The emergence of Vince McMahon’s WWF as a national touring company rightly stands as the dominant narrative of the 1980’s, but the end of the 1970’s and dawning cable era spelled doom for many promotions before McMahon’s ambitions claimed them. None of those promotions fell overnight. The passage of time, greed, and a refusal to change direction chipped away at the foundations of once stalwart NWA members like Roy Shire’s San Francisco promotion and Mike Lebell’s Los Angeles office leaving them ripe for extinction at the dawn of the new decade. Detroit’s Big Time Wrestling, owned and headlined by legendary heel The Sheik (Edward Farhat), arguably experienced the furthest fall. Once a prodigious draw in the Motor City and elsewhere, as well as Japan, The Sheik’s interminable run as his promotion’s leading attraction hit a wall finally thanks to economic hardships and overexposure. By August of 1979, the promotion had a little over a year left. The Sheik increasingly relied on aging and second tier visiting stars to hold up the top of his live cards while assigning television and underneath matches to a talented but young and inexperienced crew of regional journeymen. This incomplete episode from 1979 is illustrative of the promotion’s poor health in those final years.
Terry Sullivan calls the action for The Mighty Igor, accompanied by manager and retired legendary tag team wrestler Ivan Kalmikoff, versus one of those aforementioned journeymen, John Davidson, seconded by his brother and tag team partner. Igor, a smiling longtime fixture in the AWA promotion and elsewhere, is his usual jovial muscle-bound self while Davidson’s hazily defined gimmick, falling somewhere between biker and roughneck brawler with requisite cowboy hat, is even less distinguished than his solid, unremarkable ring work. Igor and Davidson work through the former’s standard strong man spots straight out of the gate - breaking a standing waist lock and full nelson – before Davidson invites Igor to apply his own full nelson with predictable results and another strong man spot when Igor fires Davidson head first into a corner. Davidson gets in virtually no offense, two decent knee drops, two “Japanese nerve hold” spots, and a headlock are most notable. It inexplicably takes Igor seven plus minutes to him away despite his dominance and the finish comes with some interference from Davidson’s brother. Sullivan remarks that he expects a disqualification and the referee throws him out belatedly following a Davidson powder.
The next segment opens with Terry Sullivan introducing Tom Renesto, longtime territorial booker and one half of the original Masked Assassins with partner Jody Hamilton, as a National Wrestling Alliance representative of some nebulous standing. Renesto cuts a promo about how the Detroit territory is on the rise thanks to an influx of proven stars and exciting young talent before transitioning to the subject of the promotion’s top program of the moment, “Bulldog” Don Kent’s feud with WWF Hall of Famer Chief Jay Strongbow. The straight forward back story is Strongbow’s desire to avenge Kent’s destruction of trophy “presented to him” by his childhood fans. It’s a tried and true wrestling angle requiring Strongbow to hit just a few key emotional points to push things along. He does so in an effective, if occasionally redundant, way. It may amuse some to hear Strongbow, born Joe Scarpa, unable to hide his Italian New Yorker accent for long. Sullivan looks on with grave solemnity as Strongbow promises bad things will happen to Kent and concludes his portion of the interview by claiming he’ll do more than just get close to Kent – he’ll get inside of him. Renesto gives the feud a final rub for its intensity before the segment ends.
The truncated episode concludes with a match between the aforementioned Kent and another young regional talent Randy Scott. Kent, a road-tested veteran of the Midwestern scene, wears his distinctive dog collar and predictably goes bonkers when the audience starts barking. The match opens with Kent firmly in control and more actual wrestling moves in the first thirty seconds than we saw in the entirety of the earlier march. We hit our first mat spot not far in as Scott takes over with a head scissors. There’s a nice spot when Kent bridges out of the head scissors and briefly takes control before Scott reverses it again and takes things back to the mat. Another series of mat counters follows. The small studio crowd is relatively vocal for the match, as evidenced by their earlier heckling of Kent, He gets back to his feet with Scott and work a brief sequence off the ropes concluding with a nicely flying head scissors from Scott that Kent sells well. The “Bulldog” works his gimmick in while they’re on the mat by removing his collar and wrapping it around his fist, but hits Scott with it to no avail. Kent parks the collar around the back of a turnbuckle when he finishes with it and the referee inexplicably never makes note of the fact.
They brawl for a while before Kent uses the collar AGAIN without consequence, returning it to the same turnbuckle when finished, and ends with Scott fighting out of some mat work for a brief babyface comeback. Kent slows things down again before Scott eventually backs him in a corner (conveniently the one with Kent’s collar) and it gives Kent the window he needs. He wraps the collar around his hand and sends Scott tumbling out of the ring with one shot. Kent follows and continues pummeling him with the collared fist until the referee counts out both competitors while the audience chants for Strongbow and the episode concludes. It’s well nigh impossible to explain the storytelling logic behind these finishes except to say no one emerged from these two matches looking any stronger or more impressive than they did before the opening bells. Making even a token effort to plug new young talent into the organization without putting their full faith behind it ultimately made no difference. The times they were a-changin’ and this footage is an interesting object lesson and time capsule from a long vanished era.