PTBN’s Excellent WWE Network Adventure #2: MSG House Show – 2/2/76

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 RozzeroBrad WoodlingChad CampbellJason 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!

ladd76

Madison Square Garden House Show – 2/2/76
Run Time: 121 minutes

Card:
Frank Monte vs. Pete Sanchez
Francisco Flores vs. Louis Cyr
Spiros Arion vs. Kevin Sullivan
Domenic DeNucci vs. Ernie Ladd
Ivan Putski vs. Ivan Koloff
Little Louie & Cocoa Kid vs. Billy the Kid & Little Johnny
Bruno Sammartino vs. Superstar Billy Graham – WWWF Title
Pat Barrett vs. Baron Mikel Scicluna
Bobo Brazil & Tony Parisi vs. Crusher Blackwell & Bugsy McGraw

Best Match

JT: Pretty easy choice this time around as Billy Graham and Bruno Sammartino had a fun war over the WWWF Title. There was some really good power offense from both, and Graham’s bodyslams were impressive as he hosted the big champ up with ease. The selling by both was great too, especially Bruno with his leg during his comebacks. Graham pinballed around nicely too. Towards the end, Graham gets busted open and the bout goes into overdrive with Bruno wildly beating the piss out of him while targeting the cut. The referee finally stopped the match and the crowd was going bananas. Hot title match and a great performance by both men.

Chad: This almost has to be Bruno vs. Superstar just by default. I didn’t think the match was as good as Arion vs. Bruno from our previous show due to the limitations of Graham but we did have some great heat and Bruno fighting from underneath to the delight of the MSG faithful. On a night of awful matches, this one being passable (** from me) wins Match of the Night honors.

Jason: Without a doubt, the WWWF Title match. There’s a reason why Bruno Sammartino and Superstar Billy Graham made a crap load of money in this business. Their match here is a prime example. Graham’s look is so ahead of it’s time and Bruno was Vince Sr. cash cow. Put them in the ring together and magic happens. From each guy working the leg earlier on to an all out brawl at the end, they told a great story. A test of strength, full nelsons and some rest holds were all worth sitting through for the Garden crowd to go insane when Graham got busted open and Bruno started pounding on him. I love Bruno looking to the crowd for approval to continue beating down on Graham.

Dan: There wasn’t much competition but the clear choice was the war between Superstar Graham and Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF Title. It was a great visual seeing this pretty boy from the West Coast take on the chiseled and grizzled champion from New York. Both guys appeared to work the leg early on as Bruno favored his for most of the contest. We also see each man test their respective strengths with the series of full nelsons and other rest holds applied throughout. Fans were out of their minds when Bruno made his comeback and Graham was so over-the-top with his selling particularly after he cut his face open. These two were made to be in the same ring together and they delivered on an otherwise lackluster evening.

Brad: The WWWF title match is really the only bout on this card that is worth seeking out. Bruno is fantastic at making his opponent look credible and this particular match-up with the Superstar leads to blood and a no contest finish with a hot crowd cheering Bruno on. We even get a post-match skirmish after Superstar grabs the mic to talk some trash. Sell the rematch baby!

Best Performance

JT: I have a few choices here. I enjoyed Kevin Sullivan in his battle with Spiros Arion. He had lots of energy, moved around a lot and seemed to connect with the crowd. I also really liked the Big Cat Ernie Ladd. His heel work was top notch and he had such a dominating presence. I was hyped when they announced that he would battle Bruno the next month as he just felt like a megastar. But, with all that said, I am going with Billy Graham. He got the crowd all riled up, bumped all around the ring for Bruno and then tapped a gusher that forced the referee to stop the bout. Great showing by the Superstar.

Chad: It may be generic but I am picking Bruno. Billy Graham was never a good worker and has the honor of being the name-bearer for the worst performer on Where the Big Boys Play so seeing him look competent here doing power moves and allowing Bruno to make comebacks showed the cleverness of Bruno in knowing what would get a great reaction from the MSG audience. There was a lot of formula on this show but I thought Bruno performed it better than anyone else on the card.

Jason: I was so happy to see Ernie Ladd aka the Big Cat aka King Ladd aka Daddy Ladd on this card. He dominated Domenic DeNucci in their match. Ladd has such an amazing presence including his impressive wingspan. Along with pounding the hell out of DeNucci, Ladd did some great heel tactics including trying to call time out and offering a handshake to his opponent. I loved when Ladd stuck his feet on the top ropes to go for the pin. An honorable mention has to go to Kevin Sullivan. You can clearly see the fire in his eyes that he was gonna be a huge star in a few years.

Dan: For me, I’m going to go with Big Cat Ernie Ladd or King Ladd or Daddy Ladd if you will. I just enjoyed his heel work and his presence in the ring. Standing 6’9” you would think he’d be this huge, dominating monster heel but you my friend would be mistaken. He did everything under the sun to irritate, annoy and frustrate the sellout crowd at MSG and he did it to perfection. We saw lots of stalling, Ladd playing up his never-healing thumb injury and saw more choke holds while the idiot ref was watching. We even saw this giant of a man beg for a time-out like he was a 10-year old boy outnumbered in a game of dodgeball. He gets the win with the help of his “injured” thumb, uses the ropes for leverage for good measure and even gets an old woman to take a swing at him on the way up the aisle. Not a bad night. It’s good to be the king!

Brad: Bruno clinches this for me with his work against Superstar Billy Graham. He rallies the crowd behind him when reversing holds and throws some great punches (which are randomly reacted to by the Superstar) as the bout leads to a no contest. We get some great selling of the previous hold damage while on offense from Bruno as well.

Biggest Surprise

JT: I am going to go with the midget match, only because it wasn’t nearly as awful as I expected. The mixed in the usual antics, but also doled out some stiff offense here and there. It went far too long and got pedantic by the end, but for a while I surprisingly enjoyed it.

Chad: This card had a nice collection of individuals I have not watched before. Of those, Frank Monti impressed me the most. He had a generic heel schtick but he was aggressive and ruthless in his beginning attack vs. Sanchez and he provided good bumps in the comeback.

Jason: I thought about going with the “World Famous Midgets”, but there’s been something missing from my life and that something is Frank Monti.  His mustache is money. He looks like a generic action figure you would find at the Dollar Store and there’s nothing wrong with that. If anyone reading this has a Best of Frank Monti set, pleace contact me.

Dan: Don’t laugh, but I’m going to go with the fabulous one, Frank Monti. At first glance my initial thoughts were “good heel, great stache.” But he was also so conniving throughout the opener. He attacked his opponent before the bell while still in his ring jacket, he begged off when Sanchez turned up the heat on him and he used blatant choke holds even in plain sight of the official. Monti also had long flowing blond locks of hair, crossed his heart during the match and even attempted (and missed) a leg drop in his red and yellow tights. I’m going out on a limb here but I believe Fabulous Frank Monti was the prototype for the Immortal Hul… Oh my bad! I’ve been instructed never to say that name anymore. That one’s on me folks!

Brad: I’m not surprised per se at how great Ernie Ladd was but more so at how he absolutely owned his gimmick. Here’s a really big guy playing a pretty good chicken shit heel, while working a loaded thumb and stooging around for DeNucci and garnering a ton of heat from the crowd. Vince even notes that he can’t repeat some of the things being yelled, but I’m sure they would make even Hulk Hogan blush. Ladd even gets an old lady in the front row to swing her purse at him. Glorious.

Biggest Disappointment

JT: I am going with Ivan Putski vs. Ivan Koloff here. I am not sure I should have expected much more, but I really wanted a wild brawl and instead it was all restholds with some spots here and there to pop the crowd. It worked well enough, but I was hoping for more excitement. The finish was pretty weak too, which didn’t help.

Chad: Francisco Flores is an interesting character in wrestling history. He promoted the UWA promotion in Mexico which for a stint in the 80s was the top promotion in the entire country. He looked real advanced here but that doesn’t stop other luchadors from performing a more maestro mat oriented wrestling clinic that is still appeasing. Flores didn’t show any signs of earlier prominence in his exchanges with Cyr.

Jason: When I got to the Battle of the Ivans, I was pumped. Boy was I let down quickly. There was a nice brawl for a moment, including Putski clubbering Koloff pretty good. Any momentum this match had came to an end with a stupid countout. A 20 count for being on the ring apron? C’mon!

Dan: I’ll go with the fact that the WWWF Championship match was cut due to technical difficulties. Naturally, it had to happen during the only bout on the card that meant anything. Bruno/Graham got us all into the building and now we don’t even see the full match. Seeing that message that the bout was already in progress was so frustrating! Why couldn’t those difficulties have happened during the midget match?

Brad: I like Ivan Koloff (check out his interview at Place to Be Nation for the Titans of Wrestling here) but man was his match with Putski a big dud. Koloff’s weak bear hug looked right out of a middle school dance. Putski’s was better, but then we get a dreadful finish to top it off. Big time disappointment.

Additional Observations

JT: Frank Monte’s great mustache; The referees continue to really suck; Louis Cyr’s hat is a piece of work; Francisco Flores is a crappy Mexican Champion; It was cool seeing Kevin Sullivan as a face with short brown bowl cut; “Daddy” Ladd; Great heat early and late in battle of Ivans as the crowd really loves Putski; “World Famous Midgets”; Little Louie had a long career as was still on WWF TV in 1993; “Scicluna stalking him like a cat”; Patty Barrett looks like Nacho Libre; Ric Flair made his MSG debut the next month

Chad: That three count in the Flores/Cyr match was so offensive. We are right at the transformation from strongman Kevin Sullivan to stocky Sullivan from the Varsity Club days. Arion was close to my biggest disappointment as his wild haymakers and overall aloofness was a big turnoff in the Sullivan match.  Ernie Ladd is a big dude. Putski vs. Koloff was one of the worst matches I have seen in a while and I would rather watch paint dry. The midget match is essentially what a divas match looks like in Attitude Era WWF with all the comedy spots. The matches they would tack onto the end of every MSG card feel like such an afterthought after the main event. 

Jason: Ring announcer Billy Wagner looks like he should be playing a cocktail lounge in Vegas. The refs are all dressed like janitors. Another solid performance by Vince Jr. on commentary. The unbelievably slow count by the ref in the Louie Cyr and Francisco Flores match. Speaking of Louie Cyr, I’d like to go drinking with him, Cocoa Kid and Little Louie. The old lady taking a swing at Ernie Ladd after his match was very unexpected, but made me laugh. The crowd was gassed after the WWWF Title match. Poor Pat Barrett and Baron Mikel Scicluna didn’t stand a chance with the crowd. Crusher Blackwell is quite fat.

Dan: Putski looked legitimately furious at the referee’s decision to end his match. He even egged on the crowd to prolong their chants of “Bullsh*t.” Is it me or did Ivan Koloff look strikingly similar to video game boxing legend Soda Popinski? Francisco Flores was booked as a “Mexican Champion.” He looked like someone Vince Sr. found working at a car wash. I’m pretty sure Billy the Kid was racist; Vince on Ladd: “Slam, bam, thank you ma’am”; How much of a bastard do you have to be for Vince to call you “treacherous” as he did with Spiros Arion? It’s funny seeing moves like atomic drops and shoulderbreakers as finishers.

Brad: What a bumper Frank Monti was! Louie Cyr is just buried by Vince on commentary (Vince was a runner up for Best Performance for me – he carried a lot of these matches): “Not a lot of action going on in the ring right now”. “Louie clearly doesn’t know how to get out of this hold”. “We haven’t seen any of Louie Cyr’s alleged strength yet”. Vince’s hyperbole is here too: “Arion is one of the most treacherous wrestlers to ever grace the ring”. The crowd politely clapped and laughed along with the shtick-filled 2-out-of-3 falls midget tag team match. Vince really scorns Irish Patty Barrett for turning his back to start the match with Scicluna. I mean he would not let this go. Bobo Brazil was pretty good for being 51 years old here. I thought we had curfew draw potential with the tag but we get a DQ to set up Bobo vs. Blackwell the following month.

Final Grade

JT: This was a much tougher show to sit through than our previous installment, mainly because we were granted the full card. There were a couple of good matches, including a really hot WWWF Title battle, but there was more bland than not overall. The crowd was much more up and down this time around as well. I liked some of the individual performances but the action was definitely lacking top to bottom here. Final Grade: 2/10

Chad: I believe strongly in a bell curve system when diving into a project. By that I mean that for every tremendous show I rank 9.5 or 10, there will be around the same amount that are ranked 1 or 1.5. This show firmly falls into the latter category and was a complete chore to go through. Only the crowd heat of Bruno vs. Graham and the solid work of heels like Monti and Ladd take this out of the complete doldrums. Final Grade: 1.5/10

Jason: A lot more disappointing than I expected.  With the exception of Ernie Ladd, Frank Monti and the WWWF Title match, this show was not very good. The crowd loved their babyfaces including Ivan Putski, Bruno, Bobo Brazil and even Kevin Sullivan. I’d recommend checking out the title match, but besides that, I’d rather listen to Lou Albano speak for two hours than watch this show again. Final Grade: 2.5/10

Dan: Yikes! This was a very difficult watch that took me a couple of sittings just to get through. I’m sure if I was there in the building on Groundhog Day, I’d sing a different tune but this just felt so slow and blah from bell to bell. I enjoyed the title bout, Ladd, Monti, and some individual performances but to sit down and watch this again would definitely be a chore. Final Grade: 2.5/10

Brad: What a difference this card was with our first review when you layer in all 9 matches from a show. Bruno and Ladd are worth watching and while I watched this in pieces, I can only imagine how dreadful it would be in a straight shot. Final Grade: 2/10

Read the entire series at Place to Be Nation!