The day Greg Valentine sort of won the WWF Title from Bob Backlund

A comment on my post about WWF referees from the 1980s brought up a moment that I hadn’t thought about in a long time: The day that Greg “The Hammer” Valentine seemed to become the WWF Heavyweight Champion at Madison Square Garden in October 1981.

Valentine was battling champ Bob Backlund. During an airplane spin, the referee got knocked down by Backlund’s leg, and the wrestlers also tumbled to the mat. Backlund covered Valentine and the groggy ref counted a pinfall, but Valentine was the first guy to stand up, so the ref raised his hand and awarded him the belt.

This angle was exclusive to New York City and MSG, as I don’t ever recall hearing this title change announced on Saturday morning Championship Wrestling here in Boston. I only found out about it through the Bill Apter magazines, which were a lifeline for those of us who wanted to learn what was going on in pro wrestling across the country.

Alas, Howard Finkel announced after the bout that WWF officials, in response to the unusual circumstances of the match’s finish, had held up the title. Backlund and Valentine fought in a rematch the next month at MSG, and Backlund won.

You won’t see this incident reflected in the WWE’s official title history (then again, the WWE also does not acknowledge Antonio Inoki’s brief run as WWF champ in 1979).

It would impossible to do a local house angle like this today with the proliferation of wrestling websites and social media. But it was a cool idea in 1981, and a pretty clever way to build the next house show up. And it worked, too. According to The History of WWE website, the October show drew 18,120, while the rematch brought in an impressive 21,104.

Those attendance figures are for MSG cards that were about five weeks apart. WWF house show business was clearly hot in 1981.


  1. Joe Lowry

    I was doing a little research courtesy of the website – they have the monthly/yearly arena results listed. As I cross reference the cards between New York’s Madison Square Garden and The Boston Garden from Sept/Nov 1981 – it clearly shows two different venues in regards to Bob Backlund and his WWF Title reign. The New York venues have Backlund and Valentine headlining the cards and of course the infamous match listed above. While Boston was exclusive to Backlund and his title defenses against Don Muraco – leading all the way up to their cage match in December 1981. So while Backlund and Valentine battled in NYC one week, the next week it was Muraco and Backlund were wrestling to 60 minute time limits in Boston. I find it interesting because, during All Star wrestling tv shows neither one of these men were embroiled in any “on air” fueds.

  2. modew's manager

    Great angle I had never heard about. Really well-timed work by both. That they both wore black tights made it work.

  3. Joe Lowry

    Where can I find the website for all the old WWF Boston Garden Wrestling Programs? Like the one you have on top of this page? I have visited and its like finding a needle in a haystack. Can you help me?
    Thanks, Joe Lowry

    • bostongardenbalcony

      It’s a good question that I don’t have an answer for. I happened to have saved just a couple of my first Boston Garden programs, including the 1981 edition that I took the blog banner photo for. WrestlePrints owns the copyright for those old publications, but I don’t think they sell them any more.

  4. Joe Lowry

    To this day, I am not sure as to why this storyline stayed within the confines of the WWF front offices as well as NYC Madison Square Garden. I found out about this match when I picked up my February 1982 issue of Inside Wrestling magazine. The match was front page material. What really caught my eye was the picture of Greg Valentine with WWF Title around his waist. The headline read “WWF IN CHAOS, BACKLUND STRIPPED OF THE TITLE!” Another caption next to the picture of Valentine reads “WHY GREG VALENTINE IS THE RIGHTFUL WWF CHAMPION.” I remember vividly scratching my head as to how this could have possibly happened. I just saw both these wrestlers on TV ad not one word was mentioned about this debacle. Obviously social media outlets were not established back then. The cable TV boom was just beginning and pro wrestling magazines were the only media outlets available to us. The only problem with the magazines were that most articles and ratings were a few weeks behind. Back then it did not matter.

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