What was this new strange form of entertainment that I had discovered? My curiosity was piqued and I learned more about wrestling and its colorful array of personalities through my grandpop's wrestling magazine collection. It had everything in those pages: mask wrestlers, midgets, cage matches and apartment wrestling. The deeper I went into those magazines, the more I discovered and I slowly became a kid hooked on headbutts and body slams. Scooby Doo and Krofft Brothers soon took a back seat to the salt throwing antics of Mr. Fuji and Mr. Saito.
Oh, and those Star Wars figures? I still loved them, but now, Luke Skywalker wasn't dueling lightsabers with Darth Vader—they were settling their disputes inside a makeshift wrestling ring. At the time, WWF didn't make action figures, so I had to make-do with what I had available. I'm sure my story isn't all that different from a lot of you guys.
I'm happy that Smark Out Moment has given me a format here that I can be nostalgic and talk about my early memories as a young wrestling fan. I hold that pre-Hulkamania era in high regard, as those years between 1980 and 1984 really molded my interest and perception of the sport. If I had to mark down a moment in time where I knew there was no turning back, it would have to be discovering SPECTRUM WRESTLING.
It was really the first time that I had witnessed competitive matches. The local television broadcasts were mostly an endless string of squash matches with jobbers. I'm not complaining, because I happen to be fan of those type of matches and I believe they served a great purpose, but that's a discussion for another time. World Wrestling Federation used to run the old Philadelphia Spectrum every month and PRISM sports used to broadcast the events live.
It was a Saturday evening in October 1981 that I stumbled upon a wrestling show on PRISM. That night, I saw magic in the form of Bob Backlund defending the WWF Championship against The Magnificent Muraco. They wrestled a full one-hour draw. This was it, that "no return" moment. From that point on, I saw professional wrestling as an art form and my respect for the athletes inside the squared circle skyrocketed.
You have to understand, I went from seeing television matches that lasted anywhere from one to five minutes long to seeing two of the best work their craft for the length of an entire episode of Fantasy Island. Mr. Roarke couldn't work the kind of magic that I saw inside the ring that evening. Bob Backlund didn't have the fan base that Hogan had and my mom used to call him a "crybaby", but there is no doubt that he was a wrestling talent like no other. The Magnificent Don Muraco, to this day I will argue with anyone that he is one of the greatest heels of all time. Backlund vs Muraco knew their business that night under the Spectrum lights.
The entire card from that evening:
Baron Mikel Scicluna vs. Curt Hennig
Mr. Fuji & Mr. Saito vs. Jose Estrada & Johnny Rodz
Pedro Morales vs. King Kong Mosca
WWF World Title: Bob Backlund vs. Magnificent Muraco
George Steel vs. Tony Atlas
Andre the Giant vs. Killer Khan
Rick Martel & Tony Garea vs. Larry Sharpe & Bulldog Bob Browe
Here's a history lesson. What is different about the order of matches from that show? I'll tell you. The Main Event was placed dead on in the middle of the show. This was pretty much the protocol back in the day. The WWF Championship match was almost always positioned right in the middle of the match lineup. It was never the last match, or at least not that I can ever remember. This wasn't just a WWF thing either. I remember going to NWA shows in the early 80's that followed the same format as well.
I remember going to the Spectrum and Bob Backlund always defended his WWF title before intermission. This was cool because then, before the last match of the night, the ring announcer (more than likely Gary Michael Cappetta) would get on the stick and announce, "next month at the Spectrum the main event will be a return match between Bob Backlund and The Magnificent Muraco, but this time it will be a Texas Death Match!" or whatever the main event would be for the following month. They would usually announce a couple matches and then tell fans that tickets are now on sale.
Once Hulk Hogan became champion, you saw that formula change and Hogan was always the last match of the show. You can call me old school, but I prefer the old way better. It just made sense to me and it was always a rush to find out that night what the main event was going to be next month. I always thought it would be a neat idea for a modern WWE pay-per-view to feature the champion wrestle in the middle of show, and then before the last match of the night, the ring announcer would tell us the main event for the next pay-per-view.
I hope you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane and maybe you learned something. I'll be back with more nostalgia and wrestling history, so stay tuned.