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, Scott Criscuolo & 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 – 4/6/81
Run Time: 56 Minutes
Pedro Morales (c) vs. Moondog Rex – WWF Intercontinental Title
Pat Patterson vs. Sgt. Slaughter
Bob Backlund (c) vs. Stan Hansen – WWF World Title Steel Cage Match
Tony Garea & Rick Martel vs. Johnny Rodz & Larry Sharpe
JT: I will go with Pat Patterson vs. Sgt. Slaughter here. It was the early part of their heated feud and they were already really bringing the hate. Patterson was super fired up and the crowd was rocking along with him. I always enjoy Sarge’s flopping and selling and it played nicely off Patterson’s fire. The two cut a crisp, fast pace that slowed down a little with Pat trapped on floor and Sarge continuously going out and hammering him. Sarge eventually makes a mistake that leads to great figure four battle. They spill back outside for fun brawl on floor with Pat using chair. The referee was very lenient allowing that chair shot as well as Pat and Sarge to shove him around until it gets to be too much and a wild brawl ends the match without a finish. The heat was great and both worked their asses off.
Chad: Patterson vs. Sarge was a really great match and an effective one from a booking standpoint as it made you clamor for the return bout. It just so happens that the return bout was an Alley Street Fight which is one of the best 1980s WWF matches. Still, this is a great first entry and features ferocious action and stiff shots that intensifies the hatred each man has for the other. Fairly easily the best match I have watched on all of these shows so far. (***1/2)
Jason: No doubt here at all. Pat Patterson and Sgt. Slaughter by a long shot. This was the early stages of the heated feud and they didn’t disappoint. The crowd loved Pat and you can tell he loves working in this building. Sarge was a bumping machine for Pat all throughout. I really enjoyed the sling shot into the ropes that Pat gave to Slaughter. Pat took a nice dump to the outside of the ring. Slaughter breaking the ref’s counts while Patterson was either on the floor or trying to get back in the ring was great heel work. Lots of heat on Sarge when he hooked the Cobra Clutch on Patterson. I was OK with the double DQ because this feud was a LONG WAY from being over.
Dan: Hard to argue with the panel on this one. Sarge vs. Patterson was a classic trainwreck of a match that I could watch over and over again. These two soon-to-be McMahon stooges were on top of their games on this night and gave the MSG faithful more than they could handle. I love Sarge’s bumping – while slightly cartoonish – it always makes me smile. I also enjoyed Vince’s little barbs at the heel saying that Slaughter is “yellow as a canary.” You would think that Patterson was the Man of Steel the way he was whipping his larger adversary around the mat like a rag doll. Before all these modern-day high spots, things like Patterson being thrown out of the ring and being rammed into the ring post almost seemed deadly to the audience. Figure four leg locks cause the roof to explode. It was a simpler time. Anyway, I could watch these two club the stuffings out of each other all night and judging by the reaction the crowd gives after the double DQ, I don’t think I’m alone in that thinking.
Brad: I was just slightly higher on the WWF title match than the Slaughter/Patterson match, but have both rated at ***1/2. I thought this was an incredibly effective cage match with the title on the line: Hansen is a credible over-the-top heel who the crowd despises and both he and Backlund really trade off and on here so the work is balanced and believable. Hansen doesn’t let Backlund in and when he finally does, they fight right away. Hansen is bloodied and Bob works the cut, it’s NO HOLDS BARRED (Vince, who is awesome on the call here, notes this a number of times) so we get multiple nut shots (Hansen’s is perfect to take the wind out of the crowd’s sails), and there’s a genuine scramble at the door with Backlund trying to crawl over Hansen. I liked the end more rewatching the match a couple of times. Sure there is no definitive Backlund “finisher” (his atomic drop), instead they use the cage and ropes after Hansen climbs to escape a second time (the first being a good car crash fall – especially for Hansen). Once Hansen is dropped onto the turnbuckle, he also hot-shots himself off the ropes to effectively be stunned. Backlund wipes his brow and flicks it at Hansen, raises his arm to the roar of the crowd and triumphantly exits. The struggle and feud is over and the hero has won.
Scott: The best part of these shorter house shows on the Network is that they pick the best matches which make choosing a little easier. I liked Patterson/Slaughter a lot, but I’ll go with the WWF Title match. I’m not the biggest old school Backlund fan but he and Hansen had pretty good chemistry in this match and the champ played the face in peril very well. Even though the end was rushed as Backlund just walked out defiantly instead of looking like someone battling the big Texan. If there was any wrestler that JBL was marketed after, early 80s Stan Hansen was it.
JT: Pat Patterson. His fire and energy was off the charts and his offense was manic and full of hate. Even after the match, he got into it with the referee, really letting his emotions boil over. Great showing for Pat.
Chad: Sgt. Slaughter is a great worker and he milks everything to the max in this contest. From him begging off in the beginning to bumping like a madman for the strikes Patterson laid in, Sarge was great. However, he also is a wonderful worker on top mixing in innovative power moves, more aerial moves than you would expect for a guy his size and some stiff strikes. Every time I watch a high profile Sarge match, he rises up on my all timer rankings.
Jason: Pat Patterson gets the duke from me. He was on fire and lead the way in telling a great story for thirteen minutes. Patterson fed off the MSG crowd and showed tons of emotion. A big night for Pat here.
Dan: Sgt. Slaughter hands down. He was just such a good heel and a perfect thorn in the side of the beloved Patterson. He always found a way to tick off the audience whether it was dastardly throwing Patterson into steel posts, running like a coward when Pat made his comeback, or even finding the ropes to escape a submission hold. Plus he was flopping around like a fish out of water with some of his over-the-top selling. We all just wanted to see this bastard get beat. Kudos to the ref in that match too for allowing himself to get manhandled. Nothing beats referee abuse. I wish they would try it in the NBA!
Brad: This one is as close as the Best Match category. Slaughter is really good, but I’m going to go with Hansen for his overall performance: before the bell he’s screaming for Backlund and revving up the crowd, after the match he throws up a “hook ’em” gesture and runs the ropes like a madman. During the match he’s a great bumper and throws great strikes. He’s wild enough to play for the cheapseats while not coming off too cartoonish.
Scott: For a guy who spent a good portion of his career as a heel, Pat Patterson was crazy over by the MSG crowd against Slaughter. This match was the precursor for the legendary boot camp match one month later that was WON’s Match of the Year for 1981. Patterson and Slaughter brawl like crazy and the shocking moment when both Pat and Slaughter dump the referee out made that match even better. Pat Patterson gets my thumbs up for best performance of the night.
JT: Moondog Rex. Despite his odd pants, he had some real solid offense and expertly worked Pedro’s arm all throughout their match, one which he dominated. He connected on his one or two big spots and his selling during Pedro’s opening shine and comeback was on point. I enjoyed the match and especially Rex’s performance.
Chad: Pedro impressed me in his match with Rex. I am a pretty big Moondog mark so I was happy to see his technical side pop out. Pedro has long been a guy that was in the right place in the right time in my eyes but he had some great timing on his comebacks and held his own in making the Rex vs. Morales match the most pleasant surprise match of the series so far.
Jason: Man, Moondog Rex was a hell of a lot better than expected. He did some great selling for Pedro Morales. In addition he did an excellent job working Pedro’s left arm including some solid hammerlocks and punches. Vince put over that Pedro was having a harder time with Rex than with his partner King. Rex made a name for himself as a serious singles competitor, but in the end did he job by making the IC Champion look good.
Dan: It’s gotta be Moondog Rex. I just figured him to be cannon fodder for the champion Morales but he actually dominated our opener with his Grade A arm work. This was Anderson-level working of a body part and it was almost as if he had the IC title holder scouted. Vince alluded to a previous match between Pedro and Rex’s tag partner “King” so perhaps those bearded, bone-eating freaks shared notes in their spare time. Superb psychology and definitely a better watch than one of the featured matches on this card.
Brad: With the referee a big part of the Slaughter/Patterson match, it starts out more nuanced than one would think given past WWE matches. Vince even calls out how the ref has been a little roughed up early on. Of course it becomes a core part of the matches’ story later but the escalation actually made sense (more on this in the next category) vs. a heel just randomly attacking the ref to draw a DQ. Runner-up goes to Moondog Rex and his arm work. It may not have gone anywhere but it was clearly the best limb work we’ve seen so far. He was great.
Scott: I didn’t really see any surprises here as the results were all fairly predictable, including the Patterson/Slaughter double DQ. Knowing what match comes from it the following month I thought it would end in a schmozz. I don’t think anyone expected Moondog Rex being Intercontinental Champion. I guess the biggest surprise, although it’s subtle is the shot of Vince McMahon Sr. down the aisle before Backlund came out. You rarely see WWE’s Godfather in any action footage so it threw me off for a moment that he actually was in camera shot.
JT: As much as it pains me, I will go with Bob Backlund vs. Stan Hansen. It was a fun watch, but I was expecting a bit more here. Maybe that was unfair expectations but locking these two in a cage, I wanted a hotter brawl. We got them ramming each other into the cage a bunch of times, some blood (and ass) from Hansen and then a quick finish out of nowhere. Again, it was a fine title match, but it had the potential to be great and came up short. And as such, it hurt the overall quality of the show.
Chad: Hate to pile on, but that cage match was not very good. This card was shaping up to be a really good one with the first two matches and all that was needed was a hate filled battle for the world title. Instead we had Backlund’s worst tendencies of him being on top as a worker as well as the overall annoying rules of a WWF cage match. Add an abrupt ending and you have a disappointing match overall that ends a feud that started off hot.
Jason: Most of the time when you have a cage match on the card, it’s not going to disappoint, but not here. Bob Backlund and Stan Hansen really didn’t bring anything valuable for the nine minutes that they battled. We got some blood from Hansen and he even talked some smack to the Fink, but there was a lot missing here. Give me at least fifteen more minutes of these two guys pounding the hell out of each other. Lets get some color from Backlund too.
Dan: The WWF Title match in a steel cage was pretty atrocious. It just felt like I was watching someone playing a wrestling video game where all you saw for 15 minutes was a guy throwing another guy into the cage wall repeatedly. I wish I could have hit the reset button. Hansen to his credit tried to put on a show with his abuse of Fink, running the ropes, bleeding a bit and showing some ass (literally), but Backlund looked like he was going through the motions. Hell, he didn’t even bleed. You’re telling me in an era where that sort of thing was encouraged, you couldn’t get color with one of the most violent and vicious competitors in a cage match? He didn’t even stick around post match as he ran to the locker room like he had a hot date after the show. I suppose I would be heading for the exits too if I was ever that close to Hansen’s sweaty buttocks. One final note: this show took place exactly two days before I entered this world. Needless to say, Mama and Papa Mac weren’t in attendance!
Brad: There’s little to be upset about on this card as a whole so I’ll kayfabe it a bit and go with the ref work in the Slaughter/Patterson match. Very liberal counting when Patterson is outside early and how is the match not thrown out after BOTH GUYS throw the ref to the outside (nice bump)? And then Slaughter has the Clutch locked in and rather than finish off Patterson he kicks the ref in the gut. And Patterson can’t believe he gets DQ’d also when he’s attacked the ref and took part in dumping him? Come on, yo.
Scott: I thought the opener was a little flat, but then again it was a tag team specialist in a match no one thought he would win. Although I thought Vince on commentary could have pumped up the fact that Rex was going for a second title belt in the company. The Moondogs had defeated Tony Garea and Rick Martel a month earlier for the Tag Team Titles. Pedro Morales was an average worker with lots of punches and kicks so put it together and it’s fairly forgettable.
JT: We get our first IC title match of this series; Those are some interesting pants on Moondog Rex; The fans are really into Morales, with big pop when he is announced and cheers for all his offense; Good commentary by Vince McMahon early, noting that Lou Albano studied previous matches and identified issues with Pedro’s arm; It was a good finish to the opener, and a hard fought win for Pedro in a match that felt dead even; Grand Wizard with Sarge is an odd combo; The crowd was jacked for Patterson/Slaughter and going crazy when Pat chucks him around early; Sarge’s awesome floppy bumping and selling and Pat’s great fire were super fun; A lenient referee is nice to see this time around; The Pat & Sarge feud just getting going as evidenced by the finish; This was a cool challenge for Backlund; It is also the first cage match of this project; We get the escape rules for the match; Hansen has huge legs; Backlund’s piledriver is the first big move of match and it is offset by Hansen’s great dickhead low blows; The crowd enjoyed Stan’s ass; They also gave a huge pop when Backlund escapes but kind of a soft ending for that one; It is the Adventure debut of Rick Martel; Larry Sharpe founder of the Monster Factory; Rodz leaping over the top and the ref forcing him right back outside made me chuckle; That match had real basic tag work; It also featured some really good right hands by Martel during his comeback; Rodz and Sharpe had some good basic offense followed by a fun comeback by Garea & Martel into the finish
Chad: The idea of Captain Lou managing the Moondogs also struck me as odd. Good first look at Pedro Morales with his IC belt here. One thing that is always striking about the Moondogs is that they are technically sound which doesn’t fit their demeanor. Rex really wrenches on the arm of Pedro and builds tons of sympathy for him throughout the match. Sarge was great at avoiding contact early on in their match making the reward more satisfactory when Pat tees off on him with. Sarge’s bumps are second to none. Pat gives one of the most spirited non clean victory celebrations this side of Lex Luger. I will say this every time it comes up, WWF cage match rules suck. Martel and Garea didn’t get much of a chance to show their worth here but they were a great babyface tag team in the early 80s.
Jason: I can probably talk about how much I enjoyed Moondog Rex all night, but I won’t. We get our first IC title match on the Network as well as our first WWF title match. Oh, and how can I forget our first shot at Stan Hansen’s tookis. The Grand Wizard as Sarge’s manager? Yeah, I’m still scratching my head over that one. We got a very rare appearance from Vince McMahon Sr, as he can be seen in the entrance way of the aisle right before Bob Backlund comes out. Sr. is standing there along with Gorilla Monsoon. Larry Sharpe has some very creamy legs. All kidding aside, I thought the combination of Sharpe and Johnny Rodz made a great team to put over Rick Martel and Tony Garea. Speaking of Martel, this is the first appearance of one of my favorite stars from this decade.
Dan: In all of these MSG shows, Vince has a knack for praising the J.O.B. squad guys and making them seem like legit contenders. In our last match for instance, he referred to “Pretty Boy” Larry Sharpe and “Unpredictable” Johnny Rodz as underrated. Compared to whom, I have no clue. Sharpe also wore a swank Dallas Cowboys singlet that I hope to find and give to Scott someday. Also, did we all miss the boat on Tony Garea? Based on crowd reaction alone, you’d think he was the biggest star in New York. Dude probably got more ass than a toilet seat. Couldn’t hurt hanging out to a jacked up Rick Martel.
Brad: Really well-worked IC match with Moondog Rex’s arm work and a big back body drop that slyly plays into the finish when Pedro opts to roll him up (great psychology). Pedro’s big punches popped the crowd. They do a weird camera cut to a random bum-looking dude near the front row walking around in a gigantic coat. Vince overall is on fire on this show – the best commentary we’ve heard in my opinion. Slaughter is “as yellow as a canary”. Sarge takes a flat chest bump off a whip into the turnbuckle. Hansen yells at Finkel “Are you Backlund??” as he waits for the match to start because for some reason Fink has to come back into the ring and announce the cage rules. We get a Vince Sr. sighting here which is neat. The tag match features Rick Martell with an added 20 pounds, which Vince is quick to explain is all muscle. One of my favorite moments on the card is Johnny Rodz, as fucking meta as you can get, decides to avoid Martel on the hot tag like it’s a videogame and he’s avoiding a guy with his flashing special. Instead of feeding himself, he just runs around the ring to avoid Martel. It’s brilliant.
Scott: The referee of the first match is Terry Terranova. That can’t possibly be a real name. It’s funny how the Garden still looked old even though we have moved into the 1980s. It really wouldn’t be until three years later that MSG would get the look we all remember from that glorious decade. I love Larry Sharpe’s Dallas Cowboys tights. As Jason mentioned in earlier recaps, the referees used to be dressed like janitors, but now they have striped shirts on like regular referees. The cage looks so tiny compared with the models of later years, when it would be raised five feet.
Consensus Best WWE Network Match to Date: Pat Patterson vs. Sgt. Slaughter (Madison Square Garden, 4/6/81)
Consensus Worst WWE Network Match to Date: Ivan Putski vs. Baron Von Rashcke (Madison Square Garden, 6/27/77)
JT: On paper, I thought this would be the best show we have watched. However, it comes up a little short mainly because the title match didn’t quite live up to expectations. There was nothing bad here at all and everything ranged from watchable to great, so the grade is still solid. Plus, once again it was just an hour show with the fluff all sliced off. Patterson/Slaughter was really good and just a taste of things to come between those two. The crowd was rocking as well. Our first official WWF show is in the books and it was certainly a fast watch that is worth checking out for a snapshot of the time period. Final Grade: 5/10
Chad: The Backlund vs. Hansen match was disappointing compared to other encounters between the two but it still scored decent as a ranking overall (** from myself). The rest of the show was very good with two good matches and a breezy pace that interspersed technical wrestling and hate filled brawling. My favorite show so far. Final Grade: 6.5/10
Jason: I was pumped for the WWF title match to be defending inside a steel cage. Boy, was I highly let down. That match aside, Pat and Sarge was fantastic. Pedro and Rex was surprisingly good and it was cool to see early 80s Rick Martel. Definitely check out Pat and Sarge if you want to see the beginning of one of the best feuds from the first part of this decade. We have officially entered the Regan and WWF years and when we revisit the Federation in this adventure, things are really going to change. Overall Grade: 5.5/10
Dan: Unlike our last few outings in MSG/Philly, this show was a quick watch and rather entertaining. Sure I hated the cage match, but the rest of the show that wasn’t left on the cutting room floor turned out to be some of the best stuff we’ve watched since the adventure began. Sarge/Patterson will to tough to beat! Moondog impressed me greatly and it’s always a treat to see Pedro Morales even if he was outclassed in his title match. Even the throwaway tag match was fun. I wish they tossed the Backlund/Hansen match altogether but nobody – including any of these shows we’ll watch – is perfect. Still very much worth your eyes because Slaughter/PP has to be seen to believe. Overall Grade: 6.0/10
Brad: This is an easy 56 minute watch with a good opener, two hotly-contested matches with big names and a perfectly acceptable tag main event. Definitely my favorite so far and a good show to seek out to see the state of the WWF in 1981. I’m going with a big score here. Overall Grade: 8.5/10
Scott: This was a great cut down show with the four most important matches highlighted: Two title matches, a blood feud in the making and a boost for the former tag champions. I love cage matches and always will, and in these old time shows when gimmick matches were rare and the list of gimmicks short, seeing a cage go up meant something special was going to happen. The best WWF Title feud at this point (outside of Bruno) was probably Billy Graham/Dusty Rhodes. Bob Backlund doesn’t have the charisma of any of those guys but he did the best he could being a face in peril against the crazy Texan who looked like JBL. I was surprised by the babyface heat for Garea and Martel but that’s because there was so many good heel tag teams in the company. Overall the action was solid enough and as usual the crowd is red hot. Grade: 7.5/10