Retro Wrestling Re-run: The Big Event
A historical analysis of "The Big Event" and the people involved.
The Big Event is kind of a tricky one. It’s legitimately a house show but WWF decided to give it the PPV treatment. The complete lack of PPVs in 1986 other than WrestleMania gives it more importance. The attendance numbers were kayfabed a bit, but the actual numbers of 61,000 was a record for WWE.
This event is something of a prototype of SummerSlam. Vince correctly understood that WWF needed a big summertime wrestling event, and this show was the first version of that effort. Once again, the NWA came first with a summer event, with their Great American Bash the year before, but they never had attendance or success like WWF did with the Big Event.
The Big Event occurred at the Exhibition Stadium in Toronto Canada, the home of the Toronto Blue Jays until 1989. That makes this the first PPV style event that WWF ran in Canada. For many years, Canada has been a stronghold for WWF with Vince able to run shows there and get high attendance and make fantastic revenue. A certain screwjob undermined that, and WWF/E featured fewer events in Canada as a result.
Unfortunately, the version that can be found on WWE Network and Peacock is an edited show. The edits are from the VHS tape that WWF put out by coliseum video. I’m not sure if the full event exists in the WWE Library. There is a reason why cuts exist on many of these old WWF tapes. A person could get a tape that can hold more than two hours on it, but those tapes were more expensive. This is simply a cost cutting measure.
Terry Funk had already left the WWF by this point. I think he figured out real quick that Vince wasn’t going to use him in very high level matches, so when his time was up, he was gone. Dory Funk would soon leave too, and in this match he doesn’t seem to care.
Poor Jimmy Jack Funk, who’s real name was Ferrin Barr Jr. He’s the older brother of the more well-known wrestler, Art Barr. Before signing with WWF, he had some success in Florida as a heel. He even won the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship.
This match is the peak of his WWF career. Being part of the Funks gave him some relevance on the card. However, once Dory is gone… he’s toast. He lost Jimmy Hart too, his push was gone, and he was left to put over other people. This was his only major show, and he lost nearly every match in his entire WWF career. He left WWF in 1987, wrestled for a few different promotions before finally retiring. His most notable moments after his WWF career, was feuding with Jerry Lawler in CWA and winning the NWA Northwest Tag Team Championship for 8 days with a wrestler named Steve Doll.
The Killer Bees are in their first major show in a match other than a Battle Royal. B. Brian Blair and Jim Brunzell both had wrestled in various smaller promotions in the past. B. Brian Blair did a lot of work as a jobber at an early point in his career. However, as the Killer Bees, they are about to hit paydirt.
The Killer Bees inspire the Bella Twin Magic gimmick by switching in and out of the ring, by switching their masks. They wear the masks in part because they don’t both look exactly alike but when the masks are on… it’s really hard to tell the difference. It’s a heel tactic, but the fans love it, so they’re faces.
The Killer Bees will go on to be very popular and become part of the “Golden Age of Tag Team Wrestling.” Despite their popularity, they never won a tag team title however, getting lost in the shuffle. They get the win here, beating the Funks.
King Tonga vs Don Muraco is heavily clipped, but what’s left remains interesting. King Tonga is better known as Meng in WCW, and Haku most of his WWF career. His career just started in WWF. He’s much smaller here than he’ll be even in a year or two later. The match ended in a draw, 50/50 booking. Benefits no one. Honestly, I think the fact that most of the viewable match is Muraco on offense, is not a good thing. The crowd looked bored.
Tonga become part of the Islanders, another team that was quality but got lost in the shuffle. Don Muraco’s first peak was in the early 80s, with 2 reigns with the intercontinental championship. However, in the late 80s, he had a resurgence as a strong mid card wrestler.
More important here is Mr. Fuji. Fuji had a lot of weaknesses in terms of being a manager. He wasn’t a good mic guy because you couldn’t really understand him. However, he was great at getting heat. Often that cane of his will strike across the back of all your favorite wrestlers, all the way to Hogan in the 90s. He’s at the start of his manager career in this match.
Next up is some quick crap to get through. Ted Arcidi vs Tony Garea is a quick jobber match. Ted Arcidi is like a prototype of Mark Henry, having set some weight-lifting records, but he looks like his brain is just a block of wood. The audience visibly doesn’t care and watches anything but the match. Ted Arcidi had barely any career with many wrestlers treating him with contempt because they believed he had no skills. I agree with them.
Tony Garea, a former tag champ, is a jobber in the final year of his in-ring. Yet you’ve seen his face many times, he’s always one of the suits running down to break up the fights on RAW and SD. It’s a public reflection of his role, as a Road Agent for the company.
Adrian Adonis vs JYD is another quick match. Of what was shown, the match was a mere four minutes. This does nothing but fill space. Adonis had recently been the venom in Orndorff’s ear that turned him heel, and against Hogan. JYD is still popular at this time, but this match is basically nothing. A count out victory for JYD, they just didn’t give him the definitive wins. It appears that the referee is visibly calling most of the spots in the match, that’s just strange.
Iron Mike Sharpe vs Dick Slater, is another very quick match… very quick. It’s clipped, but what’s left is little more than 2 minutes. Iron Mike Sharpe is a jobber, but one that I’ve seen a lot of fans show love for. It’s probably because he’s a strong entertaining seller. Dick Slater is a strong territory star, in a brief run in WWF. He’ll leave WWF in last than two years. Too bad he couldn’t be called his famous name, “Dirty Dick Slater.” WWF is aimed at a younger audience than the rest of wrestling at the time. Dick Slater gets the win.
The Machines are all legends in the ring. Blackjack Mulligan is “Big Machine” which is not even the biggest one of the team. Mulligan was one half of the Blackjacks with Blackjack Lanza, one of the greatest tag teams of the 1970s. They won tag titles all over the NWA and in the WWF.
In 1986, he was in the twilight of his career. I find it bizarre that a man who would probably still get a good response from the crowd, would have a masked man gimmick… The Big Event was Mulligan’s only major WWF PPV style show. According to Cagematch, Mulligan spent most of his WWF career at this point on House Shows with a few TV appearances, however he did win most of these matches. His final match before going into a short NWA run, he put over Randy Savage at a house show in Ohio.
Super Machine is Bill Eadie, who while well advanced in his career was just a few months from being part of one of the biggest WWF tag teams of the entire era, Demolition. The Machines for him is just a footnote to occur just before the peak of his entire wrestling career.
In terms of storyline the most important member of this team is Giant Machine, who is Andre the Giant. After WrestleMania 2, Andre the Giant needed to take time off for his health and because he was filming The Princess Bride. In storyline, WWF President Jack Tunney suspended Andre the Giant for no showing a match against King Kong Bundy & Big John Studd. When Andre the Giant returned to WWF, he wrestled under a mask since he was technically suspended. This feud was all about Bobby Heenan trying to uncover Andre’s identity under the mask.
King Kong Bundy is fresh off his loss from Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 2, and his place on the card was in decline. Despite winning most of his matches, he’s a mid-carder again. Bundy was never the same. He wasn’t pushed for another world title on a PPV in his career, though he did have a world title match against Hogan at Saturday Night’s Main Event at the end of 1987. Still, there is a lot more of him to see in the coming year.
Big John Studd is legitimately doing whatever he can to avoid Andre the Giant. The heat between them is real… when he gets to close, Andre mugs him. The exact heat isn’t completely known but Andre saw him as a rival to his spot as the giant in WWF and unlike some other giants, it appears that Studd never did anything to avoid heat. Andre knocks the hell out of Studd every chance he gets whenever they wrestler. According some interviews, Studd leaves WWF because of this. This would be Studd’s last major WWF event until 1988.
Lou Albano’s showing his age but the crowd is excited when he’s in the ring. He doesn’t do much though. This is Albano’s last major WWF event before retirement. He’ll make the occasional appearance in WWF/E over the years, especially in 1994 when he manages the Headshrinkers, but his involvement in WWF is never more than just a few appearances.
He goes into the WWF/E Hall of Fame in 1996, his last known appearance in WWE according to Internet Movie Database, is a RAW in 2007. Despite his fundamental part in WWF success in the mid-80s, I’m surprised how little he’s mentioned compared to other legends of this era.
Bobby Heenan is much younger and much better shape, so he becomes the best part of the match by far. I swear that the few bumps he takes are like he’s Shawn Michaels, bouncing around like a ping pong ball. It’s great. He’s the man one trying to unmask Andre and failing to do so. Ironic, since he’ll be Andre’s actual manager in less than a year.
The match itself, ends in a DQ. That’s just kind of how things were in the 1980s. Within a few years, DQs at major events will be far rarer.
The issue stemming in this match is that Jake Roberts dropped Ricky Steamboat on his head at a Saturday Night’s Main Event match earlier this year, and was supposed to knock him out in kayfabe, though he was actually knocked out for real. For Jake Roberts, this is his first feud with an established star as opposed to a jobber, and a huge step for him. This is an amazing match, one of the best of the year… though it does seem to get ignored.
No DQ and unlike a lot of 80s matches that feature that, this one actually uses the stipulation, and you get to see wrestling outside of the ring with weapons and everything. We don’t think much of it now in a modern match when a wrestler propels another into the ring post, that’s fine. But in 1986 that’s a disqualification, so it’s a rare spot and the crowd goes insane. Ricky Steamboat gets a clean win on Jake Roberts, which is particularly uncommon for an up and comer like Jake Roberts, especially since he achieved a lot more with the company afterward. Clean losses usually reflect a decline for a wrestler in those days.
The feud continues well into late 1986, with another match between the two on Saturday Night’s Main Event in September of that year. Jake Roberts would eventually organically turn face during a feud with Randy Savage. Originally he was set to feud with Hogan, but because the crowd turned cheered him, he feuded with Honky Tonk Man instead. Ricky Steamboat after the Jake Roberts feud, would begin battle with Randy Savage, leading us to WrestleMania III… stay tuned for that one.
This match doesn’t get much of a response from the crowd. Neither have been well established yet with the audience, there is even a chant of boring from the crowd. It’s a nothing match that Billy Jack Haynes wins with a backslide. Oddly it has post event commentary instead of regular commentary, Gorilla Monsoon even sounds different. Gorilla fakes it out saying Valiant and Ernie Ladd are off somewhere, but it’s post commentary. It seems like an odd decision that they cut some earlier match length down, but add post commentary to a much to include it on the VHS release of this event.
At this time he wasn’t going very far in WWF, just putting people over. Slick was to be his manager but that was short lived. He didn’t really start getting something out of his career until he was with Bobby Heenan. Once with Heenan, his wrestling attire was changed to be a bit more like a Roman Gladiator, but not over the top like Ron Simmons’ in WWF 96 with that stupid helmet. Best part of that new look that debuted a few months after this match, was the chain. Why did it work? Don’t know… just did. Wrestling does that sometimes. He gets over well as a heel, that he even gets to wrestle Hulk Hogan on Saturday Night’s Main Event, November of this very year.
Billy Jack Haynes, who looks a lot like Dr. Death Steve Williams, doesn’t have the same success as Hercules. Goes to show that even though sometimes you win the big match, doesn’t mean you’re going to be the bigger of the two names.
Billy Jack Haynes wrestled in Championship Wrestling From Florida and Pacific Northwest Wrestling, before joining WWF. Billy Jack Haynes wrestled at Starrcade 85, tagging with Wahoo McDaniel, against Ole & Arn Anderson. Jim Crockett gave everyone their paychecks in a big room that according to Haynes, was filled with at least 40 wrestlers. Ole, Arn, and Wahoo all got paid $3500, and Billy Jack Haynes got paid $2500.
Haynes took issue with this and went to Crockett’s office. Crockett asked what the problem was, and Haynes stated that he got paid $1000 less than everyone else in the same match. Jim Crockett told him “if you don’t like it, there’s the door.” According to Haynes, he cussed Jim Crockett and shoved him against the wall by pushing his desk into him and quit the NWA that day, and went to WWF. After the Big Event, Haynes would continue to feud with Hercules, and meet again at WrestleMania III.
This is a solid match, damaged by the referee’s annoying approach to counting pins. He counts 1, checks the shoulders, sometimes both shoulders, counts 2, checks the shoulders, and he does this over and over again. It hurts the match as the pace and drama are damaged by this. What’s more, when he counts the final three count, he just counts the three, and doesn’t check the shoulders. Inconsistent referee counts are very bad for making a good match. If you can get past that, it’s a fun match. The Rougeau Brothers win.
These two teams get a rematch at WrestleMania III, and the Dream Team really does nothing of note in between Big Event and WrestleMania III. They wrestle various teams on TV tapings, but they are just in a placeholder spot because it seems in my opinion, that Vince kept them from doing much because he aimed for a rematch and didn’t want to change their conditions or overall place on the card.
The Rougeau Brothers, Raymond and Jacques who really were brothers, joined WWF in 1986 and this is their first major feud. This is another team that will be part of the WWF Tag Team golden age, but while achieving some success, they would end up overshadowed by other teams of this era.
Information on the Rougeaus’ is scant, but the cagematch wrestling database has them wrestling for a Montreal promotion called “International Wrestling” which is a smaller lesser known promotion that frankly, WWF used as a place to scout wrestlers and snap them up. This approach by WWF would eventually put companies like them out of business in the late 80s. Before that, they wrestled all over the world but spent a lot of time in the NWA in Georgia.
The Rougeau’s, like their foes the Dream Team, didn’t do much of note until after WrestleMania III, both teams were just kept in place. The fact that this happened this way is indicative on how much Vince needed to have a few more PPVs to run. WWF would solve that problem in 1987.
This is a dream match on paper. Harley Race is one of the greatest NWA champions in wrestling history, and Pedro Morales had a long and successful reign as WWWF Champion in the 1970s. The match is trash, and what is shown isn’t even four minutes long.
Harley Race left NWA because in his own words, when Sam Muchnick was no longer leading the NWA, he believed that the organization would soon fall apart. He left for Vince McMahon. Harley Race was “The King” because WWF didn’t recognize other promotions at the time, but they wanted to recognize how great that Harley Race was. So Harley Race won the King of the Ring Tournament which at this time was not a major PPV event but more of a house show event with some matches that would have made TV airing.
Pedro Morales was in the middle of his second WWF run. He returned to WWF in 1980, and soon became the first Triple Crown champion, winning the WWWF Championship in the 70s, a tag team title run with Bob Backlund, winning the Intercontinental Championship twice, first time off of Ken Patera, and second time off of Don Muraco. He also won the WWWF US championship, which is not to be confused with the current US Championship, as it had it’s own title history and was deactivated in 1976. The current US Championship follows the NWA/WCW lineage, not the old WWWF title.
This match finds Pedro Morales near the end of his career, he lost a King of the Ring match against Harley Race and the Big Event match was a rematch. What a shame it was such a wasted match. WWF didn’t seem to have any concepts of Dream Matches in those days.
This match is part of the best feud of 1986. Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff were friends in storyline, but Paul Orndorff became jealous of Hogan in part due to manipulation from Adrian Adonis. Orndorff was a face in WWF, but was being passed up by others and being a face meant he wasn’t going to touch the main event because Hogan was in it and the top face only wrestles bad guys at this time in WWF.
The solution was turn him heel, and kick off a running theme for most of the rest of Hogan’s WWF career. Which is Hogan’s friend becoming an enemy and Hogan’s very dangerous foe. Other examples are Andre the Giant and Randy Savage. The heel turn started what Paul Orndorff described as the biggest money-making moments of his career.
The match is insane, in terms of crowd reaction. Some of the matches they were quiet for, and it becomes clear that they were saving their energy for this match. They go crazy for every little thing. It’s a back-and-forth battle between the two that is more of a showcase of how good a match of theirs could be as opposed to what it actually is.
The ref hurts this match, he reprimands Orndorff for almost everything, even legitimately non-cheating wrestling moves. This show had quite a lot of problems with referees. Hogan kneed Orndorff in the back, causing Orndorff to accidentally crash into Hulk Hogan… which leads to the antics like Heenan attacking Hogan from behind.
Orndorff had Hogan pinned for a very long time, which does put over Orndorff without winning the match. The ref makes to the slow crawl around their bodies to see Hogan’s shoulder and then pats Orndorff’s shoulders, strange thing for a ref to do. But the referee was disqualifying Orndorff for hitting the ref. I hate this finish; it doesn’t match up to typical WWF finishes in the 80s with ref bumps. It was a clear accident, and if it was a DQ, it should have been Hogan who was DQ, he caused the ref bump. Don’t get me wrong, the feud was great, and they had fantastic battles, and this one was fun enough but fans are better served to see their cage match later that year.
The feud was great for anyone who was looking for good wrestling in Hogan matches. They had a tendency to put Hogan against a lot of guys who weren’t the best workers or had been great workers in the past but had lost a lot due to age. For example, Andre the Giant was an amazing worker in the 70s, but his health had greatly limited his ability by the time of the feud with Hogan.
Paul Orndorff could match forces with Hogan and fit that same look that Hulk Hogan had. A fact exemplified when Orndorff used Hogan’s music. Paul Orndorff’s character is treated as sort of heel version of Hogan. They fought again on Saturday Night’s Main Event (12-13-86) in a cage match, that is among the best matches of that entire year, and I strongly recommend viewing that match.
Paul Orndorff seriously injured his arm at this time in a weightlifting accident. Orndorff was in the run of his life and decided to wrestle injured. When the feud was finally over, Orndorff suffered permanent damage and did eventually take time off from WWF. When he came back, he was quickly turned face but he never again approaches a run of this level of success.
Hulk Hogan having vanquished his former friend, would soon move into a feud with Andre the Giant, one of the biggest feuds in wrestling history, but that one is for another day.
The Big Event is an important show, a transitional event in WWF history. It marked the change of WWF to becoming a more PPV centered promotion. It wasn’t until the next year that WWF took full advantage of the medium but the Big Event helped push WWF that way.
Despite being somewhat overlooked when compared to the new shows, SummerSlam and Survivor Series to start the next year, I believe this show is a must watch for anyone who is interested in wrestling history.
See you all for WrestleMania III.