WWWF/WWF #13 Page #2
But squash matches were very different at this time. The jobber’s were very recognizable, and often had personalities of their own, unlike their late 80s early 90s counterparts. In many they were the “real” stars of the shows. There was the good guy Thomas Marin, a sailor Chuck “Popeye” Richards, Japanese martial artist Lee “Cat” Wong, Vincente “Bull” Pometti, “Maniac” Mike Conrad, Frank “Spaceman” Hickey, and Manny Soto. But don’t look for Bruno Sammartino on any of these old television shows. The belief back then was that putting your top star on TV would dilute his appeal with overexposure. In other words, who would want to see Bruno perform in person at the arenas when you could see him wrestle every week on TV? (Obviously, this philosophy has changed, yet perhaps it is why Bruno was on top for over 15 years, while Steve Austin and The Rock’s stars are already starting to fade.)
With four squashes featured every week in a large arena like The Spectrum in Philadelphia, fans would obviously begin withering down and attendance suffered. You can only take so much of the same guys getting beat every week. Finally, they moved their TV shows to a suburb of Philadelphia, Allentown, PA in the late 1970s (somewhere around the Backlund era). This was a small, quaint arena, not unlike the now famous bingo hall where ECW became famous. It was obvious there were no fans on the same side as the camera, and I believe the total capacity was something like 300 fans, which was still more than could fit on those tiny bleachers at TBS studios where Georgia Championship Wrestling aired. Again the WWF had recognizable jobbers, now in the likes of Chuck Tanner, Puerto Rican Tony Colon, Isael Matia, Italian Tony Russo, Charlie Brown, the perennial underdog Frankie Williams, Sonny King, and my all time favorite “The Duke of Drochester” Pete Dorhety. These guys would lose every week, but could still offer some kind of a challenge to their opponents.
Eventually, attendance began waning again because of the same old story of too many squashes. So the show began occasionally moving to other small arenas like the Mid-Hidson Arena in Poughkeepsie, NY and the Civic Center in Hamburg, NY. Also during this time, Vince McMahon, Jr. gained a lot of control over the business, and he came up with a plan that would enable his father’s business to go national. He decided to tape the shows and deliver them to the local TV stations to air in succeeding weeks. Here Vincent K. McMahon practically invented what today we call “syndicated television.” When McMahon, Jr. took over the entire company, this is how he had his show aired all over the country, instead of just in local markets, since most promotions were still using live television for their shows. He would market his shows to other stations around the country in other territories to help expand his product. The drawback was that this also made the TV tapings long and full of lower caliber matches, since they still didn’t want to overexpose the product with main event caliber matches.
O, Canada! When the WWF started to expand in 1984, one of the first places they went was north of the border to Canada. TV tapings were moved to the London Gardens in London, Ontario, Canada. This was a larger arena than the one in Allentown, and it had a look that was eventually stolen from WCW. The ring had alternating black and yellow turnbuckles and ropes. The ropes were a strong cable, instead of being loose like they always were in the past. To ensure they gave the fans something to see early on, the WWF decided to have a title change at one of the earliest tapings. Therefore, they had Greg “The Hammer” Valentine upset Tito Santana for the Inter-Continental Title right there in the London Gardens. Of course, with a new arena, they also had to use local jobbers. Here they began using Nick DiCarlo, Native Americans Sonny War Cloud and Steve Gaterwolf, Ron and Don Hutchinson, a former mid-carder from all over the country named Nelson Royal, and Johnny K-9 (who later became Bruiser Bedlam in Smokey Mountain).
As usual, the fans became bored with five
hour TV tapings filled with mostly squash matches and TV shows suffered
with obviously empty arenas they tried to make look full.
McMahon decided the only way this would work is by taking the
show on the road. However,
this killed the recognizable jobbers because who would want to fly
around guys to lose every week? Instead
he did what he always did, and used local talent in whatever city he was
in that week. In many ways
I miss the likes of guys like Pete Dorhety.
Occasionally, some are used at local house shows to help fill out
a card, and just a few years ago Dorhety was used near his hometown of
Boston, MA. To everyone’s
surprise, Dorhety was remembered by many of the fans who gave him a
standing ovation. It was
well deserved for one of the “real” stars of WWWF and WWF
Since we always see personal accounts of what it was like to attend a real live Madison Square Garden show or other major arena show, I thought it would be interesting to offer my personal account of some of the first shows I ever attended, spot shows in Erie, PA.
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