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Unbelievable Same-Year Wrestling Events 

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a ‘time warp’ as “the idea of a change in the measurement of time, in which people and events from one part of history are imagined as existing in another part.” Whilst these are largely used in science fiction, there are some historical events that mind-bogglingly occurred within the same 365 days. 

For example: in 1889 Van Gogh painted his iconic Starry, Starry Night whilst Nintendo was founded that same year, 2008 saw both Barack Obama’s election and the death of the last Civil War widow, and in 1642 Galileo died and Isaac Newton was born. 

 It should thus be no surprise that in the mad world of professional wrestling, many events shockingly take place within the same timeframe. 

Bruno Sammartino Wins His First WWWF Title & Billy Gunn Is Born [1963] 

On May 17th 1963, the injured inaugural World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) Buddy Rogers stepped into the ring at New York’s Madison Square Garden. 48 seconds after the bell rung, “The Nature Boy” had lost his belt; the Sammartino era had begun.  

Bruno prepares for a match in Japan, with the WWF belt around his waist.

Over seven years, Bruno defended his title an estimated 400 times, selling out MSG 187 times. Described by Terry Funk as “bigger than wrestling itself”, the Italian titleholder was not just a hero to the people but one of the biggest draws commercial wrestling had seen. His 2,803-day reign will never be matched. 

Gunn, with a tremendously muscled physique, stares down Sting at ringside.
(Photo courtesy of Cageside Seats)

The same year as Bruno won the belt, Billy Gunn was born – a few months later on November 1st. This means “Ass Man” is currently 58-years-old, something almost incomprehensible considering the tremendous shape he is still in today in All Elite Wrestling.  

Showdown At Shea & Curt Hennig Debuts [1980] 

In 1980, Curt Hennig had his debut wrestling match at the tender age of 21. This took place in the American Wrestling Association, the promotion that made his father, Larry “The Axe” Hennig, a star. Despite wrestling for many years in the AWA, he still looked extremely youthful upon signing full-time with the WWF in the late ‘80s. 

A young Curt Hennig stands in the ring, wearing a red jacket adorned with silver flair along the bust line.
Image taken during Hennig’s time in the WWF in 1981.

Remarkably and surprisingly the same year was the final Showdown At Shea event in 1980. The show may appear much earlier for a multitude of reasons. This includes the poorly-lit arena, match style, and wrestler appearances as well as the old names on the card which includes Baron Mike Scicluna, Tor Kamata, and Dominic DeNucci to name a few.  

Sammartino shoves Zbyszko's face into the cage on the hard-cam; Zbyszko screams in pain.
At Showdown At Shea, the legendary Zbyszko/Sammartino feud had its blow-off.

The biggest match of that card was a blow-off Steel Cage clash between Bruno Sammartino and Larry Zbyszko in front of 36,000 onlookers. Today, however, the most significant match may be the clash between Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant in which the Frenchman was even slammed by the future “Hulkster”. 

Crazy to think that these events both transpired within the same year. 

Terry Funk Retires For The First Time & The Iron Sheik Wins The WWF Title [1983] 

For many of us, Terry Funk’s name immediately provokes memories of the hardcore icon who was “Middle-Aged And Crazy”. Yet Funk was already a very accomplished wrestler by 1983, having wrestled for nearly two decades and holding a plethora of NWA belts, most notably the NWA World Heavyweight championship. 

Funk retired for the first time on August 31st 1983. Funk, teaming alongside brother Dory Funk, Jr. defeated the team of Stan Hansen and Terry Gordy at Kuramae Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan for All Japan Pro Wrestling. Funk’s retirement had been in the works for two years, with the eventual final match receiving the streamer treatment and a Funk promo where he yelled “forever” over and over to the emotional crowd of nearly 14,000. He was only 38.  

A bloodied Terry Funk screamed "forever" into the mic as he retired for the first time.

The retirement lasted under two months, with Funk retiring and un-retiring multiple times since. 

Had Funk not returned to the sport, he never would have made it to WWE full-time, battled Mick Foley, feuded with Ric Flair, competed in ECW, and become a hardcore legend in the USA.  

Funk, dressed in all-black cowboy attire walks to the ring, holding a branding iron in the air; a caption reads: "ECW Arena, March 18, 1995, Courtesy ECW Home Video".
Funk would go on to become an ECW icon.

That same year, on Boxing Day, the near-six-year WW(W)F titleholder Bob Backlund shockingly lost his WWF belt to The Iron Sheik. Just as Backlund was locked in the Camel Clutch, Backlund’s manager Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel, forcing the match to end, thus crowning a new world champion. Sheik was a transitional champion but nonetheless a champion, with the wrestling boom period on the horizon at that point. 

So by the time “Sheiky Baby” was world champion, the seemingly eternally-wrestling Funk had already once hung up his boots. 

The Iron Sheik, with his entrance attire still on, wears the WWF title around his waist.

Verne Gagne Retires & Scott Steiner Debuts [1986] 

Wrestling since the ‘40s, Verne Gagne is the personification of the wrestling old guard. Traditional wrestler Gagne was also the booker of the American Wrestling Association, for which he was the face for almost the entirety of its existence. 

Verne Gagne cuts a promo, pointing at the camera, interviewed by Larry Nelson.

Gagne constantly booked himself on top, even when in his 50s, whilst also garnering criticism for his nepotism by booking son Greg too strongly. 

After many decades in the ring, the Minneapolis-based company’s owner stepped into the squared circle to wrestle for the last time in 1986. At 60, Verne teamed with Greg Gagne, and Jimmy Snuka in a six-man tag victory over Sheik Adnan Al-Kassie (General Adnan), John Nord (The Berzerker), and Boris Zhukov – a tyranny of 1990s heel mid-carders. 

Gagne is in-ring, preparing for a match, dressed in a white sports jacket with "USA" on it.

That same year, the future “Big Poppa Pump” would make his in-ring debut in his early-mid 20s; older brother Rick had more years’ experience, having debuted in 1983. 

Scott – who trained under The Sheik and Jerry Graham – debuted in Indianapolis’ World Wrestling Association. This was three years before The Steiner Brothers would eventually tag together when both under WCW contract in 1989. 

Scott Steiner walks to the ring in varsity "M" jacket and mullet hairdo.
Steiner c.1990.

This was mullet and singlet amateur grappler Steiner, who would not become his more iconic incarnation until 1998 and due to this peak so far into his career, his debut in the same year as the end of veteran Gagne’s in-ring career is a surprising fact. 

The AWA Host Their Only PPV & Sting Wins PWI/WON Most Improved Wrestler [1988] 

We mentioned the AWA previously and one thing that was implied was that the company was not run the strongest from a business standpoint. The AWA was a no-frills, boots-and-trunks kind of promotion, preferring a scientific and pure wrestling style over the WWF’s – and to a lesser extent, the NWA’s – flamboyant presentation. 

Lee Marshal hosts a pre-match confrontation between AWA champion Jerry Lawler and WCWA champion Kerry Von Erich.
(Photo courtesy of The Gorilla Position)

The AWA, which was a declining promotion at the time, staged its only PPV, SuperClash III, in 1988 – five years after the NWA and three after the WWF. It was an utter disaster that ruined relations between promotions when Gagne refused to pay other company’s wrestlers, ending in a double DQ main event, and drew a dismal 1,672 fans to the UIC Pavillion, an arena which can hold around 10,000. 

Also that year, a rising star won both the Pro Wrestling Illustrated and Wrestling Observer Newsletter Most Improved: Sting 

Sting stands on the apron with blue and white facepaint and blue and black trunks.

Described by Dutch Mantell as “worst than horrible”, Sting had arrived on the wrestling scene alongside Jim “Ultimate Warrior” Hellwig as two green (‘green’ being a wrestling term referring to inexperienced, sloppy, unrefined performers new to the business) muscleheads. When Sting came to Jim Crockett Promotions, he became a favourite of booker Dusty Rhodes and improved in-ring. “The Sting” proved his capabilities whilst standing his ground in matches against some of the best workers in the world such as NWA champion Ric Flair, United States champion Barry Windham, and World Tag Team champions The Four Horsemen’s Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson.  

Ric Flair Wins The Royal Rumble & The Sandman Wins His First ECW Title [1992] 

The WWF seemed to be slowly moving direction as the 80s moved into the 90s, with the so-called ‘Golden Era’ running towards its end by 1992. As Hogan was fading out, a new face arrived on the WWF scene: Ric Flair. 

With “The Real World’s Champion” jumping from WCW in 1991, Flair was a favourite to win the 1992 Royal Rumble for the vacant WWF title. In the end, Flair lasted over an hour, winning his first WWF title before cutting a now-iconic promo in the aftermath. 

Flair, wild-eyed, holds the WWF title as he cuts his WWF 'Tear In My Eye' promo alongside Bobby Heenan and Curt Hennig.
(Photo courtesy of CinemaBlend)

Surprisingly, that same year The Sandman won his first ECW World Heavyweight title. At this point, James Fullington was not the kendo stick-swinging, beer-swigging, cigarette-smoking brawler but rather a neon-coloured surfer.  

On November 16th 1992, The Sandman won the ECW title, beating ex-Intercontinental champion and ex-King Of The Ring Don Muraco. This occurred at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Chestnut Cabaret arena. When ECW secured a TV deal the next year, The Sandman was still the ECW champion. 

Blonde-haored Sandman wears red and blue sunglasses, a black and blue wetsuit, and holds a surfboard.

The Sandman would change his gimmick to its more recognisable form in 1994. 

The First Hell In A Cell Match & Tyler Bate Was Born [1997] 

1997 saw the introduction of one of WWE’s most revered concept matches: Hell In A Cell. 

Michaels drapes a hand across The Undertaker to pin him.
Michaels drapes a hand across ‘Taker to pin him after the gruelling encounter. (Photo courtesy of Sky Sports)

The first match of this kind was contested at October’s Badd Blood: In Your House, in which Shawn Michaels fought The Undertaker. The match, as well as the match’s stipulation, instantly became the stuff of legend, having been a mainstay of the WWE for the last 25 years. 

Also in 1997, Tyler Bate was born. Born seven months before the Hell In A Cell’s debut, Bate has gone on to accomplish so much in such a short span of time. This is best highlighted by becoming the inaugural NXT United Kingdom champion in 2017 at the bafflingly young age of just 19, despite how crisp Bate looked in the ring making anyone assume he had been doing it for many, many years. 

New NXT UK champion Tyler Bate has his arm raised by Triple H as William Regal claps.

So talented whilst so young, Bate’s youth is enough to shock when comparing to events that occurred within the same 365 days. 

Gordon Solie Passes Away & Kevin Owens Debuts [2000] 

In terms of personalities who are definitive of the territory days of professional wrestling, the best name may not be a wrestler but a commentator: Gordon Solie. With a matter-of-fact, informative, and distinctively gravelly voice. 

Solie speaks to someone on a telephone.

Seen by many as the greatest commentator of all time, such as Arn Anderson and Jim Ross, Solie called action for over three decades as a star of the territories such as Championship Wrestling from Florida and Georgia Championship Wrestling, as well as more commercial telecasts such as World Championship Wrestling. Solie called in-ring action for the last time in 1995, when inducted into the WCW Hall Of Fame. Although supposed to call the action at Heroes Of Wrestling but illness, later revealed to be cancer, kept him away; he passed away less than a year later aged 71.  

Also that same year, a young, teenage Kevin Steen made his debut in May 2000, in L’Assomption, east of Montreal. Trained by Jacques Rougeau and Terry Taylor, Steen was just 16, having his debut match on his birthday. 

It would take a few years for Steen to get his name out into the open, aided by runs in Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW), Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), and Ring Of Honor (ROH). 

Kevin Steen with a "Kill Steen Kill" shirt makes his entrance.

What could be more odd than a torchbearer of the modern indie-scene wrestling debuting just as the traditional personification of classic rasslin’ had died. 

Karl Gotch Passes Away & The Great Khali Wins The World Heavyweight Title [2007] 

As crazy as it sounds, Karl Gotch could have watched The Great Khali win the World Heavyweight title (although he would not have much time to witness the title reign). 

Indeed, Khali won the World Heavyweight title on July 17th – aired on July 20th – on SmackDown in a battle royal. Gotch would succumb to natural causes on July 28th, dying aged 82. 

Karl Gotch locks Inoki in a hold during a match,
Gotch battling the iconic Antonio Inoki in Japan.

Gotch is one of the most influential wrestlers of the 20th century, with an especially large legacy in Japan, where he is known as “kami-same”, meaning “deity”.  

The Belgian-born German-American could have rivalled Lou Thesz in the USA but was effectively exiled himself from the US market by shoot injuring NWA champion Buddy Rogers in a real-life fight. Although returning to the US in the 70s to win the WWWF World Tag Team titles (the second titleholder alongside Rene Goulet), his best success was in the land of the rising sun. 

A shot of the back of Gotch and Rene Goulet with their hands raised.
A shot of Gotch and Goulet after winning a tag match.

Not only did he train great Japanese wrestlers such as Satoru Sayama (the original Tiger Mask), Minoru Suzuki, Tatsumi Fujinami, and Hiro Matsuda (the man who trained Hulk Hogan, “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Paul Orndorff, The Great Muta…) but Gotch also invented moves such as piledriver variations, with the German suplex named after him.  

Despite being a defining athlete of the ‘60s and ‘70s and despite being a wrestler, Gotch lived a long and fruitful life into his 80s, alive to see many events that many would presume are generations apart. 

First AEW World Champion Crowned & First Women’s Match In Saudi Arabia [2019] 

It would not be unfair to say that Saudi Arabia’s human rights system is not exactly on part with the Western world. For example, both homosexuality and conversion against Islam are both capital offenses punishable by death.  

 

To focus on women’s rights: women gained the right to drive in 2018, women’s education was only allowed in 1960, 2019 saw women the allowance to live alone without male guardian consent, and that same year (2019) saw women legally allowed to know when divorced (yet only via text message), with the relaxation of the strict wearing of the hijab in public only occurring that same year. Fatwas and extreme sexism caused by fundamentalist religion has also occurred in other Middle East nations. 

With this, the first professional wrestling women’s match took place in October 2019 in the disgusting WWE/Saudi Arabia deal. The women’s rights is proof that some good has come out of the relationship with some liberalisation, as late as they were to take place. It did not go off without a hitch with the women forced to show no skin – or as little as possible – wrestling in large shirts, with some c*nt throwing a water bottle at Natalya as she walked down the ring for her match with Lacey Evans. 

Natalya, in a pink shirt, locks Lacey Evans (in a red shirt) in a Sharpshooter.
(Photo courtesy of Digital Spy)

Earlier on in 2019, All Elite Wrestling, created in the same year, crowned their first AEW World Heavyweight champion. Although AEW has seen soaring success since creation, it still does not feel like it was created as long ago as 2019.  

Jack Whitehall revealed that the winner of Double Or Nothing’s Casino Battle Royal would face the winner of Chris Jericho versus Kenny Omega for the AEW title at All Out. In August and in front of 10,500 fans, “Y2J” defeated “Hangman”, with Jericho the first world titleholder in AEW. 

Jericho, with a stoic expression, holds up his AEW title at Full Gear.

Whilst the first women’s match in Saudi Arabia was much later than it should have been, the crowning of the first AEW champion feels a lot more recent than it was (even despite the pandemic). 

Know of any other surprising same-year wrestling events? Leave them in the comments below! 

Written by Griffin Kaye

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