Saturday, 7 June 2008

WWF The Wrestling Classic - Retro Review

Ladies and gentleman, I think I’ve unearthed a gem from the past, dating back to November 1985, the World Wrestling Federation show “The Wrestling Classic”, featuring a sixteen man single elimination tournament, and another match in the legendary feud between WWF Champion Hulk Hogan and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. After the initial introduction from Vince McMahon and Lord Alfred Hayes, it’s handed over to the commentators, Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura.

The first round of the tournament begins with Corporal Kirchner facing Adrian Adonis. Adonis here is managed by Jimmy Hart. Kirchner began with a couple of arm drags, but Adonis soon took control, but as the Corporal went for a suplex, Adonis countered with a DDT to get the pin and three count. A typical TV match, not lasting that long, and a bit sloppy at times.
Then it’s Nikolai Volkoff against the Dynamite Kid. Remember folks, this show was held during the Cold War, so we hate the Russians here! This is a quick one. As Volkoff is enchanting the crowd with the singing of the Russian national anthem, Dynamite climbs to the top rope and connects with a dropkick as Volkoff finishes, A three count later and the Brit is through. That’s the way to deal with those pesky commies!
Following that quick win, it’s Ivan Putski, Polish power himself, against “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who, of course, has the lovely Miss Elisabeth by his side. It’s a battle of power against speed here, and Savage is at his best here as the oft-cowardly heel. Putski overpowers Savage early on, but Savage gets the quick pin with a roll-up with his feet on the middle-rope. This is Savage in his prime here.
Following this, what looks like a great match on paper as Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat faces Davey Boy Smith. The early exchanges between these two are great, but sadly it doesn’t last that long, as Smith crotches himself on the top rope when Steamboat moved out of the way and suffers an injury. The referee calls an instant halt to the match, awarding the match to Steamboat. This had the makings of a great match. A shame it had to end so early.
Next up, the Junk Yard Dog versus the Iron Sheik. The Sheik attacked the Dog before the bell, but with his head butt as the main weapon, JYD came back strongly, until the Sheik applied the camel clutch. But the Dog managed to get out of the hold, and while the Sheik was attacking him in the corner, he became preoccupied with the ref, pushing him out of the way. This gave the Dog the chance to connect with another powerful head butt so he could get the pin. Probably the best match of the show so far.
A battle of the heels next with Terry Funk facing Moondog Spot. Instead of wrestling, Funk suggests that they don’t, and they both should leave the ring and declare the match a draw. So with both wrestlers outside the ring, the referee starts the count, and Funk attacks Spot. The ringside brawl goes back to the ring, and as Funk throws Spot into the ring, the referee finishes his count, awarding the win to Spot via count-out. Very interesting way to do a match.
Mr. Fuji’s man, Magnificent Muraco, then goes up against Intercontinental Champion Tito Santana. Muraco overpowered Santana early, but the Mexican’s speed brings him back into the match, but the Magnificent one soon brings his power back into play again, and he takes Santana down with a power slam, and counts three for Muraco’s pin. However, realising that Santana had his foot under the rope, the referee re-started the match, and with Muraco still celebrating, Santana got him with a small package to get the pin. I take back what I said before. This is the best match so far.
After Mean Gene interviews Bobby Heenan, in which the Brain reiterates the bounty he’s put on Paul Orndorff’s head, it’s Mr. Wonderful’s turn in the final first round match, as he goes up against his former running buddy “Cowboy” Bob Orton. Needless to say that Orton is wearing a cast on his left arm. A good match sees Orndorff targeting Orton’s injured arm, before the Cowboy comes back and shows just how damn good he was back then with some good solid wrestling. But Orndorff comes back strongly with some powerful shots, but when Orton adjusts his cast, he clobbers Mr. Wonderful and goes for the pin. But the referee doesn’t count, and when he calls for the bell, Orton celebrates until the ref reveals that he’s actually disqualified him for using the cast. A really enjoyable match with a great storyline and a good ending.
McMahon and Hayes then go through who’s facing who in the next round, and Hayes looks like he’s up to no good with the way he’s grabbing hold of the hostess.
Then it’s on to the quarter-finals, with Adrian Adonis facing the Dynamite Kid. During the match Ventura leaves his commentary position at ringside, claiming he’s got to talk to Randy Savage about his match backstage. Back in the ring Adonis and Dynamite put on an excellent wrestling contest, making me realise just how much Adonis deteriorated in his later career. Dynamite, as always, looked great here, another example of just how great a wrestler he was, and it was the Brit who came out on top, kicking out of Adonis’ roll-up attempt by kicking him into his manager Jimmy Hart, who was standing on the ring apron. A three count later and Dynamite was through to the semi-finals.
Mean Gene then interviews Ventura, who says he’s been telling Savage about the flaws of all his possible opponents. He then gets annoyed when Mean Gene accuses him of being an unbiased announcer.
The second quarter-final is a dream match, with Randy Savage facing Ricky Steamboat. Of course, everyone knows about their match nearly two years later at Wrestlemania III, and while nothing can compare to that classic, this is still an excellent match between two wrestlers made for each other. Some great exchanges between the two, and a controversial ending. As Savage stood on the ring apron, he pulled something out of his tights, and as Steamboat tried to execute a back suplex, Savage clobbered him with the foreign object. Steamboat was out as he hit the ground, with Savage going for the immediate cover to get the three count.
It’s a battle of the dogs in the third quarter-final, with Moondog Spot facing the Junkyard Dog. The strange thing about this one was that there was actually no referee in this match. Spot attacked JYD early, but came back quickly and took Spot down with his big head butt. He then went for the pin and made his own three count. As the bell rang, ring announcer Howard Finkel announced that the Dog had won the match as Gorilla Monsoon revealed that a ringside judge had given him the decision. Quite bizarre, if you ask me, or could it just be a case of poor organisation here?
Mean Gene then interviews Bobby Heenan again, saying that he’s been scouting for talent all night long, and that he’s hoping someone will pick up the bounty on Paul Orndorff’s head.
Back in the ring, the final quarter-final sees Paul Orndorff facing Tito Santana. Santana came into this one with his left leg heavily bandaged. Like the previous face v face battle, this was a great technical contest with both wrestlers matching each other move for move. But when Santana re-injured his leg, Orndorff began to work over the injured limb. But it wasn’t long before both men began brawling around the ring, failing to notice that the referee was counting both men out, therefore eliminating both of them from the tournament. A good little match here, and a shame it didn’t go a little longer.
McMahon and Hayes then run-down what’s happening in the tournament. Once again the Lord is acting like an ageing lothario as he starts kissing the hostess. You know, if he did that sort of thing now he’d get arrested and thrown prison. But apart from that, they announce that the Junkyard Dog has drawn a bye in the semi-finals, because Orndorff and Santana eliminated themselves, meaning that there would be only one semi-final match.
Mean Gene then interviews Hulk Hogan. It’s the usual hyperbole from the Hulkster, who basically talks about how he’s going to tear Piper apart.
Then it’s on to the only non-tournament match on the show, as Roddy Piper challenges Hulk Hogan for the WWF title. This is actually the first Hogan/Piper singles match I’ve seen, and it begins before the bell even rang. It’s kind of your typical Hogan mid-80’s match here. Lots of brawling at the beginning of the match before Piper locks in a sleeper hold, and when it looks like Hogan is out of it, he raises his finger and begins his fight back. The referee then takes an accidental shot, which gives Piper the chance to hit Hogan with a chair. But after Hogan manages to get the chair off Piper, he applies a sleeper of his own, until he gets attacked by Piper’s bodyguard Bob Orton from behind. The referee, who had recovered by now, disqualified Piper immediately, and as the bad guys were attacking Hogan, Paul Orndorff returned to the ring to make the save. Well, I wasn’t expecting a classic here, but it was good nonetheless.
Back to the tournament, and the only semi-final, another dream match with the Dynamite Kid facing Randy Savage. This was another great match, and another example of just how great these two were. Savage was again at his heel best, while Dynamite was more than a match for him. Again, it’s a shame that this one didn’t go longer because it could have been an even better match. The Macho Man again came out on top. As Savage climbed to the top rope, Dynamite connected with a dropkick that crotched Savage on the top. The Kid then climbed to the top himself, and brought Savage crashing down with a superplex, but when they landed, Savage grabbed Dynamite’s legs with his own legs, raised one shoulder and got the pin. Great stuff here.
Mean Gene then interviews Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff. After complaining about the attack from Orton and Piper, they challenge the dastardly duo to a match, saying that they’ve got a little surprise for their enemies.
The final match of the evening, the tournament final, sees the Junkyard Dog face Randy Savage. Lots of posturing from these two before the match began, with Savage using Elizabeth as a shield when the Dog threatened him, and the Dog bashing his own head with a chair that Savage had brought into the ring. Savage, clearly fatigued by the match with Dynamite, is simply overpowered by the Dog early on, but it isn’t long before Savage brings out the trademark stuff, axe handles off the top rope onto the arena floor, as well as choking the Dog on the ringside barrier. But once they get back in the ring it’s a different story. JYD connects with his trademark head butts, and although Savage has a brief comeback, the Dog backdrops him over the top rope onto the floor. The exhausted Savage is unable to make the count, meaning that JYD wins by count-out, and the tournament. But just as Mean Gene is about to interview the Dog, Jesse Ventura gets into the ring to complain about the Dog’s bye into the final, but leaves the ring when the Dog walks towards him. Enjoyable stuff here.
McMahon and Hayes then wrap things up, and thankfully his Lordship isn’t fawning over the hostess anymore.
In conclusion - remember what I said at the beginning of this piece about unearthing a gem? Well, I was right. The Wrestling Classic is just that. A very good tournament with some of the top stars of the day featuring some very interesting matches, culminating in a good final. The Hogan/Piper match wasn’t that bad either, and it certainly was interesting to see those two one-on-one for the first time.
But it makes me wonder how things would have turned out if the WWF had persisted with this show concept. After all, this was billed as the first annual Wrestling Classic, and was broadcast on pay-per-view. Would we have seen the King of the Ring tournaments on pay-per-view seven years later? And in what month of the year would the Survivor Series have been held, as The Wrestling Classic was held in November? Things would certainly have been different, but this is all just speculation. The Wrestling Classic is a very good show, good for older wrestling fans who want to hark back to their younger days, and younger fans who want to take a look at old WWF shows. So if you can get a copy of this show, then grab it with both hands. As the old saying goes, you won’t be disappointed.