The Kings of Queens: The 40th anniversary of Showdown at Shea

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September 25, 2012

When you think of gigantic WWE events that are held in the country's largest stadiums, the first word that logically comes to mind is WrestleMania. But astute sports-entertainment aficionados know that one of the very first events of that magnitude was held on Sept. 30, 1972, at New York’s Shea Stadium. It was an event so special due to the dream match nature of the main event, no one would have thought it could have taken place. As we approach the 40th anniversary of the first “Showdown at Shea,” WWE Classics is recognizing the advent of it. (RARE PHOTOS)

I was one of those fans among a crowd of 22,000 who braved a cool and rainy early fall evening to witness what was a stellar event, unprecedented for its time. Of course, as Madison Square Garden has always been WWE’s crown jewel for Live Events, putting on a show at that time of the year in the Northeast was a risky business venture for sure. Yet it was tempered by one very important and unique match featuring WWE’s top two fan-favorites at the time: WWE Champion Pedro Morales defending his coveted title against the former champion Bruno Sammartino. Two friends battling each other, and an opportunity for the former champion to once again wear the 10 pounds of title gold around his waist, was the event’s signature attraction. But this match might never have come about had it not been for the two joining forces for a tag team match that went awry, something that Morales remembered vividly.

“Bruno and I were tag team partners for a match that aired on TV against Mr. Fuji and Professor Toru Tanaka,” Morales told WWE Classics. “During the match, we both were blinded by salt thrown by our opponents. We started to fight against each other, somewhat blinded, but were then separated. Our tempers got the better of us as we blamed each other for the incident. So we just wanted to face each other to settle our differences, and the match was made. [WWE] felt that this was a really big deal, so they put it in Shea Stadium and called it the ‘Match of the Century.’ ”

And what a match it was! After a grueling roller coaster–like ride of physical exertion and pent-up emotion that lasted for one hour and 15 minutes. The 11 p.m. curfew (which was then a New York State Athletic Commission regulation) intervened, and the match was declared a draw.

“I believe that that was the greatest match of my career,” Morales said. “Bruno and I gave it everything that we had, and I was very lucky to walk out with my championship that night. But I also walked out with an even greater respect for Bruno than I had before the match began.”

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