WWF at MSG – Race vs Backlund

22nd September 1980 – Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY – Attendance: 20,000

On 22nd September, hot on the heels of the gigantic ‘Showdown at Shea’ show in August, the Vincent J. McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation promoted a return to Madison Square Garden with two of their biggest main events they have ever booked.  The Federation had not run the Garden since June 16th due to the Democratic Party convention but they return in style.

The incredible Hulk Hogan got his return match against Andre the Giant after the controversial finish of their Shea Stadium bout. In addition, for the first time in MSG history, WWF Champion Bob Backlund and NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race clashed with both titles on the line.

After enduring a recent NWA World Title loss to Giant Baba in Japan, Harley Race subsequently recaptured the belt to put it on the line in this huge encounter against Bob Backlund.  Backlund himself was in the Orient last month and defended his WWF title against Antonio Inoki in a match that was cut short by interference from Stan Hansen and “Pretty Boy” Larry Sharpe.

Despite their troubles overseas, MSG was treated to a fantastic bout that made history in this unification bout. The now five-time champion Race made his eight defense of this new reign in front of the sell-out crowd. This was the bout that Backlund had longed for.  Even though he has met Race for the NWA strap on many occasions across the States, this was on his home turf at the Garden.

The match nearly ended after only two minutes after Backlund got a close count from a Lou Thesz press. Despite repeated attempts to physically intimidate Backlund, the WWF champ kept his cool and worked on Race with a wearing headlock. Race eventually worked his way out of the hold and nailed Backlund with a high knee lift.  Race then set Backlund up for a suplex but the WWF champion reversed it to pop the crowd. Backlund went back to the headlock and then an abdominal stretch which frustrated the five-time NWA champion and Race escaped, thumped Backlund down to the canvas and delivered a knee drop.  However, again as Race went to deliver a suplex, Backlund slipped out and put Race down with a Belly-to-Back suplex for a close fall.

Race made his way back into it and punished Backlund and headed to the top rope to possibly deliver the knee drop from the top, but Backlund caught Race and slammed him off the top.  Afterwards an atomic drop sent Race to the outside with Backlund interrupting the referee’s count, Race made it back in before the ten. Race hit a low blow on Backlund without the referee Jack Lodz’s knowledge and hit a further knee drop to Backlund’s head.  He then hit a piledriver and a headbutt which looked likely to put Backlund away, but instead of covering he hit another headbutt and went for another piledriver.  Backlund gained some adrenaline and landed a piledriver of his own for a near fall.

Race gained back the advantage and missed a headbutt from the second rope which disorientated the NWA champ. He and Backlund collided which sent both men down, but Race spiralled out of the ring.  Backlund dragged Race back in and landed a leg-drop for a two count. He then landed a gut-wrench suplex to another near fall and Race was in trouble of losing his championship. Desperate, Race hit Backlund with a further low blow and was warned by Lodz.  Race crashed Backlund’s head into the ring post and again was cautioned by Lodz as the now-busted open Backlund was nearly counted out.

Race opted to try and slam Backlund’s head into the ring post again but he was reversed into it which caused Harley to bleed profusely. Backlund finally lost control once he saw the blood and thumped Race down and landed a backbreaker for yet another near fall. The crowd were hot and desperate to see Backlund’s hand raised but Race escaped every time showing why he is the NWA champion.

Backlund slapped on a sleeperhold nearly sending Harley unconscious but a desperate Race grabbed Lodz and was disqualified.  The crowd thought that Race had submitted until ring announcer Howard Finkel read out the decision. The DQ win for Backlund meant both men kept their titles although Backlund’s arm was raised.  You can watch the full bout here on the WWE Network.

Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant’s match at Shea ended in controversy as the replays showed that Andre was awarded the bout even though it was clear that Hogan kicked out of the pin.  Hogan’s manager “Classie” Freddie Blassie demanded a rematch and it took place at MSG with Gorilla Monsson as the special referee.

Hogan and Andre tangled before the ring introductions could take place, and despite Monsson trying to split them apart he rang the bell early to begin the bout.  Hogan started rule breaking early on which encouraged Monsson to grab Hogan by the hair to reprimand him.  The impressive build of Hogan, who has been overpowering all in his way so far in the WWF, found it hard to overpower the Giant.

Hogan made Andre suffer in a bear hug once he gained a measure of control in the bout early on. Andre battered his way out but Hogan put him down with axhandles and kicks. Hogan tried to use the ropes to his advantage on many occasions with Monsson dragging Hogan away, in behaviour that was unusual for a referee.  Andre dished out some knife edge chops that took Hogan down and Andre dragged him up for a bodyslam.  Andre’s effort at a splash missed the target as the frantic Hogan rolled out of the way before Andre got to his feet and slapped on his own bear hug.

Hogan worked his way out and the MSG crowd was stunned into silence once Hogan got Andre up for a bodyslam.  However, instead of covering, Hogan attempted to slam the Giant again but Andre’s weight was excessive for the man from California and his legs gave way.  Andre landed on top and Monsson slammed his hand down three times to award the Frenchman the match.

In the other bouts, the opening match was for the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Title as Les Thornton defended against Jose Estrada. This was the Englishman’s first appearance at MSG taking on, although local, the very unpopular Estrada, who attacked Thornton before the bell. Thornton quickly turned the tables and gave the Brooklyn native some punishment with strong rights and lefts. Thornton dominated the majority of the match winning exchanges of chain wrestling and got the pin with a backbreaker.

Next up, Pat Patterson defeated “The Unpredictable” Johnny Rodz via pinfall with a sunset flip. Rodz took advantage early on stomping Patterson until the former Intercontinental Champion fled to the outside but Rodz continued the punishment with a top rope elbow further kicks and stomps on his return. Rodz then rammed his opponent’s head into the iron ring post which seemed to wake up Patterson as he made the comeback. The roles were reversed and Rodz was being severely punished in the ring and on the outside. The referee had many chances to disqualify either man but failed to and he became confused failing to break holds, when either man was held up in the ropes, before Patterson gained the victory with the flash pinfall.

The undefeated The Hangman kept his 100% record remain intact against fan-favourite Dominic DeNucci. The bout started off as a back and forth affair until DeNucci began working on the Hangman’s right leg and the Italian took control of the fight.  But the bad guy got the duke after DeNucci caught the aeroplane spin on The Hangman but he grabbed the top rope, DeNucci legs crumbled and was caught out for the three count.  The Hangman attacked DeNucci after the decision with the noose but the Italian gained control of the rope.  He proceeded to hurl the man from Europe over the top rope with the noose around his neck, choking The Hangman unconscious as the crowd erupted.

The cheers turned to unanimous boos for the next bout as Larry Zbyszko made his way down to the ring to face former tag team partner Tony Garea. The New Zealander took the early advantage in the match, much to the crowd’s delight but Zbyszko fled the outside, and subsequently on his return to the ring, he unsuccessfully attempted to remove the top turnbuckle pad behind referee Jack Lodz’s back.  When Larry finally made it back into the ring, Garea went to work on the left arm of Zbyszko. After taking a few minutes of punishment, Zbyszko caught Garea with an elbow that sent the fan favourite to the outside, and Larry once again attempted to remove the turnbuckle pad. Larry worked on Garea with stomps but the Kiwi caught Zbyszko in an abdominal stretch. Eventually, Zbyszko’s cheating ways got the better of Garea who proceeded to choke Zbyszko in the ropes and failed to break Lodz’s five-count and Larry was announced as the victor.

Newcomer to the area, Rick Martel made his MSG debut against “Quickdraw” Rick McGraw. In a scientific match with lots of sportsmanship, Martel reversed a hip toss into a back cradle for the win. The competitors shook hands and showed appreciation for each other after the bell.

One half of the Wild Samoans, Afa faced formed WWF Champion Pedro Morales in the next match.  Morales was making his return at MSG for the first time in five years and got a great ovation from the New York crowd much to the unhappiness of the Samoan’s manager Captain Lou Albano. In a seesaw battle, Morales scored a questionable pinfall in three and half minutes after reversing a bodyslam. The two brawled after the bout with Morales gaining the advantage and sending the Samoan sprawling to the outside.  The video replays showed it was a bad decision by the referee with Afa kicking out on the two and a half count.

The Intercontinental Championship match between champion Ken Patera and challenger Rene Goulet was next and it did not last long. The Frenchman gained an early advantage on the champion but before either man could get warm-up the match was over. As he was Irish-whipped into the ropes, Patera booted Goulet to the chest and small packaged Goulet for a win in just a minute much to the shock of the MSG faithful.

Sika of the Wild Samoans took on “Mr. USA” Tony Atlas before the Andre-Hogan main event.  The athletic Atlas is still undefeated in the WWF after he landed an elbow drop as soon as Sika missed a splash in the corner.

  1. Les Thornton pinned Jose Estrada in 7:05 to retain the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship (**)
  2. Pat Patterson pinned Johnny Rodz in 8:10 (*)
  3. The Hangman pinned Dominic DeNucci in 10:15 (**¼)
  4. Larry Zbyszko defeated Tony Garea via disqualification in 12:17 (**½)
  5. Rick Martel pinned Rick McGraw in 6:59 (**)
  6. Pedro Morales pinned Afa in 3:29 (*)
  7. Ken Patera pinned Rene Goulet in 1:00 to retain the WWF Intercontinental Title (NR)
  8. Bob Backlund defeated Harley Race via disqualification in 35:41. Due to the disqualification, Backlund remains the WWF Champion and Race remains the NWA World Heavyweight Champion (**¾)
  9. Tony Atlas pinned Sika in 5:32 (*¼)
  10. Andre the Giant pinned Hulk Hogan in 12:25. Gorilla Monsoon was the special referee. (*)

For information on our match ratings click here.


This was the just the fourth time that Race has defended the title in the building after a defense against Tony Garea in 1978 and a pair of bouts with Steve Travis and Dusty Rhodes in 1979.

The WWF could not book the Garden in July or August due to the 1980 Democratic National Convention for Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale’s re-election. Although not intentional, this was a great thing to happen to Vince McMahon and the WWF as this encouraged them to run Shea Stadium in August, which did tremendous business.

This was a stacked card but the action itself was disappointing in many of the bouts.

After an incredibly slow start, Race and Backlund’s match turned into a great match around twenty minutes in and well worth a watch, however, Andre and Hogan was disappointing.

The Les Thornton-Jose Estrada opener was enjoyable with catch wrestling, back body drops and monkey flips are aplenty.  Check out the Larry Zbyszko-Tony Garea bout if you can. Zbyszko is so over as a heel, it makes the match a good watch.

I have designed a poster for this event, check it out by visiting our artwork page.

As always, thanks for reading…

Will Burns

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Source: WWE Network, Pro Wrestling Illustrated – February 1981, Cagematch.net

3 responses to “WWF at MSG – Race vs Backlund

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