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WWF at Madison Square Garden - March 24, 1980

by erick von erich

This is a fairly famous card, as it sold out both MSG and the Felt Forum. Highlighted by a "Double Main Event", which includes Bruno Sammartino taking on his protege-turned-traitor, Larry Zbyszko. The "pupil turns on mentor" storyline had been done many times before and after, but this particular feud remains a classic amongst old-school fans. It helped that it featured no less than the legendary Bruno Samamrtino being backstabbed. Bruno WAS pro wrestling to a lot of folks, which made the angle incredibly huge. To relate it a similar situation of the era: imagine if the Dallas Cowboys' #2 quarterback and heir apparent, Danny White, suddenly walked up to the incumbent Roger Staubach, blasted him with a chair and told him to shove it. Yeah, people would've tried to lynch White. But with so much going on in the World Wrestling Federation, let's get down to ringside for...

Match 1: "Bulldog" Brower vs. Frankie Williams

Vince McMahon is flying solo in the commentary booth and does an exceptional job with his Howard Cossell wannabe play-by-play. It's been said before, but it's worth repeating that Vince McMahon, pre-expansion, was a very capable announcer. Well before he resulted to yelling and relying on phrases like: "wotta' manuever" or "hammering away". Howard Finkel is our ring announcer, as he introduces Brower as "The One Man Riot Squad", which is supposed to make him a bad-ass... but consider that a riot squad is usually dispatched by the cops to control a situation. So "The One Man Riot" would've been a better moniker. Anyways, Brower looks like he's pushing 50, here, and McMahon spends much of the match talking about he's over-the-hill and seen better days. Imagine if the title character from "Porky's" had become a wrestler; that's Brower in 1980. Match is nothing but a buncha' clubbering, chinlocks and front facelocks from Brower. Williams gets two drop-kicks and they do a quick bounce off the ropes to shoulder-block each other. Brower whips Williams to ropes for a reverse elbowsmash, then drops an elbow to get the pin.

Match 2: Kerry Von Erich vs. Jose Estrada

Kerry's making his first MSG appeareance. THIS is the Kerry that sent fans and promoters into a tizzy-- he's rather spry, has good manueverablity and is a bit slimmer. In fact, he's built more like Kevin at this point. Vince talks about Kerry is the third Von Erich brother to appear in MSG (behind David and Kevin) and even talks about daddy Fritz. Estrada starts off fair, even allowing two clean breaks. Kerry keeps getting the upper hand, so you know Estrada soons snaps and begins getting in cheap-shots. Kerry soons takes over with some flying armdrags and a splash for 2. Monkeyflip from Kerry, but Estrada begs him off and gets a low-blow. Kerry responds with a fireman's carry takedown, then works on Estrada's leg. Kerry hooks the legs and flips over to get a 2 count. Estrada jabs him in the ribs, then rakes the eyes and whips him into the turnbuckle for a shoulder-tackle. He whips Kerry to the opposite corner for more of the same, but Kerry hops up, rolls it forward into a pinning combination and gets the 3 count pin at 10:49. Might've sounded like Kerry was wearing his Work Boots, but this was Estrada selling the right spots and basically carrying the match.

Match 3: Tor Kamata vs. Mike Masters

Kamata atatcks before the bell and the brawl is on. Kamata chokes him on the bottom rope, sending Masters outside. Masters returns to club away on Kamata's noggin and even things out for a spell. The Penultimate Knuckelock Challenge happens and Masters seems to be winning, until Kamata makes it to the ropes. Masters get the advantage with an arm-wringer, but Kamata kicks him back outside. Back in, Masters gets a backdrop, but blows a second one. Kamata kicks him in the chest, then drops a knee to score the 3 at 5:46. There must've been a pretty bad-ass buffet in the locker room, 'cuz Kamata books out of the ring area, immediately.

Match 4: Bruno Sammartino (w/Arnold Skaaland) vs. Larry Zbyszko

Crowd is amped and begins chanting "Bru-no" as introductions are underway. Bruno blasts Larry with 3 armdrags during the intial lock-ups and works the arm. I've never heard a crowd pop SO much for a simple manuever! Larry shoves him off to the ropes, but Bruno's right back with a waistlock. Larry comes off the ropes with a shoulderblock. Bruno counters with an armdrag and goes back to the arm, until Larry elbows him in the eye and takes over. Larry stomps, whips Bruno hard into the corner, then works a hammerlock. Abdominal stretch from Larry, which Bruno counters into a full-nelson. Rope break, crowd boos, and Larry bails. He returns to work over Bruno with a series of axe-handles and kicks. Bruno fights back, tosses Larry around the ring and clamps on a bearhug. Rope break saves Larry, again, as we hear he has a bloody nose. More punishment from Bruno, who even pulls the hair at one point. Charging shoulderblock sends Bruno outside and Larry flat in the ring. Bruno tries getting back in, several times, only to have Larry knee him and send him back to the floor. Bruno finally rolls in and Larry pounds him into the corner. Bruno stagger to mid-ring, egging Larry to keep punching him. Larry freaks out, bails, then catches Bruno in the ropes. Bruno just will not stop and keeps coming! Larry tries escaping, but gets his foot caught in the bottom rope. Bruno ignores the ref and begins choking the life out of Larry. Ref has no choice but to disqualify Bruno, giving Larry the win. But the war's not over! Skaaland enters, but can't pry Bruno off! After a few minutes of getting choked out, Bruno finally breaks, allowing Larry to stagger back to the locker.

Great story, as you can see what they were going for. Bruno wanted to teach Larry a lesson with actual holds. Larry couldn't match him, hold-for-hold, so he had to brawl and cheap-shot. Bruno eventually became fed up with the tactics, snapped and decided to just beat the crap out of Larry. Right guy went over, too, as it was a great decision to give Larry the "win", no matter how tainted it was. Of course, this led to their famous "Showdown in Shea" cage match. Only bad thing about this angle is that Larry virtually disappeared from the WWF immediately after losing that match. Not sure of why that happened, but had he stuck around, his career might've turned out differently.

Match 5: Dominic DeNucci vs. Afa (Samoan #1)

Oh golly, a Samoan. So you know what that means: a buncha' headbutts and plodding offense. Afa works a trapezius nerve hold, until DeNucci fights back with... right hands and a kick. Excitement! DeNucci bounces off the ropes several times, trying to get something going, until...you guessed it, he walks right into a HEADBUTT from Afa. That's enough for Afa to get the pin. Egads, this match lasted 9:42.

Match 6: WWF World Heavyweight Championship:
Bob Backlund (c)(w/Arnold Skaaland) vs. Sika (Samoan #2) (w/Captain Louis Albano)

Second half of the "double main event". Probably just because it's a title match. A champ defending against 1/2 of a tag team isn't exactly a seat-filler. Captain Lou ain't talkin' to you, but he says something at Backlund, resulting in an attack from Bob. Match officially begins with Backlund besting Sika with a series of armdrags. Drop-kicks backs Sika into the corner. Backlund works the arm in about 12 different ways, until Sika rakes the eyes and chokes. Backlund comes back with a backdrop, kneedrop to the forehead, than back to the arm with his rowing manuever. Sika gets the upper-hand, as he slams Backlund and applies an abdominal claw-hold. Followed by... yup, a HEADBUTT...to the mid-section. Backlund wiggles out and tries coming off the ropes, but Sika easily slams him and goes back to the claw-hold. After several minutes, Backlund gets a pile-driver, out of nowhere! Off-the-rope shoulderblocks send both men to the mat. Sika slams, goes for a splash, but Backlund get the knees up. Backlund begins pounds Sika's temples and get a 1 count. Backdrop attempt from Backlund, but Sika kicks him in the mush. That's followed up with the big SAMOAN DROP! Sika then flies off the top rope with a head-butt... but only gets 1! He tries again, but Backlund slams him down and cinches a front facelock to pin him and retain the title at 18:32. Y'know, I can't believe I'm saying this, but cut-out the abdominal claw junk and you've got a good little match. With a SAMOAN! I always like Backlund matches, because he doesn't seem to follow a formula, carries his opponent well and you never know when he'll pin the guy.

Match 6: "Big, Bad" Bobby Duncum & Ken Patera (w/The Grand Wizard) vs. Pat Patterson & Andre the Giant

Patterson's the reigning Intercontinental champ, while Vince calls Andre the "8th, 9th and 10th wonders of the world". Patera is another claiming to be "The Strongest Man in the World". This match is similar to something the WWF would run until the late 80's or so. Heels attack before the bell, but Andre clears with headbutts. Duncum and Patera get in some cheapshots and double-team Andre...so of course the Double Noggin-Knocker happens. Another Andre signature spot occurs, when Patera bounces off the ropes right into Andre's rump. Duncum gets a big kick and knocks Andre out to ringside. Andre rolls back in, but the heels have the advantage and work him over. Andre manages to isolate Duncum and works the leg. Patterson comes in and drags the leg to the ringpost. Andre then sits on Duncum, with Patterson piling on his shoulders for the hell of it. With Patterson still on Andre's shoulders, they walk over to Patera, daring him to a game of "chicken". Duncum manages to tag Patera, who works a reverse chinlock on Patterson. They cut off the ring and beat up Patterson for awhile. Patterson crawls through Duncum's legs and makes the hot tag to Andre. Headbutts a plenty, then Patera leaps from the top right into an Andre bearhug. All four guys enter and the heels are whipped into each other. Patterson gets Duncum in a figure-four leglock, then Andre splashes him to score the 3 count at 11:04. Vince rightfully questions the decision, but it stands.

Match 7: Baron Mikel Scicluna vs. Rene Goulet

The crowd's just about gone to sleep, now. I think this is heel-vs-heel, but it still doesn't matter much. Who knows, maybe Goulet was a non-descript babyface at this time? They start off by trading headlocks, until Scicluna begins thumping. Scicluna works the arm, taking Goulet to the mat. Goulet fights back with some forehead shots, then tries a body-scissors to the mat. After some more basic shoudlerblocks and headlocks, Goulet gets a sunset flip to score the 3. I'd be amazed if anybody over in the Felt Forum was anxiously watching this stinker.

Match 8: Tito Santana vs. "The Incredible" Hulk Hogan (w/Freddy Blassie)

From the "whoa, I never knew THOSE two guys wrestled a WWF match against each other" file. Tito's one-half of the tag champs and has a belt with him. Hogan attacks early, tossing Chico all over the ring, into a big clothesline and a high-knee. Hogan slams him into the turnbuckle, ropes, and then to the canvas. Another slam from Hogan, but he misses two elbowdrops, allowing Tito to fight back with a series of right-hands. Tito stomps Hogan's toes, to get him to hop on one foot and fall to the canvas. Reverse chinlock from Tito slows things down for a bit. Back to a vertical bases, as Tito tries an armbar. Hogan whips him to the ropes for a clothesline and an elbowdrop. Hogan thinks he has Tito staggered, but Tito pounds him to the canvas for 2. Off the ropes again, and this time Hogan blasts Tito in the back with a double axe-handle, sending him outside. Back in and Hogan applies a rest-hold. Tito comes back with more shots and fails a monkey-flip from the corner. Elbowsmash and a suplex from Hogan then score the 3 count for the "Incredible" one at 8:23.

Why'd You Tape This??
This is a good amalgamation of 70's and 80's wrestling. Everything still has that regional feel, but the talent is a great mix of both decades. If you were to see this card, back in the day, you might've left thinking that Larry Zbyszko would be the breakout star of the new decade. So it's funny how Hulk Hogan and Tito Santana had fairly heat-less match. Then you've got Backlund, who straddled both decades and proved himself very well in each.

Aside from trivia aspects, this is basically a one-match show with Bruno vs. Larry. The rest is filler that should've run on "Championship Wrestling", and Backlund had better matches against higher quality opponents. Watch Bruno/Larry and skip the rest.

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