Throughout this episode, we catch the culmination of the Garvin-Flair feud, with Ronnie Garvin taking on the champion in a cage match from the night before. Garvin was a perpetual midcarder, but the NWA needed a transitional, short-term champion and he fit the bill. Garvin's win beggared belief at the time; the fact that it was free on television just made it crazier.