Friday, December 21, 2012

Roddy Piper returns to Maple Leaf Gardens, November 16, 1986

My Roddy Piper obsession was ratcheted up a notch at news he could be retiring. Adrian Adonis (kayfabe) smashed up his knee with a chair and Piper could barely walk. Oh, but he still insisted on fighting. The WWF knew not to hot-shot an angle, and kept Piper and Adonis apart for months more until WrestleMania III. For now, Piper would be fighting Adrian's friends, Bob Orton and the arrogant and muscular Don Muraco.

Dad got us tickets to the November 16, 1986 Toronto wrestling show at Maple Leaf Gardens, with Piper taking on The Magnificent Muraco.

Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens wrestling ticket stubs: November 16, 1986; Gold, Box 12, Row A
Front-row gold seats for wrestling at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. Thanks, dad!

I had a sweatshirt with Rowdy Roddy on the front, and crafted a sign that, years later, looks a little homoerotic for my nearly-40-year-old taste. But I was a kid and had no idea.

Young wrestling fan with sign and Rowdy Roddy Piper shirt and WWF hat
A mark, and a dork. My Roddy Piper sweatshirt,
my "Muraco is Meat!" sign and my WWF trucker hat.

So, off I went in my WWF gold-logo hat with my dad to Maple Leaf Gardens for the second time to see classic wrestling in Toronto. On the lineup this night:

Maple Leaf Gardens wrestling lineup for November 16, 1986: Paul Roma pinned Steve Lombardi with a powerslam at 7:04 Jose Luis Rivera pinned Frankie Laine with a reverse roll up The Honkytonk Man pinned Mr. X (Danny Davis) Dino Bravo (w/ Johnny V) defeated Pedro Morales via count-out at 9:23 Tito Santana fought Butch Reed to a time-limit draw Kamala (w/ the Wizard & Kimchee) pinned George Steele at 4:30 with a splash off the top Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart defeated the Islanders at 11:17 when Bret pinned Tama Roddy Piper pinned Don Muraco (w/ Mr. Fuji) after intercepting Fuji's cane and hitting Muraco with it

Great seats. A little further away from center than last time, but front row in the Gold section at the Gardens. Just great.

The show opened with what any mid-1980s wrestling fan would consider the gold standard for preliminary bouts: Paul Roma vs. Steve Lombardi. Roma was a young, muscular good guy with a few flashy moves. Lombardi was a grumpy-faced, bearded burly bad guy. Nothing fancy, nothing spectacular. Just a typical opening bout. The notes on my lineup, from memory, said Lombardi won, but Internet records say Roma beat Lombardi with a powerslam in just over seven minutes. Trust the net on that one.

In a prelim bout with local talent, Jose Luis Rivera defeated Cowboy Frankie Laine. I don't know much about Frankie Laine other than that I always thought he totally sucked. I'm sure someone from the Maple Leaf Wrestling Pictorial site or one of the message boards will tell me he had a distinguished career before. Bah. To a new fan in 1986, Frankie was an old guy with no cred. I'm already looking forward to writing about the July 1, 1987 show in Newmarket where I saw the Cowboy take on Terry Morgan in a Battle Of Two Guys Who I'd Never Seen Beat Anyone. Jose goes over with a rollup.

The next match was really historic. Honky Tonk Man vs. Mr. X.

Mr. X was referee Danny Davis under a mask, but no one knew that at the time. No one even cared much about Danny Davis, other than that he was a ref who Gorilla Monsoon kept pointing out every time he helped one of the bad guys win.

Honky Tonk Man was a newcomer to the WWF and had been introduced as a good guy. He was one of Hulk Hogan's friends. But the fans took an immediate dislike to him. The WWF had to change course immediately, and they solicited a "vote of confidence" for the Honky Tonk Man. Meantime, HTM would be a good guy booked against bad guys like Mr. X.

Out comes Mr. X to some cheers. Then Honky's music, "That's All Right Honky Tonk Mama" hits, and the place goes nuts .... with boos. I mean, I could not hear the music. This was my first exposure to the Toronto tendency to cheer the heels. But this was over the top -- every little think Mr. X did got cheers. Every time Honky did anything, people booed him mercilessly.

It was great fun. It was also the only time I saw heel jobber Mr. X get over with a crowd. He even played it up a little.

Honky Tonk won with his neckbreaker, later called the Shake Rattle 'n Roll, and left angry.

Dino Bravo came to the ring with Luscious Johnny V (nee Valiant) to face Pedro Morales. Bravo was a beefy Italian-Quebecer and was a fresh arrival from International Wrestling. He still had dark hair. Morales, we'd been told on TV, was a former WWF World Champion, Intercontinental Champion, and possibly tag team champion. Here's a pic I took with my fixed-focus camera....most of the roll came out so poorly, they didn't even develop the prints.

Pedro Morales vs Dino Bravo at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto wrestling.
It's really something when the manager is the most sparkly guy in the ring, with the coolest tights.
Anyway, I could tell you who won, but I don't much care. As with almost every other match on the card so far, it was a pretty even bout on paper: two guys with roughly the same build and standing taking each other on in a straight one-on-one encounter. Okay, it was Bravo winning by count-out. You happy? I wasn't. Lame finish.

In yet another good match on paper, Tito Santana took on Butch Reed. Two former NFL football players, neither one much more huge than the other. It was a back and forth battle with neither man sustaining the advantage for long. I was still new enough that I didn't know to expect a time limit draw. The result: time limit draw.

In another good match on paper, at least to a young fan, big fat newcomer Kamala came with his handlers Kim Chee (remember Steve Lombardi from the opening mask? Put him in safari gear and he's Kim Chee) and The Wizard (Hawaiian veteran King Curtis Iaukea, who yelled a lot) to take on wild and crazy George The Animal Steele. I say Kamala was a newcomer, because he suddenly arrived in the WWF at the same time as a few others, including Koko B. Ware. New wrestling fans like me had no clue that Kamala had been around for years, and in fact had been a main eventer vs. Andre The Giant right here in Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens.

It was a bloodless bloodbath as Kamala destroyed George Steele with a splash off the top rope in four and a half minutes. Two more splashes to the already-defeated Steele (KAMALA YOU MONSTER) and green-tongued George had to be taken away on a stretcher.

Next was a match I have no memory of, although I bet it was the best action of the night. The Hart Foundation, who'd been on nearly every live show I'd seen, took on the recently-formed team of The Islanders. The latter team was made up of two good-guy polynesians, King Tonga and Tonga Kid. I guess they were from Tonga. Anyway, having so many Tongan Tongas in one Tonga Tag Team would be Tonfusing, so they repackaged the pair as Hoku and Toma. I think that was relabeled Haku and Tama with in a week. Maybe even the same week. Maybe the announcers just pronounced it wrong. Continuity is not important in the World Wrestling Federation.

Anyway, it was probably an amazing match, but I don't remember. The record shows it went a little short at just over 11 minutes.

Finally, the main event. Magnificent Muraco comes up the famous ramp at Maple Leaf Gardens to boos and probably some cheers. Toronto fans respect the bad guys and had been cheering Roddy Piper even when he was supposed to have been the number-one heel in the company. That's right -- the guy who was giving Hulk Hogan and Cyndi Lauper the business each week was getting cheers in Toronto. And today's WWE fans wonder what's up with "Canadian wrestling fans." This isn't new.

And his opponent.... "Scotland The Brave" blares over the public address speakers.


Waiting. Waiting. Then....

Toronto fans cheer Rowdy Roddy Piper as he walks up the ramp to the wrestling ring at Maple Leaf Gardens in November, 1986.
My first glimpse of Rowdy Roddy Piper at Maple Leaf Gardens. What a thrill!

HOLY CRAP IT'S ROWDY RODDY PIPER. Also, as you can see, the Leafs were leading the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1. Maybe a few cheers for that. Probably not. But RODDY PIPER IN PERSON. There he is, on the ramp. That picture wasn't taken with a zoom lens. I could see him but I could not hear anything but screaming. The place was going ape-poop crazy.

What happened in the match? Watch for yourself as Roddy Piper takes on Don Muraco at Maple Leaf Gardens. I found this on the net and take no credit for it.

Roddy Piper vs Don Muraco by rland1987

I went home exhausted. I might've had a street hot dog with my dad. That might've been the night he walked me up Yonge Street and bought me a slice at 2-4-1 Pizza. Another father-son bonding night, with Rowdy Roddy at the center of it.

Thanks again, dad, for taking me.

It would be just over a month before we returned to Maple Leaf Gardens for more.

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