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.