I’m going to preface this by admitting that I was two years old when the first WrestleMania happened, so most of my information comes from research and listening to stories about it.
The opener to WrestleMania was very mid-80s in terms of music and graphics and reminds me of the opener to ‘Night Court’. It’s still a little unnerving to see the Twin Towers, even after all these years. They’re giving photo previews of the card during the opening, which is cool. The photo of Moolah and Kai does not do either of them any favors. We’re also getting pictures of the celebrities that are supposed to be part of the show.
We open in a very dark MSG with Gorilla Monsoon welcoming us to ‘The Wrestling Extravaganza of All Time, WrestleMania’.
Howard Finkel gives us the official ‘Welcome to WrestleMania’ as only the Fink can do, and then asks us to rise for the National Anthem. For whatever reason, the person singing is Mean Gene Okerlund. Gene needs all the help he can get from the audience because his singing is not great and he’s having to read the lyrics off a piece of paper. He’s not as bad as Roseanne, but he’s the best they could do in a pinch. Jesse Ventura, with what sounds like a straight face, tries to claim that Okerlund sounds like Robert Goulet, instead of totally off key.
Match 1: Tito Santana vs The Executioner
Mean Gene is conducting the promos. Santana cuts a very good promo about not knowing much about the Executioner, but states that he’s got goals and that no one is going to keep him from achieving them, including the Executioner. He also throws a little shade at the Executioner, commenting that the Executioner hasn’t been in the big leagues for very long. (Commenter: Ouch.)
The Executioner (Playboy Buddy Rose in a generic, badly fitting Luchador mask) cuts an awkward promo where he claims everyone’s going to know about him after he takes out Santana and swears he’s going after Santana’s knee that was injured by Greg Valentine during their Intercontinental Title feud.
This was a very good match, but not much of a story being told. It felt like the Executioner’s unblemished record was played up to make him look ridiculous in the end. However, Santana looked like a million bucks and showed why Vince trusted him with opening this card.
Winner: Tito Santana by submission with the Figure Four Leglock.
Comments: As someone who really only remembers Tito Santana as El Matador, it’s easy to not realize that he’d been one of Vince’s top guys for years. From what I drew from the commentators, this match seems to have been simply to continue Santana’s feud with Greg Valentine over the Intercontinental Belt without having them actually have a match over it at WrestleMania, which I find odd. It’s also funny to remember that the Figure-Four was not considered the exclusive move of Ric Flair, as Tito wins this match with that hold.
The obviousness of the Executioner’s identity was pretty funny, especially watching Mean Gene try very hard to play up not knowing who this guy was, considering that they’d worked together in the AWA for years. In Playboy’s defense, the mask was probably to keep Verne Gagne from killing him for appearing on the WrestleMania card.
Match 2: King Kong Bundy (with Jimmy Hart) vs SD Jones
SD Jones is all smiles and says he’s ready to get down with Bundy and Hart. Most of his promo seems to consist of saying he’s going to get down with everyone.
Bundy and Hart come up next and Bundy says that it’s only fitting that the biggest card in professional wrestling has the biggest man on it. Bundy says he wants SD Jones to think about what’s about to happen in this match, including the infamous five count.
There’s not a whole lot to say about this match. It’s infamous for being the shortest match in history (until Diesel vs Bob Backlund a decade later) at 00:09 seconds, though that is disputed a little. Either way, this was the textbook definition of a squash match, literally and figuratively.
Winner: King Kong Bundy with the Big Splash.
Comments: This match was purely to build up King Kong Bundy. The introductions and prelims took longer than the match. One big problem was that it killed the crowd a little because of how quick fan favorite Jones was beaten.
Match 3: Ricky Steamboat vs Matt Borne
Matt Borne (better known to 90s wrestling fans as Doink the Clown) says he sees this as an opportunity to beat someone as well-known as Ricky Steamboat and says that while Steamboat is talented, he’s too nice while he (Borne) is there to beat Steamboat up.
Steamboat is next, and he looks very…inflated (not fat, but he looks like someone’s been inflating him with a bike pump) compared to how he would look later in his career. He says that WrestleMania is test for everyone who is on the card because the WrestleMania card is the biggest in history. He warns Borne (aka, Mister Maniac) that while he lacks meanness, he’s come to WWF to learn how to be mean, starting with Matt Borne.
This match was very good for only being about four and a half minutes long. Both guys were able to get in their offense and both looked really good. Steamboat had his usual bag of martial arts moves and some impressive aerial moves for as big as he was then. That said, there was really no doubt that Steamboat was going over Borne. Borne just seemed to be missing something.
Winner: Ricky Steamboat with a flying crossbody into a pinfall.
Thoughts: If you only knew Matt Borne as Doink the Clown, you would be astonished to see how talented he was during his career. My biggest complaint about this match is that it could’ve gone a little longer to give both guys more time to show their skills.
Match 4: Brutus Beefcake (with Jimmy Valiant) vs David Sammartino (with Bruno Sammartino)
David Sammartino is up first, and his legendary dad is with him. David says he is ready for this and has been training really hard with his dad to get ready for this match. He says Beefcake has been really cocky since putting ‘Big Jim’, whoever that is, out of commission. Bruno pipes up, warning Johnny Valiant not to stick his nose into the match because if he does, he’s going to run into Bruno’s fist.
Brutus and Valiant are next and Valiant dismisses Bruno’s warning and says he’ll stick his nose in wherever he wants to. He tells Beefcake to tell them what he’s going to do, at which Beefcake blows a raspberry into the microphone. Valiant then tells him not to talk, not that he was to start with, and that everyone knows that ‘JV’ is the mouthpiece. Valiant then warns Bruno not to stick his nose in and then it become incomprehensible due to Okerlund trying to talk over Valiant.
This match was surprisingly good. Lots of amateur moves and solid mat work from both guys. The story seemed to be more about David trying to live up to his father’s reputation than anything else.
Winner: Double DQ due Valiant and Sammartino getting involved.
Thoughts: It’s odd to see Beefcake as a heel. Even odder to see what a solid worker he was. Bruno was easily the most over person in the ring, which overshadowed both competitors, but especially David, who lacks a lot in the charisma department. At just shy of twelve minutes, this was the second longest match of the night after the main event.
Match 5: Intercontinental Championship Match – Junkyard Dog vs Greg Valentine (with Jimmy Hart)
Valentine and Hart are first. Valentine says Junkyard Dog is going to learn why Valentine is the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time and master of the Figure Four, as well as living up to the name ‘Hammer’.
Junkyard Dog is next. From what I could understand, JYD said he was ready to get his hands on the Intercontinental Belt and ‘Weasel’. I assume he means Jimmy Hart, not Bobby Heenan.
This was a good match. Both men looked good, and got their offense in. It was a little short for a title match, but overall very solid for both guys. The fact that Valentine wanted to continue the match but was prevented by Hart was interesting to see.
Winner: Junkyard Dog by countout, after the ref reverses his decision due to Santana coming out and saying that Valentine used the ropes for leverage.
Thoughts: JYD was super over with this crowd and is one of the few performers on the card using entrance music. It’s a shame that he never got a title run during his tenure in the WWF and that this match was used to further the Valentine/Santana feud. Seeing the original (I think) IC belt is cool.
Match 6: WWF Tag Team Title Match: Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff(with Freddie Blassie) vs US Express(with Captain Lou Albano)
Sheik and Volkoff are first. Sheik is hard to understand. Blassie predicts that he’s got the next tag team champions. Okerlund ‘tries’ to call Volkoff ‘Comrade’ and says ‘Commie’ instead. Volkoff simply says ‘I come, I see, I conquer’.
US Exress is next. Captain Lou says that they’re ready. Rotunda and Windham are wearing polo shirts tucked into jeans, looking like a New England prep school’s idea of All-American kids. Captain Lou is drinking beer on camera and looking like someone’s drunk uncle that just wandered in off the street. All the champs will say is that they’re going to the ring and talking’s done.
This was a great match from both teams, no aerial moves, just solid mat wrestling. Iron Sheik and Rotunda’s amateur backgrounds got a good showing in this match. Even though Iron Sheik and Volkoff were the heels, the match was fairly clean until the end.
Winner: Iron Sheik and Volkoff win via pinfall after Iron Sheik breaks Blassie’s cane over Wyndham’s back. It nearly backfired because the head of the cane hit Volkoff and almost knocked HIM out.
Thoughts: I have to say, I admire the guts it took for Nikolai to stand in the middle of the ring in MSG and sing the national anthem of the USSR in 1985, while the crowd threw trash at him and yelled God only knows what.
US Express was super over. Seeing Rotunda as a super over babyface, when I remember him as IRS in the 90s is interesting.
We get an unexpected after match interview with Mean Gene taking the new Tag Team Champions and their manager to task over the win. Blassie feigns ignorance that anything shady happened and when asked about the cane, swears that he didn’t have a cane.
Iron Sheik says their victory is proves that Iran and Russia are the best. After that, the interview gets a little tough to understand.
Match 7: $15,000 Bodyslam Match – Big John Studd (with Bobby Heenan) vs Andre The Giant
Studd and Heenan are first, and Okerlund repeats what Lord Alfred Hayes said a second before: If Andre cannot slam Big John Studd, he will have to retire from wrestling. Studd brags about how heavy the WWF duffle bag (available at the MSG souvenir stand, I’m sure) was and that it was bait to lure Andre into the match so Studd could prove why he was the only giant in Professional Wrestling. Heenan is in prime form, he keeps berating Okerlund to keep his hands off the money.
This match wasn’t pretty, and I don’t think anyone expected it to be one. This was just two huge guys colliding. The moveset was mainly power moves, but the crowd was super into it.
Winner: Andre wins after bodyslamming Studd and collects his $15,000. He tries to throw the money to the crowd, but Heenan runs up and steals the bag back.
Thoughts: Andre was so over with this crowd. He wasn’t in prime form, especially compared to Studd. The crowd gave Heenan plenty of ‘Weasel’ chants. It’s sad to see that even in 1985, Andre’s health was declining, he looked very winded a few minutes into the match.
Okerlund congratulates Andre on the win and asks where the money is. Andre says that he doesn’t care where the money is, he just wanted to show Studd and Weasel that he could slam him. Andre also says that he’s not ready to retire.
Match 8: WWF Women’s Championship Match – Wendi Richter (with Cyndi Lauper) vs Leilani Kai (with Fabulous Moolah)
Lauper and Richter are up first and they’re both looking very angry. Lauper warns ‘Lanie Kai’ and ‘Schmoolah’ to watch out because Richter’s a powerful woman and Lauper herself is a powerful manager because she’s been taught by Captain Lou (Commenter: Okay, I’ll give her that one). Richter reminds us that it took Moolah and Kai to take the Women’s Title from her and she’s dead set on getting her title back.
Moolah and Kai are next, Moolah wearing novelty glasses with the dollar signs backwards (Commenter: I hope she didn’t pay her jeweler too much for those), much to Okerlund’s amazement. Kai says that she’s ready for tonight and she doesn’t care what she has to do, she’s going to come back to the locker room with her hand raised in ‘victor’.
This was a solid match from both women. Lots of solid mat work and skill from both Richter and Kai. The managers got involved, but only once.
Winner: Richter wins via pinfall after rolling through Kai’s flying crossbody.
Thoughts: Lauper was easily the most over person in the ring. That being said, WWF did her involvement right. She only involved herself in the match when Moolah did. They kept the match about the women in the ring, not the managers, one of whom happened to be a huge pop star. Lauper made sure Richter was able to get back at Moolah for costing her the belt and for attacking her earlier in the bout.
Richter tells Okerlund that he’s caught her at the happiest second of her life. She admits that it took her and Cyndi to get the belt back, but that it took Moolah and Kai to get the belt away from her in the first place. Lauper says she knew all along that Richter could do it and says that Richter had more ability in her pinky than Kai. She keeps butchering Kai’s name and Richter either tries to correct her or tells her to pronounce it ‘cow’. Lauper says she brought her towel to help fend off Moolah since Moolah was bigger than her. Not sure what that was going to do, but if it made Cyndi feel confident, who am I to judge?
Match 9: Hulk Hogan & Mr. T (with Jimmy Snuka) vs Rowdy Roddy Piper and ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Paul Orndorff (with Cowboy Bob Orton)
Finkel is going to introduce all the celebrities involved with this match:
- Guest Ring Announcer: Billy Martin, a legendary New York Yankees baseball player and manager, whose relationship with George Steinbrenner was the real-life template for Austin vs McMahon, just less violent.
- Martin gets a great pop, thanks the crowd and, with some help from Finkel, begins to introduce the guest officials.
- Guest Timekeeper: Liberace with the Rockettes. Liberace comes out with the Rockettes and begins dancing in the ring, much to the amusement of the crowd.
- Guest Referee: Muhammad Ali. The Great One comes out to an enormous pop. Rumor is that Ali was supposed to be the actual referee in this match, but Pat Patterson was concerned that his head wasn’t in it and got Vince to change it.
Piper comes out first with Orton and Orndorff to NYPD’s bagpipers (I THINK that’s who they are). Crowd’s booing is pretty good.
Hogan and Mr. T come out to a loud pop, though not as loud as the celeb officials got, strangely enough. We watch Hogan and T walk past a slightly pensive looking Vince McMahon.
This match was solid start to finish. Both sides looked fantastic and there was plenty of back and forth. Mr. T showed himself to be a reasonably okay wrestler. There was a false finish, when Piper and Co, decide to head for the locker room after a free for all in the ring that ended with Ali getting in the ring and taking swings at the heels.
That said, this was a typical Hogan match, just in tag match form. However, he made T and the heels look great, so it was a successful match up.
Winner: Hogan picks up the pinfall after hitting the big Leg Drop on Orndorff after Orton accidentally hits Orndorff with his cast while trying to double team Hogan. In classic heel fashion, Piper and Orton bail out and leave Orndorff in the ring.
Thoughts: This is the only WrestleMania that didn’t have a Heavyweight Championship match, but this match felt like a Heavyweight title bout in any case. There seemed to be legit heat between the teams, or at least between Piper, Hogan, and Mr. T, that translated very clearly in the ring.
Mr. T checks on Orndorff, who comes to, realizing that he’s all by himself with Hogan and Mr. T. Hogan tries to explain what happened and that Piper and Orton bailed out, but Orndorff doesn’t believe them and leaves in a huff.
The show closes with Hogan, T, and the celebs celebrating while Hogan does his posing.
Given how big WrestleMania would become, this show was a good, but not overwhelming, start. Every match that went longer than nine second had good ring work and both sides were able to get their offense in.
Issues I Saw
Lord Alfred Hayes as MC was very awkward and seemed like he wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to say and having the competitors walk past him as he spoke looked very amateur.
The matches surrounding the Intercontinental Championship seemed like a poor use of the men involved. It would’ve made more sense to have Santana and Valentine face off for the belt than have two separate matches that only seemed to be there to extend their feud. I understand that they wanted to give Junkyard Dog a big match but using him to extend a title feud of someone else seems like a waste.
Some of the better matches seemed too short, while the okay ones seemed to get more time. Sammartino vs Beefcake could’ve been a little shorter and the time given to either Steamboat/Borne or Santana/Executioner.
The choice of celebrities was interesting. Every celeb was someone who was a big deal to New York City or Madison Square Garden. It was almost a thank you letter to New York and MSG in case WrestleMania failed and WWF went out of business.
That said, WWF used their celebs wisely. With the exception of Ali getting involved in the main event, the celebs generally stayed out of the way, unless they had to get involved. The ending left an opening for the feud to continue and sent everyone home happy.
There almost seemed to be a desperation to make WrestleMania sound like it was a much bigger deal and much more successful than most people thought it would be. Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura made several references to Woodstock and how WrestleMania was the Woodstock of Wrestling before the first match got started.
Something I noticed was that all the talent really went out there and wrestled like it was the last time they’d get the chance, which it may have been. We all know that Vince bet the farm on WrestleMania, but another story I’ve heard is that the other promoters (we in the end of the territory days) were so desperate to see WrestleMania fail that they tried sabotaging it, even threatening to blacklist anyone who performed on the card. Obviously WrestleMania was a huge success and none of the other promoters carried out their threat since people like Piper and Steamboat were able to go to other territories later on and have successful careers outside of WWF, but it was still interesting to see that not only Vince was betting everything on WrestleMania.
Overall, I enjoyed this show. It was a good wrestling card, but, other than the main event, nothing super over the top about it. A good start to what would become THE wrestling event of the year.