RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition who publishes zines & physical books & electronic books & music & photography & digital art & just generally whatever feels necessary to survive this deluded earth thru Rojonekku Word Fighting Arts survival systems (Version 69, establish 14 Feb 1973). Comments encouraged.

Tuesday, June 5

MOTYOTD: Sammartino vs. Zbyszko (August 9, 1980)


It is strange how cultural floodmarks happen, even without planning. Marketers can market and affix Baby Boomer/Gen X/Millennial basic labels, and then microfissure down from that, but at larger cultural level, it just happens, without anybody noticing, but is obvious in retrospect, like kudzu taking over a hillside. It is strange how there was no Wrestling Observer Match of the Year list until 1980, when in our American culture we also were experiencing the run-up to a President named Reagan. It is strange how wrestling was still territorial following an antiquated franchise system, but quickly exploded into national promotions vying with cut throat corporate models, which echoed the Reagan era’s corporate benevolence done at multi-national scale, allowing cartels at both geopolitical and professional wrestling level turn into oligarchies. It is strange how this was the beginning, this 1980 benchmark, of the current era of geopolitics and wrestling, and it all seems to be so very broken right now, but will likely limp along, pretending to be as perfect as ever, polishing the shit show for public consumption, but just like wrestling, if you stand too close, you can see the spandex doesn’t exactly shine like you thought.
Maybe we are at the end of this era, but maybe not. You don’t know the end until it’s gone, once the kudzu has been sprayed and is dead, and you see the hill again and think, “oh wow, I hadn’t noticed how big that hill was or how much kudzu had covered it completely” and then it starts over again.
Anyways, being a child of rural southern life, who came of age in this Reagan era, life was a strange black and white culturally, in terms of races, as immigration from the rest of America (south of Reagan-accepted America) hadn’t gone full bloom in the South as of yet, but we were also (as always) a place of lack of opportunity and hope. Thus the wrestling characters who spoke to me were like the people I knew who stood out from that culturally enforced black-and-white – strange outlandish characters much like wrestlers themselves. I always wondered how much life imitated art or art imitated life, especially in the case of a guy like Jimmy Valiant, who seemed EXACTLY like the type of guy who would be drinking Miller High Life pony bottles playing Spades with my dad and his buddies every Friday night. These were characters we knew.
The north and even Midwest was a different beast, where white had not been laundered through five generations of hillbillies and bumpkins wandering back roads nowhere as fast as they could get, and people still knew their European ethnicity, so they were not simply white dudes, but Italian, or Polish, or German, or whatever the fuck. This concept was entirely alien to me coming from the rural South. I remember some white kid from an affluent family trying to convince me and my best friend (who was black) that the KKK hated him, as Irish Catholic, as much as a black kid, not too long ago. We were like “get the fuck outta here!” because it was crazy talk, alien to us. Life was black and white and the only way we greyed it up was by acting a fool, which we did. I mean fuck, most people reading this know me as Raven Mack, which is not my government name, but is my real name, in the sense that it’s based off official names, and more real than the official one, and I can actually cash checks made out to Raven Mack at my bank because even they know me as that.
Anyways, this steel cage showdown at Shea Stadium between Larry Zbyszko (a Polish guy from Pittsburgh, at least in character but actually from Chicago) and Bruno Sammartino (an Italian guy who ended up in Pittsburgh, and originally trained Zbyszko in this shit) is a climactic grudge match between two normal looking white dudes, when we were having the campaign run-up to Presidential vote, where Reagan’s poster said “Let’s make America great again” (which may sound familiar). Both guys look like middle management to me, supervisory types, not dudes who would play Spades, or even stand around the table cracking jokes while others played Spades. These guys both look very much like non-Spades players.
Sammartino is crazy thick, and in fact just recently died, and according to our source of grapple truths Herb Meltzer, still desired to work out up until the end, and in fact was somewhat bummed he couldn’t get after it like he had as a younger old dude.
(An interesting aside, related to this current cultural era, and Orwellian re-writing of truths, is the only full video I could find is a bootleg off WWE 24/7 channel, and features more current commentators instead of the original, which bleaches out some of the initial purity. We are spoonfed desire fict-facts, and while it is Wikipedic in nature, it feels empty of actual nutrition like the original commentary would have likely given. It actually takes away from the power of the moment, because it’s not just the spectacle of the wrestling match, but the entire creation. Basically this soundtrack is like having the bonus feature DVD commentary track forced on you, with a bunch of dumb shit dubbed over top what you really want to be listening to. LIKE WHY ARE THEY TALKING ABOUT FUCKING STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN, I DO NOT CARE, “he told his boss off, like everybody in America wanted to,” SHUT THE FUCK UP FAKE ASS LATER IN LIFE ORWELLIAN WWE COMMENTATOR! Also this is why there are no nifty gifs for this review, because I could not get the bootleg daily motion link to work in gifmaking apparatuses. Fuck it. Art has become product, and culture as well as later cultural embellishments fitting the pata-modern fragmented consciousness is a casualty.)
This is WWE style cage match, not meant to accentuate violence (like a rural Southern cage match, which was necessary and fitting for us culturally), but one where you just leave the cage. I always thought it’d be funny if someone ran a story where some asshole heel just ran right out the cage three or four cage matches in a row, pure cowardly bastard style, but completely according to the rules.
The match itself, with the lesser commentary, is not as wonderful in the beginning, just a simple punch and kickfest, and lacking the fuller fog of the storyline, which is completely blotted out by Michael Cole and Mick Foley’s inane shit, it’s just background visuals for a podcast. Guess what? I don’t like podcasts.
Zbyszko is actually working on the right shoulder/upper arm of Sammartino, and Sammartino is bleeding from the arm, which is a non-traditional touch of legitimizing the violence. Bruno, even in comebacks, holds his arm to his torso as if in a sling, selling the angle. Always sell the angle. If you do not want to work this Friday, all day Thursday lay the groundwork, complain about your throat, hack a little around appropriate audience, SELL THE ANGLE from beginning to end. Nothing is real, everything is permitted.


Zbyszko takes a corner shot for the reciprocal blade job, then gets the thrown into the cage face first in all four directions, which allows the full theatrical 360 experience of making the violence real, in all directions. And then pretty much Sammartino just walks out, arm all fucked up, and it is over.


They face off outside afterwards and Bruno punches Zbyszko but Zbyszko does a weird honorable raising of his mentor’s arm, and this match’s fuller story, when strip mined off the experience, makes the match itself somewhat underwhelming, and feeling like I just wasted 20 minutes of my life.
Unfortunately, as I’ve just begun this ridiculous and entirely unnecessary project, and still am adrenalized by pretending to be an arbiter of fringe culture history, it’s not likely the last 20 minutes of my life I waste. Not even close.

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