Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Pro Wrestling: A Mark's History, part 3 (Earl Screwed Hogan)

By the summer of 1987 I became an avid reader of the WWF Magazine.  There was a grocery store in my town called Iandoli's, and it was the only place I could consistently find said periodical.  Every single month I made sure to accompany my mom on a grocery trip just so I could pick up the newest issue.  The first one I ever bought was the Feb/March '87 issue with Randy Savage on the cover, proudly holding the Intercontinental title.  That Christmas my sister gave me a year's subscription to the magazine, which I renewed every year until 1998.  I still have a massive twelve-year stack of them at my parents' house.

The cover of the first WWF Magazine I ever bought.

My first house show took place on August 1, 1987.  By this time I was very familiar with the local promos they aired on Superstars every week at the end of each segment, advertising the upcoming house show cards.  The Worcester Centrum was the closest arena to me, so I always paid close attention to what matches were coming up in my neck of the woods.  I'm not really sure why I asked my parents to take me to this particular house show, as it was a pretty weak C-show lineup.  Maybe it was just a case of "I've waited long enough to check this out, so let's do this!" My stepfather somewhat reluctantly took me to the show (He had watched wrestling as a kid but unlike me he actually outgrew it.).


Anyway, the main event of this show was Ken Patera vs. Paul Orndorff, with Bobby Heenan handcuffed to George "The Animal" Steele at ringside.  Yup, that was the MAIN EVENT.  Jeezus. The overall card only featured seven matches for some reason, and the highlight of the night was easily Demolition vs. The British Bulldogs.  I was very excited to see my favorite tag team in person.  They lost, but I remember the match being quite good.  I picked up a Bulldogs T-shirt on the way out - my first piece of wrestling memorabilia (other than the toys of course).

Gene's like, "Wait, I hafta try to sell THIS match as the main event??"

House shows back then had a certain magic to them.  Since that was still the primary source of revenue for the company, they saved the marquee matchups for the house show circuit and mostly fed squash matches to the TV audience, just to give them a taste.  In those days when a championship was being defended at a house show you actually believed the title might change hands (and of course that occasionally still happened).  I can remember several times when the Honky Tonk Man was scheduled to defend the I-C belt against Jake Roberts or Randy Savage, I'd be sad if I couldn't go to the show because I thought I might miss a title change.

Speaking of Mr. Savage, over that summer he had begun a slow face turn after Honky Tonk won the I-C belt from Ricky Steamboat (another match that angered me severely), and made a claim to being the greatest I-C champ of all time.  Savage of course took offense to this and became a babyface, about which I couldn't have been happier.  Now my appreciation for him was totally justified.  It was okay to like him because he was a good guy now!

On a landmark episode of Saturday Night's Main Event (at the time the greatest show on television as far as I was concerned - it was like a free PPV!), Savage challenged HTM for the title, won by disqualification, and in the most amazing moment I had ever seen on TV, formed an alliance with Hulk Hogan.  Here they were, my two favorite wrestlers in the world, standing side-by-side as friends.  This was monumental!

If J.R. had been calling this moment it would've been,
"OH MY GAHD, KING!  HANDSHAKE!! HANDSHAKE!! HANDSHAKE!!!"

My second house show was that Halloween and featured a much stronger lineup, with a main event of Hulk Hogan vs. One Man Gang for the WWF Title.  Seeing Hulk Hogan live for the first time was truly incredible.

The programs they passed around at this show had an advertisement on the back for something called Survivor Series.  This was the first I'd heard about this event and all I knew about it was that Hogan and Andre had each assembled teams of five wrestlers for an all-out war.  What a fantastic concept!  I'd heard of elimination tag matches before but not of that magnitude.  This was like two all-star teams facing off.  As icing on the cake there would be a similar match with teams captained by Savage and HTM.  My head just about exploded when I saw the lineup for Savage's team.  Savage, Jake, Brutus Beefcake, Hacksaw Jim Duggan....and Ricky Steamboat!  WHAAAAAAT????  Savage and Steamboat were friends now??  Amazing.

As with 'Mania 3, I was not able to watch the inaugural Survivor Series on PPV, but I did spend all day that Thanksgiving playing with my wrestling toys.  I had to satisfy my wrestling jones somehow I guess.

The following week when the results were announced on Superstars I was appalled to learn that Hogan's team lost to Andre's.  This was the first time I had been privy to a Hogan loss in any form.  It was like seeing Superman lose a fight, it just didn't happen.

This of course led to the infamous Hogan-Andre rematch on Feb. 5th, 1988. The biggest free TV match ever broadcast.  I watched the show at my friend Greg's house.  Greg was just as big a wrestling fan as I was, but had already shed the 12-year-old's naivete that I was still carrying around.  He would cheer for anyone who was a good wrestler, face or heel.  He was a Randy Savage fan before it became cool, and HATED Hogan.  This was a major point of contention between us, as on this night Greg was rooting for Hogan to lose the belt. 

He of course got his wish, and this was not only the most egregious screwjob ending I had ever seen, but the first World Title change as well.  On paper it's such a convoluted match ending, but it was rather genius in execution.  Referee Dave Hebner had been swapped out for his "crooked" twin brother Earl (at the time I had no idea Dave was a twin - had I been watching NWA shows more frequently I would've known), who proceeded to count Hogan down despite his shoulder being off the mat.  Dave suddenly appeared and the two brothers came to blows in the ring.  New Champion Andre the Giant then immediately sold the Title to Ted Dibiase.  I was sickened.  SICKENED, JERRY!  While on some level I knew Hogan couldn't remain champ forever, the idea of a beltless Hogan was so foreign to me.  Hogan couldn't lose the Title, that didn't make sense!

This is why no one trusts a twin.....

As with the Harts-Bulldogs situation I figured there was no way this decision could be upheld.  The referee for this match was an imposter for God's sake!  Jack Tunney soon sorted the situation out (he was a very fair and efficient figurehead!).  Andre pinned Hogan and a licensed referee (imposter or not) counted the fall, so Hogan wasn't the Champion.  Andre relinquished the Title to Dibiase, so Andre wasn't the Champion.  However, while a wrestler was allowed to forfeit the title to another wrestler, it could not, according to the WWF rulebook (I've never seen this thing, has anyone else?), be in exchange for monetary gain.  Therefore Ted Dibiase was not the Champion either.  President Tunney declared the Title vacant and announced a tournament to determine a new Champion at WrestleMania IV.  Ahem.....OH MY GOD!!!!!!


Part 2                                                                                                                                                Part 4

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