By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
The Mega Powers vs The Twin Towers
The scarcity of PPVs during the late 80s relative to the modern world of wrestling seems to have led to the disappearance of two things: long term builds (outside of very specific exceptions) and feuds that played out solely on television. That NBC were willing to offer prime time television to the WWF during this time period allowed feuds to be developed or killed off en route to bigger events like Wrestlemania.
With the seeds sowed as early as the Survivor Series the previous year, the jealousy of Macho Man towards the burgeoning relationship between Hulk Hogan and Miss Elizabeth consistently threatened to boil to the surface. In some ways, who could blame him? Elizabeth’s appearances at ringside alongside Hogan put her in harm’s way on at least one occasion, whilst Hogan would also eliminate his friend in the Royal Rumble. It was a mistake, sure, but it was a mistake the seemed to be the tip of an ever looming iceberg.
Between Wrestlemania IV and V, the Twin Towers had been the transition feud to get Hogan away from Andre and Dibiase. Though the feud never ended up on PPV, Big Boss Man and Akeem had both had shots at Hogan in singles matches and been a consistent thorn in his side over the past few months. With tension between the faces and two behemoth heels, an upset was on the cards.
The decision to have Savage and Hogan incorporate Elizabeth into their initial decision as to who begins the match sets up the importance of her in this angle. With Hogan in the ring after initial deliberation, the match can officially begin, and it is all the Mega Powers in the opening minutes. Bossman, Akeem and even Slick would get dropped time and time again with crowd pleasing punches and turnbuckle smashes, with Savage continuing the beatdown upon his arrival into the contest. Akeem ends up cornered, bounced between punches from both faces before both men hit their own double axehandles off of the second ropes. Any sense of a lack of cohesion feels a distant memory at this point.
An eye rake from Akeem to Hogan does stop the former champ in his tracks, but although he is nailed with a Bossman piledriver, a second attempt sees Hogan send the Georgia native over the top rope. Slick’s involvement by grabbing Hogan’s leg allows Bossman to land an awkward front spinebuster upon returning to the ring, but once again their luck is out as a collision allows a tag to Macho and a close fall off of an axehandle/crossbody to Akeem off of the top rope.
Slick’s use of a club behind the referee’s back sets up the turning point that would destroy the Mega Powers for good. After getting chucked over the top rope by Akeem, Savage would get sent back through the middle ropes, crashing into Elizabeth in a rough looking bump for someone who wasn’t known for getting involved in the physical side of wrestling. Hogan, rather than checking on Savage, ends up making the choice to help Liz. Savage seems ready to attack Hogan right there, but is stopped by Akeem dragging him back into the ring. The Twin Towers proceed to double team Savage as Hogan carries Liz back to the dressing room.
With some acting that foreshadowed Hogan’s award winning work in ‘Trouble in Paradise’, Hogan would eventually be sent back to the ring by Elizabeth to help Savage, who several times has sought a tag that is not forthcoming. With Hogan finally back on the apron – and after the GIF-worthy spot of Akeem falling over the top rope as the Towers went for a double splash happens – Savage finally has a chance to tag out. Words are shared, a hand is extended, Hogan is slapped.
With Savage taking his time to walk out, the Towers have one last go at taking out Hogan, but Akeem was dropped by the big boot and finished with a legdrop. The beating of the Towers whilst effectively handicapped (not the best booking for a monster heel team) is a story that gets lost in the aftermath. Savage, after remonstrating with Hogan about his actions the past few months, jumps Hogan with the title belt. You have your Wrestlemania V main event right there.
Whilst the shine of the Saturday Night’s Main Event shows had been lost in comparison to the PPV events, the WWF often showed that they were more than capable of creating memorable television when all eyes were on them.
Vince McMahon vs Hornswoggle
The fact that articles about wrestling across the calendar year can include a match between the millionaire CEO of the biggest company in history fighting a midget who was his ‘illegitimate son’ speaks volumes about the sometimes ludicrous nature of the business. Excuses could be made that a chain of events that would be hard to foresee when the angle first began led to it taking this frankly bizarre turn, but it doesn’t make the end result any less strange on paper. Perhaps even more strange was the fact that, for this one night at least, the crowd absolutely loved it.
The Mr McMahon character, in a dubious move in and of itself, had been killed off at the end of the June 11th Raw, only to have to be resurrected as the legitimate double murder/suicide of Chris Benoit and his family shone a pretty negative light on using murder for ratings. To fill the gap left by the need to shy away from this storyline, the rewritten Mr McMahon storyline saw him being slapped with a paternity suit. Apparently, the ‘Genetic Jackhammer’ had spawned more than just Shane and Stephanie.
The plan all along was for it to be Mr Kennedy (a possibility toyed with even before the ‘death’ of Mr McMahon), and he had even come out on an episode of Raw and declared himself to be the rightful heir to the WWE kingdom. However, fate struck once again to further tear up an already haphazard storyline. When several WWE employees were busted for purchasing steroids illegally, Mr Kennedy’s name was on the list. There was no way that he could be placed in a high profile angle at this time, so he was no longer due to be the benefactor of an expected push.
With Kennedy out of the picture, the announcement was finally made – Hornswoggle was actually a McMahon. This decision seemed one made as much to just kill the angle quicker than it probably had been planned to go, whilst continuing to focus storylines on the less than harmonious McMahon family. In acts of tough love, McMahon would send Hornswoggle out to take on various WWE superstars, before deciding that if you want a job done, you better do it yourself.
Aired on the 11th with the fans sitting through a double taping in one sitting, this was – at least looking back – a surprisingly heated segment. Much more of an angle that a conventional match, Mr McMahon power strutted down to ringside as Hornswoggle gulped nervously in the ring waiting for his ‘father’. A collar and elbow tie up is easily won by McMahon, and we see the gun show of a man who definitely ate his vitamins and said his prayers. The offer of a test of strength is a further way for McMahon to show how powerless Hornswoggle is; the Chairman lifting his hands higher and higher away from his opponent.
McMahon, toying with Hornswoggle, would get down on one knee and allow his ‘son’ one shot. Even with the crowd fully behind him, Hornswoggle struggled to do something he saw as unthinkable, but just as it seemed he’d let the opportunity go past, a slap rocked McMahon back on his haunches. This just inflamed McMahon’s anger, and led to him taking off his belt to dish out further tough love in this No-DQ contest.
Finlay, having been warned about getting fired if he got involved, headed down to the ring with his shillelagh in hand. McMahon reiterated the threat – he would lose his job and be unable to provide for his family if he so much as breathed on McMahon. Finlay, deciding that discretion is the better part of valour, made his way to leave the ring, only for McMahon to call him a ‘coward’. One shillelagh shot to the side of the head had McMahon down and out on the canvas, the crowd roaring their approval. They were out of their seats as, rather than leaving as was teased, Hornswoggle instead ascended the top rope and landed the Tadpole Splash for the three count.
No matter how over this segment was, the storyline needed to die and die quickly. A cage match the following week saw JBL interfere on behalf of Mr McMahon and assault Hornswoggle. By the time he re-appeared on television after Wrestlemania, the storyline had officially ended.
Hulk Hogan © vs Andre the Giant
WWF World Heavyweight Title Match
The WWF knew just what to do when thirty-three million viewers tuned in to watch the Main Event on NBC in 1988. It wasn’t about the need to showcase the best wrestling in the world; it was the desire to make everyone watching realise that anything was possible in the WWE. With a main event of the evening that saw title changes, championships being bought and twin referees, anyone tuning in for the first ever time got to see the three ring circus of the promotion in full flow.
Considering Wreslemania III often feels like it was the culmination of a feud between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, due to the size and spectacle amongst other things, it is surprising to remember how long the Andre and Hogan fued lasted. With teams facing each other at Survivor Series helmed by two adversaries, this match and a final confrontation at Wrestlemania IV, the feud simmered consistently for the full calendar year.
This was helped by the addition to the angle of the Million Dollar Man, Ted Dibiase. Realising that he probably couldn’t take the belt off of Hogan himself, he bought the services of Andre, with the Giant promising to deliver the belt and to hand it over to him as and when he won it. Now Hogan wasn’t just facing the Eighth Wonder of the World, but a numbers game with Dibiase and Virgil involved as well.
As both men stood in the ring, the seeds of disquiet were already being sown as the referee, Dave Hebner, admonished Hogan for not handing the belt over to him and other seemingly harmless behaviour. The referee being Dave Hebner would be a common trope of the commentary throughout the match, with Ventura in particular going out of his way to salute the quality of the officiating. With hindsight, the clues are there, but subtle enough to fool any contemporary fan into believing nothing strange is going on.
After the bell rings, the men take an age to even interact, before Hogan decides to jump Andre, as well as Dibiase and Virgil who are standing on the apron. Punches, chops, kicks and a running elbow to the face are not enough to drop the Giant, so Hogan goes to his heelish offense and rakes the eyes after stamping on Dibiase’s hand at ringside, a move that sees dollar bills fly through the air. In a move that is clearly outside of his comfort zone, Hogan would head to the top, only to get slammed hard by a resurgent Andre. A badly delivered falling headbutt misses badly, but Andre doesn’t make the same mistake with a choke hold.
Andre unleashes Andre the Giant offense 101: slams, headbutts, chops and chokes, both with his hands and his singlet. After the falling headbutt earlier, a further sense of how debilitated Andre’s body was at the time comes as he fell over during a big boot attempt. Even with these mistakes, kayfabe-wise Andre was in control, especially as Virgil would send Hogan back into the ring after the champ tried to regain his senses.
It wouldn’t be a Hogan title match without a Hulk Up, and this occurs out of an Andre chokehold. A second rope clothesline finally takes Andre down, but Virgil would block Hogan’s attempted legdrop by holding a foot from ringside. A second legdrop lands, but the referee is still tied up with Virgil. This gives Andre enough time to get up, headbutt Hogan and land a suplex into a pinfall. As the referee would count, Hogan’s arm clearly goes up at one, but it is ignored as Andre the Giant picked up the pinfall and the victory.
It’s the immediate aftermath that puts this over the top. Andre instantly defaults the belt to Ted Dibiase – a move that would see the title vacated and put up for grabs in the Wrestlemania IV tournament – before a second identical referee would hit the ring: the real Dave Hebner! Storyline-wise, it would be suggested that Dibiase paid someone to get plastic surgery to stand in for Dave Hebner; a move more super villain than wrestling heel. Even though his title was lost, Hogan would get the last laugh, pitching Earl (as it would turn out) Hebner into the group of heels at ringside.
More importantly and aside from the post-match shenanigans, this was the end of Hulk Hogan’s first WWF World Heavyweight Title reign, one that lasted an incredible 1, 474 days – history seen by a record television crowd for wrestling.
Shiro Koshinaka vs The Cobra
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title
It says a lot about the importance of the Junior Heavyweight division in Puroresu in general and New Japan in particular that it had its own IWGP belt before the Heavyweight division. With clearly delineated groups of wrestlers that rarely crossed over or interacted, the importance of a title to crown who was the best at that weight was clear. To suggest it was ever on the same level as the major Heavyweight singles title might be churlish, but it covered more importance than many a US or UK title geared towards the same crowd.
Shiro Koshinaka and The Cobra were tasked with competing in the final of a tournament booked to decide who would be the first IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion. In previous years, the WWF and NWA had provided titles that would be contest on Japanese soil between junior heavyweight, but this would be New Japan’s first belt for the division. Other names in the tournament included Kazuo Yamazaki, Black Tiger and a young Keichi Yamada, but all had fallen by the wayside and we were left with just two to tangle in Sumo Hall, Tokyo.
A handshake at the start highlighted the mutual respect of both men, before each flew straight into a combination of moves designed to showcase their speed and athleticism. Cobra’s big early dropkick, jumping clothesline and senton only led to Koshinaka firing back with a jumping butt attack and a plancha to ringside to even the score.
After this initial fire, the match fell into conventional New Japan Junior submission work; Cobra locking in a surfboard following an elbow to the forehead off of the top rope, a crossbody allowing Shiro to take control long enough to slap on a camel clutch. Several headbutts would allow Cobra to lock in a boston crab and headscissors, but Shiro would then escape and sink in a leglock. Neither men was likely to give up to any of these holds, yet they offered a sense of struggle alongside the more aesthetic aerials.
That is not to suggest that all the high risk moves were performed perfectly. Cobra’s signature dive – a cartwheel into a twisting senton over the top rope – almost saw him come up short and hit the apron, an anxious Koshinaka attempting to catch a man who was falling all too far away from him. Indeed, Koshinaka would get up before his rival, though an Irish whip into the barricade allowed Cobra’s advantage to be restored.
As the match moved towards its historic finish, Cobra’s advantage in terms of size and muscularity seemed to be telling. Following a sequence that saw both men trade flash pinfalls with Koshinaka in particular looking for any opportunity to steal the victory, a vicious looking tombstone left Shiro down on the canvas with his leg shaking from the impact. Even with the stiff and awkward nature of the move – Cobra never seemed to have him quite under control – Koshinaka would kick out at two much to the surprise and elation of the audience hoping for a native champion.
Culturally, the tombstone is viewed so differently depending on the region you see it deployed. From a highly effective finisher in America to a death move in Mexico, it stands out in Japan when it is often utilised as a nearfall or a move to start a comeback with. In this case, two tombstones aren’t enough to keep Koshinaka down for long. The second tombstone would lead to Cobra heading to the top rope for a splash, yet Koshinaka has enough wherewithal to lift his legs and catch Cobra’s face with his knees.
This was all the opening he needed.
As Cobra recovered from the impact, a swift German suplex pin with hold was enough to see Shiro Koshinaka win the first ever IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title, as well as marking his first ever title reign in general. Though it was historical in many ways, the resulting title reign didn’t exactly set the world alight; a countout victory over Don Arakawa the only win before a title loss to Nobuhiko Takada just over three months later. In many ways, the reign itself was irrelevant – Shiro Koshinaka had writ his name large in the history books of not only New Japan, but the wrestling world.
Dynamite Kid vs The Cobra
WWF Junior Heavyweight Title
Pre-IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title, the WWF Junior Heavyweight Title was one that was often contested in Japan only. With no junior division in the promotion in America, it was left to the affiliation between WWF and New Japan to see the title belt be defended at all. Even though the championship had been around since 1965, it was sporadically defended, vacated and redistributed on a whim it seemed. Though there had been an attempt to give it some solidity and kudos with title runs by Tatsumi Fujinami, Black Tiger and Tiger Mask, the belt would be vacated at different times. Reasons included moving between divisions (Fujinami), injury (Tiger Mask’s first and second reign) and retirement (Tiger Mask’s third reign). The title never seemed to catch a break.
No-one was willing to give up just yet, however. A tournament that included wrestlers such as Kuniaki Kobayashi, Black Tiger and Bret Hart amongst others would be decided by a three man round robin on the final night. The British Bulldogs, Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith, alongside The Cobra, would contest three matches with the overall points winner being awarded the title.
By the time the last match between Dynamite Kid and The Cobra came around, it was winner takes all. A double countout between Cobra and Smith had been followed by the battle of the tag team partners, a contest won by Kid. Having already competed earlier in the evening, it was all about who had enough left in the tank to pull out the final victory when it truly mattered. The advantage seemed to be with Cobra even though he needed a win – Kid had gone four minutes longer and second, giving Cobra a greater chance to rest.
Any sense of lethargy or tiredness in Kid was quickly dispelled by a kick, slap, dropkick, nip-up and second dropkick that just served to emphasise both his no-nonsense style and his crisp quickness. As the match was always going to be a shorter sprint after previous exertions, the trading of quick suplexes led straight into a Cobra submission stretch; everything seemingly happening on fast forward with barely room to breathe. There is even a sharpshooter teased by the faux-Ugandan, though he settles for a missile dropkick off of the top after failing to lock the hold on.
The first offense by Kid after his initial combination is a tombstone that felt as if it comes out of nowhere, especially as Cobra is back on offense shortly afterwards. As seems to be a theme, the cartwheel twisting senton to the outside would send Cobra dangerously close to the ring apron, though once again he just gets enough distance to avoid a crippling injury. As both men recuperated after a hectic sequence of moves, Davey Boy Smith made his presence known by jumping the barriers to cheer on his tag team partner.
Not content with just the first tombstone, the second one would at least lead to a pinning attempt and get Kid a nearfall. Frustrated with the ref’s counting, a distracted Kid himself would end up in a nearfall predicament following a Cobra German suplex. As Cobra sought to press home the advantage by heading to the top, Kid showcased his own uncanny athleticism by leaping up the turnbuckle and throwing his opponent halfway across the ring.
Having just been tossed aside like yesterday’s rubbish, Cobra’s vain attempt to grab a flash pinfall would only see Kid sit down and get one of his own. This only seemed to irritate Kid, who would get the three count seconds later with a backdrop driver into a pin. Having joined him at ringside, Davey Boy Smith is in almost as soon as the bell rang to celebrate the biggest title win to date of his partner’s career.
Rather than offer stability, Kid’s reign continued to leave the belt in limbo. The Bulldog’s decision to jump to All-Japan later in the year meant that the next time the title would be in action saw The Cobra finally getting his title victory – against Black Tiger. Less than a year later, the belt ceased to exist for good.
Tito Santana © vs Randy Savage
WWF Intercontinental Title Match
When he was touted upon his arrival in the WWF as the hottest free agent in wrestling, Randy Savage was already entering his twelfth year in the business. Though he had had title success in areas such as Nashville and Memphis, this was his first step up into the so-called big leagues. Brought straight in with a storyline surrounding who would manage him, the resolution that saw the arrival of Miss Elizabeth helped the ‘Macho Man’ hit the ground running. Liz was arguably his unique selling point, yet his charisma and unorthodox offense was miles ahead of the plodding action which fans had been subjected to for years.
Within less than a year, he was feuding with Tito Santana for the Intercontinental Title. In an odd choice considering the heel and face disposition of both men, the booking positioned Savage as the chaser. Off of television, Santana had beaten Savage several times towards the end of 1985, but when it came to a contest on Saturday Night’s Main Event, Savage defeated the champion by countout – a finish often saved for a face challenger. This not only prolonged the feud off air, but began to suggest that Savage might have Santana’s number.
It would take until February for Savage to finally take the title off of Santana. With two months of DQ, countout and double DQ finishes, the decision was finally made to pull the trigger on a Savage Intercontinental Title run. This eventually seemed never in doubt, especially with Savage picking up several countout victories over WWF World Heavyweight Champion, Hulk Hogan. Bigger things were clearly in the future for the Ohio native.
The Boston Gardens was the venue for the crowning of only the seventh Intercontinental Champion, a transition made during a time when there was a legitimate claim that the belt truly signified the second most valuable guy on the roster. Santana, having traded the title with Greg Valentine in a truly epic feud, was once again gaining momentum; a real fan favourite in every sense of the word. Savage wasn’t going to beat Santana by sheer force of will alone.
A closely contested match eventually came down to the lengths Savage was willing to go to win the title. After a ref bump that saw Savage lands on Danny David following a kickout, a small package from Santana was subject to a slow count that arguably cost him the title. That is not to suggest that Santana didn’t have further opportunities to put Savage away. A missed knee drop by the challenger allowed Santana to blast away at the knee with kicks and slap on his patented Figure Four Leglock, only for Savage to claw his way to the ropes and force the break.
Having headed to the ring apron for a breather, Savage’s attempts to initially grab an object from his trunks is noted by Monsoon, though he is unsuccessful as Savage dropped him into the ring hard with a suplex. Another attempted Figure Four is blocked this time, allowing Savage to once again head to the apron. Unlike the previous failed attempt, Savage grabbed a metal object from his trunks and balled it into his fist. A first swing at Santana connected with nothing but air; a punch mid Santana back suplex knocked the champion out. Three seconds later, the WWF were crowning their newest champion.
What become most telling about this title victory was a post-match interview with Gene Okerlund. Whilst Savage would claim Gene was ‘ribbing’ him for suggesting that there was any cheating in the match, as well as dubbing Monsoon ‘Tito Santana’s psychiatrist’, Savage also took the opportunity to make it very clear that the title victory left him one step closer to the ultimate prize: the WWF World Heavyweight Title. It would take another two years, a change in his general disposition and the dethroning of Hulk Hogan, but Macho Man would finally fulfil this promise at Wrestlemania IV.
Ric Flair © vs The Midnight Rider
NWA World Heavyweight Title Match
As a wrestling fan, a lot of stock is put in our ability to suspend our disbelief. When something as fundamental within a match as an Irish whip has logical inconsistencies, there is a lot we choose to overlook to allow us to enjoy the sport we love. Sometimes, this ability to turn a blind eye to the obvious could be utilised within a gimmick or storyline, especially one in which the babyface has perhaps lost out to their nemesis.
Imagine a masked man entering a territory shortly after the ‘good guy’ has been forced to leave due to stipulations enforced by the board of directors. They have a similar body shape; similar movement; similar poise and style; similar offense – in fact, they look practically the same as the ostracised fan favourite, only with a mask. The heels, for once, cry foul, only to often be defeated and embarrassed by this new masked crusader.
Stagger Lee as the alter-ego to both Junkyard Dog and Koko Ware; Charlie Brown from Outta Town as a way for Jimmy Valiant to circumvent bans and continue to cause havoc; Mr America turning up in WWE and telling the world ‘I am not Hulk Hogan, brother’, the storyline has been used throughout wrestling history with varying success. With the end goal being a shot at the NWA World Heavyweight Title, no disguised gimmick had as much kayfabe success as The Midnight Rider, Dusty Rhodes.
Having lost a cage match to Kevin Sullivan that carried a sixty day suspension, Dusty Rhodes was forced to leave the state of Florida. Mere days later, a portly masked superstar called the Midnight Rider showed up, much to the consternation of Sullivan, Jake Roberts and JJ Dillon. Following much wrangling and gnashing of teeth by the heel contingent, the NWA Board of Directors were unwilling to ban the Midnight Rider. However, if it was proven to be Dusty Rhodes at any time, Rhodes would be banned from competing under the NWA banner for a year.
With the old stalwart angle of the territory system of a ‘bounty’ added into the mix as JJ Dillon put up $10,000 of his own money, the chase was on for someone to unmask the Midnight Rider and prove to the world (in Dillon’s eyes) that the Rider was indeed Dusty Rhodes. Time and time again, heels would launch themselves at the rotund masked wrestler, but they were always unsuccessful. Dillon had to up the ante.
A perfect storm of big victories over Roberts and Sullivan, alongside the raising of the bounty to $50,000 by Dillon, led to Ric Flair’s involvement. With the NWA World Heavyweight Title on the line, the two men would meet with the Rider gunning for the belt, whilst Flair wanted the mask and the money. There was a further situation that left the fans intrigued – a masked man had to reveal themselves if they won the NWA World Heavyweight Title. If the Rider won and Dusty was revealed, what would happen to the gold when Rhodes was suspended? In some ways, the Rider seemed to have backed himself into a corner.
With the requisite moving parts in place, The Midnight Rider would defeat Ric Flair to be crowned the new NWA World Heavyweight Champion. As the NWA President, Bob Geigel, entered the ring to present the Rider with the NWA title, he asked him to do what he knew needed to be done – remove the mask and reveal his identify.
Knowing full well what would happen as soon as the mask was off and the Rider was indeed confirmed to be Rhodes, the new champion refused to remove his mask. In many ways, he had made his statement; gaining revenge over Sullivan, and proving himself to be able to beat the man when he needed to. A title victory immediately followed by a one year suspension would prove nothing. The NWA belt was handed back to a beaten Flair; the title change stricken from the record books.
The Midnight Rider finally rode off into the distance at the end of the month, never to have his identity revealed…but we have our suspicions.
Abdullah the Butcher © vs Giant Baba
PWF Heavyweight Title Match
With a propensity for violence and an incredibly distinctive look that bordered on the monstrous, it could be argued that Abdullah the Butcher never truly needed a title belt to get over with the crowd. This was especially true in Japan, where his legitimate martial arts background and his sheer size relative to many of the fans made him a fearsome competitor. However, what could be more worrying than your promotion’s top belt resting upon the shoulder of the psychopath from the Sudan?
This horror scenario came to pass in 1978, with a game Billy Robinson relinquishing the title in a two out of three falls contest. With the match tied at one a piece, the referee would make a judgement call to wave off the match after punishment to Robinson’s leg left him unable to put sufficient weight on the limb to even throw a punch. Though not the most conclusive way to earn a title in wrestling terms, taking the belt away from a fighting champion by injuring him beyond reason fit in nicely with the Butcher gimmick.
As with many things All Japan, Giant Baba was never a million miles away from the main event. With the Triple Crown yet to be formed, the PWF Heavyweight Title effectively sat as the highest singles honour in the promotion. If anyone was going to take on the Butcher and win the title back for the natives, it would have to be Baba. The two men would meet on one of Baba’s excursions to the US mainland, a two out of three falls match taking place in Chicago.
The opening minute served to show how dangerous Abdullah was to someone even of Baba’s stature within the sport. Thrusts to the throat, kicks and two big elbow drops instantly left Baba wounded and wary of his sizeable opponent. A Baba chop even saw the Butcher respond with a martial arts stance to highlight how little it had affected him. Another jumping elbow drop after a shoulder tackle seemed to be enough for Abdullah to pick up the first fall, but the referee would consider Baba to have jumped – a phantom kickout if ever I’ve seen one.
Unfortunately for the Butcher, this would also signify a change in his fortunes during the first fall as Baba laid into his forehead with multiple boots that seemed to split his (admittedly tissue paper like) forehead open hardway. The crowd audibly gasped as the crimson stained the mat and the Butcher’s white harem pants. The two men traded weak looking chops and throat thrusts for what felt like an age before a Baba big boot finally dropped the champion. A jumping neckbreaker drop saw Baba pick up the first fall; the bloodied Butcher needing to pull out all the stops to regain his belt.
Playing possum as the whistle for the second fall started allowed Abdullah to gain control instantly. Biting, chops to the throat and headbutts seemed to signal an increase in intensity in the champion’s offense. This time, the elbowdrop wouldn’t see a botched pinfall and a little over two minutes after Baba’s first fall, the match would be tied.
Surprisingly, Baba would come out for the final fall the strongest, almost kicking Abdullah out of the ring on several occasions, only for the Butcher to almost steal the victory with a throat thrust and elbowdrop for a two count. Abdullah’s face is completely drenched in blood and the closing stages see the men slowly trade strikes as if moving through treacle in what feels like an attempt to be epic. To put an exclamation mark on a turgid match, Abdullah would fall through the ropes whilst attempting a second elbowdrop in succession. An attempt to get back in would be thwarted by Baba and the crowd would count along as the Butcher failed to beat the ten count.
As a historical note – Abdullah the Butcher rarely held gold at this level – this is something of interest. From an in-ring standpoint, this just highlights why the late mid to late 80s were considered such a highpoint for All Japan as attention moved away from a waning Baba and the Butcher and onto wrestlers like Tsuruta and Tenryu.