From the WWE Network: WWF @ Madison Square Garden Dec 17th, 1979

A loaded card with NWA and WWF World title defenses, plus Hulk Hogan, Antonio Inoki and Dusty Rhodes!

Dec 17th, 1979

Vince McMahon calls the action.

Larry Zbyszko vs. “Bulldog” Dick Brower

Zbyszko is only a few weeks away from his big heel turn against Bruno Sammartino. It’ll be interesting to see if we get any subtle build to that angle here.

Brower’s nickname is the “One Man Riot Squad”, which is awesome. Brower appears to be in his 40’s, and is short and chubby. He bypasses his unassuming looks quickly though as he mauls Zbyszko to the mat in the first minute. He then locks on a headlock that goes on for a bit.

Larry breaks out and aims blows to Brower’s beer belly. That proves to be a faulty strategy as Brower storms back at him, quickly getting back his to career threatening headlock. Zbyszko goes back at the belly and tries to get the crowd to react, but they offer little love. Brower goes for a slam, but Zbyszko falls on top of him for the sudden pin at 4:43. Huh. This didn’t do much for Zbyszko as he took a beating and then got a fluke win.

North American Tag Champions Seiji Sakaguchi and Riki Choshu vs. “Bad News” Allen Coage and Jojo Andrews 

Holy cow! This might be awesome.  Coage is the future Bad News Brown, who is dressed like the Godfather. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Jojo Andrews. He apparently was a minor star in Stampede who had a couple of runs in the WWWF as a midcard geek. He had a heart attack and died 2 and a half-years after this match at the tender age of 26. He was African-American, so I suppose the promoters figured he and Brown would be a fitting team. Jojo also worked under a few other names around the territories, including “Apeman” Andrews. Holy racist!

Andrews is fat enough that he wears a shirt while wrestling. The graphics state this is a “North American” tag title match, but Howard Finkel twice calls it a “Japanese” tag team title match.

The Japanese squad batter Andrews, with Coage only doing slightly better when he tags in. Coage doesn’t utilize judo in his offense, despite the fact that he is put over for his Olympic successes in the sport.

The heels get the heat on Choshu, who unfortunately had yet to grow his epic mullet at this point. Sakaguchi, being the big enforcer type for New Japan, doesn’t do much selling and ultimately traps Andrews in a boston crab for the submission win at 9:44. Nothing special here. I was hoping Coage and the Japanese crew would have been working stiff with one another, but no dice.

Mike Graham vs. Johnny Rodz 

This might have been a pretty fun shoot fight, given each man’s reputation for being legit. Graham is smaller than Rodz, but he has nepotism on his side. Graham’s look is hurt even more by wearing a singlet. A small guy like Graham shouldn’t have to hide his physique. On top of that, the singlet keeps falling off Graham’s shoulder. Rodz cheap shots Graham at the start and pretty much rough houses him for the first few minutes. After kicking Graham’s butt for several minutes, Rodz is suddenly caught in a figure-four and quickly submits at 5:03. This was pretty much like the Zybszyko match in that the baby face was beat down the whole time, only to snag a victory out of nowhere. I like seeing a unique face like Graham on shows like this, so the match is somewhat redeemable for that fact alone.

Ted Dibiase vs. “The Fabulous” Hulk Hogan

This is Hogan’s MSG debut. He plays to the crowd well enough for a muscle head heel. Dibiase struggles early on to contend with Hogan’s muscles. Vince McMahon is pretty clearly excited by Hogan’s body.

Dibiase hits a series of arm drags, as Hogan feeds him his arm. The stunned Hogan has to take a time out on the floor. The crowd enjoyed Dibiase’s spark of offense. Hogan knocks Dibiase to the floor once the action resumes in the ring. Hogan reminds me of Super Macho Man from “Punch out” as he dances and poses in the ring as Dibiase lays prone on the wood floor.

Hogan downs Dibiase in the ring with a suplex. He follows up by dropping big elbows onto Dibiase’s wilted frame. Hogan locks on a headlock and the bell rings. Messages get mixed up as the ref waves off the finish. More headlockery follows.

Dibiase fires up and gives Hogan some fury, but he then misses a charge, allowing Hogan to lock on a bear hug for the easy win at 11:12. Dibiase had been “North American” champion for several months in 1979 and had challenged Pat Patterson for the Intercontinental belt at the previous two MSG shows, so Hogan systematically crushing him was a big deal.

WWF World champion Bob Backlund vs. “Big Bad” Bobby Duncum (Texas Death Match) 

In late November Antonio Inoki beat Bob Backlund in Japan for the WWF title. Backlund won the title back a week later, but Tiger Jeet Singh interfered, causing the fall to be ruled invalid. Inoki refused to keep the title in such a manner and it was declared vacant . The WWF never mentioned this angle in America, however in Japan this was played up as being for the vacant gold.

Backlund gets a polite applause, but nothing befitting the World champion. Lou Albano waddles across the ring screaming as Duncum is introduced. I laugh. I love the Captain. Lou is kicked out of ringside for the match, yet Backlund’s manager Arnold Skaaland is allowed to stay. This reasonably upsets Duncum.

This one is under “Texas Death” match rules due to both men ending up fighting to a bloody draw in MSG the month before. Duncum struggles to one-up the champion in their early exchanges. If I recall correctly, Backlund complained in his book that Duncum didn’t have much gas in his tank, so their matches couldn’t go too long.

Backlund works a bunch of headlocks, not really playing into the stipulation at all. More headlocks. Crikey. I’m reading the internet now as this thing’s a bore. Duncum finally gets control and he goes right to the nerve pinch of great discomfort.

The champ rallies with a back suplex, and suddenly Bob’s selling like he’s been at it for 30 minutes. He can barely muster the energy to roll over for a pin attempt. A piledriver fails to keep Duncum down. Duncum returns fire with a bulldog, which actually gets a portion of the crowd to stand in anticipation of a finish. A second bulldog is still not enough for the win.

Backlund is sent to the floor and then tossed over the guardrail. Duncum keeps Backlund at bay with boots as the champ tries to return to the ring. Backlund manages to sunset flip Duncum for the pin at 17:18 and the reserved crowd gives out a big roar.

Apparently this version of “Texas Death” just meant no count-outs, no-holds-barred, not that each fall meant that the loser had 10 seconds to get back to his feet. This bout stunk as I got no sense of the blood feud that such a match should have warranted. Not to mention a hardcore stipulation match ended with a roll-up of all moves.

Backlund grabs the house mic and wishes the crowd “Merry Christmas and happy new year!” Dork.

Antonio Inoki vs. Hussein Arab

Arab is the Iron Sheik. He attacks Inoki before the bell. Inoki fights back by wrapping Sheik’s robe around his throat. The ref is okay with this. Inoki dominates as he stretches the Sheik out. Arab goes for a head scissors, and Inoki just blocks it and wrenches his leg.

Sheik gets some heat with a headlock, as the crowd reminds him “Iran sucks”. Inoki fights out and kicks at Sheik’s leg. Sheik rallies and locks on an abdominal stretch. Since Gorilla Monsoon isn’t here, I can’t tell if he’s locked it on properly. After escaping, Inoki scores several more near falls and submission moves as he pretty well controls the bout.

Inoki straddles the Sheik and manages to yank off his “loaded” boot. Sheik “loads” up the other boot anyway. He then uses the loose boot to batter Inoki. Inoki blades, but then enziguris the Sheik from behind as the ref had him distracted. Inoki scores the pin off of that at 14:59. This one kind of disappointed me as I thought Sheik would bust out his suplexes, perhaps prompting Inoki to respond in kind. Inoki pretty well just casually dominated.

NWA World Champion Harley Race vs. Dusty Rhodes 

I feel kind of silly commenting earlier on the flabby heels, as here’s Big Dust out there getting the biggest cheer of the night, despite his blubbery belly. Dusty dances, shucks and jives as he’s just indescribably entertaining with his machinations as he rocks Race with blows. A big elbow drop scores an early close fall.

Dusty aborts Race’s offensive try, then nails him with another big elbow drop. Race plays his role as touring NWA champ here, largely getting dominated by Rhodes, but fighting back just enough to keep things interesting.

Race’s heat segment only lasts maybe 90 seconds, then Rhodes shakes and leaps to his feet.  Race keeps the pressure on, using knees and headbutts to bust Rhodes’ head open. This enrages Rhodes and he unleashes a furious set of blows to the champ. Rhodes is dazed though and falls out of the ring after his flurry of moves. The ref calls off the match at 13:18 after seeing that. Rhodes’ blond curly afro being stained with blood is a good visual. The fans chant “bullshit” over the finish. Race attacks Rhodes with the belt after the bell, but Rhodes assaults him to end the segment on a hot note. This was a good brawl as I’m sure they had dozens of matches like this over the past several years.

Intercontinental champion Pat Patterson vs. Dominic Denucci 

The men exchange some chain wrestling to start. When things don’t go the way Patterson wishes, he heads for the ropes for some relief. Denucci keeps up the pressure with a knee bar. Patterson gets desperate and hooks Denucci’s nose to give himself a chance. Denucci tries a roll up, but Patterson rolls through and sneaks out the win at 6:31. They seemed to be teasing a Patterson face turn on commentary, so the clean win is understandable. This was fine.

Johnny Rivera vs. WWF Junior Heavyweight Tatsumi “The Dragon” Fujinami

Much like the lack of respect the light weight tended to get from the WWF(E) bookers for much of the past 20 years, here Rivera is getting a title shot after working with jobbers in MSG for the past several months.

The men work a fast pace, doing the spot-reverse-spot grappling at a rapid clip. The crowd sits down in relative silence, but they are clearly paying attention. That’s a nice change of pace compared to the more modern audience that thinks it has to get itself over.

The fans applaud the men shaking hands after several more hold-counter-hold exchanges. Rivera uses his legs to fend off Fujinami as the challenger tries to hyperextend the Dragon’s elbow. The men struggle on the mat, with the champion showing impressive core body strength as he bridges out of Rivera’s attempts to entrap his shoulders to the mat.

Rivera busts out a suplex in an attempt to switch offensive philosophies to a bit more of an aggressive approach. The Dragon responds by grabbing him and dumping him on his neck with a German suplex for the three-count at 10:17. Good, clean grappling fun.

WWF tag team champions Tito Santana and Ivan Putski vs.  Swede Hanson and Victor Rivera

Finkel threatens me by announcing an “one-hour time limit”. McMahon admits on commentary that the heels have never teamed before, and thus they are an odd choice for a tag team title  challenger. I just figured out that the heels were flabby tonight because Putski used up every steroid in the locker room.

Hanson gets roughed up by both champions. Swede manages to catch Santana with a knee, opening up a chance for Rivera to come in and throttle Santana. Tito spends a few minutes eating punches and forearms from both heels.

Putski makes the hot tag, quickly smacks around both heels, then nails Hanson with the “Polish hammer” to set up Santana hitting a crossbody for the win at 6:47. Just a match .

Final thoughts: A poorly mic’d crowd took something away from this event. I find it harder to get into matches when the crowd is not audible. The line up however was star studded, although that didn’t translate into a bunch of great matches.

 

Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

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