I was watching late-1986 WWF Wrestling Challenge (from Episode #1 and forward) recently. Wrestling Challenge was WWF’s B-Show. At the time WWF Superstars (hosted by Vince McMahon, Jr., Jesse Ventura, and Bruno Sammartino) was the A-Show, and WWF Saturday Night’s Main Event was the special show. The format of the 45-minute show was to have a handful of squash matches to showcase their talent (like Randy Savage vs Tony Garea and Koko B Ware vs The Gladiator), tag teams, occasionally a non-title feature match (like British Bulldogs vs Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff), studio interviews, promo skits, and highlights from WWF Superstars. Challenge didn’t create any new storylines, it reported the happenings from around the WWF.
Some random thoughts:
The late Gorilla Monsoon was always bashed on the Internet and wrestling newsletters for not being a good announcer, but to me he WAS the voice of the WWF. He will always be an A+ announcer to me. For the first few episodes he teamed up with the heel Johnny Valiant (vulgar and not funny) and the late Ernie Ladd as a face. Ladd was over-matched as a color commentator, unfortunately.
The late Lord Alfred Hayes was the ring announcer for the first few episodes, and he forgot a jobber’s name (J.J. Jackson), and has some fairly odd pronunciations (like Kamali instead of Kamala).
Ken Resnick was a solid interview conductor. I noticed so many interviews were improvised by the wrestlers, and Ken really helped some guys who were coked out to stay on track.
The graphics, presentation, and production quality were very good for 1986, and totally destroyed the TV shows from the NWA, AWA, and other regional wrestling territories at the time.
The main storylines were Hulk Hogan vs Paul Ordorff and Roddy Piper’s face turn vs Adrian Adonis, Bob Orton, and Jimmy Hart.
Great on the microphone: Roddy Piper, Jake Roberts, Randy Savage, Jimmy Hart, Bobby Heenan
Bad on the microphone: Corporal Kirchner, Nikolai Volkoff, Magnificent Muraco, Dick Slater, Iron Shiek, Big Machine (Blackjack Mulligan), Lou Albano (overrated), Rougeau Brothers, Bob Orton, British Bulldogs, Hart Foundation
Although Sheik and Volkoff were bad in the mic, they at least got heat just for being Iranian and Russian!
Jobbers who eventually made it one day: Troy Martin AKA Mike Kelly= Shane Douglas; Jack Foley = Cactus Jack; Lucius Brown = Virgil. Shane took his bumps, but REALLY looked like a scrub- pale, no physique, bleached blond hair- ugh. No wonder he wasn’t hired, and was forced to use steroids to get noticed. Cactus Jack didn’t even look like a TV scrub, however. Announcer Johnny V said he looks like he should be mowing a lawn. Virgil had the nody, but no skill- he didn’t sell right (take his bumps convincingly). There was no way ANYONE could have predicted the success of any of those three (especially Cactus Jack, who went on to become WWF World Champion and a New York Times Bestseller).
Speaking of Virgil, ring announcer Mel Phillips called his LUSCIOUS Brown instead of LUCIUS Brown. Kind of DISGUSTING considering the rumors that Mel was gay and the urban legend that Pat Patterson has sex with Virgil to get him the job.
I miss total squash matches with jobbers in 2009. The squash matches in Challenge only lasted a couple of minutes and have fans an opportunity to see all the moves of the wnner, and the matches helped get wrestlers over with the audience.
The Wizard (King Curtis Iaukea) had no heat in this WWF run as manager of Sika and Kamala. He had a lot of interview, promos, and did everything a manager should do, but his ranting and raving was over everyone’s heads.
Honkytonk Man’s face push totally backfired. I don’t know if that was the plan, but WWF kept running his promos, and there was no connection with the fans of 1986 (HTM acted like a good-guy Elvis impersonator). His first match on Challenge had no heat.
This era was frustrating because the WWF never (or rarely) recognized the accomplishments of “newcomers” from other wrestling leagues, and treated them like rookies. Even as a kid I had read about all the wrestlers from the magazines, so it kinda sucked for big names to be treated like openers or to “make their debut”.
Slick really was being phased in as Fred Blassie was nearing retirement. So hard to believe just 2-3 years ago, Blassie and the Sheik were top heels.
The 80′s were truly a decade of excess; everyone in the WWF was making money hand over fist thanks to Hulk Hogan selling out arenas, and it’s kinda sad to see some guys knowing their futures (see The Wrestler movie to see the final outcome for “retired” wrestlers.) I doubt any of the wrestlers realized that they would fade away and get reduced to being jobbers or small town gyms, even though their older squash opponents had distinguished careers and were now nothing.
Harley Race was at a disadvantage since he was a 7-time NWA World Champion, and was at the tail end of his career, so the WWF made him the King of Wrestling as a compromise. It’s a shame we were not treated to a more serious version of Handsome Harley Race in 1986 WWF.
“Mr. Wonderful” Paul Ordorff truly was an amazing heel, and a great nemesis to Hulk Hogan. The Ordorff-Hogan feud on the house show circuit (there was no PPV) was the last of its kind, and generated the most money in WWF history for untelevised house shows.
Wrestling Challenge has Jake “The Snake” Roberts’ talkshow “The Snake Pit”. Jake usually would cut very dark and twisted promos like “Men are born out of passion…”, and he made a lot of drug and groupies references that probably were over a lot of kids’ heads.
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