The Night the Garden Went Silent

Forty-five years ago today, Madison Square Garden fell silent. It was the most shocking event in WWE history, and arguably the most shocking event in the history of that iconic building.

Bruno Sammartino lost the WWWF championship to Ivan Koloff.

The parents’ basement kiddie nimrods who mostly populate the IWC won’t understand because now, titles change hands more often than said nimrods change their underwear. A lot more often.

But back then, WWWF’s MO was simple: Be certain about who your most popular babyface is. Make him long-term champion. Build heel challengers in formulaic fashion. Go around the horn. If the first match draws, there’s a rematch. If the rematch draws, add a stip for another rematch. (Usually, it was a cage match.)

The minute the feud stops drawing, bail. Go back to square one. New heel. Repeat. The “three wise men” were liberally stirred in: Managers Freddie Blassie, Lou Albano and The Grand Wizard.

Sounds trite, right? It worked. This was before PPV and during kayfabe.

“Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers was the first-ever WWWF champ, having “won” a fictional tournament in Brazil. Rogers held the belt very briefly before dropping it via submission to Sammartino on May 17, 1963. The bout took just 48 seconds.

Sammartino says the title switch was a shoot at some level, that Rogers didn’t want to lose, but that’s silly. It was a work, just like all of Sammartino’s matches.

But Sammartino’s charisma, strength, ethnicity and earnest persona made him a huge draw, and he held the title nearly eight years. Sammartino was an enormously successful long-term champ and only dropped the belt on Jan. 18, 1971 because he grew weary of the demanding schedule he worked as champ.