The WWE popularised the medium of pay-per-view in the mid-1980s. The inaugural WrestleMania in March 1985 was primarily offered to consumers via closed-circuit television but was available to selected markets on pay-per-view.
The following November’s The Wrestling Classic was the first widely available pay-per-view offering from WWE. By the time WrestleMania III rolled around in March 1987, a colossal 500,000 people ordered the show via the medium. A number made even more impressive by the context that only five million homes were wired for the pay-per-view in the States at the time.
As pay-per-view was a hugely lucrative medium for the company, the company reserved its biggest and best matches for these mammoth shows. This feature looks at the five greatest pay-per-view offerings, WWE produced during the 1980s.
#5 WrestleMania III – March 29, 1987
WrestleMania III was famously headlined by the Hulk Hogan versus Andre ‘The Giant’ World Title match which was expertly promoted and drew over 78,000 fans to the Pontiac Silverdome. It was also responsible for pulling a colossal 500,000 pay-per-view buys. The bout itself was basic, but incredibly heated and was a terrific spectacle. The image of Hogan bodyslamming Andre is now immortalised as one of the definitive moments in all of wrestling history.
The best match on the card was the classic collision over the Intercontinental Title between ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage and Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat. In a fast-paced and heated technical battle, Steamboat reversed a slam into a small package to pin the champion to win his first (and only) IC Championship. At that point in time this was the best WrestleMania match ever.
Elsewhere, The Hart Foundation and crooked referee, Danny Davis defeated The British Bulldog and Tito Santana in a fine six-man tag team match-up. Davis smashed Davey Boy Smith in the head with Jimmy Hart’s megaphone to earn the cheap win.
The only other contest of note saw ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper retire (for two years) after a dismal Hair versus Hair contest versus Adrian Adonis which post-match set up Brutus Beefcake’s barber gimmick.
As the WWE tended to do during the 1980s and early 90s, they overstacked the ‘Mania card which meant the rest of the show was short, missable filler.
#4 WrestleMania V – April 2, 1989
WrestleMania V was headlined by a terrific Hulk Hogan versus ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage bout for Savage’s WWE World Title. The match had been expertly built for an entire year, with the pair teaming as The Mega Powers, before Savage memorably turned on Hogan at The Main Event television special on February 3, 1989.
The match was by far the best (and longest) on the show and is one of Hogan’s greatest-ever contests. With the victory, ‘The Hulkster’ became only the second man to regain the WWE Title after Bruno Sammartino.
Elsewhere, Rick Rude terminated The Ultimate Warrior’s Intercontinental Title reign in a tidy contest (one of Warrior’s best). Mr Perfect defeated The Blue Blazer (Owen Hart) in an excellent six-minute sprint. The Brain Busters beat Strike Force in a decent match which was essentially a vehicle for Rick Martel to turn heel on Tito Santana. The Twin Towers crushed The Rockers in a fun opener, wherein Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty bumped all over the place for colossal Big Boss Man and Akeem.
Jake Roberts versus Andre ‘The Giant’ with Big John Studd as the referee was heavily hyped but was a massive disappointment on the night, even accounting for Andre’s physical limitations.
Everything else on the show was either too short to leave an impression or really poor. However, there was enough good on the show though for this event to rank as one of the WWE’s best of the decade.
#3 Survivor Series 1988 – November 24, 1988
The second annual Survivor Series was highlighted by an epic 43-minute, 10-team tag team elimination match-up which saw the premier tandems of the era square off in a superlative battle.
The Powers of Pain outlasted the field and in a memorable post-match angle, performed a double turn with Demolition. The Warlord and The Barbarian allied with Demolition’s manager, Mr Fuji, and turned heel, turning Ax and Smash babyface in the process. Great storytelling and terrific action made this one of the company’s best matches of the decade.
New Intercontinental Champion, The Ultimate Warrior was the star of the show in the opener as he crushed Ron Bass and Greg Valentine in rapid fashion to become the sole survivor for his team opposite the squad put together by the man he relieved the IC belt from, The Honky Tonk Man. The match was logically put together. Given the limitations of some of the participants, it was kept brisk and sought to highlight the field’s strengths and conceal weaknesses.
The same could be set for the bout pitting the heel squad of Andre ‘The Giant’, Mr. Perfect, Dino Bravo, and Harley Race against the faces consisting of Jake Roberts, Jim Duggan, Ken Patera, Scott Casey, and Tito Santana. The ageing Andre and Race were protected by only wrestling in short bursts and the superlative workers such as Perfect and Santana kept the match moving. Bravo and Perfect survived for their team last eliminating Roberts who at one point in the bout was facing four opponents by himself after the rest of his team was eliminated. Fun match.
The headliner was perhaps the weakest of the four Survivor Series bouts on offer but it was a decent enough encounter. The Mega Powers teamed with the curious triumvirate of Hillbilly Jim, Hercules, and Koko B. Ware against The Twin Towers, Ted DiBiase, King Haku, and The Red Rooster. It was no surprise to see Rooster eliminated first. In an (at the time) innovative spot, Hulk Hogan was handcuffed to the ropes preventing him from being able to tag Savage as the WWE Champion played the face in peril expertly.
After Miss Elizabeth managed to unlock ‘The Hulkster’s’ handcuffs, Hogan ran through his usual routine and vanquished the remaining heel team member, King Haku to win the bout for his team. Hogan and Savage survived. Post-match, Savage appeared to be agitated by Hogan picking up Elizabeth and putting her on his shoulder. This would lead to the ‘Macho Man’s’ heel turn on ‘The Hulkster’ three months later, accusing his friend of lusting after his beau.
The match itself was more story than work rate classic but was serviceable enough. It nevertheless rounded out a terrific card of action.
#2 SummerSlam 1989 – August 28, 1989
SummerSlam 1989 was headlined by the tag team contest pitting WWE Champion, Hulk Hogan and Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake against ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage and Zeus.
The match existed to promote the WWE movie, No Holds Barred. Zeus was a character in the film and the company had the idea to hire the actor who played him, Tom ‘Tiny’ Lister to invade the WWE as he was jealous of Hogan during filming. Or something. Despite the laughable premise, it was a hot angle that fans bought into. That was proved by the enormous 625,000 pay-per-view orders the event pulled. As for the bout itself, it was fairly average. However, the angle and the animated crowd made it work.
Underneath, The Brain Busters bested The Hart Foundation in a brilliant encounter. The technical stunner was one of the company’s finest matches of the decade and was the perfect choice to open the show.
Another tag team encounter thrilled the New Jersey crowd as well. This time it pitted The Rockers and Tito Santana opposite The Fabulous Rougeaus and Rick Martel. It was a fast-paced match-up, packed full of energy and excitement. The action was crisp and logical. Martel pinned Marty Jannetty to win the bout for his team. Great contest.
The Ultimate Warrior regained the Intercontinental Title from Rick Rude in a re-match of their WrestleMania collision from several months earlier. The match played to Warrior’s strengths, allowing him to look dominant early by running through his impressive power moves, before allowing Rude to take over the heavy lifting and beat his challenger down. The finishing sequence was heated as Warrior’s comeback was timed to perfection. He smashed the champion with a gorilla press slam and running splash for the win and title. One of Warrior’s best-ever matches and it surpassed their earlier ‘Mania contest.
Demolition and ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan teamed up to defeat The Twin Towers and Andre ‘The Giant’ in a fun encounter. At seven minutes long, it was the perfect length for each man to pack in their spots while not overstaying their welcome.
The rest of the card’s bouts were too short to leave a lasting impression.
A brilliant show which was paced superbly and consisted of excellent matches mixed in with inoffensive filler and bouts supported by great storytelling.
#1 Survivor Series 1987 – November 26, 1987
The inaugural Survivor Series was the finest pay-per-view event the company staged during the 1980s. The card presented four multi-person tag team matches. Three of which were excellent.
The five versus five women’s tag team match-up was the weakest on the card but was perfectly serviceable by the standards of the time; particularly when The Jumping Bomb Angels were in the match. The Angels deservedly were the survivors of the bout.
The opener saw ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage, Jake Roberts, and Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat survive against The Honky Tonk Man’s team. Given the faces had all been feuding with Honky earlier in the year, this was a nice measure of revenge against the reigning Intercontinental Champion. The match was energetic and heated.
In a slight twist on the format, five tag teams competed against another five squads in an excellent encounter. Surprisingly, given the strong field which featured premier tandems such as The Hart Foundation and The British Bulldogs, it was the mid-card combo The Killer Bees who were the sole surviving team.
The main event was a star-maker for newcomer Bam Bam Bigelow who put forth an incredible performance. Hulk Hogan was shockingly counted out in the middle portion of the match leaving Bigelow alone against the colossal triumvirate of King Kong Bundy, One Man Gang, and Andre The Giant.
‘The Beast from the East’ eliminated both Bundy and Gang before succumbing to Andre who was the sole survivor. The victory put Andre in line for another title shot at Hogan at The Main Event NBC television special on February 5, 1988.
A terrific match that was carried by Bigelow’s big bumping and crisp offence, capping off an excellent event.
You can watch all of these events exclusively on the WWE Network.