Monday, August 9, 2010

The Last Tangle in Tampa, 8/3/80

“I’ve wined and dined with king and queens, and I’ve slept in alleys eating pork and beans.” – Dusty Rhodes

Billed throughout his career as a common man and a working-class hero, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes is one of the most dynamic personalities in the history of professional wrestling. From his charisma inside the ring to his ability to cut memorable promos outside of it, Rhodes was one of the top performers of his generation.

Rhodes thrived in arenas throughout the country, but he established a particularly strong foot-hold locally while working for Florida Championship Wrestling, a territory belonging to the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). He held the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship belt a record 10 times from 1974-1980, and won his first NWA World Heavyweight Championship on August 21, 1979, here in Tampa. He held the belt for less than a week, however, dropping the title to Harley Race just five days later in Orlando.

This set in motion a series of matches between Rhodes and Race that would come to a conclusion nearly a year later in an event billed as “The Last Tangle in Tampa.” With close to a dozen matches scheduled for the card at Tampa Stadium on August 3, 1980, the showdown between Rhodes and Race would serve as the main event. In a best two-of-three falls match, as the challenger Rhodes would need to pin Race twice within an hour to capture the championship belt.

As a booker for the promotion, Rhodes had a tremendous amount of influence on the storylines and direction of the company. “The Last Tangle” represented the beginning of a new era for both Rhodes and the NWA.

Howard T. Brody, Rhodes’ biographer and the author of the wrestling tome “Swimming with Piranhas,” remembers the card at Tampa Stadium as the start of a very creative period in the career of Dusty Rhodes. He envisioned the event as an experience, not just a series of matches.

“This was the first time he ever booked a show like that,” Brody says. “He not only wanted a wrestling match, but he wanted to create a spectacle: an outdoor show with all the bells and whistles.”

On a steamy August night, the then-largest crowd to ever see a wrestling match in Florida made “The Last Tangle in Tampa” an unqualified success. A little over 17,000 fans, in fact, came from all corners of the state to see the 4 ½ hour show.

Fans were delighted early on by a $10,000 ladies’ battle royal match won by Wendy Richter, as well as preliminary matches featuring Jim Garvin, Jerry Brisco, Jack Brisco, Lord Alfred Hayes, Dick Slater, and Barry Windham. Dick Murdoch teamed with Bugsy McGraw to defeat the dreaded “Russian” tag-team of Nikolai Volkoff and Ivan Koloff, and Andre The Giant defeated The Super Destroyer, who had wrestled earlier in the card against Mr. Florida in a mask vs. mask match.

In the first title match of the evening, former Robinson High School football star Mike Graham was disqualified in his match against Les Thornton for the NWA Junior Heavyweight title, and Don Muraco also earned a disqualification in his bout against World Wide Wrestling Federation champion Bob Backlund.

By 10:45, the fans were finally ready for Rhodes and Race. “The air hangs hot and heavy,” ring announcer Gordon Solie reported as the stadium, with barely a breeze to cool things down, rocked with anticipation as the two stars made their way to the ring.

The no-disqualification match featured special guest referee Fritz Von Erich, the former NWA President who was selected due to his no-nonsense demeanor and ability to be fair to both wrestlers.

The match started out fast and with a lot of energy, as the wrestlers traded some drops, suplexes, and some of their signature moves. Rhodes got the best of Race, however, nearly nine minutes into the match with a bionic elbow drop and pinned the champ to take the early lead.

The weather really did seem to impact all of the participants, as Von Erich needed a short rest ringside after the first fall, and for the bulk of the match going forward, both wrestlers conserved energy by settling into a pattern of “rest spots” featuring chin-locks, sleeper holds, and reverse sleepers.

The bulk of the action resumed as the match neared its conclusion with near-pins by each wrestler. With a staggered Race literally on the ropes, the bell sounded at the 60-minute mark and the match came to an end. A mixture of cheers and boos greeted the announcement that Rhodes won, but because he only captured one fall, would not become the new heavyweight champion.

In an emotional post-match locker room promo, Rhodes called the event “a milestone for the city of Tampa … and for the sport that gets pushed around, shoved around, and put on the back pages!”

He then added, “Baby, there were 20,000 people who gave a damn about what was going on! As long as I’m able to walk, as long as I’m able to strut my stuff, I’ll do it right.”

While Rhodes slightly overestimated the crowd, the event proved hugely successful, taking in a gross gate of $160,000 (roughly $411,196 in today’s dollars). According to author Howard T. Brody, Rhodes later described the success of “Last Tangle” one of the proudest moments of his long and illustrious career.


  1. everyone says it was at tampa stadium but it was at al lopez field right next to tampa stadium i was there

  2. its been a long time since the match but my ticket stub says tampa stadium what does yours say

  3. it was not at al lopez stadium idiot lol ive seen the film footage and it was actually in the stadium

  4. I have enjoyed reading your post. It is well written. It looks like you spend a large amount of time and effort on your blog. I appreciate your effort. Please check out my site.
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  5. I saw a video of the match and no doubt about it, this event took place in "The Big Sombrero", Tampa Stadium!

  6. I was there, 10 years old with my dad. It was 100% the Big Sombrero.

  7. It was at Tampa Stadium. I was there. Question: was there a second Last Tangle in Tampa event? I seem to recall it but can't find any evidence of it.

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