With WWE adding Saturday Night’s Main Event to its Network archives this week, fans of that age are no doubt thrilled. I speak for myself as well when I think of the joys as a kid of staying up late on the weekends to catch headline wrestlers in marquee matches on free television.
Sure, Monday Night Raw’s diluted the allure of that by running through matches with name wrestlers week after week until there’s nothing special about anyone, but things were different in 1980s. The weekends were filled with jobber matches, while the top guys were held apart from each other. Pay-per-view encounters were one thing, but the five or six times you got Saturday Night’s Main Event, you were provided with 90 minutes of must-see television, with Vince McMahon’s carnie drawl, Jesse Ventura’s cartoonish gravitas, Mean Gene’s hype-filled inquisitions, and the best of the 1980s WWE roster playing it all out.
Paring down a list to just 25 awesome moments excises much of the good-natured, smile-lame bits, like the 1985 Halloween party, 1990’s Oktoberfest episode, and McMahon and Ventura riding horseback. It also excluded my favorite bit of silliness that was Mr. Fuji singing a country song to prove that he was more of a redneck than Dick Slater. Really, you have to see it.
Listed below are 25 of the moments that made the show the spectacle that is still fondly remembered today, and provides a bit of an itinerary for the younger fans to see what’s worth scoping out from the bountiful archive.
NOTE 1: This list does not include anything from The Main Event, the five Friday night specials that aired between 1988 and 1991. Otherwise, “twin referees” and Savage walloping Hogan would clog the top of the list (in a good way). This is all Saturday, all the time.
NOTE 2: By ‘classic years’, that means only the SNMEs from 1985-92. Nothing from the forgettable 2006-08 run makes it – not that anything outside of Mickie “Single White Female” James betraying Trish Stratus merits consideration.
: I’ve chosen to list the airdates of each show, rather than the day they were taped. Since there’s OCD-historian types out there reading this (my favorite demographic), and those folks may ask why I chose airdates, it’s strictly for the magic of the Saturday connotation. For the rest of you with little time to worry about this sort of silly thing, please disregard.
25. DEATH OF THE SUPER NINJA (November 26, 1988)
Rip Oliver looked like your typical 1980s territory heel: bleach-blonde hair, non-ironic beard, and sleepy eyes that complimented a slop-eating grin. In many ways, Oliver looked like fellow Portland fixture Matt Borne, and appearance wasn’t all they had in common. Turns out, both men’s most famous runs in WWE came as mysteriously cloaked villains.
While Borne gained notoriety as the heinous Doink the Clown, Oliver’s stake was a one-night run as The Super Ninja, a masked fiend imported by Mr Fuji to try and thwart The Ultimate Warrior, and win the Intercontinental Championship. Like most generic masked baddies of the time, Ninja was dispatched in about two minutes, quick work for a rampaging Warrior.
24. THE MOVIE COMES TO LIFE (July 29, 1989)
In the Oscar-winning masterpiece that is No Holds Barred, Hulk Hogan (er, “Rip”) finally fights the menacing Zeus after “The Human Wrecking Machine” nearly kills Hogan’s brother, played by Jacob from LOST. Sadly, Jacob wasn’t imported into the WWE-world storyline along with Zeus, but another actor of similar renown would fill his shoes: Brutus Beefcake.
During a forgotten classic of a match between “The Barber” and Randy Savage, Sensational Sherri fetched Zeus on The Macho Man’s behalf, and Zeus helped Savage beat down Beefcake. Naturally, Hogan made the save, most notably whacking Zeus with a chair, only for the eventual Dark Knight actor to no-sell it. Hogan selling bug-eyed fear is always a hoot.
23. SNAKE HANDLED (May 2, 1987)
WrestleMania III remains memorable, largely for four reasons: Hogan vs. Andre, Savage vs. Steamboat, the crowd, and Piper’s farewell before leaving for Hollywood. The Honky Tonk Man and Jake Roberts had a decent match a ways down the card, which was amazing, given that it had to follow the Savage-Steamboat all-timer. Honky won, but the feud didn’t end there.
Roberts was squaring off with Kamala, who had Mr. Fuji and the masked Kim Chee (Kamala’s “handler”) in his corner. Late in the abbreviated bout, Kim Chee struck “The Snake” behind the referee’s back, and enabled Kamala to win with his patented splash. Kim Chee revealed himself to be Honky in disguise right after, but the feud fizzled, due to a Roberts injury.
22. SID WALKS OUT (February 8, 1992)
WWE’s sound-doctoring of 1992 Royal Rumble footage has always been laughable, even when I was 8 years old. The crowd clearly cheered when Sid Justice dumped an unsuspecting Hulk Hogan, although WWE added heat-machine effects (and re-did Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan’s commentary to call Sid a cheater, for some reason) to repaint history.
Hogan and Justice were slated to face The Undertaker and new champion Ric Flair on the first FOX edition of SNME, and it resulted in a decent formula match, with Hogan being imperiled instead of his partner. There’d be no heroic comeback, as Justice walked out on an ailing Hogan, and threatened to strike an injured Brutus Beefcake, which Heenan delighted in.
21. ANDRE’S LAST GOOD MATCH (November 25, 1989)
Through rose-colored lens, the Hulk-Andre WrestleMania III epic comes closer and closer to a five star rating with each passing year. His matches since don’t get the same consideration, as an aging, creaking Andre the Giant was sad to watch, with all due respect. It’s rare to find a truly enjoyable match in his WWE homestretch, with this bout as the rare exception.
Andre clashed with Heenan Family nemesis Ultimate Warrior for the Intercontinental gold, and what ensued was a shockingly quick-paced eight minute match, ending with a DQ win for the Warrior. Warrior’s 2014 DVD collection includes this match, and hindsight has been much kinder to not just Warrior’s workrate in general, but especially this gem among the dust.
20. FIRST STRIKE (March 14, 1987)
The road to WrestleMania III was paved by the lure of Hulk/Andre, and this Saturday edition was recorded from Detroit five weeks before the PPV (airing just two weeks before the big money showdown). To sweeten the pot, Hogan and Andre were entered in a 20 man battle royal, all but guaranteeing that the icons would lock horns before the championship bout.
Earlier in the battle, Andre bloodied “Leaping” Lanny Poffo to the point where the eventual Genius was gurney’d out of ringside. After Hogan eliminated turncoat Paul Orndorff, Andre landed his mammoth headbutt on the champion, and astonished fearful children nationwide by easily dumping their hero over the top rope. A simple twist to fuel the big match.
19. MACHO MAN AND THE HITMAN GUT IT OUT (November 28, 1987)
Bret Hart was merely a tag team wrestler, and Honky Tonk Man-flunkie, when “The Hitman” was programmed against the penthouse-level Macho Man Randy Savage. The two were given an impressive duration of time for 1987 (12 minutes) to work a story centered on Hart attacking Macho’s leg. This would be Hart’s biggest litmus test in WWE to that point.
The match was tremendously executed, but with a caveat: both men were injured during the bout. Hart cracked his heel on a bump to the outside, and in return (though obviously not intentionally), Hart slammed Savage’s bare foot/ankle into the ringpost as the story called for, and badly hurt Savage as well. Both consummate pros carried on to a great showing.
18. HARDCORE HARLEY (March 12, 1988)
Perhaps it’s a bit inappropriate to list an eventual career-ending injury among great moments, but the spectacle deserves mention. Harley Race’s status of one of the toughest individuals in wrestling history often goes unquestioned, and is playfully referenced, often to Chuck Norris and Bill Brasky levels. Race proved said toughness against Hulk Hogan.
The story was that Hogan was beyond irate after the screwjob that cost him the WWE Title, and engaged in a frenzied brawl with Race. As the battle wore on, Hogan lay prone on a table, and Race leapt at him, but the Hulkster moved, and “The King” took the bump with his abdomen, sustaining a severe hernia. Still, Race finished the match, with none the wiser.
17. HOBBLED HOT ROD (October 4, 1986)
By 1986, Rowdy Roddy Piper had shed his image as the most reviled bad guy of WWE’s mainstream rise, and was now a revered icon, about on the level of old rival Hogan. Even with the change of alignment, it was still a weird image to see Piper make the save for Hogan, when The Hulkster was being assaulted by Paul Orndorff and “Adorable” Adrian Adonis.
Adonis was Piper’s new target, following an assault by Adonis, Cowboy Bob Orton, and Don Muraco on the set of Adonis’ “Flower Shop” talk segment, and Piper sustained a leg injury. Despite being hobbled with the injury, a now-galvanized Piper was made to not only save Hogan, but also defeat Iron Sheik in under a minute the same night, all on just one good leg.
16. NINE WILD MINUTES (March 11, 1989)
Talk about a match made in heaven. Take The Rockers, wrestling’s most spectacular aerial combo of the day, and pit them with Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, the epitome of brawn, science, and ring psychology in one nifty package. Tell them to pack their best material in about nine minutes of time, and watch as they blow everyone away.
It’s possibly the greatest match from a star-rating standpoint in the show’s history, with false-finishes, relentless action, and the expected creativity (a pinfall reversal sequence that would become standard in eras future). The bout ended with a double count-out, and the feud wouldn’t be blown off until November when the Busters left, but this was its pinnacle.
15. MURDEROUS ANDRE (January 2, 1988)
When booking someone to be a giant, it’s imperative to make him look as infallible as possible. Building to the Hogan-Andre rematch on The Main Event, Andre stood ringside for fellow Bobby Heenan-heavy King Kong Bundy in a match with the champ. Hogan won with the ‘Atomic Leg’ after sustaining two Avalanches, a mere prelude to the real fun.
With “Real American” blaring, Andre stormed the ring and began assaulting Hogan, applying his vicious chokehold. The British Bulldogs, Strike Force, Jake Roberts, and Junkyard Dog attempted to rescue Hogan, all unable to free Hulk. Jim Duggan struck Andre with a 2X4, allowing the faces to pull Hogan to safety, but it made Andre look like a true killer.
14. THE DRAGON LIVES (January 3, 1987)
The fuse of the Randy Savage-Ricky Steamboat Intercontinental Title feud was lit when Savage wounded Steamboat’s larynx, via usage of the metal guardrail, as well as the ring bell. Steamboat was put out of commission, and the caustic Savage whooped it up that he’d apparently ended the career of the biggest threat to his title. Or so he thought!
During a title defense against George “The Animal” Steele, Savage was as astonished as anyone when Steamboat made an unannounced appearance, making clear his intent to exact revenge. Steamboat also prevented Savage from injuring Steele with the bell, and the confrontation set the stage for WWE’s match of the decade at WrestleMania III.
13. BEGINNING OF A SHORT-LIVED FRIENDSHIP (May 11, 1985)
And you thought Kane and The Undertaker had a complex relationship. Take away the ghoulish and macabre elements of their on-again/off-again bond, and it’s fairly similar to Hulk Hogan’s connection to “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff in the 1980s. After Orndorff was blamed for losing the WrestleMania main event, Hogan reached out sympathetically.
On SNME’s maiden episode, Hogan retained the WWE Championship by DQ over Bob Orton when Roddy Piper interfered. Mr. T tried for the save, but the heels beat him down as well. That left Orndorff to hit the ring, clearing it of his former friends. The sight of “Mr. Wonderful” posing with Hogan and Mr. T remains an unusual image thirty years later.
12. ACCIDENTAL CLOTHESLINE (January 27, 1990)
Days after Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, the company’s singles champions, had a time-stopping confrontation in the Royal Rumble match, the two were teamed against Mr. Perfect and The Genius. Hogan scored the pin on Genius, and that seemed to be that, but the post-match activity would set the stage for what was termed “The Ultimate Challenge”.
While the good guys celebrated before their fans, Perfect and Genius attacked them. Hogan went down, but Warrior went on a rampage, clotheslining everyone in sight, including Hogan by accident as Hulk stood back up. The miscue led to a confrontation between heroes 1A and 1B, with WrestleMania VI in Toronto tabbed as the site of their winner-take-all match.
11. REIGN-BUSTERS (July 29, 1989)
On the NBC version of the show, spanning 34 episodes, this was the only title change. Demolition had reigned as World Tag Team Champions for nearly 16 months, a record that remains unsurpassed. Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, the Brain Busters, were granted a shot in a two-out-of-three falls match, after a DQ win on the May 27 edition of the show.
The Demos won the first fall after Ax pinned Anderson, but they were then disqualified in the second fall for excessive double teaming (the DQ ruling didn’t nullify the title change). With fellow Heenan Family charge Andre the Giant now looming at ringside, the Busters took the third fall after Blanchard struck Smash with a chair thrown in by the Giant.
10. SAVAGE LETS HOGAN TWIST (January 7, 1989)
As the Hogan/Savage “WrestleMania Rewind” episode on WWE Network demonstrates, Savage’s subtle facial tics and manic gestures on the road to turning on Hogan were a thing of beauty. All of the hints of paranoid reaction were there, and a viewer could sense that the WWE Champion didn’t really like Hogan, or his proximity to the lovely Miss Elizabeth.
Hogan was wrestling Akeem with Elizabeth ringside, when Big Bossman intervened after a ref bump, and the Twin Towers pummeled Hulk. Mean Gene Okerlund implored Savage to save his friend, but an oddly-calm Savage insisted Hulk would be alright. When Bossman grabbed Liz, only then did Savage spring into action, saving her, and not so much The Hulkster.
9. WHO HIT FIRST? (January 3, 1987)
Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff finally settled their acrimony inside the Blue Bar Cage, with the WWE Championship contested. Standard for WWE fare, the winner would be the one who escaped the structure, as opposed to pinfall or submission. While the NWA-nostalgiaphiles would call this the sissy way of winning, here it produced a pretty creative moment.
Hogan began an ascent early in the match, but a refreshed Orndorff took to climbing the other side of the cage. It turned into a foot-race, with both men jumping off the cage wall simultaneously. One official declared Hogan the winner, while the other claimed Orndorff was the new champion. The match restarted and, yeah, Hogan ended up retaining.
8. THE ULTIMATE DUO (November 2, 1985)
One month earlier, Andre the Giant teamed with the incomprehensibly-fascinating Tony Atlas in a DQ victory over King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd. The massive duo double-teamed Andre after the bell, prompting Hulk Hogan to make the save. Teddy Long wasn’t there to institute a tag team match, but the dots connected themselves, and a match was made.
Hogan and Andre are arguably (nearly inarguably) the most imposing tag team in wrestling history, and it was a treat to see two stars of their magnitude take on Bundy and Studd in a Halloween-themed edition of SNME. The match ended in another disqualification via double-teaming, but Hogan and Andre would clear the ring in standard babyface fashion.
7. THE HARDCORE TITLE IS BORN (November 25, 1989)
Hulk Hogan was in the midst of an oddly-entertaining title defense against perma-midcarder The Genius. The bout consisted of Hogan mock-prancing around the ring in a manner that would draw angry diatribes from those clean-conscience souls at Gawker today. While it seemed that another Hogan victory was in order, a swerve finish came to pass.
Mr. Perfect struck Hogan with the championship belt outside the ring, and the Genius would win via countout. Perfect then absconded with the title and was filmed destroying the center plate with a hammer, his message to Hogan to give him a shot, or else. That fractured strap would be taped together, and fashioned as the Hardcore Championship in 1998.
6. HBK GETS THE GOLD (November 14, 1992)
SNME only ran on the FOX Network twice, but it featured one very significant title change. Mirroring the push of Bret Hart as a tag wrestler-turned-singles stud, Shawn Michaels took to his preening pretty boy role with ease, fusing much of heel-Ric Flair into his own unmatched athletic style. It was Michaels’ destiny to be pushed up the card, and it wouldn’t take long.
Already slated to wrestle Hart for the WWE Title at Survivor Series, Michaels was booked against soon-to-be-axed Intercontinental Champion Davey Boy Smith. The angle was that Michaels spent the match working on the British Bulldog’s back, and got him to strike an exposed turnbuckle. Michaels countered a superplex into a crossbody to get the title.
5. DRAGON FEELS THE BITE (May 3, 1986)
The injury angle that Ricky Steamboat worked with Randy Savage wasn’t even the most devastating-looking incident involving “The Dragon” in 1986. Jake “The Snake” Roberts jumped Steamboat before their scheduled bout on the show’s near-anniversary edition, and doled out one of the more devastating blows yet seen on WWE television.
Roberts jumped Steamboat at ringside, and proceeded to plant him with a DDT onto the bare concrete floor, which purportedly cracked the skull of the Dragon legitimately. Either way, Steamboat was definitely dead weight when Roberts threw his limp carcass into the ring, and allowed a freed Damian to writhe all over him, while Bonnie Steamboat watched in horror.
4. BUNDY MAKES HIS MARK (March 1, 1986)
King Kong Bundy dispatched of lower-level opponent Steve Gatorwolf (nice name, though) in under one minute, and then declared that he wanted Hogan’s championship. Immediately after the squash, Hogan defended the title against Don Muraco, managed by Bobby Heenan instead of a purportedly-ill Mr. Fuji. Heenan, of course, was primarily Bundy’s manager.
Heenan caused the disqualification, and then Bundy ran in, unleashing an assault on Hogan that consisted of three Avalanches, and two splashes on the prone champion. To build the lure of WrestleMania II, Hogan sold injured ribs as a result of the incident, and for the first time in his two-plus year World Title reign, it seemed as though Hulk was vulnerable.
3. HEEL VS. HEEL (November 29, 1986)
Macho Man Randy Savage was the company’s most interesting villain, and his Intercontinental Title reign reflected his higher card status. Jake “The Snake” Roberts just concluded a violent feud with Ricky Steamboat, and established himself among a swelling WWE pack. The two were pitted against each other for the title, with a surprising result.
Vince McMahon declared that fans would probably cheer the flamboyant Savage over the icy Roberts, but he and Jesse Ventura expressed surprise as the Los Angeles crowd cheered loudly for Jake. The two worked to out-heel and out-cheat one another before this slice of something different ended in a double-DQ, and a face turn for Roberts was drawing close.
2. HULKA-PLEX (May 27, 1989)
And they say Hogan didn’t bump. While your favorite springboardin’, rope-clearing daredevils put it all on the line with without any regard, there’s Hogan mechanically running through his safe moveset, while making the big bucks. Not such a bad thing, is it? In fact, when Hogan *did* take a risk, I’d argue it meant that much more. Like this particular cage match stunt.
Hogan was defending his regained WWE Championship against the Big Bossman within that Blue Bar Cage, and it seemed the hefty prison guard was safely on his way to escaping. Hulk climbed the cage, dragged Bossman to the apex and then (off the top rope, not the cage itself) superplexed Bossman back into the ring in a visual that’s still impressive today.
1. THE MANIA MEETS THE MADNESS (October 3, 1987)
Macho Man Randy Savage was centimeters away from regaining his Intercontinental Title from the Honky Tonk Man when the Hart Foundaton broke up the pin for the DQ. Afterward, the trio engaged a beatdown of Savage, but Miss Elizabeth intervened as Honky went for a crowning guitar shot. Honky then threw her down, drawing shocked gasps from everyone.
Elizabeth fled to the back as Honky landed the six-stringed smash, but wrestling’s first lady returned with a somewhat perplexed Hulk Hogan. Hogan saw the three-on-one, and then hit the ring, helping clear Jimmy Hart’s clients from the fray. Savage was reluctant to express gratitude, but finally did to Hulk, kicking off the Mega Powers with the famous handshake.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
WWE The Paul Heyman Story
WWE: The Greatest Wrestling Stars of the ’80s
Grab discounted WWE DVDs, merchandise, t -shirts, figures, and more from the WWE Shop on Amazon.com