August 21, 2004
Sheldon Kane III
A LUCRATIVE CHALLENGE
Robert Remus, portraying the former marine drill instructor Sgt. Slaughter, first arrived on the World Wrestling Federation scene in 1980 managed by the late, great Grand Wizard of Wrestling. Right from the start, Slaughter gained a reputation as a bona fide bully, telling fans and wrestlers alike to stand at attention, chin up, and shoulders straight when he is addressing them. The fans developed a strong hatred for Slaughter, and right back at them, Slaughter showed disdain for the "maggots" who taunted him, chanting "Gomer" wherever he went. Slaughter was a powerful force in the ring, brutalizing his opponents with the type of tactics one could imagine him using in the service. But nothing in the Sarge's arsenal was more effective and more dangerous than his patented submission hold, the Cobra Clutch. When applied properly, not only could the hold be a painful one, but it could also render a man unconscious.
When competition seemed to be growing dull for Slaughter, he and the Grand Wizard decided to up the ante in the winter of 1981; any wrestler who could break out of the camel clutch would recieve $5,000 cash. One would think with that type of incentive, wrestlers would have been lining up out the door to try and take Slaughter up on his challenge; instead, he was hard-pressed to find many wrestlers who wanted to try. The few who did, such as the late Rick McGraw, would give a valiant effort, but would come up short, unable to escape the Cobra Clutch.
One man who Slaughter seemed interested in testing was the first Intercontinental Champion, Pat Patterson. Patterson, who by 1981 had settled into the role of ringside commentator/part-time wrestler, was interviewing Slaughter and the Grand Wizard (who happened to be Patterson's former manager) on Championship Wrestling the day the "$5,000 Cobra Clutch Challenge" was first announced. From the get-go, Slaughter started taunting Patterson, throwing insults in his direction and daring him to try and take up Slaughter on his dare. Patterson tried hard to not acknowledge the Sarge's taunts, but as weeks passed, Slaughter continued to try and goad the "Blond Bomber" into taking the challenge. The Grand Wizard even told Patterson that if he managed to break the Cobra Clutch, he would recieve double the money offered,a total of $10,000. On a March 1981 episode of Championship Wrestling, after weeks of trying to stay professional, Pat Patterson had finally had enough.
$10,000 IN THE BALANCE
At the start of this particular Cobra Clutch Challenge, it seemed like just another week where Slaughter would take out a hapless foe and prove the superiority of his lethal hold. This time out, the challenger was the masked 285-pound Black Demon, a large enough man who seemed he could at least give the former drill instructor a struggle. But just as Slaughter was starting to apply the hold, the Black Demon stood up, waved Slaughter off, and hightailed it to the showers. A bewildered Slaughter started to leave the ring, but he and the Grand Wizard were stopped by Pat Patterson, who attempted to interview Slaughter and ask what had happened. Slaughter responded with, "I said this might be his last time ever wrestling again, and the guy got up and left!" Seeing an opportunity in this, Slaughter also told Patterson, "He's yellow, just like you!" As Patterson tried to keep the focus on the interview, Slaughter hauled off and smacked Patterson in the face. As Slaughter turned to leave, an enraged Patterson grabbed him by the shoulder and pointed to the ring, signifying he had finally had it with Slaughter's constant taunting. As the Allentown, Pennsylvania fans erupted into cheers, Patterson entered the ring, removed his sportcoat, tie and dress shirt, and sat down on the chair in the middle of the ring, ready to take Slaughter up on his challenge. Slaughter seemed reluctant to enter the ring, but the Grand Wizard was able to finally convince him to get in and apply the hold on Patterson. After spending minutes teasing an application of the hold, Slaughter was finally ready.
With $10,000 hanging in the balance, Slaughter slowly moved in, and applied the Cobra Clutch on Patterson. Patterson soon rose from the chair and started to put up a struggle, trying every possible method of escape, including kicking off the turnbuckles, flipping him over, and running Slaughter towards the turnbuckles. No matter what he tried, Slaughter held on strong with the Cobra Clutch. However, Slaughter was starting to weaken, and it showed whenever Patterson attempted another means of escape. Finally, after several minutes, Patterson had Slaughter in a weakened enough state that he could actually try using his arms to pry his way out of the hold. As the fans' cheers grew louder, Patterson slowly started forcing himself out of the clutch, but just when it seemed Patterson was about to become $10,000 richer, Slaughter hit Patterson in the midsection. An enraged Slaughter, knowing he was about to meet his match, then slammed a chair over the head of Patterson, opening a gash on his forehead. Slaughter then disposed of referee Dick Woehrle, unleashed a brutal assault on Patterson, and re-applied the Cobra Clutch. As blood poured down from Patterson's forehead, help arrived in the form of Tito Santana, Tony Garea, Rick Martel, and Domenic DeNucci, all of whom attempted to get Slaughter off of Patterson. DeNucci was able to fight Slaughter off with several chairshots, but Slaughter just moved in again and clamped the clutch on. After another DeNucci chairshot, Slaughter released the hold, and continued to pound away on Patterson until being hauled away by Gorilla Monsoon.
After this brutal attack, Patterson demanded to face Slaughter one-on-one in the ring. The first time the two met, on April 6, 1981 in Madison Square Garden, they battled to a double-disqualification. It was obvious no rulebook was going to keep a match between Patterson and Slaughter toned down in any way, shape or form. This feud called for drastic measures to be taken. And on May 4, 1981, the two would meet again, in one of the most brutal matches in the history of professional wrestling, which was more "hardcore" than any match using fire extinguishers and cookie sheets; an Alley Fight.
From the outset, ring announcer Howard Finkel explained to the Madison Square Garden audience there would be no referee present during the match, and there would be no holds barred. After the ring introductions were made, Patterson arrived prepared for combat, sporting a baseball cap, an " I LOVE N.Y." T-shirt, blue jeans, and cowboy boots. Likewise, Slaughter came to the ring properly dressed, in combat fatigues. Right from the beginning, a slugfest ensued, which Patterson won. Using his cowboy boots, Patterson kicked Slaughter several times in the midsection, and rammed him head-first into the turnbuckle. Slaughter fell to his knees in pain, and Patterson continued to punch and kick away at his foe. Patterson, remembering what Slaughter had done to him on Championship Wrestling months earlier, started choking Slaughter in the corner. Slaughter managed to fight out of the choke, and went to throw a forearm shot at Patterson. Patterson ducked, and Slaughter ended up hitting the steel ringpost, to the delight of the New York City fans. With Slaughter slumped over the middle rope, Patterson moved in and dumped him outside, onto a ringside table. Patterson moved to the ringside apron, and kicked Slaughter hard in the head. Slowly, Slaughter managed to roll back into the ring, holding his head in pain. Patterson then brought his leather belt into play, whipping Slaughter twice across the back and choking him with it. Even with Slaughter up against the ropes, Patterson continued to choke the life out of Slaughter. Sarge did have enough presence of mind to reach up and dump Patterson over the top rope, releasing himself from his grip. Slaughter made it back to his feet, but still had the belt wrapped around his neck. Patterson got back into the ring, reached up, and snatched the belt away from Slaughter. The whipping of Sgt. Slaughter resumed, and Slaughter soon dropped to the canvas. Patterson scored with a kick to the midsection, and choked Slaughter on the mat with the belt some more before getting his eyes raked by the Sarge.
Slowly, Slaughter struggled to his feet, finally in control of the contest. Using Patterson's own belt, Slaughter threw Patterson to the ropes and clotheslined him with it. Slaughter then unleashed a whipping of his own on the first Intercontinental Champion, and wrapped the belt across Patterson's mouth. As the chant of "Gomer" grew louder inside Madison Square Garden, Slaughter grew more vicious, hitting Patterson with a hard right punch. Patterson's T-shirt came into play, with Slaughter tearing it off his body and using it to choke him. Patterson, despite being choked, managed to run toward the ropes, duck, and send Slaughter flying over the top rope to the floor. Slaughter quickly made his next move, climbing up to the top rope to try and land a stomp on Patterson, but Slaughter hit nothing but canvas. Both men were down, but Slaughter managed to get to his feet first. As Slaughter came toward him, Patterson landed a kick, and then scooped his 305-pound adversary and slammed him to the mat. Patterson then followed this with a devastating kneedrop from the second rope. For good measure, Patterson then repeated the slam/second rope kneedrop combination. Patterson then dropped a knee on the back of Slaughter's head, and bit his forehead. Slaughter fought his way out by gouging Patterson's eyes. Again, Slaughter had control of the Alley Fight. A kick to the head and a kneedrop to the face, followed by a stomp in th midsection and to the back of the head, put Slaughter in command enough to throw him over the top rope to the hard arena floor.
As Patterson lay on the floor in trouble, Slaughter started to climb the ropes in an attempt to possibly jump down on his rival, but Slaughter thought better of it and climbed down. Instead, Slaughter reached out and punched Patterson in the head, and rammed his head into the ring apron. As Patterson climbed back inside, Slaughter attempted to continue his assault, until time came for the defining moment of the match. Patterson grabbed Slaughter by the legs and dropped him on his back, and in a slingshot position, Patterson sent Slaughter careening head-first into the top of the steel ringpost. The result: Slaughter's forehead immediately started gushing large amounts of blood, with the plasma flowing freely down Slaughter's head, face, and chest. Patterson gained his second wind, and started hammering away on Slaughter's fresh, deep wound. Bloodied but not beaten, Slaughter then reached into his bag of tricks and low blowed Patterson, who fell to the canvas. Slaughter reached into his pants and pulled out a pair of brass knuckles, but he was so woozy from blood loss and blinded by the crimson seeping into his eyes, he started flailing around aimlessly in the ring, hitting nothing but air. Slaughter did eventually find Patterson and clonked him with the knux, but Slaughter was unable to stand up on his own power. Patterson makes it up to his feet, and twice blocked Slaughter's punches to land two of his own. Patterson then took Slaughter and threw him over the turnbuckle, into the top of another ringpost. As the fans roared their approval, Patterson then removed right cowboy boot and smashed Slaughter in the head with it. Patterson followed up by again throwing Slaughter over a buckle into the top of a post, twice over. Patterson then assaulted Slaughter with the boot until the Sarge fell into the ropes, and out onto the ring apron. After Patterson rammed the former drill instructor into the ringpost outside, Slaughter fell to the floor, taking out a ringside cameraman along the way. Slaughter climbed back on the apron and hung onto the ropes with all he had as Patterson continued to bludgeon him with his boot. Meanwhile, Slaughter's manager the Grand Wizard ran to ringside, waving a white towel over his head, which he threw into the ring signifying a surrender. Patterson continued to beat down Slaughter, and Sarge actually managed to get in a couple of shots, until referee Gilberto Roman hit the ring and ordered for the bell to ring. At 14:13, Patterson was declared the winner of the Alley Fight, as Madison Square Garden cheered wildly, having witnessed the bloodiest, most violent match ever held at that time. The Grand Wizard pleaded with Slaughter not to go back into the ring, and as the defeated Sarge stumbled back to the dressing room, Patterson stood tall and victorious in front of the standing room only crowd at MSG.
Pat Patterson continued to wrestle and perform announcing duties until he retired from the ring in the mid-1980s. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1996, and also made a return to WWE television in the late-1990s as one of Mr. McMahon's "stooges." He even reigned briefly as WWE Hardcore Champion in 2000. Sgt. Slaughter would return to WWE in 1984 as a patriotic fan favorite at war with the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff, but in 1990 would again resurface in WWE as a heel, this time siding with Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. He won the WWE Championship on January 19, 1991, and held the title for over two months, before losing it to Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VII. Slaughter would work as WWE Commissioner from 1997 to 1998, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.
No matter how many different paths each man's careers have taken since, Pat Patterson and Sgt. Slaughter would not soon forget their violent blood feud of 1981. Today, both men share a great respect for one another, but they are both all too aware of the hatred which once existed between them. And it's safe to say Patterson is probably still waiting for that $10,000 payoff for breaking the Cobra Clutch. Pay up, Sarge!