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Today in Wrestling History (June 30)

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Guest TSMAdmin

Today in Wrestling History (June 30)

by Jared "JHawk" Hawkins


I love doing this column every so often because it gives me a chance to go through some of professional wrestling's classic matches. But the one thing I get complaints for is how I more often than not focus on 1990s WWF. While there are exceptions (like my look at Tommy Dreamer vs. Raven), that is true, although certainly not intentional.


However, I did stumble upon one match in my tape collection that many of you have probably never seen. And it goes down as one of the most significant title changes in professional wrestling. So join myself, Sherman, and Mr. Peabody as we set the Wayback Machine to 1961.


The story so far: Although it is seen as an independent championship these days, at one time the NWA World Heavyweight Championship was the closest thing to an undisputed championship there was. And with the champion traveling to every NWA territory to defend against the top local stars, it certainly had merit as a World Championship. But much like professional boxing today, getting the true money matches signed depended on location and money.


So it was a big deal when the NWA, with the help of Chicago promoter Fred Kohler, set up a match with reigning champion Pat O'Connor and the original "Nature Boy", Buddy Rogers. Rogers had held one form of the United States Title for 11 years at this point, but despite his box office appeal, he was never given a shot against O'Connor.


But on June 30, 1961, a match two years in the making...and a match dubbed at the time the "Match of the Century", finally took place at Chicago's Comiskey Park. And thanks to ESPN Classic's "Golden Age of Wrestling", it is available on tape for all to see.


Without any further ado...: The Match of the Century headlines a huge card at Comiskey Park in front of a then-record 38,622 fans.


Two out of Three Falls with a 1 hour time limit For the NWA World Heavyweight Championship: Buddy Rogers vs. Pat O'Connor (champion)


O'Connor is announced as "formerly of New Zealand, but now of Chicago" to a cheap pop. Bobby Davis, Rogers' manager, is allegedly at ringside but is never seen.


First Fall: Feeling out process to start. Lockup, into the ropes, clean break. Another lockup. They exchange forearms, with O'Connor getting the advantage. Rogers goes for a top wristlock, but O'Connor counters as we remind you to attend Marigold Arena every Wednesday and Saturday for wrestling action. Rogers finally hits the top wristlock, and as O'Connor gets to his feet, Rogers brings him back down by the hair like any good heel should. O'Connor finally reverses into a top wristlock of his own. Rogers breaks with a forearm, but O'Connor bounces off the ropes with a shoulderblock, and then puts on a SPINNING ARMBAR! Yes, a spinning armbar. Doesn't look like much, but Rogers sells it well as he reaches the ropes to break. O'Connor with another armbar, which gets a two count. Rogers frees himself and slams O'Connor, but O'Connor quickly gets to his feet, hits a slam and a hiptoss, and then back to the armbar. Many wrestlers and promoters at ringside, including Vince McMahon Sr. Rogers breaks the armbar with a clothesline, but O'Connor again comes back with a shoulderblock. O'Connor goes for his finisher, a piledriver, but Rogers sits down and both men fall into the ropes. Head and arm hold by Rogers, who uses the tights to bring O'Connor down and clamp on a reverse chinlock. Rogers looks blown up already. O'Connor pushes Rogers into the corner and hits a series of punches. He charges into the corner, but Rogers lifts his knee and covers for the three count and the first fall (8:30).


Fall Two: Lockup to start, and a punch by Rogers. Another lockup, another punch. Another lockup, and O'Connor teases a punch but breaks clean. The broadcaster sells the unlikelihood of O'Connor getting two straight on Rogers to retain the title. Rogers works a hammerlock, including throwing O'Connor to the mat while holding the hammerlock. Inventive spot that you never see today. Rogers rakes the face to keep O'Connor in the hold. And hides a choke. O'Connor finally breaks the hold, then does a leg split--essentially a toehold while standing on the other foot. That's another subtle hold you never see today. Rogers breaks it, but a kip-up by O'Connor and he's back to the hold. That's a full 30 years before HBK, folks. Rogers kicks O'Connor off again, but is met with a shoulderblock, and O'Connor quickly back to another version of the toehold. Rogers rolls free but only for a moment, and O'Connor begins to take control, using a series of headlocks and punches, then rolling Rogers up in a rolling reverse cradle for the second fall. (6:00--14:30 total)


3rd Fall: Lockup, O'Connor with a side headlock. Standing armbar, but Rogers quickly to the ropes. The broadcaster says we'll probably see a lot of defense in the third fall. Punch by O'Connor, but Rogers with a shoulderblock, then both men go off the ropes--just to hit head-to-head. O'Connor again attempts the piledriver, but again Rogers sits down into the ropes, and they tumble onto the apron. They return to the ring, and O'Connor uses a series of running bodyslams to weaken Rogers. Cover, but Rogers gets the foot on the ropes at 2. O'Connor with some punches and a hair Beell (in a MEN'S MATCH), and a bodyslam for the cover and a two count. The heat at this point is amazing! O'Connor with more punches, and slamming Rogers' head into the corner several times. Rogers might be legally dead after the last one. Rogers tries desperately to come back, but O'Connor knocks him down with more punches, and a cover again only gets 2. Hiptoss out of the corner, and a dropkick, but another dropkick misses. O'Connor lands on his head, rolls around the ring holding his ribs, and Rogers slowly makes his way over for the cover...and the pin (7:00--21:30 total)! New NWA World Champion, Buddy Rogers.


This match actually holds up very well today, and if you figure for the changing times may actually be one of the ten best matches ever. Fast-paced mat wrestling (if you can believe that). What sells this is great selling and some subtle things. It's the subtle things which made the difference back then. Even in a resthold, somebody's always moving. Every move means something within the context of the match. *** in my opinion (excellent given the timeframe), but if you don't appreciate mat wrestling then stay far away from this match.


After the match, promoter Fred Kohler presents Rogers with the title, and Rogers thanks the promoter, but reminds the fans that "To a nicer guy it couldn't happen." See, that is a good heel. Remain cocky after the toughest match of your career.


Aftermath: Rogers and O'Connor did have one rematch on record...September 1, 1961 at Comiskey Park, which was also won in three falls by Rogers.


Rogers would defend largely in the northeast for Vince McMahon Sr. while ignoring many of the other NWA territories, which caused a ton of controversy surrounding Rogers dropping the strap. That controversy led to Lou Thesz beating Rogers for the belt 18 months later, a decision that was "disputed" and led to the formation of what is now known as WWE.


If you've never seen this one, find it, if only for its historical significance.


Send me some feedback, and don't forget the archives.

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