By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
The Junkyard Dog vs Randy Savage 11/7/85
The WWF have never been the best promotion in the world when it comes to booking wrestling tournaments. The Survivor Series Deadly Games pay-per-view notwithstanding, many of the bigger tournaments that the promotion has booked didn’t always seem to maximise the potential outcomes in terms of both match quality and long term booking. A perfect example of this was the Wrestling Classic, a 1985 tournament that presented Randy Savage as a valiant underdog – not exactly what you want for one of your biggest heels.
The Wrestling Classic was the second pay-per-view the Federation had ever run and it truly emphasised that they weren’t even close to nailing the format. Rather than selling the show on feuds (Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper were in the main event, but that was it) and matches that would draw in the fans, a sixteen man tournament meant that many of the matches were over before they had truly begun. When the longest match in the tournament went only nine minutes and you tried to present fifteen matches in a three hour window, no time was factored in for developing any of the matches that could have been great.
As aforementioned, the booking of Savage was also eye opening. By the time the Macho Man had reached the final, he had overcome Ivan Putski, Ricky Steamboat and the Dynamite Kid – the last two matches totalling nine minutes, a booking tragedy if ever there was one. His opponent in the final would be Junkyard Dog, who defeated The Iron Sheik and Moondog Spot, the second match of the two seeing the Dog count his own pinfall as there was no referee. With the double countout of Tito Santana and Paul Orndorff giving the Dog a bye into the final, he had barely had to break a sweat to reach the final.
If you compare this to the Wrestlemania IV title tournament, Savage had had a significantly tougher route to the final then his opponent; the sort you might expect your valiant face underdog to overcome. Laying out this same booking for a heel just made limited sense, especially as it highlighted the shortcomings of the face who was due to go over in the tournament as a whole. A simple tenant of good booking is to have the good guy have the odds stacked against them and to overcome them in the end. Dog had had to overcome very little by this point.
The stalling at the beginning of the contest saw Savage channel his Memphis days as he refused to engage with the Dog before throwing a chair into the ring. The Dog, unfazed, grabbed the chair and smashed it several times against his own head. Savage would make his way into the ring several times yet scarper as soon as it looked like Dog might get to him. When they finally did lock up, Dog unsurprisingly won the battle of strength, blocked a body slam and aimed a headbutt at Savage’s already injured back.
With Jesse Ventura on commentary making it very clear that the Dog has had all the luck of the draw when it comes to making the final, Savage used an eye rake to break a bear hug. However, it barely halted the Dog’s slow and plodding offense. Even when it came to the first bumps he had to take, the Dog went over in stages following a diving Savage clothesline and tentatively landed on a throw to the outside. This at least allowed Savage to showcase his aerial skills with a double axehandle to the floor; not once, but twice.
The referee had to turn somewhat of a blind eye to Savage using a chair to the Dog’s back in a momentary lapse of judgement by the Macho Man. With the match finally back in the ring, a third attempt at a double axehandle saw Savage jump straight into a punch to the midsection. Several headbutts and a jarring pull out of the corner that saw Savage crash hard on his back; a back body drop over the top rope was enough for the Dog to win the match by countout.
A weak finish to poorly put over one of your most popular babyfaces in a match carried by Savage. To top it all off, to have a countout finish to end your show long tournament is one way of really screwing over the paying fans. Ventura ended up jumping into the ring to complain about the result and have a face off with the Dog, but it was not a satisfactory way to end what had been a poor show all round.