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The Name on the Marquee: Madison Square Garden Presents the WWF (01.23.84)

August 4, 2013 | Posted by Adam Nedeff
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The Name on the Marquee: Madison Square Garden Presents the WWF (01.23.84)  

So the original advertised main event for this show was a rematch between Bob Backlund and the newly-crowned WWF champion, Iron Shiek, but Vince McMahon decided to change it up. This had better be good…

-It’s January 23, 1984.

-Your hosts are Gorilla Monsoon and Pat Patterson.

-Your judges are Abe Coleman, Paula Mora, and Jack Gibbons.

-Your attending physician is Dr. Richard Estrico.

-Your timekeeper is Fred Abetello.

-Your referee is Santos Ramos.

-Your ring announcer is Howard Finkel.

-Is there a cushier sounding job on the planet than “judge for pro wrestling matches”?

-We kick off with a face vs. face clash, new jobber vs. old jobber. Tony’s been around longer so the crowd boos Rivera. Funny how completely quiet the crowd is and how mundane the commentary is to start off. This event contains a historical earthquake and it comes off as just any other night.

-Holds and counters are briskly exchanged because they’re faces and it’s a scientific match. Rivera is the first one to get a clear upper hand, applying a headlock and…getting comfy with it. Crowd turns on this match really fast, and we’re less than two minutes in when we get our first audible “BORING!”

-Garea applies a Steamboat-level armdrag and and takes control with shoulderblocks, which gets the crowd back into it. Garea works the arm. Rivera tries a monkeyflip and Garea avoids that with a cartwheel. Garea goes for a backdrop and Rivera tries to counter it with, of all moves, a dropkick, completely soaring over Garea and then landing ass-first on top of him, which draws an audible groan from 20,000 fans. They go home very shortly after that, with Garea countering a bodypress with a roll-up for the three-count. 0 for 1. Pretty colorless action.

-Invaders were on track to get a run with the Tag Team Titles. Invader #1 starts off with The Chunger. Invader gets an early roll-up and Tiger kicks out and just flashes an evil smile, which is a nice touch. Invaders switch off on Tiger to confuse him and work him over. Neat bit with the heels trying to distract the referee and failing, and then the Invaders wind up doing a better job of it.

-#2 and Fuji tie up and Fuji laughs in #2’s face, which just pisses him off and before long, he’s on his knees and getting booted. Invaders work Tiger’s arm, instead of the more time-tested strategy of catching him by the toe. #1 gets caught in the wrong corner and the heels finally get the edge. Diving headbutt to the balls by Fuji and the commentators are calling for the automatic disqualification.

-Fuji goes for a suplex, but #1 reverses it, then Flair-slams Fuji from the top rope. Double tags and #2 unleashes a beating on Tiger, and Gorilla commits a big fat oops by calling #2 “Johnny Rivera.” So that would make #1 Jose Gonzalez.

-#2 gets caught in a bearhug by the Chunger. #1 breaks the hold and the heels make the switch without tagging, which draws such incredible heat you’d swear it was the first time the fans had ever seen it.

-Fuji clamps on a nerve hold, but Johnny Rivera (again!) breaks it and makes the tag to #Jose. #1 goes for a bodypress off the second rope, but Tiget catches him in bearhug and turns it into an inverted atomic drop. Headlock by Tiger and the heels take advantage of some referee distraction by attacking #1 with a double…uh, massage, I guess.

-#1 tries to make a comeback but misses a corner charge, then makes the tag anyway in a pretty anticlimactic moment. #2 goes to work on the leg and the Invaders switch off with a series of bodypresses and splashes on top of the leg. Fuji tags in and gets the same treatment. He gets caught in an abdominal stretch. Fuji gets free and makes the tag, and then Lee gets caught in the same hold.

-Donnybrook erupts and the heels get Irish whipped into each other. The Invaders rowboat their opponents until the bell sounds and we have a time limit draw, which the Invaders celebrate by jumping across the ring like Shellcreepers. “Yay, our push is over!” 0 for 2. Started off okay, but ran out of steam quickly because the only story anybody was able to tell was “Do a spot, other guy tags in, do exactly the same spot.”

-In one of those moments where you can’t help wondering what you’re missing, there’s no commentary at the start of the match, Pat Patterson abruptly gets up and sprints back to the locker room, and then Howard Finkel runs over and hands Gorilla Monsoon a note.

-They trade holds without much progress until Chief Jay says “Fuck it” and goes for the mask. Superstar gets pissed and heads to the floor. Chief does the war dance. Jim Cornette once cited Chief Jay as being the guy who got the greatest level of overness with absolutely the least effort. His offense is VERY basic, and yet, the moment he starts dancing, the crowd goes bezerk.

-Chief Jay applies the sleeper and that appears to finish, but Superstar gets free and wallops him with a forearm to get an abrupt three-count. 0 for 3.

-It’s actually pretty impressive that Slaughter was able to get good heel heat consistently for several years before this, because the Marine Hymn just has a natural babyface feel to it.

-Slaughter stalls a little bit and even his old nemesis Pat Patterson gives him props for mastering the art of irritating his opponent, basically explaining that Slaughter only wears a hat and a combat belt to the ring for the express purpose of taking too damn long to remove them. Kinda weird to hear a commentator explain that.

-Side headlock by Putski and it’s funny to see how far Slaughter has to bend over for Putski to do that hold. He’s seriously almost at a right angle. Shoulder tackle by Putski and Slaughter sells it like he’s getting a bonus for it. Another side headlock by Putski and Slaughter breaks free with an atomic drop. Slaughter puts the boots to Putski and rams him into the turnbuckle. Putski counters by launching Slaughter over the top rope and ramming him into the post, and Slaughter blades.

-Putski boots Slaughter in the gut and Slaughter does a great sell off that, hanging himself over the rope. Irish whip and Slaughter does his usual bump off that. Damn, Slaughter tended to only get programmed against established guys, and it’s a shame because they way he sold and bumped could have turned somebody into a star overnight.

-Lariat by Slaughter, but he’s too hurt to capitalize, and Putski makes the comebck with a Polish hammer. Slaughter gets back to his feet. Putski tackles him, Slaughter dives over the top rope and catches himself on the bottom rope to hang himself on the way down. They brawl on the apron and Slaughter tumbles into the ring just in time to get a fluke win by count-out. 1 for 4. Total one man show and if I ever meet Slaughter in person, I’m going to give him a dollar out of my own pocket just for this match. Seriously, this match was a textbook for how to work with a weaker opponent.

-Gene Okerlund makes his MSG debut, talking to Paul Orndorff, who says that he takes his opponents seriously every time, even if it’s just a spaghetti eater like Salvatore Bellomo. He scorns everybody in New York for settling for a measly $600 a week collecting garbage.

“Mister Wonderful” PAUL ORNDORFF (with Rowdy Roddy Piper) vs SALVATORE BELLOMO
-Interesting crowd reactions for the newbies, with Orndorff nearly getting booed out of the building but Piper actually getting just a little bit of a pop. Orndorff stalls and stalls but Bellomo is too much of a gentleman to attack. Pat Patterson says, “If I was with him and he turned his back to me, I’d be on top of him.” Orndorff stalls so much that we’re three minutes in and he’s still wearing his robe.

-Words of wisdom from Gorilla Monsoon: “Referees should never lay hands on referees, and vice versa.” Indeed. Orndorff finally removes his robe and we’re five minutes in when physical contact is finally made, and Orndorff just dominates and slams and knees.

-Orndorff gets a hell of a backdrop and gets a two-count, which enrages Piper, and he rides the referee’s ass about not counting fast enough. Bellomo gets a pinfall attempt out of nowhere, and when he nearly wins it, Piper throws a tantrum over how fast the count was. Awesome. Amazing to look at Piper’s face two months after the Dog Collar match, and he’s still absolutely covered with cuts.

-Bellomo goes to work on the arm of Orndorff, with Piper doing some truly coked-up bitching about hair-pulling at ringside. Orndorff finally comes back and sends Bellomo to the floor. Piper gets right in Bellomo’s face and comes off as big a star as the guy he’s managing. I’m absolutely at a loss for why they used Piper for this role.

-Bellomo is still in it, which Gorilla Monsoon credits to his skills as “a gamer,” which is a weird word to hear in any context in 1984. They battle in the corner, with Bellomo doing a great job of looking like he’s fighting for his life. Orndorff comes off the top rope with a kneedrop, but Bellomo rolls out of the way and seizes the opportunity, going to work on the knee. He comes off the ropes and Orndorff gets a powerslam to turn things back his way. Piledriver gets the three count. 2 for 5. Holy shit, that was good action! Paul Orndorff came to make a good impression and he did exactly that. I kind of like Howard Finkel’s commitment to his role post-match. Orndorff won, it’s fucking obvious that Orndorff won, but Finkel won’t make an announcement until the referee has told him.

-Muraco comes to the ring in a red hoodie, and they cut to a shot of a guy in the crowd wearing a red hoodie, mugging and posing while his buddies laugh their asses off. I like that a lot more than a shot of somebody clapping, or giving a thumbs-down to the heel, or a shot of somebody wearing the official t-shirt and making the #1 gesture. It was just a shot of guys having fun at a wrestling show and it made you wish you were there.

-Lock-ups go nowhere. Tito applies a side headlock while the commentators explain that Bob Backlund was supposed to get a rematch for the World Title tonight, but he couldn’t get medical clearance and Hulk Hogan will be substituting, despite the objections of Freddy Blassie and the Iron Shiek. Funny to hear Gorilla’s halting delivery of the name “Hulk Hogan,” like he’s not used to saying it yet.

-Tito is still applying the headlock after I finish typing all that, and he’s losing the crowd, as a very noticeable “Tito sucks!” chant erupts. Tito’s just not trying at all tonight, which is exactly the opposite of what you expect from this guy.

-Still in a headlock and this match is turning into a hostage situation. This is absolutely the last match I would have expected to be shitting on tonight, but my god, we’re actually to a point where I’m HOPING that one guy or the other was genuinely injured, just so I could feel some sort of justification for how shitty this is.

-Muraco finally breaks the hold with a backbreaker, but can’t take advantage…and Tito reapplies the headlock. Dude, come on…you’re Tito Santana. Pat Patterson tries to save it with an explanation of how a headlock can cause perspiration to become clogged in your ears, making you unable to hear the referee count at crucial moments later in the match.

-Muraco gets back to his feet and nearly breaks free…but Tito gets back on the mat and reapplies the side headlock. Was Tito pissed at somebody in the back or something?

-Muraco finally, finally, finally breaks the hold with a Russian legsweep and a good number of fans audibly applaud him for doing so. Powerslam by Muraco gets two. Tito fights back with punches and a seres of boots. Albano runs into the ring and Tito beats on him a little bit. Tito goes for a bodypress, but Muraco collapses from the pain and Tito crashes to the mat, so both men are down.

-Muraco recovers first and goes to the top rope. Tito punches away at him before he can make a move off the top rope and the bell sounds out of nowhere. The official decision: A double disqualification. 2 for 6. What the dick was this crap?

-Gene Okerlund talks to Tito Santana. Tito wants a rematch.

-Midget time! I can’t make any sense of why a wrestler from Montreal would go by “Poncho.” His tag team partner, Dana Carpenter, is a really odd-looking midget, and I recall Bobby Heenan mentioning him in a shoot interview and saying that he wasn’t even a midget, he was a normally-developed guy who just happened to be incredibly short.

-Tiger and Poncho trade holds and have a pretty good match. Tiger Jackson applies a chicken wing, which is only worth noting here because a fan at ringside is just way too fucking excited about the move and screams “Chicken wiiiiiiiiiiiing!” four or five times.

-From there it’s just a slew of comedy spots. Midget matches have such an odd rhythm because it’s just a comedy spot, then a totally unrelated comedy spot, then a totally unrelated comedy spot, with nothing tying it together. It’s actually hard to recap them for that reason. Doing the match justice would require describing absolutely everything that happens. Haiti and Tiger take the first fall. Pier sixer erupts in the second fall and all four midgets pile on top of the referee. Bizarre finish has the Haiti Kid landing on top of Carpenter…and then absolutely nothing happens…and then the referee very sloooooooowly counts three to give the win to Haiti and Tiger. Gorilla abruptly throws it to commercial and the “something is wrong” vibe is very palpable. 2 for 7.

-Gene Okerlund talks to Iron Shiek and “Ayatollah Blassie.” Blassie complains about MSG pulling a “96er” on him by switching opponents. Shiek has a few words in Arabic.

WORLD TITLE: IRON SHEIK (with Ayatollah Blassie) vs. HULK HOGAN
-This is the match that was shown in the opening titles for WWF Championship Wrestling, and the actual match runs slightly longer. Good lord, Hogan is over here, and he only returned to TV three weeks earlier. So basically, the WWF fanbase’s reaction was, “Oh, he’s back…Yeah, go ahead and put the title on him, we’re ready for it.”

-Hogan attacks from behind to guarantee that he’ll at least walk away with the sportsmanship trophy. He chokes Sheik with Sheik’s own entrance robe. He punches away and follows with a clothesline and a kneedrop. He follows with an eyerake and a choke, to quell the rumors that he was actually Bob Backlund in an elaborate costume.

-He spits on the Sheik and then boots him in the face. Pin attempt only gets two and Gorilla is RIGHT THERE to point out that he forgot to hook the leg. Hogan whiffs on an axe bomber and follows it with an elbow. Hogan charges to the corner, but Sheik finally moves out of the way and takes advantage with stomps as the crowd chants “USA!” Backbreaker, but Hogan kicks out with authority. I cannot say enough about the crowd reaction here; lightning in a bottle, man.

-Sheik does his sinister boot-loading and kicks him, then goes for a Boston crab, but Hogan escapes from it by doing a push-up. Sheik recovers immediately and hits a gutwrench suplex for 2. Sheik finally decides to go for what’s always worked for him and gets the camel clutch.

-Pat & Gorilla immediately note that nobody has ever escaped from the camel clutch before, and you’ll never believe it…Hogan stands up and piggybacks/rams Sheik into the corner to break the hold, follows it with the legdrop, and the course of history is irrevocably altered. 3 for 8, because, whatever you think of Hulk, it’s hard not to give this a point. Best worker in the match: the fans. If I were Hulk I would have mailed an audio-recording of this to Verne Gagne and drawn a little middle finger on the label. Shiek stays on the mat clutching his neck and gasping for air to put over the leg drop, and they actually bring out the stretcher for him. Shiek gets off the stretcher and tries to attack post-match, but Hulk launches him over the top and onto the floor.

-Post-match, Andre douses Hogan in the locker room with champagne, and a few of the other faces show up to congratulate him too.

-Damn, now here’s a spot you don’t want to be in on the card.

-Goulet attacks from behind and takes control, and the crowd is just DEAD. Snuka fights back with a snapmare. Goulet takes him down with a claw, and that goes for about 45 minutes before Goulet finally lets go. Snuka chops him down and wraps it up with a bodypress off the top. 3 for 9.

-Gene Okerlund talks to Hulk Hogan and his parents, Ruth & Pete Hogan. You can tell which side of the family Hulk got his charisma from. His dad is a little bit nervous and clams up on camera, but his mother has an easy time chatting it up with Gene.

-Fun fact: This same night, Andre was a guest on “Late Night with David Letterman.”

-Tony starts with Samula. Bodypress gets two and Samu hides in the corner. Tony forces him over to the face corner and they switch off abusing Samula. Rocky Johnson noggin knocks Samu & Sika. Sika no-sells and Samula bumps like a pinball from it, so he’s probably adopted.

-Andre tags in and Samula actually manages to headbutt him down, and Afa tags in to go to work on Andre. Andre makes it back to his feet and takes control with headbutts of his own. Andre fights off all three Samoans and sits on him to get an easy three-count. 3 for 10. Weird match, with the former champs being treated like total jobbers and getting no real offense.

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The 411: Man, it's amazing how one match can totally save a card. Historical significance might give this show a pass, but if you don't know anywhere else you can look to find Hogan vs. Shiek, you're not trying. I say skip this one.
Final Score:  3.0   [ Bad ]  legend

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Adam Nedeff

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