For the Model Year Wrestler for this week, we will take a look at the Honky Tonk Man for the year 1987. To understand how Honky got to where he did in 1987, we need to rewind back to his WWF debut in 1986. It is hard to believe he was introduced as a babyface, but Vince McMahon thought the character would be wildly popular and used all available tools to get him over with the fans. He was made a “buddy” of Hulk Hogan, Junkyard Dog and others. On his Sept. 28 debut on Superstars, Hogan did an insert promo telling the fans how much they’d love the Honky Tonk Man. The plug was pulled quickly after a disastrous match in Toronto on Nov. 16 where he was booed heavily against jobber Mr. X (in reality, “Dangerous” Danny Davis with a mask). In segments with Jesse Ventura, the WWF had a “vote of confidence” from fans, and Honky was shocked to find almost all fans hated him. He quickly took Jimmy Hart as his manager heading into 1987.
Honky started the year with vignettes that appeared on the syndicated shows where he would appear at Graceland and other locations to talk about how great he is.
At the end of the month at a Wrestling Challenge taping, Honky appeared on the Jake Roberts’ Snake Pit and after being chased away by a snake, Honky snuck up behind Roberts and walloped him with a guitar shot still talked about to this day because of the neck injuries Roberts had as a result because of the guitar not breaking properly. This aired 5 weeks before their match at Wrestlemania 3, which was won by the Honky Tonk Man despite Alice Cooper being in the corner of Jake the Snake. In the meantime, Honky was mostly winning house show matches against S.D. Jones, Pedro Morales and other enhancement talent. He even teamed with Macho Man Randy Savage several times to take on Ricky Steamboat and George Steele.
On the May 2 Saturday Night’s Main Event, Honky disguised himself as Kim Chee and helped Kamala win his match against Jake Roberts. By the time this aired, Jake was going to miss time with various injuries so Honky was again left without a feud. He got a huge break when new IC champion Ricky Steamboat asked for time off, which led to a match between the two on a Superstars taping. Honky famously won in a huge upset in around 4 minutes by reversing an inside cradle and using the ropes for leverage. This kicked off the longest IC title run of all time, and Honky started headlining the B-shows, but was losing non-title matches for several weeks against Bruno Sammartino and others. After a while he did become the cowardly heel that he would be remembered as, losing matches by countout or DQ to a variety of opponents.
While Randy Savage congratulated Honky when he won the title from Steamboat, he also faced him a few times subbing for Jake Roberts. By late summer, Honky started referring to himself as “the greatest Intercontinental champion of all time” which did not sit well with the Macho Man, a 14 month IC title holder himself and this would start Savage’s face turn. It warrants mentioning that Honky did well headlining those shows which put him in a strong position politically and that capital he earned would be used in the future. He was seen as a champion people wanted to see get beat up, but also vulnerable enough that people felt they might see the title change on any given night.
That is the biggest reason why he kept the belt after the famous Saturday Night’s Main Event match with Savage in October, where Honky shoved down Elizabeth in the post-match beatdown before smashing his guitar over Savage’s head with help from the Hart Foundation. Hulk Hogan made the save, leading to the formation of the Megapowers. In the meantime, Honky Tonk Man had no shortage of challengers for his title. Brutus Beefcake started his feud with Honky on the Nov. 1 airing of Wrestling Challenge where Beefcake cut off some of Jimmy Hart’s hair. He was also facing challenges from Savage, Steamboat, Roberts, and Jim Duggan, who were all on the opposing side at the first Survivor Series in late November. Beefcake fell victim to the Shake Rattle and Roll, but when faced with a 3 on 1 situation, Honky left and took a countout loss delaying his comeuppance.
The rest of the year was dominated by talk of Honky’s appearance on the WWF Piledriver album, and the introduction of a new valet “Peggy Sue” who early on they made no secret of the fact that it was Sensational Sherri, but that was stopped by the end of the year.
The Honky Tonk Man had a huge overachieving year in 1987, starting as a low level heel and quickly rising to the position of top active heel on the roster after Wrestlemania until Andre the Giant’s return in the fall. He was in the right position to get the IC title and he would have a death grip on the title well into 1988. His machinations to keep the belt would change wrestling history, moving Savage to the world title and keeping Ted DiBiase from a world title run.