Hidden Gems: The Last Battle of Atlanta

Finally, the most sought after match footage in wrestling history is available. The legendary “Last Battle of Atlanta” was released Tuesday by the WWE Network as part of their new “Hidden Gems” collection. The footage had apparently been in WWE’s possession for some time. The match, a culmination of a nearly two year feud between Tommy Rich and Buzz Sawyer, was the prelude for the Hell in the Cell, according to Shawn Michaels, as this was the first time we see the entire ring enclosed by a steel cage.

Rich was one of the most popular wrestlers in the country and Sawyer, one of the most hated. They spilled blood all over the old Georgia Championship Wrestling territory. This match would finally end it all. So, without further ado…

It’s October 23, 1983 at the Omni in Atlanta. We open with a wide shot of the enclosed steel cage. The combatants are already inside and Sawyer’s manager, Paul Ellering, is locked in a small cage, hanging above the ring. There are no announcers for the match and no referee. It was recorded at the Omni in Atlanta without commentary and has never aired on TV.

Early on, Rich tries a back elbow on Sawyer against the cage, but misses and hits the steel mesh. Sawyer goes to work on that arm, ramming it into the cage continuously, then stomping on Rich’s midsection. Sawyer bites Rich’s forehead and continues to work the arm. “Wildfire” responds with a knee to the gut, but Sawyer grabs him by the head and rams him into the cage. Rich is busted open in a major way. He gets his head launched into the cage two more times. Rich responds with LOW BLOW OF DOOM! (Gimmick infringement. Sorry Scott.) But Sawyer fires back then uses the cage as a cheese grater against Rich’s forehead…

Rich fires back with right hand, a boot, an elbow drop and now he’s biting the Mad Dog! He rams Sawyer into the cage and now both men are wearing the proverbial crimson mask. Man, I wish Gordon Solie was calling this action. Sawyer regains the advantage and rams Rich’s head into the mat and back into the cage. Rich shakes off a right hand punch and piledrives Sawyer! The ring announcer begins counting as both men are down. Rich misses a knee drop. His dyed-blond is now painted red with blood…

Rich rams Sawyer into the cage repeatedly and floors him with a right hand. Sawyer answers with a stiff kneelift and sticks Rich with a piledriver. He bites Rich again and rams the former NWA champ hard into the cage, again. Sawyer hits an over-the-knee backbreaker and goes for the pin. The ring announcer begins counting, since there is no referee. Rich kicks out at two…

Sawyer misses an elbow and Rich kicks him in the head. Rich’s face is completely covered in blood. Now they trade punches from their knees. Both stand up and Rich gets the advantage. He bites Sawyer again. Rich scales the ropes, but misses the fist drop. Sawyer backs Rich against the ropes and does a hard charge across the ring…but misses! The crowd pops as Sawyer slams hard into the cage. Now Rich rams him face-first into the steel mesh repeatedly. Rich covers, but Sawyer kicks out at two…

Sawyer’s head is rammed into one of the posts holding the cage together.And again on the other side. Both men are down. Rich crawls over for the pin. One…two…three! That’s it, in just under 13 minutes, Tommy “Wildfire” Rich beats Buzz Sawyer in an absolute war to end their feud…

Just a brutal, bloody contest. The ending was a tad anti-climatic, but I’m saying that from the standpoint of someone who sees sports entertainers kick out of four or five finishers in every big match these days. Rich’s finisher was the Thesz Press, but he never used that here. Although, it makes sense as that’s a wrestling move and this was a fight. There was no wrestling here, but I loved it. ****

A couple of faces come in to help Rich out of the ring as Paul Ellering and his cage are lowered. Sawyer shoves a referee away who comes over to check on him. Due to a pre-match stipulation, Ellering is now forced to battle Ole Anderson inside the big cage. Ellering and his henchmen had been feuding with Ole and roughed him up in the TBS studios…

Ellering runs in the ring to check on his man. Sawyer is a bloody mess. Ellering tries to help him to his feet, but the “Mad Dog” can only crawl to the door. It takes awhile for Sawyer to be helped out of the cage. Once he finally is, we see Ole Anderson, in street clothes, making his way to the cage door….

Anderson charges immediately and hammers Ellering. He rams Precious Paul’s head into the cage repeatedly and clubs him with right hands. Ole body slams Ellering and continues the onslaught. He rakes Ellering’s head against the cage, then bites him and we’ve got more blood. Ole rams Ellering’s head into the cage again. Finally, Ellering gets some offense with a reverse atomic drop. Now he has the advantage and rams Anderson’s head into the cage…

Ole starts to fire back, but is sent hurtling into the cage again. Ellering sets up for a piledriver, but Ole back drops him, kicks him in the gut, nails him with right hands and rams Ellering into the cage again. Ole goes to the second rope and comes off with a boot to the head. He tries to drive Ellering into the cage, but the momentum is used against him and Ole goes in face-first. We’ve got fisticuffs again that Ole gets the better of. Anderson headbutts Ellering, covers, hooks the legs and it’s over. Ole Anderson wins the cage match.¬†Afterwards, one of Ellering’s henchmen (I believe it’s Jake Roberts but it’s hard to tell from the camera angle) attacks Ole and whips him with a leather belt.**

So, the Holy Grail of wrestling has finally been found and now everyone can see it. I think the Rich-Sawyer match was great. There weren’t any high spots and no one kicked out of finishers over and over. There weren’t even any wrestling holds. It was just two guys who hated each other finishing off a long war. It’s the kind of thing we rarely¬†never see in WWE these days. I highly recommend watching the Last Battle of Atlanta.

Reviews of the other “Hidden Gems” coming…