Thursday, 17 June 2010

Bob Backlund v Greg Valentine (MSG, 2/19/79)

I haven't seen a whole lot of 70s WWF footage (most of it features Backlund, actually), but I can't imagine anything beating this out as the best match they had during the decade. If I do happen to come across something that tops it, I'll be very surprised. I mean, this isn't just comfortably the best WWF match of the 70s (that I've seen) - it's also one of the best matches the company's ever put on.

I'm not a big "note taking" kinda guy, and I don't want to get into rote play-by-play mode for a match that lasts an hour, because that kind of rambling is beyond anything even this retard is capable of, but there's really so much stuff going on here that I'd like to touch on. I guess I'll just preface it by telling you to go watch it for yourself. Then I'll yammer about it for those of you that give a shit (or for my own amusement).

Match starts out with Bob controlling, mostly using a headlock takedown and keeping Greg on the mat, gradually frustrating him more and more. I think the first piece of offence Greg manages to get in is a knee right to the gut, which I can totally dig. Bob's been taking him down and making him look silly so Greg's all "Fuck this shit" and puts a stop to that nonsense before it gets out of hand. Of course, Backlund's back to the headlock before long and Greg continues to be frustrated. Next plan of action is to slap on a full nelson, and it leads to probably the best full nelson spot ever, with Bob gradually breaking Valentine's grip, reversing it into a full nelson of his own and then foiling Greg's subsequent attempts at counter-countering with some freakish strength thrown in for good measure. They manage to milk the holds exceptionally well all the way through this, but that was awesome, and me talking about it doesn't really do it justice. Greg's started begging off at this point, completely incapable of figuring Bob out and getting any worthwhile advantage at all. I remember looking at the clock about now and thinking the first 15 minutes had flown by.

Time for Greg to try something different, this time going for the arm. Bob says "Anything you can do, I can do better" and it's Backlund who winds up controlling - again - with a short arm scissors. So far Bob's been a step ahead of Valentine every time, basically letting him try something only to shut him down and show him how it's really done. "Put me in a full nelson, will ya?" "Work MY arm, will ya?" Backlund's one of my all-time favourites when it comes to milking holds for all they're worth, so I love him yanking back on an armbar while the crowd "OH"s along with him. There's another great moment where Valentine uses the ropes for leverage while he's pushing Backlund's shoulders to the mat, so Bob, still holding onto the arm, drags him back over onto his back and just BLASTS him across the face with his leg. The expression on his face totally makes it because you can actually buy Backlund as this howdy-doody simpleton that's legit offended by someone trying to take a shortcut -- especially against him. I picture him sitting in the back watching on a monitor chanting "USA! USA!" along with the crowd and shouting "Hey man, THAT AIN'T RIGHT!" whenever someone tries to cheat and it makes my day a little brighter. Valentine slapping his hand to get the feeling back post-face-drilling is a nice touch that I always like to see.

The first real sign of a Valentine breakthrough comes about almost by accident. They both hit the ropes and sort of collide into each other, Valentine seemingly clattering into Bob as a result of fatigue more than actual intent. Either way, it gives him an opening to go back to the arm. He hasn't learned his lesson from the last time, though, because he's only able to work him over for a few minutes before the awesome Backlund power-out-of-the-armbar spot where he deadlifts him and casually sits him on the top turnbuckle. Except this time he drops him out on the apron, slaps him across the mush, plants him back in with a slam and then goes back to work on Valentine's arm.

Greg, straight up, hasn't had anything in the way of an answer to Backlund's "So, what are you gonna do?" question. Everything he's tried, Backlund's managed to snuff out, and often come back by doing exactly the same thing Valentine had tried... only Backlund's actually using it effectively. Well, there was that time where Valentine wound up knocking him out to the floor. That kinda worked for a little while, right? Right. And I'm guessing he hasn't forgotten, because as soon as he gets a chance he just launches an oncoming Backlund right out onto the concrete. The last time it was as if Greg had sort of died on his feet, fell into Bob and luckily managed to knock him out the ring. This time, the intent is clear. Backlund takes the man-made-of-jelly bump where he hits the middle rope and kinda flails, not too dissimilar from an Earl Hebnar special, before hitting the floor, too, which you gotta love. Last time Greg went to the arm and wound up getting nowhere. He remembers that. This time he gives Backlund no time at all, stomping his face into the apron in disgust. Backlund still manages to fire off a few headbutts to the gut before leaping back in with a sunset flip - which picked up a huge nearfall - but Valentine's back on him like a flash. AND he goes right to the leg. Nothing else has worked, so it's time for him to set up the figure four. No more fucking around.

Can't stress how great that sequence was. Valentine throwing Backlund out to the floor is a really simple transition spot on its own, but it works as a great payoff to the earlier spot where they teased Valentine taking control. Plus we get some nasty face stomping afterwards, so it's gravy. Then the sunset flip nearfall, which is pretty fuggin' beaut', before Valentine decides the time is right to set up his main weapon. So yeah... terrific transition sequence.

Valentine *in* control is probably even better than Valentine trying to *gain* control. In fact, it's probably the strongest stretch of the match, because you get the initial seeds of Valentine being utterly incapable of putting the figure four on Backlund. If the first 25-30 minutes were about Valentine's inability to gain control, then the next 15-20 are about his inability to actually use that control in the way he'd like. I mean, figure four attempt number one is swatted with relative ease, even countered into a small package. At this point you get the sense Backlund's pretty much the bane of a heel's existence; it's bad enough trying to carve out an advantage against the guy, never mind use it to actually beat him. Valentine working the leg is really good, and Backlund trying to shake him off is equally so. He busts out one of the nuttiest escapes to a half crab I've ever seen, and his hope spots are all used at the right time. Also sells the leg well all the way through this -- love him going for a body slam only for his knee to give way leading to a Valentine nearfall.

The repeated failure of the figure four is one of the big themes in this (we get a payoff of sorts post-match). I already mentioned the first attempt that was countered into a small package, but the next two aren't any more successful. They both come in quick succession, but both attempts leave Valentine face first on the mat. You can see the frustration eating away at him more and more, but he's persistent enough to stay with the leg. The strategy hasn't worked yet, but he'd be foolish to give up on it now.

At this stage there must be between 10-15 minutes left, so this is where they're reaching the "climax". It's already been established that Valentine's goal is to weaken the knee enough to the point where a figure four would most likely seal it. He's achieved the former; hasn't managed the latter. Backlund's a brick shit house that's gonna take some stopping... and even then he keeps on truckin'. He's also the kind of guy with enough in the holster that'll more or less kill you dead if you give him the chance.

The stretch run is packed with great stuff, eg. Bob hitting a big atomic drop and selling the knee, blocking a splash and again selling the knee, trying to hook Valentine for a butterfly suplex and failing because his bad leg is shaking so much that he can barely stand up, etc. Also love how they sell the exhaustion, and there's one awesome moment where Valentine tries to get back in the ring and sort of just falls through the ropes because stepping in requires too much effort at this point. There's even some more built onto the "anything Valentine can do, Backlund can do better" theme when Backlund spots Valentine's leg resting on the bottom rope and decides to jump on it. He takes a minute or two to soften it up, and now it's him trying to put Greg in the figure four. Valentine can at least counter that, but then he goes for one of his own and Bob isn't having any of it. Fourth time he's tried it, fourth time he's failed. Greg's reaction to this by punching the mat in frustration really sums up the night the poor guy's having. And it doesn't get any better a minute later when he tries it a FIFTH time... which again blows up in his face. Even the referee gets tossed this time.

Final few minutes are all about both guys being completely spent and the idea that if either were able to land a "final blow" then it really would be final. Neither can stand up properly, but that doesn't stop one last exchange of fists right in the middle of the ring. Valentine's sixth and final attempt at the figure four is - again - blocked, and Backlund's big push at the end is ultimately for nothing, because the bell rings the instant he spikes Greg with a piledriver.

Terrific match. Both guys are so good all the way through, and the time limit expiring when it did leaves more than enough on the table for a rematch -- Bob hit the piledriver but it was over before he could make the cover, and Greg, had he managed to apply the figure four, surely would've won the belt. He actually manages to put it on post-match, but by then it was irrelevant. There's some very brief lulls when they get a little static in the holds, but really, it's nothing worth complaining about. Best Valentine match ever. Might be the best Backlund match ever, as well.

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