The Night the Iron Sheik Beat Bob Backlund – MSG 12/26/1983

After spending several months building Ric Flair vs. Harley Race as the ultimate match the fans needed to see, both men vanished from the area the following Starrcade. Race was holding down his business interests in the Central States and Flair traveled the world defending the NWA gold. Flair’s lone appearance in December would be a successful defense against Dick Slater.

Slater had an otherwise fantastic month. He started off by beating Rufus R. Jones for the Mid-Atlantic title. Then soon after he beat Greg Valentine for the United States title at a TV taping. Since the match was on tape, Valentine was able to remain a heel for several more weeks before the TV showed his babyface turn. Slater ended up giving the Mid-Atlantic title to Ivan Koloff in order to focus on the U.S. gold.

Koloff joined JCP for TV tapings while finishing up in the WWF at house shows by doing jobs for Jimmy Snuka, Pat Patterson, Ivan Putzki, Tito Santana and Rocky Johnson.

Roddy Piper continued his war with Greg Valentine, beating him in many dog collar matches across the area. During one of their non-dog collar matches Dick Slater and Bob Orton Jr. jumped Piper and laid him out. The pair then beat down Valentine and left him bloody as well, setting up Valentine’s turn.

Ricky Steamboat announced his retirement at the end of the month, but he ended up working a light schedule in January, then making a tour of Japan before returning full time soon after, so it wasn’t much of a retirement. Steamboat and Youngblood had been defending their NWA tag titles against the Brisco Brothers all over the place before the retirement caused the titles to be held up.

Jimmy Valiant lost his beard to Paul Jones.

Don Kernodle returned to the area after the WWF made him a jabroni. JCP went right back to booking him strong.

The Road Warriors made some JCP appearances.

WWF World Champion Bob Backlund defended the title against Intercontinental champ Don Muraco, Sgt. Slaughter and the Masked Superstar successfully over the course of the month. He even made a defense against babyface Tony Atlas after Atlas and his partner Rocky Johnson were the last two men in a battle royal for a title shot and Atlas won a coin flip to decide who would get the title match.

Then on Christmas Eve TV viewers witnessed the Iron Sheik injuring Backlund with his Iranian clubs.

Iron Sheik then took advantage of the injury two nights later and found himself as the new WWF champ after Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel on Backlund while he was trapped in the camel clutch. More on that in my review below.

After winning the gold, Sheik took part in matches with Chief Jay Strongbow, Bob Bradley, Sal Bellemo and Pat Patterson.

Tony Atlas and Slaughter faced off many times across the territory.

Jimmy Snuka and Don Muraco continued their wars in various towns.

Despite being tag champs with Tony Atlas, Rocky Johnson instead spent most of his tag team matches with S.D. Jones or Sal Bellemo as his partner.

The California expansion continued with the Backlund/Masked Superstar, and Patterson/Koloff feuds being highlighted.

Another blow towards Georgia Championship Wrestling was struck when the WWF once again went into Cincinnati, but this time they only drew 1200 fans for a Snuka vs. Muraco main event.

An attempt to make Detroit a part of the loop saw 2300 fans come to see Backlund vs. Slaughter and Andre and Snuka vs. The Samoans on top.

The unofficial start of the full national attack took place December 27th when the WWF invaded St. Louis, the crown jewel of the NWA. The local TV station helped bring the WWF in to take over the famous “Wrestling at the Chase” show after Bob Geigel’s Central States booked a steady flow of failing cards and bad TV over the past year. The taping saw the debuts of Jerry Valiant, David Schultz, Terry Daniels, Adrian Adonis, Dick Murdoch, Mene Gene and HULK HOGAN in the Vince Jr. version of the WWF. Mil Mascaras was also brought in as well as Jerry Graham Jr. who served as manager “Mad Dog Managoff” until he was fired when Piper was signed a few weeks later.

Verne Gagne had reportedly offered Hogan a deal that promised more cash than the WWF’s offer, but Vince McMahon Sr. met with Hogan in Japan and helped seal the deal for his son.

Central States/St. Louis
The NWA’s St. Louis card for the month saw David Von Erich battle Harley Race, Dick the Bruiser and Rick Martel beat AWA tag champs Crusher Blackwell and Ken Patera by DQ, Bob Orton Jr. squaring off with Rufus R. Jones, Austin Idol against Buddy Landel, plus Paul Orndorff and others in prelim action.

NWA champ Ric Flair came to Kansas City to collide with Bruiser Brody. Brody came away with a DQ win.

Hulk Hogan and Antonio Inoki united to win the annual New Japan tag team tournament, beating Murdoch and Adonis in the finals. The heels were replacing Swede Hanson and Andre, who had to forfeit due to injury.

Meanwhile Ric Flair toured All-Japan and defended his NWA title against Kabuki and Jumbo Tsuruta. He also teamed with stateside foe Barry Windham and Ron Fuller for a match with Giant Baba, Kabuki and Dory Funk Jr.

Puerto Rico
NWA Champ Ric Flair came to the island to face Carlos Colon in a steel cage match that was to determine who would be named the World Wrestling Council’s Universal champion. Colon of course won it.

World Class
NWA World champ Ric Flair defended the title against Kerry, Kevin and David this month. Flair also replaced the now banned from Texas Michael Hayes in a six-man tag match with Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts in a losing effort to the trio of brothers in a match to determine the WCCW Six-man tag champs.

The Christmas night card at Reunion Arena drew nearly 20,000 fans to see Mike and Kevin Von Erich beat Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts in a match where the loser of the fall had to leave Texas. Santa Claus attacked Mike Von Erich after the match and revealed himself to be Hayes in disguise. Kevin Von Erich would have had to leave Texas even if Mike had been pinned because Fritz Von Erich didn’t want his rookie son to have his career in Texas ended so soon after it began, so Kevin had all the pressure on him to win. That same night saw David Von Erich defeat NWA champ Flair via DQ. David was originally going to retire if he failed to win the title, but that stipulation disappeared before the event went down. Jimmy “Jam” Garvin bested Chris Adams to win the American title, Kerry Von Erich survived a match with Kamala, winning by DQ, Iceman Parsons and Brian Adias overcame the Super Destroyers for the American tag titles, plus Jose Lothario, the Mongol and the Missing Link took part in prelim action.


NWA champ Ric Flair came into the area to defend the title against Pez Whatley and Tommy Rich several times each.

Rich was otherwise preoccupied with battling Ted Dibiase all over the territory.

The Sawyer Brothers beat the National tag champion Road Warriors on December 3rd, but the title switch was just ignored.

The Omni hosted a pair of tent pole events for GCW. On December 4th fans saw NWA champ Ric Flair defend against Rich, Buzz Sawyer and Ted Dibiase brawled to a no contest, The Sawyer Brothers beat the Road Warriors in another title change that was overturned, Jake Roberts overcame Pez Whatley, plus King Kong Bundy, Bob Roop and others took part in prelim action.

The Christmas day Omni show saw Ted Dibiase beat Tommy Rich in a match where the loser was to leave town, Buzz Sawyer finished off Paul Ellering in a “lights out” match, Stan Hansen and Bugsy McGraw went over the Road Warriors by DQ, Brett Sawyer snuck by Jake the Snake, The “Original” Sheik made a rare appearance in a loss to Buzz Sawyer, Les Thornton bested Tommy Rogers and Midgets wrestled too.

Rich would start to wear a mask as “Mr. R” in order to stay in GCW and continue his feud with Dibiase.

The Sawyers beat the Road Warriors once again at the end of the month, and this time the title switch was counted as legal.

Verne Gagne did not let a little thing like Hulk Hogan leaving stop him from advertising Hogan for Xmas night in St. Paul. Baron Von Raschke replaced him as the partner for Greg Gagne, Jim Brunzell, and Ray Stevens as they bested Ken Patera, Crusher Blackwell, Mr.Saito and Sheik Adnan. The 18,000 fans in attendance also saw Nick Bockwinkel defend his AWA title against Mad Dog Vachon, Jesse Ventura smashed Steve O, Rick Martel bested “Superstar” Billy Graham, Billy Robinson grappled with Brad Rheingans to a time limit draw and Buck Zumhofe pinned Bill White.

Hogan being advertised and not appearing marred the show in San Francisco the following day. The amount of fans who took a refund was said to be in a noticeable amount.

The Crusher made his return after three years of retirement to take Hogan’s place in several matches.

Bockwinkel successfully survived title defenses against Blackjack Lanza, Rick Martel, Dino Bravo and Vachon over the rest of the month.

Lanza continued his chase of Bobby Heenan around many towns.

AWA tag champs Crusher Blackwell and Ken Patera faced off with combos such as Greg Gagne and Rick Martel, Jim Brunzell and Greg Gagne and Vachon and the Baron during the month.

Dusty Rhodes faced off with a number of monster heels as One Man Gang, Kareem Muhammed and Ejiah Akeem continued to hound Rhodes. Rhodes’ feud with Ron Bass was still simmering as well.

Bass humbled Barry Windham by having JJ Dillon and One Man Gang help him beat Windham down and then Bass put a saddle on Windham and rode him around the ring. We’ll see Windham’s reaction in my next article.

AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel came into Houston at the end of the month to successfully defend against Mr. Wrestling II after getting himself disqualified.

Junkyard Dog and Hacksaw Jim Duggan defended America’s pride as they battled commie Krusher Darsow and Nikolai Volkoff. Darsow turned on America by attacking “Dr. Death” Steve Williams while Doc was battling Volkoff.

Mid-South tag team champions Butch Reed and Jim Neidhart were bested by the student teacher combo Magnum TA and Mr. Wrestling II. Reed and Neidhart split up on TV soon afterward.

Terry Taylor debuted for the promotion, another Memphis cast-off brought in to help draw in women.

NWA World champ Ric Flair came in to defend his belt against Bob Armstrong.

“Macho Man” Randy Savage, Lanny Poffo and Angelo Poffo invaded the Memphis TV show to kick start a feud with Jerry Lawler.

Lawler and Savage battled throughout the month in standard matches and even a cage match where Jos LeDuc ran in to attack Lawler, setting him up to be Savage’s partner in a match with Lawler and Austin Idol.

The Road Warriors came in to challenge Southern Tag champions the Fabulous Ones.

Steve Keirn beat Bull Dundee in a “Loser Leaves Town” match. Dundee lost one of these a few months ago to Lawler and came back fairly quickly, however I believe Dundee is heading to book Mid-South and then make a run with JCP, so it may be a few years before Dundee returns to Memphis full-time.

And now for our featured presentation…

Madison Square Garden 12/26/83
Pat Patterson and Gorilla Monsoon call the action.

Jose Luis Rivera vs. Rene Goulet
Rivera works lots of headlocks. Goulet responds with headlocks of his own as this one crawls along to start. Goulet bites and chokes. Rivera traps Goulet in blown victory roll to get the upset win at 10:05. Pretty boring, but nothing offensive.

Sal Bellomo vs. Tiger Chung Lee
Bellomo cartwheels away from Lee and nails a dropkick to earn a big pop from the crowd. Lee works a wrist lock and actually looks to be cranking the wrist in an awkward direction, helping sell the move more than just sitting in a armbar. Lee wounds him with martial arts chops and kicks before locking in a lengthy nerve hold.

Bellemo finally breaks the hold and gets a big reaction for rocking Lee and then choking him with his foot. Bellomo is caught with a kick to the gut which sets him up for another nerve hold. Bellemo escapes again and this time he locks a nerve hold onto Lee. He delivers a headbutt to the Lee’s groin for good measure. Lee manages to escape several headlock and sleeper attempts before taking over with a double under-hook suplex, a back breaker and a back suplex. Bellemo tries an abdominal stretch and half-crab but Lee quickly escapes both holds.

Lee manages to lock on a bow and arrow that Bellemo escapes. The bell rings and both men throw punches as the match has gone it’s full 20 minute time limit. These guys put on a pretty good show, one that probably would have been better with less time to fill.

Jimmy Snuka and Arnie Skaaland vs. Capt. Lou Albano and Don Muraco

Snuka gets a big pop. The heels get all sorts of heat. Muraco stooges for Skaaland early, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Snuka tags in and uses chops and headbutts to send Muraco loopy.

Capt. Lou tags in and eats a few chops before going low on Snuka and taking control. Lou surprisingly holds his own before Muraco comes in for some shots of his own. Lou smacks Muraco by accident and Muraco stumbles right into a Superfly crossbody for the pin at 10:07. Both heels are battered into retreat during a post-match brawl. Lou took zero bumps the whole time and barely sold any blows dished out to him. The no selling made for high comedy for me. Nonetheless this was a super fun bout.

Chief Jay Strongbow vs. Sgt Slaughter
Slaughter walks right into a sleeper at the start of the match, forcing him to quickly retreat. Strongbow then locks on a lazy armbar. Sarge pounds him down with punches, kicks and forearms. The men collide in some sort of blown spot and both go down. Sarge goes for the Cobra Clutch which causes Strongbow to go into his war dance. He explodes on Sarge with chops and kneelifts before trapping him in a sleeper. The crowd goes bonkers for Slaughter wilting. Sarge makes it to the ropes for the break, then catches Chief Jay with his “cannon” clothesline for the win at 7:42. They kept a good energy level up for most of the match and it made for an enjoyable contest.

Ivan Putski vs. The Masked Superstar
Ivan works a headlock and then a long head scissors. Putski is sent to the floor and battered with kicks. Ivan gets a Polish Hammer out of no where and tries to get at Superstar’s mask. The ref gets tangled up in the men and flops to the floor. The bell sounds and Superstar heads to the back, clutching his mask. The ref rules a double DQ at a little over seven minutes. The match pretty much stunk.

World Champion Bob Backlund vs. Iron Sheik
The crowd gives Backlund a big ovation as they chant “USA!” Sheik jumps Backlund to start and he uses his robe cord to choke him, then the robe itself. Sheik works over Backlund’s upper back and neck area before locking on a arm bar. Backlund tries some offensive moves but he’s in too much pain to follow up on anything.

Sheik uses a surfboard to continue to wear away at the champ. Backlund manages to try a back slide but can’t even hook both arms due to the pain he’s in. Sheik stalks Backlund and locks in the Camel Clutch. Arnold Skaaland throws in the towel to save Backlund from further injury at 11:50. You can see security immediately gather at ringside, in case the fans went crazy. The crowd seems to not fully grasp what just happened until Howard Finkel announces Sheik as the new champ. Sheik then riles them up further with chants of “Iran Number 1!” over the P.A. The match told the story it had to tell, but due to Backlund’s condition, it wasn’t going to be the grappling heavy bout that made their previous match so entertaining.

Best of 3 Falls: Tony Atlas, Rocky Johnson, and S.D. Jones vs. Afa, Sika and Samu
A six-way brawl kicks things off, with the heels getting the worse end of it. Atlas grabs one of the Samoan’s tribal dresses, puts it on and dances. The faces keep control by keeping things in their corner and switching off quickly. Johnson falls into the heels corner and remains in trouble until all six men began to brawl and the ref throws the first two falls out at 9:35, making the next fall a winner take all situation.

The Samoans take Atlas into their corner and ravage him with chops and headbutts. Atlas does a great job emoting his dazed mental state. After being mauled for several minutes, Jones is finally tagged in. Jones unloads on anyone who comes near him before Afa downs him with a stun gun. The Samoans take turns dropping head butts before Afa snags the win at 20:51. Nothing pretty from these six guys, but the pace was steady enough that things didn’t drag.

They send Lord Alfred Hayes to interview Bob Backlund, who is crying over letting down his country.

Tito Santana vs. Ivan Koloff
Koloff gets his hooks in on Santana early on and traps him in a full nelson. Tito manages to reverse it and then men struggle on the mat with each man fighting for the other’s arm. Santana goes to a headlock, but Koloff uses a back suplex to escape. Tito goes back to it but is downed with an atomic drop, then finds himself locked in a bear hug.Santana escapes and manages to avoid a charge and Koloff dings his knee. Santana begins to work over the limb in earnest. Ivan cuts him off, but winds up dropped with a flying forearm from Tito for the pin at 15:46. Good solid match from two of the all-time pros. Koloff wasn’t dogging it on his way out of the area.

The Invaders vs. “Iron” Mike Sharpe and Butcher Vachon
Sharpe uses his size to power out of his smaller opponents attempts to place him in any sort of arm lock. The Invaders use their high speed tags to rattle Sharpe. The heels eventually are able to use their bulk to garner some control, but the Invaders are too fast and Vachon ends up flipped to the mat and landed on for the pin at 4:45. The Invaders feel like they have had the same match every month. Fast tags, lots of brief arm wringers, and the hiptoss splash finish. They have yet to face smaller opponents who might be able to really allow them to put on a show.

Final thoughts: I wonder if the word of all the new talent coming in the next day had everyone busting their butts a little more than usual, because most of the matches tonight seemed to be contested with more gusto than what I’ve seen so far in this series.


Written by Andrew Lutzke

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

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