I’ll admit upfront I’ve been an on-again, off-again wrestling fan most of my life. I go through periods where the talent, storylines and general feel all come together into something absolutely fun and entertaining. And then the talent gets old, moves on or what have you, and I lose interest for a time. But I keep coming back. If you want to dismiss me as a fairweather fan, fair enough.
I grew up in the early 80s watching the AWA and migrated to the WWF when Hulk Hogan did sometime around 1984. Not by choice, just by virtue of one Saturday evening at 6 pm instead of AWA wrestling being on, WWF wrestling was on instead. I shrugged and watched. Wrestling was wrestling after all. I had little clue or inclination as an 8 year old the political and financial wranglings of various wrestling promotions. I just thought wrestling was wrestling, and whatever it called itself, be it the AWA or the WWF, I was going to watch.
I didn’t actually see Wrestlemania 1 until a few years after it happened. I couldn’t even tell you if it was available on CCTV where I lived, not that it would have mattered, since there’s no way my father would have taken me. By the time I did see it (sometime in 1988) wrestling had fundamentally changed into a nearly completely different animal and I thought Wrestlemania 1 was a curious antiquity. Cindy Lauper? She was sooo yesterday’s news! Who the hell was Matt Borne? (Answer in my Wrestlemania 9 review) Hell, the A-Team had been cancelled, and Mr. T was all but washed up by that point. So I think a fresh viewing, with new eyes and 30 years of Wrestlemanias to go upon is in order here.
The Cast and Crew:
Announcers: Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura.
Ring Announcer: Howard Finkel
Interviews: “Mean” Gene Okerlund
Host: Lord Alfred Hayes
It’s good to hear Gorilla Monsoon’s voice again, even though I wouldn’t say he was the best the WWF/E ever had. And of course, Jesse Ventura is one of the all time greats on the mic, so I’m pumped to hear his commentary. What the hell is Ventura wearing? A pink tuxedo? Gorilla throws to Finkel (who is, without a doubt, the greatest ring announcer of all time) who introduces ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund who sings a barely passable version of the Star Spangled Banner. As an aside, the rumour was that a prominent singer no-showed the event so Okerlund took their place. Perhaps Lauper wasn’t comfortable singing the anthem or they simply didn’t want her to, so Okerlund did it. It was okay.
Match 1: The Executioner vs. Tito Santana
A very nervous and stiff Lord Alfred Hayes introduces the first match while standing in the aisle on the way to the ring. Lord Al was always a b-team announcer in my opinion, but here he is particularly bad. This feels like this is his first time behind a microphone, even though it isn’t. He throws to Gene for pre-recorded interviews.
Tito Santana cuts a very face promo against a very generic, bland Executioner (a slimmer ‘Playboy’ Buddy Rose) who, in turn cuts a very generic, bland promo (‘I’m going after your LEG!’).
The crowd pops huge for the former Intercontinental champion. He was quite popular in 1985 and even managed another IC and tag team title reign later on, but one gets the sense that this was the beginning of his long decline in the Fed.
Not much to say in this match. An inexplicable criss-cross starts things off, but otherwise it’s a very basic formula. Santana goes on offense, then Executioner responds. Santana, then Executioner. Executioner does go after the leg, but doesn’t really play into the story of the match. Santana is a very solid worker and can put in a decent, crowd-pleasing match, but his style is very much early 80s and he would have trouble adjusting to Vince McMahon Jr’s vision of ‘sports entertainment’. This was the Executioner’s only Wrestlemania appearance, but Buddy Rose would return to the Fed sans mask as a much heavier jobber whose gimmick was he’d try to convince fans that he was 217 lbs when in fact he was 317 lbs. That and the ‘Blow-Away’ diet spots where Rose sell this miracle weight loss program where Rose would dump flour on his belly and sit in front of a fan and supposedly ‘blow away’ the fat. Yeah. I don’t get it either.
Match 2: SD Jones vs. King Kong Bundy
Monsoon throws to Lord Al who is still stiff and nervous as all hell, who then throws to Gene for the interviews. You are now getting the sense that this format of throwing to Lord Al and then throwing to Gene is very awkward. Clearly, Lord Al didn’t need to be there. You can forgive the first Wrestlemania a lot though as they were still finding their feet.
Gene interviews SD Jones, who I have fond memories of. He cuts a very personable babyface promo and leaves the interview area just as Bundy and Jimmy Hart are coming in camera left. Bundy cuts a decent heel promo, but Bundy simply doesn’t look menacing. He looks like a giant, blubbery baby.
This is the famous 9 second squash match (although bell to bell clocks in at 23 seconds). The beginning shows the ref checking wrestlers for foreign objects, which you almost never see anymore. This was clearly a match to put Bundy over as a killer, but this didn’t need to be a Wrestlemania match. A waste of time.
Match 3: Matt Borne vs. Ricky Steamboat
This time, the action cuts right to Gene… either Lord Al wasn’t ready or they realized this format isn’t working. Borne cuts a bizarre heel promo, putting over Steamboat big time, but claims he is ‘too nice’. Steamboat’s promos were never his strong suit either, just something about proving that he has a mean streak too. Riveting stuff.
Nothing says jobber like wearing a standard issue ‘Wrestlemania’ t-shirt in the ring, like Borne does. Pre ‘Dragon’ Steamboat looks like a million dollars, but gets a rather tepid reaction from the crowd. This match is obviously to put Steamboat over on a big stage.
This is a decent enough match. Borne is a good worker with nice, fluid moves. Obviously, Steamboat is one of the all-time greats in the ring. The top rope cross body block that finished the match popped the crowd huge. Getting Steamboat over is mission accomplished, as in the first two matches, it lacked any real drama.
Three matches into the inaugural Wrestlemania, and they were essentially, three enhancement matches. Mind you, early Wrestlemanias were traditionally main event-heavy, but these seem like little more than dark matches. We shall see.
Match 4: David Sammartino vs Brutus Beefcake
Nope, I guess Lord Al wasn’t ready the last time around since they throw back to him again, and he still awkwardly stutters through his lines. Monsoon says he is in the ‘locker room area’ when he is very clearly standing around the entranceway. In fact, wrestlers are walking around him on their way to/from the ring. He sticks out like a sore thumb. Take it away ‘Mean’ Gene…
Gene interviews David Sammartino, who I’m sure is a very nice fellow, but clearly lacks his father’s presence. David is in a very unenviable position. Show up with daddy and people pay attention, but they pay attention to daddy, not to you. Show up alone and people really could care less. And it’s easy to see why. He was dull as dishwater. His father was beloved, but it was also a different era. A tough Italian immigrant rags-to-riches success story in New York sold like gangbusters in the 60s, but was unlikely to wash in the glitz and glamour of the Rock n’ Wrestling mid 80s.
But somehow in the interviews, Beefcake manages to come off worse. Wrestlemania 1, big event, extravaganza and all that, and Beefcake’s manager Luscious Johnny Valiant is doing his thing (very competently), throws to Beefcake who freezes. For like 5 seconds. And then blows a raspberry while Valiant takes the mic away. Quite hilarious.
I should also point out that the outfits they are being interviewed in are not the outfits they are wrestling in. Okay, they say the interviews are pre-recorded so it’s not that big of a deal. But Beefcake is obviously wearing wrestling gear, not training gear or street clothes. Sorry, just had to point that out.
David gets a lukewarm pop, but Bruno arguably gets the biggest non-Hogan pop of the night. No surprises there. MSG was Bruno’s home turf for 20 years. You can almost see David’s career going down the tubes with that pop.
And the match? Oh dear God…
Stalling. Rest holds. Rest holds. Did I mention rest holds? Eventual interference from the far superior Luscious Johnny and Bruno. There was one point in the match where Monsoon and Ventura were discussing at length whether or not Sammartino was covered in baby oil and the pros and cons of applying baby oil.
This should have been a tag team match with the talented legends setting the pace and drama. It also wouldn’t have been so bad if they cut the length. This monstrosity lasted almost 12 minutes and the crowd were absolutely dead. Beefcake is limited in the ring, but has always looked good and had strong gimmicks. Sammartino is a decent mat worker and solidly built, but his style is about 20 years out of date in 1985. This match should have been left off the card.
About the only thing that this match highlighted is how utterly good Monsoon and Ventura are as a commentary team, especially Ventura. He made a dull match like this sound riveting at times, the discussion about baby oil aside.
MATCH 5: JUNKYARD DOG vs. GREG ‘THE HAMMER’ VALENTINE – INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH
After some apparent mistiming and/or a pause for intermission, Monsoon awkwardly throws to Lord Al whose night is not getting any better. He is holding a mic and a Wrestlemania program and you can see both shake in his hands, he appears that nervous. As he is talking, Valentine and Jimmy Hart cut in front of the camera on the way to the ring. He throws to Mean Gene for the interviews.
Greg Valentine cuts the best promo of the night so far. Yes, you read that correctly. Gravelly heel promo, pretty standard fare, but the bar has been abysmally low tonight. It’s hard to believe, but Valentine was a big time heel in those days, who 18 months prior had one of the most talked about matches of the 1980s – the dog collar match with Roddy Piper at Starrcade ’83.
JYD enters camera right and he’s always got a big smile, even when he’s trying to be tough. Not hard to see why he was so popular. When even the face wrestlers were by and large tough guys, a happy-go-lucky guy who dances to a catchy tune is impossible not to like.
Fink introduces Valentine first. Now, this is a pet peeve of mine. Valentine is the champion. Title holders should always be introduced second, no matter how popular the challenger is. Then JYD is announced and the crowd pops huge – maybe even bigger than Bruno. JYD was insanely over in the mid-80s, and it certainly wasn’t for his work rate. He was a lot of fun though. I notice for the first time tonight that JYD is the first person to come out to music (Another One Bites the Dust at the live event, Grab Them Cakes in subsequent releases) and it really adds to the atmosphere.
Ah, the 80s, when wrestlers had their initials on their boots, like ‘GV’ Greg Valentine does.
Standard lock up after a little grandstanding and the action goes back and forth for a minute until JYD does his headbutts when he is on his hands and knees. I always felt these looked terrible. Test of strength, which Valentine wins. Rest hold. Valentine takes control and works on JYD’s leg to set him up for the figure four leglock. This kind of storytelling has been sorely lacking so far in the card. JYD reverses an attempted figure four with a boot in the ass. Punching and kicking back and forth until JYD hits a couple of big headbutts and Valentine is reeling. Hart interferes and takes an accidental bump on the floor. JYD punches and headbutts Valentine who retaliates by raking the eyes, double leg takedown and a pin with his legs on the ropes. Valentine wins with a dirty pin.
Then something truly bizarre happens. Tito Santana hits the ring, and convinces referee Dick Kroll that Valentine cheated and Kroll restarts the match.
By this time, Valentine is out of the ring on his way to the back and gets counted out. Ventura is angry, showing what would become his heel colour commentary personae, saying if the ref didn’t see it, Valentine got away with it. I’m so looking forward to his commentaries in future Wrestlemanias.
Why on earth would a ref just take Santana’s word about this? It makes no sense. If a ref’s decision isn’t final, why wouldn’t any old official standing around ringside tell the ref when he missed something? I hate sloppy booking like this. In fact, this match makes no sense. If you wanted a crowd-pleasing finish, book Santana to win the title at Wrestlemania, the match could have been longer than 5 minutes and JYD could have jerked the curtain with The Executioner in the opening match and gotten just as big a pop as he did here. Hell, Santana won the title a few months after this event at a house show in Baltimore. Why not have that match at Wrestlemania with a million plus people watching?
But the crowd was happy, so I guess that is what matters in the end.
Grumble grumble grumble…
MATCH 6: BARRY WINDHAM AND MIKE ROTUNDO VS. NIKOLAI VOLKOFF AND THE IRON SHEIK – TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH
I’m done picking on Lord Al, so let’s go to Mean Gene..
I love the Iron Sheik. He is supposed to be a brutal, America and freedom-hating heel, but when he starts talking you can’t help but love the guy. ‘You know, Gene Mean…’ classic. It’s good to see Blassie again and Volkoff was another classic 80s heel. Some beautiful Cold War heat. Younger fans probably wouldn’t understand how much these guys were hated. It was great.
Then Rotundo and Windham show up with Capt. Lou Albano (in the waning days when faces had managers). Capt. Lou says they’re going to try really hard and Rotundo says they are through talking and they are on their way to the ring. Windham says the exact same thing. Well, thanks for showing up. I also might mention that they say they are on the way to the ring while wearing polo shirts and jeans. Capt. Lou is sipping a soda. You might want to give it an effort guys. You know. Wrestlemania. Iran. Soviet Union. Fight for our freedoms. America, fuck yeah and all that? No? Okay, sorry to bother you guys. They look annoyed they have to talk.
Fink introduces the heels, and it’s all gold. Three hall of famers in Blassie, Sheik and Volkoff. Aaah, they don’t make them like this any more. Waving the Iranian and Soviet flags to massive boos and being pelted with garbage.
Fink: “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Volkoff requests that you all rise and respect his singing of the Soviet National Anthem!”
BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! One angry fan on camera makes an exaggerated jerk off motion to the heels. Absolute gold.
I love this spot. I always have. The ring fills with garbage when Sheik grabs the mic: “Iran number 1! Russia number 1! USA? Hah! Ptooey!”
Sorry, reminiscing here a little.
Rotundo and Windham hit the ring to music (Generic rock guitar music on the video version). Big pops for them and fair enough. They are excellent wrestlers.
Rotundo and Windham get the early offense and sustain it for the first few minutes of the match until Volkoff manages to pull Rotundo’s hair and get the tag where the heels take control. Rotundo has brief flashes of offence, but cannot make the tag. An obligatory USA! chant starts, but ends quickly. Rotundo reverses a Sheik abdominal stretch and makes the hot tag to Windham. After a flurry of offence and all four men brawling in the ring, Sheik hits Windham with Blassie’s cane, and Volkoff pins Windham to win the Tag Team titles.
Fairly entertaining match, but it felt very rushed. I’m wondering if they were under some sort of time constraint, because this should have been about 5 minutes longer. Sheik tells off the fans on the mic after putting on the belt. Love it!
Gene interviews the heels post-match where Gene asks Blassie where his cane is. “What cane?” barks Blassie. Iron Sheik calls him Gene Mean again (always makes me laugh) and puts over Iran and the USSR. Good stuff.
MATCH 7: ANDRE THE GIANT VS. BIG JOHN STUDD – $15,000 BODY SLAM MATCH
Lord Al rambles and rambles and throws to Mean Gene who is with Studd and Bobby ‘the Brain’ Heenan. They have a WWF logo gym bag full of cash, money they have put up as a wager. Andre gets $15,000 if he can slam Big John Studd. If not, he has to retire.
$15,000? Is that all? $15,000 is not a lot of money to bet your career against. This is Wrestlemania, boys… think big! I could imagine kayfabe Bobby Heenan could put together $50,000 or $100,000 easily. so make the number big.
Andre gets a surprisingly tepid pop from the crowd. Odd. I remember Andre being much beloved, but this is also the beginning of Andre’s physical decline. He is amazing to look at as a person, but even by 1985 Andre’s best days were well behind him. He had trouble walking by this point, there is a pronounced stoop in his posture and there is a lot of choke spots and other rest holds in the corner. After 2 minutes, Andre looks winded. A ‘Slam! Slam! Slam!’ chant starts and ends almost as quickly. Andre has Studd in a long bearhug spot, which is good for Andre’s limited cardio. And then a headlock. More awkward punches and ax handles and utterly abysmal kicks. He can’t get his leg up past Studd’s knees. Andre decides that’s enough and slams Studd, winning the match to a big pop. He grabs the bag of money and starts throwing some into the crowd until Heenan grabs the bag and runs off.
Frankly, a poor match. There was apparently a real beef between Andre and Studd, which may partially explain why Studd mounted absolutely no offence in this match. There was zero drama, nobody expected Andre to lose, rendering his possible retirement a non-factor. Next.
MATCH 8: WENDI RICHTER VS. LEILANI KAI – WOMEN’S TITLE MATCH
The first of the two ‘Rock n’ Wrestling’ matches, with Cyndi Lauper in Richter’s corner and The Fabulous Moolah in Kai’s corner.
Lord Al gets a kiss from the heels on their way to the ring as he tries to make it to the end of his gig with a big lipstick stain on his lip, and trying not to laugh. He throws to Gene for the interviews.
Gene interviews Lauper and Richter, and Lauper is actually pretty good. Much better than, like 75% of the roster thus far tonight. You can tell she’s having a ball and yet taking it seriously at the same time. Richter’s promo wasn’t actively terrible, but nothing to write home about. Lauper’s enthusiasm is absolutely infectious.
Moolah trips over her words and Kai once again, is neither terrible or inspired.
But it’s Shakespeare compared to the actual wrestling. This was, hands down, the worst match of the night.
Richter and Kai engaged in a 6 minute botchfest filled with miscues and sloppy moves. It was painful to sit through. Frankly, the best spots involved Lauper and that’s no joke. Richter won by ‘reversing’ a cross body block, and by ‘reversing’, I mean, ‘I was supposed to roll that cross body into a pin, but I couldn’t get the roll on our first try, so Leilani, can you just please awkwardly roll on your back while I haphazardly flop on you?’ Seamless.
It was fun watching Lauper and Richter dance wildly in the ring though. Lauper was the MVP in this match. Again, I’m not kidding. Her enthusiasm was very entertaining and you could tell she was really enjoying herself.
MAIN EVENT: RODDY PIPER AND PAUL ORNDORFF VS. HULK HOGAN AND MR. T
After the celebratory interview from Lauper and Richter, we throw to Fink who introduces Yankees manager Billy Martin as the guest ring announcer, who introduces Liberace and the Rockettes who spend almost an eternity in the ring doing the famous Rockettes synchonized kick routine. Fair play to Liberace who was in his mid 60s at the time and could keep up with them. It’s an iconic Wrestlemania moment, and Liberace looks like he was having a great time.
Then Martin introduces Muhammed Ali, who gets a huge pop and chants of ‘Ali’ from the crowd. Ali is the outside referee. Pat Patterson claimed that Ali’s Parkinson’s prevented him from inside referee duties, but Patterson is renowned for finding his way on the card for Wrestlemania paydays, so who knows.
Then Piper and Orndorff are introduced, led in by a pipe band. This is one of my favourite entrances of any Wrestlemania I’ve ever watched, although the band looked really cramped in the aisle leading to the ring. Piper has always been one of my favourite wrestlers, with his swagger and his smirk. Orndorff looks like a million bucks as usual. They are seconded by Cowboy Bob Orton.
Then Hogan and T (seconded by Jimmy Snuka) are introduced (Eye of the Tiger live, Real American on video) and the crowd goes nuts. There is an elevated shot of the ring during Hogan’s entrance and you can see the beginning of the merchandising juggernaut Hogan would become as there are a sea of yellow foam Hulk #1 fingers in the crowd. The place looks absolutely jam-packed and feels claustrophobic. In a good way, though. Today’s configurations separate the fans from the ring so there can be a lot of outside action, but here you can’t see that. It looks as if the fans are actually standing around the outside of the ring. Really cool.
Wait a minute, something just struck me… this is the main event. No pre-recorded promos for your Fed’s best talkers? We got nothing promos from all the undercard wrestlers, but nothing from your main event stars? Wow, this first Wrestlemania is really rough around the edges.
During the pre-match rigamarole, Orndorff broke the janitor’s broom over his knee. What a jerk! The poor guy was just trying to sweep the debris from the ring. He looked like he was about 75 and I just imagine him having to beg Vince for funds for a new broom and Vince just shouting ‘You’re fiiiirred!!’ at him.
With Liberace’s fancy little bell ding-a-linging, we are on our way.
Orndorff and Hogan start, but Piper begs to begin and Orndorff obliges. Then T begs Hulk to be let in and Hulk obliges him. The story of this match is basically seeing if T has what it takes to make it in a wrestling ring. After trading face slaps, Piper rides him amateur wrestling-style and T gets out. Monsoon mentions that T has an extensive amateur wrestling background (which he does) so that kind of killed that story.
T gives Piper a decent fireman’s carry throw that leads to all four men brawling, with Orton and Ali jumping in the ring. In an awkward spot, Snuka climbs the top rope and poses for his trademark splash, but realizes there’s nobody there to splash, so he just kind of jumps down. I don’t know if someone missed a cue or not, but it’s funny.
Ali is restoring order, and it looked like he gave Piper a pretty fair shot. He chases Orton out and swings at him to the delight of the crowd. Then the heels do the ‘we’re leaving’ routine, and after Hogan breaks up Patterson’s count they return. Order is restored and Hogan beats on Piper. I’m starting to remember how utterly limited his moveset is, but it doesn’t seem to matter to this crowd. Hogan tags in T, and they double clothesline Piper. T then bodyslams Piper and hiptosses an interfering Orndorff that looks pretty decent. T’s timing is pretty good. Mind you, he’s working with a fantastic worker in Orndorff. T slams Piper again as Orndorff gets nailed by Hogan. T tags Hogan who trades punches wildly with Piper. A whip off the ropes, a big boot from Hogan that sends Piper over the top rope to the floor. Damn, that arena floor looks absolutely filthy. It looks sticky and littered with garbage. Orndorff nails Hogan, who also spills onto the floor. Piper nails Hogan on the back with a chair, which is heavily padded, so it lessens the effect somewhat. Orndorff beats on Hogan as well before getting chased off by Ali.
The action returns to the ring, and the heels take turns beating up on Hogan, including a double atomic drop, which I haven’t seen in ages. Ali jumps back in the ring to restore order, and I’m not so sure he’s supposed to be doing that, but he seems to be getting wrapped up in his role. Patterson is trying to desperately get Ali out so not to upset the storyline too much.
Now Orndorff is on offence against Hulk. Orndorff is such a good in-ring worker, his moves are smooth as silk. He gives Hulk an absolutely gorgeous looking suplex. Orndorff tags Piper, who gives Hulk his wild punches and a knee lift and a two count. Orndorff tags in with a top rope ax handle, again smooth as silk. Another two count. A backbreaker and an awkward climb to the top rope and misses the elbow. Hulk crawls over to T for the hot tag…
And makes it! A couple of eye gouges from T on the heels. T unleashes a flurry of punches on Orndorff but Piper interferes and cuts the offence short. Some double-teaming by the heels. Ali once again tries climbing into the ring, only to be chased off by Patterson. Hilarious. At least Ali is taking his role seriously.
Orndorff rides T’s shoulders, which he can’t get out of this time. Orndorff tags Piper who puts T in a front facelock, but slips out and tags to Hulk. Hulk and Piper brawl and Orndorff comes in, but gets caught by Hulk and he gives the heels a ‘double noggin’ knocker’ to the delight of the crowd.
Hogan gives Orndorff a couple of headlock punches but Orndorff reverses into a nice belly-to-back suplex. Both men are down. Piper tries to interfere, but Patterson holds him back. Orton jumps in, Snuka intercepts and headbutts him. Patterson throws Snuka out and Orton climbs the top rope while Orndorff has Hogan in a full nelson. Piper tries to nail Hogan but gets tangled up with T. While Patterson is attending to that, Orton tries to hit Hogan off the top rope with his casted arm, but misses and hits Orndorff instead. 1-2-3 and it’s done. The heroes win and MSG goes nuts in a sea of floppy yellow foam fingers. Piper and Orton exit while Orndorff is being attended by the faces. He flips out, and exits reluctantly. Hogan does his celebratory posedown with the celebrities in the ring.
All in all, as a wrestling match, it’s not great. There was too much going on and had trouble establishing a real story. T wasn’t bad, all things considered, but he was obviously very limited in what he could do. Hogan took on the lion’s share of the work and he did it well. Orndorff and Piper are two of the all time greats, but were kind of buried in this match, and that’s a shame.
As a spectacle though, it did it’s job. The purpose of this match was to put over the WWF as a mainstream and viable form of entertainment, which it did well. Hulk Hogan was now the biggest mainstream wrestling star. Him and T’s media appearances, their roles in Rocky III, Hulk appearing in the A-Team, their shows on MTV and Vince McMahon’s shrewd business sense all culminated to catapult the WWF far ahead of it’s rivals. It was no longer embarrassing to be a wrestling fan. If Cyndi Lauper could enjoy wrestling then so could a lot of people.
In a post-match interview, T puts over the WWF and Hogan is, well… Hogan. Curiously, he puts over Snuka more than he does T, even though Snuka didn’t really do anything. I know T generated some backstage animosity, especially with Piper, so maybe a subtle snub by Hogan? Who knows. This is the first promo I recall hearing Snuka do, and it’s not great. Shot of the arena emptying as Monsoon and Ventura sees us out to stills of the event. And once again may I say… what a great pink tux Ventura is wearing!
So, how good was Wrestlemania I?
It depends on what you define as good. The card itself felt like an average mid 80s house show. Most of the matches were pointless (Santana vs. Executioner, Borne vs. Steamboat) but mercifully most of them were also short. The abysmal Sammartino vs. Beefcake was an astonishing 12 minutes long. It felt like 30. I felt like other wrestlers could have wrestled on this card, like Don Muraco, Pedro Morales, Jimmy Snuka and Bob Orton.
There were decent matches and poor matches, but no standout classics.
The promos ranged from good to atrocious. JYD, Blassie, Sheik, Volkoff, Hogan and Lauper(!) were good, while Borne, Moolah and the US Express were dismal. Why on earth wasn’t the main eventers given pre-match promos? Piper, one of wrestling history’s biggest talkers had no promo at all either before or after. Someone dropped the ball there.
The technical issues clearly needed work. Monsoon and Ventura were good on commentary but had not yet quite developed that chemistry they would have in future cards. I miss commentators talking about the match like it’s an actual contest. Ventura is especially brilliant at this, the best of all time in my opinion. He gives us little details about how a certain hold should be applied or how painful a particular hold is and why. And while he is a heel commentator, he always puts over both heels and faces, which puts over the match. Lord Alfred Hayes was terrible. He looked utterly terrified to be there and kept stuttering on his words. ‘Mean’ Gene is the best wrestling interviewer in the history of the business, bar none. Great voice, great chemistry with the wrestlers, but unfortunately wasn’t given a lot to work with here. Obviously, it goes without saying there will never be another Howard Finkel. The format of Monsoon throwing to Hayes throwing to Okerlund was sloppy and disjointed. It might have been better if Hayes were a little more relaxed, but it stuck out like a sore thumb.
MSG looked like Vince Sr. was still running things. It would take a little time before the WWF had crisp lighting, clean looking aisles, mats on the floor. The outside of the ring looks crowded. Darkening the house lights for the matches gives this a very house show feel. It’s not a drawback per se. I actually like some aspects of it. The crowd looks like they are packed in tight, which gives things a manic, claustrophobic atmosphere. But it looks bush league by today’s standards. It reminds me a lot of AWA house shows circa 1982.
If Wrestlemania as it stood didn’t have Cyndi Lauper and Mr. T involved to give it some mainstream credibility, I have no doubt it would have been a financial failure. For wrestling fans, this was a slightly below average card at best. But the constant media appearances and hype as well as the genuine charisma of Hulk Hogan generated enough buzz to make this a success and convert enough new fans to carry over to future Wrestlemanias. It was a hell of a gamble. And it paid off.
Card MVP: There’s no standout here. Although I said that if Wrestlemania didn’t have the celebrity buzz of Cyndi Lauper or Mr. T it probably wouldn’t have been successful. By the same token, it’s hard to give either one of them the MVP because they didn’t do that much. All in all, I have to give it to Hulk Hogan. I know a lot of you are groaning, but I’m really having trouble. I’d say Piper if he weren’t in a tag team, but as it stood his character was buried amongst all the other bodies. Hogan was over with the crowd big-time, so he really does deserve it.
Dud of the Night: Lord Al Hayes. If you’ve seen the card, it’s obvious. He was terrible and his position as the ‘host’ was redundant.
Watch this show for its historical significance in wrestling’s history, but that’s about it. Not much else to see here. 4 out of 10.