Saturday, March 24, 2018

ALLEY FIGHT: WWF in 1981 (Bob Backlund, Sgt. Slaughter, Pat Patterson)

Hey yo Stud Muffins & Foxy Ladies

This is part 3 of 40 of a year by year countdown of the best the WWF/E has to offer between 1978-2017. I am realizing that at the pace I am going this is going to take me the better part of a year to finish up so I am going to try to speed up. This blog post covers a year from one of my favorite eras, the Bob Backlund Era as we look at 1981.

First & foremost when discussing the Bob Backlund Era of WWF (1978-1983) the number one thing you should do is listen to Titans of Wrestling. A funny and informative podcast that covers this time period in great detail and I am not just saying that because they are my friends and I am an honorary Titan, I am saying it because it is goddamn true. Titans of Wrestling was the best podcast pro wrestling history.

Titans of Wrestling on Place To Be Nation:

The most legendary match of 1981 to take place in the WWF was the Alley Fight between Sgt. Slaughter and Pat Patterson. Sgt. Slaughter was one of the top heels in America doing a drill sergeant gimmick (based on his real life experience) at time when America. Sarge is a terrific bumping heel that is not afraid to show ass and really shine up a babyface. However at the same time he is large enough to be taken seriously when it comes time to get heat on a babyface. He brought in late 1980 as a challenger for Bob Backlund. They would have a great series at the Philadelphia Spectrum in early '81 culminating in a classic cage match that I rank among the best cage matches of all time. On TV, Sarge's gimmick was that he had an unbreakable hold known as the Cobra Clutch that once locked in would force a man to submit OR ELSE! As Sarge was bullying these jabronis, badass wrestler turned TV announcer, Pat Patterson took exception to this and he took up the Cobra Clutch Challenge on TV. There is a great big struggle of Patterson trying to escape the Cobra Clutch and just as he is about to, Sarge knees him in the gut and beats him down. What a prick! This sets up the April match at MSG which does a great job setting up the blood, violent Alley Fight, which I have as my 1981 Match of The Year and something I would put in Top 100 Matches of All Time.

Pat Patterson was taking up the mantle of Bruno Sammartino. Sammartino's gimmick was that he was the Living Legend. A badass, working class hero that walked tall and destroyed the heels after Bob Backlund was finished with them. However after finishing up a red hot with protégé Larry Zybszko in 1980, Bruno left to start an independent promotion in his hometown of Pittsburgh. So Pat Patterson filled the void Bruno left becoming Vince McMahon's co-host on TV and feuding with the main heels of 1981 such as Sgt. Slaughter and King Kong Mosca.

In 1981 felt another big blow after Bruno departed when Andre The Giant injured his ankle apparently getting out of bed. Andre was a top touring attraction globally and a mainstay of WWF shows in the northeast. They ended up running a hot TV angle where Andre was giving an update on his injury (storyline sustained from an attack by Killer Khan) when Killer Khan attacked the injury with his crutch. This set up a stretcher match in late 1981 between these two and to my knowledge the first of its kind. While it did not live up to the hype of a truly great match, these two do have an excellent classic in New Japan in 1982 that I highly recommend.

The WWF tag team scene was dominated by the ultra white meat babyface combination of Rick Martel and Tony Garea. Tony Garea, a Kiwi, was a mainstay of the WWF babyface midcard in the 70s winning numerous tag team championships and is also famous of being a part of many pull apart brawls in the 90s as a TV agent. Rick Martel is one of the all-time great babyfaces. He was brought in 1980 as Garea's tag team partner lifting the tag team belts off of the Samoans. They then feuded with the psycho hillbillies, the Moondogs in a great series before finishing up against the evil tag team from the Orient of Mr. Fuji and Mr. Saito. Fuji & Saito won the tag belts on TV after Fuji threw NOTHING BUT PURE SALT RIGHT IN THE FACE OF RICK MARTEL!

The WWF Intercontinental Championship was dominated by Pedro Morales, the former WWF Champion of the early 70s. Morales was facing Backlund's hammy-downs until the summer of 1981 when he dropped the championship to a hot newcomer that lazy beach bum from Hawaii, Don Muraco. The Magnificent Muraco used the championship as a springboard to challenge for Backlund's championship. Once that series was completed, Muraco and Morales feuded again with Morales winning the Intercontinental Championship back before the end of the year.

Last but not least, BOB BACKLUND! My boy had a stellar year in 1981! Two fantastic matches with Sgt. Slaughter the Spectrum. Both should be watched as the January match sets up the Cage match really well. The Cage match is a violent affair and should be remembered as one of the all time great cage matches. Admittedly, his three match series with Stan Hansen is disappointing given the talent involved. The summer of 1981 is pretty barren as he is feuding with the terrible boring King Kong Mosca and has a one off with George the Animal Steele. There is a match with Killer Khan from Philly that I want to track down. Things pick up in the fall with The Magnificent Muraco debuting and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine returning. Muraco and Backlund have a great Texas Death Match in September at MSG, but then follow it up with maybe the worst match I have ever seen in October at the Spectrum. The crowning moment of Bob Backlund's 1981 campaign was his series against his great rival, Greg The Hammer Valentine. When these two go at it, you know you are going to get a stiff, and I mean double stiff confrontation. After their October 1981 MSG bout ends in controversy, the WWF Heavyweight Championship is Held-Up. Now Bob Backlund must win back his championship in the rematch in November at MSG. Backlund does so and MSG ERUPTS! It is a MASSIVE POP! Then in the ultimate feel-good moment Bob Backlund leads them in a proto-YES chant! As a massive Bob Backlund fan, it is really cool to see him that over in the Garden.

Wrestling Observer Newsletter Match Of The Year, 1981:

1. Sgt. Slaughter vs Pat Patterson - MSG 5/4/81, Alley Fight (#1)

Smarkschoice Rankings of Greatest WWF/E Match of All Time (Overall in Parenthesis):

1. Death Match: Bob Backlund vs. Don Muraco - Madison Square Garden 9/21/81 (#38)*
2. Cage Match: Bob Backlund vs. Sgt. Slaughter - Philadelphia Spectrum 3/21/81 (#42)
3. Alley Fight: Pat Patterson vs. Sgt. Slaughter - Madison Square Garden 5/4/81 (#65)
4. Bob Backlund vs. Don Muraco - Philadelphia Spectrum 10/17/81  (#105)**
5. Bob Backlund vs. Stan Hansen - Madison Square Garden 2/16/81 (#110)
6. Bob Backlund vs. Sgt. Slaughter - Philadelphia Spectrum 1/10/81 (#113)
7. Bob Backlund vs. Greg Valentine - Madison Square Garden 11/23/81  (#116)

*This is a crazy high ranking for a match that has its strong points but is overall very uneven. I am shocked it was at #38. Did JDW stump hard for this match. Also shocked it finished above the vaunted Alley Fight.
**This is one of the worst matches I have ever seen. It was so egregious that I actually included the review as a bonus match review. Shocked that this got any votes at all

DVDVR Best of the 80s WWF Project (Overall in Parenthesis)*:

1. Alley Fight: Pat Patterson vs. Sgt. Slaughter - Madison Square Garden 5/4/81 (#26)
2. Bob Backlund vs. Sgt. Slaughter - Philadelphia Spectrum 1/10/81 (#33)
3. Cage Match: Bob Backlund vs. Sgt. Slaughter - Philadelphia Spectrum 3/21/81 (#35)

*Did not include any of the Bob Backlund vs Greg Valentine matches from 1981.

Reviews of All Bob Backlund Matches I watched from 1981:

Reviews of the rest of WWF from 1981:

Honorable Mentions:

5. WWF Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund vs Greg Valentine - MSG 10/19/81 ****1/2

4. WWF Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund vs Sgt. Slaughter - WWF, Philly 1/10/81 ****1/2

#3. Bob Backlund vs Greg Valentine
MSG 11/23/81 WWF Heavyweight Championship, No Holds Barred
This is the rematch from last month's disputed finish show where The Hammer walked out the Champion, but did not win the match. Thus the championship is held up and there must be a winner! Backlund is red-hot to start and beats Valentine's ass from pillar to post. The Hammer was great here at selling, begging off and bumping for Backlund making him look like Superman. Valentine goes for broke rushing into the corner with double knees and jams them in the turnbuckles. Backlund gives a taste of his Hammer's medicine to the Hammer working over the leg. I will say the one thing that did bring it down for me was Backlund's kicks to the leg were not the best. I recognize this is not Shoot-Style Japan, but Backlund has those killer headbutts, punches and forearms it makes his kicks look extra weak. Valentine is selling this for all its worth and when Backlund does use his fist to work the leg or an actual hold it is better for it. Valentine tries to dig himself out of this hole with desperation lunges, but it seems too deep at first with Backlund headbutting and punching his way back into control. On a figure-4 attempt, Valentine is able to punch Bob in the head and pounce on his leg. Valentine takes Backlund to school. No disrespect to the champ, but this is how you do it. Backlund fights him off and throws some wicked European Uppercuts to Valentine's leg from ground. Holy shit, both their legs are just shot and I am loving the double leg psychology. Valentine just grabs Backlunds ankle and scoots out and wraps his knee around the post. There is no avoiding it this time, Backlund is taken into the Figure-4 twice and his mettle is tested, but GOSHDARNIT HE IS BOB BACKLUND AND HE NEVER GIVES UP. With every fiber of his being and muscles bulging, Bob  turns Valentine into the ropes. Both men are just exhausted. Valentine is the first one to try  a suplex for a victory, but he can't capitalize. Backlund hits a magnificient, textbook German with a beautiful bridge to win the match! MSG explodes and Backlund leads him in a proto-Yes chant. I agree with the Titans this feels like the climax of Bob Backlund's reign. I thought this was exactly on par with the original 1981 match. I thought the original one just felt a bit grittier. Valentine was more frustrated and Backlund scrappier, but this one had sweet feel-good finish. It is a total toss-up; both are all-time classics. ****1/2


#2. WWF World Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund vs Sgt. Slaughter
WWF, Philly 3/21/81, Steel Cage Match

"He hit him where he lives and where he loves." - Kal Rudman on when Slaughter punches him in the testicles.

For my money, the best WWF steel cage match of the 1980s, but it is close. It is a perfect combination of bumps and violence. Backlund at avoiding moves to elicit a big pop. Slaughter smashes his hand and head into the steel cage because Backlund ducks. Backlund throws Slaughter into the cage a couple times and Slaughter really launches himself into the cage. Kal's bloodlust is working in overdrive during this match as he eagerly awaits the bloodletting of Sarge. Slaughter after getting his ass kicked goes low and then inverted atomic drop on the balls. He throws Backlund shoulder first into the cage twice. Dick lets us know that Backlud shoulder was injured by Hansen at MSG. Backlund shows great wherewithal always grabbing Sarge's foot before Slaughter can exit via the door. BACKLUND PILEDRIVER! Here comes a classic Titans of Wrestling line about pablum, which was a classic Johnny Sorrow/Parv interaction. Backlund tries to climb out, but Slaughter is able to yank him down. Slaughter tries to climb the cage himself so Backlund gets some payback and smashes Slaughter's balls. Both men are down and to quote Kal Rudman, They are on Weird Street! Again Slaughter tries to exit the door and Backlund is able to stop him by grabbing the foot. BIG SLAUGHTER BUMP OVER THE TURNBUCKLES INTO CAGE! Kal's bloodlust is revving up. Backlund is teeing off on Slaughter's head and throwing him into the cage. Kal cant believe there is no blood. It is only a matter of time, Kal says, Backlund with big hammer punches on Sarge. Kal is so excited when the blood gushes and even says he is working on the cut. That's exactly what I was going to say! Slaughter backs him into the corner and Backlund moves as Sarge rames his head into the post on a mistimed shoulderblock. LOVE IT! Backlund rakes Sarge's face on the steel. THAT IS BLOOD! Kal exclaims. Backlund's awesome punches are on full display here. He punches Slaughter so hard he falls to the door. This is the best escape struggle. He slams Slaughter's head into the steel doorframe. OW! We get a closeup of Sarge's fingers on the door and then Backlund stomps those fingers on the steel! OUCH! Awesome! Slaughter goes back to work on the nuts of Bob Backlund because that is his only offense. There is a quick cut in my version. Backlund slams Slaughter's head into top of cage. Backlund triumphantly parades out to a roaring crowd.

The cut hurts the finish and makes it feel a little lackluster. This was a great Backlund asskicking. As with most Backlund matches, I do wish we get some more heat on Backlund, but after the January match you wanted to see Backlund kick the shit out of him and that's what you got. Sarge took some awesome, awesome bumps. Classic steel cage match. ****1/2


#1. Sgt. Slaughter vs Pat Patterson - WWF, MSG 5/4/81, Alley Fight

The World Wrestling Federation in 1980-81 was a damn solid promotion. I feel like Bruno would have been in this role if he was still around, but instead we get Pat, which aint a bad thing at all. Slaughter had been tormenting jobbers on TV as part of his Cobra Clutch. Well Black Demon wasnt having any of it so he bailed on the whole thing. Patterson conducted the interview with Sarge, who called him yellow so it was on. Slaughter and Patterson have a great little mini match with Patterson trying to escape the Cobra Clutch and just as he is about to, Slaughter knees in the gut and then brutally attacks him with a chair and puts the Clutch back on. Titans favorites Middle Aged & Crazy Dom Denucci (Kelly), Tony Garea (Johnny) and Ricky Martel (Parv's) save the day as Denucci lives up to his name and goes crazy with the chair on Slaughter. It was a damn good brawl. I know I have seen the April MSG match that set up this match before. but I couldnt find it so I went straight to the Alley Fight.

Hot damn! They just dont make bloody violent brawls like they used to. Patterson comes out in the famous I <3 NY shirt that is usually how I picture him in my head. He wastes no time bringing the fight to Gomer excuse me I mean Sgt. Slaughter. Patterson takes off his belt and whips Slaughter like the dog he is and then he chokes him out. Slaughter is getting his ass handed to him. He rakes the eyes and get gets a hold of the belt. He whips Patterson and then wraps the belt around his mouth, which is another famous visual from this match. Sarge rips off the I <3 NY shirt only to choke him with it. BOOOOOOOOOOOO! Patterson sends him flying over the top rope to the floor. Patterson drops his famous and dangerous Bombs Away Kneedrop on Slaughter. Slaughter is able to resume control by chucking Patterson over the top rope. But not for long as Patterson catapults him over the turnbuckles into the steel and Sarge does a 5-alarm baldejob. Holy shit! He was gushing blood profusely. His selling of being knocked loopy was awesome. Patterson starts to tee off on him to a raucous crowd so Sarge goes back to his favorite cut off punching some where he lives and where he loves, his balls. He puts on some brass knux, but he is so fucked up he cant capitalize. Patterson blocks at every turn and takes off his Cowboy Boot and smokes him. Then he starts ramming his head into hard metal objects then back to cowboy boot. We need a mercy killing because Patterson is destroying Slaughter and Wizard finally throws in the towel. Slaughter kinda intimates he wants to keep fighting, but he is so fucked up on weird street I don't think he knew where he was! Wizard takes him to the back.

As a street fight this was badass, but I think the rules or lack of rules hurt the finish. I get what they were going for with no referee that was an unsanctioned, real deal street fight like you would see at a bar. It accomplished that all the way up until they needed a finish and it just lacked that climax that is the 1-2-3. I think "I Quit" rules would have also been perfect for this if someone had thought of that. Still one of the all-time classics and a top 5 WWF 80s match. ****3/4


Bonus Worst Match of All Time Review:
WWF Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund vs Don Muraco - WWF Philly 10/17/81

I have been both dreading this match and am intrigued by it. Doing it this the same way as the Valentine draw in twenty minute intervals.

"They are really playing to the crowd" - Dick Graham as Backlund sits in his third hammerlock of the night

"You cant doubt Don Muraco is a great athlete." - Dick Graham as Muraco sits in his third stomach claw

"This feels like it has been going on for hours and hours." - Dick Graham finally getting it right

" This is too much for even a masochist to handle" - Kal Rudman with the great line of the night

First Twenty Minutes: It picked up in the last 3 minutes, but the first 17 were pretty damn boring. The lone highspot was a Bob Backlund monkey flip. Muraco headlock was transitioned into a Backlund hammerlock. There was some movement in and out of the hammerlock, but yeah they are clearly going long. Last three minutes Muraco picks it up with some great midsection work. Double stomp. Standing on him. Bob is great at selling this. Bearhug and as Backlund balls up the fist the ref admonishes him allowing Muraco knee him in the gut. Bob's look at the ref was hilarious. Muraco digs the Asiatic Spike in the midsection as twenty minutes in this contest goes by. Will Backlund make a comeback? Will Muraco break a sweat? Will I be able to stay awake?

Second Twenty Minutes: Muraco is so fucking lazy he invents a new resthold. He literally hugs Backlund's leg for like two minutes. Christ. There was some decent movement in and out of the stomach claw with Backlund not able to capitalize until finally he punches out and boot rake and nice elbow. Then Backlund headscissors. This was brutally boring. Muraco gets out by prying the legs open and making a wish. Decent leg work until the hugging the leg bs. Backlund escapes but Muraco comes down with all his weight on the leg. Escape again, but Backlund cant hold him up and Muraco gets two. They tie each other up. Muraco had a leg hold and Backlund his arm. Can this match be any more boring? Will Muraco come up with any more new restholds? Will Dick Graham fall asleep before me?

Last Fifteen Minutes: You know what this match needed? A fucking Indian Deathlock! Backlund escapes a toehold by smashing Muraco face with the heel of his boot. Muraco lunges for the leg and Backlund hammers Muraco's leg for revenge. Backlund sells leg well and at first the leg work looks good until the Indian Fucking Deathlock. Backlund leans too far back and Muraco rakes the face and gets some nice punches in. There is about ten minutes left, maybe this will heat up. Muraco is up favoring his left leg. Muraco drops him throat first on the top rope setting him up for the Asiatic Spike. He kisses the protected thumb. He nails up, but Backlund is unphased. He Hulks Up! Muraco hits the Asiatic Spike in the corner and Backlund is gasping for breath. So Muraco sticks the thumb in his throat. Yep we needed another hold! Backlund powers up and shoulder tackle. Backlund walks into a phantom Spike and he rolls to outside. Muraco gets him back in and nails a Tombstone to set up the Superfly, but eats knees! It is a draw as Backlud hammers away. NOW THEY BRAWL! This match sucks!

The way they worked was grab a hold, two escapes each ending up back in the original hold and then third time is a charm the other takes over with a new hold. The times in each hold was way too long. Not enough movement. No real story. Just hold->escape->hold->escape->hold->successful escape. Worst Backlund match I have ever seen. Silver lining: it was just a 55 minute draw.

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