Building an Empire: 1986

Following the relative success of Wrestlemania 1, the WWF decided to make it an annual event with the 2nd running in three different venues. Their PPV calendar was rounded out this year with another show in August dubbed ‘The Big Event’ which was staged across the border in Toronto.

The Dream Team (c) vs The British Bulldogs for the WWF Tag Team Titles (Wrestlemania 2)

You could probably not get a less rock and roll suit than the peace one that Ozzie Osbourne wears to the ring to accompany The Bulldogs to the ring, though I guess the rock and roll aspect is wearing that without giving a shit. The Dream Team at this point have had the belts for around eight months, winning off of the US Express (who had themselves gained retribution over the team of The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff from Wrestlemania in regaining the titles).

Without a doubt, nothing legitimised Brutus Beefcake like being in a team with Greg Valentine. Sure, he had more popular times during his face run in the WWF, but Beefcake always looked good with Valentine, as he only ever had to get in, hit his stuff, and get out. With his experience, Valentine takes the opening exchanges, which see him worked over by Bulldog and Dynamite (Dynamite looking huge, Bulldog a shadow of the size he would soon become). An elbow to the back of the head of Smith upon the attempt of a backbody drop shows Valentine’s ring nous and allows Beefcake to enter the ring. In the initial stages, even Beefcake can’t keep the Bulldogs under control, as Smith throws him with a gorilla press slam. It takes a blind tag to Valentine, and the subsequent top rope elbow, to give the champs some breathing room.

Strangely enough, this just leads to further Bulldogs’ offense. Each time it appears as if the champions have some momentum, it is broken up by the challengers. Even after a Valentine piledriver on Dynamite, thirty seconds later sees Dynamite launching Valentine off of the top rope. We even get an early airing of the Smith’s running powerslam – a two count being all it got him. When we finally get to see the heel have some prolonged advantage, it barely lasts two minutes. Within that time, we do see Smith, in trying to reverse a chicken wing style lock, get thrown viciously into the mat by Beefcake, and also eat a shoulderbreaker. In classic heel style, Valentine isn’t happy with that, and pulls Smith up at two. Then, out of nowhere, Smith rams Valentine into Dynamite (who was scaling the turnbuckles) and gets the three count to give us new WWF Tag Team Champions!

What really stood out on this second watch (I’d seen it years before) was how little offense the tag champs got, and how little Beefcake was in the ring. It felt like a lesser match than I had built it up to be, as there was never really that sense of peril on the face side that makes a truly great match. Better than the offerings at Wrestlemania, but that arguably isn’t saying a lot.

The Funk Brothers vs Junkyard Dog and Tito Santana (Wrestlemania 2)

This is a perfect example of a match that completely passed me by for many a year. Until I saw this list, I didn’t even know it existed. On paper, it excites me though. JYD may be the weakest aspect, but even he is hugely over with the crowd with a limited but successful repetoire – the other three names more than make this worth a look.

Sometimes, it is a real shame that Terry Funk never had more of a prolonged run in the WWF. Whilst not having this on his resume doesn’t negate his place as a wrestling legend, it just means that his career isn’t revered the way it arguably should be within the WWE-centric wrestling history. The way that Funk was able to change up his style and persona depending on who and where he was wrestling was always golden, and we see his goofier side in the early stages of this match; Funk has never been afraid to look stupid if it gets someone over. Falling over the top rope into the ring eventually leads to him being clotheslined out of the ring as the faces have the early success. The faces almost pick up the victory with a Santana flying forearm, though Terry is quick to break it up for a two count.

A knee to the back in the middle of a criss-cross has Santana play the obvious face in peril. Even Jimmy Hart gets involved, putting the boots to Santana as he tries to gather his senses on the floor. There is nothing pretty about the Funk offense – punches and kicks are the order of the day. Dory is a fair bit more technical, a nice butterfly suplex followed up with a European uppercut. Inevitably, it is Terry’s exuberance that allows the face team back into the match – a missed elbow drop is shortly followed by Santana using his speed to outwit Funk and make the big tag.

Up until this point, the match is incredibly fun, as you would expect from the names in the ring. Unfortunately, it does feel like it breaks down at this point. The finish sees JYD laid out with a megaphone shot from Terry Funk, but at times it feels as if they are waiting around to get into position for that spot, or that someone potentially missed their cue for the spot so they need to work on the fly and it doesn’t quite mesh. We do see JYD slam Terry Funk onto a table (why no DQ?) for the earliest use of a table that I’m aware of in wrestling, but the finishing stretch does let it down a little. Well worth a watch though, if only to see Terry Funk do what Terry Funk does.

Jake Roberts vs Ricky Steamboat in a Snake Pit Match (The Big Event)

For a match that reads as good as this on paper, it feels like a bit of a let down. Naturally, it has its moments which are emminently watchable because anything with Roberts and Steamboat is always going to have its moments, but it doesn’t feel like it has enough hate for a No-DQ match. When Greg Valentine and Roddy Piper were blasting lumps out of each other in the NWA in 1983, it just feels that this match needed something more to warrant the requirement of a No-DQ match.

The match picks up when it does begin to break down and move away from its conventional roots. Roberts takes Steamboat to the outside and drops several knees across his throat, before launching Steamboat into the ring post with a slingshot. This busts Steamboat open, which at least feels like it gives a nod to the seriousness of the feud. Roberts brings the hate, but the fans do pop big time for any suggestion of the DDT – it isn’t too surprising that the WWF decided to turn him face later on in this run.

The ending doesn’t feel as conclusive as it maybe should be due to the gimmick match nature, but I can only assume it was being left open ended for future matches down the line. A lazy Roberts cover sees Steamboat shoot up his legs to roll Roberts up in a pinfall for the three count. In some ways, I hope it does lead to more matches, as it doesn’t feel like this is sufficient to truly end the feud. Perfectly acceptable wrestling, but you are just left wanting more.

The Dream Team vs The Fabulous Rougeaus (The Big Event)

This is a perfect example of how a referee can truly ruin a match. The Rougeaus are on home soil against the heel team of Valentine and Beefcake, but as soon as the match begins to develop into something resembling a structured bout, the momentum is killed by a sequence of slow counts that don’t allow the match to create enough tension to make it enjoyable. This is a shame because you do have the component parts of what could be a very enjoyable tag team match.

In the early going, there is a little bit too much back and forth and the match takes a while to settle down into a more obvious structure. Indeed, it is only after an assisted flip senton off of the top rope by the Rougeaus gets a near fall that we see the expected heat segment by the Dream Team following an attack at ringside. The Rougeaus offence is a little unpredictable, with the senton following a mule/superkick, flying elbow and vertical splash in the opening minutes. With Raymond playing face in peril, Beefcake is much more involved in this match, though he does feel stiff and awkward when compared to the other men in the ring at times.

Even the finish is poorly executed. A figure four by Valentine is broken up by Raymond then sees it eventually applied by Valentine. During the confusion of the men entering the ring to break the hold, Raymond hits a sunset flip and the ref counts to three even though he is clearly the illegal man in this situation. The only real positive is that the Canadians won on home soil, though the pop for the Rougeaus throughout the match isn’t exactly vociferous.

Hulk Hogan vs Paul Orndorff (The Big Event)

This is a good main event – simple as that really. Sure, it does Hogan formula 101 without much deviation, but as he stands opposite Orndorff in this match, it feels better than some of the other slow, methodical messes he would churn out over the course of his many years on top. Orndorff always feels like a legitimate contender, and from before the opening bell, where he attacks Hogan, he feels like he has a real chance of taking home the gold.

For someone considered a power wrestler, Hogan’s offense isn’t that powerful – when fighting back early on, he relies solely on kicks, strikes and an atomic drop. Considering his size, his offense looks woefully inept compared to Orndorff, as we see when Orndorff cuts off Hogan as he is attempting to attack Bobby Heenan at ringside. A suplex on the ringside floor shows Orndorff’s power, as does a back suplex towards the tail end of the contest. Elbows to the throat whilst Hogan is prone on the edge of the apron and a nose bite also show that Orndorff is up for this fight and ready to be champion by any means necessary.

A blocked piledriver attempt is eventually followed by a ref bump, and as Hogan goes for his own piledriver, Heenan hits Hogan from behind with what appears to be the title belt (I’ll be honest, it was a little difficult to tell on the video I have). With Hogan out, Orndorff goes for the pin, only for the referee to DQ him and award the match to Hogan. Clearly, this feud is far from over…though a Giant does loom large in Hogan’s immediate future that might change this course.

That’s 1986 in a nutshell. In 1987, we see the biggest Wrestlemania yet with the first true classic, whilst the WWF add another yearly PPV tradition around Thanksgiving to continue to build upon the success of their first PPV.

Any comments, questions, thoughts or concerns, please do comment below and I will endeavour to get back to you.

 

 

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