The Way Too Long Review for Kayfabe Commentaries: History of the WWE 1977-1978 as told by Superstar Graham

Superstar Billy Graham is famous for his reputation as one of the biggest liars in the history of the wrestling business.  In 2004 when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, many people threatened a boycott because of it.  This is a guy who, by his own admission, lied to federal prosecutors about Vince McMahon and attempted to bankrupt him and every other major 80s star by exaggerating or outright lying about their drug use.  Anyone with half a brain saw this for what it was: sour grapes from a washed up former champion whose time in the spotlight was cut short by their own self-inflicted problems.

But Vince McMahon’s ability to forgive and forget is fairly remarkable and thus in 2004 Billy Graham was welcomed back into the WWE fold with open arms.  He got into the Hall of Fame, had a DVD produced, an autobiography published, and everything was rosy.  He even served as the host of Eddie Guerrero’s funeral in 2005.  It looked like all the old wounds had healed.  Then the WWE had nothing left to offer Graham and released him from whatever contract they had him on.  He promptly sold his Hall of Fame ring on EBay, has openly been calling the McMahons bad things in an attempt to cost Linda McMahon her Senate election bid, and now he’s gone to Kayfabe Commentaries to get all the bad things he hated about wrestling when he was the champion off his chest.  This should be fun.

Now, I’m guessing most of the stuff Billy says here will be less then honest.  However, I won’t hold that against Kayfabe Commentaries.  I’ll score this shoot completely on how entertaining it is, and nothing more.  This is a single disc presented on a DVD-R, shipped in a standard DVD case with a homemade slipcover that seems to have been printed on normal paper.  Since being spoiled by the professional packaging that Pro Wrestling Diary offered, this feels like a big step down.  Ultimately, it’s what’s on the disc that counts.  The feature runs a little over two hours.  As always with shoots, I won’t totally spoil any answers Graham gives, but I will list all the questions and topics that come up… and more then likely insert my own, snarky commentary.

We’re hosted by Kayfabe Commentaries co-owner Sean Oliver, who runs down what America was like in 1977 when Billy Graham stepped up to the stage.  The feature is inner cut with graphical screens that represent the timeline, and since the factoids that pop up on them are used to drive the narrative, I’ll post them here.

April of 1977: Billy Graham is in Florida.

Was there a desire by people all over the country to work in the WWWF? There was, and Billy talks about what guys were like who worked with Bruno Sammartino and what it was like in Madison Square Garden, even if the caliber of wrestling was bad.

What was the reputation of Vince McMahon Sr.? (called Vincent from this point forward in the review)  He was considered a very successful promoter who was fair in payoffs.  He elaborates.  Superstar points out that Vincent wasn’t very progressive and tells a story about how the fans were demanding he turn babyface.  But he hammers home that Vincent was a gentlemen.

What was Eddie Graham (promoter of Florida) and Vincent J. McMahon’s relationship?
“Joined at the hip” says Graham, who talks about Eddie arranging NWA vs. WWWF title matches.  Graham was much more progressive and could foresee the way wrestling was going, while Vincent was stuck in his ways.

How did he land in the WWWF as Champion? Graham tells the story about Bruno wanting to retire.  He wanted Graham to be the go-between champion while they got Bob Backlund ready.  Backlund was a total nobody at this point.  But it was clear to him exactly what days he would win the belt and lose the belt.  Bullshitmania is running wild here.  I have sincere doubts that Vince Sr. already had Backlund in mind as champion before he even put the belt on Graham.  I seriously doubt it was his intent to keep the belt on Graham as long as he did, given the WWE’s history of hot-shotting the title from heel to babyface whenever Bruno or Morales wanted a break.  But whatever, it’s Graham’s story, not mine.  Bullshit or not, I’m digging this early on.

April 13, 1977: Billy Graham debuts on WWWF TV and squashes a pair of jobbers in a handicap match.

Why was he brought in to do TV tapings while still working in Florida? Well fucking DUH Sean… they taped three weeks worth of shows at a time, so they might as well have got him on TV while he finished his dates in Florida.  Anyway, Vincent introduced him to the Grand Wizard, which caught Graham off guard because he was a good promo man already.  Graham talks about sharing his concerns with Vince, and how it was resolved and ended up being a perfect fit.  Entertaining stuff.

Did he have to change his mat style? Graham is at least honest about how limited he was in the ring.  Actually, his style worked better in the WWWF anyway.  I wish Oliver had commented on how good Graham was at bumping, selling, and getting people over, but he does not do so at any point during the feature.  Well let the record show Billy Graham’s ability to make his opponents look good is very underrated.

At this point, Sean Oliver wants to settle what the power structure of the WWWF was like and throws out some names.

Willie Gilzenberg: Graham doesn’t really remember because they were so old school that they rarely interacted with the wrestlers.  He ignores the question on Gilzenberg (an early partner of Vince Sr.‘s who handled the bookings in New Jersey and served as the first on-air figurehead of the WWWF, rumored to have made some seedy dealings to land the WWWF exclusive rights to the Garden) and talks about Arnold Skaaland being stingy about giving him two extra tickets on the night he was set to take the championship.

Phil Zacko: Zacko, who was one of Vincent J’s close business partners, was in charge of paying the boys.  A third of every paycheck Graham got was held from him, which he would receive with interest when he dropped the title belt.  Graham believes that Zacko was skimming from him and everyone else and would openly question his payoffs.

Vince McMahon Jr.: He liked him and he was respectful of him.  Vincent was very much in charge.  He tells a story about him writing the booking sheet in pencil because they would have to erase names from it often.  Vince was given the city of Bangor, Maine to run, and everyone liked him at the time.

April 22, 1977: Jay Strongbow and Billy White would defend their tag titles for the last time, defeating Baron Mikel Scicluna & Tor Kamata in a 2 out of 3 falls match.

Why did the WWWF quit having people defend their tag titles for so long? Basically, they lost interest.  Sort of like the WWE tends to do today from time to time.  He then talks about why they quit making the main event the final match during the ear.  Pretty good stuff, and to the best of my knowledge the story he tells is actually factual, related to how fucking nuts the fans were.  Good stuff, but the tag titles were not used because they were proven to not draw.

What did he think of Baron Mikel Scicluna and Tor Kamata? Billy can’t hold back tears as he tells a story of Mikel Scicluna freezing and Billy taking his new jacket off his back and giving it to him.  I can’t tell if he’s crying over his own good deed or the fact that he misses the jacket.  I guess it’s because Scicluna was so happy.  That’s touching.  He hated the way Scicluna was treated and paid.

April 23, 1977: Bruno Sammartino defeats Stan Stasiak in his final successful title defense.

Was Graham in awe of Bruno? Sure, and he talks about it.  He talks about how Bruno was clean living, revered by Italians, etc.  Graham says that he lived up to his reputation.  “He was a cut above.”  Not the best wrestler, but he was a man’s man.

What about Stan Stasiak? What kind of condition was he in? At the time he had a hernia which prevented him from working well, but he was proud of his Croatian heritage.

April 23, 1977: Future WWE Champion and IWC whipping boy John Cena is born.  411Mania rumored to have sent a terminator back in time to stop this, but they obviously failed (like with everything else they do).

April 25, 1977: Bob Backlund makes his Madison Square Garden debut, beating a masked Big John Studd.

What did he think on Backlund?  Are the rumors that Verne Gagne and his cronies selling Vincent J. McMahon a bill of goods with Backlund true? Graham says it is.  That Verne was wrestling oriented and didn’t care for the types of wrestlers WWWF used and pushed Backlund hard on Vincent, even knowing he wouldn’t draw as big as Bruno in New York.

April 30, 1977: Superstar Billy Graham beats Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship with his feet on the ropes.

Were the legs on the rope for Bruno to save face? Of course not.  It was to get heat on Billy.  Duh.  What a truly stupid question.

What discussion, if any, was made before the match? Graham notes that Bruno was tired, but Superstar wanted to really put him over, including blade for him.  He puts over Eddie Guerrero’s blade job against JBL at Judgment Day 2004 that nearly killed him… or possibly did kill him on a severe delayed reaction.  This leads to a discussion on blading.  Wow, total hyperbole here, as Graham’s blade job that night isn’t even in the same galaxy as Eddie’s was in 2004.  He might be confusing the title change match with a later follow up that took place in Madison Square Garden, where Graham did legitimately tap an artery and actually had the front of the referee’s shirt smeared with blood.  He then talks about the fans nearly rioting when he won.

Did he have any sense of how tough he would get it from the fans as champion? Sure.

Did other workers know the title would change? Some did, some didn’t.  The referee didn’t know until he was told right before the match.  He talks about how the wrestlers found out while they were in the ring and all gathered to watch the passing of the torch.  He talks about getting his friend to bring a camera to make sure he had documentation for it.  Actually, Vincent wanted to make sure they had footage of it, set up cameras, and had his son doing commentary.

Was the title switch done in Baltimore to keep Graham from getting murdered? Graham says no and that it was done to make it a surprise.  Because the next two weeks of TV shows were already in the can, the fans nearly rioted when Graham next walked into Madison Square Garden as the champion.  And he’s likely right.  Bruno had lost the title in Madison Square Garden before to Ivan Koloff.  There wasn’t a riot.  Quite the opposite: the fans were stunned to the point of almost entering a physical state of shock.  The place went silent and many people needed help getting up out of their seats because they were so stunned.

May 3, 1977: Billy Graham wrestles for the first time as WWWF Champion, beats Mike Rivera.

What were the TV tapings done like back then?  What was the Philadelphia Arena like? Very old school.  Wood bleachers, wooden folding chairs.  The dressing room was too small, and all the workers dressed there, heel or babyface.  We also discuss catering.

What were jobbers called back then?  What was discussed with them before the match? Well, they were called jobbers.  DOOOOOOYYYY!.  “I’m going to go out and beat you to a pulp for two minutes.”  But he treated them well… unlike Hulk Hogan who was a total asshole to the jobbers when he was to the champion.  He elaborates on that, and points out why he was better.

Was Monsoon running the tapings? Yep, and he gives a funny little story about himself going too long in a match with Curt Hennig and Monsoon’s response to it.

How smart were the ring announcers? He thinks they were smart to a degree.  He doesn’t recall anyone ever being protective around them.

Oliver notes that Philadelphia Arena was destroyed by arson in 1983.  Graham wasn’t aware of that.

May 6, 1977 in St. Louis: Billy Graham and Dick the Bruiser have a double-count out in a non-title match.

How well did Sam Muchnick and Vincent McMahon get along? Swimmingly.  But Graham, along with many of the boys, didn’t understand why they were sent to wrestle in the Midwest, where neither the fans nor the promoters appreciated the New York style very much.

What did he think of Dick the Bruiser? Billy Graham totally buries him here.  He notes that he told him straight up he didn’t like him too, so nobody can accuse him of back-biting.  This reminds him of what an asshole Billy Robinson was, and we get a story about his attitude.  The Robinson story is actually fairly dark.  But where Robinson was an ass in the ring, Dick was a dick in the dressing room.  Man, when Billy Graham goes into the dark place, he goes all in.  Pretty chilling stuff.

May 21, 1977: Billy Graham beats Jos LeDuc.

What did he think of Jos LeDuc? Just really liked Jos, who took him under his wing when he started in Calgary.  He notes that LeDuc seemed to be a cutter, calling it a fetish.

May 24, 1977: Ken Patera beat Billy White Wolf, then broke his neck (in storyline) when he refused to release his Full Nelson.

Well that’s what it says on the graphic.  I was sure the angle was he broke Wolf’s neck with a swinging-neckbreaker.

May 27, 1977 in St. Louis: WWWF Champion Billy Graham beats Bob Backlund via count-out.

Why was that match done in St. Louis? Graham was never told.  It was likely to keep it out of the eyes New York fans, but he thinks it’s more than likely so he could get a feel for Bob Backlund.  Graham then explains that while he enjoyed wrestling for the St. Louis fans, he disliked the NWA hierarchy and elaborates on that.  He notes who he got along with and who he didn’t.  But he feels the general population of NWA wrestlers didn’t like the New York guys coming to their territories.  Graham didn’t see the wisdom in it either or understand Vincent’s thinking.

June 3, 1977 in Tampa, Florida: Jack & Jerry Brisco beat Billy Graham and Ox Baker for the Florida Tag Team Championship, which Graham had never lost before coming to New York.

What did he think of the Briscos? He liked them both, and relates a funny quip once made to him by Jack Brisco.

May 31, 1977: Billy Graham fights Ken Patera to a double-DQ when both guys use a chair.

What did he think of Ken Patera? He talks about how strong Patera was.  It was easy to bump off him.

June 6, 1977: Billy Graham beats Haystacks Calhoun via count-out.

What did he think of Haystacks Calhoun? He hated the match, and didn’t think Calhoun had any talent.

June 10, 1977: Dominic DeNucci (famous for training Mick Foley and Shane Douglas) wins a battle royal to earn a title shot later that night.

What did he think of DeNucci? He liked him, but the match only lasted nine seconds.  The very streamlined style to this interview is now getting in the way of having productive, entertaining discussion.

June 18, 1977: Graham pins Portuguese Champion (not really, but that was his gimmick) Carlos Rocha in 11:06

What did he think of Rocha? Graham does not remember him.  Well, that was embarrassing for Kayfabe Commentaries.  They really should submit all questions ahead of time so that they know which answers will be entertaining enough to make them worth presenting on the disc.  I doubt 99% of the people who buy this set will have ever heard of Rocha, and when the subject matter of the disc has nothing to say about him, it makes you wonder why they wasted sixty-seconds on him.  They really should have just cut it out of the interview.

June 27, 1977: Graham fights Bruno Sammartino to a double DQ in Madison Square Garden.  THIS is the bloody match that I’m sure Graham was remembering earlier.  Check out the Youtube clip.

What were the fans like for that match? Graham notes that Dave Meltzer of the I Want to Feel the Tender Warmness of Dana White’s Wet, Erect Cock in My Mouth Newsletter (or Wrestling Observer for short) discovered that Graham had the record for highest percentage of sellouts at Madison Square Garden, going 20 for 21 and only failing to sell out (but still drawing 20,000+ fans) against Peter Maivia.  Vincent told him that it only failed to sell out because the fans didn’t believe a Samoan covered in tattoos would ever be champion.  Which kind of shows that the fans had a degree of smartness about them that nobody really seemed to want to acknowledge.  Getting back to the question, the fans weren’t that rowdy, mostly because the main event was now going on fourth on the card.

July 9, 1977: Billy Graham pins Tony Garea.

What did he think of Garea? He liked him, and they always worked smaller towns.  But Graham takes credit for making his career.  Very humble man is Graham.  Tony is now a road agent, and Graham says he’s well suited for the job.  This goes into a discussion of Phil Zacko, who was the promoter for Philly and Baltimore, letting the fans know that Billy Graham would be missing an advertised show while he recovered from a bad staph infection.  Weird topic.

July 29, 1977: Chief Jay Strongbow beat George Steele in an Indian Strap Match.

What did he think of George “The Animal” Steele? One of the best and easiest gimmicks to do.  Steele said it was like getting handed money to do nothing.  He talks about Steele getting heat from parents for being an amateur wrestling coach while being a professional.  Those were the days.

How about Strongbow? Graham slams Strongbow, then actually lets it all loose here, talking about how he hated being in the dressing room and all the bullshit that went into it.  Graham would show up late to the shows because he hated hanging around wrestlers, and Strongbow disliked him for it.  He goes further into this.  He also talks about how difficult he was to work with in the ring.

July 30, 1977: Gorilla Monsoon, who is a co-owner of WWC in Puerto Rico, wins that company’s North American Championship from Hartford Love.

What did he think about wrestling in Puerto Rico? He hated it and quickly explains.  Very quickly.  Too quickly.  I would have loved for him to have gone into further detail or maybe relate a story about it but doesn’t.

August 12, 1977 in St. Louis: Graham beats Jimmy Valiant via submission to his Bear Hug.

What did he think of Valiant? He loved him, talks about his charisma, and talks about matching up with him, which allowed him to change things up in the ring.

August 23, 1977: Graham beats Rocky Johnson.

What did he think of Rocky Johnson? He relates a story of getting attacked by a fan in the middle of a match with Rocky in Los Angeles.

September 23, 1977: Andre the Giant beats Gorilla Monsoon in a boxing match, with Joe Walcott.

What does Billy have to say about that? Nothing, but he talks about a different experiences with boxers turned wrestlers, including a story of how boxers rigged matches to end on time using blood stoppage.

September 27, 1977: Prof. Tanaka & Mr. Fuji beat Larry Zbyzsko & Tony Garea to win the vacant tag titles.

October 16, 1977: Stan Stasiak beats Waldo Von Erich to win the vacant WWWF World Championship after Billy Graham no-showed.  This was later voided.

Sadly, we don’t hear anything about that.

October 18, 1977: Peter Maivia vs. Baron Mikel Scicluna was scrubbed when Graham attacked Maivia.

What was up with that angle? Billy talks about what went into building that match.

October 24, 1977: Billy Graham beats Dusty Rhodes in a Texas Death Match, after Graham fell on top of Rhodes when both guys ran into each- ther.

What does he think of Dusty Rhodes and that angle?
“Almost too much charisma for two people to interact with.”  He explains.  Some deny it, but what I’ve heard is that Vince McMahon Sr. did everything in his power to try and land Dusty Rhodes as a permanent fixture in New York, but Dusty was too loyal to the Grahams in Florida.

November 11, 1977: Billy Graham beats Larry Zbyzsko.

What does he think of Larry? “Nice guy, not very special.”  He talks about their match.

November 22, 1977: Pedro Morales beats Billy Graham by DQ.

What does he think of Pedro? He talks about Pedro’s stomach shot, which legitimately hurt.

December 12, 1977: Billy Graham beats Ivan Putski in a cage match.

What does he think of Putski? He relates a story of Ivan catching holy hell from Vincent for taking a couple swigs of beer in the ring.  Nevertheless, he enjoyed working with him because he was so over.

What did he think of cage matches? He thought they were easy and enjoyed them.  He talks about his last title defense against Bruno Sammartino, who wasn’t clued into the fact that Backlund was about to get the belt.  He then relates a story of trying to shoot and let Bruno take the belt, which I had heard before.  It’s apparently true.  Bruno backed out at the last second.

December 19, 1977: Mil Mascaras beats Billy Graham due to blood stoppage.

What does he think of Mil Mascaras? Oh this will be fun.  Like everyone else in the industry, Graham totally buries Mascaras as a prima donna.  He discusses it further.  He talks about a code system they came up with using Tarot Cards to communicate with Mil.

Later that night, Arnold Skaaland beat Lou Albano.  Was it a total abortion? Does the Pope shit in the woods?  He relates a story of Lou getting drunk and cutting his face up in the middle of a match and leaving the knife he did it with in the middle of the ring.  Vincent went fucking nuts over this.

January 13, 1978: Billy Graham beat Raymond Rougeau in a non-title match.  Later that night, Tony Atlas beat Graham in a pose-down.

January 20, 1978: Jose Estrada beat Tony Garea to become the first WWF Junior Heavyweight Champion.

What was with that belt? It only stayed stateside for three days before being shipped to Japan.  He then relates a story of doing shows for Inoki.

January 25, 1978: WWWF World Champion Billy Graham fights NWA World Champion Harley Race to a draw in the Orange Bowl in Florida, in a rain storm.

What did he think of Harley Race? Incredible wrestler.  He talks about matching up with him.  He talks about how he didn’t want to do a sixty minute match, like the NWA wanted, because it would have sucked.

February 6 – 8, 1978: Billy Graham beats various challengers on a tour of Japan.

February 10, 1978: Chavo Guerrero beats Billy Graham due to blood stoppage.

What were the LA crowds like?
Heavy Mexican population, loved the Guerreros, etc.

February 18, 1978: Billy Graham beats Bruno Sammartino in a cage match in Philadelphia when Bruno kicks Graham out the door.

They already talked about that match earlier and thus we skip to…

February 20, 1978: Bob Backlund pins Billy Graham with an atomic drop to win the WWWF World Championship, even though Graham’s foot was on the rope.

What was the story with the foot on the rope? Vincent’s idea, that Graham won with a foot on the rope and thus should lose with a foot on the rope, plus it kept him viable.  He then tells a story about Backlund not really showing off the belt as champion, instead covering it with his robe.  Funny stuff.  It sounds so much like Bob Backlund, you can’t help but laugh.  He then buries Backlund for having no charisma and not drawing.  He thinks that Vincent J. McMahon’s ego wouldn’t allow him to run with Graham as a babyface champion.  He even calls Backlund ‘almost retarded’ and not in a pejorative sense.

And that’s it for the shoot.  Graham leaves us by saying it wasn’t a happy ending because Graham could have been one of the top babyface champions ever.  He’s absolutely right.  He was twenty years too soon.  HEY… that would be the perfect name for a Billy Graham DVD!

BOTTOM LINE: Even if the company’s production values are light-years behind Pro Wrestling Diary, I’ll give Kayfabe Commentaries credit for selecting a good shooter here.  Billy Graham proved to be an entertaining, surprisingly honest, and focused subject for this interview.  Although the format was limited and in many cases Billy had no answer at all, when he did have something to say it was usually entertaining.  Sometimes his answers were too brief, but overall I enjoyed this disc.  Any fan of classic 70s wrestling will enjoy what Graham offers, plus this set makes an excellent starting point for entry-level smart marks.  I give it a solid thumbs up.  You can pick it up here.

On a personal note, I can’t review shoot interviews under this format anymore.  While I still enjoy doing wrestling matches in my traditionally Way Too Long format, writing up reviews for shoot interviews like this are boring.  I’m even sure they read boring too.  Sorry.  I’ll put a more critique-focused review up for Pro Wrestling Diary’s Sgt. Slaughter shoot up pretty soon.

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