Today In Wrestling History 8/9: Chris Jericho's WWE Debut, Shea Stadium Card Sets Record, & More

* 35 years ago in 1980, the WWF ran the last and biggest Showdown at Shea card at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York, the long-time home of the New York Mets. They drew 36,295 fans paying $541,730. setting the new pro wrestling gate record. It was the culmination of an eight day period where Mid-South wrestling (Junkyard Dog vs. Michael Hayes steel cage dog collar match drawing 28,000 at the Superdome), Championship Wrestling from Florida (The Last Tangle in Tampa headlined by Harley Race vs. Dusty Rhodes) drawing 17,83 to Tampa Stadium, and the WWF all ran huge, successful stadium shows.

The main event was the culmination of possibly the hottest feud the WWF had ever seen up to that point, with Bruno Sammartino defeating former protege Larry Zbyszko in a steel cage match. While Sammartino had been turned on by friends before, this was different. Everyone knew that Zbyszko really was his protege and they'd been associated with each other for years. The angle setting it up was brilliant, with Zbyszko demanding a match to get out of Bruno's shadow, but Bruno out-wrestled him in a way that he found condescending. So he hit his father figure with a chair. Zbyszko was a tremendous promo as a heel from the start and the feud did tremendous business all over the territory. The cage match, which was one of the best WWF matches of the era, blew off the feud, and Zbyszko was gone soon after due to disagreements over pay.

The semi-main event saw WWF Champion Bob Backlund and Pedro Morales defeating WWF Tag Team Champions The Wild Samoans (Afa and Sika) to win the titles. At the time, though, the rules stated a double champion had to vacate one title, so they immediately vacated t the belts and the Samoans won them back. So what was the point, from a sporting perspective? Nobody knows.

Another featured match saw Andre the Giant defeating Hulk Hogan. While a WWF feud, the angle that set up this match (Hogan bloodying Andre with clotheslines thanks to a loaded elbow pad) was aired by a bunch of different promotions and the bout toured the country. They even worked on the Superdome show a week earlier, though in spite of what Hogan claims, they were not the ones drawing the house. These were easily the best singles matches these two had together (especially a wild brawl at the Spectrum in Philadelphia), as Andre could still move and Hogan was good at that hard hitting big man brawling style as a heel back then.

It was a long card with a lot of matches, and historically, what's long been considered the best match of the show was Tatsumi Fujinami successfully defending the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship by defeating Chavo Guerrero (Senior). Fans in the northeast had never seen anything like Fujinami before, and Guerrero was, by far, the best opponent he ever got to work with on a major WWF show. They had a number of great matches in Japan, too, so they knew how to work well together and had a really solid junior heavyweight style match.

* 29 years ago in 1986, the WWF held a house show at the Boston Garden that aired live on New England Sports Network. The highlight was an absolutely outstanding match between Jake Roberts and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat stemming from the angle on Saturday Night's Main Event where Roberts DDTed Steamboat on the concrete floor. While a lot of people parrot the talking point that Jake is a master of wrestling psychology without really understanding why, this match shows just how much the reputation is warranted. He works a very unique match, dodging, blocking, and parrying Steamboat's karate blitz before taking over and getting the heat by brutalizing Steamboat's hand and arm. It's a very, un-WWF match, and one that shows you just how good Jake was, to the point Steamboat puts him up there with Randy Savage and Ric Flair as his best opponents.

* 18 years ago in 1997, ECW held the show dubbed "Born to b Wired" at the ECW Arena in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The main event was one of the best and most memorable matches in company history, as Sabu defeated Terry Funk to win the ECW World Heavyweight Championship in a barbed wire match. It was one of just a handful of such matches that ECW ever ran; in spite of the "extreme" bluster, they protected it as the most dangerous match around. While brutal and hard to watch at times, the drama was off the charts, as both wrestlers know exactly how to get over the danger and brutality of what was going on. Some of the best barbed wire matches (like Jerry Lawler vs. Dutch Mantel in Memphis) work thanks to the wrestlers playing up their fear and staying away from the wire, but that was most certainly not what happened here.

* 16 years ago in 1999, the WWF ran a live Raw is War show from Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, which was by far the best episode of television they produced that year. The show is best remembered for Chris Jericho making his long-awaited WWF debut after weeks of a clock counting down to "the new millennium" that mysterious expired long before the end of the year (much less 2001, but that's another issue for another time). The WWF couldn't have positioned him better, cutting a promo on The Rock in front of a hot crowd, but Jericho looks back on his promo as a mistake, and he's probably right. He wasn't acting like a main event heel. He was talking like the mid-card comedy heel he was in WCW, and it led to early disappointment within the company. He obviously recovered, but it took time, especially with Vince Russo (his biggest supporter) gone two months later.

Also that night, Kane and X-Pac won the WWF Tag Team Championship for the second time, defeating the Acolytes. More memorably, Kane spoke without the aid of an electrolarynx, telling anyone not down with X-Pac and himself to...what else? "SUCCCCKKKK IIIITTTTTTTTT!" That was the very beginning of the slow process of repackaging Kane in a way that got rid of physical issuss stemming from the fire he was in as a child.

In the main event, Chyna defeated Triple H and The Undertaker in a falls count anywhere triple threat match when Steve Austin hit Triple H with a chair, earning a shot at Austin's WWF Championship at SummerSlam. This got undone quickly, but at the time, it was a huge moment. Jesse Ventura, then the governor of Minnesota (where SummerSlam would be taking place) was set to referee the title match and sat in on color commentary here in his return to the company after nine years away. It was almost like he never left, as he put Chyna's win over big time.


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