As many of you are aware, WWE Network is pretty packed with all sorts of content. And as you may also know, we here at Place to Be Nation love long term, in depth projects. So, as part of this initiative, JT Rozzero, Brad Woodling, Chad Campbell, Jason Greenhouse & Dan McGinn are starting in 1975 and are planning to watch the entire offering of the WWE Network chronologically. They have plotted their course and after watching each program, they will share their thoughts, notes and recommendations with our readers. So, settle in and enjoy this epic ride through wrestling history!
Madison Square Garden House Show – 6/27/77
Run Time: 137 minutes
Jose Gonzalez vs. Jan Nelson
Larry Zbyszko vs. Rocky Tamayo
Tony Garea vs. George Steele
Andre the Giant & Chief Jay Strongbow vs. Nikolai Volkoff & Ken Patera – Two Out of Three Falls
Lenny Hurst vs. Stan Stasiak
Bruno Sammartino vs. Superstar Billy Graham (c) – WWWF Heavyweight Title
Ivan Putski vs. Baron Von Rashcke
Peter Maivia vs. Baron Mikel Scicluna
Haystacks Calhoun & Domenic DeNucci vs. Mr. Fuji & Professor Toru Tanaka – Two Out of Three Falls
JT: Easy call here as there was only one match really worth watching on such a long, soft card: Billy Graham vs. Bruno Sammartino. Graham’s prematch promo great and the crowd was red hot for it to get started. Bruno destroyed Graham early with great flopping and selling by Graham and the crowd going nuts with Bruno looking unstoppable. Graham also had some good begging off but Bruno knew better and didn’t bite. Once he did have control, Graham went to a full nelson, which is a nice touch as he was working the rehabbed broken neck. Bruno reversed it and went to his own full nelson, and that started up a trend for the rest of the match, where Graham would hook a power submission and Bruno would counter into his own version. Down the stretch, Bruno and Graham started a big back and forth slugfest, and the referee would get involved, tangled up and shoved around, leading to a double DQ. I liked the finish as the two hated each other so much and just wanted to fight, but really the referee should have stayed out to the middle of it. Even though it was a bit slow in spots, everything made sense and the crowd loved it all. It was also felt pretty quick for an 18 minute bout.
Chad: Bruno vs. Superstar stood out of the pack for me. It improved off the previous match between these two and had better action this time to match the molten crowd. Bruno really has a larger than life persona while watching these shows that is astounding to see in modern eyes. Graham was less awkward here and was actually delivering strikes to match the sell job being portrayed by Bruno. Three shows in, this is my favorite match we have watched so far. ***
Jason: The WWWF Title match between Bruno and Superstar Graham was the clear front runner on paper, but I’m gonna go against the grain here. The tag-team match between Andre the Giant and Jay Strongbow against Nikolai Volkoff and Ken Patera gets the duke from me. Andre was very good when he got the hot tag, including some great headbutts and seeing the strength that he had in his prime was quite impressive. Patera and Volkoff worked over Strongbow well, along with some great selling from the Chief. I didn’t expect the scuffle between Patera and Nikolai, which added to the enjoyment.
Dan: Is there really any doubt what the answer to this question is? It’s clearly the WWWF Title bout between the Champion Superstar Billy Graham and Bruno Sammartino, who was chomping at the bit to reclaim his precious gold in his backyard. I said it on the ’76 show and I’ll say it again here. These two were put on this earth to meet in that very ring. Graham was a champion the likes no one had seen since probably the Gorgeous George days. He was flashy, charismatic and colorful from his hat flip in the corner, to his “Too Sweet to be sour” pre-match promo. And then you have Bruno, fresh off a neck injury, wanting nothing more than to smash that pretty Hollywood face. I loved how Bruno would counter all those test of strength holds throughout the contest. Graham is quite entertaining with his over-the-top selling and slick heel work. I’m even now beginning to pop when Sammartino breaks and counters the full nelson which seems to happen every time these two fight. I wasn’t a fan of the draw/double DQ finish, but it goes to show how much hate Sammartino has in his heart for Graham as this devolves into a nasty brawl. Still, this is truly the ONLY reason to watch this show!
Brad: While their ’76 match was hot, the stakes here, with Bruno challenging to win his belt back, have the crowd molten. While not everyone may be a fan of longer holds and reversals, both Bruno and Superstar make each one a struggle and the selling and expressions on both guys make them work. No one leaves the edge of their seat and when Bruno makes his reversal? The crowd goes crazy. While this match is more hold-heavy than their previous encounter, we do get a very spirited brawl at the end and Superstar flailing around and grabbing the ref really worked. His bumping in the beginning is great as well. This is a great match to watch to check out both guys’ work in the 70s.
JT: It is hard to go against Da Brune here, so he is my choice. He was great as always, revving up the crowd, doling out big power offense and showing great fire and energy as he tried to regain his gold.
Chad: Again I will say it, Bruno. We haven’t gotten into the late era of Vince Sr. run where he started to bring in better workers so Bruno is running pretty unopposed here at the moment. He has it all from good strikes, excellent selling and a truly unique connection with the crowd.
Jason: I loved the team of Andre and Strongbow, but Bruno was absolutely amazing. From pounding on Graham to start the match to working the arms and back of the world champion, the Italian Superman shined big time here. Add the stiff knee to the head that he gave Graham and you can see why Bruno was the man for so many years.
Dan: It’s clearly Bruno and Graham and the dance they performed in our main event. If you hold a gun to my head and ask for someone else, you could probably get me to say the guy who designed Vince’s pink jacket or Fink’s tuxedo as the fashion in ’77 was A1.
Brad: I watched the WWWF title match a couple of times here to take a closer look at both combatants, and starting with his pre-match promo with Vince, Superstar was great. You wouldn’t be wrong to choose Bruno in any of the first three shows we watched, he’s a perennial all-star and really good here. I’m going to go with the Superstar – his selling, facials, begging off and heel champ shtick in general (including talking crap before the match) was great.
JT: I am going with Tony Garea for my biggest surprise. I knew he was a good, solid hand, but man he was showing all sorts of fire in this one. His selling was great and he had the crowd really fired up for his comeback. I hope we see some more of him as we go forward.
Chad: Tony Garea has to be the winner here for shockingly pulling something decent out of George Steele. He sold the leg damage well and they had a real heated exchange at the end that got the crowd revved up. This was a great way of giving Garea a “win” while still keeping Steele looking strong.
Jason: Professor Tanaka and Mr. Fuji looked like a badass tag-team. Tanaka’s look is incredible. Their match with DeNucci and Haystacks was garbage, but the men from the Orient had a great physical presence. Additionally, Jose Gonzalez had a great series of dropkicks against Jan Nelson. A pretty cool way to finish the opening match. Tony Garea was super over in his match against George Steele. The crowd went ape shit for him. Well maybe some of it was because they hated Steele, but still, the Garden loved Garea.
Dan: Not really a surprise so much as a tip of the hat to the High Chief Peter Maivia. This was his MSG debut and whether he was instructed to do so or not, he did everything he could to get the crowd back after the dumpster fire that was Putski vs. Von Raschke. He had a unique look, brought the energy in his brief match with Baron Mikel Scicluna and kept me from sticking my head in the oven. Fans definitely were itching for a little excitement after the 30-minute draw and the future Great One’s grandfather delivered the goods on this night.
Brad: George “The Animal” Steele, on summer vacation here from his teaching gig, really works up the MSG crowd. Maybe my favorite moment from the entire show is Steele threatening to go into the crowd and people running away like a lion came up to the cage at a zoo. They mocked and berated him but were scared of him also. Tony Garea was fantastic – their match was a lot of fun and a pleasant surprise.
JT: I know Greeny really dug it, but I am going with the big tag match as my biggest disappointment of the night. I had high hopes and despite good heat from the crowd, it was really clunky and never felt like it got rolling. The Chief was quite awful and dragged down the match a lot. I really wanted more wild brawling like the early going but that eventually tapered off and things fell apart. Andre was really fun but not enough to save this for me. There was also a really shit finish on first fall and then the in fighting between Patera & Volkoff kills flow for good and leads to fast finish in fall two. There were worse matches on the card but this was a messy bout that under delivered on its potential and promise.
Chad: I would have liked to have seen more from the ending tag match. I know these are in the throwaway roles on these MSG cards but this one only went five minutes and that is after sitting through the eternity that was Baron vs. Putski. Tanaka and Fuji at least had a devious look to make Gorilla Monsoon proud.
Jason: Let’s talk about George Steele for a second…Ok that’s enough. Seriously though, has this guy every been good in the ring? He can’t learn how to speak, but knows how to flip off the crowd. The only person who might have been worse than still is Stan Stasiak. Just plain awful. Ivan Putski is now 0 for 2 in these shows for me. the match with him and Baron Von Raschke was the drizzling shits. 30 minutes of pure time killing crap.
Dan: This show was a disappointment. When the ancient Stan Stasiak beating the Haku doppleganger, Lenny Hurst, where the bell rings at 2 is your THIRD worst match on the card, you know you are in for a long evening. I was letdown by Chief Strongbow – who I praised before in this series – in the tag match. The consecutive matches ending in a draw really bothered me to no end. All the stalling in the Putski/Von Raschke nearly put me to sleep. I think my dog Basil chewing on his stuffed monkey toy had better ring work than 30 minutes of that gabage. When your face takes control of the match with a leg scissors hold and the fans start booing, you know your idea for a 30-minute broadway was a bad one. Oh and what a buzzkill when curfew promptly ends your last match on the card. Ugh, where’s the Tylenol?
Brad: That almost a quarter of the entire show was the 30-minute Putski/Von Raschke debacle. And that match was a follow-up to a previous 20-minute draw. In hell, they keep adding 10 minutes to their matches over and over again as you’re forced to watch.
JT: Vince McMahon looks like Dennis Quaid; It’s the PTBN Adventure debut of the Fink; Decent enough opener, crowd was happy for Gonzalez; Larry Zbyszko makes debut, and he is immediately put over as Bruno’s protege; Tamayo was a really angry heel, and had some weird feet movements in between flipping the crowd off; We got to witness the longest, slowest three count ever for Larry’s win; The crowd was hot on Steele, who looks young in the face; The comeback through the post match of Steele/Garea was really fun but the rest was blah thanks to the Animal; Volkoff & Patera are a great heel team on paper; Andre and Nikolai are both in great shape; The tag match had all sorts of interesting hair; “Fired up Redskin” from Vince was a hell of a line; Jay and Andre hug an awful lot; Stan Stasiak not looking in the best shape; Stasiak/Hurst was really bad, very slow and plodding, and not a great MSG debut for Lenny; Also, the bell rang during the final pin instead of after; Fun Billy Graham prematch promo with great heat; World Title felt so important; Putski/Baron had ridiculous amounts of stalling and posturing to start and then was super slow and bland; Putski in better shape in 77 than the previous entries; A 30 minute draw is way too long and the match was truly awful; Peter Maivia’s MSG debut is a pretty good gift for this crowd; Maivia’s trunks and hair are awful and he looks absurd but gets the quick win; The main event has nothing in the tank and featured loose action, and was more bland stuff with a stupid curfew finish
Chad: You say Tomato, I say jobber. Tomayo gave the crowd the bird signal and Vince surmises he has a few words for home. Larry vs. Rocky was decent enough with some nice small packages and work from underneath from the upstart babyface Larry Z. I like seeing George Steele as a heel and think that role fits him well. I feel sorry for Patera vs. Andre as I think they could have had a really fun singles match around this time with Patera utilizing his power against the giant, but their respective partners really slow this match down. Billy Graham hasn’t been great in the ring but he could deliver an awesome promo. The Baron vs. Putski match was absolutely awful and probably the worst match we have seen so far. No excuse for this nonsense and it completely derailed the card. Wow, is Haystacks a big boy and he didn’t even bother to tag in.
Jason: Vince’s salmon suit was pimp. Speaking of pimp suits, the Fink’s tux was fantastic. I think Rocky Tamayo worked on my car a few years ago. It was cool to see a young Larry Zbyszko here. What was up with the extra long, slow motion three count by the ref in the Zbyszko/Tamayo match? I thought the ref was having a stroke. I dug Jose Gonzalez’s Puerto Rico themed trunks. Also, a pretty swank singlet on Jan Nelson. Ok, Ken Patera’s hair. Did he walk in the barber shop and ask of a late 1700’s periwig look? Vince calling Jay Strongbow a “fired up redskin” caught me off guard. I really liked Billy Graham’s promo. There’s chopped up clips of it in every highlight reel WWE has ever done on him, but was cool to see in it’s entirety. Haystacks Calhoun was worthless. The McMahon obsession with hillbillies began with this slob. A nice treat seeing Peter Maivia as a special attraction in his two minute squash.
Dan: Vince called Jan Nelson “a force to be reckoned with.” Then he loses on four straight drop kicks in the opener. We also learn that in addition to being Bruno’s protege, Larry Zbyszko is an avid golfer thanks to Vince Jr. I think that referee is still counting to three on that small package in the Zbyszko/Tomayo match. Tony Garea… who knew? This guy put his working boots on and his pops were deafening. Definitely smirked when Fink couldn’t even get through ring announcements before Strongbow punched Lou Albano out of the arena. Did you remember that Stan Stasiak was once WWWF Champion? Vince might have mentioned it a few times. One more, Mr. Fuji’s finisher was called the Kamikaze Necktie. Amazing!
Brad: Poor Rocky, the ref’s ridiculous slow count on Larry’s roll-up was something. Great look at Andre in his prime here, even Strongbow was passable in his role as face-in-peril. Andre was in the running for best performance for me, really fun stuff that Patera enhanced with his antics. Stan “The Man” Stasiak, former WWWF champion makes an appearance and Vince uses his match, and previous short title reign, to put over how the crowd was hoping for the same thing out of Superstar’s reign later in the night. Was a nice bit of continuity. Lenny Hurst is the smallest guy in the WWWF per Vince. Bruno is very bronzed here, plus rocking the ‘stache. Cool sequence in the title match where Superstar ducks out between the ropes to hopefully get the ref involved but Bruno uses his five count to sledge and punch at Graham. You’ll note in the title match as well that the ref would raise your arm five times (?) before concluding you passed out. This, of course, eventually changes to the very standard two arm drops and then the hulk up on the third. The bear hug works for me in two ways: first, you have a guy like Andre (he does it in his match to boot) and the other is if you’re lifting the guy into the air and crushing him. The Putski disaster has some real gems from Vince: “Baron must have some kind of leg lock on Ivan Putski” as the crowd rains boos while they sit in the hold forever. Von Raschke at one point no-sells Ivan’s punches and just casually walks out of the ring to break. Even Putski’s legit one move, the Polish Hammer, looks like crap here. The ref tells the High Chief he can’t use his spear and his subsequent “Oh ok” reaction, like he was previously used to impaling his opponents but now that doesn’t fly in the WWWF was tremendous. It was nice to get a quick Fuji/Tanaka cameo, their match being a curfew draw was transparent just by the number of people in the crowd long gone by the time they went on.
Consensus Best WWE Network Match to Date: Bruno Sammartino vs. Superstar Billy Graham (Madison Square Garden, 6/27/77)
Consensus Worst WWE Network Match to Date: Ivan Putski vs. Baron Von Rashcke (Madison Square Garden, 6/27/77)
JT: This was a rough show to get through. It was long. It meandered. The undercard was terrible. The tag match did not live up to its potential. Graham/Sammartino was very good, but still not a great standout bout like we know they could have. The back end of the show was brutal, especially the Putski/Rashcke debacle that may be the worst match we have watched so far. Not much worth checking out in this one. See ya, 1977! Final Grade: 2.0/10
Chad: Tough show for me to grade as up to the Baron vs. Ivan match, I thought it was the best overall effort of the three shows we have seen so far. It does still have my favorite match of this series so far but Ivan vs. Baron has to be the worst and really is in contention for one of the worst matches I have ever seen just based on how long it went on. Overall, the show is a fun hour and a half watch, but just so-so at the two hour twenty minute mark this clocked in at. Final Grad: 2.0/10
Jason: Nine matches on this show, but only two are worth checking out. The WWWF Title match and the Andre/Strongbow tag. Lots of familiar faces and few new ones, including Jan Nelson and the youngster Lenny Hurst. Andre, Strongbow, Bruno, Billy Graham and even Tony Garea were great. The undercard in general, especially Putski and Raschke, was rough to get through. So definitely check out the Andre tag and the Bruno/Graham match. Final Grade: 2.5/10
Dan: I want to close by tipping my hat to Parv, Johnny and the rest of the Titans of Wrestling gang. I have to give them credit for regularly sitting down together to watching crap like this in their spare time. This show was simply awful! I feel like the CIA should use shows like this as a method of “enhanced interrogation” when trying to extract info out of suspected terrorists. I know I would spill my guts if I had to watch this debacle of a show again! Thank goodness for Bruno/Graham! I cannot even imagine how low this would go without it. I am praying for better days ahead on this excellent adventure. Final Grade: 2.0/10
Brad: Outside the WWWF title match, there entertaining ancillary matches like the Andre tag, the Garea/Steele match and even Larry Z. Even Peter Maivia’s debut is short and inoffensive. The fact that 30 minutes of this card is dedicated to what has to be the worst match (given its length) on the network skews this down. I’ll still be the high man here given the quality of Bruno/Superstar. Final Grade: 3.5/10