Professional wrestling has been around for over a century, but it has not been a major form of entertainment for that long. In fact, it was not until 1982 that a visionary named Vincent Kennedy McMahon came into the picture and turning professional wrestling on its head by highlighting that pro wrestling was more entertainment than sport.
That was what would eventually create the dynasty of WWE that now stands tall over 30 years later as the centerpiece wrestling organization in the world. It’s a journey now to look back at WWE’s journey to the top of the business and its ability to stay there for over a quarter century.
This is the Then Now Forever series which chronicles the WrestleMania era in WWE beginning at 1985 and stretching to the modern day. Each year will be covered with a variety of writers getting in on helping with the series to make it great.
Setting the Scene
After looking at WWE experiment with WrestleMania for the first two years, we now head into 1987 where Vince McMahon‘s vision was finally realized in all its glory. It was on this year that the Golden Age of wrestling reached its climax, and the WWE never looked back.
The champions entering the year were Intercontinental Champion Randy Savage and WWF Champion Hulk Hogan. Savage who had wrestled the title away from fan favorite Tito Santana in 1986 was entering the year with two interests: remaining champion and defending his manager, Miss Elizabeth. George “The Animal” Steele who had a small crush on Miss Elizabeth became a victim of Savage’s rage as he brutally defended his right to have her as his manager.
Hogan had been WWF Champion for a long time. He was reaching three years as champion which was a true milestone of how dominant he had been as champion. His streak seemed unstoppable though a brutal feud with Paul Orndorff left Hogan looking a bit vulnerable.
Roddy Piper who had been the lead heel for WWF for years had disappeared from the scene, and Adrian Adonis had come in and changed Piper’s Pit into the Flower House. This led to Piper returning as a face to make Adonis pay.
The British Bulldogs had been crowned champions in 1986, and they were a top tag team in the business at that time. Women’s wrestling was on a bit of a downturn as they were rarely featured, and Fabulous Moolah seemed to be the only women deemed worthy of holding the title.
Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant
On January 3rd of the year, WWF held its first major show of the year, Saturday Night’s Main Event, where Hogan and Savage both defended their titles against their rivals. Hogan defeating Orndorff in a brutal steel cage match where it took two times escaping the cage for Hogan to win.
With the rivalry setlled, Hogan looked forward which meant looking up. On WWF Superstars in Piper’s Pit, Hogan was awarded a trophy for his accomplishment of being champion for three years which would cause Andre the Giant to come out and congratulate his friend. The next week, Andre was awarded a trophy for being the only undefeated man in the WWF, and Hogan came out to congratulate Andre only to steal Andre’s spotlight.
This lead to an explosion on the February 7th episode of Piper’s Pit where Hogan and Andre were set to speak one on one only for Andre to be led out that night by the heel Bobby Heenan who explained that Hogan had used Andre for too long. As Hogan pleaded for his friend to denounce Heenan, Andre stood fast then ripped the Hogan’s shirt off of him in an ultimate showing of disrespect.
Hogan remained shocked by the turn all the way to WrestleMania. He eventually agreed to face the giant after much coaxing from Roddy Piper. In the next edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event in March, Andre eliminated Hogan from a battle royal, and it then took seven men to eliminate Andre later. Many said that Hogan couldn’t win, but he Hulk promised that Hulkamania would make his friend pay.
At WrestleMania III, in the absolutely sold out Pontiac Silverdome filled with 93, 173 excited fans, Hogan fought and overcame the giant, eventually hitting him with the body slam heard around the world. He hit the leg drop and ended Andre’s undefeated streak once and for all.
This wasn’t the end though as the two had a battle that raged on well into 1988. At the May edition of SNME, Heenan told the world that he felt Andre won at WrestleMania III with his near victory early in the match. Despite Hogan trying to move on, feuding with Harley Race, Andre eventually got his shot at Hogan again.
At Survivor Series, Andre the Giant, One Man Gang, King Kong Bundy, Butch Reed, and Rick Rude defeated Hulk Hogan, Paul Orndorff, Don Muraco, Ken Patera, and Bam Bam Bigelow with Hogan being outsmarted by the heels eventually being counted out. This caused Hogan to go irate and end the show attacking Andre.
It wasn’t the end for the two, but it was the end for them in 1987.
The Intercontinental Championship
Randy Savage was IC Champion, and he defended his title in back to back SNME shows against George Steele who he defeated in order to keep his title and his manager Miss Elizabeth at his side. While Savage felt undefeatable by this point having defeated many legends by this point, a new challenger emerged.
Ricky Steamboat coming off a feud with Jake Roberts was ready to make the next step and ended up getting his shot at the IC Title. He would lose many shots at the champion by DQ even explode on the champion in matches, attacking him until the referee DQed the Dragon. Steamboat kept coming back and getting closer to his victory.
It all came to a head at WrestleMania III in the match of the year and one of the greatest matches of all time. Savage and Steamboat went all out. With Steele in Steamboat’s corner, Savage was not allowed any of his usual underhanded tricks, so the two had to go flat out back and forth. The match ended with the referee down, and Savage trying to use the ring bell as a weapon. However, Steele took it away from him, and Steamboat rolled up Savage for the huge victory.
Steamboat went on to defend the title for several months, defeating Hercules at SNME only to lose on an episode of WWF Superstars to the Honky Tonk Man. Many said that Steamboat lost the title because he wanted to take time off for his family which never sat well with the backstage higher ups who wanted Steamboat as a major star then.
The Honky Tonk Man then started a long term run with the title where HTM called himself the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time. This didn’t sit well with the newly crowned King of the Ring Randy Savage who felt he fit that billing much better.
The feud between the two led SNME where Savage won by disqualification thanks to the interference of the Hart Foundation. The three then brutalized Savage who was then saved by Hulk Hogan thanks to Miss Elizabeth’s insistence. This was the final straw that turned Savage face and was the opening to the creation of the Mega Powers.
The newly cemented face then led his team to victory at Survivor Series over Honky Tonk Man’s team though Savage would not end up wrestling away the title from the Honky Tonk Man’s grasp as he had a larger leap to make.
Roddy Piper’s Last Pit and Retirement
Piper was on his way out of the company at this time. He had seen an opening in Hollywood, and he was ready to go for his shot there. He wasn’t quite done yet as he first had to help make WrestleMania III a success.
His Piper’s Pit helped launch Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, and Piper also had his own feud to deal with. Adrian Adonis was constantly getting in Piper’s way leading to a match at WrestleMania III. The two fought in a hair vs. hair match.
As he prepared for that match though, Piper promised that this match would be his last. Regardless of winning or losing, Piper would retire on that night. Piper did end up winning and shaving Adonis’ head to the joy of the fans. Piper then left on a high not to be seen again for several years. He would go on to star in the movies Hell Comes to Frogtown and They Live.
Tag Team Showcase
While the stars were all working throughout the card, the tag team division was a bit less featured but still were a big factor. Right at the outset of the new year, the Hart Foundation, Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart, took the World Tag Team Titles from the British Bulldogs on an episode of WWF Superstars, and they never looked back.
During 1987, the Hart Foundation defeated many teams including three successful title defenses on SNME during that year, a six man tag match at Mania that they won, and a long term feud with Tito Santana.
That feud with Santana saw the veteran fight to find a real tag team partner. He eventually found one in Rick Martel, and the two formed Strike Force which was the team that finally took the title away from the Hart Foundation.
The highlight of the year for the tag team division was at Survivor Series when ten teams in two complete teams faced off in a 20-man elimination tag match. This match was the match of the night and brought a big spotlight on the whole division, but it wasn’t enough to make them a major feature for now.
At this time, if you didn’t have a championship or weren’t a major star, most likely you fell to the wayside. Case in point, future Hall of Famers such as Junkyard Dog, Jake Roberts, and the Iron Sheik all were still around during with time with serious feuds but none stood out above the pack.
The entire women’s wrestling division was becoming stagnant at this point. Ever since the ill-fated incident with Wendi Richter that sent her out of the company, the Fabulous Moolah was basically left alone to carry the title. She did drop the title to Sensational Sherry eventually, but it was unheralded transition.
What Was 1987
The Golden Era had been in full effect for seven years up to this point, but it was only now that everything came together. WrestleMania III was the perfect Mania. It was full of big stars, big matches, and great matches as well. WWF was running both Prime Time Wrestling and Superstars as television programs that shaped the major feuds of the time not to mention the runaway success of Saturday Night’s Main Event on NBC.
What this year did for wrestling was finally make the direct statement that the professional wrestling could be not only a successful entertainment venue but one of the largest entertainment organizations ever seen.
When Hogan slammed Andre, the WWE changed forever. Even without Roddy Piper, it became a true phenomenon.
Thank you for reading. If you can, leave your own thoughts on 1987 and WrestleMania III down below and check out all the previous Then Now Forever articles if you have not already.