In one of my earliest articles for the website I talked about LJN WWF Superstars figures and how important Saturday morning wrestling was to me when I was very young. We didn’t have cable at home and my grandmother didn’t have it at her house either, so this meant catching whatever shows WWF played in my area, namely WWF Wrestling Challenge or WWF Superstars. Today I decided to take a closer look at an episode of one of the shows: WWF Wrestling Challenge from April 1987. I’m going to go match by match, but one thing that sticks out as the biggest difference in watching wrestling back then as opposed to now is that I almost never got to see superstars wrestle against one another. Nearly every match on these syndicated shows was a name wrestling against a jobber, so in a lot of ways that was what wrestling was for me. Only on rare occasions on the shows and when an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event aired would I actually get to see two wrestlers who I cared about go up against one another. It says a lot about either WWF’s marketing or a 6 year old’s eagerness to watch any wrestling that this managed to be such a successful format. On to the show.
If you’re interested in watching these matches for yourself, here is the episode:
Bobby the Brain Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon are calling the action. Bobby Heenan is one of the all-time great villains of my childhood. He was so good at making you despise him.
Match #1 features the kind of the jobbers himself, Iron Mike Sharpe! Or as he insists on saying into the microphone prior to the match, “Canada’s greatest athlete.” He’s paired with Al Navarro out of Boston, a jobber who I don’t even vaguely remember. They’re facing off against the Islanders, Haku and Tama. Haku was a wrestler who I hated because he was a heel so I was supposed to, plus he always seemed invincible in tag team matches. I didn’t remember Tama too well, and was blown away to discover that he’s Rikishi’s twin brother. Sorry to spoil it in the image above, but Haku and Tama are going to emerge victorious today.
The best thing that can be said about the team of Sharpe and Navarro is that they weren’t forced to completely roll over. Thanks to the esteemed position that Iron Mike held among jobbers, they got some shots in before inevitably going down. As usual, Sharpe spent his entire time in the ring yelling. I’m pretty sure he only tagged Navarro in because his voice needed a break. Haku and Tama ended this one with the most impressive move we’ll see on the entire episode, a suplex from Haku leading to a splash off the top rope from Tama, who got some serious air. It was a sweet finish.
The next segment was sponsored by WWF Magazine, called “Wrestler’s Rebuttal.” Macho Man made sounds with his mouth that were supposed to be words, but the only intelligible ones were Jack Tunney, Hulk Hogan, and Ricky the Dragon Steamboat. I picked up from context clues that it had something to do with the Intercontinental championship, which Steamboat had just Macho Man for at Wrestlemania III. Jack Tunney was a name that I heard constantly as a child and I had no idea who he was. Also WWF Magazine was the best.
Match #2 was Sifi Avi of “The Isles of Samoa” versus The Honky Tonk Man, with Colonel Jimmy Hart. Full disclosure, I don’t remember Sifi Avi at all. The Internet tells me he later joined The Islanders (the one above, not the hockey team) and now he’s a Christian minister in Ohio. Unless you’re The Rock or John Cena, professional wrestlers have two post career options: premature death or born again Christian.
The Honky Tonk Man was butt. I hated him so much, and I hated that he held the IC title for so long when most of my favorite wrestlers were slated only to compete for the IC. Honky Tonk Man very obviously cannot play a guitar and appears unsure how to even hold one, and after a lackluster match where he emerges victorious Honky Tonk Man treats the crowd to some of his “singing” which is just him poorly lip syncing to the backing track. You sucked so much, Honky Tonk Man.
Oh wait! I almost forgot the highlight of the match. The referee looks like Solomon Grundy from the Legion of Doom!
I’m skipping Mean Gene’s interview with Outback Jack because it was stupid and pointless, so on to Match #3! First masked jobber of the episode, and he’s a legend! Gladiator, from parts unknown, weight unknown, versus Billy Jack Haynes. This match illustrates how incredibly unfair wrestling can be. I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert in wrestling history but The Gladiator was a man named Charles Sprott, who wrestled professionally for more than 30 years, held titles, and faced some of the best in the business. He puts over a nobody with a decent body here in two minutes, running backwards into a full nelson and immediately tapping out. Just a bummer of a match.
The following segment is Dangerous Danny Davis! accompanied by Jimmy Hart. I hated Danny Davis so much. I wasn’t old enough to understand that a lot of the WWF referees were actually wrestlers, so to me this was a corrupt referee joining the bad guys in the Hart Foundation. Plus he was bad on the mic, so everything about this angle was dumb.
Match #4 Sam Cody, out of Reno, Nevada versus Kamala, the Ugandan Giant. Let me dispense with the obvious right away: everything about Kamala’s gimmick is racist as hell. Mr. Fuji’s character is a racist stereotype, and whatever Kim Chee is doing is racist as well (I did not know until now that The Brooklyn Brawler portrayed Kim Chee. Still racist but at least the other greatest jobber in WWF history makes it on the show). Given that I was a little kid I didn’t realize a lot of this at the time, which maybe makes it worse? Anyway, Kamala appears to be wrestling the lead singer of Iron and Wine this week. The match lasts about as long as it should against the guy who covered “Such Great Heights.” In fact, it takes longer to remove all of Kamala’s gear than it does to wrestle the match. James Harris, the wrestler who portrayed Kamala, moved very well for a big man, and he hits two big splashes to end this match, the second one from the top rope. Poor Sam Cody, it’s back to the acoustic guitar for you.
Oh boy, it’s The Snake Pit with Jake the Snake Roberts! Jake starts off with some weird philosophizing which I think was maybe the way he began all of these segments. I hope so, because if it was a choice it makes zero sense given that this segment is a commercial for WWF ice cream bars. Incidentally, they were great! Blackjack Mulligan appears to agree with me, and by the end of the segmercial (I own that portmanteau now) Jake is on board as well.
Match #5 Outlaw Ron Bass, hailing from Houston, Texas versus Joe Mirto from Miami, Florida. That screenshot I grabbed of Mirto makes him look like the world’s beefiest emo boy. This is the second straightforward squash match in a row, and Ron Bass has the saddest finisher yet on this show. It’s worse than Billy Jack Haynes’s full nelson even. Bass Irish whips Mirto into the ropes and elbows him in the face. Sorry, “outlaw elbows” him in the face. Match over. I assume Mirto left the ring, grabbed Sam Cody’s acoustic guitar, and immediately began writing lyrics in his notebook.
Final Match! Jerry Allen of New Haven, Connecticut versus Greg the Hammer Valentine, with Dino Bravo and Luscious Johnny V. Greg Valentine was never one of my favorites. This was the case for a lot of reasons but mainly because he was a bad guy and because he feuded with Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, who was my favorite wrestler. I know now that Brutus was a terrible wrestler and my disdain for other wrestlers should never have been based on an appreciation for him, but children are stupid. Brutus makes a video cameo in this match, which overall wasn’t a bad one. Allen hits a nice dropkick, and he even goes for the pinfall twice. The Hammer obviously prevails, putting Allen in a figure four leg lock so fearsome that the very idea of it causes Allen to tap as soon as its applied. Valentine didn’t even need Bravo to come in and interfere, which you sort of assumed was going to happen since there was no other reason for Bravo to come out with them.
And that’s the show! Mean Gene ends it by interviewing Hart and Danny Davis again for some reason, but I skipped it because who cares. All the non-jobbers won, believe it or not. A couple of the matches even lasted longer than two minutes. This was every one of my Saturday mornings, and it was time well spent.
Were you a fan of 80s and 90s WWF action? Who were your favorites? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.
Danny Davis ripped my childhood apart when he turned. How could a referee, whose job it was to be honest and fair, ever turn evil? It was unthinkable to my young mind.
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I felt the same way