August 17, 2004
Sheldon Kane III
WWWF Heavyweight Wrestling From Washington DC
National Arena, broadcast on Channel 5
January 13, 1966
A PERSONAL NOTE
For many years, I thought the earliest World Wrestling Entertainment footage in existence stretched back as far as 1970. Whenever WWE would dig into their vault for a home video or DVD release, or some kind of retrospective (the A & E documentaries, the "Lonely Road of Faith" video), I would see about as far back as footage of Gorilla Monsoon battling Professor Toru Tanaka, or Pedro Morales winning the Championship from Ivan Koloff. But no footage prior to the '70s ever showed up anywhere. I was starting to wonder if anyone ever bothered to preserve any footage from the 1960s, when WWE first came into existence as the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF).
Then about a year ago, an incredible little item showed up on eBay. A seller was offering a videotape containing four shows from WWE's classic weekly program of the '60s, Heavyweight Wrestling From Washington. Needless to say, I was very excited to come across such a tape, considering I had been trying to track down some 1960s WWWF footage for quite some time. To my astonishment, I was the only bidder in this auction, but all the better for me! To be honest, I don't know how well-circulated this tape is in collectors' circles. I'm certain others have this footage, and if so, they have a rare piece of historic WWE footage in their hands.
For those of you who have never seen these shows, here for you I have a review of one of the programs; what's special about this edition was the debut of one of the top WWWF competitors of the '60s and '70s (and a future World Tag Team Champion), "Bruno's cousin" Antonio Pugliese. Based on this factoid alone, I have chosen to review this particular show. I may do the other three I have in the future, but for now, let's travel back to a time when pyrotechnics weren't a part of wrestling shows, and a time when poorly done "pregnancy" angles were nowhere to be found.
Back in 1966, WWWF shows didn't open with loud intro music and explosions loud enough to melt your ears. Instead, we see a very simple graphic on the screen which reads "Heavyweight Wrestling From Washington", and play-by-play announcer Ray Morgan welcoming the viewers at home. Morgan runs down the a card of the action scheduled to take place, and goes to a commercial. The National Arena didn't look much bigger than the Hamburg Fieldhouse where WWWF shows would be taped during the '70s, meaning it looked like little more than a studio. Nontheless, the fans were quite vocal, and seemed to have quite a bit of interaction with the competitors in the ring. In that sense, the WWWF had a unique identitiy amongst other territories then. Not to mention they still had their share of eyebrow-raising gimmicks even in the '60s (The Beast, Spaceman Frank Hickey, "Battman" Tony Marino), a time when professional wrestling was much more bare-bones than it is today.
Before the opening bell sounds, ring announcer "Friendly" Bob Free (wonder where "Smilin'" Sam Mason was that week?) runs down the lineup for "promoter Vince McMahon's" upcoming card at the Washington Coliseum, headlined by Champion Bruno Sammartino facing Gorilla Monsoon and U.S. Champion Bobo Brazil taking on Baron Mikel Scicluna. Apparently the good Baron from Malta was quite a huge deal back in the '60s; he was undefeated at the time and everyone seemed to think he would give Bruno a heck of a challenge. Amazes me, considering Scicluna didn't win too many matches later in his career.
Anyway, onto our first match:
STEVE "MR. AMERICA" STANLEE vs. PRINCE IAUKEA (with Bobby Davis)
Obviously, this "Mr. America" is not Hulk Hogan under a Captain America mask, and the Prince Iaukea seen here is not the WCW wrestler whose claim to fame is imitating the "Purple Rain" guy. This Prince Iaukea was a 380-pound tank from Hawaii, pretty big man. He's managed by the infamous Bobby Davis here, best known as the manager of the first WWWF Champion, "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers. Ray Morgan tells the viewers that letters and telegrams were pouring in asking of Bobby Davis's whereabouts. I assume he had been absent for a while prior to this show, but listening to the heel heat Davis was getting during this match, it's funny that people were sending in any letters asking where he was. Steve Stanlee (I swear I thought he was "Gene" Stanlee, perhaps I was wrong all those years) had a solid physique and was one of the more well-known names of this era, so it surprised me to see how Iaukea completely mauls him in this match. I'm guessing Stanlee was on his way out of the territory at the time and was putting the new guy over before he departed. Iaukea dominates here with the standard big man fare; punches, kicks, forearms, repeat. Iaukea does pull off a nice takedown into a headsissors, which must have been hell for Stanlee considering how thick Iaukea's legs were. Davis of course gets into the act by choking Stanlee while Iaukea has the referee distracted. Iaukea wins via pinfall with a big splash he called "The Tide".
WINNER: PRINCE IAUKEA
Ray Morgan tells us "And the winner of the match between Steve 'Mr. America' Stanlee and Prince Iaukea, is Prince Iaukea" (Morgan pronounced his name as "YOUkea").
BEST 2 OUT OF 3 FALLS: THOMAS MARIN vs. HECTOR SERRANO
Not sure what the purpose was of making this a two-out-of-three falls match, but that's what we have here. We get a classic handshake to start this one off. Right away we can tell Serrano was the heel here, catching Marin with some closed-fists and claiming to all he used an open hand. Marin fights back with a pair of headlock takedowns. Serrano, a native of the Bronx, tells the crowd he's "a gentleman" and again shakes Marin's hand. Marin just walks into another cheap shot. Gotta say, Marin seemed to walk right into Serrano's ploys quite a few times here. Didn't he figure out Serrano wasn't playing it straight after about the third or fourth cheap shot? Serrano eventually traps Marin in a reverse armbar, but Marin fights his way out and starts to employ some roughhouse tactics of his own. During this match, Ray Morgan tells the Channel 5 viewers that Bruno is the "underdog" going into his upcoming MSG title defense against Baron Mikel Scicluna. That is just unreal to these ears. Right after Morgan got done plugging the MSG show, Marin caught Serrano by surprise with a flying dropkick and scored the pinfall.
Heading into the second fall, things got a bit more fast-paced, with
Marin turning the tables on Serrano by using brawling tactics. The
strategy works for all of a minute, as Serrano turns things around
right back in his favor. An interesting sidenote from Ray Morgan: he
speaks of a telegram Bruno recieved and promptly tore up, containing a
challenge from "West Coast contender" Fred Blassie. Morgan goes on to
say Vince McMahon (Sr.) will do whatever he can to sign this match.
Interesting to hear about Blassie during a time when he wasn't even a
part of the New York area scene yet. Back to the match at hand; Marin
traps Serrano in a reverse chinlock, but Serrano escapes by raking the
Puerto Rico resident's eyes. Amazingly, the reverse-chinlock-with-eyerake-escape happens all over again a second
time. Serrano gains a brief advantage, but gets taken down quickly by
Marin, into a body scissors. Serrano frees himself with an elbow to
Marin's face. Serrano then throws Marin over the top rope to the
National Arena floor. Marin eventually fights his way back in with a
series of shoulder thrusts, and registers a two-count after a catapult
splash. Marin then knocks Serrano through the ropes and onto the
floor. This is where the match becomes an excersise in frustration;
Serrano spends what seems like the next 35 years walking around,
jawing with the ringside fans and just walking in and out of the ring
to break the referee's count. I must note: Hector Serrano was outside
walking around the ring for so long, Bruno had gone through two title
reigns, Vince McMahon Jr. bought the company, Hulkamania was born, and
when Serrano re-entered the ring, he recieved a Stone Cold Stunner.
Ahem. SERIOUSLY, he was outside the ring so long Ray Morgan started
telling the home viewers (and this is NOT a joke), "Make defensive
driving a habit. Always watch out for the other guy. Your life depends
on it." Eventually, Serrano gets back in from his trip outside the
ring, and Marin wins the second fall by turning Serrano's side
headlock into a back suplex.
WINNER IN TWO STRAIGHT FALLS: THOMAS MARIN
ANTONIO PUGLIESE vs. TONY ALTIMORE
This was Antonio Pugliese's debut. WWWF Champion Bruno Sammartino was in the corner of his "cousin" here, as was Bruno's manager Arnold Skaaland. Irony here: the referee of this match is Jack Davis, the man who would officiate the Bruno Sammartino-Superstar Billy Graham title match in Baltimore 11 years later. A match which saw Bruno lose the championship for the last time. Altimore, the "Stamford Stomper", is best known as one-half of The Sicilians, with his partner Louis Albano. Pugliese offers a handshake, but Altimore just turns away from him. Apparently there was a 12-day New York City transit strike right before this show aired, as Ray Morgan talks a bit about it and how it relates to the upcoming January 24 WWWF event at MSG. After doing a quick Google search, I found out that bus and subway service shut down during said 12-day period, while unionized employees went on strike. Interesting. Anyway, let's get to the match; Pugliese takes control early with an armbar on Altimore, who makes it to the ropes to legally force a break. Altimore starts to yell insults at Bruno, who just sits there unaffected by anything he has to say. Pugliese traps Altimore in a full-nelson, and despite several attempts to escape, Altimore can't seem to get out of the hold. A test of strength ensues, but "Bruno's cousin" turns it into another armbar, into a side headlock. Altmimore works his way to his feet and shoves Pugliese into the ropes, but Pugliese scores with a pair of shoulderblocks. Out of nowhere, Altimore swings, hits air, and falls right to the mat. I'm guessing this was a common Altimore routine, I've seen him do this in more than one match. After another collar and elbow tieup, Pugliese hits another shoulderblock, this time knocking Altimore out of the ring to the outside. Altimore finds his way back in, but ends up in a hammerlock. I was surprised to see Altimore barely mount any kind of an offensive in this match, I thought he would at least give Pugliese a fight. But, alas, this match was more or less a squash. Pugliese wins with a rollup, and a FAST count from Jack Davis. After the match, a very well-dressed Tarzan Tyler strolls up to ringside and talks with Altimore.
WINNER: ANTONIO PUGLIESE
Sadly, both Antonio Pugliese and Tony Altimore are no longer with us. After a storied wrestling career which saw him win the World Tag Team Championship (as Tony "Cannonball" Parisi) with Louis Cerdan, among many other accolades, Antonio Pugliese passed away after suffering a heart attack on August 19, 2000, in Niagra Falls, Ontario. He was 58 years of age. "The Stamford Stomper" Tony Altimore lived a full, enjoyable life, serving his country in the United States Army and winning several Tag Team Championships throughout the Northeast and the Midwest. He passed away on February 18, 2003, at the age of 74.
At the conclusion of the week's program, Ray Morgan talked with Tony Altimore and Tarzan Tyler about the upcoming MSG show, in particular Bruno Sammartino's title defense against Baron Mikel Scicluna. Altimore says Scicluna is a qualified challenger, and he feels he will become the new champion. Altimore then breaks character and talks briefly about the New York transit strike, paying tribute to the NYC citizens for getting through the strike. I wasn't expecting to see that, I didn't know heels or faces broke character at all in those days. Must have been a rare exception. Morgan then talks to Tarzan Tyler, who bears quite a resemblance to Freddie Blassie here. Tyler, in so many words, agrees with Altimore's assessment of Sammartino-Scicluna, also noting that he has trained with Scicluna a few times. With that, Morgan thanks the fans for watching, and reminds them to tune in next week. The last shot we see is the ring being taken down. End of show.
Apparently, according to the full match results seen on Graham Cawthon's History of WWE site, there was also a tag team match featuring Bruno and Skaaland taking on Altimore and Tyler. I assume this was a dark match, as Ray Morgan made no mention of this match anywhere on the broadcast.
Wow. After watching even one episode of this show, I can say this: even the 1960s and 1970s were like night and day for WWE. Despite having their share of strange gimmicks even at the start, the WWWF was very stripped down in the beginning, with pure, traditional WRESTLING overcoming all. The overall product started to show much more color and flash during the disco decade, showing a progressive trend toward the "sports entertainment" mainstream conglomerate Vince McMahon Jr. and Hulk Hogan would help create in the '80s. While I do enjoy the product WWE delivers today despite some of the bad storylines I see, I also very much enjoyed seeing the original product. It was no-nonsense, straight-up action, and between you and me, that's what I enjoy best of all.