Saturday Night’s Main Event debuted on May 11th, 1985, on NBC in the late-night time slot normally assigned to Saturday Night Live reruns. After seeing the huge ratings from two MTV specials (The Brawl to End it All & The War to Settle the Score), then SNL executive producer Dick Ebersol made a deal with Vince McMahon to bring wrestling back to network television for the first time since the 1950’s.
Unlike normal wrestling shows of the day that mostly featured established stars facing off against jobbers in squash matches, Saturday Night’s Main Event would feature big names squaring off against each other on free television. The series would run for eight years in its original run before coming back for a few episodes in the 2000’s. A spinoff series called The Main Event would air five episodes in prime-time, including three live shows. While not officially part of Saturday Night’s Main Event, I’ll be including them in this series as a bonus. Both programs would feature major angles and storylines, and would be must see TV for wrestling fans of the day.
Every episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event is available in edited form on the WWE Network.
Date: Taped May 10th, 1985, and aired the following night.
Location: Naussau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY
Commentators: Vince McMahon and Jesse “the Body” Ventura.
The debut episode of SNME took place roughly six weeks after Wrestlemania. Hulk Hogan defends the WWF championship against “Ace” Cowboy Bob Orton, who cost the heels the main event at that original Wrestlemania. The other big match on the show was a rematch from the Brawl to End it All, with newly crowned women’s champ Wendi Richter (with Cyndi Lauper) defending the title against the Fabulous Moolah.
The show opens with Cyndi Lauper warning the women’s champ to watch out for Moolah’s cheating antics. Cyndi tells Richter to “always keep your trunks strong,” whatever that means. Besides being in Richter’s corner, Cyndi is also here to plug her new MTV music video later on in the show. The Rock & Wrestling connection was still going strong post ‘Mania but would soon fizzle out.
Next we have Hulk Hogan with his “main man” Mr. T. who will be in the Hulk’s corner tonight. T warns Rowdy Roddy Piper that he “pities the fool” who tries to interfere in the match.
We get a dubbed, but soon to be permanent, opening theme instead of the original “Obsession” by Animotion.
Vince McMahon and Jesse “the Body” Ventura (in pink tux and do-rag) welcome us and run down the card.
MATCH #1 SIX-MAN TAG: THE U.S. EXPRESS (MIKE ROTUNDA AND BARRY WINDHAM) TEAM WITH RICKY STEAMBOAT VS. WWF TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS NIKOLAI VOLKOFF & THE IRON SHEIK WITH GEORGE “THE ANIMAL” STEELE
Howard Finkel announces the heel team of Sheik/Volkoff/and Steele and asks the crowd to “please rise” for Volkoff’s singing of the Russian national anthem. Needless to say, the Nassau crowd was having none of it. It’s amazing the amount of heat that Sheik and Volkoff could generate back in the day. In my opinion they are still the best ever “evil foreigners” the world of wrestling has ever seen, sorry Rusev. Following the anthem we get Sheik’s classic “IRAN NUMBER ONE! RUSSIA NUMBER ONE! USA? Hock a loogie.”
The face team is announced to a huge pop. The U.S. Express’s theme of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is replaced here with some generic patriotic song. I wish billionaire Vince would spring for the original music rights but oh well. George the Animal Steele does his crazy arm routine and McMahon says Steele is “the most unorthodox wrestler in the world today” and who could argue. Big high-fives from the faces and here we go.
Windham drives a couple of right hands into Sheik’s bald head to get things started. Tag to Rotunda who comes in off the top rope with an elbow. Quick tag to Steamboat who also comes in off the top to deliver some kind of karate chop. Rotunda tagged in to help unleash a double elbow and Sheiky is in trouble. In come the heels and the face team cleans house, signaling for a commercial break. Funny how this is still pretty much standard even today.
We come back with the fans chanting USA! USA! Sheik eats a missile dropkick and high cross body from the Steamer. The high flying face team has everything under control. Sheik finally makes the tag to Volkoff who takes a double dropkick. Back to Windham, who does a melodramatic sunset flip for two. A botched rollup in the corner by Rotunda finds his face buried deep in Nikolai’s crotch…nasty. Steele is finally tagged in and after taking a couple shots, quickly wants out. The heels drop to the floor, leaving the poor Animal to fend for himself. Windham takes advantage of the confusion and schoolboys Steele for the win.
A betrayed and confused Animal does the only thing that makes him feel better and eats the turnbuckle. The heels return to put the beat down on Steele (seriously, what did Animal do to deserve this?) but man-bear George fights them off. Steele’s former manager Captain Lou Albano comforts him and officially turns him face, where he would remain for the rest of his career.
VERDICT: THUMBS UP – Decent enough opening match. Always enjoy watching Sheik and Animal Steele do their thing. Had some nice spots and the hot crowd made it even better than it was. For anyone unfamiliar with Mike Rotunda, he later adopted the more successful IRS gimmick in the early nineties and is father to current WWE superstars Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas.
Post-match, a backstage ruckus ensues as Steele attacks the heels who are talking with Mean Gene. I miss these pre and post match interview bits, entertaining stuff.
Next up is Piper’s Pit with Piper’s bodyguard Bob Orton and special guest Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff. This is fallout from the Wrestlemania main event. Piper calls Mr. Wonderful a loser for getting pinned by Hogan and Orndorff wants to know why Piper bailed on him after the match. Orndorff tells Piper he’s been “drinking too much of his own bathwater”…ouch. Orndorff cleans house and we already have our second face turn of the night. Orton breaks up a piledriver attempt and clobbers the wonderful one with a cast shot to the back of the head, resulting in Mr. T running out to make the save.
Interview spot with Hulk Hogan who dedicates his match tonight to his mother.
MATCH #2 WWF CHAMPION HULK HOGAN VS. COWBOY BOB ORTON
Piper is in Orton’s corner and Mr. T is with Hogan. The faces rip off each other’s shirts in a sign of solidarity. Orton “Pearl Harbor”s Hogan and here we go. Four bodyslams by Hogan and Orton hasn’t gotten out of his chaps yet. Orton bails to the floor in need of a breather. Gotta say I loved Ventura as the heel announcer. He talks up Orton’s superplex finisher and does his best to convince us that Orton has a legitimate chance of winning the title tonight. Orton sends Hogan into the corner and spears the ring post. “Nice maneuver!” says McMahon. Hogan goes to work on Orton’s “injured” arm. Hogan bites Cowboy Bob’s head, some babyface the Hulkster is. Jesse says this is the most vicious he’s ever seen Hogan in the ring. Atomic drop from Orton and Hogan sells it nicely. Hogan could really sell when he wanted to. With Hogan in trouble, Mr. T shouts encouragement. Hogan then “hulks up” and Orton’s shots to the head can do nothing. Hogan delivers a clothesline and elbow drop for two, a surprising change in formula. A nice inverted atomic drop from Orton and Jesse calls Ace a “technician in the ring.” Orton sets up Hogan in the corner for his superplex but Hogan counters off the second rope (rare for Hogan) with an elbow. Hogan drops the big leg and it’s ove-, nope, Piper clocks Hogan before the count of three, resulting in a DQ. A ruckus ensues and Mr. Wonderful appears outta nowhere to send the heels running.
VERDICT: THUMBS IN THE MIDDLE – The match was okay due to the heavy heat involved. With Piper and T on the outside, a DQ finish is pretty much a foregone conclusion. The main purpose of the match was to set up things to come.
Post-match, the Fabulous Moolah tells Mean Gene she has a document (presumably from President Jack Tunney) barring Cyndi Lauper from ringside. We get another quick interview with Lauper and Richter with Lauper recalling what happened at “Wrestling Mania” a few weeks ago. During the original broadcast we got the premiere of Cyndi’s music video from The Goonies soundtrack that featured a few WWF wrestlers including Piper and the Iron Sheik. Piper shows up to say how bad the song is…then why did you agree to be in the video?
MATCH #3 WWF WOMEN’S CHAMPION WENDI RICHTER VS. THE FABULOUS MOOLAH
The Fink introduces Moolah who doesn’t look a day over 80 at this point in her legendary career. Finkel reads Moolah’s contract barring Lauper from ringside. Richter is announced and comes out to a generic dubbed theme in place of Lauper’s “She Bop.” Champion Richter was insanely over at this point; even main eventing house shows around this time. Cyndi is sent to the back where she’ll have to watch the match from a backstage monitor. Jesse says Moolah looks meaner than he has ever seen her and once again I have to agree. After a few hairtosses and whatnot, Moolah is in charge and poses for the crowd. Wendi catches the fabulous one with a dropkick and sends her out to the floor. After some more shenanigans, Richter counters a slam attempt by Moolah into a small package for the win.
VERDICT: THUMBS DOWN – This match was painful to watch. Thankfully women’s wrestling has come a long way. Richter would leave the company in November after an incident known as “the original screwjob.”
Post-match, the Junkyard Dog is with his mother, Bertha, and she’s really proud of her little doggie.
MATCH #4 JUNKYARD DOG VS. PETE “THE DUKE OF DORCHESTER” DOHERTY
Once again we get a dubbed “Grab Them Cakes” instead of JYD’s theme from this time which was Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” Proud momma Bertha accompanies her pup and is seated at ringside. The Dog gets things going with a headbutt of course, followed by a forearm and running clothesline that sends the Duke out to the floor. Doherty threatens Bertha and the Dog is not happy. Doherty, playing the role of the dumb heel, tries a few shots to JYD’s legendary thick skull to no effect. Doherty annoyingly oversells everything, almost turning this into a comedy match. The Dog gets down on all fours and administers a couple signature headbutts and follows up with an atomic drop, which was pretty much the only wrestling move of the match. Dog points to momma signaling his powerslam “Thump” finisher for a three count. Momma Dog comes in the ring and gets her groove on and the crowd loves it. JYD was crazy over at this point and arguably the second biggest babyface in the company, frequently tagging with Hogan around this time.
VERDICT: THUMBS DOWN – This was a nothing match that was just an excuse for the crowd to see JYD and his mother dance.
Post match, we get a Mother’s Day party hosted by Cindy Lauper. We get Ruth Hogan holding a dozen roses and she says she’s proud of her Hulkster. Moolah crashes the party and insults Lauper’s mom who then sends Moolah and “Gene Mean” into the cake.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This first show set the standard formula for the rest of the series. The production values were a dramatic improvement over the regular weekly television programs. You have to remember that these shows aired at 11:30pm EST so the idea was to top load the show and get the big names out there during the first hour. Saturday Night’s Main Event may not have aged well but was very innovative for the time and brings back many great memories. I look forward to going through the rest of the series.
DISCLAIMER: These reviews are just my opinion. Feel free to disagree with me and point out any mistakes I may have made. My goal is to spark a bit of nostalgia for us older fans and maybe generate some interest from younger fans to check out these classic shows on the WWE Network.