Stan Hansen vs. Rick Martel
29 December, 1985
Meadowlands Arena; E. Rutherford, NJ
AWA World Heavyweight Championship Match
In a lot of ways, this match shows why the AWA went out of business, even if it wasn't for another four years...
ESPN was still in its infancy at this point, and the AWA had just recently began broadcasting on the network. This event, which took place on the WWF's "turf", was obviously an attempt to capitalize off of that broadcast. Martel and Hansen had wrestled on a number of AWA cards leading up to this one, so it is obvious that this was being treated as a big event in which the fans were going to see a big main event matchup.
The problem, however, is that it did not pan out. The AWA simply had not been broadcasting long enough on ESPN (and ESPN wasn't the cable juggernaut it is today), and their syndication did not have the penetration into the NYC area. Thus, this card was poorly attended.
In addition, you can tell many of the fans attending this show were not interested in the AWA's more athletic style, and were looking for the glitz and entertainment of the local WWF events. While the match is clipped at the beginning, it seems like all that was clipped was Martel working over the arm. Rather than watching the match develop, the fans are loudly chanting "boring". Martel's feverish work on the arm, coupled with his selling of the back as injured right from the get-go indicates that the idea behind this match is that, over their series of matches, Hansen has worn Martel down.
Psychology wise, both of the wrestlers are making this match work. Martel works on Hansen's left arm to take away his biggest offensive move, his left-handed "Lariat" clothesline. Eventually the larger Hansen over powers him however, and begins to work on his back. Martel was a complete worker at this point, and was putting n great matches every night. Hansen was working on him All-Japan style, and the fans were just not getting into it at all.
When Hansen finally hooks on the Crab Hold, the devestation it is causing is obvious. However, the ring positioning doesn't let the finish work. I'm sure that they were building off of previous matches, but Hansen had Martel in the corner, with Hansen facing the corner. As Martel tried to muscle out of the hold with his legs, Hansen was able to block the momentum by putting his head on the turnbuckle. I thought this came off as though Hansen was using the turnbuckle pad for leverage, but he wasn't, he was being smart. In an environment like this, the fans took it as cheating, and didn't understand why the ref wasn't breaking the hold. Not only that, but Martel ended up submitting, and two guys bunched up in the corner ended up being the finish to a main event on a major show.
This match may have come off better if the ending was Hansen having Martel in the crab in the middle of the ring, but Martel unable to reach the ropes, and maybe Hansen somehow illegally getting the leverage to prevent Martel from getting to the ropes. I dunno - but I know this finish went over about as well as a fart in church. While the match itself was not bad at all, this was totally booked wrong and worked wrong for this crowd on this event.
It does however make me want to see some of the prior matches these two probably had in regular AWA towns, like Minnesota or Chicago. Those matches probably had a lot more heat to them, and thus come off better.