The first time WWE went extreme: Inside the infamous Madison Square Garden Alley Fight
With the WWE Universe getting ready for Extreme Rules, I got to thinking about a match that took place a little more than 33 years ago. Although it occurred a decade before the advent of ECW, this battle between two bitter rivals had extreme written all over it.
The match in question was an Alley Fight between Pat Patterson and Sgt. Slaughter that took place on May 4, 1981, in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The encounter was the culmination of a bitter rivalry between these two stalwarts of the squared circle. The rules of the come-as-you-are battle were not complicated at all. In fact, there were no rules. No referee officiated and anything and everything was allowed.
“We were at war with each other,” Sgt. Slaughter told WWEClassics.com about the most grueling encounter of his career. “I was going to fight until the bitter end.”
The bad blood between Patterson and Slaughter had been bubbling for a while. It reached the boiling point during another bout at the Garden, in which both men wound up being disqualified for attacking the referee. The stage was set for this one-of-a-kind battle in The World’s Most Famous Arena to settle their animosity once and for all. The New York City faithful certainly echoed positive sentiments for Patterson, when he entered the arena decked out in blue jeans, steel-tipped cowboy boots, an “I Love New York” shirt and a New York Yankees cap, something Patterson vividly remembered.
“I did that for the WWE fans of New York,” Patterson said. “They were behind me and with me all the way, so I wanted to show them I was with them, too. And I also wanted to also get one up on Sgt. Slaughter, from a mind games standpoint.”
Patterson’s getup didn’t faze Slaughter in the slightest. Accompanied by his manager, The Grand Wizard, Sarge, dressed in fatigues, got into the ring and immediately made a beeline for Patterson. The Alley Fight was underway.
“My attitude going into the match was that I had everything to gain and nothing to lose,” Slaughter said. The combatants went after each other with a vengeance, never letting up when they could get offense in. Patterson had an idea of how he could get an advantage early on, though, taking his belt off and relentlessly strapping Slaughter across his back. Patterson’s vicious attack whipped the Garden into a frenzy.
“I made sure that I had a belt around my waist so if I needed to use it I would,” Patterson said. “And I did.”
So did Slaughter. After turning things back in his favor, Slaughter ripped Patterson’s shirt off. In the process, he was able to wrest the belt away and use it to his advantage. Sarge was now the aggressor, making mincemeat out of Patterson.
“I felt that, at that point, Pat was vulnerable and that it was my time to amp it up and close it out,” Slaughter revealed.
It didn’t quite happen that way.
The turning point of the match came when a groggy Patterson catapulted Slaughter into the ring post. Sarge hit it dead on, and suffered a severe laceration to his forehead. He was soon wearing the proverbial “crimson mask.”
“I could not believe how red he was,” said Patterson. “But with no referee, the fight could not be stopped. I told myself I was going to pounce like a cat and finish him off.”
Despite his gory injury, Slaughter actually looked to get stronger, and began fighting on pure adrenaline.
“Even though I was getting beat, I felt like a cat with nine lives. I kept on coming,” Slaughter recalled. “But Pat then took off his cowboy boot and nailed me with it right on the head.”
Slaughter had an equalizer, in the form of a concealed pair of brass knuckles. He was able to connect on Patterson one time, but because of the state he was in, could not capitalize.
The decibel level at the Garden was off the charts. Then completely out of the blue, The Grand Wizard came to ringside and threw a towel into the ring, signaling that he did not want Slaughter to face any further punishment from Patterson. That was the end of the Alley Fight, unbeknownst to both participants.
“I had no idea he did that,” Slaughter said. “After I got back into our dressing room, The Wizard apologized to me and told me that he just decided that that was enough. He was looking out for my future more than my present. It was the best thing that he could have done, because if I had won the match, nobody would have thought anything of it.”
Patterson, battered and bruised, barely realized that the war was over.
“I was surprised when he threw in the towel,” WWE’s first Intercontinental Champion said. “When my hand was raised as the winner, I went down on my butt and thought to myself, ‘I can’t believe we did this.’ It was a night I’ve never forgotten, to this day.”
Today, the two WWE Hall of Famers have a genuine respect for each other, and agree that their match 32 years ago was a pre-cursor to the theme of WWE Extreme Rules.
“I don’t think that our match will ever be duplicated,” Slaughter admitted. “A good number of WWE Superstars through the years have commented to me about how much they learned from watching the match, which to me is a supreme compliment.”
For Patterson, the bout’s considerable effect is felt to this very day.
“I’ve been in this industry for more than 55 years, and I am so proud of that match,” Patterson said. “I think it was instrumental in the molding and thinking of what we have in the matches like it today.”