Lee Maughan: Hosted by Vince McMahon who promises “mad action.”
Hulk Hogan & Andre the Giant vs. Dick Murdoch, Adrian Adonis & Big John Studd
Hogan was WWF champion here (of course) and Murdoch & Adonis were tag team champions, and a damn fine team at that. It sucks how they missed the Rock N’ Wrestling era by such a narrow margin, just imagine the Saturday Night’s Main Event 2/3 falls matches they could have put together with The British Bulldogs had they only stuck around a couple more years. Yeah, they were here for the very start of Hogan’s reign, but Murdoch was long gone by the time Cyndi Lauper, WrestleMania and MTV all rolled around, whilst Adonis just ballooned in size, became ‘Adorable Adrian’ and lost most of his skill. For a guy his size, he was such a terrific talent, and much more suited to the leather jacket-wearing New York bad apple biker gimmick he had going on than the effeminate cross-dresser he became. Case in point, this match, as Adonis just bumps around like a loon for Hogan and Andre, taking backflips over the top and getting tied up in the ropes. Murdoch meanwhile was one of those rugged, gritty ‘believable’ wrestlers in the mould of Greg Valentine. Not much sizzle, but double helpings of steak, although it’s kind of tough to separate the talent from the ideologies if you want to take personal politics into account; according to Bad News Brown, Tito Santana and Dusty Rhodes, Murdoch was a card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan. Those feelings aside though, he still had some of the best looking punches ever seen in a professional wrestling ring. Overall, it’s a pretty fun match though minimal clipping doesn’t really help, and the spot with Murdoch and Andre both choking each other out with a piece of rope in full view of the referee kind of hurt the credibility of the match to a degree (because let’s face it, who’s more credible than a WWF official?) although it did serve to ramp up the hatred between the two sides. Finally, Studd bailed out and Andre seemingly just got sick of everything and sat on Murdoch for the pin. Like I said, fun match, but I’m not entirely sure why they sacrificed the tag team champions here when Hogan and Andre weren’t being built for a title shot. I’m sure the roster in 1984 could have spared a couple of different guys, like the Wild Samoans for example?
Final Rating: **¼
WWF Women’s Championship
The Fabulous Moolah (c) vs. Wendi Richter
A pretty important part of the Rock n’ Wrestling Connection here. Captain Lou Albano had previously had a cameo in Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun music video after a chance meeting on an aeroplane, with Albano coming out on Piper’s Pit to take credit for Cyndi’s success (refer to Wrestling’s Bloopers, Bleeps & Bodyslams for that particular promo.) With the loudmouth slob and the pop star needing to settle their differences, they each picked a wrestler to manage against one another. Albano chose the Fabulous Moolah (who was claiming a 27-year long title reign at this point, just think about that), while Cyndi chose Moolah’s former apprentice, Wendi Richter. The result? This crappy bout becoming the first live WWF match to be simulcast on the then-fledgling MTV network. It’s clipped a little here, as was the case with most of the early Coliseum tapes, but it’s still not much of a match. Wendi was okay as a worker, but Moolah was just horrible and even in 1984 was looking ancient. And then we get the old “wrestler on top of a double pin rolls their shoulder at the last second” finish to give Wendi the title, which the fans don’t cotton onto until Howard Finkel announces Wendi as “the winner… and NEEEWWW ladies champion”, drawing a MONSTER reaction. Moolah dropkicking the referee after the match is pretty funny stuff. I wouldn’t say the match was completely awful, but it wasn’t much better than that, although it was a fairly pivotal moment in the WWF’s national growth (the 9.0 rating it pulled was MTV’s highest number to date), despite that fact that all was not actually ended by the brawl.
Final Rating: *¼
Gorilla Monsoon vs. Baron Mikel Scicluna
No real match here as Muhammad Ali of all people gets in the ring after about a minute or so and gets in Gorilla’s face so Gorilla gives him an aeroplane spin. Revisionist WWF history would claim Gorilla had beaten Ali in a match with this clip as proof, but it was actually just an angle to promote Ali’s famous boxer vs. wrestler match with Antonio Inoki that Vince McMahon Sr. was hosting a combined Shea Stadium closed circuit TV card with.
Final Rating: Not rated
Jimmy Snuka vs. Bobby Bass
Just a squash but a super energetic, all-action one to showcase Snuka’s Superfly splash.
Final Rating: ½*
To Piper’s Pit now for a VERY famous angle as Piper offers Fiji island native Snuka a selection of tropical fruits in the most demeaning manner possible, apologises for not bringing a tree so Snuka can “climb up and down it like a monkey” and then shatters a coconut over Snuka’s head sending him flying backwards as the Piper’s Pit set comes crashing down on top of him. And Piper isn’t finished there, as he takes his leather belt off and whips Snuka across the back relentlessly, all the while calling him “boy.” Nobody who saw this would ever forget it, although obviously you couldn’t get away with an angle like this now, given the blatantly racist overtones of the whole thing.
Jimmy Snuka vs. Roddy Piper
That of course leads us to this, one of the many, many, MANY matches from the classic Piper-Snuka feud of 1984, this one at the Garden before an absolutely red hot crowd, as the crowds for all the Piper-Snuka matches tended to be after the Piper’s Pit angle. In fact, this feud is one of those instances where the crowd heat was vital because here, like it so often was between these two, the match isn’t much more than a brawl (as you’d expect) but both guys are so intense (at one point, Piper screams “Arrgghh, motherfucker!” and it doesn’t get bleeped out) that you’re completely engaged because the crowd is going absolutely nuts. What’s also great is that Snuka blasts Piper with a chair, but it’s one of those rare matches where as a fan trying to suspend your disbelief, you don’t question the lack of a disqualification because, dammit, they want to kick each other’s asses and you want to see it go. So often, little things like that can kill the credibility of a match, but here, it just makes it even better. And then Piper gets busted open to really ramp up the intensity before a rough-looking crossbody off the top by Snuka leads to Piper dumping him over the top for the count-out win in just 7:06. Always better to leave them wanting more, I guess. It wasn’t long, and it wasn’t an all-time classic or anything like that but in it’s own way, it was absolutely perfect. Sadly, the post-match with Piper destroying Snuka’s neck with a steel chair and Snuka doing a stretcher job out of MSG (leading to the entry of The Tonga Kid in the feud) isn’t included here, but there’s a lot more from this feud on the Rowdy Roddy Piper’s Greatest Hits tape (see review elsewhere), so what are you waiting for?
Final Rating: **½
WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship
The Cobra (c) vs. The Black Tiger
For those who are unaware, Cobra was George Takano, a Ugandan-born wrestler who used the gimmick in Stampede, New Japan and Super World Sports. Black Tiger meanwhile was the legendary ‘Rollerball’ Mark Rocco, a monster star in the UK thanks to his consistent exposure on the ITV network in the 70s and 80s and his classic battles with Marty Jones, Dynamite Kid, ‘Ironfist’ Clive Meyers, Fuji Yamada (Keichi ‘Jushin Liger’ Yamada) and Kendo Nagasaki, amongst others. In fact, his series of matches over the World Heavy-Middleweight title opposite Sammy Lee (Satoru “Tiger Mask” Sayama) had been so fantastic, Lee and the New Japan office chose to bring Rocco in specifically to portray the Black Tiger character, as Tiger Mask’s arch-nemesis. So this match is for the vacant WWF Junior Heavyweight title, a curious title that, like the Women’s Tag Team title, was only featured when the WWF felt like acknowledging it, but otherwise spent a significant portion of it’s existence in Mexico and Japan. Dynamite Kid had been the previous champion, having won a triangular tournament over Cobra and Davey Boy Smith in New Japan in February 1984, but had given up the title when The British Bulldogs defected to All Japan in November, hence this match to determine the new champion. So you’ve got two guys who’ve never been on WWF television before (although Rocco had toured with the WWWF in 1980, having once wrestled against Hulk Hogan) fighting over a long-disregarded title, with no indication of who the heel or face is, and both are wearing masks, essentially making both of them expressionless robots. And on top of all of that, they’re both small guys in a territory renowned for pushing giants. Naturally, that all results in a dead crowd, at least to begin with, but, much like Jumping Bomb Angels some three years later, the crowd is completely into it by the end, a testament to the skill of both guys. Indeed, looking at the match with modern eyes you can call it a little disjointed and lacking in flow, but the shit they were pulling out here was so far ahead of its time, unlike anything else you saw in the WWF (or North America at large) at that point. You’re talking super-stiff lariats, somersault splashes, spinning heel kicks, gutwrench backbreakers, surfboards, the works, each new move drawing greater gasps from the audience, the biggest cheer being reserved for Cobra’s topé suicida to the outside. From there, Black Tiger starts breaking out the piledrivers, and when I say piledrivers, I mean tombstones. And when I say tombstone piledrivers, I mean REVERSE tombstone piledrivers. It’s 1984, and these two junior heavyweights have just waltzed into Madison Square Garden and not only unleashed the tombstone piledriver on an unsuspecting audience but in the course of the very same match, they’ve already introduced North America to the COUNER for the tombstone piledriver. Talk about state-of-the-art wrestling, that’s it right there. And then Cobra finishes with a middle-rope senton for the pin and the title. Like I said, it’s a little disjointed at times for modern eyes that have seen all this stuff a million and one times since, and there’s a distinct lack of selling on offer (I never did like that Japanese method of popping right up off tombstone piledrivers, much like that infamous Tiger Mask-Dynamite Kid post-match brawl from New Japan where they just kept popping up and tombstoning each other over and over), but for 1984, this was ground-breaking, mind-blowing stuff.
Final Rating: **¾
Trivia note – This match actually comes from a pretty famous MSG card, notable for two reasons. On-screen, a major angle took place in which Cyndi Lauper presented the WWF with a gold platinum record (accepted by Hulk Hogan and Wendi Richter) then presented Captain Lou Albano with a record of his own for his helping Lauper raise over $4 million for multiple sclerosis. Then Roddy Piper smashes the record over Albano’s head, shoves Lauper to the ground and bodyslams her boyfriend/manager David Wolff, setting up the Piper vs. Hogan War to Settle the Score MTV match, which in turn was the set up for the first ever WrestleMania. Off-screen meanwhile, the event was notable for being the site of the infamous ‘slap heard ’round the world’ incident. During an interview with 20/20 reporter John Stossel on the secrets of pro wrestling, Stossel smarmily informed ‘Dr. D’ David Schultz that he thought wrestling was “fake.” Flying into a rage, Schultz slapped Stossel twice across the face, angrily asking him “You think that’s fake? What the hell’s wrong with you?” Despite later claiming to have been told by WWF officials to slap Stossel if the reporter had gotten out of line, Schultz was fired for his actions, although some believe the firing was really over Schultz either challenging or attacking (details are sketchy) Mr. T backstage at a house show, and the Stossel incident was used as a scapegoat to protect Mr. T’s image going into WrestleMania. Schultz also later claimed in shoot interviews that WrestleMania was actually his idea, and that he expected to be in the spot that was instead given to Paul Orndorff, which isn’t an entirely unreasonable claim given that Roddy Piper actually came into the WWF in early 1984 as a manager rather than as a wrestler, his two charges being, you guessed it, Schultz and Orndorff, and the feeling from Schultz’s side was that if the press got a hold of the story of him beating the shit out of Mr. T for real, the WWF would have no choice but to push Schultz as a top heel and into the WrestleMania main event. The press never caught on, Schultz was dismissed, and besides a few brief stints in Memphis, Japan and Canada, he retired from the business to become a bounty hunter.
And now for the classically camp portion of the tape as Hulk Hogan tries to get ‘Mean’ Gene in ring shape for their upcoming tag team match against George ‘The Animal’ Steele & Mr. Fuji.
Day 1 – It’s 5am at Chez Okerlund where Hogan catches Gene smoking a cigar, drinking coffee and preparing bacon and blueberry pancakes, so he insists on making breakfast instead, forcing Gene to gulp down raw eggs. For a second there, I thought he was going to crack open another bag of his patented Python Pills.
Day 2 – Hogan takes Okerlund for a run around Lake Minnesota but Gene slinks off to get a beer and a hot dog, so Hogan drags him down to the Olympia gym and the terrible twosome hit the weights.
Day 3 – To the local ice hockey rink, where Hogan has Okerlund run up and down the arena stairs before doing the same himself, only with Gene on his shoulders. And then the real hilarity of the piece, as Hogan makes Gene run the stairs again… whilst giving Hogan a piggyback.
Day 4 – Hogan wheelbarrows Gene up a flight of stairs, and then they go for a run up some steps, Rocky Balboa style. And with that, Okerlund declares himself ready for Fuji and Steele. Hey, no wonder Garrett Bischoff sucks so much!
Hulk Hogan & Gene Okerlund vs. George Steele & Mr. Fuji
So all that training leads us to Minnesota boy Okerlund returning to his old AWA stomping grounds with The Hulkster in tow to sell out the Met Center against the villainous Fuji & Steele. And, as you might expect, it’s a total, local boy, send-the-crowd-home-happy house show type main event (in fact, the only camera in the building is a hard camera up in the bleachers as this wasn’t a television taping or a locally broadcast event like the WWF was frequently doing at the time.) Not only that, but it’s clipped down to the main points of the match as Hogan dominates the deadly duo, but the referee constitutes his and Okerlund’s high-five as a legal tag so Gene has to get in and face Animal Steele, but crawls through Steele’s legs to bring Hogan back in. That’s a pretty cute spot actually, but Okerlund getting out of there almost immediately made it pretty worthless. He did get a nice cheap shot on Fuji though, and he gets involved in the finish as Hogan disposes of Steele, then whips Fuji into Gene’s boots before slamming him down on top of Fuji for Okerlund to score the pin in his first match (but sadly not his last – remember his mini-feud with Mark Madden in WCW in 2000, or his tag team match alongside Sheamus on SmackDown! In 2012? Consider yourself lucky if you don’t.) I’d also be remiss in not pointing out one other curious facet of the match – Hogan seemed positively OBSESSED with Okerlund’s arse. Not only did he lean through the ropes and cop a pair of Hulkster Handfuls of Gene’s gluteus maximus as he was pinning Fuji, but they also slapped hands and bumped backsides together on no less than FOUR different occasions during this whole thing.
Final Rating: *
Bruno Sammartino vs. Larry Zbyszko
And now, one of those instances where the match is actually part of a much greater angle. Sammartino was wrestling’s ‘Living Legend’, beloved Italian American hero and former multi-year World champion. Zbyszko, like Sammartino a Pittsburgh, PA resident, had grown up like so many others, idolising Bruno, going so far as to successfully stake out Sammartino’s home in the hopes of convincing Sammartino to train him to become a wrestler. Sammartino was the teacher, Zbyszko was the student. Sammartino the master, Zbyszko the apprentice. However, by late 1979, Zbyszko had grown frustrated at his inability to shed the tag of being Bruno’s protégé, feeling the only way to shake off such a label would be to challenge Sammartino himself to a match. Sammartino initially refused to face Zbyszko, only agreeing to an ‘exhibition match’ after Zbyszko threatened retirement if Sammartino continued to rebuff his requests. So, with Sammartino having claimed his “heart wasn’t in it” because he “loved Zbyszko like a brother” but accepting the match on the grounds of not wanting to be responsible for ending Zbyszko’s career prematurely, we get this stunningly subtle scientific battle of clean-as-a-sheet, right down the middle grappling, with some very layered nuances. Sammartino would catch Zbyszko in a hold like a waistlock or a bearhug but immediately let go, apparently not want to hurt or injure Zbyszko, preferring to stand-up grapple with him. Zbyszko on the other hand would catch Sammartino with a hiptoss or a shoulderblock, and was able to catch a trio of two-counts on the veteran star, only to grow increasingly frustrated when Sammartino would refuse to engage him in full-on combat, as if this were just a sparring match to him. With Sammartino continuing to one-up Zbyszko at every turn but refusing to allow Zbyszko the same courtesy in return, Sammartino unwittingly enraged Zbyszko and, after a hammerlock reversal ended up with Zbyszko taking a spill through the ropes to the floor, Zbyszko finally snapped. With Bruno holding the ropes open, Zbyszko aggressively kicked Sammartino’s knee and went in for the kill, shoving down the referee before smashing Sammartino over the head three times with a wooden chair from ringside, leaving his trainer, his mentor, and the man who treated him like a brother, in a bloody pulp on the canvas in front of a shocked, enraged crowd. The match itself was good enough for *** – ***½ but screw that. To me, pro wrestling is all encompassing. It’s the whole deal, and the performance doesn’t end as soon as the bell rings, and this was THE classic pro wrestling heel turn of all time, leading to months and months of monster rematches, all building up to the epic steel cage showdown at Shea Stadium some eight months later. Perfect pro wrestling.
Final Rating: ***½
Steel Cage Match
Bruno Sammartino vs. Larry Zbyszko
And for our grand finale, we skip over the Sammartino-Zbyszko brawls from the likes of Madison Square Garden and the Philadelphia Spectrum, and instead join an enormous 36,295 at Shea for one of the biggest grudge match blow-offs of all time, quite criminally cut down from 15 minutes to about 5 for the purposes of the tape. It’s not to worry though, the full match isn’t really all that great when viewed with modern eyes. The crowd in 1980 just wanted to see Sammartino destroy Zbyszko, and besides a long heat segment with Zbyszko inflicting the punishment after a low blow, that’s exactly what they got, Sammartino decimating Zbyszko with punches, forearms and kicks. At one point, Zbyszko managed to slice open Sammartino’s arm on the cage, but Sammartino returned fire by opening Zbyszko’s head up, kicking him in the face and just casually walking out the door. Post-match, Zbyszko raises Sammartino’s hand after Bruno continues to punch him in the face. Seemed like a touch of miscommunication there. As you might have guessed, there’s no wrestling holds at all to speak of, and rightly so given the intensity of the bout, but sitting through a full 15-minutes of two guys pounding on each other confined to a 20×20 foot square isn’t all that exciting, so this is one of those instances where clipping it down probably makes it better. In terms of the audience it was aimed at, they loved every second of it, and it was absolutely the right match at the right time in the right setting. Watching it today though, while it does retain it’s historical value, there’s not a whole lot else to engage the viewer.
Final Rating: **½
Summary: In many ways, this was the perfect tape, an encompassing look at what the World Wrestling Federation had to offer its fans in the early-mid 80s. You’ve got superstar names, legendary angles, in-ring action, goofy cartoonish entertainment. If you were new to the WWF in 1985, this would have been just about the best collection to tell you all you needed to know, and it still holds up today as a terrific timepiece of the era, even if the in-ring action has long-since evolved. A fantastic overall tape.