Throwback Thursday: The Main Event (1988)

It’s about that time again, your weekly dose of wrestling’s past: Throwback Thursday! February 5 is a day filled with small titbits of wrestling history, but not many of the more noteworthy moments. However, it is also a day with a number of noteworthy farewells; from Bobby Lashley’s separation with WWE in 2008, to Scott Steiner’s separation with TNA in 2010, to the death of Mexican wrestling and television legend, El Santo, in 1984.

While it would be pleasing to honour the legend of El Santo, we are unfortunately again confined to the library of the WWE Network. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing else remarkable for this day, and so we shall turn our attention to 1988. After the success of Saturday Night’s Main Event, WWE and NBC teamed up to produce The Main Event, the first of which was held on this day.

The quick results are as follows: Randy Savage (with Miss Elizabeth and an endless supply of machismo) defeated Intercontinental Champion The Honky Tonk Man (with Jimmy Hart, Peggy Sue, and an Elvis-gimmick infringement) in a championship match by count-out; Andre the Giant (with Ted DiBiase and Virgil) defeated Hulk Hogan (with prayers, vitamins, and training… and nothing else, we promise) to win the WWF Championship; and Strike Force defeated The Hart Foundation (with Jimmy Hart) to retain the WWF Tag Team Championships.

While this event doesn’t seem incredibly noteworthy on paper alone, there was actually a lot that went into this event. Firstly, this was and remains to this day the most watched wrestling program in American television history. Because of NBC’s wide-reaching market and the fact that this was free to air, 33 million viewers tuned in because the show featured championship matches and the top stars in America at that time.

It was also notable in that the WWF Championship match was a WrestleMania III rematch. This was obviously not a technical spectacle, but it featured two of the biggest stars in all of wrestling history fuelled by the charisma of The Million Dollar Man. For weeks, Andre had been proving that he could take Hogan down, and this was the time for him to show that. In the end though, it wasn’t power or wrestling skill that prevailed, but the first example of a screwjob at a national level when referee Dave Hebner was replaced by his identical twin brother, Earl Hebner. It was Earl Hebner who counted 1-2-3 despite the fact Hogan’s shoulder was clearly off the ground, and a four-year championship reign was over at the ding of a dime. The fans didn’t know about it and there was no internet to spoil the surprise; it was something never seen before and something completely unpredictable.

Furthermore, Andre solidified himself as one of the great all-time heels by immediately handing the WWF Championship to Ted DiBiase in exchange for what we imagine was quite a lot of moolah – and I’m not talking the fabulous kind. While WWF President Jack Tunney would later on declare Andre’s transaction with DiBiase invalid, it was still the only time DiBiase would get his hands on that championship which he probably deserved to hold at some point.

While the WWF Championship was clearly the focus of the evening, the Intercontinental Championship match is also worth talking about. While not a lot happened in terms of controversy or storyline, this was clearly used as one of the building blocks for Randy Savage. Although he didn’t win the championship, he did win the match and came out looking unbelievably strong.

You know those moments when one wrestler tries to hit another with some sort of foreign object, but then the second wrestler blocks it by catching it and using the strength of his arms to hold it off? And you know how the second wrestler usually misses the catch and then has to try to convince the audience they didn’t? Well, Savage did this with Honky Tonk’s guitar, but didn’t miss. Savage was too strong and too technical and too coordinated to be maimed by the likes of a cheating, character-stealing, chauvinistic pig like The Honky Tonk Man. And The Macho Man would prove that only two months later when he won the vacated WWF Championship at WrestleMania IV.

This era is considered by many to be the second golden age of professional wrestling, where superstars were created by constantly beating enhancement talent on television. As a result, when superstars faced each other, it was truly a spectacle of magnitude. These are not characters or matches that could survive in today’s product, but they are the reason today’s product exists at all.