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Harley Race vs. Ric Flair, Starrcade '83 11/24/83

 

Watched the press conference before this where they announced that Jim Crockett promotions had won the bid to hold the return title match between Ric Flair and Harley Race. Shabby, shabby producton values, especially when they pretend they're crossing live for satellite reactions from Ric Flair and Harley Race. Harley Race is supposed to be in Kansas but is actually in Fort Worth, Texas. He gives a typically grim promo about Crockett shelling out more money then anyone in the history of professional wrestling to ensure that Flair gets a match in his own backyard and says he's just paid for the end of Ric Flair's wrestling career. Harley being Harley he stumbles over his words a bit. His promos always had a clear message but his delivery wasn't the greatest. Flair's babyface promo is lame and Flair going this match "A Flair for the Gold" made me cringe the same way I gringe when a character in a movie says the title of the film. Anyway, on to the match.... It's not a match I've ever paid any attention to as it doesn't have the greatest rep. This was the first time for me to really sit down and watch it. I thought it was a decent Race/Flair match, but even without the ref bullshit it would've fallen flat. Something about it isn't special enough for the setting or the build. If it were just a regular houseshow match that we have on tape I'd probably be a lot more positive about it, but to me even the post-match celebration lacked something. Only the intros were exciting, I thought. I really love Race's robe from this era. Match is a bit too divided between wrestling and brawling as well, but a lot of that was Kiniski's fault as he kept cutting off the brawling spots in the first half of the match. I assume that was planned. I don't remember the inside info on this. Not a bad match, but not the match of the century it was hyped as and not a home run as far as promoting a supershow is concerned.

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Harley Race vs. Kerry Von Erich, WCCW 6/4/82

 

This was really cool. Race and Von Erich worked a headlock exactly the way I think a headlock should be worked and I loved how KVE countered the standing diving headbutt with the claw. Race's counter of throwing Von Erich over the top rope was also awesome and he was laying in the shots here, which is exactly the kind of Harley Race I like. Love the headbutt, love the knee drop. Could've done with a few more minutes to really be a classic, but the brawling was good and both guys put in that extra bit of effort to transition back onto offence with a shot to the gut or something similar, putting over the fight. I'm loving early 80s Race.

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Bruiser Brody/Stan Hansen vs. Harley Race/Dick Slater, AJPW 12/2/82

 

This could've been so much better, but I suppose that's like saying the Brody/Hansen team should've been a whole lot better. I mainly watched this to imagine how good a Race/Hansen match might be, but it was hard to tell from the limited exchanges they had. Brody and Race no-selling each other's body slams sucked. All Japan brawls seem to suck in general. I'm starting to think that I don't like watching Harley in Japan.

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Harley Race vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, AJPW 1/20/78

 

It's difficult to know how good this was with over half missing, but the action that's shown is pretty solid. Nothing remarkable, but they seemed to keep things moving despite the demands of working 60 minutes. Looks like there was a fair amount of boring matwork too, but you can almost forgive them for it with a time limit draw.

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I've never really watched any of Bundy's matches before. Was he always this good pre-WWF? Because he seemed pretty damn good to me.

If this is the Bundy/Race match I'm thinking of: no, Bundy wasn't always this good, this is above-average by his standards. But he was a guy who does often seem unfairly forgotten when it comes to discussing superheavyweights.

 

Match is a bit too divided between wrestling and brawling as well, but a lot of that was Kiniski's fault as he kept cutting off the brawling spots in the first half of the match. I assume that was planned. I don't remember the inside info on this.

Both Race and Flair have said in books/interviews that Kiniski went into business for himself, hogging the spotlight as much as possible and even almost completely botching the finish.

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The British Bulldogs vs. Harley Race & Jesse Barr, 12/12/85

 

The only reason I watched this was to see Harley Race work with Dynamite Kid and I wasn't disappointed. It struck me as a potentially good match-up and it was every bit as physical as I'd hoped. I dig the Bulldogs during this time frame. They're almost Steiners-esque in terms of the offence they bring. Of course, they blow shit off and their selling is crap, but there's a time and a place for everything and that includes appreciating some pure offence.

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Harley Race/Hercules vs. The British Bulldogs, WWF 1/26/88

 

Harley vs. the Bulldogs again, this time in the WWF. Harley had visibly declined here but still did some fun stuff with Dynamite Kid. This may not be a commonly shared opinion here, but take the Dynamite Kid from the '83 WoS match against Marty Jones and the Race from the '82 Texas stuff and the Flair matches and I reckon you'd have a hell of a match. After praising a lot of the WWF booking and angles in the Dibiase and Boss Man threads, I have to say that this Matilda angle they had going between the Bulldogs and the Islanders was pretty stupid. Monsoon sold it pretty straight by telling us that Matilda was on the mend and that she was starting to eat more and had gained a few pounds, but Heenan coming to ringside with an empty collar and leash was a pretty weak taunt. Why would two jacked up English men care about a dog when they'd be more likely to get wasted and play awful tricks on it? The match was kind of slow, but not too bad. The angle was a dud.

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Harley Race vs Miguel Perez Jr WWC 1990

 

I had no idea Harley actually wrestled after leaving WWF in 90. This isn't bad as it basically turns into a brawl with fans throwing trash and Race slaming Perez on a table. Plus for a guy that is injured, Race takes a flair bump over the turnbuckle onto the floor.

Race worked for NWA in 1990.

 

I'm intrigued by the 3 1993 Flair matches

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Harley Race vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, AJPW 8/1/82

 

This was all right, but I don't think it held a candle to what Race was doing in Texas and against Flair. I didn't care much for Jumbo's performance in this match. Something about the way he wrestles small all the time and his selling of the bladejob rubbed me the wrong way. It almost seemed like he was trying too hard. And I'm still not sold on Harley in Japan being any good. The transition here from serious wrestling match to heated brawl wasn't any better than in any of the Baba matches and was missing the cool transitions of Race's American work.

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Harley Race vs. Dusty Rhodes

 

Just now, I watched as much Dusty Rhodes vs. Harley Race footage as I could find, which boiled down to the 8/21/79 and 6/21/81 NWA title changes, the 12/6/75 match from All Japan and a short clip of Murdoch/Rhodes vs. Race/Roop from 9/13/75. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from this footage as I assumed that Big Dust wasn't much of a worker, but fuck me was this shit great. The 8/79 match is helped by being clipped to the best stuff (Race's headbutts, Dusty bleeding everywhere, the bionic elbow, etc.), as well as Solie and Rhodes commentating over the top of the film, but I was surprised by the shape Rhodes was in, the reaction of the crowd and the younger fans flooding the ring like a Florida team winning a Super Bowl or NBA championship. The '81 title swap was equally great and shattered any illusions I might have had that Dusty winning the title didn't really match the legitimacy of the title to date. In all honesty, I can't understand how Rhodes invited the Dusty finish when he experienced what a real title switch was like. The All Japan match I hated on at first because of the crowd, but I thought Dusty was brilliant in the way he fleshed out his audience and understood what made them pop. The tag match is really short, nothing even, but Dusty's commentary was AMAZING. I marked out more than I have since the Microscope began. I immediately rushed to my James Brown collection and began playing his records I was so pumped. I'd consumed a six pack by this point, so I had a little lubricant, but this really made me want to drink more.

 

Check it out -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xl9wTfWg6ls

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Harley Race vs. Ricky Steamboat, AJPW 12/7/82

 

I really liked this. 1982 is like the peak of Harley Race as a worker as far as I can make out. Steamboat was all about the headlock to begin with, which wasn't thrilling at first, but they reached this point where instead of dropping the headlock like they'd usually do to go onto more exciting spots, they fought over it like buggery. At one point it seemed like Harley was going to snap Steamboat's neck off, but Steamboat wouldn't release the hold and I had to applaud them for going all the way with the headlock. Once they dropped it, the work had some pretty smooth holds and rope work. Steamboat/Race was a match-up that never totally worked for me, but this was fun stuff.

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Harley Race vs. Randy Savage, WWF 9/18/87

 

This was a lot more fun than I remembered. The match layout is almost embarrassingly simply for workers of their standard, but it allowed them to focus on some pretty solid looking offence for this era of the WWF. It never ceases to amaze me the bumps Harley was prepared to take during this run, especially the shit he was doing over the top rope or off the apron. Looks may be deceiving when it comes to Race at this stage and his King gimmick, but he really was one of the better workers in the WWF at the time and didn't seem to compromise his move set like so many others did. Despite his age, he was treated pretty well by road agents and the like. He could have easily come across as a joke, but for the most part he was still Harley Race, peppering opponents with elbows and strikes, stiffing them on clotheslines and making folks work hard when they got in the ring with the king of professional wrestling. They did about as much as they could without acknowledging his history as a multiple times World Heavyweight champion, though Gorilla would occasionally mention that he'd done everything there was to do in the business, which was about as close to an acknowledge of past history as you got back then. They even treated him pretty respectfully when booking him to job. No elbow from the top from Savage here, as he misses and is forced to dig a little deeper into his bag of tricks. I don't know what Harley has to say about his time in the WWF, but considering the fun Vince had with Rhodes and Taylor there doesn't seem to have been any monkey business on Vince's part when it came to Race.

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Harley Race vs. Mil Mascaras, AJPW 9/11/80

 

This was a styles clash to say the least, but they could have at least thought to make it interesting. The outside brawling, chair waving and table spot was the least inspired stuff I've seen this side of Gene Kiniski's reffing. Neither guy looked like they gave a fuck. Another swing and a miss for Harley in Japan.

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Akeem and Harley Race vs JYD and B. Brian Blair WWF Italy 1988

 

So this showed up on the youtubes today and it's nothing much. Only 7 minutes and clipped with most of being headlocks. However, Harley enters the Arena with Akeem doing the Akeem dance. That was awesome and should be a extra on the WWF set.

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There are two things in wrestling that cause me to laugh out loud whenever I see them: 1. Kamala patting his tummy and/or getting confused about how a tag match works. 2. Akeem dancing. I was hoping Harley would get into it with his arms and hands like Akeem does, but it's more of a strut. It was decent, I guess. Before the match starts, Harely is grinning and saying something to Akeem. I imagine he's telling Akeem that he has to buy the case of Colt 45 for the drive to the next town.

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Harley Race vs. Terry Funk, Championship Wrestling From Florida 1974

 

This was Solie narrating over some short clips. Seemed pretty stip heavy -- a Texas Death Match to decide the number one contender for the NWA World Championship with the winner getting a minute to do whatever he likes to the loser. More of a Terry match than a Race match from the looks of it, at least that's how the clips made it appear. Terry did some cool shit like shuffling along the ropes to hit his knee drop and convulsing on the mat when Race hit his flying headbutt. Race didn't look that good from what was shown. Weak bumps to the outside. He sold well between falls when Roop was giving him water but that was about it.

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Harley Race vs. Rick Martel, PNW 1/12/80

 

I haven't got much love for Portland wrestling, it's TV, Don Owen's introductions, Frank Bonnema's commentary or Rick Martel, so let me get those biases out of the way. I don't really like their two out of three falls format, either. I may grow to like these things in the future, so I don't mean to pass any indictment on Portland wrestling.

 

This match was good when they did the stand-up parts that led to the finishes and boring as shit when they were on the mat. I don't want to see Harley Race mat wrestle. I don't think he's a good mat wrestler, I don't think he's an interesting mat worker and I don't think he's good at selling on the mat. Harley is good at delivering headbutts and cool offence. I wanna see him work like he worked in Texas. And I especially don't want to see Rick Martel working from the top. Harley really ought to have bucked the touring champ formula and controlled the entire match like the heavyweight champ should. I don't really understand giving the young babyface the control segments when the crowd would love it so much more if he got on a roll instead of slowing the match the fuck down. At least the final two falls were short.

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I jotted off some thoughts of that match to Dylan. I am not in a mental state to edit them, so I'll just toss them here:

------------------------

I feel like what people say about Race isn't that off. Due to his lack of prolonged selling, any long face limbwork just becomes "control." which I like with Demotiion as a counterpoint to shitty 80s WWF heel in peril wrestling and because Eadie is so good at making people work for it, but in a match like this it's just frustrating.

 

He sells in general and he lets things matter in general, but it's sort of meaningless selling. Better than Angle, worse than real greats.

 

Things have weight but not necessarily meaning.

 

He sold after he won the fall but didn't during the action itself. He sort of sold when it didn't matter at all.

 

I do think that Bonnema really sold the "control" aspect, which I rarely have ever seen an announcer do. It's literally the only way to look at that match and explain the story of it, so good on him.

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I'd just like to say on record that when Race is doing bombs all over the place like in that Martel match, I really dig him.

 

I do think that Race sometimes feels dislocated from the match or narrative he's supposed to be a part of. This was my big criticism of his Starrcade 83 match.

 

Matt D - are you trying to get "meaningless selling" over as the new "meaningless depth"? :D

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I know this isn't about watching Harley matches but I got to put this here. This is from the AWESOME Don Slatton obit from this week's WON.

 

In wrestling folklore, Slatton is best known for a May 10, 1978, match, on a show he promoted in Abilene, where he faced Harley Race for the NWA title in a chain match.

 

Slatton, better known as The Lawman, was billed locally as never having lost a chain match, and because he was facing Race under his rules, there was a big push that the hometown star was going to win the world title, and the crowd was way up from usual.

 

Race’s version of the story is that he got a phone call earlier in the day from Bob Geigel, the promoter in Kansas City, Race’s home territory and Race’s business partner at the time, asking if he was working with Slatton that night. When Race told him he was, Geigel told Race not to show up, saying he had been tipped off that Slatton was going to use the chain match rules of touching all four corners to try and steal the title. Race told Geigel not to worry because he was Harley Race. Some wrestlers might get double-crossed, but Race was one of the most feared real street fighters in the game, as opposed to Slatton, who was a tough guy in his youth, but was in his mid-40s by that time and nobody messed in those days with Race.

 

Race joked to Geigel that surely Slatton wouldn’t be that stupid to try something like that on him.

 

Race’s version of the story is that the finish he got in the dressing room from the runners (usually the officials, who would go between the face and heel dressing room as in those days everyone was kept separate) was that Slatton would drag him to three corners, and be on the verge of winning, struggling to hit the fourth corner, when a heel would come out and distract Slatton, who would cost Slatton the match and the title, and lead to his next program. Terry Funk would then come out for the save, but in the commotion Race would knock Slatton out with the chain and touch all four corners to win.

 

Everything was going as planned. The heel came out. Nobody involved seem to be able to remember who it was. Given who was on the card, it would have been Roger Kirby, Mr. Pogo, Lord Jonathan Boyd, who for some reason that name rings a bell with this story, or Rip Hawk, who had been one of Slatton’s biggest career rivals a few years earlier. Anyway, whoever it was came out, and Funk came out as well, but Slatton made sure there was slack in the chain and Race was unaware, and Slatton, instead of being distracted, touched the fourth corner. The place exploded. Slatton had just won the world heavyweight championship.

 

He quickly took the chain off and rushed off to the dressing room, not even taking the belt with him, figuring being in the ring with Race in that situation in his home town, where he was the local hero and had a reputation to uphold as a tough guy, was not the best idea. The fans were still celebrating and shocked, because Slatton was hardly a guy anyone expected to win the world heavyweight championship, even if this was his specialty match and it was noted he had beaten Race under chain match rules several times when both were younger in the late 60s.

 

The referee, a young Tongan former sumo wrestler just getting started and being trained for All Japan, using the name Tonga Fifita (who later became a star as Haku and Meng) was smart enough to know that the title wasn’t changing hands that night and even though Slatton was the guy paying him that night, never signaled for the bell. Slatton was gone and Race, first making sure the inexperienced ref wasn’t going to call the match, took off after him.

 

Race’s version of the story as told to people over the years is that he ran through the crowd, not even stopping to take the chain off, went to the babyface dressing room and found Slatton hiding in the shower. Race said he slapped him twice, dragged him to the ring and punched him a few times, and then dragged him around the ring, even though he no longer had the chain on, touching all four corners. Fifita then ordered for the bell, and told the ring announcer to announce that Race, and not Slatton was the winner, and still world champion. Some of the fans had left. The ones who hadn’t couldn’t figure out what they were just seeing. There had been no actual announcement made about Slatton winning since he and Race were both in the dressing room before the announcement could be made and Fifita never made the call.

 

In Race’s book, “King of the Ring,” the story differed slightly, with Race saying that he got to Slatton before Slatton left the ring, that he started throwing real slaps and punches, and then dragged him around the ring and Fifita called for the bell.

 

Race in his book claimed he then went to the babyface dressing room, where he heard Slatton and Funk laughing, opened the door and started swinging the chain, smashed lockers and chairs while Slatton curled into a ball saying, “Please, Harley, don’t hit me! Don’t hit me! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

 

He claimed Funk then yelled at Slatton for trying to double-cross Race, but Race suggested that Funk may have been behind it from the beginning.

 

In other versions, Race said that he went back to his own dressing room, but ended up so mad, that he went back to the other side of the building. This time Slatton had locked the door, so Race kicked in the door. But Slatton was already gone, and he threw a few chairs against the wall, went back to his side of the building, then took his shower and went to the next town.

 

Funk said he remembered the story, but what he remembered is that after Slatton double-crossed Race, that Race went to the dressing room, knocked down the door, and Slatton was pleading with Race not to punch him, saying he lost count and thought he was touching the third turnbuckle and it was all a mistake. Race’s version was also similar, saying, “Slatton lied through his teeth, claiming it was an accident. After screaming a steam of profanities at Slatton and kicking him a couple of times, I let the poor bastard go.”

 

Funk said that Slatton always stuck to the story to him it was an accident, although what happened next would suggest otherwise.

 

Slatton had to know that he wasn’t going to be declared world champion, no matter how well the double-cross went.

 

The next day, the local Abilene Reporter story, likely coming from Slatton, reported that The Lawman had beaten the world champion, Race, but it had been changed to a non-title chain match.

 

Slatton then purchased himself a belt and billed himself locally as the world chain match champion, and started defending it on his cards. On his biggest show of the year a few months later, with a triple main event of Andre the Giant vs. The Sheik, Dory Funk Jr. & Terry Funk vs. David & Kevin Von Erich for the Texas tag team titles, Lawman defended his chain match championship against Abdullah the Butcher.

 

In 1979, Race was back in the territory on a card with Slatton and saw a belt on the bench in the dressing room which read, “World champion chain wrestler.” He said Slatton walked in and Race took the belt and told Slatton, “You won’t be needing this,” and left with it.

 

He said Slatton begged him not to take it because he spent a lot of money on it. By NWA bylaws, which could be ignored when convenient, no NWA promoter could bill someone as world champion who wasn’t the recognized NWA champion.

 

“There’s no earthly reason for you to have this, and I’m not leaving here without it,” Race claimed that he said to Slatton while taking the belt.

 

“To this day, I don’t remember what I did with the stupid belt. I just know Slatton never got it back.”

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Bob Backlund vs. Harley Race 9/22/80

 

Wow this was pretty mediocre. The guys went 35 minutes and I bet Backlund took about 27 minutes of it. I guess Harley's job was too make Backlund look good since at the time the WWF was just a territory. We talked about taking too much of the match on our recent Titans of Wrestling show. To me this is an example of it being bad. Both guys are billed as the World Champ so to me you would want to take more of the match if I was Race. The finish was a Race DQ that made it look like Backlund was on the verge of winning the title. They could of done this finish and allowed Race to look stronger during the match. People complain about Flair looking like a bitch to the Von Erichs, here I think it might even be worse.

 

The action was pretty ho hum. Backlund worked multiple long headlock segments and didn't really do much with it. Race was content for the most part to sit in the headlock. Race did some stuff while sitting in the headlock, but not enough to make it interesting. I've seen Backlund work interesting headlock spots before, but not here. Race's offense consisted mainly of hope spots that Bob would cut off pretty quickly. What a shame, I was really looking forward to this match.

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Match #A-100 - 09/22/80 Backlund vs Race (35:43)

Taped: Madison Square Garden, New York

From: WWE.com

 

NWA World Title vs WWF Title. Good set of boos for Harley when he's introduced, with a few claps around. Big pop for Bob as the local hero.

 

Harley gives the business to Bob before the bell, which Bob only takes so much of before wagging his index finger back at Harley and pointing out at all the fans in the Garden. Harley puts his hands on his hips, looks around, and of course the crowd is eating it up.

 

The open with some rope running and leapfrogging before Bob hits a hiptoss and a big slam on the rather large Race. Harley is great in sliding back into the corner, drapping himself across the bottom rope and getting across early that he's in for a ride.

 

A minute-twenty in and Bob slaps on the headlock. We know this is going to be a headlock-centric match, so the question is how well they work it.

 

Harley seems happy to sit in it, so Bob goes early to the torquing of it. He get Harley up off the mat, and after less than a minute in it the break it up for a highspot: a terrific Thesz Press for a surprisingly heated nearfall. Bob follows with another chunky slam before taking Harley over into a ground headlock. The headlock takeover isn't one of Harley's most graceful, probably on Bob for taking him over low. A negative is you love Harley's graceful way of eating headlock takeovers as I do. Not a negative if you enjoy some of Bob's choppiness as I do, as this come across a little naturalistic of grab a head and throw him down. I'm actually spending more time on this that it really deserves since I've been told that these two blow spots left and right, and lord knows if this is one of those dreaded "blown spots". It's actually perfectly okay, and I'm sure we're going to see plenty of Harley's patented headlock takeovers later.

 

They sit in the headlock for about forty seconds, largely Harley fifth of ginning the selling with Bob torquing the head once to encourage him to move along. Harley uses one of his favorite spots in the headlock to assist the face up into a bridge before getting dropped back on his neck and back to the mat with the headlock still being held. Harley makes just about every face look good in the spot, and Backlund looks better than most as he knows bridging like the back of his hand. If you rewind and watch it closely, they really do a great job of nailing all of the elements. Harley's move into the spots is quick and smooth. His move upward is strong, and he has his hand on Backlund's chin to sell trying to force Bob to break the headlock. Bob's bridge is really excellent, and his move over into driving Harley back down is very smooth. As always Harley adds his theatrical stylings by flaying one leg up in the air as he goes down and hits the mat. Really well done, and the crowd enjoys the spot.

 

They spend about 20 second down in the hold before Bob torques the headlock to signal "lets move along". Harley reads that to mean "lay on my back and pound the mat" before eventually rolling up to grab a fistful of Bob's hair. Bob responds by torquing the hell out of Harley's head, which gets a response out of the crowd. Overall, about another minute down in the hold before they work up to a base to mix in another high spot sequence. This time it's a hiptoss into a sunset flip for a very nice nearfall before we get one of Harley's graceful headlock takeovers for another pin attempt. Another very nice high spot sequence to break up the working of the hold, very nicely executed.

 

We get Harley's first grabbing of the trunks to roll Bob over into a pinning position, and then very little time before they follow with another bridging spot. Picture perfect again, and back down to the mat in the hold. All of this roughly within 30 seconds since the sequence peaking in the sunset flip peaked. Yes, it's headlocky, but they're picking it up a lot for nice little spots. This isn't any different from Bob's long 30+ minute matches with Hogan or Muraco or Valentine, or Race's with Lawler..

 

Of course no sooner does that through cross the mind than we get our longest spot down on the mat as Race goes deeply into fifth of gin. There's a little fistful of trunks for the roll mixed in, and a fistful of hair greeted by some quick torques. Bob tries to spur him on a few other times with the torques, but Harley's pretty content to keep it down for around 1:50. Some of the crowd is sounding a *little* annoyed near the end of it, and a little during Harley's slow walking of Bob back into the ropes. They reel everyone back in with Harley's classic I Gutwrench You, No You Gutwrench Me! spot. I'm thinking this is where people think there are blown sloppy spots as the *Ref* is sloppy in trying to get around to make the count, almost tripping over the wrestlers. But Harley and Bob are flawless on the move.

 

Slam and Harley's best eating of the headlock takeover yet, and we're back on the mat. Crowd is okay with it going back to the mat, and there aren't any signs of rebellion yet. At the moment, it's just the length of the prior one that annoyed some of the fans. Harley spends another 1:30 this time before working to a base. This time it's a cross up highspot, with Bob holding onto the ropes to cause Harley to miss a reverse roll, then Harley rolling out of the way to cause Bob to airball an elbow drop, then Bob rolling out of the way to cause Harley to header the mat on a headbutt drop. A nice change of pace on the high spots breaking up the holds before we go back into the headlock. Each one of them got a pop, the biggest for the last.

 

They break up this headlock spot with several grab of the trunks for the roll spots, with Backlund increasingly going to the "I'm Gonna Hit Him" spot playing to the crowd. Good heat from the crowd, and the ref plays his roll well. Nice touch of Race grabbing the hair, which causes the ref to move up to look at it and warn Harley, with Bob taking the opportunity to rabbit punch Harley's skull to get him to release the hair. Bob doesn't usually hit out of the "I'm Gonna Hit Him" spot. :)

 

Harley is back in his comfort zone and doing a little more fifth of ginning, which Bob responds to by doing a bit of "rowing" in torquing the head. About two minutes in this one before they're up. After the quicker pace of working up to highspots early, we've had three longer ones. Crowd has pretty much stayed with them, the exception being some fans at the end of the first long one.

 

Highspot sequence here starts with Harley hitting the kneelift followed by a jumping knee. He feeds Bob a vertical suplex counter, and when Bob gets him up there's that old MSG Backlund Jet Hanger Heat. It's a pretty fantastic hanging suplex as he holds Race up a long time, which is a great visual since Race is so damned big at this point. And no, that's not a knock at Harley's size as champion. I don't think it's a negative, as it makes a babyface looked damned impressive when he tosses the champ around. In this match, even things as simple as Backlund's slams look damned impressive given Harley's size playing into Backlunds typical way of "tossing" an opponent on a slam. On the hanging suplex, the visual is terrific. Anyway, Bob gets a two count off it, with Harley laying deep into it before kicking out to draw a good "oh!" from the crowd.

 

It's back down into the headlock. A nice handful of trucks for the roll spot, with Bob working the bicycle strongly to sell it while in the roll and then threatening to punch him again afterward to show how pissed off he was. But after that it's fifth of gin, and this is the first time they lose a decent chunk of the crowd. We get some strong whistles about a minute into it, and what's funny is that Bob picks up on it, looks around the crowd, and starts torquing the headlock. Harley is kind of oblivious to it, flops from his side to his back, which seems to only annoy the whistlers more. All told, a bit over two minutes before Harley starts moving to a vertical base. We're about 16:30 into the match, and you're starting to get a sense that the match may just go off the rails.

 

Except that their highspot this time is the abdominal stretch, which amazingly instantly pops the crowd. Bob actually works the hell out of it to keep the crowd into it until Harley is finally able to flip him off. Harley is fantastic in staggering around the ring holding his back, only to come around and see Bob still prone on the mat with his own stagger leading him right into position to drop his knee right on Bob's forehead. Harley follows up with another theatrical one. Bob does a good job of selling the damage before Harley pulls him up for a vertical suplex. It's spot of the decade time as Bob nicely floats over and behind, graps a waistlock and hits a great German Suplex for a two count with Harley beautiful rolling out of the pin adding the finishing touches.

 

Bob airballs an elbow drop, but takes Harley back down with the headlock takeover when Race doesn't take the lead. They spend another two minutes in it. They keep the crowd through the first half of it with Bob theatrical going to a long series of torquing the head and another grab of the tights by Race for the rollover. They do lose them for the second half of it when Race flops onto his back. Fewer whistles than the last one, but there is one noticable fan calling "Come on!" at Race.

 

Up on their feet, a couple of punches before Bob grabs the head again, but this is just to feed Harley the backdrop suplex. We're exactly 22 minutes in when Harley hits it. Harley looks to press the advantage with a nice kneedrop followed by going up to the top to get thrown off the top. This is the NWA Champ, we shouldn't be surprised. :)

 

Backlund follows with one of his best atomic drops ever, with Race's size again making for a great visual as Bob holds him up for a long time before dropping him down. As expected, Harley flings himself over the top to the floor. This of course is COR time since that's how these things always end, we're now 23 minutes in and Bob just hit his finisher. Thankfully Bob breaks the count several times.

 

Back in the ring, classic NWA Champ Begging Off, which we now know goes all the way back to Lou Thezs himself. ;) Bob calls him out to the middle, but since Harley is working NWA Champ Style here rather than WWF Heel Style, he forces Bob to come into the corner to kick the shit out of him so that he can go with a nice NWA Champ Style Transition in the corner. Harley uses a headbutt to the gut, and Bob sells the shit out of it. The great thing about it if you watch closely is that in his theatrical selling of the hold, Bob eventually ends up on his side with his head in perfect position for Race to use very little effort to drop his knee right on Bob's skull. I'm guessing this is one of those sloppy, blown spots: positioning yourself to be give your opponent one of his favorite spots effortlessly. ;)

 

Harley hits another kneedrop to Bob's skull, lining it up methodically before going for the cover. Bob kicks out at one because you never can trust an NWA Champ not to double cross your own title out of you. :P This is Harley's big flurry of offense: a very nice piledriver, a headbutt drop, a swank kneelift to the skull and another, more theatrical headbutt drop. He sets for another piledriver, but since he already hit it, we know that Bob's going to backbody dropped out of it. Sure enough he does, and... BOB DRIVER~! And what a kickass Bob Driver it is, splatting Harley good and getting a huge pop for the Garden crowd. Harley is laid out before Bob's legs, so Bob eventually simply rolls over onto his stomach using his legs to roll Harley as well for the cover. Fantastic nearfall.

 

Harley kneelifts Bob's head off before airballing a driving headbutt off the second rope for another strong pop. Bob goes for a cover, but Harley gets his foot on the ropes. Double knockdown sends Harley to the floor, and it's DCOR time for sure now. No, Harley dives back in under the ropes. Bob nails a nice legdrop right for a double pin, with both rolling their shoulders out at two. They have a nice spot of Bob hooking the underhook, Harley fighting to keep from eating it, before Bob finally hoisted him up and over to launch him with the double arm suplex. Another good cover and two count from this. Did I mention strong heat and buzz through almost all of this since Harley hit his backdrop to end the headlock section back at the 22 minute mark?

 

A little fists of fury before Harley goes low and we get a good Bob splat with Bob tossing himself to the floor. Bob crawls up onto the apron so that Harley can bounce his head off the ringpost. Of course juices himself, which means we know what comes next. Harley nicely pops Bob back into the ring while staying on the apron. He pulls Bob back up and lines him up to run him into the post, but of course gets countered when Bob coolly smacks him in the back of the skull driving Harley skull first into the post. Harley splats to the floor and goes to work on his forehead with the blade. A good job of getting face juice then following up with a theatrical way of getting payback heel juice.

 

If we didn't know that Harley was under the apron slicing himself, *this* would look like the COR spot. But no, he pops up and dives under the ropes to beat the count. Bob goes to town on the cut, with the ref checking Bob's cut to see if he needs to stop the match. The buzz in the crowd is stronger, and there's quite a few noticable standing. Fists o' fury on their feet with Bob hitting a backbreaker (where they hell did he pull that one out of the Backlund Big Book Of Moves) for a jet hanger heat cover that the crowd thinks is it. Seriously, the crowd at this point is thinking Backlund is going to win the NWA Title.

 

We get some shitty WWE.com black & white because of a close up on Harley's forehead. For fuck's sake, I'm paying $4.99 a month for this, show me the damned match in color.

 

Bob nails a neckbreaker for another strong nearfall. He whips Race into the corner and nails a terrific gutwrench for another jet hanger pop and a nearfall. Harley tries for a vertical suplex, Bob floats over again and slaps on a sleeper which the crowd goes nuts for. Race gets one hand on the rope, which the WWF ref kicks off for a big pop and crowd is REALLY thinking Bob wins as Harley goes down for the "raise the arm" spot. When it goes down a second time, you can see a fan past the turnbuckle jumping up and down because this is it.

 

When the arm is raised the third time, Harley grabs the ref and pulls him foreward into a headbutt to knock him down. Bob releases the hold, the ref shakes off the headlock and signals for the bell to be rung. The ref raises Bob's hands and the crowd goes REALLY BATSHIT. If Backlund-Patera is A+ batshit level crowd pop of the era, this is a strong A. Heavy boos for Race holding up his belt that he retains, but even after the crowd knows each are keeping their belts, they pop big for Backlund hopping on the ropes as the winner.

 

Breaking up the match in sections:

 

A - the opening minute and a half was good establishing the local hero and the typical touring NWA Champ

 

B - the first four minutes of headlock work was quite well done with shorter sections in the hold before bringing up for a highspot sequence before taking it back down

 

C - the next ten minutes see them work longer headlock segments between highspots, eventually getting a round of whistles about 15:30 into the match.

 

D - They have about another 6:30 of headlocks segements after the whistles first appear. The crowd never seems as lost as it was in the whistle section, but it's also not terribly into the headlock anymore.

 

E - They work to the finish for a bit under 14 minutes from Harley's backdrop to end headlock section

 

C & D are what almost certainly turn off folks who don't like this match: 16:30 of long headlock segments. The opening and the shorter headlock sections are quite solid, and the headlocks are broken up quickly enough into short segements. After that, it overstays its welcome.

 

I wouldn't disagree with that entirely, but I would point out three things:

 

* even in that roughly 16:30 of longer headlock segments, the crowd is back with the workers for every highspot sequence

 

To a degree, one wishes they simply kept picking it up after a minute as they did earlier as it would have kepts the headlock segements from dragging on too long. In theory one wishes Harley had a section on top working a hold, but working hold segments never was Harley's strong point in this era. He's repetative with them and not terribly interesting. The Lawler match gets mindnumber at times because of the repetative nature of things. Still, when Bob and Harley picked it up between segements, they very quickly had the crowd in the palm of their hands.

 

 

* those highspot sequences in that section range from "good" to "fantastic"

 

- I Gutwrench You, No You Gutwrench Me!

- Cross ups of reverse roll, elbow drop, headbutt drop

- vertical suplex counter into hanging vertical suplex

- abdominal stretch --> kneedrops --> vertical suplex floatover --> German Suplex

 

The final segement transitioned out with Harley's backdrop suplex that started the run to the finish.

 

The Cross Ups sequence was a good change of pace from the other highspot sequences they broke up the headlocks. The two standard Harley Suplex Counter Spots are both very good ones that we'd still see getting pops in 1987 in the elmination tag match. The whole ab-stretch to german suplex sequence runs the gamut from good to very good to fantastic.

 

It's worth taking a pause to consider that during the "boring" headlock wears out its welcome section of the match, the two still delivered that stuff. It wasn't tossed out in the fashion of "let's do a table spot" masturbatory moves. Instead, Race tried to get out of the headlock, Backlund ended up getting the advantage, nailed a move to try to win, Race kicked out and Bob took him down to wear him out more as Race wasn't quite ready to be put away. The attempts got heat from the crowd, and they weren't upset when it was initially taken back down to the mat. It's when a segement stayed on the mat too long, and Race ginned it up too much, that a segment would hit the wall. But as soon as it was up, the crowd was there for them.

 

* the final run to the finish is nearly 14 minutes of fantastic stuff

 

It's just a really loaded and long run to the finish, and the crowd is there with them thinking they're going to see a title change. We've seen good Backlund matches where they've worked good spots for 15-20 minutes and then gone 1-2 minutes to the finish. I'd have to take a look back at the time, but the great matche between Bob and Rose in the Garden didn't have that long of a section to the end. Of course this match didn't have a base of a match on par with Bob-Buddy. On the other hand, the run to the finish in this match was only about 6:30 shorter than the *entire* Bob-Buddy match. "Midnight" on this match was the Atomic Drop, which could have lead to a count out. They went a good 12:30 past the Atomic Drop, and if you were in the building that night and not entirely jaded about it being a COR/DQ/DCOR/DDQ finish, you'd be on the edge of your seat wondering which of Bob's moves/spots was going to bring home the title.

 

One of the other things that could get criticism is that it's the Bob Show dominating Harley, and that Harley kept a ton of stuff in the holster. I wouldn't disagree with that description of the match. But it's probably best to look at context. This isn't Bob vs Harley in Japan or St. Louis where your might run a champion vs champion match between the two on nearly equal terms, though likely to favor Backlund to a degree as the more obvious babyface and Harley's comfort in playing heel. This is the WWF. Bob is the Local Hero. Harley is the Touring NWA Champ coming into town to defend his title. He's already bitched out in this building to Dusty. He works this match pretty much spot on as Touring NWA Champ here to make the Local Boy look great. The slight difference here compared to him working with say the Von Erics is that Bob doesn't really need Harley to carry large sections of the match with Harley's Big Book Of Moves because Bob can fill space with stuff. So Harley gets to focus on being the stooge NWA Champ, which is a massive component of the NWA Champ by this point in time.

 

Would I have liked to have seen a chunk of the headlock pitched and instead 4-5 minutes of Harley "breaking down" Bob? Sure. But I also would have liked to have seen this 2/3 falls over these 35 minutes where the breaking down could be the 2nd fall. Didn't get it booked for either of those things. I suspect these two have a better match in them in a different setting and with different booking and layout. But for this building, despite the issues in the headlock segments that went to long, the two played their roles well enough that the place was going pretty damn nutter down the long stretch.

 

The sloppy and/or blown spots criticism is something that appears to me to be errant. I was open to it on rewatching it to write this up, but just didn't see it, especially not where it was the primary criticism tossed at the match. The DVDVR set match against Koloff is an example of a sloppy mess of a match, though it rather staggeringly made the cut as one of the best 100 WWF matches of the 80s. I think when one looks at the two matches, it's not to difficult to see the sloppy mess.

 

I'd definately recommend it. It's historic and is loaded good stuff. It has great heat early, down the long stretch and in the highspot sequences throughout. While the two don't hit it off well on the mat or working the holds, that just isn't Race's strong point. Race's strength is in "spots" (and not just "moves), and the two work spots together very well and pretty much state of the art for the setting.

 

 

John

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