Patrick Eire Retro Wrestling Matchguide: The 1960s
Updated: Nov 1, 2022
Hello everyone and welcome to the second edition of my retro matchguide. This time I take a look at the 1960s. I think the 1960s definitely provided a wider range of quality work than the 1950s did previously. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that there is simply more footage of wrestling available from this decade. As well as that I believe that the quality of in ring work naturally got better over time. Also it’s important to remember that advancements in video and audio quality greatly enhance the viewing experience. By 1969 I was finally able to come across matches televised in colour which makes a big difference.
The 1960s was a very interesting time in professional wrestling. In the USA more wrestling became available from different parts of the country as opposed to mainly just Chicago in the 1950s. It was in this decade where we would see the peak of the “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers career as he won his first and only NWA World Heavyweight Title and became the inaugural WWWF World Heavyweight Champion. Unfortunately however it is also in this decade that Rogers health would begin to deteriorate which lead to the end of his full time career. In Japan professional wrestling would reach its peak in terms of popularity thanks to the work of Rikidozan but unfortunately it was also during this time that Rikidozan’s tragic passing would occur. This decade would see The Destroyer make his debut in Japan with his series of matches against Rikidozan and it would be the beginning of his very successful career in Japan. We also saw the rise of two new Japanese stars in Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki, both of whom would go on to have hugely successful and influential careers. Meanwhile over in Europe a 21 year old man by the name of Jean Ferre would win his first championship. This man would go on to become Monster Roussimoff and later, more famously Andre The Giant, perhaps the most iconic European wrestler of all time.
In this matchguide I provide 6 detailed recommendations of matches listed in chronological order from the 1960s that I believe are all worth watching. Before I dive into the main list I would first like to provide some honourable mentions for anyone that may be interested. These are:
Buddy Rogers vs Haystacks Calhoun 14/04/1961
Larry Chene vs Moose Cholak 15/03/1963
Rikidozan vs The Destroyer 02/12/1963
Antonio Inoki vs Chris Markoff 16/05/1969
Bull Curry vs Johnny Valentine 20/06/1969
I should also mention that all but one of the matches mentioned in this article are fairly easy to find on YouTube. The only one that isn’t on YouTube is Antonio Inoki vs Dory Funk Jr 02/12/1969. However you should be able to find it by typing the match and date into Google. If you are having any trouble finding any of these matches please don’t hesitate to contact me @PatrickEireWres on Twitter as I will be more than happy to assist you if needed. Now without further ado let’s get into the list!
6. Buddy Rogers vs Pat O’Connor, NWA Chicago, 30/06/1961
First we look at the historic NWA World Heavyweight Championship match between the champion Pat O’Conner and the challenger “Nature Boy”” Buddy Rogers. This match is historic mainly because of the records it set. The best two out of three falls contest was billed as the “Match of the Century” and accumulated huge interest. The match took place in front of 38,622 fans at Comiskey Park, Chicago. This was a North American pro wrestling attendance record that would last all the way until 1986. As well as that the event accumulated $148,000 dollars in ticket revenue which was a professional wrestling record that would last nearly twenty years. The stage couldn't be any bigger as the champion Pat O’Connor defended his title against one of the greatest villains wrestling has ever seen in Buddy Rogers.
The event of course has a great atmosphere as the crowd are behind O’Connor. O’Connor was a great athlete that possessed great technical skill and that was evident in the early going as he delivered a pair of beautiful arm drags to his opponent. O’Connor further shows off his athletic capabilities with a body slam and some great shoulder tackles. As with most of his matches Rogers would rely on more dastardly methods to gain the advantage. Rogers attacked the face of O’Connor and took the early lead. O’Connor now has to fight from behind to retain his championship which is no easy task against a competitor like Rogers who knows every trick in the book and isn’t afraid to use them. Rogers uses the ropes a lot to frustrate the champion and even busts out his infamous strut on one occasion. This is a great match which I would largely contribute to the heel work and selling of Rogers and to his credit O’Connor played his role very well too. This is perhaps the greatest night in the career of Buddy Rogers, one of the all time greats.
My star rating: 4
5. Freddie Blassie vs Rikidozan, WWA, 28/03/1962
Freddie Blassie is perhaps today best known for his managerial work in the WWWF and later the WWF in the 1970s and 1980s but in the 1960s he was actually a top heel in the Los Angeles based Worldwide Wrestling Associates, and an extremely effective one at that. To say Blassie was hated would be a massive understatement. At this time uniformed police officers would actually escort him to and back from the ring on occasion. You might think this was a bit extreme but Blassie was actually the victim of many attacks throughout his career, such was the disdain the fans held for him. There was one incident where a fan threw acid on his back and another where he was blinded in one eye after being hit by a hard boiled egg. He received death threats frequently and he was even stabbed twenty one times. Needless to say, Blassie was very good at getting the fans to hate him. This hatred would create an atmosphere for his matches that would greatly enhance them.
His opponent and challenger for his World Heavyweight Championship for this best two out of three falls bout was Rikidozan. Rikidozan has been dubbed “The Father of Puroresu” and is undeniably one of the most influential men in wrestling history. He is credited with introducing pro wrestling to Japan and was a Japanese national hero. The biggest star in Japanese wrestling history. At the time he was All Asia Heavyweight Champion which was the most prestigious title in Japanese wrestling at the time. He also wrestled many times in the USA and was a very popular act there too.
The match was hyped up as a big international occasion and had that big fight feel accompanied by a very hot audience. The crowd makes it known very early on what side they are on. A chorus of boos wrings out through the Olympic Auditorium when the announcer is introducing Blassie. The match begins with Rikidozan offering a handshake but Blassie unsurprisingly declines. The story of the match is simple but quite effective. Rikidozan clearly has the better of Blassie when it comes to technique and so Blassie uses a myriad of underhanded tactics to gain the advantage. He punches Rikidozan in the ear, he gouges the eyes, attacks the nose, hits some rather low blows and breaks just about every rule in the book. The referee pretty much ignores the rule breaking which may bother some but not me personally. Rikidozan primarily uses what commentary call “judo chops” to attack Blassie and the crowd absolutely love it. Blassie is bumping his ass off for these chops and the crowd loves seeing him get beat. You also have to remember that this was before international styles and techniques really began to mix so Rikidozan’s chops were also almost an attraction in themselves as he delivered them with such great skill.
Rikidozan routinely allows Blassie back to his feet following every strikedown. Commentary explains this as Rikidozan following the Japanese rule of not striking an opponent while they're down. This gives Blassie the opportunity he needs to employ the use of any one of his underhanded tactics to regain his advantage. Blassie realises he’s in a rather desperate situation and begins to relentlessly bite the forehead of Rikidozan, so much so that he starts to bleed. Rikidozan fires up and challenges Blassie to wrestle him but of course Blassie just begins to bite him again. There was a really cool spot where they exchanged strikes on their knees too. I truly believe it’s a wonderful match, I’d recommend it to anyone. Some might argue it is a lot of the same thing for a long time but I think it works. In my opinion this was the best match of all time up to this point in time. The match was given a standing ovation by the crowd. The earliest one I believe I have ever witnessed for a wrestling match. Another interesting note is that I enjoyed this far more than Rikidozan’s work in Japan. I find this interesting because you would usually say that the other way around, you know it’s normally American wrestlers that deliver their best in ring performances in a Japanese ring, not the other way around. Just a little thing that I picked up on.
My star rating: 4.25
Cagematch average: 8.33
4. Giant Baba vs Fritz Von Erich, JWA Winter Series - Day 6, 03/12/1966
Following the tragic untimely passing of Rikidozan, the JWA was in need of a new hero. Rikidozan left behind him, two students in particular that would fill this gap and go on to have near immeasurable influence on the Japanese wrestling scene during the following decades. These two students were Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki. While both went on to achieve greatness it was Baba who really flew the flag for the JWA in the years after Rikidozan’s death. Giant Baba would win the NWA International Heavyweight Title vacated after the passing of Rikidozan in the Winter of 1965 in a match against Dick The Bruiser. During this title reign in an effort to rebuild the JWA Giant Baba would defend his title regularly against visiting American stars. One of those defences was the one in question against Fritz Von Erich. Trained by Stu Hart, Fritz Von Erich was one of the most menacing bad guys of the era. He stood at 6ft 4” and was an imposing figure even against larger opponents like Baba. His signature move was the iron claw, and it was greatly feared. Even for an athlete like Giant Baba being victim to the iron claw for only a matter of moments could be enough to lose the match.
The match that takes place is a wild brawl that I feel is truly ahead of its time. Very few matches in this era are based around brawling but rather mat wrestling, so this really stands out. A lot of the most successful American heels of this time were flamboyant and cowardly but not Fritz Von Erich. Fritz was the aggressor, an imposing character and a great menacing heel. Giant Baba on the other hand is very much a fan favourite and he fights from underneath throughout the match with the crowd cheering him on. Von Erich wastes no time attacking Baba with aggressive strikes immediately. He launches Baba to the floor and follows him leading to a brawl on the outside where Baba is sent into the ring post. When Baba is reentering the ring Von Erich latches on the iron claw while he is still in the ropes. He has to relinquish the hold but the damage is done. Baba realises the danger he is in and heroically fights from underneath to avoid falling victim to the claw again. Not unlike his mentor Rikidozan, Giant Baba has very good palm strikes and uses them to great effect. Giant Baba wins the first of three falls with one of these palm strikes but before he gets up Von Erich reaches up and applies the dreaded iron claw. Baba is stuck in its grasp for minutes while the referee fights with Von Erich to relinquish the hold and eventually he does. Despite winning the first fall Baba finds himself in a disadvantageous position leading into the second fall. This allows him to continue fighting from underneath with the crowd behind him. Giant Baba knows he can’t risk being in the claw again and so there are some great suspenseful moments where the claw is almost applied. There is some more brawling on the outside with both men using the ringside tables to their advantage and there is one point where Von Erich grabs a ringside photographer and throws him around in an attempt to evade Baba. As I said before this was a great brawl and the crowd really dug the foreign monster heel vs national hero dynamic. I think it’s definitely the best match ever to take place in Japan at this point but pretty much on par with Rikidozan vs Freddie Blassie overall.
My star rating: 4.25
3. Franz Van Buyten vs Jean Ferre, French Catch, 20/01/1968
Over in Europe the late 1960s would see the beginning of the rise of perhaps the most iconic European wrestler of all time, the man that would go on to become Andre The Giant. Of course at this point he was a 21 year old man who worked under the name Jean Ferre. His opponent Franz Van Buyten was one of the great European catch wrestlers of the late 20th century. He was a man that also had a great influence on the wrestlers that came after him including William Regal and Robbie Brookeside.
This match is quite technically based as you would expect from Europe at the time. At this point Andre is also quite lean so he is well able to move about the ring. Andre may be young here but he is still a giant. His hand covers the head of his opponent during grappling exchanges which makes for a cool visual. The match is led by the more experienced grappler as Van Buyten initially targets the leg of Andre. Andre is able to escape using his power, however. To my surprise Van Buyten busts out a few frankensteiners to take the bigger man off his feet. This is followed by a cool striking exchange which Andre gets the better of thanks to his powerful uppercut. As the match reaches its closing stages Andre really starts to make use of his power advantage hitting some impressive looking gutbusters before ending with a body slam. I think this is a really cool ten minute match and it’s fascinating to see how Andre performed in his early career.
My star rating: 3.5
Cagematch average: 6
2. Giant Baba vs The Destroyer, JWA Dynamic Series - Day 8, 05/03/1969
We have now entered into 1969 and Giant Baba is into his second reign as NWA International Heavyweight Champion. He is the top babyface star in Japan at this time and during this reign he is continuing to beat top American stars such as Bruno Sammartino and Gene Kiniski. The Destroyer still predominantly wrestles in the USA at this point mainly with Verne Gagne’s AWA however he has made sporadic appearances for the JWA since his famous series of matches with Rikidozan in 1963. The Destroyer is arguably one of the best heels of all time and this match shows just how good his heel work was.
The match is very long which in my personal opinion hurts the quality but it is still great. This is the highest rated match of the Destroyer’s career on cagematch and it’s easy to see why. His performance here is really stellar. It is an incredible display of working heel. He immediately antagonises the referee and the crowd and just does great heel work throughout. The match is very mat based and Baba is able to frustrate The Destroyer by repeatedly trapping him in a headscissors. The Destroyer even uses Brass Knuckles concealed in his trunks to gain an advantage over Baba. There are also some really nice technical exchanges here where Baba is able to keep up with the pace set by The Destroyer. The match sees a quickened pace for the last ten or so minutes and it allows the match to end well. As I said before this is a long one but the wrestling is really good and the performance from The Destroyer really is excellent. I think it's also worth noting that this is the first match I've come across that was filmed in colour which definitely adds to the experience.
My star rating: 4
1. Antonio Inoki vs Dory Funk Jr, JWA NWA Series - Day 12, 02/12/1969
In February of 1969 Dory Funk Jr beat Gene Kiniski for the NWA World Heavyweight Title. Dory was a great babyface champion and a gifted technical wrestler. Towards the end of the same year in which he won the belt Dory travelled to Japan where he would defend his title against rising star, Antonio Inoki. 1969 was the year that Inoki really began to emerge as a top singles star in Japan. At this point of his career he had many tag title reigns but no singles titles. Here he had the chance to win what was at the time probably the most prestigious title in all of wrestling. This match happened in a more intimate venue of around 10,000 people. This is fewer than the previous JWA matches on this list but the crowd were deeply invested in the action throughout and provided a great atmosphere.
The crowd gave a great reaction for the ring introduction of Inoki and a more reserved yet still positive reaction for the champion. Dory was also accompanied to the ring by his father, Dory Sr. The stage was set and what followed was in my opinion the finest display of technical wrestling I’ve seen from my retro viewing. This match went as long as the last one on the list but in my opinion did a far better job of keeping the viewer engaged for the full duration. This match tells a story of two highly skilled technicians who are both evenly matched and unable to gain a significant advantage over the other. Inoki starts strong by hitting some successful shoulder tackles and arm drags which the crowd love. When Dory gets control he focuses on the leg of Inoki. Inoki counters this by targeting the arm of Dory. What follows is some beautiful technical wrestling as both men seek to gain the advantage. Inoki is able to counter the offence of Dory by trapping him repeatedly in a body scissors. This frustrates Dory and he briefly tugs at the hair of Inoki and threatens a closed fist strike but decides against it and wrestles his way out of the hold, keeping the match a respectful technical encounter. Following this Dory is able to hit a backdrop suplex for a near fall which the crowd loves. After this the match begins to get a bit more intense with Dory stomping on the hand of Inoki. Soon after Inoki extends a hand to pull Dory off the mat from under the ropes and Dory accepts, indicating that while the intensity has increased it is still a respectful encounter. Throughout the match Inoki makes multiple attempts to apply his deadly octopus stretch but Dory is able to find the ropes each time keeping the match alive. There is a cool moment where both men trade double leg takedowns before Inoki finally applies the Boston Crab which the crowd go crazy for. Dory is able to reverse the submission and a great pin exchange follows. It becomes apparent that Dory Sr is not quite as respectful as his son through his conduct at ringside. This becomes abundantly clear when he prevents Dory Jr from colliding with the turnbuckle following an Irish whip by Inoki. The actions of Dory Sr rile up the crowd and get them more behind Inoki. The final minutes of this match see some great near falls exchanged as it becomes clearer and clearer that these men are simply evenly matched. This was just incredible technical wrestling and in my opinion based on what I’ve seen the best match of all time at the time.
My star rating: 4.25
YouTube playlist with the matches
Antonio Inoki vs Dory Funk Jr