The Varsity Club – Professional Excellence Under An Amateur Lense

Amateur wrestling has been as much a part of professional wrestling today as it ever was, in particular with the Varsity Club. Throughout wrestling’s lore, Greco roman and various amateur wrestling moves have been entrenched in a match as it has been storytelling.

In particular, over the past two decades, amateur wrestling has proven to include several successful amateur wrestlers that have transitioned to the professional ranks.

But it was nearly four decades earlier when a wrestling faction came together that harnessed an outstanding amateur, collegiate wrestling style in the landscape of professional wrestling.

The Varsity Club – Professional Excellence Under An Amateur Lense

As part of Jim Crockett’s National Wrestling Alliance, Taskmaster Kevin Sullivan brought together Syracuse University’s Mike Rotunda and the University of Michigan’s Rick Steiner in the earlier part of 1988.

The duo would wear university letterman jackets to the ring and showcase their strong amateur wrestling skills.

The Varsity Club
[Photo: Pro Wrestling Fandom]

I loved it! I loved it! You found a common denominator with talents that you could tie them all together in a realistic way. It was a well-thought-out presentation. Doc (Dr. Death), Rotunda, Steiner, and then Sullivan was a coach.

Somewhat of a Coach. So his (Sullivan’s) devil worshipping didn’t really affect the amateur issues. But Sully was a good friend of Dusty (Rhodes), and Dusty took care of him (Kevin Sullivan). And Sully’s a good talker.

When he was focused, and where he wanted to go, he was brilliant at booking. So I thought the Varsity Club was spot on. I really enjoyed the presentation. I think it could have gone a lot farther than it did. But you have to be careful.

How do you address the politics of the Varsity Club getting over with the Horseman?

Jim Ross on the assembling of the Varsity Club and the roles of those involved.

While it could usually be a ‘gimmick’ for some, in the case of both Steiner and Rotunda, they were both amateur college wrestlers.

With Sullivan behind them, the Varsity Club was born. Rotunda was the Florida Champion and then defeated Nikita Koloff to become the NWA World Television Champion.

The NWA World Television Championship

The title was always representative of active competition. It proved to be highly regarded, especially in the hands of Mike Rotunda.

Even more so, teammates’ generosity saw Rotunda hand his Florida Championship over to Rick Steiner, proving that the title would remain within the club.

But with every team, unless someone’s role is clear, there will often be conflict. There are leaders and followers within the Varsity Club.

Although Kevin Sullivan guided both Steiner and Rotunda, active participants would argue as to who the team captain would be. As time would pass, the friction between them came to a head.

During their feud with Gorgeous Jimmy and Ron Garvin, Kevin Sullivan had pursued Jimmy’s valet Precious to be with him.

At Clash of the Champions II, the Garvins defeated Steiner and Rotunda. But it was during this match that saw Steiner take the loss.

Animosity within The Club

This only furthered their animosity within the group, leading to Sullivan and Rotunda belittling Steiner in the process.

When Steiner attempted to help Sting during a multi-man match, he suffered a beatdown by his partners at the time. Steiner showed sportsmanship and pride, unlike qualities his fellow Varsity Club stablemates would show.

The Varsity Club (Wrestling) - TV Tropes
[Photo: TV Tropes]
By the end of 1988, Rick Steiner had taken all he was prepared to take from Rotunda and Sullivan and fought back. At Starrcade 1988, with Kevin Sullivan locked in a cage at ringside, Steiner would defeat Rotunda capturing the NWA World Television Championship.

While Steiner was no longer a part of the Varsity Club, it would be a formal rival that would join the faction.

University of Oklahoma’s ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams, the newest addition to the Varsity Club, would capture the United States Tag Team Championships alongside Kevin Sullivan when they defeated The Fantastics.

It’s the common issue that we can delve out of a lot of creative controversies. The execution of the turn was premature. It was too quick.

The more you let it play out and the more you allow it to get established in that particular roles as those guys being heels.

Then and only then, when the turn is made, you’ll have equity. No cachet. It happened a lot in the Crockett era. In this era where things are changing on the fly, and you kind of wonder why.

Why are we moving so forward on this so quickly? I don’t have a reason for that; just poor planning.

Jim Ross, on Rick Steiner’s face, turn on Mike Rotunda and Kevin Sullivan of the Varsity Club.

The group wasn’t necessarily in disarray. If anything, the inclusion of Dr. Death Steve Williams signified another former University alumni talent that is as strong as a singles competitor as he is as a tag team one.

What this faction also did was create one of the most beloved babyfaces of that era with the face turn of Rick Steiner.

Rick Steiner is OUT of The Varsity Club

After a few months, despite Steiner’s best efforts, he would lose his NWA World Television Championship at the Chi-Town Rumble to former teammate and now adversary Mike Rotunda.

But what Rick Steiner’s departure from the Varsity Club did was usher in the arrival of his younger brother, Scott Steiner.

In fact, the union of Rick and Scott Steiner was met with success early on as well. Rick Steiner and Eddie Gilbert would defeat Williams and Sullivan to capture the United States Tag Team Championships. Scott would act as a corner man for Rick as he would see his older brother capture the tag team championships.

The Wrestling Insomniac: The Last Match: The Varsity Club
[Photo: The Wrestling Insomniac]
Early in 1989, the Varsity Club would add to their ranks as it was the University of Georgia’s Dan Spivey. As the year would move on, Kevin Sullivan and Steve Williams would continue to pursue the NWA World Tag Team Championships and the Road Warriors.

After Rotunda had lost the NWA World Television Championship, he would team with Williams to pursue the NWA World Tag Team Championships.

Clash of the Champions VI

It would be at Clash of the Champions VI on April 2nd, 1989, where Williams and Rotunda would capture the titles by defeating the Road Warriors. While they may have captured the titles with the help of a quick count by referee Teddy Long, the win still stood.

Or did it? The duo was stripped of the titles as it was determined Long was bribed in their efforts to capture the titles.

This title stripping appeared to be the beginning of the end of the faction. It would be after WrestleWar 89′ that the Varsity Club would begin to crumble. Dan Spivey and Steve Williams would leave the faction.

Spivey would team with Sid Vicious under the management of Teddy Long as part of the Skyscrapers.

This would ultimately result in Mike Rotunda and Kevin Sullivan being the remaining members of the Varsity Club. So when it would be former faction member Rick Steiner that would be a deciding factor in their dissolving, then things appear to have come full circle.

At the Great American Bash 1989, the Steiner Brothers would team up to face Sullivan and Rotunda in a Texas Tornado Match.

Another feud After The Varsity Club Split

After Rotunda turned face, no mention was made of his previous association with Sullivan as the two feuded with one another as well.

It should also be noted that Rotunda, Rick, and Scott Steiner also feuded while in the WWF at the time, as Rotunda would become Irwin R. Schyster over the WWF Tag Team Championships.

Several years later, when Mike Rotunda and Rick Steiner were a part of WCW, they would briefly reform and team up with Hacksaw Jim Duggan.

The Varsity Club would once again come to be in the year 2000 as part of All Japan Pro Wrestling when Mike Rotunda would team with Dr. Death Steve Williams.

While in AJPW, the duo also found success capturing the promotions annual World’s Strongest Tag Determination League tournament.

Since the Dusty Rhodes creation of The Varsity Club, countless amateur wrestlers excelled as professionals.

Whether it be Shelton Benjamin, Charlie Haas, Brock Lesnar or Kurt Angle, it would be one faction over twenty years ago that proved a strong foundation can lead to a successful career.