This is one of the most important shows ever in the history of wrestling. It’s the night that launched Hulkamania and started Vince McMahon’s national takeover of the wrestling industry. It’s the birth of “sports entertainment.” So of course if had to be from Madison Square Garden, the World’s Most Famous Arena and unofficial home base of the WWF/WWE.
With WWE returning to Madison Square Garden for their first televised (or streamed, whatever we call it now) show in years, I wanted to look back on one of the biggest shows in the history of the Garden. This night came barely a month after Hulk Hogan made a triumphant return to the World Wrestling Federation. He saved Bob Backlund from a beating from the Wild Samoans, cementing himself as a babyface after a previous run in the organization as a heel. With Backlund too injured to accept his contractual rematch against Iron Sheik for the WWF Championship, the match was instead given to Hogan. So the stage was set for an historic night.
Oh, and as a disclaimer Hulk Hogan is a racist douchebag.
Gorilla Monsoon and Pat Patterson are on commentary.
We start with Howard Finkel saying the event is sanctioned by the New York State Athletic Commission and goes over the officials in attendance, including judges, timekeeper, and ringside doctor.
Jose Luis Rivera vs. Tony Garea
These guys are both babyfaces. Patterson says to expect a scientific match, and that’s what we get. They shake hands before locking up and proceed to go through holds, takedowns, and lots of other generic wrestling without any fire. The crowd starts to turn on it pretty quickly, and I don’t really blame them.
We do get the typical 80s “high spots” of cross body blocks and Dropkicks. Garea gets the win in 6:46 by rolling through a Cross Body into a pin.
Rating: *. Pretty dull match. Good technique, but just not much of anything else.
The Invaders vs. Mr. Fuji and Tiger Lee Chung
The Invaders are the babyfaces, a masked tag team. One of them is the guy who killed Bruiser Brody, but I’m not sure which one. Fuji and Chung are asian heels. Same act Fuji made money with all thoughout his career, this time with a different partner than Mr. Saito. I was thinking Saito wasn’t here because he had been fired for throwing a boulder through the window of a McDonalds with Ken Patera, but that didn’t happen for a few more months.
Gorilla makes a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that one of the Invaders used to be a lot smaller than the other. Presumably they switched in somebody different at some point.
The Invaders control early with quick tags and fast-paced offense. Fuji and Chung take control with cheating behind the referee’s back. They do a good job of cutting off the ring and sneak in cheap shots when the referee isn’t looking. This is at a point where heels cheating actually got the crowd riled up.
Fuji gets caught on the top rope and thrown off, allowing a hot tag by The Invaders. Invader #2 comes in hot, but gets caught with a Back Suplex by Chung. Now it’s Invader #2’s turn to get worked over. He eventually manages to make the tag, but once more the hot tag gets cut off. Chung hits an Inverted Atomic Drop and we’re back to heat.
The Invaders turn the tide by going to work on Chung’s leg. They lock a series of Abdominal Stretches. Just as they look to have the match won with a Double Leg Grapevine, the bell rings and we have a 20 minute time limit draw.
Rating: **½. Pretty good tag match, but went on for a really long time.
Masked Superstar vs. Chief Jay Strongbow
Masked Superstar is Bill Eadie, AKA Ax of Demolition. He’s masked here, this is the gimmick he used for most of his career. Strongbow is super old here. 54, according to Wikipedia.
Strongbow spends most of the match working a Headlock. Patterson and Gorilla speculate about the identity of Masked Superstar, saying Strongbow is going to go after the mask at some point. He does five minutes in, but Superstar rolls out of the ring.
Strongbow fires up with the war dance, but Superstar catches him with a big Back Elbow and gets the pin.
Rating: ½*. Not a fan. Strongbow took 90% of the offense despite being ancient. Could have done a lot more to put Superstar over.
Ivan Putski vs. Sgt. Slaughter
Putski was only 43 here, making him a spring chicken compared to Strongbow. Sarge hasn’t turned face yet. That happened a few months after this when he stopped Sheik from desecrating the American flag. Putski is over huge as a babyface. Slaughter gets out first entrance of the night, coming out to the Marine Corp Hymn.
Slaughter spends a long time stalling and refusing to lock up. Putski initially overpowers Slaughter, but Sarge turns on the tide with a shot to the sciatic nerve of Putski. Putski fires up for his comeback and busts Slaughter open with a right hand. Putski hits the Polish Hammer but doesn’t go for the cover. A Shoulderblock knocks Sarge to the floor. Sarge and Putski brawl on the ring apron and back into the ring, refusing to obey the referee’s commands. This causes a disqualification at 11:29. They brawl for awhile until we get the official announcement that Slaughter is the winner because Putski threw him back into the ring right before the count. Crowd didn’t like that.
Rating: **. Pretty good brawl there. Ton of heat. Crowd was infuriated by the decision.
Gene Okerlund interviews “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. He drops a few Italian slurs on Bellomo and says he wants some real competition.
Salvatore Bellomo vs. Paul Orndorff
Orndorff is accompanied by his manager, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Piper wasn’t really used as a wrestler initially, he was the mouthpiece for Orndorff.
They take a long time to get going here as Orndorff stalls while refusing to take off his robe. When we finally get going Sal works over Orndorff’s arm. Orndorff takes over and they go to the floor, where Orndorff slams Bellomo on the exposed floor. Back in the ring Orndorff misses a top rope Knee Drop. Bellomo makes his comeback, but gets caught with a Powerslam. Orndorff pulls Bellomo up at two, then hits the Piledriver for the win at 14:06.
Rating: **. Took a long time to get going, but was good once it did. Bellomo had a lot of energy and fire.
Mean Gene interviews Freddie Blassie, the manager of Iron Sheik. He rightfully complains that Sheik was training for Backlund and that it’s not fair he has to defend against Hogan instead. Sheik cuts a promo in Persian and Gene tells him to speak English. He also complains about having to fight Hogan. Once again, he has a point.
WWF Championship: Iron Sheik (c) vs. Hulk Hogan
World title match in the midcard? I don’t know if they’re realistically taking the NWA approach that the match could go to the 60 minute time-limit or if Hogan just wanted to get back to the hotel before they closed the kitchen.
I’m watching on the Network and they have Hogan coming out to “Real American,” but in reality he was still coming out to “Eye of the Tiger” at this point and would continue to for a year. The crowd’s reaction to Hogan is insane. Likewise, the heat on Sheik is pretty terrifying.
The crowd erupts for the bell. Hogan jumps Sheik before he can get his robe off. Then he clotheslines Sheik with it and chokes him. That bastard. Should have been disqualified right there. Hogan unloads with a series of illegal closed fists and then drops a knee on Sheik’s throat. Eye rake, choke. Nothing Hogan has done so far is legal. He spits on Sheik. Big Boot. There we go, at last a legal maneuver from the hero Hulk Hogan.
Hulk misses a charge into the corner and Sheik takes over. He softens up Hogan’s back in preparation for the Camel Clutch. Sheik kicks Hogan in the throat, which I consider fair play after what Hogan’s done to him. Sheik locks on a Tehran Crab, which Hogan powers out of. Sheik hits a Gordbuster and locks on the Camel Clutch. Hogan powers out, gets Sheik up on his back, and rams him into the turnbuckle!
Hogan drops the leg and gets the pin to become the WWF Champion at 5:40.
Rating: **. Short, but quite good. Both guys played their roles well here. Nothing fancy, but good basic storytelling and a great victory for Hogan.
Hogan’s celebration goes on for a long time and the crowd never really calms down. Eventually Sheik gets up and goes after him and gets tossed to the floor.
Mean Gene interviews Hogan backstage. It’s a champagne celebration with Hogan, Andre, Soul Patrol, and Ivan Putski. Always love that kind of thing. Makes a championship win so much bigger.
Rene Goulet vs. Jimmy Snuka
Downside of having the title match realistically go on in the middle of the show: it’s super anti-climatic to have other matches afterward. Alright, we’ve got our second match of the night featuring an accused murderer. We’ll see if Snuka can beat the charges like Super Invader did.
The fact that Snuka was the WWF’s top babyface for a couple years in the early 1980s probably isn’t remembered the way it should be. Backlund was the champion, but Snuka was the drawing card until Hogan showed up.
This one is academic, as Snuka gets the win in 3:54 with the Cross Body.
Rating: ½*. Barely a match.
The Wild Samoans and Samula vs. Andre the Giant, Tony Atlas, and Rocky Johnson
Atlas and Johnson, known as “Soul Patrol,” are the reigning tag team champions. Samula is a young Samu, best known as part of The Headshrinkers. This will be our main event for the evening. Interesting that Andre goes on last even on the night Hogan becomes the champion.
Andre pins Samula in 5:29 with a Big Boot and Sitdown Splash.
Rating: ½*. As generic as it gets. No reason for this to go on last over Hogan’s title win that I can think of.
Overall: I’ll grade on a curve and say this is a pretty average show for the era. We had a monumental moment in Hogan’s title win, so nobody was leaving the arena disappointed this night. Other than that, there were a few decent matches but nothing that interesting. Really, this showed me why the WWF didn’t really go national for another year after this, because they didn’t really have the pieces in place yet. The card is overcrowded with washed up guys from the 1960s and 1970s. Over the course of the next two years they’d really turn the roster over and add guys like Randy Savage, Jake Roberts, Ricky Steamboat, and Junkyard Dog who would form the supporting cast of the boom period to come.