So with WrestleMania 34 a mere three weeks out, I’ve decided to look at three WrestleMania events of yesteryear, with one a week up to the big show. This week I’ll be looking at the show that started it all, WrestleMania I, with Mania’s XIII and XXII to come down the road.
WrestleMania I was an incredibly important show not just in the history of the WWF/E but also wrestling as a whole. Had Vince McMahon’s big gamble of embracing showbiz and celebrity gone awry, then it could have seriously set back his plans and possible laid the table for a pretender to steal the national wrestling pie. As it was, Mania I was a big success and McMahon never looked back, but the show was by no means a guaranteed slam dunk for Vinny Mac.
The show is emanating from Madison Square Garden on the 31st March 1985
Calling the action are Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse “The Body” Venturea, with Lord Alfred Hayes and Mean Gene Okerlund handling things backstage.
Howard Finkel welcomes us all to WrestleMania, in an often used soundbite, and then introduces Mean Gene, avec cue cards, to sing the national anthem. As you can imagine, Gene absolutely butchers it but the crowd are nice enough to cheer when it’s all over. Even Jesse is uncharacteristically complimentary about the performance!
Lord Alfred, looking as uncomfortable as possible, bumbles his way to introducing pre-taped interviews for the men in the opening match. The Executioner promises to go after Tito Santana’s leg. Tito at the time was bridled in a bitter feud with Greg Valentine who had seriously hurt him with a Figure Four Leglock, so it’s not the worst game plan.
The Executioner Vs Tito Santana
Executioner is Buddy Rose under a mask. Tito controls things easily enough in the early going with basic moves like arm drags and dropkicks. Executioner gets some shots to the gut and then targets the leg as promised, but this serves only to fire Tito up. Executioner goes to the top rope but Tito throws him off and then goes for a splash, but Executioner manages to get his knees up. Executioner goes after the leg again, but Tito kicks him off over the top rope and then powerslams him back in. With Executioner in trouble, Tito hits a running forearm and then locks in the Figure Four Leglock for the submission victory.
WINNER: TITO SANTANA BY SUBMISSION
Just a squash to put Tito over and introduce newer fans to the basics of wrestling. The fans enjoyed it though and were happy to see Tito pick up the win. Tito wouldn’t win a match at WrestleMania again until 1993, when he defeated Papa Shango in a dark match.
Lord Alfred, looking like a captive in a hostage video, throws to Mean Gene who has interviews with King Kong Bundy and Special Delivery Jones. Bundy says that Jones is taking an Avalanche.
King Kong Bundy w/ Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart Vs Special Delivery Jones
If Jones didn’t have a move called “Going Postal” then I consider it a big missed opportunity. So this is a semi-famous match, as Bundy squishes Jones in short order with an Avalanche and then a splash. However, Finkel announces that the match ended in 9 seconds, which WWE presented as a record for years. In reality, the match goes about 21 seconds, but WWE have never been above being economical with the truth to further their own cause.
WINNER: KING KONG BUNDY BY PIN FALL
RATING: No rating. Not enough to rate
Matt Borne is with Mean Gene ahead of the next match. He thinks he will win because Steamboat is too nice to have the killer instinct. Borne then walks off and Steamboat walks straight into shot to retort to the contrary. I like how everyone is just standing politely to one side whilst their opponent cuts a promo.
“Maniac” Matt Borne Vs Ricky Steamboat
Borne would eventually go on to be the first Doink The Clown, which was the original and best Doink because he was evil and scary. A big regret of mine is that Borne never got to do the feud with The Undertaker that he wanted. Steamboat was fresh in from the NWA and big things were expected of him.
Steamboat controls things early, mostly working a headlock and using his speed to stay on top. Borne comes back with a lovely side belly to belly suplex and then adds a vertical suplex for a two count. Steamboat chops his way back into the match and gets a back suplex followed by a swinging neck breaker for a two of his own. Borne tries to counter by going to the eyes, but Steamboat soon shakes that off and heads up top for a crossbody to pick up the pin fall.
WINNER: RICKY STEAMBOAT BY PIN FALL
The work was crisp from both men but there wasn’t much to the match itself. It was mostly used as an exhibition for Steamboat to show off his moves and worked well in that regard.
Lord Alfred struggles his way through hyping the next match and the camera cuts to Mean Gene who is with the competitors. It ultimately comes down to the seconds threatening each other not to get involved.
Brutus Beefcake w/ Luscious Johnny Valiant Vs David Sammartino w/ Bruno Sammartino
Bruno gets top billing here, even though it’s his son David who is doing the wrestling. This is of course the battle of nepotism, with David having his job thanks to his dad whilst Beefcake has his thanks to being best mates with Hulk Hogan. Neither of them are overly bad or anything, but nor do they have a particular spark of intangible either. Beefcake, to his credit, would get pretty decent until a severe injury in 1990 left him a broken shell of his former self. David was sadly a victim of politics, as once his dad fell out with the WWF hierarchy he essentially became persona non grata due to association.
David controls Brutus on the mat early on, although his work isn’t especially impressive. His leg holds in particular look pretty flimsy. Brutus eventually goes to the eyes to cut David off and starts working him over with strikes and slams. David sells pretty well in fairness to him and Beefcake’s stuff looks fine, if not overly exciting. David makes a comeback with some strikes and a big vertical suplex for two.
Brutus throws David outside, allowing Johnny V to slam him on the floor. This raises the ire of Bruno and he storms over to rescue his son to a big pop. The match degenerates into a 2 on 2 brawl and the referee waves things off. The heels decide to bail rather than take on the Sammartino’s.
DRAW VIA DOUBLE DISQUALIFICATION
The work was sloppy in places but it held both mine and the crowds attention. I’d actually be interested in seeing a tag match between these guys now, just to see Bruno destroy Johnny V.
Lord Alfred takes so long to finish his next link that they just cut him off and go straight to Greg Valentine’s interview. Greg says he’s ready to fight. Junkyard Dog retorts by saying that he wants a bone to chew on and the IC Title will buy him a lot of bones. Okay then…
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Champion: Greg “The Hammer” Valentine w/ Jimmy Hart Vs The Junkyard Dog
Sadly Dog’s “Another One Bites the Dust” entrance music is dubbed out. This was a bit of a random match, as Valentine was actually feuding with Tito, but Dog is the one getting the title shot. Dog works over Valentine early on with some head butts, but Hammer slugs back and then starts targeting Dog’s leg to weaken it for his Figure Four.
Dog kicks Valentine off when he goes for the Figure Four and then starts firing off strikes and even more head butts. Valentine sells this flurry fantastically. Hart climbs up onto the apron to try and help his man but ends up getting accidentally clobbered and takes a horrific looking back bump off the apron onto the hard concrete floor. Dog pounds on Valentine and drives him into the corner, as the fans sense that there might be a title change, but Valentine double legs him and then pins him with his feet on the ropes to get the three count.
However, before Valentine can head to the back with his belt, Tito Santana runs down and tells the referee about the cheating. Rather than telling Tito “Sorry mate, I didn’t see it” the ref instead ludicrously decides to restart the match. A bemused Valentine doesn’t return to the ring and is counted out, giving Dog the win but not changing the title.
WINNER: THE JUNKYARD DOG BY COUNT OUT
Sorry, but Valentine was well within his rights not to get back in there. Since when could referees reverse decisions like that based purely on what a wrestlers rival says? As for the match, it was abrupt yet had decent enough heat.
Lord Alfred says that the men in the next match have “pointed opinions” and then throws to Gene as he interviews Volkoff, Sheik and Blassie. Blassie says new champions will be crowned tonight.
WWF Tag Team Titles
Champions: The US Express w/ Captain Lou Albano Vs Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik w/ “Classy” Freddy Blassie
Volkoff, as was tradition during this period, sings the Soviet national anthem to a chorus of catcalls. Volkoff himself was from Lithuania and actually hated the USSR, so he enjoyed the chance to stick it to them by playing a bumbling Soviet villain in wrestling. Sheik declares both Russia and Iran to be #1, which doesn’t make much sense when you think about it. How can both of them be #1?
The US Express is made up of Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda, and they were actually using “Born in the USA” by Springsteen as their music at this time, even though the lyrics aren’t especially pro-American. Routunda and Windham get the better of the heels to start, with some heel miscommunication even leading to Sheik hitting his own partner. Volkoff manages to cut Rotonda off though and he gets worked over as the crowd chants “USA” to try and get him back into it.
Sheik applies an abdominal stretch, which Gorilla of course declares isn’t applied properly. Rutonda, as if to prove Gorilla right, hip tosses his way out and tags in Windham. Big Bazzer is a casa un feugo and drops Volkoff with a bulldog. Sheik comes in and scuffles with Rutunda, which causes the ref to intervene and try to restore order. As the ref is distracted getting Rowtunda out of the ring, Sheik uses the opportunity to clobber Windham with Blassie’s cane. Volkoff pins Windham and the evil foreigners claim the tag titles.
WINNERS: SHEIK AND VOLKOFF BY PIN FALL
I always used to dislike this match but I quite enjoyed it this time out. Maybe I’m mellowing as I age? As if to make a further mockery of the previous match, Captain Lou tells the ref about the cane shot but he just waves him off and the result stands. Some consistency on the issue would be nice.
Mean Gene interviews the new champs, who gloat like good villains. Gene questions Blassie, who hilariously denies to owning a cane, let alone giving it to Sheik to use as a weapon.
Meanwhile, Lord Alfred describes the next match as “most intriguing” and then throws to Mean Gene with Studd and Heenan. They say they have used the money as bait and that tonight will be Andre’s last match
$15,000 Body Slam Challenge
If Andre loses then he must retire
Big John Studd W/ Bobby “The Brain” Heenan Vs Andre The Giant
Gorilla has said “Holy Mackerel” so much on this show that the words have lost all meaning. So this would fall under Vince McMahon’s favourite brand of pro wrestling, “massive blokes punching each other”. Sadly, Andre’s physical decline had already started by this point so he’s reduced mostly to chops and choking. The fans are behind Andre and loudly chant “slam, slam, slam” but the action in the ring is sluggish and unexciting. Andre methodically wears Studd down with Studd doing very little in response. After a series of leg kicks Andre just walks over and hurks Studd up for the slam to win.
WINNER: ANDRE THE GIANT BY BODY SLAM
Andre just chewed up Studd here with little difficulty, so this was a rubbish match with an anticlimactic ending as consequence. Andre tries to throw the money into the crowd, but Heenan steals the bag from him and then scarpers. So not only was the match lousy but they didn’t even deliver on the stipulations either!
Mean Gene interviews Andre. He says he doesn’t care about the money and that he just wanted to prove he could slam Studd. Why bother fighting for the money in the first place then?
During his next link, Fabulous Moolah and Lelani Kai come by and kiss him causing him to exclaim “Good gracious!”. He then throws to Gene who is with Wendi Richter and Cyndi Lauper. Lauper says that she has been taking management lessons from Albano and that she is ready for tonight. Considering Albano lost the tag belts tonight I’m not sure that’s much of a trump card.
WWF Women’s Championship
Champion: Lelani Kai w/ The Fabulous Moolah Vs Wendi Richter w/ Cyndi Lauper
Sadly “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is dubbed out on the WWE Network, thus robbing us of the only part of Richter’s act that was any good. So Fabulous Moolah has a somewhat chequered past that found its way into the public consciousness again recently when WWE decided to dedicate a battle royal to her. Rumour has it that pressure from sponsors forced them into an uncharacteristic U-Turn on that issue. Kai is little more than her avatar here in her feud with Richter. The addition of Lauper elevates this from just a throwaway women’s match to the legit semi-main event.
Lots of screeching and hair pulling to start, which was basically what the women’s division was in the 80’s thanks to Moolah’s iron grip. Richter works over Kai’s arm for a bit, but she pulls Wendi’s hair to get control of things and works her over for a bit. Richter comes back and they botch a gut wrench suplex spot pretty badly by just lamely tumbling to the mat. Moolah gets involved whilst Richter rests on the ropes, so Lauper runs over and scuffles with her to put a stop to that.
Richter delivers a prototypical version of Sean O’Haire’s Widow Maker for two but only finds knees on a follow up Stinger Splash attempt. Kai drops Richter with a back breaker for two before heading up top for a cross body. Richter sloppily rolls through the cross body, almost failing to get all the way over, to pick up the win.
WINNER: WENDI RICHTER BY PIN FALL
Kai wasn’t that bad of a wrestler but Wendi was sloppy as all hell and could barely manage to do the basics properly. Richter and Lauper dance together in an iconic moment that just makes me wonder why they didn’t just name the battle royal after Richter seeing as she doesn’t have even close to the amount of baggage that Moolah does? They could even have both Richter and Lauper present the winner of the battle royal with a nice bouquet of flowers or something. The moment is lessened somewhat with generic Sesame Street like music dubbed over it of course, but hey-ho that’s copyright law for you.
Mean Gene interviews the new champ and her celebrity chums. She stumbles over a promo and basically thus yells unintelligibly. I mean, Richter was basically a nailed on WWE hall of famer solely on account of being part of this angle, but man, she was pretty useless. Couldn’t wrestle, couldn’t cut a promo and didn’t have any real discernible charisma. I do wonder why Vince decided to go with her.
Howard Finkel introduces the celebrities for the upcoming main event;
Guest Ring Announcer Billy Martin – Famed baseball coach, who I seem to recall was described as a jerk by Hulk Hogan in his book (Although that book was filled with inaccuracies so you never know)
Guest Bell Ringer Liberace – Noted singer and actor who comes out and dances with the Rockettes as wrestling promoters heads explode across the country. Liberace also has his own special little glittery bell. Vince really went all in with the showbiz stuff didn’t he? He didn’t give a toss about people complaining either.
Guest Referee/Enforcer Muhammad Ali – World famous boxer who famously had many a big bout at MSG over the years. Wrestling veteran Pat Patterson is the actual in ring referee so that he can talk Mr. T through everything and pass messages along
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr Wonderful” Paul Orndorff w/ “The Bodyguard Ace Cowboy” Bob Orton Vs Hulk Hogan and Mr. T w/ Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka
Piper gets a live bagpipe band to play him down to the ring. Hogan was using “Eye of the Tiger” as entrance music at the time but it’s dubbed over with “Real American” here for obvious reasons. Mr. T was a big star around this time due to being in the A-Team and Rocky III, so this match had big appeal amongst the casual fan base. Piper legitimately hated T in real life, so Hogan apparently had a nightmare trying to keep the heels from killing T for real.
Piper demands to start and T demands to start with him. They face off and trade slaps which leads to Piper getting an amateur takedown. T shows some amateur credentials of his own though and manages to make is way back to his feet, much to Piper’s annoyance. T actually manages to drill Piper with a fireman’s carry slam, which causes an enraged Piper to tackle him into the heel corner. This leads to a pier six brawl featuring all four men and their seconds getting involved. Ali soon puts a stop to that, in probably the best use of him, and the heels bail outside to cool down.
Back in, the heels have their heads rammed together and Hogan smashes Piper with an atomic drop. T now comes in with some impressive slams and hip tosses before tagging Hogan back in. Hogan sends Piper outside with a big boot but he gets lured to the floor and ends up getting walloped with a chair. Back inside, it’s heat on Hogan, as the heels work him over with some nice tandem stuff, including a double atomic drop.
Orndorff eventually misses a knee drop from the top rope, which allows Hogan to make a tag to T. T’s comeback is short lived however and he’s quickly nullified by Orndorff. T is clearly getting tired now, so Piper wisely puts him in a front facelock for a few moments before T breaks free and tags Hogan back in. With Hogan in, the match breaks down and Patterson gets distracted by Snuka trying to come in. As Patterson tries to eject Snuka, Orndorff holds Hogan in a full nelson in hope that Orton will come off the top rope and clobber him with the cast on his “broken” arm. However, Hogan is able to move and Orton ends up braining Orndorff, in a nice call back to the earlier tag match, only this time the heels are thwarted. Hogan pins Orndorff whilst T takes care of Piper and the faces are victorious!
WINNERS: HULK HOGAN AND MR. T BY PIN FALL
T got gassed near the end but he held his own generally well and the match was a lot of fun. Piper and Orton abandon Orndorff after the match, leaving him to wake up in the ring. He wakes like a startled wild animal, but the faces back off and allow him to leave without further incident. The show ends with Hogan and T being interviewed by Mean Gene and we get the end credits to play us out.
It’s interesting to watch WrestleMania I because it really doesn’t meet the expectation for what we consider a WrestleMania calibre card at all. In a lot of ways, this is just a house show, with a bigger than normal main event, that they happened to film.
It’s not an especially good show, but it breezes by at just 2 hours and 18 minutes, with even the bad matches enjoying decent crowd heat. Ultimately, the only reason to watch this is because it’s the first one, so it kind of earns itself a viewing owing to it being an historical curio rather than being a good show. If you haven’t seen it, it’s probably worth watching just the once, if only to say that you’ve seen it. Outside of that reason, I’d struggle to recommend watching it.
Next week we’ll look at a WrestleMania that had a torrid build up and suffered financially as consequence, but still produced possibly the best match in WrestleMania history. Yes, next week I invite you all to join me in Rosemont, Illinois for a WrestleMania that was unlucky for some, but exceedingly important for one of the biggest stars in wrestling history.
Thanks for reading