The epic history of WCW's Clash of the Champions

Between 1988 and 1997, WCW offered fans a chance to witness marquee match-ups, normally only seen at pay-per-view events, for free multiple times a year. The brainchild of Dusty Rhodes, Clash of the Champions was presented by Jim Crockett Promotions as a must-see event for wrestling fans. Airing on Ted Turner’s TBS, Clash was a chance for viewers curious about sports-entertainment to witness high quality competition without a pay-per-view price tag. When Turner purchased Jim Crockett Promotions and WCW in late 1988, he kept Clash of the Champions going strong on his flagship network.

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The event didn't only offer free pay-per-view caliber matches, but also sparked a rivalry between WWE and WCW that predated the famed Monday Night Wars. In fact, sports-entertainment’s greatest corporate rivalry did not begin in 1995 with the debut of WCW Monday Nitro, it erupted between Mr. McMahon and NWA/WCW’s Jim Crockett over the scheduling of pay-per-view events.

In 1987, WWE held the first-ever Survivor Series slated for broadcast at the same time as NWA’s marquee event, Starrcade. Back then, cable providers could only present one pay-per-view at a time and WWE would not allow those providers to carry any future WWE events if they aired Starrcade in favor of Survivor Series. 

“Jim Crockett and I were at a steakhouse in New York City, waiting to meet with the cable providers about our pay-per-view,” WWE Hall of Famer and Clash of the Champions originator Dusty Rhodes told “After the meeting, Jim and I looked at each other and we knew they weren’t going to run our pay-per-view because Mr. McMahon backed them into a corner.”

Watch clips from some of Clash of the Champions' best matches

The American Dream knew he had to do something to counter WWE’s aggressive – and wise – strategy for Survivor Series that went beyond simply rescheduling Starrcade.

“It was on the flight back to Charlotte, North Carolina that Clash of the Champions occurred to me,” Rhodes explained. “We went to the Turner network executives and said, ‘Let’s have a free show,’ and they were immediately onboard.”

With the power of Ted Turner’s media empire behind them, Jim Crockett Promotions and NWA decided to send Mr. McMahon a bold statement. The inaugural Clash of the Champions was aired for free on TBS the very same night WrestleMania IV aired on pay-per-view.

“It was a bit of a gamble, putting such high quality matches on free TV rather than pay-per-view,” the WWE Hall of Famer remembered. “The entire event could have back-fired and it would have been the first and last Clash of the Champions. It was like giving a movie away for free before you charge for it, but thankfully, it was a success.”

The main event of the first Clash of the Champions was also the first meeting of what would become WCW’s most legendary rivalry, Sting vs. then-NWA Champion Ric Flair. At the time, Flair’s legend was already established, but The Stinger was still a relative newcomer who was slowly on the rise in popularity.

Rhodes believes a great deal of Clash’s success and significance rests in the fact that it helped expose young competitors, like Sting, to a broader audience. ( PHOTOS | VIDEO PLAYLIST)

“Clash of the Champions was for the entire sports-entertainment industry because it allowed a wider audience to see young stars and old favorites in matches you would typically only see on pay-per-view,” Rhodes said.

The main event between The Nature Boy and Sting ended in a 45-minute time limit draw, launching Sting’s career as a top competitor and helping transform Clash of the Champions from a response to WWE’s pay-per-view ultimatum to an institution for nearly a decade. The success of the free event led to a second Clash of the Champions being held just four months later, a trend that would continue for the next nine years.

“There was little surprise among the Turner executives with the event’s success,” The American Dream remembered. “Back in those days, especially down South, wrestling fans lived by the time ’6:05’ on TBS, because that is when wrestling would go on the air.”

“At the time, there were only four pay-per-views a year from NWA or WWE, respectively, and no weekly programs like Monday Night Raw,” Rhodes continued. “The thought process behind doing around four Clash events a year was the same that went into having four pay-per-views a year. The Turner executives saw the success of the first one and wanted more. From a business stand-point, if we didn’t have a pay-per-view coming, then we’d have a Clash and use it to build excitement for what to expect from the next pay-per-view.”

As the creator of Clash of the Champions, it is fitting that Dusty Rhodes hosts the WWE's three-disc DVD and reveals the true story behind the history of the event. It is a tale that he believes writes itself, but he also can’t help but wonder how successful Clash could have been if social media had existed back then. ( PHOTOS | VIDEO PLAYLIST)

“I can barely send a text message on my phone,” Rhodes said jokingly. “With all of the social media available today, I can’t begin to imagine how big Clash of the Champions could have been. It could have been like the Super Bowl or a free TV version of WrestleMania. After all, Clash was successful based mostly on word of mouth.”

Clash of the Champions continued through the 1990s, but by the time Eric Bischoff was given the reins of WCW, the event deviated from its original intention. When the last Clash event was held in 1997, both WCW and WWE had weekly programs and monthly pay-per-view events. Rhodes believes that because of this, Clash started to become “watered down” and nothing more than a promotional tool for the next WCW pay-per-view, rather than a preview of the level of competition to expect.

“Eric Bischoff is a visionary guy,” Rhodes explained. “He’s very creative and I generally enjoyed being around him, but he also had a big checkbook from Turner in his pocket and the freedom to do whatever he wanted.”

The American Dream acknowledged the success of Monday Nitro and the changing landscape of sports-entertainment during the Monday Night Wars, but also understood how sports-entertainment changed through the 1990s as the war between WWE and WCW raged on.

“Monday Nitro was good, there was a lot of shocking reality television, but it did not even compare to what Clash of the Champions brought to the table,” the WWE Hall of Famer said.

“I know Mr. McMahon very well and he’s a fighter. That’s what the Monday Night Wars was, a throw down fight. It was easy to call,” Rhodes told “But Clash of the Champions versus a pay-per-view like Survivor Series, that was different. Neither one of us could have known the outcome. There was so much more at stake. It was much different than a weekly television ratings war that was basically WWE and WCW putting up their fists on different networks and going at it.”

“The Best of WCW: Clash of the Champions” takes an in-depth look at Dusty Rhodes’ revolutionary idea that launched careers and showcased the best competitors from WCW. With seven hours of the event's best contests and the stories behind them, this is the can’t-miss collection of the year and a must-have for wrestling fans and historians. Order the DVD at!

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