In March of 1988, WrestleMania IV and the first ever Clash of the Champions went head to head as WWF and WCW were in the midst of a war. On that night, WrestleMania ran on PPV and drew a 6.5 buyrate while Clash of the Champions scored a 5.6 rating on television. The story of WrestleMania IV was a tournament based around crowning a new Undisputed WWF World Heavyweight Champion while Clash of the Champions featured one of the greatest matches in wrestling history between Sting and Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
Jim Ross discussed the event on his Grillin' JR podcast. JR discussed how Vince tried to make sure WCW didn't grow in viewership in 1988 and compared it to today with AEW.
"Obviously McMahon was very interested in making sure that WCW did not grow," Ross said. "Its akin to what he's doing now with AEW. Just to do what he can to prevent the growth of the brand. Unfortunately for him, he picked a time where his business is somewhat uninteresting to a lot of people based on the ratings. Timing for him on this one is not real good."
Ultimately, more fans ended up watching Clash of the Champions over WrestleMania IV since it was on free television.
"The spirit of competition is the way to go and McMahon is a great strategist in that respect back in those days, but free T.V. will ace out a paid event any time," Ross said when talking about WCW going head to head with WrestleMania. "To the average Joe, wrestling is wrestling in a lot of ways and if it's free wrestling, that's automatically going to be better than paid wrestling."
"It was a collective effort. It wasn't a one man decision. It may have been one person's term of an idea that other people shared in the spirit of, but I think [TBS] themselves had a lot to do with it because why wouldn't they. It was a collective effort, Dusty [Rhodes] obviously had a huge hand in booking the card, Crockett was the guy leveraging and talking to TBS and informing them as to how WCW was being attacked. It was a collective effort, I'm glad they did it. Personally, that was a big deal for me. It was monumental for a lot of reasons."
"Right now the business is being changed by circumstances beyond anyone's control and it's going to be changed in a big way for several months maybe? We don't know, we haven't been on this journey before, we have no idea."
Ross talked about AEW on TNT compared to WCW on TBS back in the day and described the main difference between the two which allows AEW to be more successful.
"Thank God Turners has changed so much, the organization itself with the new management and owners, that's why we do so great on TNT," Ross said. "We have a team that understands the genre and grew up studying it. I believe they're byproducts of an era where social media was a big part of their life. There was a whole hell of a lot of people that didn't understand the business, and now they do.
"That's why I think AEW is doing so well with Turner again because they have a different staff, they've been educated differently, they have skin in the game and they love the product and that helps us. We didn't have those elements back in the day, we just didn't have those. It was always challenging getting up to go to work, there would be good ideas but the follow through would be absolutely abysmal."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Grilling JR with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.