A RETROSPECTIVE ON THE FOUR CROCKETT CUPS YOU KNOW ABOUT – AND THE ONE YOU DON’T
As we look forward to the return of NWA wrestling and perhaps the revival of the Crockett Cup, we should glance back at the previous versions of the tournament. The following was originally posted on NWA GOLD in March of 2020, and has been updated and edited for this article. – BC
With the cancellation of the Crockett Cup PPV, I thought it might be a good time to take a break from the slow process of cataloguing all the NWA title belts and focus instead on something else… like maybe the Crockett Cup. Let’s take a quick look at the coolest tag tournament on the planet.
The original Crockett Cup – or the rather wordy “Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup Tag Team Tournament” – was a twenty-four team tag team tournament first conducted in 1986. Presumably the brainchild of Jim Crockett Jr. in honour his father, it ran a single-elimination format over a full day, with the qualifying matches and the first round happening in the afternoon and the later rounds in the evening. Teams were largely from Jim Crockett Promotions and the Universal Wrestling Federation (Bill Watt’s promotion, who worked cards in the area and who ultimately sold his company to JCP a year later), but also All-Japan Pro Wrestling and other NWA territories. The winners would receive the Crockett Cup itself and, at least in kayfabe bucks, one million US dollars.
This payday was the reason we’d see top singles competitors come together to tag up when we otherwise wouldn’t, which was a nice treat for the fans. The entire tag team roster for the card is what remains the most ultimately impressive, though, as teams included Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, Giant Baba and Tiger Mask, the Midnight Express, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, the Sheepherders, the Fantastics and the Fabulous Ones. In that event, the Road Warriors would defeat “Hands of Stone” Ronnie Garvin and Magnum TA in the finals. Ric Flair also defended the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship against Dusty Rhodes on this card, making the event star-ridden from start to finish.
The follow-up event in ’87, arguably the most widely reported-upon of the original three, was no less packed with talent. Taking place over two nights, entrants included Arn Anderson with Kevin Sullivan, Tully Blanchard with Lex Luger (now a Horseman), Manny Fernandez and Rick Rude, the Midnight Express, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and the defending Road Warriors. Fans of “Mulkeymania” will remember the inclusion of the hapless Mulkey Brothers in this event, and current NWA fans will be interested to note that Steve Keirn teamed in the event with recent “Circle Squared” participant and original NWA alumni George South. The finals saw The Superpowers (Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff, the hottest team going at the time) get past the Midnight Express to defeat Luger and Blanchard. Ric Flair also defended the NWA Worlds Championship again, this time against Barry Windham.
The ’88 Crockett Cup was also held over two nights, and pitted another stellar group of talent against one another: Anderson and Blanchard, the Midnight Express, the Road Warriors, The Fantastics, the Varsity Club, the Sheepherders, Ron Simmons and Steve Williams, and the Powers of Pain were among them. The ending saw Sting and Lex Luger defeat Arn and Tully for the Cup, but only saw 22 teams compete due to some strange storyline booking. It also saw Ric Flair defend the NWA Worlds Championship once more, losing by DQ to Nikita Koloff. Unfortunately, this would be the last of the three Crockett Cup tournaments, as JCP would sell the promotion to Ted Turner later in the year.
While the original three Crockett Cup events were good on paper, they were not always good in practice. The shows were largely sold on VHS tapes at the time, and a lack of commentary on them is almost painful in its absence. Some matches were significantly short, while others went to draws, meaning that some of the teams the winner would face got byes and the match wouldn’t happen. The sheer number of teams and the two-day format made it difficult to keep interest in the storylines going for many fans who may not be able to pay for both events, and while it’s expected to happen on cards that run between 21 to 25 matches each, some of the matches were just plain dull.
The Crockett Cup was unique and interesting, though, and captured the attention of tag team wrestling fans. It also strengthened the tag team product in a way that has not been duplicated since. Over the years the event became incredibly nostalgic in nature, with memories of the greatest teams in modern history emanating like a long-forgotten beacon pointing back to a time when wrestling – certainly tag team wrestling – was just better. When the Cup returned in 2019 in William Patrick Corgan’s newly-revived NWA, it did so while riding a wave of that nostalgia.
The 4th Annual Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup Tag Team Tournament was a bit of a laughable name, given there had been 31 years since the last “annual” event. Now commonly called just The Crockett Cup, the original Cup itself was gone and replaced with a smaller version. Co-produced by the NWA and Ring of Honor, other teams from CMLL and NJPW also participated, with the prize now being the Crockett Cup and the vacant NWA World Tag Team Championship. This event had a far more reasonable eight teams, including the Briscoe Brothers, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, Flip Gordon and Bandido, and Jax Dane and Crimson. The finals saw the Villain Enterprises team of Brody King and PCO defeat wild card round entrants Thomas Lattimer and Royce Isaacs, who had come in as total underdogs and had surprised everyone by making it to the finals (Lattimer and Isaacs would eventually become The Wild Cards, harkening back to this event). Honouring the same format at the original Crockett Cup Tournaments, Nick Aldis defended the NWA Worlds Championship against Marty Scurll. Also notably, Allysin Kay won the vacant NWA World Women’s Championship at this event, defeating Santana Garrett.
While the 5th Annual Crockett Cup has been delayed thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is interesting to note that the Crockett Foundation, in conjunction with an independent promotion called Classic Pro Wrestling, held a spin-off event in 2017 dubbed the “Crockett Foundation Cup Tag Team Tournament”. This tournament was not affiliated with the National Wrestling Alliance, and therefore is not recognized as one of the “annual” events. However, entrants did include the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, Bobby Fulton of the Fantastics, and The Barbarian of the Powers of Pain. While little information seems to be easily accessible online, the event was won by the Geordie Bulldogs, Mark Denny and Sean Denny, who, according to their Facebook page, count themselves amongst the much-lauded teams that have won the sanctioned Crockett Cup tournaments. The Crockett Foundation Cup they won is not the original Cup either, making it’s current resting place a bit of a mystery.
As always, I value your feedback and input. If you’re interested in a deeper dive, I highly suggest you check out “Rassslin’ Rantin'” on YouTube and their “Crockett Cup 1986 Retrospective” found here:
Wash your hands and stay safe, #NWAFam. Won’t be long now before it’s all suplexes and sunshine.
– Tim “BC” Wood