The Greatest Royal Rumble fluke finish was a throwback to a classic and here’s why.
In late 1983, the WWF had no hotter babyface than Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. Bob Backlund was the world champion, but by this point, his clean-cut, all-American babyface act had grown stale with audiences in the Northeast. Hulkamania was still a few months away from being fully realized (although Vince McMahon was rapidly making moves behind the scenes). Snuka was, almost by default, the top babyface in the company.
Here’s how he got there: as the company’s top heel, Snuka landed a series of title matches with Backlund at Madison Square Garden in 1982, winning via disqualification and count-out, respectively. The two met for a third bout at MSG–this time inside a steel cage. Snuka tried his infamous “Superfly” leap from the top of the cage; the champion rolled out of the way and escaped the cage to retain his title.
Shortly after, “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers interviewed Snuka, claiming he had evidence to show that Snuka’s manager, the evil Lou Albano was swindling him out of money. Snuka asked Rogers to be his manager–the first words Snuka ever uttered on WWF programming–to fully break things off with Albano. Shortly after, Rogers accompanied Snuka to the ring to face Ray “The Crippler” Stevens.
Boston Garden Balcony describes what happened next:
“Snuka then went to the ring to battle Stevens, which was a neon red hint that he was about to turn given that you rarely saw heel vs. heel matches on TV. Albano started arguing with Snuka in the ring, and Stevens grabbed manager Freddie Blassie’s cane and wrapped it around Snuka’s chest.
Albano ripped the island beads off Snuka’s head and walloped him in the forehead, bloodying the Superfly up (on the broadcast at the time, you could see Snuka clearly gig himself). It was a gory scene as Albano and Stevens threw Snuka over the top rope, and then Stevens gave Snuka two piledrivers on the concrete floor. The piledriver was considered a dangerous finishing move at the time, and to do it on the concrete was villainous.”
Upon Snuka’s return, he was cemented as a top babyface by trouncing Albano in a one-on-one contest in the Boston Garden.
That brings us to 1983, and Snuka’s pursuit of Don “Magnificent” Muraco. Muraco was a dastardly heel, beating back Snuka’s challenges by any means possible. He resorted to blatant disqualifications or count-outs for a great deal of their feud. But what really stands out these days are Muraco’s vicious attacks on the microphone. Even for professional wrestling interviews, Muraco’s vitriol was brutal at the time. It seemed nothing was off-limits for the “Happy Hawaiian,” as he verbally destroyed Snuka at every turn. Of course, everything Muraco said was just to get Snuka over even more.
In 2015, Muraco told the 2 Man Power Trip podcast about why he Snuka let him go so far on the microphone:
“Well, we broke in about the same time. I was back here wrestling in Hawaii and I had been wrestling in Vancouver and Portland, I hadn’t been in the business more than a year and Frankie Laine was breaking in Jimmy so that’s where we became familiar with one another. So yeah it was easy to communicate. Polynesians, we work for each other and want to see each other both get over.”
Snuka, of course, couldn’t keep up with Muraco on the microphone. Here’s how he responded to Muraco’s taunts to start their feud:
The rivalry culminated in a cage match for the Intercontinental title at Madison Square Garden on October 17, 1983. You’ve heard superstars talk about the match, of course. This is where Snuka leaped from atop the cage and finally landed the big Superfly splash. Future WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley was in the crowd that night as a fan. So were Tommy Dreamer and several other young people who would go on to become wrestling superstars.
Muraco Retains Intercontinental Title in a finish recreated 35 years later at the Greatest Royal Rumble
But here’s the important part that no one talks about: Muraco retained the Intercontinental title, and he did it in a very similar fashion to how Brock Lesnar retained the Universal title against Roman Reigns at the Greatest Royal Rumble. Muraco took a beating for much of the match, selling Snuka’s offense. Both men were battered by the end–an ending that came when Snuka head-butted Muraco into the corner near the cage door and then hit the ropes to deliver a flying headbutt. Muraco bumped backward over the top rope, out the opened cage door, and down the steps to the floor, “winning” by a fluke and retaining his title.
The Lesnar-Reigns finish at the Greatest Royal Rumble was more spectacular. That’s a given since more than 30 years have passed since the Muraco-Snuka match. But the premise remains the same: the heel champion controversially wins by “accidentally” falling out (or in Lesnar’s case, through) the cage to the floor, just when it seemed the babyface challenger would win the title.
Watch the classic Don Muraco versus Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka steel cage match from MSG in its entirety below: