1986: Mop Up and Awards
Hello, it’s that time again. We have reached the end of another year in pro-wrestling. Here are the highs and lows. Before we get to the awards section, I have some notable matches to cover, which I wasn’t able to in the events I covered.
March 26, 1986
Akira Maeda, Kazuo Yamazaki, Nobuhiko Takada, Osamu Kido & Yoshiaki Fujiwara vs. Antonio Inoki, Kantaro Hoshino, Kengo Kimura, Tatsumi Fujinami & Umanosuke Ueda
There may be an underlying theme of missing content here, as New Japan entire shows are not a thing on NJPW World until later. This is a New Japan 1986 in a nutshell contest. Inoki is 43 and still the centre of attention. He refuses to let anyone else start after Maeda big dogs him by saying he’ll start and Inoki is a chicken if he doesn’t. Fujinami vs. Fujiwara is also fascinating as Fujiwara goes for his armbar and Fujinami has to wrestle his way out.
The best thing about this match is the crowd. It is HOT in there. Every tag, every strike, every takedown, every face off is met with raucous NOISE. Takada slaps the shit out of Kimura and one of the wrestlers I’m most excited to check out ‘missing years’ from is Takada. I’ve only seen bits and pieces and he rules. Yamazaki gets caught in a backslide and he’s out! Yamazaki was really over in this and it’s surprising he’s gone first. He’s also one of the few guys not wearing plain black trunks.
They run the backslide gimmick again, on Fujiwara, but he just manages to get his foot on the rope. Hoshino pays for it as Fujiwara drills him with a piledriver and leglocks him until he taps out. Hoshino was also not wearing black, which means only the coloured trunks have been eliminated and only black remains. Inokism.
This racism ends when Kimura is roundhoused out of the ring by Maeda. He’s eliminated. Going out of the ring, not even over the top, is also an elimination. Takada tries to do the same to Fujinami, but Ueda comes in and stomps him. This is the first time Ueda has even set foot in the ring since the match started. We’re 18 minutes in. I’m pleased to report Takada has ruled the whole time. Imagine an immaculate looking handsome man who deals in exclusively in shootstyle; kicks and submissions. I love him. He’s like Akira Maeda, only better.
Fujiwara is like a Pitbull in this. He latches onto people with holds and won’t give it up. Fujinami tries to counter out of a sleeper, and HE WON’T RELEASE so Fujinami is only left with one option; the ropes but Fujiwara STILL won’t let go so they topple out and are both eliminated. Holy shit, that was great. For Fujiwara, it’s a win. He’s still eliminated Fujinami, one of the biggest stars out there, albeit eliminating himself in the process. He’s left Maeda, Takada and Kido vs Inoki +1.
Ueda finally tags in, 25 minutes into the match, and Maeda decides he’s going to take care of him. Maeda kicks him out of the ring but Ueda grabs his leg and drags him out too. Maeda is gone! Ueda with the sacrifice. I have to assume he was injured here. He didn’t take a single bump.
Anyway, we’re left with Inoki versus two young punks. You know where this is going. Kido is just cannon fodder so the real battle is Inoki vs. Takada. Inoki sweeps the leg to avoid a big kick and starts nailing Enzuigiris. I want this singles match now. Takada gives up to a sleeper. Kido is all “don’t worry, I got this”, unloads his entire offence just one move after another. Inoki, sportsman, punches him in the throat and hits one Enzuigiri for the win. Haha, Inoki eh? If you ignore how Inoki this match is, it’s pretty great. Takada was MVP by a mile but everyone played their role to perfection. Wonderful pro-wrestling and a nice little demonstration of how the Survivor Series would work, for anyone excited about the debut of that show in 1987. ****¼
I’m so glad I watched that. In contention for MOTY. Definitely in my top five for 1986.
Next, from August 5, 1986.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Nobuhiko Takada (c) vs. Shiro Koshinaka
Yes lads, we’re on the Takada Train, stopping at every station. His match with the Cobra is sadly not on NJPW World. These gentlemen are the first two, ever, IWGP junior champions. Koshinaka held it first, then Takada. This is nowhere near as heated as the last match but the technical side of it is excellent. Shootstyle has the pleasing side effect of everything looking realistic. All of the little things I hate about wrestling just don’t happen in shootstyle. There’s one teeny tiny issue, Koshinaka isn’t anywhere near as good at the style as Takada. He uses hip attacks and goofy shit and when he does go to holds, they look like he’s resting, not being aggressive. Koshinaka does have his place in wrestling, but this isn’t it. By contrast, Takada’s strikes look vicious. Shiro does a nice slap but that’s what we’re dealing with. Slap vs. Kick. The selling of this is not ideal, with Takada selling the slaps like death and Koshinaka not going down for two consecutive roundhouse kicks to the head. They do put together a nice stretch sequence, where both guys get near falls from flash pins amidst the crazy back and forth. Takada traps Shiro with the crossface chickenwing for the win. This was a good match but not quite at the level it could have reached if Koshinaka had been able to meet Takada at his style. ***½
Next, from September 19, 1986
Terry Funk vs. Barry Windham
This is from WWC and was the first round of their Universal Championship tournament. Carlos Colon had vacated the belt. He’s also in this tournament. No prizes for guessing who wins. Colon would end up holding the belt 26 times. He’s only on five here. I was keen to see some more Barry Windham after his big singles match with Ric Flair this year. Also, Funk was brilliant in the WWF at the start of the year. Funk is part Flair here, and part crazy. He takes a Flair bump to the floor and throws a chair into the ring, which Barry, SUPER ATHLETE, catches one handed. Funk plays mind games, frequently bailing to Barry’s frustration, and eventually Windham chases and gets hit with a piledriver on the floor. Windham just goes with the flow here, following Funk’s wacky antics as he bumps 50-50 spots clean out of the ring, gets into arguments with fans, almost attacks an armed cop in this banana republic and is just generally VERY Terry Funk. At one point he falls face first out of the ring through the ropes. I’ve never seen anyone do that. When he stands up, he’s managed to get a chair stuck on his head and it gets caught in the ropes!
This is genius at play. Nobody did anything like this. The thought process to get here is insane. Windham thinks he’s won, but Funk has his foot on the rope, and Terry rolls him up with a handful of tights for the win. ***½. Some genuinely fantastic ideas in here. Terry was having a ball.
This might seem a bit light compared to last year’s mop up but most of the highly recommended matches have been on big shows, which is weird because it’s not been a good year for big shows! Anyway, here are the awards you’ve been so patiently waiting for.
Wrestler of the Year
- Ric Flair (1). An easy choice for the second year running. Flair carried the top end of Crockett’s NWA and did so with a variety of top notch main events. He finally managed to drag a decent match out of Dusty Rhodes this year, after multiple failures in recent years. He had a banger with Barry Windham in February, which is a MOTYC. He had another MOTYC against Ricky Morton, which was a completely different match. He bullied Morton in that match, along with the nose psychology. The whole thing was a big win. He finished the year with a good, not great, match against the broomstick Nikita Koloff.
- Ricky Steamboat (7). There’s a big gap from first to second but Steamboat was consistent and reliable. He had a great feud with Jake Roberts, which produced some of Jake’s best in-ring. He had good matches with Don Muraco. That in itself is worth second. A reliable, solid mid-card hand who always produced. The Greg Valentine of 1986.
- Randy Savage (5). Like Steamboat, Savage was consistently good without being a blowaway great star. He was IC champion for most of the year after beating Tito Santana back in February. Tito just disappeared from big cards after that. Savage literally took his spot.
- Terry Funk. If only Terry had stayed in the WWF all year, he’d have been a shoe-in for second place at the very least. Every time he appeared on TV he blew me away. Outstandingly consistent and made everyone look good. Even guys who normally stank like JYD.
- Riki Choshu (9). Every time I watched anything from AJPW, Choshu was a stand out. I never realised how mega-over he was. They ran a series in 1986 of Choshu & Yatsu vs. Jumbo & Tenryu and he was the star the whole time.
- Nick Bockwinkel. It’s insane that Bockwinkel was the AWA’s saviour (again) in 1986 but that’s what happened. Verne leaned on Bockwinkel to fill the Stan Hansen shaped void at the top of the card and he delivered in a big way. Despite his career winding down, he was still great in the champion role.
- Tully Blanchard. If Tully hadn’t been saddled with Dusty Rhodes on the biggest show of the year, he may have landed even higher on this list. He pulled a series of great matches out of Ron Garvin. The second best worker in the NWA. The guy who everyone had to wrestle before they got to work with Flair.
- Curt Hennig. The future of the AWA, Curt was asked to bubble under the top guys on the card. His matches with Bockwinkel showed he was ready to run with the big belt. It was only a matter of time before Vince came calling.
- Akira Maeda. The godfather of shooting. Maeda wasn’t consistently entertaining me as a singles wrestler in 1986 but he was bubbling under Inoki. He’d only last another year before getting frustrated and creating his own promotion.
- Nobuhiko Takada. He feels like a star in the making. Would follow Maeda’s career path, which would result in him becoming a bit of a cult icon, instead of the mainstream ace he could have been. What a wrestler though. Years ahead of his contemporaries.
Best Tag Team
- British Bulldogs. Both big companies had good tag divisions in 1986 but the NWA’s was definitely deeper in the talent pool. Which makes the Bulldogs consistently excellent performances even better in my opinion. They didn’t have a Minnesota Wrecking Crew or a Midnight Express to bounce off. The Hart Foundation rivalry was even a little underdeveloped at this point. Dynamite Kid though, unbelievable talent.
- Minnesota Wrecking Crew (4). Arn & Ole were one of my favourite teams to watch in 1986. The connection to the Four Horsemen meant that every match was mega-heated too. The crowd hated them. It’s credit to Arn Anderson that I could have put Arn & Tully on this list too, but he teamed more with Ole.
- Rock N’ Roll Express (3). The ultimate underdog babyface team. I prefer them when they work more shine into the matches, and I feel they lean a little too much into formula to get any higher on this list.
- Midnight Express (5). Another solid year from Bobby Eaton & Dennis Condrey. My preferred version of this team is Eaton & Stan Lane but Condrey has definitely grown on me more during this odyssey.
- Fantastics (1). I’m glad I gave the Fantastics their flowers in 1985 because it becomes clear that was their peak as a team. They’ve fallen behind the RNRXP and the Bulldogs in terms of quality and big chances. They’re very lucky to just edge the Midnight Rockers out of the top five here.
Best on Interviews
- Jake Roberts. Jake’s WWF promos were state-of-the-art. They didn’t always make perfect sense but the way he pulled little threads from popular culture, history and mythology turned a normal promo into a staggering work of art. Compare him to everyone else and it’s just night and day.
- Bobby Heenan. Heenan is arguably one of the best in three categories; talker, manager and commentator. Not to mention he’s one of the best bumpers in the WWF. One of the great all-rounders who could just do everything.
- Hulk Hogan. Credit where it’s due, Hogan tried really hard to make his promos different in 1986. He tried to shoot for epic and he always had a theme he tried to get across. Whether it was about court cases or some random shit he dreamt up. 1986 is the year where he stepped up his promo game. Unfortunately it would eventually descend into parody but hey, let’s enjoy it while it’s good.
- Roddy Piper (1). Piper’s face promos aren’t on the level of his heel ones. They’re basically the same but people cheer them instead of booing him. More random than Hogan’s nonsensical ramblings and often without a beginning or an end, but loaded with gags and tangents. Pure charisma.
- Randy Savage. Jesus, I’ve left Cornette and Flair out of my five here. Madness. Savage’s promos were really starting to come together in 1986. They’re not yet the strained, anguished promos where he was at his absolute best but they’re getting real good. Still a step behind Piper and Hogan, and more notably Roberts, but in that ballpark.
- WWF (3). Last year, I had a shortlist of 6 promotions and couldn’t even whittle it down to five. This year, I’ve basically got four in total and I don’t think any of them should win. I’ve given it to Vince because he probably made the most money in 1986 of everyone. The company was on fire and the Hogan-Orndorff program was the hottest thing in wrestling. All the big shows they put on in 1986 were bad though.
- JCP (4). Another flawed year for Crockett, where his in-ring was routinely better than the WWF’s and yet the consistent booking failures were leading the NWA down a road to disaster. He tried to fix it by buying Mid-South but that wasn’t the solution they hoped it would be.
- NJPW. First time on the list for Inoki and the boys. I liked what I saw from NJPW in 1986 but there was a clear issue of Inoki hanging on to the spotlight, whereas Baba was prepared to let young talent take his place in AJPW.
- AJPW (5). I watched less AJPW than I thought I would in 1986 but what I did see was generally good. The Choshu rivalry with AJPW’s top talents drove the promotion in 1986.
- Yeah, that’s all I’ve got. AWA?
Match of the Year
- Nick Bockwinkel vs. Curt Hennig (AWA, Nov 15) ****½
- Ric Flair vs. Ricky Morton (NWA, July 5) ****¼
- Ric Flair vs. Barry Windham (NWA Battle of the Belts, Feb 14) ****¼
- Genichiro Tenryu vs. Yoshiaki Yatsu (AJPW, Mar 13) ****¼
- Team Inoki vs. Team Maeda (NJPW, Mar 26) ****¼
- Bobby Heenan. Heenan didn’t crack the top five in 1985 but he was allowed more chances in 1986 and I thought he was consistently better than Jesse Ventura, who was the benchmark for WWF at the time. Dick Ebersol wanted Ventura on SNME, despite Heenan being outstanding whenever he was on it.
- Gordon Solie (4). He was clearly on the way down when we started doing this odyssey, but Solie was classy every time I’ve seen him work.
- Bill Mercer. The problem with Bill Mercer, WCCW commentator, is he never seemed to be around when the big shows happened so Marc Lowrance used to run commentary on them. Mercer commentated on all the big shows this year and was great. It made me annoyed he’d not featured in 1985, when WCCW were actually good.
- Jesse Ventura (1). Last year’s champ drops to fourth. I still like Ventura but it’s clear he wasn’t the best commentator available. Just the one everyone in the right job liked the best.
- Gene Okerlund. Hugely underrated as a commentator, where he brought depth, subtlety and narrative to his commentary. Okerlund is mainly known for his interviews but he brought that same knowledge and experience to the commentary booth and was great.
- Jimmy Hart (1). Still the most outstanding of all the managers in 1986. Great at drawing heat, great at taking bumps, constantly involved in the match even when he wasn’t there physically. Out-worked almost everyone he managed. Just outstanding.
- Bobby Heenan (2). Heenan is so unlucky he’s working in the same era as Jimmy Hart because he’s so close to him across the board. The issue with Heenan is he was always himself, whereas Jimmy Hart was different in managing Adrian Adonis compared to the Hart Foundation. He changed based on the needs of his client. Heenan was just Heenan but being Bobby Heenan is enough. I gave him best commentator so he could win something. He’s arguably the companies best asset, outside of Hulkamania, in 1986.
- Jim Cornette (3). Another good year for Jim. The addition of his bodyguard, Ray Traylor, made him even more hated. Great at talking people into the building, took crazy bumps and ruined both his knees falling off a scaffold at Starrcade.
- JJ Dillon (5). Another really good year for JJ who busted himself open before Dusty vs. Tully to showcase the bionic elbow. What a worker.
- Percy Pringle (4). Not quite as good a year as 1985 for Percy. He’ll be back.
Oh, dear god, I’ve been dreading this. The best shows I’ve seen from 1986 were the WWF’s Saturday Night’s Main Events. They were consistently entertaining and showcased the best of the company. The big shows from WWF? Dogshit. Awful. WrestleMania II is one of the worst WrestleManias. The Big Event sucks. AWA didn’t put on a good show all year, barring the ESPN special, which is just Bockwinkel vs. Hennig. Crockett’s big shows were disappointing. Starrcade is, at best, an OK show. The Crockett Cup was decent but it’s not worth being show of the year. The show I came up with on top was Battle of the Belts II but that’s literally just because Flair vs. Windham is on top. There are, at best, three good matches on that show and a lot of shit.
- AWA Wrestlerock. A stinker. The last chance to get the belt off Stan Hansen (he left with it), Verne Gagne singles match, Larry Zbyszko worked boxing match, Sarge vs Kamala, Race vs Martel (very dull), Baba vs. Bob Brown, Misawa vs. Buck Zumhofe. Just a fucking disaster. The worst AWA show I’ve ever seen.
- The Big Event. An absolute shitting of the bed from the WWF. Drawing a massive crowd for Hogan-Orndorff and it’s 11 minutes with a DQ finish. The undercard is underwhelming. The only decent match is Steamboat-Roberts and that’s not as good as other matches they had and it’s only 10 minutes. Haku vs. Muraco went 20:00 on this show. JYD-Adonis, Arcidi-Garea, Bees-Funks (w/o Terry), Slater-Sharpe, Heenan Family-Machines, Haynes-Herc, Race-Morales. What a dogshit awful card. Urgh.
- WrestleMania II. From three venues! Hogan vs. Bundy in a cage. Awful, awful main event. One of the worst in Mania history. NFL players in a battle royal. Loads of crap gimmick matches. Piper vs. Mr T in a boxing match headlined the one show. Uh oh.
- Uncle Elmer (1). Has to be seen to be beleived. Absolutely terrible. Immobile. Was on WrestleMania this year. One of the worst Mania matches, ever.
- Ted Arcidi. A walking steroid. If the move “bearhug” were a wrestler.
- Dingo Warrior. Before he was “Ultimate” Warrior was a dreadful Indies worker. A walking mess.
- Giant Baba. It pains me to do this but by 1986, Baba was useless. American promotions still didn’t quite get that and put him in singles matches. No, lads. No.
- Kamala. I can’t believe how shit Kamala was in 1986. Has he always been this bad? Was I blown away by the moon and stars on his belly?
- Hercules Hernandez. Just no.
- Brian Knobbs. I only saw one Brian Knobbs match. He looked clueless.
- Hillbilly Jim. Yes, I am going messing with the country boys. Shit.
- Cousin Luke. See above.
- Great Kabuki (7). I slightly preferred him in 1986, because he wrestled in Japan and wasn’t as bad. WCCW though? Awful. Nerve hold man.
- David Crockett. Nepotism!
- Mike Graham. Nepotism!
- Vince McMahon. Self nepotism?
- Susan St James. Uh oh.
- Lord Alfred Hayes. Full of shit.
- WCCW. Oh, World Class. What happened? They withdrew from the NWA. Fritz meddled in everything. He’s in every major angle. Gino Hernandez literally died. All the Von Erich’s got injured overworking, to various degrees. Kerry lost his foot and was never the same. Lance Von Erich. Mid-South plundered half the roster.
- AWA. Yeah, there was a promotion worse than the AWA in 1986. Amazing. Although, they did almost salvage something by having the best match of the year.