It’s December of 1977 – happy holidays, grab a hot dog and a cold beverage, and get ready for a spectacular evening of professional wrestling, back when the phrase ‘sports entertainment’ had not yet been invented!
On the undercard: the unfortunate events of the Manager of the Year ceremony led to this inevitable clash, by two ex-wrestlers who are now two of the top managers in the game: Arnold Skaaland seeks revenge for the brutal trophy attack launched on him by the Captain, Louis Albano!
You might think that based on the most recent posts on this thread, NWA Heavyweight Champion Harley Race was an afterthought in the world of professional wrestling, a second banana to WWWF Champion Billy Graham, notwithstanding the Superstar’s tendency to retain his title through disqualifications, countout losses and bleeding too much. (But wow, could the man bleed.)
Nothing could be further from the truth. Race’s second term as world champion, was, unlike his first, no transitional period, a way to ship the belt from Dory Funk to Jack Brisco without Funk losing face by getting pinned by Brisco. Clearly, Harley was born to wear what was in 1977 still considered the most prestigious championship belt in the sport. Harley traveled the world, and all the territories, representing the National Wrestling Alliance with great dignity and a fearsome toughness that evoked the old-school hooker mentality of icons such as Lou Thesz or going back even further, Ed “Strangler” Lewis.
Not a lot of video of Race’s first full year as champion exists – at least, not on YouTube. But here’s Harley’s top ten moves. I’m particularly a fan of the delayed knee drop. The Indian Deathlock is a good one, too; but when Harley adds pressure to the hold by falling back, wouldn’t that hurt him?
To the wrestling fans of this era who only knew of the other champions outside of their respective territories by reading the wrestling fan magazines (pre-Internet era, remember), a clash between two of the recognized world champions was little more than a never to be realized fantasy.
But not anymore.
One of the first inter-promotional supercards was signed, and set for January 25, 1978, at Miami’s Orange Bowl, the home of the Dolphins and the site of several of the early Super Bowls. It was called, fittingly, “The Super Bowl Of Wrestling.” Being set in Florida, it was heavy with Southern favorites, and there were even a couple of new championship titles created just so they could be contested for that night.
But the main event of the evening was no joke: the NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race vs the World Wide Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Champion Superstar Billy Graham.
Jim Crockett had amassed a roster in the Carolinas that rivaled the more high profile WWWF of Vince McMahon or Verne Gagne’s AWA. The Mid-Atlantic territory boasted a mix of veteran talent (Wahoo McDaniel, Paul Jones, the Andersons) and youth (Ric Flair, Greg Valentine, Jimmy Snuka) that could match up with any promotion in the country. (Youth, in this context, means any wrestler with less than ten years in the sport.)
Perhaps the top up-and-comer in Mid-Atlantic was born Richard Blood, of West Point, New York, and of Hawaiian heritage. Blood broke into professional wrestling in 1976 as a babyface in the AWA, billed as Sam Steamboat Jr. (based on an older wrestler of the same name.) He also wrestled under his real name, before finally settling on the brand which would make him an international star: Ricky Steamboat.
Steamboat came to the Carolinas on the recommendation of Wahoo McDaniel, and entered the promotion as Wahoo’s protégé and tag team partner. Soft-spoken in interviews, Ricky’s big break came at the hands of Ric Flair. Flair’s continued taunting of Steamboat triggered Ricky to attack Flair with one of his patented backhand chops during a televised interview. It led to a match in June 1977 for Flair’s Mid-Atlantic Television title.
Flair’s BFF Greg the Hammer Valentine provides some unbiased color commentary.
Steamboat and Flair were naturals as ring opponents; both young, good-looking, athletic, and polar opposites in temperament. Their feud continued well into 1978, over the U.S. Heavyweight Championship. Here’s more televised agita between the two.
Oh that Ric Flair…. what an arrogant son of a gun. All those limo rides, all those fine ladies, all that cocaine. I envy him so….
I just watched parts one and two for the first time, and I can honestly say – part one is good, and part two is one of the best things I’ve ever seen.
In honor of today being that day of all days – Wrestlemania (!) (you didn’t think I was referring to April Fool’s Day, did you?), here’s a bout that could have headlined any Wrestlemania event.
But first, a rundown of the undercard from the Super Bowl of Wrestling, held on January 25, 1978, from the Orange Bowl in Miami.
Rocky Johnson defeated Killer Karl Kox by disqualification.
“Polish Power” Ivan Putski defeated Ox Baker.
Joyce Grable won an eight-woman Battle Royal. (Back in the days when the women wrestlers were actually wrestlers and not sexy Divas.)
Chavo Guerrero defeated Tank Patton.
Bobby Duncum defeated Don Serrano.
Keith Franks defeated John Ruffin.
Mike Graham and Steve Keirn defeated Jimmy and Johnny Valiant to win the NWA Florida United States Tag Team Championship.
Former WWWF champion Pedro Morales defeated Lars Anderson.
Jack and Jerry Brisco defeated Ivan Koloff and Mr. Saito.
Dusty Rhodes defeated Ken Patera.
And now the Main Event of the evening: National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race takes on World Wide Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Champion Superstar Billy Graham, with both men putting their title belts on the line.
First, a priceless interview segment featuring Gordon Solie speaking with both champions prior to the match, followed by the match itself, a best two-out-of-three falls encounter on a rainy night in Florida. The match is officiated by two referees – Don Curtis representing the NWA, and Gorilla Monsoon repping the WWWF. No reason given for the two refs, but I’m thinking the promoters for each organization wanted to guard against a possible double-cross in the ring.
The match, with an hour-long time limit, is joined about 40 minutes in, with neither man having scored a pinfall at this point.
Okay, so I wasn't really shattered. I'm not pro or anti-Cena, unlike so many WWE fans are. But from the business perspective, I don't get why Rock won that match. Losing cleanly to Rock, who is a short-timer headed back to Hollywood, does nothing for Cena's image. The only thing I can see here is that the long-awaited Cena heel turn is soon to come, as the boos get louder every time Cena shows his face. At some point, like Rock did back in the late '90s, he has to snap.
Back to the '70s.
The tag team scene in Florida Championship Wrestling was hotly contested in the late ‘70s. Former NWA champion Jack Brisco had set up shop in Florida and with his brother Jerry was a perennial U.S. Tag Team champion. Natural fan favorites, the Briscos’ main rivals were another pair of babyfaces, who actually received more of the fans’ cheers than the Briscos: Mike Graham and Steve Keirn. Graham was the son of Florida wrestling boss Eddie Graham, and by extension was the kayfabe nephew of Superstar Billy Graham. (Once Graham had left Florida and won the WWWF title, no mention of family ties between Billy and “brother” Eddie was ever made again.)
Graham would win numerous tag titles in Florida, including nine with Keirn as NWA Florida champions, and three more with Keirn as NWA Florida United States tag team champions (these were separate titles). Keirn had also won the Florida gold partnering with Bob Backlund in the mid-‘70s.
From early 1978, somewhere in Florida, it’s NWA U.S. Tag Team Champions Graham and Keirn defending the titles against the Brisco Brothers. At the end of the match, Masa Saito and Mr. Sato jump into the fray, hoping to get a title shot of their own.
The saying “no rest for the wicked” directly applied to Superstar Billy Graham, who less than a month after his magnificent performance against Harley Race at the Super Bowl of Wrestling, found himself back in the ring with another icon, Graham’s old enemy Bruno Sammartino. In a steel cage, no less, with the WWWF Championship on the line.
February 18, 1978, from the Philadelphia Spectrum (two parts).
A mere two nights later, the Superstar would be defending the gold at Madison Square Garden against the young number one contender Bob Backlund. Here’s a promo with Vince Jr. interviewing Graham and the Grand Wizard, followed by a few words from the man of few words, Backlund.
February 20, 1978, from the Garden, Graham vs Backlund for the WWWF title. Vince commits a little broadcast boo-boo when he makes a verbal slip at around the 5:20 mark. And after the 8:00 mark, Backlund and Graham engage in behavior that normally you'd have to take a guy out to dinner first before trying.
Dominic DeNucci was a well-established veteran in the WWWF, his Italian-American heritage earning him cheers of the Northeast fans as a somewhat poor man’s Bruno Sammartino. DeNucci didn’t win any major singles titles but was a tag team champ with Bruno (the WWWF International title, a precursor to the WWWF World Tag Team Championship) in 1971, and again with Victor Rivera in 1975. (Rivera soon left the team and was replaced by Pat Barrett.)
Early in his career, he called himself Dominic Bravo and teamed with his kayfabe brother Dino Bravo. By the late ‘70s, Dominic was again teaming with Dino Bravo – but a different Dino Bravo. This Dino was an Italian Canadian born Adolfo Bresciano. Bravo was also an accomplished tag teamer, at one time holding the NWA championship in Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic promotion with the masked Mr. Wrestling (real name Tim Woods). During his tenure in Crockett’s promotion, Bravo got several shots at Harley Race’s NWA World Championship.
For the WWWF Tag Team title, Dominic DeNucci and Dino Bravo challenge the holders, Mr. Fuji and Professor Toru Tanaka. The referee is Dick Woehrle, one of the true greats among referees, who passed away about a month ago.
Okay, I lied, kind of – this wasn’t a title match. Hey, it’s wrestling, get over it. This win earned the Italian team a title shot, and DeNucci/Bravo made the most of it by beating Fuji/Tanaka for reals, on March 14, 1978, in Philly.
Okay, so maybe some of you are thinking ‘Superstar Graham loses the title to Bob Backlund and the next post is of some obscure non-title tag team match? What’s up with that?’
I understand where you’re coming from. So let’s explore the reasons that the most flamboyant, polarizing superstar (no pun intended) in the history of the sport up to that time would lose to the likes of vanilla, soft-spoken Bob Backlund.
1. Vince McMahon Sr. was never comfortable with having a rulebreaker as the WWWF Champion. Unlike the NWA, which liked having a guy like Terry Funk or Harley Race piss off the fans, hit a territory for a few weeks, make the local champion look good but still retain the title before heading off to parts unknown, McMahon wanted his champions to be role models, heroic symbols of nobility. And if they resonated with the racial/cultural demographics of the Atlantic Northeast, so much the better. Hence the lengthy title reigns of Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales; not so much Buddy Rogers, Ivan Koloff, or Stan Stasiak (was that guy really a WWWF Champion?). Despite the impressive box office that Superstar Graham did, Vince Sr. was never completely comfortable with a champion who routinely retained his title through disqualifications, countout losses, or by bleeding too much and getting the ringside doctor to call the match. But wow, could that man bleed.
2. Unlike Graham, Backlund was a ‘legitimate’ wrestler. This was still the era when the in-ring double-cross was a concern of the promoter. The last thing Vince Sr. wanted to see was some traveling wrestler from another territory decide to go off script and destroy his champion, possibly taking the Federation title with him. The WWWF was now booking title vs title matches with the other major organizations – after Graham had wrestled NWA World Champion Race to an hourlong draw in Miami (with two referees officiating – one from the Federation and one from the NWA, probably to guard against said double-cross), one of Backlund’s first matches as WWWF titlist was another title vs title bout against Harley Race, in New York. The match went to an hour-long draw, go figure. Vince may have been concerned that Harley, or, in the future, Nick Bockwinkel, or any other rival* champions, would shoot on his champion in the ring and make the Federation look bad. So Vince had to have someone who could protect the belt and the honor of the organization. And as physically impressive as Billy Graham was, he was not the guy. Bob Backlund was.
* At this point, the WWWF, NWA, and AWA did not truly consider each other 'rivals.' Vince McMahon Sr. had made his peace with the NWA several years before, and in fact sat on their board of directors. Occasionally he promoted an NWA title match. Each organization had their territories clearly mapped out, and freely lent their talent to the other promotions. This kept their product fresh and was good for the entire industry.
3. It was all Yoko Ono’s fault. When in doubt, blame Yoko.
I think it was a shame that Billy Graham had to drop the title. Having watched a lot of his Madison Square Garden title defenses on YouTube just for the first time, it’s clear that the Superstar was clearly ahead of his time. And while he may not have been a technically great wrestler – meaning he didn’t have the amateur background that so many of the greats before him had – his matches were exciting. While Bruno Sammartino may have been able to hold a sold-out Garden crowd in the palm of his hand, let’s face it, there was not a lot of wrestling going on, particularly in his last few years as champion. His matches were brawls, slugfests, which fed the bloodlust of the New York and Philadelphia crowds.
Knowing that his time was short as the champion, Graham lobbied McMahon to make him a face – the Superstar’s persona was such that many fans had taken to cheering him, much like they would decades later with anti-heroes such as Steve Austin and the Rock. A face-turn could have made Billy Graham an icon on the level of what Hulk Hogan would become in the mid-‘80s. But it wasn’t the mid-‘80s. It was still the late ‘70s, and Vince Jr. wasn’t in charge yet. Vince Sr. was set in his ways, and that meant that his promotion would go forward with Backlund as his champion.
Graham got his rematches – two more at Madison Square Garden, both sellouts, of course. Here’s promos for both matches. The second one is hyping a “Sicilian Stretcher Match” – I’ve never even seen one of those. I think the rule was that the winner had to completely incapacitate the loser. (Dammit, no video though.)
This one is a little out of sequence, but its historical importance cannot be overlooked – plus, it features the High Flyers, who were on a roll, dominating the AWA in 1978.
Though the video graphic says this is from 1971, it’s more likely circa 1974, and it features future AWA World Champion Nick Bockwinkel and his tag team partner (and future enemy) Ray Stevens introducing their new manager. At the time known as “Gorgeous,” Bobby Heenan decides he wants to be seen as more than just eye candy – he wants to be recognized for his intelligence as well. So he renounces his flattering nickname, and adopts a new one, which eventually will catch on, though not yet with the overcaffeinated TV announcer.
A typical High Flyers-style match, meaning hyper fast-paced, with a few near screw-ups. Larry “the Axe” Hennig, father of Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig, and former tag team partner of Harley Race, cleans house at the end and makes some enemies in doing so.
Born Pierre Clermont in Montreal, Pat Patterson debuted in the late ‘50s with an effeminate gimmick, wearing lipstick and pink trunks and escorted to the ring by his pet poodle. He made his name in San Francisco in the ‘60s, winning the territory’s version of the U.S. Championship six times, and the tag team title ten times. Most of his tag team reigns were with Stevens, who was the biggest star and most hated heel on the West Coast. The team known as the Blond Bombers sold out the Cow Palace numerous times until Stevens turned fan favorite in the late ‘60s. Now enemies, Stevens ended the feud by beating Patterson and winning the U.S. Title in a Texas Death Match at the Palace.
Patterson stayed in the promotion and for a couple of years donned a mask which hid a foreign object, giving his head butts just that much more oomph. He turned face in 1972, and among his ‘70s highlights was a tag team championship run with Rocky Johnson in ’72 and a victory in the annual Cow Palace Battle Royal in ’75. Though a French Canadian, Patterson was so identified with the San Francisco promotion that he was practically adopted as a native son. He left the City in the mid ‘70s and reunited with his old partner and rival Stevens in the AWA.
AWA TV, from May 1978: Patterson and the Crippler get caught by surprise when their opponent Frankie Hill’s* tag team partner can’t make the match. So British legend Billy Robinson takes his place.
* Frankie Hill would gain greater fame a few years later as Chief Jules Strongbow.
Patterson and Stevens’ vows to reach the top of the AWA tag team ranks were not empty threats – by September of ’78, they were the new champions. But they didn’t win the belts in the most satisfying way – with Greg Gagne’s dad in charge, it’s likely that the High Flyers would have had a more lengthy run than they did (still, 14 months is nothing to sneeze at); but the Flyers didn’t lose their titles in the ring – they lost due to an injury which sidelined Jim Brunzell. Verne Gagne vacated the championship and awarded the belts to Patterson and Stevens. And while injuries in wrestling are nothing new, Brunzell’s was unique: he was injured in a charity softball game.
The man known as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was born Roderick Toombs in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, not Glasgow, Scotland, as his hometown would be billed throughout his career. (Anyone with two functioning ears pretty much figured that – Roddy never even attempted to feign a convincing Scottish accent.) Toombs was kicked out of middle school and left home in his teens. With a background in Golden Gloves boxing, Coombs first stepped into the squared circle to wrestle professionally at age 19 in Montreal, where he got squashed in ten seconds by Larry Hennig in his first match.
He spent a couple of years jobbing mostly in the AWA and Texas. He may have languished for much of his career on the undercard, but a stint on the West Coast turned into his big break, as his skills on the microphone and building crowd heat got him noticed by California promoters who saw big heel potential in him.
By 1975, Coombs was fully ensconced in his persona as Rowdy Roddy Piper, and was climbing his way to the position of top rulebreaker in Mike and Gene LeBell’s Hollywood Wrestling. The promotion had originated in the late ‘50s as the North American Wrestling Association, formed by seceding from the NWA over the disputed Lou Thesz-Edouard Carpentier title match. (The NAWA recognized Carpentier as its first champion, while most of the NWA backed Thesz.) It became the World Wrestling Association in the ‘60s and was dominated by monster heel Fred Blassie. By 1968, WWA had rejoined the NWA, changed its name to Hollywood Wrestling and recognized the Alliance’s titlist as world champion. It created its own territorial title, the NWA Americas Championship. Since ’68, the Americas Heavyweight Championship had an impressive lineage of champions, including Bobo Brazil, Blassie, the Sheik, Mil Mascaras, Rocky Johnson, Killer Kowalski, Ernie Ladd, Terry Funk, Greg Valentine, Don Muraco, and starting in the mid-‘70s, numerous title reigns by Chavo Guerrero, a local hero to the thousands of Hispanic fans who tuned in to see the Spanglish production of Wrestling at the Olympic.
Guerrero’s most bitter feud started when he defended the Jules Strongbow Memorial Scientific Trophy in a televised match against Roddy Piper. (This Strongbow was the legendary promoter the Los Angeles area during the ‘50s, not the kayfabe brother and tag team partner of Chief Jay Strongbow in the ‘80s.) During the match, Piper angered Chavo by slapping Chavo’s father Gory Guerrero, who was in Chavo’s corner. Chavo battered Piper with his bare fists, got disqualified and lost the Scientific Trophy to Piper for breaking the rules, which for that match forbade brawling. Piper defeated Guerrero a short time later to win the Americas Title, which only turned up the heat on their feud. These events commenced what would be a three-year bloody feud between Piper and Guerrero as well as whatever Guerrero relatives would get involved. The Rowdy One became the scourge of the Southern California Hispanic community, wearing T-shirts mocking the Guerreros, and playing the “Mexican National Anthem” on his bagpipes – only the song Piper played was “La Cucaracha.”
From 1976, the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, it’s the earliest footage of Roddy Piper I could find: Piper vs Chavo, with the great Jimmy Lennon doing the ring announcing. I’m not sure if there were any special rules stipulations, but somebody jumps into the ring and fights in Piper’s place for several minutes in part 1. At the end of the match, Hector Guerrero joins the mayhem.
A little grainy, not a pretty match, but impressive bleeding at the end by Piper, considering this was a TV match.
The L.A. Wrestling Awards for 1977 – Piper wins for Most Hated Wrestler, and Chavo wins Wrestler of the Year. Beware of those trophies: one of the oldest truisms in wrestling is if trophies are involved, it’s likely to get ugly. Except in Japan.
Piper wasn’t always the one laughing loudest in his ongoing war with Chavo Guerrero. Chavo beat Roddy in a Hair vs Hair match and shaved Piper bald in the ring. Another time, Guerrero beat Piper in a Loser Leave Town match. Piper returned donning a mask and calling himself the Masked Canadian, a gimmick which lasted several months until he was unmasked by Hector Guerrero.
I just found this -- footage of Piper as the Masked Canadian! And apparently feuding with Pat Patterson!
After making his name in Southern California, Piper began wrestling in Roy Shire’s San Francisco promotion, splitting his time between Northern and Southern California. (Later, he would spend a lot of time in the Portland promotion as well.)
Here’s some footage of the man himself – Roy Shire, that is – interrupting an out-of-control brawl by Hawaiian stars Dean Ho and Don Muraco.
Finally, an extended segment from one of Shire’s TV shows from the KBHK (Channel 44) television studios, from about mid-1978. Included are Piper’s Bay Area TV debut; a charmingly low-budget promo for that night’s event at the Cow Palace, the main event of which is an NWA title match between Harley Race and local favorite Dean Ho; a pre-taped match between Race and a jobber, shown to the local fans probably to familiarize themselves with Race, who didn’t make many stops in San Francisco; a fearsome pre-taped promo with Race flanked by Gordon Solie – I’m not sure Harley actually knew when he gave the promo who he would be defending his title against once he got to California; and finally, a live in-the-studio interview with Dean Ho, who responds to Race’s promo.
I don’t know of any footage of the Race-Ho match, but since Ho’s name does not appear on the hallowed list of NWA World Champions, it’s a safe bet to assume Harley walked out of the Cow Palace wearing the gold, by hook or by crook.
And now, a special bonus, for those of you who have made it to the end of this post -- an unexpected treat (I just stumbled upon it): a Battle Royal from the Cow Palace, some time in the '70s, with no commentary, I don't know who wins, or who's even in it -- I haven't even watched it yet, so we're flying blind here folks! If you recognize anyone, fill me in!
Correction: Roddy Piper’s real last name is Toombs, not Coombs. Apologies for any confusion. And I’m still not sure who won that Cow Palace battle royal; first I thought it was Terry Funk (Harley Race was the last guy in the ring with him, that I know), but the ring announcer said a different name, something that sounded like “Wilbur Snyder.” I looked up that name, and there was a wrestler with that name, but it wasn’t the same guy.
After their WWWF tag team title run ended, Blackjacks Lanza and Mulligan went their separate ways, Lanza to the AWA and Mulligan to Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic promotion where he quickly established himself as a dominant heel and won the U.S. Heavyweight Championship from Paul Jones in late 1976. Bobo Brazil took the title from Mulligan several months later, but on New Years Day of 1978, Mulligan had the belt back around his waist after beating Ricky Steamboat. He held the title for another two months before losing it to Mr. Wrestling (Tim Woods).
During this time, the veteran Mulligan began to mellow a bit, moving away from his heelish behavior. This change of demeanor came to a head when tensions mounted between himself and his friend Ric Flair. But when Flair did the unthinkable – ripping up Mulligan’s prized cowboy hat that had been given to him by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson – vengeance had to be exacted. Blackjack got even by destroying Flair’s $7500 diamond-studded robe.
Naturally, that wasn’t the end of it. From 1978, Ric Flair vs Blackjack Mulligan in a Texas Death Match. Best of three falls, I think.
Flair defeated Mr. Wrestling in April of ’78 to win his second U.S. title (his first came in a July ’77 win over Brazil, before dropping it to Steamboat three months later), and on Thanksgiving night 1978, defended the belt in a steel cage against Mulligan.
Glitchy editing at about the 1:30 mark prevents us from seeing what leads up to the ending, but at least we get the ending. And we get Blackjack grinding Flair’s bloody face against the cage, so who can complain? This is an NWA cage match, meaning you don’t win by getting out.
Following an unsuccessful campaign to win the WWWF title from Bob Backlund, Ken Patera moved down the coast to the Mid-Atlantic territory looking for fresh meat. And there was plenty to be had – guys like Wahoo McDaniel, Ricky Steamboat, and Paul Jones get an earful from the Olympic Strongman in this series of promos which are not hilarious in any way.
Wahoo McDaniel settled his long-standing feud with Greg Valentine by retaking the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship on April 2, 1978, but exactly one week later, on April 9 in Charlotte, Patera beat McDaniel to become the new MACW champion. As champion, Patera became obsessed with a new young rival who had one of the top physiques in wrestling, and rivaled Patera in strength – Tony Atlas. Atlas (born Anthony White, in Roanoke, Virginia) was such the real deal that he didn’t have to start his career as a jobber. In his first match, in the Mid-Atlantic territory, Atlas won the match for his tag team by slapping the sleeper hold on his opponent. Everything went up from there for the man known as “Mr. USA.”
From 1978, Jim Crockett Promotions television: Ken Patera calls out Tony Atlas to engage him in feats of strength. Oh yeah – and Patera’s back to his natural hair color.
Following his loss to Bob Backlund and subsequent big-money but ultimately unsuccessful rematches, Superstar Billy Graham was in a sort of no-man’s-land – feeling empty without his beloved WWWF title, Graham tried to reinvent himself as a fan favorite (and with the boss’s blessing, it probably would have been a smashing success). You can see it here as he greets fans before his TV match against Tony Garea.
But wins against upper mid-carders like Garea were at this point all Vince McMahon Sr. had to offer the Superstar. After his run with Backlund ended, Graham left the Federation and headed back South from whence he came.
The revolving door known as the WWWF tag team division continued its orbit, as the championship team of Dominic DeNucci and Dino Bravo saw their respectable three-month tenure as champions come to an end against the Yukon Lumberjacks in June of 1978 at Madison Square Garden. The new champions, Pierre and Eric, were so bland as to be nearly invisible; in fact, no information about their real names or histories in the sport exist anywhere – at least anywhere I checked. And I really don’t have the time nor interest to sleuth out the background story of a tag team whose most interesting feature was Pierre’s blonde afro. (Maybe Eric was the one with the afro – I couldn’t tell.) But at least their manager, Captain Lou Albano, saw something in them, and as he did with many teams, he guided them to the top of the tag team world.
Here’s one of their more interesting matches – from the Garden in October of ’78: a title defense against the team of Chief Jay Strongbow and Peter Maivia. At this point, you could say there was some tension developing between Strongbow and the High Chief, who had tagged together off and on ever since Strongbow’s ex-partner Billy White Wolf was disabled by Ken Patera in ’77.
The tension between the two is evident right from the start.
Frankly, I think it would have been better if the team of Strongbow/Maivia had won the title and then feuded with each other in brutal singles matches while defending the belts as partners…. but alas, t’was not to be. Maivia’s attitude change apparently couldn’t be helped. Weeks after his betrayal of Strongbow, Maivia attacked another tag team partner, none other than WWWF Champion Bob Backlund, on TV in a match against Spiros Arion and Victor Rivera. This treachery set up a trilogy of MSG matches between the two with the title on the line; Maivia won the first by countout in November ’78, Backlund won the December rematch by countout, and Backlund settled the score with a January ’79 cage match victory.
The Lumberjacks’ title reign came to a merciful end in November 1978, to the team of Tony Garea and Larry Zbyszko (pronounced ‘Zabisco,’ and it is by far the most easily misspelled name of any professional wrestler).
Zbyszko (born Larry Whistler) had debuted in 1973 and was known through most of the ‘70s as the protégé of Bruno Sammartino – therefore he had built-in love from the fans wherever he wrestled. He and Garea (now a three-time WWWF tag team champion with the win over the Lumberjacks) started partnering in 1976.
Here’s a match between Garea/Zbyszko vs Fuji/Tanaka – some time after after the championship reign of Fuji/Tanaka, and before the reign of Garea/Zbyszko. (Just the link.)
Here’s a unique matchup between two superstars with styles so polar opposite to each other that it’s hard to imagine this match was booked – and with a title on the line, no less.
British legend Billy Robinson held the Pacific Wrestling Federation World Heavyweight title, which was one of All-Japan Pro Wrestling’s renowned Triple Crown (along with the NWA United National Championship and the NWA International Championship; both of these titles were born through AJPW’s partnership with the NWA, but defended in Japan). Robinson was the third PWF champion; Giant Baba had been the first, in 1973, and held the belt for over five years before losing to Tor Kamata. Kamata’s reign lasted less than two weeks in June 1978 before Robinson took it from him.
October 1978, for the PWF World Heavyweight Championship: The Man of a Thousand Holds, Billy Robinson, defends his crown against the Madman from the Sudan, Abdullah the Butcher. I haven’t yet watched this match, but I predict: there will be blood.
So, that answers the question of whether or not Abdullah the Butcher ever won a major singles title. A little odd to see him in possession of a championship belt – Abby was more likely to eat the damn thing as he was to wear it.
More from Japan – a doubleheader, in fact. From December 1978, it’s Abdullah again, tangling with his old blood brother Terry Funk, in a match presumably for Abdullah’s PWF title. (Though Abdullah doesn’t take the belt to the ring with him.) You’d think that Terry, as tough as he was, would be a little hesitant to get back into the ring with the guy who literally stuck a fork in his thigh (see post #103, but if you do, have a barf bag close by). This time, Abby blades Terry in another unlikely body part at around the 4:05 mark. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say that Terry was the first to hear all about it.
Following that slobberknocker, Terry’s big bro Dory got it on with that noted pacifist the Sheik. Terry was apparently still a little peeved about what went down in the previous match, and, well, maybe they should have booked this as a tag team bout.
I’ve never been a huge fan of six-man tag team matches, mainly because it’s just a lot of hoo-haw with nothing really at stake except to build up a feud or a future main event. Rarely has there ever been a three-man tag team championship title, so these matches always seemed like an excuse to put a lot of big names in the ring at one time. However, this one is so packed with A-listers that I couldn’t pass it up. From the Mid-Atlantic territory, it’s Wahoo McDaniel, Blackjack Mulligan, and Dick Murdoch vs Ric Flair, the Masked Superstar, and NWA World Champion Harley Race, who happened to be swinging through town. Race was on tour with the title belt, which he was able to retain during his stay in the Carolinas, though he was unable to claim the bounty that Flair had put on Mulligan’s head.
Masked Superstar had a history with Blackjack as well, going numerous hour-long and at times longer cage matches with Mulligan. Superstar was the rare masked man who was also one of the sport’s big men, weighing in at 300 pounds. The Superstar – real name Bill Eadie – started his career in the early ‘70s in Detroit as one of the masked “Para-Medics” tag team. He doffed the mask when he joined the Mongols tag team in WWWF, but donned it again when he entered Mid-Atlantic, at that time adopting the Masked Superstar persona, as well as that of a “former Olympic champion….” which he was not.. Another factoid – he was one of the first wrestlers to body slam Andre the Giant. In fact, another wrestler in this match also accomplished this rare feat: Harley Race.
The rivalry between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat was not limited to the singles ranks. Steamboat had partnered up with veteran fan favorite Paul Jones and enjoyed enormous success, first defeating Flair and Greg Valentine for the Mid-Atlantic tag title in summer of ’77. Flair and Valentine rebounded to win the NWA World Tag Team title (Mid-Atlantic version) in October of ’77 over the Anderson brothers, but were stripped of the title in April ’78 due to their constantly getting themselves disqualified in order to retain the belts. Steamboat and Jones scooped up the vacant titles, winning a 10-team tournament by beating Ken Patera and the Masked Superstar in the final. Their tournament victory led to their Mid-Atlantic tag titles being vacated, to be won in June by Flair and his new partner, Big John Studd. That same month, Steamboat and Jones’s world title reign was ended by Valentine and his new partner, Baron Von Raschke. But Steamboat and Jones again regained glory in November by beating Flair and Studd for the MACW belts. (There will be a test on this later, so keep track.) Which brings us too….
Paul Jones and Ricky Steamboat vs Ric Flair and Masked Superstar. With somebody’s title probably at stake – I’ve lost track.
Things got a little awkward when a two-ring battle royal came down to three men: Flair, Steamboat, and Jones. Jones explains his actions after his tag team partner eliminated the Nature Boy (at the moment the screen flickers off).
The Flair-Steamboat feud never seemed to run out of steam, so to speak. Here, Flair defends his U.S. Heavyweight Championship against his nemesis, with a new wrinkle: special guest referee Andre the Giant, who unwittingly makes this main event look almost like midget wrestling.
Steamboat was able to attain satisfaction on December 30, 1978, when he beat Flair in Greensboro, North Carolina to win the U.S. title for the second time. But not surprisingly, the days were numbered on his and Jones' MACW tag team titles; Jones's sabotage on his former friend opened the door for John Studd and Ken Patera to win the belts in January '79. Note: Patera was double-strapping it, having won the Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight title back from Tony Patera in October '78.
Got all that?
Last edited by E.J. Andre; 06-06-2012 at 12:05 AM.
Today I just can't watch although I do go to independent live shows every now and then...
They just don't kayfabe anymore..
You see two guys wrestling.. Later they are sitting together mingling with the crowd..
Even in the '80s, kayfabe was starting to die.... that's when Vince coined the term 'sports entertainment.'
I haven't been here in a while because I've made a lot of this thread into a web site. Check it out -- www.squaredcircleofwrestling.com. Bigger, new, improved.... although it's still new so it's still kind of in its infancy stages (about 6 posts so far, but many on the way, and the Facebook page is up as of today). And feel free to comment.