August 17, 2004
Sheldon Kane III
Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka vs. Ray "The Crippler" Stevens
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
December 28, 1982
When Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka first exploded onto the World Wrestling Federation scene in 1981, fans did not know quite what to make of him. Managed by Captain Lou Albano, Snuka showed incredible agility and high-flying skill, but he came across as an uncontrollable savage. He foamed at the mouth, stared at the ring lights, and his wild hair and crazed facial expression made viewers wonder what could have been going through the Fijian's mind. Eventually, Snuka became a top contender to Champion Bob Backlund, and came within inches of taking Backlund's title. The two would end up clashing in one of the all-time classics, a steelm cage match on June 28, 1982, at Madison Square Garden. Despite a large gash on his forehead with blood seeping into his eyes, Snuka seemed to have the championship won. To accent his triumph, Snuka climbed 15 feet into the air to the top of the steel cage, preparing to deliver the most spectacular "Superfly" splash of his career. Snuka leaped high into the air, but wound up hitting nothing but canvas. Backlund rolled out of the way, and escaped the cage through the door on his way to a successful title defense.
In the months following this match, the fans started to take a strong liking to Snuka, and the feeling seemed mutual, to the dismay of Captain Lou Albano. Enter two pivotal figures: "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, and Ray "The Crippler" Stevens. Rogers, the first WWE Champion and one of the most influential wrestlers of all time. Rogers had his own interview segment at the time (predating "Piper's Pit") called "Rogers' Corner", which aired every week on Championship Wrestling. On one particular segment in the fall of 1982, Rogers had Ray Stevens and his manager "Classy" Freddie Blassie as guests. Stevens, a decorated competitor who won championships all over the United States and gave Bruno Sammartino one of his toughest title defenses in 1967, went on to issue a challenge to Snuka, calling him a "monkey-lookin' fella" (not very PC, I know this) and issuing a check for $1,000 in an attempt to lure Snuka into the ring. Snuka, who was well on his way to babyface status, accepted Stevens's challenge, and the two were scheduled to meet on an edition of Championship Wrestling. On the same program Snuka was scheduled to face Stevens, Buddy Rogers hosted Snuka and Lou Albano on "Rogers' Corner", and Rogers promised to reveal the truth behind Albano's dealings with his charge. It was revealed that Albano had been taking Snuka's money, and their contract was fraudulent. In the words of Rogers: "This man is not his manager, never was, never will be!" Albano angrily accused Rogers of being "the biggest liar of them all", and stormed off the set. Snuka was proclaimed a "free man" by Rogers, the two shared an emotional embrace, and the "Superfly" instantly became the most popular wrestler in the World Wrestling Federation. Right after the segment was completed, Snuka headed to the ring for his match with Ray Stevens. Before ring announcer Joe McCugh could barely get the words out of his mouth, Albano hit the ring and confronted Snuka. The two came to blows, which gave Stevens an opportunity to ambush Snuka from behind. Albano and Stevens viciously double-teamed the "Superfly", with Blassie directing traffic. Albano busted Snuka's forehead wide open, and Stevens threw Snuka over the top rope to the floor, leaving fans wondering what "The Crippler" had in mind for Snuka. To the shock and disgust of fans everywhere, Stevens delivered two devastating piledrivers on the concrete floor, breaking Snuka's neck in the process. It was one of the most violent attacks ever seen in WWE history, and it also assured fans of one thing: when Snuka recovered, he would be out to spill some blood himself; the blood of Ray "The Crippler" Stevens. On December 28, 1982, Snuka would get his chance, facing Stevens one-on-one in Madison Square Garden.
Right from the opening bell, Snuka and Stevens tore into one another, engaging in a slugfest. Snuka eventually overcame, and floored Stevens with a leaping headbutt. Snuka then dragged Stevens into the corner and leveled him with several straight punches, followed by a snapmare. This allowed Snuka to climb to the second rope, and come crashing down with a forearm smash. Looking for some breathing room, Stevens escaped to the outside of the ring, as the referee started a count. But the "Superfly" didn't want to win the match this way; he wanted to crush Stevens and make him suffer for the damage he did to his body and to his pride. Snuka kicked Stevens back outside in order to break the count. Stevens made it into the ring by the count of six, but started to beg off in the corner, apparently looking for mercy from Snuka. It turned out to be a ploy by Stevens to gain the advantage. Allowing Snuka a few shots, Stevens returned the favor with a low blow, which dropped Snuka to his knees. Stevens slowly moved in to start his attack, ripping hard at Snuka's eyes and choking him across the middle rope. Showing no relent, Stevens scored with a thumb to the throat, and a blatant choke on Snuka. Once Stevens sensed Snuka was weakened enough, he got his opponent in position for the piledriver, the very same move he used to put Snuka out of commission. After two unsuccessful attempts to lift Snuka off the canvas, Snuka grasped Stevens's calves, and flipped him onto his back, with Snuka falling to the mat along with him.
The fans at Madison Square Garden came alive, knowing their hero had taken the lead in this match. Snuka moved in slowly, and rang Stevens's bell with a double chop, followed by a straight punch with sent Stevens crashing to the canvas. Snuka stayed on his adversary, dropping a knee and ramming Steven's face into the canvas. And just when Stevens was able to make it to his feet, Snuka dropped him like a bad habit with another straight shot. A second kneedrop followed, but the ever-crafty Stevens kept his wits about him, low-blowing Snuka once again. "The Crippler" was again in control, and the fans' excitement simmered briefly. Stevens dragged Snuka to the corner, leveling him with a hard right hand and an eyerake. After a snapmare, Stevens went to the ropes to deliver his classic "bombs away" leap, a move that gave Stevens many victories over the years. Obviously, Snuka spent a good deal of time studying his opponent, because he was on his feet and ready to counter. Snuka caught Stevens climbing up, and slammed him down hard to the mat. The New York crowd started to feed the "Superfly" all the energy he needed, and a fired-up Snuka moved in for the kill. Stevens's attempt to beg for mercy fell on deaf ears, and Snuka worked over his foe with several hard shots in the corner. Snuka then Irish whipped Stevens to the opposite corner, and the impact was so great that Stevens went flying upside down and through the ropes, hitting the concrete floor of MSG. Perhaps in an attempt to prevent himself from doing something he'd later regret, Snuka backed off and surprisingly allowed Stevens to be counted out of the ring at 6:54. Stevens did attempt to get back in, but Snuka sent him back outside with a straight punch and a headbutt, almost as if to say "Brudda, you don't want this."
After ring announcer Howard Finkel declared Snuka the winner by countout, Snuka grabbed the house mic and proclaimed, "New York, I love you baby!"
While many fans were overjoyed to see Snuka get revenge on Stevens, some did walk away disappointed in the outcome. Snuka never did spill the blood of "The Crippler", nor did he administer his famed "Superfly" splash. But despite this, this match did send a strong message to anyone in the Federation who was thinking about tangling with Jimmy Snuka; if he could cause the tough-as-nails Ray "The Crippler" Stevens to run from a fight, imagine what he could do to even more powerful adversaries. Legends like the Magnificent Muraco, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Cowboy Bob Orton soon discovered what many others would; hell hath no fury like a "Superfly" scorned.