WWF at Boston Garden (2.8.86) review
February 8, 1986
We’re at Boston Garden, Massachusetts for an important historical show. This is where Randy Savage captured the IC title from Tito Santana. It represented the changing of the guard from reliable hand Tito to enigmatic superstar Savage. I’ve seen the match before, but I’ve not seen the show and part of my whole review process is to try and get more context for the big shows. Hosts are Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura. On tap for this evening; the aforementioned IC title match, Hart Foundation vs Killer Bees, Steamboat vs Muraco in a Martial Arts match and Bruno Sammartino vs. Roddy Piper in a steel cage!
While MSG was the place to be in the 1980s, Boston Garden seemed to have a different energy. They were loud and appreciative, and the trademark yellow floor always got my juices going whenever I saw it on a comp tape.
Paul Christy vs. Lanny Poffo
Christy is here to earn some coins for his retirement. 1986 would be his final year in the business. He debuted in the 1950s and is technically solid. Christy works an armbar and the crowd shit all over it. Poffo was never an exciting worker, but he mirrors Christy’s dull holds until busting out that axe handle to the floor. He doesn’t stand up straight for it like Savage does but it’s still impressive. Moonsault finishes. Christy got turned into a jobber by Vince McMahon, who only saw a guy who could get others over. This was very slow. I still hate Poffo’s moonsault but understand other workers reluctance to take the move properly.
Barry O vs. Siva Afi
They stop short of calling him “Superfly” Siva Afi, but he’s supposed to be related to Jimmy. Snuka had left the WWF in 1985 and Vince wanted to just plug someone else into his spot. Snuka would split his time between New Japan and AWA until returning to the WWF in a reduced role in 1989. To say the fans didn’t take to Afi would be an understatement. Afi finishes with a high crossbody. Nothing much happened here, although it was more spritely than the opener.
George Steele vs. Tiger Chung Lee
Lee goes after the Animal with his kendo stick and George mangles it. Steele has a gimmick where he cheats, bashing the heel with a foreign object, which he would then conceal when the ref checks him. An early Los Guerreros example of babyface cheating for pops. Steele’s shtick includes exposing a turnbuckle, rams Lee’s head into it and gets the pin. Steele at least had entertaining shtick and it was over. I don’t hate him like some other people do.
Hillbilly Jim vs. John Studd
Hinterwäldler Jim in German. The trouble with this match is that Studd is supposed to be this enormous dude, but Jim is also enormous. Studd is, technically, three inches taller but they’re the same height. I’m reminded by Monsoon that Hillbilly Jim started out as a planted fan called “Big Jim”, who Hogan taught to wrestle. The lack of effort here is palpable. They do a bearhug and there’s nothing to it. They’re just resting. They brawl outside and Studd gets counted out.
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Tito Santana (c) vs. Randy Savage
The crowd reaction is fascinating because they want Savage to win but they still respect Santana.
Savage is wearing yellow to match the Boston Garden floor and he goes outside a lot to show us that’s the case. The referee here is Danny Davis, future villain, and he takes a minor bump in this so Tito can get the visual pin. Savage struggles with a leg injury but uses it as a way to hide in the ropes. Tito goes to suplex him back in but Randy smacks him in the face with a foreign object to win the belt. I’ve seen him do this finish already in the WWF. It’s a shame he didn’t waffle Tito with it and then hit the big elbow but he’s still selling the leg. A good match and a historically important one.
The crack production team spot the foreign object and if this was the NWA, you know that would be a Dusty finish. Like I said at the top, I’ve seen this before and while it’s a good match and an exciting title switch, it’s not a great match by any stretch of the imagination. ***¼
Sidenote: Tito Santana’s IC title level performances over 1985 and early 1986 were his peak as a singles wrestler. The generation that followed in Tito’s footsteps improved upon his work. Nowadays, he’d be considered a middling worker. He was solid and consistent but never threatened to go any higher on the card. He’d bounce back in 1987 when he formed Strike Force with another exciting midcard babyface; Rick Martel.
Video Control takes us backstage where Savage rants about how this is a “bad day for Hulk Hogan” as Savage beat one of his allies. “I hurt my leg and I still beat him!” Savage’s mumbling unhinged promos are a joy to watch.
The Hart Foundation vs. The Killer Bees
There’s a big fight in the crowd in the early going and a bunch of cops sprint out that way to sort it out.
Bret Hart, like Bobby Eaton in NWA, was great at making random babyfaces look way better than they had any right to look (see Blair, B. Brian). The match is half good, half bad. The good half coming from Bret, the bad from Anvil. Neidhart is extremely limited and just does rest holds. This isn’t the first time the Harts have clashed with the Bees, but it would be the starting point of an early 1986 feud. Bret’s strengths here include cutting the ring in half, sneaking in behind the ref’s back and doing everything quickly enough that it’s realistic. Brunzell gets picked off for an exhaustingly long heat period thanks to Bret slamming him on the floor. I like how Brunzell gets the tag because of a double team gone wrong, Bret being run into the buckle by Anvil. While the double teams and Bret’s work is great, the Anvil stuff is quite bad. Bret Hart sneaks in without a tag and beats Brunzell. This would lead to the Killer Bees doing the blind switches. This was a decent match but not quite notebook territory. **¾.
Martial Arts Match
Magnificent Muraco vs. Ricky Steamboat
What are the rules of a martial arts match? They have to wear a gi. Steamboat has one already and gets Muraco to pop one on that looks like a bath robe from a cheap motel.
“Kung fu karate shot” is the standard of Gorilla’s commentary on this one. It was an Enzuigiri. There’s another fight in the crowd so Muraco takes a powder. No point working if no one’s watching.
Muraco resorts to wrestling, having failed to match Steamboat’s martial arts ability. Steamboat gives us a look of ‘oh, we’re going to wrestle then? Ok’. The match slides in and out of the gimmick with Steamboat choking Muraco with his gi and Muraco hitting Steamboat with a chair. Are chair shots legal in martial arts? We get some dated references to Bruce Lee. Bruce had been dead for over a decade at this point, although arguably still relevant thanks to cable TV. The match becomes increasingly violent as Steamboat blades and the choking continues. Muraco’s mean spiritedness and Steamboat’s selling make for a good contest, once they’ve gotten past having to use the gimmick of the stipulation. Steamboat fires up Milton Bradley Karate Fighters style.
Enter the Dragon was a game-changer for American perception of Asian cinema and the wave of chopsocky violence enthralled a generation. Street Fighter would debut in 1987 and the children of America would become more and more enamoured with kung-fu. That’s on top of the more child-friendly success of the Karate Kid series. So, the WWF isn’t a million miles off the pulse here. The trouble they have is integrating martial arts into wrestling. Instead trying to change the wrestling rules to suit martial arts. They already suited martial arts! Anyway, Steamboat skins the cat and wins with a roll up. Muraco batters Steamboat with Fuji’s cane after the match so the feud MUST CONTINUE. ***. This was good once they got past the initial issues stemming from trying to change the rules. Just utilise the style within the context of wrestling.
Steel Cage Match
Bruno Sammartino vs. Roddy Piper
They set this up in a tag match back in January where Piper & Orton beat Sammartino & Orndorff on count out.
Piper, looking to endear himself with the locals, comes out with a Chicago Bears Superbowl Champions t-shirt on and sticks a poster of William “Refrigerator” Perry up inside the cage. For those not familiar with NFL history; in 1986 the Superbowl was Mike Ditka’s Chicago Bears vs. New England Patriots. The Bears won 46-10 and just massacred the Pats in one of the most one-sided Superbowls on record. Naturally the Boston locals are less than thrilled at Piper reminding them of this. Bruno starts heavy and Piper takes a few headers into the cage, blatantly blading on camera three times. Jesus Roddy, at least try to cover it up!
There’s no underselling the business Bruno Sammartino did for the WWF. He was an enormous draw and Vince was happy to carry on using him as part of a lawsuit Bruno had against the McMahons for underpayment during his last title run. Bruno was initially brought in to get his son, David, over and to run commentary. It didn’t take long for that to become feuds with Piper and Savage to give the younger heel stars the rub.
I never liked cage matches where the aim is to escape. Win your blood feud by running away! It should be a cheap way for the heel to win. Bruno wins this by crawling out of the door and bashing Piper with a chair to stop him from following. Lame. There was a lot of claret here but not even slightly concealed by Piper. It’s a pass from me.
A historically important show with a big Savage IC title win. The last four matches all have a good reputation but only Savage-Santana and Steamboat-Muraco can live up to the rep. Harts-Killer Bees is a solid enough tag match and if you like bloodshed and old men in bad cage matches, the main event will work for you too.