WWF WrestleMania (3.31.85) review
March 31, 1985
Well shit, here we are again. I’ve reviewed this show more times than any other show, ever. The last time I reviewed it was for the Complete WWF Video Guide #1. Given that I’ve released my takes all over the place on this show, I’ll try and keep it brief here. We’re in New York City at MSG. Hosts are Gorilla Monsoon & Jesse Ventura. I’ve nice to get Ventura on comms here as he segued away from in-ring competition and found his true calling. Still, after all this time, can’t believe they got Gene Okerlund to sing the national anthem. I can only assume Vince’s first choice fell through, given his obsession with integrating celebrities into this show.
Tito Santana vs. The Executioner
The masked man is Buddy Rose. Seeing as he was working for the WWF at the time, you could probably figure that one out, if you were watching. My question is; why not just have Santana vs. Rose? Santana has a bad leg, which Executioner says he’ll target in a backstage interview. This is from the Santana-Valentine feud. Having watched the lead-in shows, it’s clear there’s more energy in this than in recent WWF MSG shows. Flying Forearm sets up the Figure Four and Santana wins via submission in a rapid opener that did the job. Santana reflected how pissed off he was at failing to capture the IC belt in recent weeks and he was sending out a message to Greg Valentine with the duke. I’m glad he had an energetic jobber in Buddy Rose.
King Kong Bundy vs. SD Jones
Bundy only debuted a few weeks ago. They’ve billed him as a monster. He squashes SD in “nine seconds”. Twenty-five seconds in real time.
You’d think Bundy would be able to tell, he’s still wearing his wristwatch.
Ricky Steamboat vs. Matt Borne
The first crazy Meltzer snowflake rating for this one; ***¼ for a match that lasts under five minutes and nothing much happens. It is nicely fluid. Steamboat is new to the WWF but that means Vince doesn’t trust him yet. Or he’d be in a better match than this. It is better than most undercard matches on MSG shows but hey, it’s Steamboat. He wins this with a high crossbody. The first good match in Mania history? That’s a reach.
Best production company in the world.
David Sammartino vs. Brutus Beefcake
The only reason this makes it onto WrestleMania is David’s dad, Bruno Sammartino, being at ringside. The man’s a legend in MSG. I’m still confused as to why they never booked Bruno to work a tag here, seeing as he was working tags on house shows around this time. I guess you need to keep something back for MSG in May, which is where the tag actually took place.
One teeny-tiny issue with leaving the match as Beefcake vs David though…it sucks. Everything has been quick so far on the show. Keep the show moving, keep people invested and excited and then this turd happens. It’s not technically bad but it’s not technically great either and it is technically boring. I heard a take that Beefcake wasn’t that bad in his early career and he gets heavily criticised because of his ropey later career. He essentially wasn’t the same after he’d suffered injuries in a parasailing accident in 1990. I’m here to tell you, he wasn’t that great to start with. Yes, he was better, but he still couldn’t sell, was still awkward moving around the ring and just because he’s healthy doesn’t mean he’s good. The crowd sleeps through this until Bruno saves David and pounds on Luscious Johnny V. Huge pop after 12 minutes of the crowd being bored and sitting on their hands.
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Greg Valentine (c) vs. Junkyard Dog
They didn’t build up to this match at all. Hammer was in a feud with Tito Santana over the belt. JYD was a piece left over in Vince’s booking puzzle. Your mileage on this will vary on your opinion of JYD because it’s a very JYD match, rather than a Hammer match. Valentine wins with his feet on the ropes, but Tito Santana runs in to snitch on him. The referee believes Tito and Valentine takes the count out loss instead. The referee didn’t see it, that’s bullshit! JYD wins on count out. Valentine retains.
Captain Lou shaved! That’s a babyface manager now.
WWF Tag Team Championship
US Express (c) vs. Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff
Windham & Rotunda came into WWF at the tail end of 1984. They stormed to the top and won the tag belts in January. Volkoff himself is somewhat of a newcomer, having joined the WWF in the last year. The US Express come out to “Born in the USA” but that’s dubbed on the Network. Windham must be near the top of a list of guys who were great in other companies but never lit the WWF on fire. This match regained the pacing that the opening three bouts had. The challengers struggle to keep up with the pace, but they do ok. Windham looks all kinds of great here. How did it go so wrong for him? Sheik blindsides Windham with Blassie’s cane and Volkoff pins for the belts in the first ever WrestleMania title change. This was really good, like surprisingly so if you’ve ever seen Volkoff and IRS work together. **¼
Russians: A lot of classic wrestling Russians were from nowhere near Russia. Ivan Koloff was Canadian. Nikita was an American. Nikolai Volkoff is somewhat closer. He was born in Croatia. Well, technically he was born in Yugoslavia, which is an Eastern Bloc country.
$15,000 Slam Match
Big John Studd vs. Andre the Giant
If Andre can’t slam Studd he’s going to retire, which rather takes away the drama somewhat as he’s blatantly not going to retire. Maybe he should have done, as he was never the same after this. I always thought Studd put up money in slam matches before this, but I can’t find any evidence it happened.
The normal Andre match from 1985 is Andre doing comedy stuff and beating people up while they try and run away. There’s nothing here. They just slowly club at each other and work rest holds until Andre gets bored and slams Studd for the win and the bag of cash. He grabs it and starts throwing money in the audience until Bobby Heenan rescues Vince McMahon’s stripper fund. A terrible match but Andre needed to be on this show with a big win. It happened. Let’s move on.
WWF Women’s Championship
Lelaini Kai (c) vs. Wendi Richter
Wendi won the title at a big crossover show called the “Brawl to End it All”, where she ended Fabulous Moolah’s 20+ year run as WWF women’s champion. However, they then wanted to set up WrestleMania, so Richter dropped the belt to Moolah’s protégé Lelaini Kai last month. Cyndi Lauper was the first domino in McMahon’s campaign to bring in famous people to get his product over with the mainstream. This was before the time of ‘tapping out’ and Kai taps out constantly in this match. It looks weird. The match is sloppy, and they might have been better off asking Cyndi if she wanted to wrestle a tag match here instead, reflecting their main event booking. Wendi does a crazy reverse FU spot, which should be the finish. Instead, Wendi is supposed to roll through Kai’s crossbody, but she doesn’t and fucks it up.
Little did Wendi know, as she dances around the ring with Cyndi Lauper, that this was as good as it would ever get. She had some contractual issues with the WWF and Vince McMahon screwed her out of the belt. Putting her in a match with Spider Lady, which was Moolah in a mask, who forced her into a shoot pin. The original screwjob. Wendi would never catch another break like it in her career. She did go on to hold the AWA title but at a time when the promotion was not successful.
Cyndi Lauper is interviewed about managing in the WWF. She has lipstick on her teeth. The stars continue as Howard Finkel introduces the ring announcer for the main event; Billy Martin. He used to manage the Yankees was my standard introduction. Here’s some more info. He’s from California. He’s 56 years old, although he looks way older. He played MLB for the Yankees, and a bunch of other teams. He hit 64 home runs, 333 RBIs. He managed the Yankees in the late 70s and came back to manage them again in 1983 and 1985. He won 5 World Series rings with the Yankees. Four as a player and one as a manager in 1977. His #1 jersey is retired by the Yankees. He still worked for the Yankees in 1989 when he died in a car crash on Christmas Day. He was 61.
Liberace is the guest timekeeper, he died in 1987 of complications from AIDS. The special referee is Muhammad Ali, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984, although he remained active until later in life. They don’t make the NWA mistake and have Pat Patterson in the ring, so Ali doesn’t get in the way. He doesn’t really do anything, truth be told.
The big entrances don’t stop there as Piper gets a Scottish marching band. Pomp! It does feel far more important than in other viewings, because I’ve watched around it and can tell how much more loaded everything feels.
Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff vs. Hulk Hogan & Mr. T
Piper had heat with Mr. T because he was taught to be old school and be unpleasant to outsiders looking to peek inside the business. He didn’t think an actor should be wrestling him. He felt it exposed the business. When it comes down to the match Piper knows what’s best for business, which is to not let himself get exposed but also to make T look good. Hogan is also watching Mr. T’s back. So when it looks like Piper might be about to take advantage of the actor, he piles in and bashes everything.
Two extra moving pieces on the floor; Jimmy Snuka in the face corner. He’s a non-entity. On the other side “Ace” Cowboy Bob Orton. He’s got that cast on his arm now. I’ve mentioned a few people’s ages but it’s worth noting Hogan was only 31 at this point. With his hair loss, I always found his age hard to gauge. Hogan takes the bulk of the match and it’s the first time I’ve seen him properly run that Hogan formula, which involves him getting beaten up until Hulking up. Apart from here, he tags out instead. Orton gets in there to interfere, but he misses Hogan and bashes Orndorff with his cast. Hogan, who has no comeback at all here, just gets the pin and the faces win! This was what it needed to be. It had all the celebrity involvement, and it was a hot little 13-minute main event. Call it **¾. Mr. T did well here, although he spent a lot of his time standing outside the ring. When he was in there he was in the right place and didn’t get exposed.
PWI gave the main event their “match of the year”, which is certainly a decision. Interesting to note Bill Apter is a talking head on the documentary they did about this match on the Network.
My appreciation for WrestleMania 1 has improved greatly on this viewing, because I’ve seen the shows around it. This was a notable improvement on the standard WWF product. It felt important and it felt urgent (apart from David Sammartino). It also felt like a game changer. The difference between this and a normal WWF show was night and day. Vince McMahon had rolled the dice and he won. Over a million people watched on closed-circuit TV and 19,000 packed into MSG to watch the show in person and the show had delivered the necessary thrills and spills. While it lacked the NWA’s in ring athleticism, it was far closer here than usual. Plus a lot of the matches served a purpose going forward. Bundy’s record-setting win set him up for a high card run and he would main event WrestleMania 2. The Valentine-Santana issues would continue and Bob Orton’s miscue would set the scene for Paul Orndorff’s babyface run that followed this. Even the Sammartino-Beefcake match set up tags around the horn.
I’ve always ranked this near the bottom when I’m ranking WrestleMania but I can think of at least two Mania’s this is clearly better than. Just from an expectation vs. Reality of the card. Sure, there aren’t many snowflakes here, but it was a nice step up and it felt big. It would continue to feel big until the early 90s when WWF lost a lot of its star power.