THREE GUYS AND… RETRO WRESTLING
series created by Marvin Mercer and Nick Stephenson
written by Dominick Cappello
March 31, 1985
Madison Square Garden
New York City
– Main Event w/ Special Guest Referee – Muhammad Ali:
Hulk Hogan (WWF Heavyweight Champion) & Mr. T (w/ Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka) vs.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper & “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff (w/ “Cowboy” Bob Orton)
– $15,000 Body Slam Challenge:
Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd (w/ Bobby “The Brain” Heenan)
– Intercontinental Championship Match:
Greg “The Hammer” Valentine (c) (w/ Jimmy Hart) vs. The Junkyard Dog
– Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. “Mr. Maniac” Matt Borne
– Tito Santana vs. The Masked Executioner
– King Kong Bundy (w/ Jimmy Hart) vs. S.D. Jones
– Brutus Beefcake (w/ “Luscious” Johnny V) vs. David Sammartino (w/ Bruno Sammartino)
– Women’s Championship Match:
Leilani Kai (c) (w/ The Fabulous Moolah) vs. Wendi Richter (w/ Cyndi Lauper)
– WWF Tag Team Championship Match:
The U.S. Express (c) (w/ Captain Lou Albano) vs.
The Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff (w/ “Classy” Freddy Blassie)
The World Wrestling Federation. What the world is watching. Sure, there was pro grappling pre-1985, but since this was the year of WrestleMania and it was during Hulk Hogan’s first reign as WWF Champion, this seems to be an appropriate starting point. As part of the MTV Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Connection, mainstream celebrities such as Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper would appear on WWF programming. This did not sit well with the always rebellious “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. The Hot Rod felt that these celebrities were invading his turf and stealing his spotlight. The Hulkster, on the other hand, embraced these Hollywood types, knowing that any mainstream exposure would be good for the industry. At MTV’s “The War to Settle the Score”, Hulk Hogan defended the WWF Championship against Roddy Piper in a match that ended in a no contest. There was outside interference from “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, one of Roddy Piper’s nefarious cronies. Mr. T, Hulk Hogan’s co-star from the film “Rocky III” (1982), came to his aid when it was obvious that popstar Cyndi Lauper would be no match for the likes of Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. This melee is what led to the tag team main event of the inaugural WrestleMania. Also at “The War to Settle the Score”, Leilani Kai defeated Wendi Richter for the Women’s Championship. There was outside interference from The Fabulous Moolah, so Wendi Richter recruited Cyndi Lauper as her new manager.
WrestleMania was held in the Big Apple, New York City, Madison Square Garden. Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura were on commentary. Hearing these two together always makes me nostalgic for the 1980s. In the opening match, Tito Santana defeated The Executioner with the Figure 4 Leg-Lock. Arriba! This was his attempt to send a message to Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, the reigning Intercontinental Champion, who also used the Figure 4 Leg-Lock submission hold. King Kong Bundy defeated S.D. Jones in just nine short seconds, which was a record at the time. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat defeated Matt Borne with a cross body splash. David Sammartino competed against Brutus Beefcake, who didn’t become “The Barber” until 1987. Bruno Sammartino, the living legend, accompanied his son down to ringside. The former two time WWF Champion was still immensely popular with all of the great fans in Madison Square Garden. What a great pop he received when he attacked “Luscious” Johnny V. The match itself ended in a double disqualification. Greg “The Hammer” Valentine defended the Intercontinental Championship against The Junkyard Dog. The Hammer retained his title by pinning JYD with his feet up on the ropes. Tito Santana convinced the referee to restart the match, then The Hammer was counted out, so JYD won the match but not the title because titles can only change hands on a pinfall or a submission.
Before the WWF Tag Team Championship match, The Iron Sheik said Gene Mean instead of Mean Gene when being interviewed by “Mean” Gene Okerlund, then Nikolai Volkoff sang the Russian national anthem (badly) before The Sheik let us know that Iran was #1. Classic. The Anti-Americans defeated The U.S. Express (Barry Windham & Mike Rotunda) for the tag team titles after The Sheik used “Classy” Freddy Blassie’s walking cane as a weapon. Andre the Giant put his career on the line against Big John Studd in the $15,000 Body Slam Challenge. Big John Studd was managed by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, who many consider to be the greatest manager of all time. Andre the Giant was victorious, but instead of keeping the $15,000 for himself, he began throwing the money to the fans before The Brain snatched the duffle bag full of cash and absconded with it. Both The Fabulous Moolah and Leilani Kai kissed backstage correspondent Lord Alfred Hayes before the Women’s Championship Match. Brazenly, Cyndi Lauper got physically with The Fabulous Moolah, then Wendi Richter countered a cross body splash and pinned Leilani Kai to regain the Women’s Championship.
More celebrities were on hand for the main event. Billy Martin, former manager of the New York Yankees, was the ring announcer. Liberace, accompanied by The Rockettes, was the timekeeper, and Muhammad Ali, three time World’s Boxing Heavyweight Champion, was the referee patrolling outside the ring. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff had “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Roddy Piper’s loyal bodyguard, in their corner while Hulk Hogan and Mr. T had Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka in their corner to prevent any outside interference from Bob Orton. There was still heat between Jimmy Snuka and Roddy Piper stemming from the infamous coconut incident on an edition of Piper’s Pit. It was Bob Orton who cost his team the match, inadvertently striking Paul Orndorff with his trademark cast. So, even though he was to blame, he and Roddy Piper abandoned Paul Orndorff in the ring after the match was over. Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff would eventually become allies and team together at the inaugural Survivor Series two years later. But, there was still animosity between Roddy Piper and Mr. T that would have to be settled at the next year’s WrestleMania. This closed circuit event was a rousing success and if I can quote Jesse Ventura, “Woodstock was to rock ‘n’ roll what WrestleMania is to wrestling.”
– Dr. Jelly
Can you imagine the mind of a person who watches professional wrestling? Watching this show, I was rolling my eyes so much that I gave myself a I migraine. I don’t know how anyone could support a company run by a slime-ball like Vincent K. McMahon, the human equivalent of a salted caramel scented air freshener. The commentators for the inaugural WrestleMania were Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura. For a retired wrestler turned play-by-play man, Gorilla Monsoon seems to know little about wrestling and Jesse Ventura has become a real conspiracy nut, spending his days searching for lizard people and time travelers.
“Mean” Gene Okerlund opened the event by singing The Star-Spangled Banner. Why? He’s a backstage interviewer and obviously not much of a singer. The Executioner, who competed in the first match against Tito Santana, was billed as being from parts unknown. Mean Gene states that The Executioner is undefeated and that nobody knows anything about him. Well, you know that he’s undefeated. That’s one thing that you know about him. The Executioner’s weight is also unknown. He’s so mysterious that he refused to participate in the pre-match weigh in? Even in a scripted event, why not create the facade of being legitimate? The next match was King Kong Bundy vs. S.D. Jones. Yawn. Good lord, King Kong Bundy was like a precursor to The Big Show, who is tedious when being interviewed. King Kong Bundy supposedly won the match in nine seconds, but by my count it was nineteen seconds. How stupid does Vince McMahon think that the fans are? The record allegedly being broken was twenty-three seconds, so why lie about the length of the match? Either way, the bogus record still would have been broken.
David Sammartino, a typical second generation superstar who couldn’t live up to his father’s legacy, faced Brutus Beefcake, who spit on the microphone during his pre-match interview. Wow. He was also billed as being from parts unknown. His gimmick was that he was a male stripper, so why the hell was he from parts unknown? The $15,000 Body Slam Challenge was anti-climatic. Andre the Giant slammed Big John Studd on his very first attempt. There was no build up. No drama. Leilani Kai defended the Women’s Championship against Wendi Richter. Leilani Kai was billed as being from Hawaii, but was she suppose to be Hawaiian? She sure didn’t look it. Cyndi Lauper was in the corner of the challenger. Admitting publicly that she was pro wrestling fan was probably the reason that Cyndi Lauper wasn’t an A-Lister by the time the 1990s rolled around. Not a wise career decision.
Pro Wrestling Illustrated ranked the tag team main event as its “Match of the Year” award winner. Why? It was just a brawl. There was very little actual wrestling. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T defeated Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. Are you surprised? Of course Hulk Hogan’s team one and The Hulkster, the glory-hog himself, scored the winning pinfall. What was the objective of this match? To turn Paul Orndorff into a baby-face (good guy)? Why not have Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper for the WWF Championship with Mr. T in Hulk Hogan’s corner and Bob Orton in the corner of Roddy Piper. Paul Orndorff could have had a one-on-one match with Jimmy Snuka. But, flaws and all, this closed circuit event was a success and it has led to thirty years of WrestleMania. Vince McMahon now sits on an iron throne, feeding on the misfortune of others. Yikes. I’ve heard that WrestleMania II is even worse than the original.
– Dr. Frisbee
Modern day WWE is at times unbearable to sit through, but the WWF was a wholly different experience in the 1980s. WWF programming was shown on MTV in what was known as The Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Connection. Vincent K. McMahon, a second generation promoter, lured Hulk Hogan away from the AWA (American Wrestling Alliance) and within a matter of weeks, The Hulkster defeated The Iron Sheik for the WWF Championship. Hulk Hogan had been on the WWF roster back when it was the WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation), but he was fired by Vincent J. McMahon when he was cast in the film “Rocky III” (1982) because Vince Sr. did not want any of his wrestlers to double as actors. Vince Jr. was a bit more savvy than his father and recognized the drawing power of Hulkamania. “Rocky III” also made Mr. T into a TV star, so Vinny Mac owes Sylvester Stallone a debt of gratitude. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T would co-host Saturday Night Live as a way of promoting the pay-per-view (actually it was called closed circuit at the time). Fifteen years before The Rock, Hulk Hogan was the first wrestling superstar to host SNL.
“Mean” Gene Okerlund opened the event by singing The Star-Spangled Banner. Apparently, whoever it was who was suppose to sing, cancelled without much notice and the WWF were caught with their pants down, so they trotted out Mean Gene. What about Cyndi Lauper? I guess that she was too busy training Wendi Richter? Tito Santana defeated The Executioner in the opening match. The Executioner is better known as “Playboy” Buddy Rose, a co-holder of the AWA Tag Team Titles. Matt Borne appeared on the show, facing Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Matt Borne would reach his greatest success when he returned to the WWF in 1992 as Doink the Clown. The Junkyard Dog, who challenged Greg “The Hammer” Valentine for the Intercontinental Championship, used “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen as his entrance music, but nowadays if you watch this match it will a dubbed version with “Grab Them Cakes” from The Wrestling Album.
The U.S. Express (Barry Windham & Mike Rotunda) used “Real American” as their entrance music, but that song would later become synonymous with Hulk Hogan. In all of the dubbed versions of WrestleMania I, they get stuck with some generic rock music. Mike Rotunda’s oldest son now competes in the WWE as Bray Wyatt. His youngest son competes as Bo Dallas. The first discernable chant of the night was “SLAM! SLAM! SLAM!” during the $15,000 Body Slam Challenge, which was won by Andre the Giant. Cyndi Lauper was a big time wrestling fan and she even cast Captain Lou Albano, The Iron Sheik, “Classy” Freddy Blassie, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Nikolai Volkoff, The Fabulous Moolah, and Wendi Richter in her music video for “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough.” Captain Lou also appeared in her “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” video, so it must have been a real thrill for her to celebrate alongside Wendi Richter, who regained the Women’s Championship.
I was expecting the matches on this show to be considerably slow paced when compared to modern day WWE, but if I had to nitpick beyond that, I would say that there was too much of a disparity in the crowd reactions between the heels and the baby-faces. Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, Andre the Giant, The Junkyard Dog, and Bruno Sammartino were massively over with the fans, but the only two real heat magnets were “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and The Iron Sheik. All of the other heels received a smattering of jeers, but nothing too impressive.
Muhammad Ali was advertised as the guest referee for the main event, but he was reassigned and the match was officiated by Pat Patterson, the recognized first ever Intercontinental Champion. Apparently, this was because Muhammad Ali was showing the effects of Parkinson’s Syndrome and not able to perform his duties as referee. This is back when Hulk Hogan used “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor from the “Rocky III” soundtrack as his entrance music, but “Real American” is now used in the dubbed versions. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T were victorious because of an error made by Bob Orton, whose son Randy Orton has become one of the tops stars in modern day WWE despite his overuse of headlocks. Yes, my colleague makes a interesting point. Why was a match that was essentially a brawl ranked as the match of the year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated? Well, you have to put this event into context. This was the first wrestling boom long before there was an Attitude Era. WrestleMania I is pretty tame by today’s standards, but it was milestone in maturation of pro wrestling / sports entertainment. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T were reunited later that year when The Hulkster guest starred on an episode of “The A-Team” entitled “Body Slam.” Paying tribute to both “Rocky III” and the inaugural WrestleMania, Sylvester Stallone inducted Hulk Hogan into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2005 while “Mean” Gene Okerlund inducted Mr. T into the celebrity wing as part of the Class of 2014.
– Dr. Rochester