WWE Survivor Series 2018 happens this weekend, so to help celebrate that, we’re going back in time over 30 years to recap the inaugural Survivor Series event, WWF Survivor Series ’87 in our own, imitable vintage Best and Worst style.
If you’ve never seen the first Survivor Series, you can watch it on WWE Network here. If you like what you read, follow it up by jumping about a decade into the future and reading what went down at the 1997 show. Maybe you’ve heard about that one. A guy screws himself at the end.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Survivor Series 1987. I said, are you ready, for the Survivor Series? WHO WILL SURVIVE?
Before We Begin, Here’s What You Need To Know
In March of 1987, the World Wrestling Federation held what would be its biggest event for the next three decades: WrestleMania 3, featuring Hulk Hogan bodyslamming Andre the Giant in front of about 78,000 fans we’re gonna round up to 93,000 in the Pontiac Silverdome (brother). The event was such a success that Vince McMahon added three new annual marquee events to the schedule: Survivor Series in November 0f ’87, the Royal Rumble starting in January of ’88, and SummerSlam the following August.
Survivor Series’ placement was no accident; not only was it at the “half-way point” in the year between WrestleManias, they could run it on Thanksgiving night directly opposite the NWA’s popular Starrcade event, which had been running since 1983. Not only did he run it the same night, Vince told cable companies that if they carried Starrcade at all, they wouldn’t have access to WWF’s closed circuit and pay-per-view events going forward. Cable companies (mostly) listened, and Survivor Series wedged out Starrcade so badly the NWA sold to Ted Turner, became WCW, and moved Starrcade to December for the remainder of its existence. So in a way, uh, thanks for creating WCW, Survivor Series?
Creatively, you only really need to know two major stories:
- Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant were building to a big rematch following the wild success of WrestleMania, so the goal between now and WrestleMania IV was to keep them in each other’s faces, but to not give away another one-on-one match
- Macho Man Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat had one of the greatest matches of all time at WrestleMania III with Steamboat beating Savage for the Intercontinental Championship. Steamboat wanted time to spend with his family, however, so the plan was to put the IC title on Butch Reed. When Reed no-showed what was supposed to be his championship win, the HONKY TONK MAN of all people got his spot. Honky went from being a joke character to being such a hated presence that he stayed champion for 454 days and completely redefined the WWF’s standard for cowardly heels
- with Steamboat gone, Savage began to turn face, and ended up aligning himself with Hulk Hogan in the “Mega Powers” in an effort to fight off the company’s top heels and get his championship back from the Honker. Of course, that would eventually cause him to target a higher position, but that’s another year and a half of story
Your hosts for the evening are Gorilla Monsoon, who looks like what would happen if that really nice older man you know from church was also Hugh Hefner, and Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura, who looks like he just unlocked a bunch of legendary animal clothes in Red Dead Redemption 2 and decided to wear them even though they don’t go together. His Thanksgiving look is best described as “Sumerian Pilgrim.” He just finished shooting The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger and can’t stop talking about it, which is fine, because it rules.
These are the rules of a Survivor Series match, in case you’ve never seen one. The first event is only four matches (!!) long, with three five-on-five “traditional” Survivor Series elimination matches — one for the main-eventers, one for the women, one for the mid-card — and a fourth “tag team” Survivor Series match, with five teams, making it a massive 10-versus-10 thing that’s just as clumsy and overfilled as that sounds.
Let’s get to it! Fuck you, Starrcade!
Best: Honky Tonk Man, The Worst Person In The World, Forms The Best Worst Team You’ve Ever Seen
Our opening match is one of the most hilariously lopsided team vs. team matches Survivor Series has ever done, and it’s even funnier 30 years later. So, the “greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time,” the Honky Donkey Man, announces that he’s prowled the bowels of the 1987 heel undercard to form the “greatest team ever assembled for the Survivor Series.” Also, the first! The greatest team ever assembled includes:
- an Elvis impersonator
- a music colonel from the rock ‘n’ roll 1950s with a megaphone
- a used car salesman in a personalized satin jacket who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else
- a cowboy wearing nothing but underwear under his duster
- a 145-year old Harley Race, dressed up as a king
- an evil referee who also wrestles
- a disgraced Greek hero who uses a chain as a weapon
And yeah, if that was the Ghost of Sparta in the last slot and not Hercules Hernandez, they probably would’ve won the match. Imagine if the first Survivor Series match ended with a Quicktime event of Hercules stomping Brutus Beefcake to the ground, grabbing him by the upper row of teeth and just ripping his head in half. Beefcake explodes into orbs while everyone stands on the apron blinking.
The match is so lopsided because … well, in the 1980s, the World Wrestling Federation was all about acquiring territories, right? So they’d bring in various World Champions from other promotions and use them in their mid-card. Sorta like what they do with the indies now. But yeah, that means the babyface Survivor Series team is a murderer’s row of 1980s WWF talent, including Macho Man Randy Savage, Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat, and Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts. It was Savage’s way of putting together an Abraham Lincoln-esque Team of Rivals on his way to WWF babyfacedom. Rounding out the team were young-ass healthy-ass Jim Duggan, still about 10 years from being a crazy old Grizzly man who stores office supplies in his panties, and Brutus Beefcake, a barber who carries around gardening sheers and only ever seems to cut up his own gear. He’s basically wrestling this match in sexy Trapper Keeper.
The match goes how you’d expect, with Duggan getting counted-out because he’s dumber than a pile of mute bricks and Beefcake taking the only real babyface elimination. Don’t worry, The Beefer still contributes to the match by kneeing Honky Tonk Man so hard in the asshole that he starts speaking in tongues.
Eventually it comes down to Honky Tonk Man and the three stars who could take away his precious Intercontinental Championship at any moment: Savage, Steamboat, and Roberts. Honky, being Honky, decides to bail on the match and take the loss, giving Team Savage the win. Ventura works overtime to explain that Honky is a singles champion and has nothing to gain from winning a Survivor Series match, and that staying out there would just risk injury, so he was being smart. Gorilla inquires as to whether or not Ventura might stop it.
If you’d like to jump ahead and learns how this ends for Honk, check out the Best and Worst of SummerSlam ’88.
Best: Some Say Donna Christianello Started The Women’s Revolution
The second match of the card is maybe the best, especially if you’re looking for a spectacular time capsule depicting the nebulous period when the Fabulous Moolah’s brand of hair pulling and awkwardly falling down was crashing head-first into the actual women’s wrestling revolution from 1980s Japan, and the World Wrestling Federation’s roster was aging locals from the 1960s plus JOSHI ICONS TEARING IT THE HELL UP.
Up first, let’s introduce the heels, captained by “Ladies Champion” and one of the all-time greats, “sensational” Sherri Martel. You don’t KNOW where she’ll be, Hulk Hogan. YOU DON’T KNOW. Filling out her team are:
- Dawn Marie, who looks like Angel Blue’s mom and has not yet regenerated into her ECW version
- Donna Christianello, who makes King Harley Race look like Lio Rush
- The Glamour Girls, whose gimmick is that they called themselves “glamorous” and “girls” despite looking like someone split Tieneblas into two 60-year old women. They’re made up of Leilani Kai and Judy Martin. Note: Judy Martin is basically Goldberg in this match, and isn’t selling shit
On the other side of the ring we have team captain Velvet McIntyre (who you may remember from losing via wardrobe malfunction at WrestleMania 2), problematic-ass The Fabulous Moolah, Jake the Snake’s sister Rockin’ Robin, and, most importantly, Itsuki Yamazaki and Noriyo Tateno, the goddamn The Jumping Bomb Angels.
Saying the Bomb Angels were “good,” especially in comparison to everyone who isn’t Sherri they’re in here trying to work, is the understatement of the century. What they’re doing for women’s wrestling here is akin to what Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask were doing to junior heavyweight wrestling in 1981. Imagine if you put Seth Rollins and Kenny Omega into a time machine and sent them back to 1975 to work a fast-paced match with two locals at the county fair. Tateno and Yamazaki are so far ahead of the curve here they have to visibly slow down to keep everyone upright and informed. They could walk into a match with the Young Bucks right now and probably tear them up.
The Bomb Angels are the big focus here, and are the survivors for their team because the Fabulous Moolah is already 64 years old and could lose to a gentle gust of wind. Watching her bump on a clothesline, and then watching the Bomb Angels fly around the ring is like opening a dirty music festival port-a-potty and finding it filled with gold.
This should put the dynamic into perspective:
Easily my favorite scene from Showgirls.
Worst: TOO MANY GUYS
Honestly, the only bad part of the first Survivor Series (besides the whole “running ma and pa Starrcade out of town” thing) is the tag team Survivor Series match, in which the WWF is like, “instead of putting together five or maybe six really good tag team wrestlers, let’s do a full-on five-on-five elimination match with 10 teams.” That means there are TWENTY GUYS in the ring when the match starts, and as you might be able to tell from the screenshot above, you can’t see a damn thing.
It’s the WWF closed circuit equivalent of going to a standing-room-only indie wrestling show when they do the hardcore match and fight around the arena. Unless you’re in the immediate proximity to the fighting, you can’t see shit (clap clap, clap-clap-clap). Combine that with the fact that there are too many guys to build any kind of cohesive story for the match, then combine that with the fact that it goes over THIRTY MINUTES, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
The only real selling point is the incredible amount of random weirdos hanging around, as during this period every single WWF tag team had a cohesive gimmick, identity, and color scheme. On the face side you had STRIKE FORCE, coming up from the grave of Tom Zenk and the Can-Am Connection, to captain a team including The British Bulldogs (British guys), The Fabulous Rougeaus (French-Canadian guys), The Killer Bees (bee guys), and The Young Stallions (baby horse guys) (wait, no, “shitty guys”). The Young Stallions features a young Jim Powers, famous for doing so many steroids his armpits have vascularity. Dynamite Kid, seen here looking like he’s somewhere else, is held together by well-wishes.
The heels, who don’t win the match somehow, are made up of a WWF bad guy all-star team including The Hart Foundation back before Bret Hart got a personality, Demolition back before they stole the Killer Bees’ Twin Magic gimmick, The Islander back when Meng only had a nose and maybe around the eyes Of Fear, The Bolsheviks because “evil Russians” meant something much different in 1987, and the wet blanket white guy team of Greg Valentine and Dino Bravo. Maybe they lost because they had three managers?
Best: A Million Dollar Man Thanksgiving
The highlight of the entire show might be the “happy Thanksgiving” video from The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, featuring him eating squab instead of that disease infested commoner food Thanksgiving turkey. We also get some DiBiase menial task highlights, including:
- shitting on a confused little kid for looking poor, then offering him $500 if he can dribble a basketball 15 times in a row only to kick the ball away on dribble 14
- making a child do push-ups for money, then shaming him for his best not being good enough
- making a woman bark like a dog, in a segment Vince McMahon took notes on
- making a young Rob Van Dam (no, seriously) kiss his sweaty feet
- renting out a public pool so no children will be able to enjoy it
Speaking of that whole “bringing in everywhere’s best guy to be your mid-card” thing, Ted DiBiase might be the most complete character WWF ever produced. He’s so, so good at this. If the Network had been around in 1987, they could’ve given him a weekly show where he just promised locals money and then laughed in their faces for thinking they deserved money.
Worst: Hulk Hogan, Then Now Forever
Finally we have the main event of the evening: Andre the Giant’s Survivor Series team vs. Hulk Hogan, and the guys standing closest to Hulk Hogan while Survivor Series happened. WrestleMania 3 is kind of the end of “top babyface” Hulk Hogan, as he’s got enough power and influence on the company now that everything he does is in the interest of preserving Hulkamania. Everything from the day after WrestleMania 3 until … well, present, is Actually Evil Hulk Hogan. He’s SUCH a dirtbag. He was a total dirtbag before this, too — see the ending to WrestleMania 2, for example — but this is where it gets really bad.
So Andre’s team is made up of the Heenan Family all-stars: Ravishing Rick Rude, King Kong Bundy, Oh My God (the One Man Gang), and The Natural Butch Reed. They’re up against Hulk Hogan. Hogan’s wearing a headband with little tassels on it so his face looks like the door to the back of a head shop.
His team of Guys Who Aren’t As Important As Hulk Hogan includes Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff, Don Muraco at his most thicc, jailbird Ken Petera (see the SummerSlam column for more info on the time he vandalized a McDonald’s and threw hands with police officers), and Bam Bam Bigelow, managed by Harry Knowles.
The entire match is build around the idea that people want to see Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant go at it again, so they use every trick in the book to keep them apart. After they FINALLY get in there and punch each other a few times, Hogan wanders out of the ring and gets counted-out. Oh no, Hulk! Despite being eliminated by one of the obvious rules of wrestling, Hogan gets back into the ring and throws a huge fit about how he shouldn’t HAVE to, because he’s HULK HOGAN, BROTHERS. After he throws minutes and minutes of tantrum, Howard Finkel has to announce that if Hogan doesn’t leave the ring immediately he’ll have to forfeit, so bountiful Hulkster leaves Bam Bam Bigelow to get over by himself.
Which he DOES, spectacularly. He eliminates a couple of guys on his own, then has to go one-on-one with Andre the Giant, who he avoids with comical BARREL ROLLS. Bam Bam’s whole thing is that he’s Agile For A Big Man™, and Andre’s thing in 1987 is that he’s Not Even Agile For A Guy That Big, so it’s a good fit. It’s all going great for Bigelow until he somehow misses Andre on a charge, in one of the most comical bits of dexterity I’ve ever seen:
Andre’s able to put Bigelow away with the worst double underhook suplex you’ve ever seen, and that’s the match. Even though Hogan lost the match and had already been eliminated, he runs back out with the championship and bashes Andre in the head with it a bunch. THEN HE POSES. FOR SEVERAL MINUTES, while my Patronus Jesse Ventura tries in vain to convince SOMEONE that this is awful. Don’t worry, man, wrestling bloggers 30 years later have your back! It’s a lot like one of those house shows you go to where the heel wins the main event, so the faces have to run out and beat everyone up for no reason to send the crowd home happy, except on pay-per-view. Hey, they were still figuring it out.
Andre cuts a weird backstage promo about how he won because he’s smart, not because he’s seven feet tall and 500 pounds and wrestled about 30 seconds of the match, and that’s the show.
The Blue Blazer is here, Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan are in full Mega Powers mode heading into WrestleMania V where they will definitely be okay and not fight each other, and nobody can defeat the Ultimate Warrior. See you 30 years ago!