Throwback Thursday: WWWF All Star Wrestling (June 3, 1978), As Seen on WWE Network and Peacock

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This week Throwback Thursday gasses up the DeLorean, juices up the Mr. Fusion, and darts back to 1978 to revisit a classic edition of the World Wide Wrestling Federation’s All Star Wrestling, as seen on the WWE Network and Peacock, that aired 44 years ago this month!

By June of 1978 the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) was just four months into Bob Backlund’s 2,135 day reign as WWWF Heavyweight Champion. After relying on the ethnic groups of the territory, like the Italians and Polish, the WWWF was broadening their reach, going with an “All-American” wrestler. Backlund’s clean-cut tactics and handsome, boyish looks made the esteemed amateur wrestler a natural babyface in nearly every territory Backlund wrestled in. McMahon, looking for the next big babyface to run through the monster heels of the territory, seized on Backlund. The result was an instant hit for much of the territory. For the moment it seemed as if the WWWF had its next big star and a proper heir to the Sammartino throne. It should be noted that the the WWWF was still a part of the National Wrestlign Alliance (NWA) at this time, which is why there are no “World” titles under the WWWF banner.

 

 

The top story in the WWWF at the time this edition of All Star Wrestling aired was still Backlund’s title win and the early defenses of the title. Dominic DeNucci & Dino Bravo winning the Tag Team gold from Fuji & Tanaka was yet another of the big stories at the time. Away from the ring the top song in the country the week this edition of WWWF All Star Wrestling aired belonged to Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams’ “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” while Saturday Night Fever: The Original Movie Sound Track was the top-selling album. On television CBS’s One Day at a Time was the ratings winner while the re-release of George Lucas’ classic American Graffiti, starring Richard Dreyfus, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, and Harrison Ford, was the top film in cinemas.

Now let’s head on over to the WWE Network on Peacock, hit ‘play’, and see just how well this edition of All Star Wrestling holds up 44 years later!

Edits are not an issue with this edition of All Star Wrestling on the WWE Network and Peacock. Context, however, isn’t so great, with only 15 editions of All Star Wrestling available prior to June 3, 1978, dating back to September 13, 1975. The WWWF’s A-show at the time, Championship Wrestling, has yet to be uploaded to the WWE Network and Peacock at all. There are, however, 12 editions of WWE Old School dating back to June 30, 1973, highlighting WWWF cards from Madison Square Garden (MSG Network events) and the Philadelphia Spectrum (Prism), available for you to enjoy on the WWE Network and Peacock right now!

 

WWWF All Star Wrestling (WATCH)
Date: June 3, 1978 (TAPED: May 17, 1978) – Location: Hamburg Fieldhouse, Hamburg, Pennsylvania
Attendance: N/A – TV Ratings: N/A
Commentator: Vince McMahon – Interviews: Vince McMahon

CHAMPIONS AT THE TIME:
NWA World Heavyweight Champion: “Handsome” Harley Race (February 6, 1977, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, from Terry Funk)
NWA World Women’s Champion: The Fabulous Moolah (April 2, 1968, Hamamatsu, Japan, from Yukiko Tomoe; while the NWA World Women’s title changed hands three times between Moolah’s inaugural NWA World Women’s title win on September 18, 1956 and Moolah regaining the title on April 2, 1968, the WWE does not recognize any title changes between September 18, 1956 and May 19, 1984, when Wendi Richter defeated Moolah for the newly renamed WWF Women’s Championship at the historic The Brawl to End It All show on MTV; upon the WWF’s withdrawal from the NWA in late 1983, Moolah sold the physical NWA World Women’s Championship belt to Vince McMahon, who renamed the title, expunged the title’s history prior to and beyond Moolah, and defended it exclusively in the WWF)
WWWF Heavyweight Champion: Bob Backlund (February 20, 1978, WWF on MSG Network, from “Superstar” Billy Graham)
WWWF Tag Team Champions: Dino Bravo & Dominic DeNucci (March 18, 1978, WWWF Championship Wrestling, taped March 14, 1978, from Mr. Fuji & Prof. Toru Tanaka)
WWWF Junior Heavyweight Champion: Tatsumi Fujinami (January 23, 1978, Madison Square Garden, New York, New York, from Carlos Jose Estrada; Fujinami returned to New Japan Pro Wrestling where the title would largely be defended until the NJPW/WWF relationship dissolved in October 1985)

 

This week’s edition of WWWF All Star Wrestling opens with the usual All Star Wrestling open before we head inside the Hamburg Fieldhouse where Vince McMahon welcomes us to the show and gives a rundown of the card to come, in particular the WWWF Heavyweight title defense between Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund and Strong Kobayashi. McMahon then tosses to our first Peacock ad-break of the hour.

 

Coming out of the break we join legendary ring announcer Joe McHugh (whom Sports Illustrated called a “living legend of the ring” in their February 21, 1977 issue) for a bit of the usual housekeeping (promoter, Athletic Commission officials, doctor in attendance, etc.). McHugh, a former vaudeville comedian and emcee, was 74 years old at this time and one of the most respected and well-known ring announcers in all of sports.

 

Singles Match (1:29)
Jim Ray vs. Luke Graham w/The Grand Wizard of Wrestling

This one is a squash. Graham works pretty light here but his crazy-man gimmick is a joy to watch. Graham’s psychology is subtle and on point, something greatly lacking in the modern scene. Ray has a few flickering moments of offense but otherwise Ray does an excellent job making Graham look like a serious, and crazy, threat. After having his fun with Ray, Graham jabs Ray with the taped thumb before dropping a solid double axe handle on Ray’s neck for the pinfall at 3:18.

WINNER is Luke Graham w/The Grand Wizard of Wrestling (Pin, 3:18)

 

After the match we get the ring announcement from Joe McHugh before heading to the next Peacock ad-break.

 

Singles Match (7:22)
Stan “The Man” Stasiak w/The Grand Wizard of Wrestling vs. Jim Oliver

This is another squash, but not nearly as fun to watch as the opener. Stasiak was coming off a short program with Bob Backlund at this point and was gearing up for a run in the tag team division, pairing with a variety of wrestlers to challenge for the Tag Team titles. Here, however, Stasiak is almost clinical, using this time in the ring to work out, not impress. McMahon puts over Jim Oliver’s credentials in the amateur ranks but Oliver seems a bit out of place here, looking as if he’s unsure about selling or looking “weak”. While Oliver has a few moments here and there the match belongs to Stasiak, who drops Oliver with the Heart Punch, resulting in a comical bump from Oliver, for the 1-2-3 at 2:55. The doctor at ringside, meanwhile, is, like everyone else watching, not buying what Oliver is selling.

WINNER is Stan “The Man” Stasiak w/The Grand Wizard of Wrestling (Pin, 2:55)

 

Following the match we see a replay of the finish before getting the particulars from Joe McHugh and heading to the next Peacock ad-break.

 

Coming out of the break we join Vince McMahon at ringside for an interview with WWWF Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund. This a very low-key, subdued, realistic interview with none of the energy and fire one would come to expect from the WWWF/WWF in the coming years. McMahon starts by talking about Backlund’s busy schedule and how, while this schedule may wear down a normal athlete, Backlund seems to be holding up quite well. Backlund talks about defending the title a lot since winning it and puts over the caliber of talent he faces, saying he loves every minute of it. McMahon then asks Backlund about fitting his training into his schedule. Backlund says the travel is tiring and that he can feel too tired to train, but that’s when Backlund knows he needs to train the hardest, before talking about getting enough sleep and eating right. McMahon talks about Backlund’s unique training and wonders how Backlund trains, when he can, for just one opponent, one who may be stronger or another who may be faster. Backlund says that each wrestler and each match is different and must be approached differently. Backlund says he studies film and watches his opponent live when he can, learning what his opponent can and cannot do, as Backlund is sure his opponents do for him. There’s science involved, Backlund says, like a scouting report, and he hopes to know his opponent better than his opponent knows Backlund. McMahon then turns to the “controversy” surrounding Backlund’s choice of Arnold Skaaland as Backlund’s manager and not other managers in the WWWF and asks Backlund if he’s pleased with Skaaland thus far. Back says he’s happy because Skaaland handling the business side of things allows Backlund to travel and train. Backlund says that Skaaland helps with scouting and devising game-plans for his opponents. When Backlund is in the ring, he says, he knows that nobody will be jumping him from behind with Skaaland in his corner. McMahon then turns to Strong Kobayashi, whom Backlund will be facing in a bit, and wonders if Kobayashi offers unique challenges that other opponents do not with his marital arts “capabilities”. Backlund concedes Kobayashi’s martial arts skills and talks about how good Kobayashi is, not having lost very many matches, and how Backlund needs to be focused just on this one match because if Backlund starts thinking of tomorrow Backlund will get beat today. Backlund says he’s got only Strong Kobayashi on his mind and retaining the WWWF Heavyweight Championship. Backlund looks into the camera and points to his fans at home, sending them his love and telling them they are in it together with Backlund, and that they’ll win together with Backlund. McMahon then wraps the interview and we head to another Peacock ad-break.

 

Tag Team Match (17:27)
Moose Monroe & Sylvano Sousa vs. Larry Zbyszko & Haystacks Calhoun

Haystacks Calhoun’s health was on the decline by this time and he would retire less than two years later. Zbyszko, about five years into his career at this time, was still rising through the ranks and was about two years away from the heel turn against Bruno Sammartino that would make Zbyszko a household name in some parts of the country. As for the match, Moose Monroe doesn’t appear to be all that enthused at first but soon enough comes around. We get some fun spots early with Haystacks helping Larry from the apron before Sousa tags in and is taken to school by Zbyszko. This match is almost entirely Zbyszko, as Calhoun doesn’t do too much save some spots from the apron. Soon enough Sousa goes after Larry’s eyes and turns the tide, taking the fight to Zbyszko. Larry blocks a bodyslam, delivers one of his own, and toe rakes Sousa’s eyes before rolling up Sousa in a crucifix for the fast-count at 4:40.

WINNERS are Larry Zbyszko & Haystacks Calhoun (Pin, 4:40)

 

After the match we get the ring announcements from Joe McHugh before heading to another Peacock ad-break.

 

WWWF Heavyweight Championship (24:21)
Strong Kobayashi w/Freddie Blassie vs. Bob Backlund w/Arnold Skaaland

Strong Kobayashi had first wrestled for the Federation from August to November 1974 before returning to New Japan Pro Wrestling. Kobayashi made his return to the WWWF territory at the April 4, 1978 Championship Wrestling tapings at the Philadelphia Arena, picking up a win over Frank Williams that aired on April 8, 1978. Prior to this encounter, Backlund had defeated Kobayashi on the May 27, 1978 edition of Championship Wrestling, a match that was taped a day prior to this bout on May 16, 1978. These two matches are the only two that Backlund and Kobayashi wrestled in the WWWF, at least on record, before Kobayashi left the WWWF in early June 1978. As for the match, it’s a great one! For those who have never seen a Backlund match, this is required viewing and may reshape some fans opinions of Backlund’s style, psychology, and selling. This is a wrestling match. The fans are jacked up for this one, sounding like a real sports crowd as the bell rings. Early on the match is nip-and-tuck as Backlund and Kobayashi close the distance, feeling the other out, with Kobayashi using the ropes to escape early trouble, something the fans detest. Backlund, meanwhile, uses his quickness and agility to escape Kobayashi’s grasp, refusing to use the ropes despite being right by them. Kobayashi uses numerous shortcuts to get out of trouble, including manipulating the referee, drawing a stark line between himself and Champion Bob Backlund, who refuses to take any shortcuts no matter how close at hand they may be. Despite Kobayashi’s best efforts Backlund manages to control the first half of the match, working a number of arm bars. Only after consulting with Freddie Blassie does Kobayashi land a high kick to Backlund’s shoulder that drops Backlund and allows the challenger to take command of the action. Kobayashi mocks the fans, which only riles them, before opening up in Backlund. Backlund weathers Kobayashi’s offense, kicking out with authority before finding a way back into the match and working on the left arm of Kobayashi like a rowboat, a move the fans really get in to. Kobayashi teases grabbing something from his tights but Backlund stops him each time. Backlund’s hesitance to pop Kobayashi on the ropes give Kobayashi an opening to sneak back into the match. Kobayashi goes for the finish, dropping knees on Backlund’s chin and cinching in a tight front chancery. Kobayashi backs Backlund into the ropes and pounds away on Backlund but the Champion won’t stay down. As Kobayashi chops away at Backlund, looking to put Backlund away, Backlund comes off the ropes and, evading a chop, slips behind Kobayashi. Backlund lifts Kobayashi up for the big atomic drop and drops Kobayashi down for the 1-2-3 at 12:57 to retain the WWWF Heavyweight Championship, sending the fans into a frenzy.

WINNER and STILL WWWF Heavyweight Champion, Bob Backlund w/Arnold Skaaland (Pin, 12:57)

 

Following the match, as the crowd goes wild for Backlund’s win, we get the ring particulars from Joe McHugh as Backlund celebrates. We then head to the next Peacock ad-break.

 

—“Non-Title Tag Team Match” (40:08)
Tank Patton & Paul “Butcher” Vachon vs. WWF Tag Team Champions Dino Bravo & Dominic DeNucci

Tank Patton was largely a journeyman wrestler at this time but his work is more than solid. Everything Patton does looks crisp and real, including one of the best standing side headlocks you’re likely to ever see. Patton didn’t work all that long for the WWWF before heading to other territories. “Butcher” Vachon, meanwhile, had been wrestling for 20 years by this point and was a legend known around the world. As for this match, it’s good for what it is. The heels control the action early on, with DeNucci struggling to get into the match. The rough tactics of Patton & Vachon are a bit much for DeNucci but Dino Bravo uses his incredible agility to get Patton off his feet and uses the same to get the better of Vachon. Vachon and Patton make rapid tags as they take the fight to Bravo. Out of nowhere, though, Bravo lands a beautiful dropkick to pick up the pinfall at 3:58.

WINNERS are WWF Tag Team Champions Dino Bravo & Dominic DeNucci (Pin, 3:58)

 

After the match Vachon & Patton argue with the referee before we see a replay of the finish. Coming out of the replay we join Vince McMahon at ringside where McMahon hypes next week’s All Star Wrestling bout between “Polish Power” Ivan Putski and Butcher Vachon before wrapping this week’s show and signing off!

 

Final Thoughts
This is a great edition of All Star Wrestling! The highlight of the show is, without question, the WWWF Heavyweight title match between Bob Backlund and Strong Kobayashi. If you’re looking for one true “hidden gem” in the archives of the WWE Network on Peacock this week, this one is it! The other action is good for what it is and the interview between Backlund and McMahon is a throwback to a style we’re likely to never see again. For as much grief as the WWWF territory got from outside fans at the time (particularly in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and southern regions where the WWWF style failed to impress) this edition feels more like “sport” than other shows of the era do. There is a realism and respect here that, even with the sloppy/light work at times, shines through. The respect isn’t just for the work in the ring but, more importantly, the fans themselves. Something that is more than refreshing to see in 2022. If you haven’t seen this edition of All Star Wrestling, or it’s been a while, you won’t regret seeking this show out on the WWE Network or Peacock. Who knows, you may actually like it, and that’s never a bad thing!

Already subscribed to the WWE Network on Peacock? Then you can relive this classic edition of WWWF All Star Wrestling right now or experience it for the very first time! As always, let us know what you think in the comments section below!

For pre-WNN editions of TBT, click here!

Thanks for reading – until next week, see ya at ringside!

 

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