Where we left off June 1985 (Part One)
With the local St. Louis promotion under Verne Gagne, Bob Geigel and Harley Race struggling severely under the assault from the WWF, they went back to their only recent reliable main event drawing combo of NWA champion Ric Flair facing off with the “Modern Day Warrior” Kerry Von Erich. Von Erich walked away with a disappointing DQ win. Other action saw Race down Bobby Duncum, Blackjack Lanza teamed with Bob Brown and Iceman Parsons to batter Mr. Pogo, Gary Royal and Scott Hall, Curt and Larry Hennig bested Sheik Abdullah and the Super Destroyer, plus they debuted a 6’7 350 pound rookie named Gustav the Giant. From available online records, it appears Gustav only worked a few shots, then vanished. Antonio Inoki brought Gustav into New Japan for a tour late in the year where Gustav was put over young lions like Masa Chono, the Great Muta and Shinya Hashimoto in handicap matches. After that he fell off the face of the wrestling world again.
The WWF drew 3,200 fans to St. Louis to see the JYD earn a DQ win over Intercontinental champ Greg Valentine, and The Missing Link, Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff were awarded a DQ win over Barry Windham, Mike Rotunda and George Steele. As I noted in part one of this article, Jimmy Snuka was fired earlier in the month, so Special Delivery Jones replaced him in a bout with “Big” John Studd.
Perhaps prompted by losing AWA mainstay Jim Brunzell, on top of all the other talent departures over the past year and a half, Verne Gagne was finally beginning to buck tradition and tried to sign his talent to contracts. Brunzell had been lobbying to turn heel on Greg Gagne, but never got his wish.
Author’s note – In the days since I published this I found a newsletter from 1981 noting that Brunzell was campaigning to turn heel. I was amused to see Brunzell had failed for so long to convince Verne to try something new with him. – End
Gagne ignored the fact that Ken Patera and Mr. Saito’s trial was making headlines locally as he continued to build up the AWA’s St. Paul show that was scheduled to have AWA champ Rick Martel defend against Mr. Saito. Saito’s guilty sentence meant that the local fans had no idea who Martel would be competing against, which probably played a role in why only 1300-1500 fans showed up for the event. Those numbers would be the lowest attended show in the area since the early 1960’s. Michael Hayes replaced Saito on top and ended up “winning” the AWA gold before the decision was later overturned. Brunzell jumping to the WWF marred the heavily pushed grudge match between Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell against Ray Stevens and Nick Bockwinkel. Steve O took Brunzell’s spot in the bout. In other action, Hayes and Buddy Roberts tangled with the Hennig Family and Sgt. Slaughter battled Larry Zbyszko with the Americas title hanging in the balance.
The WWF ran two shows at the Minneapolis Met Center. On June 1st they drew 5,000 fans to see WWF World champ Hulk Hogan batter Don Muraco, plus Tito Santana scored a pinfall over IC champ Greg Valentine in a non-title “taped fist” gimmick match. Mr. Wonderful was disqualified against his former ally Bob Orton Jr. and Ken Patera made one of his final appearances before heading to prison as he downed Swede Hanson.
They returned June 30th, drawing 6000 fans to see Roddy Piper teaming with Orton facing off with Hogan and Mr. Wonderful in a dynamic tag team main event. Bobby Heenan replaced the imprisoned Ken Patera in a match with Ricky Steamboat. Jim Brunzell returned to his former home base, but this time he was wearing and black stripes as a Killer Bee. He took down Steve Lombardi in a preliminary bout.
Denver was another battleground city as the WWF came in on June 2nd, drawing 9,000 fans to see Hogan defend his World title against Ken Patera. Windham and Rotunda split on the undercard in order to face the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff in singles competition, IC champ Greg Valentine tangled with Tito Santana and former AWA stand outs Jesse Ventura and Mad Dog Vachon faced off with lesser competition in two prelim matches.
The AWA came in two weeks later with AWA champ Rick Martel downing 47-year-old Billy Robinson. The 58-year-old Crusher fought Butch Reed to a double disqualification, and the 49-year-old Blackjack Lanza replaced Brunzell as a tag partner for Greg Gagne as they faced off with 49-year-old Ray Stevens and 51-year-old Nick Bockwinkel. This would prove to be the last match of Lanza’s career as he would soon quit the AWA and head to the WWF to serve for decades as a backstage agent. If the stories told on some shoot interviews can be believed, Lanza had actually been secretly working with Vince McMahon for months as a “spy”. Verne trusted Lanza to the degree that he even had Lanza looking around the office for wired bugs that the WWF may have been using to get inside info on the AWA. It was in fact Lanza who was feeding Vince the dirt, earning a role backstage in the WWF for years and years afterward as a reward.
The warring AWA/WWF groups continued their struggle for the Chicago market, with the AWA drawing 4,000 fans to see Michael Hayes challenge AWA champ Rick Martel. Americas champion Sgt. Slaughter fought with Larry Zbyszko and the fans were treated to a wild six man match where Terry Gordy, Buddy Roberts and Butch Reed partnered up to face Da Crusher, Dick the Bruiser and Baron Von Raschke. Greg Gagne tried to avenge Nick Bockwinkel’s devious attack on Verne from April in grudge match.
The WWF drew 7,000 fans by featuring a battle royal in the main event, won by Mike Rotunda. Rotunda had earlier teamed with Jim Brunzell (subbing for Barry Windham) in a match against the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. The JYD battled with IC champ Greg Valentine in the top singles bout of the evening. In an interesting (?) tidbit in the prelims, WWA (Dick the Bruiser’s territory) star Bobby Colt was used as a prelim bum, falling to Moondog Spot.
The management at Chicago’s Rosemont Horizon let Verne know that they were breaking his exclusivity deal and would be booking WWF shows as well now. The general manager of the Horizon told the local press that the WWF was going to kill wrestling with their glitzy approach to the business, but money won out.
The WWF had begun invading more AWA strongholds, with Milwaukee having been recently breached and Green Bay seeing the WWF debut there this month with WWF champion Hulk Hogan leading the charge. Verne countered by running Rick Martel against Nick Bockwinkel in Milwaukee, drawing 2,800. The other key action saw Sarge facing off with Zbyszko and Dick the Bruiser, the Crusher and the Baron falling to Hayes, Roberts and Reed.
The Green Bay card was a bit of a mess as Jim Brunzell and the Tonga Kid were both pushed as being in action, even though neither man was employed by the promotion. This led to the Freebirds facing off with Larry and Curt Hennig, who had Steve O as their partner. Sgt. Slaughter won a match against Larry Zbyszko via “forfeit” as the “Living Legend” instead wrestled against Larry Hennig. Assuming Sarge was at the card and wasn’t a no show, that is very odd booking as the Sarge/Zbyszko match had been pushed for weeks on AWA and Pro Wrestling USA TV. Greg Gagne battling Nick Bockwinkel served as the featured bout.
Pro Wrestling USA
While on the subject of Verne Gagne plugging talent who he knew wasn’t going to make the towns, we come to the PWUSA Meadowlands card. Mr. Saito (jailed), Brunzell (in the WWF) and the Masked Superstar were all promoted with no hopes of them actually appearing. Superstar only has one match anywhere I can find in June and July, so I am not sure if he was vacationing, injured or what.
The card was headlined by Sgt. Slaughter facing down the challenge of the “Ugandan Giant” Kamala. AWA champ Rick Martel tangled with Nick Bockwinkel, the Freebirds battled Curt Hennig, Greg Gagne and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, and Wahoo McDaniel beat Zbyszko by DQ. Notable by their absence are AWA tag team champions Hawk and Animal, who have refused to work in the New York area for Verne since March because Paul Ellering convinced them they were losing their value in the area. I’m not exactly sure how to read into that other than that Ellering figured a WWF run was going to happen sooner than later and he wanted them as fresh to the audience as possible to maximize their impact. Verne had little control over his young champions, as he had requested in spring that they not go work some shots for Jim Crockett, and the Road Warriors went anyway.
The WWF also ran the Meadowlands, with Mr. Wonderful teaming with Jimmy Snuka and Ricky Steamboat to down Bob Orton, Bobby Heenan and Greg Valentine. Valentine was subbing for Roddy Piper. JYD beat Jesse Ventura in the only other match of note. Ventura was replacing Ken Patera, who was a little busy at his trial in Wisconsin.
It could be argued that the hottest program affiliated with the AWA in anyway during this time period took place in Montreal. Rick Martel was going to take advantage of the AWA’s lighter summer schedule and planned on bringing Jimmy Garvin to Montreal to work an angle with him for the summer. Plans changed dramatically, and instead fans saw Jimmy and Ron Garvin take on the Rougeau Brothers on June 24th. Prior to the match, Precious, Jim Garvin’s valet, blinded Jacques with her hair spray. Ronnie then attacked him, leaving him bloody and blinded for the duration of the brief match. Raymond was forced to go it alone 2-on-1, which didn’t bode well for him at all as the heels pummeled him at will.
The Rougeau’s father Jacques Sr., himself a former star wrestler, entered the ring to end the mauling. He briefly got some shine on the heels, but the Garvins ultimately double teamed him as well. Jimmy snared the elder Rougeau in a Boston crab, with Ronnie then coming down onto him with a knee from the top rope. After a brief respite, the heels returned to the ring and assaulted all three member of the Rougeau family once again. The younger Rougeaus were helpless, battered and dazed as they watched their father be stretchered to the back.
The match took place on “St. John Baptist’s Day”, which in Quebec is revered as a national day of pride for all French-Canadians. With the crowd whipped up into a furor, the bout would become known as the “St. John Baptist’s Day Massacre”. The feud and the Montreal promotion as a whole would undergo some major changes by the end of summer, but I’ll cover that in a later edition of this series.
The card drew between 14,000-16,000 fans, with local favorites Dino Bravo and King Tonga facing the AWA World tag team champions, the Road Warriors in the finale. Abdullah the Butcher no showed the event.
Don Owens promised to never book the Road Warriors again after their backstage maneuvering during May’s Owens’ family 60th Anniversary super card. The Warriors threatened to not go out for their match unless Owens agreed to cover the expenses to their next gig. That may not have been a huge deal, except the Warriors were not booked anywhere for a full week, and that was a tour of Japan, greatly adding to the potential costs if Owens agreed to their demands. As you would expect, business is business and Owens would book the Warriors again at a later date.
Owens admitted in the local papers that his promotion was facing a 20-year low turn in his business.
Rumors were swirling that Verne Gagne was attempting to buy out Owens.
I’ll wrap up June of 1985 next time as I look down south into the events surrounding Memphis, JCP, Mid- South, World Class and Florida! Thanks for reading!