Building an Empire: 1987

Heading into 1987, WWF decided that the popularity of the PPV concept meant that one more could be added to the calendar. Rather than The Wrestling Classic, this would be an annual occurrence, where teams of WWF superstars would battle in the ring and strive to survive! I’ve always been a huge fan of the Survivor Series, and 1987 saw the debut of this (at the time) innovative concept.

Before that, we head to Wrestlemania 3 – a show a few of you might have heard of…

The Hart Foundation and Dangerous Danny Davis vs The British Bulldogs and Tito Santana

This match is not too long after the Dynamite Kid’s injury that would eventually force him into early retirement. The story coming in is that ‘Dangerous’ Danny Davis helped the Harts win their first tag team championship, though in real life, it was to facilitate a period of rehab for Kid. In this match, he looks pretty awful, but is at least moving more than he was capable of during the title loss.

Considering how much of a nothing wrestler Danny Davis was, he is hugely hated by the crowd in attendance for his dastardly deeds. Following initial control by Santana and The Bulldogs after they jumped the Harts at ringside, Davis milks the crowd by tagging in, putting the boots to Dynamite and then tagging straight out, much to the fans’ chagrin.

The match is worked around the build up to the hot tag to Santana (as would be expected considering how good he is in that role). When he gets in, a flying forearm paves the way for a figure four leglock, only for Neidhart to break up Santana’s submission. As the match breaks down, Davey Boy Smith questionably uses a tombstone outside of the finish (maybe it is due to WWF/lucha conditioning, but that should be a finish), before almost getting the victory with a suplex and his patented powerslam. In the melee that followed, Danny Davis is given the megaphone by Hart and clocks Smith for the three count. A fun, quick match, as interesting to watch due to the heel machinations of Danny Davis as anything.

Macho Man Randy Savage (c) vs Ricky Steamboat for the Intercontinental Title

I can’t really say anything that hasn’t already been said about this match. Considering the nature of the WWF marquee matches at this time, it is of little surprise that this match so captured the imagination. The match is conducted at a frenzied pace, there are a ton of nearfalls and George ‘The Animal’ Steele is at ringside – ok, the last part does suck a little, but it definitely doesn’t detract from the action in the ring.

With Steamboat using his deep arm drags to initially throw Macho around the ring, it is when Savage starts to target the throat that we really see him take control. Steamboat has only just returned from the injury Macho dealt him with a blast from the ringbell, and this is the obvious course for Macho’s attack. Indeed, I’ve heard people complain about the lack of hate in this match – if anyone does bring the hate, it is Savage, as he knees Steamboat over the announce table, drops two big axehandles and clotheslines Steamboat throat-first into the rope as he leapt over the top.

The speed of the nearfalls towards the end builds towards the finish, as it really felt like the match could go either way. Both men end up hitting the ring post; Savage off of a slingshot, Steamboat off of a Macho-handful of tights. As the pace continues to ramp up, the referee gets bumped and Savage sees an opportunity to head to the top rope with the ringbell. Steele stops him, pushing him off of the top rope. Savage, attempting a scoop slam, is rolled into a tight cradle by Steamboat for the three count that saw Steamboat become the new Intercontinental Champion. The fact that Steele is involved at the end if a bit of a letdown, but it is a match that truly still holds up today. If you haven’t seen it, go out of your way to see it.

Hulk Hogan (c) vs Andre the Giant for the WWF World Heavyweight Title

In a similar vein to Steamboat/Savage, you can’t look at Wrestlemania 3 without looking at the match between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. Once best of friends, turned bitter enemies by the opportunity to win the gold and be called WWF World Heavyweight Champion. The storyline leading up to this match is just great storytelling, and has been an angle I’ve been able to watch recently. Andre is reinstated off of a suspension at a meeting where he didn’t even show up. Jesse Ventura, outraged by this, spend the next month trying to work out why – the only other knowledge being the attendance of Heenan at the meeting. Whilst Ventura is sleuthing away in the background, we get Piper’s Pit adding layers to the developing story, as Andre gets rewarded for going 15 years unbeaten one week, whilst Hogan gets a (bigger) trophy for three years champion. Eventually, the momentous Piper’s Pit where Andre walks out with Heenan, challenges Hogan to a title match and rips off Hogan’s shirt and necklace in one go – just brilliant.

The match is never going to be a five star classic, but the build up and the anticipation of the crowd in attendance makes it over and above what it has any right to be. We get the ‘phantom three count’ early, where Hogan just about squeezes out of a pinfall after a bodyslam attempt sees Andre land hard on the champion. We get the standard Andre fare of chokes, headbutts and standing on his opponent, with Hogan’s comebacks timed well enough to give the crowd something to bite on, but generally leading to a big Giant chop or strike.

A bear hug sees a big lull in the proceedings, yet it is followed by both men heading to the floor, and Andre headbutting the ringpost! The structure of the match is a little off here, as Hogan (whilst suggesting a piledriver attempt) is poorly back body dropped onto an exposed section of concrete. However, within thirty seconds, Hogan is back in the ring, dropping the big guy with a lariat, the powerslam heard around the world and a leg drop for the three count. Whilst the amount of time spent selling largely matched up with how poorly the move was executed, it did feel like that should have been a bigger spot. In the end, the champ retains, and you should (and probably have) watch this if just for historical significance alone. Do yourself a favour, and try and dig out the angles leading up it also – simple storytelling at its best.

Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, Jake Roberts, Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Brutus Beefcake vs The Honky Tonk Man, Hercules, Dangerous Danny Davis, Harley Race and Ron Bass

The first Survivor Series match on our list and it feels, at least on paper, like it is a weak heel team. Maybe that is the case, or it might just be the strength of the face team, and a weird face team it is at that. You have Steamboat, Savage and Roberts all on the same team following intense fueds in the past year, as well as a face Beefcake, a turn that would coincide with the most popular period of his wrestling career.

Even at this point of his career in the WWF, we already begin to see how well Duggan was protected, as he is the first guy to go out after battling to a double countout with Harley Race. Duggan rarely ate a pinfall, so if he wasn’t going to win, this was always one way of getting him out of there and furthering their current feud. Ron Bass doesn’t last much longer, eating a Beefcake high knee to give the face team the one man advantage. Of the four wrestlers remaining on the face team, you do get the feeling that Beefcake is the most expendable, and he gets planted by a Shake, Rattle and Roll, following a knee in the back from Danny Davis when hitting the ropes.

Even with his involvement in Beefcake’s exit, it does feel that Davis has really fallen since his Wrestlemania peak. Indeed, he isn’t around for the end of the match, Roberts dropping him with the DDT. The heel team, and HTM himself, spent most of the match attempting to keep their captain away from Savage, and it is Hercules who takes up the grunt work. However, when Roberts manages to make a hot tag to Steamboat, the faces make short work of him, finished off with a Savage top rope elbowdrop. HTM does at least get into the ring as if game for the fight, but following a beatdown from all three faces, he decides to take off, losing by countout. The survivors are Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat and Jake Roberts – not surprising when looking at the initial match listings. Practically all of the Survivor Series matches will be worth a watch in my eyes, this one mainly due to the star quality of the face team as much as anything else.

The Killer Bees, Strike Force, The Young Stallions, The British Bulldogs and The Fabulous Rougeaus vs Demoliton, The Hart Foundation, The Islanders, The New Dream Team and The Bolsheviks

As the classic 5-on-5 matches go, none are more lauded than the tag team series matches. When modern WWE has had its issues with booking a compelling tag team division, it is even more surprising to see ten legitimate teams stand across the ring from each other in this match. In terms of star power, I’ve always felt that this one is slightly weaker, but it doesn’t mean that the action lets up for a second.

The Bolsheviks really don’t last long, as Tito Santana nails Zhukov with a flying forearm for the rapid elimination within the first couple of minutes. Considering the relative star power of the teams in the match, it is surprising to see who hangs around to the end – Demolition get eliminated when Smash pushes the referee over (following The Rougeaus elimination following Jacques missed cross body attempt), Santana eats a pinfall after Bret Hart breaks up a pinfall, the Bulldogs go out to a savate kick to Kid by Haku, and the Harts are surprisingly pinned by The Killer Bees after a roll-through by Brunzell following an altercation with Tama.

This leaves The Islanders against The Young Stallions and The Killer Bees (The New Dream Team having been eliminated between The Bulldogs and The Harts; Paul Roma pinning Greg Valentine with a sunset flip). It is clear that this match is as much about pushing some of the younger teams as it is about maintaining the old guard, and it is eventually the team of the Bees and Stallions who come up trumps, following spirited resistance by both Haku and Tama. Surprisingly, the Killer Bees do need to use their ‘mask switch’ gimmick, a move that feels much more like that of a heel team, to enable Blair to hit a sunset flip and pin Tama. An action packed match, and a real window back into the glory days of tag team wrestling. Highly recommended.

Hulk Hogan, Paul Orndorff, Don Muraco, Ken Patera and Bam Bam Bigelow vs Andre the Giant, One Man Gang, King Kong Bundy, Rick Rude and Butch Reed

This is the sort of match that must have looked really exciting on paper when the Survivor Series was first announced. Sure, the face team do look a little bit outmatched, but that was the point – could Hogan pull his team through against a team that was clearly built to destroy Hulkamania? By the end of the match, one Giant stands victorious, but it so nearly could have been the building of a new star in the world of WWF.

It is all about the bulk of the heel team for the most part, as they just overpower the faces following an initial flurry that sees Butch Reed say goodbye following a Hogan legdrop. Patera, a guy who was coming towards the end of his relevance, collided with One Man Gang in a double clothesline that just saw Gang steamroller him straight into a pin. Orndorff and Rude are given time to build their burgeoning feud, until a Bundy-based interference left Orndorff open to a Rude roll-up. Surprisingly, Rude doesn’t last much longer in the match as Muraco takes him out with a powerslam, though I feel that might have been a way to emphasise the focus on the three giant heels. A 747 splash from One Man Gang saw his second elimination of the night, taking out Muraco, and things were beginning to look bleak.

Then, Hogan was eliminated! A surprise at this time, considering how he was booked, but he did go out in a blaze of glory – following Bundy dragging him to the ringside after a flurry of offense on Andre, Hogan slammed both Bundy and One Man Gang, only to fail to beat the ten count. Bigelow, the only surviving member of his team, was forced to go it alone. No-one thought he had a chance, yet as the minutes ticked by, he was able to hold his own. A slingshot over the top rope was enough to take out Bundy, whilst avoiding a 747 splash allowed him to grab a pinfall over One Man Gang. Was he going to be able to get the victory? Even following this 3-on-1 onslaught, Bigelow did well to avoid the Giant for a while, using his quick moves and rolls to stay away from the grasp of the Frenchman. Eventually, however, he was grabbed and dropped with a butterfly suplex; the three count that followed was inevitable. In booking that surprised no-one, Hogan then hit the ring to attack the Giant and pose to end the show. It is a shame when watching this match to consider what Bigelow could have been. By Wrestlemania 4, he was being defeated by One Man Gang by countout in the first round of the Championship tournament and left shortly afterwards. What might have been.

That’s it for 1987. Check out next time to see another big PPV added to the calendar as we are up to three, Wrestlemania IV is incredibly dull, and the Survivor Series continues to showcase the diversity of late 80s WWF. So long, take care.

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