Recap from David Arthur:
I believe somebody working in the WWE offices must have rented Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine to unearth this antique. A match from Madison Square Garden for the WWWF Championship. For those of you who don’t know due to the mass exodus of revisionist history (before Vince McMahon turned The World Wrestling Federation into the family friendly cartoonish facsimile of Professional Wrestling that is known today as WWE), his company was originally owned by his stepfather, Vince McMahon Sr., who ran the entire Northeast Territory under the banner of The WWWF, The World Wide Wrestling Federation.
This championship match features “The Big Cat,” Ernie Ladd, a former American League Football star from the San Diego Chargers and veteran journeyman wrestler of multiple territories who helped pave the way for African-American athletes in both Football and Pro-Wrestling for years to come, challenging the reigning champion, “The Italian Superman,” or as he would later be more widely known as, “The Living Legend,” Bruno Sammartino (who by now the entire world of wrestling knows that after over a decade of resistance, has finally accepted the offer to be inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame).
Vince McMahon Jr., the Henry VIII of modern day Professional Wrestli-… err sorry, Sports Entertainment, does the sole commentary for this match.
Bruno takes Ladd down twice with armdrags. Ladd manages to lock on a bearhug. Bruno struggles as Ladd takes him down to the mat for several pinfall attempts, including a few with his feet on the ropes. The referee puts a stop to this. Ladd ties up Bruno and begins to choke Bruno with a thumb into the throat, moving him around to keep the view of this illegal move from the referee’s sight. Bruno begins to fight back, eventually knocking Ladd over the ropes. Bruno drags him back into the ring and begins to toss Ladd around, attacking him with stomps and shots to the mid-section, but Ladd cuts Bruno off with a strike to the throat with his thumb. That’s one mighty powerful digit.
Ladd takes Bruno down for a near fall with a Hammerlock takeover. Bruno manages to take back control, he whips Ladd into the corner, charges, and connects with…something. I couldn’t really tell if it was supposed to be a knee or a shoulder. He whips Ladd to the opposite corner, but this time Ladd moves when Bruno comes charging, and ultimately crashes into the turnbuckles.
After Ladd hits Bruno with a couple football stance shoulder tackles, he then begins jabbing this thumb into Bruno’s throat, once again keeping the referee blind to the illegal manuver. Ladd hits Bruno with legdrops and a slam. He then ascends to the top turnbuckle and leaps, but Bruno moves out of the way and Ladd crashes to the mat. Bruno capitalizes and immediately covers Ladd for the victory.
This match comes from a time when the business was protected by all who were in it, and the notion that it may not be all it appears was only muttered under people’s breath. While it is well carried out on a psychological level by two very large and powerful competitors, some of the physical aspects of this match would have even the most wide-eyed, devoted fan questioning whether or not what they’ve just seen is “real.” While I would never try to diminish the tremendous contributions these two legends made to the business, a match like this just wouldn’t hold up today. A strong effort, but not a classic.