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April 25, 2010

Top 20 moments in Baltimore wrestling history: Nos. 1-10

Here is the second half of my list of the most noteworthy moments in Baltimore pro wrestling history. All of the matches, angles and events took place at 1st Mariner Arena (formerly known as The Baltimore Civic Center and Baltimore Arena) going back to the mid-1970s.

1. SUPERSTAR BILLY GRAHAM WINS THE WWWF TITLE FROM BRUNO SAMMARTINO (1977): The WWWF title had only changed hands five times during its first 14 years in existence (1963-1977), and four of those changes occurred at Madison Square Garden (the other was at the Philadelphia Arena). Fans in Baltimore attended monthly shows at the Baltimore Civic Center that were usually headlined by WWWF title matches, but deep down they probably knew there was almost no chance that a title change would ever take place in their backyard (sort of like how titles never change hands at house shows in this era). There was no reason to believe that this match would be any different, especially considering that Sammartino had suffered just one pinfall loss (when he dropped the title to Ivan Koloff in 1971) since winning the title the first time in 1963, and he had already defeated Graham numerous times over the past two years. Once inside the arena, however, fans could sense that something big was going down. Perhaps the fact that there were cameras filming the match, wrestling magazine photographers at ringside and announcer Vince McMahon on hand to do play-by-play – three things that never happened in Baltimore – had something to do with it. At about the 14-minute mark, Sammartino was battering a bloody Graham in the corner when Graham suddenly took Sammartino’s legs out from under him. Graham maneuvered Sammartino into a pinning position and illegally put his feet on the ropes for leverage to win the title. After being handed the belt, Graham raised it in the air and quickly headed back to the dressing room for fear of a riot. The WWWF/WWF/WWE title would not change hands in Baltimore again until 2008.

2. BALTIMORE HOSTS THE CROCKETT CUP (1987): Baltimore was exclusively a WWWF/WWF city for decades, but on two consecutives nights in April, the city was the center of the non-WWE universe. The Baltimore Arena was the home to the second Jim Crockett Sr. Memorial Cup, a tag team tournament featuring the top talent in the NWA. The highlight of the weekend was the emotional first public appearance of Magnum T.A., who had been one of the NWA’s top babyfaces before his career was tragically cut short in October 1986 when he was left partially paralyzed as the result of a car accident. With his arm in a sling and walking with the aid of a cane and two referees, Magnum made his way down the aisle and embraced Dusty Rhodes and Nikita Koloff before their victory over Tully Blanchard and Lex Luger in the tournament final. Also part of the two-day event was a fantastic NWA World title match that saw Ric Flair defeat Barry Windham, and a steel cage match in which Ole Anderson defeated Big Bubba Rogers. Other teams that competed in the tournament included: The Road Warriors, The Midnight Express, Rick Rude and Manny Fernandez, Ronnie and Jimmy Garvin and legendary Japanese wrestler Shohei Baba and Isao Takagi.

To watch a video package of the event, click here.

3. BRUNO SAMMARTINO TEAMS WITH HULK HOGAN IN HIS FINAL MATCH (1987): This match, which pitted the dream team of Sammartino and Hogan against King Kong Bundy and The One Man Gang, was not on pay-per-view, nor was it even captured on tape. The only people who saw it were the 10,000-or-so fans that were in the arena that night in late August. What they saw was historic, although no one realized it at the time. Sammartino and Hogan, the two most important figures in WWWF/WWF history to that point, teamed together for the first and only time, but even more significant is the fact that it was the final match of Sammartino’s incredible career. It was not promoted as a retirement match and there was no fanfare. After Sammartino and Hogan got the victory, the two posed in the ring together while Hogan’s “Real American” theme song blared over the sound system. To say that it was a surreal scene doesn’t do it justice.

4. STING WINS THE NWA WORLD TITLE FROM RIC FLAIR (1990): In this match, which main-evented The Great American Bash pay-per-view, the NWA world title changed hands in Baltimore for the first and only time. It also was the first of Sting’s numerous world title victories, and it was just the second world title change in Baltimore and first in more than 13 years. Sting had become WCW’s franchise player, and this match was his official coronation and the payoff to a year-long story line with Flair. Sting was returning to action after legitimately suffering a serious knee injury (torn patellar tendon) five months earlier during an angle in which he was kicked out of The Four Horsemen. There was a big-fight atmosphere in the Baltimore Arena, and the match delivered. Sting won the title with an inside cradle as Flair was attempting to apply the figure-four leglock.

To watch the final minutes of the match, click here.

5. RON SIMMONS BECOMES THE FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN WORLD CHAMPION (1992): WCW world champion Vader was scheduled to defend the title against Sting, but Sting was unable to compete after being injured by Jake “The Snake” Roberts. WCW president Bill Watts went to the ring and announced that there would be a raffle to determine Sting’s replacement in the title match. Simmons won the raffle and went on to score a huge upset victory over the monster heel champion. The crowd pop when Simmons got the three-count was tremendous. There were actually fans crying tears of joy. With the victory, Simmons was recognized as the first African-American pro wrestling world champion.

To watch the match, click here.

6. RIC FLAIR VS. LEX LUGER NWA WORLD TITLE MATCH (1988): Baltimore’s first pay-per-view event – The Great American Bash – was headlined by what many thought was going to be the passing of the torch from Flair to Luger, who was one of the hottest young stars in the business. Instead, the match became infamous for its controversial finish. After a good back-and-forth match, Luger got Flair up in his finisher, the Torture Rack. While Flair was in the submission move, an older gentleman came to ringside and got the referee’s attention. The referee then called for the bell, and the crowd popped, thinking it had just witnessed a title change. It was announced, however, that Flair was the winner because a Maryland State Athletic Commission official had determined that Luger was bleeding too badly from his forehead to continue. It was an absurd ruling because Luger was not bleeding much at all. Moreover, the Baltimore fans had witnessed numerous bloodbaths over the years that were not stopped. I have always wondered if Luger was supposed to have bled more heavily than he did or if the idea was indeed to have him bleed as little as possible to get over the idea that he was screwed out of the title by a ridiculous call. The inside joke to the finish is that the Maryland State Athletic Commission has always had a reputation for being overbearing in its regulation of pro wrestling.

7. GEORGIA CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING INVADES BALTIMORE (1984): As Vince McMahon was embarking on plans to take WWF national, Georgia Championship Wrestling – whose flagship show aired on the Superstation TBS every Saturday at 6:05 p.m. – made the bold move to start running shows in Baltimore, a traditional WWF city. I was one of many area fans who had never seen a live show that wasn’t WWE. I knew it was a big deal when I saw Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Bill Apter and Craig Peters there documenting the show. Coverage of Baltimore shows in wrestling magazines was extremely rare in those days. They ended up putting a shot of the Larry Zbyszko-Bruno Sammartino Jr. (David Sammartino) match on the cover of one of their magazines under the headline, “The NWA Heads North! A Big Night in Baltimore” (On a side note, my photo appeared in a crowd shot in the magazine). The main event that night pitted Tommy Rich (under a mask as Mr. R after he had lost a loser-leaves-town match) against Ted DiBiase. The Road Warriors made their Baltimore debut, teaming with Paul Ellering against Stan Hansen, Wahoo McDaniel and Pez Whatley in a six-man tag team match. Although GCW wasn’t in existence much longer, the door was opened for promotions other than the WWF to make regular stops in Baltimore, and from that point until WCW went out of business in 2001, that was the case.

8. RIC FLAIR VS. JACK BRISCO NWA WORLD TITLE MATCH (1984): This is not one of Flair’s more famous matches, but it is significant for several reasons. Flair, the NWA world champion at the time, was making the first of what would be many appearances in Baltimore. He successfully defended the title against Brisco, a two-time former NWA champion who was considered one of the top workers of his era. Unless I’m mistaken, it was the first time the NWA world title had been defended in Baltimore. It also marked Brisco’s final world title shot.

9. VINCE McMAHON VS. STEPHANIE MCMAHON “I QUIT” MATCH (2003): The first-ever father vs. daughter match was part of WWE’s No Mercy pay-per-view. This was Vince’s at his vilest, as he actually physically assaulted his daughter in the ring. Obviously the battle between the WWE chairman and the then-Smackdown general manager was far from a technical wrestling classic, but the heat in the arena was off the charts. As a babyface, Stephanie often got a mixed reaction, but the crowd was solidly behind her in this match. Vince got the win when his wife, Linda, threw in the towel while Vince was choking out Stephanie with a metal pipe. After it was over, Vince pie-faced Linda and shoved her down, and then kissed Sable, who was his on-camera mistress. The stipulation of the match was that if Stephanie lost, she had to leave Smackdown. As she was helped to the back, the crowd gave her a loud ovation.

To watch the match, click here.

10. TITO SANTANA WINS THE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE FROM GREG VALENTINE (1985): This match took place back when the Intercontinental title really meant something and wrestlers actually won championships at house shows. It also marked the first time the I-C title changed hands in a steel cage, and, surprisingly, it is the only I-C title change in Baltimore. After Santana escaped the cage for the win, Valentine destroyed the belt, which led to the making of a new I-C championship belt.

To watch the match, click here.

For Nos. 11-20, click here.

Posted by Kevin Eck at 5:01 AM | | Comments (26)


Great list. Just wondering, where would rate Baltimore on a list of most important North American cities in pro-wrestling history? New York would probably be number one but would you contend that Baltimore belongs in the top ten or even top five? Maybe you should do a list. :)

RESPONSE FROM KE: I'd have to give that one some thought.

Kev, What about the time, a bloodied Superstar Graham left the ring, went to the locker room and reappeared waving a Skipjack's Hockey Stick? He came back to the ring and "Cleaned House"!!

Kevin, have you heard anything about Bastista leaving WWE? See you tonight !!

RESPONSE FROM KE: There has been speculation for a while that Batista wasn't going to be around much longer. I have seen the reports about him being done this weekend but I don't know if they're true.

In July, 1985, I just happened to be staying overnight at the Holiday Inn across from the Civic the night of the I-C steel cage title match. After the matches were over I wondered into the hotel lounge and saw Tito alone at the bar. There was no hoopla or celebration going on around him after recapturing the belt. I had a short chat with him and he really displayed little emotion over what had just occurred a short while before. I guess he took it just as another day at the office.

Great list as it brings back a lot of memories. That being said, there were a few moments that I feel could have warranted a spot on this list. How about when The Rock defeated Triple H for the WWE title, with help from a returning Steve Austin at Backlash 2000. It was like the "Wrestlemania-face-gets-belt" moment that didn't happen when HHH retained at Mania that year.

Also, there is another moment that I'm not sure most people really realize happened in Baltimore and since it doesn't involve a title, it may not be as important. But, Bret Hart suffered his concussion against Goldberg at Starrcase, which ended his in-ring career. (Yeah, I know he wrestled in a "match" against Vince, but .....ugh. )

Anyway, great job Eck!!!

RESPONSE FROM KE: The two cards you referred to took place in Washington.

Good Ones Kevin, Here are 2 other good Baltimore matches: 1) Bruno coming out of retirement to face Randy Macho Man Savage (he only wrestled twice, once in Baltimore and once in Philly). 2) Dusty Rhodes and the Road Warriors capture the NWA 3 man tag title over the Russians. The crowd blew the roof of the building that night.

WOW--just watched Simmons/Vader for the first time. Great match with a very emotional finish, like you can read on Simmons' face that he knew the significance of that match. On a side note man I miss JR!!! Great job by him here as well.

What about greatest matches in Baltimore history? I think I would have to submit Midnight Express vs. Southern Boys from Bash'90.

Im surprise that Triple H's win 2yrs ago at backlash didnt make the list. Just out of curiosity was it in ur top 25

RESPONSE FROM KE: It was something I considered, but there were others I would had ahead of it.

@Din I remember in the 90's the Baltimore Arena (as it was known then) was ranked #2 wrestling arena right behind MSG

One of my favorite moments was a house show. I forget which yeah. There was a battle royal to determine who would face champion Bob Backlund. The battle royal was won by Tony Atlas, who should have won the title that night, but didn't due to the match being stopped, I think because Atals' ear was bleeding due to Backlund biting it.

Kevin~ Thanks for this list. I have been following pro wrestling since the early 80's and remember most of these events. However, since I have only lived in Baltimore for just 3 years (moved here from Cincinnati) I did not know that so many huge events occurred here.

great column. I was in HS when Superstar beat Bruno. I was one of the few wrestling fans among my friends and I even used to take a poster of Superstar with the belt over his shoulder out to the matches. This was before posters became mandatory at the matches (now everyone has one). Yes, Graham was my favorite because he was different and he was cool (and his promos where unbelievable for that era).

Here's one that was probably bubbling under the top 20: Bret Hart turned on Goldberg and joined the NWO. The Outsiders came out and beat Goldberg with the bat and Hart left with them. This was right near the end of WCW. I was at the Vampiro match with Sting. I hated it. D Chester O'Sullivan would be turning over in his grave.

Thannks for the memories Kevin!

Hey Kev--
One more match to consider:

1. Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk from the Bash 1989. What a wild match that was. Remember, this was Flair's first match back since he wa given a piledriver by Funk. The match was a bloodbath--and the aftermath saw the set-up for Halloween Havoc later that year with Funk/Muta vs. Flair and Sting.

I took my wife to the 1985 match between Tito Santana and Greg Valentine, and was constantly warning her that the title never changes in Baltimore. Being a big Santana fan, she kept telling me to shut up, and when Tito finally won, she was jumping up and down yelling at me "I thought the title never changes in Baltimore, I thought the title never changes in Baltimore!!!".
Needless to say, I stopped predicting matches right then and there.

Fun list, for sure! Even as a non-resident of Baltimore, I expected Graham/Sammartino would have to be #1. It truly is the first thing long-time, non-resident fans think of when they hear "wrestling history" and "Baltimore" in the same sentence.

Also, for Eric Corbridge, Bret wrestled a few more times in WCW after Starrcade before he called it quits. His last WCW match was a sadly lackluster street fight with co-NWO member Kevin Nash on WCW Monday Nitro.

My favorite event in Baltimore wrestling history was the 1989 Great American Bash. July 23, 1989 and I was in section 307 to see Ric Flair take on Terry Funk is his first match back after Funk attacked Flair after he took the NWA title back from Steamboat in May. Still the best card, top to bottom, I have ever attended.

Sweet, I was there for two moments!

I remember once, I was at a card and there was a Piper's Pit, and some moron jumped into the ring and Piper and whoever was in the ring with him beat the crap out of him. Not a match but a funny moment from the old Baltimore Arena. Must have been in the early 80's.

Mr. Eck, Although there are still 10 more Top Moments to discuss, I'm not sure how you could have left out the Santo Gold sponsored "Blood Circus" film from being no. 1!

RESPONSE FROM KE: I was at that debacle.

I don't see how Ron Simmons winning the title doesn't rank as # 2. That was a very historic victory in more ways than one.

Hey Kev I been reading alot of your posts talking about Bautista leaving. Im a little behind so could you fill me in on why is he leaving. Contract or backstage heat. Oh and lastly how long will it be before he is in TNA. Thanks

RESPONSE FROM KE: Contract expiring. Leaving is his decision. Don't see him in TNA.

I agree that the Bash 89 should've made the list. The crowd pop Flair got when he made his entrance was the loudest I ever heard in the Arena. Then to see Sting come and make the save was incredible as well!!

Do you know what the rest of card was the night flair wrestled brisco or if there's a vid available of any of those GCW shows in baltimore? I was at the third GCW event which featured flair vs garvin and the road warriors vs jerry lawler and austin idol.

Awesome stuff.

RESPONSE FROM KE: I really don't remember for sure what else was on the card, but I believe the Road Warriors wrestled King Kong Bundy and someone (Wahoo McDaniel, maybe). I think Ron Garvin won the TV title from Jake Roberts that night as well.

The rest of the card for that third NWA show....

-Jake Roberts beat King Konga (later known as Konga The barbarian)...Nikolai Volkoff beat King Kong Bundy...Ole Anderson over Paul Ellering by DQ...Wahoo McDaniel and Harley Race ended in a Double DQ....Brad Armstrong and the JY Dog beat Ted DiBiase & The Spoiler...Road Warriors beat Lawler & Austin idol...Ric Flair beat Ron Garvin

Do you remember a card at the Civic Center that featured a Battle Royal with the winner to receive a title shot against Bob Backlund later that evening? Then- tag champs Rocky Johnson and Tony Atlas were the last two in the ring and flipped a coin which Atlas won. In a rare WWF face vs. face match, Atlas and Backlund wrestled to a double count out later that night.

RESPONSE FROM KE: You're not the first person who mentioned that to me. I must have missed that show.

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About Kevin Eck
The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Eck blogs about professional wrestling.
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