The year 1987 firmly established the WWF as the dominant wrestling promotion in North America, but the final Saturday Night’s Main Event aired that year featured both a blast from the past and a glimpse at the future. The two main matches on this show were a rematch of the WrestleMania 2 main event of Hulk Hogan against King Kong Bundy and Macho Man Randy Savage taking on heretofore tag wrestler Bret the Hitman Hart. Taped in Seattle at what is now the Key Arena, our hosts as Vince and Jesse, the latter of whom was feeling quite good about himself as we will see.
The show starts with Twilight Zone music as Savage narrates in his own imitable way his issues with the Jimmy Hart stable. Bobby Heenan and Bundy declare that Bund-a-mania is on its way and the Brain promises a “big” surprise. Those two couldn’t seem to settle on if it was “Bund-a-mania” or “Bundy-mania”.
George “The Animal” Steele vs “Dangerous” Danny Davis
Very strange to have this match on first, though Steele was still a crowd favorite and you knew the matches wouldn’t last long. Steele is STILL obsessed with Elizabeth and has the action figure with him for his backstage promo. Davis gets in the ring and starts berating Joey Marella. It is a shame that Davis’ in-ring work could never match the masterful smug look on his face; he’s probably be at the IC title level if he could have pulled it off. But he also couldn’t talk and Jimmy Hart was not with him on this night.
As the match starts, Jesse gets his politically incorrect line of night out right out of the chute by comparing himself with Howard Cosell except “my hands don’t shake like his do!” Making light of a man recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s was acceptable at the time, but then Cosell pissed a lot of people off in his day.
Davis goes to work with his crummy offense as I try to think of ways they could have made this work. Maybe they could have had him go away for a while an do a training montage with him and Bret Hart where the Hitman shows him how to work and have it end with Bret getting exasperated and turning babyface on him? Davis does the Baron Scicluna/Jerry Lawler “hide the foreign object from the ref” bit, which doesn’t seem to work on a national stage. Steele gets his flying hammerlock on but Davis kicks the referee while in the hold leading to a DQ.
After the match, Steele destroys a turnbuckle and tosses the stuffing at Davis. We now say farewell to Steele on SNME, a shockingly relevant character on the first 13 episodes. Abandoned by his partners in the first match of the first show and turning babyface and having the endless Macho Man feud, he was probably the 2nd most common element on these shows behind Hulk Hogan. But he was perfect for what was needed on these shows: quick matches and someone who could pop the crowd. Steele would ride out most of the rest of his run promoting the Mine Doll in 1988, and I wish I had one of those things to sell.
Enter Bret Hart to the singles stage, as he cost Macho the IC title on the last show. Bret had a brief singles run in early 1986 that was supposed to lead to a match at WrestleMania 2 against Ricky Steamboat, but was changed at the last minute. The legend goes that Bret asked for the opportunity to do this match to prove his worth. Back in 1998, these two would meet at WCW Slamboree and since I didn’t know they had this match, I thought it was a first.
A diversion early in this contest as then-Seattle Seahawks linebacker and flavor of the moment Brian Bosworth walked down to take his ringside seat. At this point he was a rookie linebacker who had made waves with his brash attitude coming out of the University of Oklahoma. While his weird haircuts got most of the attention, he deserves a ton of credit for calling out the NCAA as a bunch of hypocrites long before that came into style. He was also busted for steroids and missed the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day 1987 so he certainly fit in at a late 1980s WWF event. Two days after this show aired, Bosworth had his famous showdown with Bo Jackson and the Los Angeles Raiders on Monday Night Football where he got decisively beat on a goal line run by Jackson. And now there is a 30 for 30 documentary on The Boz as well.
Back to the match: The Anvil approaches Liz on the outside to set up a distraction as Savage is out to confront. The Hitman gets sent into the post, but back inside escapes a Macho Man charge into the corner off several reversals. With Bret on the apron, the official breaks the two up and Savage then pushes Bret off the apron into the guard rail. Careful Bret, you’ll break a sternum that way! The Anvil and Jimmy Hart get on the apron to buy Bret some time but get a double noggin knocker for their trouble. Savage then goes for a double ax handle off the top to the floor, but the Hitman nails him in the stomach with the megaphone. Anvil then works Savage over a bit before tossing him back into the ring.
It’s quite fascinating to see pre-singles push Bret Hart on offense as a heel: lot of knees to the chest to work on the area he hurt with the megaphone, mouthing off at Elizabeth, and putting Macho in the tree of woe so he can lay in the boots. Bret scores with the conventional piledriver, a move he did better than just about anyone else, always making it look stiff. It’s worth noting that I never saw him use the Sharpshooter until at least 1991; Sting was using it before him and Ronnie Garvin won his ’90 Rumble submission match with Greg Valentine with the move. The Hitman then misses a charge to the corner and hits the post and a double axe from Savage gets a two count. Bret gets back on top and hits his side backbreaker, but missing the 2nd rope elbow. The problem with Bret on the 2nd rope elbow: You know he is going to miss when he turns his body so he can take the bump with a flat back.
I don’t know the name for this move but Savage did it all the time: grabbed Hart by the neck and drove him into the top rope as Macho himself jumps over the top to add momentum. That gets a two count. On another charge toward the ropes, Savage is backdropped over the top in a bump that always looks hellacious. On impact, Savage grabs at his left leg as he appears to be injured and is doing some great selling. As the show goes to a commercial break, Savage goes all proto-Eddie Guerrero at WM20 and takes off his boot to relieve the pressure. The Hitman goes right after the leg with a spinning toe hold, but then gets kicked to the post in the corner. Bret goes back to work on the ankle with a half crab twice but Macho reaches the ropes both times.
Now on the apron, Bret tries to suplex Savage back in that gets converted into more of a body slam, which Macho then reverses into an inside cradle which gets a three count. Fun stuff seeing Savage win here with almost the same thing that Steamboat used to beat him at WrestleMania 3. The Harts are in for the beatdown, but Jimmy hits Bret with the megaphone in a miscommunication. Excellent match here, probably the best in the series so far.
It is at this point where I must point out the guy in the front row wearing a turquoise Apple sweatshirt. Hope he still has that even if it probably wouldn’t appreciate like Apple common stock from 1987.
King Kong Bundy (w/Bobby Heenan) vs Hulk Hogan for the WWF World Title
The “big surprise” is not the return of Big John Studd, but of course Andre the Giant. Calling it a giant surprise would have been a bit much. Hogan nearly gets entangled in camera wires in the aisle, which is very narrow in this arena. Bundy is pretty limited but his stuff with Hogan isn’t terrible. They do the usual big man spots at the start, colliding in the center. Hogan goes rogue with a knee lift to stagger Bundy, but the bodyslam try fails. Hulk does come back with one of my favorite sequences that he does: the three quick elbows. Hulk puts his head down going for back drop (on a 460 pound dude?) to transition here.
Bundy puts on a chinlock and now I am distracted by Bundy having only one knee pad. I wonder what happened with that. Quick note: in matches where you see Ric Flair with one pad, he usually lost the other one to the woman he was with the night before. Ventura thinks Hogan is submitting to the chinlock. Now that would be an anticlimactic way to end a 3 ½ year title reign. Minor Hulk Up here as Hogan gets the big boot, but Andre grabs the leg on the leg drop attempt. The referee doesn’t DQ Bundy, but rather ejects Andre from ringside for the commercial break pause.
Andre is PISSED about this, and shoves the cameraman to the ground in the aisle which is the actual shot of the sequence. Cool stuff and props to the local indy guy who took that bump. Jesse says he wishes it was Vince who got pushed down.
Bundy controls for a bit, but Hogan gets a clothesline in the corner and follows up with another high knee. Wow, Hogan is working the 1996 Triple H offense here. Elbow misses though and Bundy slaps on a bear hug. He follows with his avalanche and splash combo, but Hogan hulks up. But wait, it’s not the usual! The big guy is slammed, but then ends up outside the ring. Hulk tosses him back in but as the count continues, Heenan grabs Hogan’s leg preventing him from entering and it’s a countout win for Bundy. First loss in a match for Hogan on SNME. The Hulkster grabs Heenan and roughs him up like a sore loser, as Jesse says. Ventura also says that Vince himself is a sore loser too. That comment was totally spot on considering what happened in 1996 when the WWF fell behind WCW.
Hercules vs Bam Bam Bigelow (w/Oliver Humperdink)
There is no clean version of Bam Bam’s 1st theme on the internet, but it was later the theme of Prime Time Wrestling in 1991 when they had the studio audience. That is some sweet sweet sax. Bam Bam had a star making performance two days earlier at the inaugural Survivor Series: when Hogan was counted out (jeez, a real theme for him during that month), Bigelow was left to face three giants 1 on 3. He pinned Bundy and One Man Gang but fell to Andre the Giant. This match starts with the same sequence as Hogan-Bundy with the irresistible force meeting immovable object. Bigelow is so quick for a guy his size before the 1988 knee injury ruined everything. Camera cuts to Bosworth and Jesse says he needs to calm down and that he’ll sign an autograph for him later. Both men end up outside for a double countout.
Or is that the finish? Bigelow grabs the house mic and demands a restart and Hercules is happy to oblige. They do a bit of a sumo spot before Hercules tries to go low, but Bigelow cartwheels around it. Irish whip and Bigelow goes for a dropkick, but that misses. I’m disappointed since I’m a complete mark for big guys doing dropkicks. Hercules lays in elbows and knees, but is caught coming off the top into a press slam. Bigelow then hits his trademark slingshot splash for the victory and the push continues.
Bosworth is shown pointing toward Jesse again, though if you askme he should have been more worried about Bo Jackson.
Bundy and Andre are with Okerlund in the back but Ventura crashes the party to congratulate Bundy. Hogan has some comments on the rematch coming on the next SNME in January. Okerlund says there is no info on Heenan’s injury, but adds that nobody cares.
Summary: Excellent showcase for Bret Hart in what is a must-see match in my opinion. Hogan-Bundy isn’t too terrible and definitely worthwhile for the rampage Andre goes on after he gets ejected from ringside. And we got Jesse back with him in rare form. When this journey reaches the end, this will probably be in the top 3-4 SNMEs of all time.