Powell's WrestleMania 1 review: Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndroff, Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd in a body slam challenge, Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda vs. Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff
The original WrestleMania took place on March 31, 1985. This review was written in March 2014. We will continue to post reviews of the early WrestleMania events this week, and they will eventually be slotted in order in our WWE pay-per-view section.
New York, New York at Madison Square Garden
Aired on closed-circuit television
The broadcast team of Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura stood at ringside welcomed the television audience... Ring announcer Howard Finkel welcomed viewers to WrestleMania, then introduced Gene Okerlund to perform the national anthem. Okerlund told the fans he would need some help and invited them to sing along. Without music, Okerlund sang the song while reading the lyrics from a cue card...
Powell's POV: Did someone cancel? All the celebrities at WrestleMania and Vince couldn't spring for someone to sing the anthem? Funny.
Ventura told Monsoon that he didn't believe Okerlund had it in him, "but he ranks right up there with Robert Goulet... Lord Alfred Hayes checked in from the floor behind a barricade. He introduced the first match and set up pre-taped interviews that Okerlund conducted with Tito Santana and "the undefeated " The Executioner.
Santana said he didn't know anything about The Executioner other than that he was a big man and had not been in the big leagues of the WWF. He said no one would stop him and he would find out about the big leagues soon... Okerlund's interview with The Executioner was shown. He said he was going after Tito's leg that was hurt by Greg Valentine. "I am a big leaguer," The Executioner proclaimed...
Powell's POV: The man under The Executioner hood was the highly talented "Playboy" Buddy Rose.
1. Tito Santana vs. The Executioner. Santana backdropped Executioner and then dropkicked him to ringside. The Executioner targeted the knee, just as he said he was going to do. Santana didn't really sell the knee, though. He hit the flying forearm and applied the figure four for the submission win...
Tito Santana beat The Executioner at 4:50.
Powell's POV: An standard match. Santana and Valentine had such a good feud over the Intercontinental Title. It's a shame in retrospect that the feud didn't play out on the original WrestleMania in the form of an actual match. Rose was a really good worker who also appeared as himself in WWE and had the memorable "blow away diet" segments. I remember him best from his AWA run where he and Doug Somers feuded with The Midnight Rockers - the young duo of Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty.
Hayes discussed the King Kong Bundy vs. "the great star" S.D. Jones match briefly and set up Okerlund's interviews with both men... Jones said this is the moment he's been waiting for and said he was going to "get down" for the fans. He exited one way and then Bundy and Jimmy Hart entered from the other side of the interview set. Bundy told him to think about the Avalanche (and taking a five count...
2. King Kong Bundy (w/Jimmy Hart) vs. S.D. Jones. Jones bounced off the ropes and charged at Bundy, who caught him in a bear hug and then rammed him into a corner. Bundy performed the Avalanche splash in the corner and followed up with a splash in the ring for the win...
King Kong Bundy defeated S.D. Jones in 0:24.
Powell's POV: Monsoon and Ventura put it over as a potential record for fastest match. Finkel actually announced the time of the match as nine seconds even though it was 24 seconds from bell-to-bell. It was a total squash for Bundy, who went on to headline WrestleMania 2 against Hulk Hogan. By the way, this was Hart in his pre-megaphone days. As for Jones, he was a notch above the rest of the enhancement talent. He was a regular and he got some wins, so he had a little more credibility with fans than the average enhancement wrestler.
Backstage, Okerlund interviewed Matt Bourne, who put over Ricky Steamboat as one of the best in the world. He said Steamboat was too nice of a guy, whereas he was there to beat up Steamboat. Ricky entered from the other side as Bourne made his exit. He played up WrestleMania as "the biggest wrestling extravaganza coming across the nation." Steamboat said he was there to develop a meanness. Okerlund cut off the end of his brief interview, as they were clearly keeping them to a certain length...
3. Ricky Steamboat vs. Matt Borne. The announcers played up the partnership that Steamboat had with Jimmy Snuka at the time. Borne got some offense, but Steamboat came back and hit the cross body block off the top rope for the win...
Ricky Steamboat defeated Matt Borne in 4:36.
Powell's POV: Borne primarily wrestled under his own name, but he also went on to become the original Doink the Clown in WWE, and Big Josh in WCW. It's fun to listen to the crowd come to life when Steamboat went to the top rope. Steamboat's cross body block was a hot finisher back in these days. Snuka was very popular with WWF fans back in these days, so it was logical to use him to give rub to Steamboat, who was just getting started with the company.
Hayes stood in the aisle and set up the next match. Steamboat walked past him on his way to the back, then Johnny Valiant (later Johnny V) and Brutus Beefcake walked past him and told him to wake up. Bourne also walked by him as he set up the latest Okerlund interviews...
Okerlund interviewed David Sammartino, who was accompanied by his yellow WWF blazer wearing father Bruno Sammartino. Bruno told Johnny Valiant not to stick his nose in or he would run into his fist. As they exited, Valiant and Beefcake entered. Valiant said he would stick his nose where he wanted. He told Beefcake to tell Okerlund. Beefcake paused and then made the raspberry sounder before Valiant went back to talking a mile a minute...
4. David Sammartino (w/Bruno Sammartino) vs. Brutus Beefcake (w/Johnny Valiant). The fans liked David and gave Bruno the best pop at this point in the show. Bruno ditched the blazer before the match and wore a sweater. Ventura said people think Valiant and Beefcake are father and son (they were not). David worked on the left leg of Beefcake throughout the match.
They cut to pop-box shots of Sammartino and Valiant at different points in the match. Brutus took control with some forgettable offense, but the fans came to life when David back dropped him. The crowd popped for a Sammartino suplex that resulted in a two count. Beefcake threw David to ringside, where Valiant bodyslammed him. Bruno went after Valiant and threw him inside the ring. Bruno roughed up Valiant and knocked him to ringside, which drew a good reaction from the fans...
David Sammartino fought Brutus Beefcake to a double DQ in 11:44.
Powell's POV: Beefcake was early in his run as the character he was best known for. This was the most memorable aspect of David's career. The double DQ set up a series of mixed tag matches with Bruno coming out of retirement to team with David against Beefcake and Valiant. Both wrestlers were green and the star of the match was Bruno.
They cut to a wide shot of the venue while the broadcast team spoke. Monsoon told fans to stay with them (as if they were going to leave their closed circuit locations). This was likely an intermission spot, but I don't recall... Hayes set up the Okerlund interview... Greg Valentine and Junkyard Dog were interviewed. JYD talked about getting his hand on the weasel. He was referring to Jimmy Hart rather than Bobby Heenan...
5. Greg Valentine (w/Jimmy Hart) vs. Junkyard Dog for the Intercontinental Title. The WWE Network version had JYD entering to "Grab Them Cakes." He actually entered to Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust" which was a great entrance theme. Valentine worked over the knee of JYD.
Valentine and Santana feuded over who was the master of the Figure Four, and most of Valentine's offense in these days was geared toward targeting the knee for his finisher. JYD sold the knee by hopping on one leg, but he came back with headbutts and punches. Hart climbed onto the apron and JYD went over and grabbed him. Valentine swung at JYD, who moved, causing Valentine to knock Hart to the floor.
JYD threw several punches, but Valentine gouged his eyes, tackled him, and put his feet on the middle ropes for leverage while the referee made the three count. Santana ran out and told the referee about Valentine using the ropes for leverage. The referee restarted the match and counted out Valentine, who declined to return to the ring. The fans popped for the reversed decision even though the title did not change hands...
Junkyard Dog defeated Greg Valentine by count out in 6:55.
Powell's POV: The Intercontinental Title was a meaningful strap back in these days. Valentine was a credible champion and was in a hot feud with Tito Santana, and JYD was one of the more popular babyfaces. You could sense the crowd was more into this match than everything on the undercard. Times have really changed as far as the reaction to the finish goes. The crowd seemed happy that the babyface won even if it was via count out.
Hayes set up Okerlund's interviews with the tag champions and challengers... Inside the locker room, Okerlund interviewed Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, and Fred Blassie briefly. Okerlund then interviewed Barry Windham, Mike Rotundo, and Lou Albano. Lou said they were going to do their best, Rotundo said the talking was over, and Windham said they were on their way to the ring "right now" even though both wrestlers were dressed in street clothes...
6. Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo (w/Lou Albano) vs. The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff (w/Fred Blassie) for the WWF Tag Team Titles. Volkoff did his usual bit of singing the Soviet national anthem before the match, which was always good for heat. Windham and Rotundo, known as The U.S. Express, entered to crappy generic music on the WWE Network version. They actually entered to Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" but WWE wasn't going to pay for the rights to the song.
Late in the match, Windham hit his bulldog finisher on Volkoff, but Sheik broke up the pin. The teams brawled and the referee got caught up in getting Rotundo out of the ring. Meanwhile, Sheik took Blassie's cane and struck Windham with it, allowing Volkoff to cover him for the win...
The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff defeated Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo in 6:56.
Powell's POV: Windham went on to become a hell of a singles wrestlers, and Rotundo (a/k/a Rotunda) had runs in the Varsity Club, worked as Michael Wallstreet, and, of course, IRS. Rotundo married Windham's sister and is the father of WWE performers Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas. Windham and Rotundo were over huge back in these days, and Sheik and Volkoff were also big heels during the Cold War. I remember 12 year-old me being really pissed that Windham and Rotundo lost the way they did.
Hayes set up the Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd match and reminded viewers that Andre had to body slam Studd or he would be forced to retire. If Andre slammed Studd, he would get $15,000.. In the locker room, Okerlund interviewed Studd and Bobby Heenan, who brought a gym bag of crumpled up money. Heenan said they were going to eliminate Andre from wrestling. Okerlund tried to grab some cash, but Studd slapped his hand. Funny...
Powell's POV: Studd and Heenan cut Andre's long hair as part of an angle. They really didn't cut much, but it was an effective angle.
7. Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd (w/Bobby Heenan) in a $15,000 Body Slam Challenge match. Studd threw punches early and Andre came back with chops and head-butts. Late in the match, Andre threw kicks Studd, then body slammed him. Andre had the referee grab him the bag of money. Andre grabbed fist-fulls of money and threw bills into the crowd. However, Heenan snatched the bag from Andre and high-tailed it to the back...
Andre the Giant beat Big John Studd in a Body Slam Challenge in 5:54.
After the match, Okerlund interviewed Andre in the backstage area. He said he doesn't care about the money. He said he told everyone he would slam Studd and he did it. Andre said he's not ready to retire...
Powell's POV: I was surprised to learn years after this match that there was legitimate tension between the two big men. I just assumed they would be happy to work with one another because of the big box office potential, but legend has it that Andre felt Studd was truly out to take his spot as the giant of pro wrestling. I like the way Andrew threw the (presumably small) bills into the crowd only to have Heenan snatch the bag. It made Andre look good and put more heat on Heenan.
Hayes set up the women's match. Lelani Kai and Fabulous Moolah stopped and kissed him as they headed to the ring... Okerlund interviewed Cyndi Lauper and Wendi Richter in the locker room, then interviewed Kai and Moolah...
8. Lelani Kai vs. Wendi Richter (w/Cyndi Lauper) for the WWF Women's Championship. More generic music rather than Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" on the WWE Network version of the show. Kai controlled the offense and then Moolah got involved when Richter ended up in her corner. Lauper awkwardly tried to break it up.
Late in the match, Kai went for a cross body block and pretty much landed on Richter's head. Richter rolled through and got the pin. After the match, Lauper and Wolff celebrated with Richter...
Wendi Richter defeated Lelani Kai to win the WWF Women's Championship in 6:12.
Okerlund interviewed Richter and an enthusiastic Lauper backstage while Wolff and Lou Albano stood by...
Powell's POV: Lauper was a great get for WWE back in these days and helped WWE catch on with the MTV generation. Legend has it that her manager and boyfriend David Wolff wanted to be a wrestling star, and that's why he got her involved with the WWF and why he was always hanging around. Richter was a lousy promo and her matches were rough, but the Lauper connection got her over. Kai was a good worker, but her personality never clicked. There seemed to be more heat on Moolah than Kai back in those days. The finish was actually as ugly as anything on the show. I never knew whether Lauper got caught up in her role, but she always came across like she was enthusiastic.
Howard Finkel introduced baseball managing great Billy Martin, who came out to serve as the guest ring announcer. He introduced Liberace, who was escorted to the ring by four of The Rockettes. They lined up in the ring for a chorus line with Liberace in the middle. Liberace looked like he was having a blast. Let the record show that he blew up a little, as those kicks at the end got a little lower and he took a break to wave to the fans. Funny.
Muhammad Ali was introduced as the guest referee. He was actually the ringside enforcer, as Pat Patterson served as the actual in-ring referee. The fans popped with "Ali" chants for the man widely regarded as the greatest boxer in history. Fellow boxer Jose Torres was also shown in the crowd.
A Scottish band played Roddy Piper to the ring. Piper, Paul Orndorff, and Bob Orton, Jr. (complete with the cast on his left hand) made their entrance to great heat as some debris was thrown into the ring.
"Real American" played on the WWE Network version. Hogan, Mr. T, and Jimmy Snuka actually entered to Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger", which was a hugely popular theme song to the Rocky 3 movie that Hogan and T were in. The crowd popped huge for the babyface trio. A man entered the ring and swept the debris from the ring. Monsoon noted that Ali was appointed the ringside referee, which he said was just as important. Liberace rang a handheld bell to start the match...
Powell's POV: Not that I condone the outings in any way, but can you believe that Liberace successfully sued publications for reporting that he was gay? That's right, a UK court that believed him when he testified that he was not a homosexual and had never taken part in homosexual acts. He also settled out of court when a U.S. publication made similar claims.
8. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T (w/Jimmy Snuka) vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff (w/Bob Orton, Jr.). Monsoon built up T, while Ventura questioned whether he could actually wrestle. Ventura also called it the biggest moment in pro wrestling. Hogan and Orndorff started the match, but Orndorff tagged in Piper. T called out for Hogan because he wanted to face Piper. The crowd popped big as Hogan pointed to T and tagged him in.
Powell's POV: Mr. T was one of the biggest celebrities in the world during this time period. He took part in the "America's Toughest Bouncer" contest and was spotted by Sylvester Stallone, who then cast him as Clubber Lang in Rocky 3 in 1982. NBC furthered his career with the hugely successful A-Team in 1983 and he reached the peak of his popularity during the show's four-year run. WrestleMania fell in the middle of the show's run.
Monsoon said T had been "living on tuna fish and water for the past two or three weeks." T and Piper exchanged slaps. Piper took T down from behind and then rode him as T scrambled and eventually got out and back to his feet. A "T" chant broke out. Later, the heels left ringside and headed toward the back. Monsoon said it would not be allowed. Patterson counted, but Hogan stopped him and motioned for the heels to return, which they did.
Hogan got the better of Piper and caught him with a big boot that knocked him to the floor. Orndroff clotheslined Hogan to ringside. Piper threw a chair onto Hogan's back. T tried to help Hogan, but Patter prevented him from going to ringside. Ali pushed Orndorff off of Hogan and the match returned to the ring as the announcers played up Hogan being injured.
The heels isolated Hogan in their corner while T struggled to help. He got by Patterson, but he was eventually returned to his corner. Ali entered the ring and lectured Piper in the corner while Orndorff worked over Hogan. Eventually, Orndroff missed a knee drop, allowing Hogan to tag in T.
T gouged the eyes of Piper and Orndroff. They quickly outnumbered him and put the boots to him. Piper put T in a front face lock as Monsoon said he hopes Hogan taught him how to escape the hold. T got to his feet and broke free, then tagged in Hogan, who delivered the double noggin knocker. Orndroff came back with a suplex.
Orton snuck into the ring while Patterson was distracted by Piper, but Snuka ran in and gave him a headbutt. All four men entered the ring. Orndroff grabbed Hogan from behind in a Full Nelson. Piper tried to hit Hogan, but Mr. T broke it up. Orton went to the top rope and waited for Orndorff to spin Hogan into position.
Orton leapt off the top rope and slammed the cast down, but Hogan broke free and the cast struck Orndroff instead. Hogan covered Orndroff and Patterson made the three count. The crowd roared. Piper and Orton left the ring without incident. Mr. T knelt down and check on Orndorff. Once Orndorff got to his feet, he struck a fighter's pose Hogan, T, and Snuka tried to calm him down.
Hogan raised the hands of T and Snuka while Orndorff shook the ropes in frustration. Hogan's music played and he posed for the fans as Orndroff headed backstage. Ali, Liberace, and Martin entered the ring as Hogan continued to pose. Hogan hugged his teammates and then shook hands with the celebrities.
Ventura called WrestleMania the "most phenomenal wrestling card ever put together in the history of professional wrestling." Ventura added "it never will be duplicated, I don't believe." Hogan, T, and Snuka continued to celebrate and shake hands with the celebrities as the fans cheered.
Hulk Hogan and Mr. T defeated Roddy Piper and Paul Orndroff in 13:24.
Backstage, Okerlund interviewed Hogan, T, and Snuka. Mr. T said he didn't take it lightly and it's "rough out there." Hogan cut an intense Hogan promo and said he and his teammates reign supreme. Snuka said it was a great pleasure for him to be in the corner of Hogan and T. There were people in the background behind them (friends and family?) who cheered...
At ringside, Monsoon and Ventura wrapped up the show. Ventura's hot pink attire was phenomenal...
Powell's POV: It wasn't a pretty match by any means and unfortunately you don't get a good feel for just how great Piper and Orndorff were as heels, but the match certainly worked and was a huge spectacle. The babyfaces showed concern for Orndroff because this led to a Mr. Wonderful babyface turn and feud with his teammates. He was cast as Hogan's best buddy and eventually turned on him in a very memorable moment.
I can't stress how huge this show was in its day. Hogan and Mr. T actually hosted Saturday Night Live the night before and the whole thing was part of the mainstream. The undercard of WrestleMania will remind you of any other MSG show, but the featured matches were built up well, and the main event was just huge in 1985.
As time consuming as the video packages that air on modern WrestleMania events may feel, they would have added a lot to the presentation of the early shows. Of course, I don't think they realized these events would someday be included on a network owned by the company, so we'll give them a pass on that. Oh, and I think Ventura may have been just slightly off when he said he didn't think WrestleMania would ever be duplicated. Hey, he had to sell it in the moment.
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