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!
Philadelphia Spectrum House Show – 3/25/78
Run Time: 47m
Bob Backlund (c) vs. Spiros Arion – WWWF Championship
Bruno Sammartino vs. Ken Patera
Haystacks Calhoun vs. Nikolai Volkoff
JT: The first two matches were both really good but I will go with Bruno Sammartino vs. Ken Patera. It got off to a good, hot start with Patera taking it right to Bruno. Bruno was super quick and so impressive to watch in this one. Bruno worked to avoid full nelson and there nice psychology throughout in general. After Bruno dominated for a stretch, we got great desperation slugfest that Patera ignited and then fell short on as Bruno took him back down. Patera finally got control and targeted the back with bear hugs. They ended up outside where Patera took a stiff bump into ring post on floor. Bruno wouldn’t back down and Patera kept trying to escape. Bruno kept chasing him, leading to a double countout to end a fun brawl sequence down the stretch. There was really good heat on Patera after the bell as well. I really enjoyed this one.
Chad: I liked the World Title match well enough but also thought it had some flaws that I get to in the biggest disappointment section. Bruno vs. Patera by comparison was a really fun match with a lot of back and forth action and I think it did a lot to make Patera look like a threat in a new environment. The action was crisp and the build and danger of the power moves of Patera were emphasized effectively by Vince and Dick on commentary. Probably my second favorite match of the rewatch series so far. (**3/4)
Jason: The WWWF Title match was pretty good, but Bruno Sammartino and Ken Patera have my vote. When Patera attacked Bruno before he could get in the ring, I knew this was going to be to a fun ride. Some good heel work by Patera right off bat by telling Bruno to get up after he attacked him. Bruno’s comeback from the opening attack, which included a bodyslam and two hip tosses, was great. The Philly crowd thought so too. A great job my Bruno working Patera’s right leg, including a half Boston crab. Bruno’s kicks and punches looked really good throughout the match. Patera did some very good selling as well. A nice brawl at the end which would lead to a double count out. Patera took a nice bump into the ring post and into the chairs at ringside. The people in the Spectrum were really into this one as was I.
Dan: Very tough call here between our first two matches. I think I’d lean closer to Bruno/Patera but Backlund/Arion was also terrific! The “Golden Greek” was fantastic and probably deserved better than what we have seen in these Old School programs. This match was hard to multi-task to because Vince went bananas every time the company’s new champion did even the most basic maneuvers. Backlund showed off his athleticism when he morphed his reverse bearhug into a pinning position using a flawless bridge. His leg work in what I like to call his “row boat” stretch got huge cheers from the Philly faithful. I honestly thought this was going to end on that piledriver which led to a nearfall late in the match. While I still think Superstar Graham should have been champion longer, at least the McMahons knew they had someone special carrying the ball for them in their new white meat babyface hero.
Brad: We got two solid 16 minute matches in this watch and it’s very close to a coin flip. I’ll go with the title match and Bob’s first defense. Sure it’s against an aging Arion, but despite their contrasts, I thought this worked for the most part. Spiros was quick to heel it up, lunging for the ropes, to avoid Bob’s quickness. Bob works in some nice counters to Spiros’ holds and keeps the crowd engaged during their work around the ankle/foot. Arion uses the exposed turnbuckle to finally take control and shows some good strength as well, the gut wrench from the ropes into the ring and then hoisting Bob up in a rack. Bob gets his offense in as we build to the finish, including a pulling piledriver (although we’ll see much better piledrivers from him in the future). There’s a return match between these two in the cards so we get a DQ finish which landed in a different category for me below.
JT: Until further notice, it is always Da Brune.
Chad: Bruno gains the nod for me…. again. I thought this performance was especially neat because the vast majority of Bruno we have on tape from his peak years as a performer are from MSG. Here we saw that Bruno was still over huge even if he wasn’t on his home turf. The Philly crowd cheered him on as he battled Patera.
Jason: It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s the Italian Superman! Bruno has been the MVP of this adventure so far and the streak continues here.
Dan: Volkoff obviously. He made that fatso Haystack look like a million well fed bucks. No but seriously, take your pick! For me it’s Ken Patera. He was such an awesome heel in this era and the perfect foil for Bruno.
Brad: I like Patera and Bruno a good bit, but plucky new champ Backlund gets the nod for me. Good facials and selling, I thought he got the best possible out of Arion. Plus he kept the Philly crowd engaged and behind him throughout the match.
JT: I will go with Bob Backlund here. I am a big fan of post-comeback Backlund but haven’t seen a ton from him of this era. I have heard mixed reports with many saying he was boring as champion, but I thought he had great energy in this match. He did a great job showing off his power and went for tons of flash near falls that revved up he crowd every time. Honorable mention to PTBN’s #1 heel, Spiros Arion.
Chad: Not many options as I have watched and enjoyed a lot of Patera, Bruno and Backlund. I will say the commentary team of Dick and Vince was effective here. That is a pairing I have never heard before and I liked it as a contrast of the solo Vince commentary filled with pockets of air that we have grown accustomed to in the first three shows.
Jason: With not much to choose from, I’ll go with the newly crowned WWWF Champion, Bob Backlund. He won the WWWF title a month prior to this show at Madison Square Garden, defeating Superstar Billy Graham. I enjoyed his charisma and the energy that he brought from one of his first title defenses.
Dan: I’m always surprised at how good a wrestler Bruno Sammartino really is. In our first outing from ’75, it seemed like he did mostly a punch and kick offense and the fans just ate it up. Then with all the Graham stuff, we got a taste of his power moves and finding unique ways of countering such maneuvers. I know we’re dealing with just a small sample size with this series, but you really can start to appreciate his talents when viewing him over a series of years. He’s not just some guy we’re all supposed to think is great. He truly was a cut above the rest. Against Patera, we see kicks and stomps, leg work, the full nelson spots I adore, hip tosses, and even some classic Bruno fisticuffs. He’s versatile and energetic and it’s easy to see why he brought so many people into the building.
Brad: Bruno connecting with one of those old, heavy swiveling office chairs right on Patera. He was pissed at Patera’s antics and let him have it. I always enjoy the spirited brawling from Bruno and this was another hot encounter.
JT: I could say the final match between Haystacks Calhoun and Nikolai Volkoff, but I honestly wasn’t expecting too much from them, so I will go with the finishes of the first two bouts. I know it was standard operating procedure to do these type of match endings to build to rematches, it just sucked that we got two big time, red hot bouts that ended that way back to back. A clean finish in one of them bumps this show for me just a bit.
Chad: Spiros Arion is at the end of the road here in his challenge of Backlund’s newly won WWWF title. He was very good in his role as a foil for Bruno and doing heated exchanges in those brawl filled matches. Backlund is a different animal and much more of a technical worker than Bruno. Backlund also is on top for a majority of his matches so when the heel is one the offensive, it is imperative that he maximizes this position. I thought the punch and kick oriented offense on Arion failed to make him seem like a legitimate threat to win the title and provided a styles clash between himself and the technical Backlund.
Jason: A clean finish in one of the two big matches would have been nice. Was there really a need to protect Spiros Arion? Let Backlund go over clean.
Dan: Double DQs! Double countouts! Back-to-back matches? I hate to be dramatic but I subscribe to the Jim Ross model that these finishes are an absolute waste of time. Call me too new school but I love me some winners and losers! If that makes me guilty of being less of a fan, then lock me up and throw away the key. There is no reason why Arion couldn’t let the new champ beat him clean. Or for Bruno to get a quick pin followed by a brawl with Patera. Old school mentality of selling the next show at the current show aside, for me anyway, it’s a bit of a letdown.
Brad: Dick Woerhle’s stretcher job off getting face-washed by Arion during the atomic drop. I mean, it was a good ref bump, but him rolling out and being knocked out was just ridiculous. Adding to this, somehow this meant a double-DQ instead of Backlund getting the win via disqualification. Even Vince notes Arion didn’t do it on purpose.
JT: What a bizarre ring mat and odd looking ring in general; Gary Michael Cappetta had a great salmon jacket; Vince McMahon puts over new era of the promotion with Backlund’s reign; It was cool seeing Spiros back in the mix; The crowd was really into all of Backlund’s big moves and pin covers; The ref bump on Backlund’s atomic drop attempt was well done; Great heat on Ken Patera; Nikolai Volkoff did some weird body flopping selling of Haystacks’ soft blows; Haystacks had awful offense in general and I really don’t see the appeal; That was quick, stupid finish for last match.
Chad: I was hoping we would get Dick and Kal on commentary but get Vince and Dick instead. This has a decidedly different look from the PRISM Spectrum broadcasts a few years later. The finish to the title match was poor and didn’t really do any favors to either competitor. In addition, Arnold Skaaland continues to be useless as he couldn’t get off his chair to try to revive the referee. Patera has such a unique look for his strongman persona compared to what a child of the 80’s thinks with the likes of Warlord, Hercules, etc. Haystacks vs. Volkoff was mercifully short. This was a weird show where it looks like they recorded the full broadcast but we only get snippets of it here in the presented form.
Jason: Good to see PTBN’s old friend, Gary Michael Cappetta in the house. The ring mat was a little awkward, but I guess it looked OK for 1978. Haystacks Calhoun is completely worthless. Vince noting that Nikolai Volkoff might leave wrestling for boxing was interesting. I was so happy to see Spiros Arion back. OPA! He seems like a guy that Vince Sr. has a lot of trust in to make his big babyface stars look good. Referee Dick Worley took an awesome bump in the Backlund/Arion match. Way to go, Dick!
Dan: This card just feels like we’re watching an entirely different program. Aesthetically, we have that bizarre AWA-esque ring mat but we also have different sounding ring announcers as well as Dick Graham as Vince’s color commentator. Referees seemed more important to the story. Dick Woehrle’s ref bump almost seemed revolutionary as prior to this, the officials were merely just nameless guys in brown suits who counted slowly (or too fast). We saw replays showing off new technology, particularly in our title bout. Vince said Backlund works out six hours a day. That’s intense! If that’s true, go watch two pay-per-views in a row and just think that’s how long Mr. Backlund was pumping up back in 1978.
Brad: We move to the Philly Spectrum here but the cool Spectrum logo is a few years away. This being Bob’s first title defense was a nice surprise from a historical standpoint. I encourage everyone to listen to the Titans of Wrestling podcast to really dive into Bob’s championship reign. Oh 1978 Gary Michael Cappetta! Vince really knows how to escalate his volume when needed and he does a nice job throughout. Backlund is absolutely jacked. Patera pisses the crowd off right by attacking their hero Bruno before he can even get his welcome applause. Both big matches get a lot of time here and this is a quick watch all told (46 minutes) Haystacks remains “Everyone’s favorite country boy” with a clean win over Volkoff. Harmless match to cap off the card.
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: Well, hard to argue too much about this show. We only had three matches and the heavy bulk of the time was spent on two really good ones. This was easily the best show we have watched so far with a really hot crowd joining us through a hard fought WWWF Title match and a heated grudge match between two powerhouses. The last match was trash, but only counted for about three minutes, so can’t punish the overall show for it too much. I do wish at least one of the big matches had a better finish, but such was life in 1978 WWWF. Final Grade: 6.5/10
Chad: Solid show that is only 50 minutes long. The world title match is fine and in the **1/2 range for me. The Bruno vs. Patera match was a really good first match in the feud that was effective in me wanting to see a rematch. I think if you have some time to kill and have an inkling for some old school action, this show is not a bad choice at all. Final Grade: 5.5/10
Jason: I really enjoyed the first two matches. I’m not gonna take a lot away for the last match, because it ate up no time and I had low expectations going into it. Great performances by Backlund, Arion, Bruno, Patera and even Dick Woehrle for his great bump. Had we got a clean finish in one of the big two matches, I could score this higher than what I’ll give it. A week before Bob Backlund won the WWF title, Van Halen released their first album. Both would reign supreme in their respective professions over the next several years. Final Grade: 6.5/10
Dan: It was refreshing to leave that dump MSG to witness a superior wrestling show in the City of Brotherly Love. Granted it’s easier to grade a show that already trims off all the fat before you even push play but this was a joy to watch compared to our last couple outings in New York. Points deducted for the increasingly irritating draw finishes but at least the “wrestling” prior to those conclusions was superb. This is a quick watch with four of the company’s best workers/performers who just killed each other for nearly 40 minutes combined. All in all, a solid effort by the WWWF and a tremendous way to burn an hour on the Network. Final Grade: 7/10
Brad: While a short card, you do get a nice snapshot of the era with some big-time performers in Backlund, Patera and Bruno. Good crowd as well. With just the good stuff shown, this is an easy recommendation. Final Grade: 6/10