WWE | Pro Wrestling

Tommy Rich, Buzz Sawyer & the Feud That Was Made for WWE Hell in a Cell

It was what a true wrestling feud should have been. If you ask wrestling historians about the greatest battles, feuds, rivalries in professional wrestling history, most will not talk about many matches and wrestlers before getting to Tommy “Wildfire” Rich and “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer.

For nearly two years, it was to the NWA in the early 1980s what The Sheik Ed Farhat and Abdullah the Butcher were to wrestling in the 1960s and 1970s.

And if you ask wrestling fans and writers what the battle meant to the business, they are have differing accounts of matches, differing opinions and different takes on where the feud rests in the annals of professional wrestling history.

According to wrestling lore, “Tommy Rich was the ultimate babyface. Blonde, good looking, all aroundgood guy. Just as good Tommy was to the good side Buzz Sawyer was to the bad. He was the ultimate heel.Prematurely balding, and a little on the psycho side. He would actually take his forearm and rub wrestlers’ faces into the mat.”

Rich had become the hot new star in the south, having won the NWA World Title for Harley Race, but his reign was only four days. Rich was primarily a southern wrestler – spending time in Ole Anderson’s Georgia Championship Wrestling promotion (which would later become WCW).

The reason I bring this feud up is for two reasons – it is wrestling in purest form of Kayfabe and the idea there were characters who had true disdain for each other and the idea a feud like this would have been an amazing spectacle in Hell in a Cell.

Rich had several feuds in the Atlanta area: Ole Anderson, Ivan Koloff, the Fabulous Freebirds, and every other major heel to come through the Georgia territory made Rich one of the most popular wrestling starsof the period.

The feud (over the Georgia National Title) lasted close to two years, culminating in the “Last Battle of Atlanta,” in 1983, which featured Sawyer and Rich in a fully enclosed, Last Man Standing cage match. The only known footage of the match is owned by noted wrestling historian, Barry Ham (this according to Wikipedia). Blood was shed each night, and both wrestlers put every part of their bodies on the line and bled in almost every town they visited.

Ironically, it was after the feud with Sawyer in Atlanta that we saw the true genius of a young Rich. After competing in Southeast Championship Wrestling, Rich would again return to the Memphis area in 1987 and contribute to one of the greatest feuds in wrestling history. Austin Idol vs Jerry Lawler went on for over a year and culminated in a hair vs. hair match at the Mid-South Coliseum. Rich hid under the ring for the entire event only to emerge during the cage match, causing Lawler to lose the match and his hair, which led to a heel turn for Rich.

If you want to know how the concept of HIAC may have got started, you could thank Sawyer for putting the idea in head of Shawn Michaels, This is the match that HBK credits for inspiring the Hell in the Cell concept used by WWE. The stipulation for this match was that Sawyer and Rich would never wrestle one another again Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, NWA wrestling was more about backwoods arenas, traveling by cars from town to town, wrestling twice on Saturday’s and Sundays and following the world of Kayfabe.

While there were other feuds which helped define the era, this is the one we talk about for years after the fact. While I can think of many wrestlers who would thrive in a pay-per-view event like HIAC (Dick the Bruiser, “Doctor Death” Steve Williams, Kevin Sullivan, Dusty Rhodes, Bruiser Brody & Stan Hansen), it is a match like this that makes the idea of a Hell in a Cell pay-per-view match ideal for other generations.
And in the process, it brings back many great memories.

Follow David on Twitter @davidlevin71

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