In 1987, the World Wrestling Federation held its equivalent of The Crockett Cup - a tag team tournament named after a promoter who had passed on. And I was there to witness it live!
While the first live wrestling show I ever witnessed was WrestleMania 2 (live as in "live via an oversized movie screen watching with thousands of others") and the second was the historic Big Event (a/k/a Wrestling Hulkamania Night), the first live event I saw that wasn't - shall we say - WWE Network-worthy was The Frank Tunney Memorial Tag Team Tournament on March 15, 1987 at Toronto's historic Maple Leaf Gardens.
For those who don't know the name, Frank was the uncle of Jack Tunney. The two of them, along with Frank's brother Ed Tunney, essentially ran the Toronto wrestling territory from the 1940's until Frank's passing in 1983. The business was absorbed by Vince McMahon a few years later, with Jack acting as both the local promoter and figurehead WWF President when the situation called for it.
Of course, I knew none of this at the time; I'd been a wrestling fan for less than two years and hadn't heard of the Tunney legacy. But I was sure as hell excited to see a tag team tournament in my hometown!
For at least a month or two before (the WWF came to Maple Leaf Gardens at least six times a year at that point), announcer Billy Red Lyons promoted the eight teams entered into the competition and interviewed most of the participants. The winner of the tournament would get an immediate title shot against WWF Tag Team Champions The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart). The participants were:
The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid)
The Can-Am Connection (Rick Martel and Tom Zenk)
Cowboy Bob Orton and The Magnificent Muraco, managed by Mr. Fuji
Demolition (Ax and Smash), managed by Luscious Johnny Valiant
Kamala and Sika, managed by King Curtis and Kim Chee
The Killer Bees (B. Brian Blair and Jumpin' Jim Brunzell)
King Kong Bundy and Paul Orndorff, managed by Bobby The Brain Heenan
The "New" U.S. Express (Danny Spivey and Mike Rotundo)
There were two major changes I can recall between the time the event was announced and the event itself. Mike Rotundo left the WWF, leaving Spivey with long-time jobber Jerry Allen (no, not "Magnum T.A." Terry Allen) as a partner. As well, he bracketing somehow changed. I know this because I'd written the brackets down on a sheet of paper beforehand, trying to determine the eventual winners and later, had to draw a bunch of arrows to realign the whole damn thing.
Going into the event, I was reasonably confident that The Can-Am Connection was going to win the tourney. This was a common theory held by many of schoolmates, too, as Martel and Zenk were up and comers and were being pushed to the moon (until Zenk inexplicably left the company a few months later and thus we got Strike Force). The British Bulldogs also had an outside chance, as they'd dropped the belts to The Foundation a month or two earlier and would have loved to have them back at WrestleMania III, which was a mere 12 days away.
What follows are the definitive results and my (very hazy) memories of that fateful evening:
ROUND ONE: The Killer Bees vs. Kamala and Sika
Kamala and Sika had only recently been turned into a tag team (a natural pairing, given they were both savages who were managed by King Curtis), whereas Blair and Brunzell had seemingly been teaming forever and had always been solid, but never enough to get the big belts. Essentially they were the Tito Santana of tag teams. I believe that King Curtis wasn't here this evening so he had Kim Chee doing the dirty work. This was, surprisingly, a pretty solid opening match. Kamala and Sika weren't civilized enough to put together a finish, though, and I believe Sika accidentally clotheslined Kamala or somesuch, allowing The Bees to win and advance to the next round.
ROUND ONE: King Kong Bundy and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff
vs. Cowboy Bob Orton and The Magnificent Muraco
Believe it or not, THIS was the match I was dying to see in the first round! Bundy was my absolute favorite guy at the time, and Orndorff had set the world on fire half a year earlier by turning on Hulk Hogan and joining Bobby Heenan (whom I believe also wasn't here tonight). This was probably the first and only time Bundy and Orndorff would be a tag team. And it was a very rare bad guys vs. bad guys matchup.
Click the video below to see who won the match, but just know that I was a VERY happy camper.
ROUND ONE: The British Bulldogs (no relation) vs. Demolition
On paper, this sounds like it would be the top match of the round (and really, the tournament), but it wasn't quite that good. Dynamite Kid had been rushed back into action following a severe spinal injury the previous fall so that he could make WrestleMania (look it up if you like, but Kid didn't even wrestle in the match in which he and Davey Boy lost the tag team titles to The Hart Foundation). Demolition were brand new to the company and while they looked awesome, they were still very much Road Warrior ripoffs (and they didn't even have Mr. Fuji as a manager yet). The match is below:
ROUND ONE: The Can-Am Connection vs. Danny Spivey and Jerry Allen
No, I don't know why Jerry Allen was Danny Spivey's tag team partner, when there about a billion other people they could have used to replace the future Irwin R. Shyster.
We also couldn't figure out why Tunney made a good guys vs. good guys match right after a bad guys vs. bad guys match, thus the change in bracketing after the card was announced.
Literally the only thing I can remember about this match is how it WASN'T friendly and scientific, and at one point Spivey and Rick Martel got into a shoving match. The Can-Ams won the match, obviously.
Siva Afi vs. The Red Demon
This was an unadvertised BONUS MATCH that was more or less a squash between two jabronies. Afi never quite lived up to being the replacement for Superfly Jimmy Snuka, and The Red Demon was a masked jobber. Not surprisingly, Afi won the match and we were able to resume the damn tournament.
ROUND TWO: The Killer Bees vs. King Kong Bundy and Paul Mr. Wonderful Orndorff
Could the Bobby Heenan superteam make it two wins a row? Apparently not. The Killer Bees won (the only thing I can remember is that the finish was a rollup) and I've never forgiven B. Brian Blair and Jumpin' Jim Brunzell ever since. Bastards.
ROUND TWO: The Can-Am Connection vs. Demolition
Another match that sounded great on paper but in actuality, less so. Zenk and Martel put their effort forward but ulitimately lost to Ax and Smash by countout. I remember thinking Demolition weren't as good as they were hyped to be, given that they'd earned their first win via DQ and their second win via countout. Where were the pinfalls, people?!?
Hillbilly Jim vs. Dino Bravo
The final bonus match of the evening (although this one was advertised ahead of time). I don't remember a ton about this one, other than that Dino Bravo still had black hair and that he most likely defeated Hillbilly Jim.
ROUND THREE: The Killer Bees vs. Demolition
While I certainly didn't envision this as the final round match-up, it made sense at the time. The Bees were hard workers and certainly of championship-caliber, while Demolition proved they were heelish enough to get past the era's top tag teams. In the end, The Bees used some masked confusion to get back their facepainted foes and next thing you know - Blair and Brunzell have won the whole damn tourney!
As promised, The Bees received an immediate tag team title match against The Hart Foundation, right then and there in the main event.
MAIN EVENT: The Killer Bees vs. The Hart Foundation
I recall that The Foundation had both Dangerous Danny Davis and Jimmy Hart in their corner, adding to the overall excitement of this. Plus The Bees and Harts had a bit of history. Were The Hart Foundation going to drop the straps two weeks before WrestleMania? Probably not, and I think everyone in Maple Leaf Gardens knew as much. But it was a fun little match where The Bees were clearly over the crowd (myself excluded because of the earlier Bundy snub) and you really felt for them when Hart and Neidhart cheated to retain their belts.
While the crowd was a little deflated as they emptied the arena, there was no denying we had all witnessed history. This was the WWF's answer to The Crockett Cup and a fine tune-up, just days before WrestleMania III. Everyone walked away a winner here.