Championship Wrestling from Florida (CWF) presented Battle of the Belts on September 2, 1985 on syndicated TV live from Tampa, Florida in the USF Sundome. This was a joint supercard featuring pro wrestling stars from the NWA and AWA. Mike Graham, who was in charge of CWF after his father Eddie Graham died in January, was the man in charge, as well as the color commentator. The Dean of Professional Wrestling Gordon Solie was the play-by-play man. Backstage interviewers were Coach John Heath and Buddy Colt.
Battle of the Belts isn’t remembered today by people for two reasons: 1) mainstream American TV viewers were fans of the WWF in 1985 due to Hulkamania, as opposed to realistic southern ‘rasslin; and 2) Hurricane Elena created severe damage to the Florida panhandle, and cause AWA World Champion Rick Martel to no-show, some power outages, and a smaller crowd (7,000 +) than expected. The only thing I could find about Battle of the Belts on the internet is a flippant message board comment about the card being cursed and how the wrestlers didn’t give their best, and the results. I just want to say that the person who made that comments is totally wrong: no wrestlers were mailing it in. The action was fierce and technically sound, and dare I say superior to what most fans were exposed to on TV in 1985 with the WWF.
I always have read and saw pictures about Battle of the Belts in the Bill Apter wrestling magazines in the 1980′s and always wanted to see that action. I finally got my hands on Battle of the Belts, so here is my Battle of the Belts report- albeit 25 years late.
Gordon Solie- there’s a reason why Gordon Solie was the voice of the kayfabe era of wrestling (kayfabe: keeping wrestling real) and was universally regarded as the best wrestling announcer of all time (prior to the Jim Ross HYPE of the modern era). Solie simply treated pro wrestling as a legitamate sport, like boxing, and was able be technically correct, had an eye for continuity, knew the wrestler’s kayfabe backgrounds, focused on in-ring psychology, knew the wrestler’s motivations, and had the skill to keep viewers entertained through a 10-minute wresthold without being boring.
Mike Graham was the color commentator, but as an active wrestler and promoter, he put himself and his late father over a lot. I wouldn’t say Graham was horrible, because he kept up kayfabe and compared wrestling to other athletes, but he was a bit much at times when discussing his experiences as a pro wrestler.
Ring announcer Chet Tharpe sounded good, but made a few major mistakes.
Locker room announcers Coach John Heath and Buddy Colt (also a CWF owner with Mike Graham) added some athletic legitimacy to this wrestling show, and were familiar faces to older southern fans, but were too straight laced (and didn’t seem relaxed on live TV).
The actual production values of the show were pretty standard for non-WWF TV shows, meaning it lacked the glitz and lighting. This was the norm for wrestling cards that focused on ring action and not storylines and angles. Unfortunately, history shows us that American preferred the cartoon aspects of the WWF, as Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan created a new type of MTV-fan back then.
One final note before getting to the matches: because Rick Martel vs Nick Bockwinkel was canceled, all of the undercard matches had to be stretched out by at least 5 minutes. The head referee was Bill Alphonso, who went on to become an ECW manager and Philly icon. He did a great job in Battle of the Belts.
- Hector & Chavo Guerrero beat Rip Oliver & Grappler (15:40) when Hector pinned Oliver. The fans were into the Guerreros in this opener. Dubbed an “Australian Rules Tag Team Match”, whatever that meant. Hector and Chavo played their face (good guy) roles to the tee, as they absorbed a lot of damage before getting the hot tag. The Guerreros had a lot of high-flying moves for that time, as well. Match rating: B
- Cocoa Samoa (managed by Lady Maxine) pinned Rip Rogers (with Miss Brenda) (11:00). I’ll be honest with you: I always get Rip Oliver and Rip Rogers confused. So for them to actually be on the same card, and wrestle right after one another, was kinda weird for me. This was another local match (the big guns of the AWA and NWA wrestled at the end, just like boxing). By the way, Lady Maxine was supposed to have been mega-pushed by Vince McMahon earlier in 1985, but politics kept her from achieving anything in wrestling. She is a USF alumni, which explains her appearance here as well. This was a standard match- Samoa (who died a few years ago) was a stocky islander, and Rip Rogers was your typical bleach-blonde heel. Standard undercard material. Fans were into Cocoa Samoa. Match Rating: C
- Kendall Windham pinned Jack Hart (managed by Percy Pringle III) (12:00) to win the Florida Heavyweight Title. Barry Windham’s younger and much thinner brother Kendall Windham was receiving a huge push in his “rookie year” (actually started in 1984). Kendall Windham was a good face in the ring, and Gordon Solie and Mike Graham put him over big time since the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship was held by wrestlers who went on to have excellent careers. Kendall, however, never made it, so the push looks very dated and dumb looking back from 2010. In an era of muscle-bound supermen, Kendall looked out of place. Jack Hart is now better known as WWF jobber Barry Horrowitz, but back then he had a push in Florida. As much as I tried to see him as a threat, I couldn’t, even though Jack Hart was much better than his Barry Horrowitz role as a scrub in later years. Percy Pringle III because better known, of course, as Paul Bearer, the Undertaker’s manager. The fans were really into this match, and rooted for Kendall to pull off the upset, which he did. I wish the lightweights would have a better role in the 1980′s. Match Rating: B-
- Southern Champion Rick Rude (with Percy Pringle) pinned Billy Jack Haynes (14:00). Rick Rude with a beard! I loved the licensed wrestling themes back in the 1980′s, too. Rude came out to Smooth Operator by Sade, and it fit him so well. He really looked like a porn star with well-defined muscles. Rude really improved every year he was in the business. Billy Jack Haynes also had the look, and had been on the path of superstardom since he had the look and the intensity of a tough face. He came out to Holding Out for a Hero by Bonnie Tyler. It’s sad that drugs, crime, and backstage politics killed his career and he never achieved his potential. At the time, he was one of the hottest commodities in Florida. Rick Rude, meanwhile, went on and achieved much more. Rude died in 1999 at age 40- and it’s a shame because he was always so alive, you know what I mean? This match had a lot of stalling and posing at the beginning, but it wasn’t boring since Rude and Haynes had entertaining characters. Haynes got beat up for a while, and then made a vicious comeback before Percy Pringle hit him with a cane. I think Percy botched it the first time, because they kinda redid the spot right after to make sure Haynes was knocked out and pinned with the cane. The fans shouted BULLSHIT! Match Rating: B
- AWA Tag Champs The Road Warriors (managed by Paul Ellering) DOUBLE COUNT OUT w/ Harley Race & Stan Hansen (10:00). Harley Race had cut a promo attacking the Road Warriors, and they responded in full force. This was a pier-six brawl before the opening bell. The Road Warriors were in their prime, with Iron Maiden as their theme and with the gold on their waists. Stan Hansen hardly made high profile losses in America (he’s an icon in Japan). Harley Race is a 7-time NWA champ and Hall of Famer. This had dream match written all over it. Both teams were VERY stiff, and I could tell that Race and Hansen would NOT tolerate the Warriors disprecting them in the ring, as they did to other teams. Even to this day, no other tag team was ever pushed as hard and as far as the Road Warriors, but Race and Hansen fought back. It ended when Hawk headbutted Race, and Race no-sold it (everyone knows Harley Race had the hardest head- except Hawk, it seems). Then Hawk punched Race, and he still no sold it. Then they took it to the outside and everyone was counted out. The Road Warriors continued to be great until around 1991. Hawk died in 2003. Race carried this match, and Hansen was too wild, and the Warriors were gasping for air at the 5-minute mark. Match Rating: C+
- Nick Bockwinkel pinned Frankie Lane (4:00). Nick Bockwinkel is 51 years old at this point, but was regarded as THE heel professional champion. He had all the moves and carried himself as the AWA champ for years. He was supposed to face AWA champ Rick Martel here, but Martel did not show up. Gordon Solie said it was because of of the hurricane, but who knows? Bockwinkel came out with an awesome theme song that totally didn’t fit him. He seemed out of his element here in Florida…he was over in the midwest. The bad news is that the only person the bookers got was a local Tampa jobber named Frankie Lane. The fans stomped all of this match. The match was cut short and Bockwinkel no-sold a cross body block and Lane just bounced off him, and Nick got the pin. Nick’s payday must have been a lot lower since Martel didn’t show up. Usually the consumate pro, Nick looked ticked off. Too bad the bookers couldn’t get a real opponent for him on short notice. Match Rating: F
- NWA World Champ Ric Flair beat Wahoo McDaniel (around 55 minutes) in a two-out-of three falls match. The late Wahoo McDaniel (passed away in 2002) was a hugely popular 1960′s football player and southern wrestler; he was a real Native American, and one of THE most toughest men in the ring and outside the ring. Ric Flair, of course, is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, if not the best. Flair was in this 3rd NWA World Title reign at this point, and Wahoo McDaniel was a very serious challenger. Wahoo’s promo was great: he said no man could beat him 2 times in one night. Flair’s promo was fantastic as well, he even gave a shout out to Tampa, Florida WHOOOOOOOooOOooo! This match was totally awesome…both men had great psychology and were chess masters in terms of working on their limbs…both men sold each other’s moves. At the 4 minute mark, Rick Flair was bleeding already. After around 30 minutes, Wahoo won the 1st fall with his sleeper hold. Flair was groggy to start the 2nd fall, and managed to turn the tide. Flair won the 2nd fall with a knee drop to the head after Wahoo took some shots to the head on the outside. Both men were bleeding. The finish was a thriller. It had appeared both men would wrestle to a time limit draw, but Wahoo had Flair in the sleeper hold. Near the corner turnbuckle, Flair put both feet up on the tunrbuckle and pushed back. He fell on top of McDaniel while Wahoo still had the sleeper hold choked in. The ref made the 1-2-3 and Flair managed to win even though Wahoo had him in the sleeper! Your winner and still champion: Nature Boy Ric Flair! WhhhhOOOOoooo! Match Rating: A+
OVERALL CARD RATING: B- Battle of the Belts 1 loses points due to the co-Main Event being canceled, and some poor production, however considering it was on free TV, I think this is an underrated wrestling show. Although the undercard had wrestler that were a bit too local, there were still big matches on this card, and all of the performers delivered. I enjoyed this card much more than the B- rating. It’s a shame mainstream Americans preferred Vince McMahon’s cartoon champion Hulk Hogan.
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