Today In Wrestling History 8/22: Mankind Wins WWF Title With Jesse Ventura As Referee, & More

* 28 years ago in 1987, the WWF ran a house show at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York that aired live on the MSG Network. They drew a strong crowd of 18,000 fans thanks to the MSG return of "Superstar" Billy Graham, his first ever match in the building as a babyface.

Graham's return had been announced almost a year earlier, on the first episode of Superstars of Wrestling as the WWF's new A-level syndicated show, replacing Championship Wrestling. Graham kept cutting promos in the Arizona desert about his return, but eventually it turned out he needed a hip replacement. The WWF paid for the operation and even showed it on TV to hype his eventual return.

He was finally ready, or at least as ready as he could be, in July, when he returned on the episode of Superstars of Wrestling that aired the weekend of July 25th, quickly defeating Steve Lombardi. In an era where WWF fans at marathon length TV tapings tended to have super Pavlovian responses to entrance music but otherwise could be hard to get to react, Graham got a legitimate standing ovation when his name was announced. He quickly got into a feud with Butch Reed over who had the better physique, with Reed attacking Graham in anger after losing a posedown on Superstars.

The MSG match went to a double disqualification after Slick interfered and then Graham refused to break the bearhug after reapplying it on Reed. It was one of the old WWF finishes that didn't make much sense, as the bell rang for Reed's disqualification before Graham touched Reed again. Still, the angle got over great, with the usual gang of WWF road agents being unable to break the bearhug until Gorilla Monsoon got involved. In October, Reed and Graham came back with a cage match (Slick couldn't interfere), selling out the Garden, which didn't happen much without Hulk hogan in those days.

In the other top match, The Honky Tonk Man defeated Ricky Steamboat to retain the WWF Intercontinental Championship in a lumberjack match. While a lot of people remember Steamboat disappearing after he lost the title to be with his family when/after his son was born, he did work a full length house show program with the new champion. As odd a choice as Honky Tonk Man seemed as champion, he got great heat, and early on, he had Steamboat and Randy Savage as opponents who could have good matches with him. This one, specifically, is one of the best Honky Tonk man matches you'll see in the WWF (he was actually very good earlier in his career in Tennessee).

* 16 years ago in 1999, the WWF ran SummerSlam live on pay-per-view from the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The show was built around sitting Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura (stat law allowed him to run as "James Janos A.K.A. Jesse Ventura"), who was t serve as special referee for the main event, where Steve Austin defended the WWF Championship against Triple H and Mankind in a Triple Threat Match. In a year of mostly bad shows (wrestling and booking-wise) carried by the personalities of the top performers, this was one of the better shows.

The main event had a surprise finish, as Mankind won the title cleanly in spite of being the guy seemingly added to lighten the workload due to Austin's injury (though he had a similar injury himself). The finish was a bit abrupt and flat: Austin sent Mankind into the corner, Triple H hit Austin with the Pedigree, Mankind knocked him out of the ring, and then double arm DDTed Austin to win the title.

What made it feel a bit awkward was that Ventura, not experienced as a referee and in the ring for the first time in 11 years, didn't signal to the timekeeper (who rang the bell a second or two late). Instead, he held up three fingers to signal it was a fall...the same way a referee will hold up two fingers to signify a near fall. The crowd popped, but in a way where it cooled off because they were clearly confused until Howard Finkel made his announcement. After the match, Triple H destroyed Austin's knee with a chair to continue their issue.

In what was realistically the number two match on the show, Test defeated Shane McMahon in an anything goes "Greenwich Street Fight" billed as "Love Her or Leave Her." If Test won, Shane would give Test his blessing as Stephanie McMahon's paramour. It was an incredibly entertaining and well-laid out match, easily Shane's best and Test's best singles match until he became a more polished worker. The big spot was Shane debuting his soon to be trademark elbow drop off the top rope elbow drop through the announcer's' table. They told a tremendous story, taking the crowd up and down until Test hit the Meltdown and top rope elbow drop to get the win. The next night on Raw, Shane and Test decided to let bygones be bygones, and in a bit of long-term booking continuity that was rare for this era, were always portrayed as friends for the next few years. They'd be shown hanging out backstage, Test would help Shane in matches,

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