June 30, 2023

WWF Madison Square Garden (1.23.84) review

WWF Madison Square Garden (1.23.84) 


January 23, 1984 


We’re in New York at MSG. A few weeks prior to this Vince McMahon took the belt off Bob Backlund, the companies champion of five years and switched it to transitional champion the Iron Sheik. What came next was the birth of Hulkamania and McMahon’s drive to become the leading wrestling promoter in the world over the next four years. With Rock n’ Wrestling coinciding with the launch of MTV (1981, pop pickers), the WWF was about to hit another level. It all started here, with Hogan finally winning the world title he was denied so many times in the AWA. Hosts are Gorilla Monsoon and Pat Patterson.  


Jose Luis Rivera vs. Tony Garea 

Garea was a staple of WWF undercards in the early 80s. Tall guy, full head of hair. He retired a few years after this to become a road agent and general backstage helper. He would stay there until 2014. One of the most consistent employees the WWF had under Vince McMahon. Garea tries to walk Rivera through this but Rivera is loose and sloppy and the crowd hate him. He’s a babyface. You can see Garea talking to Rivera in a headlock as the New Yorkers boo.  

The finish is Rivera coming off with the top with a crossbody and Tony rolls through it for a quick pinfall. Garea walked Rivera through this entire thing and while it was a decent carry job, Rivera shouldn’t be on these shows. I’m surprised Vince kept him around as long as he did.  


The Invaders vs. Mr Fuji & Tiger Chung Lee 

The Invaders have definitely changed their lineup here. Cagematch claim it’s still Rodrigues and Roberto Soto, but they looked different in December. I’ve already seen the Invaders shtick, the frequent tags on one arm ringer, and that’s all they do. The match goes Broadway (20 minutes) and that’s fucking uncalled for, lads. Why it called Broadway for a draw anyway? Apparently, according to a book written by Harley Race and Les Thatcher, it’s because they used to telegraph booking from the New York office and Broadway was just the code for a draw and it stuck.  


That’s certainly more interesting, to me, than this match, which is boring. Tiger Chung Lee is not a man I would want leading a tag match. Fuji is better, throwing suplexes and setting up counters. The Chunger just plods through stuff and sends the crowd to sleep. As I type that he absolutely murders #2 with a backdrop driver. The match has spurts where it’s great and then big chunks of rest hold in between.  

If they trimmed all the shit out of this match it would rule. The Invaders are doing the rowboat when the time limit expires. Invaders were fun here and this worked, most of the time. **¾ area for snowflakes. One of the better WWF matches I’ve seen from these two MSG shows.  


The Masked Superstar vs. Chief Jay Strongbow 

Oh no.  

Eadie is 10 years in and still hasn’t figured out he’s only good in tags. Strongbow has one foot in retirement. Every babyface was obsessed with unmasking the Masked Superstar. I don’t understand why but it seemed to pop the crowd so it’s an easy win. The match is 90% headlock.

The weird thing about this match is the finish is Strongbow hooking a sleeper but TMS slips out and hits a clothesline for the win. That’s the exact same finish as Strongbow-Slaughter on the last MSG show. The clothesline, Strongbow’s kryptonite. This was dreadful but got slightly energetic towards the finish. 


Ivan Putski vs. Sgt Slaughter 

Giving Sarge entrance music and having the camera follow him from the back make him seem like a big deal, even as a heel. Putski does a decent impression of a boxer. He’s a jacked up midget. If they’d done a live action X-Men in 1983, he’d have been a decent stuntman version of Wolverine. There’s a whole lot of nothing here. Lots of stalling from Sarge and headlocks from Putski. It’s a shame really because Sarge is a phenomenal seller and will bump all day for Putski’s power. I’m desperate to see Sarge wrestle someone good. The finish here ruins what was beginning to be a good match. They brawl on the apron and Sarge gets punched clean over the top back into the ring. Putski was counted out. Slaughter gets beaten up afterwards and takes an amazing bump over the top rope to the floor via the buckles. Some great power offence vs. good bumping in this match. Imagine if Sarge was against someone good? That’s what I keep thinking.  


Sidenote: I had been planning the Boot Camp match, which bizarrely I’ve never seen, as part of this project but now it’s the match I’m most looking forward to in the entire thing.  


Backstage: Gene Okerlund interviews Paul Orndorff, dubbed “Porndorff” by a Fraudian slip from Gorilla. Orndorff calls Sal Bellomo a “spaghetti eater”. Orndorff just joined the WWF, coming off a tour from New Japan. Before that he was in the NWA.  

He’s managed by another former NWA star; Roddy Piper, who jumped ship after the Greg Valentine “dog collar” feud. Bar a few matches in the late 70s this is the first time either of them had wrestled for the McMahons. They’ve quickly become a hot heel act and added quality to the card.  


Paul Orndorff vs. Salvatore Bellomo 

Mixed reaction for Piper and Orndorff, which is interesting. MSG always had a lot of respect for good workers regardless of their heel/face alignment. Watching Bellomo being introduced to the concept of charisma is wild. “If he turned his back on me, I’d be right on him” – Pat Patterson. Uh huh? The heels stall for ages but it differentiates them from the rest of the roster so that’s ok. The match sees Orndorff as almost completely dominant. They’re clearly building him for something bigger than Sal Bellomo. It’s clear how over Orndorff is based on the reactions Bellomo gets for any comebacks, even though he has no offensive savvy at all. Bellomo does take a few nice bumps, which is how he ended up being a jobber. Bellomo gets in one half decent fiery comeback before being powerslammed. Piledriver finishes. Orndorff and Piper is a great heel act. Even Bellomo looked more interesting just for being in there with Paul. They probably should have finished him off quicker to be honest. 


Backstage: Okerlund has Fred Blassie and the champ. Blassie points out the Camel Clutch will work on anyone, regardless of size. Sheik adds in that he beat that punk Backlund, calls Hogan an animal and points out he’ll break his back, fuck him in the ass and make him humble.  


WWF World Heavyweight Championship 

The Iron Sheik (c) vs. Hulk Hogan  

Here it is, the birth of Hulkamania.  

WWE has dubbed “Real American” over the footage. He blatantly came out to “Eye of the Tiger” and they don’t have the rights to it. Hogan is more over than everyone else on the show put together. MSG is a smart crowd, and they surely assume a title change here and a historic one at that. Hogan’s lack of sportsmanship is apparent here as he jumps Sheik before he takes off his robe. Hogan’s lack of moveset is pretty obvious as he dominates for most of the match. He starts repeating himself about four moves in. That was never really Hulk’s match. Instead, they let Sheik take over and Hogan takes a beating for a while. Hogan’s selling is underrated because everyone remembers his “Hulking up” process rather than how giving he was during matches. Although, that’s because he couldn’t lead a match.  

Hogan gets put in the camel clutch but powers out of it. We have legitimate limbs at that. Legdrop finishes and people are jumping for joy out in the crowd. They know what this means. They were there for one of the biggest, most exciting title changes in the WWF’s history. Hulkamania is born. The match is pleasingly energetic and aided by a short run time. He beat the guy in five minutes. **½  


I’ve never seen the footage that follows. Sheik does a stretcher job while Hogan prowls around calling him a bum. Sheik takes exception, jumps off the stretcher, Hogan beats him up some more and yeets him out of the ring. We go straight backstage for Gene to get an interview and Hogan’s promo is so much more intense than anything else on the show. It would set the tone for wrestling promos for the decade.  

Who’s the first person to congratulate Hogan? That’s right, Andre the Giant. Vince was planning WrestleMania III from this point. Believe it. Next man in is Ivan Putski, he was lined up for WrestleMania IV. Soul Man Rocky Johnson WrestleMania V. I guess plans changed.  


You can say what you like about Hogan, and I hated him, but he gave Vince McMahon’s vision of wrestling a focal point and a figurehead. He’s everything Vince wanted to wash away the 70s style of wrestling in dingy halls with blood on sawdust. He wanted a product he could sell globally, and he got it. Hogan, for his part, was never much of an in-ring talent but he knew his strengths and he stuck to them. He was a larger-than-life persona, great interview and did more with what he had than most talented wrestlers could ever dream of. If you’re getting into wrestling and you’re limited, Hogan is the icon for you. He did it with size and charisma because that’s what he had.


In my head this is the Hogan timeline: 

1984-87. He’s great here and deserved to be on top.  

1988-90. It’s apparent other good wrestlers are coming through and even Vince shunted him off to the side for a while.  

1991-95. WWF decline, steroid lies, move to WCW, awful stuff. 

1996-98. The New World Order rebirth. Great heel run, fucked up 1997 Starrcade chance with Sting to do something special. Burned WCW to the ground but at least jobbed to Goldberg 

1999-2000. Embarrassing.  

  1. That WWE nostalgia run.

2003-Now. I wish he’d just go away and not ruin TNA.  


Rene Goulet vs. Jimmy Snuka 

Because we’re in MSG, we’re still going. The crowd has become very quiet. Patterson runs through some of the card we’ve seen, and it looks like Muraco-Santana got clipped off the show. This match is terrible, Goulet looks dreadful and Snuka finishes inside four minutes with a crossbody.  


Backstage: the celebration continues as Pete and Ruth Hogan, Hulk’s parents, join in.  

Hogan cutting off his own dad for being boring is sure something.  


The Wild Samoans vs. Andre the Giant, Tony Atlas & Rocky Johnson 

That famous Samoan hard head doesn’t work on Andre. He’s above such lore. As soon as Andre tags in this is over. He sits on Samu, and we’re done. Nothing much doing here. The 80s wrestling boom happened just as Andre was starting to deteriorate. It’s a bummer for him and most historical footage of him is when he’s already broken. If you watch his early 80s and late 70s stuff, he was far more mobile and was worth watching.  


The 411: 

Obviously, this is a big show for historical purposes with the big Hogan win. His gimmick was so far above everything else in the era. You can see why he was Vince’s guy. With Hogan on top, other people upped their game. Ric Flair was doing something very similar down south, only with good matches as part of the deal. There are some notable supporting characters here though, although Santana was clipped off the tape. Piper, Orndorff, Snuka and Slaughter would all play their part in the 80s wrestling boom. Interesting to note just how much backstage stuff they recorded after Hogan’s win, to make the title change seem like a big deal. What set WWF apart in these days was the entertainment factor, even with something as simple as celebrating a title win. 

Leave a Reply