Retro Review: NWA 52nd Anniversary (Night One)

The NWA was not at its strongest back in the year 2000. While WWE were riding the runaway train of success that was the Attitude Era (and WCW was finding itself sliding ever further away from it’s peak of just a few years earlier), there wasn’t much excitement over the National Wrestling Alliance.

Two years before the relationship with TNA would bring the Alliance back into mainstream wrestling conversation, at least for a few years, the NWA was pushing on quietly on the independent scene. Under the leadership of Howard Brody and Bill Behrens, the Alliance featured such promotions as NWA Southwest under Ken Taylor, NWA Florida under Joe Price, NWA New England, and NWA Mid South, while NWA Wildside was perhaps one of the most notable promotions under the Alliance banner at the time.

They all came together for the NWA 52nd Anniversary Show, taking place over two nights on October 14th and 15th, 2000, at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. The first night seems to be the only one commercially available at present and can be found on the Highspots Wrestling Network. This is an era of the NWA that I honestly don’t know a lot about, so in the interests of educating myself further in NWA history and highlighting eras of the NWA that maybe get overlooked when discussing the history of the Alliance, I present to you my review for the NWA 52nd Anniversary Show (Night One)!

AJ Styles (w/Onyx, Jeff G. Bailey & Steve Martin) vs. Lazz

Bit of a strange one, this. On the one hand, AJ Styles looks so young (“the man with the perfect abs”, Jeff G. Bailey calls him before the match), which makes you realise how far he’s come and how much he’s done over the years. But if you didn’t know that, you wouldn’t have guessed it from watching this match. Because on the other hand, you have Lazz. This is my first experience watching Lazz, and my research tells me he appeared in TNA in the early days, as well as in NWA Wildside (where their biggest moment appears to have been feuding with Ed Ferrara, of all people.

Lazz’s gimmick, if you’re not aware, seems to be that of a cross-dressing Britney Spears fanatic. Which leads to a very early-2000s style comedy match, wherein Lazz backs the ref into the corner with his ass, pretends to give Styles fellatio and eventually kisses the ref as well as a downed Jeff G. Bailey, who gets thrown into the corner post-match. Well, he did say before the match that they were going to end Lazz’s career. I suppose a kiss is a kind of revenge?

There aren’t any real hints of Styles’ skills here, aside from a nice backflip off his opponent in the corner and a lovely bridging German suplex. But when the comedy of the match comes from the fact that one of the wrestlers is gay, it does leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. Effy, this was not.

Thankfully, a Lazz spear forced Onyx in to make the save, causing Styles a loss by DQ. A four man beat down ensued until a mystery tag team ran in to make the save and through Bailey and Steve Martin (owner of NWA Wildside) into the corner for Lazz to get his ‘revenge’. Oh my.

I will give Lazz points for coming out to ‘Oops, I Did It Again’ though. That did at least make me smile.

Slash vs. Chris Champion

No, it’s not Axl’s mate. You might know Slash better as Wolfie D. of PG-13 fame. Chris Champion, meanwhile, was a bit of an NWA stalwart, having wrestled in territories such as Florida and for companies such as Jim Crockett Promotions. You might also remember him being saddled with the ridiculous gimmick of Yoshi Kwan in WCW in 1993, his only PPV match being a bit of a stinker against Cactus Jack at Fall Brawl ’93.

This was a fun brawl that saw a good half of the match take place at ringside. Thankfully, they didn’t wander off into the audience, so the camera could quite clearly pick up what they were doing. Slash got in some chair shots and sent Champion into the ring post, before throttling him with the cord seperating the audience from the ring and then slamming Champion on the timekeeper’s table.

Champion managed to get some chair shots of his own in, and back in the ring some big power moves came into play, Slash nearly getting the win with a big sit-down power bomb. In a random moment, however, Champion reached into a box he had in the corner and blew an admittedly impressive burst of fire at Slash! Did Champion burn Slash into submission. Not quite. Slash did a runner instead, and Champion was declared the winner by count out.

Decent match; not sure about that end though…

Rob Conway & Flash Flannigan vs. Damaja and Nick Dinsmore

Now this is an interesting bit of history, considering that this is announced as a match representing NWA Ohio Valley Wrestling. However, my understanding is that OVW withdrew from the NWA in 1997 before becoming a WWE developmental territory from 1999-2008. Three of the names here would become WWE Superstars, in fact; Damaja is perhaps better known as Danny Basham; Rob Conway performed as himself between 2003-2007; and Nick Dinsmore would become the man, the myth, the legend that is Eugene. Hell, even Flash Flannigan briefly had a developmental deal with WWE, although that went nowhere.

So, a heavy WWE link with this match, although it must be said that Conway would much later become a two-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion and four-time NWA World Tag Team Champion.

This was a good match, with Dinsmore having some smooth exchanges with Flash Flannigan, as well as dropping both Flannigan and Conway with some big overhead released suplexes. Flannigan upped the ante with a trick out of Sabu’s playbook, bringing in a chair to aid the triple jump dive onto Dinsmore on the outside. Sabu could be hit or miss with the accuracy and execution of that move, but Flannigan nailed it pretty well!

The heels were on the back foot for the first part of the match, before isolating Dinsmore for some punishment. Eventually, Dinsmore made the hot tag to Damaja and things broke down with all four men in the ring. As the ref tried to get Dinsmore out, Flannigan grabbed Damaja to allow Conway to hit the killer blow, but Rob hit Flannigan instead. One sit-down powerbomb to Conway later and Damaja and Dinsmore were your winners! The heels argued after, much to the chagrin of a bunch of women in Conway shirts on the front row who were NOT happy with Flash Flannigan.

First proper good match of the evening.

NWA North American Champion Big Bully Douglas (w/ ‘The Diva’ Savannah) vs. ‘The Cowboy’ Jimmy Storm

‘The Cowboy’ Jimmy Storm is of course James Storm who would go on to bigger things from here, although he still had involvement with the NWA, whether it be in TNA or being the National Heavyweight Champion in the Lightning One era. I can’t seem to find a lot on Big Bully Douglas, other than he was mainly active between 1999 and 2007 and he wrestled primarily for NWA promotions. He looks as old as old-school can be, however, with his singlet and bald head/massive plait combination.

What’s immediately clear is that you can see the potential in Storm as soon as the bell rings. I’m not just saying that because I know he obviously did go on to make a name for himself, but he was damn over with this crowd here, probably the most over to this point of the show. And he just has something about him even then. He moves around with speed, his execution is crisp and he can throw a mean-looking punch even then. He kept Douglas on the back foot, using that mixture of speed and toughness to keep distance and rock Douglas, even going so far as to dive on Douglas on the outside. He even had a kiss for Savannah, who was trying to sneak up on Storm with her handbag. A quick legsweep and stomp so brought Storm to the mat, though.

Douglas immediately slowed the pace, punctuating his punch-kick offense with a nice-looking sit-down powerbomb and a Vader Bomb. But it was on the outside of the ring that Douglas really punished Storm. He bodyslammed Storm on the bare concrete then snap mered him onto the floor with what had an actual sickening bang to it. Douglas then proceeded to powerbomb Storm through a table at ringside before trying to replicate it in the ring by setting another table up and climbing the turnbuckles. Well, The Dudleys were very popular at the time! Unfortunately for Douglas, Storm pulled himself together and nailed a crazy hurricarana from the top to put Douglas through the wood and to earn ‘The Cowboy’ the North American strap to a good pop from the audience.

This was a good match, and the floor/table spots near the end were fun if unexpected. It wasn’t anything mind-blowing, but not everything has to be. But man, ‘The Cowboy’ looked so young! I feel old all of a sudden…

Match for the Vacant NWA World Women’s Championship: Strawberry Fields vs. Leilani Kai

Here we have The Burke up for grabs, having been vacant for four years since October 1996 at this point after the previous champion Debbi Coombs was stripped of the gold. I don’t know a lot about Strawberry Fields, and I can’t seem to find a lot either, apart from that she debuted in 1997 and won the NWA Worldwide TV Title in 2000 as part of NWA Wildside. Leilani Kai on the other hand was a veteran even then, having debuted in 1975, been a WWF Women’s Champion and wrestled at the very first WrestleMania. She would also go on to claim The Burke once whilst in TNA as well as being a two-time NWA World Women’s Champion and three-time NWA Mid-Atlantic Women’s Champion. So, a definite contrast between the two competitors.

I’m not going to pretend this was a particularly good match. It was a bit scrappy and nothing really happened apart from a cool Stunner by Fields. However, what was notable about this match, and it’s to the NWA’s credit, is that this was an actual wrestling match. The NWA let the two women wrestle and not flaunt. It took the pair seriously. Look at WWE at the same time: the height of T&A and ‘puppies’. That was all WWE’s women’s division was there for at the time. That the NWA was able to better WWE on this point is certainly something to applaud the NWA of the time for.

Fields won the match with a top rope sunset flip for the three count and the title. A shame for Fields that she would have to give up the title only a month later due to injury, but it’s nice that the moment was captured for posterity. She’ll always be in the history books.

NWA Junior Heavyweight Champion Tony Kozina vs. Vince Kaplack

This was a bit of an odd match in that it wasn’t bad at all, but it rarely got out of second gear. The potential was there but they didn’t run with it. Kaplack, looking for all the world like a young Dan Joseph, dominated to start, working Kozina’s arm. Kozina retaliated by working the leg, finally culminating with a figure four leglock that…didn’t earn a submission.

However, there were moments where Kozina really shone here, and they were with some pretty nifty aerial spots. It started with a crazy springboard into the ring, catching Kaplack who was lying across the ropes and hurricaraning him out of the ring while managing to slip himself under the bottom rope and back into the ring at the same time. That was impressive. A springboard facebuster also woke the crowd up. I thought Kozina’s top rope hurricarana on Kaplack might seal the deal but fair play to Kaplack: he rolled through and rolled Kozina up for the win and the NWA Junior Heavyweight belt.

Not a bad match but you could see the sparks that could have burst into something better.

NWA World Tag Team Champions Bad Attitude (Rick Michaels & David Young) vs. The Hotshots (Cassidy O’Reilly & Air Paris)

Rick Michaels decides to annoy the crowd to start things by reminding them that the last time he was in Nashville, he said he Bad Attitude would be tag team champions. They’ve beaten a lot of teams and now they’re going to beat The Hotshots. Air Paris retaliated by declaring Nashville fans as the greatest and that they want to see Paris smack Michaels “like a bitch”. That goes down well with the crowd but not so well with Michaels, who snaps at Bert Prentice for clarifying “and the bitch’s name is Rick Michaels!”

The match started off strong enough, with a good mix of styles between the more athletic and fast-paced Hotshots and the brawnier, beefier Bad Attitude. The Hotshots put on a nice display of speed, culminating in topes to the outside. That saw Bad Attitude try to leave but they soon came back and took over on Air Paris. And that’s when the match took a dive.

There was nothing wrong with the approach Bad Attitude took: power moves, distracting the ref, and cheating, but they, unfortunately, didn’t do anything exciting within that formula. It was very meat and potatoes, which there’s a time and place for, but it slowed the match down to a grind, much to the contest’s detriment. The heat segment beating down on Paris felt like it lasted much longer than it probably did, and that’s a problem.

In the end, O’Reilly tagged back in and all four men went at it. Paris let rip with some fine hurricaranas but it was too little too late. A chair shot to the back from Michaels, in full view of the ref I might add, as he bounced off the ropes took Paris down for the pin by Young. Champs retain.

A shame that Bad Attitude dragged things down in the middle, because the beginning and the end were actually pretty good.

NWA World Heavyweight Champion Mike Rapada vs. Chris Harris

And so we come to the main event. Actually, this was a good match, certainly the equal to Storm/Douglas match earlier on the card and only surpassed by the tag match featuring Dinsmore and Conway. It felt like a fair mix between the era’s tendency to overbook with interference and an old-school approach to even booking during the match with some lovely reversals, criss crosses making both men looking strong.

Rapada was the hometown boy here and got a great reception, hugging fans in the front row and dancing with little kids. I know Rapada has his critics but he made for a pretty good white-meat babyface, even more astonishing when you consider he was doing this during the Attitude era. In that respect, he was a throwback but I’m a sucker for the old-school babyfaces. Chris Harris wasn’t too impressed; he mocked the audience and Rapada by revealing how he got up early to watch NWA Worldwide and how Rapada’s emotional interview made him cry—at the idea that Rapda could be a world champion!

Harris gave a very good showing of himself here, working well with Rapada to pull off those aforementioned counters and reversals, as well as mixing up big moves like power slams and neck breakers with good athletic pace and aerial moves. Rapada, for his part, was able to hold his own and punish Harris with a big swinging neck breaker, clotheslines, dropkicks and a nice-looking spinning side slam.

The overbooking came in when an Irish whip to Harris saw the ref crushed in the corner. With the ref down, a manager who I really don’t know the name of but who wore a sparkly turquoise jacket came in and hit an axehandle on Rapada from the top rope. When that didn’t work to put Rapada away, he held Rapada’s arms so Harris could take a swing at him. Rapada moved and just managed to avoid hitting the sparkly man, but Rpada was able to grab Harris, push off of the sparkly guy with his feet and swing around to drop Harris with a bulldog for a near-fall. Harris returned the favour with a Rock Bottom and elbow from the top before dropping the ref to the mat in frustration. At this point, the sparkly guy held up a chair on the apron. Rapada reversed Harris into the chair before dropkicking the chair into sparkly guy’s face. A big beast of a man who looked like Brian Lee but wasn’t came in and tried to choke slam Rapada but was dropkicked out of the ring for his troubles. One sit-down tombstone piledriver later, Rapada had made another successful defense.

I enjoyed that one. The ending was overbooked but this was the era of Vince, Austin, and The Authority. It didn’t really harm the match and really impacted the last few minutes, so it was fine. This was a low-key solid bout between the champ and a man who would soon be making a bigger name for himself in TNA with a certain Cowboy from earlier in the card…

Final Thoughts

It’s no secret that the NWA was not at its strongest quality-wise between, say, 1996 and 2002 until the TNA relationship kicked in. While there were good things matches and wrestlers here and there, there was never consistency. NWA 52nd Anniversary (Night One) reflects that by presenting a frustrating, mixed bag of a show.

Out of eight matches, I’d argue only three of them were good (the Dinsmore/Conway tag match, Storm/Douglas and Rapada/Harris) and three were ok (Slash/Champion, Kozina/Kaplack and Bad Attitude/Hotshots). Only two matches weren’t particularly much cop, but on an eight-card show that makes up a quarter of the card. Not a great hit rate.

What is interesting is seeing certain names that would become bigger and have more success elsewhere in the future (James Storm, Chris Harris, AJ Styles, Eugene, Doug Basham, Rob Conway) earning their stripes and getting that vital experience under their belts. While the NWA wasn’t a developmental system, it does seem like it was playing that role unofficially when you look at the talent here.

So, NWA 52nd Anniversary (Night One) is recommended, for historical interest if nothing else. Not a great card of wrestling, but there are a few matches to make it worthwhile, you can always skip the rest, and it’s fascinating seeing talent here in the early stages before they became stars.

You can find NWA 52nd Anniversary (Night One) on Highspots Wrestling Network.

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