Tito Santana vs. Haku
A non-televised match first and thus a Coliseum exclusive from Milwaukee in October 1987. Santana jumps Haku before the bell and flurries on him, sending him to the outside where he regroups with Heenan and Tama. Santana and Strike Force tag partner Rick Martel had a feud with the Islanders around this time. The Islanders were far better than they are given credit for, and Tama is something of a forgotten wrestler. I thought he moved and bumped around really well, and he could have been just as big a success as Haku in singles competition if he hadn’t left after they split. Santana controls the match early on, primarily working the arm and looking generally impressive. They fight over a backslide, which Tito wins, and he armdrags Haku down and goes back to the arm. Haku was so much lither in these days. He is actually smaller than Santana, but when he went singles he got a lot bulkier and thus less mobile. He was always a solid hand though and a legendary hard man. He was a dependable guy you could use to get people over, without hurting him. Haku takes charge with power moves and martial arts, but eats a double boot in the corner. The Flying Forearm has the match won for Tito, but Tama scales the ropes with intent to stop it and then Martel comes in to stop him. The ref calls for the bell and we have a double DQ. I think Tama was a little late there, because Tito had the three but the ref had to stop counting and “notice” Tama. Typical that we start with a non-finish. As a side-note Bruce Prichard sounds a little bit like a sports analyst on commentary. It is still difficult to listen to him without hearing Brother Love. The match itself was short and nothing special, just a match.
Final Rating: *¾
WWF Tag Team Championship
The Hart Foundation (c) vs. Strike Force
We are in Syracuse, New York, three weeks after the opening match, and this time we have both of Strike Force in action. Jesse Ventura and Vince McMahon are your commentators for this, and with the talent in the ring, this could be a good little contest. Let’s hope it has a finish! The Hart Foundation were heels at the time and had been WWF tag team champions for ten months. The opening exchanges between Hart and Martel are as smooth as you might expect. Santana then gets the better of Bret, which brings in Anvil. A slugfest ensues, and the Harts take control when Bret knees Tito in the back as he is running the ropes. Even though the Hart Foundation are heels, there is really nothing heelish about them other than their aggressive style and the fact that they are working against faces. It’s not like they had antagonising gimmicks or really did anything outside of clever teamwork to make them the heels. Jimmy Hart was probably the only reason people had to hate them. They work over Santana with well-executed double team moves, and utilise cheap tactics where possible to rile the crowd. Santana goes for the tag, but Hart steams in and knocks Martel off the apron to prevent it, and the Harts steal Demolition Decapitation. So far, this has been a masterclass in how to work as a heel team in the ring from the Hart Foundation. Santana reverses a whip and Hart hits the buckles chest on and hard, allowing a hot tag to Martel. The crowd goes crazy as Martel unloads on Neidhart. A crossbody off the top is prevented by Hitman. A double slam from Strike Force leads to Martel locking on the Boston crab and Strike Force win the belts. The crowd goes mental for the title change, because they still meant so much back then. This is now Martel’s third tag team title reign, having held the belts twice with Tony Garea in the early-80s. It is Santana’s second, and he won his first even further back in 1979, alongside Ivan Putski. As for the match? It was solid enough, but it was only ten minutes long, and the lion’s share of that was heat on Santana. It never really got going to as high a level as these guys are capable of, but it had good heat and psychology. Decent, but not great.
Final Rating: **½
Bam Bam Bigelow vs. King Kong Bundy
We are in Des Moines, Iowa and still in the fall of ‘87 for this. It is another non-televised Coliseum exclusive and I have to say, it doesn’t look promising. I secretly enjoy seeing big guys fight, but the wrestling will be less than stellar. Bigelow looks SO young here. No-one moves in the first few exchanges, until Bigelow floors Bundy with a big tackle, but Bundy responds in kind and takes Bigelow off his feet with a big clothesline, and then gives him another one over the top. Bundy won’t let him back in the ring, and knocks him down each time he tries. Back inside and another clothesline almost sends Bam Bam inside out, Bundy misses a splash, Bigelow hits one of his own and wins the match. Bundy’s only move was a clothesline! Ventura complains about the speed of the count, and he rather has a point. For the record, Shane McMahon was the ref, so Ventura’s comments are just a rib on Vince who he is commentating with. Nothing to that match at all, very short, but inoffensive.
Final Rating: ¾*
WWF Women’s Tag Team Championship
The Glamour Girls (c) vs. The Jumping Bomb Angels
This took place at Royal Rumble 1988, and Arnold Furious takes this one: JBA got themselves over at Survivor Series. The belts are largely meaningless. The Glamour Girls are wrestling’s past going up against its future, in the form of the JBA. Glamour Girls are smart enough to know all they need to do is back bump everything that comes at them. Seeing as no one else, bar Sherri, seemed to know how to work with them, they figure they’ll get repeat matches. The weird thing is that Vince McMahon went for the JBA back in 1987 when he showed little interest in the Japanese men’s scene or lucha libre for that matter, and didn’t for years to come. He tended to stick more to the North American style and mostly the kicking and punching version of that. So it’s weird they even tried this. Glamour Girls take the first fall to stack the odds a bit and make the outcome less predictable. It has to be worth noting that Vince McMahon couldn’t tell the difference between the “pink” and “red” Angel, but after an ad break, he’s got the names. Embarrassed on live TV? JBA level it up when Tateno counters the release powerbomb that won fall one, which I love because it shows she learned from taking it the first time. Shame they make a bit of a mess of it. Tateno busts out an Enzuigiri. Vince has actually switched names on the girls since the second fall. Nice to see the Glamour Girls learned from Survivor Series as they now use the butterfly suplex, as if the JBA’s arrival had opened their eyes to a bigger world of moves available to the ladies. JBA were doing things they hadn’t thought of. The bridging moves were a trademark, but the flying was different too. Sure, they had Velvet McIntyre but Velvet just didn’t have the same standard of execution. JBA finish with stereo missile dropkicks for the titles. This was important for two reasons. 1. Vince didn’t have to know you in order for you to get over. 2. If women could get over by just wrestling and doing spots, then so could men. The sad thing is that despite being taught so much by their very presence, Vince didn’t have much interest in pushing the JBA long term. They made it through to the summer before jobbing the meaningless belts back to the Glamour Girls and returning to Japan.
Final Rating: ***½
The Wild Samoans vs. Mr. Fuji & Tiger Chung Lee
This is from back in July 1984 at the Philadelphia Spectrum. Fun little spot to begin, with the ref constantly checking Fuji for the salt he often uses as a weapon, but he keeps hiding it by giving it to Tiger behind his back, then retrieving it. Mr. Fuji was a great devious heel. Fuji is in for much of the early going and gets beaten up by Sika, he comes back briefly until he misses a big legdrop on Afa and gets an atomic drop to follow. He makes the quick tag, not wanting any more from the Samoans. Tiger is in and takes a pasting from Sika, but Fuji refuses to tag in a few times, and then walks away from the ring. A double headbutt from the Samoans is enough to beat Lee. Pretty much short and pointless! They went for comedy, but there wasn’t enough to make it worthwhile. It certainly didn’t live up the Mean Gene’s pre-match promise of it being one of the WWF’s funniest moments.
Final Rating: ½*
WWF Women’s Championship
The Fabulous Moolah (c) vs. Sherri Martel
This is from Houston, Texas in July 1987 and the rather curious team of Gorilla Monsoon and Jimmy Hart are on commentary. Moolah was in her seventh reign as WWF Women’s champion, and this reign had lasted just over a year when this match took place. She holds the record title reign, almost certain never to be broken, of ten years with the belt back in the 50s. Cumulatively she has held the title for an incredible 28 years. No doubt was a legendary women’s champion, but by this stage she was long past her best in the ring and was in her 60s here. The action is very different from anything you would see from the WWE Divas, they just wrestle and working holds. Moolah completely dominates, with her experience and strength advantage giving her a definite edge. Sherri finally gets some offence by bringing Moolah into the ring the hard way, and gives her two slingshots to the mat. It’s a shitty looking move. This match has hardly set the world on fire. Some of Sherri’s movement, coordination and timing has been very poor. She actually looks older here than she did five years later too. Sherri slams Moolah on the concrete floor outside the ring, but Moolah pops up and instantly returns the favour. That was right out of the Hulk Hogan book of selling! She literally got straight back up and acted like it didn’t happen. This has been very boring and lacking in any sort of structure, but thankfully it is almost over. Moolah goes to slam Sherri back in the ring, but she rolls through into a pin and gets the win and the title, thus ending Moolah’s reign. It wouldn’t be her last though, as she would go onto win the strap for an eighth and final time at No Mercy in 1999, twelve years later and at the age of 76. For all the outcome of this match is popular with the crowd, the action was still the pits. A really dreadful match.
Final Rating: DUD
WWWF Junior Heavyweight Championship
Tatsumi Fujinami (c) vs. Ted Adams
Mean Gene introduces this as a “Coliseum Classic” and promises a scientific treat. This is from way back in February 1978 from MSG. Fujinami would go onto become one of the greatest Japanese wrestlers of all time. The match is for the WWWF Junior Heavyweight championship, which was recognised by both the WWWF and NJPW. Lord Alfred Hayes handles commentary duties solo. For those unfamiliar with Ted Adams; he worked for the WWWF extensively in the late 70s, his most frequent opponent being Johnny Rodz. He even worked then WWWF champion Superstar Billy Graham on a Championship Wrestling taping in 1977, but he is still very much considered the underdog in this encounter. The start is very deliberate, featuring some nice technical exchanges which the New York crowd appreciates and so do I. After just a few minutes this is already very different already from anything the WWF ran in the cartoon era. I tell you what as well; Hayes is really good on his own as a commentator, as he is sticking to play-by-play and just trying to get over the story being told with the moves. I much prefer this kind of commentary to anything else. Ventura and Jim Ross used to do that so well in WCW in the 90s too. No-one gets an advantage early on, and this has been a lengthy feeling out process more than anything. The pace increases from Fujinami, but he misses a single leg dropkick after having already hit one. Adams misses a splash from the top, and Fujinami takes him down with a speedy dragon screw leg whip, then goes to the leg. This is almost like an indy match, because they are going from one sequence to another and then doing a standoff! This has felt like a real contest and has been very solid and captivating. Adams slows thing by locking on a modified arm bar, only breaking it and trying a roll up when Fujinami shows signs of escape. Everything they are doing makes sense. It is really easy to suspend disbelief and get engrossed in the story of the bout. It is a million miles away from say a Typhoon or a Duggan match. Back to the arm from Adams, but Fujinami escapes and nails him with an impressive dropkick. It only buys him time, and Adams catches a near fall. He is starting to really exert some control now, and eschews technical mat work in favour of a few punches. Fujinami fires back with some chops, and gets a two count from them. A butterfly suplex attempt is blocked and Adams escapes. The last spot they just did really defines the difference in era. After cleverly blocking the suplex by locking his arms, Adams lifted Fujinami onto his shoulders and carried him to the buckles. Instead of hitting a move, he showed sportsmanship and released him, allowing Fujinami to regain his bearings, despite Adams having pretty much played heel in this match. Adams looks for an advantage but can’t find one, and they exchange leg holds. Fujinami kicks him off, and they are both back to a vertical base in the centre of the ring. Adams makes signs that he might use his fists, but the referee warns him not to or he will be disqualified. Fujinami speeds things up with a high impact dropkick, then does an airplane spin, which leaves both men reeling in a comedic moment. When Fujinami regains his bearings, he hits a German suplex and bridges it for the win. An old style match, so quite different to what you usually see on these Coliseum tapes, and it was almost like watching World of Sport from the UK. Everything made sense and was logical, the match was a contest and each move and hold had a reason and a purpose. A superb match from the era, and still hugely entertaining today.
Final Rating: ***¾
Demolition vs. George Steele & Billy Jack Haynes
Another Coliseum exclusive, from 1987 in San Francisco, California. Craig DeGeorge and Don Muraco are on commentary. The announce team is as curious as the match-up is. What a strange duo Steele and Haynes are. As I have expressed elsewhere, I absolutely detest Steele as a worker. I have never seen him have anything even resembling a decent match, never mind a good one. This is early into Demolition’s WWF run, so early that Smash still has short hair! Ax looks like a mean mother with black face paint. Haynes gets the better of Ax with speed, and then Steele comes in with Smash. Steele gets distracted by Fuji, and Smash wastes little time in capitalising. Steele blocks a clothesline by biting the arm and then tags in Haynes, who has less success, as Demolition’s power allows them to take control of the bout. Smash controls Haynes, but he gets caught going for a monkey flip with an elbow drop. Steele bites Smash’s face and then gives him a big slam. Smash retaliates, and manages to make the tag to Ax, who beats down on the Animal. Demolition then take turns choking Steele out on the ropes. False tag builds the heat a little, but the crowd have been polite at best in their reaction. Well, to put it bluntly: they don’t give a shit, but they have been given no reason to either. Steele cannot sell for shit, plus he is the bigger guy, why are they working the heat on him? It is tediously long and boring as well. This is another terrible Steele match. Haynes finally comes in and he unloads on both members of Demolition, with a clotheslines getting two. It breaks down, and Haynes puts his Full Nelson finisher on Smash. The ref is distracted, allowing Ax to nail Haynes with Fuji’s cane, and they pick up the win. Horrible, horrible match. Just nothing to it at all. A dire way to end things.
Final Rating: DUD
Summary: As usual with the Best of the WWF tapes, there was a unique mix of action, though the majority came from Summer/Autumn 1987. Most of the Coliseum exclusive matches were very poor. The Japanese wrestlers carried the tape, with the Jumping Bomb Angels and Tatsumi Fujinami putting in excellent performances in their matches. From the usual crew, there was little to get excited about, though the Strike Force title win is worth seeing for historical completionists. A mostly average, and at times abysmal tape, saved by two very strong matches.