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The Main Event: Wrestling's Return
to Network Primetime (1988)
April 7, 2005

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com


WWE recently announced a return to the USA Network that includes a twice-a-year, 90-minute special on NBC in the Saturday Night Live time slot, I thought it would be fitting to begin a Circa series looking back on some of the most memorable episodes of Saturday Night's Main Event ever. 
Ironically, I will begin with a special that aired on a Friday night.

Twice during WWE's first relationship with NBC, they convinced the network to air their show in prime time. The first was wildly successful in the Friday 8 p.m. time slot, and featured two of the biggest angles of the 1980s reaching a climax.

Here is my review of the infamous, first non-"Saturday Night" Main Event on NBC, February 5, 1988.

-- Full disclosure: My version of this was taped from the original NBC broadcast in '88.

-- Unlike other episodes of Main Event, this was live.

-- Opening promos, as each wrestler stands in front of a colorful graphic of his WWF logo. Randy Savage (w/Elizabeth) promises the Honk Tonk Man a one-way ticket to the Heartbreak Hotel. Honk Tonk (w/Jimmy Hart) says Savage can't keep his belt, and can't keep his woman satisfied. Slow-motion clip of Honk Tonk smashing Savage with the guitar on a fall '87 episode of SNME. Hart tells Honky that Savage is a very lucky man - lucky that Honky doesn't play the piano. Andre the Giant is letting Ted DiBiase do the talking for him, and DiBiase says after tonight, Hogan's belt will fit Andre's waist as easily as Andre's hands fit around Hogan's neck (slo-mo of Andre choking Hogan from the previous SNME). Hulk Hogan finishes the promos, saying when Andre choked him, the Hulkamaniacs couldn't breathe either. Tonight, he'll prove that Hulkamania will never diiieeeee...

-- Opening credits, with the classic 1980s synth pop theme song. This was the WWF-produced theme, not "Obsession" by Animotion, which was used in earlier episodes. The Main Event is brought to you by Coors Light: It's the Right Beer Now!

-- We're live in Indianapolis, Indiana, at the Market Square Arena. Commentators Vince McMahon and Jesse "The Body" Ventura welcome viewers, and Jesse calls the crowd "Hoosier losers." Vince takes us to footage of Hogan, as Ventura says "I'm tired of Hogan."

-- Video clip of Hulk Hogan working out in the gym for his big title defense against Andre. Interesting music choice, as they use Jake "The Snake" Roberts' theme song for the Hogan clip. This was right around the time Jake started using that theme, if not slightly before.

-- Backstage, "Mean" Gene Okerlund interviews the Honky Tonk Man and Jimmy Hart. Honky calls Gene "Green Bean," and says after tonight he's gonna get Savage's woman, and take her down the lonely street to Heartbreak Hotel, and rattles off three or four more Elvis Presley references.

-- Okerlund interviews Randy Savage and Elizabeth, who looks very worried and upset despite Savage telling her she's got NOTHING to worry about and that Honky's got EVERYTHING to worry about. Savage conjures up the pop music hits of the 80s, saying Honky's about to enter the "Danger Zone" because "The Heat is On." No word on whether Savage planned on cuttin' Footloose or doing the Neutron Dance. Savage ends the promo saying vengeance will be mine. Elizabeth - DOWN THAT AISLE!

Intercontinental Title Match:
The Honky Tonk Man (C) (w/Jimmy Hart and Peggy Sue) vs. Randy "Macho Man" Savage (w/Elizabeth)

Peggy Sue was Sensational Sherri Martel in a poodle skirt, blonde wig, and sunglasses. Savage comes out to a very big babyface pop. Savage gets distracted by Jimmy Hart while Honky is on the other side of the ring doing a little dance for Elizabeth. Ventura claims Elizabeth smiled at Honky.

Savage is officially pissed off. The bell rings and Savage chases Honky to the outside and plants an elbow. Savage tosses Honky back in and grabs him by the hair, jumps over the top rope to the floor, bouncing Honky's neck off the top rope. If you remember this feud at all, you know the spot. Savage Irish whips Honky and a back elbow sends Honky to the floor. Double noggin knocker for Honky and Hart. Back in the ring, Hart distracts Savage so Honky can gain the advantage. A Honky Tonk sunset flip backfires, but he wins an Irish whip contest when Savage charges the post. Honky misses an elbow drop. Instead of following up, Savage chases Jimmy Hart from the outside and through the ring, distracting the referee while Hart gives Honky the megaphone, which meets Savage's head. Honky covers for two. Honky with the chinlock of relative discomfort. Savage fights out of it but catches a knee off the ropes. On the outside, Honky hits a double axehandle from the apron and tosses Savage back in. Honky dances more for Liz. Honky lays in the boots, and as referee Joey Marella breaks it up, Honky goes and dances for Liz again while Jimmy Hart chokes Savage. Honky punches away as the crowd chants for Savage. Savage comes back with a series of left jabs, but Honky knees him in the gut. Elbow drop by Honky, who then leaves the ring to pursue Elizabeth. Liz is cornered by Hart and Honky as the fans start getting nervous (but not as nervous as McMahon on commentary). Savage makes the save just in time. Back in... and back out, as Savage tosses Honky again. Double axehandle from the top rope to the floor. Vintage Randy Savage, right there. Back in, and Savage hits another double axe from the top rope. He pulls Jimmy Hart into the ring, and as Honky tries to knee Savage, he hits the Mouth of the South instead. Sleeperhold by Savage. The fans are going nuts, as if this is the finish. Savage breaks the hold when he sees Peggy Sue approaching Elizabeth on the outside. Honky tries to attack from behind. But Savage catches him and rams him to the post. Savage gets back in the ring and wins via countout, letting Honky Tonk keep the Intercontinental Title.

Postmatch, and the fun is only beginning. Honky grabs his gee-tarr and has a standoff in the ring with Savage, who in the process of avoiding the guitar shot, catches a megaphone to the back of his head from Jimmy Hart. Elizabeth enters the ring to stand between Honky and the fallen Savage, begging him not to hit Savage with the guitar. Elizabeth sits in front of Savage, but Honky decides to swing at both of them. Savage rises at the last second to stop the guitar from hitting Elizabeth, boots Honky in the gut, and takes a wild swing with the guitar as the heels bail out of the ring.

Savage and Honky had some pretty wild matches during their feud. Elizabeth was a really big part of Savage's success, as illustrated by this match/feud. A lot of Savage's biggest moments revolved around Elizabeth. Savage certainly couldn't have been a babyface on a sympathetic level if fans didn't appreciate him looking out for Elizabeth, and this match was booked with that in mind. There was no reason for Savage to keep leaving the ring if it weren't for the fact that he cared more for Liz's safety than he did for his IC title shot. Without that dynamic, Savage would have had a much harder time getting over as a babyface. Savage was a fantastic wrestler and performer, but Elizabeth brought out sides of his character we might never have seen otherwise, and made his programs that much more interesting.

-- We see clips of Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III, particularly the footage from early in the match where Andre falls on Hogan and appears to get a three count. That "controversy" was used as the basis for Andre getting this rematch, as Bobby "The Brain" Heenan protested the bad call. We then see Andre choking out Hogan at SNME, and the official contract signing for tonight's match, with Hogan and Andre sitting at a table with WWF figurehead president Jack Tunney in the ring. After they sign, Ted DiBiase (also in the ring, with Virgil) tells Andre to put his stamp of approval on the contract. Andre slams Hogan's head into the table and turns it over.

-- Okerlund interviews Andre the Giant and Ted DiBiase, with Virgil. DiBiase says Hogan's account is overdrawn. Andre says when he gets his hands back around Hogan's neck, he's gonna squeeze, and squeeze, and squeeze some more. Virgil just holds the money.

-- Hulk Hogan tells Okerlund he's viewed the controversial footage from WMIII, and Andre only got two. He's got a lifelong profit sharing program with all of his Hulkamaniacs (Oh really? It's been 17 years, Hogan. Time to pay up. I accept PayPal.) and he's gonna win, and Hulkamania will live forever. No mention whatsoever of "Whatchagonnado," which may have been our first indication that this was no ordinary Hogan title defense.

WWF Heavyweight Title Match:
Hulk Hogan (C) vs. Andre the Giant (w/"Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase and Virgil)

Hogan swings the belt at Andre and DiBiase before the bell. The crowd is on their feet and cheering for Hogan. Hogan gives the press slam sign to Andre and rips off the shirt with one hand. Lots of staring down and stalling after the opening bell. Andre takes forever to enter the ring.

Hogan starts the action with a punch to Andre and a double noggin knocker for DiBiase and Virgil. Hogan pulls DiBiase an Virgil into the ring. Big boots for each of them, and they both fly over the top rope. Hogan blocks an Andre punch and fires away with series of punches and chops. Hogan then rams Andre's head to the turnbuckle a few times. More chops, punches and elbows, but Hogan can't drop the Giant. Clothesline doesn't drop Andre either. Hogan swings at DiBiase (misses) and Virgil (connects), then stomps on DiBiase's hand on the apron, sending his money flying. Back to work on Andre, as Hogan rakes the eyes, causing Jesse Ventura to get all indignant. "How do you condone that, McMahon?" Hogan clotheslines Andre into the corner. Hogan rakes the eyes again. He goes to the top, but Andre finally shows signs of life and slams Hogan off the top. Andre misses a falling headbutt. Hogan goes for the cover but Andre chokes him. Andre keeps choking and breaking before the five count. Andre punches Hogan and Irish whips him. Andre steps on Hogan's hand. Bodyslam by Andre, who follows with kicks to the ribs and reverse chops. Andre jacks Hogan's jaw against his knee and chops his some more. Headbutt by Andre, and the crowd is rallying behind Hogan loudly. Choke by Andre. Andre whips Hogan and does the big boot, but the momentum from lifting his leg that high causes Andre to fall down. Andre chokes Hogan again, this time with his strap. Andre modifies the choke into a nerve pinch and Hogan starts Hulking up. The fans are going nuts. Hogan powers out of the nerve pinch and lays in knees, punches and chops to Andre. Hogan clotheslines Andre off the second rope and Andre goes down. Hogan goes for the legdrop of doom, but Virgil grabs his ankle. While referee "Dave Hebner" admonishes Virgil, Hogan drops the big leg and covers Andre, but gets no count. Hogan grabs "Dave Hebner" and starts arguing with him. This is where it gets interesting.

Andre grabs Hogan from behind, by the hair. Two headbutts and a double underhook suplex follow. Andre covers Hogan. Hogan clearly gets his shoulder up WAY before the three, but Hebner continues counting, giving Andre the Giant the win via pinfall, and the WWF World Heavyweight Title.

Hogan jumps up and raises his arms, as if to ask what the hell that was all about. Virgil and DiBiase leap into the ring and begin celebrating with Andre. Hebner walks over to Andre and raises his arm, which draws INCREDIBLE heat from the Hogan-loving crowd. Hebner is outside the ring with Hogan's belt, as McMahon questions the decision and Ventura reminds us that in pro wrestling, we don't go by instant replay. The referee's decision is final. Howard Finkel: "Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of this bout... and NEWWW World Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Champion, ANDRE the GIANT!"

Andre is on the apron and Mean Gene is there to get his comments, while Hogan is still in the ring. Andre announces that he is immediately surrendering his world title belt to the Million Dollar Man. Hogan's heard enough, as he chases everyone from the ring but Hebner, who he lifts by the pants and places in the corner. DiBiase holds the title belt up for Hogan and gloats with his trademark evil cackle, as the heels leave and Hogan argues with them from inside the ring. The camera pans back to the ring... and what the hell? Referee Dave Hebner is having a heated argument with... referee Dave Hebner? There's TWO DAVE HEBNERS! And ONE of them is a HEEL! And one of them (the real Dave Hebner) has a pot belly! McMahon and Ventura are puzzled how there can be two Dave Hebners.

Hulk Hogan walks over to them to figure out whose ass he has to kick, and both Hebners beg off. Hogan loses his patience and grabs both by the shirt, and barks at them. After a few seconds, Hogan can't figure out which Hebner is the phony and gives up. The Hebners go back to arguing, and the skinny one is getting belligerent. He shoves the portly one, who shoves him back. Skinny Hebner reacts by punching his identical twin in the face and booting him out of the ring. You have to imagine how bizarre this all was to the average fan, who was only vaguely familiar with Dave Hebner the referee and surely had no clue that he had a twin brother, also a referee, named Earl. This was Earl's debut in the WWF after refereeing elsewhere, and it was Earl playing the role of "Dave" the entire match, refereeing in favor of the heels.

And now that Hogan has seen Earl beat up Dave, he realizes that. He grabs Earl Hebner into a gorilla press slam, and as the heels come back to the ringside area, Hogan throws Hebner on top of them. Actually, Hogan threw Hebner OVER the heels, as they didn't even break his fall that much. We go to a commerical.

-- When we return, we're nearly out of airtime, but a WWF Tag Team Title match is already in the ring and ready to begin. It's the champs, Strike Force (Tito Santana and Rick Martel) vs. The Hart Foundation, Bret "Hit Man" Hart and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, with manager Jimmy Hart. As that match begins, McMahon sends us backstage for a post-match Hogan interview. McMahon: "Mean Gene Okerlund is standing by with Mean Gene!" Hey, it's live TV.

-- Hogan in screaming mad and seemingly on the verge of tears. He wonders how much money the evil, penny-pinching referee spent on the plastic surgery and how much DiBiase paid him to fix the match. Hogan tells Mean Gene that when he turned around to look at the referees, "THEY WERE IDENTICAL! IDENTICALLLLLLLLL!!!" Hogan also believes Soylent Green is made out of people. We get the replay of Hogan's shoulder being up before the three count, and then we go to commercial again. When we return, McMahon and Ventura discuss the idea that Jack Tunney will be investigating the Hogan-Andre match, as we see live footage of the Hart Foundation working over Strike Force. But we're out of time, so we don't even get to see the tag match. Off the air we go.

It's hard for me to believe this was actually 17 years ago. But even back then, with the wrestling business still doing very well, it was hard to believe that a major network like NBC would give prime time real estate to a WWF program. It was hard enough to believe that NBC would give up the coveted Saturday Night Live time slot several times per year to Saturday Night's Main Event, which seemed like a special treat to wrestling fans because of the novelty of being on a major network, and the advanced production quality. Whenever SNME was on, wrestling fans felt like their chosen form of entertainment was getting a much-deserved moment in the sun.

I'll be doing more SNME episodes in Circas to come. Unlike this show, THOSE episodes will have actually aired on a Saturday night!

Except the one with Buster Douglas. That was a Friday deal, too.

See you later.


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