WWWF/WWF #15 Page #2

They got their wish and were granted another tag title shot a short time later, and this time the Strongbows finally unseated the devious duo of the gold.  Their title reign would be short lived, as The Samoans would make their return and defeat the pseudo-Native Americans for the titles bringing the belts back to Capt. Lou once again. 

Bob Backlund, being the open champion that he was, took on numerous opponents at this time, but no one gave him as tough a challenge as the heel, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka.  Snuka was a much beloved personality in the wrestling game making a splash in such territories as Pacific Northwest, Georgia and Mid Atlantic until finally turning heel to team with Ray “The Crippler” Stevens.  Managed by original “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, the tandem won the NWA World Tag Team Titles twice before taking the team to the WWF.  Rogers, who preceded Stevens and Snuka’s jump to the WWF, turned babyface to start an interview segment called Roger’s Corner.  But Snuka and Stevens remained heels and were managed by Capt. Lou Albano.  Albano used the men as his one-two punch that would surely win the WWF Title from Backlund.  But Backlund turned away the challenges of Stevens, only have even more trouble with Snuka. They wrestled three times in the Garden, the third match inside a steel cage match.  Snuka had Backlund down, then climbed to the top of the cage to finish him off and did his “Superfly” leap, only Backlund moved out of the way at the last second, leading Backlund to victory. 

Nobody ever saw such a feat in wrestling up to that point, and nobody could boo Snuka after giving his all with such a move.  He would have to be turned face.  So on camera, Albano blamed Snuka for the loss and called him nothing but a “jungle boy.”  According to the angle, Albano kept all the money from Snuka’s matches, and would only pay him after defeating Backlund for the title.  This led to Snuka confronting Albano on Roger’s Corner (Snuka had been out for some time with “broken ribs” from the cage leap).  However, Crippler attacked Snuka and piledrove him on the concrete floor leaving him unconscious in a puddle of blood. 

Obviously Snuka left the tutelage of Albano, when who would come to his aid but his former manager Buddy Rogers.  Snuka defeated the aging and pudgy Stevens (who was still one of the best workers in the business), and then set his sights on the Inter-Continental Champion, and another Albano protégé, Magnificent Don Muroco.  Those two had some incredible matches together.  In one climactic battle in a steel cage in MSG, Snuka slammed Muroco so hard into the cage door, it opened and Muroco fell out, keeping his title intact.  But Snuka, still enraged, threw Muroco back into the cage, and came off the top of the 15-foot high structure to crush Muroco with his famous dive.  In other battles between the two, Snuka was scheduled to team up with the WWF’s first Champion Rogers to meet Albano and Muroco in a tag match.  I’m not sure, but I think Arnold Skaaland wound up taking Rogers’ place in the actual match. 

Speaking of Muroco, his title reign began at the start of 1983, when he defeated Pedro Morales, ending their year and a half long plus feud.  As a former World Champion, Pedro Morales was a shoe-in for the Inter-Continental Title.  He defeated Muroco for the belt at the close of 1981 in New York’s Madison Square Garden.  From there, Muroco moved around from territory to territory before returning to win back his gold.  In ’83 his other strongest challenger was “Sensational” Rocky Johnson, who made the claim of being a former sparring partner of Muhammad Ali (no idea how true that is). 

Of the newcomers to enter the promotion in 1982 and 1983, one that stands out the most is “Playboy” Buddy Rose.  He would come to the ring surrounded by three women valets.  They would brush his hair and preen him before every match.  Rose was already a star out of Roy Shire’s San Francisco and Don Owen’s Pacific Northwest territories.  He was supposed to be a younger replacement the aging “Crippler” in those areas.  Rose would go as far as to also challenge Backlund for the WWF Title.  Unfortunately for wrestling’s “Playboy,” his weight would get out of hand and he would never realize his full potential. 

Other challengers to come after Backlund’s title were two former Champions “Superstar” Billy Graham and Ivan Koloff.  These would be both men’s last chances to regain the gold.  “Superstar,” being the flamboyant man that he is, came in and immediately defeated S.D. Jones to demand the shot.  I think he was still managed by Grand Wizard.  “Classy” Freddie Blassie, who was still looking for his first protégé to win the “big one” at this time, managed Koloff.  Another Blassie protégé to challenge for the gold was a monster of a man, Big John Stud.  In one of Stud’s matches against Backlund, he got the champ up for his dreaded backbreaker submission, but Backlund bounced his feet off the top rope to flip in front of Stud and curl him for a small package for the pin.

Still another Blassie protégé to challenge for the big belt was George “The Animal” Steel.  Backlund got himself disqualified in one bout against the Animal in the old “face takes the foreign object to extract some revenge, but gets caught by the referee” routine.  In their return bout, Backlund rolled up the Animal in an MSG record setting 39 seconds.  By the way, Backlund switched his finishing maneuver around this time from the atomic drop to the roll-up with a bridge.  I think the reason is because by ’82 everyone and their mother were using the atomic drop as an ordinary set-up move (sort of the same reason why Harley Race had to switch his finisher from the suplex to the piledriver around the same time).  Backlund finished off his title reign using the cross-faced chicken-wing as his submission hold closer.  One other Backlund match that I should mention is that he wrestled a unification match with the one and only Ric Flair.  However, it ended in the usual no contest. 

One more angle that should be mentioned was the Blackjack Mulligan “big red X” angle.  Supposedly what happened was Mulligan was wrestling a usual jobber on WWF TV, when the kid accidentally (legitimately an accident) cut himself open on the ring post, and was gushing blood.  He called for the match to go to the end because he was hurt, so Mulligan did just that and applied his usual claw hold, as the blood poured.  However, when the television stations saw this, they said they couldn’t air it like it was so the WWF put a giant X on the screen during the scene with blood.  As it turned out, so many people called and wrote in, the WWF bookers knew they were onto something here and ordered Mulligan’s opponents to blade just before the claw is applied in all his matches to add to the drama.  It drew so well that Mulligan was placed in a feud with the company’s biggest draw, Andre the Giant. 

On a sad note, 1982 was met with the largest death the company could ever know, as company owner, Vincent J. McMahon passed on in mid year to natural causes.  They didn’t make a big deal out of the death on TV, but simply showed a picture of McMahon, Sr. on the screen with the dates of his birth and death at the opening of the show.  I remember seeing that at the opening of the episode it aired and thinking the company might fold even then since I knew already (through wrestling magazines) that he was the head of the show. 


I’ll profile the career of the man who says Champion in my eyes, “All American” Bob Backlund.

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