What a sad weekend for fans of 1980s WWF wrestling, as we mourn both the “Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff and George “The Animal” Steele, both of whom died after lengthy illnesses.
These guys played strong heel characters in the WWF in the early ’80s. Koloff went on to feud with the Road Warriors in the NWA in the mid-1980s, while Steele turned babyface and had a long TV feud with Randy “Macho Man” Savage over the affections of Miss Elizabeth.Embed from Getty Images
George "The Animal" Steele
Steele, whose real name was Jim Myers, was 79 when he died on Feb. 16, 2017, while Koloff’s birth monicker was Oreal Perras and he was 74 at his death on Feb. 18, 2017.
Both wrestlers were outright mean during the 1970s for the WWWF. Steele actually did menacing Continue reading
A few months back, I took road trip out from Boston along Interstate 90 to visit the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame during its last weekend at its location in Amsterdam, NY. In 2016, the hall will reopen in Wichita Falls, TX.
I don’t know much about Wichita Falls, but I have visited Amsterdam a couple of times, and it’s a depressing old city that used to be a center for carpet factories. Now, the downtown where the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame was resembled a ghost town on a Saturday afternoon, with only some restaurants and a used clothing store open.
Hopefully Wichita Falls brings a better vibe to the hall of fame.
Inside, the hall was a two-story journey through wrestling history, with tons of framed posters, ring robes, and arena programs.
I have to shake my head when the WWE tries so goddamn hard to manufacture an ethnic superstar. Alberto Del Rio’s recent return has as much to do with his Mexican heritage as it does his alleged star power.
I’ve learned through hindsight that one of the key differences between current WWE head Vince McMahon and his late father, Vince McMahon, Sr., is that the latter understood that ethnic heroes like Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales, Argentina Rocca, and Victor Rivera came from grass-roots support. In other words, the fans wanted to love these guys.
Vince Sr. didn’t decide one day that the WWWF needed a Latin superstar and started to push around Morales. Instead, the fans reacted to Pedro, and the build followed. It worked for 12 years for Morales, who was WWWF Heavyweight Champion and later among the biggest names who established the new Intercontinental Title.
I remember when Vince Jr. did the house show promos for his dad’s TV, Morales would go off on his opponent in Spanish, which must have thrilled folks in the area who spoke that language because it let them connect with Morales on a personal level (check out 2:00 into the clip below).
Does anyone ask Del Rio to speak a few words outside of English? Nope. But that might Continue reading
Man, it still feels so weird to think Rowdy Roddy Piper is dead. So many of the great times I had with WWF pro wrestling growing up centered on angles and matches with Piper. He was so entertaining at his peak.
Piper has some interesting history in the old Boston Garden. For those who don’t know, the Garden was an arena built in 1928 that was torn down 60 years later to make way for the stadium now known as the TD Garden. By the time I was going to WWF shows at the old Garden in the 1980s, it was run-down place with old, rickety seats that were way too small and the occasional rat scampering along the walls upstairs. It also had an overhanging balcony that gave you a great view for hockey, basketball, or wrestling — thus the name of my blog.
I first saw Piper live sitting in that balcony, taking on Bruno Sammartino in their first match in Boston following a famous Piper’s Pit at Madison Square Garden during which Piper called Sammartino a “wop.” Piper’s feud with Bruno is well remembered in Boston, and in their initial quick meeting, Piper was DQ’d.
After a tag team rematch in January 1986 that included “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff and Cowboy Bob Orton, Piper and Sammartino clashed in a steel cage match that is still talked about today here in Boston. Piper was at his bad-guy best in this bout, even taping posters of the Chicago Bears onto the cage to razz Boston fans who had seen the Patriots go down to the Bears in that year’s Super Bowl.
Sammartino beat a bloody Piper in the match, which drew on of the largest crowds I can ever recall at the old Garden: 16,180. It was the same night that Continue reading
In my prior post, I looked at the seeds planted in 1984 that began the push towards the original WrestleMania, as well as the build-up for the main event. Now let’s remember the actual card as we approach March 31, 2015, which will be 30 years after the first Mania.
The show took place at Madison Square Garden, beginning (ahem) at the ripe time of 1 p.m. Yes, you’d be home for dinner after the first WrestleMania. Here’s a rundown of the preliminary matches on the card:
- In a surprise that I forgot about until I recently rewatched the event on the WWE Network, Mean Gene Okerlund sung the National Anthem. That’s quite a gap between Okerlund and Aretha Franklin two years later.
- Tito Santana defeated the Executioner – These days, it seems so odd that a WrestleMania opened with a series of jobber matches, but times have changed. The funny part about this match is that the Executioner was actually the late Playboy Buddy Rose under a hood. The mystery of this strange masked man was explained in Rose’s obit in the Wrestling Observer: Apparently Rose was set to come back to the WWF to feud with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat with Bobby Heenan as his manager, so the WWF didn’t want Rose losing as himself at WrestleMania. Unfortunately for Rose, shortly before he was to shoot an angle with Steamboat after Mania, officials found him passed out in a dressing room, and he got canned.
As a wrestling fan, it’s been sad to hear about the closing of yet another major arena that played such a big part of the sport’s history in the 1980s.
The New Jersey building currently called the Izod Center, but known by many as the Meadowlands, will close at the end of the March after losing its major tenants to competing, more modern arenas in the New York City area. The WWE had planned to hold this year’s SummerSlam at the Meadowlands, but now is on the search for another arena.Embed from Getty Images
For old-school WWF fans, the arena originally made its mark as the site at which Bruno Sammartino originally retired as a full-timer on October 4, 1981, defeating George “The Animal” Steele.
The high point in the ’80s likely came with Continue reading
Yes, you could argue about the historical veracity of the WWE’s Hall of Fame. No Lou Thesz. No Jim Londos. No Ed “Strangler” Lewis.
But Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Vince McMahon, Sr.’s driver, James Dudley, have gotten the nod.
Those arguments aside, within the WWE’s own history book, until recently no names were bigger omissions in the hall than Bruno Sammartino and Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Sammartino finally got his due in 2013 after Triple H personally interceded to break the deadlock between Bruno and Vince McMahon, Jr.
And now, nearly four years after his death, the WWE will induct Savage.
Sammartino long resisted overtures into the Hall of Fame, and Savage also indicated he was against going in unless Continue reading