January 17, 2005
June 28, 1982
New York City, NY
Madison Square Garden
WWF World Champion Bob Backlund vs. Jimmy Snuka (Steel Cage Match)
Bob Backlund had proudly worn the WWF Heavyweight Championship for 4 years by the time 1982 came around. And despite the best attempts of all his challengers, no one had been successful in dethroning him of the title - save for that infamous 3-day run by Antonio Inoki in 1979.
During the first several months of 82, Backlund fought off tough challenges from Greg Valentine, Blackjack Mulligan, Jesse Ventura, and Adrian Adonis. But within weeks, a new face entered the World Wrestling Federation and immediately targeted Backlund and his title. Managed by Capt. Lou Albano, this ruthless heel hailed from the Fiji Islands and wowed audiences with high risk maneuvers never before seen in a WWF ring. His name was Jimmy Snuka and his nickname was ‘Superfly’.
By April, Snuka’s string of victories had secured him a world title shot against Backlund at Madison Square Garden. The bout was ruled a disqualification win for Snuka when the champion refused to break a choke hold. In a post-match altercation, Snuka hit the splash off the top onto Backlund, forcing the champion to be taken backstage on a stretcher.
Several weeks later, a rematch was held at MSG with Snuka once again defeating Backlund, this time via count-out.
The challenger was 2-0 against Backlund at MSG. Few could ever make that claim. And so with momentum on his side, Snuka challenged once more for the title, this time inside the confines of a steel cage.
A special added stipulation to the bout, made by Backlund’s manager Arnold Skaaland, stated that the match could not end by climbing over the top - only by exiting out the door. The reasoning behind the rule was that Snuka would have an unfair advantage when it came to climbing the cage.
In an odd occurrence, Backlund - the champion - makes his way out first and awaits the arrival of his challenger.
The challenger is introduced and makes his way out cautiously, his eyes surveying the steel mesh. Backlund, anxious to begin the bout, waves for Snuka to enter the ring. Snuka grabs the cage to become comfortable with it and then takes off his robe.
The challenger slowly inches his way towards the door and climbs the steps, looking out to the fans and being met with a mixed reaction from the capacity crowd.
Vince McMahon, the sole commentator for the show, makes mention that Snuka’s apprehension about entering the cage may be nothing more than a ruse to upset the champion.
Backlund immediately goes to work on the challenger. The champion beats Snuka down to his knees with a series of punches and a headbutt. Snuka eventually fights back with a series of chops that send Backlund down to the mat. With the champion against the ropes, Snuka connects with a number of knees to the mid-section. A snap mare and knee drop to the head soon follow.
Moments later, Backlund prevents an escape by pulling his opponent into the middle of the ring. Snuka responds by throwing the champion against the steel mesh, then follows with a bodyslam and a forearm off the middle turnbuckle.
Snuka again walks towards the open door but is again prevented from leaving. Backlund blocks a punch and lands one of his own. Moments later, an Irish whip sends Snuka himself bouncing off against the steel mesh.
With the match in hand, Backlund catapults his challenger head-first into the cage, resulting in Snuka wearing the proverbial crimson mask.
Backlund continues his assault with blows to the open wound but Snuka fights back. Backlund attempts a headbutt to the challenger’s cranium but hurts himself more than the challenger. The Superfly then connects with a series of chops and delivers a knee drop from the middle rope that leaves Backlund dazed and barely moving.
The challenger continues with a beautiful suplex and then climbs to the top turnbuckle. After a slight pause, he goes up even higher until he’s perched on top of the steel cage itself. Backlund raises his body to see what’s going on but then lays back down.
With 11 minutes expired, Snuka poses atop the cage and leaps off with intent of squashing Backlund underneath him. As the challenger is in mid-air, Backlund rolls out of the way and a loud thump is heard as the challenger hits the canvas.
The thunderous crowd at Madison Square Garden stands in anticipation as Backlund crawls towards the open door. Snuka makes a desperate lunge at the last minute to keep the champion in the cage but it’s too little, too late. Backlund reaches the floor with his championship once again retained.
The champion’s face is covered in sweat as he is congratulated by ringside fans. Backlund proudly holds up his title belt for all to see as he makes his way to Vince McMahon for a ringside interview.
Vince mentions the over-the-top stipulation that was added before the bout and partially credits Arnold Skaaland for Backlund being able to retain his title.
Backlund speaks about not liking cage matches and says that as a wrestling champion he would much prefer to defend his title in scientific bouts instead of having to go to war inside a cage.
A replay is shown of the missed dive off the top as McMahon and Backlund comment on what might have been had the move connected.
Howard Finkel announces Backlund the winner at 12:23 to a mixed reaction. Apparently the MSG time keeper added a few seconds here and there to the actual match length.
Following the announcement, Vince brings up the topic of Bob Orton Jr. - Backlund’s next opponent - and the fact that Orton has been calling Backlund a coward ever since their high school wrestling days. The champion vows to give Orton a battle when the two meet in the squared circle, as they would do a month later at MSG.
Pro Wrestling Illustrated voted this as the 1982 Match of the Year. Does it still hold up? To a degree.
It’s hard to put this match into context after all the high-flying stunts we’ve seen over the past several years - from Mick Foley and Hell in a Cell to Jeff Hardy and TLC - but it’s obvious that this match and that historic first leap off the cage by Jimmy Snuka paved the way for those matches and so many others like them.
My main criticism with the match is that it lacks the suspense found it some of the more recent cage matches such as Bret vs. Owen Hart or Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle. Neither man is really in control of the bout until those last few seconds when Backlund is able to shake off the cobwebs and crawl out the door. As a result, there are very few moments where it seems as though the match is on the verge of ending. I give it ***˝
While everyone remembers the Muraco / Snuka match for the Superfly splash that connected, this match should be held in as high regard as that. This match and the death-defying climax set the wheels in motion for Snuka to turn babyface several months later, a role that made him the most popular star on the roster until a man by the name of Hulk Hogan made his return to the WWF.