Hulk Hogan was earmarked for stardom almost from the beginning of his career. After he debuted in August of 1977, it was less than a year before southern promoters saw this tall and muscular young man as a viable opponent for the biggest attraction in all of wrestling, Andre the Giant. His wars with Andre would go on and off for the next three years in many different territories. By May of 1979 Hogan was given his first chance at a World title as he battled NWA kingpin Harley Race. In December of that same year the WWF came calling and Hogan made his debut in the mecca of Madison Square Garden. He was to be groomed to chase after WWF World Champion Bob Backlund, as well as clash with other titans including more battles with Andre. In May of 1980, Antonio Inoki of New Japan came calling as he booked Hogan for his first ever tour of the Orient. Those events saw him share the ring with Inoki, Tatsumi Fujinami, Riki Choshu, Stan Hansen, Backlund, and Dusty Rhodes – among others. Hogan would bounce between the WWF and Japan for another year before having a falling out with Vince McMahon Sr. over Hogan’s desire to take Sly Stallone’s offer to be in “Rocky 3”.
Hogan would spring up that August in an AWA ring, still playing a heel and now managed by Johnny Valiant. The fans inexplicably adored the Hulk and he was quickly turned babyface and put into feuds with Jerry “The Crusher” Blackwell and Jesse “The Body” Ventura. AWA World Champion Nick Bockwinkel nervously looked on from afar as the first wave of “Hulkamania” swept over the midwest and made a title match an inevitability. Bockwinkel’s manager Bobby Heenan was able to hold off putting the gold on the line until February of 1982. Then Hogan got one lone title shot, which he won by DQ. Two matches in April ended with each man earning a DQ win, another pair in May ended with Hogan winning by DQ. June also saw two matches between Hogan and the champ go down and again both ended with Hogan as the winner via DQ. Bockwinkel and the Hulkster split DQ wins again in July, and then in August the chase ended abruptly as Bockwinkel was stunned by Otto Wanz for the title.
Bockwinkel reclaimed the title 41 days later, but made sure to avoid Hogan in title matches from that point forward. Hogan pursued a title bout for months before finally securing one in February of 1983. Bockwinkel again saved his title with an intentional DQ loss. A frustrated Hogan ended up getting DQ’d a month later in yet another rematch. Bockwinkel and Heenan once again tried to avoid any more rematches from their monstrous challenger.
In order for a title match to happen in St. Paul, Minnesota in April of 1983 Bockwinkel demanded the “largest purse in professional wrestling history”. This sent that month’s ticket prices way up to accommodate. The fans gobbled nearly 20,000 tickets up in only 3 days anyway. This led to the St. Paul Civic Center Forum being opened up to sell more tickets for fans to watch the big match on closed circuit TV. That too sold out.
But that was not to be the only mega match on the docket. The other main event saw it’s origins begin in January of 1981. Mad Dog Vachon and the Crusher teamed up one night to face Big John Studd and Jerry Blackwell. Vachon was brutally attacked and left injured. Soon after that event, Baron Von Rasche stepped up to take on the villians. Eventually Mad Dog decided to not retire and instead came back to the ring to seek his revenge personally. This led to different partners joining Mad Dog in battling Blackwell and others in matches for months and months afterward. A “Death Match” in May 1982 between Blackwell and Mad Dog failed to settle the score.
Yet another chapter in the war was taking place in March of 1983 when Jerry Blackwell and Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissey successfully defeated Mad Dog Vachon and Baron Von Raschke. They continued to attack the beloved legends after the match, which prompted the retired Verne Gagne to charge the ring. Gagne too fell to the heels and was left hurting. In the following weeks, Mad Dog went to Verne and convinced him to come out of retirement one more time and team with Vachon to battle “Fatwell” and Adnan.
With a double-main event like this, the promoters dubbed the event “Super Sunday“.
Around the rest of the territories: (All results come from thehistoryofwwe.com, crazymax.org, or wrestlingdata.com)
Jim Crockett Promotions held a special Easter card in Greensboro on April 3rd with Andre teaming with Jimmy Valiant and Bugsy McGraw to defeat Greg Valentine, the One Man Gang and Oliver Humperdink. Roddy Piper continued his feud with Dick Slater over the TV title. The Brisco Brothers defeated Dory Funk Jr. and Paul Jones and the “Final Conflict” proved to not be true as Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood teamed with Jim Nelson to face Sgt. Slaughter, Don Kernodle and The Great Kabuki.
A second Greensboro card was held on the 16th, this time with Slaughter and Kernodle beating the NWA tag champs Steamboat and Youngblood by DQ. This would set up one final match a few weeks later where the teams would meet with the heels agreeing to split if they failed to win the titles. Piper stunned Greg Valentine for the NWA US title in the co-main event here and Boogie Woogie Man beat Kabuki.
Mid-South: Bill Watts presented another of his Superdome events, which were held every few months to try and blow off feuds while packing a huge dome. Over 21,000 people came to see Junkyard Dog reclaim the North American title in a cage match with Mr. Olympia. The title had been held up for several months and this culminated the second tournament for the gold. Andre clashed with the Ugandan Giant, Kamala on the undercard. Plus the Von Erichs and Freebirds took their red hot Texas feud and brought it to the dome for the New Orleans masses to see. Ted Dibiase, King Kong Bundy, Butch Reed, Chavo Guerrero and others also competed in matches.
GCW: Ole Anderson presented Easter Sunday action at the Omni on the 3rd with NWA World Champ Ric Flair being challenged by Tony Atlas in the main attraction. Dusty Rhodes and Dick Murdoch defended America against Ivan Koloff and the Iron Sheik in tag action, Larry Zbyszko defended the National title against local hero Tommy Rich, Buzz Sawyer butted heads with the Masked Superstar (Demolition Ax) and in an intriguing undercard match a very green Arn Anderson teamed with Matt Bourne (Big Josh/Doink) to face Brian Blair and Tito Santana in what could have been a show stealer.
They returned to the Omni on April 17th and headlined it with a rematch with Rhodes and Murdoch facing Sheik and Koloff in a Russian chain/bullrope match with each man paired off with an opponent with a different gimmicks binding each pairing. Zbyszko faced Rich again in the co-main event. Tony Atlas battled Buzz Sawyer in the only other noteworthy match.
April 15th in St. Louis saw Kerry Von Erich lose his Missouri State title to Crusher Blackwell in the main event. Dick the Bruiser, well past his prime but still a big draw in the area, battled Greg Valentine in the top undercard match. Rick Martel and Bob Orton competed in what must have been a treat to see and Roddy Piper, Bobby Duncum and Manny Fernandez took part in matches as well.
St. Louis action returned on the 29th with NWA champ Ric Flair taking on Crusher Blackwell, and David Von Erich falling short in a match with Harley Race as co-features. Martel, Valentine, Orton, Piper, Hercules and Fernandez saw action in the undercard.
In World Class, the Von Erichs continued their war with the Freebirds with the only real break for them being when Kevin Von Erich challenged Ric Flair for the World title on the first of the month.
One of the more famous WCCW moments occurred when David Von Erich “spanked” Jimmy Garvin’s valet Sunshine after a match on April 1st.
The WWF returned to Madison Square Garden on the 25th with a loaded show. World Champ Bob Backlund faced Ivan Koloff in the main event. Andre the Giant and Big John Studd collided in the co-feature. Jimmy Snuka pinned former World champ Billy Graham, Intercontinental champ Don Muraco escaped Rocky Johnson’s challenge by being counted out and the Strongbows lost to Samu and Afa. Ray Stevens, Pedro Morales and a debuting “Iron” Mike Sharpe were part of the preliminary action.
In Memphis, Jerry Lawler tried several more times to wrest the AWA gold away from Nick Bockwinkel. The Moondogs and the Fabulous Ones were having some fun tag team wars and Tully Blanchard made a rare Memphis appearance.
Now on to our featured event:
AWA Super Sunday April 23rd, 1983
Brad Rheingans vs. Tom “Rocky” Stone
Stone got a lot of jobber duty in the 80’s, and this is just a preliminary match to warm the crowd up. Rheingans uses his Olympic wrestling background to control his opponent. This evolves into a long armbar and the fans start to shit on the match early. Rheingans takes an accidental headbutt to his stomach and that allows Stone to get some headlocks in. Stone is willing to cheat to pull off the upset, so he rakes Brad’s eyes to keep control. Rheingans sells turnbuckle shots like he was smashed with a chair. He finally gets mad, rocks Stone with some dropkicks and a gut-wrench suplex ends it at around 7 minutes. Nothing special, nor was intended to be. Brad’s post match promo is like a UFC fighter’s as he talks about practicing one move to be his ace finish.
“Rock and Roll” Buck Zumhofe vs. Steve Regal
Regal got a big push from Verne over the next few years, even beating the Road Warriors for the AWA tag belts despite being a near cruiserweight. Zumhofe gets a good reaction from the crowd, since this predates the whole “I raped my daughter” era for him. Good action early, as the guys are the junior heavyweights and thus are upping the tempo. Regal’s hair is identical to Ric Flair’s from this same era. Regal’s got a lot of pose and is smoothly shooting looks to the crowd in between pounding on Zumhofe.
Zumhofe fires up and Regal bails. Buck takes a nice bump charging in at Regal and eating a knee. Zumhofe rebounds fast and hits a Vader bomb for the finish in 8:37. Good effort from both men.
Jerry “The King” Lawler vs. “The Golden Greek” John Tolos
Tolos has been wrestling since 1951, and is in his early 50’s here. He attacks Lawler from behind and gets the early advantage. Lawler connects with one punch and Tolos bails. Rod Trongard says Lawler is very strong, which is not an attribute I’d give the King. Lawler cranks on Tolos’ head in a vice 25 times. That felt a little silly. Tolos decides he’s had enough abuse and he tosses Lawler over the top rope but the ref ignores the DQ despite the bell ringing. Lawler gets angry from that, drops the strap and drives a large volume of punches into Tolos’ head. A fist drop is cartoonishly sold by Tolos and he then headbutts himself in the turnbuckle in a daze. Lawler lands a piledriver for the win at 7:53. This was a solid match, but Tolos using the Funk/Murdoch selling may take some out of the action.
Women’s Tag champs Wendi Richter and Joyce Grable vs. Judy Martin and Velvet McIntyre
A year after this, Richter is on the cusp of being a household name as part of the “Rock n’ Wrestling” connection. Here she’s just part of the traveling wrestling troupe of ladies. Totally basic action, to the point where I can’t really figure out who is suppose to be the heels and faces. Grable does an eye rake and seems to be complaining, so I’ll assume they are the heels. Crowd is in a murmur as they don’t have a dog in this fight. They appreciate Grable using a hair toss 3 times in a short blip though. Richter is in the best shape of all the ladies here, and is tanned, so if Vince was looking for a star, Wendi would stand out.
McIntyre gets a flying head scissors, but the faces are thrown together when they attempt a double head knocker. All four ladies do a contrived series of splash attempts, all that miss. The crowd shits on it because it looked ridiculous. Grable hits a POWERBOMB for the pin at 13:46. That move was several years ahead of its time for North American wrestling. Match dragged along because the crowd and I didn’t care. The finish almost made up for it though.
Wahoo McDaniel vs. “Dizzy” Ed Boulder
Boulder is Brutus Beefcake, looking even more chiseled than in his WWF days. Crowd shits all over the match right away as Boulder sucks and Wahoo is working rest holds. The men start to brawl to compensate. Jerry Lawler randomly joins the commentary booth. I have no idea what the “Dizzy” gimmick is about, but now I plan to waste part of my weekend to find out. Boulder chokes and poses. More chops and punches from both men as things drag on. Wahoo hits a chop as Boulder comes off the ropes and that somehow finishes it at 7:06. DUD. Styles clash leads to a lousy match.
Rick Martel, Jim Brunzell and Greg Gagne vs. Ken Patera, Jesse “The Body” Ventura and Blackjack Lanza
Patera chucks Martel and poses. Brunzell uses speed and leverage to take Patera over in with an armdrag. Crowd trolls Heenan and Ventura to amuse themselves. Ventura tags in but Gagne and Brunzell quickly attack his arm and nuetrialize him. Lanza tags in and the faces again use their speed to down their larger opponent.
Brunzell falls into the wrong corner and all three heels are able to briefly get some licks in on him. Brunzell escapes a Ventura bearhug and tags in Gagne, who attacks all three heels and tosses them together. A sleeper hold is broken up by a Ventura cheapshot and Gagne falls into the role of face in peril. Lanza goozles him and uses the dreaded Greco Roman Noogie lock, grinding his fist into Gagne’s head. Ventura and Patera show off their bearhugs as Gagne feels the life drain from him.
Martel makes the tag but after his initial offensive explosion, he finds himself trapped in the heel corner. he endures some abuse before Brunzell is tagged in. Things break down into a six man brawl and Heenan gets something from his jacket. Patera hit Brunzell with it as another six-man brawl breaks out. Rod Trongard misses the finish as he calls a double DQ as Patera pins Brunzell at 17:03. The faces attack and clear the ring, with Heenan getting blasted in the fray too. A fan soaks Heenan with a soda for his dickish interfering. Another solid but unspectacular match built around sluggish heels trying to slow down dynamic babyfaces.
World Champion Nick Bockwinkel vs. Hulk Hogan
“Eye of the Tiger” blares overhead and the crowd goes bonkers. Some fans who attended have since said they knew when this match didn’t go on last that Hogan wasn’t winning and it deflated a certain amount of the audience. Hogan has “Now or Never” on his shirt. Little did he know. AWA President Stanley Blackburn is in attendance. Lord James Blears is the special guest ref. Bockwinkel bails out two separate times rather than lock up with his massive opposition. Bockwinkel tries to grapple but is quickly sent across the ring via sheer strength. After nearly five minutes of stalling and failing to find an opening, Bockwinkel finally delivers a series of knees to Hogan’s gut. Hogan rallies and delivers a series of knees to the champion’s mid-section in response.
Bockwinkel resorts to choking to try and gain any advantage. Hogan escapes a piledriver attempt. Bockwinkel tries a charge but runs into the big boot. A big clothesline sets up a near fall the crowd totally buys. Hogan uses a shoulder breaker, but he dumps Bockwinkel too close to the ropes and the champ gets a leg on them to save the title. Hogan fires up from a few strikes from Bockwinkel and drives in some blows of his own. He tries a running powerslam, and even hooks the leg but the champ is able to kick out. Hogan misses a follow up leg drop.
Bockwinkel tries to muster some offense, but he’s been worn down by his towering challenger. Hogan recovers from Nick’s shots and hits an axe bomber but a three count is not to be. The champ tries a sleeper but can’t get a good grip. Hogan flips Bockwinkel into Blears and the ref is rocked. Bockwinkel locks on another sleeper attempt but Hogan backs into Blears and accidentally smashes him in the corner. Crowds hates that as they can smell the fuck finish coming. Hogan flips Bockwinkel to the floor over the top rope. He suplexes him back into the ring, drops the leg and gets the 3 count from Blears at 18:12
The crowd goes wild and for a minute or two a party breaks out before President Stanley Blackburn announces he is overruling the refs call and awarding the match to the champ via DQ. Crowd pelts the ring with garbage and chants bullshit. Hogan attacks Heenan and Bockwinkel to try and appease the fans. Can you imagine paying jacked up prices for a just another screw job ending?
Mad Dog Vachon and Verne Gagne vs. Jerry Blackwell and Sheik Adnan El Kaisse
The faces come down to “Celebrate Good Times Come On” in an interesting music choice. Gagne and Vachon clear the ring right away. Blackwell and Verne start things formally and Blackwell bumps all around for Gagne. Mad Dog tags in and mauls Blackwell. Vachon grabs him by the beard and tries to rip his face off. Adnan comes in and fares no better as Mad Dog chokes him. Adnan manages to dump Vachon to the floor and where he starts to throw chairs and bells and mic stands around. Some of it lands in the ring and Adnan uses them to bloody Vachon. Gagne has seen enough and uses a chair on both heels, in the ring, with no DQ called. Mad Dog is still in a daze and gets squashed by Blackwell.
Verne tags in and he beats on both heels simultaneously. Blackwell manages to powerslam him but misses a pair of followup splashes. Gagne locks on a sleeper as Mad Dog grabs Adnan’s arm (which is in a cast) and uses it to KO Blackwell. They then rip Adnan’s cast off and smack him with it. Vachon and Blackwell brawl on the floor. Verne then has Mad Dog hold Adnan’s arm so he can drop a flying knee on it and that’s enough to earn the win at 12:23. Both heels ended up bloody in that final fracas. The main event was a fast paced and entertaining brawl for sure.
Final thoughts: The major come away you might get from this card is that of the six head liners, four of the men were 49 to just under 60 years of age. There was a good group of talent hovering in the mid-card, but Vince would own most of them within two years. I’ll be back next time with WWF action from May of 1983, plus tons of news and results from the other territories!