Wrasslin’ Back in the Day: WWF in Philly 2/19/83

I bought dozens of classic house shows on DVD recently, so this review begins my trek looking back at the WWF’s expansion years. Kayfabe was still alive for me and this is the era where I still looked up to these men as “stars”. I’ll be peeking into some AWA, NWA and other territorial shows along the way as well.

In the latter part of 1982 Jim Barnett was removed from a power position in the Georgia promotion when it was discovered that he had been embezzling funds. Barnett would join Vince McMahon Sr and Vincent K. McMahon a few months later in July of 1983 as they announced to the NWA board that they were dropping out of the NWA and would be running outside of their territorial boundaries. This started with California, which had lost it’s local promotion to mismanagement and was having shows run by the AWA. Ole Anderson’s GCW would come under fire soon after… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

To get a feel for what the other groups were offering on their big cards for February of 1983, lets use the Historyofwwe.com and wrestlingdata.com to look around the rest of the nation:

JCP @ Greensboro, NC – Coliseum – February 20, 1983
Red Dog Lane defeated Ricky Morton
Dizzy Hogan & Sweet Brown Sugar defeated Ricky Harris & Bill White
Jack Brisco defeated Paul Jones
Dick Slater defeated Jerry Brisco
Jimmy Valiant defeated the One Man Gang in a New York Streetfight
Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood defeated NWA World Champion Ric Flair & NWA US Champion Greg Valentine when Steamboat pinned Flair
NWA Tag Team Champions Sgt. Slaughter & Don Kernodle defeated Terry Funk & Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion Dory Funk Jr.

This is a remarkably strong card, with the area’s two red hot tag teams facing off with legendary tag teams of the past. Jerry Brisco facing Slater and Jack Brisco squaring off with Paul Jones makes for a strong mid-card. The always popular Boogie Woogie Man facing the One Man Gang in a gimmick match was sure to be a crowd pleaser as well!

AWA St. Paul Civic Center in St. Paul, Minnesota 2/13/83
Baron Von Raschke defeated Sgt. Jacques Goulet
Jerry Lawler defeated Tom Lintz
Wahoo McDaniel defeated John Tolos
Hulk Hogan defeated Jesse Ventura by disqualification
Mad Dog Vachon defeated Jerry Blackwell by disqualification
AWA World Tag Team Titles Match High Flyers (Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell) (c) defeated Ken Patera and Bobby Duncum

The red hot Hulk Hogan continued his long off and on again program with Jesse the Body. Hulk was still actively trying to corner Nick Bockwinkel for another title match. Mad Dog Vachon had heat with Jerry Blackwell for the past two years (I’ll cover this feud in depth in a an article in the near future) and this provided another chance for the two enemies to spill one another’s blood. The popular and exciting “High Flyers” taking on Bobby Heenan’s goons was always good for the box office. Wahoo McDaniel facing L.A. legend John Tolos might have appealed to the hardcore fans. Tolos was well past his prime by this point. Jerry Lawler was fairly famous for his feud with comedian Andy Kaufman, and he was using that notoriety to spread his wings away from Memphis.

St.Louis – 2/11/83   Roger Kirby defeated Manny Fernández
Rick Martel, Bill Cody and Buzz Tyler defeated Kim Duk, Crusher Ayala and Dewey Robertson
Ken Patera defeated Ox Baker
Bruce Reed defeated Bobby Duncum
Bob Orton Jr. and Dick Murdoch defeated Dick the Bruiser and Bulldog Bob Brown
NWA Missouri Heavyweight Title Match Kerry Von Erich (c) defeated Greg Valentine
AJPW/PWF World Heavyweight Title Match Giant Baba defeated Harley Race (c)
NWA World Heavyweight Title Match King Kong Brody vs. Ric Flair (c) ended without a winner as a time limit draw

This was the final card that Larry Matysik, the successor to St. Louis promoting legend Sam Muchnick, was to run under this promotion in St. Louis. Matysik would end up starting his own indy promotion a few months later. The St. Louis Wrestling Club then withered on the vine and died over the next year. Matysik would end up in the WWF in early 1984 and he helped them secure the “Wrestling at the Chase” tv contract.

World Class– Ric Flair made a swing through Texas defending his World title against David and Kevin Von Erich, as well as Terry Gordy. The Von Erichs battled The Freebirds on basically every other card. The promotion was on fire!

Ole Anderson’s GCW held a card at the Omni on February 6th featuring Buzz Sawyer clashing with Tommy Rich in yet another chapter in their long feud. Butch Reed challenged the “Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff. Stan Hansen butted heads with Ole Anderson. Dick Murdoch tried the Iron Sheik’s Iranian Club Challenge, Murdoch also faced off with the Super Destroyer. The Iron Sheik went after Paul Orndorff’s National Heavyweight title, Bob Roop wrestled Brad Armstrong, Bruiser Brody brawled with Ray Candy, Paul Ellering squared off with Tom Pritchard and The Moondogs faced Tito Santana and Joe Lightfoot. A stacked card!

GCW returned to the Omni on the 27th for a rematch with Reed and Koloff. Brody and Abby the Butcher collided. Ole Anderson and Buzz Sawyer teamed against Stan Hansen and the Masked Superstar. Orndorff was challenged by the Assassin and Murdoch went at the Iron Sheik, among other action. Another solid card.

On February 9th, Flair had lost the title to The Midnight Rider in Miami. NWA President Bob Geigel was the special referee for the match and he made an immediate ruling that the NWA forbids their World champion from wearing a mask, so Rider had to either unmask or return the title. Dusty Rhodes was under the hood of course, but he had been suspended and if he showed his face in the ring, he was to face a one-year worldwide ban from competing in the NWA. So Flair was handed the title back.

Memphis: Jerry Lawler faced off with AWA World Champion Nick Bockwinkel several times, which led to Austin Idol and Lawler feuding again.

Mid-South: The JYD vs. Ted Dibiase feud was continuing in full force as JYD returned after his alter ego “Stagger Lee” was brought in to take care of the Dog’s business as JYD was forced out of the Mid-South area for 90 days.

Tony Atlas and Jim Duggan were feuding and Andre, Dusty Rhodes, The Freebirds and the Von Erichs were all making shots to add to the star power. The Flair vs. Kerry Von Erich cage match that kicked off the Freebird/Von Erich feud was partly shown on TV to build the matches for the local audience.

Now on to our feature attraction:

Live from the Philadelphia Spectrum
Gorilla Monsoon and Dick Graham call the action. Graham promises the matches will “move and groove”.  Gary Micheal Cappetta is your ring announcer. Cappetta gets boo’d… what a bunch of jerks in the audience.

Curt Hennig vs. Jose Estrada 
Hennig is rocking the perm and soft jobber body. Curt accepts Estrada’s handshake offer and eats a cheap shot. Hennig works a facelock before bumping around a bit before going back to the facelock. Monsoon buries Hennig by saying that the hold isn’t working and Estrada is resting. The fans boo as the rest hold goes forever. Estrada sells Hennig’s facelock and Monsoon assumes that it’s because Curt had his ear bent with his arm, not Hennig’s vice grip. That kind of commentary is why the Wrestling Observer readers hated him. Curt goes to the facelock yet again, and I begin to dread that this may be a 20 minute draw. Estrada breaks free and Hennig goes to ANOTHER facelock.

Estrada takes over with rough house moves, giving Hennig a chance to show off his bumping ability. Hennig explodes back with a number of punches before attempting a crossbody and having Estrada roll through and hold Hennig down for the upset pin at 9:24. Real disappointing effort from Hennig here. Never saw that ending coming though.

Author’s note – I read some results from around the time of this card after the fact and Hennig was doing jobs fairly frequently, including on TV, which was rare for a guy who they were thinking of pushing, so it’s obvious they weren’t interested in the green kid being a star quite yet.

Mac Rivera vs. Johnny Rodz
Crowd cheers the heel Rodz loudly over Rivera. Ref Dick Woehrle is the biggest star in the match. Monsoon explains the fan reaction by saying both guys are not particularly adored by the crowd. Rivera starts fast with fistic fury but Rodz can hang tough in the face of that kind of offense and slugs back at him. Rodz embraces the crowd cheers and plays to audience as he works over Rivera. Monsoon is giving Rivera no chance to win and says once Rodz gets angry it’s over. Rodz hits a weak looking elbow to get the win at 8:07. The bizzario crowd was the best part of the match. Solid enough effort for a jabroni vs. jabroni kick and punch match.

Tony Garea vs. Charlie Fulton
Fulton’s recent death saw a large portion of fans and workers talk him up as a good talent who never got the break he probably deserved. Monsoon speaks of Garea’s matinee idol looks. Monsoon makes fun of the ref, who he probably spent the afternoon playing cards with. Garea works a lengthy headlock. This goes on for minutes. I know fans were more patient then, but this is pushing the boundaries. Fulton escapes but is locked right back in the headlock. Monsoon and Graham run down all the matches yet to come tonight as the guys rest in the ring. Special Delivery Jones vs. Swede Hansen is teased as a “classic”. I bet you can guess who said that…

Fulton escapes and locks on a bear hug to eat up some more time. Garea escapes and hits a sloppy dropkick. A second charge leads to Fulton chucking him to the floor. Garea sunsets himself back in the ring for the apparent win. The bell rings. Fulton slams Garea and the ref pauses, then counts. Garea gets a foot on the rope. Fulton argues with the ref, leading to him being rolled up for a second pin at just over 11 minutes. Nothing happened here. For two solid to good talents they just had a lazy match.

Special Delivery Jones vs. Swede Hansen 
They feel each other out with a test of strength. Swede moves in for a bear hug. Jones pulls hair to escape. Hansen switches to a headlock and that goes for a while. Hansen no sells some punches and the men go eye to eye. Hansen holds him down and paint brushes him. Hansen drops a knee to the sternum and Jones does a good job selling it. SD gets all fired up and starts to unload with fists to Hansen. Jones uses his ethnically strong head to daze Hansen and set up an airplane spin. Hansen falls on Jones and gets the win at 9:59. That’s about enough prelim action for my tastes. Inoffensive match but it didn’t feel important in the least. They are trying to turn Swede face.

Eddie Gilbert vs. Baron Mikel Scicluna 
Joined in progress. Scicluna uses his size advantage before Gilbert gets a sunset flip for the win at just over 4 minutes. Only about a minute was shown. Not long enough to gauge anything from this.

WWF World Champion Bob Backlund vs. Big John Studd 
Studd blocks Backlund’s entrance to the ring. Big boos for Studd. A healthy but not overwhelming pop for Backlund. Studd stalls to start. More stalling and trash talk has the fans screaming for his head. Backlund tries to throw Studd with a judo move but can’t budge him.  Studd snags a wrist lock and Backlund tries several varieties of counters before escaping by scooting between Studd’s legs. Studd takes control with some long lasting rest holds. Backlund is knocked to the apron but locks on a chicken wing. The ref counts Backlund out at 11:13.  That was really disappointing. Basically nothing happened and I was legit nodding off from the non-action.  Backlund and Studd argue in the ring to set up a rematch next month I assume.  Backlund removes the ref and has a stand off with his challenger before Studd storms off.

Author’s Note- Monsoon announces later that Big John Studd and the Samoans will face Backlund, Andre the Giant and Jimmy Snuka in the main event next month.

Best of 3 Falls: World Tag Champions Chiefs Jay and Jules Strongbow vs. Afa and Sika – The Wild Samoans
Fall 1: Captain Lou is ushered to the back to keep him from interfering. The Strongbows control the early stages with armbars and quick tags. Jay mocks the Samoans and poses. The heels try and double team him, but Strongbow dips to the floor, yanks the closest man down and sends Sika into the railing. The Samoans try another double team and Afa hits Sika instead. The Strongbows then take turns doing running kicks into the Samoan’s belly.

Jules controls things with arm work as both men who aren’t tagged in began to lose composure on the apron. The Strongbows switch off illegally several times behind the ref’s back. The Samoans start to double team Jules with stomps before they take turns choking Jules with a tag rope they removed. Chief Jay tries to bring a chair in out of frustration and finally Jay runs in and grabs the Samoan’s dress and starts to choke them with it. All four men go at it as the bell rings. Fall one – Samoans win via DQ at 11:38.

Fall 2:  All four men continue to brawl, with Sika and Jay taking things to the floor. The action spills into the ring and all four men brawl. The Samoans go for….something…it appears it was suppose to be both men lifting Jules to be crotched on the ropes but they totally botch it and unfortunately that was the finish. Jules is pinned in 2:38 of fall 2. Due to the DQ the Native Americans retain their titles. This was all action and I really enjoyed it. It’s a shame the finish was blown so badly. Everybody worked hard here and really put on a good show, especially when most of the rest of the card has been like watching paint dry. Only thing that may have made this better was a little juice from the guys during the melee.

2 hour time limit, no city curfew. Best 3 of 5 falls: Andre the Giant, Rocky Johnson, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Sal Bellomo, Pedro Morales vs.  “Playboy” Buddy Rose, Mr. Fuji, Ray “The Crippler” Stevens, “Superstar” Billy Graham, and Don Muraco      

Look at that star power! Snuka and Andre get big pops, Muraco gets the most heel heat. Crowd chants “beach bum” to rile Muraco up. Johnson shows excellent agility and quickly out shines Fuji. Rose tags in and flies around for Rocky, and Stevens runs in and takes some big bumps too. Muraco is then tagged in but he slows things down as he delays his entrance. Andre catches him and forces Muraco into the fray. Snuka headbutts Muraco and smiles.  Pedro tags in and gets some shots in. The fans are losing their mind with each babyface that tags in to get a piece of Muraco. ANDRE tags in and the place goes bonkers. Andre introduces Muraco to a butt butt and The Magnificent One heads out. Andre slams three of the heel’s heads together before succumbing to the numbers game and eating some shots from all directions.

Snuka saves Andre from the gang attack and the faces then take turns abusing Graham. Bellemo is given back to back airplane spins from Muraco and Rose. BAH GAWD that man has a family! Muraco ends up back in the faces corner and they all take turns whupping up on him to the crowd’s absolute delight. Andre wacks Muraco and he ends up wrapped up by the throat in the ropes.

Bellemo allows Muraco to tag in Mr. Fuji. Fuji catches Sal with a belly to belly suplex for the win in round one at 11:35. Bellemo continues to be the face in peril at the onset of round 2 as all the heels take turns pounding on the Italian meatball. Snuka sneaks in while Fuji was trying to slam Bellemo and knocks Sal on top for the pin in fall 2 at 2:18. The heels are aghast.

Bellemo continues to play the victim as the heels try and keep their advantage, but Snuka manages to tag in and cradle Rose to win fall 3 at 0:43. The heels congress before the next fall as they try and determine how to pull this one out. Andre makes his way in the ring and has his way with Buddy Rose. The heels try to gang up on him but Andre shakes off their attack and sits on Rose for the deciding fall at 2:29. This was tremendous fun as almost all of these guys were experienced headliners who knew how to put on a proper main event. The heels were advantageous and only took control via cheating, and once they got the babyface’s weak link in the ring, they earned a quick pinfall. The faces were explosive and fed the crowd’s energy by delivering a satisfying beating of the villains.

Final thoughts: The old way of thinking was for the undercard to put on solid matches but not steal the shine from the guys drawing the fans and the money, and this card was definitely built that way. The last 3 matches were more than capable of bringing the fans in the building with name recognition and potential quality. In execution, only the final 2 matches delivered. Backlund was losing steam as champion, as evident from his lackluster fan reaction. Next time I’m heading to the NWA to check out the card that inspired Starrcade and modern supercards in general…the Jim Crockett Promotion presents “THE FINAL CONFLICT”!

Written by Andrew Lutzke

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

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