Saturday, 2 February 2013

EVENT REVIEW: WWF Wrestlemania I

Madison Square Garden, New York City
March 31, 1985

If somebody put a gun to your head and ordered you to name the most important pro wrestling event of all time..Well, it would be a bit absurd and overly-harsh, wouldn't it? Though at least you could tell them with some certainty that such an honor can only go to the first ever World Wrestling Federation spectacular, Wrestlemania. 

Surely no other event quite changed the game like Vince McMahon's answer to Starcade. This was the event that created a legend still going strong nigh on thirty years later. This was the event which ushered in a new era of professional wrestling, turning our beloved 'fake sport' into a multi-million dollar entertainment spectacular and this was the event, which, for all its pomp and circumstance wasn't actually very good.

What did actually go down at WWE's first Wrestlemania? Let's find out, shall we?

WWF (WWE) WRESTLEMANIA 1: Gorilla Monsoon & Jesse Ventura welcome us to 'The Wrestling Extravaganza of All Time!'
Following your typical cheesy-80s introduction, complete with aching synth rock and terrible pictures of tonight's competitors, Gorilla Monsoon welcomed us to 'The wrestling extravaganza of all time.' Sadly, this wasn't to be the last awkward turn-of-phase to be heard this evening.

Gorilla and broadcast partner Jesse 'The Body' Ventura, then handed over to Howard Finkle, who introduced the one and only Mean Gene Okerlund for his rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. Interestingly, neither Gene nor the majority of the MSG crowd seemed to know the words.

From Okerlund via Monsoon/Ventura and a bumbling Lord Alfred Hayes (who for all the world looked like he had no idea how he'd ended up there), we were at last sent to pre-recorded comments from our opening combatants.

Tito Santana told Okerlund that he had 'some goals' and that nothing would get in the way of such goals, not even The Executioner, before said Executioner (Buddy Rose in an awful mask) fumbled his way through a retort in which he gave away his match strategy of attacking Santana's leg.

Tito Santana vs. The Executioner
WWF (WWE) WRESTLEMANIA 1: The Executioner gives his tactics away to Mean Gene Okerlund
'I tell ya, Gino. Wrestlemania has lived up to everything I thought it would be,' quipped Jesse Ventura before either man had even locked up in the first ever Wrestlemania match. Clearly The Body hadn't given the event much of a change before it had even begun.

Anyway, down to the action as Chico and The Executioner went at it in a fairly decent opening match.

Modern-day fans may not find much to get excited about here, but it was at least an enjoyable, textbook encounter which ended with a crowd-popping win for Santana.
Your Winner: Tito Santana

Once again we had an awkward link-up from a clearly-nervous Alfred Hayes. Quite possibly reading from some sort of auto-cue (or, if not, looking for one), Hayes handed us back to Mean Gene with more pre-recorded interviews from the "super wrestlers."

This time round, Special Delivery Jones promised to 'Get Down' for us, before his opponent, King Kong Bundy promised to squash S.D

S.D Jones vs. King Kong Bundy (with Jimmy Hart)
WWF (WWE) WRESTLEMANIA 1: King Kong Bundy (w/ manager Jimmy Hart) literally squashed Special Delivery Jones
If you were looking for excitement, adventure and really wild things here, you'd be sorely disappointed. Instead, what we we got was a push, a splash and a pinfall for a quick squash match which made your average Raw divas bout look like an iron man match in comparison.

According to the WWF, the match was a 'record breaking nine seconds' long. In actual fact, nine seconds was simply the amount of time it took Bundy to get from one side of the ring to another. The actual time was more closer to half a minute, but let's not squabble over twenty seconds of nothing, shall we?
Your Winner: King Kong Bundy

Out in the back, 'Maniac' Matt Bourne told Mean Gene Okerlund that Ricky Steamboat was too nice and that he would beat up Steamboat. In retort, Ricky bumbled something about Wrestlemania being an 'extravaganza across the nation' (told you there was plenty awkward-turns-of-phrase on this show) and that he would be the one to emerge victorious in the following contest.

WWF (WWE) WRESTLEMANIA 1: Ricky Steamboat vs. Maniac Matt Bourne
Ricky Steamboat vs. 'Maniac' Matt Bourne
In the best match on the card so far, Matt 'One Day I'll be Doink' Bourne was thwarted in his attempts to beat up Ricky Steamboat by the superior wrestling skills of The Dragon.

Moving at a decent pace, this was an enjoyable affair which stands out as one of the highlights of Wrestlemania 1. To be fair, this wasn't saying much given what else was on the card, but it did stand out in what was otherwise a card flooded with mediocrity.

Steamboat picked up the win thanks to a crossbody from the top rope.
Your Winner: Ricky Steamboat

Up next, Lord Alfred Hayes stumbled his way through another link, almost forgetting the name of Bruno Sammartino as Steamboat and Bourne tried to get around him to the locker room. It was unintentionally hilarious.

Cutting to more pre-recorded stuff, the retired Sammartino cut off his son, David, by threatening to beat up Lucious Johnny Valiant. Offering a reply, Valiant claimed that his man, Brutus Beefcake would win the upcoming match and that Bruno Sammartino was a crazy person.

David Sammartino (w/ Bruno Sammartino) vs. Brutus Beefcake (w/ Johnny Valiant)
Stealing yet more thunder from his son, Bruno Sammartino was given an even greater introduction from Finkle for his role as ringside manager than David Sammartino who was, you know, supposed to be wrestling.
WWF (WWE) WRESTLEMANIA 1: David Sammartino grapples Brutus Beefcake

With the pressure of being his father's son apparently resting on his shoulders then, young David tried in vain to offer us something decent between the ropes. Alas, the best he and Beefcake could produce turned out to be a long, drawn out yawn-fest which resulted in a double-disqualification after Big Bruno once again hogged the spotlight and joined David, Beefcake and Valiant in a big ol' brawl.
Double Disqualification

WWF (WWE) WRESTLEMANIA 1: Inter-Continental Champion, Greg 'The Hammer' Valentine"Still to come, the confrontation of all time!" said Gorilla Monsoon. One can only assume he was talking about tonight's main event, but first, we had our first title match of the evening in the form of Greg Valentine  defending the Intercontinental Championship against the Junkyard Dog. 

This time, Alfred Hayes fluffed his lines so badly that he was actually cut off, the cameras going to Valentine and manager Jimmy Hart. Naturally, the champion promised to beat his opponent, whilst the challenger muttered something about having a bone.

Inter-Continental Championship Match:
Inter-Continental Champion Greg 'The Hammer' Valentine (w/ Jimmy Hart) vs. Junkyard Dog
Yep, back in those days, we still had the Inter-continental title as opposed to the Intercontinental title. Amazing how much difference a hyphen makes, isn't it?

Grammar aside, this was a decent match which, like much of the card, has sadly aged badly.

The live Madison Square Garden crowd appeared to eat up every single blow here, but, watching this bout some 28 years later (as it was at time of writing), it really isn't much to write home about.

After a seesaw battle, Valentine pounced on JYD and scored the three-count by resting his feet on the middle rope for leverage.

Incensed, The Hammer's arch-rival Tito Santana raced to the ring and informed the referee what had happened. Taking Chico's word for it, referee Dick Krole continue the match, giving the victory to JYD via countout.
Your Winner: Junkyard Dog (Valentine retains the title)

'The title does not change hands on a countout,' said Monsoon for the thousandth time, 'So Greg 'The Hammer' Valentine is still the reigning Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship.' Yep, Greg Valentine was not only a wrestler, but a championship too.

WWF (WWE) WRESTLEMANIA 1: The Iron Sheik provided the comedy
More mic-based hilarity came next, first from  Alfred Hayes, who introduced the next set of interviews with  'Both these teams had pointed opinions, let's hear some more about those opinions they had to express' and then from the always-outlandish Iron Sheik, who, in preparation for his upcoming tag-team title match alongside partner Nikolai Volkoff insisted that 'this is my best time of life for sharp-situation.'

Indeed.

Shieky was amazing here.

Offering the obligatory comeback, the WWF Tag Team Champions Mike Rotundo and Barry Windham (better known, with manager Captain Lou Albano as The US Express), claimed that they were on their way to the ring 'right now.' This despite both still clearly wearing street clothes.

WWF Tag Team Championship Match
Nikolai Volkoff & The Iron Sheik (w/ 'Classy' Freddy Blassie) vs. The US Express (Mike Rotundo & Barry Windham, w/ Captain Lou Albano)
Undoubtedly the highlight of this tag team title match was the opening gambit which saw Volkoff infuriate the live crowd with a rendition of the Russian national anthem. Drawing the kind of heat today's stars can only dream of, it was a simple-yet-effective move which gave the crowds even more reason to cheer when the good guy team of Windham and Rotundo finally made their presence felt.

As for the match itself, it was, like everything on the show, fun if hardly spectacular.

A somewhat short affair for a title match, the end came when Sheik & Volkoff's manager, Freddy Blassie blasted Windham with his cane. The bad guys scored the pin, and we had our first ever Wrestlemania title change.
Your Winners and NEW WWF Tag Team Champions: Nikolai Volkoff & The Iron Sheik

Post match, Blassie denied ever having a cane to Mean Gene Okerlund before the Sheik went off on another unintelligible, yet still highly comical, rant.

Prior to our upcoming $15,000 Bodyslam Challenge between Big John Studd and Andre The Giant, we were taken to some pre-recorded words from Studd and his manager Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan.
WWF (WWE) WRESTLEMANIA 1: Mean Gene Okerlund tries to steal Big John Studd's money

Holding a WWF-branded gym bag stuffed with crumpled one dollar bills, John Studd promised that Andre (as per the match stipulation) would be retired when he failed to slam Studd. Heenan said some stuff too, but honestly the only interesting thing about this promo was Gene Okerlund's hilarious attempts to steal John Studd's money.

$15,000 Bodyslam Challenge
Big John Studd (w/ Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan) vs. Andre The Giant.
To clarify, the rules of this match were pretty simple: If Andre could slam Studd, he would win $15,000 dollars (or a gym bag stuffed with ones, as it were), if he couldn't, he would have to retire.

Nothing much happened, and though it was most likely a spectacle (or a 'spectacle of all time' if we're going by Gorilla's terms) at the time, there was nothing too exciting about watching Andre kick Big John around for a while and then bodyslam him.
Your Winner via bodyslam: Andre The Giant.

After the match, Andre gave some of his money away before Heenan stole the bag back and ran off. In post-match comments with Gene Okerlund, Andre insisted he didn't really care about the money anyway.

WWF (WWE) WRESTLEMANIA 1: Cyndi Lauper and Wendy Richter
From there, MTV star Cyndi Lauper told us how she'd been trained to manage by Lou Albano, and knew exactly what she was doing in backing Wendy Richter in the upcoming Women's Championship match. Richter, for her part, claimed that it had taken two people (Fabulous Moolah and Leilani Kai) to strip her of her title, but that she would reclaim the gold tonight.

In an era when female wrestlers weren't exactly known for their glamour, it has to be said that Richter was something of a hottie.

Anyway, that aside, Moolah and Kai gave their comments, saying nothing of note before it was down to ringside.

WWF Women's Championship:
WWF Women's Champion Leilani Kai (w/ The Fabulous Moolah) vs. Wendy Richter (w/ Cyndi Lauper) 

Making their way to the ring to the sound of Lauper's hit Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (no doubt an appropriate song to play before two women proceed to knock the crap out of each other), Richter and Lauper raced to the ring to a huge ovation from the New York crowd and wasted little time in locking up with the Hawaii-based champion.

Modern-day sports entertainment fans used to the Age of The Diva will likely have something of a culture shock on viewing this encounter; after all, it was an actual wrestling match.

Not the greatest wrestling match of all time, that's true, but at least entertaining enough to keep you interest from bell to bell. To the delight of the audience, Richter countered the champion's flying crossbody with a pinfall attempt to regain her gold.
Your Winner and NEW WWF Women's Champion: Wendy Richter

The new champion spent some time celebrating with Lauper and Lauper's manager David Wolf, complete with another beat down on the villainous Kai and Moolah.

WWF (WWE) WRESTLEMANIA 1: Lord Alfred Hayes was perpetually perplexed throughout the show
Backstage, the girls continued to celebrate and Lauper told Gene Okerlund that she'd 'brought her towel' in case Moolah attacked her because, you know, when somebody's going to beat you up, having a towel really helps.

Finally, it was time for our main event.

Give Vince McMahon his due, even many years later, the shenanigans which precededed tonight's headliner still come across as a grand spectacle and added a certain sense of awesome which was otherwise lacking from tonight's show.

Perma-smiled baseball manager Billy Martin was introduced first, receiving a huge ovation from the MSG crowd as he made his way to the microphone as our guest ring announcer.

He was followed by guest time-keeper Liberace, who came to the ring wearing something akin to the kind of thing your grandad might have worn back in the day, and kicking his legs around the ring with The Rockettes. Finally, Muhammad Ali arrived to take up joint officiating duties with Pat Patterson and we were set for a match.

Led to the ring by a clan of pipers, Rowdy Roddy Piper & Paul 'Mr. Wonderful' Orndorff were escorted to the ring by Cowboy Bob Orton.

They were followed, to the roar of the crowd, by WWF Champion Hulk Hogan, Mr. T and their third, Jimmy 'Superfly' Snuka. 

Rowdy Roddy Piper & 'Mr. Wonderful' Paul Orndorff (w/ Cowboy Bob Orton) vs. Hulk Hogan & Mr. T (w/ Jimmy 'Superfly' Snuka)
WWF (WWE) WRESTLEMANIA 1: Hulk Hogan, Mr. T and Jimmy Snuka
It's one of the most memorable, talked about professional wrestling matches of all time. It's the main event of all main events, it's the encounter upon which the whole success of Wrestlemania I, and thus in turn all subsequent Wrestlemanias was based and it was, well, not bad.

The crowd were on their feet from the start of this chaotic main event to the very end. Purposefully overbooked, it was a fun, if hardly outstanding match which at least lived up to the big-match hype.

All four in-ring competitors played their parts perfectly whilst Snuka, Orton and Ali all added to the spectacle.

The end came when Orton accidentally struck Orndorff with his cast, allowing Hogan to gain the three count.
Your Winners: Hulk Hogan & Mr. T

Afterwards, just about everybody involved in the match not called Orton, Orndorff or Piper celebrated in the ring and shook hands, before Hogan and Mr. T, surrounded by everybody in the world, gave a final backstage interview to Mean Gene Okerlund.

And so that was that then, the first ever Wrestlemania over and done with. Worthwhile checking out for historical purposes or simply to complete your collection, but from an in-ring standpoint, there's nothing here that is absolutely must-see stuff. 
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the awkward comments, teleprompter links, gaffs and general weirdness of the interviews and commentators were far more entertaining (albeit mostly unintentionally so than the matches themselves.
If we were talking about quality only, there's no chance in hell (pun intended) that Vince McMahon would've looked at Wrestlemania and said 'Hey! That was great! Let's do it again!'
Thanfully, he only looked at the bottom line, and some thirty years later, we still have 'the wrestling extravaganza of all time.' 



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WWE WrestleMania - The Complete Anthology, Vol. 1 - 1985-1989 (WrestleMania I-V)
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Retro Pro Wrestling

New reviews of classic WWF/WWE events recalling every moment from Wrestlemania 1 - 30. You'll also find reviews of WCW, ECW, TNA and the occasional indie event, along with a look at old school magazines, merchandise and more.