#WF042 – The History Of The WWF Heavyweight Championship
James Dixon: Craig DeGeorge starts by saying that everyone on this tape has held a title. Well, no fucking shit pal, what with it being the history of the WWF title! Johnny V, who is atrocious as a colour guy, buries the tape for not having all of the footage of the title changes, and the company for not filming some of the matches or for taping over it. What a right asshole. I can’t wait to watch these two hours of shite now, thanks mate!
Ivan Koloff (c) vs. Pedro Morales
We start things off in February 1971 at MSG, though the WWWF championship has been in existence since 1963, when Buddy Rodgers was awarded the belt. He lost it a few weeks later to Bruno Sammartino, who held it for over seven years before losing it to Koloff. I quite like that Heenan, DeGeorge and Valiant talk over the match and give analysis on the guys involved and the prior title switches, rather than discussing what is a fairly dull bout. I will do the same: Pedro I quite like, but I think he was massively over-pushed for his talent, because to me he was the guy you beat before working the champion, rather than the champion. He will still go down in history as the first ever triple crown champion though, when that still actually meant something. There is no doubting that he was super over in New York, and the crowd is loud for this, really loud. They go crazy for everything Pedro does. Koloff is just a generic evil foreigner, short, with a poor look. He would never have even come close to achieving this level of push under Vince McMahon Jr. He was very average in the ring, plodding would be the kindest way to describe him. To me he was not a worthy successor to Bruno. I suppose it bears remembering that Koloff was a transitional champion, used to get the belt from one super over babyface to another, without them having to work each other. He was more than capable of that, and it obviously worked with Bruno, because fans cried and there was a near riot when Koloff beat him. Anyway, Pedro gets the win here, getting his shoulder up after a Koloff German suplex, this just three weeks after he dethroned the great Sammartino. The crowd reaction is unlike anything you have ever heard or seen before. They are riotous like a football crowd, completely in favour of Morales. Bruno Sammartino endorses the new incumbent after the bout. I cannot overstate that crowd noise, it is as big a reaction as Hogan got when he beat Sheik, if not even bigger. It really has to be seen to be believed because words don’t do it full justice.
Final Rating: *
Pedro Morales (c) vs. Stan Stasiak
Fast forward to August 1973, at MSG once again. The Stasiak name may be familiar to newer fans, as Stan’s son Shawn competed in the WWF briefly in the 2000s as Meat. This is just the last minute or so of a very bizarre 53-minute draw. 53 minutes! Why not just call it an hour? Crazy stuff. Morales wins it on a lame judge’s decision.
Bruno Sammartino (c) vs. Killer Kowalski
A few months after the previous match, Stasiak took on Morales again, and beat him for the title on December 1st 1973. Once again, Vince Sr. and the WWWF showed their dislike for heel champions as anything other than transitional, and Stasiak dropped the strap after just 9 days, with Bruno Sammartino lifting the title for a second time. This is a title defence from April 1974. I am a fan of Killer Kowalski, his movements are so unique and strange. His style is like that of a murderous drunk with intent, but it works. Kowalski reminds me a lot of Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, with Sammartino a good fit for Rocky. I wonder if this is where Stallone got the idea from, because the parallels are numerous. Kowalski just beats the shit out of a bleeding Bruno, who doesn’t sell it, and then fires back as the crowd explodes. They slug it out some more and the match is thrown out. Great brawl, but this was only the last few minutes of a 25-minute match.
Steel Cage Match
Bruno Sammartino (c) vs. Ivan Koloff
Bruno defends the title again, this time against old nemesis Koloff, in a steel cage. This is from MSG once again, two years into Bruno’s second reign in December 1975. DeGeorge makes his usual factual error, this time saying Sammartino is against the man he defeated for the title. Wrong way around, dickhead. Why does the WWF insist on hiring these little bitches who know nothing about wrestling, and make the people who do like wrestling, want to lynch them? First DeGeorge, then over the years Todd Pettengill, Mike Adamle and the worst culprit; Michael Cole. I blame Kevin Dunn. This is brief too, with Sammartino beating the shit out of Koloff for the duration, and then casually leaving the cage.
Final Rating: ¾*
Bruno Sammartino (c) vs. Ivan Koloff
Strangely enough, this is from the month before, at the same venue once again. The previous match was actually the blow-off following an indecisive finish here. The only explanation for this match going on after the cage bout, is that Coliseum were doing it on purpose. Surely no-one could be so goddamn dense as to not realise that if you are releasing a tape CHRONICLING a title belt, then you would put the matches in CHRONOLOGICAL order. I despair sometimes. Gorilla Monsoon is the referee for the match, and he actually did a few ref stints in Bruno matches, though I don’t quite know why. This ends on a DQ after Koloff uses a chair, and thus we get the shitty non-finish match after the payoff, leaving a bad taste in the mouth. Absolutely baffling, and further proof that Coliseum decision makers just threw darts to determine things like what matches should feature and whereabouts on the tape, rather than putting any thought into it. This was your usual plodding and dull Koloff affair.
Final Rating: ½*
“Special Non-title Match”
Bruno Sammartino vs. Mr. Fuji
Now they are really having a laugh. A “special non-title match” on a tape that covers the history of the WWF belt!? What, they couldn’t find another match to use in Bruno’s four year second title reign, so they went for this one? Thoroughly brain-melting. We also get another continuity shift too, with this coming from January 1974 in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Bruno completely overpowers Fuji, throwing him all over the ring, before Fuji gets a brief bit of offense with a chop and a nerve hold. It doesn’t last long, with Bruno hitting a couple of armdrags and kicking Fuji away every time he tries anything. You know what is strange about Bruno? He is Benjamin Button…He looks older than dirt in the 70s, then in the 80s he actually looks a bit better. Decades later when he was in HIS 70s, he looked like a sprightly young man, complete with bald head and thinner, chiselled face. It is unnerving actually. This match is horrible and not worth the effort of writing about. Sammartino wins after a press slam from the top and a back drop. This should never have even been on here, it’s a completely pointless inclusion. This tape is starting to drag, and we have a way to go yet.
Final Rating: ½*
Bruno Sammartino (c) vs. Superstar Billy Graham
From MSG in January 1976. I covered a cracking encounter between these two on Grudge Matches from a few years later when Graham was WWWF champion, which was a violent and bloody war, and a thoroughly engaging one. I hope this is at the same level, because this tape needs a pick-me-up. Graham is wearing some wonderful yellow and black tights; he looks like a pollinated flower. Sammartino controls Graham’s arm to start, holding him in a top wristlock. We clip ahead to a test of strength, which Bruno easily controls. We clip again to midway through the match, with Sammartino locking on his famous bearhug. Graham escapes with an eye rake and a criss-cross results in Graham knocking Sammartino out of the ring with a tackle, though he doesn’t know much about it. Bruno gets counted out, and Graham wins it. Graham jumps Bruno after the match, but Sammartino fights him off and then protests the decision, because there is supposed to be a 20-count in title matches. Sadly this is a 17-minute match cut to 2-minutes worth of holds. Nice one Coliseum.
Bruno Sammartino (c) vs. Superstar Billy Graham
This is over a year later in April 1977, and comes from Baltimore, Maryland. It is a rather famous match with a fairly notorious finish. I actually read somewhere that this took place in Baltimore rather than New York, because the company was worried that the MSG fans would riot because of the result. The ring looks absolutely massive here because of the incredibly zoomed in camera they are using, and the lighting makes this appear decades older than the last match. Graham and Bruno are two of my favourite guys to watch from this era, so I hope we will get a full match rather than another Coliseum butchering like the last one. Sammartino starts this match in the same way he did the last, by targeting the wrist and keeping the hold on for a while. As Bobby Heenan pointed out earlier in the tape, that was just one of the style differences from back then, with wrestlers keeping holds applied for much longer, rather than “rushing into things”. Of course, the reality is that the style of working just evolved, and in my opinion, for the better. As ever with wrestling though, things went too far the other way, and now no move or hold means anything. Often things are applied just for the sake of it, with no real intent to target a body part or weaken the opponent for a finishing move. The happy medium for me was probably from the late 80s to the mid 90s. Graham slows things down when he is in control, and they go back-and-forth for a while until Bruno locks in the bearhug. Graham escapes but Bruno is unrelenting, and hammers away in the corner. But then he gets caught by a quick leg pick from Graham, who uses his feet on the ropes for leverage, and wins the title. The fans are furious, though not as vociferously as you might expect. I don’t know if it is because Graham was a cool heel and people actually liked him, or if the sound quality of the footage is just naff. The crowd during this whole match was actually fairly muted so it is hard to say. Anyway, slow match, and not a patch on their epic a few months down the line.
Final Rating: *¼
Superstar Billy Graham (c) vs. Gorilla Monsoon
Just under three weeks later, Graham defended the belt at MSG against babyface Gorilla Monsoon. As already touched upon, the WWWF champion was always a babyface, with the heels prior to Graham all getting very brief runs before dropping the strap to a different top face. Because of that, I bet the MSG crowd thought they were in for a title change with this one. While I strongly approve of Graham as champion and think he was a perfect fit for the role, it would have been nice for Monsoon to have won the title. A note on The Grand Wizard: I do not like his gimmick at all. His outlandish headwear and cheap suit makes him look like something from a lame panto or a bad comedy sketch. And what did he add? Not a great deal, certainly not to Graham’s character anyway. Gorilla overpowers Graham right away and hits a giant swing and a big splash, coming close to winning the title within a minute or so, only from Graham to get his foot on the ropes. Graham rolls outside to recover, and then back in the ring he is caught in a wristlock, as Monsoon controls the match. I must ask: who thought it would be a good idea to have DeGeorge do commentary for this match on his own? It was not a good one; he is horrible! Monsoon puts on a bearhug, and holds it on for a long time, with Graham eventually escaping by half falling to the outside. Graham finally gets some offence in when he goes low on Gorilla, and then stomps away, before turning the tables and putting on a bearhug of his own, for a looooong time. This started well, but had rather trailed off as it has gone on, and turned into one large bearhug. Thankfully it is over now, as Graham attacks Monsoon on the outside and connects with a knee drop from the top to the back of the head, which is enough to win the match. Monsoon’s foot was clearly under the ropes, but that’s ok, I am just glad that is done with. Hard work to watch in places, just really dull, like most of this tape.
Final Rating: ½*
Superstar Billy Graham (c) vs. Bob Backlund
Next up at MSG, is this match from February 1978. What an ugly looking ginger bastard Backlund was here. How did he ever manage to get over to the level of being WWWF Champion for so many years? Not only that, but his style is boring and he is generally just very bland. Backlund screws the far superior Graham out of the title, hitting the atomic drop and then covering Superstar while he has his feet clearly on the ropes. The referee decides it doesn’t matter worth a shit, and just counts anyway, and thus Backlund starts his tediously long reign with the belt. Next.
Final Rating: ¾*
Steel Cage Match
Bob Backlund (c) vs. Greg Valentine
Four years into the future now, this from January 1982 at the Philadelphia Spectrum. During the last four years we have “got the w out”, but unfortunately Backlund is still champion. Lots of clipping, a little blood and a big piledriver from Backlund, followed by him leaving the cage to win it. Right, brilliant.
Bob Backlund (c) vs. Jesse Ventura
Two months later at MSG, Backlund puts the belt on the line again, against a similar opponent to Graham: Jesse Ventura. Ivan Putski is the referee for the match. Ventura is another one like Graham, who could have been a lot more in the WWF, if it wasn’t for injuries. Putski counts really, really slowly on everything that Ventura does, and then when Backlund hits a move, he counts it really quick and awards him the match. Shouldn’t it be the heel winning with shit like that? Yet another example of Backlund cheating to beat a superior opponent. I guess Hogan was taking notes over in Minnesota. Ventura looked pretty good here.
Final Rating: *½
Bob Backlund (c) vs. The Iron Sheik
JD: Lee and I also cover this as part of The WWF’s Greatest Matches review, which appears later in the book due to being from a different series of tapes, but was actually released earlier. Here is what we had to say:
JD: Bob Backlund; I do not like that man! What is it with him anyway? Did he have a personal vendetta against Hogan or something? He left as Hogan arrived and then returned in the 90’s just as Hulk scarpered…
LM: He was actually responsible for bringing Hogan back to the WWF, at least on-screen. Hogan’s return was as Backlund’s mystery partner in a TV match against The Wild Samoans at the tail end of 1983, where Backlund told the fans Hogan was a changed man. Backlund quit for real when Vince asked him to dye his hair and turn heel to challenge Hogan, because Backlund didn’t want to ruin his image. I guess time healed those wounds given his eventual turn a decade later. Why he is “playing” Sheik’s tit though, I cannot explain.
JD: That is rather disturbing. He might as well be screaming “HOOOONNNK” as he does it! Backlund really should have dyed his hair, he had woeful hair. He also has shocking ring gear, wearing a cheap amateur singlet. Have you ever seen a champion that looks LESS like a champion than Backlund does here? It is as if he jumped on a coach to go to the Olympic wrestling trials, and the confused bus driver took him to MSG instead. Well, he was actually a fairly accomplished amateur wrestler prior to joining the pro ranks I suppose. Some nice scientific exchanges between these two here. Sheik doesn’t get the credit he maybe deserves for his wrestling ability.
LM: Oh yeah, he was a great amateur wrestler in his youth and was pretty solid in the ring, at least by the standards of the day, busting out suplexes and stuff.
JD: I have not seen a great deal of the Sheik in his prime, and even here he was 40 years old. When I think of him, I picture the lumbering guy who couldn’t take the bump out of the ring at WrestleMania XVII and thus had to win the Gimmick Battle Royal. That is a disservice to him though, he was a good hand in his heyday. So, a very famous finish in this one anyway, with Sheik putting on his camel clutch and Backlund’s manager Arnold Skaaland throwing in the towel. Backlund doesn’t actually give up, but it is the same as a submission. This is a finish the WWF recycled when Backlund beat Bret Hart for the title in 1994, in a rare but very welcome case of things coming full circle and the company’s history being remembered and referenced. Though, you could argue that things actually came even more full circle when Sheik and Backlund made friends and managed The Sultan…
LM: And what a monster-sized success that turned out to be.
JD: It was still better than “time to make a difference” Fatu! No-one sent fans rushing to the popcorn stall quite like he did. That match was better than I was expecting by the way, it really kicked on into a hot finish at the end, after a relatively slow start
Final Rating: *¾
The Iron Sheik (c) vs. Hulk Hogan
This features on a lot of other tapes. It is from Madison Square Garden in January 1984, and is one of the most famous and historically significant matches of all time. There is no hyperbole involved when I say that there has probably never been as important a match as this. It changed the course of the WWF and wrestling in general. Hogan was something completely new and fresh, and even if some didn’t rate him as a worker, his charisma and presence was unquestionably huge. Hogan was money, and Vince was smart and saw that, when Verne Gagne did not. Hogan jumps Sheik to start and dominates him as the crowd goes crazy. Hogan hits the big boot but doesn’t hook the leg, and Sheik kicks out. An elbow to the top of the head and an elbow drop yields the same result. Sheik is yet to connect with a single offensive move. Sheik eventually does take control, and throws Hogan around with suplexes and a back breaker, before locking on the Camel Clutch. Hogan impressively powers to his feet and rams Sheik into the buckles, then hits the legdrop and covers him for the win and the title. There was a constant deafening din in the air all the way through the bout, there are few matches like it where the crowd is just absolutely willing the babyface to win. This is one of them, and that is because the set-up was perfect. Sheik was universally hated, Hogan was new and exciting and by contrast, was adored by the fans. They knew that Hogan winning the title here would change everything, it was obvious to everyone. There had never been a champion like Hogan before, even Superstar Billy Graham, for all his charisma, didn’t have the sheer presence of the Hulkster. The crowd goes absolutely crazy when he wins, it is an unmatchable reaction and impossible to recreate (the exception perhaps being Pedro’s win earlier in the tape). The face of wrestling was changed forever in just under six minutes. Not much of a match, though certainly more than passable by Hogan standards. But either way, this is required viewing for any wrestling fan.
Final Rating: *½
Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Macho Man Randy Savage
This is, according to DeGeorge, an exclusive “dark match” not available on any other tapes, from June 1987 in Rochester, New York. It is mighty refreshing to see some good quality full-colour footage after the grainy almost grey stuff I have sat through for the last two hours. It is the millionth Savage-Hogan match to appear on these tapes, but at least this one comes from an era when both guys were still fairly motivated. A new shade of brown has been invented to describe how fucking tanned Hogan is here. Seriously, he could wander the hood and not get shot at. Savage has a hell of a task on to save this tape though. He starts strong with a double axe and an elbow drop, then chokes the champion over the ropes, all the time still wearing his sunglasses and headband. Hogan sees to that by ramming his head into the buckles, and now he puts the glasses on! Snazzy! Hogan pounds away, and Savage bails to the outside, where he hides behind Elizabeth. It’s a good hot start, far more energetic than pretty much anything else we have seen on this tape. Sometimes these guys really do phone it in when they are working together, but they are going full tilt here. Savage goes to town on Hogan with an axe handle from the apron and then he rams him into the guardrail. Hogan rolls back in and gets caught with a slam and the top rope flying elbow, but Hogan kicks out. He Hulks Up and hits the big boot, but Savage rolls to the outside and again sends Hogan into the rail. Savage goes to nail Hogan with a chair, but Elizabeth steps in and takes it away from him. They have a domestic, and Elizabeth gives him a bollocking. It is about time she got more involved, but she might have cost her man there. Gorilla says she was preventing a DQ, but I say bullshit. It was outside the ring, he would have got away with it. Savage hits a knee to the back and then back in the ring he goes up top for the elbow, but Hogan moves out of the way and rolls Savage up for three. A good fun match that didn’t stop, but it was too short to be anything special.
Final Rating: **½
After the match, DeGeorge wraps up and we have to listen to more nonsense from the unbearable Johnny V. Seriously, every time that guy comes onto the screen and talks, I just want to kick him in the mouth.
Summary: The most difficult slog of a tape we have had to endure. Monotonous, one-dimensional action from the off, with little in the way of entertaining wrestling to get excited about, and it just never ends. The 70s would produce some crackers from time to time, but not on this tape. This is essential viewing if you are interested in the history of the WWF title, but it is far from a complete guide and a lot of footage is missing. Fans of modern wrestling will hate it, and by that, I mean anyone watching even from the FIRST WrestleMania onwards. Avoid. This will send you to sleep.