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Saturday Night's Main Event 
Goes Safari! (1990)
April 28, 2005

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com


Continuing the series on Saturday Night's Main Event, this week I will cover an episode from the summer of 1990. It's a special "jungle safari" themed episode, which features Mean Gene Okerlund and Lord Alfred Hayes dressed in safari wear and walking around some undisclosed location - I'm guessing Busch Gardens in Tampa - pretending to be on some sort of expedition.

Super, super corny. 

I'm gonna try this from memory, since I just watched it a few hours ago and don't have nearly enough time to go back and recap it. Circa's not a recap anyway, it's a column. So I guess I'm within my rights. Unless some of you out there desperately need to read "punch, punch, kick, kick, kick, shoulderblock, shake-the-ropes, shake-the-ropes,

clothesline, repeat" to get a good idea how an Ultimate Warrior match might go!

-- Originally aired July 28, 1990.

-- Your hosts, as always, are Vince McMahon and Jesse "The Body" Ventura. We're live on tape on NBC, because Saturday Night Live is in reruns over the summer. Jesse and Vince hype the things we'll see on this show, and use loads of really terrible wildlife puns to keep the show on its theme.

-- Even "Ravishing" Rick Rude is dropping wildlife references into his prematch promo. Nothing like taking your strong characters and making them all look stupid because of some perceived need to hammer home the Wild Kingdom vibe.

WWF World Heavyweight Title Match:
The Ultimate Warrior (C) vs. "Ravishing" Rick Rude (w/ Bobby "The Brain" Heenan).

The Warrior had won the title at WrestleMania VI from Hulk Hogan, in what is generally regarded as one of the greatest matches either man ever had. Hogan had entered into a feud with Earthquake in the meantime, while Warrior was headed into a cage match title defense against Rick Rude at SummerSlam. This match would serve as the precursor to that cage match. Rude had just cut his long hair short and modified his character a bit to reinforce the idea that he was a serious contender at the main event level. The WWF hyped Rude's newfound sense of purpose in chasing the world title in a series of vignettes that showed him training for the title match, without all the corny, ladies man shtick that fans were used to seeing from Rude.

The match really wasn't anything special. Your typical Warrior title defense, where he clobbers his opponent into submission with a series of punches, kicks, clotheslines, and shoulderblocks. His offense was easily 90 percent striking moves, which I guess fit his character quite well. Warrior was incapable of outwrestling a guy like Rude, but it was believable that he could pummel Rude into submission. The crowd was really into Warrior, as he'd only been the top guy for a few months. Plus, not far removed from the match with Hogan, I'm sure a lot of people still had hope that the Warrior would have a few more good matches left in him.

Rude was just hitting his stride as truly great wrestler. Up until this point, he'd been passable, with all the tools to become great but not quite enough experience. Still, Rude in his "passable" stage was better all-around that the Warrior at his best. Alas, what matters the most is whether or not the crowd was entertained, and they seemed to be loving Warrior at the time.

Rude had very little offense. The booking of the match seemed to circle around Rude containing Warrior rather than mounting a serious offense of his own. Every time Rude took the advantage (whenever Warrior took a breather from being a hyperactive spaz), he'd obviously allow rest time, slapping on a sleeper or something of the ilk. At one point, he went outside the ring and nailed Warrior in the head with the title belt while Bobby Heenan distracted referee Joey Marella. Warrior didn't even sell it immediately, just putting his hand on his head as if bitten by a mosquito, and falling down several seconds later.

Toward the end, Rude tried for a Rude Awakening. Warrior powered out of it, but Rude ducked a clothesline attempt and hit the Awakening on his second try. This didn't finish the Warrior, who came back with a splash and pin attempt. Heenan grabbed Warrior's head from the outside, so Warrior broke the cover to chase Heenan down the aisle. Rude followed, and as Warrior pressed Rude above his head and walked toward the ring, Heenan clipped Warrior's leg from behind. Warrior winds up beating the crap out of Bobby Heenan in the ring while the referee counts Rick Rude out.

Not a great match. The ending didn't make much sense, except for the fact that saving a solid finish for SummerSlam was a good idea. Still, it was hard to grasp why Rude was so hurt that he couldn't at least crawl under the bottom rope to break the count. Oh well.

Rude would head to WCW several months later after a business disagreement with the WWF. Warrior would hold the WWF Title until the Royal Rumble '91, where Iraqi Sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter would upset him for the belt with the help of outside interference from "Macho King" Randy Savage.

-- A video tribute to Hulk Hogan airs. They start off with the slow intro to "Real American," and follow that with a dramatic, pretty cool orchestral arrangement of "Real American" over footage of Hogan's greatest career highlights, 1983-1990. In between the good stuff, we see the horrifying scenes of Earthquake giving Hogan the butt splash on the Brother Love show, which put Hogan on the shelf in storylines. The vignette ends with a shot of an open locker, with Hogan's gear hanging in it, including the gold chain with cross.

-- Vince McMahon interviews Hulk Hogan in the middle of the ring, in what was Hogan's dramatic first appearance since Earthquake took him out. Hogan thanks the fans for all of their support and promises to thrash Earthquake. McMahon mentions that Earthquake will have Canadian strongman Dino Bravo in his corner. Hulk says he's got a guy for his corner, too... Tugboat. Before Hogan can complete the interview, Jimmy Hart, Bravo and Earthquake try to storm the ring. Tugboat runs in to get Hogan's back, and they chase the heels off. Pretty pedestrian stuff, geared toward making Hogan's comeback official and putting heat on his SummerSlam match with Earthquake. Also geared toward getting people to give a damn about Tugboat (who would NOT be in Hogan's corner at SummerSlam after all... he was replaced by the Big Bossman, after some type of disagreement with WWF management).

-- There were vignettes between the commercial breaks featuring Gene and Alfred, who is referring to Mean Gene as "Jungle Jim." They're pretending to be on an African safari, complete with an on-screen map of Africa and a dotted line to show where they were going. Very lame, in a Coliseum Video type of way. In one vignette, they run into wild animals, including "Bird Man" Koko B. Ware and Frankie (even in the middle of Africa, Koko's wearing his sparkling ring jacket!), and Jake "The Snake" Roberts, who shows off Damien and threatens Bad News Brown (who is not present on the safari to offer Jake his retort).

Okerlund and Hayes then cross over some train tracks, where they spot Luke and Butch, the Bushwhackers, doing their signature strut and being goofy. In Africa. Yep. Another vignette with Gene and Alfred has Akeem, The African Dream, along with Slick. This is all taking place in the jungle, mind you. Gene catches "jungle fever" (not the kind you're thinking, though), which Lord Alfred cures by putting a leaf over his nose. Alfred also shoves Gene into "piranha-infested" water, which I guess is kinda funny. The best thing about the whole Gene-Alfred jungle safari series? Someone on the WWF/NBC production crew had enough of a sense of humor to play a flute riff from Jethro Tull's "Bungle in the Jungle" over one of Vince McMahon's interludes to the safari skit. It took me a second to place it, but once I did, it made me chuckle.

WWF World Tag Team Title Match:
Demolition (Smash & Crush, w/ Ax) (C) vs. The Rockers (Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty, w/hair highlights).

Considering that Demolition got one of the biggest babyface pops of the night at WrestleMania VI when they beat Andre the Giant and Haku for the tag titles, their heel turn shortly thereafter was relatively weak. You'd think a team that popular would have some kind of singular, shocking event turn them heel, to maximize the impact. Granted, Demolition was turned heel as a last-second necessity, since the tag division had two hot babyface teams already - The Hart Foundation and The Rockers - and the WWF had just brought in a third team, The Road Warriors, who were best used as babyfaces for the short-term. The money feud was supposed to be The Road Warriors vs. Demolition, which was a serious dream match in the late 80s and early 90s.

Where things got sticky is that the WWF had begun a new title push for The Hart Foundation at WrestleMania, which was to culminate in Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart winning the straps at SummerSlam '90 (which they did, in a two-out-of-three falls match). The WWF put the LOD vs. Demo feud on the backburner for a while until the Hart Foundation angle played through, but by then - with Crush stepping in for Ax, and with no titles on the line - the LOD vs. Demolition dream feud never got the grand stage many thought it should have. But that's a digression.

In this match, The Rockers challenge for Demolition's titles, and Demolition (which is now Smash and Crush, with Ax at ringside to run interference) are trying to hang on to the championship with the Harts and the LOD breathing down their necks.

This is a bit of a disappointing match, in that you could tell Michaels and Jannetty were in awesome condition but they were inexplicably flubbing a lot of their standard spots - double headscissor takeovers, dropkick into a money flip, etc. Jannetty even botched a sunset flip from the ropes, although it looked as though Crush might not have bent over far enough to make the move go smoothly. Also, Demolition just didn't seem right with Crush in there. Demolition was supposed to be Ax & Smash. That's what fans were used to. Subbing a new guy into a really successful tag team usually doesn't work, with the glaring exception being The Midnight Express trading in Dennis Condrey for Stan Lane. Almost every other case is a disappointment. So it was with Demolition, the three-man version.

The match was relatively fast-paced though, so despite the sloppiness in some of the big spots, it's easy to enjoy. Ax did a great job as Demolition's X factor at ringside, blindsiding Jannetty with a clothesline after a nice baseball slide to the outside. In fact, Ax made the pinfall that gave Demolition the victory, pulling the ol' switcheroo with Crush when the ref wasn't paying attention. Shawn Michaels had Crush pinned in a reverse rollup, but with the ref's back turned, Ax entered the ring, clotheslined Michaels, pushed Crush out of the ring, and pinned Michaels while keeping his face hidden.

But wait, there's more! The Hart Foundation was apparently following the match backstage and took exception to Demolition's cheating ways. Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart ran to the ring to rat out Demolition. Hawk and Animal soon followed, so now every potential threat to Demolition's tag titles is in the ring at the same time, bitching about their win. Ventura speculates that the Hart Foundation would rather face The Rockers for their title shot than Demolition, and that's why they're so concerned with helping out Michaels and Jannetty.

Despite all the babyface tag teams protesting the finish, Demolition leaves as the winners, the champions, and by far the greasiest tag team on the roster.

WWF Intercontinental Title Match:
Mr. Perfect (W/ Bobby "The Brain" Heenan) (C) vs. Tito Santana (w/ white Strike Force ring gear).

Mr. Perfect, the late Curt Hennig, was easily one of the best wrestlers in the world in 1990, especially when it came to making his opponents look great against him. The right people were noticing, too, as it was around this time that Hennig started working a lot of main events against Hulk Hogan and other big names. Mr. Perfect was a lot of things wrapped into one: the right guy, playing an interesting heel gimmick, with all the skills necessary to give the fans their money's worth once the bell rang. Add Bobby Heenan as his manager (before Lanny "The Genius" Poffo), and Mr. Perfect was very entertaining.

Tito Santana was sort of in limbo at this stage of 1990. He had a great run in the mid-80s at the IC title level, followed by a very good run with Rick Martel as Strike Force. Martel had been repackaged as "The Model," which left Santana back in the singles ranks looking for a program. He was still wearing his Strike Force ring gear, actually. It was not long after this that the WWF repackaged Santana with a cartoonish gimmick, El Matador, only to turn him into a high-profile jobber.

Don't get me wrong: Santana did more than his share of jobs. But there's a different between a wrestler doing a job, and a wrestler being a "jobber" in the traditional sense. A "jobber" is a wrestler that most rational fans would never expect to win, and 99.9 percent of the time, he doesn't. Santana at his best outclassed a lot of his more-pushed opponents, so even when he "did the job" for them, he still looked as though he could have won. Even though Santana jobbed pretty frequently, he was always considered a guy that could win an important match if he brought his "A game." When he became El Matador, Santana was booked into some serious non-competitive squash matches against guys like the Barbarian, the Warlord, and others for years. Eventually, Santana slowed down, and retired. Hence, while Santana is remembered as a classy and gifted wrestler, El Matador's got Wrestlecrap written all over it. [End digression.]

This was a really, REALLY good match, especially when held up against the usual SNME fare. They gave it a little bit of TV time, too, which helped a lot. Santana and Hennig could both go, and they put together a swanky exhibition for the NBC broadcast. Hennig bumped all over the place and hit all of his stuff, including his signature backwards crawl out of the ring where he accidentally crotches himself on the post. And, because he understood psychology and continuity, Tito Santana followed up Hennig's crotch emergency with an inverted atomic drop and a regular atomic drop, in perhaps the only time I've ever seen those moves used where they made sense in the flow of the match.

There was a ref bump spot at one point, which is the universal command for "the babyface will now apply his finisher." Santana locked Perfect in the figure four, which was considered his secondary finisher after the flying forearm. The crowd is going nuts, but Tito eventually breaks the hold when he notices the referee is out of it. Santana connects with the flying forearm, and now the fans are REALLY behind Tito. The ref wakes up, and gives a groggy and slllooowwww two count, pissing off Santana. Santana then hits Perfect with a cross body. Another slow two count from the half-conscious ref. Finally, a new referee runs out to finish the match, which Mr. Perfect wins with a clean small package reversal.

Bobby Heenan, who's been freaking out at ringside every time Santana got close to a win, finally breathes a sigh of relief.

"Texas Tornado" Kerry Von Erich (w/ suspenders) vs. "Playboy" Buddy Rose (w/ morbid obesity).

Vince McMahon claims this is the WWF debut of Kerry Von Erich, and it probably was his TV debut. Whether or not Kerry worked some house shows/dark matches before getting on TV, I don't know.

Also, as most fans realize today (but very few knew at the time), Von Erich's left leg from the knee down was prosthetic. Von Erich had the leg amputated following a motorcyle accident that irreparably damaged it. That's why he wore the tall boots with knee pads (and later, the boot tassles like Paul London wears today). He was covering up his fake leg.

Outside of the Von Erich family's home state of Texas, Kerry was the most well-traveled and well-known of the living brothers, which by 1990 included Kerry, Kevin, and Chris. In a few short years, sadly, Kevin would be the only one left alive. But that's a whole other column. Kerry was not a great wrestler, but he had a pretty cool look and the fans seemed to like him, so the WWF brought him in in 1990 and gave him a brief IC Title run, dethroning Hennig at SummerSlam that year.

Here he wrestled "Playboy" Buddy Rose, who by this time was the WWF's version of a high-profile jobber (a jobber with a gimmick). Rose was actually a pretty gifted wrestler with a good personality. He was sort of like Adrian Adonis in the respect that he had the right tools for success, but toward the end, he just let himself go too much, getting increasingly overweight. The WWF turned it into a gimmick for a while, with Rose - obviously weighing around 300 pounds, maybe more - announced before each match at a svelt 217 pounds. They also did a memorable vignette where Rose ate whatever garbage he wanted, poured some powder on his large, bare stomach, and allowed an electric fan to blow the powder off... the Buddy Rose "Blow Away Diet." It was also common for Rose to wear T-shirts to the ring with sayings such as "I worked hard for this body," proving that what Buddy Rose lacked in dietary discipline, he made up for with humility and self-parody.

Kerry won this match rather easily with his discus punch. Again, Rose was a jobber by 1990, so there was no sense making the new guy look bad by booking a competitive match.

There you have it. I'd like to say I'll be back with another Circa next week, but I'm on a very weird schedule right now, so no promises. My wife is ready to give birth to our first child any day now. That alone can (and will, at some point) take me away from regular duties.

Also, as some WrestleLine and OnlineOnslaught.com writers are already aware, I've been fighting some relatively serious health issues of my own lately. There's good days and bad days, but I think I'll be fine in the long run.

Thanks to those who have already written to wish me and the family well, and sorry I haven't been able to write everyone back.

See you... sometime!


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