This weekend marks WrestleMania XVIII and what is being billed as a “once in a lifetime” battle between The Rock and the WWE’s current Hulk Hogan-esque figure, John Cena.
Speaking of the Hulkster, Thursday was a special anniversary for wrestling fans. It marked the 25th anniversary of what many considered to be the wrestling supercard of all supercards (and a significant pop culture event), WrestleMania III.
Originating from the cavernous Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, the centerpiece of WM III was a titanic meeting – WWF champ Hulk Hogan facing longtime friend (and now bitter enemy), “undefeated” icon Andre the Giant.
Meanwhile, the 12-match card featured other iconic figures including “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Bret Hart, The Iron Sheik, and a host of others.
Make no mistake; March 29, 1987 was the highest point for wrestling in the 1980s…period.
Well, since we have the wonderful invention of DVDs, let’s take a live blog look at what one of my friends calls “the lovemaking of professional wrestling.”
WRESTLEMANIA III – PONTIAC SILVERDOME: PONTIAC, MICHIGAN
ANNOUNCERS: GORILLA MONSOON (PLAY-BY-PLAY), JESSE “THE BODY” VENTURA, BOBBY “THE BRAIN” HEENAN (CAMEO), BOB UECKER (CAMEO), MARY HART (CAMEO)
0:05 – So begins one of the most boring but effective intros ever. A basic graphics package whips in the Wrestlemania III logo with jazz music heavy on the saxophone seemingly from a lost track off of a Kenny G album.
1:00 – The show opens with a shot of the massive sea of humanity in the Silverdome with Vincent Kennedy McMahon in a black tux enthusiastically welcoming the fans…and the singer of “America the Beautiful” Aretha Franklin.
3:04 – Quick footnote to this event. In 1987, I sat in the family living room watching this show on scrambled TV. Back then, it was still the early days of pay-per-view and I was seven years old. I had no idea how to trick my parents yet into ordering pay-per-view. At this point, I didn’t know how to play the “hey, I’m a good student, nice kid, and I deserve this” card. Plus, I was deathly afraid to ask my dad for fear he would say no.
5:45 – We go inside of the broadcast booth with Monsoon and Ventura joined by Hart and Uecker, who will play pivotal roles in the evening’s main event proceedings as the guest timekeeper and guest ring announcer respectively.
6:53 – Match time.
THE CAN-AM CONNECTION VS. DON MURACO & COWBOY BOB ORTON (W/MR. FUJI)
BACKSTORY: None to speak of other than it appeared to be your typical “let’s throw two heels together because we don’t have anything else for them” pairing. Although, Orton and Muraco were a part of the contingent to destroy Roddy Piper. As is the case with most PPVs, the designed intent is to get the crowd into it early (translation, the good guys win). Tom Zenk and Rick Martel (the Can-Am Connection) were a pair of high-flying youngsters.
MATCH: A rather routine affair with mad double-teaming by the Can-Amers, resulting in a pin of Muraco by Martel after Zenk tripped him…babyface cheating at its finest.
STARS (OUT OF FIVE): ** – It served its purpose with the good guys going over.
Cultural Significance: Any match where Mr. Fuji is just collecting a paycheck is a loss for all parties involved.
16:20 – Our first Mean Gene Okerlund sighting. He is joined by Bobby Heenan as they discuss the upcoming match between his man Hercules and Billy Jack Haynes. Heenan, always one to strive for journalistic integrity, points out to Okerlund that Billy Jack’s correct name is actually “Billy Jerk” Haynes.
16:40 – Hercules enters the picture to talk about heavy chains, Greek mythology, and full nelsons. Gotta love those guys who act like they lived before cars and electricity were invented.
17:10 – Ok. We’ve arrived to a pivotal point. Haynes is in the ring but that’s not the big story. He arrived to the ring with the assistance of a motorized cart shaped like a ring. I called it the ring rider. I thought this was literally the coolest thing ever. In fact, if I lived in a world with no social code, I’d marry a woman only under the condition that we tie the knot in a church large enough for ring riders to escort the bridal party down the aisle. This would be revolutionary. Too bad no sane woman would actually agree to this.
BATTLE OF THE FULL NELSONS: BILLY JACK HAYNES VS. HERCULES (W/BOBBY “THE BRAIN” HEENAN)
BACKSTORY: Both men claimed they were the best at applying the full nelson lock, a move that allowed their massive arms to squeeze the life out of their opponent via the neck. Of course, this led to a televised full nelson challenge that saw Hercules beat the stuffing out of Billy Jerk…err Billy Jack.
MATCH: Considering the technical limitations of the two, this match was about as good as one would expect. Power moves. Double clotheslines. Punching. The end came when Hercules, who was in the full nelson, fell out of the ring with Haynes in an attempt to break the hold. This led to a double countout, one of the most annoying finishes in wrestling. Hercules turns out to be the real winner. He nails Haynes with his chain, which busted the Oregon muscleman wide open.
STARS: ** 1/2 – The half star gets added because of the blood. Nice touch.
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE: These chains that bind me will also cause a man to bleed heavily if I hit him with it.
30:20 – Back at the interview center with King Kong Bundy, who is prepping for his six-person tag against Hillbilly Jim, The Haiti Kid, & Little Beaver. Bundy’s partners are Lord Littlebrook and Little Tokyo. The 400-pound Bundy threatens to injury anyone who gets in his way…including the midgets.
31:00 – Mr. Baseball has joined Gorilla and The Body in the booth…
KING KONG BUNDY, LITTLE TOKYO, & LORD LITTLEBROOK VS. HILLBILLY JIM, LITTLE BEAVER, & THE HAITI KID
BACKSTORY: As The Miz astutely pointed out on Raw a few weeks ago, Bundy’s fall from the main event of WM II to a match featuring midgets is the greatest single year fall ever for a wrestler. The NFL equivalent would be the Eagles winning the Super Bowl and then going 0-16 in the following season. Otherwise, midgets and big guys.
MATCH: The commentary was a knee-slapper. If it aired today, it would result in angry blog posts, firings, and wall to wall coverage on Nancy Grace. A sample…
VENTURA: I’m hoping to see Bundy put the big kibosh on one of these little guys. They’ll have to bring Aunt Jemima’s spatula out for them.
VENTURA: I think that if Little Beaver’s out there smacking Bundy, Bundy’s got every right to return it. What do you think Ueck?
UECKER: I think there’s a lot of beaver all over this place.
Anyhow, Bundy grows tired of Little Beaver’s constant interference and decides to take action. He slams LB and then drops an elbow on him for good measure. Ouch. Suffice to say, Bundy was disqualified and lost his heel little friends as a result.
STARS: ZERO – That’s how great this show turned out to be. Even the worst match delivered a memorable moment.
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE: Don’t poke a bear. Especially if it resembles King Kong Bundy. Also, this was one of the final significant moments for midget wrestlers.
39:30 – Mary Hart of Entertainment Tonight fame interviews Elizabeth to setup Steamboat/Savage later. Savage flies in to interrupt his lady in typical fashion before Liz’s word count gets past two. He alerts Hart that his phone number is on the back on his license plate if she wants to talk.
41:00 – We get a recap of the Junkyard Dog/”King” Harley Race feud, which is based on bowing down to the King. Okerlund interviews Race & Heenan with the “Queen of Wrestling”, the Fabulous Moolah. She is entrusted with the crown since they just invented some royal hierarchy in professional wrestling.
43:10 – JYD visits Okerlund. He says “as sure as I’m black and the day’s Sunday” that he will wear the crown.
43:35 – Monsoon: “Grab them cakes indeed!”
LOSER MUST BOW: JUNKYARD DOG VS. “KING” HARLEY RACE (W/BOBBY HEENAN)
BACKSTORY: Race tried to get JYD to bow on Saturday Night’s Main Event prior to this match. It didn’t happen. The Dog was adamant against bowing considering it wasn’t the Middle Ages or whenever those type of things happened.
MATCH: Both men have hard heads and enjoy head butting. An incredibly short match considering the duo’s star power…THREE MINUTES! JYD’s high point arrives following a Race pin. He performs a curtsy and bows before Race. Then, he shows his graciousness by belting Race with a chair. Dog struts around the ring with Race’s cape.
STARS: * – A bad match that clearly wanted to end so Dog could have his fun.
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE: Bow before no one.
50:30 – UH OH! Hulk Hogan is geeked up to face Andre and explains to Vince McMahon that Hulkamania is the purest form of the truth. During the interview, Hogan rips off his t-shirt. Vince appears to be a mix between terrified and aroused. “WHATCHA GONNA DO ANDRE THE GIANT WHEN THE REAL TRUTH, THE 24-INCH PYTHONS, AND HULKAMANIA RUNS WILD ON YOU?!?!??!!?!?!?!?!?!” Awesome.
53:00 – We go to another interview with the original “Dream Team”, Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake along with manager Johnny Valiant and Dino Bravo. Valiant utters the phrase “scrambled eggs, grandma” on worldwide television. I don’t exactly know what that means.
THE ROUGEAU BROTHERS VS. GREG “THE HAMMER” VALENTINE & BRUTUS “SOON TO BECOME THE BARBER” BEEFCAKE (W/”LUSCIOUS” JOHNNY VALIANT & DINO BRAVO)
BACKSTORY: Valentine and Beefcake coughed up the tag titles to the British Bulldogs at WM II and failed to regain them in a series of rematches. Valiant brought in Bravo to “escort” the team to the ring. Enter the Rougeau Brothers who were still looking to make a name in the WWF. What better way to do it than beating the ex-champs.
MATCH: This match centered around the face turn of Brutus Beefcake, who was painted as the incompetent boob of the team after accidentally striking Valentine during the bout. Tip of the cap to Monsoon who noted Beefcake’s new and rather average haircut. At the time, it appeared to be a rather innocuous comment. However, as we found out later, it’d have some merit. Anyhow, Valentine spent much of the match in the ring until Bravo interferes to give the Dream Team a win. Still upset over Beefcake’s miscalculated blow against Valentine, the Dream Team flees the scene, leaving Beefcake behind. The MVP of the match was actually a breathless Heenan, who ran into the broadcast booth to brag how great he was doing so far. Monsoon reminded him that Bundy lost the midget match. Heenan’s response: “I don’t deal with midgets. I don’t like midgets.”
STARS: ** – Finally! A match that advances a storyline!
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE: Beefcake became a face because his heel buddies left him behind. Also, an old adage prevailed during this match with the Beefcake incident; when life gives you lemons, pickup another job as a barber.
1:00:11 – It only took an hour but we’ve reached a match with some teeth to it. The feud recap of Roddy Piper and Adorable Adrian Adonis is displayed. Adonis, who had a biker persona during the early 80s but switched up. The previously dark-haired Adonis dyed his hair blond, wore make-up, wrestles in pink tights, had a talk show called “The Flower Shop” and weighed nearly 350 pounds. Woof. As a bonus, Jimmy Hart was his manager.
1:01:41 – Piper says he will not lose his final match to a guy who wears a dress and looks like he “shot the curtains at Days Inn.”
HAIR VS. HAIR: “ROWDY” RODDY PIPER VS. “ADORABLE” ADRIAN ADONIS
BACKSTORY: In a behind the scenes storyline, Piper became immersed in acting. Between 1987 and 1989, he appeared in five films including the critically-acclaimed “They Live”. Thus, this was billed as Piper’s final match because he was going to “retire.” Piper’s exit strategy was to become embroiled in a feud with Adonis through their talk shows (The Flower Shop & the iconic Piper’s Pit). The battle would climax at WM III in a hair vs. hair match. It would signal the end (temporarily), win or lose, for the Rowdy Scot.
MATCH: The crowd came alive thanks to Piper, who spent the first five minutes of the match beating the hell out of Adonis and Hart. Adonis gained control of the match and procured his finisher “Goodnight Irene” (a sleeper) on Piper, with outside assistance from Hart. Before Piper’s arm dropped to the mat for a third time, the Adorable One relinquished the move and began to celebrate. Inexplicably, Beefcake ran in to wake up Piper. Hot Rod slapped on his sleeper, sending the fans into Defcon 1 mode. Adonis went to sleep and Piper won his retirement match. Post-match, Piper and Beefcake combine to cut some of Adonis’s hair. Alas, this match marked the birth of Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake.
STARS: *** – Not a great match by any means but fun. I’m always a sucker for haircut matches. The fans got behind Piper. In fact, one fan ran in the ring to congratulate Piper. He was soon accosted by a wave of black suits and erased from the scene.
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE: Piper’s Hollywood run continued, leading to one of the great movie lines of all-time. Also, this match proved it pays to have friends in high places. One of Beefcake’s best friends behind the scenes was? Mr. Hogan. Sadly, Adonis left the WWF soon after this match and died a year later.
1:15:52 – After intermisssion, we return to with six-man tag action…
THE BRITISH BULLDOGS & TITO SANTANA VS. THE HART FOUNDATION & “DANGEROUS” DANNY DAVIS
BACKSTORY: Before there was Tim Donaghy in the NBA, the WWF had Danny Davis, who presided over Tito Santana’s I-C title loss to Randy Savage in 1986 and The Hart Foundation defeating the British Bulldogs for the tag titles in early ’87. The latter involved Davis giving the quickest three-count in wrestling history allowing the title change. WWF President Jack Tunney decided to suspend Davis’s referee license “for life plus 10 years.” This makes Sean Payton’s suspension appear to be a five-hour sanction. As a result, he became a wrestler. The Bulldogs and Santana wanted to destroy him.
MATCH: This match featured three of the WWF’s best wrestlers (Hart, Santana, & The Dynamite Kid) but the action revolved the faces trying to get to Davis. Whenever tagged in, Davis applied a couple of quick kicks and walked out of the ring. Eventually, Santana (and later Davey Boy Smith) entered to commence a massive beating of Davis, which included a figure-four leglock, tombstone piledriver, and powerslam. However, in usual slimy heel fashion, Davis found an opening and blasted Smith with Hart’s megaphone to get the pin.
1:30:40: Andre looks terrifying as Heenan gabs on about the death of Hulkamania.
“THE NATURAL” BUTCH REED (W/SLICK) VS. KOKO B. WARE
BACKSTORY: I’m imagining the logic for this match was based off of “hey, these guys need to get paid…put them in a match together.”
MATCH: Slick is dressed to the nines. However, Monsoon explains to Ventura that Slick isn’t wearing $39 worth of clothes. What a hater. Ventura adds that the B in Koko’s name stands for “Buckwheat.” A drab match ended with Reed cheating for the win. Slick attacks Ware post-match with his pimp cane. Cue Tito Santana, who must be upset his team just lost to a first-time wrestler. Santana ripped up Slick’s threads, which caused the Doctor of Style to scurry away.
STARS: * – The Santana attack on Slick is the match’s peak. That’s not a good sign.
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE: Slick’s rise and overall coolness led to the world being blessed with the soulful tune “Jive Soul Bro” a year later. Slick promoted the tune on TV while eating a bucket full of chicken at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Seriously. Really. That actually happened.
1:42:02- Steamboat/Savage breakdown…After this series, I always knew where to find my larynx.
1:44:00 – One of the most disappointing parts of any WrestleMania III DVD presentation? Due to copyright issues, Steamboat’s theme song “Sirius” is not included. That tune is easily one of the most underrated theme songs ever. It was later swiped by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
BACKSTORY: Back at WM II, Steele lost an I-C title match to Savage. Their feud was based on Steele’s infatuation with the Savage’s lovely manager, Elizabeth. Steele, unable to offer any intelligible discourse (hence the nickname), chased after Liz (and Savage) throughout the year. Meanwhile, Steamboat challenged Savage for the title in late ’86. During a TV match, the champion injured Steamboat by crushing the Hawaiian’s larynx and consequently putting him on the shelf. Weeks later, Steamboat returned during a Saturday Night’s Main Event bout between Steele and Savage. While a bevy of officials prevented Steamboat from killing Savage, Steele kidnapped Liz in the meantime. Despite Steamboat’s return, Savage was still elusive, which led to one of my favorite interview questions ever from Monsoon to Savage in February of ’87:
Monsoon: Do you have a senior prom coming up or something on March 29, the night of WrestleMania in the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan? I don’t see a contract anywhere with your name on it.
Soon after, Savage reluctantly agreed to face Steamboat at WM III.
MATCH: This is the Mona Lisa of wrestling matches. If anyone dared to ever call professional wrestling art, their argument would be based on this match. It was 14:35 of pure wrestling. A slew of reversals and near falls came to a head after referee Dave Hebner was knocked cold. Savage climbed to the top rope with a ring bell in tow, the same instrument he used to injure Steamboat months earlier. Steele jumped on the apron and stole the bell from Savage before he could re-injure Steamboat. Savage kicked The Animal and retained possession of the bell. However, Steele would not be denied. In a bit of poetic justice, he pushed Savage off the top rope. You live by the bell and you die by the bell. A Steamboat roll-up later and he was the new Intercontinental champ. An instant classic.
STARS: ***** – This is the Marilyn Monroe of wrestling matches.
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE: The historic Savage/Steamboat bout accomplished several things. Ask any wrestling fan over 30 and they are likely to list it as one of the five greatest matches ever. It was honored as Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s 1987 Match of the Year and lauded by many throughout the industry. It fortified Savage’s run to the top of the company. Later in the year, he became a good guy and joined forces with Hulk Hogan. When Hogan left to do No Holds Barred in 1988, Savage was pegged as the guy to take the world title. Steamboat’s joy was short-lived. He asked for time off following the bout to assist his wife in the birth of their first child, Richard Jr. The WWF kindly responded by forcing Steamboat to drop the title to the Honky Tonk Man in June.
2:04:30 – Mean Gene is with Jake Roberts and Detroit’s Alice Cooper. Yep. This was definitely 1987.
2:06:45 – HTM and “Colonel” Jimmy Hart are fired up. HTM says no “nightmare song” from Cooper for the public.
HONKY TONK MAN (W/”COLONEL” JIMMY HART) VS. JAKE “THE SNAKE” ROBERTS (W/ALICE COOPER)
BACKSTORY: Any time wrestlers have talk shows, it’s likely to lead to some disaster. HTM decided to play “Heartbreak Hotel” on Jake’s head during his “Snake Pit” program. Mix in a snake, Hart, and Alice Cooper and a WrestleMania match was born.
MATCH: HTM and Roberts were in an unfavorable spot; following what many considered one of the great bouts of all-time. Undeterred, they put on an entertaining show with Roberts and Cooper nearly giving Hart cardiac arrest after he had “Damien” draped on him. Unfortunately, the fan favorite Roberts dropped the match.
STARS: ** – Not terrible considering what it followed. Plus, I was pro-violence against Jimmy Hart at the time.
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE: Who knew that we were watching one of the great heels of the 80s in HTM? This match didn’t do a lot for Roberts but it helped catapult HTM, who would go on to win the I-C title in June.
2:20:10 – Okerlund announces that WM III set a world indoor attendance record of 93,173 fans. That’s a whooooooooooooole lot of people.
2:22:07 – Slick apparently didn’t bring a change of clothes to the Silverdome as he still rocks the “I was just mugged” look. He is back out with Sheik and Volkoff. By the way, let the record reflect that this was the golden age of heel managers. Fuji, Heenan, Hart, & a young Slick. This was the Murderer’s Row of managers. If EBay sold a picture featuring all four together in a Rat Pack-like pic, I’d spend the cheddar for it.
THE KILLER BEES (W/”HACKSAW” JIM DUGGAN) VS. THE IRON SHEIK & NIKOLAI VOLKOFF (W/SLICK)
BACKSTORY: A storyline was needed to demean foreigners and hype up patriotism. Remember, Ronald Reagan was still POTUS.
MATCH: The end arrived quickly. Duggan chases Volkoff into the ring while Jim Brunzell is in the Sheik’s dreaded Camel Clutch. Hacksaw changes course and smokes the Sheik with his trusty 2 X 4. Cue the bell. The Bees get disqualified.
STARS: * – A bad match but the fans popped for the Duggan weapon shot.
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE: So, remember how foreigners were portrayed as evil during the 80s in pro wrestling and guys like Duggan were the embodiment of Americana? While feuding around the country, Sheik and Duggan were arrested together on drug possession after an event in May 1987. The duo decided to carpool together despite being on-screen foes. Both were fired soon after their arrest. In retrospect, it would have been a far greater upset if he was caught in a car partying with B. Brian Blair.
2:33:25 – Hogan vs. Andre. The showdown of showdowns….primarily based off of jealously and one guy getting a shorter trophy than the other. It worked brilliantly. The best part of the buildup comes when Hogan accepts the challenge with an emphatic YESSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How is this clip not on You Tube? Distressing.
2:36:20 – Hogan’s interview is at an intensity level only seen out of lions. It’s definitely unnatural and unhealthy but really fun.
2:39:40 – Andre’s entrance is classic. As he waves to the massive throng of people from the cart, he is pelted with garbage all the way down to the ring.
2:41:35 – Heenan changed into the Belichick special. He is resplendent in his white and gold tuxedo…the first and only time he wore that get-up.
2:42:14 – Real American hits and away we go…
BACKSTORY: Every account skips straight to the Piper’s Pit segments for the build of this match, which technically is off a bit. The WWF “suspended” Andre in storyline terms during 1986 because he missed events. In reality, he was injured and filming The Princess Bride. Late in ’86, reinstatement hearings began. Oddly enough, Andre did not show up to those either. Instead, his longtime enemy Bobby Heenan appeared. Jesse Ventura performed a series of interviews with Andre, Heenan, and WWF President Jack Tunney to expose what he believed was a cover-up. Eventually, the “suspension was suspended” and Ventura discovered Andre’s intentions…he was tired of playing second banana to Hogan. He wanted a title shot against his now-former friend at WM III but with The Brain in his corner. Meanwhile, Heenan grew desperate to dethrone Hogan from atop the WWF and successfully hitched his buggy to Andre. A pair of bizarre trophy ceremonies, a ripped t-shirt, and a damaged crucifix later and we had “the biggest match in wrestling history” on our plate in Pontiac, Michigan.
MATCH: If you strip away the setting, stakes, and circumstances, it’s an awful match. However, factoring in those items makes it one of the signature matches in WWE history. It starts with Hogan failing to slam Andre and nearly getting pinned in the bout’s first thirty seconds (the opening series would serve as a driving force behind logic for the rematch eleven months later). Andre works on Hogan’s back for much of the match until the 7’5” Frenchman careens into the post. After a failed piledriver attempt by Hogan, Andre took back into the ring to finish him off. However, a Hogan clothesline decked Andre for the first time in the match. The Hulkster hulked up, slammed the 500 pound giant and applied a legdrop for the pin to successfully retain his title.
STARS: ** – Technically, it wasn’t on the same planet as Savage/Steamboat but Hogan’s slam of Andre remains the most enduring image in wresting history.
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE: This proved to be the crowning moment of both men’s careers. Hogan, who is still the only wrestler (and probably the last) to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, was already a superstar but further enhanced his legend. It gave him a license to make awful movies for the next few years because “he was the dude that slammed Andre.” Hogan and Andre met again on NBC’s The Main Event on Feb. 5, 1988 in what was the most watched wrestling program ever (15.2 rating and 33 million viewers). Andre won the match with a major assist from new cohort Ted DiBiase and an evil twin referee. Perhaps, none of that success would have been possible without what happened at WM III. The Hogan slam of Andre is the moment that all other WrestleMania moments are judged against. It was iconic. It was epic. It was WrestleMania.