Saturday, February 19, 2011

WWF Wrestlemania I

WWF Wrestlemania I
March 31st, 1985
Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York
Attendance: 19,121

Every story has a beginning, and this is the beginning of the modern era of professional wrestling as we know it, the original WrestleMania supercard from Madison Square Garden. While Vince McMahon wasn't the first to think of a PPV wrestling event (Jim Crockett beat him to the punch with the original Starrcade event in November of 1983), he was the one to really make the PPV format a force to be reckoned with in the sports entertainment world, and it all starts here with the original Wrestlemania. I decided I've got to start knocking these early shows out so I can get caught up in my modern reviews, so here we are. Enough preambling though, lets get to the show!

Your hosts are Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse "The Body" Ventura

The show opens with Mean Gene Okerlund singing the Star Spangled Banner, and not doing a half-bad job at if I may say so myself. Jesse digs Okerlund's singing as well because he compares him to Robert Goulet without a hint of irony, really dating this show even further to a modern viewer.

After the national anthem we cut to a pre-recorded interview of Tito Santana about his upcoming match with the then-undefeated Executioner (Buddy Rose). Buddy tries to cut a promo as well but he sounds completely lost. No idea what Vince saw in this guy at any point, ever.

Tito Santana vs. The Executioner

No real backstory here, they just built the Executioner up with a few wins on TV so Tito could have someone to squash for the big show. Tito starts off hot with a big cross body that sends the Executioner to the floor. Back inside the ring Tito applies a side headlock and then rams his head into the canvas. Executioner tries to mount some offense with some headbutts and a boot to the gut. He slaps on an awkward stepover toe hold, but Tito counters out of it easily. Executioner actually counters one of Tito's spots with a back body drop and he goes to the top, but Santana shoots him off. Executioner goes back to the leg again but Tito shoots him all the way to the floor outside. He slams him back inside and then hits him with a flying forearm, then slaps on the Figure Four on the Executioner for the submission victory at 4:47. Took awhile for the bell to ring for some reason. Just a squash match to put over Tito infront of a national audience, but I've seen worse.

We get a few pre-recorded words now with both SD Jones and his opponent King Kong Bundy about their upcoming match.

King Kong Bundy vs. SD Jones

I smell a squash. Jones tries for a splash but Bundy picks him up into a bear hug and slams him into the corner. He follows it up with a big avalanche in the corner and then a big splash finishes it in "supposedly" record time at :23 seconds. The ring announcer claims it's a new record with the match only being 9 seconds, but it was actually more than twice that. Super-squash city. ¼*

Another pre-recorded interview segment, this time with Ricky Steamboat and his opponent Matt Borne, who would go on to play the heel incarnation of Doink the Clown in the early 90s.

Ricky Steamboat vs. Matt Borne

This should be a technically solid match-up. Collar and elbow hook-up to start us off, and Ricky leapfrogs over Borne and starts laying in those deadly karate chops. Steamboat flips out of a back suplex attempt and slaps a side headlock onto Borne. He flips out of another attempt and then gives Borne a big atomic drop. Axe handle off the top from Steamboat and back to the side-headlock we go. Big belly-to-belly suplex from Borne and then a snap-suplex gets Borne a two count. Big right hands from Steamboat and then he gives him a big back suplex. Neckbreaker by Ricky followed by a knee-drop gets Steamboat another two count. Steamboat leapfrogs over him again and then comes off the top with a big flying body press for the win at 4:37. This was pretty good stuff while it lasted, and it really makes you wish they could have given them another five minutes or maybe kept Borne around for more than a cup of coffee in the 80s because these two worked very well together. **½

More pre-recorded comments, this time with both David and Bruno Sammartino and then Brutus Beefcake and his manager Luscious Johnny Valiant. This was during the brief period of time where Vince let Bruno think he was actually going to push his son David to be a major star, before realizing of course that David sucked and putting an end to that.

David Sammartino vs. Brutus Beefcake

David somehow makes his dad Bruno look like Chris Benoit in technical proficiency in comparison. That's how bad he was. Nice little pop for Bruno, as this is the house that he OWNED through-out the 70s while he carried the old WWWF on his back. This is before Beefcake became Hogan's bosom buddy and he was just a run-of-the-mill arrogant heel with a manager. They exchange waistlocks to start before Beefcake bails for a time-out. Back inside David counters a body slam with an armdrag and goes to work on the right arm of Beefcake. Beefcake reverses a hiplock with one of his own, but Sammartino applies an Indian death lock briefly and then goes back to the step-over toehold. BIg scoop slam from Beefcake and Brutus has the upper hand now, laying in forearms on David. Sammartino gives Beefcake a big back body drop, and then both men just start brawling at this point with lazy kicks and punches. Big suplex from Sammartino gets a close two count. David gets tossed to the outside and Johnny V slams him on the concrete, which of course sends papa Bruno running to the rescue. Bruno lays out Johnny and Beefcake in the ring and both men are disqualified at 11:44. Now why the hell do you give freaking David Sammartino 10+ minutes, but both Tito and Ricky's matches don't even get 5 minutes? That's just cruel Vinnie Mac.

After the match we get (you guessed it) MORE pre-recorded goodness, this time with Greg Valentine and the Junk Yard Dog. Valentine says he's the master of the figure four leglock. A certain Mr. Fliehr might have something to say about that Gregory.

WWF Intercontinental Title Match
Greg Valentine (C) vs. Junk Yard Dog

There were only a few people that seemed to work well with JYD, and Valentine was one of them, so this shouldn't be too bad. Dog takes the early advantage with his trademark headbutts. After regaining his composure Valentine returns to the ring and they do the old fashioned Greco-Roman knucklelock test of strength spot. Valentine tries to work the Dog's leg, but they just end up brawling into the corner instead. Valentine does the old Flair Flop and Jimmy Hart jumps on the apron to distract the ref. Valentine accidentally nails Hart, which the crowd loves, and JYD unloads with more big shots into the corner. Valentine rolls him up though and props his legs up on the ring ropes for leverage and the cheap win at 5:59. Tito Santana runs down to tell the ref what happened though and the ref orders the match to re-start. Valentine will have none of that though and he just leaves and is counted out to lose the match but retain his title at 6:54 officially. You'd think on your biggest show of the year you would get a clean finish for a title match, but not here I guess. Not particularly bad, but certainly nothing special. *

Backstage we get some more pre-recorded comments, this time from Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Shiek as well as their opponents in Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo. Captain Lou Albano is their manager and he appears to be drinking a beer while the interview is going on. Lou would've fit right in with Steve Austin!

WWF Tag Team Title Match
Barry Windham/Mike Rotundo (C) vs. Iron Shiek/Nikolai Volkoff

This is about as cut-and-paste as booking gets. Team of popular athletic good-looking young Americans versus a team of nasty old commies for the honor of AMURICA! Windham and Rotundo would be gone pretty soon, back to Jim Crockett Promotions while Volkoff and the Shiek were already starting to wind down their in-ring careers. Rotundo and Shiek start us off with Rotunda flying around like a young spitfire for a bit before tagging Windham in. A bit of heel miscommunication leads to Volkoff eating a dropkick from the Shiek. Volkoff tags in now and Windham and Rotundo trade quick tags, working on Volkoff's left arm. Shiek tags in and gets a big gut-wrench suplex for a two count. Rotundo counters out of a suplex attempt but Volkoff tags in and hangs him up on the top rope. Rotundo goes back to trying to work that same arm as the big "USA!" chants start up. Sunset flip gets Rotundo a two count. Shiek tags in and slaps an abdominal stretch on Rotundo, but Mike counters with a hiplock. Hot tag to Windham, and he starts cleaning house. Big bulldog from Windham but Shiek breaks the count up. Rotundo inadvertandly distracts the ref and Shiek nails Windham over the back with a cane for the cheap win and the titles at 6:55. This was actually pretty good with a red hot crowd and lots of frequent tags, really fast-paced stuff considering the match involved the Shiek and Volkoff. Give it some more time and a better finish and this could've been great. **¼

After the match Mean Gene gets a few words with the new tag team champions and their manager Classy Freddie Blassie, who claims there's no controversy in their title win.

$15,000 Body Slam Match
Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd

This was a pretty great angle at the time as Studd and King Kong Bundy alongside Bobby Heenan had been terrorizing Andre for many months, attacking him frequently and accusing Andre of no longer having it anymore. That leads us to this match, where if Andre can slam Studd he'll win $15,000 dollars of the Brain's money, but if he can't, then Andre must retire from wrestling. Unfortunately Andre was right on the brink of his big downfall in terms of in-ring ability at this point though, so nobody was expecting a five star classic here. Big headbutts from Andre to start and Studd takes a quick breather, talking strategy with The Brain. Back inside Studd tries to slam Andre but he can't get him up. Andre slaps on a bear-hug now, and that's about as exciting as this match is going to get. They continue to brawl a bit into the corner and then Andre tries for a chinlock. Andre tries for a backdrop but Studd sees it and goes for a kick, but Andre grabs his leg and lays some more hammer-fists down onto Studd. Studd comes out of the corner and Andre picks him up and he gives him the big body slam right there for the win and the $15,000 dollars at 5:56. Andre tries tossing the money out to the fans but Heenan snatches the bag away and runs off with it. Like I said, it was a good angle, but the match itself was awful. ¾*

Backstage Mean Gene Okerlund gets a few words with Cyndi Lauper and Wendi Richter. Lauper helped bring in some great publicity for this event, but she seemed lost during the interview and later on after the match. Leilani Kai and Moolah promise to retain as well.

WWF Women's Title Match
Leilani Kai (C) vs. Wendi Richter

As crazy as it sounds to modern fans, this was actually one of the big draws for the show at the time, the WWF having gained a ton of national exposure after holding the "Brawl to End it All" event on MTV the year before where Richter had first defeated Moolah for the title. Richter would go on to be a good draw for the company during house shows until she wound up on Vince's bad side and was the original victim to the Vince "screwjob", a good 12 years before Montreal. Lockup between the ladies to start us off and that quickly deteriorates into hair-pulling. Snapmare gets Kai a two count. Leilani starts flat-out choking Wendi but Richter wraps her legs around her in a body scissors. They both try for a move but both seem to just kind of fall, and it's a quick two count for Wendi. That looked bad. Back to the hair-pulling snapmare from Kai. Moolah tries to interfere but Cyndi Lauper intervenes and breaks it up. Back in the ring Richter comes back with a few big right hands to Kai's midsection. Sort of a reverse Death Valley Driver gets Richter a two count. That was a pretty spiffy move for an 80s women's match. Backbreaker from Kai gets a two count of her own. Kai comes off the top with a cross-body block, but Richter rolls through and hooks the leg for the win and the title at 6:13. This was probably better than your average Diva's match these days, which I'm not sure is a good or bad thing. Hot crowd, mediocre match.

After the match Richter tries to cut a celebratory promo with Mean Gene, but Cyndi just grabs the mic and starts yelling about how she stopped Moolah from interfering, leaving Richter with maybe two words in what's probably the biggest moment of her life to that point. Kind of a dick move Cyndi.

Before the main event gets started, legendary New York Yankees manager Billy Martin is introduced and does the ring introductions. Liberace of all people comes out and does a little dance with some Vegas showgirls, the point of which is still lost on me to this day. Martin introduces our special guest referee for the main event, the legendary Muhammad Ali who gets a big pop from the MSG crowd who chants his name for a bit. This was before Parkinsons did it's worst to Ali and he was still lively and mobile, and I've always loved his involvement in this match. It adds some credibility to the whole thing in my eyes to have a REAL world's champion fighter out there.

Hulk Hogan/Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper/Paul Orndorff

The amount of heat Piper gets here is crazy and is why anyone looking to get into the business as a heel should study the man's work intensely. Originally his partner was supposed to be "Dr. D" Dave Schultz, who pitched the idea of the entire program to Vince, but of course Schultz got in a ton of hot water after he infamously assaulted 20/20 reporter John Stossel on national television in defense of not breaking kayfabe. It's kind of ironic too because to this day everyone will tell you Vince was the one who told Schultz to slap Stossel around in the first place, so you can't help but feel a bit bad for Schultz, watching his own idea take place on a stage like this with him nowhere to be found. Mr. T obviously couldn't wrestle much, but he didn't need to have technical skills for a match like this, as this was all about the hot crowd dying to see the always annoying Roddy Piper FINALLY get his comeuppance from the Hulkster. Liberace rings the bell for us (seriously, how did no one realize this man was gay at the time? HOW?!) and we're off! Hogan and Piper seem to start, but Mr. T wants the tag and Hogan gives it to him. Huge staredown between Piper and Mr. T and then Piper slaps him in the face and takes him down with a waistlock takedown. Piper dominating with pure wrestling holds here to start on the inexperienced Mr. T. T gives Piper a fireman's carry slam though and things just start breaking down as all four men are brawling now. Cowboy Bob Orton tries to get involved and Ali hits the ring to restore order and clean house. After some stalling they return to the ring and Hogan starts clearing house, easily disposing of Piper and Orndorff like a couple of chumps. T tags in now and he starts clearing house, slamming Piper and Orndorff at will before tagging Hogan back in. We transition into basic formula stuff here with the heels double-teaming on Hogan while Mr. T goes crazy on the apron, every time he tries to come in the ref of course stops him. This goes on for awhile until finally Orndorff misses a flying knee and Hogan gets the hot tag to Mr. T. He cleans house briefly but then Orndorff, Piper, and Cowboy Bob Orton all beatdown on Mr. T behind the ref's back. Hogan tags back in though and he lays out Piper and Orndorff with the old noggin-knocker spot. Bob Orton tries to get involved again, but suddenly Superfly Jimmy Snuka pops up out of fucking nowhere and makes the save, long enough for Orton to accidentally hit Orndorff with his cast and Hogan gets the cover for the win at 13:37. This is one of those matches that to a modern fan might not seem very good from an in-ring perspective, but for it's time and place and for everyone involved, this was a damn fine match all things considered with crazy heat and it helped solidify the entire show as a success. ***

After the match Mr. T and Hogan do a post-match interview, saying their usual rah-rah promo shtick to close the show out.

Bottom Line:
From a wrestling perspective, this show and many of the early 'Manias would probably be considered in the range of "dogshit" to most modern fans, but because of the overall historical importance of the entire show and the fun of the main event, there's no possible way you can't recommend this show. Essential and required viewing for any wrestling fan, easy Thumbs Up.

Score: 7/10

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