Back to the vault. It’s the 3rd of March 1986 (filmed on the 1st) and we’re in the Civic Centre of Providence, Rhode Island for the sixth edition of WWF’s Saturday Night’s Main Event! The titular headliner tonight: The British Bulldogs defend the Tag Team Titles against Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik!
SNME was part and parcel of the 80’s wrestling boom, when Vince McMahon had the stunning revelation that putting on actual wrestling on free TV, and not just endless squash matches, might actually be a good idea. We’re in a very good period for WWF here, with Wrestlemania II in the dust, the ratings for shows like this through the roof, little in the way of actual competition (Jim Crockett would start Clash of the Champions, basically the same idea, two years later) and already slowly on the build for the mega success that would be Wrestlemania III. This show is stacked with big names, not least the guy in the opener, so it’s no surprise they were as watched as they were.
We open with a snake, “the ancient symbol of all that is evil” says Mean Gene on voiceover, before cutting to Ricky Steamboat, who “is going to slay that slimy snake”. But he’ll have two snakes to face, the other being the human variety in the form of Jake Roberts. This will not be a handicap match unfortunately. There’s also “the battle of the big boys with King Kong Bundy vs “Uncle Elmer” and, as noted, the recently crowed Tag Champs the British Bulldogs defending against WWF’s Axis of Evil for the 80#s. “Adorable” Adrian Adonis makes a gay panic reference to a cut-out of Paul Orndorff, and Hulk Hogan is here too, naturally.
Opening titles, real 80’s style, but slick enough for the era. Vince “Definitely not the owner” McMahon and Bobby “the Brain” Heenan on commentary. They’ll have highlights of the Wrestlemania II main event, Hogan vs Bundy in a cage, later. Heenan, playing super-heel all night, says his sparkly suits hangs up at home while McMahon’s has to be back by noon tomorrow, so he wants some respect. RIP Heenan, one of the greats, but whose commentary is going to get a bit tiresome long before the end of this show.
We get thrown to Mean Gene backstage with the Funk Brothers and Jimmy Hart. He draws their attention to some heelish actions in the ring during a match at Wrestlemania the other month. Jimmy Hart says he’s got a plan to take care of their opponents tonight, laughs manically, etc. A different interview, and Hogan and the Junkyard Dog are backstage, with mini the Haiti Kid. “This little dude” says Hogan, is here specifically to take care of Jimmy Hart. OK. Standard Hulkster schtick after, and the man is a repugnant example of all that is bad in wrestling so I won’t be spending too much time on him, for my own mental health if nothing else. Before a bell is rung this one looks overbooked.
Hulk Hogan and the Junkyard Dog w/the Haiti Kid vs The Funk Brothers (Hoss and Terry) w/Jimmy Hart
“Hoss” is Dory Funk, just so we’re clear. Obviously a huge reception for Hogan for a fairly rabid crowd it has to be said. “MEGAWATTS OF ELECTRICITY” screams McMahon. Hoss and JYD going at it immediately, and Hogan on all fours headbutting people and the Haiti Kid attacking Jimmy Hart and it’s all a bit chaotic and hard to keep up with. After a few moments things calm down and an actual match can start.
Junkyard Dog with a body slam to Hoss, who flees to ringside at the slightest bit of offence. Heenan says McMahon “always has to be for the underdogs of this world…or the Hulk Hogans” because don’t you dare call the Hulkster an underdog. The Junkyard Dog dodges a charge and Terry goes into the ring post. Some brawling on the outside for a bit, then Junkyard Dog continues beating up Hoss, and finally Hogan in, and he beats up both Funks. Slams, elbow drops, big boots and the crowd eats it up.
Dog in and he’s beating people up now, but eventually the Funks take over for the face-in-peril section of events. Double clotheslines from the Funks to Dog while Hogan remonstrates with the ref. Awkward moment where Dog is basically waiting for the Funk’s to tag each other, and just standing still in the ring. Hogan tagged in at some point. On the apron, Hart assaults the Haiti Kid, and gets chased away by Hogan. Way too much going on throughout all of this. Junkyard Dog takes the injured Haiti Kid to the back as we go to break.
Back, and Hogan is fighting the Funks solo, because of course he is, but just now the Junkyard Dog is back. Weird seeing Hogan as the face-in-peril, but reverses a suplex attempt into one of his own for two. Thrown to the outside, and gets a branding iron to the mid-section from Terry, before Hart lays in some kicks. Don’t know where the ref is. Honest to God crowd brawling now, with the Dog slamming Terry to the concrete, followed by a back body-drop from Hogan.
Back in the ring, Hogan whiffs a big boot to Hoss, and now a heavily bandaged Haiti Kid is back, and now the Junkyard Dog gets the tag and this really is weirdly hard to follow. “JYD” chants. Awkward double clothesline spot between Dog and Terry, with Dog falling way too late. Terry slams JYD, then to the top, but no one home on the splash attempt. Hot tag to Hogan who clean house, Atomic Leg-Drop to Terry and that’s it in around 13 agonising minutes.
Winners: Hulk Hogan and the Junkyard Dog was there too brother.
Verdict: Honestly, quite the mess.
In the aftermath the faces just seem to vanish while the heels beat up the Haiti Kid. Suddenly Hogan and JYD show up again and beat up the heels a bit more. Throughout all of this Heenan has been using plenty of hateful “midget” remarks by the way, so my opinion of him falling bit-by-bit, even for this era. Hogan and JYD celebrate in the ring.
Back from the break, and time for the next match. It’s preceded by footage of the “weigh-in”. Bundy is 468 pounds. Elmer, a hillbilly stereotype who does the weigh-in while eating a bucket of “fried pig parts” is 430. Heenan is unimpressed.
King Kong Bundy vs Uncle Elmer
I love looking guys up on Cagematch and seeing three lines of ring-names. Here are Elmer’s: Hillbilly Elmer, Giant Hillbilly Elmer, Giant Hillbilly, Giant Rebel, Giant Frazier, Stan Frazier, Stanley Frazier, Lt. Frazier, Tex Frazier, Tiny Frazier, Playboy Frazier, Plowboy Frazier, Country Plowboy, Pascagoula Plowboy, Tiny The Plowboy, Texas Plowboy, A-Team #2, Big Tex, Congorilla, Convict, Masked Convict, Ed Younger, Kamala II, Kimala II, Lone Ranger and Country Boy
Lock-ups to no effect. Shoulder charges from Bundy, to no effect. Lock-up again, and a rake to the eyes gives Bundy the advantage. “Choke the breath out of that sow!” says Heenan. Elmer rallying back with strikes, and Heenan starts to panic. Butt smashes in the corner, corner splash, and then Bundy dodges another. Hits an elbow drop on a prone Elmer and that’s it in just over two and a half.
Winner: King King Bundy
Verdict: A rubbish hoss fight.
Okerlund is backstage with Adonis, and this is so heinous it’s hard to describe, but I’ll try. So it’s a gay/crossdresser gimmick where Adonis is acting like he’s going to sexually assault Orndorff, with Jimmy Hart’s approval. Jesus Christ. Comparatively, Men Gene talks to Orndorff ins a steam room, and Mr Wonderful says’s he’s never faced someone “a little light in his loafers if you know what I mean”. He mean’s he’s gay, though he limits himself to “wimp”.
“Adorable” Adrian Adonis w/Jimmy Hart vs “Mr Wonderful” Paul Orndorff
Match in progress as we break from the interviews. McMahon refers to a man in a dress as “less than wonderful”. Arm drags from Orndorff, then multiple scoop slams, and Adonis to the outside, and they play up that Orndorff is outraged at the idea of fighting a man in a dress. Back in and Adonis whipped to the corner hard enough to dump him out. Odd situation where the heel commentator is defending the cross dresser, making him seem like a face by modern standards: “Live and let live is my motto”.
Adonis taking a long time on the outside but eventually back in. Jimmy Hart has a megaphone on the outside, which is very distracting. Adonis and Orndorff eventually hook back up, but Orndorff retains the advantage with an abdominal stretch. Crowd a little dead now. After a bit of a ref scuffle Adonis briefly takes over before being back body-dropped over the top. Orndorff grabs Hart and pulls him in, then tosses him out to a huge pop: the crowd hates Hart.
After a break Orndorff is still beating up Adonis, and hits him with an Airplane Spin, and Adonis is dumped to the outside again. Hart getting involved gain, and Adonis gets a sneak attack with the megaphone while Orndorff is distracted. How long will this period of offence last? A few minutes at least. “Orndorff is running on fumes” “I thought Adonis was on fumes” “No, that’s perfume”. Yeesh. Adonis with a few near-falls off slams, to the top, but Orndorff has the knees up on a splash.
Orndorff rallying back, nails Hart with a big punch. Drop-kick to Adonis, and now Wonderful viciously starts ripping off the dress, so this match looking more and more like a hate crime. The ref tries to pull Orndorff off, but gets shoved across the ring and that’s it in 12 on the dot.
Winner (by DQ): “Adorable” Adrian Adonis, striking an inadvertent blow for alternative lifestyles.
Verdict: Even leaving aside the gimmick, this match was lame.
Orndorff keeps attacking Adonis in the aftermath. After Adonis is declared the victor, Orndorff chases him out with a chair. Your hero. Adonis, real name Keith Franke, would be killed in a car crash only two years later.
We get thrown to an interview between Mean Gene and Hogan filmed before the show started. Usual stuff, vitamins, Hulkamaniacs, blah, blah, blah. We get highlights of the Wrestlemania II main event. Never actually watched that show, but this cage match looks dull, even by cage match standards. Hulk runs down some of his big feuds, and says he has “a hitlist” of people, whatchagonnado, yadda yadda yadda.
After a break Okerlund is backstage with Ricky Steamboat. The Dragon won’t tolerate Roberts’ disrespecting of opponents with the literal snake, and says Roberts will be the one humiliated tonight. Elsewhere, Roberts has a chat with Damian, and says the time has come for them to show the world what a great team they will be. When he was clean and in good shape Roberts played a good heel, though the SPCA might have been annoyed.
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Heenan refers to Steamboat as “a pineapple farmer”. Yeesh, again. Roberts attacks Steamboat on the outside before the bell, and gives him a DDT on the floor. Rolls Steamboat in, takes out Damian and puts him on Steamboat, and McMahon mimics throwing up. Roberts has to wrap Damian around Steamboat of course, making this all very forced. “Officials” come down to stop Roberts, while Heenan mocks Steamboats distraught looking wife, and a bell rings.
Winner: No contest, I presume?
Verdict: I guess they were building to another match?
After the break Mean Gene, with “Anglo-American pride”, is with the British Bulldogs and Captain Lou Albano. Very quick interview where the champs praise Albano. Highlights of the Bulldogs winning the titles at Wrestlemania. Albano, talking rapidly, says their opponents will get tired in a 2 out of 3 falls match, they’re ready, etc.
The heels are already in the ring, and Volkoff sings the Soviet national anthem. “The Russians know as much about singing as they do about running a nuclear reactor” says McMahon, less than a week after the Chernobyl disaster. A brief backstage, and I forgot that Freddie Blassie was managing them in Middle-Eastern dress at the time.
The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and the Dynamite Kid) (c) w/Captain Lou Albano vs The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff w/Freddie Blassie) (Best Two Out Of Three Falls)
Less than 15 minutes left in this show, so the falls are going to come quickly. Smith and Volkoff to start. Smith dodges a charge and takes over. Roll-up for two. Shoulder charges till Volkoff lands Smith on the ropes with a flapjack. Sheiky baby in, reverse suplex, Camel Clutch and Davey Boy submits in less than one and a half. First fall to Volkoff and Sheik.
Crowd with lots of heat for the heels as we wait for the match to resume. After the break we’re away again, with Volkoff and Smith in the ring. Heels double-teaming and beating down. Sheik with a back body-drop, and checking where the hard-cam is before posing. Abdominal stretch, but eventually countered into a hip-toss, but Smith then misses an elbow drop. Volkoff in, hits a clothesline where Smith falls super late. Smith with a Sunset Flip but Sheik distracts the ref so no count. Sheik with a gutwrench suplex for two. Smith with an Atomic Drop for two and then the heels take over again. Sheik, with Blassie’s help, hits the rope splash while Heenan amazingly criticises the Falklands War. Sheik goes for a cover with rope assistance for two. Thinking he’s won, he gets distracted and rolled up for three in just under six. Second fall to the British Bulldogs.
After a break it’s Smith and Volkoff, with Dynamite Kid seemingly injured, hence why he isn’t involved. Sheik gets Smith in the Boston Crab, but he gets to the ropes. Volkoff with a backbreaker into a submission, then a bear hug. Sheik in, and Smith struggles to get him up for a powerslam. Now Dynamite Kid in, bear hug from Sheik, a choke, suplex, and locks in the Camel Clutch. Smith and Volkoff brawling, ref is distracted, Smith rolls up Sheik and the ref counts even though there obviously wasn’t any tag, and that’s the second and deciding fall in just over nine.
Winners (and still WWF Tag Team Champions): The British Bulldogs, but really just Davey Boy.
Verdict: Actually pretty decent for the era, but the heel way the faces won was a bit weird.
After a break McMahon and Heenan run down what we have seen and that’ll be all.
Best Match: The main event was fun enough, and it’s nice to see Sheik actually able to wrestle a bit.
Best Wrestler: Junkyard Dog got upstaged by Hogan, but still showed that he could go.
Worst Match: Orndorff/Adonis is the perfect encapsulation of a bad time in wrestling in terms of inclusivity.
Worst Wrestler: King Kong Bundy didn’t really, you know, do anything.
Overall Verdict: They’re trying to fit so much into these shows, and have so much going on in the matches, that it can sometimes be a bit of a trial to follow, but it was OK wrestling wise. Not so much with the Adonis stuff and some of the really unacceptable commentary. I’d give this one a miss.
Quick Thoughts on WWE Payback
-Living Riott/Iconics: A few eye-catching botches marked this one negatively. Fairly throwaway tag otherwise, but at least Riott Squad Reborn might get a run. Skippable.
-Crews/Lashley: Pretty standard match. Crews run as champion feels like it hasn’t done him many favours, but Lashley holding a title should be good for the Hurt Business. All the same, skippable.
-Big E/Sheamus: TV level encounter, but I do think they have a tonne of potential in this Big E run. Crazy to think that Wrestlemania 38 could potentially have a Reigns/Big E title match. Give it a look.
-Riddle/Corbin: They did their best with a substandard build. I’m hoping this doesn’t go for months. Not essential.
-The Role Models/ShayNia: Good match, enjoyed it. Baszler’s modified finisher was worth the price of admission alone. They have to pull the trigger on Banks/Bayley pretty soon now. Watchable.
-Lee/Orton: They must be super-high on Lee to have him go over Orton in this manner, clean and in less than seven minutes. Not much to the match but delighted to see Lee on this run, for however long it lasts. His new music sucks though. Give it a watch.
-The Mysterios/Rollins and Murphy: They are committed to getting Dominik over anyway, though his father getting legit hurt in this match might hurt his push. Good match, but this feud feels like it has run its course now. Decent.
-Wyatt/Strowman/Reigns: I never knew that you could enter a triple threat whenever you wanted, as long as you signed the contract. This was booked badly: the Wyatt/Strowman stuff was tired and something we’ve seen a lot recently, with only the brief glimpse of Bliss to enliven it, and then Reigns’ portion of events felt awkward. Predictable result completes the reset to pre-Wrestlemania state of affairs. Heel Reigns with Heyman should be god fun though. Watch the ending.
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