I started watching WWE in 1990, in the early days of my fandom I scoured my local WHSmith to purchase the Silver Vision releases of the pre-1990 big four pay-per-views. Every so often, I like to revisit older events that are on the Network which I’ve never seen before.
One such event was Saturday Night’s Main Event, 14th March 1987 from the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Running at just more than an hour, the event was just over two weeks away from the iconic WrestleMania 3 and did a fantastic job of building the big matches on the show. It’s interesting looking back on the show 35 years later, seeing how some things have changed and other have remained the same.
First up on the show, Randy Savage took on George ‘The Animal’ Steele with both Savage’s Intercontinental Title and Elizabeth’s managerial services on the line. The pre-match promo with Savage and Elizabeth was brilliant and so different to what we would see today. It felt genuine, you believed that Savage was jealous and out of control. Mean Gene almost found himself thrown into the Main Event sign when he implied that Savage and Elizabeth had more than a business relationship. Despite the accusation, Elizabeth seemed to genuinely care about Steele, sadness in her eyes while Savage threatened his opponent. What struck me during the match itself was the smoothness of Savage in the ring – his style would translate seamlessly into any promotion today.
Elizabeth sat at ringside in a bizarre looking high chair which played a part in the finish. Ever the gentleman, Steele tried to escort Elizabeth away from the dangers of being at ringside only to be attacked by Savage, who throws Steele into the railing and tips the high chair on top of him. It incapacitates him long enough to allow Savage to return to the ring and get a cheap count-out victory. It’s a finish rarely seen outside of a Last Man Standing match, but worked fantastically to portray the champion, both dastardly and a cunning strategist. Having watched so many matches in recent years where someone’s music or appearance on the entrance ramp causes a distraction, it was refreshing to see something different.
Next up on the show we had a twenty man Battle Royal. When looking at the participants it seemed certain that Andre The Giant would have his hand raised. He was, of course, the biggest competitor and a master of the format. Hulk Hogan was the other big name in the match and it was possible the champion could get the win and momentum ahead of his biggest challenge ever at Mania.
To my pleasant surprise, neither of them were victorious – the type of outcome you rarely get in today’s often predictable WWE. The match saw an Andre headbutt leave Lanny Poffo with a crimson mask which would make some GCW fans wince. Speaking on his The Genius Cast, Poffo explained it was a blade job: “I stood in the middle of the ring, all by myself and I cut the supratrochlear vein”. His reasoning for doing it before the headbutt was, “With all of the talent around me, nobody would be looking at me in the middle of the ring”.
The Heenan Family ganged up on Hogan early on and an Andre headbutt to the back of Hogan’s head allowed Andre to throw him out. Andre was eliminated when the rest of the competitors teamed up, leaving me unsure who would win. Ax, Smash, Hillbilly Jim, Butch Reed, Koko B Ware? Instead, it came down to Billy Jack Haynes against Hercules Hernandez. After a distraction from Bobby Heenan, Hercules threw Haynes over the top rope, adding fuel to their upcoming match at Mania.
The term ‘tweener’ is more associated with the attitude era than this time period, however the face Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts was clearly showing heel tendencies in his match against King Kong Bundy. Heenan was back at ringside again, incredible in his role due to his histrionics. He was scared of getting attacked by Jake’s snake Damian, so he stole the bag containing it. Jake chased him, retrieved the bag and in his rage hit the ref causing a disqualification win for Bundy, the heel. A brawl followed, and in something you don’t see every day, the referee rugby tackled Jake to stop him putting Damian over Bundy!
The Hart Foundation won the tag team titles just prior to this show after referee ‘Dangerous’ Danny Davis turned heel and helped them defeat the British Bulldogs. This was their first title defence against a team that I never knew existed until I watched this show, former Intercontinental champion Tito Santana teaming with former U.S. Express member Dan Spivey. Great managers are in short supply in the wrestling world today, but once again in this match we had one of the best in the microphone wielding Jimmy Hart. With Davis also on the outside, the odds were in the champions favour and the challengers had no chance.
Ricky Steamboat faced the Iron Sheik in the final match with the ‘Doctor of Style’ Slick in the corner of the Sheik. Shortly after the bell, Savage, looking for payback, came down to ringside to distract Steamboat, allowing the Sheik to gain the upper hand. It struck me how mobile the Sheik was in the ring and how quickly and easily Steamboat got the pin – bearing in mind Sheik was the previous world champion before Hogan.
Five matches were on the show and all heavily featured managers at ringside, all playing a part in the story of the match with their different personalities. Whilst a manager at ringside should not be needed for every match, it is something we need to see more. Look at how much MVP added to Bobby Lashley’s presentation and how Andrade was at his best in WWE with Zelina Vega in his corner.
Another aspect that was an improvement on today’s product were the backstage vignettes, less scripted and really building character. Hogan was masterful when being interviewed by ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund. Talking about Andre, he stared into the camera and asked “Has your whole life been a lie, 15 years undefeated, did you cheat every single time you got your hand raised?”. In a few seconds, he emphasised Andre’s turn to the dark side and the threat he posed due to his storyline 15 year streak.
Saturday Night’s Main Event flew by. Fast paced action, good stories, and lots of nostalgia from one of the boom times in wrestling. It has certainly left me keen to dive into the archives more!