WWF WrestleMania III (3.29.87) review
March 29, 1987
We’re in Pontiac, Michigan at the Silverdome. This is it. This is the big one. I’ve watched a bunch of shows to check out the build for this because I was so excited for one of the all-time most important wrestling shows; WrestleMania III. While the original WrestleMania served as a demonstration of the pomp and pageantry (and celebrity) that Vince wanted to surround WrestleMania, it wasn’t until WrestleMania III that the company put together a legitimate supershow. With big matches and a huge match on the top. A star-studded line up, completed by the companies biggest match going on last. Compare this to 1986 and WrestleMania II when the main was Hogan-Bundy in a cage and their biggest match of the year was Hogan-Orndorff, and you see how they’ve switched the mentality. WrestleMania is the big one and it’s about to get treated that way. Hosts are Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura. It’s easy to forget that Monsoon remained the WWF’s main PBP guy right up to 1993, when they tried to replace him (unsuccessfully) with Jim Ross. Ventura would remain the main colour guy until the middle of 1990.
This is a three-hour show and I’m used to doing 1h or 90m shows. This might get painful.
We open with the famous shot of the crowd. It’s a huge, huge crowd, and a massive wow factor before the show has even started. The Hogan-Andre rivalry was what sold the tickets, make no mistake about it. We can debate what the actual attendance number was here, but the WWF reported it as 93,000 and the actual number is more like 78,000. It does look that many though. It looks like an enormous number. It was the first time I saw a wrestling crowd and went “whoa, that’s a lot of people”. Vince McMahon gets to introduce it, in the ring, and he looks almost emotional throwing to Aretha Franklin to sing “America the Beautiful”.
This is the first time the WWF used the crowd as a backdrop. I’ve seen shows with enormous crowds that pre-date this, and this is the first time they incorporated that mass of humanity as a part of the shot. It is one hell of a backdrop. I love that there’s no structure around the ring at all. They’ve made sure views are unobstructed.
Over in the commentary booth, we’ve got Jesse Ventura, rocking the same look as on a recent SNME, only with a bandana in place of that stylish hat. Monsoon is also joined by Bob Uecker and Mary Hart. Uecker was an outstanding and very entertaining baseball announcer. So entertaining that Hollywood got him to do that for the Major League films. Most non-baseball fans know him from either WrestleMania or Major League or the Miller Lite commercials. Mary Hart was the presenter of Entertainment Tonight.
Can-Am Connection vs. Magnificent Muraco & Bob Orton
I’m mystified, looking back, that the Can-Ams didn’t work the Dream Team here, seeing as the Dream Team split up anyway. It would have made more sense and they had great chemistry. The match serves as a vehicle to get the Can-Ams over. Orton, with Piper and Adonis leaving, was reaching the end of his usefulness to Vince. Muraco was on his way babyface and into a series of daft skits with Mr Fuji. Both guys are established stars though, so it allows the Can-Ams to get over by beating them up.
Production is so exciting here. They have a shot behind Gorilla and Ventura watching from on high, and then zoom in to the action in the ring between them. It’s sensational. Muraco gets caught with a crossbody and the Can-Ams pick up a huge win. **½
This is basically the Rockers before the Rockers (only squeakier and cleaner, look at these two dorks). Quite how Tom Zenk managed to fuck this one up is anyone’s guess. It came down to pay, and he left over a cash dispute in the middle of the year. Martel formed Strike Force with Tito Santana and the rest is history.
Video Control gives us clips of the Haynes vs. Hercules ‘full nelson’ rivalry and how it’s developed. We then get an interview with Bobby Heenan who points out it’s “Billy Jerk Haynes”. Hercules is fully gimmicked up with the chains now.
Billy Jerk Haynes vs. Hercules
Billy Jack is the first guy to get the little ring on wheels to bring him out here.
I cannot understate how much I hate both these guys. The best worker in this is Bobby Heenan, by some distance. It’s a rarity for Billy Jack to be the best wrestler in a match, although I’ll give Herc a nod for trying to take Haynes’ head off with a lariat. The trouble with his work is a few moves look awesome and everything else looks terrible. Because the good stuff shows he can wrestle, it just amplifies how bad everything else is. His selling is especially awful. The story of the match is the full nelson. Hercules eventually hooks his and Billy Jack fights out.
The whole sequence regarding the full nelson is so dumb and that’s the match. If you get the one thing wrong, the whole match collapses. What is this hold even supposed to be once the hands are broken apart? It’s nothing. Haynes then ‘hits’ a few clotheslines. Good lord, they’re awful. Haynes hooks his full nelson, they both fall outside and it’s a DCO. “I’m sure both guys are conscious of the count going on” says Monsoon just as they both get counted out. This wasn’t a total bust because the crowd were into the concept, but good lord they shit the bed on so many important aspects. Jercules knocks Billy Jerk out with a chain after the match, presumably leading to chain matches on house shows*. Billy Jerk at least blades, giving us some colour a reason to care about it. Considering how bad both wrestlers are, this was ok, glaring errors aside.
*I swear I didn’t check before typing this and that’s exactly what happened. Wrestling!
King Kong Bundy, Little Tokyo & Lord Littlebrook vs. Hillbilly Jim, Haiti Kid & Little Beaver
Little Tokyo looks happy to be on this show. I don’t think I’ve seen him smile before! This is Little Beaver’s last match. If you’re going to go out, go out on top! That would make a killer trivia question because I couldn’t even remember he was in this match, whereas the others were regular performers on related shows and in the AWA when they had a big midget division.
Little Beaver doesn’t tag out when Bundy tags in and he’s all “get your ass down here, and I will fuck you up”. Bundy was in the world title match a year ago. I think this placement of him reflects what a ridiculous decision that was in 1986. Little Beaver pushes his luck and Bundy kills him. Hey, that’s why he never wrestled again. He’s dead.
Video Control takes us to Mary Hart, who’s about to interview Liz and asks if she’s trepidatious”. I can’t hear that word without Savage coming in, right afterwards, “oooooh trepidatious is the word”. “Ooooooh, Mary Hart, you must be fascinated with the Macho Man Randy Savage”. “My phone numbers on the back of my licence plate”.
Harley Race vs. Junkyard Dog
The loser of this match must bow and kneel before the winner. Bobby Heenan claimed Samantha Fox would be holding the crown here but it’s Fabulous Moolah. Bit of a downgrade.
Remember me talking about production on this show and how it was better than usual?
Everything has a cinematic, bigger than life, feel to it. It feels professional. I’m sure that’s intentional but why didn’t they stick with this style of production? It’s been fantastic so far. Bobby Heenan is out here again, having skipped the Bundy match. Harley, approaching retirement, exacerbates that by attempting a diving headbutt off the apron to the floor. They have more padding than usual but even so, Harley, that’s nuts man. This is a shocker as JYD gets distracted, not attacked, and Race beats him with the belly to belly. It was reflective of JYD sliding down the card at this point but it’s still surprising to see him job so clean.
The wild thing for me, about JYD, is that he was only 34 at this point. He always felt so much older. JYD left the WWF in 1988 and after a run in WCW was burned out on the Indies by 1994. He was only 41 at that point. Sylvester Ritter died in a car crash in 1998, aged just 45. If you told me he was 45 at WrestleMania III, I would have believed you.
Video Control gives us an interview with Hulk Hogan from earlier where he talks about non-Hulkamaniacs as “non-believers” is concerning. He calls Hulkamania the “purest form of the truth there is” and debuts the “whatchagonnado” bit of his catchphrase.
Rougeau Brothers vs. Dream Team
This booking is still weird to me. They knew they were busting up the Dream Team, so why not have them put over some young, exciting team like the Can-Am Connection in the process? They have Dino Bravo in their corner, along with manager Luscious Johnny V. Beefcake is telegraphing a change of gimmick with new gear, that’s all cut up on the sides.
Bobby Heenan, who’s “on a roll today”, points out he’s two for two tonight, counting Hercules as a win after he busted Billy Jerk open. Monsoon points out Bundy lost. “I wasn’t out there for that match!” The Rougeau’s should win here thanks to a cool looking flying knee from Jacques but Dino Bravo jumps in there behind the ref’s back for the sneaky win.
The winners all leave, apart from a conflicted Brutus Beefcake. He seems upset with the nature of the victory and Johnny V is all “well, fuck you then” and they just leave.
Hair vs Hair Match
Adrian Adonis vs. Roddy Piper
This is Piper’s retirement match as he’s off to Hollywood. He’s also out to get revenge on Adonis for various attacks upon his personage over the last few months. Piper doesn’t wait for his little ring cart, which apparently was broken and he jogs to the ring.
The reaction to Piper and Piper’s reaction to the reaction is stunning. It’s the first real moment of this being a huge show. The first superstar is here. Due to the hair stipulation, they wail on each other with a belt and the referee can’t do shit about it. Jimmy Hart takes a beating. It’s all great fun. Piper uses Jimmy as a weapon several times. The heels use Adrian’s perfume as a throwback to how Piper lost on count out and it’s Goodnight Irene! Adonis lets go though, and Piper isn’t out. Brutus Beefcake runs in to wake Piper up. The celebrating Adonis is put out with a sleeper and Piper wins his retirement match. This is one of those matches that’s perfect sports entertainment. I bet Vince McMahon loved it, because it went out and achieved everything it needed to. Is it technically any good? Of course not, but it’s tremendous. *** for the whole storyline blow off, and Piper farewell. I will miss Roddy, a great deal. He was an incredible talent.
Beefcake is slow with the clippers. Should have gotten Kerry von Erich out there. He knew how to shave a guy bald. Brutus barely gives him a trim. An embarrassment for any barber. Gimmick should have been dead in the water.
Piper went out on his terms, not lying on his back and Vince was mad about the whole process. He probably had ideas about what to do with Piper in the years he had left. Piper screwed that all up by leaving. Of course, he came back. They all come back. Piper’s next televised match would be against Barry Horowitz in August 1989. Astonishing they just slotted him back in with jobber matches like anyone else.
In between matches Jesse Ventura goes down to be introduced to the crowd. Gorilla shills Predator, which opens in cinemas in June 1987. It felt like wrestlers could just crossover to Hollywood at will in this era. No wonder Piper thought he could make a go of Hollywood. Incidentally Predator is one of the finest wrestler’s ‘do acting’ performances of all time. “I ain’t got time to bleed”.
Hart Foundation & Danny Davis vs. British Bulldogs & Tito Santana
Davis is wrestling his “first match”. He’s actually been wrestling here for years under the name Mr X in preparation for this angle to play out. Ventura dognaps Matilda while he’s down here. We get Mary Hart on commentary for this and she disavows the Harts, saying she’d love to support her namesakes, but she can’t from a morale point of view. That’s, uh, big of you Mary. Dynamite Kid is returning from injury here, but he took another month off after Mania. DK gets picked off for heat and is gingerly beaten up by the Harts. The crowd want to see Davis take a beating and that’s the storyline after the heat is over. Davis takes some unusual bumps, and looks like a non-wrestler in the process, which I like. Davis looks so weird in every move. His legs don’t go up straight on the suplex. Davey takes ages getting the pin so the Harts hit him with the megaphone and Davis gets the pin, which presumably is set up for various house shows where Davis gets really beaten. Personally, I’d have had him lose here.
Bobby Heenan, who’s changed his clothes from black to a snappy white ensemble, says Hulkamania is dead and he’s looking forward to managing to the world champion. Andre stares off into the distance.
Butch Reed vs. Koko B. Ware
Reed came over from Kansas/Mid-South at the end of last year.
Why didn’t Frankie just fly off? I may need a bird expert to explain that one. While Koko was a popular talent and Vince was high on him, he’s small, which hampered his progress. Ventura says the B stands for Buckwheat and I’m always conscious that might be a racist thing but I literally have no idea. Seeing as Ventura refers to “but Buckwheat don’t” I think he might be referring to Buckwheat Zydeco. “He has a brother too, name of Stymie”. That might be racist, it’s a Little Rascals joke.
Vince was also high on Butch Reed. He is big; 6’2”, 260 lbs. Koko is 5’7”. He isn’t going over anyone. This is a weird match. It has a good tempo and Koko gets some shots in but then Reed just rolls through a crossbody for the pin. Slick lays Koko out for a laugh and Tito Santana runs in to tear up his WrestleMania fineries. Monsoon claims a handful of tights on the finish, but it looked pretty clean to me. Anyway, this was filler, and didn’t need to be on the show. It had zero hype beforehand.
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Randy Savage (c) vs. Ricky Steamboat
There’s a great build for this, which is partially why the crowd are so into it from the start. Savage put Steamboat on the shelf at the end of last year by crushing his larynx with the ring bell. Steamboat returned to help George Steele in his attempts to best Savage. Steele himself is obsessed with liberating Miss Elizabeth. “History beckons the Macho Man, yeah!”
These two have been ironing out the kinks in this match on the house show circuit for weeks, so it’s smooth as hell. The technique is delicious. Ricky Steamboat has some issues. I think he sells too much, too soon, but generally you could transplant him into modern wrestling, and he’d fit in. Savage makes a point of going after the throat, which he crushed last year. When they hit the quick pins, normally from simple stuff like shoulderblocks, it’s so much quicker than anything in wrestling at this point.
Savage is a sensational dickhead. Steele rolls Steamboat back in and Savage runs Ricky right across the ring and hurls him over the top again. This all plays into Steamboat backdropping Savage to the floor, after Savage has repeatedly thrown Steamboat out. The key part of this match is the near falls. They pepper the match with near falls from roll ups. Every single one of them, the crowd bite on.
It’s testament to the performance that there’s a ref bump in here, and I don’t hate it. It works because it comes from a reversal. Hebner got caught head to head and I buy it. This means he can’t get the pinfall when Savage hits the Big Elbow. He’s still down when Savage goes for the ring bell. George Steele tries to get it back but Savage lays him out. Steele pushes Savage off the ropes and Steamboat rolls him up for the win and the belt.
At that point in time, this was the best wrestling match there was and they did it all in 15 minutes. I know I heaped praise on Flair-Windham this year, and it’s up there because in that match they go full tilt boogie for 45 minutes, but this is a masterpiece. The strands of storyline drive the match but the match itself is way ahead of everything around it at the time. *****
Just Jake Roberts, Gene Okerlund and Alice Cooper chilling out. A reminder to myself here that the ring girls here are called the “Federettes”. Which sounds like a special FBI bureau of women that they sent after Vince McMahon in the early 90s. Put his ass in jail!
Jake Roberts vs. Honky Tonk Man
Hey boys, good luck following that last match! The crowd is so exhausted now that you can hear Jake calling spots. Honky tries to get some heat going and he can’t. Jake spends the match doing nothing and he lets Honky die a death. It’s astonishing, watching this, to know Honky went on to be the longest reigning IC champion of all time right after this. Jake goes for the DDT, Jimmy Hart distracts and Honky gets the cheeky roll up (with ropes) for the win. Jake is all like “what?” Alice Cooper terrorises Jimmy Hart with Damian to get the babyface pop. All the crowd wanted here was a DDT and they couldn’t even deliver that. Plus the neck injury psychology doesn’t happen.
Gene Okerlund hops in the ring to announce the attendance. 93,173 is figure that we’re going with. The crowd is enormous. I can believe there was 90k in there. Dave Meltzer reported 78,000 but I’ve been in the the AEW All In London crowd, which was around that, and this legitimately looks bigger. I guess we’ll never know, as wrestling promoters simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth.
Killer Bees vs. Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff
Sheik & Volkoff were jobbers at this point. Blackjack Mulligan beat Volkoff in about 20 seconds on a recent show. This is also filler and pointless. Unless you like Jim Duggan, which I don’t.
Duggan runs off Volkoff for singing the Russian anthem, saying it’s the “land of the free”. Er, if people are free to do what they want, why can’t he sing the anthem? Duggan was ok in Mid-South but in the WWF he was insufferable.
As for the match; how many jabronies can Iron Sheik carry at the same time? Not this many! Volkoff has the temerity to use a bearhug. This is WrestleMania mate, put some fucking effort in. Sheik puts that punk Brian Blair in the camel clutch but jabronie Jim Duggan hits him with the 2×4 for the DQ. What a fucking idiot. What a dumbass. Brain only understand “USA”.
Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant
Time was running out for this match to happen. Andre was increasingly immobile. They planted the seeds for it back when Andre congratulated Hogan when he won the belt way back in 1984. There’s no doubt this match helped to sell a lot of those tickets that packed out this building.
We bring out the celebrities here. Bob Uecker is the ring announcer and Mary Hart the timekeeper. “Look at all these people” – Mary.
Andre playfully waves to the crowd, not accustomed to the hatred, and you can see him lean across and say “they hate me, boss” to Heenan. The crowd pelting him with garbage is harsh, but this is Michigan.
A sidenote here; I never cared for this era’s WWF title belt. It looked like a boxing belt. Commentary tags an extra inch onto the billed height of both wrestlers. Neither of those heights (6’8” or 7’5”) are accurate. The story of the match becomes Hogan attempting a body slam. He goes for it right away and Andre falls on top. This leads to extensive Andre control. They do very little and just lean on the importance of the match. The simple fact of the matter is that Andre is horribly deteriorated in 1987. He was effectively done as a top star in 1986, so this could have gone horribly wrong.
The match is all sluggish Andre offence because Andre can’t take any spots. Hogan’s comebacks are all punches and chops where Andre doesn’t have to move or bump afterwards. Andre sinks in a bearhug and the crowd rally behind Hogan. Again, Andre’s total lack of mobility forces him into spots like this. It’s a long bearhug though. After that, Andre boots Hogan to the floor and the boot is maybe at thigh height. He can’t lift his leg to do a big boot at all.
They tease a piledriver on the floor and Andre slowly backdrops out of it because his back hurts so much. It’s sad to watch. Back inside Hogan gets the bodyslam and drops the leg to retain. Obviously, the match is horrible. It’s really bad. Andre is so bad here. The match tends to get historical love because it’s so important to the WWF. Without this match, they don’t draw this huge crowd. Without the huge crowd and the spectacle of WrestleMania becoming a thing, does it become the thing it is today? Regardless of the historical importance of the match, it’s bad. In the past I’ve gone around **½ and been generous, but it’s much worse than that.
WrestleMania III might be the most important wrestling show of all time. It’s the one where the WWF fine-tuned what WrestleMania was. The huge match on top. The assortment of well crafted undercard matches turning it into a supercard. The celebrity influence being there but not in an overwhelming fashion. The sleeper hit that blows the crowd away. It’s a defining show in wrestling history. There was nothing like this before and it took two years for the WWF to even come close to replicating it with Hogan vs. Savage. Which, incidentally, is a far superior match and arguably a better built feud. You need to see Savage vs. Steamboat and Hogan vs. Andre to call yourself a WWE fan. Ideally with the assorted builds so you can understand why the matches were important.