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[1980-09-22-WWF-MSG, NY] Harley Race vs Bob Backlund

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WWF Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund vs NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race - MSG 9/22/80

I have been dreading this match for quite some time due to its rep, length and participants. However, I felt like it was such an important match I needed to watch it. It is far, far better than the Backlund vs Muraco one hour snoozefest. Surprisingly, it actually turned into a pretty good, dramatic match down the stretch. The first 25 minutes or so are boring as piss, but the last ten are pretty good. Backlund vs a bumper can be an awesome match see anything with Sgt. Slaughter. What this match is missing is energy and charisma. Race is just letting himself be bodyslammed and be countered, but he is not being entertaining. He is just going through the motions. Even Bob who I think had quirky charisma is pretty subdued, but he is the more charismatic of the two. They work the side headlock a lot and the crowd gets restless around the 12 minute mark. There was a spot they they did twice which was really good where Race would grab the chin of Backlund in the headlock pull Backlund down into a bridge and Backlund would bridge out and slam Race back to the mat in the headlock. It really showed off the strength of Backlund. Like I said the crowd was getting restless, they popped huge when Backlund hit a textbook vertical suplex. This crowd is a lot nicer than today's. If you like suplexes this match is for you, Backlund hit them all: gutwrench, vertical, German and a tremendous Butterfly that actually had some struggle. Race never got a real heat segment. He usually hit one move and then get countered. He did have on stretch of kneedrops and headbutts. Like I said the individual spots were fine. It was the connective tissue and character work that was missing. This was actually a pretty classic Bob layout. Anything you can do, Bob can do better! That worked with Hogan, Valentine and Patera to great results, but a great layout is meaningless without entertaining execution. This was a soulless performance. I loved Backlund's piledriver (as a counter to Race's attempt) and his big atomic drop to the floor. Classic Backlund! The other weird thing is Bob kept selling like he had been through this war. Just that epic exhaustion selling, but Race really did not do a number on him so it felt weird and forced. Just bad overselling. Down the stretch when Bob was hitting these bombs it was more exciting. They double juice. Good slugfest, I love Backlund's punches. They slip into a sleeper and Race punches the ref in the sleeper to draw the DQ. You knew in an unification match it would have a shit finish. Like I said the last ten minutes are pretty good. The action is there, but needed a lot more character work. It is not a good match per se, but it is not that bad either. 

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I'm surprised to learn that this match has a bad rep. I enjoyed it a lot. 

Loved the early headlock spot, with Race pulling Bob's hair / the squeaky-clean Backlund teasing his retaliatory closed fist.

I also did not love Bob's selling here, but I do not think it was terribly out of place. I think it served to make the desperation bombs that Race did hit mean a little more, but it was cheesy.

I do agree that this match did feel soulless though. For a title unification match, there is an emotional element present (one that you find in most classic wrestling matches) that doesn't really come across here at all.

Technicaly though, I thought this match was very sound. I would probably go 3 and a half - four stars for this. I enjoyed it and it kept my attention throughout, which is a big ask for a 40+ minute, 40 year old professional wrestling match.

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