SHOWDOWN AT SHEA

9th August 1980 – Shea Stadium, Flushing, NY – Attendance: 36,295

In front of over 36,000 fans, the ring was set-up outside the diamond at Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets, and the World Wrestling Federation hit it one out of the ballpark with this mega event. 

Bruno Sammartino and Larry Zbyszko clashed in what would be their final battle, the cumulation of a heart-breaking feud.  Pre-match, Bruno added to the anticipation proclaiming he would retire if he did not win the bout.  After purposely being counted out in matches with Bruno for the past few months, Zbyszko had nowhere to run inside the demands of the steel cage.

With the tension at boiling point, Bruno entered the cage immediately attacking Larry, slamming his head into the cage four times. Zbyszko, a desperate man at this point, motioned to the referee to open the door but Bruno would not let him escape. Blood flowed early in the bout with Zbyszko suffering a laceration from his head.

Zbyszko then nailed Sammartino with a low blow and the match turned. Larry laying the boots into Bruno’s mid-section and then slamming the former champions head in return, into the cage walls. Twice Zbyszko tried to escape the cage by climbing over the top but Bruno pulled him back in to punish his former student some more. Zbyszko again nearly left the cage, however via the door but Sammartino dragged him back in and once again slammed his head into the unforgiving steel.

Bruno suffered an injury to his right arm with cause a cut to open, but this only fired him up and he slammed Zbyszko’s head into the ring post from the apron.  He punished the self-proclaimed “Living Legend” some more by once again ramming his head into the walls and around 14 minutes on the clock, Bruno emerged victorious walking through the door leaving the bruised and battered Zbyszko laying in the ring.

As Sammartino left, he slid his index finger over his throat which enraged Zbyszko, adrenaline built and he got to his feet and chased after Bruno.  As Zbyszko approached him from behind, Sammartino landed two hard rights to Larry’s head which rocked him but Zbyszko proceeded to grab Bruno’s arm and raise it in victory. Bruno did not appreciate the gesture and walked down into the dugout. The war was over and Bruno was the victor.

Time will tell what the future holds for both men. Will Bruno go back into retirement? After all the statements he made about proving himself and defeating Bruno earlier in the year, will Zbyszko continue his wrestling career?

On the rest of the card, in the opening bout, the crowd were treated to an all-Hispanic match-up as Angel Marvilla defeated Jose Estrada in 7:27 via pinfall, after Marvilla came off the ropes and hit a flying headbutt.

Dominic DeNucci and Baron Mikel Scicluna battled in a high-tempered affair which DeNucci won via a sunset flip in 5:57. For the majority of the bout, despite many efforts to antagonise De Nucci, Scicluna failed to make the Italian avert from the innate dignity which has made him famous.  However, after enduring several minutes of cheap tactics, DeNucci exploded and ended up pinning Scicluna for the victory.

In a battle for the WWF Junior Heavyweight Title, the champion from Japan, Tatsumi Fujinami faced Mexican superstar Chavo Guerrero.  Early in the contest, Fuijnami dived through the ropes onto Guerrero and the pair rolled across the green of the diamond. The empathic crowd showed their appreciation with cheers. Minutes later, Chavo looked like he was going to repay the favour to Fujinami but just teased the dive. This was not the end of Chavo’s showboating however, this failed to provoke Fuijnami as the match wore on.  Fujinami aimed to suplex Chavo but the Mexican reversed it for a roll-up, the champion popped out of the pin and turned Guerrero up with a bridge for the three count in just over ten and half minutes.

Next up, Fujinami’s mentor Antonio Inoki defended his National Wrestling Federation Heavyweight title, a belt he defends normally in New Japan Pro Wrestling, against “Pretty Boy” Larry Sharpe. The New Jersey native tried to play mind games early on by not getting ready for the bout. Sharpe finally de-robed from his Elvis Presley-esque jumpsuit, however, Inoki looked unperturbed and took control of the match taking Sharpe down to the mat.  Sharpe gained some offense nailing Inoki with some stiff boots to the chest but Inoki replied by taking Sharpe down with some leg kicks. Inoki prevailed and retain the strap after delivering two savage kicks to the back of the Pretty Boy’s head.

The WWF Tag Team Champions the Wild Samoans were dethroned by the team of Pedro Morales and WWF Champion Bob Backlund in a best of two out of three falls bout winning by two falls without reply. Backlund was punished by double team manoeuvres early on but he and Morales were a fall up after 9:30 with Morales rolling Afa up for the pin. The crowd erupted thinking the duo had won the championships, but it was short-lived as the further falls needed to be carried out.  Even ring announcer Vince McMahon was confused and climbed into the ring to declare the winners.  Samoans’ manager Captain Lou Albano was getting involved so the referee ordered the security supplied by the NYPD, to take him out of the ballpark. This action disorientated the Samoans and allowed Backlund to hit a piledriver on Sika but Afa stopped the three count.  Sika hoisted Backlund up for a Samoan Drop but Morales dropkicked the Samoan in the face, causing him to topple over while Backlund landed on top for the three.  The Shea Stadium faithful exploded in celebration for the new champions. Yet there is a huge question mark over the future of the tag titles as it is reported that the WWF will not allow Backlund to hold these and his WWF Heavyweight Title.  More on this in our August 1980 Round-up to be released in the coming days.

Pat Patterson was attacked before the bell by the vicious Tor Kamata in the next bout.  Although, Patterson ran out the winner in quick fashion (2:06) after Kamata was disqualified for attempting to throw salt into the Canadian’s eyes.  It ended up in the eyes of referee Dick Kroll and he threw the match out.

In ladies’ action, Beverley Shade and the NWA World Women’s Champion The Fabulous Moolah defeated Kandi Malloy and Peggy Lee when Moolah flipped Lee with a backdrop and hit a splash for the 1-2-3.

Next up, Ken Patera defended the WWF Intercontinental Championship against “Mr USA” Tony Atlas and the challenger dominated early on, sending Patera to the outside after receiving a press slam.  Patera continued to take punishment much to the crowds’ delight with Atlas landing a series of headbutts, dropkicks, elbow drops and splashes, however, the tide turned when Patera dropped to the floor with Atlas’ head in his hands, causing Mr. USA’s throat to be dragged across the top rope.  Patera, the self-proclaimed Worlds Strongest Man, slapped on a swinging full nelson but Atlas managed to reach the ropes and force the referee to break the hold.  Although the Tony Atlas fans would be disappointed after the pair were brawling on the apron and Patera failed to climb back in before referee counted to ten.  Atlas won the match but not the title.  Patera attacked Atlas after the bell.  The victor grabbed the mic after the decision was called and challenged Patera to continue the fight but the Olympian refused to return to the ring telling The Wrestler magazine that “he had better things to do than fight a wimp.”.

Although Johnny Rodz attacked “Polish Power” Ivan Putski before the bell, he lost the bout via pinfall after Rodz tasted the full impact of the ‘Polish Hammer’ double axhandle in under five minutes.

Rene Goulet faced the challenge of “Classie” Freddie Blassie’s latest addition to his camp, The Hangman.  The more experienced Goulet outclassed the Hangman throughout but fell to defeat after he was dropped throat-first on the top rope.

In a battle of undefeated men, “The Incredible” Hulk Hogan, flanked by manager Freddie Blassie battled Andre the Giant.  As discussed in our July 1980 Round-Up article, Hogan and Andre had an altercation in Japan just weeks earlier in NJPW’s MSG Series tournament.  Hogan stopped Andre from entering back in the ring in a tournament match against Stan Hansen and the giant was counted out.

At Shea, as the arrogant 6ft 8, Hogan sauntered toward the ring, the fans’ boos echoed around the stadium, while in direct contrast, Andre was unanimously cheered by the 36,000 plus crowd.  It was a power man contest both testing their unbelievable strength on each other.  However, Hogan failed to bodyslam Andre while the Frenchman got Hulk up no problem.  Unfortunately, while Andre was lifting him, Hogan’s trailing leg knocked the referee out.  Hogan attacked Andre from behind and to the gasp of the crowd, got Andre up and slammed him down to the canvas.  Andre recovered and returned with a splash added for the win but the match ending was marred in controversy.  Although, Andre looked to have pinned Hogan for the three count and was awarded the win, video replays showed that Hogan looked to had raised his shoulder before the referee counted three.  After the bell, Blassie handed Hogan some brass knuckles which he placed into his elbow pad and clotheslined Andre. Andre suffered a laceration and this war will continue.

  1. Angel Marvilla pinned Jose Estrada in 7:27 (*¾)
  2. Dominic DeNucci pinned Baron Mikel Scicluna in 5:57 (**)
  3. Tatsumi Fujinami pinned Chavo Guerrero in 10:33 to retain the WWF Junior Heavyweight Title (***)
  4. Antonio Inoki pinned Larry Sharpe in 8:53 to retain the NWF Heavyweight Title (**½)
  5. Bob Backlund & Pedro Morales defeated The Wild Samoans in 14:42 to win the WWF World Tag Team Titles in a Best Two out of Three Falls match 2-0 (***)
  6. Pat Patterson beat Tor Kamata via disqualification at 2:06 (NR)
  7. Beverley Shade & The Fabulous Moolah beat Kandi Malloy & Peggy Lee at 6:06 (*)
  8. Tony Atlas beat Ken Patera via count-out at 8:20. Patera retains the WWF Intercontinental Title (**¼)
  9. Ivan Putski pinned Johnny Rodz at 4:45. (*½)
  10. The Hangman pinned Rene Goulet at 8:27 (DUD)
  11. Andre the Giant pinned Hulk Hogan at 7:49 (*¾)
  12. Bruno Sammartino defeated Larry Zbyszko at 13:59 in a steel cage match (***¾)

For information on our match ratings click here.

WWF owner and commentator Vince McMahon did the ring announcing at Shea Stadium instead of the usual ring announcer Howard Finkel. The reason being that “The Fink” was working for Jim Crockett Promotions that night as Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling ran a show at the Municipal Auditorium in Buffalo, New York.

In drawing such a large crowd, everyone did well financially off this gigantic show although no bigger than the headliner Bruno Sammartino, who reportedly received a paycheque for $35,000 for his nigh’s work.

The Bruno vs. Larry initial angle and the subsequent feud is iconic in professional wrestling. This was an idea that Zbyszko and Sammartino concocted themselves, to push Larry’s career on and it worked perfectly and gave the WWF a massively profitable show at a time of dire need.

Watching this whole angle build and its conclusion is one of the main reasons I have chosen to revisit the history of all this footage and finally produce content for this website.  There was plenty of material here that I have not seen in my thirty years as a fan and it is a joy to research, watch, discover and learn.  Hopefully, you guys can learn with me, and like me get a kick out of it at the same time.

On this journey, we will discuss every fine detail about these shows and angles and this is just a taster of what is to come.  We have a long way to go until March 2001 so stay with us, stay patient and enjoy the ride.

The shows itself was enjoyable and only had a few poor matches.  I would recommend hopping onto Youtube for highlights of the Sammartino-Zbyszko match and if you can, check out a young Hulk Hogan vs Andre in a total switch of roles that they would play less than seven years later.

I would advise (again if you can find them) to check out Fujnami vs. Guerrero and The Samoans vs. Backlund and Morales too.

As always, thanks for reading…

Will Burns

Source: WWE Network, Larry Zbyszko – ‘Adventures In Larryland’Cagematch.net, The Wrestler – January 1981

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