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EditorialWrestlemania I-XXX Series. (3/30)

Wrestlemania I-XXX Series. (3/30)

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Wrestlemania III (1987) –  “Bigger! Better! Badder!” – Pontiac Silverdome (Pontiac, Michigan)

Wrestlemania III drew 93,173 fans to the Silverdome. This remains the record attendance for any WWE wrestling event. It held the record for largest recorded attendance for a live indoor sporting event in North America, until it was beaten in 2010.

Unlike Wrestlemania II, the event was held in the same venue for the full show. The commentary team remained constant with Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura. Some matches had guests on commentary, including Bobby Heenan, Mary Hart, and Bob Uecker. Vince McMahon started the event once again with a “Welcome to Wrestlemania III!”. America The Beautiful followed, sang by Aretha Franklin. She was the first woman to open a Wrestlemania event. There were 12 matches on the card, with the majority lasting between 3-8 minutes.

One of the themes of the night was how well Bobby Heenan and Jimmy Hart did with their match outcomes. They accompanied many solo wrestlers, and tag teams. I decided to keep score of managers, including Heenan, Hart and Slick. Another theme was the portable mini-ring that some (but not all) wrestlers used on their entrances and exits. This encouraged fans to throw scrunched up pieces of paper at the wrestlers. 


Match 1 – The Can-Am Connection (Rick Martel and Tom Zenk) vs Bob Orton and The Magnificent Muraco (with Mr. Fuji).

This was a better way to start Wrestlemania compared to previous years. Mr. Fuji received an amazing heel reaction when he was announced. It was a competitive match, but I believe they messed the finish up. Nothing to get too excited about. I was more interested in seeing the amazing amount of fans and how they reacted to everything. It must have been such a privilege to perform in front of 90,000+ fans.


Match 2 – Billy Jack Haynes vs. Hercules (with Bobby Heenan)

I was happy to see a hype video for this one. The feud saw Hercules bullying Haynes and claiming he could perform the Full Nelson better than Haynes. Despite the match being labelled as the “Full Nelson Challenge”, it was still booked as a single match.

Hercules had dropped the “Hernandez” name from the previous year. His physique was much more chiseled, and of course, he had acquired the services of Bobby Heenan. He also brought a chain to the ring. I can admit to not knowing much about Haynes. The fans cheered on his entrance.

I enjoyed the match. It was a slow-burner, but it ended up a solid contest. The finish was understandable, although I reckon the fans wanted to see a definite winner. Haynes got both men counted out by locking in the Full Nelson on the outside. Ventura, in typical heel fashion, blasted Haynes and labelled him as a coward for purposely getting them both counted out. What followed was a brutal assault by Hercules (with his chain), which left Haynes a bloody mess. The fans gave a loud negative reaction to the blood on Haynes’ face. Heenan said this was a victory later in the night, but no, it wasn’t.  


Match 3 – Hillbilly Jim, Haiti Kid, and Little Beaver vs King Kong Bundy, Little Tokyo, and Lord Littlebrook.

In one year, King Kong Bundy went from being in the main event of Wrestlemania, to this mixed tag match. With his own “midgets” (in those days, the term midget was used before such thing as political correctness), against a team of Hillbilly Jim and his midgets, the match stipulation disallowed the big wrestlers to be tagged in legally against any of the midgets.

It was a funny one. Bundy and Jim tagged in and stared each other down, to a decent reaction. One of the most shocking moments for me was the ending. Bundy decided to go against the stipulation, and drop a huge elbow on one of the midgets. The elbow drop looked vicious, which caught me by surprise. Bundy’s team was disqualified immediately, and the midgets from his team jumped to Hillbilly Jim’s side to protect their fellow midget. No idea what this match was meant to achieve. Probably a toilet break match.   


Match 4 – Harley Race (with Bobby Heenan and The Fabulous Moolah) vs Junkyard Dog

Harley Race made his Wrestlemania debut as the “King of Wrestling”. He was also using the entrance theme Jerry Lawler would adopt later. The match had a “Loser Must Bow” stipulation. The match was average, and it had a hilarious botch which saw Harley Race fail to deliver a falling headbutt. Junkyard Dog was a firm fan favourite again. I was surprised by the ending, as it came from nowhere. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say JYD had another Wrestlemania to forget.


Match 5 – The Dream Team (Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake) (with Johnny Valiant and Dino Bravo) vs The Rougeau Brothers (Jacques Rougeau and Raymond Rougeau)

Like previous Wrestlemania, The Dream Team failed to impress me. They argued throughout the match, and after the haphazard ending,  Beefcake was left on his own in the ring. This would lead to another storyline for Beefcake later in the night. The match served as a way to split Beefcake away from The Dream Team. The Rougeau Brothers impressed me though, with their chemistry and athleticism.


Match 6 – Roddy Piper vs Adrian Adonis (with Jimmy Hart)

Wow. So much difference from the previous year for both men. Piper was fighting Mr. T in a boxing match, while Adonis was wearing a pink dress in one of the worst matches in Wrestlemania history. The match was labelled as Roddy Piper’s retirement match, which made the winner more obvious. Adonis had dropped using pretty dresses in his matches, and was now showing off his huge frame … accompanied by one of the largest bellies ever. I’m not sure whether Adonis looks better with a dress on or not, it’s a close call. He does look more intimidating without.

I would consider this the second best match on the card. Easily the best match without Steamboat/Savage. It was also a hair vs hair match. Piper was super over as a babyface, and Adonis looked strong and intimidating. Adonis used his size, and Jimmy Hart, to gain leverage in the match. It was brutal, both men started by whipping each other with a belt. The match grew more intense over time, it was a real brawl. 

Adonis put Piper in the sleeper, but somehow managed to celebrate his victory too early as he let go of the hold before the referee could award the decision. Brutus Beefcake appeared for no reason at all to wake Piper up, so he could ambush Adonis and pick up the win. Beefcake brutally shaved Adonis’ head afterwards, which looked like it really hurt. It took forever to shave half of Adonis’ head before he gave up. Piper found a huge mirror to show to Adonis, who was furious and lashed out at Piper, he ran after Piper before Jimmy Hart could put something over his head to cover the embarrassment. 


Match 7 – The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart) and Dangerous Danny Davis (with Jimmy Hart) vs The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid) and Tito Santana

So disappointed with the match. Instead of having Tito Santana vs Danny Davis separate, they decided to mix feuds together in one match. Danny Davis was making his debut as a WWF wrestler after playing a corrupt referee. I really wanted this match to be for the WWF World Tag Team Championships between the Harts and The Bulldogs. I don’t want to say anything else about the match. It had some solid wrestling, and Dynamite Kid took more offense than all the other guys combined … but the ending killed it..


Match 8 – Butch Reed (with Slick) vs Koko B. Ware

A lame stocking filler match. The highlight was seeing Koko B. Ware’s bird look on from ringside. Tito Santana came out after the match to attack, and (try to) strip Slick of his clothes. I had no idea what was going on. At this point I was hoping Steamboat/Savage was around the corner.


Match 9 – Ricky Steamboat (with George Steele) vs Randy Savage (c) (with Miss Elizabeth)

If an artist could sit down and paint a wrestling match, this is what would happen. I have seen this match several times, and I understand why it gets so much praise. The biggest thing about it, is that it doesn’t look much different to some of the better matches we see today. However,  considering this was 1987, it stood tall as the standard bearer. They set the bar high, and it encouraged better match quality for years to come. Sadly it did not receive the attention it deserved at the time, Hulkamania was running wild and the company was firmly behind it.

I watched the Randy Savage documentary recently, and Steamboat told us how Savage had planned this match move-by-move. They had rehearsed it, and it was like nothing he had ever done before in a wrestling match. Back in those days, it was common for wrestlers to improvise, while also delivering a few key points to the match. Savage had choreographed the full thing, and many things I saw in this match, went on to become the norm for wrestling matches we see today. 

Steamboat expressed how excessive Savage was with perfecting matches in this way. He told us how difficult it could be, because Savage would get angry if something wasn’t clicking with his vision for whatever reason. Steamboat told us how, even though Savage was writing these matches down move-by-move, he was generous at giving his opponents their time to shine. He was always looking at the bigger picture, instead of using it to get himself over. Savage was a team player, even if he was excessively controlling. Steamboat trusted him, worked with him, and the result was this match. If there is any reason to watch Wrestlemania III, it’s for this match.


Match 10 – The Honky Tonk Man (with Jimmy Hart) vs Jake Roberts (with Alice Cooper)

Surprisingly lackluster. Following the previous match was always going to be difficult. This was the beginning of the rise of The Honky Tonk Man, who would soon win the Intercontinental Championship after Wrestlemania III. Honky Tonk used the ropes to cheat his way to victory. Roberts and Cooper held Jimmy Hart hostage after the match, and used “Damien” against him.


Match 11 – The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff (with Slick) vs The Killer Bees (B. Brian Blair and Jim Brunzell) by disqualification

This match was fun because of Jim Duggan. He decided to interrupt Volkoff during his singing of the Russian national anthem. The fans hated Sheik and Volkoff, popped loud for Duggan, and The Killer Bees also got a big reaction. Another cool part of the match was the crazy amount of scrunched up paper the fans had thrown into the ring. The ring looked like a rubbish dump  Duggan used his two by four on Sheik at the end of the match to give them a disqualification victory. The Killer Bees were going to lose anyway as Sheik had one of them in the camel clutch. Duggan led the 90,000+ fans into one of the biggest “USA!” chants of all time.


Match 12 –  Hulk Hogan (c) vs André the Giant (with Bobby Heenan)

The match is often plugged by WWE as one of the biggest matches in the history of the company. The promos were hilarious, as Hogan used all of his energy to deliver an intensity he failed to deliver in the first two Wrestlemania. In stark contrast to Hogan, Andre did very little in his promos. The first promo he stood like a statue and let Heenan do all the talking. The second promo he threatened Hogan and promised he would become champion.

Andre and Heenan made their entrance and the fans threw trash at them. I saw jumpers and all sorts of clothing being thrown around as well. Andre and Heenan ignored it. Hogan came out to a huge ovation, the biggest of the night. As both men stood in the ring, the “big fight feel” was there. I had never seen this match in its entirety, but I knew it wasn’t going to be a five-star classic. The stare-down was intense.

And then the match started. Hogan attempted a body slam early on, but was unable to and Andre fell on top of him. Andre almost won the match right there, in the first couple of minutes. And then a short time later, Andre delivered the epic “bearhug of doom”. The bearhug was on for an eternity. If it was any other match, the fans would have walked out and left them to it. I can’t remember a bearhug going on that long. 

A million years later, (still in the bearhug) Hogan appeared to pass out. The fans cheered him on, and Hogan somehow managed to escape after being in the hold for so long. After Andre made a mistake, Hogan took advantage and knocked The Giant off his feet with a clothesline. He followed it up with the iconic body slam WWE likes to replay. The pop for Hogan reminded me of when Andre did the same thing to Big Jon Studd at Wrestlemania I. After a leg drop, Hogan pinned the undefeated giant.

The match was disappointing. Having seen what Andre was capable of in the first two Wrestlemania, he didn’t really show up for this one. I guess they wanted to make Andre look as slow as possible to make Hogan look good. Andre was easily the better athlete, and the better wrestler, but he spent most of the match in a bearhug. It could have been so much more than it was. But you know what? The fans LOVED it! By today’s standards, this match would have been labelled as “boring”, and resulted in “we want refunds” being chanted after the PPV. The fans absolutely loved it, and they reacted to everything. 

I think they got a little quiet during the bearhug, but they got right back into it again when Hogan started making a comeback. It was historic, and I believe this main event was better than previous Wrestlemania main events on the crowd reactions alone. Following the match, Andre and Heenan were pelted hard with trash, as Hogan soaked up the atmosphere as long as possible. The fans didn’t want to leave, the majority of the 90,000+ fans stayed to celebrate with Hogan.

Conclusion – I was really looking forward to seeing this one after the rollercoaster of Wrestlemania II. I praised the decision to reunite Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura, it’s such a natural combination. I was happy to see fewer celebrities this time around, the show was heavily focused on the wrestlers. instead. Also we didn’t see as many backstage promos compared to previous Wrestlemania.

This was the “boom period” of the 1980’s for sure. WWE has never been able to out do themselves since. Vince expressed in a recent podcast that Wrestlemania III was the greatest thing the company has ever done.

I would like to talk about match quality now. I was relieved to see no squash matches, but I was unhappy to see so many average matches with little meaning. Outside of Steamboat/Savage, and Piper/Adonis, it’s hard to find any one match that stood out in terms of wrestling quality. I suppose the match involving The Harts and The Bulldogs was pretty good. but the involvement of Danny Davis killed all the possible potential. The main event was the worst worked match of the night, but it also received the biggest reactions. In those days it didn’t matter, the fans believed in the characters instead of nitpicking at their wrestling technique.

The overall event was much easier to digest when compared to Wrestlemania II, and the crowd was amazing. I want to say this was a Good to Very Good PPV, but nothing more. The undercard needed a lot of help, but they didn’t get any. Despite Heenan having amazing heel heat, only one result went his way. Jimmy Hart and Slick managed two victories, but Jimmy lost one as well, making Slick the most successful manager of Wrestlemania III. And that’s all from me! Would I recommend this PPV? Yes … I believe I would.

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