Scott & JT’s Vintage Vault Refresh: Saturday Night’s Main Event I – 5/11/85


** Scott & JT’s Vintage Vault Refresh reviews are a chronological look back at WWE PPV and TV history that began with a review of WrestleMania I. The PICs have revisited these events and refreshed all of their fun facts that provide insight into the match, competitors and state of the company as well as their overviews of the match action and opinions and thoughts on the outcomes. In addition, Jeff Jarvis assists in compiling historical information and the Fun Facts in each of the reviews. Also, be sure to leave feedback on the reviews at our Facebook page. Enjoy! ***

Saturday Night’s Main Event I – 5/11/85

May 11, 1985
Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Uniondale, NY
Announcers: Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura
Attendance: 8,300

Fun Fact: The year is 1985. Vince McMahon is in the midst of changing the landscape of professional wrestling from a territorial system into his own global empire. The WWF has just pulled off their groundbreaking event, WrestleMania, and the Rock ‘N’ Wrestling era was in full swing. Dick Ebersol, the Executive Producer of Saturday Night Live, saw the huge ratings that the WWF had done in the special events they held on MTV in 1984 and 1985 and was looking to bring some of that ratings power to NBC. He struck a deal with McMahon to run periodic special events in place of Saturday Night Live. The Saturday Night’s Main Event specials were unique for their time in that they featured matches between top names instead of typical squash matches normally seen on television. When it debuted, SNME became the first professional wrestling program to be shown nationally in prime time since 1955.

1) The US Express & Ricky Steamboat defeat Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff & George Steele when Barry Windham pinned Steele with a roll up at 6:30

Fun Fact: The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff captured the WWF tag titles at WrestleMania from the US Express and this match is a continuation of their feud.

Fun Fact II: William “Jim” Myers was born in April 1937 and grew up in Madison Heights, Michigan. He was athletic in high school, playing football, baseball, basketball and running track. He played football in the 50s for Michigan State before knee problems caused his football career to end. He would get his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State and later a master’s from Central Michigan before he began his teaching career back in Madison Heights. While teaching he also served as a football and amateur wrestling coach.

While looking to add some additional income to his teaching salary, Myers started wrestling in Detroit. He wanted to conceal his identity to protect his privacy, so he began wrestling under a mask and went by the name The Student. He was scouted by Bruno Sammartino and began wrestling in Pittsburgh, where he stopped wearing the mask and began going by the name George Steele. He soon made his way to the WWF under Vince McMahon, Sr. Steele’s character had been developed to one of a wild heel that would tear the ring turnbuckles apart with his teeth and was given the moniker “the Animal” to fit his persona. Steele would remain a heel until this night at the first SNME event where he would turn face as his partners leave him in the ring following their match.

Scott: The first official match in SNME’s rich history pits the former tag champions vs. the current tag champions with their friends mixed in. On the heels of the first WrestleMania, and that dastardly title switch with Freddie Blassie’s cane, we keep the feud going on here at the Nassau Mausoleum. Man I remember getting so pumped up at 11 years old for this first big Saturday night show, particularly for our matches later but I was a big US Express mark and was hoping this would be a tag title match. We have a group of expert workers in the ring, with perhaps the exception of the Animal but that wasn’t really his gig anyway. Sheik and Volkoff were carrying some red hot heat in this match after stealing the tag titles at Mania and of course their anti-USA sentiments. Vince and Jesse were a great team, although early on Jesse was still getting accustomed to his role as color commentator. He would get better and better as the years progress. The action is back and forth with no wasted motion early on, and the Nassau crowd is bonkers until the Animal looks to make a tag but his partners drop off the apron and hang him out to dry. Barry Windham rolled Animal up for the win, but it’s the after-match that’s the main issue. Steele goes after a turnbuckle, but then the tag champions come in the ring and beat their partner down. It’s evident in this era of PPV that Animal would be a comedy babyface as opposed to his earlier heel incarnations in the pre-PPV era. The match itself isn’t much but the Steele turn was needed to get the new era of the WWF an extra fan-friendly character. Grade: **

JT: The inaugural installment of Saturday Night’s Main Event kicks off with the voices of the show, Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura, welcoming us to the Nassau Coliseum and for the premier of wrestling on NBC. This episode was coinciding with Mother’s Day weekend and that theme would come up throughout the night. Our opener is a spillover from WrestleMania, where Nikolai Volkoff and Iron Sheik upset the US Express for the tag team titles. The Express are looking for a measure of revenge and are set up to get their hands on the champs here, albeit the titles are not on the line as Ricky Steamboat and George Steele are also in the mix. Steamboat is still getting his feet wet in the promotion, having only debuted shortly before Mania. Steele is a heel stalwart, formerly managed by Lou Albano when the Captain was also a rulebreaker. Nikolai actually got the through the whole Russian national anthem, but the tide turned when the Express and Steamboat charged out to Born in the USA. Windham and Sheik kicked things off and Barry was full of fire early, flying around the ring and easily handling Sheik before spiking him down to the mat hard with a bodyslam. The faces worked some quick tags as they took the fight right to the pride of Tehran. Jesse was point immediately, calling out the strategy in the early goings. Sheik continued to be rattled, only gaining some daylight when he hooked Steamboat in an abdominal stretch. That was short-lived, though, and it led to a breakdown that saw all three heel tossed to the floor and forced to regroup. As the crowd cheered on the Express & Steamboat, we went to break. Ricky stayed hot after the break, hitting a powerslam and then a cross body off the top rope for a near fall. Sheik finally was able to tag Volkoff, but things didn’t go much better for the big Russian. A distraction by Steele would allow Nikolai to land a few shots in on Rotundo, but the former tag team champ fought through it and tagged out to Windham. After a sunset flip into the ropes, Nikolai escaped and tagged in Steele, who quickly looked to tag out, however Sheik and Volkoff dropped to the floor and refused. As Steele tried to sort things out, Windham rolled him up and grabbed the win for his team. After the bell, the champs attacked Steele while he munched on his turnbuckle but the Animal fought them off to a big pop. Albano sensed a potential reunion with his old friend and approached him in the ring, calming him down and completing the face turn. There wasn’t much to this one, as it was effectively a squash that existed to trigger Steele’s turn. The crowd was pretty fired up, and the faces looked crisp and pretty great overall. More six-men tags with these three would have been a very welcomed sight here in 1985. Grade: *1/2

*** Mean Gene Okerlund interviews Volkoff, Sheik and Freddie Blassie in the aisle. Blassie calls Steele a “fruitcake” and says he wasn’t tagging when he was supposed to per the plan. Steele would catch up to them and smack them around before ambling away. ***

*** Roddy Piper welcomes in his WrestleMania teammate Paul Orndorff for a special Piper’s Pit. Bob Orton is also present and Orndorff dares him to take a shot. Piper attempts to ease their tensions that had been boiling since Mania but then changes course and calls Orndorff a loser. They would snipe and threaten each other with Piper accusing Orndorff of having “lost his nuts” and says he will slap Orndorff for embarrassing everyone in MSG. Orndroff fires back and shoves Piper and then fight both Hot Rod and Orton off. Orndorff would load Piper up for the piledriver, but Orton smacked him from behind with the cast. That drew out Mr. T to protect Orndorff from further harm. ***

2) Hulk Hogan defeats Bob Orton by disqualification when Roddy Piper interferes at 6:54; Hogan retains WWF Heavyweight Title

Fun Fact: With Paul Orndorff out of the picture, the stage is set for Roddy Piper’s henchman, Bob Orton, to take on the world champion. 

Scott: We get a title match here which was very special since you didn’t see Hogan wrestle on the syndicated shows much back in those days. In fact the first World Title match I ever saw (after his win over the Iron Sheik) was on the first “Hulkamania” VHS tape. Ah, VHS wrestling tapes. Talk about childhood. Seeing Hogan taking wrestling advice from Mr. T is pretty comical. After some comedy work early, once Orton got going for the heel heat segment the match really took a good turn and was very entertaining. We know how great a worker Orton is and as he works the Champion over, we see Jesse start to really get going as a color announcer, egging Orton on to punish Hogan for a few more minutes before going for the pinfall. Hogan does his usual comebacks but as expected Roddy Piper wasn’t going to let his bodyguard “Ace” lose so we get the disqualification and a brawl with Mr. T follows. This feud continues to brew all year long. It was great to see Hogan wrestle, but the match itself was relatively basic. Grade: **

JT: After the Pit fiasco, Bob Orton had to dust himself off and regroup because he was set up to challenge Hulk Hogan in the very first WWF Title match in SNME history. The crowd was bananas for Hogan, natch, and he was all jacked up as he marched to the ring and posed for his adoring fans. After a break, the match got going and we would find out that both Roddy Piper and Mr. T had come out to act as cornermen. Orson tried for a fast start but stood no chance as Hogan smacked him around, slammed him to the mat and drove him to the floor before the Cowboy could even get his chaps off. Once he made it back in, Orton charged wildly but missed and smashed his shoulder into the post. Hogan pounced and worked the arm, targeting the cast and hammering away. Orton would eventually land a knee to the champ’s chest and locked in from there, unloading some right hands as Piper cheered him on. The Cowboy would pick up a near fall with an atomic drop, but it was a forceful kickout, meaning Orton wasn’t quite close yet. Piper and T would jaw on the floor as Orton maintained control, continuing to club away. The strikes were effective but stunted when the champ Hulked up and clobbered Orton with a clothesline and big elbow drop for a near fall. Orton wasn’t done though as he countered some punch in the corner with an atomic drop and then set up Hogan for his superplex. Hogan blocked that and knocked Orton to the mat. He would hit the legdrop but as he covered, Piper reached in and jabbed him in the face for the DQ. Piper leapt into the ring and laid some kicks in but T made the save. A brawl kicked off from there, with Orndorff joining the fray and driving Piper and Orton away as Ventura complained about the odds. This was a spirited little affair and I liked Orton’s comeback leading to the superplex tease. This also accomplished a few things as it established Hogan and his formula for the NBC audience but also continued both a troika of feuds for Piper between Hogan, T and Orndorff. Solid match a really well done angle. Grade: **

3) Wendi Richter defeats Fabulous Moolah with an inside cradle to retain WWF Women’s Title at 4:00

Fun Fact: This is a continuation of the Richter/Moolah feud that has been boiling since Richter first won the title from Moolah at The Brawl to End it All. To prevent “outside interference” in this contest, Moolah has gone to the WWF and has a proclamation that bars Cyndi Lauper from the ringside area.

Scott: In what many thought was the co-main event match of WrestleMania, Wendi Richter won back her title from Lelani Kai (or as Cyndi Lauper called her, LANNY KAI) after losing at War to Settle the Score. So to really beef up the debut episode of SNME, we have yet another title match stemming from the other big feud leading into Mania. This was probably supposed to be the “passing of the torch” match as Richter was red hot right now and Moolah was clearly on the far end of her Hall of Fame career. It’s such a different style of hair pulling and punches/kicks but it was better than some women’s matches back then. Richter wins the match with a small package on a Moolah body slam attempt. The match really wasn’t much but this was a big moment (or so we thought) for the company as one would think that Wendi Richter would be the champion for a very long time. That wouldn’t happen. Grade: **

JT: Nothing screams targeting a youthful audience like showcasing the ancient Fabulous Moolah. Before the match, Moolah informs Gene that she is tired of Cyndi Lauper’s interference and said she had paperwork banning the pop star from ringside. Lauper basically said that was horseshit and that she would be at ringside anyway. And she wasn’t lying and she and David Wolfe jogged out alongside the champion, all to a raucous pop. The Fink would read Moolah’s official proclamation, reiterating that Lauper was banned due to continued interference in past matches. The crowd did not like that one, but the pissed off Lauper was ushered to the back as they took a break. When we returned, we saw Lauper watching the match on a tiny monitor in the aisle and on the screen, Moolah was in control of the bout. Jesse noted that she has never been meaner as she choked away at the champ and then dumped her to the floor. Moolah was so slow by this point, tossing weak kicks at Richter and Wolfe, who remained at ringside. Moolah would allow herself to be distracted, allowing Wendi to knock her to the floor. Back in, Moolah grabbed a one count and went to work again with a sloppy sequence of strikes. Richter isn’t bad but when in there with this fossil, she really can’t get much done. And just when it looked like Moolah had things in control, Richter countered a slam with an inside cradle and nabbed the win to retain. Lauper charged down the aisle and celebrated with her friend, who still remained queen of the mountain. Match was not very good, with a couple of decent shots from Richter mixed in. Grade: 1/2*

*** Gene Okerlund interviews Junkyard Dog and his mother Bertha, who is in town for Mother’s Day. She is very proud of her son and ready to watch his upcoming match. ***

4) Junkyard Dog defeats Pete Doherty with a powerslam at 3:15

Fun Fact: Pete Doherty, also known as the Duke of Dorchester, came into the WWWF in 1977 under Vince Sr. He was primarily used as a jobber for the stars of the day. His character was known for his missing teeth, his long blonde hair and his loud screaming in the ring.

Scott: This match was nothing, just an opportunity for Vince to put another of his biggest stars on the screen in this debut episode. Really this entire episode was simply a showcase for all the WWF’s top stars so NBC would keep the show on the air for the SNL off-weeks. That’s probably why they told Jesse to be more neutral in his commentating than he normally would, to accentuate all the talent regardless of faces and heels. Pete Doherty is one of those lovable heel jobbers that you will see going ahead on Prime Time Wrestling and other house shows. JYD’s mom is here too as Mother’s Day was the next day, which is how we end this first episode. Cyndi Lauper throws a party for all the WWF’s superstars’ moms, which ends with some comedy hijinks with Moolah and a cake. This match was really nothing but an opportunity to see another top star. Grade: *

JT: Well, the poor Duke of Dorchester stood no chance here as JYD was competing live in front of his mama on Mother’s Day. Sorry Duke. Bertha proudly walked to the ring with her son and then parked it at ringside as he climbed in the ring to tussle with Doherty. Dog kicked things off with a big clothesline that knocked the Duke to the floor. As Duke started to give Bertha the business, Dog yanked him up by his hair, letting him dangle painfully. Once things got going back inside, Dog pelted Duke with his crawling headbutts and then slammed him off the top rope. After a couple more headbutts, Dog took Doherty down with a powerslam for the win. Squash city for the Dog. Grade: DUD

*** Backstage, Cyndi Lauper hosts a Mother’s Day party for the whole roster. JYD is there with his mom as are Volkoff & Sheik, who trash talk the host. Freddie Blassie is with a young lass, who he claims is his mother Laura. Albano would read a poem as Hulk Hogan stood with his mother. Lauper and Richter were with Cyndi’s mother, who was very happy to have this party to celebrate all the moms out there. Moolah would crash the party to bitch about not getting invited and trash talk Cyndi’s mom and that ended with the old bag getting shoved in the cake along with Gene, who got caught in the crossfire. ***

Final Analysis

Scott: The WWF really loaded up this first installment of what would be a landmark show for all our wrestling childhoods. Two title matches, and at the time a rare Hulk Hogan title match on TV. All the big stars were on and we even had a babyface turn for George Steele. The backstage stuff was funny camp like the Mother’s Day party that ended with Moolah and Mean Gene in the cake. The shows would be more streamlined as time would progress and even Vince and Jesse’s chemistry would solidify over time also. This was a fun debut show that gave the mainstream audience a taste of what the new WWF was going to offer. Final Grade: A-

JT: This was a fine showcase for the WWF as their partnership with NBC officially gets underway. They showed off the majority of their top stars and pushed along a few major feuds as well. The Piper stuff was all very well done and really got his issues with Hogan, T and Orndorff in a good place in front of a national audience. There wasn’t much in the way of in ring action but there was enough there to make this an entertaining little watch. I also dug the party at the end, as that would kick off a long standing tradition of SNME being the home of campy parties and skits. It was certainly a breezy watch and a nice snapshot of what the WWF looked like in the weeks following the inaugural WrestleMania. Final Grade: C