1985: The Mop Up + Year End Awards
Hey, I’ve been watching a LOT of wrestling from 1985. I thought I’d end my coverage by reviewing some matches I’d missed. These are for an assortment of reasons. Either I didn’t want to watch the whole show they were on or the show wasn’t available, but the match is or I didn’t see as important when I was listing shows and now I realise it was. Anyway, let’s get to it. Following that I’ll be putting together my 1985 Year End Awards. Just for a laugh.
Catch Up Match #1: NWA Polynesian (February 13, 1985)
NWA World Championship
Ric Flair (c) vs. Kerry Von Erich
We have 7,000 fans in attendance in Honolulu. This is some seven months after Kerry lost the belt back to Flair in Japan. Flair’s previous matches with Kerry felt like Ric didn’t trust the Texan to not get all blown up and out of control. They come into this one a lot closer as Kerry gained so much confidence from the NWA title run and visibly improved as a worker afterwards. They work a lot of this match on the mat with them working hard and Kerry holding his own. This is the first time I’ve seen Flair lean on the chops a little. Kerry is in sensational shape so he can work the Flair formula. The same formula Flair would get great results against Steamboat, Sting, Savage and Windham with.
Kerry has little spells of control but misses big spots and lets Flair take back over. Flair taking advantage of Kerry’s mistakes. Just when it looks like the match might slow down a bit Flair is out here doing his corner bump to the floor. The Iron Claw is a move that comes in for ridicule, because it’s stupid, but Kerry does the Claw on Flair’s knee here after slapping on a few Figure Fours. Now that makes sense. Kerry goes after the knee here in a way that Flair rarely does. This lights a fire under Flair, and he ups the pace of the match. This is around 45 minutes into the match! The following 15 minutes is a frantic mesh of brawling around ringside and near falls. As the time starts to run out, I’m begging Kerry to try a backslide, the move he beat Flair with for the title. Instead, Kerry chases the Iron Claw and time runs out at 60:00. Oh wow, what a match. It’s way better than either Flair-Kerry 1984 title change matches. I’m a little sad we didn’t get that backslide near fall in the last minute but I understand Kerry’s obsession with putting the Iron Claw on. Great match, one of the best of the year. ****½
Catch Up Match #2: JPW 1st Year Anniversary (February 21, 1985)
Riki Choshu vs. Genichiro Tenryu
These two had met in heated tags in AJPW for a few months prior to this. This is their first singles match, and the crowd is HOT for it. Like, nuclear hot. The whole AJPW invasion angle is still fresh and only just started. They beat the piss out of each other here and go at 100mph. The second move is a fucking piledriver! Choshu gets his ass kicked and the crowd are electric chanting for him. Tenryu makes a few errors in judgement in slowing the pace down. The match isn’t even ten minutes long, so he doesn’t need to do that. Choshu then mounts an all-timer comeback. Big backdrop driver. Lariat. Sharpshooter. Crowd is molten! Choshu has taken quite the beating though and can’t hold the Sharpshooter on. Tenryu bails out, hits an Enzuigiri coming back inside and the match switches back to him. The match spills outside, Choshu batters Tenryu with a lariat on the floor AND, to add injury to insult, a backdrop driver on the apron for the count out win. The crowd goes insane! This was elite structuring and incredible that they did this much in less than 10 minutes. Genuinely great little match. ***¾
Catch Up Match #3: Houston Wrestling (March 22, 1985)
Ted DiBiase vs. Jim Duggan
I’ve oversimplified the “cage match” stipulation here. It’s a coal miner’s glove, tuxedo match in a cage and the loser leaves town! Right, so, it’s a tuxedo match because Jim Duggan won ‘best dressed man’ in a fans vote. DiBiase’s boys keep interfering in his matches so, we’re in a cage. The glove? That was Ted’s weapon of choice. He regularly wore one glove during matches, like Michael Jackson, and would “load it up” to knock people out. With it hanging over the ring, only the person who pulls it down can use it. That’s Ted’s advantages gone and we’re on an even playing field.
Duggan beats DiBiase up from the bell and Ted goes to bail and he can’t because there’s a great big fucking cage in the way. I’ve talked about how good DiBiase is in a few of these flashback reviews. He was great. He’s just imposing enough that he doesn’t need to be a chickenshit heel but he is anyway. He’s also downright vicious when he takes over matches. Duggan gets thrown into the fence, pulls a blade out of his pocket, blades and puts it back in his pocket. Subtle! Duggan isn’t one of my favourite wrestlers. He’s technically miserable but all he has to do in this match is let Ted beat the shit out of him and bleed all over the place. It might be the best match of his entire career. His comebacks are great and all he does is punches.
Duggan gets the Coal Miner’s Glove and punches Ted in the face for the win, getting revenge in the process and the WON Feud of the Year in the bag. One of those great blow-off matches where they didn’t let the whole thing drag out. Just beat each other senseless for ten minutes and sent the fans home happy. I’m pretty sure this is the best Jim Duggan match, ever. ***½
I’m sure I called a match between Duggan and Randy Savage from SNME the best Duggan match I’d ever seen before this. I’m pretty sure this tops it. I’ll get to that Savage match in due course to compare it.
Catch Up Match #4: WWF Prime Time Wrestling (April 21, 1985)
The Dream Team vs. Ricky Steamboat & Tito Santana
This was taped in April and shown on PTW in early May. Hammer has beef with Santana and Steamboat, who he feuded with over the IC belt. Sticking him with Beefcake was the end of him as a top worker, sadly, but there’s time for one last hurrah. Beefcake has been told to just take a load of bumps here and my god, it works. In case you’re wondering on the Dream Team timeline, they’ve just started teaming together. Beefcake, being directed by Jimmy Hart, looks genuinely good here. The difference a good manager can make! And also, being in a tag team so you’re not exposed out there. Santana might be the weak cog in this machine. When he tags out to Steamboat, the difference is like night and day. It must suck grinding away at WWF undercards and just have Steamboat come in and be better than you. Steamboat does a better job at the hot tag and is better at taking heat. Santana comes back in and actually beats Valentine clean in the middle of the ring with a submission in the Figure Four and the crowd goes bananas. For WWF, in 1985, this was a crazy animated wild tag team match. ***¾
On reflection, this is probably the WWF’s best match of the year.
Catch Up Match #5: Mid-South Wrestling (June 1, 1985)
NWA World Championship
Ric Flair (c) vs. Terry Taylor
Terry told a story about this match. He said Flair was drunk/hungover on the day and took a nap when he turned up, late, at the arena. Taylor was mad as hell, thinking he’d have to carry Flair at the Superdome but that’s not what happened. Up to this point Terry Taylor, while considered a decent hand, had not had a match worthy of mention. So, in his head, he needed Flair to make him look good because otherwise he’d be that guy who had a bad match with Flair. Taylor must fear the worst in the early going, when it’s sluggish and mat based but he tries to push the pace and Flair just hangs with him on the mat.
They get the 15-minute call and Flair wakes up after nodding off in a headlock early in the contest. I’m pretty sure he was getting a nap out there. The thing that most strikes me during this match is that Terry Taylor was right when he said he couldn’t carry a match. All his control segments are so dull. His focus on the head and neck do lead to a lot of sleeper related drama but it’s all done at such a pedestrian pace it’s hard to care about it. He’s way better when he starts trading with Flair on the chops. They get into some cool stuff eventually with Flair using the ropes and Taylor getting flash pins and it’s all held together with the strikes.
It takes a while to get there but once it does, this match is fiery good. The leg for a leg Figure Four spots, the selling from both guys, the transitions. It’s all great. It’s frustrating it takes so long to get there. Unlike Flair’s better matches where it’s that hot all match. The finish is good with a tiring Terry telling Flair he can’t go anymore and to just pin him. They run into the corner, Taylor gets a roll up and Flair counters it with a handful of trunks to retain. Taylor can’t even stand up afterwards. This is two matches. The first 20 minutes is boring as hell. Nothing happens. The second 20 minutes is gangbusters. Constant hard work, near falls, counters. The works. If I’d seen this with the first half clipped, it’s in MOTYC territory. I can’t forgive all that dead time though. ***¾
Catch Up Match #6: WWF on MSG Network (July 13, 1985)
Roddy Piper vs. Paul Orndorff
I was bemoaning a lack of pay off for their feud. While this isn’t it, this is a heated scrap in MSG. The crowd are baying for blood and Piper gets his ass kicked all over the place. Orndorff was a great babyface and it’s bizarre he barely had a run at all as a face. This is it in 1985. The main issue this match has is the WWF cartoonish selling and spot work. If they’d had a more grounded contest with more hate, it would be better. Although, this is what the WWF was all about. Vince wanted cartoon characters. Anyway, they beat each other up until Bob Orton runs in for the DQ. They’d have been better off going DCO after a great crossbody to the floor spot but I understand their reluctance to not have either guy lose. This was great fun and if I’d seen it in the context of a full show, I’d probably go *** on it.
Catch Up Match #7: AJW (August 28, 1985)
Hair vs. Hair
Chigusa Nagayo vs. Dump Matsumoto
In terms of in-ring AJW has blown me away this year. This has more of the crazy brawl all over vibes from Dump & Bull’s tag matches than the great singles bouts from the summer. They take the hair match literally too, so Dump has a straight razor and a pair of scissors, which she takes and uses in the match. Chigusa not only gets busted open with the scissors, but she gets beaten too and shaved. The crowd are in tears as their idol gets her head shaved. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a babyface lose a hair match. This was wild. ***½
Catch Up Match #8: WWF on MSG Network (September 23, 1985)
Hart Foundation vs. British Bulldogs
Both teams debuted in WWF in 1985 and it would be weird if I went through this whole thing without watching one of their many matches. As Bret is so fond of saying, the Harts and Bulldogs would often headline shows when the likes of Hogan had fucked off to the hotel already. MSG had a habit of sticking their main events in the midcard so they could sell tickets to the next show and then had a workrate main event later.
DK and Bret have a fine time with Hart doing wrestling holds and Dynamite finding ways to throw him out of the ring. Bret’s technical ability is allowed to shine here because he’s working guys who can keep up. Looking back at these, I’ve realised how bad Jim Neidhart is. Bret wasn’t just working in a team, he was carrying the whole thing on his back. Anvil is at least in the right place all the time, which in itself isn’t easy, but his execution on stuff is weak. It helps that he’s surrounded by great wrestlers. And also, Jimmy Hart, who himself is a hell of a worker. Sadly, this match degenerates into lengthy heat on Dynamite. The whole match both teams do blind switches the ref sucks at keeping track. Turnabout is fair play as Dynamite comes off the top blind on Bret and throws Davey, who’s legal, out of the ring to cover his tracks. Interesting the faces cheated to win. Ventura is fuming. Aside from the blind switches, there’s a lot of dead time in the heat during this. ***¼
Catch Up Match #9: CWA Memphis (December 30, 1985)
Loser Leaves Town
AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship
Jerry Lawler (c) vs. Bill Dundee
If you’ve only seen Lawler in the WWF, which he joined when he was fairly washed up, 1980s Lawler might be quite a surprise for you. I’ve seen loads of Memphis from the 80s and it was a great place to watch wrestling. The crowds were always hot and Lawler was a champion at getting stuff over. Whether it was silly gimmicks or whatever moves his opponents brought in. If Lawler loses, he has to leave town (lol). If Dundee loses, they’re going to shave him bald AND HIS WIFE TOO. They can’t shave Lawler’s girlfriend’s hair because it’s a school night.
Lawler comes in with bandages over his head because Bill and Dutch Mantell blinded him in one eye. Which makes it particularly easy for Bill to punch him from one side because he can’t see it coming. Just like Rocky Balboa. “Cut me Mick!” Lawler takes a beating for 10 minutes before they brawl outside, and Lawler gets thrown over the rail on the stage. That looked scary as shit but I assume he landed on a pile of fluffy pillows because they don’t show where he was landing. The finish is abrupt with Dundee throwing something in Lawler’s eye, the good one, and pinning him to send Jerry packing from Memphis. Yeah, like that’ll stick. The flat ending, combined with the lack of creativity on Dundee’s part in beating Lawler down all match, means this isn’t one of those Memphis classics. *** for effort though and that awesome bump over the rail.
And now, the time you’ve all been waiting for…the 1985 Year End Awards. Now, I don’t have a set number of people I’ll be mentioning under each award. Wrestler of the Year is always going to be a huge list of people. Best on interviews will be like three people. No rules, just a list of people I think need mentioning. Ok, let do it and start with the big one and the one with the most obvious winner.
1. Ric Flair. This is such an easy pick. Flair is head and shoulders above everyone else. It’s not even funny. The only time he didn’t hit home runs is when he was stuck with Dusty Rhodes and even then he still had at least one decent match with Dusty. He had a great match with Kerry Von Erich at the start of the year, another great match with Harley Race a couple of weeks later and it just continued like that all year. Kevin Von Erich, Terry Taylor, Wahoo McDaniel, Magnum TA x2, etc, etc. He is the GOAT. Watching these shows back made me realise how far ahead of everyone else he was in 1985. It’s ridiculous.
2. Greg Valentine. There were plenty of contenders for second place, but Hammer felt like the right choice. I had him down in that spot up until the middle of the year anyway. While other contenders would have better years, this is the peak of Greg Valentine as a worker. He was fucking great. His WWF move solidified how great he was as a midcard star. His feud with Tito Santana defined his run but he also has some great matches with Steamboat. Before the year was out he made Brutus Beefcake look good. Take that everyone else.
3. Kevin Von Erich. WCCW was tremendous fun to watch and most of that was down to how good the Von Erichs (Kevin and Kerry) were. Kevin was just a step ahead of Kerry here, although Kerry had a better match with Ric Flair.
4. Kerry Von Erich. As above.
5. Randy Savage. He came flying into WWF like a whirlwind of caffeine and elbows. If he’d spent the entire year doing what he was doing, he would be #2 quite easily.
6. Ted DiBiase. On fire in Mid-South. Had a great feud with Jim Duggan and made him look like a million bucks. Had a great match with Jake Roberts and made him look like a million bucks.
7. Ricky Steamboat. I don’t think Steamboat even had that great of a year by his standards, but he was still one of the highlights of every WWF show he appeared on.
8. Paul Orndorff. A great year for Mr. Wonderful, a regular highlight of top matches in the WWF. Regularly making those around him look better. He would have an even better 1986.
9. Riki Choshu. This is a surprise to me but in watching stuff back, I have loved Choshu in AJPW. He’s been the stand out wrestler from Japan and that includes the likes of Tsuruta, Tenryu and everyone else.
10. Magnum TA. Had a pair of good matches against Flair and a couple of great matches with Tully Blanchard to end the year. His star was definitely on the rise in 1985 and would certainly have been rubbing shoulders with Flair again in ‘86 without the car crash. Hard to say how far he would have gone but he was a battling babyface with a great attitude.
Best Tag Team:
1. The Fantastics. There are a lot of teams to choose from. The Fantastics, for me, are the stand out. They were doing the RNR thing before RNR and having great babyface performances in every territory they set foot in. Great in both Mid-South and WCCW in 1985. Both Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers are underrated.
2. The US Express. This is my only shot at putting these boys over. Barry Windham is an elite talent and Mike Rotundo has never been more entertaining than during his run in the US Express. It was over all too soon.
3. Rock N’ Roll Express. Almost did enough towards the end of the year to pip the Fantastics but not quite. Both great babyfaces capable of generating support. Tag team formula exists because of guys like this.
4. Minnesota Wrecking Crew. The first of many outstanding Arn Anderson teams. Arn was just so good at holding matches together. Ole is basically the same guy so you’ve got two ring generals here.
5. Midnight Express. I’ve never been a big Dennis Condrey man. I think the team is better later on when he’s been replaced by Stan Lane. Bobby Eaton though, is a genius. One of the most underrated guys anywhere, ever.
6. The Road Warriors. I felt the need to mention the Roadies because they were a huge dominant tag team that aren’t like anyone else on the list.
Best on Interviews:
1. Roddy Piper. While he sometimes seems a bit incomprehensible, Piper is capable of making anything gold. He’s the best of both worlds in terms of cutting a promo that needs to say certain things and having these wild little offshoot moments that make him feel completely different. The Halloween segment on the SNME show was perfect.
2. Dusty Rhodes. He cut the “Hard Times” promo in 1985. No matter what I think of his in-ring, you can’t argue with promos like that.
3. Ric Flair. Not only was Flair the best in-ring wrestler of 1985, by some distance, he was also capable on the microphone. People seem to remember Flair as being a shouty promo because of “WOOO” and “Space Mountain” but his softly spoken promos where he raises his voice for the crescendo of it, those were awesome.
4. Jim Cornette. Cornette was outstanding at just talking, almost non-stop, and still making everything make sense. He was out there selling tickets to shows, selling the opposition, selling the Midnight Express, taking cheap shots at the locals so they wanted to kill him.
1. AJW. I’ve barely seen anything from All Japan Womens but the one whole show I did see was way better than everything else. Even the matches they had that didn’t quite live up to that one August show were good.
2. WCCW. This might surprise a few people, but World Class felt different to the other territories due to the strong local babyface population of Von Erichs. They also made the best use of everyone who came through there like the Freebirds, Gino Hernandez or Chris Adams. This will probably be the only time I can lavish praise upon Fritz before he becomes a complete dirtbag in 1986 so let’s go for it.
3. WWF. Vince McMahon’s WWF revolution hit a high gear in 1985 with WrestleMania, Rock N’ Wrestling, Hulkamania and everything in between. He took risks all year and he improved the product both on the production side and the in-ring, which was horrible at the start of the year.
4. NWA. While it’s a little tough to actually pinpoint what constitutes the NWA in 1985, I’m putting it here based on Jim Crockett’s work. The various different territories they were associated with and the co-productions with AWA merely strengthen the case JCP has for being this high up.
5. AJPW. Like AJW, AJPW were doing great things in the ring. They had a hot product, a great invasion angle with Riki Choshu and both Tsuruta and Tenryu on the rise. Not to mention the Tiger Mask II business.
6. Mid-South. The run-on booking is sensational. If I was going to do this in more depth, I would watch a load more of their TV shows. The trouble being that they lead to blow offs on house shows that I can’t see.
- Jaguar Yokota vs. Lioness Asuka (AJW, 8.22.85) *****
- Devil Masami vs. Chigusa Nagayo (AJW, 8.22.85) ****½
- Ric Flair vs. Harley Race (Pro Wrestling USA, 2.24.85) ****½
- Ric Flair vs. Kerry Von Erich (NWA Polynesian, 2.13.85) ****½
- Magnum TA vs. Tully Blanchard (NWA Starrcade, 11.28.85) ****¼
- Ric Flair vs. Kevin Von Erich (WCCW, 5.5.85) ****
- Ric Flair vs. Magnum TA (Portland, 9.24.85) ****
1. Jesse Ventura. I feel like Ventura found his true calling when he went behind the microphone. He was always a good promo but never a great in-ring talent. In becoming a commentator he took everything he was good at and turned into a career.
2. Bob Caudle. I always liked Bob Caudle. I feel like he often gets overlooked because he sat next to the iconic Gordon Solie, but he’s good at what he does.
3. Jim Ross. Even at this early juncture, Ross was something special. Employing an urgency to his voice when called for but also incredibly knowledgeable.
4. Gordon Solie. An iconic voice in pro-wrestling he’s nearing the end of his career. He didn’t like all the roided up freaks in wrestling so the late 80s is when he starts to tune out a bit.
5. Gorilla Monsoon. Gorilla came in for a lot of flak at the time, largely for missing stuff and getting things wrong but he had a loveable grandad vibe about his work. He was sorely missed when he did depart the WWF’s commentary booth and arguably they didn’t adequately replace him on PBP until hiring JR.
1. Jimmy Hart. The best managers, for me, need to be able to do it all. Talk the talk, take the bumps, piss the crowd off, be an active part of feuds. Jimmy Hart, a bundle of energy, and an irritating little bastard, did everything. I don’t think he gets enough credit for his performances in 1985, alongside the Harts and Terry Funk, as guys like Heenan and Dillon get for their work at the same time. Maybe it’s because he’s so small?
2. Bobby Heenan. As with Jimmy Hart, he had it all. Great talker, great bumper, great heat magnet. Heenan was often the best worker in his matches out on the floor.
3. Jim Cornette. Another guy who bumped around like crazy to get matches over and could draw a load of heat with his personality.
4. Percy Pringle. Before WWF and Paul Bearer, Pringle was a great manager. His facial tics and ability to rub people up the wrong way made him a valuable commodity to his wrestlers.
5. JJ Dillon. 1986 would be prime JJ Dillon territory and he blurs into the mix with a lot of similar NWA managers this year.
1. AJW Summer Night Festival. A show head and shoulders above everything else. The best two matches of the year on the show. Great heat. The card still holds up today.
2. Starrcade ‘85: The Gathering. If they’d nailed the Flair-Rhodes match, this would have a shot at top spot and would be remembered much more fondly than it is. It has Magnum-Blanchard and a fun RNR-Russians match underneath and buckets of blood.
3. WrestleMania. The first WrestleMania gets criticised a lot. I would know, I’ve written three reviews of it beforehand calling it a bad show. But it’s not. It does a grand job of pulling all the pomp, celebrity and excitement that Vince had put into the product into one place. The show was a game-changer for the company as a whole and everything about it felt fresh and exciting. Apart from David Sammartino.
4. WCCW 2nd Parade of Champions. Pretty sweet stadium show before the wheels came off World Class. Kevin gets a shot at Flair, Gary Hart gets shaved bald and Gino smashes up the Von Erich’s new car!
5. Pro Wrestling USA Star Wars. Not a great card overall but Flair vs Race was fantastic.
NWA Battle of the Belts. Eddie Graham killed himself in 1985. The territory was haemorrhaging talent. This was one of the NWA’s last gasp shots at trying to rehab it. It was a bad show. The best match is Flair vs. Wahoo but it’s 45 minutes long. Who wants 45 minutes of Wahoo McDaniel?
1. Uncle Elmer. Total shit. No redeeming features.
2. Greg Gagne. Overpushed runt spawned by Verne and sent to ruin the AWA.
3. Kendall Windham. Dreadful ‘super rookie’ who can barely do anything. Wouldn’t get much better with experience.
4. Moondog Rex. Barely qualifies as a wrestler.
5. Rip Rogers. Apparently, he’s a good trainer, which shocks me because his work stinks. If you can’t do, teach.
6. Scott Casey. Terrible at everything.
7. The Great Kabuki. Would definitely be higher if I’d not seen him in Japan, where he’s actually passable.
8. Swede Hanson. Has one foot in retirement. No idea why Vince felt the need to bring him in again.
9. Tony Atlas. Million dollar body, ten cent brain.
AWA. Like WWF if Vince exclusively pushed old people. Like NWA if all the workers were 60% lazier. Old man Verne’s shit show started the slow roll towards the grave here. Greg Gagne at the forefront.