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JerryvonKramer

WWF TV Shows 1970s to early 1990s (pre-Raw)

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In this thread, I'd like to profile the WWF TV programming before RAW aired in 1993. Other PWO members are encouraged to share trivia, memories and so on of these shows.

 

Championship Wrestling (1972-86)

 

This was the weekly syndicated A-show recorded in Allentown, PA Agricultural Hall featuring Joe McHugh as the ring announcer. Vince McMahon was the play-by-play commentator for the entire run, initially with Antonio Rocca on color, who was later replaced by Bruno Sammartino (1976-80, 84-6) and Pat Patterson (80-83). Up until 1984, this show has a very specific look and feel. But then the title theme changed to an instrumental version of Michael Jackson's Thriller with Hulk Hogan featured prominently in the title sequence. Tapings were  moved from Allentown to Poughkeepsie, NY; Mid-Hudson Civic Center and there was no more Joe McHugh. Gene Okerlund was added to the team around this time, sometimes as co-host to Vince but mostly as an interviewer. The 1985-6 Championship Wrestling is an interesting "transitional" show which feels a bit more modern than the traditional show but still not as bright and colourful as Superstars would be, often with the arena blackened.

 

All-Star Wrestling (1972-86)

 

All-Star was the B-show recorded in Hamburg, PA, Fieldhouse featuring Gary Michael Capetta as the ring announcer. For most of its run this had exactly the same commentary team as Championship Wrestling, but with its own distinct look and feel. Then in 1984 it moved to Ontario in Canada and was taped first at the London Gardens and then from 1985 onwards at the Bradford Civic Centre. Vince McMahon handed over hosting duties to Jack Reynolds around this time who was joined by Angelo Mosca. The Reynolds / Mosca pairing was replaced in 85 by Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura. 

 

All-American (1983-94)

 

This was the first WWF cable show on USA Network. Vince bought the slot from Joe Blanchard's Southwest Championship Wrestling. The first few shows are interesting career retrospectives of Bob Backlund, Jimmy Snuka and Andre hosted by Vince, but after that it morphed into a kind of "showcase" for talent from the territories from all around the country. The idea was that Vince wanted to introduce audiences to these stars before they came to the WWF. This didn't last for too long however, and soon enough it became more of a clip show hosted by Lord Alfred Hayes with one "feature" bout from a house show (MSG, Philly, Meadlowlands, etc.) -- similar to the format Prime Time would have later on. In 1984, Gene Okerlund took over as host and stayed there until 1993 until he left for WCW and Todd Pettigall took over. For most of its run after its first year, All-American was the B-show on cable. t became Action Zone in 1996 which USA Network cancelled.

 

Tuesday Night Titans (1984-6)

 

Vince famously got around USA Network's sniffiness about having too much wrestling on TV by giving them this "variety show" fronted by himself and Lord Alfred Hayes. TNT remains an amazing Time Capsule piece chronicling the transition of the WWF product from the old Vince Sr brand to Jr's sports entertainment vision. For hardcore fans, it is especially interesting when older stars are featured and brought in for inexplicably long interviews. Older stars that Vince spoke to include: Lou Thesz, Red Bastien, Tony Altimore, referee Dick Worhle, and Baron Scicluna. These segments are quite surreal. For more casual fans, there is a boatload of nonsense on this show including Andre's "fish dance", Lord Al trying Mexican food, Mr Fuji teaching us Japanese customs, Dick Murdoch trashing Chief Jay Strongbow's Pow Wow and much more.

 

WWF Spotlight (1984-95)

 

Originally called "Superstars of Wrestling", this was the syndicated C-show featuring clips mostly hosted by Lord Alfred Hayes and later by Sean Mooney. This is an interesting little show mainly because it was one of the more "off the radar" productions and featured such hidden running gags as "Ian Mooney" documented on the smash hit wrestling podcast Letters from Kayfabe.

 

WWF Superstars (1986-01)

 

This replaced Championship Wrestling as the syndicated A-show and moved the show to follow the WWF tour coming from arenas all around the country. There is a marked shift in the look and feel of the WWF product around this time: it becomes a lot brighter and more colourful, and there are distinctive Superstars banners in the venues and on the ring apron. The hosts for the main part were Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura, with Roddy Piper replacing Ventura followed by Randy Savage, Mr Perfect, Jerry Lawler and Dok Hendrix. In 1995, Vince finally gave up hosting duties -- technically ending a 23-year continuous streak of hosting the show -- and gave the reigns to Jim Ross. Jim Cornette became the colour man in 1996, but around this time the show transferred onto the USA Network and effectively replaced Spotlight / Action Zone as a C-show / clip show hosted by Todd Pettigall -- a sad end to a once great flagship programme. For most of its run between 1986 and 1993 almost all of the main angles and storylines would occur on Superstars, and the main event would occasionally be a star vs. star match. There were also some title changes on the show.

 

Wrestling Challenge (1986-95)

 

This replaced All-Star Wrestling as the syndicated B-show and, like Superstars, followed the WWF tour around the country. The hosts were mostly Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan until 1993 when Jim Ross would replace Monsoon, and Heenan was replaced by, first Stan Lane, and then Ted DiBiase for most of 94-5. Challenge typically featured fewer angles and more jobber matches than Superstars, but was very much a show in its own right.

 

WWF Prime Time Wrestling (1985-93)

 

This effectively replaced All American as the A-show on USA Network. Hosted by Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan from a studio, it would feature bouts from various WWF houseshows such as MSG, Philly Spectrum, Meadowlands, Capital Centre etc. as well as clips of key events from the syndicated shows such as Superstars and Challenge. Prime Time is notable not only for the superb on-air chemistry between Monsoon and Heenan, as well as their various funny skits in the studio, but also for featuring much more top-flight wrestling owing to the house show footage. The average match on Superstars or Challenge was a squash match going for 2 or 3 minutes maximum. On Prime Time, it was not unusual to see matches running for 15 minutes or more and star vs. star bouts. In 1991, Prime Time switched to being a studio-based show with a tiny crowd hosted by Vince and Bobby Heenan, although Vince would be replaced by Sean Mooney. This second version of Prime Time is a weird show but does have some memorable moments including the introduction of the Iron Shiek as "Col Mustafa" and Ric Flair bringing the NWA title to the WWF. The format then switched again to the "roundtable panel" hosted by Vince with Gorilla Monsoon and Heenan almost always part of the lineup -- other frequent guests of this era included Mr Perfect and Hillbilly Jim. The show was replaced by Raw in 1993.

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Don't forget Jesse Ventura and Jack Reynolds hosted Prime Time Wrestling for the first 6 months or so of it's existence. 

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As a special bonus, I've long been interested in the April 9th 1983 edition of Championship Wrestling. Why? One reason and one reason only: Grand Wizard fills in for Pat Patterson on color for the whole show. I was very interested to see what he might say over the course of an hour. Well, I've finally gotten my hands on this episode.

 

sg-the_grand_wizard--6633edf5df74026491f

 

Turns out essentially nothing. Wizard played the heel throughout,  which was unusual for this show, but his contributions were more like mini-promos. He mentioned being a good friend to Freddie Blassie, but in the main spoke in general platitudes and stuck to hyping the talent. I was hoping for him to mention random stuff about Phil Zacko or The Sheik or some such, but no cigar. At one point he tried to claim Iron Mike Sharpe was trying to "protect his weak forearm" with the glove, which was quite funny.

 

 

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Well since Parv has made his return to PWO, I'll come out of hiding as well with some memories, focusing mostly on how I did or didn't see these shows as a kid growing up in north central MA in the 80's.   One point, Bobby left Challenge for some time in 89-90 when he got tired of newly added third man Tony Schiavone who stayed on with Gorilla for a while.

I started watching wrestling regularly in early 86 at 6 years old and remember Championship Wrestling and All Star Wrestling only vaguely.  Both shows were on WLVI Channel 56 at the time and would alternate between one being Saturday afternoon and the other Sunday afternoon to both being on Saturdays one after the other.  They switched over to Fox at some point between 90-91 IIRC in Boston.  Spotlight was on Channel 27, a Worcester Ma based station you had to turn the dial from east to south to get, and that later showed ECW from 95 on.  But it wasn't on regularly at all, just popped up now and then and you'd watch it if you could.  I didn't have cable but my grandfather did and after church on Sundays we visited his house and I could watch episodes on USA at noon.   By the time we did get cable Raw was already 6 months old.  

I seem to recall Johnny Polo and maybe Gorilla hosting all American at some point in 94 as well.

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In Canada here we had Maple Leaf Wrestling and Calvacade of Wrestling in the early 90's. I would only see the Wrestling Challenge taped matches by watching I believe Calvacade of Wrestling as I don't believe any of the American stations included in our cable package showed Wrestling Challenge, only Superstars. 

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The wrestling I grew up on WWWF mid 70's.  One quick addition is that Championship Wrestling ("A" Show) was originally filmed at the Philly Arena before moving to Allentown.  Philly Arena burned to the ground and was moved to Allentown Fairgrounds.

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One other correction: it was All-American that became Action Zone, in 1994. Action Zone was mostly Challenge with an added feature match, a format that lasted for about a year when it became basically All-American all over again, a strict recap show. That lasted for about another year (all of these switches started roughly with the new fall season) when Superstars switched from syndication to USA. Superstars itself became a recap show in January of '97.

At some point, I think in early-to-mid '86, Tuesday Night Titans moved to Friday nights and simply became TNT.

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Tuesday Night Titans actually moved to Fridays on January 4, 1985. It moved to Wednesdays on April 2, 1986 and remained there until the end. For the first few episodes after the initial switch, Lord Alfred Hayes introduced the show as "Tuesday Night Titans on Friday Nights." Beginning with the January 25, 1985 episode, he introduced it as simply "TNT," at which point it presumably became an orphan initialism.

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When did Challenge go to the Monsoon/Heenan team? I've seen clips of the earlier episodes and the broadcast team is Monsoon and Ernie Ladd and Johnny Valiant.

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One other memory I have of Spotlight, and I'd have to rewatch the 20 or so episodes I have in order to that (gimme a reason Parv) was that we rarely got the top level superstar squashes.  If you were watching in say summer of 91 you'd get Kerry Von Erich, Warlord, Power and Glory, Colonel Mustafa and Bushwhackers.  Basically the bottom 50% of the Superstars/Challenge squashes.

In addition of course you had regional cable networks showing WWF House shows.   HBO then MSG Network showing MSG from 73-March of 92, Prism showing Spectrum shows from late 78-early 89, NESN showing Boston Garden shows from the summer of 85-summer of 89, Z-Channel showing a few LA shows in 88-89, some televised Houston, USA showing some Cap Centre shows from 82-85 and a few Meadowlands shows.  Then you would have lots of Maple Leaf Garden and a few other random Canadian house shows as well, but I don't know the context of where those were aired other than as random Prime Time matches (and some of the main events in tape trading circle for decades were not shown on Prime Time so they must have aired somewhere else)

There's also the WWF's TBS show from Black Saturday on.  That did get original content towards the end of its run.  

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59 minutes ago, flyonthewall2983 said:

What was the state of Superstars after 1996? I thought it ended sometime in 97 when they were doing Shotgun Saturday Night.

 

I believe Superstars replaced Action Zone as the clip show on USA Network.

 

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I got to watch Prime Time and All-American on USA in the 80s through local cable, and I got Wrestling Challenge through an over the air station, but I managed to grow up in a market that somehow didnt have anyone airing Superstars. But back then WWF was so good at making sure the major angles from Superstars were at least covered or recapped on their other shows that I never felt like I missed anything. 

And in more recent years as I acquired TV footage from the 80s, I appreciate how brilliant of a move it really was to only really have the name of the specific show you are watching mentioned in the intro and outro, with the in-match commentary generically referring to "stay tuned for more action from The World Wrestling Federation" to make it easier and cleaner to repurpose footage for other programs and home videos.

My understanding with the Maple Leaf Gardens shows is that they never aired start-to-finish on any providers, but Canadian broadcasting laws required a specific percentage of "produced in Canada" content so matches would be inserted into the weekly TV and replace one of the regular squash matches up that way, as well as provided for All-American and Prime Time in the U.S., and to pad out Coliseum Video releases as well.

I am also fascinated with some of the short-lived experiments from this era, such as:

-those random Atlantic City PRISM broadcasts from 1979, Cappetta expanded on these a little more on Twitter this week. 

-Wrestling at the Chase from when they took over St. Louis, like does anyone know how much longer the local St. Louis TV branding after they stopped running St. Louis-specific TV tapings at the Chase and/or The Kiel?

-the couple random Montreal tapings in 84 where it looks like the original plan for Maple Leaf Wrestling was to be a strictly Canadian show until they decided to double it up as All-Star in the U.S.

-the TBS run where it was basically the same type of content as All-American,  arena matches and second-round squashes but with Freddie Miller doing wrap-arounds from the Techwood studios and that random Brutus Beefcake in the strip club thing that apparently aired nowhere else, until that final month where they did the matches in the TBS studio.

-Houston Wrestling after Boesch briefly switched promoter affliations to the WWF, so the weekly 90-minute show became a mix of WWF matches from Sam Houston Coliseum, second-round squashes, AND UWF-era Houston footage featuring guys that were now in WWF.

-the one Winnipeg Arena show that was apparently taped after WWF took over the town from the AWA but only one match between the Killer Bees and Hart Foundation aired in full on TSN. 

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6 hours ago, JerryvonKramer said:

JRH - I think after the first few eps Ernie Ladd was replaced by Heenan and Johnny V just came in when Heenan was managing.

I believe Ladd & V lasted for just that first taping cycle.

Clint raises a pertinent point--you really weren't meant to watch every last WWF show in those days. Things moved slowly enough that you could really stick to any one of the weekly TV shows and not miss much. I never got Challenge in my market until around when JR took over, and then for awhile Superstars was on an independent station that my cable company didn't carry until another year or so after that, so All-American ended up being my primary show, supplemented by Prime Time. I doubt any major angle or development took place that wasn't shown at least partially or in full on those two shows.

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Absolutely right.  If there was a good horror movie or two booked on a UHF station that weekend I'd skip the WWF shows and IIRC Superstars was shown on the New Hampshire ABC affiliate on Sundays.  You didn't need to watch both.

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This is really great.  I started watching during the era of Superstars/Challenge in syndication and eventually Prime Time once we got cable, and while I've watched pieces of the others over the years on the Network and whatnot, never really had a sense of how they all fit in the hierarchy.  

Did the shows build to any big climaxes or blowoffs in the pre-PPV era?  Would they cross promote and acknowledge each other in some sense, or did each show exist in its own vacuum?

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4 hours ago, WingedEagle said:

Did the shows build to any big climaxes or blowoffs in the pre-PPV era?  Would they cross promote and acknowledge each other in some sense, or did each show exist in its own vacuum?

The climaxes were usually on the house shows, although occasionally there'd be things that ended on TV (like the US Express winning the tag titles back from Volkoff/Sheik).

The shows definitely referenced each other, quite frequently.

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So thinking of the core Vince Sr crew, I've been interested in which PARTICULAR areas guys worked in the 1972-83 period.

 

Here's a partial list:

 

All shows

Andre the Giant

Baron Mikel Scicluna

Bulldog Brower

Charlie Fulton

Chief Jay Strongbow

Davey O'Hannon

Dominic Denucci

Ivan Putski

Jack Evans / Mr. X

Johnny Rivera 

Johnny Rodz

Jose Estrada

Larry Sharpe

Mr Fuji

Rene Goulet

SD Jones

Swede Hanson

Tony Garea

Victor Rivera

 

Mainly Allentown / Hamburg

Angelo Gomez

Billy Berger

Frank Williams

Jeff Craney

Jose Luiz ("Mac") Rivera

Lee Wong

Miguel Feliciano

Pete Sanchez

Ron Shaw (The Executioner)

Tony Russo

 

Mainly Philly

Tony Altimore

Gorilla Monsoon (rare)

 

Mainly MSG

Manuel Soto

 

Mainly Maine

Pete Dougherty

 

Mainly Buffalo area

Tony Parisi

 

-----------

 

Now, even by the standards of the time, Vince Sr ran an exceptionally jobber-heavy crew.  Aside from Chief Jay Strongbow, Ivan Putski and perhaps Tony Garea on the babyface side, and Mr Fuji on the heel side, the roster was made up almost entirely of various grades of jobber.

 

Villains in the promotion were nearly always "passing through" in 3-month or at most 6-month runs. Guys like Ernie Ladd, Ivan Koloff, Don Muraco, Greg Valentine, Buddy Rose, Bob Orton, Spiros Arion, Killer Khan, Sgt Slaughter, Stan Hansen, Superstar Graham, Ken Patera would come in for a run and then move on.

 

There was a general pattern to the heel run at house shows:

 

Match 1 - win over Putski or Strongbow, generally a cheap one with countout or DQ possibly injuring the babyface

Match 2 - another win over Putski / Strongbow, sometimes Peter Maivia also in this role

Match 3 - cheap finish vs. champ, typically CO or DQ

Match 4 - draw

Match 5 - clean pin for champ

Match 6 - defeat by Putski / Strongbow / Andre 

Match 7 - defeat by Putski / Strongbow / Andre

 

In the weeks in between on TV naturally they'd just be crushing jobbers and would be given ample mic time. Usually the top contenders were paired with Grand Wizard, but not always. Freddie Blassie would have a lot of the foreign threats. Albano almost always the tag-teams. This system gave the heel strong heat coming in and then allowed the faces to maintain their heat on the way out. Sometimes they'd work MSG loop, sometimes Philly loop, occasionally both.

 

Bruno worked TV very rarely, partly because he was on commentary and only really worked MSG and Philly after the mid-70s on a much reduced schedule. Since the top babyfaces were always Bruno or Backlund followed by Andre as a special attraction followed by Putski and Strongbow, you'd see babyfaces "coming through" the territory much less frequently. However, they did almost always have at least one "young lion" on the roster. These were:

 

Larry Zbyszko - he was the young lion in the promotion for most of the mid-late 70s until his infamous turn on Bruno.

Rick Martel - he dropped into the Larry Z sort of slot around 1980ish.

Curt Hennig - not as much success as Martel or Zbyszko but booking follows similar pattern.

 

They'd also occasionally have outside stars come in on big shows. Mil Mascaras or Dusty Rhodes. Sometimes a foreign star also, such as The Great Yatsu, would be on the undercard learning the ropes.

 

However, what's of interest here is how many of the cards -- house shows and TV shows -- were made up of jobber bouts. Not only star vs jobber, but in many many cases jobber vs. jobber. Thus, we need to separate out different categories of jobber in the Vince Sr crew.

 

Pure Jobber

 

This was many of those listed under "mainly Allentown", guys who would seldom appear at MSG or Philly Spectrum and instead would take losses on the weekly TV. Frankie Williams is one such example -- he was the sort of guy who'd give up losses to Baron Mikel Scicluna on All Star. On other occasions he might tag with  Scicluna to take the pin against a pushed team. But he was a pure jobber through and through. Most of those who chiefly worked Allentown had this role. It seems Tony Altimore played this role on Philly Spectrum shows.

 

Over-the-hill Star / Name-recognition Jobber

 

This is your Baron Scicluna or Bulldog Brower or, later on, on the face side, SD Jones and Rene Goulet. These were guys who were once bigger stars higher up the card who had slid down. They would have some sort of gimmick or recognisable character. Often on house shows they might work 10 minutes or more. Against anyone higher up the card they lose, but against pure jobbers they win, and against each other either a draw or split the difference (sometimes win or lose).

 

Carpenters

 

These were guys who'd work a very large number of cards and did so for many years -- very often in those 10+ minute matches. Very similar level to the over-the-hill star but with less personality, recognition on commentary, and gimmick. Probably the king of these guys was Johnny Rodz, but Jose Estrada, Mac Rivera,  Jack Evans, Larry Sharpe all right around here.

 

Babyface JTTS Fodder for Heel Stars

 

So these guys would pretty much autowin against anyone mentioned so far but lose, usually to a flavour-of-the-month pushed heel. More babyfaces in this area naturally such as SD Jones before 1980, Dominic Denucci, Tony Garea. If you look at the match listings for Denucci or Jones you'll notice that those guys would seldom if EVER trade a loss to someone like Baron Scicluna or Bulldog Brower. The only heel who was put on this sort of level that I can see was Swede Hanson. Hanson would trade wins and losses with faces at this level, autowin against anyone lower but lose to a face with any sort of push or Putski / Strongbow / Andre.

 

Using these parameters you could likely PREDICT the outcome of any match just by knowing who was in it.

 

And now for some slight conspiracy. Why is it that over all those years, Vince Sr ran with such a shitty undercard crew? One thing to note is that ethnically, virtually the entire crew was either Italian or Puerto Rican. I am convinced that that they were gangsters. Many of the cards of the era were promoted by Phil Zacko and it seems that he ran most of the core shows aside from MSG from 73 to 83. The Italian contigent wasn't only Bruno and Dominic Denucci: Gorilla Monsoon was Italian, Strongbow was Italian, Tony Parisi, Lou Albano, Tony Altimore -- all Italians. Even Baron Scicluna went by "Mike Valentino" early in his career, and Malta is right next to Sicily. Bruno used to have connections with mobsters when he worked the docks. Bix has shown the FBI investigated Vince Sr's dealings. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the whole crew was involved in organized crime in some sort of partnership with Puerto Ricans, which explains also the white-kid-gloves treatment of Carlos Colon whenever he was in town.

 

My theory is this: Vince Sr used this locker room to ensure no one ever tried to stiff him for money or ask for higher pay. It was an unofficial mob. I have read stories from Shane McMahon and Gary Michael Cappetta that it was a rough locker room. Baron Scicluna used to put Cappetta in a trash can and bullied Shane while smoking cigars. How is the perennial prelim guy of 20+ years affording premium cigars? Billy Graham's story from the shoot interview about him not being able to afford a jacket therefore sounds like BS. The other angle this plays into is that after the Mafia went straight they ran most of the newspaper unions, including the NYT for years. After retiring both Denucci and Scicluna (and SD Jones) famously got jobs doing newspaper runs. One reason for this was because they paid a full pension. But another reason might well be because they knew whichever mobsters were running them. Okay that'll do for now.

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As more evidence, I submit this from Dave's obit of Gorilla Monsoon in 1999.

 

His funeral on 10/9 in Willingboro, NJ was attended by none of the current WWF wrestlers except Miguel Perez and Juan Rivera (Savio Vega). Many of the top names including Steve Williams (Austin) and Mark Calaway sent flowers. Some close to him were upset by the almost complete absence of current generation stars, but the fact is they weren’t the friends of his generation. The old-timers, the likes of Scicluna, Davey O’Hannon, Johnny Rodz and the Savoldi family were there, as was Heenan, who remained a close friend to him long after they were on opposite sides of the political fence. Much of the front office, in particular the television production division, were there in force and Vince Jr. gave the eulogy and a letter written by Ventura was taped to his casket. Jr. also, calling him “one of the finest men I ever knew,” gave Marella probably the nicest send-off on television on Smackdown of any wrestler of the past.

 

Now why were the only two Puerto Rican wrestlers on the 1999 roster the only ones in attendance? Why were the Savoldi family there?

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Didn't Monsoon have an ownership stake in the WWC? Vega and Perez both started their careers there, so that would explain that connection. Also, I've never really thought of Puerto Ricans as being heavily involved in organized crime.

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