With no Mid-South or Continental this week, I have what will arguably be one of my lighter weeks in terms of my 1986 project. This week, we have the pleasures of Memphis, WWF and NWA. This section will see Dundee shouldering the Memphis load and a mix of the sublime and the ridiculous in WWF squash matches.
Memphis Wrestling TV 18.01.1986
With Jerry Lawler still absent, Bill Dundee is the big name and character who is there to carry the Monday shows as well as the TV spots. As if to further highlight this, he is due in the ring first, but we are instead treated to footage of him match vs Big Red from the Coliseum, as Dundee refuses to wrestle Jim Jamison. The match between Dundee is awful, though we do get commentary from Dundee, Buddy Landell and Dutch Mantell. Due to the size of Red, a lot of whale comparisons are forthcoming, whilst Dundee discusses having Britt Ekland and Farrah Fawcett in contact with the lot of them. After a lot of punching and Red ‘Hulking up’, it takes a chain (given by Mantell) following a ref bump to vanquish the bigger man. An awful way to showcase what Dundee is capable of, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it sold well.
The first match in the actual studio sees The Invader go against Billy Travis. I like Memphis and their propensity of putting random men under masked gimmicks to act as jobbers. Travis as a face rather than a heel is an interesting proposition, and he actually has some sound and interesting moves in his repertoire, even if his gimmick/character isn’t really anything to shout home about. A nasty looking back suplex from a headlock stands out, whilst his knee is deployed in a knee drop and in the back of the Invader in a chinlock. A rib breaker leaves the Invader in good position for a Vader-style second rope splash. Travis has some way to go, but is an interesting watch for sure.
We see footage from the Coliseum as The Blade Runners took on Billy Travis and Phil Hickerson – a match ending in a DQ as much to allow The Spoiler to come in and save Hickerson, his old partner.
Speaking of masked jobbers, The Raiders go up against Tojo Yamamoto and Dirty Rhodes. Rhodes is an uninteresting take on Dusty Rhodes, whilst Yamamoto feels akin to Mr Fuji’s current attempts to step in the ring in WWF. Still, they are against a team I’ll probably never see again, so they are probably pretty safe. After some Dusty-aping, Tojo gets in the ring and uses chop after chop after chop after chop to work over the Raiders. The odd toe kick is thrown in for good measure, to be fair. In an unsurprising finish, Rhodes hits an elbow and an elbow drop for the three count. Just a horrible attempt to get something out of a popular gimmick elsewhere.
A sign of the times in the next segment saw people given the chance to write in and win a date with The Fantastics. Buddly Landell interrupts, poster of himself in hand, and gives the same offer. A segment that is very much of its time.
The hairiest man in Memphis, Dutch Mantell, goes against Kevin McQueen, and is initially in a little difficulty after McQueen uses two snap throws and locks him in an arm wringer. This only seems to annoy him, as he cracks him with a knee to the gut to wrest control away. Like Travis, his offense is knee heavy, and he quickly dumps McQueen with the suplex facebuster for the three count. No messing around for Mantell.
Having already peddled his wares at ringside for the lovely ladies, Buddy Landell returns to fight David Johnson. Landell is another wrestler that doesn’t give his opponents anything in squash matches, and following some preening, is ruthless in defeating Johnson. He uses his forearm to rake the face during several holds, and hits a good looking dropkick to show his versatility. A slam, a snap elbow and a figure four is all she wrote for Johnson.
Before the main event, we get to see some of the local promotional material – it seems they are building to Bill Dundee vs Steve Keirn. It can’t be any worse than Bill Dundee vs Big Red, that is for sure…
I was excited in theory by the main event, as Tony Faulk and Pat Rose were due to tag with the Sheepherders, only for it to turn out to be Jonathan Boyd and Rip Morgan – not who I expected. The face team were Rick Casey, Koko Ware and The Fantastics. Due to the short time allotted to this match, it was very much about each face getting in the ring quickly to hit a move or two before tagging out. The Fantastics were arguably the star of the show, hitting neat offense such as a flip over arm drag and a crossbody, before collecting the only pinfall (my understanding being that the match as until close of show, so could have gone for more than one fall) with a slam and a splash off of the second rope combo. The main highlight was a swift rendition of Waltzing Matilda as the faces joined the heels at ringside, which came a little out of nowhere. Beautiful.
WWF Wrestling Challenge 18.01.1986
Adding to their tandem from the end of the previous show, Ricky Steamboat and King Tonga team with Junkyard Dog to open the show against Barry O, Mr X. and Joe Mirdot. It is odd that, even within squash matches, some wrestlers consistently fit certain roles, and Steamboat is again happy to be worked over by the heels to gain some heat for the match. The constant interruption by the face partners with minimal reprimand from the ref or interest from the crowd does just make this feel incredibly awkward. A King Tonga savate kick on a reversed Irish Whip (Tonga being on the apron at this time) allows Steamboat to tag out, Junkyard Dog to hit a headbutt and the face team to win out of nowhere. A very over face team, if nothing else, further proved as JYD invites a child into the ring to dance.
At times, there are segments I might have glossed over for editorial reasons, but it is worth noting how awful Lord Alfred Hayes is during his ‘Special Updates’. He talks as if is reading an autocue that has words he can sound out, but doesn’t understand the meaning of. On top of this, we are shown footage of George Steele resting his head on Elizabeth’s arm whilst the Macho Man jaws with a fan at ringside – great journalistic work, Alfred.
Our next showcase is of a man dubbed ‘The World’s Strongest Human Being’ by Vince McMahon. As if to prove it, we get footage of him breaking the world benchpress record, and that is Ted Arcidi. He goes one on one against Joe Williams and it is naturally a chance to show off Arcidi’s strength. He doesn’t do too bad when it involves Williams running into him and bouncing off, but when it actually comes to power moves, Arcidi is decidedly ropey. His press slam is poor and he drops Williams awkwardly, whilst his match winning powerslam looks like it is about to plant Williams on his head at one point. It almost seemed as if Arcidi was winded by the end, thus the struggle to hit the move. Uninspiring.
In a move that saved me time and probably bored many of the viewers, they deemed it worthwhile to show the Peace Match from Saturday Night’s Main Event once again. Lucky me.
The new look Adrian Adonis got trotted out in a match against Jim Powers. Adonis is HATED by the fans in attendance, though it still does feel a waste of a gimmick for a guy like him. To be fair, he plays it well, sauntering effeminately around the ring. With Powers hitting two quick arm drags, the old Adonis seems to kick in, as he roughhouses his opponent, dropping him on the top rope throat first and landing a vicious neckbreaker. An even more impactful DDT gives Adonis his victory – gimmick or not, I do love me some Adonis. Everything feels legit.
Following a Piper’s Pit with Hercules stating that he feels he is lacking in competition, we get another wrestler who makes things look legit in Bret Hart, as he goes one on one with Don Driggers. Vince contradicts himself immediately by suggesting Bret Hart isn’t underrated, but is the most underrated wrestler in the WWF…hmm. Hart, as always, has a lot of snap to all his offense, and even shows some brutality by sending Diggers to the outside and slamming him on the concrete floor. A headbutt and an elbow drop have a lot of impact, and Hart finishes the match with a backbreaker and a second rope elbow drop. Hart lays in a couple of extra stomps for good measure after the three count.
A legitimate ‘eugh’ escaped my mouth as I saw the face team in the final match of the evening. With Rick Hunter and Ron Shaw in the ring, Dan Spivey and Corporal Kirchner head down the aisle and the crowd go mild. Spivey isn’t horrific, but I just don’t care about Kirchner. The wrestling on offer feels even weirder, as Spivey tries to wrestle like a man half of his size, whiffing on a dropkick and landing a couple of falling-style armdrags. Spivey even tries to show his technical chops by holding onto an armlock even as Shaw dropped him with a slam. Kirchner’s offense isn’t much better – a jumping headbutt followed by a clothesline which has Kirchner falling oddly upon impact. One tag later, a Spivey bulldog gives them the victory. Just a team that inspires nothing but apathy in me as a wrestling fan.
The big angle being pushed this week is Roddy Piper vs Bruno Sammartino in a Cage Match at the Boston Gardens. For a feud I never knew existed, it seems to have had reasonable shelf life, especially considering Sammartino’s semi-retirement from the ring.
As always, I hope you enjoyed reading A Wrestling Year, and please do comment on what you think about the wrestlers, angles and promotions as I chug my way through 1986. Join me next time for some more NWA action.