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Going Old School: WWF – Showdown at Shea 1980

September 30, 2007 | Posted by Matt Adamson
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Going Old School: WWF – Showdown at Shea 1980  

On August 9th 1980, the WWF had the first ever Supercard under new owner Vince McMahon Jr. You could say that this particular show was the first step toward WrestleMania for Vince. It was around mid-way through the Backlund era of the WWF, but McMahon seemed to see star potential in other areas. One of those harkens back to before the Backlund era to Bruno Sammartino who was back working exclusively with the WWF after having spent a few years freelancing around the world. This was the third Showdown at Shea that Sammartino would be a part of, making him the only wrestler to wrestle on all three Shea Stadium cards. The other star in the eye of Vince McMahon at the time was a young Larry Zbyszko. If there was a show to see in 1980, it was the Showdown at Shea.

August 9th 1980 from Shea Stadium in Flushing New York in front of a crowd of over 36,000 fans.

WWF – Showdown at Shea 1980

The tape I have of this show is a compilation of the matches that are floating around out there from this show. The show itself is not available to my knowledge as one whole show presented as such. Some of the matches were shown in Japan on Samurai TV, while others were on various WWF programming.

Pat Patterson vs. Tor Kamata

Pat Patterson had only been wrestling for the WWF for a little over a year at this point. In April earlier in 1980 he had lost the Intercontinental title to Ken Patera and was a baby face here. That Intercontinental title reign would be his last until 20 years later when he won the WWF Hardcore title from Gerald Brisco. Tor Kamata was at the very tail end of his wrestling career at this point. Most of his fame came from his time moving around the NWA territories during the 60’s and 70’s. Yes, he was that far into his career. He spent most of his career as a heel and played one here as well. The most notable parts of his career were in Stampede Wrestling and the time he spent in the AWA where he became a Tag Team Champion.

The match wasn’t much to behold. It was strange though in that it was a squash match, but it was tough to tell who was actually supposed to be squashing who. Kamata took over at the start of the match before Patterson was even able to get his entrance gear off. Not much happened after that but some punching and kicking and a little good old fashioned brawling. The match was over before I could even grab my pen to jot down a few notes when Kamata went to throw some salt at Patterson but hit the referee with it when Patterson ducked. Kamata was disqualified and that was it. Like I said, nothing but a squash, but was Kamata supposed to be doing the squashing or was Patterson?

Winner: Pat Patterson by DQ
Match Rating: ½*

World Tag Team Championship: The Wild Samoans © vs. Bob Backlund and Pedro Morales

This is about the biggest tag team match in the WWF in 1980. Bob Backlund was the WWF Heavyweight Champion and Pedro Morales of course is a former WWF Champ as well. The Wild Samoans are of course Afa and Sika, both members of the WWE Hall of Fame and one of the most famous tag teams of the 1970’s and early 80’s throughout the world. They were coming into this match during their first World Tag Team Champion, a title they had won 4 months prior from Ivan Putski and Tito Santana.

The match is joined in progress and there isn’t much for me to see, which is unfortunate for me considering the importance of the match. It’s actually a 2 out of 3 falls match, but the first falls is already over and Backlund and Morales came out on top in that one. Basically it’s just some running of the ropes and the finish as Afa goes for a body slam on Backlund, but it is turned into a Body Press for the three and the WWF Tag Team Championship. The next day Backlund and Morales would be stripped of the titles due to Backlund being the Heavyweight Champion. The Samoans would win the titles for the second time just 3 days after this show beating Tony Garea and Rene Goulet in the finals of a tournament. Too bad I don’t have the full match, the 45 seconds or so that I saw was quite good.

Winner: Bob Backlund and Pedro Morales
Match Rating: N/A

NWF Heavyweight Championship: Antonio Inoki © vs. “Pretty Boy” Larry Sharpe

Strangely Vince McMahon Jr. who is the ring announcer for the show announces this match for the NWF Heavyweight title before the match. After the match is over, he announces that it was for the WWF Martial Arts Championship. It doesn’t really matter because nothing changed hands here. Larry Sharpe is less known as a wrestler than as the trainer of many damn fine wrestlers like Kevin Von Erich, The Big Show, Raven, King Kong Bundy, Tony Atlas and others. He spent some time on the NWA circuit, primarily in Calgary with Stampede Wrestling. He also wrestled in Puerto Rico where he was a two time WWC North American Tag Team Champion. Antonio Inoki needs no introduction in Japan as he is essentially the most recognizable professional wrestler in the history in wrestling in Japan. You could consider him the Hulk Hogan of Japan as he led puroresu into it’s boom period. He was also at the time the owner of New Japan Pro Wrestling who had a working relationship with the WWF at the time that wouldn’t last terribly long. The previous year Inoki had defeated Backlund for the WWF Heavyweight Championship. He would lose the title a month later, but the WWF would never recognize this exchange. Inoki was in his peak at the time of this match and would wrestle for another 10 years full-time and 8 more years on and off beyond that.

Inoki started the match with a handshake and in true heel fashion, Sharpe ignores him. It was an interesting match to start off with a lot of mat based wrestling and lots of counters. Nice to see that style on a WWF show as it would fade for quite a while before guys like Kurt Angle would bring it back in early part of the current decade. The match was looking good until Sharpe apparently botches an Inoki Russian Leg Sweep and the match just goes to hell from there. They botch the living hell out of the ending as Inoki hits an enzuigiri but either the referee or Sharpe screws up the finish. The ref clearly counts to two, but Sharpe just lays there and doesn’t kick out, lift an arm or anything. Clearly he was expecting the match to end there. They kind of panic and regroup and they redo the exact finish and do it right this time and the match is over at 9:41. That was terribly painful to watch after the first half. Not the match you’d want to show somebody to get them into puro that’s for damn sure.

Winner: Antonio Inoki
Match Rating: ½*

Inoki is interviewed in Japanese. Interesting how well the Japanese media documents their wrestlers appearances in the states.

WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship: Tatsumi Fujinami © vs. Chavo Guerrero

This is really a dream match of mine. I’m a big fan of the New Japan old guard and I have an unending respect for the innovation of the Guerrero clan in pro wrestling. Tatsumi Fujinami was one of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s founding fathers as he was one of the four original members of the New Japan roster when they split of JWA in 1971. Fujinami was a two time WWF Jr. Heavyweight Champion by this point and had held the title since October of 1979 (he beat Ryuma Go). Chavo Guerrero is of course the father of WWE’s Chavo Guerrero and the older brother of Eddie Guerrero. He was also known in the WWE as Chavo Classic. This was relatively early in his career, just after his classic feud with Roddy Piper in California. He would later go on to greater fame wrestling for the AWA in a tag team with his brothers Mando and Hector in the late 1980‘s.

It’s matches like this one that make me glad I ever started watching wrestling as a youngster. These two were so tremendously talented in their prime and it shows in this match. The start off with some great back and forth offense which turns into hold/counter hold type wrestling for a good while, but it’s performed extraordinarily well. Fujinami lands a fantastic plancha on Chavo on the outside. Keep in mind that this is before Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask changed junior heavyweight wrestling forever, so this is really innovative stuff. It was nice to see them keep the attention spans of the fans in their minds as they worked because you can see that just about the time anything started to go on for too long, Chavo would switch things up and take the sequence in an entirely different direction while maintaining the general overall direction of the match. Fujinami gets huge props from me for busting out the old airplane spin. Just fantastic old school junior heavyweight work from these two. I have only two gripes about the match. The first is when they go for a drop kick at the same time, but don’t connect at all, yet they sell it like they did, which was too bad because everything was going so smoothly up to that point. The second gripe is that the match just wasn’t long enough. Another five minutes would have done this match well. Eventually Fujinami is able to get Chavo in a pinning combination for the three count at 10:28. Fabulous match! One of the best junior style matches I’ve personally seen from before Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask tore things up. Track this one down.

Winner: Tatsumi Fujinami
Match Rating: ***½

Fujinami is interviewed in Japanese. I really need to learn that language, it would make my life so much better.

Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant

These two are certainly no mystery to pretty much anybody who has any idea what professional wrestling is. This would be their second known meeting, but their first for the WWF, a fact which of course would be erased from history by Vince and Co. to promote WrestleMania III. They would also have a third match a little over a month later at Madison Square Garden that too was temporarily erased. Hogan was a very green heel being managed by classy Freddy Blassie who acted as his voice because Hogan hadn’t yet developed on the mic. Let’s hope Lashley evolves like Hogan did in that area. In doppleganger land of 1980, Andre the Giant is the clear baby face and gets a huge pop from the crowd. Andre was had yet to begin his downward spiral with regard to his health when this match happened. There are no mutton chops to be had but he’s sporting that awesome afro style hair like William Murderface from Metalocalypse. Andre the Dethklok Bassist!

Blassie was so awesome as a manager. Hejust taunts the crowd and they HATE him. It’s a beautiful thing really. I may have to bust out a review of the Andy Kauffman film, “My Breakfast With Blassie”. Hogan isn’t nearly as cut as he would later become, but it doesn’t mean he moves any faster here than he did years later. This match is filled to the brim with restholds. Long drawn out bear hugs take up an awful lot of time. Andre shows everybody he’s a giant, which the crowd, of course, loves. Hogan goes for the body slam but fails, which should be the case as the WrestleMania III version of history would have it. However, just moments later after the ref had been knocked out, Hogan gets the slam on Andre. I guess a ref has to see it for it to count. The end is another botched one (I suppose) as Andre slams Hogan and hit’s a Big Splash and covers. The referee counts three, but Hogan CLEARLY kicked out at two. Was he pulling his usual games here or did he or the ref just screw it up. I bet we’ll never find out. Match time is called at 7:48. After the match Hogan and Blassie attack Andre and open him up. Stretcher takes the original ref away. Wait, they sent in another referee? Thank goodness this match wasn’t any longer than this. Hogan is so green and Andre was too big to have any variety to his matches. Not a lot of fun to watch, but as an historical match it’s a must see.

Winner: Andre The Giant
Match Rating: ¾*

Intercontinental Championship: Ken Patera © vs. “Mr. USA” Tony Atlas

Ken Patera was billed as The World’s Strongest Man, though a little research would prove otherwise. He was in fact the World’s Third Strongest Man. Patera hadn’t been wrestling long by this point, but was the second ever Intercontinental Champion having defeated Pat Patterson four months prior and essentially being the first to have actually won the title in an actual match (Patterson was given the belt after having “won” a “tournament” in Rio De Janeiro, when in fact the tournament was fictitious). 1980 was right around the start of the peak of the wrestling career of Tony Atlas. His greatest accomplishment in wrestling would come 3 years later when he and Rocky Johnson would defeat the Wild Samoans in one of the most memorable matches ever. I have that show on tape somewhere, I’ll have to dig it out and review it one of these days.

Patera is accompanied by The Grand Wizard of Wrestling, who really makes Patera look like a star. Atlas gets a HUGE face pop, the biggest so far. It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to predict how this one would go. It quickly becomes a power match, but I was surprised that it didn’t stay that way. A little over halfway through the match, they begin the wrestle a very solid mat based match. They really managed to keep it interesting. Patera does a fantastic job of selling Altas’ power offense which impressed me considering how legitimately strong Patera was. You could probably assume that he was doing as he was told and trying to make Atlas look as good as possible. It certainly worked out that way, especially considering that Atlas got the win at about 8 minutes as Patera was counted out. Much better than I expected but criminally short. This show must have been running long.

Winner: Tony Atlas by countout
Match Rating: **

Atlas grabs the mic while still in the ring and tells Patera he isn’t finished with him and for him to get back in the ring. The Grand Wizard tells Patera to get moving and they head to the back. Too bad they didn’t keep it going.

Steel Cage Match: Bruno Sammartino vs. Larry Zbyszko

This is one of the most famous matches in wrestling history. In January 1980, Larry Zbyszko, who had been wrestling for the WWF for several years with some success, became frustrated that he was unable to shed his label as the protégé of Bruno Sammartino. He and Sammartino had a match at the request of Zbyszko. It was a rare face vs. face match, but that certainly wouldn’t last long. As the match progressed, Zbyszko was being mostly dominated. Sammartino threw him out of the ring at which time Zbyszko grabbed a chair and WAFFLED Sammartino with it. This instantly made Zbyszko the most hated heel in the WWF at the time. Zbyszko was actually assaulted by fans numerous times during the period after this incident. The feud would continue throughout 1980 until this match, which was the big blow off match in a cage at Shea. It is without a doubt the most important match in Larry Zbyszko’s career.

This match is won by escape only which sorely disappoints me as it changes the way the match flows as it always seems to be flowing in one direction (toward the door). The match is a typical cage brawl to start. Surprisingly Zbyszko gets in most of the offense at the start. I guess the idea is that he has learned Sammartino’s weaknesses over the course of their feud. Zbyszko’s control period went very well. He really looked sharp and managed to look convincing in his attacks. He uses some psychology working the arm like crazy to which Sammartino sells it extremely well. Everything in the match was going fantastically at this point; good psychology, good selling, some solid brawling, but it didn’t manage to keep that going to the end. This show was plagued with poor endings and this match is no exception. After all the work they did the match came down to Sammartino pummeling Zbyszko, straighting up and casually walking out the door to what very well might be the most anti-climactic ending to a major match I’ve ever seen. Some good does come after the match as Bruno would continue to sell the arm as he left the arena. It makes me wonder if he may have been hurt. A really nice little match marred by an incredibly bland ending. A real old school grudge match for the old school fan.

Winner: Bruno Sammartino
Match Rating: **¼

The 411: Aside from it’s historical relevancy, there isn’t much of a reason to track this one down unless you are into history. First of all it’s just pieced together from multiple sources. Second, the ending of no less than three of the seven matches are really poorly executed. Third, unless you can actually find the show run as a whole, it’s missing most of what could have been the match of the night. The Fujinami vs. Chavo match is absolutely worth tracking down, but preferably in a compilation with better matches if you’re not a completist like myself and want whole shows. It’s very historical so it gets a mild recommendation from me because of Fujinami vs. Guerrero, Hogan vs. Andre and the Main Event.
Final Score:  6.0   [ Average ]  legend

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