Some Quick Background
I started watching the WWF on WOR-9 in Brooklyn, New York in 1984 and went to Madison Square Garden on April 22, 1985. My first WWF memory was Hulk Hogan and George Steele fighting on TV. My mother had already told me stories of Bruno Sammartino, Superstar Billy Graham, Bob Backlund (who she said was boring), and Chief Jay Strongbow. My grandfather told me stories about Lou Thesz and Jim Londos. I devoured quickly the monthly wrestling magazines, hardcover books, action figures, Apple computer games, and video tapes. I had a thirst to know about all the wrestlers and all the wrestling leagues, past and present.
Anyway I watched recently WWF syndicated TV and house shows from January 1984 to June 1984. (I had previously started watching December 1983 and stopped at March 1984 for the first time a few years ago.) Here are my observations, thoughts, and opinions about the in-ring wrestling and presentation (not backstage politics or Vince McMahon’s war against the other territories).
WWF in 1984
1984 was not a full reboot- it was more of a soft reboot, or using Crisis on Infinite Earths jargon: it was like Earth-Sigma. Although it was the beginning of a new era in the WWF (Hulkamania) and a great jumping on point for new fans (then, and now- if only you can get a hold of the 1984 videos online and put them in chronological order, like I have), there were still remnants of not only the previous reality (Bob Backlund) but also references to other territories and the WWWF’s past. This was a bit weird to me watching it this time because by the time WWF was at its peak a few years later (1987), its history had been scrubbed and revised. It was like a fiat had been ordered that if anyone mentioned the other leagues or wrestlers no longer with the WWF- or even a previous gimmick- that person would be punished. Yet in 1984, David Von Erich’s death got the ring bell treatment.
1984 begins with The Iron Sheik as the WWF World Champion, as he had defeated Bob Backlund in December 1983 at MSG after his manager Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel. In many ways, that was the only major storyline in 1984 WWF. Amazingly there is a distantly related angle of Eddie Gilbert being injured by the Masked Superstar in 1983, and Bob Backlund had feuded with Masked Superstar over this before he lost to The Iron Sheik (both heels injured his neck). The announcers would mention young Gilbert’s comeback in his 1984 matches, but he was stuck as an opening act and jobber to the stars. Magnificent Muraco is the Intercontinental Champion who somehow had survived Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka in 1983 and The Soul Patrol (Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson) are Tag Team Champions, but appear in six-man matches.
Bob Backlund actually lasted until late summer in the WWF in 1984. He passed the torch to Hulk Hogan on TV in a bout with the Wild Samoans to reintroduce Hulk Hogan back to the WWF. Backlund even said Hulk mended his evil ways, one of, if not the only time, Hulk’s WWWF rulebreaking career was ever mentioned. Although Backlund wrestled on TV for a while, wrestled at WWF live events, had some interviews, and even a video segment with his family and amateur wrestling, he was in limbo. The McMahon family had never believed in face vs face matches, so there was no chance he would face Hulk Hogan unless Backlund had turned, something which would have been too out of place and time (like if Bruno Sammartino had done it.) To add more insult to injury, Backlund’s 1984 WWF matches were not exciting without the belt on the line.
Over the years, I have watched most of Backlund’s existing title matches on Youtube and Dailymotion, and have been impressed. And yes, he was over with the fans, probably until he began to wear his high school wrestling singlet outfit. But considering how the fans instantly embraced Hulk Hogan and didn’t much care about what Backlund was doing, the proof is in the pudding that it was time for a change. Let this take nothing away from his title reign or ability, because Backlund was the best pure wrestler the WWWF had. It would have been a step down for Backlund to get the Intercontinental championship. Storyline-wise, he never even got revenge on The Iron Sheik on TV or Madison Square Garden. Perhaps Backlund mentoring Eddie Gilbert could have been a good angle (with Eddie turning heel since that was his true character after he left the WWF.) Yet even associating with the jobber Gilbert would have been too much of a step down for Backlund. In other words, he had to leave because there was nothing for him.
WWF fans knew exactly who Hulk Hogan was, based on his role as Thunderlips in Rocky III and his AWA run, where Hulkamania had already been running wild. This pre-Rock N Wrestling fanbase did not flinch when “new” wrestlers either debuted or returned to the WWF after an absence, such as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff, “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Dr. D. David Schultz, or even Buzz Sawyer. They just appeared on TV without any hype or WWF’s later famous vignettes. For as much as people like to say that the WWE machine is known to get behind and market someone to the top, in many ways, these men got themselves over on TV and house shows. 1984 WWF was still clearly a territory, where the wrestlers had pre-existing characters, were unscripted, and brought their talents to the show.
Hulk Hogan’s first six months of 1984 saw him facing random opponents after he initially dispatched The Iron Sheik. Actually, watching all the shows in context, they were not that random. What do Paul Orndorff, Dr. D. David Schultz, and Big John Studd have in common? They were all managed by Roddy Piper early in 1984. Piper debuts not as a wrestler, but as a manager. At one brief point, he is a wrestler, manager, and host of Piper’s Pit. Eventually, the managing is forgotten, but his early promos indicated that he was the leader of a new generation of invading wrestlers who will dominate the scene. (That promo seemed like a pseudo- or early version of the nWo.) Anyway, the storyline seemed that Piper was sending these superior tough athletes to take the title away from Hulk Hogan. But after Piper’s brief managing tenure ended, Hogan was still scheduled to fight all of these guys on their own.
The other reason why I am somewhat hesitant to label Hogan’s opponents as “random” is that 1984 WWF was still a territory, and part of that style was that the champion ought to be a defending champion who takes on number one contenders or makes appearances on TV. If you remember Hulk Hogan just being in major feuds, that came later. Hogan’s other opponents included The Masked Superstar, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Afa, Sika, Tiger Chung Lee, Rene Goulet, and the Moondogs. He had rematches with The Iron Sheik, Dr. D, Big John Studd, Greg Valentine, and Paul Orndorff. It should be noted this is way before the famous Hogan vs Orndorff betrayal feud.
Bruno Sammartino said in a shoot that people don’t want to pay to see Hogan squash an opponent in 10 minutes the second time. So to setup the rematches, there was a DQ or countout finish, which is what WWWF had done traditionally. This could also be a reason why Hogan had various one-off opponents in 1984. It was a great idea to protect Roddy Piper from being destroyed by Hogan. Hogan’s fellow WWF stars also had “random” matches well- Sgt. Slaughter started the year fighting Ivan Putski, and even during The Sheik feud, he tangled with the likes of Dr. D. David Schultz and Paul Orndorff. Compare to the WWF 5 years later in 1989 and the same matches would happen from town to town with no variation, usually featuring Ted DiBiase vs whoever he was feuding with on TV.
As far as Hogan’s reputation as being a far inferior champion and worker compared to Ric Flair in 1984, there is now a minority of fans in a forum who take the opposite stance and claim Hulk was actually OK or even good. I can vouch that Hogan wasn’t that good although he did have above average matches with certain opponents. Jan-Jun 1984 Hogan was still working on his ring psychology,and schtick. He eventually perfected it after this, but in this timeframe, his match sequence is as follows: gives heavy offense to pop the fans, takes heavy offense for a short time, and then makes the superhuman comeback and ends it with the legdrop. The “finger Wag, shake off punches, point, finger Wag, block a right, punch, punch, punch, Irish whip, boot to the head, legdrop” sequence (which sometimes included a bodyslam, managerial interference, or using his opponents own finisher alternatives) was not here yet. In fact, many of his matches were anticlimactic.
For years, the so-called smart fans (smarks) had criticized Hogan for being so formulaic and predictable (the same Five Moves of Doom trope which John Cena was later attacked for). The sad part is that I have been conditioned so much to expect the Hulk formula that watching a 1984 match without it makes his matches come off as being ho-hum. In one very quick match he had vs Dr D. at MSG, the fans didn’t even pop at his legdrop because the buildup wasn’t there. He also sometimes Hulked Up early in the match, which obviously does not make too much sense. Not sure if it is related to Hulk’s match psychology, but Chief Jay Strongbow was still around doing his original superhuman War Dance shaking, but was jobbing.
Piper was the main heel and best on the microphone in 1984 WWF. Although The Iron Sheik was the workhorse and drew insane amounts of heat with his anti-American gimmick, the first six months all center around him. His Piper’s Pit segment (which was originally billed as a column in WWF’s magazine, took over the cringe-worthy and horrible Victory Corner) was truly innovative and controversial. Piper was offensive, sexist, racist, and a lot like Morton Downey, Jr. But Piper at this time was a comedic genius, similar to Andy Kaufman. His acting skills were fantastic. He really sold that gimmick hard and it worked. I could not even separate the real Roddy from his character until years later. He was head and shoulders above anything the WWF ever had. It was not just his content, it was also his unique voice, facial reactions, and outfit. On WWF TV Piper was concurrently feuding with Cindi Lauper, Jimmy Snuka, Rocky Johnson, and making threats to Hulk Hogan. Once you throw in Cindi Lauper into the mix, it had to spill over into the mainstream. The way the WWE tells its own history, Cindi Lauper is the catalyst that takes the WWF to national pop culture relevance. Yet watching the weekly shows, one has to wonder what Vince McMahon thought the payoff match was going to be. After all, Piper and Captain Lou Albano couldn’t fight Cindi Lauper. So Cindi used obscure female wrestler Wendi Richter as a proxy. Now, although I had mentioned WWF fans were smart about their wrestling history, women’s wrestling had always been seen as like midget wrestling for that 1980s WWF generation- a concession stand match. The women were never in storylines and just had boring bouts, and were only on a few shows. Wendi Richter had the distinct advantage of being prettier than her peers, if the awkward reactions of Vince McMahon and Lord Alfred Hayes ogling her on the Tuesday Night Titans couch is any indication of her looks. Wendi is still talked about today because of the Rock ‘N Wrestling Connection, but she left on bad terms later on and the women’s division died for a long time after that. She had revitalized nothing (not her fault). But at the time, Cindi Lauper just drafts her but I’m pretty sure Wendi matches did not draw extra fans to the arena. The real payoff was 1985 at Wrestlemania, but that is a long time from here. (Yes, I know the payoff was supposed to be MTV’s Brawl to End it All at MSG, which brought mainstream media attention.)
Tito Santana was the rising star and quickly won the Intercontinental title from Magnificent Muraco. When the announcers start saying you are lazy and not working out, it is a bad sign. When Vince McMahon says you have to start from the bottom up, you know you are in trouble. Well, that’s what happened to Muraco. Tito Santana worked so hard while Muraco just laid there in a headlock. Santana arguably was the best prospect in the WWF- he had much more movement in the ring than many other of the babyfaces, showed fiery Latino charisma, was probably good-looking, had stamina, and his submission moves-although boring- at least told a realistic story.
Just as important, Tito Santana was a good role model and acted wholesome and respectful to his family. Santana could wrestle “scientifically” but also kick it up a notch into brawling. His series with Greg Valentine was probably the best non-World title matches that the WWF had even seen in a while. His only flaw in my book was that many of his jobber matches tended to run too long and he would go to the armbar or headlock too much.
Speaking of total packages, Paul Orndorff was the man. He had the intensity, looks, wrestling skill, toughness, charisma, dominated opponents yet still sold, and arguably had the best finisher. He did stall a lot to start matches though, but he built tension and got the fans riled up in doing so. The mind-blowing thing about 1984 WWF is that watching it, you figured the top guys would be in the federation at least until the 1990s, but for most of them, they were gone or relegated to jobbing. Orndorff received title shots immediately against Hogan and Santana. Mr. Wonderful was kept strong although he was unable to take the titles away from them.
There were many “wild men”: George “The Animal” Steele, The Wild Samoans (three of them), “Bulldog” Buzz Sawyer, “Mad Dog” Vachon, and The Moondogs. The fans seemed sympathetic with Steele- who played a prehistoric ape-like man, which showed they must have had an emotional attachment to his personae and history, because his in-ring performance was horrific. The Samoans did their savage gimmick and they were portrayed as being dumb as well. Buzz Sawyer, managed by Lou Albano, seemed intense and violent and got good fan reactions. Maurice Vachon, although he was 55 years old and stood two inches shorter than Mean Gene, was the scariest in his MSG debut. He pushed the guard rails, threw chairs, and destroyed Steve Lombardi. Both Vachon and Sawyer looked legit crazy, while Steele and the Samoans were comedic characters. The Moondogs at this time were comic relief as well, although decent brawlers, they were the job squad.
“Mean” Gene Okerlund announced play-by-play on weekly TV, in addition to giving his backstage interviews. I never read much about his skills as a play-by-play or color commentator, but he did bring a great enthusiasm to the WWF and helped usher in a new era. He also worked with the AWA stars which were brought over, and always talked about having previous knowledge of them. Mean Gene really put over the product and seemed to wear many different hats. Whereas Pat Patterson was a color commentator next to Vince McMahon in 1983, Mean Gene really added professionalism to the programs. Gorilla Monsoon and Vince McMahon were, in my opinion, great voices for the WWF and if you grew up with them, you hold them in the same esteem as the pretentious southern fans of Gordon Solie and Lance Russell.
WWF’s 1984 Storylines
During the first six months, there were not many feuds. There was a backround theme that Hulk Hogan is the best WWF Champion ever. The main one was Sgt. Slaughter vs The Iron Sheik. The Sheik immediately went from losing to Hogan to turning Sgt. Slaughter into America’s Hero. Here’s the backstory- Sgt. Slaughter had been an evil Marine drill instructor and was a top heel in pro wrestling. After his manager, The Grand Wizard, passed away recently, Slaughter did not have much to do in the WWF and was shifting subtly as a tweener, as a few TV studio fans started to cheer him. One day, he and the Sheik bumped into each other (literally) outside the ring, and the fans realized that the Sarge may be bad, but he’s an American, darn it! The Sheik, along with his manager the Ayatollah Blassie were heat magnets. Slaughter cut many promos after that, got into brawls, pledged alliance to the flag with the fans, and was 100% USA. Their matches were legendary brawls, and although the Sheik’s loaded boots don’t hold up well today (they seem like comedy routines) they got huge pops from the fans. The Sarge and Sheik sold out Madison Square Garden and other arenas without Hulk Hogan on the card. Their matches were bloody, violent, and in the reality bubble of professional wrestling, the “war” between the United States of America and Iran was settled in June 1984 by Sgt. Slaughter. For those of you who do not think Sgt. Slaughter’s patriotism does not hold up and want to label it as jingoistic or nationalistic, well that debate was also settled on Tuesday, November 8, 2016- patriotism won.
What if Hulk Hogan did not go to the WWF? Who, then, would have been the face of the WWF’s expansion? The obvious choice is Sgt. Slaughter, he was totally over, even more so than Andre the Giany and Jimmy Snuka. He did American Made better than Hogan, and as face he was booked almost as invincible. He had the pulse of American pride on his side. He was Uncle Sam. His flaw was that he was 36 at the time and he looked 45. Hogan was 30. Shockingly, Paul Orndorff was 35 but looked 29. Santana was 31 and also acted younger. Piper was 30. So based on age, if you want 6-10 years out of a franchise player, perhaps Santana and Piper would have ran the WWF without Hogan. Snuka (41) and Andre the Giant (an old 38) were still popular but slowing down by 1984 sadly, although Andre miraculously set huge records vs. Hogan in 1987 and 1988. Vince McMahon himself was 38, so in many ways he was dealing with his employees were his peers, and he was “one of the boys”, something which changed as the years advanced.
Tag Team Scene
The tag team division was inferior to the other territories and not worth talking about. It could be summed up as just the North-South Connection: Adrian Adonis and Dick Murdoch. The Samoans were a fixture but were overexposed on TV in my opinion and although capable of having good brawls, worked the nerve holds too long. They were feuding with The Soul Patrol for a while but at this point never had a chance to regain the belts. They were in in various 6-man, tag, and singles bouts. The Invaders I am ashamed to say had good pops and showed some agility and speed in the ring. Piper and Schultz were being pushed early on as a tag team and scored some wins. Mr. Fuji and Tiger Chung Lee were the jobber tag team and generally boring, although Tiger was better in the ring. S.D. Jones was pretty much the third member of the Soul Patrol and actually was a better partner to Atlas and Johnson than each other, but his time (1982) had passed. Tony Garea and B. Brian Blair were the poor man’s Killer Bees- good skill but no gimmick, charisma, or size. The Moondogs were not frequent and had no push.
Most TV shows had squash matches only, but at least had stars appear in them. As the year went on, an occasional good match was televised, in addition to showing arena matches sometimes. The only angles were Sgt. Slaughter turning good vs the Sheik, Piper insulting guests (like Putski, Johnson, Snuka) and the Piper/Albano/Lauper feud. The tension between Captain Lou and the Samoans, which was leading to a Samoan face turn, played out slowly on TNT and MSG. For the most part, the WWF was “just” a wrestling league where wrestlers all challenged each other to win the gold, to see who was best, or to settle disagreements- what a concept.
Since a wrestler only really had a squash match, occasional 1-2 minute interview hyping a local area show, and then his performance at that said show in front of a live crowd, he relied on the announcers talking about him, being mentioned for a few seconds during a rudimentary WWF “news segment” by Vince, or getting booked on Piper’s Pit. However, once TNT went on cable on May 29, it gave them opportunities for extended interviews to discuss their background and demonstrate their personality. Granted, TNT looks cheesy, but this was really a major step to create a sports-entertainment medium. As a kid at the time, I thought it showed that the WWF had authority to have its own “Tonight Show”. The interviews were not scripted, so there are many embarrassing, cringe-worthy, and funny segments. But they accomplished their goals by letting the viewers feel closer to the WWF superstars by hearing them out.
The TV graphics on their various programs weren’t that much to write home about. They did not have real music videos yet, although Mid-Southern, World Class, and others were doing that by then. The TV taping studio matches looked just as small as the other territories. The promos where the wrestlers were interviewed by Mean Gene to hype house shows were still done with the wrestlers waiting around off camera and walk on when it is their turn, even if they are enemies. The major arenas, like MSG, Boston Garden, and the Spectrum at least look sold out. Piper’s Pit seemed to be a very cheap set, as it was exposed when Piper hit Jimmy Snuka with a coconut and it fell back. TNT to me is fine as a late night talk show. The camera work was pretty much standard for its time.
The fade in and out music was fantastic- they are now classic 1980s songs, and at the time they were the hottest, most popular tunes. That helped a lot. Hulk Hogan’s “Eye of the Tiger” really meshed well with his “Rocky” history. Sgt. Slaughter’s “Marine Hymn” was very effective as well. However, those were the only two WWF wrestlers to have themes during the first half of 1984.
The booking in the first half of 1984 seemed to vary based on the local arenas. The overall continuity did not feel that one person (VKM) is in charge. Gorilla Monsoon seemed to have his own ideas when he announced. Watching the Maple Leaf TV show alongside St. Louis TV and then on Capitol Center, Spectrum, and MSG house shows did not feel like I was watching a episodic continuing franchise. In the kayfabe era not everyone had the ability to watch all those shows live on national TV, but the myth of VKM being a sole mastermind genius who is in charge of every detail does not come across watching the first half of 1984 WWF. In fact, just watching everything seems to show the opposite. He may have brought the new wrestlers in, and chose who gets pushed and who jobs, but the local arena promoters, road agents, announcers, and even the wrestlers themselves seemed to have their own agendas.
TNT would show matches from around the horn but also ancient archived footage of their guests, like when Fred Blassie and Lou Thesz (!) were on. It is hard to imagine Vince a few years after this allowing such footage due to his control over history, and the fact that the footage rarely picked the highspot of the match and ran too long. The regular WWF syndicated shows still had jobber vs jobber matches, and the guys in them, like Jose Luis Rivera or Israel Matia never spoke to the fans to connect. Finally, the managers were having clients shuffled with no angles, and there are many weird footnotes in this time period (Studd managed by Mad Dog Managoff and Roddy Piper, and Muraco moving from Albano to the new manager Mr. Fuji for a couple of examples).
My First Half 1984 Awards
Best matches: Greg Valentine vs Tito Santana at MSG and even on the syndicated TV program. I’m pretty sure they were magic in 1984 all around the horn. The boot camp matches between Sgt. Slaughter vs The Iron Sheik were great hardcore brawls. Dick Murdoch and Adrian Adonis vs The Wild Samoans in a 2/3 falls match at MSG was amazing. Sgt. Slaughter vs Paul Orndorff at the Spectrum was an entertaining brawl and they had chemistry. If it was nowadays, they would have been in a TV feud and had multiple PPV matches. Tito Santana vs Paul Orndorff had a good series.
Best workers: Tito Santana, Paul Orndorff, Greg Valentine, Dick Murdoch, Adrian Adonis, B. Brian Blair, and Bob Orton Jr. Blair is probably the most underrated underdog here, as he replaced Eddie Gilbert as the opening JTTS (jobber to the stars), but had great moves, psychology. I guess Brian was too small at the time or too much of a vanilla Florida babyface for a singles push, but his work was more than solid.
Best entertainment performers: Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Sgt. Slaughter.
Not much in the ring: Andre the Giant, Jimmy Snuka, Magnificent Muraco, Tony Atlas, Rocky Johnson, Chief Jay Strongbow, Big John Studd, Ivan Putski, George Steele, and Jesse Ventura.
Best pops: Hulk Hogan, Sgt. Slaughter, Jimmy Snuka
Best heat: Iron Sheik, Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, Captain Lou, Fred Blassie, North-South Connection
The Masked Superstar was pushed early on as a serious threat, but was fed to Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan in resounding fashion.
Dr. D. David Schultz was part of Piper’s stable, acted tough, was a good brawler, scary on the mic, and had the look. However he was doing too many jobs by June and had no offense against Andre at MSG.
Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson had the looks and fan reaction to be a popular photogenic tag team for the national expansion, but they were booked more as a 6-man attraction with various partners to finish house shows instead of defending tag team champs. (Their lack of real push was due to personal issues, but I do not want to get into that stuff because it was not seen on TV.)
Sgt. Slaughter’s Cobra Corps never expanded to more than one member- Terry Daniels- and he was basically there to job so the Sarge did not. You’d think Sarge would have won the tag team belts or something.
Best wrestlers on the mic: Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, David Schultz, Sgt. Slaughter
Worst wrestlers on the mic: Andre the Giant, Jimmy Snuka, Bob Backlund, Ivan Putski, Tony Atlas, John Studd
Should have been on the mic more: Eddie Gilbert (had a good Piper’s Pit), Bob Orton, Jr., Moondogs
Boooooooring: Many wrestlers were boring due to their slow-paced WWWF style or because they just absorbed too many losses to be taken seriously. It was hard to get through the following workers’ matches- Mr. Fuji, Jose Luis Rivera, Steve Lombardi, Charlie Fulton, Samu, Tonga Kid, Terry Daniels, and Salvatore Bellomo. 1984 Backlund was disappointing without the World title, so even his matches with Greg Valentine and The Masked Superstar were slow. Although the fans popped for Andre walking to the ring and when his arm was raised in victory, his single matches were like watching paint dry. Rene Goulet never excited me. Jesse Ventura looked bad, wrestled worse, but was awesome when given the opportunity to speak and got heat with the old school non-wrestling.
Best squash matches: Mr. Wonderful seemed to be having a grand old time abusing jobbers and finished them. He actually stalled too much for his arena big matches. Bob Orton, Jr. showed off his technical skills and seemed happy in the ring. Greg Valentine was vicious. Dr. D. was entertaining.
Worst squash matches: Mr. Fuji was sadistic with jobbers on TV but lost most of the time to the real stars at live events. Big John Studd was lumbering and slow. In fairness to Studd, he had one good match during this time frame- a cage match vs Hulk Hogan in St. Louis. Tito Santana gave too much to jobbers, and Sgt. Slaughter also dragged in jobber matches. Masked Superstar was too dominating.
Good jobbers: S.D. Jones surprised me this time. For the most part when he gets offense in, his squash matches are not as bad as one would expect. The fans were always polite and gave him a good hand, and he seemed to try to win every time out. His matches against other jobbers were usually too long and not as exciting. Tony Garea actually brought out the best in Magnificent Muraco at MSG. Tony was a natural tag team wrestler, and had decent matches teaming with his fellow JJTS S.D. Jones and Brian Blair. “Iron” Mike Sharpe actually defeated B. Brian Blair at MSG in a very entertaining match. Sharpe should have had a better fate that jobbing on TV which became his legacy. He worked on his character’s gimmick well and was solid in the ring. Eddie Gilbert did everything right, but was probably too small and too Southern for Vince. Little did anyone know that he would develop a reputation for being a creative genius like Paul Heyman or Jerry Lawler.
Best MSG card: Without running PPVs or supercards, it could be argued that the monthly Madison Square Garden shows were the most important cards. Still, they had tons of jobber matches and screwjob endings, although feuds were settled there.
June 16, 1984 had Greg Valentine defeating IC Champion Tito Santana via count-out at 14:02, Tag Team Champions Dick Murdoch & Adrian Adonis fought the Wild Samoans to a draw in a Best 2 out of 3 falls match at 19:51, and Sgt. Slaughter pinned the Iron Sheik in a Bootcamp Match at 16:02. All three matches were arguably the best of the first 6 months. The other matches were: Don Muraco (w/ Mr. Fuji) pinned Tony Garea at 4:49 in what seemed to be a like motivated Muraco who is working his way back up. George Steele (w/ Mr. Fuji) defeated Jose Luis Rivera in a terrible match at 2:24. Jesse Ventura defeated SD Jones in thankfully 4:58. Was not as bad as their TV match, but still bad. Andre the Giant pinned David Schultz at 7:05 in a one-sided stinker. Mad Dog Vachon “re-debuted” pinned Steve Lombardi at 3:18 in a wild squash. Paul Orndorff pinned Salvatore Bellomo 9:01. This one ran too long, and they already had fought at MSG in Jan, but it actually had a great climax and great selling by both men. Bob Orton Jr. pinned Chief Jay Strongbow at 9:46. Pure stalling in the first few minutes. Harsh ending. Curious match.
Lowest Attendance at MSG from Jan-June: With a good main event, and one or two other matches, MSG had no problem drawing around 26,000 fans (plus thousands more at the Felt Forum). However there was a blip on April, 23, 1984 with around 22,000 fans attending:
Tiger Chung Lee pinned the Tonga Kid at 8:02
Rene Goulet pinned Jose Luis Rivera at 7:36
Salvatore Bellomo pinned Ron Shaw (subsituting for the Masked Superstar) at 7:53
B. Brian Blair defeated Samula via referee’s decision after the 20-minute time-limit expired at 17:43
Women’s Tag Team Champions Princess Victoria & Velvet McIntyre defeated Peggy Lee & Wendi Richter at 19:02
IC Champion Tito Santana pinned JJ Dillon (substituting for Afa) at 7:46
Bob Backlund (w/ Arnold Skaaland) pinned Greg Valentine (w/ Capt. Lou Albano) at around 26:05
Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, & David Schultz defeated Ivan Putski, Rocky Johnson, & Tony Atlas at 5:40
The Iron Sheik defeated Sgt. Slaughter via disqualification at 8:31
Stars Doing Jobs:
It was sad to see Chief Jay Strongbow (55 years old) lose so easily to Masked Superstar and Bob Orton, Jr. He also did jobs for Dr. D, Iron Sheik, Afa, Ron Shaw (!), John Studd, and his old 1979 nemesis Greg Valentine. It was only a year before that he lost the tag team title. The previous decade, he was the #2 babyface when Bruno Sammartino was champ and a multiple tag team champion. Chief Jay would finish all of 1984 at a 51-72-2 win loss record. The Chief of course would become a road agent and stayed with the company for a long time. He was giving back to the boys by doing these jobs.
Ivan Putski (43) did not like to be pinned, but you could tell the new WWF was moving on. He was kept strong on TV, given time on TNT, always had his matches advertised at house shows, and no-sold offense so he still looked powerful. Yet the losses finally started to mount up. He had losses by countout or disqualification to Dr. D, Roddy Piper, John Studd, Afa, lost tag matches to Piper’s stable and Paul Ordorff and Iron Sheik pinned him in non-televised matches.
Tony Garea (37) seemed much older. His tag team championship days were being phased out, but the announcers always put him over, and he would score the occasional win against equal or lesser opponents 31% of the time.
Deep Thoughts About Wrestler Ages and Comparing Eras
You may have noticed that most of the wrestlers were veterans. That’s because back in the kayfabe era, older wrestlers got pushed and youngsters had to pay their dues (and/or were not trusted yet). Most of the wrestlers here seemed more mature, tougher, and serious than the wrestlers of today’s era. Their private lives were…private. They seemed like they could kick anyone’s butt and this was their only focus in life. Even a silly wrestler like Steele was larger than life.
Let me just pick on a modern-day WWE star- Dolph Ziggler. He’s 37 years old in 2017, but there’s nothing experienced or tough about him. It’s hard to imagine that he is older than 1984 Paul Orndorff. That is one main difference between these generations. The wrestlers of today act like kids- raised by video games, guaranteed downside salaries, training provided, longer careers, and most do not tread into the dark subcultures that the 1980s wrestlers did. The older wrestlers were really independent contractors, while the new ones are treated as company men (but they still get screwed by being treated as independent contractors.)
That’s why comparing WWF careers across eras is like comparing apples to oranges. The WWF changed so much and became the only real federation in town in the early 2000s. So someone like Kane lasts decades, while Big John Studd had around 5 full years in the WWF, and Kane has over 20. So Kane amassed multiple titles, TV time, angles, and some people like Dave Meltzer, give him credit for being a draw although he was not really a main event attraction. Over this time, Kane has been a straight and narrow citizen who is venturing into politics in “real life”. Kane had more moves than Studd, more matches, storylines, videos made about him, Wrestlemania moments, and merchandise. Kane had the full machine behind him. Studd made his money in main events fighting Hogan and Andre the Giant in the WWF. Studd, of course, had excellent runs in other major territories and was an in-demand attraction. He dedicated his life to it, and died young and abused his body to look like a giant. One has to wonder what Glenn Jacobs would be drawing if he left the WWE in 2000 without being able to be called Kane on the indy scene.
Yes, watching 1984 WWF is fueled by nostalgia for me, my childhood yearning to learn about history, and to see things in full context. Let me expand upon that last point. WWE’s revisionist history has scrubbed all the other things happening in 1984 besides Hulk Hogan and Cindi Lauper, and this gets repeated. Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer 1984 fanbase came off as pretentious snobs by saying Mr. Fuji was the worst manager, Gorilla Monsoon was the worst announcer, Cyndi Lauper and David Wolfe’s involvement in wrestling was one of the most disgusting promotional tactics, the TV shows sucked, Hogan was overrated, Santana was “washed up” etc. And, as mentioned before, there is a growing minority of fans who watch Hogan or Studd on video from this era and come across an actual good match that they were in, and they say, “stop the presses”, Hogan was actually a good wrestler.
Another huge difference between 1984 and 2018 is the amount of content. As a kid in Brookyln, I was able to watch one or two WWF syndicated shows a week (one hour programs with commercials, so around 45 minutes of action) and search for other leagues on Channel 11 and U-68. I always wanted more. There was no overexposure. The stars, mid-carders, and even jobbers to the stars were kept strong so you had an opportunity to see them in real action at your local arena. Even if you saw a star get pinned cleanly on cable or a house show, he would not lose heat. It is interesting that Hogan squashed The Iron Sheik in a few minutes to win the title, but the Sheik had a long feud with Sgt. Slaughter and was seen as his equal. The nature of the kayfabe era was to keep guys strong. When they were no longer strong, they were able to move to a new territory and get over there and even come back one day.
Let’s take Valentine vs Santana. Before they started their feuds, both men won squashes and mid-card bouts against other opponents. Valentine may have lost against Hogan and Backlund, but just by giving them a hard time in a top place in the card, showed us that he was serious business. Santana never lost non-tile matches on TV. They finally hook up at MSG and Valentine wins by countout. They did it again on TV. WWE has been incapable of doing this in the modern era. With three hours of RAW, two hours of Smackdown, 1+ PPVs a month, not to mention their other Network programming, even steven booking, lack of respect for titles, everything is forgettable. Without kayfabe, the matches are art exhibitions while the real stuff is over at UFC. No offense to “students of the game” but even older guys like Chris Jericho and Triple H are trapped in the modern era garbage. Shawn Michaels in the mid-1990s really influenced the “I have the best matches” mentality with the implication that every wrestler should steal the show and focus on workrate as opposed to presenting a realistic match that is paced accordingly to placement on the card. Modern WWE will milk a feud like Dean Ambrose vs The Miz so they will trade wins and title on TV and PPV, with the focus being on interviews and skits instead of the build, tension, and competition.
Face and heel turns (or the theory that there aren’t any real faces or heels anymore) are so frequent in the modern product that there are really no dream matches left so matches do not seem fresh. The only way for a face to fight Hogan in 1984 would have been to turn on him, which is what we see in later years. So the dream matches of a Hogan vs Andre title defense, Hogan vs Slaughter, Hogan vs Santana could not be realized in 1984. Anyway, without every major match being televised in 1984 like it is now, the fan from 1984 could imagine about bouts he probably would never have the opportunity to see without paying to go to an arena, knowing tape traders, or having rare premium cable.
I realize it is impossible for you to get most of 1984 on video (the WWE Network still does not have it) or have the time or desire to watch it, so I did it for you. I hope you picked up a few tidbits or better yet really learned a lot and found my perspective interesting.
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Partial WWF 1984 Roster (first half of 1984)
If there was a way to measure career value or drawing power, I think the big names on the 1984 WWF roster would give that number a lot of value. If you play Total Extreme Wrestling, Face to the Mat or Fire Pro Wrestling World, feel free to build your fantasy booking roster with these guys. The amazing thing is that Vince wasn’t finished: he still added even more stars from around the territories during the rest of 1984 and continued to do it until the death of the territories. McMahon phased out the older guys eventually and replaced the ones who let drugs interfere with their work. He got the best of the best to add to his collection, although there were a few holdouts from Jim Crockett Promotions.
This is an estimate of how the wrestlers were pushed, obviously guys moved around categories:
The Iron Sheik
Andre the Giant
Big John Studd
Bob Orton Jr
Iron Mike Sharpe
Chief Jay Strongbow
Jose Luis Rivera
Tiger Chung Lee
B Brian Blair
Mad Dog Vachon