A few weeks ago, it was the thirty-fifth anniversary of an event called The Big Event when the World Wrestling Federation was cementing its dominance outside of the United States of America. On August 28th, 1986, the WWF came to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where 74,000 fans attended the show as the former CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) Stadium. The venue was also home to the Toronto Blue Jays at the time and set a massive record for attendance at the time. For several wrestling fans fortunate to attend the event, their memories will differ from one another. They will have a foggy recollection of the event or very vivid memories of the show; as someone who attended the event as a 9-year old, my memory is somewhere in between.
Here’s a poster from the show from Maple Leaf Wrestling:
Below you can see what the VHS looked like although this image was updated to a DVD format.
In rewatching the event (on WWE Network/Peacock), we hear the late “Mean” Gene Okerlund sharing shots from a helicopter from overhead as it shows shots of the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) Stadium. The stadium used to be home to the Toronto Blue Jays, but what was remarkable about the event is how 70,000 people filled the stadium. It was remarkable that it at the time was considered the largest ever viewed event (due to the attendance) at the time in wrestling history. As it was just short of my 10th birthday, I remember how massive this was to be in this sea of humanity! With my sister bringing me to the event, it was the hottest ticket in town.
The first match-up was a tag team match-up with Hoss (who was Dory Funk Jr) & Jimmy Jack Funk against The Killer Bees (B Brian Blair and ‘Jumping’ Jim Brunzel). I didn’t know that commentary consisted of Luscious Jimmy Valient, Ernie Ladd & Gorilla Monsoon. Hoss and Blair started off the match with one another. Brian clears the ring of both Funk’s as they recover on the floor. As always, Jimmy Hart was trying to distract Blair, and it worked initially! However, Blair regained control, and both Funk’s were forced to recover. Next, Jim Brunzel was tagged into the ring. He was always advertised as having the best dropkick in wrestling. As a kid, I didn’t see what made it the best. Sure, it was good, but the best? What did I know? I was 9! I did know the visual looking at the ring; they couldn’t have been bigger than the size of mid-sized ants from where we were sitting. At times, I’d actually stand on my seat because someone would normally block my view.
In the ring, both of the Killer Bees were relentless working on the Funks. Jimmy Jack was being worn down by a sleeper hold by Jim Brunzel. But when Hoss (it feels strange calling him that), he caused the distraction. However, with both Bees on the floor, they put their masks on! So the Killer Bees were known to switch with one another by putting on their masks. So if one was injured and the referee was distracted, he could swap and then roll up their opposition for a pinfall and the win! Sure, enough that happened here with the Killer Bees being victorious. It is rather funny that the Killer Bees looked like ants, and yet they were Bees.
Alright, maybe it isn’t all that funny at all.
The next match involved The Magnificent Muraco with Mr. Fuji against a man known as King Tonga. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, think of the name Haku or Meng, and you’ll surely recall who he is. To see King Tonga then was so strange as he was so small in stature compared to what he later would become. Then, however, Tonga would face Muraco in a matchup of island-based talent. What is interesting to note is that Monsoon said that Tonga had ligament strength which was pretty accurate when you hear stories of how he could rip people’s eyes out..funny enough, Jimmy Jack Funk, as mentioned earlier, is one story. We then hear that Tonga wants to be called ‘Haku,’ so this has to have been just before his transition was going to happen. There is lots of mat wrestling and technical wrestling here between both face and heel. Mr. Fuji gets involved and trips Tonga, who reacts and gets hit from behind by Muraco. Tonga is then thrown to the floor, and Fuji hits him with his cane while the referee is distracted. He then jabs him in the ribs with the cane as well.
The visual of the stadium is incredible, actually. It was a beautiful night which I did remember. In fact, the night was super hot, too, which is rare for August in Toronto. What a different time this was to see fans eagerly watching this match with slow-moving mat wrestling between two talented competitors. It would be hard for fans to be as engaged in much slower movements in today’s wrestling. However, in rewatching it, maybe it’s my connection to the event; it was something special to see. Now, I didn’t have the benefit of watching it with commentary, so that could have made the difference. This match resulted in a time-limit draw, something that was fairly common at the time.
The next match was between Tony Garea and Ted Arcidi. Garea had a track record behind him, but I was 9 years old at the time, and I had no clue what he achieved. It was Ted Arcidi who’s strength and massive look that was more marketable at the time. Funny in watching it back, there was lots of posing by Arcidi, but there wasn’t really all that much there. However, after getting caught in a bear hug, Garea gives up to Arcidi, who was advertised as the World’s Strongest Man at a point because of his bench press record.
Mean Gene Okerlund interviews the ‘Mouth of the South’ Jimmy Hart in the old Blue Jays dugout area until ‘Adorable’ Adrian Adonis interrupts him and directs him down to the ring. Adonis was supposed to have a flamboyant gimmick with poorly applied makeup and blonde hair. However, as an athlete, Adonis was very underrated. For the first time, we hear entrance music as now the Junk Yard Dog comes down to the ring with his “Grab Them Cakes” theme song. I was never sure what that meant to represent. What cakes? Whose cakes? Why CAKE? Anyway, he and Adonis battle in and out of the ring. JYD had an advantage early on until Hart sprays something into his face while the referee was thrown down. It changed the tide of the match, giving Adonis the advantage now. They really made Adonis and Hart look like buffoons here, awarding the match to the Junk Yark Dog via count-out.
Next up, ‘Iron’ Mike Sharpe, who claimed to be Canada’s greatest athlete against ‘The Rebel’ Dick Slater. Now, I never knew any better, but Mike Sharpe wasn’t enhancement talent despite being booked that way during this time. He was easily the loudest wrestler you’ll ever hear! Listen back to a Mike Sharpe match, and he could be heard while you are sitting in your living room. It was another short contest with Slater winning via a roll-up.
We then see Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan interviewed by Mean Gene Okerlund, promising to unmask both The Giant and Super Machine to prove one is Andre The Giant. Heenan said he would make history. Funny how they are trying to coax the fans into not calling him WEASEL. The Six-man tag match between the Machines and Captain Lou Albano against Heenan, King Kong Bundy, and Big John Studd. There had to be about 2000 lbs in the ring. It was always fun to see Heenan come in the ring and always get his! His self-deprecating humor always made it fun to cheer against him as a kid, but it was impossible not to see how good he was in his role as an adult. After the Giant Machine comes in, he wipes out everyone. Under the mask was Andre, but it was never admitted. The match ended up being thrown out as The Machines lost to the trio of Heenan, Bundy, and Studd.
The next match was why we came! As a kid, I adored Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat (heck, as an adult, I adore him and would be a bowl of jello if I met him.) He would face Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, who would await Steamboat, who came to the ring to a hero’s welcome. Just hearing Howard Finkel announce his name gives me chills as he came to the ring to Alan Parsons Project (his theme music at the time which was also used as the Chicago Bulls theme music before their games. Roberts attacks him before he even gets in the ring. This match came about after Steamboat was DDT’d by Roberts on Saturday Night’s Main Event on the concrete. This match, however, was a Snake Pit match, but there were no Snakes at ringside, which Monsoon stated was too dangerous. That doesn’t seem likely if they are confined and not let loose. Steamboat was busted open took quite a beating. Roberts signaled for the DDT, but Steamboat stopped him. Steamboat counters a nonchalant cover by Roberts getting the pinfall and the win. I think I can hear myself screaming from the stance.
Billy Jack Haynes faced Hercules Hernandez next. It was interesting to hear this match was solely handling commentary of this match. Both Ernie Ladd and Jimmy Valiant weren’t a part of the commentary. It sounds dubbed over at a later date, it seems. These two were fairly evenly matched. I didn’t remember Hernandez’s hair being that long, but it definitely was here. Since the audio is dubbed over, it really mutes the reactions of the crowd. Haynes ultimately walked away victorious, pinning Hernandez with a backslide.
When the Rougeau Brothers faced The Dream Team, the fans were definitely on the side of the brothers. Jimmy Valiant is losing his mind on commentary because his team doesn’t have his guidance as he’s up on commentary. It was a fairly even match that was a back and forth battle between both teams. Some moves were so deliberate, but the fans were so into this match, especially when a hot tag was made! After the Rougeaus pick up the win, Johnny Valiant is shown flipping out at the announce both at the top of the stadium.
The second to last match on the night was between former Intercontinental Champion Pedro Morales and Handsome Harley Race. Unfortunately, these two savvy, technically sound veterans weren’t given much time. It ultimately was Race that walked away from the winner with his feet on the ropes.
Finally, we hear “Real American” playing, but Paul Orndoff is coming down the ring with Bobby Heenan. It was likely a technical error. Fans were definitely hot for Hogan. I could feel that energy, that was for sure, but I really wasn’t all that excited. In some way, I was actually cheering for “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. As the match is coming to a close, we begin to see the tide turn. At one point, Bobby Heenan decks Hogan with a chair as Hogan attempts a piledriver (Orndorff’s finishing move). But the referee is down and makes the count. As the referee crawls over, he attempts to make a count, and people began to throw debris in the ring. No count was made, but Heenan took the title and placed it around Orndorff’s waist, but that isn’t the case once we hear the result. Hogan won via disqualification, and he began to take the fight to Orndorff after the match.
It was a memorable night for a lot of reasons. First, I had a chance to see my boyhood idol growing up. I was part of history at the time. Second, I survived a crazy ride at the CNE earlier that day that my sister even included in her speech at my wedding. The Big Event was memorable for me, and hopefully, you found that same enjoyment out of reading about it too.
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