Where we last left off: May 1985
Special thanks to Kris Zellner, Jim Zordani, Graham Cawthon, Matt Farmer, Tamalie, Dave Meltzer, Tim Hornbaker, Karl Stern, wrestlingdata.com, crazymax.org, prowrestlinghistory.com and the “Between the Sheets” podcast for the results and historical information I have used for this series. The Wrestling Classics and Kayfabe Memories message boards have also been invaluable in answering my questions on certain issues and angles.
Ken Patera and Mr. Saito’s Trial
Over a year after Ken Patera and Masa Saito’s run in with the police in a small town Wisconsin hotel, the men finally stood before a panel of their peers to have their case tried.
They were charged with multiple counts of battery against an officer of the peace, along with obstructing an officer. Patera faced an additional charge of criminal damage to property for smashing a rock through the window at the McDonald’s, which started the chain of events that ended with the men brawling with the police.
The police officers took turns testifying to the violence inflicted upon them during the melee. One had physical and neurological damage from being knocked unconscious. This included numbness of the face, vision issues and teeth which that had been knocked out. Another officer had their leg broken and teeth smashed.
Patera testified on his own behalf, saying that he had not thrown the rock. He went on to state that the police had instigated the fight by using mace on he and Saito for being non-cooperative when the police attempted to question them at the hotel. Patera broke kayfabe on the stand and explained that his television persona was a gimmick, and not reflective of his actual attitude in life. For his part, Mr. Saito denied attacking anyone.
Verne Gagne aided Patera and Saito’s defense by using his connections to have a U.S. Senator speak with the judge on behalf of the men. Gene Okerlund, Arnold Skaaland, promoter Dennis Hilgart, Nick Bockwinkel and Verne Gagne all provided testimony as character witnesses. Bockwinkel tried to discount the police’s version of events as he explained that Saito probably didn’t headbutt the officers, as it wasn’t part of his wrestling repertoire.
Unfortunately for Saito and Patera, the judge presiding over their trial was up for re-election, and he wasn’t going to go light in a high profile case like this. Both Patera and Saito were given sentences of two years in prison, with an additional six years of probation following that. The men had not taken the trial too seriously as Patera was told by a friend in the legal field that at most they’d get a month in jail and a small fine. The verdict actually had to be held up as Patera was late to the proceedings because he was elsewhere on the court grounds drinking beer with his lawyer. Saito meanwhile was found napping on bench in the hallway.
The two men shared a prison cell for the first month as the court evaluated them. Patera was noted as having scored in the top 2% of anyone who had taken the mathematics exam the courts administered. After that first month Patera was sent to the Waupun Correctional Institute for six months, then spent another year at the St. Croix Relief Center. The center allowed him to come and go at his leisure as so long as he checked in and out of the building. This allowed Patera to play golf with the prison officers, see his family twice a month, and go fishing. Eventually Patera was released early due to his good behavior.
Meanwhile, Mr. Saito was sent to the Flambeau Correctional Center where he was lauded by prison officials for teaching other inmates how to correctly lift weights, cook traditional Oriental meals and eat properly.
Other prisoners felt the pair were being treated differently due to being “celebrities” and at least one convict contacted a local newspaper to air his grievances.
Roddy Piper was attempting to use his star power from the Cyndi Lauper angle to make himself a “free agent” in order to headline for both the WWF and Jim Crockett. Piper bucked the system in May by appearing for Don Owens’ anniversary show, and followed that up in June by openly going out to dinner with Crockett. Perhaps Piper was hoping to push Vince McMahon to the negotiating table and find himself a bigger money deal?
Despite doing good numbers in May, the “Saturday Night’s Main Event” specials earmarked for June and July were canceled by NBC.
In a follow up to Antonio Inoki’s complaints with the talent the WWF was sending him, both Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan were sent on a New Japan tour. Inoki took both men on in one-on-one matches and walked away from both encounters with count-out victories. Inoki used the wins to help earn the IWGP tournament win. It is believed McMahon went through with such a deal in order to convince Inoki to sign another lucrative talent exchange contract, but Inoki balked at the numbers offered.
Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s drug issues became bad enough that he was constantly missing WWF house shows. His run here ended at the end of June, with Snuka then moving on to tour New Japan before falling off the radar in North America until the following April when the AWA brought him in. There is a rumor/story that Snuka was fired after sneaking drugs on a trip to the middle east, but the dirt sheets report that happened around March.
WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan defended his title against Ken Patera and Don Muraco in the United States, plus he downed Tatsumi “the Dragon” Fujinami while touring Japan. Hogan also partnered up with Paul Orndorff for a number of matches with Bob Orton and Roddy Piper. Big John Studd replaced Piper in the tag team war at one event.
Tito Santana and Greg Valentine kept pumping out matches against one another across the country, with the Intercontinental title hanging in the balance. Tito also partnered with the JYD to face Valentine and Brutus Beefcake at several shows.
After chasing the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff since March, the team of Mike Rotundo and Barry Windham recaptured the WWF tag titles in a match taped for syndicated TV. The speculation around the change was that the WWF did it in order to quell Windham’s desire to return to Florida and wrestle with his dad and brother.
In an interesting note, the Dynamite Kid won the NWA International Junior heavyweight title from the Mighty Inoue. He would drop the title a few days later to Kuniaki Kobayashi. Granted Japan is a different beast, but it is still unique to see a WWF talent winning an NWA title while in the middle of a territorial war.
59-year old Edouard Carpentier worked his second TV match for the WWF this year. He was pushed on Canadian TV as a former World champion and legend in order to help put over his role on color commentary for TV markets in Canada.
Terry Funk debuted in the WWF. Funk had last been seen in January, where he worked a few shots for JCP as a “bounty hunter” against Dick Slater.
Jim Brunzell also debuted as a tag team partner for B. Brian Blair. Brunzell was not only a upper card talent for the AWA, but he also worked backstage as a booker and talent organizer of sorts. Brunzell stated in his shoot that Vince McMahon promised him a salary of $90,000 a year. Brunzell took that number to Verne Gagne and gave him a chance to match it. Verne told him he wasn’t worth that kind of money. Unlike most of the AWA talents, Brunzell reportedly gave Verne his notice and spent around a month fulfilling dates.
Lanny Poffo and Randy Savage both made their debuts. Savage was given a push immediately, with the WWF heel managers all vying for his contract. Poffo was used as an underneath guy for most of the next four years.
19,800 fans entered MSG to see WWF champ Hulk Hogan knock heads with Don Muraco inside of a steel cage. Other action saw IC champ Greg Valentine fall to Ricky Steamboat via count-out, plus Adrian Adonis, Big John Studd and Bobby Heenan bested the U.S. Express and George “the Animal” Steele via DQ. Randy Savage debuted against Rick McGraw in a match that went eleven minutes longer than it had been scheduled for. This reportedly gave Savage some heat in the locker room as the show’s timing was put off by this happening. My review of this event can be found here.
The Boston Garden drew 15,100 fans to see Hulk Hogan best Big John Studd via count out when Hogan slammed him onto the floor. Other action saw the U.S. Express fall to Sheik and Volkoff, and the JYD getting his hand raided over IC champ Greg Valentine via count-out after Valentine left the ringside area in protest after the ref caught Jimmy Hart holding down the JYD’s leg during a pin.
12,175 fans came to the Philadelphia Spectrum to see Hogan and Mr. Wonderful team up against Piper and Bob Orton Jr. In addition, David Sammartino earned a count-out win over Bobby Heenan after almost 18 minutes(!) and Ricky Steamboat bested Don Muraco by DQ after Mr. Fuji blinded the Dragon with salt only a minute into the match.
JCP continued to attempt to break into the Philly market as they ran the Civic Center with NWA World champion Ric Flair tangling with Magnum T.A., Dusty Rhodes fought Tully Blanchard in a barbed wire match and Dick Slater and Manny Fernandez were disqualified against the Koloffs.
The WWF successful “stole” the AWA TV time in San Francisco, then managed to block them out of the Cow Palace in May. This led to the Fed running their first show in the Palace on June 10th. Roddy Piper failed to show up for the main event, so Alexis Smirnoff took his place as Orton’s partner against Jimmy Snuka and Mr. Wonderful. The U.S. Express beat Sheik and Volkoff by DQ in the only other match of note.
The AWA had stopped running Omaha in October of 1982, so it was an open market for the WWF to try and siphon up the fan base. They drew 8,000 people to see Mr. Wonderful brawl with Bob Orton Jr. and the U.S. Express clash with Sheik and Volkoff.
7,000 fans came to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena to see Bruno and David Sammartino fight Brutus Beefcake and Johnny Valiant in a steel cage. The U.S. Express bested Sheik and Volkoff by DQ in co-headliner.
12,700 fans came to the Baltimore Civic Center to see the Sammartinos butt heads with Beefcake and Valiant, with the JYD facing “Big” John Studd in the other big bout of the evening.
Los Angeles saw the WWF and JCP compete for the fan’s money within a week of one another. The WWF show at the Sports Arena saw Hogan down Beefcake, Roddy Piper brawled with Mr. Wonderful to a draw and Greg Valentine teamed with Jesse Ventura to defeat George Wells and the JYD. JCP headlined with Flair fending off the challenge of Magnum T.A, Dusty Rhodes knocking heads with Tully Blanchard and Manny Fernandez downing Krusher Kruschev. In an interesting note, local talent Jack Armstrong worked on both shows. JCP also booked local worker “Jay Strongbow Jr.” on their show, which is a bit odd since Chief Jay was still semi-active for the WWF.
I’ll be back soon to cover the AWA, St. Louis, Memphis and the other southern wrasslin’ from this month. Thanks for reading!