This week Throwback Thursday celebrates the 35th anniversary of the debut edition of the World Wrestling Federation’s beloved series Wrestling Challenge, as seen on the WWE Network on Peacock.
In the summer of 1986 the World Wrestling Federation’s (WWF) national expansion was gaining significant steam. With two WrestleManias under their belt and a television footprint, across broadcast and cable, unrivaled in the annuls of wrestling, the WWF was in a state of national transition. As September 1986 dawned the WWF was doing away with their longstanding weekly TV, Championship Wrestling and All Star Wrestling, and replacing them with Superstars of Wrestling and Wrestling Challenge, respectively. As the territory system was finally beginning to fall apart wrestlers from some of the biggest territories, including Bill Watts’ Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) and Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association (AWA), were cashing in with the WWF. Days before this show aired, and one day after it was taped, the WWF broke records at Toronto’s C.N.E. Stadium with The Big Event, headlined by Hulk Hogan successfully defending the WWF World title against former friend Paul Orndorff. As the popularity of the WWF, and the sport of pro wrestling as a whole, continued to grow there seemed to be no limit to how big the World Wrestling Federation could get. The subtle shift in weekly programming would allow the WWF to more easily expand into difficult markets, targeting children and families as they went, and would help turn the WWF into a juggernaut the pro wrestling world had never seen before.
On WWF TV the top story in the early autumn of 1986 was continued rivalry between WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan and former friend “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. Roddy Piper’s issues with Adrian Adonis’ “Flower Shop” were also a big story on TV, this despite Piper being away from the WWF to film a movie. Jake Roberts feud with Ricky Steamboat, the rise of “King” Harley Race, and the stacked tag team division were also hot topics at time. Away from the ring the top song in America was the Bananrama’s “Venus”, while Madonna’s True Blue continued to be top selling album. On television NBC’s The Cosby Show dominated the ratings while Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me, the classic Stephen King adaptation starring River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Cory Feldman, and Kiefer Sutherland, was king at the box office for a second week.
Now let’s head over to the WWE Network on Peacock, hit ‘play’, and see just how well this debut edition of Wrestling Challenge holds up in 2021!
Edits, for those wondering, are few and far between. There is a bit of muting for questionable chants and some music overdubbing but that’s about it. Context, though, is terrible. At the moment the only weekly WWF TV to run prior to this debut edition of Challenge is Prime Time Wrestling, which picks up in April 1986. All Star Wrestling‘s coverage ends in early 1982 and Championship Wrestling, which Wrestling Challenge replaced, isn’t even on the Network as of this writing. Due to continued copyright disputes Superstars of Wrestling only begins to pick up in April 1992. All other WWF pay-per-view/close circuit events and all prior editions of Saturday Night’s Main Event are available for you to enjoy, however, right now on the WWE Network on Peacock!
A special note on the date listed on the Network. The WWE Network lists this debut edition of Wrestling Challenge as having aired Saturday, September 6, 1986. However, in almost every market across the country Challenge aired on Sunday afternoons while Superstars of Wrestling, the A-show, aired on Saturday afternoons. Much of the country would have watched the debut of Superstars of Wrestling on Saturday, September 6, 1986 and the debut of Wrestling Challenge the following afternoon on Sunday, September 7, 1986.
WWF Wrestling Challenge #1 (WATCH)
Date: September 7, 1986 (TAPED: Aug. 27, 1986) – Location: Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, Connecticut
Attendance: 18,500 – TV Rating: N/A
Commentators: Gorilla Monsoon, Ernie Ladd, Johnny V – Interviews: Ken Resnick & Jake Roberts
CHAMPIONS AT THE TIME:
WWF World Heavyweight Champion: Hulk Hogan (January 23, 1984, WWF on MSG Network, from The Iron Sheik)
WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion: “Macho Man” Randy Savage (February 8, 1986, WWF on NESN, from Tito Santana)
WWF World Tag Team Champions: The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith & Dynamite Kid) (April 7, 1986, WWF WrestleMania 2, from The Dream Team (Brutus Beefcake & Greg “The Hammer” Valentine)
WWF Women’s Champion: The Fabulous Moolah (July 9, 1986, WWF Live Event, Homebush Sports Center, Sydney Australia, from Velvet McIntyre)
WWF Women’s Tag Team Champions: The Glamour Girls (Judy Martin & Leilani Kai (August 1, 1985, WWF Live Event, Cairo, Egypt, from Desiree Peterson & Velvet McIntyre; this was a “phantom” title change)
After the new World Wrestling Federation “recognized symbol of excellence in Sports Entertainment” signature we head inside the Hartford Civic Center where Gorilla Monsoon welcomes us to the premier edition of Wrestling Challenge and introduces his broadcast colleagues, “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd and “Luscious” Johnny V, before tossing to the opening video package. (Bobby Heenan, for those wondering, would debut as Monsoon’s partner a few weeks after this.) When the opening is through we return to the Hartford Civic Center where Gorilla Monsoon runs down the card we can expect to see this week, as well as a few interviews and segments, before tossing to the ring, where “Lord” Alfred Hayes is our ring announcer, for the first match on Wrestling Challenge.
—Tag Team Match (2:01)
“Iron” Mike Sharpe & “Magnificent” Don Muraco w/Mr. Fuji vs. The U.S. Express (Danny Spivey & Mike Rotundo)
Before the match gets going we get an insert promo from “Superstar” Bill Graham, who talks about coming back to the WWF. The early stages of the bout belong to the Express as both Rotundo & Spivey take control of Muraco. Soon enough, though, Muraco goes to Spivey’s eyes and the match, for a moment, turns in the heels favor. Once “Iron” Mike Sharpe, the wrestling’s loudest man, gets the tag Spivey finds a second wind and makes a decent comeback. The Spivey/Sharpe portion is very sloppy, a mix of timing woes and blown spots before Spivey tags in Rotundo and helps set up for an airplane spin. Rotundo drops Sharpe and goes for the pin When Muraco breaks it up at two. The match breaks down then and Rotundo winds up trapping Sharpe in an inside cradle. Muraco turns the cradle over so that Sharpe in on top before clocking Spivey. As the referee pushes Muraco from the ring Spivey turns the inside cradle back over so that Rotundo is on top, leading to the 1-2-3 for the U.S. Express at 3:05.
WINNERS are The U.S. Express (Danny Spivey & Mike Rotundo) (Pin, 3:05)
Following the match, and the ring announcements, we head to a replay of the finish before heading to the “Wrestlers’ Rebuttal” segment. This week the “rebuttal” goes to WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who voices his displeasure with the fans cheering Miss Elizabeth and not him, telling fans they need to jump on his bandwagon. This is followed by our first Peacock ad-break of the hour.
—Singles Match (8:33)
“Adorable” Adrian Adonis w/Jimmy Hart & Bob Orton, Jr. vs. Tommy Sharp
There’s some odd muting to start the match, with conversation about Orton’s pink cowboy hat being removed to cover the homophobic chants being hurled at Adonis. As this one gets going we get an insert promo from “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Jr., who says it was a good move to join with Adonis and Hart, saying the money and working conditions are better, and that he’s even starting to like the smell of the flowers. The match, despite a bit of offense from Sharp, is a squash. Adonis has his way with Sharp, even tossing Sharp to the floor where Jimmy Hart sprays perfume on all over Sharp. In the end, as Jimmy Hart distracts referee Danny Davis, Bob Orton lifts Sharp into the air as Adonis lands a diving elbow drop to Sharp for a back suplex/elbow drop double-team for the pinfall at 2:41.
WINNER is “Adorable” Adrian Adonis w/Jimmy Hart & Bob Orton, Jr. (Pin, 2:41)
After the match there’s a bit more muting to cove up the slur being chanted by the fans as we head to a replay of the finish. We then head back to the interview location where Ken Resnick interviews “Ace Cowboy” Bob Orton, Jr., about joining with Jimmy Hart & Adrian Adonis on the August 9, 1986 edition of Championship Wrestling. Orton tells Resnick that Adonis & Hart gave Orton “an offer I could not refuse”, offering more money and “conveniences” than Roddy Piper offered. Orton says they offered “faith” as well, something Piper “didn’t do”. Orton slams Piper for taking off to Hollywood to make movies, leaving Orton behind and discontinuing Orton’s pay. When the pay stops, Orton says, the contract is “null and void”. Orton says that if Piper reads the contract today he’ll know that “Adrian Adonis’ ‘Flower Shop’ will reign forever.” Orton then turns to the pink cowboy hat, saying he’ll wear whatever color hat Adnois & Hart tell him to wear because that’s who is paying him. Orton then says he likes the hat, that it takes “a man to walk around town in a hat like this. And I am just the man who can do it.” Orton then goes on a tear about how he “made” Roddy Piper, that without Orton by Piper’s side Piper “wouldn’t have been able to say half the things he said to half the people he said ’em to.” Orton says he stood beside Piper like he’ll stand beside Adonis, and Piper “can take that to the bank.” This is followed by another Peacock ad-break.
—Singles Match (15:38)
Bob Bradley vs. Koko B. Ware
This marked Koko B. Ware’s second TV match in the WWF. Koko taped a match the prior day at the August 26, 1986 inaugural Superstars of Wrestling taping in Providence, Rhode Island, a tag team loss to the Hart Foundation with Paul Roma as Ware’s partner. This was Koko’s first televised singles match in the WWF. As this one gets going we get an insert promo from Koko himself, talking about joining the WWF and doing “The Bird” dance. The match itself, meanwhile, is a bit of a competitive squash. Koko is too fast and too quick for Bradley at first but Bradley ends up putting up a decent fight against Koko. Bradley looks to have Ware reeling when he goes for a diving leg drop from the top only to miss. Koko goes for the kill, landing a series of dropkicks before hitting his patented missile dropkick from the second rope before diving on top of Bradley to score the pinfall at 3:06.
WINNER is Koko B. Ware (Pin, 3:06)
Following the match, as Koko B. Ware celebrates his win, we head back to Ken Resnick, who is still looking for answers to why Bob Orton would align himself with Jimmy Hart and Adrian Adonis. Resnick then interviews Jimmy Hart, who calls Resnick “nosy” before defending Adrian Adonis from criticism that Adonis is a trouble maker. Hart then says that he needs a bodyguard, and that had Hart had a bodyguard Junkyard Dog wouldn’t have been able to strip his pants off at the Slammy Awards in March. Resnick then lists the talent Hart had under contract, including Hoss & Jimmy Jack Funk, the Hart Foundation, and Adrian Adonis, and wonders why those wrestlers couldn’t protect Hart. Hart explains that the WWF tours globally and that not all of his men are with him all of the time, that they’re often spread out across the country. “Money changes everything”, Hart says, quoting the song of the same name by The Brains (1978), and says that the Flower Shop has Bob Orton, not Roddy Piper. The Flower Shop will “live on forever”, Hart says, and all but guarantees that Adrian Adonis will be the next World Heavyweight Champion and says that maybe Bob Orton will one day be the World Champion as well. We then head to the next Peacock ad-break of the show.
Coming out of the break, as Troy Martin awaits the arrival of his opponent, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff comes out to WWF World Heavyweight Champion Hulk Hogan’s “Real American” music, angering the fans, Ernie Ladd, and Gorilla Monsoon. This was the very first time, on TV, that Orndorff was using Hogan’s music. Orndorff did the same the prior night in Providence, Rhode Island at the first Superstars of Wrestling taping for his match against Sivi Afi that would air on the September 13, 1986 edition of Superstars of Wrestling. Orndorff poses like Hulk, even cupping his ear to hear the fans, as the fans turn loudly on Orndorff.
—Singles Match (22:40)
Troy Martin vs. “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff w/Bobby Heenan
Troy Martin, for those who may not know, is the future “Franchise” Shane Douglas. This match, while marking Troy’s WWF TV debut, was actually the second match Troy taped for the WWF. The night before, August 26, 1986, Troy lost to Randy Savage in a match taped for the September 13, 1986 edition of WWF Superstars of Wrestling. As Orndorff goes on the attack we get an insert promo from Honky Tonk Man. Honky Tonk was still a babyface at this time and is ranting about what he plans to do to Orndorff for turning on Honky Tonk Man’s friend Hulk Hogan. Orndorff absolutely mauls Martin, battering the bejabbers out of Martin in and out of the ring. After having his fun with Martin, and riling up the fans, Orndorff puts Martin away with a beautiful piledriver for the pinfall at 1:44.
WINNER is “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff w/Bobby Heenan (Pin, 1:44)
After the match, as we hear the ring announcements from “Lord” Alfred Hayes, “Mr. Wonderful” continues to mock Hulk Hogan. This is followed by a replay of the finish.
Next up we head to the debut edition of “The Snake Pit”, hosted by Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Roberts’ guest for the debut edition is the Wizard and Kamala. Roberts says “today is a new beginning” and talks about bringing the fans “thunder in the way of a man so grand they call him The Wizard.” As Wizard begins to shout Wizard is joined on the Snake Pit by Kamala and Kamala’s handler Kimchee. Kamala had returned to the WWF the prior day in the debut edition of WWF Superstars of Wrestling with a win over Tommy Sharpe. Wizard shouts about the Grand Wizard, heading into his “fifteenth reincarnation”, telling Wizard to travel 22,000 miles to Uganda to find the “biggest headhunter of them all”. Wizard talks about how a cousin of Damien, Jake’s snake, told Wizard that Kamala could be found on the “northern slopes” of Kilimanjaro hunting pygmies. Wizard talks of finding Kamala and heading to the V.I.P. lounge in Singapore where the Sultan of Brunei told Wizard he needs the “blonde Bengal tiger” to add to his collection. Jake, looking to be in the last place on Earth he would want to be, says it’s all so obvious and that it’s something “only you will be able to taste, such as the DDT.” The segment wraps, with overdubbed music, and we head to the next Peacock ad-break.
Coming out of the break (29:50) Gorilla Monsoon tosses to footage of “King” Harley Race’s “coronation ceremony” from last week’s (August 30, 1986) final edition of Championship Wrestling. Harley Race won the second annual King of the Ring event on July 14, 1986 at Sullivan Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The prior year, on July 8, 1985, at the same Sullivan Stadium in Foxborough, Don Muraco won the very first 15-man “King of the Ring” tournament by last defeating Iron Sheik in the finals. The 1986 tournament was a 14-man field, with Hercules Hernandez (replaced by “Mr. X”, a masked Danny Davis) and Mike Rotundo receiving byes to the second round. Race only wrestled three times that night, receiving a bye to the semi-finals when Roddy Piper and Don Muraco wrestled to a draw in the opening round, and last defeated Pedro Morales to win the “King of the Ring”. The King of the Ring would continue to run as an annual house show event, with the exception of 1990 and 1992, when there was no event held, until the event debuted on pay-per-view in 1993. In a ring filled with the top heels of the day Howard Finkel holds the microphone as Bobby Heenan reads a ridiculous proclamation. “King” Harley Race then makes his way out with Lord Little Brook, who is carrying the crown, escorting Race to the ring. Race, looking like the Cowardly Lion, takes his seat in the throne in the center of the ring and listens as Heenan finishes the proclamation and officially christens Race as “King Handsome” Harley Race. Heenan crowns Race and bows before the new “king” before leading the heels in a “long live the king” chant. King Kong Bundy and “Big” John Studd leave the ring before carrying Race around the ring on their shoulders to a chorus of boos from the fans. This is followed by our next Peacock ad-break.
After the break Gorilla Monsoon tosses to footage from the upcoming September 13, 1986 edition of Superstars of Wrestling, taped the day before on August 26, 1986, of the debut of The Machines, a long hyped surprise from Capt. Lou Albano. The Machines at this time were Big Machine, Super Machine, and Giant Machine. Big Machine was Blackjack Mulligan, Super Machine was Bill Eadie (future Demolition Ax), and Giant Machine was the “suspended” Andre the Giant. After the Machines hit the ring we head back to the Hartford Civic Center for our main event of the week.
—“Non-Title Tag Team Match” (35:50)
The Moondogs (Rex & Spot) vs. WWF World Tag Team Champions The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith & Dynamite Kid) w/Capt. Lou Albano
Despite the fact the Moondogs were enhancement talent by this time this is a solid match, in spite of its sloppiness, that leaves both teams looking good. The Moondogs jumpstart the match but Dynamite Kid is able to get the better of Rex until Spot trips Kid. The Moondogs control Kid until Davey Boy comes in and turns the tables. Near the end the match breaks down and the tag rules go out the window with Dynamite coming in without a tag as soon as Davey Boy hits the floor. In the end, as the Moondogs double team Kid, Davey Boy climbs up top and lands a crossbody on to Rex to score the pinfall at 4:26.
WINNERS are WWF World Tag Team Champions The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith & Dynamite Kid) w/Capt. Lou Albano (Pin, 4:26)
Following the match we get the ring announcement from “Lord” Alfred Hayes and a replay of the finish before heading to Ken Resnick for an interview with Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Roberts had been in the WWF since the spring, having made his WWF TV debut on the March 22, 1986 edition of All Star Wrestling. Resnick asks Jake about the push, by some, to have the DDT banned from pro wrestling entirely. Jake tells Resnick that Ricky Steamboat, whom Jake dropped with the DDT on Saturday Night’s Main Event VI on May 3, 1986, forcing Steamboat to be carted out of the arena, is probably behind the movement. Jake says the DDT is a fair, “cruel but fair”. Jake says that he is also “cruel but fair”, that he lives his own life by his own rules and that he’ll drop anyone who stands in his way so fast with the DDT that they’re whole family will fall down. Jake then introduces Randy Savage, saying Savage knows exactly what Jake is talking about.
Randy tells Ken Resnick that Jake’s mind “is unbelievable”and that Jake can do things “better than the best”. Jake says no one knows where he and Savage going because no one knows where they’ve been. Jake says people only wish they could live their lives like he and Savage do. Savage begins to talk about how once in a lifetime certain people come along and “sparkle” like he and Jake but Ken Resnick cuts the interview and sends us to our final Peacock ad-break of the show.
Coming out of the break Gorilla Monsoon hypes the matches we can expect to see next week on Wrestling Challenge before tossing to a recap music video that closes out the debut edition of Wrestling Challenge.
This is an excellent debut edition of Wrestling Challenge. There is an energy to this show that simply didn’t exist in the WWF programming of the prior weeks. The wrestling is good, for what it is, and the promos are, by and large, just as good. Though WrestleMania III was more than six months away one can see the steps being set in motion for some of the main matches, and figures, on the card. If you haven’t seen this debut edition of Wrestling Challenge, or if it’s been awhile, you owe it to yourself to seek it out. You won’t regret it.
Already subscribed to the WWE Network on Peacock? Then you can relive this classic debut edition of WWF Wrestling Challenge right now or experience it for the very first time! As always, let us know what you think in the comments section below!
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Thanks for reading – until next week, see ya at ringside!