Today In Wrestling History 7/4: The July 4th Curse, Ric Flair-Bob Backlund, Wargames Debut, & More

* 33 years ago in 1982, Georgia Championship Wrestling's Independence Day house show at the Omni in Atlanta played host to one of just a few ,major world title unification matches, as WWF Champion Bob Backlund wrestled NWA Champion Ric Flair. While these matches always got publicity in the wrestling magazines (and always went to draws), this one has the biggest legacy since it everyone in the country who watched GCW on Superstation WTBS via cable knew about it.

The other famous matches are Harley Race (NWA) vs. Superstar Billy Graham (WWWF) in Florida, Nick Bockwinkel (AWA) vs. Backlund (WWF) in Toronto, Race (NWA) vs. Backlund (WWF) in New York, and Flair (NWA) vs. Rick Martel (AWA) in Japan. Only Flair-Martel and Race-Backlund are known for a fact to exist in its entirety on video. Film clips of Graham-Race also exist, and there are rumors of Backlund's personal photographer having shot some film footage of Backlund-Flair. Being dream matches that were put over as legendary by the magazines, there are few bigger holy grails.

* 27 years ago in 1988 was the beginning of wrestling's July 4th curse, as it's known in the business. In Lewisporte, Newfoundland, there was a car accident that took the lives of three of the four wrestlers in the vehicle. Adrian Adonis (real name Keith Franke), Dave "Bearman" McKigney, Pat Kelly (real name Victor Arko), and Mike Kelly (real name William Arko) were in a minivan driving between shows on McKigney's tour of Atlantic Canada with Mike driving. As ridiculous as it may sound, Mike Kelly swerved to miss a moose that was crossing the road, they crashed, and he was the only survivor.

The death of Adonis, being the biggest national and worldwide name, got the most widespread publciity by far. After a rough patch where he gained too much weight and was losing jobs, he had gotten himself back into pre-"Adorable Adrian" shape, was a regular with New Japan Pro Wrestling again as Dick Murdoch's tag team partner, and was rumored to have job prospects with Jim Crockett promotions.

* 25 years ago in 1990, the July 4th curse continued when Ed "Brutus Beefcake" Leslie was nearly killed in a horrific accident in Lutz, Florida. While the usual description if it being a parasailing accident is technically correct, Leslie was not the one parasailing. Instead, a woman who was parasailing was flying so low that she was sent knees first into his face. Brian Blair, who was at the beach with Leslie, has often been credited with saving his life that day. He was rushed into surgery, where his jaw was wired shut on top of multiple steel plates and numerous screws being placed in his face. Originally scheduled to win the Intercontinental Championship from Mr. Perfect at SummerSlam, he was replaced by Kerry Von Erich.

Beefcake was originally set to return in early 1991 as a masked character named The Mariner. He appeared at a few TV tapings, running in after matches to headbutt heels. Most of the segments were edited off the final shows and the "Mariner" name was never used on TV. Presumably, the idea was that it would eventually revealed that it was Beefcake and he was using the steel plates to incapacitate his foes. He made his return as Brutus Beefcake at the April '91 Wrestling Challenge taping as the host of the Barber Shop interview segment. While he returned in 1993 for his feud with Money Incorporated, he didn't resume a full-time career until late 1994, when he started his long run in WCW.

* 28 years ago in 1987, Jim Crockett Promotions held the most hyped show of the second annual Great American Bash tour at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia, drawing 13,500 fans. The main event was the first ever edition of Wargames: The Match Beyond. Two rings enclosed in a cage with roof on top. After a five minute period, the team that wins a coin flip sends their next team in, and the teams alternate every rwo minutes thereafter until every participant is in the ring. At that point, "The Match Beyond" begins and the match can be won only when someone "Submits or Surrenders." Since those two words are synonyms for "submission," it was was taken to mean submission or knockout.

The first Wargames saw the team of Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, The Road Warriors, and Paul Ellering defeat The Four Horsemen (Lex Luger version) and J.J. Dillon when Hawk stood on Dillon's throat when Dillon surrendered after being injured taking the Doomsday Device. It was a legitimate injury, too, as he blew out his shoulder trying to compensate for the roof taking a modified version of a move that, on its best day, was pretty dangerous. He was replaced in Wargames 2 at the Orange Bowl in Miami by War Machine, who was Big Bubba Rogers under a mask.

Few matches in wrestling history are as must-see as this one was. Incredible action with all-time great personalities and one of the hottest crowds in wrestling history. If you've never seen it before, watch it right now. You'll thank me later.

* 21 years ago in 1994, the July 4th curse continue when, on their way to Newark, New Jersey from the Superstars taping in Ocean City Maryland, referee Joey Marella and manager Bruno "Harvey Whippleman" Lauer were in a car accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. Marella, the adopted son of Robert "Gorilla Monsoon" Marella, had fallen asleep at the wheel and was not wearing a seatbelt. Lauer was in rough shape, but wore his seatbelt and made a recovery. He was less than kind to Marella in his book.

Back in those days, the WWF didn't like to acknowledge that anything was pretaped. Ever. Since they had just taped weeks of TV with Marella all over the shows, his death wasn't acknowledged until after all of his matches in the can had aired.


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