From 1985 until 1997 all of the official World Wrestling Federation home video releases were distributed by Coliseum Video. This period was a golden age in both professional wrestling as well as home video as the rise of VHS coincided with the 1980’s professional wrestling boom. As video stores popped up in every neighborhood, Coliseum Video endeavored to fill the sports sections of these mom and pop locales with the finest in World Wrestling Federation action. Coliseum Video released over 200 WWF tapes before the company was folded in 1997 and replaced with WWF Home Video. In this series I will reflect on the tapes from the glory days of the WWF without dwelling on detailed match descriptions or star ratings, but rather remarking on humorous observations and taking a broad overall look at each release.
Taped on Sunday July 31, 1988 at County Stadium in Milwaukee Wisconsin, WrestleFest 88 is basically a standard WWF house show that was running nationwide at the time. The WWF was hot however and over 25,000 fans purchased tickets to the event prompting the World Wrestling Federation to record the proceedings and release it as WrestleFest ’88 for the home video market. Personally I’ve always loved these types of releases as they gave us exclusive matches that weren’t televised on the usual syndicated programming between high profile talent and they always had a unique feel compared to the PPV events. Sean Mooney, Lord Alfred Hayes, and Superstar Billy Graham are calling the action, and although I’ve always enjoyed Mooney and Hayes as a tandem, I wasn’t a fan of Graham as an announcer and feel his inclusion is unnecessary.
Until 1989 Coliseum Video would trim down longer events to fit on a two hour video cassette as a cost cutting measure. As a result a few matches were cut out of this event including a WWF Championship match between Macho Man Randy Savage and The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. Personally I feel that it was a questionable decision to cut out a WWF Championship match, but it was included on the very next Coliseum Video release “Macho Madness” (WF059). We’ll come back to this in a bit.
Pop in the tape and it starts off with a really short ad for Survivor Series ’88 with the only specifics being that the Mega Powers will be involved and that the tape will be available December 14. Most of the commercial shows footage from WrestleMania IV. Not to be a nit picker but I feel like they should’ve hyped up the Macho Madness tape or The Best of the WWF 17 for which I’m sure they at least had some direction. The original Survivor Series logo that looks like it was cut out of stone is still being used here which would be upgraded in 1989.
After the Coliseum Video logo we are treated to our “live” announcers Superstar Billy Graham, Sean Mooney, and Lord Alfred Hayes. The reason for the quotations is that they are clearly in front of a green screen with footage of the arena behind them. The commentary was added after the fact but throughout the tape they will pretend to be live at the venue. Graham was an announcer for a few tapes in 1988 but he isn’t as charismatic as an announcer as he was a wrestler so his career in the booth was short lived. Hayes and Mooney however did an adequate job and would team up for years to come. Quickly they discuss the two featured matches on the tape; Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant inside the steel cage and Rick Rude vs Jake the Snake Roberts.
We begin with the Killer Bees vs the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers. The first thing I noticed is that Mel Phillips is our ring announcer rather than Howard Finkel. For those who don’t know Phillips was a ring announcer/stage hand back in the day who apparently had a fetish for feet according to Bret Hart’s autobiography. Usually the outdoor venues have weird lighting or bad sound but that doesn’t seem to be the case on this event. The crowd looks impressive and lively with a ton of licensed merchandise seen on the spectators and vendors bustling all over the venue.
The Killer Bees are wearing some half pants that I’ve never seen before and apparently neither have the announcers as they talk about it for awhile calling it their “summer wear”. Hayes also comments that the Bee’s look like they’ve gained some weight which is brought up several times throughout the match. Already Graham is stumbling quite a bit on the call. As far as the match goes, it was a pretty solid back and forth tag team affair and the crowd seemed engaged. Ultimately the Rougeau’s win by cheating while Hayes calls it “a tremendous victory for these young men.” It’s impossible to pin Hayes down as a heel announcer because he also seems to pull for the baby faces at times as well. Overall it was a good but forgettable match.
Next up is Bret Hart vs Bad News Brown. Brown gets a really strong heel reaction from the crowd. The Hitman always looked older to me in these 80’s tapes than he did later in his career when he became a singles star in the 90’s. I think it’s because he was kind of pudgy back then. I’ve seen Hart wrestle solo on tons of these 80’s Coliseum tapes and he always seems to come up on the losing end of the purse. In fact, I don’t ever recall seeing Hart win as a singles wrestler in the house show matches of this era. This match would be no exception so I hope I didn’t kill any suspense for you. Billy Graham says he loves Bret’s look, especially his sunglasses. This was before he entered with his famous mylar shades but it’s clear he was really starting to find his groove. The match goes back and forth and features some pretty good wrestling as well as some brawling which is expected since these two had worked together quite a bit since WrestleMania IV. Graham makes a big deal about how he’s never seen Bad News smile. Brown ends up missing the Ghetto Blaster which gives the viewer an inkling that Hart may come away the victor, but after a few reversals Bad News rolls Bret up and holds his tights for the win. After the match Jim Neidhart runs down and the tag partners beat up Bad News to make the crowd happy.
Our first interview on the tape takes place as the Honky Tonk Man is being led to the ring by Colonel Jimmy Hart. He doesn’t have anything of note to say other than that he’s going to beat his opponent Hacksaw Jim Duggan and then sing and dance for the crowd. I’ll sound like an IWC snob here but I was dreading this match. Neither guy is known for their wrestling ability but I have to admit, the crowd was hot for this match. They were really behind Hacksaw Jim Duggan, doing their best to will him on to an Intercontinental Championship victory. Although neither of these guys could wrestle they knew how to work the crowd so I have to give credit where it’s due. Graham keeps calling Hacksaw “Doogan”. During one spot, Duggan has Honky Tonk Man in the corner and is punching him as the crowd counts along to ten. Mooney states that just once he’d like to see someone go to eleven just to throw everyone off. Eventually Hacksaw goes into his three point stance to finish Honky off when he’s tripped up from outside of the ring by Colonel Jimmy Hart causing a DQ. After some post match shenanigans Hacksaw ends up demolishing Honky’s guitar with his 2X4.
The Bolsheviks vs The Power of Pain is our next battle. It looks like the audience is going to be treated to two scientific classics in a row. After the usual singing of the Soviet National Anthem to anger the live crowd the match gets underway. Graham notes that Warlord’s back is “as wide as a drive in movie theatre”, a sign of the times. He then claims that the Powers of Pain walk around on the streets in their face paint as he and Mooney debate how they would feel if someone like that wanted to date their daughter. There seems to be a lot of clowning in the broadcast booth on this tape. This match is mostly a brawl with a few power moves thrown in for good measure. Eventually Barbarian makes the hot tag to the Warlord and there is absolutely no pop which surprised me as this crowd has been pretty lively through most of the event. It’s obvious they weren’t into this match. Eventually the Powers of Pain win it with Barbarian delivering a flying headbutt off of the top rope; pretty impressive for such a big guy. Hayes calls them “consummate professional wrestlers”.
Jim the Anvil Neidhart vs Leaping Lanny Poffo is our next bout. What? What’s the deal with this match? It’s rare to see Anvil in a singles match and I certainly don’t remember a feud between these two. This is basically a squash match with Anvil winning in short order. Most of the match the announcers made fun of Neidhart’s haircut which looks the same as it always has to me. This had to be an inside joke.
Ravishing Rick Rude vs Jake the Snake Roberts should easily be able to surpass that last match. Rude makes his way to the ring first and the clowning continues with Hayes insinuating that Graham has had a few “rude awaking’s”. As Rude poses and thrusts the cameras pan to a shot of a girl in the crowd swooning next to whom I would assume to be her boyfriend wearing a tuxedo. This kid hands down wins the best dressed award for an outdoor wrestling event. Jake runs out and attacks Rude from behind and the match commences. The crowd is really into this one. Rude and Jake had great chemistry together in the ring and their feud was definitely a legendary one and the crowd reaction is proof of this. Hayes eventually notes that there are hands on the posterior end of Rude’s trunks to which Mooney replies “yes and on his rear end too”. Graham chimes in stating that WWF President Jack Tunney needs to clean up the WWF and crack down on Rude’s tights and wiggles because there are kids watching. I wonder what he would think about the show 10 years later! The action goes back and forth with several instances of the pendulum swinging, and it’s also a great mixture of technical wrestling and brawling. Late in the match as Rude tries to escape the ring Jake pulls his tights down and the crowd goes nuts at the sight of Rude’s bare ass. Michaels would pick up this ball and run hard with it in later years. Eventually Jake goes for the DDT but Rude pulls the referee in-between them at the last minute and Jake ends up delivering the DDT directly onto the ref who gets “knocked out”. I expected some antics here but surprisingly there was no cheating or run ins. However the action goes outside of the ring and the ref wakes up and counts both participants out resulting in a double count out. The two keep beating on each other despite the match ending with Jake eventually gaining the upper hand and wrapping Damien around Rick. I always felt kind of bad for Damien as the wrestlers fell all over him. So far this has been the best match on the tape hands down.
Typical show strategy is to follow an emotional affair with something light, so we get Ultimate Warrior vs Bobby Heenan. Yes you read that right. Hayes tries to explain how this match even came to be which amounted to some kind of chicanery with the contracts and Warrior outsmarting Heenan. Personally I find it difficult to believe that Warrior would have outsmarted anyone, let alone the Brain. As Heenan is getting pummeled in the corner you can very audibly hear him call Warrior “that sonofa bitch” which even the announcers acknowledge. Graham calls Sean Mooney “Sean Penn”. The Brain goes into the tights and hits Warrior in the throat with a foreign object giving Heenan the upper hand. It doesn’t last long and Warrior wins the match with a sleeper hold. While Heenan is asleep, Warrior dresses him up in a weasel costume which the announcers claim smells terrible. The Brain awakes and looks shocked as he chases his tail and flails around the ring. Pure hilarity.
Match number 8 pits the British Bulldogs against Demolition for the WWF World Tag Team championships. Alfred explains that Mr. Fuji brought Demolition to the next level and is the primary reason they became the tag team champions. However, as former champions the British Bulldogs know what needs to be done. Graham waxes on about how he’d love to see Alfred manage the Bulldogs since they are fellow countrymen, stating he is positive that Hayes would take the team straight to the top. The two teams put on a solid and stiff looking match and the crowd seems really engrossed in the action. Demolition delivers a lot of power and brawling moves while Dynamite and Bulldog deliver some good wrestling with Dynamite carrying most of the load. Unfortunately the match seems a bit short with Demolition successfully defending the titles, pinning Dynamite after he got smacked with Mr. Fuji’s cane.
Dino Bravo walks out to the French national anthem to signal the beginning of match nine. His opponent is Ken Patera. Although I admire Patera for his Olympic background I was never into his pro wrestling act quite honestly. Bravo and Ken trade punches with Bravo eventually winning the match with a side suplex which seemed out of nowhere. What is Dino Bravo’s finisher? Was it a side suplex? The match was mercifully short and I imagine these two were told to keep it brief due to time constraints.
Finally the main event and tenth match on the tape is ready to begin. I was surprised that the WWF managed to pack 10 matches onto a two hour tape when it occurred to me that there were no interviews besides Honky Tonk Man’s brief chat with Gene Okerlund. Furthermore most of the entrances are abbreviated. Heenan is back at ringside for this one so he recuperated quickly from his bout against the Ultimate Warrior. The match starts with Andre choking Hogan with his own t-shirt. Eventually he ties Hogan to the cage with it prompting Hayes to spit out this golden line which I will quote word for word: “If he ties him that will leave every opportunity for the Giant to climb to the top of the cage and jump from the top to the concrete floor”. There’s a visual for you. Sean Mooney retorts “did you say jump?!” while Graham states that he doesn’t think that is what the Giant has in mind. Andre tries to go out the door but Hogan stops him and the battle continues. Eventually Andre takes the turnbuckle pad off and smashes Hogan’s face into the exposed steel turnbuckle lacerating him. The blade job is pretty apparent but Graham makes a good point when he asks why it’s even necessary to expose the turnbuckle since the combatants are surrounded by steel anyway. Regardless Hogan is busted open and Andre begins taking control. Eventually Hogan makes a comeback and beats on Andre while Heenan enters the cage, defeating the purpose of a cage match. While Hogan is dealing with the Brain, Andre begins climbing the far side of the cage which is quite the sight to behold. Hayes describes him as looking like a lumbering prehistoric beast. Hogan pulls him down causing Andre to get tied up in the ropes. Hulk then bypasses the wide open door to climb over the top and get the win. Predictably the crowd goes bonkers for the outcome. Not a bad cage match but nothing great either. I’ve always been a mark for Andre but he really looks like he’s struggling to get around at this point in his career.
WrestleFest 88 was a lot better than I remembered. I was really surprised at the amount of matches on this tape but I am shocked that they opted to cut out the Macho Man vs Ted DiBiase title defense and instead included Anvil vs Lanny Poffo and Ken Patera vs Dino Bravo. To me these would have been the no brainers to leave on the editing room floor. I was also a bit put off by the announcers constant joking. I like good back and forth shots and humorous observations but there seemed to be a lot of inside humor and goofing off which isn’t as funny as it is annoying. It wasn’t bad enough to decrease my enjoyment of the action but it was certainly a little distracting. Jake the Snake vs Ravishing Rick Rude easily takes the taco for the best match on the card and the Hogan vs Andre cage match is worth watching for the pure spectacle of it. Overall I’d recommend checking this one out if you’re a fan of the era.