I know you usually don't field questions from the pre-WWF expansion era. But hopefully you can reach back and dig something up, If not, I'd like to hear you riff on this…
I saw a Kayfabe Commentaries preview with Larry Zbyszko talking about 1980 WWF. This was the year he turned on Bruno Sammartino and they had a major feud that lasted most of that year. From what I gathered is, Larry Z is claiming the WWF was on the verge of bankruptcy, his feud with Bruno saved the company, he should have been given a run with the WWF title because Backlund wasn't drawing and he left the Northeast after disputing money with Vince McMahon Sr.I don't want to understate the Larry-Bruno feud because it was a big deal, Zbyszko had nuclear heat and Backlund was pretty much pushed in the background because of it, which of course hurt his drawing power as champion.
But how much of this is really true? Was the WWF in that kind of financial straits heading into 1980? Was there a plan to put the title on Zbyszko? I had heard years ago that Zbyszko was suppose to turn face after the Sammartino feud (as evidenced by raising Bruno's hand after he lost the blowoff cage match at Shea Stadium). And the fact Zbyszko never went back to the WWF/WWE even when the territories went belly up and companies were going under just adds to the mystery.
What do you got?
OK, here's what I know about the Larry-Bruno situation, which is very limited because all the stuff I have from that time is very kayfabe-y and the Observer didn't start up in the form we know it until the mid-80s. So this is all stuff I've cobbled together from Meltzer's radio shows and Karl Stern and such.
Basically, yes, there was a rough plan to catapult Zbyszko from the Bruno feud into the WWF World title, and in fact I've also heard separate talk that the plan was for Bruno to get a third long run with the belt himself, so you could probably do some associative property math and speculate that Backlund would drop the belt to Larry in 81ish, then Bruno would win it from Larry for his big blowoff victory and last World title (remember, he didn't actually pin Larry in the cage match, so it wasn't definitive by the standards of the time). However, Bruno and Larry were really tight in real life, and once Bruno started having problems with the WWF, he allegedly got into Larry's ear and convinced him that he shouldn't concede to the booking plans so easily. So after the cage match at Shea, Vince Sr would pitch programs for Larry where he'd do the job, and Larry would be like "Oh, well, I main evented Shea Stadium with Bruno, so if you're asking me to job to his schmuck then you're basically asking Bruno to do the job." And then of course things got nasty and Bruno left, which left Larry without his leverage and he quickly bailed on them as well and in fact never came back. So obviously there was some BAD blood in the split, since you're think Bruno's return would have opened the door for him in 85, or even when the WCW buyout happened.
As for the bankruptcy, doubtful. They were still selling out MSG every month even with Howdy Doody on top for six years, so things couldn't have been particularly bad. Not to mention Graham was a hell of a draw on top before that for a year.