The SmarK Rant for WWE Network Hidden Gems – NES Classic 80s Edition!
Dedicated to the memory of Hugh Hefner, who died as we all dreamed to die: Making dirty magazines, being rich, and banging hot chicks. I’m sure I’ll probably end up dropping dead of a heart attack while watching a Giant Gonzalez match from 1991 or something, but we can all dare to dream. I’m also getting worried about Stan Lee now, as he’s gotta be pissing off someone by living so long.
Anyway, last time we wrapped up the 70s, and now it’s time for the REAL good stuff.
TITLE V. TITLE! WWF champion Bob Backlund v. NWA champion Harley Race (09.22.80)
Holy S---, this is a real thing that happened? Wrestling just blows my mind sometimes. I thought it was some kind of goofy non-title match, but it’s an actual unification match from MSG, during the period when the WWF was briefly part of the NWA. Backlund gets an overhead slam on Race and works a headlock, then gets a Thesz Press for two and another very impressive slam. Bob holds the headlock on the mat, but Race rolls him over, so Bob does this incredible neck bridge to power back up again and take him down into the headlock again. Bob might be crazy, but the man had SKILLS. Sunset flip gets two and he goes back to the headlock, followed by another bridge. But then that headlock spot goes FOREVER, until Race gets to the ropes to force a break. He tries a gut wrench, but Bob reverses to his own and then, yeah, it’s back to the headlock. Race breaks free again and they have a cute spot where they both try various moves and miss them, and it’s back to the headlock. Like, we’re at 11:00 so far and literally 10:00 of the match has been this damn headlock.
Thankfully, Race finally gets a cheapshot on the ropes and hits a high knee, but then Bob cuts him off again and reverses a suplex for two. And then he just grabs that headlock again and holds on. And holds it. Race breaks free and gets a suplex for two, but Bob fires back with a german suplex for two and then goes back to the headlock again.
Yup. Race escapes and goes up top, so Backlund cuts him off for the millionth time with a slam and follows with the ATOMIC DROP OF DEATH, which puts Harley on the floor. Back in, Race goes low-ish with a headbutt and tries a piledriver, but Backlund escapes with a backdrop and then gets his own. Middle rope headbutt gets two and they slug it out, with Backlund hitting a butterfly suplex, and then they fight to the apron and it’s more dead space as Race gets knocked to the floor and bleeds. Back in, they slug it out and Backlund gets a neckbreaker for two, as the crowd is a LOT more excited for this than I am. Probably because there’s real stakes and they’re not spoiled by knowing that there’s no f------ way we’re getting a finish here. Bob keeps coming with a sleeper and the crowd gets louder and louder as Race fades, but then the ref gets punched and it’s a b------- DQ at 35:47. Bob is all “OH MY GOD I’VE WON BOTH BELTS!” and then Finkel is all “UM HELLO, DQ?”. Wildly interesting from a historical perspective, but SO BORING. 0 for 1.
“Big Cat v. Modern Day Warrior”
American Heavyweight title: Ernie Ladd v. Kerry Von Erich
From “Star Wars ‘81” at Reunion Arena. Kerry had been screwed out of the title by Ladd, and this is the rematch, and man the announcer is just going on and on about how Kerry was robbed of the NWA World title against Harley Race. Plus he also makes the classic sports announcer mistake of using the transitive property when talking about title lineage, as he notes that Ladd beat Kerry for the American title, and Kerry is the uncrowned champion who nearly beat Race, so therefore Ladd should also be considered a rightful World champion. Like, that doesn’t even make logical sense within itself! Kerry didn’t win the match with Race, so the logical argument falls apart right there. Must be that new common core math s--- they’re teaching now. Kerry takes Ladd down (which is impressive in itself) and works on the leg, prompting Ladd to take a breather outside. Ladd works on a wristlock, but Kerry powers up and dropkicks him, then runs him into the turnbuckles. Ladd is so ridiculously tall that he literally has to stoop over so that Kerry can run his head into the turnbuckle. Ladd finally goes into his tights for a foreign object and uses that for some offbeat shenanigans, but Kerry slugs back and we get a wacky spot where Kerry does a “stop punching yourself’ bit as a serious spot, since Ladd’s fingers are taped and thus LETHAL WEAPONS. They slug it out and Kerry gets another dropkick (#1 on the list of moves Kerry stopped doing for some reason…) for two, but Ladd boots him down for two. Ladd’s selling and offense is kind of like Great Khali if he wasn’t completely immobile. Ladd whips Kerry around, but Kerry comes back with a backdrop and drops an elbow for two. Kerry tries the claw, but Ladd uses his own claw on the ribs. This only maddens the master of the claw and he makes the comeback with a kneedrop for two. I’d also like to point how weird the sound mix is here, with the crowd heavily mic’d but nothing in the ring. Kerry gets a flying elbow for two and tries a piledriver, but Ladd repeatedly chokes him out until Kerry puts him down with a nerve hold. He actually appears to be straight up choking the dude out, but the ref is wholly unconcerned. Kerry goes with the stomach claw instead, which might be one of the most ridiculous finishers in wrestling history. He’s jiggling the man’s belly! Ladd gets another foreign object and puts Kerry down, but misses a big splash and Kerry goes up with a sunset flip to regain the title at 17:31. Hey man, you want to watch boring Kerry Von Erich matches, go for it. I’ve got better s--- to do with my life. 0 for 2.
“The Size of a Giant”
From Mid-South Wrestling in 1983, Bill Watts introduces Andre the Giant while wearing his jacket, to emphasize the size difference. Andre is his usual charming self, telling a story about going to Hollywood and just being a great guy. 1 for 3.
“Roddy Piper v. Jack Brisco”
Mid-Atlantic heavyweight title: Jack Brisco v. Roddy Piper
From July of 82 on Mid-Atlantic TV (now there’s a show I want on the Network!), Roddy Piper has stolen the belt from Jack Brisco and is holding it hostage for $10,000, so Bob Caudle and all the babyfaces chip in and give him the cash (after David Crockett initially tries to fool him into taking a smaller amount). So Piper agrees to give Brisco the match right now, but not before a paranoid rant against Ricky Steamboat and Wahoo because he’s convinced they’ll interfere and screw him. So we take a break and the babyfaces are removed so the match can start, but if they DO interfere, Piper automatically wins the title for real. So Piper runs away immediately and makes all kinds of claims about hair pulling, and then ironically yanks the hell out of Brisco’s hair. So Jack throws him to the floor to break and then works a dramatic headlock on Piper, who tries to run him into the corner to break. Brisco walks the ropes, however, and cranks on it even harder. Piper selling this move is just amazing, of course. Piper desperately rams Brisco into the turnbuckles, but can’t shake him. See, a headlock can be fun, as long you’re DOING STUFF. They’re telling a little story with it. Brisco tries the ropewalk again, but this time Piper counters into a backdrop suplex to finally escape and puts him down with chops. Piper grabs a facelock and he’s managed to get busted open at some point, but Brisco fights back and they slug it out on the floor. Back in, Piper gets the sleeper and Brisco makes various unsuccessful attempts to escape before finally hitting a suplex, and both guys are out. Brisco gets his own sleeper and David Crockett is losing his mind, but Piper finally goes to the hair and then rakes the eyes to escape. Brisco keeps pounding him and Piper runs away again, but he grabs a gimmick from the floor, blasts Brisco, and pins him to win the title at 15:04. It turns out to be a roll of coins, which are scattered in the ring in a great visual. Speaking as someone who deals with money all day, that’s one shoddy roll of coins if it’s breaking apart that easily. So anyway, now Piper is the real champion and $10,000 richer. “What about the coins in the ring?” the announcers ask him. “I dunno, people threw them in there, how should I know?” Sounds valid. Piper was AMAZING here and I want to watch Mid-Atlantic RIGHT NOW. 2 for 4.
“The Last Battle of Atlanta”
Buzz Sawyer v. Tommy Rich
Oh yeah, here’s what we all paid to see! The holy grail of tape collectors and wrestling nerds everywhere for decades, which was finally uncovered a couple of years ago. The final showdown after a year of feuding. It’s a standard cage with what appears to be a chicken wire fence draped on the roof. The pre-match graphic notes that this match was considered the inspiration for Hell in a Cell, which is pretty clearly b------- because Hell in a Cell is nearly a direct ripoff of WCW’s Thundercage concept. Unless you consider the roof to be the defining trait of HIAC. Which is valid, too. Sawyer works the arm a bit and goes low on Rich, then runs him into the cage and Rich is like “F--- it, it’s our last match” and immediately taps a gusher. Rich runs him into the cage and Sawyer starts bleeding as well, and it’s sad that this is raw TV footage without commentary because it really needs Jim Ross to give it historical weight and gravitas. Both guys are down and the ref counts them down over the house mic, but Rich is up to break the count. So it’s Last Man Standing, but without pinfalls. Rich runs him into the cage a few more times and slugs him down, but Rich runs him into the cage to escape. Sawyer with a backbreaker for two (with the ref counting over the microphone from outside) and they slug it out from their knees. And Rich’s hair is literally red. Tommy goes up and misses a fistdrop, but Buzz charges and runs himself into the cage as a result. Rich gets two from that. He keeps sending Buzz into the cage and pins him at 12:13, with both guys basically dead from exhaustion. Well, clearly this was a gimme. 3 for 5.
Then as a bonus, Paul Ellering was forced to fight Ole Anderson as a result of Rich’s win, according to the helpful graphic. Ole comes in, in street clothes, and absolutely beats the hell out of Ellering, but sells for a bit before coming back to finish him at 9:30. Nothing to this one, but nice for completeness sake. 3 for 6.
“Flair v. Windham”
NWA World title: Ric Flair v. Barry Windham.
This is the famous “one-hour” draw from World Wide Wrestling, where they devoted the ENTIRE show to the one match. Hard to call it a “hidden gem” when it’s already on the original Flair DVD set, but that was ages ago and it’s long out of print, I think. Windham grabs a headlock and overpowers Flair to start, and he backs off. Flair gets his own headlock and they reverse off that on the mat, leaving Windham in control of the arm. He holds an armbar and gives Flair a clean break in the corner. Flair gives him a “Whoo”. But a tentative one. Back to the headlock, and Flair takes him into the corner again and chops away. Windham comes back with a hiptoss and a slam, however, and calmly goes back to the headlock and gets two. Smart move. Flair fights out and chops him down, but Windham takes him down and goes back to the headlock again. Tommy Young, greatest referee ever, slides out of the ring to check on it, in order to remain in position. I love stuff like that. They exchange shots and Windham won’t bite on Flair’s bait, backing off and waiting for him to lock up again. Back to the headlock and Flair forces him back to the corner again and goes back to the chops. Windham fires back double, however, and hiptosses him into a dropkick. Flair backs off and tries to sucker Windham in, but Barry sucker-punches him first and Flair takes a walk. Back in, Flair takes him down, but Windham goes right back to his headlock, controlling the match.
Nice thing about Windham’s headlock spot is that he’s constantly kinetic, readjusting his ring position and moving. Flair hotshots him as they go to commercial, and return with Windham holding a headscissors. Flair rolls him to the ropes, so Windham takes him down with the headlock again. Windham pounds away and slugs Flair down, but gets tossed and abused outside. Windham gets sent into the railing as Flair starts to take over and Barry bumps all over outside like a ragdoll. Flair necksnaps him on the way in and sends him into the post, and works on the arm on the apron before snapmaring him in. Armbar, as Dusty Rhodes on color explains the basics of wrestling to us: “You break down one part of a man’s body, then another part, and pretty soon he’s broken down completely, and that’s when you go for your finish.” That about sums it up, actually.
Flair works on the arm and starts chopping in the corner, but Windham keeps fighting back, so Flair takes him down with a hammerlock on the mat, which gets two. Back to the chops in the corner, but Barry won’t go down and keeps fighting back. They slug it out bigtime and Barry gains control and pounds away with the pummel in the corner, triggering a Flair Flop. Flair chops back, but Windham hangs with him all the way and Flair goes down again. Windham hammers on the forehead, but Flair takes him down with a pin in the corner for two. Using the ropes, of course. Windham sends him out of the ring and they brawl outside as we take another break, and return with Flair getting two in the ring. Flair drops a knee and chops away, and then elbows him right out of the ring. Back in with a suplex, but Windham counters and slugs him down. That gets two. They slug it out again and Windham grabs the headlock, but Flair shrewdly gets the backdrop suplex out of it and slaps on the figure-four, positioning himself between Windham and the ropes. Which means he can use them, of course. Young catches him and breaks the hold.
Flair goes back after him with a kneecrusher and back to the figure-four, but Windham reverses for two. They fight in the corner, but Flair tosses him again, so Windham gets pissed and sunset flips in for two. Flair grabs the sleeper, but Windham slips out and kicks Flair in the face, then follows with a lariat from the second rope for two. Windham slams him and goes for a splash, but hits the knees. Since when did Windham ever use a splash? They fight over a suplex and Windham gets it, but can’t make the cover. He opts to go up instead, but misses a flying elbow, and Flair goes for the knee, and misses THAT. Windham decides to go for the knee now and then slugs him out to the floor, which is actually to Flair’s advantage because it’s a timout. Windham follows and pounds on the leg outside, and back in Windham gets his own figure-four and slugs Flair down for two. Flair makes the ropes, but Young kicks him off because you have to be IN the ropes, not REACHING for them. He makes them properly, however, and Windham breaks the hold, but stays on him. Good man. Flair goes to the knee, however, and they slug it out, but Flair goes down. Another break as Flair gets another kneecrusher and we return with them slugging it out again. Flair’s hiptoss is blocked with an abdominal stretch, but Flair finishes the hiptoss and Young is bumped. Windham goes up with the missile dropkick (and that was state of the art offense in 1987), which gets two.
Windham grabs a sleeper, but Flair escapes with a backdrop suplex and comes in via the top rope with a high cross, but Windham rolls through for two. Flair overpowers him and Windham gets another sleeper. Rollup gets two. Flair goes back to the knee and Windham slugs away in the corner and gets two. They slug it out again and Windham explodes out of the corner with a lariat and gets a delayed vertical suplex and a kneedrop for two. One minute left. Flair tries a hiptoss and Windham reverses to a backslide for two. Flair goes up and gets slammed off with 30 seconds left. Powerslam gets two. Another lariat gets two as time expires at 30:52 aired, 45:00 total counting the stuff that was cut out for commercials. Literally non-stop action, and they didn’t even cover HALF the stuff they were capable of. These two used to do NINETY-minute draws! Friggin’ AWESOME. If you ever want to see 30 minutes fly by in what feels like 10, check this out. *****, 4 for 7, 4 1/2 Kenny Omegas, whatever.
And that wraps up the 80s! This set started slow but MAN did it pick up at the end.