By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor
Hello again Bruthas and Sistas, and welcome back, after a brief hiatus, to our little wrestling history class. We’re only one episode to the finish, and the electricity of our going home is almost as palpable as was the vibrance in the air during the time in the WWF that we will be headed into today. We have left the first Survivor Series behind us, and have only begun to see how Vince McMahon and the implementation of his vision for the future will change the course of the company, and in turn, the business. The months that followed the SS still echo the tremors of it’s seismic proportions, and upheaval that was left in it’s aftermath.
The success of the Survivor Series was, in large part, due to some of the great tag team work that been happening leading up to that event with several teams that had emerged onto the scene prior to the event, and still more filtered in after. This was the “Golden Age” of tag team wrestling in the business, and the WWF produced its fare share of talents by creating them there, or putting a new shine on old pairings that had drawn money elsewhere. Whichever the case, Vince Jr. always had the roving eye for a new idea to try out.
“Super Destroyer” Bill Eadie and “Krusher Kruschev” Barry Darsow had found success in their territorial fairings before reaching the WWE in 1987, but once they were put together, and clad in the executioner’s garb of faceless inflictors of pain and destruction, they started to take off in the company. What many saw as a the company’s solution to the Road Warriors, who wouldn’t show up for a few years to come, Demolition were the essence of ground and pound wrestling. It wasn’t long after their arrival , that they would get their first run with the Tag Team gold.
There were other tag teams of note also making names for themselves during this peak time as well. The Fabulous Rogeaus and Young Stallions, Roma and Powers, were tearing up the ranks with their fast paced style, and hunger for success. Real life brothers Jacques and Raymond had been wrestling together since the Seventies in Montreal, at their family promotion. They had worked previously with the Harts and the Bulldogs as well during their time in Canada, but it was rivalry, and dislike between Jacques and Dynamite Kid, spurned on by a Curt Henning rib, that came to blows on two separate occasions, with Dynamite losing several teeth to a roll of quarters delivered in a straight punch to the face by Jacques. There was some concern going into the Survivor Series match that things would go off book and the teams would take their aggressions out in the ring, but they kept it professional and handled their business behind the curtain. I will try to find video of them talking about the incident for this article.
The team of Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov, known as the Bolsheviks, were formed in early January, 1988 and they would last together for nearly three years. The men were put together after Volkoff’s longtime partner, the Iron Sheik, was released from company. Zhukov was brought in after a successful run in the AWA, which included Tag Team gold there as a Russian heel. The pair seemed a natural fit and they drew heat together as the Bolsheviks through the end of the Reagan 80’s. They made their debut in Maryland on Saturday Night’s Main Event in a match against the Champs, Strike Force, but were served up the loss.
It wasn’t just the men that were taking their tag team pushes to the limit. As I’ve stated before, leading up to this point, the feud that developed out of Survivor Series between the Glamour Girls and Jumping Bomb Angels became the stuff of women’s wrestling lore and gave us some of the best matches of that time, male or female. These womens matches hold up to the test of time and are just as exciting to watch today as when they worked them 30 years ago. They two teams chased each other all over the globe, competing for the WWF Womens Tag Titles. The Angels were no strangers to the feel of gold around their waist as they were coming off a reign with the WWWA Tag belts that they had taken off the team of Bull Nakano and Condor Saito two years earlier in Japan. They dropped those titles Crush Gals only a year before making their WWF debut at the 1987 SS. They were given a title shot at Kai and Martin , which was to be at the next big event on the yearly calendar.
The WWF was about to roll out its newest brainchild in January. It was the idea of Pat Patterson and the third in their major pay-per-view endeavors that would become a yearly staple, even though the first one was aired publicly on the USA Network. The Royal Rumble has always been my favorite event of the year, simply because of its nod to the big battle royals of old, but it had that unique addition to the concept by Patterson to have the combatants come to the ring in intervals, and not all at one time. Genius in the simplicity of it, but also plays out on that grand scale of surprise and shock, as you see your favorites enter and get thrown out with an irregularity that just isn’t found in the traditional fare.
The lights fell that January the 24th, in Hamilton, Ontario and the Copps Coliseum became the place where the Royal Rumble was born. It has seen small changes over the years to the time frame, line-up size, and the booking of the match itself on the card, whether it went on as the main or semi-main event, but it maintains itself as the pay-per-view that sets the tone for the year and signals the march down the “Road to Wrestlemania”, with its winner getting the chance at the championship in the main event of Mania. This too has evolved to include either title of the Rumble winners choosing.
The first Rumble had the only singles match of the night, with Ricky Steamboat going toe to toe with Rick Rude to jerk the curtain, and get the people excitedly on their feet for the show to come. The Jumping Bomb Angels followed after in their quest for the gold held by the Glamour Girls. The two teams electrified the crowd even further with their hard hitting, fast paced style. The cheating ways of the heels GGs could not save them this night however, and the Bomb Angels took the WWF titles from them, in what many considered an upset.
The Rumble went on third that evening with most of the superstars of the day being involved, tag team members included, There weren’t any legacy call backs or old school guys as special entrants. It was a pure Rumble, with everyone working the entire match and not just laying around like lumps watching the high spots like they do today. It has become a farce of its inception, but I still love it because of what it represents in the history of it all. Hacksaw Jim Duggan rode the wave of his recent popularity with the fans to cinch the victory from the One Man Gang in the end. The match itself only held twenty participants, entering at two minute intervals. Bret Hart and Tito Santana started the match, with Duggan entering at number 13. He took the win at the thirty three minute mark when he survived the pair of Dino Bravo and One Man Gang, putting Gang out last.
The main event saw a two out of three falls match, that in this writer’s opinion should have went on before the Rumble match, between the Islanders and the Young Stallions. It was a good match, and I’m not discounting it anymore than in the the sense that it wasn’t bigger than the advertised headliner match. The Islanders shut down Powers and Roma in two consecutive falls, which further lends credence that is should have been third on the card and not the show-ender.
One more thing that I want to touch on that happened that night was the contract signing between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant for their much anticipated Wrestlemania rematch, which was set to be held at yet another of McMahon’s idealized, super-hyped extravaganzas. Vince was delivering the flurry of punches to the faces and pocketbooks of his competitors like the Sumo character on the old Street Fighter game One after another, since the successes of Wrestlemanias I, II, III, he had levied the blows against them, while growing and expanding like the blob, overtaking everything in his path.
The contract signing ended as most due, in a melee, and with Hogan splattered thru the table by Andre, while Heenan and Dibiase looked on. All the major players that would be involved in that angle were not working the Rumble, other than this spot we’ve covered, with Savage left completely off the card all together. Whatever the reasoning, the near eighteen thousand in attendance got one Helluva show, and I would recommend looking it up.
The Main Event was to be the next milestone event for the WWF, and it was set to be held in Indianapolis at the Market Square Arena. McMahon had used the star power and pop culture magnetism now associated with the company, as well as his success in the late night time-slot to secure a spot on NBC prime-time TV on Friday evening. While Vince had an amazing show lined up for the sixty minute television broadcast, he also had a solid show booked ahead of the triple main event that included matches between the Islanders and Bulldogs, Jake Roberts and Harley Race, as well as the Ultimate Warrior facing Sika, the Wild Samoan. It was the triple main event that the nation tuned in for though, with all the company’s Title belts in contention.
The match that went on last, but the one we will talk mention first was Strike Force retaining their Tag Titles when they beat the Hart Foundation and put an end to the feud that they were in with the Canadians. The Intercontinental Title, held then by the Honky Tonk Man was also to be defended against the Macho Man with Miss Elizabeth at his side. HTM was six months into his record-making run with the belt, and continuing his war against Savage, which had a two fold effect in turning the Macho Man into a babyface. It was this storyline that gave birth to the Mega-Powers, and by having Savage beat HTM is kept that hot, as well as showed that Savage could beat him for the title, which he did that night at the Rumble. The count-out win kept the belt on Honky, and allowed Savage to take that step towards the title win down the road, and eventual ramping up of the Mega-Powers angle.
Vince had such a broad idea for this angle, and the foresight to listen to his advisors in order to see it to fruition. The match between Hogan and Andre was crucial to making Andre and DiBiase the hated heels that he needed to push Savage over that tipping point with the fans. As we all know, Hogan lost his title to Andre that night after a dirty deal with twin Hebners referees. Andre immediately turned the title over to DiBiase and solidified their collusionary ways and showing that DiBiase would stop at nothing to get that title and that it, and everyone, even the revered, beloved Andre the Giant, did indeed, have a price.
Savage took up the hunt for the title, and Dibiase, in the next month and had a match with him on March 12 at the SNME in Nashville. Andre and Virgil was in his corner and when they took advantage of Savage at the end of the match it was Elizabeth that once again ran to get Hogan to help her fallen man, and his partner. It was during this time that WWF Commissioner Jack Tunney declared the title vacated due to the way that DiBiase had come into possession of it. All the pieces were in place for the announcement of the card for Mania IV.
Just prior to the biggest event of the year, another worker entered the company that made a big impact in the short time he was there, even though it wasn’t the first time he had made his way through the NYC territory. Born in New York, in October of 1943, Allen Coage had called both Burroughs of Harlem and Queens home. He learned he was going to have to use his fists early on, and started his judo training at fifteen. Coage went into the AAU tournaments and won the heavyweight judo division in 1966, ’68, ’69, ’70, and ’75, as well as competing in the Pan American Games, and won the gold medals in that division there in 1967 and ’75. He lived in Japan for a few years and studied martial arts and would have made the 1972 Olympic team if had not been for a knee injury that kept him out of the trials. He did capture the bronze at the 1976 Summer Games however. Needless to say, he was a legitimate badass, that could hand you your teeth before you knew you had been hit. He took to wrestling at NJPW the following year, and then worked his way to Calgary with a brief stop in the old WWWF.
With a name change to Bad News Allen, he made the frozen north his home until showing up in the new Jr. ran WWF in March of 1988. He dropped the Allen for Brown, and the man that would terrorize the heavyweight ranks for almost two years was born. Bad News Brown had arrived to claim what he thought was his, which meant anything he decided he wanted, including the World Heavyweight title.
Wrestlemania was the next stop in the whirlwind that they were all living at that time, and the card had been designed after the old Wrestling Classic archetype, with a fourteen man tournament to decide the winner of the vacant WWF Heavyweight Title. The venue was the Atlantic City Convention Hall, and the date had been set for March 27. Hogan, Andre, DiBiase, Savage, and a host of other stars were all in the tournament, and a definitive champion would be crowned at the end of the night.
Hogan and Andre got a bye in the first round and when they did meet each other they fought to a double disqualification. This opened the door to signal that Macho Man was getting the title. I wanted to see DiBiase get it after Andre went out, because….heel, but I would have loved to see Greg Valentine win also, but he was put out by Savage in their quarterfinal round match. Savage then had to overcome the One Man Gang, only to go to face DiBiase in the final match, who had gotten a bye when Hogan and Andre went out with the DDQ. DiBiase fought a much easier road, and that led the fans even more to get behind the newly turned good guy, and Elizabeth’s new devoted man. Savage overcame all the adversities, to pop the top off of the arena, and take home the WWF gold.
It was a great Mania and one of my favorites still. The Demolition took the Tag Titles off of Strike Force, Bad News Brown won the battle royal, and Brutus Beefcake beat the HTM by DQ for the Intercontinental Title, but failed to unseat the Champ. The Ultimate Warrior also defeated Hercules in a special chain match. Vince was only getting started as he now had the Championship team of the fan favorite Mega-Powers, and his evil heel team of the Mega-Bucks. The summer that followed would be the hottest one for the company in sales in many years. The sales of Mania IV was finally enough to put under his Southern competition and ended the battle with Jim Crockett Promotions. But as we have learned, every time Vince crushes his opposition, there is always another battle to be waged. JCP sold to Ted Turner, and Time Warner, who then launched his own WCW promotion. The path to the Monday Night Wars was in motion, but Vince had bigger fish to fry at that moment.
Savage’s first major title defense came a month later at the SNME in Springfield, Mass. He defeated the One Man Gang, and had one of the best small man versus a big guy that I’ve ever seen. Savage could tell a story with anyone in that ring, but he worked so well when he was the undersized man in the match. This would be the only SNME until October of that year.
There were a few other men that made their way there that I would like to talk about who showed up at this time. After Vince put JCP under there were a few workers that made their way through to the company, and a pair from Minnesota that joined the tag team denizens that were stealing shows everywhere they went.
Ray Traylor had been working in the Carolinas as the bodyguard to Jim Cornette, and using the name Big Bubba Rogers. He worked through the UWF under Watts, and spent time overseas in All Japan Pro-Wrestling as well where he found success teaming with Bruiser Brody. It was in June of 1988 that he arrived in the WWF and used his real life background as a corrections officer to create the Big Bossman character. He was immediately paired with Slick as his manager and he set to bringing his own brand of justice to the superstars there.
The team of Barbarian and Warlord also made their way to the WWF from JCP. The Powers of Pain had their first match against Demolition, which set the tone for their tenure there. Originally billed as babyfaces, and managed by a revenge seeking Tito Santana, they were set against the tag team champs in retribution for taking the titles from Strike Force. It seemed an odd way to introduce a natural heel team as good guys.
That same June evening another tag team debuted, but country with the “B” unit that was on the other side of the country. Vince kept two to three sets of touring workers going in different parts of the US all the time. The Minnesota pair had just wrapped up a successful run in the AWA, and headed to the big stage to make their marks. They worked the tag team ranks for the rest of that Summer and into the Fall before they got their first big pay-per-view showing. We’ll catch back up with them at the Survivor Series in November of ’88.
That July, another wrestler came to the WWF, but took until the Fall to fully mature his character to the pay-per-view level. A good hand in the ring, and natural babyface, with his good looks and fan appeal, Terry Taylor got his start in the NWA in early 1980. He won the NWA Junior Heavyweight Title a year later and continued to win titles wherever he went, which included Mid-South, the UWF, and the WCCW. He took the Texas Heavyweight Championship not long after his arrival, and held the Tag Team Titles for a short while as well. After he left Texas he looked to the big city to make his next impact, but it didn’t go quite as he planned, but he did find fame. He too made his pay-per-view at the Survivor Series that fall, but worked several matches in both the singles and tag team ranks.
The Glamour Girls regained their titles from the Bomb Angels that June in a match that was held in Japan. The titles that the GG held were deactivated in 1989. This marked the last title change for the WWF Women’s Tag Team Championships for nearly thirty years, until its most recent incarnation. I guess if your’e going to go out, may as well go out on top, and that’s where those matches put those belts in 1988.
The WWF rolled out the last of the pay-per-views that would make up the four cornerstone events of their calendar year. Many believe that the creation of the Summer Slam event was a direct blow against the newly formed WCW organization, and it’s Great American Bash event that drew big numbers for them in the Summer season, which the WWF had no real stronghold on. He had done the same thing with the other three of the big four, and it’s seems to be the case here as well. Vince changed all that on August 29, when he launched the inaugural showing from his home turf of Madison Square Garden, in New York City.
McMahon lined up ten solid matches, with one of it’s hottest storylines having originated at a house show we attended in Cape Girardeau, Missouri that saw Rick Rude come to blows over with Jake the Snake’s wife in the crowd, which was fueled in the weeks that followed by him wearing the likeness of her on his tights. They generated a ton of heat with that angle and it was the biggest thing on the card for me besides the main event that had the Mega-Powers facing the Mega-Bucks in a tag team match.
The show started with the always unpredictable, but exciting British Bulldogs against their enemies, the Fabulous Rougeaus which went the time limit to no decision. The Powers of Pain met the Bolsheviks and Bad News Brown kept his winning streak going when he put Ken Patera down for the 1-2-3. Demolition retained against the Hart Foundation, and Rick Rude fought JYD to a DQ.
In other action, Big Bossman sent Koko B. Ware through hard time, while the newly minted babyface Jake Roberts won against Hercules. The match that surprised most people was when the Honky Tonk Man met his mystery opponent for the night. He was set to face Brutus Beefcake, but he was put out of commission the week earlier by “Outlaw” Ron Bass. When the music hit, all questions were answered almost as fast as the Ultimate Warrior made it from the curtain and to the ring. he ran all over HTM, and put to an end the longest and greatest IC Championship run in just thirty seconds. Let’s be honest that’s the best kind of match the Warrior could have had with Honk Tonk. He damn sure couldn’tve kept up with any kind of chain wrestling or story telling. It had to be a hit and run, and I personally believe that HTM deserved a better end to his run than that.
The main event had Jesse Ventura as the special guest referee and was an action packed match full of all the venom amongst the men that would would expect after all these many months of a build up. It fell apart into chaos with all men in the ring and Virgil and the Brain constantly to cheat from the outside, while Jesse kept his eyes distracted just enough to be in the Mega-Bucks favor. It was also apparent that when it came time to count the pin that he was slow counting and Hogan grabbed his hand and slammed it to the mat for the final 3 to cinch the win.
Once again Vince had come out on top, and shown that he had not only the star power and production quality, but the team of innovators that it took to bring to the table yet another staple for the WWF, from then until this day. Summer Slam, Survivor Series, have both stepped up beyond their potentials to be bigger events than ever that have garnered their own fan fest weekends much akin to Mania week celebrations each year. They beef up the quarterly numbers for the company, and help drive the product as anchor events that are made into huge spectacles.
We’re going to wrap it up there for this installment of the Wrestling Territories, and our next one will be the last in the series. The Mega-Powers are set on a ticking timer to their certain demise, and a new Intercontinental Champion has far reaches of the galaxy to bring his skewed wisdom to all the little Warriors out there. The Walking Disasters still have the Tag Titles, but the bevy of talented teams in the division will not let them rest, and the hunt for those titles is hotter than ever as we leave the Summer of 1988 behind us.
Thank you, Bruthas and Sistas for joining me on this Territorial quest for knowledge, and always remember, our wrestling history is gold……DIG IT!!!