Where we left off: August 1985 (Part One)
The AWA continued to push the Greg Gagne/Nick Bockwinkel feud as one of their top issues. Things continued to change in the match ups as Sgt. Slaughter and Verne Gagne ended their full-time business relationship. This led to Greg losing Sarge as his main partner in his feud with Bockwinkel, Ray Stevens and Larry Zbyszko.
To add heat to the angle, and help set up a Superclash match in September, Nick Bockwinkel and Ray Stevens piledrove Tom Zenk on the cement on AWA TV. This was the same move that was done to injure Verne Gagne at Starcage in April. Greg Gagne and others charged in to help Zenk after the deed was done.
Since the Sarge was no longer going to make AWA his “home”, Verne Gagne stripped him of the Americas title and quietly ended its use in the AWA. Sarge would still be dubbed “America’s champion” on TV, but it was no longer an actual title. I do not have the facts, but I would speculate that with the AWA kicking off on ESPN, Sarge made a play for a raise (since he was the de facto number one babyface) and Gagne balked.
Sarge was used at the ESPN TV tapings, as he headlined the show in a match with Boris Zhukov. Zhukov would be Slaughter’s main foe in the AWA when he did work throughout the rest of 1985.
Another aspect of the ESPN tapings is that the older stars that the AWA was still using to fill out their upper mid-card were largely not present on TV and after SuperClash in September, were pretty much not booked at all. This would include Dick the Bruiser, Da Crusher, and Billy Robinson. Larry Hennig and Ray Stevens were used until the end of the year.
AWA World champ Rick Martel spent the month feuding with the Freebirds. Michael Hayes received most of the title shots, but Terry Gordy faced off with Martel at the ESPN tapings in a match that aired in September. Martel also began a series of title defenses against Boris Zhukov, which was positioned as the title feud in Winnipeg for the next four months.
In some rare good news for the AWA, Jerry Blackwell returned from his summer absence to battle the Freebirds across the territory. He joined forces with Larry Hennig, the Baron, Martel, Da Crusher and Tom Zenk at various times in order to even the odds.
The AWA syndicated show was added to Los Angeles over the summer, and the ratings proved to be better than what the WWF was scoring. I wonder if that was a saturation issue as the WWF had multiple cable and syndicated shows, leaving the fans with more options to get their fix of Vince’s action compared to one AWA show?
Perhaps in search of fertile ground to gain some fans with the WWF machine taking over many of their towns, the AWA made a brief tour of Alaska. The fan support was minimal as these were just spot shows.
After getting a big push here in the early months of 1985, Bob Backlund wrapped up his active career with a match with Larry Zbyszko in Boston. He would not be a full-time performer again until the WWF came calling in late 1992. Backlund never made a dent in the attendance for Pro Wrestling USA’s northeast shows, and his promos and in-ring style clashed with the fans who desired the crazy interviews and roided bodies that the Road Warriors and Hulk Hogan made so much money with in this era.
Kamala worked some squash matches on TV to build him up for the SuperClash show in September.
Scott Hall begin to make TV squash match appearances as he finished up his dates for Central States. Hall would be part of the fresh talent brought in to fill out the roster with the ESPN show giving the AWA a shot in the arm in the national competition.
The same night as the AWA debuted on ESPN, they were on Boston TV for a charity special called “Wrestling for a Cure”. The line up was solid on paper as Sarge fought Zhukov, the Road Warriors tangled with the Long Riders and Martel grappled with Bockwinkel. However, the AWA chose to let Killer Kowalski and local Boston radio host Eddie Andelman do the live play by play, leading to perhaps the worst night of commentary in wrestling history. Andelman made up silly names for moves, sang songs, buried the booking, and outed several of the stars as being old men, among other miscues. It made the show either the best thing I ever reviewed or the worst. I remain torn on my opinion. The show went head to head with USA Network’s “TNT” wrestling program.
7,753 fans came to Salt Lake City to see Sarge and Gagne fight Zbyszko and Bockwinkel. Martel tangled with Michael Hayes in a world title match in the other feature bout.
Winnipeg drew 4,200 for the aforementioned Martel/Zhukov title match. Blackwell, Larry Hennig and Tom Zenk bested the Freebirds in the another key bout.
The WWF continued to invade the AWA’s towns, drawing 8,400 in Omaha using Mad Dog Vachon on the undercard, with a main event of Roddy Piper, Bob Orton and Bobby Heenan battling Barry Windham, Mike Rotundo and Mr. Wonderful. San Francisco drew 8,000 fans to see Piper fight Mr. Wonderful, with Ricky Steamboat and Tito Santana brawling with Mr. Fuji and Don Muraco.
The Twin Cities were a battleground, with 7,000 fans coming to the Met Center to witness Hulk Hogan and Mr. Wonderful clash with Piper and Orton. JYD and Greg Valentine butted heads in the other key match. Former AWA superstar Mad Dog Vachon brawled with the Missing Link on the undercard. Kevin Kelly, who would go on to earn a push in the AWA in a few years, worked the WWF show in the prelims. Kelly would best be known for his WWF run as “Nailz”.
The AWA ran St. Paul, with Curt Hennig replacing Da Crusher in the main event as Verne and Crusher had another argument over money. Hennig teamed with Rick Martel to face Gordy and Hayes. The Road Warriors fought the Long Riders to a draw, Nick Bockwinkel bested Greg Gagne, and Sarge downed Larry Zbyszko. The undercard saw World Class talent Kabuki face WCCW’s top heel, Chris Adams. Wrestling politics are a wild thing. Within the past year, WCCW had tried to invade Minnesota, leading to Verne Gagne threatening to run in Dallas. Both groups also had TV in St. Louis, and Kerry Von Erich was one of St. Louis’ best draws. With Verne owning a piece of the St. Louis area, he and Fritz Von Erich’s spat lead to WCCW stars not appearing in St. Louis for a few months. With all that now in the past, here WCCW talent actually appeared on an AWA card. It’s crazy what desperation can achieve.
The St. Paul undercard saw Kevin Kelly fall to Jim Garvin, giving him the rare distinction of working both a WWF and AWA show in such a short amount of time.
The WWF debuted at Chicago’s Rosemont Horizon, drawing 18,000 fans to see Hulk Hogan knock heads with Nikolai Volkoff. Thousands of fans were reported to have been turned away from this event. The AWA ran the same arena on August 18th, drawing 6,000 fans to a show featuring NWA World champion Ric Flair defending his gold against Billy Robinson. Sgt. Slaughter and Greg Gagne besting Ray Stevens and Bockwinkel, plus Rick Martel, Crusher Blackwell and Larry Hennig pounding the Freebirds.
Pro Wrestling USA
NWA World Champion Ric Flair facing off with Sgt. Slaughter headlined Pro Wrestling USA’s Meadowlands card on August 16th. Boris Zhukov ran interference to spoil the ending for the Sarge. Other action saw AWA champ Martel bested Zbyszko, Greg Gagne and Curt Hennig upended Bockwinkel and Stevens and the Road Warriors partnered with Paul Ellering to fight the Freebirds. The card drew 7,000 fans. I reviewed this show here.
Baltimore saw both the WWF and PWUSA compete for the fan’s money. The Pro Wrestling USA effort saw Magnum T.A. tangle with NWA champion Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes fight Tully Blanchard and AWA champ Martel down Zbyszko. 13,300 fans came to the WWF’s show, headlined by Hogan battling Bob Orton. Tito Santana grappling with Greg Valentine over the IC gold was the other top match, alongside the U.S. Express throwing down with Volkoff and the Iron Sheik.
Here and There
Lia Maivia and Lars Anderson put on a huge event in Hawaii dubbed the “Polynesian Hot Summer Night”. At the height of the wrestling war, the show combined talent from the AWA, WWF, and NWA, New Japan and others. 12,553 fans came to Aloha Stadium for the 16 match card.
NWA champ Ric Flair fought Sivi Afi to a double-DQ in the main event. Other notable bouts saw Antonio Inoki fighting Bruiser Brody to a draw, Andre the Giant and King Kong Bundy facing off in six-man tag team action, Dusty Rhodes and Magnum T.A. brawling with Krusher Kruschev and Nikita Koloff, plus Jimmy Snuka, Manny Fernandez, Tatsumi Fujinami and many others in action.
Prior to the event, booker Lars Anderson and Jim Crockett got into a heated argument. Anderson tossed a soda in Crockett’s face and backed him up to a wall as they screamed at one another. Bruiser Brody screamed for Lars to punch out Crockett. Crockett called for his wrestler’s to pack up and prepare to leave the Island, but cooler heads prevailed and the show went on as planned.
The Tonga Kid continued his incredible run of career suicide as he no showed the “Hot Summer Night” event, as well as his scheduled tour of Japan.
Despite being in the WWF, Terry Funk was still loyal to Giant Baba and All-Japan. He spent the second half of August touring Japan. His friend Ted Dibiase ended up double crossing him early in the tour and aligned himself with Stan Hansen.
Over in New Japan, Andre the Giant donned a mask as the Giant Machine. He was billed as being from “outer space”.
One month before JCP would run a very similar angle, fans of Continental saw Robert Fuller turn on Bob Armstrong during a cage match against Ron Fuller and Jimmy Golden. All the heels then battered “The Bullet” as the cage prevented an easy rescue by Armstrong’s babyface friends.
The WWF came to the Boutwell, Alabama auditorium, drawing 6,000 fans for Andre the Giant battling “Big” John Studd, and Tito Santana downing Greg Valentine in an IC title bout.
Paul Heyman showed his moxy as a promoter for the first time as he spent the first half of 1985 moving his way up the food chain at “Studio 54” in New York. He began as a photographer, moved on to publishing and then got a shot at producing and promoting entertainment for the club. Heyman made up an award and convinced Jim Crockett to fly in Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair and Magnum T.A. for the event. The evening also saw live local wrestling action, including the debut of Bam Bam Bigelow.
Mitsuharu Misawa, under the mask as Tiger Mask II, won his first singles gold as he downed Kuniaki Kobayashi for the NWA International Junior Heavyweight title. The men would battle over the championship until Misawa chose to forfeit the strap in order to move up to the heavyweight division on All-Japan.
Despite holding a role in the WWF, former St. Louis announcer and promoter Larry Matysik ran an indy show in Bellevue, Illinois. The main event saw Bruiser Brody clash with Ox Baker, with Lou Thesz serving as the referee.
Thanks for reading! I will be back soon with the WCCW, Mid-South, Memphis, Florida and JCP news, notes and results for August of 1985.
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