I decided that, seeing as WrestleMania is on the horizon, I’d go and review every main event that has happened over the events 36 year history. I’m defining “main event” as the match that goes on last, so that will almost surely mean that I miss off some classic bouts, but don’t blame me, I didn’t book these shows!
I’ll be releasing one of these every week in the build up to Mania, with each one containing five matches. Hopefully they are fun and give you something to look forward to. If not, it shouldn’t be too difficult to ignore them at least what with all the other stuff going on here on the Blog of Doom during Mania Season.
This week we’ll be starting out with the Main Events from the first five WrestleMania’s.
Anyway, that’s enough chatter from me, let’s watch some chuffing wrestling!
Guest Referee: Pat Patterson
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr Wonderful” Paul Orndorff w/ “The Bodyguard Ace Cowboy” Bob Orton Vs Hulk Hogan and Mr. T w/ Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka
The first Main Event of the first ever WrestleMania was a big time spectacle that attracted the WWF all kinds of press due to the involvement of Mr. T. T may now be known mostly as a comedy figure with a tired catchphrase, but in the 80’s he was a genuine star, so convincing him to come along and actually wrestle was a big deal for the WWF. The casual fan (back when such a thing still existed) was enticed by the appeal of the match and it gave the WWF a strong Main Event to close the inaugural Mania with. The addition of Muhammad Ali as guest enforcer was the icing on the cake.
Piper gets a live bagpipe band to play him down to the ring. Hogan was using “Eye of the Tiger” as entrance music at this time but it’s dubbed over on the WWE Network version of the show with “Real American”, for obvious reasons. There actually was a video up on YouTube a while back that had all the music left intact, but I reckon WWE sniped that down a long time ago. Piper legitimately hated T in real life, so Hogan apparently had a nightmare trying to keep the heels from killing T for real.
Piper demands to start and T demands to start with him. They face off and trade slaps which leads to Piper getting an amateur takedown. T shows some amateur credentials of his own though and manages to make is way back to his feet, much to Piper’s annoyance. T actually manages to drill Piper with a fireman’s carry slam, which causes an enraged Piper to tackle him into the heel corner. This leads to a pier six brawl featuring all four men and their seconds getting involved. Ali soon puts a stop to that, in probably the best use of him, and the heels bail outside to cool down.
Back in, the heels have their heads rammed together and Hogan smashes Piper with an atomic drop. T comes in again and actually gets some impressive slams and takedowns, with the crowd into it all. Hogan eventually ends up getting lured to the floor however, which leads to him getting ambushed and walloped with a chair for the cut off. Back inside, it’s heat on Hogan, as the heels work him over with some nice tandem stuff, including a double atomic drop.
Orndorff eventually misses a knee drop from the top rope, which allows Hogan to make a tag to T. T’s comeback is short lived however and he’s quickly nullified by Orndorff. T is clearly getting tired now, so Piper wisely puts him in a front facelock for a few moments before T breaks free and tags Hogan back in. With Hogan in, the match breaks down and Patterson gets distracted by Snuka trying to come in. As Patterson tries to eject Snuka, Orndorff holds Hogan in a full nelson in hope that Orton will come off the top rope and clobber him with the cast on his “broken” arm. However, Hogan is able to move and Orton ends up braining Orndorff. Hogan pins Orndorff, whilst T takes care of Piper, and the faces are victorious!
WINNERS: HULK HOGAN AND MR. T
T got gassed near the end but he held his own generally well and the match was a lot of fun. Piper and Orton abandon Orndorff after the match, leaving him to wake up in the ring. He wakes like a startled wild animal, but the faces back off and allow him to leave without further incident. The show ends with Hogan and T being interviewed by Mean Gene and we get the end credits to play us out.
This is hardly a classic or anything but it’s a good celebrity match for the most part and it’s definitely enjoyable to watch. Obviously future Mania events would tend to be built around the WWF Title being on the line, but seeing as they had T to come in it made sense for top babyface Hogan to be his partner. T would come back the next year for a lame boxing match with Roddy Piper and the magic wasn’t there the second time around.
Steel Cage Match
Champ: Hulk Hogan Vs King Kong Bundy w/ Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
The set up for this match had seen Bundy crush Hogan in the corner with his dreaded “Avalanche” splash, injuring the champ’s ribs in the process. Bundy also switched managers from Jimmy Hart to Bobby Heenan as well, due to Heenan’s camp of wrestlers being Hogan’s main rivals at the time.
Hogan came into the match with a taped mid-section and designs on revenge, whilst Bundy was looking to end Hogan’s over two year reign as champion. As was usually the case with the WWF, this match is about escaping the cage itself, rather than winning by pin fall or submission.
Seriously, give Bundy a trench coat and some roller blades and he could have had one heck of a role on the table if they ever wanted to make a movie version of Metal Gear Solid 2. The manager of the LA Dodgers Tommy Lasorda is doing the ring introductions, although he seems to get a fair amount of boos. Must be lots of San Francisco Giants fans in the crowd tonight (I hope that reference is correct. My knowledge on baseball extends about as far as the episode of The Simpsons with Daryl Strawberry)
Robert Conrad is the referee, whilst pink scrubs himself Ricky Schroder is the timekeeper. A referee seems quite redundant in an escape rules cage match to be honest. Hogan comes out to Real American here, although I don’t know if that was actually his theme song yet or they just dubbed it over on the The WWE Network. Hogan hammers away on Bundy to start, showing no mercy, but Bundy doesn’t fall down and eventually targets the ribs with some kicks and stomps.
Bundy slams Hogan and then stands on his head, just to be a jerk, before making a quick break for the exit. Hogan manages to stop that, so Bundy clubs him down and starts removing the protective tape from Hogan’s mid-section. Do you think DDP watched this match quite a lot and took some notes? Bundy actually tapes Hogan to the ropes and makes another break for it, but Hogan is able to stop him again and pulls him back into the cage by his face.
Hogan punches away and sends Bundy face first into the cage, busting him open in the process. Hogan works the cut in vicious style, as the blood thirsty crowd cheers along. Hogan actually climbs the cage and stomps on Bundy’s head as payback for Bundy doing it to him earlier, but makes the mistake of going for a body slam and Bundy falls on top of him. Bundy crawls for the door, but Hogan doesn’t stay down for long and stops him again.
Bundy shrugs that off however and hits the Avalanche in the corner, before getting a big splash on the mat for good measure. Bundy tries crawling out again, but Hogan desperately holds onto his ankle to stop him and no sells another Avalanche. Hogan gets a nice looking power slam onto Bundy and then drops the leg to a big reaction from the crowd. Hogan tries to climb out, but Bundy gets back to his feet and climbs up to meet him, only for Hogan to kick him back down to the mat.
Heenan tries to stop Hogan climbing out, but Hogan fends him off and climbs down to the floor to win. Heenan climbs into the cage to get away from Hogan, but Hogan corners him and puts a beating on him to complete his revenge. Hogan celebrates in the cage with his title as a bloody Bundy retreats to the back.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: HULK HOGAN
This was almost too short actually, as Bundy didn’t really get much of a heat segment and the match was mostly Hogan battering him to get his revenge. Rather than have Bundy get a prolonged heat segment with the idea of him snuffing out Hogan’s career, he mostly just went for quick escape attempts.
It’s a perfectly sound match structure for a heel to try and do that in a title match, but Bundy was presented as a monster heel in the build up to the match and didn’t really work the match like that. He kind of just worked it as a normal heel, but one with a bit of extra timber on his frame. Outside of Hogan not managing to get the slam and Bundy not bumping, this really didn’t feel like a Face Vs Monster Heel match at all.
You could have done the same match with someone like Rick Rude for instance, with the only really difference being that Rude would have bumped around a bit more. The actual structure of the match wouldn’t have been that different, which is weird because normally when you’re booking someone like a monster you give them the majority of the match and focus mostly on the babyface making sporadic comebacks. Hogan took about half the match here, if not more.
As a match it was fine, with Hogan triumphing and even getting to bloody up his heel opponent along the way for added measure. It wasn’t an especially epic main event, but it was a perfectly watchable one that gave the fans what they wanted to see and sent them home happy. Bundy was fine in his role as challenger, even if he didn’t look like much of a monster. It had the feel of a slightly rushed house show main event actually, probably because it took so long to set up the cage.
Champ: Hulk Hogan Vs Andre The Giant w/ Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
This show was hyped as “The Irresistible Force Vs The Unmovable Object”, due to both Hogan and Andre being supremely well protected in the years prior to the bout finally happening. Andre’s heel turn on Hogan is the stuff of legend, as he turned heel by joining up with Hogan enemy #1 in Heenan and then ripped the crucifix chain from his chest.
We could spend some time treading the old ground of exactly how many people were actually in the building to watch this, but I really find that whole debate so tiresome at this stage, especially as it ultimately doesn’t matter. Regardless of whether there were 78,000 people, 93,000 people or some number in between in the building, the fact remains that it is an incredibly impressive achievement that hardly ever happened up to that point and didn’t again for a long time afterwards.
People of course have a strong emotional connection to this show and see it as an almost magical event that shaped a big part of their wrestling fandom, so the idea that the WWF might have embellished anything to do with it can be a hard pill to swallow. At the end of the day though, it doesn’t matter. The crowd being slightly less than what they told you it was doesn’t take away the magic or the romance that comes with this show.
They managed to get a fuck tonne of people to come to fucking DETROIT of all places to watch a wrestling show. Even if it was “only” 78,000, it was still an ungodly huge number and they should be commended for it. Having there be less than 93,000 people in the Pontiac Silverdome for WrestleMania III does not kill your childhood, and don’t ever let people make you think that it does.
Wrestling companies lie, about a myriad of things. Attendance figures are just the tip of the seedy iceberg. You only need to look at how many times New Japan used to lie about attendance at the Tokyo Dome back in the day to see that there probably isn’t a wrestling company in existence that hasn’t at the very least rounded the crowd number up to make an attendance that more eye catching. It happens and it’s just par for the course with such a carnie business.
It does not take away from how impressive a show WrestleMania III was at the box office or from the way it blew your mind when you saw that many people in a building to watch people pretend to fight one another. WrestleMania III was a masterpiece in hype and promotion that WWE should rightfully be proud of. Disputing the number they claimed were in the building doesn’t automatically mean that the show diminishes as a result.
Anyway, with that part hopefully dealt with, let’s watch the actual match. Hogan stupidly goes for the body slam right out of the gate and Andre promptly falls on top of him for a near fall that would come back to haunt The Hulkster down the road. That leaves Hogan on the defensive for the rest of the match, at which point Andre slowly and deliberately works him over. Andre was far beyond his physical prime at this stage, so his offence isn’t especially crisp, but it serves its purpose of telling the story of how Hogan is outgunned and facing his toughest challenge ever.
Hogan sells Andre’s attacks like they are draining him of his very life force, putting over how dangerous Andre is as a challenger. Hogan gets a bit of a flurry in at one stage and manages to ram Andre’s face into the turnbuckles, but a big boot from Andre puts him right back down to the mat and the people are pissed. It’s amazing how they’ve done basically so little but have the crowd in the palm of their hands. It really is masterful.
Andre tries crunching Hogan’s mid-section with a bear hug, which Hogan again sells impressively. It perhaps goes on a tad too long, but Andre was struggling to even move at this stage in his life, so they needed shortcuts like this to stretch the match out a bit. Hogan eventually manages to fight his way out of the hold with some punches, which was a technique I believe Buster Boughlie used in his classic 5 out of 7 falls match with Grizzled George in the Swiss Alps back in 1927.
Hogan still can’t knock Andre down however and Andre floors him with a big chop. Andre is clearly really struggling now, as he’s breathing heavy and needs to hold the ropes just to stay upright. Andre kicks Hogan to the outside but head butts the post by accident, which leads to Hogan going for a ludicrous piledriver attempt on the cement. Andre of course easily blocks that, as Jesse Venture rightly gets on Hogan for poor sportsmanship.
Hogan finally manages to knock Andre down with a clothesline back inside, felling him like a tree. What follows is one of the most famous images in wrestling history, as Hogan heaves Andre up with a body slam and then drops the leg to pick up the three count as the crowd goes radio rental! Even Jesse has to give Hogan credit following that one.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: HULK HOGAN
The biggest criticism laid at the feet of this match is that the work, especially from Andre, is pretty bad. It’s a valid complaint to make, as Andre was already beyond the point of being physically knackered at this stage and it was incredibly sad to see the WWF continue to keep shoving him out there for three more years.
However, what I think saves this match is the story and the crowd. The latter are up for everything and are engrossed by the action in the ring. They are strongly behind Hogan and lose their minds whenever he gets the slightest opportunity to lay a whupping on Andre. Even if some of the in ring action isn’t tightly executed, the general atmosphere is top notch and you can almost feel the stadium buzzing throughout the contest.
The story and match structure is exceptional in this one. There’s no other way to describe it in my mind. Knowing that Andre isn’t physically capable of doing a back and forth styled match, they don’t even bother and have Hogan on the defensive almost immediately due to not being able to get the slam. Thus the whole match becomes Hogan trying to ascend the mountain whilst fighting from underneath, even getting to the point where he desperately tries a piledriver on the concrete because he’s out of ideas. Eventually though he keeps persevering and is rewarded by being able to knock Andre down, at which point they take it home immediately at the absolute peak of the crowd heat with the slam and leg drop.
Honestly there are few matches put together as well as this one. I don’t really know who you can give the credit to. I know in Hogan’s book he says that he came up with it all, but he also said a lot of stuff in that book that was absolute bull-shine, so you might need to take that with a pinch of salt. Knowing how great a mind he has for the business and storytelling, I’m sure Pat Patterson probably put his two cents in as well. Regardless, whoever came up with the structure for this match deserves a medal, as they did everything they could to get around Andre’s limitations without outright getting someone else to wrestle the match for him, and that should be commended.
Tournament Final for the vacant WWF Title
Ted Dibiase w/ Andre The Giant Vs Randy Savage w/ Miss Elizabeth and Hulk Hogan
Remember that near fall I mentioned when Hogan failed to get the slam at first in the Mania III match? Well Andre and Heenan declared that Andre had actually won on that near fall and used it to eventually earn themselves a rematch for the Title in February 1988. Andre eventually won that match under controversial circumstances, as in storyline Ted Dibiase paid to have “plastic surgery” done to insert a twin of head ref Dave Hebner, who promptly went on to count Hogan out even though his shoulder was clearly up.
In real life Dave’s brother Earl had left the NWA and come to work in the WWF, so they decided to make use of having the twin brothers in the same company. Dibiase had paid for all of this because Hogan had previously refused to sell the WWF Title to him, so Dibiase bought Andre’s contract from Heenan for $1,000,000 and subsequently managed him to victory because he knew that Andre would sell him the belt once he had it.
One has to ponder why he didn’t just get a match for himself against Hogan and then still do the old “Twin Hebner” thing, but I’m guessing it was because getting Andre to do it for him made him seem like even more of a heel. Andre indeed agreed to hand the Title over to Dibiase, but WWF President Jack Tunney decided this just wasn’t cricket and vacated the belt, setting up a tournament for WrestleMania IV. Andre once again did Dibiase’s bidding, getting both himself and Hogan DQ’ed in an earlier around to ensure that Hogan wouldn’t make it to the Title decider. Thus the WWF fans had to entrust themselves to Randy Savage, a man who had already wrestled 3 times that night, to prevent them from the horror of WWF Champion The Million Dollar Man.
Virgil isn’t here for this one as Hogan gave him a vicious suplex on the concrete earlier in the night, so Andre is coming out to back up Dibiase instead. He wastes no time making himself useful for his boss, by tripping Savage whenever he threatens to get any momentum going, thus allowing Dibiase to control things. Eventually Andre stands between Savage and Dibiase so that Savage can’t get an axe handle smash, so he confers with Elizabeth and sends her to the back. The commentators can guess where this is going, and indeed she returns with Hulk Hogan to come and sit in Savage’s corner.
Dibiase still manages to control things in the ring however, as Savage is really feeling the effects of his previous matches. I personally think they should have had Dibiase pay off his Quarter Final opponent so that he would have got into the Final wrestling just the one match, just to really amp up his heel status. Dibiase locks in the Million Dollar Dream and that looks to be all she wrote, but Hogan comes in and clocks Dibiase with a chair, which allows Savage to head up for the Macho Elbow to pick up the pin and the Title.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: RANDY SAVAGE
This was quite disappointing actually considering how good both men are. It didn’t help that the Trump Plaza is an awful place to hold wrestling as it was filled with casino goers and Trump’s mates, who didn’t really give that much of a crap about wrestling and thus weren’t into the drama of the match. Have that match in front of an actual wrestling crowd and it would have had much better heat, and would have in turn been more enjoyable to watch.
Champ: Randy Savage Vs Hulk Hogan
Despite being united the previous year, Savage grew jealous of Hogan and thought that he was trying to put the moves on his woman, thus the team split up and WrestleMania V was to be the show where the Mega-Powers EXPLODED!!
Elizabeth comes down to sit in the neutral corner here, not wanting to pick sides. Savage stalls to start, only to get shoved down by Hogan when they finally lock up. The crowd seems much better this year than they were in the same venue the previous Mania. Hogan continues to get the better of Savage, so the Champ uses Elizabeth as a human shield to buy himself some time. Savage as the dangerous psychotic coward really is a sight to see. He was just so good at playing that character. He was a great babyface too but this heel character was him at his absolute best I think.
Hogan continues to control things but Savage goes to the eyes and is finally able to start making some progress. Hogan soon fights back though and takes Savage down with the Axe Bomber lariat before getting some payback for Savage raking his eyes earlier by doing it back to him with his boot. See, I don’t mind Hogan cheating if it’s payback for a previous spot. That makes sense at least and is just giving back to the heel for their own devious antics.
Savage kicks Hogan in the face at some point and Hogan starts bleeding from it, which leads Jesse to begin demanding a blood stoppage in classic anti-Hogan heel announcer style. Savage targets the bloody eye with punches, which leads even Gorilla to want the ref to check it for the sake of Hogan’s safety. Savage makes the mistake of slapping Hogan however, which allows Hogan to fire up and make a comeback, as this match continues to ebb and flow. Savage takes a monster bump over the top rope as Hogan lawn darts him to the outside.
This actually draws Elizabeth over to check on him, but he violently rejects her and goes after Hogan again. Hogan tries to ram Savage into the ring post, but Elizabeth pleads with him not to, which allows Savage to send Hogan into the post instead before threatening Elizabeth, which causes her to be taken away from ringside and officially breaks them up as a duo for two years. With the distraction of Elizabeth gone, Savage gives Hogan the axe handle smash over the metal barricade and puts him back inside, where he continues to work the challenger over.
Hogan sells the heel beat down from Savage big, as Savage goes as far to choke Hogan with wrist tape as he lets the hate flow through him and officially joins the Darkside (sorry Night). Satisfied with his handiwork, Savage heads up top for the REVIVING ELBOW, which leads to Hogan doing the Hulk Up routine before putting Savage away with the leg drop.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: HULK HOGAN
I’d not watched this one in a while and it wasn’t quite as good as I remembered it. It was still a good match that eschewed the normal match structure to go for a more back and forth battle, which I liked, but it also felt kind of flat somehow. Though they were better than the previous year, the Trump Plaza crowd were still lacking and it affected the atmosphere somewhat.
I know a lot of people think that they should have delayed Hogan’s win till Summer Slam, and I understand the sentiment, but to me the idea of sending the fans home with a bad ending after a Mania in the 80’s sounds pretty ridiculous. One thing the WWF almost always tried to do on its big pay per view events during this period was send the fans home happy with a babyface win and it was a big reason for the company’s success.
WWF fans wanted to tune in and see evil vanquished. You bought the pay per view, you watched the babyface win and you left satisfied. To mess with the formula when it was still working would have been a mistake I feel. It would have worked in the NWA, but that was a different type of fan who saw things a different way. Your typical WWF fan didn’t want to see heels succeeding, they wanted to see them trounced.
If anything I could see Hogan failing actively hurting the company business wise, not helping it, as it would cause fans to lose faith in him. Like it or not, the WWF back then was a “babyfaces over” company, and that meant that when the two locked horns in the Mania Main Event you put the babyface over. Things would change in the future (with Triple H’s pro-NWA influence clearly being felt more these days where WWE now is a “heels over” company most of the time) but in 1989 it would have been super risky to have a heel walk out of Mania with the WWF Title, so I understand why they didn’t do it and dispute it would have been the slam dunk business wise that a lot of others think it would have been. WWF fans had no real history of wanting to watch the babyface chase. They wanted the babyface to win and then defend the Title.
Outside of Mania IV, all of these matches ranged from fine to good. Nothing amazing yet, but overall this was a decent start.
Well that’s five WrestleMania main events in the bag. I’ll see you all next week when we cover Mania’s VI to X!