As with any piece of writing, it is always the first words that are the hardest – setting the correct tone, grabbing the reader’s attention, thinking of witty pun or two for the laughs. Even the title is always a bit of a struggle, but here we are for the first in (hopefully) a long line of The Wrestling Classic, bought to you by myself, Liam Byrne. The fact that I chose to name my column after a poorly received WWF PPV Card from 1985 in itself is a worry, but my column will strive to be like the Junkyard Dog, emphatically winning the tournament (…by countout) rather than like Nikolai Volkoff, squashed in nine seconds and sent back to Russia.
First column, first opportunity to share my wrestling credentials and history. I’d like to be the man who could pinpoint exactly when my first childhood wrestling experience was, as some people can, but as early as I can remember, wrestling was just a part of my life. The TV shows, the videos, the action figures, the computer games – there was never a point in my life where wrestling was not a big deal. One of my earliest memories was a show on Eurosport (a UK/European sports channel) called World Superstars of Wrestling, which was just dubbed New Japan tapes. Thus, my first real wrestling heroes were Jushin Liger, Shinya Hashimoto and Tony Halme, entranced as I was by his lack of mobility and general wrestling skills.
WWF was also my go to promotion, the promotion that I have always had the largest affinity for. However, growing up in the Attitude Era of wrestling, I had opportunities to enjoy WCW and ECW at times, whilst also broadening my range to include UK Indy wrestling and other Japanese wrestling that was available online. At University, US Indy wrestling such as ROH and Chikara also got some time (and money) spent on them, as good a way as any to spend my student loan, a debt that is still crippling my finances as we speak; worthwhile to see the rise of some of the great stars of today as they ply their trade in WWE.
However, my interest in wrestling began to wane, as it does for many, as I got older. Opportunities to invest my time in other pursuits that seemed more appropriate to a man of my age and arguable academic nature meant that wrestling got pushed to the back. Sure, I’d still read results, but the time needed to devote five hours of TV watching (more on a PPV week) just to keep up to date with the WWE just wasn’t there. It looked like my love for wrestling was dying out, buried under the general weight of living and growing up.
God bless the IWC for rejuvenating my interest. The 80s Project, a territories DVD creation project on the Death Valley Driver Forum website turned my head towards vintage and classic wrestling, encapsulating not only the US, but Japan and Mexico. Here were finite feuds and storyline, unencumbered by some of the more idiotic reasons given for two men to want to settle their scores within a ring. Here was a wealth of new ‘stars’, men who never quite made the cut when WWF decided to take over the US wrestling world – guys who shone in the small towns dotted around the Memphis and Texas circuit, but didn’t have that star quality that McMahon envisioned as the future of wrestling. Here was an unadulterated view of wrestling history.
This is what I hope to offer in The Wrestling Classic. I aim to hark back to the halcyon days of the 1980s wrestling scene, covering some of the biggest matches, stars and territories, covering a multitude of promotions and even countries. What stands up to the scrutiny of the modern audience? What made these matches and feuds ones that live long in the memory? Who are some of the forgotten men of wrestling as the landscape changed and the wrestling world shrunk and narrowed whilst simultaneously exploding across the screens of people around the world?
The focus of my writing will chronologically follow a selection by Jeff Bowdren of the best matches of 1980s that has appeared recently in a number of different places – as a minimum, at least. With such a rich tapestry of content available online, a collection that is growing every day, there will also be opportunities for tangential columns which should allow me to trumpet the stars, matches and feuds that may just have slipped off of the radar.
Pat Patterson vs Sergeant Slaughter (05/01/1981)
One of the things that excites me most about this project is the ability to rediscover old matches that I might have already seen in my own time, but to learn more about the surrounding feuds, wrestlers and promotions around that time. A perfect example is the match in question for today’s column; Pat Patterson vs Sergeant Slaughter in an Alley Fight from 1981. I’ve seen it before, know that it is a worthwhile way for any wrestling fan to spend twenty minutes of their time, but this is the first chance I’ve really had to look at the feud leading up to the big match.
Pat Patterson had first entered a WWF ring in 1979 as a heel, wrestling under the tutelage of The Grand Wizard. A WWF North American Championship title reign evolved into the apocryphal (at least in WWE history) Intercontinental Title Tournament in Rio De Janeiro, leaving Patterson high up the card as the guy who held the second belt in the company at the time. Even with the support of the Grand Wizard, he was unable to defeat Bob Backlund when it mattered most, when the WWF World Title was on the line. Following an attempt to have his contract sold to Captain Lou Albano, Patterson turned face and would spend the majority of his time in 1980 feuding with Albano and his charges, the Wild Samoans.
In similar fashion, Sergeant Slaughter’s early days in the WWF saw him side with The Grand Wizard and battle often with champions across the card; from Backlund to the now-IC Champion Pedro Morales and even a couple of matches against the WWF Tag Team Champions (Rick Martel and Tony Garea). He was always competitive, with many of the matches ending in Double DQs, Count-outs or draws. Slaughter even found time to have a couple of matches against Patterson, often with his hand held high in victory in the end.
The Pat Patterson vs Sergeant Slaughter match was the culmination of a feud that began in the late months of 1980, all centring around one move; the Cobra Clutch. Slaughter has put up $5000 of his own money to any man who was able to break the hold. Patterson, now pulling double duty as an announcer, voiced his disapproval of Slaughter, querying that he did the challenge on a man who was beaten down. The following week, a fresh jobber was unable to break the hold, leading to Slaughter offering out Patterson to the tune of $10,000.
You can hear the utter disgust that the crowd feels for the bully that Slaughter is, almost to the point where it is too difficult to hear him over the venom of the crowd. It is no surprise when the calm and considerate Patterson feels he has no option but to get involved and try and break the dreaded manoeuvre.
After Black Demon walks before the Clutch challenge can even begin, Slaughter slaps Patterson across the face and the challenge is on! The challenge angle is almost as great as the match – we’d heard that Patterson had been studying the move and he pushes off the top turnbuckle to land on Slaughter; flips him over his back; runs Slaughter face first into the top turnbuckle – yet still Slaughter holds on. Just as it appears Patterson might break the hold, Slaughter knees him in the stomach and attacks him with a wooden chair, busting him wide open.
(As an aside, Slaughter actually feuded with Andre the Giant between the time the angle took place and the Alley Fight match – often losing matches by Countout).
Violence begat violence as the matches the followed between the two often saw DQ finishes. Referees in particular seemed to be the issue for both men, often being seen to be surplus to requirements in rendering a decision (Indeed, if you have the WWE Network, you can see a previous match in the feud where the referee is dealt with by both men, leaving them to continue brawling around the ringside). With no clean finishes and referees deemed an unnecessary addition, the Alley Fight match was signed – a fight with no rules and no referee, a chance for Patterson to finally get revenge for the embarrassment that Slaughter had caused him throughout the previous months. Not surprisingly, this feud ending brawl was to take place at Madison Square Garden, the home of the WWF.
As if the crowd were in any doubt who they should get behind, Pat Patterson even chose to rock an ‘I Heart NY’ t-shirt. The first punch of significance sets the tone for the fight, a careening shot from Patterson blasting Slaughter’s hat off of the top of his head. Unsurprisingly, the first few minutes of the match have Patterson destroy Slaughter, booting him several times with the cowboy boots and even taking off his belt to strangle the Sergeant – a cathartic release for both Patterson and the crowd. Only an eye rake, heel 101, allows Slaughter to take control.
Having watched the match for the first time in many years, what really stands out is how little Slaughter controls the match. He hits Patterson with some brass knuckles, throws him over the top rope…and nothing much else. But that is the point, I guess. This is the chance for the audience to vicariously get one over on the bully that is Slaughter, the man who has trumpeted long and loud about how much better he is than all the guys in the ring and the people in attendance.
The finishing stretch is visually impressive, a slingshot by Patterson sending Slaughter into the ring post, Slaughter’s forehead exploding and blood saturating his white top almost instantly. Several ring post shots, a cowboy boot blast to the face and repeated boot shots on the outside leaves the Grand Wizard no choice but to throw in the towel. Even then, Slaughter is still holding on, trying to fight back, strong booking to leave both wrestlers all the better for the finish to the match. You could argue that Patterson’s viciousness almost makes you feel sympathy for the Sarge…almost.
Would I recommend digging this out to have a look at? Definitely. The angle shows the power of a well run submission angle, which makes it a shame that these angles don’t play out any more (and when they do, they don’t really work). Don’t expect a five star classic with moves, moves, moves, but do expect a well told story with an exceptionally satisfying pay-off.
Next time on The Wrestling Classic, we will be heading off to Memphis for a double header as we look at the role of important role of condiments in the world of wrestling – not to be missed!