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WWF Showdown At Shea 1980 Review (Bruno V. Larry; Steel Cage!)

IMG credit: Bleacher Report

Welcome, everyone, to my review of the WWF’s third Shea Stadium event, a concept believed to be the precursor to WrestleMania. For those who aren’t aware, I’ve been slowly exploring wrestling through the 1980s. I am now in August of 1980 and figure it would be a good opportunity to review this Showdown at Shea event on the blog alongside my WrestleMania series as well.

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Date: August 9th, 1980

Venue: Shea Stadium

Location: Flushing, NY

Attendance: 36.295

Since there was no original commentary recorded when the show was happening, the commentary has now been redubbed by WWE 24/7. So, your hosts will be Michael Cole & Mick Foley, calling the action from nearly three decades after the event initially aired back in 1980.

Jose Estrada vs. Angel Maravilla

IMG credit: WWE

Angel and Jose kicked off the WWE 24/7 broadcasted version of the program with this semi-extended squash of an opener. Jose has a rep for being one of the better enhancement guys of all time, and though there were flashes of that implemented here, he couldn’t do much given the material he had to work with. Maravilla did nothing of note here and the crowd couldn’t care less about him. He hit the flying headbutt on Estrada before following with a body splash for the win at 7:26. A mediocre opener that would ultimately be forgotten by the time this show ends. [*]

Baron Mikel Scicluna vs. Dominic DeNucci

IMG credit: WWE

A pair of relics of the past duking it out in the middle of Shea Stadium. This went about as well as anyone might have expected – a 1970s-style, slow-paced encounter between two old, past their sell-by-date dudes. They packed in plenty of kicky-punchy stuff, with nothing of it looking particularly good. Dominic used a sunset flip for the win at 5:56. And he didn’t even hook the leg! I don’t think I need to tell you how dull this was. [¾*]

WWF Junior Heavyweight Title: Tatsumi Fujinami (c) vs. Chavo Guerrero

IMG credit: WWE

This NJPW-flavored junior heavyweight bout looked extremely out of place in 1980 WWF. Fujinami and Chavo went out there and wrestled a completely different style rarely (if ever) seen in North American wrestling at the time, with rare highspots, neat matwork, and some fast-paced exchanges. There was a spot where Fujinami hit a suicide dive on Chavo on the baseball field, which is bonkers even by today’s eyes! Fujinami retained the title at 10:34 after he reversed Chavo’s O’Connor roll into a clutch pin. This was miles ahead of what we’ve seen in US wrestling at the time, but the time constraints held them back from doing their best stuff, essentially giving this a showcase-y feel. [***]

WWF World Martial Arts Heavyweight Title: Antonio Inoki (c) vs. Larry Sharpe

IMG credit: WWE

This was an adequate showcase for Antonio Inoki, who got to display his signature moves in front of a gigantic stadium crowd. Inoki, even though not a mainstay in the New York area, had a special connection with the Flushing crowd here at Shea, getting a surprising amount of support that carried the bout’s heat throughout. Sharpe played a decent foil opposing him and provided a sound obstacle for him to tackle. Inoki picked up the win at 8:54 after two straight enzuigiris on the back of Larry’s head. Inoki looked good here, and Sharpe did his role right, with some entertaining bumping. [**¼]

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WWF World Tag Team Title, 2-Out-Of-3 Falls: The Wild Samoans (c) [w/ Cpt. Lou Albano] vs. Bob Backlund & Pedro Morales

IMG credit: WWE

This was a pretty notable match in itself, as it marked the first time a wrestler became a double champion within the Federation. The beginning saw Bob and Pedro owning the Samoans, countering their game plan and constantly getting the better of them. They finally took over on Bob, and this began a heat segment to build up Pedro’s hot tag. This wasn’t a good segment, but it did a decent enough job to the crowd in building up the tag, so I won’t fault it. The finish to the first fall was cool, with Backlund hitting an Atomic Drop on Afa into a Morales roll-up at 9:49. Captain Lou Albano got escorted by the police in the second fall after he cheap-shotted Morales on the floor. This opened the door for the faces to make another comeback, culminating in Pedro dropkicking Afa while he had Backlund atop his shoulder and allowing Bob to land on top at 13:06 for the win and the titles. A couple of lulls toward the middle of each fall put this down, but they stuck to the basics, made it work, and got a huge pop in the end as a result. [**½]

Pat Patterson vs. Tor Kamata

IMG credit: WWE

Kamata jumped Patterson before the bell, but he went up top and splatted himself while trying a splash! Pat began fighting back, but just as he was gaining momentum, Kamata blasted a power of salt into him and the referee, drawing a DQ at 2:06. This was… a thing that happened. [½*]

Fabulous Moolah & Beverly Shade vs. Peggy Lee & Kandi Malloy

IMG credit: WWE

I’ve barely heard or seen either of these ladies in action before (sans Moolah), so this will basically be a first-time viewing for me. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot to write here. Beverly, Peggy, and Kandi seemed like perfectly cromulent wrestlers from the footage seen. Moolah showed a glimpse of why he was held in such high regard by peers alike, but it wasn’t enough. A mini melee broke down near the end before Moolah used her experience to get the better of the younger Peggy, catching her off the ropes with a backdrop for the win at 6:04. Not much to this one, but an intriguing look at how women’s wrestling used to be in the early ’80s. [*]

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WWF Intercontinental Title: Ken Patera (c) [w/ The Grand Wizard] vs. Tony Atlas

IMG credit: WWE & Pro Wrestling Illustrated

This was a solid IC Title defense for Patera, who gave a good performance here as the heel champion, walking the line between the cowardly stooge and the powerful strongman flawlessly. Atlas delivered in arguably his biggest match yet. He always brought that fire in him everywhere he wrestled, and I thought his selling during Patera’s control section was very compelling. This one got thrown out the window when both men fought to the floor, and Patera ended up getting counted out at 8:13 after he threw Tony into the ring. Atlas dared Patera to step into the ring with him in the post-match promo, but the champ thought of it better and retreated. They were having a pretty fun match until the sh-tty finish kicked in and ruined it. [***]

Ivan Putski vs. Johnny Rodz

IMG credit: WWE

An All-Star Wrestling squash in a baseball stadium! This was about what you can expect if you have seen any WWF squash matches that aired on the syndicated programs. Rodz blindsided Putski with a cheap shot early. Rodz would get his obligatory token offenses in, but it’s not long before Putski predictably made a comeback and finished him off with the POLISH HAMMER OF DEAD at 4:45. A watchable squash, but then again, it’s just a squash. [*¼]

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The Hangman vs. Rene Goulet

IMG credit: WWE

Foley: “And who is the Hangman?” Cole: “The guy with the noose.” Foley: “I know he’s the guy with the noose, I’m trying to see if I can figure him out!”

No, Foley, you’re not the only one. I’ve no idea who the Hangman is either. Oh yeah, and shouldn’t Fred Blassie be at ringside with him? And where the hell is his mask?? Anyway, this was yet another bathroom break on this program. Rene continued his slow descent down the ranks as his slow age started to catch up to him, moving with not much purpose. Hangman grinded everything down to a halt with his chinlock while Cole mentioned his gimmick is amongst the many failed ones produced by the WWE. Hangman dropped Goulet on the top rope to get the win at 8:28. This was so bad that even Michael Cole and Mick Foley straight-up ignored it to talk about other things! [½*]

Andre The Giant vs. Hulk Hogan [w/ Freddie Blassie]

IMG credit: WWE & Pro Wrestling Illustrated

7 years before the Slam Heard ‘Round The World, Hogan and Andre battled each other in front of over 36K people at Shea. This was carried out similarly to their other matches, with Andre using his colossal size to overpower Hogan. Hogan put a bearhug on Andre for a full minute before being headbutted and decided to bail. He tried to slam Andre back inside, only to end up in a cool-looking Kimura lock by the Giant instead! Andre bodyslammed Hogan, but the referee was bumped, allowing Hulk to slam Andre from behind. Once the second ref was presented, Andre was back on form, slamming Hogan and splashing him for the win at 7:48. Hulk assaulted Andre afterward, busting him up and showing the world he was already a sore loser long before his Hulkamania days! This was mostly average, but the crowd was more than happy to lap it up. Plus, it is the first major meeting between the two icons, which earned itself an extra historical point. [*½]

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Bruno Sammartino vs. Larry Zbyszko (Steel Cage)

IMG credit: WWE

Larry tried attacking Bruno at the cage door, only to get his arse kicked by his former mentor instead. Bruno spent over 75% of the bout whipping Larry from pillar to post. The crowd ate up all of this, but I struggled to find it all engaging due to its repetitiveness. It didn’t help that Bruno’s moveset was limited to only a few punches, kicks, and a couple of Irish whips. With that said, there were parts here that I liked. I thought Larry was a tremendous scumbag here, and the way he fed Bruno’s attacks had fans jumping up and down like crazy. Zbyszko would only gain the upper hand through corrupt means, such as a low blow or a cheap shot. Bruno gave him one hellacious beating, and he took all of it like a man by bleeding buckets for it. After taking his time beating up his backstabbing student, Bruno calmly walked out the door at 13:59 to claim the victory. I’m afraid I didn’t really feel this one on the whole. It obviously had the heat and the story to work, but for such a massive feud-ender, this was a disappointment. [**¾]

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Overall

While it is far from a good show in the ring, WWF Showdown at Shea was rightfully historic in its own ways, and it is worth a look just for that alone. The matches can be a hit or miss only, but the sheer sight of seeing a wrestling match in the middle of a baseball stadium, the fascinating atmosphere of the Shea crowd, and the historical significance of the event – all these are more than enough to give this show a recommendation. I also would like to praise Michael Cole and Mick Foley, who did a splendid job as commentators on the WWE 24/7 version, providing some valuable background info and giving the show a relaxing, breezy feel.

Score: 7/10

Rating: 7 out of 10.

That’s all for today, folks. Stay tuned for my next WrestleMania piece, and thank you for checking out this review!

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