RETRO RECAPS FROM JHAWK'S BEAK
Golden Age of Wrestling: June 30, 1961
Most Saturday mornings at 7am Eastern, ESPN Classic airs a one hour program entitled "The Golden Age of Wrestling". Basically, it's usually a repeat of the old "Wrestling Champions" show that aired out of Chicago in the 1960s, although occasionally you'll see an hour of Mid-South or Southwest Championship Wrestling. Unfortunately, they repeat the same 20 or so shows, so you see everything two or three times in a calendar year. Still, it serves as a good look at the way things used to be. Just a note though. What was good back then was really good, but what wasn't was really bad.
Since I have most of these shows on tape, I thought I'd take a look at one of them. I chose this one for two reasons:
1. This is one of the few shows ESPN Classic airs that has some sort of historical significance.
2. This is the only one of them I have an accurate date for.
Taped 6/30/1961 from Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois.
Your host is somebody who is never named.
We start with Dan Patrick or somebody from ESPN hyping our main event as clips from it play, and then we go immediately to the introductions of the "Match of the Century".
Two out of Three Falls with a 1 hour time limit For the NWA World Heavyweight Championship: Buddy Rogers vs. Pat O'Connor (c)
Rogers at this point has held Chicago's version of the US Title for about 11 years, and O'Connor has held the NWA Title since beating Dick Hutton in January 1959. O'Connor is announced as "formerly of New Zealand, but now of Chicago" to a cheap pop. Bobby Davis is allegedly at ringside but is never seen.
First Fall: Feeling out process to start. Lockup, into the ropes, clean break. Another lockup. They exchange forearms, with O'Connor getting the advantage. Rogers goes for a top wristlock, but O'Connor counters as we remind you to attend Marigold Arena every Wednesday and Saturday for wrestling action. Rogers finally hits the top wristlock, and as O'Connor gets to his feet, Rogers brings him back down by the hair like any good heel should. O'Connor finally reverses into a top wristlock of his own. Rogers breaks with a forearm, but O'Connor bounces off the ropes with a shoulderblock, and then puts on a SPINNING ARMBAR! Yes, a spinning armbar. Doesn't look like much, but Rogers sells it well as he reaches the ropes to break. O'Connor with another armbar, which gets a two count. Rogers frees himself and slams O'Connor, but O'Connor quickly gets to his feet, hits a slam and a hiptoss, and then back to the armbar. Many wrestlers and promoters at ringside, including Vince McMahon Sr. Rogers breaks the armbar with a clothesline, but O'Connor again comes back with a shoulderblock. O'Connor goes for his finisher, a piledriver, but Rogers sits down and both men fall into the ropes. Head and arm hold by Rogers, who uses the tights to bring O'Connor down and clamp on a reverse chinlock. Rogers looks blown up already. O'Connor pushes Rogers into the corner and hits a series of punches. He charges into the corner, but Rogers lifts his knee and covers for the three count and the first fall (8:30).
Fall Two: Lockup to start, and a punch by Rogers. Another lockup, another punch. Another lockup, and O'Connor teases a punch but breaks clean. The broadcaster sells the unlikelihood of O'Connor getting two straight on Rogers to retain the title. Rogers works a hammerlock, including throwing O'Connor to the mat while holding the hammerlock. Inventive spot that you never see today. Antonino Rocca meets Karl Von Hess if the match isn't a draw. Rogers rakes the face to keep O'Connor in the hold. And hides a choke. It's the subtle differences that made the difference back then. Even in a hold like this, somebody's always moving. O'Connor finally breaks the hold, then does a leg split--essentially a toehold while standing on the other foot. That's another subtle hold you never see today. Rogers breaks it, but a kip-up by O'Connor and he's back to the hold. That's a full 30 years before HBK, folks. Rogers kicks O'Connor off again, but is met with a shoulderblock, and O'Connor quickly back to another version of the toehold. O'Connor's a fall down if you forgot. Rogers rolls free but only for a moment, and O'Connor begins to take control, using a series of headlocks and punches, then rolling Rogers up in a rolling reverse cradle for the second fall. (6:00--14:30 total)
3rd Fall: Lockup, O'Connor with a side headlock. Standing armbar, but Rogers quickly to the ropes. The broadcaster says we'll probably see a lot of defense in the third fall. Punch by O'Connor, but Rogers with a shoulderblock, then both men go off the ropes--just to hit head-to-head. O'Connor again attempts the piledriver, but again Rogers sits down into the ropes, and they tumble onto the apron. They return to the ring, and O'Connor uses a series of running bodyslams to weaken Rogers. Cover, but Rogers gets the foot on the ropes at 2. O'Connor with some punches and a hair Beell (in a MEN'S MATCH), and a bodyslam for the cover and a two count. The heat at this point is amazing! O'Connor with more punches, and slamming Rogers' head into the corner several times. Rogers might be legally dead after the last one. Rogers tries desperately to come back, but O'Connor knocks him down with more punches, and a cover again only gets 2. Hiptoss out of the corner, and a dropkick, but another dropkick misses. O'Connor lands on his head, rolls around the ring holding his ribs, and Rogers slowly makes his way over for the cover...and the pin (7:00--21:30 total)! New NWA World Champion, Buddy Rogers. Match holds up very well today, and if you figure for the changing times may actually be one of the ten best matches ever. ****
Promoter Fred Kohler presents Rogers with the title, and Rogers thanks the promoter, but reminds the fans that "To a nicer guy it couldn't happen." See, that is a good heel. Remain cocky after the toughest match of your career.
One fall with a 20 minute time limit: Karl Von Hess vs. Antonino "Argentina" Rocca
Rocca is referred to as Argentina Rocca, because A) he's from Argentina and B) nobody can pronounce Antonino with saying "Antonio". Rocca was very popular in New York and Chicago because of their large Hispanic background, but for the life of me I can't figure out why he'd ever be over anywhere else. Von Hess begins with a headlock, but Rocca counters it with a deathlock. Rocca accentuates the hold with a headstand and peddling his feet like he's riding a bicycle. Von Hess breaks, but Rocca rolls around and legtrips him into a toehold. Back on their feet, and Rocca keeps Von Hess at bay by kicking Von Hess with his bare feet. then rolling into a series of takedowns. The broadcaster praises Rocca's popularity by noting that nobody's left Comiskey Park, and I theorize it's because this match was taped before that. Time permitting we'll give you the details on the title match in case you were a moron and tuned in late. Now here's a pointless Rocca trademark, and he rides on Von Hess and seemingly takes him down for a victory roll. Seemingly, because instead of going for a pin, and peddles his feet on Von Hess' chest. Hey, Rocca, try that with boots on and it might mean something. Rocca now with a headscissors. And a monkey flip. Notice Rocca almost never uses his upper body. And Triple H is accused of using his knee too much. Now an anklescissors. Yes, he queezes his ANKLES around Von Hess' head. Apparently they bought that in 1961. Von Hess finally gets a headlock (at the 7:00 mark or so), but Rocca kicks him off, and then slaps Von Hess! Hey, he used his hand! Did you know that Rocca was likened to a South American cheetah, except without the speed? Von Hess finally connects with some punches and chokeholds, but cannot keep an advantage without a chokehold or a facerake. Nice looking anklescissors takedown by Rocca. Von Hess gets to his feet and finally gets an armbar, but Rocca's in the ropes. A front facelock (with a choke) by Von Hess. Trading punches in the corner, then a lockup that goes nowhere. The broadcaster insults women everywhere by saying they should be envious of Rocca's flat stomach, then he says he's not insulting them. Sure. Note that these meaningless comments are more interesting than this match. Double toehold by Rocca at the 10 minute call. Crowd is dead, even during the alleged highspots. Our broadcaster says the opposite, of course. Von Hess finally breaks the hold with a reverse chinlock, then punches away at Rocca. Side headlock by Rocca, but Von Hess punches out of it. Series of bodyslams and a cover, but Rocca taps Von Hess on the shoulder, causing Von Hess to get up at 2. Von Hess celebrates, thinking he's won, but a series of dropkicks and an Argentina Backbreaker later, and Rocca wins by submission (13:00). This was merely filler, although I liked the finish. * Rocca had an unorthodox style. That doesn't mean "good".
The Last Word: This card drew over 30,000 fans to Comiskey Park (at the time a huge crowd) and was billed as the "Match of the Century". Maybe a bit of overhype, but a great match. Check your local listings for this one, but change the channel to a Miss Cleo infomercial after Rogers' promo.