Welcome to the first of five parts where Erik Vasquez looks back at Saturday Night’s Main Event during 1986, the year he was born.
One of my favorite aspects about professional wrestling is it’s seemingly endless history. Looking back you can see how the sport has evolved such has when something as simple as a dropkick wowed the crowd or how there were good guys and bad guys, no in between. There is no doubt that pro wrestling has changed and continues to do so everyday. When looking back I’m also interested in how the world was different and what people considered new and exciting in 1986. Did you know that in 1986 the average price for a gallon of gas was $0.93?! A first class stamp was only $0.22 and a gallon of milk was a measly $2.22. The #1 song on the Billboard Top 100 chart was Lionel Ritchie’s “Say You, Say Me”.
Saturday Night’s Main Event IV – January 4, 1986
January 4, 1986 marked the fourth installment of WWF’s Saturday Night’s Main Event. Recorded on December 19, 1985 the event was held in the USF Sun Dome in Tampa, Florida. The show would be broadcasted nationwide on NBC after Dick Ebersol, producer of SNL, saw how well WWF did in the ratings when it broadcasted an event on MTV.
I myself was 33 days away from being born so much of what you’ll read will be back stories on each competitor and what wrestling was like 28 years ago in contrast to what we see today. Fire up the WWE Network and watch along!
Before the show opens Hulk Hogan prepares his Python Protein shake with Mean Gene Okerlund and Jesse “The Body” Ventura and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper people watch by the pool. Remember we are in Florida folks, the weather is either hot or seventh circle of hell.
Looks like a packed crowd with Vince McMahon going through the card for the night. One of the things I miss most is hearing him on commentary. He gets interrupted by Jesse Ventura who gloats about how he’s going to be the first wrestler to return to the ring from the commentary position. McMahon thinks he’s in the clear but Ventura says he has a replacement, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan.
McMahon passes it over to Okerlund who is standing by with Roddy Piper and “Cowboy” Bob Orton. Piper criticizes the lifestyle of Uncle Elmer and Hillbilly Jim and talks about coming to the defense of Ventura. While all three men enter the ring Okerlund is standing by with Hillbilly Jim, Uncle Elmer, and Cousin Luke. As a kid I remember having this large rubber action figure of Hillbilly Jim that I remember always playing with. That thing had matches against every stuff animal and other non-wrestling action figures you can think of. Hillbilly and co. cut an ultra face promo talking of family honor.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “Cowboy” Bob Orton, & Jesse “The Body” Ventura vs. Hillbilly Jim, Uncle Elmer, & Cousin Luke
Ventura starts the match with some shots on Uncle Elmer but that was short lived as Elmer is one of the few men who probably beat Ventura in the power department. The Body does a great job of selling these blows, almost masterful. Hillbilly Jim comes off the tag locking Ventura in a side headlock. Piper gets tagged while Cousin Luke gets tagged in for his team. Piper extends his hand for a shake but I, along with the crowd, are not buying it. neither is Luke who knew to trick Piper before he got tricked. Offense for Luke doesn’t live long. Cousin Luke is wrestling barefoot, absolutely insane. Frequent tags from Piper and co. Luke gets the tag to Jim but the official doesn’t see it so he can’t allow it. As a kid when this happened it would infuriate me. Little did I know this was part of the psychology of tag team wrestling. Again in these days of wrestling everything came down to good guys and bad guys. The bad guys would beat down a good guy from the opposing tag team and every time the good guy would attempt a tag the other team would cut him off. The crowd back in those days were almost always in support of the good guys so they too desperately wanted that tag to get in. Once the tag is made the arena is guaranteed to explode, this is what’s known as a “hot tag”. What’s a way to play with the crowd’s emotions and give the one up to the bad guys? The ref never sees the hot tag so he can’t allow it. Again as a kid when this tactic was more prevalent it would send me into a rage. As an adult I see the brilliance of the tactic because that’s what it was supposed to do to me when I’m a kid. Back to the match Elmer and Piper start throwing haymakers at each other. Next thing you know Hillbilly Jim and co. clean house and Piper’s team is forced to regroup. They get back in the ring and whatever strategy they came up with certainly is not working out. Piper tries headbutting for offense but that doesn’t work out. His next plan is to resort to slapping Hillbilly Jim. Fighting back Hillbilly gets lead into the opposing corner. Cousin Luke gets tagged in cleans house. Everyone gets in the ring and the official quickly loses control of the match. While being distracted by Hillbilly Jim the ref doesn’t see Orton use the cast he’s had on his arm to clock Cousin Luke in the back of the head. This is the same cast Orton has had on his arm since time was created. Really how long does it take an arm to heel? Off the distraction Piper locks on a sleeper hold. The ref raises Cousin Luke’s arm three times and on the third the arm falls to the mat and Piper’s team gets the victory. The winning team celebrates on the outside. Fast forward to present day with all three men on the winning team now in the WWE Hall of Fame and Hillbilly Jim becoming a reality TV star in WWE’s Legends House. Uncle Elmer retired from wrestling in 1990, sadly passing in 1992. Cousin Luke wrestled outside of the WWF all the way till 2000. Sadly he too passed away in 2013 due to diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Ventura rejoins the commentary to compliments from Heenan who returns the love. We go to Okerlund who is outside between the top of two giant water slides. With Jimmy Hart on one side and Junkyard Dog on the other, apparently this is a contest orchestrated by Hart because he was embarrassed by JYD on the last SNME. Hart says he knows he can’t wrestle JYD to prove he’s the better man so he’s going to beat him in a water sliding contest. The contest gets underway and JYD cuts out to a lead he doesn’t relinquish thanks to a slow start from Hart. Ventura is poolside with Terry Funk while Hart flails away in the background. Funk talks about how famous he’ll be once he beats Hogan tonight. Gorilla Monsoon recaps the build up to this match stemming from a previous one where Funk uses a branding iron. Back to Okerlund who’s with Hogan talking about the previous match. Hulk says to make sure no shenanigans happen again Hogan is going to have Junkyard Dog in his corner. Hogan and JYD head to the ring. Definitely think this would be the most anticipated match, why is it second? However let it be known I’m not expert when it comes to booking philosophies so I’m sure it’s for good reason.
Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Terry Funk for the WWF Championship
This is around the time Hulkamania was taking off in the wrestling world. Hulk could have pressed slam Funk and pinned him in thirty seconds and the crowd would have lost it that’s how popular he was. If it was not for Hogan, I don’t know if I’d be such a big wrestling fan. It’s pretty neat seeing Hogan move with such grace in the ring. Funk keeps retreating every time Hogan gets the upper hand and the crowd is on fire (or so post production makes it seem). Pretty funny spot where Funk is laying face down in the ring while Hulk continuously bounces off the ropes stomping on Funk’s back at every pass. You can see exactly why Hogan became one of the greatest sports entertainers of all time, the man just oozes natural charisma and the crowd just eats up. Hogan was in control of the match until Jimmy Hart distracts the referee while Funk chokes Hogan with some wrist tape. Funk hits a piledriver (a move banned in present WWE) but only gets a two count. Funk hits Hogan with some boxing jabs but Hogan begins “hulking up”. As Hogan retaliates with shots of his own the crowd in the background is going absolutely bonkers. Off a big boot Funk goes to the outside apron. Hart jumps on the apron but thought better. Junkyard Dog’s anger at Hart distracts the referee. Hulk goes to suplex Funk from the outside apron in but Hart hits Hulk in the gut with Funk’s branding iron while the ref’s back was still turned. Funk goes for the pin but Hogan gets his foot on the bottom rope. JYD lays Hart out on the outside. Hogan hits Funk with a hard clothesline and gets the win to retain the WWF Championship. Pretty decent match but even stranger, doesn’t end with a Hogan leg drop. A standard clothesline to close a match while the crowd is extra hot? Definitely would not go over well this day and age.
Back from a break to Terry Funk dragging the lifeless body of Jimmy Hart out of the arena by one leg, truly the funnest thing I’ve seen all day. Mean Gene in the ring with Hogan and JYD and Hogan wants more of Funk.
We cut to the pool area with Okerlund who asks Captain Lou Albano if George “The Animal” Steele is going to be 100% for his match against “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Albano says of course and Steele splashes around with his rubber duck. You have to applaud Steele on such character commitment over the years. On the other side of the pool area Ventura is standing by with Savage and Miss Elizabeth. Elizabeth stands close to Savage trembling in fear. Come to find out Elizabeth is terrified and can’t swim. Macho Man informs Ventura he’s going to teach her how to swim…by throwing her off this platform high above the pool. Nice Macho man, real nice.
“Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. George “The Animal” Steele
Miss Elizabeth will forever be one of the most beautiful women in all of wrestling history. Probably her most overlooked talent was playing the part of the shy timid woman who did and agreed with everything Savage said. She even held the ropes open for him! Macho Man at the time was full of himself and completely unappreciative of Elizabeth’s good deeds. While holding the ropes open for him Savage gets distracted by a young lady in the audience. Steele goes to approach Elizabeth much like a dog begging to be pet. Elizabeth scared out of her mind doesn’t flinch but wishes Savage would hurry it up with his antics. Steele is so infatuated with Elizabeth Captain Lou has to pull him away. Macho Man now realizes what is happening and scolds Elizabeth at ringside. Bell rings but Savage is thrown off his game by the antics of Steele. The Animal goes to chase Elizabeth around the ring but stops dead in his tracks when passing Elizabeth. Interesting fact, the match is being officiated by a young Dean Malenko. Steele and Savage brawl on the outside. Steele chases Savage around the ring then Savage uses Elizabeth as a shield. Back in the ring George does the patented biting of the turnbuckle. Elizabeth once again distracts George “The Animal” Steele and this time Savage is waiting for him. Savage comes off the top with a double axe handle and gets the win. No Macho Man elbow drop. Little me would be even more bummed.
Poolside Hulk Hogan and Gene Okerlund segue to a music video highlighting 1985 in the WWF. Safe to say 1985 might have been the year WWF was put on the map in pop culture. A lot of the moments we still visit today are in this video.
Ringside Mean Gene is with Nikolai Volkoff and “Classy” Freddie Blassie. Volkoff cuts a promo but for the life of me I have no clue what he is saying. Matters get even worse when the Iron Sheik shows up. The only audible thing I caught was Blassie calling America a “paper tiger”. What a heel.
Poolside Ventura is with Corp. Kirschner who cuts the standard face promo. You can tell he’s a little nervous as he doesn’t know whether to focus on the camera or Ventura. Back in the ring Volkoff sings the Russian National Anthem but gets interrupted by Kirschner.
Nikolai Volkoff vs. Corp. Kirchner in a Flag Match
Kirchner has a great look for the times, all American with a solid physique. The legendary Volkoff with a more natural strong man body type similar to WWE Superstar Rusev. Apparently this match is contested under peace rules and both men acknowledge this with a handshake after some back and forth action. This was to mimic the times in world politics and the relationship between the US and Russia. Kirchner is the more agile of the two no doubt but don’t underestimate Volkoff who gets out of a predicament with a cartwheel then hits Kirchner with a shoulder block. This match is quick. Volkoff doesn’t clean break and drops Kirchner over the top rope hangman style, which in these days doesn’t warrant a DQ but doesn’t get you any favors with the crowd. Volkoff drops a kneww across the throat of Kirchner and gets the three count. Obviously angry with the outcome Kirchner cleans the ring of both Volkoff and the Iron Sheik and the crowd goes crazy.You all must be thinking why the match was won on a pin and not pulling the flag off a pole. The “flag” part was just stating each man was representing their home countries. Volkoff went on to become one of WWF’s most hated villains. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005. He still wrestles for various independent promotions around the US. Kirchner seemed to have a bright future with the WWF until he failed a substance test. Opting to not return to the WWF Kirchner did work for various other promotions such as Stampede Wrestling. Although never formally retired, Kirchner’s most recent match was in 2007.
Back from a break with Mean Gene standing by Don Muraco and Mr. Fuji who are not phased by Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and Junkyard Dog. Mr. Fuji says in his country the cook and eat dogs. Gross. As they make their way to the ring JYD and Steamboat cut a promo.
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat & Junkyard Dog vs. Don Muraco and Mr. Fuji
JYD starts off the match with some back and forth action. Frequent tags between him and Mr. Fuji. My only recognition of Mr. Fuji is that of a manager so I’m excited to see him wrestle. Again much like the previous tag match JYD needs to get to Steamboat and when he does the place goes nuts. He chops Muraco like he’s giant tree. One of the things that made Steamboat so popular was that he was always exciting. His style was innovative whether he was using various styles of martial arts or coming off the top rope. JYD gets the tag who comes in and headbutts Fuji for the win. Again quick work but the crowd was so hot for JYD and Steamboat they don’t care. After some words from McMahon and Ventura the show closes and we go to credits.
If you’re watching along what did you think of the show? Leave a comment below, on Facebook, or on Twitter! I’ll be back next week with the second part to the five part series looking back at Saturday Night’s Main Event in 1986.