I love the proverb, The Nail, which basically says one small thing can cause dramatic, unexpected repercussions.
“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”
I’ve been going through wrestling from 1980 and finally gotten to that game-altering announcement that Magnum TA’s career was over. When I first started watching the NWA in 1988, Magnum was already settled into his post-wrestling career as a commentator and occasional ringside guest.
Over the years, I’d seen a handful of matches: the I Quit match at Starrcade 85 against Tully Blanchard, the match against Kamala from the Great American Bash tape and a random six-man with Dusty Rhodes and Manny Fernandez vs. The Four Horsemen.
It wasn’t until this long form conversion of my tapes/DVDs to Blu-Rays and filling in the gaps with YouTube footage that I truly came to appreciate how much wrestling lost with Magnum’s injury.
Using my years of watching NWA booking over the years, I tried to imagine what it would have looked like if the accident that ended Magnum’s career never happened and how it drastically impacted the fate of the NWA.
I tried to account for people leaving the territory to go to other promotions, the arrival of new stars and maybe a little “Magnum magic” to keep the egos of Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair in check allowing for the greater good of the NWA since neither was being featured over the other. Alright with that said, let’s see how this all plays out.
Magnum dropped the U.S. title to his hated rival Nikita Koloff. This was necessary to free Magnum of the secondary title in order to challenge Ric Flair without a bothersome title vs. title scenario.
Following the Great American Bash feud with Nikita, Magnum was in the midst of a reheat feud with Jimmy Garvin.
On Oct. 14, Magnum was driving through pouring rain in his Porsche 911 Turbo at 55 mph on a 45 mph speed limit road. Magnum drove through a large puddle of standing water and his Porsche hydroplaned into a telephone pole. The crash left him paralyzed him for months and immediately ended his wrestling career.
But let’s imagine a scenario where Magnum’s car hydroplanes and merely spins out instead of hitting the pole. “Whew, that was lucky,” Magnum thinks as he collects himself and heads down the road never knowing the other possibility.
The New Era
Jim Crockett has three challengers to consider facing Ric Flair at Starrcade 86 — Dusty Rhodes, Ron Garvin and Magnum. Magnum gets the call and beats Flair at Starrcade 86.
Through January 1987, Magnum defends his title against challenger Jimmy Garvin while Dusty defeats Nikita for the US title.
With Garvin vanquished, Magnum spends the next three months staving off challenges from Arn Anderson and Big Bubba, before renewing his blood feud with Tully Blanchard. Dusty loses the US title to Flair, but rebounds by winning the Crockett Cup with Ron Garvin defeating the Four Horsemen pairing of Blanchard and their new member, Lex Luger.
Paul Jones sends his Army against Magnum, culminating in a feud against Jones’ main star, Rick Rude, during the Great American Bash.
As the Bashes rage on through the summer of 87, Magnum resumes hostilities with the Horsemen leading Dusty, the Road Warriors and Paul Ellering in War Games: The Match Beyond to close out the Bashes.
At War Games II, the Russians attack and Nikita savagely throttles Magnum with the Russian chain while the Horsemen and Ivan Koloff and Krusher Kruschev hold off Dusty and the Warriors. The attack severely damages Magnum’s neck forcing him to wear a neck brace that makes him highly susceptible to Nikita’s feared finishing move, The Russian Sickle.
Magnum and Nikita’s war has grown to a new personal level with the NWA title now as the prize. Magnum defeats Nikita in a steel cage match to end their feud. In October, Magnum is challenged by the Horsemen’s new member, Lex Luger. The Horsemen attack Magnum again, reinjuring his neck just as Magnum prepares to defend the NWA title against Luger at Starrcade.
While he fights valiantly, the damage to his neck — and significant interference from J.J. Dillon — proves to be too much as Luger defeats Magnum for the NWA title. Also at Starrcade, Ronnie Garvin defeats Flair for the US title.
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Flair’s jealousy boils over and the Horsemen turn on Luger. As the Horsemen implode, Magnum sees the opportunity to further crumble their infrastructure and reunites America’s Team with Dusty to challenge Tully and Arn for their NWA tag team titles. Magnum wins the January 1988 Bunkhouse Stampede while Flair uses Four Horsemen interference to steal the NWA title.
Magnum and Dusty continue their pursuit of the tag team titles while Luger demands his rematch with Flair at Clash of the Champions. In direct challenge to Wrestlemania IV, a larger audience is exposed to Magnum TA as America’s Team defeats Tully and Arn to capture the NWA tag team titles. The bigger shock is Luger is robbed of his opportunity to recapture the NWA World title as his former friend, Barry Windham, betrays him and joins the Four Horsemen.
With the Four Horsemen complete again, Flair holds a champagne celebration that promptly gets ruined by Sting. Barry Windham defeats Ronnie Garvin for the US title while the Russians defeat Magnum and Dusty for the NWA tag titles.
At Clash of Champions II, Sting fights Flair to a 45-minute draw, Windham and Luger have a double DQ match for the US title and Magnum and Dusty fail to defeat the Russians.
As the Great American Bash starts, Magnum and Dusty team with Sting, Luger and the Road Warriors to battle the Four Horsemen and the Russians in War Games. In the July Bash pay per view, Magnum and Dusty regain the tag titles from the Russians. Ivan Koloff and the Powers of Pain turn on Nikita, who’s saved by Magnum and Dusty. Nikita and Magnum officially end their war. A bloody Sting has Flair in the Scorpion Deathlok, but the Maryland State Athletic Commission ends the match due to Sting’s blood loss.
Through the fall, America’s Team battles the Powers of Pain while Luger defeats Windham to become the US champ and Sting continues stalking Flair. The Midnight Express shockingly defeat America’s Team to become the NWA tag team champions in September thanks to interference from the Varsity Club.
At Starrcade 88 on Thanksgiving night, the Road Warriors defeat the Midnight Express to win the tag titles while Magnum, Dusty and Nikita Koloff survive a bloody bunkhouse match against the Varsity Club and Sting defeats Flair to become the new NWA champion.
Closing out the decade
Fresh off their feud with the Varsity Club, America’s Team is set to challenge the winners of the Road Warriors vs. Midnight Express series when they (and Nikita Koloff) are ambushed by The Freebirds.
Sting loses the NWA title to Flair in late January only to be challenged by a returning Ricky Steamboat. Steamboat wins the NWA title at Chi-Town Rumble while The Superpowers defeat the Freebirds. At Clash of Champions V, Steamboat and Flair have a one-hour draw while Dusty and Magnum fall to the Freebirds in a loser leaves town match for 60 days. The James Gang returns to battle the Freebirds.
Flair regains the NWA title at Wrestle War 89 only to be ambushed by Terry Funk, who challenges him for the title An enraged Flair accepts and wants the match at the Great American Bash 89. With their suspension over, Magnum and Dusty return at Great American Bash 1989 to team with Sting and the Road Warriors to battle The Varsity Club and Freebirds in War Games.
Magnum leads his team to victory at War Games. Funk wins the NWA title from Flair after a piledriver through a table severely injures the multi-time champion. Magnum and Dusty help check on Flair only for Funk and his new ally, The Great Muta, to attack Dusty and Magnum.
In August, Magnum fights Muta in several draws for Muta’s TV championship. Funk battles Dusty and injuries his neck with a piledriver on the floor. Magnum challenges Funk for the NWA championship and defeats him at Halloween Havoc.
Sting and Luger battle The Skyscrapers as their friends, the Steiner Bothers feud with Doom while Magnum defends the NWA title against The Great Muta. Flair returns from his injuries to defeat Funk in the main event of Clash of Champions: New York Knockout.
Having vanquished Funk, Flair thanks Magnum for his aid and asks for a shot at Magnum’s title one-on-one with the best man standing tall. Magnum agrees and the match is announced for Starrcade 89.
Magnum and Flair battle for 40 minutes when Arn and Ole Anderson make a shocking return and help Flair capture the NWA title. An incensed Magnum declares war on the Horsemen.
Time for a change
With Dusty still injured, Nikita retired and The Road Warriors locked in feuds with Doom and the Skyscrapers, Magnum can’t overcome the odds to beat Flair for the title at Wild Thing 1990 or Capital Combat 90.
Sting pins Flair in a tag team match with Magnum and Barry Windham making him the new number one contender. Sting challenges Flair for the Great American Bash 1990. Magnum teams with Paul Orndorff and Junkyard Dog to fight the Horsemen.
As Sting celebrates his world title victory, a wistful Magnum ponders his career path when he gets a phone call. “Magnum? Vince McMahon. It’s time to get you up to New York.” Stroking his mustache, Magnum considers for a moment and says “Alright, let’s do it.”
But that’s a story for another time…
I had a ton of fun seeing how the landscape of the NWA would have changed had Magnum not gotten injured. A key aspect is Flair doesn’t have the lengthy stranglehold on the NWA title, which allows Lex Luger to never get the choker label. Sting gets a world title victory before 1990. Flair still has his classic series with Steamboat. Funk gets rewarded for his amazing 1989 with a world title run and still closes it out with the iconic I Quit match with Flair.
Magnum and Dusty get a tag team title run over the hated Horsemen and have feuds with The Freebirds and a new gen team in The Varsity Club before losing the titles to The Midnight Express. And this manages to get Magnum one more NWA title reign before he (and Dusty) head up to the WWF for a few years. Let me know what you think of this one.
Get the WWE Elite Legends Magnum TA figure from Amazon.