I had to get here eventually and it feels great to be back. These shows are the first reviews I ever did as I thought it would be fun to look back at every show leading up to Wrestlemania XXXIII. Little did I know that I would spend four years doing them and wind up going on to do every major PPV of all time. That’s appropriate as this is the birth of the modern PPV (Yes Starrcade came first and no, it wasn’t the same kind of show. Well not at first at least) and the biggest event in wrestling.
Wrestlemania started off as little more than a house show with mainstream press. Fueled by the Rock N Wrestling Connection which saw wrestlers appearing in pop and rock music videos (thanks to the rise of MTV), the show was the follow up to a pair of shows called the Brawl to End it All and the War to Settle the Score.
The show, featuring Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. teaming up in the main event, was a smash hit and has since spawned an unthinkable 32 followup editions. Wrestlemania paved the way for the modern day pay per view and is by far the biggest show of the year for the WWE. We’re going to examine these shows one at a time and one per day until we reach Wrestlemania XXXIII this year in Orlando. Let’s get to it.
Date: March 31, 1985
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York
Commentators: Gorilla Monsoon, Jesse Ventura
We begin here at a show that certainly won’t be like the rest of these. This show is far more about the spectacle than the major matches which is shown in the main event. Our big match tonight is Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. teaming up to face Paul Orndorff and Roddy Piper in a grudge match. Yeah the first show doesn’t even have the world title on the line. Today, there are at least two world title matches per show. Anyway, this is where it all began so let’s get to it.
The opening video is a bunch of shots of New York City with the WWF logo and some pictures of the wrestlers coming in later. The celebrities for tonight’s show (headlined by Muhammad Ali) are also shown.
Here’s Mean Gene to sing the Star Spangled Banner.
Tito Santana says he’s ready for the undefeated Executioner and he’s going to teach the newcomer a thing or two about the big leagues.
The Executioner says he’s going after Santana’s injured leg. So much for secrecy.
Tito Santana vs. Executioner
Executioner is Buddy Rose (of Blow Away fame) under a mask. Tito is WAY over here in MSG so he was a good choice to open things up. We start with a crisscross before Tito dropkicks Executioner out to the floor. Back in and Santana hooks a headlock to take Executioner to the mat as we’re still waiting on that promised leg work. Tito charges into a boot in the corner and Executioner takes him down with a knee to the ribs. A spinning toe hold is easily escaped so Executioner goes after the other leg. So which one is injured in the first place?
Tito shrugs him off and the masked guy hides in the corner. Since it’s a corner that Tito is looking straight at, the hiding doesn’t go all that well and Tito slugs him down. Executioner comes back with a slam and goes up, only to be slammed right back down. A Santana splash hits knees though and we get to the knee work. That work consists of one cannonball down onto it before Tito kicks him to the floor. Back in and the forearm sets up the Figure Four to make Santana the first winner in the history of Wrestlemania.
Rating: C-. This wasn’t too bad and the crowd reacted well to Santana, but Executioner was just a guy there to be evil. For an opening match this was a pretty good idea but for a match in general it was pretty lame stuff. Then again they have no idea what they’re doing at this point so it’s understandable.
S.D. Jones says he’s ready for King Kong Bundy. I see why I’ve never heard him talk other than this show. He’s going to get down for Bundy.
Bundy says Jones needs to be ready for the Avalanche and the five count.
S. D. Jones vs. King Kong Bundy
Here’s an infamous one. Jones is a guy from the old days who is here to make the fans feel good I guess. The match lasts 23 seconds with Bundy shoving Jones into the corner, splashing him three times and getting the pin. According to the WWF the time was 9 seconds, which doesn’t even make bad sense for them.
Matt Borne, the future Doink the Clown, says he’s ready to beat a worldwide star in Ricky Steamboat. Steamboat’s problem is that he’s too nice of a guy. That’s likely true.
Steamboat says this is the biggest card ever and he’s here to develop his meanness. You don’t hear this often, but Steamboat failed miserably in that regard.
Matt Borne vs. Ricky Steamboat
Borne is the Maniac so I have another name to use. Steamboat is looking chiseled here. I’ve never seen him so ripped up and it’s a strange look on him. Also he isn’t called the Dragon yet which is even odder to hear. Ricky speeds things up to start and chops Borne down before hitting a chinlock only about 40 seconds in.
Off to a headlock instead with Steamboat backflipping over Borne twice with the second time resulting in an atomic drop. Back to the headlock which is shifted into a front facelock but Borne comes back with a snap suplex for two. Ricky is like dude I’m Ricky Steamboat and suplexes Borne down, followed by a swinging neckbreaker. A shoulder block puts Borne down and the cross body ends this near squash clean.
Rating: D+. Eh it’s Steamboat in the 80s so how bad can this be? Ricky wasn’t a huge star yet but he was rapidly becoming known as something special. It would be another year or so before he started tearing the house down on a regular basis and started having his masterpieces. Borne would be a lot better when he had a gimmick to go with his skills.
The Sammartinos are ready for Johnny V and Brutus Beefcake. Bruno threatens Johnny V is he tries to get involved.
David Sammartino vs. Brutus Beefcake
Sammartino was the son of a legend and had a good way into the business as a result. He had a good look on top of that, but he had one thing holding him back: he had no talent. His “career” was really just a way to keep Bruno around for a few more years to draw in some extra crowds and that’s the only reason this match is happening. Beefcake is new at this point and is nowhere near what he would become so this is going to be pretty bad.
David’s height doesn’t help him either as he’s about 5’8 or so. They head to the mat to start and Brutus has to bail to the floor for a breather. Back in and Sammartino takes it right back to the mat with a front facelock. A legdrop to the arm has Beefcake in trouble and it’s time to talk to the managers a bit. Beefcake comes back with a headlock takeover but David grabs the legs to work them over a bit.
Off to a leg lock as we keep things very basic so far. Brutus fights up with his leg seeming fine all of a sudden. He drops some forearms to David’s back and there’s a hard whip into the corner by Beefcake. David comes back with a backdrop and they slug it out a bit. Sammartino strikes like his daddy. A suplex gets two for David but Brutus sends him to the floor. The managers get into a fight and both guys run in for a double DQ.
Rating: D+. This is a hard one to grade as it’s a competitive match and not completely terrible, but the problem is how low level of quality this was. Neither guy was terrible but you could tell they were trying which makes a big difference. This could have been WAY worse but it just wasn’t that good in the first place.
I forgot to mention how the interviews are being done. Alfred Hayes is standing in the entrance with the ring behind him as the guys come by him for their matches. The interviews are recorded earlier in the day though so it’s kind of odd.
Anyway Valentine says he’s tough and leaner than usual.
JYD says he’s going to take a bite out of Valentine. So he’s promising to cheat? Good to know.
Intercontinental Title: Junkyard Dog vs. Greg Valentine
Dog cranks on the arm to start and punches him in the shoulder ala Marciano. A punch to the face takes Valentine down and a headbutt sends the champion (Greg in case you’re not familiar with this era) to the floor. Valentine tries his luck at the arm now and pounds away with some forearms to the back of the head. I’m not sure if that should hurt the Dog or not.
The champion goes after the leg now with what looks to be the start of a half crab but he never turns Dog over. A kind of DDT on the leg has the Dog in trouble again and there’s a headbutt between the legs. Dog breaks up the Figure Four and hits a headbutt to stagger the champ some more. Jimmy Hart tries to interfere but Dog causes Valentine to blast him in the head instead. Valentine grabs a fast rollup and puts his feet on the ropes for the pin.
Rating: D+. I’m getting tired of using that rating but this is what the matches keep coming out as: not terrible but nothing good at all. Valentine would get back to his current feud with Tito Santana very soon with the title changing hands pretty soon if I remember properly. Dog was there as more of a fun character than a serious threat so this was fine.
Speaking of Santana, here he is to tell the referee what happened. The referee restarts the match but Valentine walks out for the countout without ever getting back in. That’s just building Santana vs. Valentine for later.
Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff say their countries are better than America. Where’s my pitchfork when I need to run freaks like these off?
The US Express say they’re ready.
Tag Titles: US Express vs. Nikolai Volkoff/Iron Sheik
The Express is Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo and they’re defending tonight. A little trivia for you: the song Real American was originally used for the two of them but Hogan wound up using it instead. The heels do their whole Russian national anthem and Iran/Russia #1 deal before the match. Rotundo and Sheik start things off with the Iranian hooking a headlock. A dropkick puts Sheik down and Mike grabs a headlock.
Off to Barry who avoids double teaming and causes the challengers to collide. Back to Rotundo to work over Nikolai with an elbow drop getting two. Windham comes in off the top with a shot to the arm and Rotundo does the same thing. Sheik suplexes Mike down for two as the foreigners take over. Nikolai drops him throat first across the throat and the USA chant starts up.
A sunset flip gets a quick two for Mike but it’s back to Sheik for an abdominal stretch. That doesn’t last long though as Mike hiptosses out of it and it’s off to Barry via the hot tag. The bulldog (Barry’s finisher at the time) takes Volkoff out as everything breaks down. In the melee, Sheik hits Windham in the back with the cane for the pin and the titles.
Rating: C. This was a better match than we’ve seen so far with the fans getting way into the whole USA vs. foreigners thing. The title change was there only so something historic could happen and the Express got the belts back about two and a half months later. They would split soon after that with both guys heading to the NWA.
Sheik and Volkoff said they’ve proven their superiority now.
Intermission which is edited out of the home video releases.
Big John Studd says he’ll slam Andre and keep the money.
Big John Studd vs. Andre the Giant
This is a bodyslam challenge with some special stipulations: if Andre wins, he gets $15,000 but if Studd wins, Andre has to retire. Studd charges in to start but is immediately chopped back and he bails to the floor. Back in and Andre punches him in the head and rams him in the corner with all of his weight. Studd goes for a slam and Andre is just like dude please. The fans chant for a slam as Andre puts on a bearhug. That goes on for a good while until Andre shifts over to a facelock. Apparently if this goes to the time limit, Andre has to retire. Andre kicks at the leg for a bit and casually slams Studd for the win. It’s as quick as it sounds.
Rating: D. This was pretty terrible but the fans loved Andre and he had to be on here. Also this was part of a big feud as Andre and Studd cut Andre’s hair a few weeks before this. The match was pretty weak but then again what are you going to expect from these two guys with Andre’s body starting to fail on him.
Andre hands a few bucks out to the fans but Heenan steals the bag and runs off.
Andre says he doesn’t care about the money because he’s better than Studd and now he’s proven it. He isn’t retiring anytime soon either.
Cyndi Lauper and Wendi Richter want Wendi’s title back. Richter is MAD here and has a nearly man’s voice.
Moolah and Lelani Kai are ready to keep the title.
Women’s Title: Lelani Kai vs. Wendi Richter
The big deal here is that Cyndi Lauper, pop superstar of her day, is in Richter’s corner. Moolah, as in the woman who cost Richter the title a few weeks ago, is in Kai’s corner. The camera is on a wide shot for the start of Richter’s music (Girls Just Wanna Have Fun) and the whole crowd literally gets up at once. Cool visual. For reasons that continue to elude me, the slow motion shot of Richter and Lauper running through the back and into the arena is a famous clip.
They both pull hair to start and we’re clearly in a normal women’s match here. By that I mean neither girl is that good in the ring and their moves are really overblown. Richter cranks on the arm for a bit until Kai pulls her hair to take over. Now the champion works on the arm for a bit and Richter is in trouble. More hair pulling ensues until Richter puts on a body scissors.
Kai charges into a boot in the corner and Richter shoves the referee away like a jerk. Moolah chokes away at Wendi in the corner until Lauper comes over to make the save. Richter hits a kind of reverse AA and a splash for two. Lelani hits a backbreaker for two before going up for a cross body, only to have Wendi roll through for the pin and the title.
Rating: D. These two just didn’t work that well, but that would be the case for almost any women’s match back in the 80s. The girls were out there basically for a spectacle or in this case the pop culture connection that was driving the era. Richter was a HUGE star at this point, occasionally main eventing house shows when Hogan was in another city.
Richter and Lauper dance around the ring in celebration in another semi-famous scene.
Richter and Lauper celebrate in the back as well.
We introduce the celebrities for the main event. The guest ring announcer is Billy Martin, former manager of the Yankees. He introduces Liberace as guest timekeeper, accompanied by four Rockettes. They all get in the ring and do the famous kicks which you’ll see in the occasional highlight package. The guest referee is someone you may have heard of: Muhammad Ali. Jose Torres, another boxer, is on the floor as well.
Hulk Hogan/Mr. T. vs. Roddy Piper/Paul Orndorff
Piper comes out with the full New York Pipe and Drums band while Hogan and T come out to Eye of the Tiger. Advantage Hogan/T. Piper and Orndorff have Bob Orton as their second while Hogan/T have Jimmy Snuka. Advantage Hogan/T. This is looking kind of one sided isn’t it? Oh and Pat Patterson is the inside referee while Ali is the outside referee. The heels all hug and we’re ready to go.
Orndorff and Hogan get things going but Piper tags in before there’s any contact. Therefore T wants to fight Piper and they immediately head to the mat. T and Piper do some amateur stuff and T actually lasts long enough for a standoff. We get some staring until T hooks Piper in an airplane spin. Everything breaks down and Ali gets in to help break it up. Orton and Snuka try to get in as well but Ali glares Orton down.
Things break down again and the heels get rammed together until we get down to Hogan vs. Piper. Hulk rams Piper’s head into the mat over and over until it’s back to T. Hogan offers his knee as something to ram Piper’s head into and it’s back to the champion to send Piper to the outside. Orndorff jumps Hogan from behind and knocks him outside where Roddy blasts him with a chair.
Paul chokes away from the apron until T charges in for the save. Pat Patterson has to pull T off and you know he enjoys this in some way. A double atomic drop puts Hogan down and Orndorff hits a vertical suplex. Roddy comes back in to get in his punches and knee shots followed by an Orndorff top rope elbow to the back of Hulk’s neck for two. Paul goes up again but misses the knee drop and there’s the hot tag to T.
Orndorff and T brawl on the mat for a bit until Mr. gets in trouble via a Piper front facelock. That goes nowhere though as T stands up and makes the tag with no effort to be seen. Hogan pounds away but walks into a belly to back suplex. Orton and Snuka get in the ring for no apparent reason and as the referee calms things down, Orton comes in off the top with the cast but hits Orndorff by mistake to give Hogan the pin.
Rating: B-. Is it great? Not even close, but the point of this match was the crowd reacting to it rather than the match itself. It’s easily the best match of the night and while the only question coming into tonight was who was getting the fall. This was exactly what the fans wanted and that’s what this was supposed to be about. Nice main event here.
Piper and Orton bail but the good guys let Orndorff leave without beating on him even more.
We recap the ending of the main event.
Hogan, T and Snuka talk about winning.
Credits end the show. That’s a sign of the past.
Overall Rating: D+. First and foremost let me make something clear: the overall rating for this show means jack because the whole thing was there for the spectacle and the matches were an afterthought other than the main event. This show was a huge success and kickstarted what is known as the Golden Era, so I don’t think you can call it anything but a good show. It’s also on the list of shows that every fan has to see at least once, just so they can say they’ve seen it. Not great quality, but incredible historical significance.
Tito Santana vs. Executioner
King Kong Bundy vs. S.D. Jones
Ricky Steamboat vs. Matt Borne
David Sammartino vs. Brutus Beefcake
Junkyard Dog vs. Greg Valentine
Nikolai Volkoff/Iron Shiek vs. U.S. Express
Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd
Wendi Richter vs. Lelani Kai
Hulk Hogan/Mr. T. vs. Roddy Piper/Paul Orndorff
Here’s the original review if you’re interested:
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