After WrestleMania 2, we come to the other big event for WWF in 1986… The Big Event. Now this was one I never saw as a kid growing up watching the WWF product. It appears that the show was released on Coliseum Video, but I don’t remember my local video store ever having this one. The Big Event took place at Exhibition Stadium, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and, according to Wikipedia, drew a live crowd of 74,000. WWF would allegedly shatter this within a year with WrestleMania 3, but for a short time, this was the most attended show in professional wrestling history. The show was apparently never shown on PPV, but WWE puts this in the PPVs section of the WWE Network so I’ll review it as such. The main draw here appears to be the culmination of the growing Hulk Hogan / Paul Orndorff feud. This feud seemed to largely be promoted on Saturday Night’s Main Event and I’m sure our friend Paul will bring us the build to this event with his SNME recaps. That said, let’s take a look at 1986’s The Big Event.
Turn Heel Retro: The Big Event (1986) Recap
We open with a shot from a helicopter of Toronto and a voice over from Mean Gene Okerlund. In between Okerland’s dialogue, we cut away abruptly to clips from the show that hasn’t happened yet. Interesting choice. Considering this isn’t a live PPV I imagine they had some leeway with this show open. Mean Gene shows us aerial evening footage of the stadium and tells us that Phil Collins and Elton John recently had concerts there. We get a brief run down of the card, some musical fanfare, and some sick 1980s TV graphics.
We’re then sent to the ring with our first match about ready to start. The staging for this show is crazy. It’s a ring in the middle of a sea of humanity. Finkel has cavernous reverb on his ring announcements. Our announce team is Gorilla Monsoon and Johnny Valiant, and Ernie Ladd.
Match #1: Hoss & Jimmy Jack Funk vs. The Killer Bees
This is a serviceable tag match. It’s nothing special but the Killer Bees are insanely over here. I’m not sure if that was a Canada thing or they were the babyfaces in this match and these people are just that psyched to be here. We get some odd camera choices here. They have a shaky hard cam, some handhelds at ringside, and then at one point use a camera about fifteen rows back in the crowd – which isn’t a great perspective. Brunzell from the Bees gets in trouble and rolls out of the ring and we get a weird cut away to the Bees doing their “Bee magic” spot where they’re putting on their masks. The fresh Blair cleans house and then when the ref is distracted, the mask wearing Brunzell sneaks in, plays possum, and gets Jimmy Jack with a small package.
Verdict: Thumbs In The Middle – The Killer Bees are hugely over so this works, but looking back it’s just a basic, by the numbers tag match with the Killer Bees’s gimmick spots added in.
We then abruptly cut to the introductions for the next match. I get the impression there were no promos (maybe a Hogan one later though, I can’t imagine this not having that) and we’re just getting the matches and little else on this stream. Anyway, both Muraco and Tonga get booed here. I assumed that Tonga was a face since he’s not Haku yet, but I guess not.
Match #2: King Tonga vs. The Magnificent Muraco (w/ Mr. Fuji)
So, the big takeaway from this match for the younger generations is that the matches used to have something called a “time limit”. For example, the Women’s Championship match at WrestleMania 2 that lasted all of 90 seconds had a one-hour time limit. This match between Tonga (who they call Haku during commentary so this apparently was right when the name change was happening) and Muraco had a 20 minute time limit. So, essentially, these guys work a 19 minute 45 second match and then decide to go home. Haku does a cross body off the ropes and after the ref counts “1”, the bell rings. I’m not sure if they timed this wrong, or a broadway was the plan all along. But, the official word is this was a time limit draw. Nothing too notable happens here beyond Muraco using a Figure Four and Monsoon saying that he’d never seen Muraco use that hold before. The crowd spends most of the match distracted by something else going on to the right of the ring. I can only imagine with 74,000 people there were at least several drunken brawls happening in the audience.
Verdict: Thumbs Down – The finish sequence seemed sort of sloppy and really not much happens in this match. Both guys look good but it seems a strange choice to do a broadway as one of the first matches on the show between two guys that got booed during their entrances.
Another abrupt cut while Monsoon is still talking about the replay and on to the next match.
Match #3: Tony Garea vs. Ted Arcidi
Ted Arcidi is a meat brick of a man and it’s completely apparent why he is here. He’s the prototype juiced up guy that I’m sure McMahon drooled all over back then. Garea appears to be completely out of his element and besides a drop kick, does not mount much offense. Arcidi spends most of his time in this short match showing off his muscles. He catches Garea off the ropes in a bear hug and Garea submits within a few seconds.
Verdict: Thumbs Down – An awkward squash match and likely an excuse to get one of McMahon’s meat brick guys out there to show off his PED body.
We’re then sent to Mean Gene who was “breaking for a hot dog” but decided to interview Jimmy Hart instead. Hart cuts a promo on Junkyard Dog saying tonight he’s getting even with the Dog. Hart complains about JYD’s obsession with taking Jimmy’s pants off and Adrian Adonis appears and says “it’s time for damage” and they head to the ring. We get to see them walk most of the way, which takes forever at a stadium this size, so I can see why they cut off most of the entrances.
Match #4: Adorable Adrian Adonis (w/ Jimmy Hart) vs. The Junkyard Dog
I get that the Junkyard Dog was insanely over, but I’ve yet to see him have a good match. This is basically a brawl and the ref lets anything happen despite this not being a “no holds barred” match. Dog gets away with using his chain and literally shoves the ref to the mat at one point with no consequences. Jimmy Hart sprays JYD in the face with his perfume and later hits him with the perfume sprayer and it’s all good. Then, with Hart standing on the ring apron, JYD tosses Adonis into Hart and they both spill out of the ring. The bell rings and the ref raises Junkyard Dog’s hand. WTF?
Verdict: Thumbs Down – This match is a complete mess. Even better, the official ruling is that the JYD wins by count out. When, you know, Adonis had been outside the ring for maybe two seconds before the bell rang. WTF. What a disaster.
We’re then sent to a shot of the city with someone, not the announcers, saying “Gotta keep it down kids, keep it down. That wasn’t a good idea”. Okay, then. We then get to see Iron Mike Sharpe (RIP) and the “Rebel” Dick Slater who is draped in a Confederate Flag. Oh boy. Somehow, we’re in Canada, and Sharpe is still the heel here. I haven’t seen a booking mismatch this bad since the Jericho / Swagger match at Roadblock.
Match #5: Iron Mike Sharper vs. The Rebel Dick Slater
One thing I noticed is that Monsoon is allowed to say that Slater is new to the WWF but not new to “the world of wrestling”. Man, it must have been great to not have to pretend all of the new talent coming in to the company never worked anywhere else before. Anyway, this match actually gets a cut away and return for the finish. Sharpe is great doing his loud stalling and complaining about everything to the ref. Slater hits a neck breaker and a side Russian leg sweep. He then comes off the ropes with an elbow and pins Sharpe.
Verdict: Thumbs In The Middle – I bumped this one up a bit because I love watching Iron Mike Sharpe work. Otherwise, this match doesn’t have much else going for it.
Apparently we take a “break” after this match because we get a shot of the insane mass of people filling this stadium and Monsoon says we’ll be right back.
Back from break, Mean Gene is with Bobby Heenan. The Brain cuts a promo on the Machines saying that the masks are coming off tonight. He then says he’s going to put the gold around the waist of Orndorff and gets a huge heel reaction from the crowd. Okerlund tries to put over the event and tells Heenan that he is part of history. Heenan fires back and says he makes history. Heenan’s promos are way better than a lot of the promos in the WWF at the time. I’d compare his work to Heyman in the current WWE. He’s damn good. Anyway, “Heenan is wrestling and wrestling is Heenan”. Okerlund says Heenan was trying to “weasel out” of talking to him earlier and Heenan says he doesn’t want 70,000 people chanting weasel. Which of course, they immediately do. Nice.
So, first of all, Heenan is apparently going to work this match, which is awesome. Secondly, the “Machines” were a thing where Andre the Giant had to disappear to make a movie and take care of some other business. On TV he was “suspended” for no showing a tag team match. So, in true wrestling fashion, Andre comes back in a hood and everyone but Heenan is “fooled” and allows this to happen. The other Machines were Black Jack Mulligan and Bill Eadie (later part of the tag team, Demolition) and there were a ton of guest Machines before the gimmick ran its course. The entire gimmick, even down to the ring gear and masks was shamelessly ripped off from New Japan Pro Wrestling. Basically, this would be like if when Stephanie McMahon suspended Brock Lesnar after WrestleMania last year, suddenly this new guy who was built exactly like Brock showed up wearing a lucha mask and everyone just went along with it.
Match #6: Big Machine, Super Machine, & Lou Albano (w/ Giant Machine) vs. King Kong Bundy, Big John Studd, and Bobby Heenan
Here’s your first “sports entertainment” spectacle match of this show. Things start out as your standard “big man” match. Finally Heenan and Albano face off and that causes some insane crowd reactions as Heenan gets beat up. Eventually, the heels trap Albano in their corner and Giant Machine enters and starts headbutting everyone. The ref then signals for the bell to give the heels a DQ win.
Verdict: Thumbs In The Middle – This is the kind of thing I expect from 80’s WWF and it delivers as far as the spectacle is concerned. Not very memorable, since Giant Machine doesn’t even work in the match, but the crowd seemed to really eat this one up.
Post-match, Giant Machine clears the ring and Heenan takes several headbutts.
Up next, is the “snakepit match” which basically means it is a no DQ match. Steamboat comes out to generic rock music that is poorly dubbed since he was probably still coming out to “Sirius” by the Alan Parsons Project at this point in his career.
Match #7: Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat (Snakepit No DQ match)
Well, match of the show. Steamboat is great in the ring, sells like a champ, and gets color. Roberts is brutal and takes the action outside of the ring several times. He goes for the DDT, but Steamboat counters it. He tries again but adjusts it into an inverted back breaker. Roberts goes for a taunting pin, which you don’t do with Steamboat, because the Dragon reverses the pin and gets the victory.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – The first great match on this card and it involves Steamboat and Roberts. I am not surprised by this development.
Next, we get the Hercules vs. Billy Jack Haynes match, but the commentary audio is noticeably different and Monsoon clearly is overdubbing this in the studio since Valiant and Ladd are both absent.
Match #8: Billy Jack Haynes vs. Hercules Hernandez
Another average match. I remember their WrestleMania 3 match being quite decent, but it’s been a few decades and we’ll get to that soon enough. Billy Jack goes for the full nelson, but Hercules escapes it. Hercules almost gets a three count, but Haynes gets his foot on the ropes. While Hercules celebrates, Billy Jack goes for a roll up that doesn’t work, but he ends up using a backslide for the pin.
Verdict: Thumbs In The Middle – Not terrible, but with two power guys, it’s strange when they opt for a small package roll up or a backslide victory. Especially on a show that wasn’t televised and their program wasn’t in full swing yet.
Match #9: The Rougeau Brothers vs. The Dream Team
This is the second longest match on the card and I can only imagine this is because the Rougeau Brothers are Canadian. Of course, they go over here but this is actually a halfway decent tag match. Beefcake is once again minimized and Valentine does a lot of the heavy lifting on both offense and defense. Valentine gets the Figure Four on Jacques toward the end, but Raymond comes in and breaks it up. Then after some confusion and brawling with Beefcake, he rolls up Valentine, despite not being the legal man and gets the pin for his team.
Verdict: Thumbs In The Middle – A decent enough tag match, but it seemed to go on way too long. We get a Jacques Rougeau hot tag and then the next sequence is a Raymond Rougeau hot tag because so much time passed. I do get why this got so much time though and the Rougeaus were over huge with the Toronto crowd.
Post-match, Valiant, back on commentary, freaks out and says that Jacques said “I give up” in French during the Figure Four sequence. He keeps freaking out on Monsoon and takes his sunglasses off and everything. Monsoon points out that the non-legal Rougeau actually got the pin fall.
We then join the next match already in progress.
Match #10: Handsome Harley Race vs. Pedro Morales
Well, here’s your cool down match before the Hogan main event. Morales and Race have a “meat and potatoes” match to do just that. Mostly mat work, a suplex being the most “flashy” spot, and Race uses the ropes for leverage to cheat to win. Perfectly executed after the really hot crowd for the Rougeaus. I have to believe this was by design. They sent two pros like Morales and Race out to essentially “do the job” for the main event and both guys delivered.
Verdict: Thumbs Up – Perfect bridge of a match between the hot tag match and everyone about to explode for Hogan.
Post-match, Race celebrates and Monsoon says “listen to this capacity crowd to hear what they thought of that”. The crowd is chanting “Hogan”. That’s what they thought of that, Gino.
So, during the Hogan / Orndorff feud, Orndorff started also coming out to “Real American”. Considering how long the walk to the ring is, the production team just kept “Real American” playing as both guys make their entrance. Hogan, predictably, is insanely over. I’m shocked we had no Hogan promo on this show. Wow. Anyway, a louder “Orndorff” chant starts to build as the match starts and Orndorff cheap shots Hogan to start the match to a huge pop from the crowd. Interesting. Later when Hogan takes over on offense they pop huge for him again. Maybe with 70,000+ people it’s just impossible to tell if a guy is over or being booed out of the building. Maybe this is the Ace up McMahon’s sleeve with Roman Reigns and WrestleMania 32. Maybe.
Match #11: Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff (w/ Bobby Heenan) (WWF World Heavyweight Championship match)
Wow, what a confusing match on so many levels. Like I said above, the crowd pops for nearly every spot in this match. The same exact people in the first few rows pop for both Hogan and Orndorff. It’s kind of insane. This is your standard Hogan title defense up until the ref bump. Hogan takes advantage of the ref being out of it and decides he’s going to give Orndorff his own piledriver finish. Heenan hits Hogan with a wooden stool to prevent this from happening. Hogan is then out and Orndorff covers him for about thirty seconds. The ref comes to and pats Orndorff on the shoulder but doesn’t count and signals for the bell.
Verdict: Thumbs In The Middle – Besides the insane visual of World Champion Paul Orndorff, this match is a mess. WWF clearly hadn’t quite figured out how to do unconventional finishes and not have it look like some confused disaster. The match is weird because the crowd is so split, which is really odd for Hogan during this run.
Post-match, Heenan grabs the title and Orndorff poses in the ring with it around his waist. Finkel declares Hogan the winner by DQ and Orndorff is so upset he literally shoves Finkel off the ring apron. Orndorff then attacks Hogan while still wearing the belt, which makes him look like a He-Man action figure. Orndorff goes to hit Hogan with the belt, but Hogan has “Hulked up” so he blocks it and starts dropping Orndorff with clotheslines. Hogan then gives Orndorff the big boot and Orndorff flies out of the ring. Orndorff tries to cheap shot Hogan from behind but Hogan runs him out of the ring again. We then see a replay of the finish sequence with no commentary and then see a still of Hogan with the credits beginning to roll over it.
I’m assuming Hogan then posed in the ring to send the crowd home… happy? I get the feeling this crowd would have been equally okay with WWF Champion Paul Orndorff, which just blows my mind.
Oh well, another one-off show here that has little future implications on anything that happens at WrestleMania 3. I didn’t expect much from The Big Event and didn’t get much out of it either.