The year 1987 was a huge year for the World Wrestling Federation. They would draw a very large number at Wrestlemania 3 (to be discussed more in a later post) and add a 2nd PPV in November just to screw with the competition. But there was some business from 1986 to be wrapped up on this Saturday Night’s Main Event from 01/03/1987. Hulk Hogan would defend the world title against Paul Orndorff in a steel cage to perhaps finally settle that feud which started six months prior. We would also see Randy Savage in an IC title defense, and two Wrestlemania 3 previews with Roddy Piper taking on Adrian Adonis and Junkyard Dog facing King Harley Race.
Our hosts from Hartford, CT are Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura. Ah, the good old Hartford Civic Center. It would have a big year in ’87 as the home of the division winning Hartford Whalers. They would lose in the 1st round to Quebec. Bobby Heenan assures us that he’s bought world title insurance, you know, since we’re in Hartford. Not sure how well known it was that it’s an insurance capital but whatever.
Hulk Hogan (c) vs Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff for the WWF World Title
There’s a problem from the start with evil referee Danny Davis down there with assigned referee Joey Marella. The Davis angle was huge on the weekly TV by the end of 1986 with him routinely screwing babyfaces but would kick into high gear in early ’87 when the British Bulldogs lost the tag titles to the Hart Foundation. The angle was great up until Davis became a wrestler then faded very quickly.
Hogan provides a cool visual by tearing the shirt off at the top of the cage. At this time, Orndorff was still stealing Hogan’s “Real American” music for his entrance. This is a pretty famous match because it’s on a bunch of compilations and I remember being blown away when I saw it on a rental as a kid. Not because it’s some five star classic, but because of how close Hogan came to losing. This is also the first cage match on network TV and is under “escape the cage” rules. Standard for WWF, but kind of stupid for a blood feud. The object is to run away? Not a fan.
Orndorff controls early and makes for the door but is stopped. After a bit, Mr. Wonderful tries to go over the top but is only stopped by Hogan grabbing some hair. Ventura points out Orndorff would be the champ if he was bald, which is funny because use of that word around Hogan was verboten. Hulk gets control and chokes out Orndorff with the headband to Jesse’s chagrin. Hey, it’s a cage match. Hogan tries the door, but Mr. Wonderful grabs the ankle. It’s a good match when guys aren’t trying to escape constantly.
Hogan can’t get out the door and Vince blames Danny Davis for locking it, even though Marella was right next to the lock. Weird spot where Hogan and Orndorff put each other’s face to the cage and they are both down. When they get up, they scale opposite sides and hit the floor at the same time. Marella declares Hogan the winner, Davis says Orndorff won and I want to point out with my kayfabe hat on that this should kill the escape rule since it’s hard to judge on something like this.
After Davis shoves Joey Marella to the ground, Hogan grabs Davis but Orndorff hits a knee and Hogan squishes the evil ref, who is then taken to the back. It is announced the match will restart. Orndorff takes command and Jesse is sick of Vince’s bias toward Hogan. Without taking a finisher, Hogan Hulks up and sends Mr. Wonderful into the cage several times. Hogan hits a backbreaker of all things before the leg drop as we see Orndorff is bleeding now. Good to see NBC is not squeamish about blood on network TV after 11:30 PM. Heenan somehow gets in and grabs the leg but he too is sent to the cage. And Heenan means business: he JUMPS after running full speed. Hogan climbs up over the top for the win, because he’s not a pussy like Bob Backlund who would use the door in his day. Hogan points at Jesse after the match and Ventura takes offense.
Verdict: It’s a pretty good match and I wonder if this was to set up a possible alternate Wrestlemania 3 main event in the event that Andre could not work. They wouldn’t start filming the heel turn for another week after this aired, and Vince and Jesse debated whether this feud was really over. If Andre couldn’t work, this was their only viable main event unless they wanted to let Jesse have the Hogan match after much teasing.
“Macho Man” Randy Savage (C) with Elizabeth vs. George “The Animal” Steele for the IC title
Start with an angry Savage promo during the era when they would ask Elizabeth a question and Randy would shut it down. Steele says he has a surprise and carries his LJN action figure to the ring. I need to find that one at my mother’s house: my nephews have played with some of my old figures like the Macho Man one. I keep the Ventura one for myself. Anyway, Steele gives the figure to Elizabeth and Savage takes exception, grabbing it and spiking it in the ring.
The Animal controls early then stops and waves towards the aisle. Macho Man regains control with a slam and an elbow and all of a sudden music hits. On the WWE Network it is dubbed in but on the original it is “Sirius” by Alan Parsons Project signaling the return of Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. This was 6 weeks after the famous angle with Macho Man crushing the Dragon’s larynx with the ring bell. After slamming Savage, Steele goes out and carries Liz to the locker room like he’s King Kong. Ventura goes crazy saying this is conspiracy and kidnapping.
Dragon and Savage have a cat and mouse game with Steamboat wanting in and Savage bailing. Steele makes his way back, and gets slapped on the forehead by an overzealous fan which is no sold because Steele is a veteran of the business. Steamboat returns to the back and Steele tears up a turnbuckle and shoves the stuffing in Macho’s face. Good thing they didn’t load that with asbestos back in those days, because Steele eats another turnbuckle. Steele bites Savage and Vince humorously says he is only salivating on him. Macho tries a clothesline but gets his arm bit as a counter. That’s interesting. The Animal ends up outside and pulls a foreign object out to hit Savage. The referee argues with Steele and gets shoved for his trouble. Savage grabs the ring bell and with that opening hits Steele with it to score the win. Macho Man wants to do more damage with the bell but the Dragon is back to stop him. While Ventura calls for prison sentences for Steamboat and Steele, the Dragon consoles his friend by pouring turnbuckle stuffing over his head. Pretty funny.
Verdict: The return of the Dragon was a really huge deal, but the match is the usual Steele-Savage formula. Worked very well to build to what was easily the best Wrestlemania match of the 1980s.
Junkyard Dog vs. King Harley Race (w/Bobby the Brain Heenan)
Start with a flashback to Race’s coronation where he is surrounded by other heels. I always love how they make other heels stand there for stuff like that. Race declares himself the king of wrestling, which was fine and dandy outside of Memphis per judgments obtained by Jerry Lawler. JYD says he bows to no one. Danny Davis is our referee so be on guard for the screwjob.
Race suckers to start because the Dog is distracted by Davis. JYD is so very slow as can be seen from an Irish whip. Race hits the post but fights back to hit his belly to belly. Then he does a falling headbutt but has to sell because of racial tropes. JYD does his headbutts on all fours and Harley gets whipped and does his flop to the outside that Triple H stole. The Dog takes this opportunity to steal the crown and robe and preen to the crowd. The Brain is in and takes a punch like nobody’s business doing a 270 degree spin. Race gets an elbow from behind and they just beat down JYD as Davis allows this….until he calls for the bell and the DQ. Very odd. Harley and Brain try to get Dog to bow but JYD fight out and clears the ring. Then he decides to headbutt Davis and the crowd goes insane. But then JYD helps him up and it’s all good. Bizarre.
Verdict: This set up the brief match at Mania 3 which the King won. Very strange happenings here, but JYD could barely move by this point. The King was being groomed as a summer opponent to Hulk Hogan in what would have been a dream match several years earlier.
Before the match, we see Orndorff is upset about losing and Heenan vows to get footage showing that he won. Okerlund interrupts to get comment. Jesse Ventura believes the footage was doctored, in an early sign of his conspiracy theory mindset.
Adrian Adonis (w/Jimmy Hart) vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper
No crazy promos here, but the history of this goes back a few SNMEs. Piper tosses his kilt onto Adonis to get an early edge. Piper gets a knee lift and Adonis ends up tied in the ropes. Then he goes upside down in the corner similar to Race only a few minutes earlier. We learn that Elizabeth has been “released from protective custody”, whatever that means. Piper works the arm of Adonis that he injured on a prior SNME. Usually you don’t get a lot of psychology from the Hot Rod. Adonis fights back and gets his “Good Night Irene” sleeper but Roddy falls with him to the outside. Jimmy Hart distracts Piper and Adonis gets out his atomizer and sprays a liquid into his face. Ventura declares that his future Tag Team partner clearly must have had halitosis. Piper is blinded and can’t find his way back in and is counted out.
Verdict: Merely a setup for the HUGE Wrestlemania 3 payoff. Which is fine with me.
Hulk Hogan does a promo in a sweet red satin jacket. Let me tell you something right now: I am a mark for satin jackets. I grew up in the late 1980s and played youth hockey and you were nothing but SHIT if you didn’t rock the satin jacket. Anyway, Hulk says he’s done with Orndorff and that 1987 will be a huge year for him. Well, no shit.
Jimmy Jack Funk vs. Blackjack Mulligan
So this is in the death slot. Mulligan was Big Machine in the failed Machines angle and went back to his more traditional gimmick for a short time. He would be gone prior to Mania. He wasn’t drawing much money at this point but he was apparently printing plenty of it with his son. Sadly as I write this, Mulligan is very ill. More notable is the female referee named Rita Chatterton who went by the ring name of Rita Marie. She would accuse Vince McMahon of rape and appeared on the Donahue show to decry the WWF, so needless to say I don’t think she’s getting into the WWE Hall of Fame anytime soon. Oh yeah, Mulligan won with a back elbow.
Verdict: This was pointless.
Summary: Pretty good show for the first hour and since it’s only 66 minutes that’s a helluva ratio. Check it out, chef recommend.