Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Don Muraco
We start off by handing over to Arnold Furious, who has kindly covered this first match: From May 1985. Hogan comes out with Eye of the Tiger blaring throughout MSG. It might surprise a few people to learn that Muraco had a streak of MSG main events against Hogan right after WrestleMania I. The finale of which was a month after this in a cage. Muraco, being in a title match, is suitably motivated. Hogan was always at his best with big brawls with limited rules and that’s the case here. Muraco was truly wonderful as a punching bag. Given how much people enjoy Hogan kicking ass, it’s surprising they didn’t have more matches that avoided formula. Hogan is just insane here and his main weapon is the HEADBUTT. He also bashes Muraco with a wild chair shot. It’s a plastic chair but Hogan wasn’t even remotely careful with it and Muraco gets busted up in the hairline somewhere. Having absolutely hammered Muraco for the entire match, Hogan drops the leg and pins Muraco BUT his foot’s on the rope. Fuji put it there. Hogan can’t even hear the decision because the crowd is going NUTS. Muraco throws salt in Hogan’s eyes and it’s a DQ. Wonderful brawl that perfectly utilised both men. I can see why Hogan would want to work with Muraco, because he just ate up the abuse.
Final Rating: ***
Terry Funk vs. The Junkyard Dog
So, Furious volunteered for a match out of apparent kindness, but it turns out it was a good match, and yet I get JYD! I should have just made him do the whole tape. At least I get to watch Terry Funk in a era where I consider him at his very best. I love me some Terry Funk. This comes from January 1986 in Poughkeepsie, New York. JYD dominates at first with a back body drop, a slam and a bunch of headbutts, causing Funk to bail. Funk throws some wild drunken haymakers, but misses, and JYD responds with some shots of his own which connect, before sending Funk headfirst into the buckles ten times each on three sides of the ring. Jimmy Hart gets involved, and JYD gives chase, then hits a clothesline on Funk when the match resumes. Hart tries to attack JYD with a branding iron, but JYD throws him out of the ring. Funk gets stuck in the ropes, and JYD gets the branding iron, but Dory Funk Jr. enters the ring, making his debut, and takes out JYD with his cowboy boot for the DQ. Funk took a total pounding for JYD here, he got hammered from pillar to post. Very short and not much of a contest, but still pretty entertaining. Funk was one of the best around at making his opponent look great.
Final Rating: *½
Terry Funk vs. The Junkyard Dog
Curiously, the feud continues back in time, as we go to October 1985 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Coliseum are completely inept. Why would you show matches from a feud out of sequence!? An absolutely baffling decision. JYD jumps Funk before the bell and then goes for Jimmy Hart. Funk follows, but gets caught halfway by JYD and crotched on the ropes. He eventually gets it together and removes his ring gear, and manages to hit a slam. His first offensive move in either of these matches. He misses an elbow, and JYD slams him from in the ring to the outside in a vicious spot, which was typical of the kind of crazy shit Terry Funk would take. It is such a shame that he didn’t stay with the company longer than he did in this run, because he could have been a real player in this era, he had all the tools. There were few better heels in the company at the time than Terry Funk. JYD continues to dominate both Funk and Jimmy Hart, before Funk rallies with some big punches, including his famous left hook, which knocks JYD down for a two count. Funk puts on the sleeper, but JYD fights out and puts on one of his own. Hart gets on the apron and gets brought in the hard way, and Funk capitalises by nailing JYD with the megaphone and getting the win. He tries to brand JYD following the match, but gets stopped and clocked with it himself. JYD knocks out Hart with a headbutt, and then removes his pants, though the less said about that the better! It was for a purpose at least, as Dog “brands” Hart after the match. My problem with the use of a branding iron is that even if we are to believe that they heated it up first, the end is clearly not hot anymore by the time they have worked a match. Anyone who stops and thinks about it will have their suspension of disbelief ruined. Anyway, that was another fun match, but again it was short and thoroughly dominated by JYD. Still, it was energetic and Funk bumped around like crazy again, so it deserves some plaudits. Highly watchable.
Final Rating: **
Bruno Sammartino (c) vs. Ivan Koloff
Way back to October 1975 for this from MSG. Koloff is the man who beat Sammartino in 1971, to end his record breaking first title reign, which lasted seven years. After the result of that match, the crowd was so silent due to the shock of seeing Bruno lose the title, that Sammartino thought he had damaged his hearing. The chance of a riot was so high, that Koloff was not presented with the title, and instead quickly walked to the back as Sammartino stayed in the ring, and people in the audience started to cry. This is four years later, during Sammartino’s second reign as champion. For those who have never seen Sammartino wrestle before and only know him for his long title reigns rather than his in-ring work, I strongly recommend checking him out. He was a superb worker, for this and indeed any era. I actually enjoyed him even more when he returned to the WWF in the mid 80s, because he was an old bastard who could kick the shit out of you, like a pissed off dad. He is much bigger here some ten years earlier of course, though as his outspoken views on steroids over the years might tell you, he was completely natural. Unfortunately we get clipped down here, but we do still get a decent bulk of the match. Sammartino is the aggressor, working over Koloff’s back with a back drop and a series of knees, before putting on a bearhug. Koloff goes to the eyes to escape, and rolls out of the ring selling his back. It is a different style than what most new eyes watching this might be used to, almost a different sport to what it became under Vince McMahon Jr, but if you can appreciate the artistry and psychology of the stories being told, there is a lot of rewarding action to be found prior to the Hogan era. It is strange how in 1985 the WWF were happy to reference their history and use matches like this on tapes, but in later years they try to program their fans to forget it, often by mocking it. Then of course, they release DVD’s and hold Hall of Fame ceremonies that they want people to buy and watch, as they champion the very thing they have spent years burying. Curious company. Anyhow, I digress. Sammartino gets busted open and the state athletic commission doctor comes in to assess whether to stop the match, but he lets it continue. They go toe-to-toe and Koloff hits the ref, leading to a DQ. They continue to brawl afterwards, and the roster comes in to separate them. Gorilla Monsoon does retrospective commentary alone here, but he is makes an absolute arse of it. I love Gorilla and have an incredible amount of respect for him and usually enjoy his work at the announce desk, but this is shameful. He is trying to put this over as if Koloff is the champion and this is Bruno’s return match from after he lost the belt. The problem is, this match is FOUR YEARS after that one, and Koloff only held the belt for THREE WEEKS after dethroning Bruno, before dropping it to Pedro Morales. The maths obviously does not add up! Monsoon goes on about how Sammartino is livid because he didn’t regain the belt, and how it is a successful defence for Koloff, but knowing that this is a complete lie makes it very frustrating to watch. Where is the harm in presenting this as a Sammartino title defence? I just don’t get what he was trying to achieve by saying that. The match was alright but heavily clipped and with a confusing finish. I have seen some reports that say the bout was stopped due to blood loss from Sammartino, but it clearly wasn’t, it was a DQ, trust me.
Final Rating: **
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Tito Santana (c) vs. Greg Valentine
This title defence comes from September 1984 in London, Ontario, and also features on the History of the Intercontinental Belt tape. Valentine and Santana were embroiled in one of the hottest feuds of the entire decade at the time. These are two more guys who you might not fully appreciate if you have only seen their cartoon era stuff. Both were treated poorly as the years rolled on, and if you have only seen them in the late 80s and early 90s, then you will not fully appreciate the quality of either. Believe me, Santana is a million times better here than anything he ever did under the El Matador gimmick. Valentine jumps Santana outside the ring and injures his leg, and then we get clipped to midway through the bout. Valentine continues to work on the leg, which Tito is clearly favouring. Out of desperation he hits the flying forearm and seemingly gets the win, but Valentine’s foot was outside the ring. Valentine catches Santana with a knee to the back and hooks the injured leg to get the pin and the title. Post match, he puts on the figure four and Santana has to be stretchered out. This looked like it was good, but what we get here is far, far too short to rate. Between all of these tapes there is probably only one or two of the Valentine-Santana series of matches left unclipped and available in full. Deeply frustrating because it was a wonderful series of matches.
Final Rating: Not rated
We cut to footage of Santana getting his legitimate knee surgery. The segment is short, with Tito getting fixed up and cutting a groggy promo after waking up from the operation, about how he will be back for revenge.
Steel Cage Match
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Greg Valentine (c) vs. Tito Santana
We are at the Baltimore Civic Centre and it is July 1985. This is the big blow off to the feud. The match appears clipped and butchered on a few different tapes, but finally, we get to see it in full. It’s not like it’s even that long a match, so there is no excuse to rip chunks out. Anyway, like I say it is shown in full here, so if you do want to see it, this is the tape to get. While the pace is not quick by modern standards, they still go at it full tilt, both going for the door and attempting to climb the cage throughout. Valentine tries to ram Tito into the cage a couple of times, but Santana blocks it. Valentine stays in control and drops a hammer blow, but Santana prevents him from escaping the cage by whaling away at his legs. Tito climbs with Valentine, and they fight on the top rope, with Tito winning it. Santana tries to escape, but he suffers the same fate. Watching them go at it, you really get drawn in and feel like these guys hated each other, rather than this just being a match for the sake of having a match, as wrestling became years later. A lack of intensity and hatred can kill a feud dead, whereas having it can elevate things beyond the perceived capabilities of the wrestlers involved. These guys are both good workers as well as having all of that, so this is even better, and thus why it is such a fondly remembered program. Such a simple story too. The finish here sees Tito climb the middle of the cage, knocking Valentine off as he tries to stop him. Valentine notices the door next to him and shoots for it, but Tito kicks it closed onto his head and drops down to win the title. Valentine is livid post match, and trashes the title belt afterwards, which led to the creation of the most fondly remembered IC belt design, which lasted until 1998, before making a return in 2011. It is a good finish to a good match, and a great payoff to the feud.
Final Rating: ***¼
Superstar Billy Graham (c) vs. Bruno Sammartino
We go back to the 70s again, this time in August 1977 at MSG. Graham dethroned Sammartino to end his second reign as champion, beating him in controversial fashion with his foot on the ropes. This is the rematch some four months later and Gorilla Monsoon is the special referee for the match. As has been written before by us and indeed everyone else, Graham was well ahead of his time and would have been more suited to the cartoon era that followed a few years later. Sadly, when Graham did attempt a comeback during that time, he was too injured and too past his prime to make an impact. It is another of those “what might have been” situations. Sammartino starts this one strong with a big back drop and then beats the hell out of Graham. Gorilla Monsoon on commentary, talks us through his role as referee, saying he was never going to end the match on a count out or a DQ. Sammartino is all over Superstar, who is yet to mount an offensive move. Graham finds a piece of rope outside the ring, and Gorilla dives on him to stop him using it, but Bruno gets hold of it and uses it to choke Graham briefly, until Monsoon steps in. There is a great energy here, with Graham taking an absolute pasting and bumping all over the place for Bruno. There is a palpable difference between the crowd of this era, who believed what they were seeing, and the reactions years later when the audience knew it was a work. The loss of kayfabe, which can never return, has undoubtedly hurt the business irreparably. Vince McMahon let the cat out of the bag when he admitted that it was all staged in order to get around paying the athletic commissions, though it was widely known at the time, just never stated. Still, I wonder if McMahon sometimes regrets saving a few bucks at the expense of damaging his business long term, Back to the match, and Graham is now in control, nailing Bruno with the title belt. Gorilla refuses to call a DQ because he reasons that it won’t help Bruno, because all he wants is to win the title back, not just win the match. The belt shot busts Sammartino open, and Gorilla has a look and decides that he can continue. Bruno tastes his own blood and fires back with a big slam, which causes Graham to bail and try to leave. Gorilla is not having any of it, and chases the champ down the aisle, then carries him back to the ring. Hell, Gorilla should referee every match that Coliseum release, then we wouldn’t have to suffer so many shitty non-finishes! Bruno continues the onslaught and Graham is busted open now too. He unloads with a number of big shots, before locking on his famous bearhug. Graham nails Monsoon to try and get DQ’ed, but Gorilla doesn’t rise to the bait. Sammartino beats on Graham some more, and he is by far the aggressor. There is a lot of blood in there now. Gorilla is covered in it from both men, and it is just flying off Graham. Incredibly after everything Gorilla has said about wanting a finish, he stops the match and calls it a draw due to blood loss! Poor show Monsoon, poor show! Cracking old-school brawl though. Sammartino was vicious and Superstar was up for taking a beating and he took one well. Gruelling stuff.
Final Rating: ***¾
Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff
We finish with the main event of the very first WrestleMania, and the match that helped change the business. Mohammed Ali is the guest referee, alongside Pat Patterson. Piper and Mr. T start things off once we get going, and the crowd is electric as they slap each other. Piper tries to take T to the mat with an amateur takedown, but T escapes and does a fireman’s carry, just as all hell breaks loose. Ali restores order, and Piper decides he has had enough and goes to leave. In reality they do almost nothing for the opening exchanged, but the crowd is red hot. It just shows the importance of a good feud featuring charismatic guys. T is better than a lot of the wrestlers were in the cartoon era of the company. Hogan comes in with Piper and the Hulkster gets the better of it, and a double clothesline from the faces takes down Piper. T slams Piper twice and hip tosses Orndorff, and Hogan sends Piper to the outside with a big boot. The intensity here is just off the charts. The crowd wants to see Hogan and T murder Piper. Hogan takes a chair shot on the outside and Piper and Orndorff work him over with double teams. Mr. T tries to stop the assault, but Patterson prevents him from doing so. Double atomic drop from the heels, and a suplex from Orndorff as they do a number on Hogan. Orndorff hits a backbreaker but missed a knee from the top, and gets the tag to T who unloads with punches, but he gets taken down. It is one of the least effective hot tags I have ever seen! Though, he is not a wrestler so I guess he can be forgiven. This is set up so Hogan can take the glory, as ever, and of course Hogan gets the tag back from T and he rams Piper and Orndorff together, only to get caught with a back suplex. Orton tries to get involved, but Snuka comes in and takes him out with a headbutt. It all breaks down, but T stops Piper from attacking Hogan and Orton accidentally hits Orndorff with the cast on his arm, and Hogan covers for the win. Booked to the hilt, but it didn’t drag on too long and there was enough happening to make it interesting. I don’t rate it as highly as Furious, but it was ok considering who was in there.
Final Rating: **
Summary: A pleasant surprise, but a rather strange mix of things really, with the tape focusing on Terry Funk vs. JYD, Tito Santana vs. Greg Valentine and Bruno Sammartino against some of his most hated opponents, but it worked. The Funk-JYD stuff didn’t make for great wrestling matches, but it was still entertaining. When that is the worst part of the tape, you know you are onto a winner. Not only is this the only place you will find the Santana-Valentine cage match in full, but it also features a good Hogan match and an old-school classic between Sammartino and Billy Graham, containing plenty of blood. A good effort that is well worth owning. Recommended.