Everyone and their brother was all aflutter about a match being posted to the WWE Network yesterday after being thought lost forever since 1983. The Last Battle of Atlanta was the culmination of a feud between Tommy Rich and Buzz Sawyer, fought inside a steel cage with a roof that supposedly was an inspiration for Hell in a Cell. So what did I think of the October 1983 bout?
Sometimes I roll my eyes at the Wrestling Twitterati when they get very high or low on something. The group that I see tends to be very “southern” so this was right in their wheelhouse. The hype got me, but I only know little about the actual match and feud.
To me, Buzz Sawyer is that guy who floated from territory to territory and was incredibly flaky. Having just watched almost the entire year of 1984 WWF weekly TV, Sawyer showed up for 2-3 matches in late May and early June and was gone very quickly. As a southern rasslin’ dude he seemed like such an odd fit with the WWF. On this blog, Sawyer has been referenced once: in Bret Hart’s book when Buzz was chosen for a push ahead of Hart because booker Ole Anderson actually had seen his match. More on Ole later.
I will never understand the love for Tommy Rich and that’s fine. I was a kid who grew up in Massachusetts in the late 80s and early 90s and Rich was a huge star in Georgia in the very early 1980s. For my fandom, Rich is the Big Don from ECW’s Full Blooded Italians and is the guy on the Italian flag they would wave. (BTW: That flag is NOWHERE on the internet. No pictures or anything)
The cage match: There is no referee in the ring, and counts are done from the outside over the PA in the Omni arena. There is also no play by play, a feature that I love and wish would be done more because it makes me feel like a fan in the arena, like a Flair-Steamboat match I covered here. The roof of the cage looks pretty primitive; it looks to be just sections of chain link fence tied to the top. Paul Ellering is locked in a cage above and to the side, but that’s not the focus at all.
Both guys are bleeding within 5-6 minutes. There are no weapons or anything, just hand to hand combat. It’s refreshing to watch in that way as opposed to the ridiculous “weapons matches” nowadays when guys get hit with everything and just no-sell it. I could do without the “biting the cut” spot. The PA doing the counts when both men are down or go for a cover strikes me like this: these guys hate each other so much that it’s too dangerous for anyone to be there.
It’s a really good cage match, and Rich emerges with the win after about 12-14 minutes. That was about the right amount of time given how hard they went at it; both guys wore a crimson mask of blood and Sawyer sold it big time as it took a long time to get him out of the cage.
Afterward, there is an Ole Anderson vs Paul Ellering match in the cage (with a referee) per the stipulation. Again because I am not southern, I think of Ole as a lousy booker because of the Black Scorpion and all that. His in-ring work pre-dates me but his working punch is awesome and in full effect here. He beats the shit out of Ellering for six minutes straight, with ZERO offense for the future Legion of Doom manager.
Unfortunately, Ole’s pants blew up about two minutes into the match so he walked around for about 10 minutes with badly split pants in the backside. It almost looked like he was going to create Ole Hot Pants but changed his mind before cutting it all. Very unfortunate and no wonder why he never showed this on TV in 1983.
Ellering fights back but Ole takes over at the end for the win. In some ways, I enjoyed this match more than Rich-Sawyer because it was a case of one guy doing the ass kicking. Post-match, some of Ellering’s buddies (Edit: It’s Jake Roberts!) run in and beat up Ole. Jake was wearing a Pro Wrestling Illustrated shirt, which amused me. Bet that was a freebie.
Summary: I would make this a must watch because even without knowing the particulars of the Rich-Sawyer feud, this is a spectacular blowoff. Ole’s unfortunate pants rip is just a topping on this wonderful sundae of blood and guts.