PTBN’s Excellent WWE Network Adventure #1: MSG House Show – 3/17/75

As many of you are aware, WWE Network is pretty packed with all sorts of content. And as you may also know, we here at Place to Be Nation love long term, in-depth projects. So, as part of this initiative, JT Rozzero, Brad Woodling, Chad Campbell, Jason Greenhouse & Dan McGinn are starting in 1975 and are planning to watch the entire offering of the WWE Network chronologically. They have plotted their course and after watching each program, they will share their thoughts, notes and recommendations with our readers. So, settle in and enjoy this epic ride through wrestling history!

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Madison Square Garden House Show – 3/17/75
Run Time: 55 minutes

Best Match

JT: I thought this was a pretty solid card up and down, so I had a somewhat tough choice. The opener and third matches were good, but I will go with Bruno Sammartino vs. Spiros Arion for my MOTN. There was some real heat to it and the crowd was red hot for Bruno, as always. I liked Arion’s look as a cocky heel and they traded some real tough kicks throughout the match. Bruno retains his WWWF Title but Arion had his foot on the rope and will be looking for a rematch I am sure.

Chad: Bruno vs. Spiros is the clear front runner for me. This was a punch and kick match but it was done in good intensity with each foe feeding into the other and the crowd heat was amazing, rivaling a soccer match with the Italian flags waving in the MSG air. I ranked the match **3/4 stars just because of the simplicity of the action, but the execution of the story they were trying to tell was spot on.

Jason: Minus the wacky finish, Bruno Sammartino vs. Spiros Arion was a lot of fun. Bruno was super over with the MSG crowd and Spiros is an excellent heel. Everytime Spiros went for a pin on Bruno, you can hear the crowd gasp. They loved their champion. Lots of nice back and forth offense from the two and a rematch is in order from the finish that had me scratching my head.

Dan: While nothing on this card was terribly offensive (except for maybe a few finishes), I thought the best worked match was the tussle between Victor Rivera and WWE Hall of Famer, Killer Kowalski. Both guys really beat the stuffing out of each other. I liked how they each took on a body part (Rivera worked the shoulder, Kowalski attacked the leg) and that seems like a lost art in the game today. The finish was odd with Killer getting banged for excessive biting, but this definitely exceeded my expectations.

Brad: The WWWF title match with Bruno retaining after a bodyslam, but Arion had his foot on the rope. Spiros was great here, attacking Bruno as the ref was checking him pre-match to really ratchet up the heat. MSG, with their Italian flags waving, was molten for this one as usual. Real solid work across the board from both guys with Spiros using under-handed tactics like a low blow to take control on Bruno. And Bruno for his part sold it real well, creating a real atmosphere that the title could be in danger. I didn’t understand the Texas Death Match stip for this one as there wasn’t anything egregious in the match. Vince even called attention to a possible count-out at one point. Worth noting their February 1975 match (which you can watch here; the WWE’s date for this is incorrect) was ruled a no contest when Bruno wouldn’t stop attacking Spiros (even Arnold Skaaland was pissed at him) and one of their future matches is a Greek Death Match. This match was the PWI Match of the Year for 1975 (allegedly; there is some confusion around the early award winners per our friends Kelly, Parv and Pete from the Titans of Wrestling).

Best Performance

JT: There were a couple of solid choices here, but I am going with “Indian” Jay Strongbow. He had a lot of energy, read the crowd well, had really good comebacks and finished with a nice Thesz Press. Even his stalling and histrionics early were well executed and felt organic. I wasn’t expecting much from the opener, but he won me over.

Chad: Bruno is my winner here. He is a WWWF legend that really connected with the crowd. He had great comebacks throughout the match and his strikes looked well done. On a night with not a lot of performance contenders, Bruno and Spiros battled for my top choice.

Jason: Jay Strongbow is the man! Besides having the best 70s look, which included a swank head of hair, boots with tassels and some colorful tights. This guy was super overwith the crowd and did an excellent job getting his fire back against “Butcher” Vachon.

Dan: Jay Strongbow did his job to perfection. Had I been around in ’75, I would definitely be one of those screaming people every time the “Indian” did some of his unorthodox maneuvers. He warmed up the crowd like none other and most certainly turned up the energy level, which is quite the accomplishment considering he looked like he was 90 years old!

Brad: I enjoyed the moxie that Spiros Arion showed. He really played up the cockiness, jawed with the crowd and even swung (!) at someone. The sucker punch to Bruno before the match was tremendous. I thought he threw a great body slam and more than held his own in a good back-and-forth match with Bruno (who is fantastic as well). Honorable mention goes to Victor Rivera’s work in making Kowalski at least passable for a good portion of their match.

Biggest Surprise

JT: A Wolfman appearance! That guy had a killer look. He was no great shakes once the bell rang, but I dug the gimmick quite a bit and him going to war with a brute like Ivan Putski was good booking.

Chad: How over everything was. It is cliche to say wrestling crowd heat isn’t what it used to be but looking at this card and the reactions that everyone got either from a face/heel perspective was really alarming.

Jason: HOWWWWWWWL! The Wolfman is incredible. What a look! Ivan Putski had a completely different look from how I remember him in the 80s. Nevertheless, this brute beer drinker from Poland look worked from him. Freddie Blassie and the Grand Wizard were heat magnets.

Dan: I’m surprised Strongbow didn’t break his hip in the middle of the match. Just kidding! But seriously, the guy looked ancient. Also, Spiros Arion had a terrific look and really gave Bruno all he could handle.

Brad: Vince McMahon exclaiming “Look at his belly! He loves beer!” as Ivan Putski celebrated his win by throwing back a plastic cup of beer in the ring. The crowd loved Polish Power and he got a huge reaction to the “point finger at this portion of the crowd to get cheers” gimmick. He ruled.

Biggest Disappointment

JT: I thought Sammartino and Arion had a very good WWWF Title match but for a Texas Death stipulation, I thought it ended up being a bit soft. I was expecting more wild brawling or some blood, but it was pretty tame overall. It was still my Match of the Night, but I thought it could have been even better if they gimmicked it up a bit. Plus, the finish was a bit shaky, although standard to build for a rematch.

Chad: A couple of the superstars of the past looked well past their prime here. Killer Kowalski was at the forefront of the wrestling scene in the 1960s but by this point in time, with his purple tights, he looked out of his element. Paul Vachon also was in the twilight of his relevance and in a straight shtick match with Indian Jay Strongbow.

Jason: I wasn’t a fan of a few of the finishes. The ref didn’t give Kowalski a five count in the corner before he called for the DQ. I never understood why the managers had to go to the back during the match. Blassie and the Wizard would have been great additions during the match. Four matches and no blood? If Kowalski would have bit Victor Rivera’s nose off, I would understand a DQ being given.

Dan: Man, I hated the finishes to most of these matches. A fast count screwed the heel in the first match. Arion had his foot on the ropes and the ref doesn’t see it in our WWWF Title bout. We get a DQ for biting in match three, but would it have killed Vince to actually acknowledge that fact in his commentary? Plus we saw managers during ring announcements, but for whatever reason, they had to go back to the locker room? It just didn’t pay to be the bad guy in 1975.

Brad: Strongbow’s chops were horrendous. And I say this noting that the gimmick was over and he was playing to the cheap seats with most of his shtick. I know it’s a common Titans of Wrestling trope for Parv to hate on Strongbow but I definitely agreed here. Good war dance, good pow-wow-(? hulk?) up, rest of his work sucked.

Additional Observations

JT: The nickname “Indian” for Jay Strongbow made me laugh; Vince McMahon noting that Killer Kowalski doesn’t like his ears touched was random; The MSG crowd was very hot at all the right times throughout the show, which really added to the overall presentation; Spiros Arion had a good suave heel look; Ivan Putski drinking a beer after the match was great as was Vince calling out his belly and mentioning he loves to drink and smoke

Chad: Ivan Putski has to have the weirdest body type I have ever seen. He looks like one of those fat but muscular babies you see. Spiros Arion feels like a person really lost in time. Him and Bruno had an electric feud that did gangbusters at the gate. However, by the time Vince Jr. took the reigns of the company, Spiros was long forgotten. The Wolfman is a character that wouldn’t be out of place today as evidenced by Babario Cavernario in CMLL.

Jason: Vince was realy good on solo commentary. The ring looked huge. I noticed the ring bell was hanging from the ring post instead of being at the time keepers table. No wonder Bruno held the belt for as long as he did, the crowd LOVED him. Italian flags in the stands and huge pops every time he got some offense in. There was a lot of biting too. Spiros Arion might be my favorite Greek of all time, next to John Stamos.

Dan: Bruno could do no wrong in the eyes of the MSG faithful. All he had to do was run off the ropes and kick you in the guts and the place would have exploded. When Arion fell out of the ring at one point, I think Earth spun off its axis. Incredible atmosphere from start to finish for this card. Speaking of Spiros, he’s easily my favorite Greek-born wrestler of all-time. He represented my people well on this evening though certainly got the raw deal against Sammartino.

Brad: Paul “The Butcher” Vachon was Luna’s father (brother of Mad Dog) and he did a nice job stooging for Strongbow, including targeted back rake work with his nails. This odd limb targeting theme continued with Rivera working Kowalski’s left upper arm (like continually trying to give him a dead arm or something with his punches), and the Killer’s very sensitive ears (per Vince, he usually wore a hood to protect them!). Not to be outdone, Kowalski went with an abdomen clutch where he just pinched at Victor’s stomach. In the title match, Vince calls a Camel Clutch “some kind of Boston crab”, which was amusing. I loved the spirited introductions of each guy, including the heel managers who would then get booed voraciously. Of course MSG rules stipulate no one at ringside but hey, we got a couple Grand Wizard appearances as well as Freddie Blassie in a sleek pink suit.

Final Grade

JT: We are off to a pretty fun start with this project, I must say. I had very low expectations heading into this house show, but it ended up being a really fun watch. It was also cut down, which helped. The crowd was engaged and rabid for most of it and that always helps keeps your interest. The opener was quick but Strongbow was really good. The title match disappointed a bit when it came to the gimmick, but from a quality perspective it was well worked. The Kowalski match got a bit slow but had good psychology until the bad finish and the final match was a decent enough semi-squash for Putski. I won’t say this was a great offering, but based on my expectations going in, it over delivered for me. Final Grade: 4.5/10

Chad: I hate to be dour but this was a pretty awful show to me. It was short at 55 minutes, but only 15 minutes of that (Bruno vs. Spiros) is what I would consider decent action. The opening match had good crowd heat but Strongbow was awful from his strikes to his bumping. Kowalski vs. Rivera wouldn’t end with the endless claw holds and lifeless limb work. I am not a modern wrestling junkie that can’t appreciate past wrestling, but I have seen much more exceptional stuff from the 70s than what this show gave us a glimpse of. Final Grade: 2.5/10

Jason: If I was alive in 1975, here take my money! Bruno, Kowalski, Strongbow and Putski on the same card. I was expecting just one camera angle, but the extra one was very cool. The crazy finishes took some away from a few matches that were fun to watch. The crowd, Jay Strongbows hair and Bruno get some points though. This party has just begun and I think we’ll all be giving some significantly higher grades down the road. Final Grade: 4.5/10

Dan: I won’t rehash the whole event and repeat what others on the panel have already said, but this quick card exceeded my low expectations. I had a feeling some of these older outings would be rough without a ton of backstory or production value. But these guys worked hard and the crowd was ecstatic for even the simplest of moves. That being said, I hate silly finishes and bad officiating so I can’t give this a passing grade even with a star-studded card and a hot crowd. Final Grade: 4.5/10 

Brad: This is a pretty easy 55 minute watch with the long-ish Kowalski/Rivera match as the only real down part. And even in that match, I had really, really low expectations and somehow they exceeded them thanks to Rivera’s work and Vince on commentary. This show is a nice snapshot of Bruno as champ in his home and you get to hear what a super hot 70s crowd was like. Final Grade: 4.5/10

For an audio supplement of this show, be sure to check out the Titans of Wrestling review of the March 17, 1975 MSG card. There’s an additional tag title match that did not make the network cut that is discussed, in addition to a number of other great talking points.

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