WRESTLING THEN & NOW – 04.30.2020

By Evan Ginzburg, Columnist

Welcome to another stream of consciousness column…

Today is a hallowed day for old school fans. It’s the anniversary of Superstar Billy Graham winning the WWWF Heavyweight Championship from Bruno Sammartino – April 30, 1977. Whereas today titles change on a whim to pop a TV rating, back then the belt meant an awful lot and title changes were few and far between. And Bruno Sammartino was considered nearly unbeatable so the Superstar’s victory truly shook the wrestling world. The near riotous fans in Baltimore were none too happy either.

Billy Graham vs Bruno SammartinoI was there for Graham’s entire magnificent reign seeing him defend the belt at both Madison Square Garden and the Nassau Coliseum. His MSG opponents included Gorilla Monsoon, Ivan Putski, Dusty Rhodes, High Chief Peter Maivia, Mil Mascaras, his successor Bob Backlund and return matches with Bruno Sammartino. In one Bruno bout, Gorilla Monsoon was a special guest ref and when Graham “fled” back to the dressing room mid-match, Monsoon was right behind him in hot pursuit. Next thing you knew, Graham was being carried back into a now thunderous MSG, slung over the massive Monsoon’s mighty shoulders. Flung back in the ring, our beloved Bruno pounced on him like an enraged animal. The heat was just off the charts, the fans roaring. 

I can’t think of too many nights of attending over 46 years that the heat was that extreme. 

Meanwhile over at the Nassau Coliseum his opponents included Billy Whitewolf, Haystack Calhoun, Tony Garea, Larry Zybysko, Rhodes, Pat Barrett, Chief Jay Strongbow and Ivan Putski. 

Unless you saw a prime heel Graham defending the belt it’s hard to fathom his sheer charisma live.  No pyro. No theme music. Hogan, Ventura and others borrowed liberally from him and his were some of the greatest promos ever cut. The man could talk, and he walked the walk. Graham was a tremendous performer.

Great, great memories. 

And we are so proud that Billy Graham and Bret Hart are the stars of #350Days which you can watch free on Amazon Prime, Tubi and other platforms or purchase on DVD or Blu-ray from Amazon. Visit the movie website for all the details. Hear Billy Graham talk about his life in our new trailer for the film.

While so many of us are under quarantine and watching – for better or worse – empty arena wrestling on TV, there’s something very special coming on this weekend that I want to recommend. It’s Kenny Casanova’s Wrestling Bookmarks – Covid-Con. Wrestling authors unite to create the first ever virtual wrestling-themed convention for fans. Every 30 minutes, a new wrestler author/historian takes over on Facebook Live to participate in a huge Q&A. Names include DDP, Sid Vicious, Sabu, Al Snow, Hurricane Helms, Swoggle, Dutch Mantell and more. It’s THIS Saturday and Sunday May 2-3 from 9AM to Midnight. Yours truly will discuss old school wrestling, working on The Wrestler and much more Saturday 8PM so check it out on FITE and on Facebook.

Curtis Axel in Adelaide South Australia
Curtis Axel @ Adelaide, South Australia WWE house show on the 29th of July ’13. Photo by Flickr user Krystal Bogner used under Creative Commons 3.0 license

And in current news, Vince McMahon keeps purging over at WWE, with Curtis Axle the latest victim-releasing dozens of wrestlers and staff. Always amazing to me are the Vince apologists. 300 Mil for the XFL? No problem. 90 Mil for his wife’s failed political campaigns? Non-issue. 18.5 Mil to the state of Florida right before being declared an essential service in Florida? Here ‘you go. Millions for HHH/Steph/Shane on payroll? Of course. But a broken-hearted Drake Maverick and youngsters sacrificing their bodies night after night? Now THOSE are expenses that needs to be cut. Just ruthless. Utterly ruthless. Even the generally loathed Eddy Mansfield who “exposed the business” back in the 80’s used his Dark Side of the Ring appearance to take promoters to task for not having pensions, 401K’s and health benefits. Can’t say he isn’t on the money with that anyway.

I don’t know about you, but I just can’t watch wrestling on TV without the fans. Just missing something. And with TV ratings down I’m assuming I’m not the only one. Time to catch up on some New Japan Pro Wrestling with so many great shows I’ve missed over the years. New Japan World and Ring of Honor Honor Club are among the streaming services worth supporting.

Speaking of which if you’re looking for something to binge watch, check out Wrestling & Everything Coast to Coast with Buddy Sotello & Evan Ginzburg shot live on Skype. It drops on You Tube every weekend. We have some of the greatest wrestling minds on and we’re not shy to pick them – wrestling promoter JJ Purdom, When It Was Real author Nikita Breznikov, WOHW Publisher Kenny Casanova and Brian Solomon formerly of WWE magazine fame among our early guests. You’ll get some real insight into the wrestling business minus the obligatory numbing TV and PPV reviews. You can also enjoy the Wrestling- Then & Now documentary starring Killer Kowalski, Nikolai Volkoff, Don “Dr. Death” Arnold Homicide, and a ton of others free on Amazon Prime. Shot on pennies but from the heart. 

That’ll about do it, folks. Stay safe and healthy. 


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 [email protected].

Be sure to visit ProWrestlingStories.com - "Your daily source of nostalgia and a peek behind the curtain wall of wrestling’s past!"

Want More? Choose a story!

Follow Pro Wrestling Stories: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram