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.
The 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 of 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.
Off 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 Iranian 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.
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.
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.