Pro Wrestling

Epic Fail: The 1988 Bunkhouse Stampede. How Jim Crockett Promotions’ Desperate Gamble Bombed.

Jim Crockett Promotions pay-per-view The Bunkhouse Stampede has become a historical footnote, perhaps best known as the show that led to the WWF creating The Royal Rumble in order to sabotage it. However, The Bunkhouse Stampede is also a lesson in how a promotion can get to the point where it can seemingly do nothing right whether it’s marketing the product to a bad audience, making amateur mistakes, or burning itself out creatively. Join me as I look at The Bunkhouse Stampede 1988, the show where Jim Crockett Promotions bottomed out both financially and creatively.

By the end of 1987, Jim Crockett Promotions was in bad shape financially. 1987’s Starrcade saw JCP take a nosedive both financially and creatively. As I document in my book Wrestling’s Greatest Moments, the WWF sabotaged Starrcade by promoting its own pay-per-view (the Survivor Series) that same day, more or less blackmailing pay-per-view providers into either airing Survivor Series (and not offering Starrcade) or missing out on WrestleMania IV. Considering WrestleMania III made pay-per-view companies a small fortune, the choice was obvious and Starrcade never had a chance. Jim Crockett Promotions lost its ass (financial speak for losing a lot of money) because Starrcade was typically both a big box office draw and a lucrative pay-per-view draw.

Ironically, up until the second half of the year, the promotion was still going strong creatively, featuring a number of hot storylines as well as the 1987 Great American Bash tour, which featured the debut of the War Games match. However, for whatever reason, booker Dusty Rhodes went in an unusual direction with the build-up to Starrcade, with upper-card (some would argue mid-card) babyface Ron Garvin defeating “Nature Boy” Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in a win as meaningless as when Jinder Mahal won the WWE Championship. It was a lackluster program and by the time Flair faced Garvin at Starrcade, fans were cheering for the heel to defeat Garvin and get things over with.

In 1988, Jim Crockett Promotions was looking for some much-needed bucks. The promotion had purchased Bill Watts’s Universal Wrestling Federation and was strapped for cash. In a time when two pay-per-views a year was the norm (although that would change by 1988), Crockett’s decision to run a January pay-per-view while not unusual, was a sign of the company’s desperate need for money. Crockett would soon learn the lesson that you should never invest money you can’t lose.

Check out Jim Cornette’s interesting take on the Bunkhouse Stampede

In 1985, JCP began running an annual series of battle royals known as “Bunkhouse Stampede” matches. The events wrestlers competing in street clothes and bringing weapons to the ring with them. The matches were perfect for fans of Jim Crockett Promotions’ more traditional wrestling style that featured athleticism and more violence (including blood) than the WWF. Each year, wrestlers competed for the grand prize, a bronze cowboy boot. In 1987, JCP also offered kayfabe cash prizes for the winners of each battle royal, a nice touch as it added some incentive for winning besides a bronze cowboy boot.

With the Bunkhouse Stampede an established tradition, JCP figured it might be a good match to anchor a pay-per-view around. While the strategy wasn’t unsound (JCP still boasted a strong roster and it was still seen as a significant alternative to the more cartoonish WWF), the execution was awful. To make matters worse, the WWF wasn’t going to let Crockett run a show without any interference.

The WWF teamed up with the USA Network and decided to run a free show the same day and time as The Bunkhouse Stampede. The show would be highlighted by a special 20-man battle royal known as the Royal Rumble. Coincidence? Not hardly but the WWE continues to deny it, which goes to show their apparent faith in the power of a consistent lie.

Despite the WWF’s interference, the Bunkhouse Stampede was a complete failure, with Jim Crockett Promotions seemingly going out of its way to fail. Not only did JCP book the show in a bad market, its booking of the show was a disaster, and it couldn’t even air the show on time. Let’s look at each mistake and how it contributed to the show’s overall failure.

1. A Poor Location: Crockett booked the show at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, far away from its home market in the Carolinas. JCP had not learned its lesson from 1987’s Starrcade when it booked its flagship show in Chicago, angering its core fans who had attended the previous four Starrcades in North Carolina and Georgia (it might not have mattered except the Chicago attendance paled compared to previous years’ shows). While Crockett was likely hoping to stick it to the WWF by running a show in their home territory, the show offered little for WWF fans, who enjoyed the WWF style of wrestling.

Jim Crockett Promotions Was Sucking Wind By This Point

2. A Badly Booked Show: Let’s start with the main event, the Bunkhouse Stampede Match itself. The battle royal might have worked as the main event except that it was set in a cage, with the competitors either having to throw their opponents through the cage door or over the top of the cage. This took things to ridiculous levels not seen until WCW’s Judy Bagwell on a Forklift Match and TNA’s Reverse Battle Royal. The idea that any wrestler would climb the cage defied logic, yet that’s what happened. As bad as that was, JCP put the majority of its top stars in the main event, which meant the undercard featured many lackluster matches.

Sting and Jimmy Garvin vs. the Sheepherders

World Television Title Match Nikita Koloff vs. “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton (with Jim Cornette)

Western States Heritage Championship Match Barry Windham vs, Larry Zbyszko (with Baby Doll)

NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair (Champion) with James J. Dillon vs. Road Warrior Hawk (with Paul Ellering)

As for the Bunkhouse Stampede Match, Dusty Rhodes (big surprise) won the contest made up of Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger, the Barbarian, the Warlord, Road Warrior Animal, and Ivan Koloff.

While some wrestling shows have such a strong main event that fans will sit through just about anything, that wasn’t the case with the Bunkhouse Stampede as the main event cage match was just awful. It was boring and predictable, with Dusty Rhodes winning the match yet again. The fans booed “The American Dream” after he won and according to the February 1, 1988, Wrestling Observer, the fans chanted “refund! refund!.”By 1988, Rhodes had worn out his welcome at the top with fans, despite once being the promotion’s most beloved babyface. To make matters worse, Rhodes was still booking JCP and he was out of touch with what the fans wanted. Eventually, he’d find out just how out of touch he was when he booked himself out of a job (that’s a story for another day).

3. Airing the Show at the Wrong Time: Last, the Bunkhouse Stampede failed because Jim Crockett Promotions couldn’t even book the show on time. Not until WCW paid a small fortune for a newspaper ad advertising a show that had already happened would fans get such a laugh out of a promotion’s blunder (although the WWF’s booking of Diesel (aka Kevin Nash) as WWF Champion may be close). In this case, Jim Crockett Promotions started the show at 7 PM, but tickets read that it started at 8 PM. That meant that fans who did attend the show (about 6,000 tickets were sold) didn’t get there on time, which meant they missed the match, and people watching the show at home got a sneak preview at what Ring of Honor shows would look like (albeit with higher production values than ROH).

By 1988, Jim Crockett Promotions had perfected the art of burning money.

The Bunkhouse Stampede proved a dud as Jim Crockett Promotions and booker Dusty Rhodes could do nothing right. By now, the proverbial writing was on the wall and although JCP would have a few hope spots with Clash of Champions and the 1988 Great American Bash, the promotion was on life support. The WWF, by comparison, could seemingly do no wrong and the Royal Rumble (its effort to sabotage the Bunkhouse Stampede) proved so successful that it went from a TV special into an annual pay-per-view, joining WrestleMania, SummerSlam (which also debuted in 1988), and Survivor Series as the WWF’s “Big Four.”

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