Ever wonder where the whole Pay-Per-View concept started in professional wrestling? Well, the first wrestling show available on PPV was Wrestlemania 1 (in selected markets). The Wrestling Classic in November of that same year (1985) was a PPV only event, while Wrestlemania 2 was also available on PPV in selected markets.
But the idea that wrestling was going to work on PPV had to come from somewhere. Considering the amount of risk involved, they weren’t going to just throw together a huge card, televise it, and see where the chips may fall.
Back in the 1980s, this fledgling cable station called MTV started (1981, actually). They still exist, but back in the day they – get this! – played music videos! Seriously! The name even stood for Music TeleVision! Hard to believe watching the tripe they peddle nowadays, but way back when they were primarily a video radio station.
Now, at about the same time, a young upstart third generation wrestling promoter named Vincent K. McMahon managed to buy (con his way into ownership of – your mileage may vary) the established World Wrestling Federation from his father. With the help of a blonde haired behemoth of a man named Hulk Hogan, he positioned the then-WWF at the forefront of a new more family-friendly, entertainment-heavy version of professional wrestling.
These two entities were destined to clash as they both reached the pinnacle of pop culture in the USA. And thus the rock’n’wrestling connection was born. Capt Lou Albano (a famous manager) appeared in a Cyndi Lauper video clip, wrestlers made other media appearances (Hogan in Rocky III probably started it all) and suddenly it seemed logical that WWF and MTV should work together.
Now, wrestling had been on television since its earliest days. In Australia there was a great black and white World Championship Wrestling show (the name was subsequently bought for the US version of WCW which died in 2001). In the States, different markets had their own local TV channels broadcasting shows from the local centre. But that was small potatoes, broadcasting to really localised markets. What VKM was looking for was total US domination.
And so we come to July 23, 1984.
A super-card (hardly a new concept in wrestling, even back then) was held at Madison Square Garden, shown on that arena’s Madison Square Garden Network. But – and this is where it gets interesting – a main event of the show was to be shown live on MTV. National exposure on TV on a pay-channel. (Yes, a main event; it was a super-card after all, and the match shown wasn’t even the last match on the card.)
That show was The Brawl To End It All.
The seeds were thus sown. And what was that main event? Well, it did feature a tall blonde in a championship match, but not the Hulkster. We’ll get to that later.
My tape of this is dodgy as all hell after 30-plus years in parts, but I don’t do play-by-play anyway, so like that matters. Here is the card for what would become the WWF’s first foray into the world of national television. Now, I saw no sign of clipping the matches, so the times are as they are on my tape.
The opening graphics are so of their time. They look cheap, but I’ll bet they weren’t back then. However, it does set a nice scene.
Our commentators are Gorilla Monsoon and Gene Okerlund, with Howard Finkel doing the in-ring duties.
Match 1: “Wild Samoan Number 2” Sika v Ron Shaw
What would happen nowadays if two wrestlers were named ‘Wild Samoan Numbers One & Two’? The match. Do you like no-selling? Then Sika is your man! Slowish match, as was the norm for the time period, but nothing horrid. Shaw headbutts Sika… you never headbutt a Samoan! And Sika gets the pin after about 5 minutes with the falling headbutt. Ahh, the days when a headbutt was a finishing move! Nothing too horrible.
I would like to point out that the ropes are super loose here. So odd to see.
Match 2: Tony Garea v The Iron Sheik (with manager… sorry, “The Ayatollah” Freddie Blassie)
I reckon Garea would have succeeded in any era; yeah, I’m a bit of a fan. But if you’re into headlocks, this match is for you. At least Garea punctuated them with punches and some running. But every time it was about to get interesting, back to the headlock. Flurry at the end leads to the Sheik getting a belly to back suplex for the surprise pin after about 5 minutes. Again, not really a bad match.
Match 3: Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship match – “Cowboy” Bob Orton v Tito Santana (c)
Announced for a one hour time limit. No cast for Orton and Tito looks like a teenager. Ah, Finkel now corrects himself – 20 minute time limit. Oh, and for those who weren’t even born in 1984, Orton is Randy’s father. His selling is better than his son (by a lo-o-ong way); his look is very 1980s. Some nice wrestling to start; technical, sure, and some holds, but the reversals are sweet and the cinching and selling are really good. Orton does the cool heel things (hair pulls when the ref is out of position, sneaking out of the ring). These two even make arm locks worth watching. Back and forth match. Orton goes to the top rope; yikes, with that laxity, he must be insane. Orton’s reversal of the abdominal stretch is a thing of beauty. And then the bell sounds and it’s all over – a 20 minute time limit draw. What a great match. Post-match they still go at it. Look, even though a draw, none of the rest-hold sections (of which there were not that many) lasted too long and they kept changing things up. The selling was magnificent, the moves clean. Plus, they had really good chemistry. I liked this match a lot. A forgotten gem.
Oh, and it is so weird to hear commentary like this – Gene is the play-by-play guy and Gorilla the colour commentator. No heels or faces in personae, just calling the match and selling the heelishness or face-oidity of the wrestlers for the viewers. I miss this sort of commentary.
Match 4: ”Butcher” Paul Vachon v Bob Backlund
Starts of back and forth for a bit, and then Backlund locks in the cross-face chicken wing for the submission win after about 2 and a half minutes. Not a lot to the match, though no prolonged rest-holds is always a good thing. And Backlund shows a bit of strength for a guy his size. Short sharp and shiny.
They keep saying capacity crowd and it certainly looks like a huge turnout. Gives a nice atmosphere.
Interview with Greg Valentine. Very short and he is built like a brick shithouse, but says nothing of consequence. Now interview with Hulk Hogan in the white American Made top. He’s pumped but it’s short and he also says nothing worth noting. Hogan comes out to ‘Eye Of The Tiger’.
Match 5: Heavyweight Championship match – Greg “The Hammer” Valentine (with manager Capt. Lou Albano) v Hulk Hogan (c)
They call Hogan 302lbs, but the graphic says 235. No way is he 235! Valentine tries to jump start it but Hogan no sells as only Hogan can. Hogan picking Valentine up from outside the ropes to slam him in the ring is pretty impressive. And after dominating the opening minutes Hogan goes for the chin-lock. This crowd is hot for Hogan. Valentine turns the tide with a belly to back suplex from a headlock… and goes into a rest-hold of his own. After what we’ve seen already, this is dull. Back and forth. And, for the first time tonight, a match goes to the floor. It makes such a pleasant change when that is used sparingly and not in every damn match. Valentine uses a chair on Hogan’s leg; again, good to see not in every single match. Hogan avoids two figure-4 attempts. Valentine connects with a second rope elbow drop. Goes for a top rope move, Hogan catches him coming off with a clothesline then drops the leg for the pin after 10 and a half minutes. Not horrible, just not great.
Fast forward 2 years and you’d never catch Hogan in match 5 on the card.
Match 6: Charlie Fulton v Antonio Inoki (c)
Inoki is declared World Martial Arts Champion. A match of holds and very little else. Fulton gets some jobber offence before going into rest-hold territory. Fulton chokes Inoki, gets told to break, Inoki comes back with kicks, hits a jumping enziguri (not called as such, of course – not sure if it was even named that yet) for the three count after about 4 minutes. Finishing move was great, rest was dull.
Match 7: Tag Team Championship – Terry Daniels & Sgt Slaughter v Dick Murdoch & Adrian Adonis (c)
Slaughter is 296 lbs? Wow; doesn’t look it. And so weird seeing not grossly obese Adonis in biker leather. This match is not brilliant. Daniels seems slightly overwhelmed and makes a few mistakes while Murdoch looks unmotivated. If you like rest-holds, this is for you! Also – armdrags! And drop kicks! And… rest-holds. Dull match. Daniels in way too much. Ending came after 17 minutes of boredom when the champions retained by pinning Daniels. Post-match, Slaughter took out both champs with a double clothesline. Not good.
Lou Albano comes out to the ring and says… something. I don’t have a Moron to English dictionary, so I’m lost.
Now we come to the televised match.
Mean Gene interviews Capt Lou and he says little of consequence. Moolah says even less of consequence. No trash talking – just an interview. But 27 years the champion! Holy crap!
Match 8: Women’s Championship – Fabulous Moolah (with manager Capt. Lou Albano) (c) v Wendi Richter (with David Wolff and manager Cyndi Lauper)
On the biggest stage they’ve had, the opening is… not good. What a shocking arm-drag from Richter. Moolah starts with the heel stuff right away and dominates for a long time. Wendi comes back with an interesting rope tie up and the crowd explodes. Wendi’s improving as the match goes on; must have been nerves. But the match is still no great shakes. Especially compared to the female wrestlers of today, this is quite loose. The end comes at about 11 minutes or so, when they do the suplex spot where both wrestlers’ shoulders are down, but the one taking the move gets her shoulders up. Which means Richter defeated Moolah in a fluke spot to become new women’s champion. I hate that ending. After the decision, Moolah and Albano attack the ref. Not a good match, but it must have appealed to the fan-base because it didn’t kill the idea. And they finish with Lauper’s ‘She Bop’… a song about female masturbation. Okay, then.
So, yes, the first match WWF chose for a national audience was a women’s match. Not Hulk Hogan or anyone like that, but two women. Of course, there was the Cyndi Lauper connection which had a lot to do with it, but, still – Richter and Moolah were where it all started.
That’s not the end of the show, though.
We go to the locker room where Cyndi and Wendi gloat. Other people come in and this drags on way too long. Hogan even calls her “the Marilyn Monroe of professional wrestling”. So… she screwed a president and died of a drug overdose? Yeah, whatever. Of course, it ends with Albano trying to crash the party. Who has the biggest breasts in the locker-room? Clue, he’s 6 ½ foot tall and blonde and still crops up in a WWE ring.
Match 9: Chief Jay Strongbow v Mr Wonderful Paul Orndorff
Orndorff stalls to start. For a lo-o-ong time. Orndorff is built. Strongbow tries to jump-start the match but the ref doesn’t let him. Finally we start. And we go to the mat. Awkward spot on a criss-cross. Then we get the head-to-head collision. This is so dull… Strongbow does the stereotypical war dance and another awkward spot in the corner. This is awful. Then, after 3 minutes, Orndorff hits a clothesline to win. Strongbow looked really off.
Match 10: Wild Samoan Number 1 Afa v Rene Goulet
I liked Rene Goulet. But, oh, goody, more stalling to start. Afa gets jack of it and attacks straight away. Rene loads up his magic glove in full view of the camera so we all know what is going on (that’s pretty good, actually – no “loaded shoe” like Iron Sheik, but you see him load it up while the ref is distracted). Headbutt and no-one oversells like Goulet (except hero to millions Iron Mike Sharpe). I like Goulet’s thinking as he stomps on the bare feet of Afa. Goulet’s claw on the head of Afa does nothing. Then, at about 4 and a half minutes, a Samoan drop finishes for Afa. Meh match.
Finkel runs down the next Madison Square Garden card (August 1984)… and it sounds quite awesome, actually. Including Pat Patterson against Ken Patera, Santana v Valentine, Ivan Putski v Jesse Ventura, the Wild Samoans challenge for the tag team titles with Lou Albano the guest referee, and Roddy Piper faces Superfly Jimmy Snuka! Wow! Wonder if that show’s out there somewhere.
Match 11: 20 man battle royal – Sika, Jose Luis Rivera, Butcher Vachon, Antonio Inoki, Tony Garea, Chief Jay Strongbow, Afa, Steve Lombardi, Dick Murdoch, Bob Orton, Adrian Adonis, Rene Goulet, Ron Shaw, Charlie Fulton, Terry Daniels, The Iron Sheik, Tito Santana, Paul Orndorff, Sgt Slaughter, and Samu.
Goulet’s still selling his head injury from his match. As usual with these things, a mess to start. Lombardi first out at a minute. Thanks for coming, Mr Brawler! Orndorff next. Strongbow, Sheik, Vachon and now it’s five minutes gone. Dull battle royal. Adonis next, but he doesn’t want to go. Apparently he’s still in it now. Fulton gone. Still dull. Gorilla’s getting confused on commentary. Adonis, Murdoch, Slaughter at same time, and we’re ten minutes in. Afa gone. Santana, then Sika, then Rivera, then Daniels all one after the other. Samu eliminates himself. 5 left. Orton gone. Inoki and the jobbers left. Who’s going to win, I wonder? Garea next out. Shaw out. Goulet last out and Inoki wins after almost quarter of an hour. Well, the crowd went home happy.
And there you have it. Where it all began. The first attempt at crossing into a national TV audience. And how did it do? Well, I’ve read it was either the highest rated or second highest rated programme ever shown on MTV according to the Nielsen surveys, so it worked.
And from this humble beginning, we now have the juggernaut that is the WWE Network.
Tags: Hogan, Inoki, Lauper, Moolah, MTV, old school, paul orndorff, Richter, WWE, WWF