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Magnum TA vs. Tully Blanchard:
Steel Cage "I Quit" Match (1985)
December 17, 2004

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com


Ever since TNA's Turning Point PPV a couple of weeks ago, featuring a fantastic XXX vs. America's Most Wanted cage match, the words "greatest ever" have been bouncing around (especially on TNA programming). 
While "greatest ever" is an extremely subjective issue that depends on personal criteria and preferences, there are many cage matches that qualify for such a distinction. The one that jumps to mind most often, in my case, is the famous "I Quit" cage match between Tully Blanchard and Magnum TA at Starrcade, Nov. 28, 

1985, for Blanchard's NWA United States Title. 

Held in contrast to the XXX vs. AMW match, they're difficult to compare. Really, aside from the fact that they were both steel cage matches, the similarities are few.

Tully Blanchard had won the U.S. title from Magnum TA that summer in a match where Tully's valet, Baby Doll, passed him a foreign object. Blanchard knocked Magnum TA cold for the pinfall and the championship. The feud between Blanchard and TA had been going for a while, and the two mid/upper card stars were both gaining momentum from it. Magnum was quite popular with the ladies. Terry Allen adopted the "Magnum TA" nickname as a way to play off of his passing resemblance to Magnum P.I. actor Tom Selleck, who was one of the most popular TV stars of the 1980s when it came to a female following.

Tully Blanchard, of course, was the son of Texas promoter Joe Blanchard. Both he and Magnum TA were of a medium build (for pro wrestling, anyway)... big enough to handle their business, but not gigantic. Blanchard was hitting his stride as an excellent, well-rounded wrestler. The thing about Tully Blanchard was his attitude, which made him perfect for the Four Horsemen. Tully could cut an absolutely riveting promo. His delivery was half Ric Flair, half Arn Anderson. He could be loud and arrogant, or he could be quiet and serious. Sometimes both in the same interview. Blanchard was a natural on the microphone, and had come along nicely as a wrestler.

Blanchard was most certainly the better pure wrestler of the two men as well, which made him even more threatening in the eyes of the fans. Tully Blanchard was a guy who could outwrestle Magnum TA, but if Magnum had a really good night, Blanchard could just as easily knock him cold with a foreign object or run some outside interference to gain control of the match.

Which is not to say Magnum TA was a slouch in the ring, because he did hold up his side of the feud very well. In particular, Magnum TA had a crisp belly-to-belly suplex finisher that had gotten over with the fans. Back in the mid-1980s, the type of highspots and higher-impact moves that are commonplace today were used sparingly or never at all, so moves such as the standard belly-to-belly were viewed as far more punishing than they are today.

Blanchard vs. Magnum TA was a classic feud between two classic characters. It was the cocky rich kid and his girlfriend against the down-home southern gentleman babyface. It was the good-natured, cowboy boot-wearing good guy versus the fast-rising heel and member of the Four Horsemen. It was the stand-up guy against the town bully. Both Magnum and Blanchard played their roles excellently, and played against each other very well.

Magnum TA had the same fire that babyfaces like Tito Santana, Rick Steamboat and Hulk Hogan had to varying degrees. He was very good-natured and fought the good fight, but when he got pissed, everyone in the arena knew and reacted. He was a good guy, but he had a very clear limit to how much crap he would take from a guy like Tully Blanchard before he went nuts and counter-attacked. A lot of the psychology of Blanchard vs. Magnum TA was based on this very dynamic. Blanchard would consistently press his buttons, little by little... grabbing the ropes on a pin attempt, hitting a closed fist in the corner during a referee five-count, using Baby Doll as a distraction for an attack from behind. Magnum would start off by trying to beat Tully Blanchard his own way, with solid, clean wrestling. As the match went on, fans could watch Blanchard's actions unravel Magnum TA's composure until, about 15 minutes in, Magnum finally blew a gasket, Tully backed off, and the fight got really interesting.

That dynamic was a major factor in making the Starrcade '85 steel cage "I Quit" match such a pleasure to watch. After having feuded with Tully Blanchard for months, Magnum wasn't going into the card with a clear mind. Tully Blanchard had been wearing at him for months already. He had taken the U.S. Title, and made sure to gloat about it every week on the SuperStation. He had the belt, he had the girl, he had the money and the friends. And what was Magnum TA gonna do about it? Nothing. Whereas in a normal Blanchard vs. Magnum TA match, the fans would gradually get excited about Magnum TA losing his cool, as Starrcade approached, there was heavy anticipation as to how much of his "cool" Magnum TA had already lost. For all fans knew, he'd rush into the cage like a madman. Add the fact that Tully Blanchard was at an all-time high for being a prick, and you just knew the fireworks were forthcoming.

The match featured a lot of cage spots, which in the 1980s meant flinging your opponent head-first or back-first into the cage wall, or - if you felt particularly violent - grating his face back and forth against the chicken wire. Today, cage spots often include crazy dives and moves from the top of the structure, but back in the 1980s, that distinction was still pretty much reserved for Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka. So the drama had to come from the match and the violence it depicted, instead of from whatever highspots the two men could pull off.

So the men took turns tossing each other into the cage, and exchanging holds... until Blanchard decided he'd had enough. Blanchard would smash Magnum in the head with the microphone repeatedly, and scream "SAY IT!" (I quit), and hold it up to Magnum's mouth. Magnum would say "NO!" and Tully, enraged, would smash him a few more times in the head with the microphone, with the sound of each strike amplified by the live mic. Blanchard got in a few elbow drops, and then began brutalizing the referee out of frustration. Baby Doll tossed a wooden chair into the ring, which Blanchard picked up and smashed against the mat, breaking it into a few jagged pieces. Blanchard grabbed a chunk of wood and broke off a sickle-shaped splinter. With a look of purpose on his face, he stalked toward Magnum TA, who was lying on the mat. Fans in the audience screamed in fear as Blanchard tried to put the jagged wood into Magnum's eye. By now the announcers are going crazy, and it really looks as though Blanchard is trying to murder Magnum TA to finish off their long feud. Magnum blocks Tully's arms with his hands, fights out of the predicament, and in a very un-babyface-like maneuver, stabs Tully Blanchard in the head, digging the piece of wood into his head as Tully screams "YES! YES!" into the microphone, quitting the match and losing his U.S. title back to Magnum TA as the fans go nuts.

The camera zoomed in on Magnum after the match. He wasn't celebrating. He wasn't smiling. He wasn't jumping up and down with the title belt like a lot of babyfaces did when they won a title. He was staring directly at Tully Blanchard with a very serious look on his face... the look you'd expect a guy to give another man shortly after he tried to kill him. He picked up the piece of wood and went back after Tully, grabbing him by the hair. Then, apparently coming back to his senses, Magnum TA dropped the weapon, dropped Tully Blanchard, and allowed the ref to raise his hand in victory. Magnum TA took back his U.S. Title belt and left the ring as the winner.

Drama comes in many different forms in pro wrestling. It's not necessarily a high spot or a "holy shit" moment, but it can be. It can also be very understated, like an Arn Anderson promo. It can be overstated like the Vince McMahon vs. Steve Austin feud.

Or, it can be Magnum TA rearranging Tully Blanchard's face with a wooden dagger. It's all about perspective.

The match described in this column is available in it's entirety on the WWE DVD release "Bloodbath: Wrestling's Most Incredible Steel Cage Matches." Click here to learn more about the DVD and the other matches on it.


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