By Evan Ginzburg, Columnist
Welcome to yet another Wrestling- Then & Now column; the weeks sure do fly by.
I am pleased to say that New Japan Pro Wrestling is back, and even better, they are holding events in front of live fans.
Interestingly enough the spectators all wear face masks throughout, with an empty seat between them on each side. Also told they were asked not to shout.
Tickets for the New Japan Cup finals were priced at about $99. Evil defeated Okada by pin fall and subsequently joined the Bullet Club so it did not take long for NJPW to get the wrestling world’s attention.
Personally, I was just thrilled to be able to watch topnotch pro wrestling with a crowd responding to these premier athletes. It felt so much better than the generally antiseptic American wrestling on TV that has been presented during the pandemic. Also, it is quite positive that even though Japan has gotten a far better handle on the pandemic than the United States has, that they are being quite cautious at their shows with the fans. Seems that with the right precautions in place, live pro wrestling is doable as witnessed this past weekend.
New Japan returns live on July 18 with Lion’s Break Division #3 and on July 20 with New Japan Road. At under $10 a month with shows going back decades, New Japan World may very well be your best pro wrestling streaming bargain.
Wrestlers born on this day, July 15th include Jesse “The Body” Ventura (1951) and, speaking of masks, Mil Mascaras (1942). Both have led amazing lives that transcended pro wrestling.
Last I checked Mascaras was still active in his 70s. While his bouts in recent years involve little more than guys selling for his patented moves, he remains a remarkable physical specimen. Believe it or not, Mil, is not only a movie star in his native Mexico but has appeared on three postage stamps. That’s 3 more than Gorilla Position editor Ryan K. Boman has for those who are keeping count.
One of my greatest wrestling memories was seeing Superstar Billy Graham defend his WWWF title vs. Mil Mascaras at MSG. The venue was sold out and Mascaras had credibility to spare. Every move that Mil landed the place just popped. Off the charts heat that you rarely see today. I was lucky to have been there. The show went something like this:
WWWF @ New York City, NY – Madison Square Garden – December 19, 1977 (22,085)
Televised on the MSG Network – featured Vince McMahon on commentary; Debra Harry of Blondie and Andy Kauffman were in attendance for the card; the scheduled bout between Peter Maivia and Ken Patera was canceled
Baron Mikel Scicluna fought SD Jones to a 15-minute time-limit draw at 14:49; the match ended as Scicluna stomped Jones against the ropes; after the bout, Jones landed several headbutts until Scicluna backed away
Dominic DeNucci fought the Golden Terror to a double count-out
Butcher Vachon pinned Johnny Rivera (sub. for Victor Rivera) at 6:04 with a double stomp after avoiding a dropkick; prior to the bout, Howard Finkel said Rivera could not appear due to transportation issues
Arnold Skaaland defeated Lou Albano via count-out at 4:35 when Albano walked out of the match after losing his foreign object and being bloodied by Skaaland
Bob Backlund pinned WWWF Tag Team Champion Mr. Fuji (w/ Freddie Blassie) with the atomic drop at 11:40; prior to the match, the referee had to force Blassie to leave the ring, but Blassie remained ringside for the bout
Mil Mascaras (w/ Bob Backlund) defeated WWWF World Champion Superstar Billy Graham (w/ the Grand Wizard) via referee’s decision at 16:24 when referee John Stanley stopped the match due to a cut on the champion’s forehead; following the ring introductions, Howard Finkel announced that the Grand Wizard would be allowed ringside as long as he didn’t interfere; moments later, Mascaras left ringside and returned with Backlund to be in his corner; the bell rang just before Mascaras made a cover after ramming Graham’s bloody head into the turnbuckle
Dusty Rhodes pinned Stan Stasiak with the Bionic elbow at 11:22
Chief Jay Strongbow defeated WWWF Tag Team Champion Prof. Toru Tanaka via disqualification at 11:23 after Tanaka threw salt into the referee John Stanley’s eyes as Strongbow had the sleeper applied; after the bout, Strongbow went to reapply the hold before Tanaka escaped from the ring
Tony Garea & Larry Zbyzsko defeated Larry Sharpe & Jack Evans in a Best 2 out of 3 falls match, 1-0; fall #1: Zbyzsko pinned Evans with a kneedrop at 7:45; fall #2: the curfew ended the match at 12:39; the match ended as Garea and Evans traded punches
This day in history- in 1967 Ray Stevens beat Bruno Sammartino via count out in San Francisco. Sammartino didn’t often leave the comfort of the then WWWF territory but Stevens was going strong on top in the West Coast, so this bout was a battle of all-time greats. To this day I will have legends tell me that prime Stevens was the best to ever lace a pair of boots. He is THAT highly regarded among his peers. I saw Stevens in the early 80s in the WWWF where he feuded with Jimmy Snuka and had already lost a step or two but was still a big name. The hard-living Stevens would die at age 60 in 1996.
Check out Evan Ginzburg’s Old School Wrestling Memories page here.
Yours truly, along with West Coast-based indie heel manager Buddy Sotello, have started a unique show, Wrestling & Everything Coast to Coast, where we have hour-long interviews with unsung heroes of the wrestling industry. This week we interview “Hurricane” JJ Maguire who along with Jimmy Hart not only had a million selling record on The Gentry’s classic Keep On Dancing, but also wrote some 114 WWF/WWE/WCW theme songs for the wrestlers, virtually all of which I’m sure you have imbedded in your psyche. You can listen to our interview with him right here.
—Catch both 350 Days starring Bret Hart, Superstar Graham, and three dozen legends and Wrestling-Then & Now starring Killer Kowalski & Nikolai Volkoff both free on Amazon Prime. 350 Days also free on Tubi and Roku. You can check out the new 350 Days trailer here.
Speaking of Wrestling- Then & Now I am now offering grab bags of my long out of print newsletter packed with legends columns and interviews and exceedingly rare clips. $25 postpaid gets you 10 issues and a free surprise legend signed 8X10. Contact me for details.
That’ll about do it, folks. Catch you next week for Wrestling- Then & Now.
Evan Ginzburg is a contributor for The Gorilla Position. He was an Associate Producer on the movie The Wrestler and 350 Days starring Bret Hart and Superstar Billy Graham. He is a 30-year film, radio and TV veteran. Check out his Evan Ginzburg’s Old School Wrestling Memories page on Facebook. He can be reached on Twitter @evan_ginzburg or by e-mail at evan_ginzbur[email protected]