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Eric Cohen

AWA on ESPN Classic Part II - A Look Back at 1988

By May 20, 2008

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When AWA Championship Wrestling started appearing on ESPN Classic, I wrote an article about the state of wrestling in 1986. Since that article was written, ESPN Classic skipped over 1987, began showing episodes from late-'88, and are now showing episodes from early-’88. If you saw the episodes from late-’88 you probably noticed that they looked totally different than anything else that has been on the show.

Before I get into a discussion about the state of the AWA and professional wrestling in 1988, I’d like to thank Clay Marston in Canada for informing me that the show can now be seen on ESPN Classic in Canada. They are currently showing programs from 1986. This link will provide you with the details about the show including match listings.

The Three National Companies in 1988

1988 was a banner year for the WWE, then known as the WWF, from a business standpoint. In February, they ran a primetime special on NBC featuring Andre the Giant battle Hulk Hogan. That match marked the return of professional wrestling to primetime TV since the close of the DuMont Network and that match is the most viewed match in American wrestling history. The WWE was not only conquering TV, they also set their sites on Hollywood. Hulk Hogan spent a significant part of the year away from the ring filming No Holds Barred. In his place, the “Macho Man” Randy Savage carried the torch for the WWE in 1988.

From 1986 – 1988, Jim Crockett expanded his grip over the NWA until it became synonymous with his promotion. However, he ran into some major financial problems. His growth plan included a bad business decision to overpay for the crumbling UWF and his revenue stream was crushed when Vince McMahon countered Crockett’s PPV efforts with the creation of the Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble. By the end of the year, Jim Crockett was forced to sell the company to Ted Turner. Turner wanted the company because wrestling was the highest rated show on WTBS. Turner would eventually change the name of the company to World Championship Wrestling due to issues with the National Wrestling Alliance.

These were three separate companies that got together in 1988 as a way to stay in business. At the end of the year, the promotions got together and ran a PPV entitled SuperClash 3. The main event of that show featured a unification match between World Class Champion Kerry Von Erich and AWA Champion Jerry Lawler (who was really a promoter for the CWA).

World Class Championship Wrestling
The famed Texas-based promotion that featured the Von Erich family had fallen on very rough times for multiple reasons, most notably the tragedies within the Von Erich family. Starting in 1988, the WCCW began a working agreement with the CWA that would result in the CWA purchasing the WCCW in 1989. That year, the two companies would unify under the name of the United States Wrestling Alliance.

Championship Wrestling Association
The Memphis-based CWA, best known for the Jerry Lawler vs. Andy Kaufman feud, used to be a member of the NWA but decided to align themselves with Verne Gagne’s AWA because of the actions of Jim Crockett in the mid-80’s. In 1988, they expanded their reach by working with both the WCCW. Both of those companies could be seen on national television and via syndication, something that the CWA didn’t have on their own.

American Wrestling Association
The WWE and NWA talent raids continued and left the AWA looking for stars. They teamed up with the CWA and WCCW for several reasons. Their television situation was in shambles. They had lost their deal with the Showboat Casino and the AWA shows started airing from Tennessee. These are the pre-Superclash shows that recently aired.

As far as talent goes, Verne Gagne had lost most of his to Crockett and McMahon. With no real-main event champion caliber star under their umbrella, Verne gave the belt to Jerry Lawler. While he was technically the AWA Champion, his loyalties lied more with the CWA than the AWA. When SuperClash 3 proved to be both a commercial and critical flop, things went from bad to worse for the AWA. Lawler was stripped of the title but kept the actual belt because he was never paid. That ended the talent exchange between the companies. The television situation became almost comical in 1989. The AWA began taping their shows in a pink room with no audience. As a last gasp effort, the company created the Team Challenge Series which was way too little and way too late to save the company from extinction.

Photo of Jerry Lawler: Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images


April 15, 2009 at 12:35 am
(1) angela l says:

I just came across this match and after watching it, I am confused about an item. Lawler won on a DQ because Von Erich the piledriver on Lawler. However, the sound was not the best, so I got lost on this. Why, exactly, was the piledriver a disqualification?

Also, just a general question my gf just threw in….was wrestling back then as scripted as it is now? She seems to feel that these matches seemed more real. I say it was more because there was less theatrics (i.e. pyrotechnics, drama, etc) than on the modern WWE shows. Opinion?



April 15, 2009 at 6:54 am
(2) Eric says:

Hi Angela,

The match you are talking about took place in the CWA. One of the rules of the Memphis promotion was that the piledriver was illegal because it was such a dangerous maneuver. The most famous DQ-piledriver in the history of that company was when Lawler was DQ’d against Andy Kaufman and that piledriver caused Andy to be hospitalized.

The show was just as scripted then as it is now. However, the lack of theatrics you saw was due more to lack of money than anything else. Memphis was known for some of the looniest gimmicks in wrestling history. If you thought that Kane was a ridiculous non-reality based character, in Memphis he wrestled as a Christmas tree.


November 16, 2011 at 7:36 pm
(3) Tennoutdrsman says:

correction..”Christmas Creature”

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