1984 Year in Review: WWF Championship Wrestling 07.01.1984

Here is the first column in which I try and bridge some of the gaps with a focus on WWF and Memphis wrestling.

WWF Championship Wrestling 07.01.1984

We join Vince McMahon and Gene Okerlund for the first show of a new year, and we are promised both The Iron Sheik and Bob Backlund on the show this evening. This show would take place shortly after Backlund lost his title to The Sheik, and there is a definite feeling that a new dawn is rising somewaht in the WWF.

atlas-and-johnson-winThe tag team champions, Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson, would open the show with a non-title match against Bill Dixon and Charlie Fulton. In the early offing, the champs seem content to try and work the arm of both men, whilst Johnson would also find a couple of examples to show off his agility, including a backwards roll to get out of the heel corner. The first real moves of any impact would see Atlas hit shoulder charges in the corner on Dixon, before a punch in the gut left Dixon open for a springboard sunset flip by Johnson for the three count. An odd match; short, but starting almost like a match that was due to go longer, only for the match to end suddenly.

We are privy to a debut on television this week on WWE Championship Wrestling, as a Roddy Piper-managed Dr D. David Schultz would step between the ropes to meet Steve Lombardi (or Lombardo as the announcer would say, following Schultz losing the ‘Dr’ of his name to just be plain old ‘Mr’). Schultz is a man that I always liked based on the limited amount I’ve seen of him, so the opportunity to see his run in the WWF works for me. A slam and a jumping knee has Lombardi in a lot of trouble, before he is slammed into the turnbuckle and hit with a rib breaker. A slam seems to have Lombardi out of place for a diving elbow off shultz-elbowof the second rope, but to give Schultz his due, he launches himself across the ring to nail it for the three. In the minute he wrestled, he also reclaimed his Doctor status according to the ring announcer. Piper would spend a minute ranting to Okerlund about how both men had written the revised edition of the book on wrestling, before telling Schultz he is beautiful. Typical Roddy.

The fans have their first opportunity to react since The Iron Sheik defeated Bob Backlund for WWF Heavyweight Title, and the crowd are not happy to see the champion and his manager, Freddie Blassie, in the arena. John Callahan would be his opponent, and McMahon is quick to remind us that this is a non-title match up. Even if the title would have been placed on the line, Callahan never even gets a move in on the Sheik. Though the nationalistic bent to his heel work is what it is, you can’t doubt that The Iron Sheik is really hated by the fans at this time. A very effective back suplex leads straight into the camel clutch for the submission victory.

The big push for the next week is a $50,000 Battle Royal, and we are joined by Sergeant Slaughter. He knows that there will be a lot of big wrestlers in the match, but he is the only one who has ever been to war. Tito Santana will be next with Okerlund, and he firstly points out Slaughter forgetting his name. The majority of the promo is in Spanish – I think he says ‘chicken’ at some point but my Spanish is less than woeful. Finally, Captain Lou Albano is out to champion his Samoans, who have the benefit of stepping into the Battle Royal as a team.

santana-forearmOff the back of his time with Okerlund, we also get to see Tito Santana in the ring this episode as he would face off against Bob Bradley. It speaks to the popularity of Santana that Bradley gets vociferous boos for a jobber. Bradley spills to the floor early after several quick armdrags, but is quickly slingshotted back into the ring unceremoniously.  Mid-match, we get a question from an audience member about the highest place that Jimmy Snuka has ever jumped from, allowing Vince to talk about the Snuka jump off of the top of the cage and generally talk up his promotion as offering something different and unique. As Bradley threatens to fight back, a quick combo of punches and a flying forearm would be enough for Santana to pick up the victory – it is good to see Santana transition to a more dynamic finisher than the figure four to suit his overall offense and the general athleticism he offers compared to many other wrestlers in the WWF at this time.

The interview segment at this time would be ‘Victory Corner’ with Robert Debord, and this week would see The Iron Sheik and Freddie Blassie discuss about life since he won the WWF Heavyweight Title. The Sheik would talk about the reaction of his Iransuperstar-neckbreakerian people, in a promo that didn’t really feel particularly heelish at all outside of him being a foreigner.

The Masked Superstar would take on Victor Mercado, with several people in the crowd donning paper bags on their heads to mock the Superstar as the bell rings. For a squash match, Superstar would spend the majority of the match using headlocks and chinlocks, though to be fair, the match doesn’t last very long. A clothesline and a swinging neckbreaker would end Mercado’s evening.

The fact that there was a wrestler going around in this time dubbed ‘Samoan #3’ just seems ridiculous, but he would be the opponent for a first Bob Backlund match after he lost his title to the Iron Sheik. For anyone who has seen this era of the WWF before, this is just a way of further pushing Hulk Hogan as the next big babyface after he would head to the ring following Backlund realising the numbers game could be too much for him. He would walk backstage and bring Hogan down to the ringside and the crowd would go absolutely ape for Hogan’s appearance. Shortly after Hogan heads down to stand in Backlund’s corner, the Samoans would break up a chickenwing attempt, leading to a DQ, and forcing Hogan to get into the ring. Even Albano would take a couple of punches as The Samoans would be ran out of the squared circle.hogan-and-backlund

If ever you wanted to see the sea change that would happen within the WWF in 1984, it couldn’t have been better encapsulated by the interview that would follow. Whilst Backlund wasn’t bad in the promo that explained how Hogan had changed his ways, he just paled into insignificance when Hogan got the microphone. Hogan didn’t say much outside of the fact that the atmosphere turned him on – indeed – but it just felt a level of exciting Backlund couldn’t really match.

There is still one more match to go as Denny Hill would face off against Mr Fuji, with weapons and a flag in hand. Fuji would complete the salt ceremony before engaging, and it would be a little over a minute before Fuji would dump Hill with a slam and an interesting back splash to pick up the win.fuji-splash

An episode that is fascinating to watch as the future of the WWF begins to unfurl in front of us. It would only be a couple of weeks before Hogan would win the title belt, and you can see why. When he enters the ring to defend Backlund, the crowd could not go crazier. Still, it will be interesting to see how the first few months of Hogan’s first WWE Title reign play out on camera.

1984 Year in Review: NWA Best of Championship Wrestling 19.02.1984

NWA Best of Championship Wrestling 19.02.1984

Following the previous week in Georgia, with Brad Armstrong defeating Ted Dibiase for the NWA National Heavyweight, the episode starts with Gordon Solie giving props to the new champion. Before we head to the ring, we’d get joined by the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Ric Flair. It is interesting to watch Flair in GCW, as he clearly presents himself as a face, even though he would turn up in local territories and be the necessary heel foil to the babyface star of the promotion. Strangely (though not if you follow the natural suggestion of being a champion of note), they would be pushing a match at the Omni between Ric Flair and Brad Armstrong, a match I never thought would main event a show anywhere. Flair talks up Armstrong as a competitor, promising him a title shot in the near future.

barr-kneelift

Considering Flair is the travelling NWA Champion, it is rare to see him compete on TV. This week, however, he would step into the ring with Jesse Barr, a man more notoriously as Jimmy Jack Funk. Flair was the master at making anyone look at least a challenge to him inside the ring, and the two men would spend the early going grappling on the mat. Following a Barr backslide for a two count, the match would degenerate into more of a slugfest, Barr using his fists and Flair retaliating with chops. Just as it seems Barr is building momentum, landing a back body drop and a big running knee lift, Flair would roll him into a small package for the three count. A more competitive match than Flair has any right to give Barr, but all the better for it. Flair would head back to Solie post match and say that he wanted women ‘ten deep for two miles’ – and he probably got it.

 

the-road-warriors

My version of the show would head straight into a squash match featuring the Road Warriors and the team of Dale Veasey and Mike Starbuck. Unlike a usual Warriors squash, the storyline here seemed to be that Hawk and Animal could wrestle as well as power through teams. This would lead to the awkward sight of Hawk working both mens’ arms, which just didn’t look right at all. A less than convincing press slam – one that rivalled Nikolai Volkoff’s awful finisher set-up – by Animal would be followed up by a Hawk top rope clothesline for the three count on Starbuck. The Road Warriors as wrestling technicians? I’ll pass.

 

bundy

 

After Ted Dibiase would come out and complain about both Tommy Rich and Brad Armstrong’s actions from the previous week, we would see a match from Mid-South involving King Kong Bundy and Joe Stark. This is a basic mauling, with Bundy spending the majority of the match shouting for Stark to get up. A headlock into a bulldog would be a wrinkle of Bundy’s offense I’d never seen before, and he would actually finish with a powerslam for the five count, rather than his usual big splash. Bundy would join Solie following the showing of the match, continuing to build his feud with The Road Warriors. Bundy was actually pretty reliable on the microphone; someone I wouldn’t necessarily have expected to excel in that area.

 

The ‘main event’ of the race-back-suplexevening would see Sammy Darrell take on former NWA Champion, Harley Race. As Race was announced, the ring announcer would tell the crowd that he couldn’t believe his eyes, as Bobby Heenan would join Race at ringside. However, Heenan would say ‘no comment’ both times he was asked if Race was the newest member of the Heenan Family. Darrell with have some early success, but the ease with which Race would turn a headlock into a back suplex was impressive. This would then be a showcase of Race’s offense, as he would hit a swinging neckbreaker, piledriver, butterfly style suplex (pulled up at two on the pinfall), a falling headbutt and a stalling suplex for a three count. Even post NWA title, Race had a sense of gravitas and an interesting enough move set to make him interesting to watch no matter who he was in against.

To finish the show, The Spoiler and Ted Dibiase would join Solie, with complaints yet again levelled about the behaviour of Rich and Armstrong.

A solid show, with the squash matches often at least offering something worthwhile. I’m interested to see where the Armstrong/Dibiase/Rich angle heads, which is all you can really ask for in a wrestling storyline.

In the following weeks, I will be aiming to fill in some gaps. Rather than this focusing purely on NWA as had been the original plan, I will also include WWF and Memphis. This means that some of these updates will continue through February, but I will also try and catch up on the other two big promotions of the time.

 

1984 Year in Review: NWA World Wide Wrestling 18.02.1984

NWA World Wide Wrestling 18.02.1984

As I’ve noted before, it is the NWA World Wide Wrestling shows that make any review of a year seem like more of a slog than it should be. For some reason, they just don’t engage the audience in the same way that Mid-South, WCCW and CWA do, and it always feels like you are seeing some of the lesser roster members on a weekly basis, or at least that the NWA entity that would roll through 85 onwards hasn’t quite been formulated yet.

The first match of the evening sees three of the ‘young lions’ of the promotion as Tim Horner, Mark Youngblood and Angelo Mosca Jr. would team to take on a selection of job guys that never get an introduction (I have surnames of Russo, Royal and White). All three of the young guys feel pretty green, though high energy spots such as multiple nip ups by Horner and headscissors by Mosca do get the crowd going. It is Youngblood who has a short section of time as face in peril, but outside of a botched Irish whip into the corner and Horner struggling to complete a flip using his opponent as leverage, this is a pretty simple win for the faces.

Youngblood Irish Whip

Mosca Jr., as the ‘name’ of the team, would pick up the victory with a crossbody on Russo.

Mosca crossbody

As is often the way, the cut of this version of World Wide Wrestling often sends me careening into matches out of nowhere, and so it happens with the next context, Ivan Koloff against David McCoy. The crowd are on Koloff’s back throughout, dubbing him a ‘bald headed geek’, so much so that Paul Jones is required to calm down the Russian. There are a couple of awkward spots – a sunset flip almost turns into a Canadian destroyer type move, whilst the finish of a Calf Branding just doesn’t look particularly good. Unsurprisingly, Koloff picks up the victory with minimum hassle.

Koloff invents Canadian Destroyer

Awkward Calf Branding

In terms of names on the card, the following match between Dick Slater and Dory Funk Jr. is the biggest match this show – with the added enticement of a spot in the TV Title tournament semi-final against Greg Valentine to the winner. With the history of Valentine and Slater, the commentary team are rightly salivating over that prospect, but Funk Jr. controls the majority of the match, mainly targeting the arms with armdrags and grounded armlocks. The spinning toe hold would get locked in by Funk, but Slater would have the wherewithal to kick him away and send him to ringside. After a couple of flash pinfalls (dubbed ‘close’ by the commentary team even though they were all one counts), Slater would land a Russian legsweep, grab a handful of tights and take his place in the semi-final of the TV Title tournament.

An extended section would be dedicated to furthering various feuds in the region. Angelo Mosca Jr. would talk about Koloff, but also voice his desire to win the tag team titles with his Dad; I can only hope not. Rufus Jones would come out to talk about Gary Hart and Ernie Ladd, calling Ladd a ‘traitor’ before a sudden cut would send me to Jimmy Valiant playing harmonica on a street corner. Upset at losing his beard, he would challenge the Assassins to a hair vs mask match, before getting into a car and being joined by a woman who is excited by an event dubbed ‘Boogie Woogie Man Jam 84’. Yeah, I don’t really know.

The biggest angle that is furthered is the selection of Ricky Steamboat as Flair’s potential next opponent for the NWA Heavyweight Title. Jim Crockett would interrupt a segment at Steamboat’s gym, offering a contract and $10,000 to take on Flair. Officially retired at this point, Steamboat would not commit to the match, but promises to talk it over with his wife. Though this potentially will lead to some good matches, Steamboat is never someone to stick in front of a camera doing a promo for too much time, and this segment drags.

An Ernie Ladd against Bubba Smith match would be joined in progress, and to give him his due, what we see of Smith does involved him trying to take the fight to Ladd. Two Ladd snapmares would cut off two Smith offensive pushes, before a big boot and the double legdrop would seemingly finish the contest – only for Ladd to pick Smith up at two. Paul Jones would tell Ladd to head to the top rope, which he would duly do, landing a huge big splash for the three count.

Ladd big splash

Just as it seems he is looking to hit a second splash off of the top, Rufus Jones would hit the ring, throwing Ladd to the canvas and eventually sending him over the top rope with a headbutt.

Jones beats up Ladd

The last match of the show is showcase for Tully Blanchard, a newer member of the region, as he would take on Vinny Valentino. A much closer match than it might look on paper, Valentino would match Blanchard at several key points, even rocking him with an enziguri and gaining a nearfall towards the end with a crossbody. Blanchard would noticeably increase his viciousness as Paul Jones would head down to ringside, seemingly unveiling himself as Blanchard’s new manager. A little bit out of nowhere, a kick to the stomach would allow Blanchard to hit his slingshot suplex and defeat Valentino.

The final segment would see Ivan Koloff out to warn the Moscas about his future plans, as well as Paul Jones to accept the challenge laid out by Valiant to battle one of his Assassins in a mask vs hair match. Two angles that really don’t excite me getting more airplay doesn’t exactly thrill me for what I’ll see next week. Oh well, hopefully I at least get Valentine vs Slater at some point. Next show will see a return to GCW in a show called ‘Best of Championship Wrestling’. Until then, take care.