/14 February 2000
WWF Classics by Chris Brooker
The cutting edge of the WWF from the early eighties with all the modern commercials you could ask for. Is there anything more a man could want in life?
Your hosts on this glorious Monday evening are Vince McMahon( Looking decidedly young. ) and Pat Patterson. ( Looking shockingly identical to the Patterson circa Y2K. ). Their informal pre-show banter promises us a look at Billy Graham, Rocky Johnson, the tag team champs Fuji & Saito and the returning Don Muraco. Without further ado let's go down to ringside.
As soon as we hit the ring the ring announcer takes an ice age's worth of time to introduce the local Athletic Commission, the timekeeper, the referees and the doctors in attendance. Oddly enough despite taking time to make sure everyone else gets their five minutes of fame he completely garbles his own name so I have no idea who he is. Thankfully, before he starts individually welcoming the audience for turning up we get straight down to the action.
It's Tony Rico ( From Montreal which is always a good thing. ) V Superstar Billy Graham w/ The Grand Wizard of Wrestling. For anyone not familiar with the shows at the time 99.9% of all televised matches were squashes. Normally it takes less than a minute to decide who the sacrificial lamb is and in this case it seems obvious that Montreal-Boy is going to take a tumble. I should also point at that Graham is wearing Martial Arts style pyjamas to the ring. This being a far more definate sign of karate prowess than actually being able to do any.
The bell rings and Graham wastes no time in pushing Rico back into the corner and striking with the Kung Fu eye gouge. He then runs his head into the opposite turnbuckle and delivers two stiff elbows to the back of his head. Graham whips Rico off the ropes but a double chop misses ( By some distance... ) and my fellow Montrealean (!) hits a drop-kick. This fails to take Superstar off his feet and the second one is side stepped bringing Rico's token offence to a close. Graham whips Rico into the ropes, hits a pseudo-karate thrust to the throat and pins him. ( 1:40 )
Absolute annihilation, Graham didn't even break a sweat. Mind you, if the steroid rumours were true then it's a blessing. Rico might have gotten loaded just through physical contact with it.
With there being some five years or so before the words "sports" and "entertainment" are tacked together we get straight down to the next match. Neither of the participants are shown walking in the backstage area. I know, it's a tough concept but if I can grasp in then anyone can.
Waiting in the ring it's Johnny Rodz and his opponent is Rocky "The Most Electrifying Seed In Sports Entertainment" Johnson. For a moment I wonder why Rocky isn't being pushed as a second generation superstar before I remember Peter Maivia was his father in law. Doh!
Something else is bugging me. I know Johnny Rodz went on to train someone but I cannot for the life of me remember who. Answers on a postcard ( Or E-mail... ). Anyway, back to the action.
Rocky and Rodz ( Rap group in the making? ) circle each other, giving Johnson a chance to show off his Ali shuffle and Vince a chance to mention his boxing background. They tie up and back into the corner. Rodz whips Rocky to the far corner but gets reversed into the turnbuckles and begs off. He then sneaks in a forearm and backs Johnson against the rops, biting and punching to his heart's content. He then whips Rocky across the ring but gets a reversal and a backdrop for his problems. Rodz begs off again.
A second tie up is broken when Johnson simply punches his opponent in the head. Simple but effective. A Road Dogg-esque series of left hand jabs is somewhat spoiled by the fact that Rodz completely fails to sell them but the following right hand decks him all the same. Rodz somehow manages to get his arm trapped between the ropes and the referee has to save him.
Rodz changes tactics and goes for an armwringer which is promptly reversed. A series of reversals sees Rocky flip over and kick Rodz off with his both legs before rolling back onto his feet again. Rodz then bails, essentially sucking any momentum out of the match.
The third tie up of the match sees Rodz attack with some knees and elbows into the corner and lays in with a choke. It dawns on me at this point that neither man is selling for the other. Rodz manages to grab a headlock and gets pushed into the ropes. He shoulderblocks Johnson and barely knocks him off his feet. Rodz then comes off the opposite side and tries for a cross body that misses by a country mile and several seconds. Rocky then plants Rodz with a cross body of his own for the pin. (3:25)
Oddly enough, though both men barely left their feet for the cross body blocks the crowd really popped for them. Odd until you realise that they were the hurricanranas and asai moonsaults of the day. That's progress for you.
Match three sees Victor Mercado w/Very Big Hair take on Playboy Buddy Rose w/ The Grand Wizard of Wrestling & Two Bunny Girls wearing far too much eyeshadow. For anyone not familiar with Rose's gimmick he played the part of a narcissistic Playboy despite being closer in physique to Jim Ross than Shawn Michaels. Needless to say, this endless primping and preening bought him some serious heat. One of the bunny girls runs a comb through his hair while a chant of "asshole" starts in earnest.
The camera shows a sing in the audience that says "Buddy Rose is a Fat Pig!". Notable for two things. One, it's got a very meticulously drawn pig on it. Two, it looks like the ONLY sign in the entire building. Oh for the days when a sign guaranteed you airtime.
We return to the ring and Vinnie Mac on commentary points out that the crowd is in fact chanting "fatso". It did strike me a little bizarre that they would allow a crowd to chant "asshole" at that point in history. Guess I've been a little too conditioned lately by the McMahon/Helmsley era.
Buddy blindsides Mercado and chops him down before running him into the opposite buckle. Massive heel heat for him. Patterson makes an unintentionally amusing line about Buddy Rose thinking he's the only man that can attract women. Mercado manages to reverse an irish whip and connect with a drop-kick and the crowd is literally begging him to beat Buddy Rose. This is short lived as the second drop-kick is sidestepped and Playboy goes right after his knee, draping it across the second rope and snapping it three times. Rose then wraps his knee around the ring post and brings him into the centre of the ring. One kneebar later and Mercado has quit. (2:50) Buddy celebrates in the ring with a kiss from each of the overly made-up bunny girls and a chorus of boos.
True to form we go straight to the next match. Lo and behold it's an amazingly young looking Eddie Gilbert going up against Bob Bradley. The ring announcer inadvertantly suggests that Lexington is in Kentucky getting what can only be described as "a look" from Eddie. Bradley is BIG, not ripped or plump but definitely BIG. Needless to say he goes straight in for a test of strength which young Eddie stands no chance in. If this match were ten years later then Bradley would probably already have had a bottle broken on him. Progress again?
Gilbert sense the futility of overpowering Bradley and breaks the test with his knee before camping on a headlock and walks up the turnbuckles to take him over. Big Bob turns it into a top wristlock and pushes Eddie onto his back. Eddie promptly goes behind him, takes him down and slaps on a crossface which he rolls over for a two count. Gilbert goes back to the headloack and this time counters the wristlock by pulling Bob's legs out and dropping him on his face.
Pat makes a comment about Eddie's intensity and the way he always stares his opponent straight in the eyes. Bob promptly eye gouges Gilbert which goes to show the inherent problems in doing that. Big Bradley then muscles Eddie up in one of the most unstable press slams I've ever seen, just about managing to drop him in a way that isn't life threatening. He follows with an elbow drop, stomps and a series of elbows.
Eddies then fires back out of nowhere with a punch that sends Big Bob reeling. More punches and a whip into a backdrop is followed by a drop-kick. Gilbert then hits a flying forearm off the ropes for the 123. (3:08)
I wonder how old Eddie was at the time. The camera then takes off for a pan through the crowd. A bearded joker in the second row makes the "I'll make this guy look like he's a rabbit by holding two fingers behind his head" joke. This just goes to show that while wrestling dates rather quickly the classic jokes will never, ever die. No matter what we do to them.
We return to the ring in time for the WWF Tag Team Champions of the Woooooooorld (tm) Mr. Fuji & Mr. Saito w/Captain Lou Albano and major league heel heat. Welcome to the WWF of the early eighties where the guaranteed way to get heel heat is to be fat or foreign. Rumours that Luciano Pavarotti nearly signed with the WWF are merely rumours. Their opponents are Curt Hennig & Barry Hart w/matching jackets. If Barry Hart sounds familiar then it's because he went on to achieve much greater fame as Barry Horowitz. Note that I say fame rather than success. If Curt Hennig sounds familiar then go look him up somewhere. I can't be expected to explain everything.
Hennig and Saito to start. Saito grabs him in a front waistlock and muscles him up into a bodyslam. Hennig takes him down to the mat but Saito makes the ropes. Saito comes back with a pair of side headlock takedowns that he positively SNAPS off and tags in Fuji. Fuji's whip across the ring is reversed and he finds himself bodyslammed twice. Hennig follows up with a drop-kick which, while good, isn't quite Perfect. He then reverses Fuji's suplex attempt but manages to catch Fuji's knees into his gut when he tries a splash off the ropes. Saito tags in but inadvertantly lets Hennig crawl through his legs and make the warm tag to Hart. To coin a phrase Hart is the future-jobber-to-the-stars-afire for a matter of seconds until he runs into Saito's side kick. The champs then use quick tags to work him over with chops and Saito even throws Hart to the floor for Lou to get his licks in. Massive chant of "We Want Snuka". ( More on this later...) Hart gets slammed back into the ring and Fuji whips him into a double kick in the corner from Saito. Fuji with a slam. Fuji with a Vader style pump splash and that's it for Hart. No time announced as we immediately shoot over to Rogers' Corner. Vince goes on the record and states that the opinions stated on Roger's Corner are not neccesarily those of the World Wrestling Federation. Wha-hey, get ready for some controversy.
What, I hear you ask, is Rogers' corner? Before the Heartbreak Hotel, the King's Court, Brutus' Barber Shop and even Piper's Pit there was Rogers' Corner. The host? The original Nature Boy and first man to have held both the WWWF and NWA World titles, Mr. Buddy Rogers. I'll admit I've never seen him wrestle but he's damn good talker. He talks about the attack on Jimmy Snuka by Ray Stevens, Lou Albano and Freddie Blassie and lets everyone know that it was deeply premeditated. Outrageous considering that Lou was Snuka's manager at the time. He then reveals that Fred Blassie and Lou co-manage Stevens which is utterly unheard of at the time.
The good news is that Jimmy's getting better, the stitches are out and the neck brace is coming off soon. He promises that fur will fly when Snuka gets back. I wouldn't be surprised if Snuka does some flying too.
Hand on, where was my controversy? I feel so cheated...
We come back to the ring for Don "Not The Rock" Muraco W/Lou Albano V Jeff Craney. Don's just come back from a holiday in his hometown of Hawaii and looks tanned if a little plump compared to his ripped heyday. The crowd starts up a chant of "beach bum" which may be the least insulting chant I've ever heard. Right from the outset it becomes apparent that Muraco is not getting paid by the hour. He strikes with a gutbuster and then whips Craney into a clothesline, following that up with a leg drop and a forearm shot off the second rope. After spilling Craney out onto the timekeepers table Muraco brings him back in and drills him with a swinging neckbreaker. Craney gets a single punch in for his token offence but is swiftly kneelifted out of his boots. Don scoops him up and drills him with a tombstone piledriver that looks pretty nasty considering the mat doesn't even attempt to give an inch, The pinfall is academic. Total squash and the most energetic match of the show. (1:40)
The "We Want Snuka" chant starts in earnest. Hmmm, do I sense a feud looming? This, if my memory serves correctly, leads up the infamous "Mick Foley hitch-hiked here" steel cage match at MSG.
Now it's time for Jerry "O" V Ray "The Crippler" Stevens w/ Capt. Lou Albano and Classy Freddie Blassie. The Snuka chants are back with a real vengeance. Stevens is all over "O" with a vengeance, choking and punching the life out of him before throwing him over the top rope to the floor. Lou and Freddie get their remarkably weak looking shots in and "O" sells them like he's being hit with baseball bats. I still can't grasp what that name's about. Stevens reaches through the ropes and runs him into the ring post. The man they call "O" then take a minor lifetime to come back in. Must have done the trick though because he manages to summon up a series of punches and whips The Crippler into a backdrop. Sadly for the man with the one letter surname his following elbow drop misses and he doesn't get another chance.
Stevene really likes that choke. With the execption of a few punches, it's about all he does for the rest of the match. Eventually he decides to put "O" out of his misery and drops him throat first on the top rope. Piledriver. Pin. Another squash but unbearably drawn out. No time announced, possibly because the timekeepers concentration wavered.
Once again no time is wasted in bringing out Tony Russo w/All Japan Jacket V Intercontinental Champion Pedro Morales. Vince is quick to point out that this is a non-title match. Ironic, since the odds of Morales losing here are so slight that he might as well have put the title, his hair, his career, his house and several years service from Senora Morales on the line.
Personally I'm intent on spending the next few minutes listening out for any amusing commentary based around the name "Russo". Sadly Vince and Pat let me down badly. Why couldn't they have tried to book a Kevin Sullivan/Russo match? That would have been full of priceless lines. Anyway, back to reality.
Russo chops Morales into the corner but gets his whip to the opposite corner reversed and is hiptossed for his troubles. The IC champ then uses a couple of side headlock takedowns before Russo uses a handful of hair to get back into the fight. He chokes Pedro in the corner and rams his head into the opposite buckle. Morales cuts him off in no uncertain terms with a left that knocks him flat on his back. He then takes Russo down with a hammerlock only to get caught in a headlock of sorts at the same time. It's the wrestling equivalent of an embarrassing silence as they lie there in a stalemate until the ref calls for the break.
Speaking of embarrassing silence, there have been gaps in the commentary as long as half a minute during this program. Is it the primitive recording technology of the time? Are Vince and Pat too polite to interrupt, silently spending time going "No, after you I insist."? Are they just tired of saying "backdrop" and "Second drop-kick misses."? Who knows or dares to guess.
Russo attacks again with kicks and chops only to be felled by another left hand punch. He manages to force a tie up into the ropes, kicking and stomping Morales onto the apron. Bringing him back into the ring Russo tries an irish whip but gets reversed into a backdrop. Morales follows this up by shoulderblocking him down and, when Russo tries for a backdrop, ties him up in a small package for the 123.
Over all not too bad a show. The highlights definitely being Muraco's no bullshit squashing of Jeff Craney and the nostalgia of seeing a very young Eddie Gilbert as well as a comparatively anorexic looking Curt Hennig. It's also utterly impossible to compare this programme with Raw, Nitro or anything else on TV today. The moves that had the crowd on their feet back then are the sort that even your average prelim grappler can shrug off nowadays. One thing I will say is that watching it makes me realise just how far it's all come and just how good wrestling can be these days.
Oh yeah, and check out the UK Grappler club on Yahoo. It's getting a real makeover.
Until next time.
The Brooker Man