The Write Off: WrestleMania I

Well this is where it all began: WrestleMania I from Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. As most people know by now this was a make or break show for the WWF because Vince & Linda McMahon put everything on the line to make this a success and of course the rest is history. Enjoy!

Event Details:
Location: Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York
Hosts: Gorilla Monsoon & Jesse “the Body” Ventura
Reported Attendance: 22,000

-Vince McMahon gives a full rundown of the card while some pretty cool music plays in the background

-“Mean” Gene Okerlund of all people sings the National Anthem. Well, I guess that makes sense since they probably shilled out a ton of money for the three celebrities in the main event. By the way, Okerlund has to look at cue cards while he’s singing…that’s kind of sad. However, he does a pretty good job all in all.

-Opening Contest: The Executioner vs. Tito Santana:

Who would’ve thought back in 1985, starting with this match, that WrestleMania would be running strong for twenty-one years and counting? Criss-cross starts and Santana dropkicks the Executioner to the floor. Back in, Santana gets a headlock and gets a takedown off the ropes to get a two-count. Monsoon works in his commentary spot about how he’s seen no one pinned with a headlock. Executioner makes a comeback by taking Santana to the buckles, getting a headbutt, and a knee to the gut. Executioner attempts a step-over-toehold, but Santana kicks him away. However, Executioner gets it the second time only to have Santana turn him around for a two-count. Executioner backdrops out of a Santana piledriver, gets a slam, but Santana throws him off the top rope. Crowd is pretty hot, which adds to the match. Santana splash off the ropes hits knees and in a funny moment the Executioner gets kicked over the top rope by Santana when he tries to work over the leg and lands in a ringside chair. Santana wastes no time in slamming the Executioner into the ring from the apron, hits the flying forearm, and attaches the figure-four leglock for the submission at 4:42. Basically a squash match just to give Santana something to do on the card and keep him in the picture. I always hate how squash matches end, though, with a submission when the move hasn’t been set up, though. *½

-King Kong Bundy (w/Jimmy Hart) vs. Special Delivery Jones:

This is a very important match in WrestleMania history, but I won’t spoil it if you don’t know why. Bundy catches Jones to start the match when Jones charges at him, dumps him into the buckles, splashes him against the buckles, and hits the Avalanche splash for the win in 24 seconds. Nevertheless, according to the “official” timekeeper the match lasted nine seconds long thereby setting a unique WrestleMania record. It’s fun to look at Bundy’s climb through WrestleMania’s as he set a time record here, main evented against Hulk Hogan at the next WrestleMania, and was relegated to wrestling with Hillbilly Jim and midgets at WrestleMania III. Oh well, life isn’t perfect. DUD

-Matt Borne vs. Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat:

Another filler match here on the show and I’ll take this time to say that the ropes are REALLY loose for this show. Lockup starts the match and Steamboat unloads with the martial arts techniques and works in a headlock. Steamboat hits an atomic drop, mocks Borne’s selling, and goes back to the head. Some things never get old and mocking someone else’s selling is a perfect example of that. Borne comes back after an inverted atomic drop and a knee to the gut and then whips Steamboat into the buckles. However, Steamboat wraps his legs around Borne in the corner when he comes too close, hits a second rope chop, and then works in the headlock again which turns into a front facelock. A few fans in the front of the crowd take the opportunity to loudly chant “boring.” Borne fights out of the facelock and hits a belly-to-belly suplex out of the corner. Suplex by Borne gets two. Fists versus chops battle is won by Steamboat and he hits a back suplex. Steamboat hits a swinging neckbreaker and a wacky running chop. Kneedrop gets two. Borne uses the good ol’ rake of the eyes to stagger Steamboat, but Steamboat gets the better of a nice ropes sequence and the flying bodypress finishes at 4:38. Match was pretty blah, which I hate to say because I love Steamboat. **

-Brutus Beefcake (w/Johnny Valiant) vs. David Sammartino (w/Bruno Sammartino):

I believe these two had some kind of rivalry leading up to this show, but I don’t recall the details since I wasn’t born until a year and a half after this show. Crowd pops big for Bruno, and rightfully so, which shows you were their attention is going to do once this match starts. This is before Beefcake became “the barber” or a tag team champion with Greg Valentine and he still wasn’t much to see in the ring (not that David Sammartino was either). However, before this match, since both are equal in their lack of in-ring talent, I’ll go and pick David simply because I’d rather have Bruno in my corner for a fight than Johnny V. Lockup sequence leads to a push off by Beefcake and some stalling. Ventura says that whoever loses will send their career back six months to a year. Hmm, then I hope they both lose. As David works in a wrestling sequence (which is decent) with Beefcake we get HIGH QUALITY technology for 1985 with a “picture and picture” glance at what Bruno is doing on the floor. Beefcake stalls on the outside and comes back in where David works in a front facelock. Where are those idiots who were chanting “boring” during the Steamboat match? David works the arm for a while and after Beefcake gets up it takes an eternity to get back to a lockup, where Beefcake gets a headlock. What is this, an exhibition of crowd killing 101? Beefcake gets a BRUTAL shoulderblock, but David takes him down and does some silly stuff with the legs before applying a spinning toe hold (something that ACTUALLY looks like it may be painful). I sort of wish David had stuck to the arm he started working over because it looks like he’s hopping around from body part to body part and that’s not cool. Beefcake gets an eye rake to get control, hits a backdrop, and drops some forearms, completely no-selling the leg work which is ridiculous since it took up over two minutes of the match. Beefcake hits a slam and just uses kicks and fists. Hell, this match is so confusing in its psychology that even Monsoon doesn’t know what to say for some of Beefcake’s attacks. Beefcake unloads in the corner until David reverses a whip into the corner and hits a backdrop. David fights to his feet, gets some weak standing offense, and hits a suplex for a two-count. Beefcake nails a headbutt to the midsection and tosses David to the outside where Valiant slams him. Of course that causes Bruno to come after Valiant and they carry their action into the ring where it ends in a big brawl and a double-disqualification at 11:42. What kind of finish is that? Better yet, WHY do we need to protect both guys? I’ll give a point for effort, but nothing more. ½*

-Intercontinental Championship Match: Greg “the Hammer” Valentine (Champion w/Jimmy Hart) vs. The Junkyard Dog:

Valentine was busy in a feud with Tito Santana at this point in his career, something that becomes important later on. JYD works over the arm and uses the best offensive weapon he can use: his head. Valentine gets a kneelift after some stalling, but JYD avoids a falling chop and uses the crawling headbutts to send Valentine to the outside part of the apron where Hart offers him words of encouragement. Back in, Valentine works the leg after knocking JYD down after a forearm. JYD fights off a figure-four leglock, but Valentine unloads in the corner. However, the JYD no-sells (surprise), headbutts Valentine twice allowing him to flop, and JYD forgets to sell the leg. Hart jumps on the ring apron to distract the referee, but Valentine collides with Hart when he tries to ambush the JYD, who has taken issue with Hart’s presence on the apron. Crowd goes wild thinking the JYD might stand a chance at winning the belt, but the battle goes to the corner where Valentine rakes the eyes and uses the Flair pin to retain at 5:56. Maybe I should quit calling that move the Flair pin and start calling it “the Carlito finish”, what do you think? BUT WAIT!!! Tito Santana suddenly comes charging out of the locker room because he was so thrilled with this match and tells the referee that Valentine cheated. So therefore, in logic that only exists in the wrestling world the referee orders Valentine return to the ring to restart the match, and Valentine in a SMART MOVE says “screw you” and just takes the countout at 6:06. I wish they’d just booked Santana-Valentine for this show instead so I could’ve seen Valentine in a good match instead of having JYD drag it all down. ½*

-WWF Tag Team Championship Match: The U.S. Express (Champions w/Captain Lou Albano) vs. The Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff (w/Classie Freddie Blassie):

The U.S. Express is composed of Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo in case you were interested. Nikolai actually gets to the sing the full Soviet National Anthem this time without having to be ambushed by his opponents. Express’s introduction gets edited out of the tape I’m watching, but I think they were one of the few people to have theme music for this show with it being “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen. Rotundo and Sheik start us off and the Sheik works in a headlock off of a lockup, only to have Rotundo respond with a hiptoss, a dropkick (which the Sheik screws up selling), a bodyslam, and then gets turned into a headlock before reversing it back for two. Ventura says there is no “dead WrestleMania here”, but I would disagree looking at the match rating so far. However, the crowd is hot for this match. Windham gets tagged in and gets in his shots on the Sheik before ending up in the heel corner. However, Sheik nails Volkoff when Volkoff is holding Windham from the apron. Nevertheless, Windham acts like an IDIOT in not capitalizing and allowing Sheik to tag in Volkoff. Rotundo gets tagged in and gets a one-count on Volkoff after an elbowdrop. The Express work in some double-teams on Volkoff’s arm, but Volkoff uses his power to turn the tide. Impressive backdrop by the Sheik when he’s tagged in (since it has a TON of hangtime) and gets an elbowdrop for two. Gutwrench suplex gets two. Rotundo reverses a suplex and we have a double KO, but Volkoff cuts off a tag. Rotundo gets a fluke sunset flip for one. Heels continue to work over Rotundo as Blassie and Albano tease a fight on the arena floor. Sheik works in an abdominal stretch, but can’t plant his foot and Rotundo hiptosses out after a clipped segment. Momentum swinging tag to Windham, after the Sheik makes a bad decision in choosing to tag Volkoff instead of dragging Rotundo back into the heel corner (it’s always good to remember fundamentals!), and he dropkicks Volkoff. Windham hits his trademark bulldog, but the Sheik breaks it up at two. Four-way brawl and while the referee tries to get Rotundo to go back into the corner, the Sheik gets Blassie’s cane, clocks Windham over the back of the neck with it as he fights with Volkoff, and Volkoff covers a dead Windham (who sells the cane shot BEAUTIFULLY) for the win and the titles at 6:54. To be honest the crowd is more shocked than pissed off at first, but when the crowd hears Howard Finkel’s announcement of new champions the booing and trash start flying. However, the title reign of the Sheik & Volkoff would be short as they’d drop the titles back to the Express a few weeks after this show. Also, for historical reasons this is the first title change in WrestleMania history. All things aside, watching this match was much better than previous viewings (which the clipping may have made happen) and it’s passion like this that is missing from tag team wrestling in the WWE today. **

-Okerlund interviews Freddie Blassie and the new tag team champions. Blassie is pretty flustered and it kinda ruins the quality, but Okerlund having to cut the Sheik off like he did at the Hall of Fame ceremony before WrestleMania XXI this year is still funny.

-Big John Studd and Bobby “the Brain” Heenan tell Okerlund that Andre the Giant will be retired this evening and they’ll take their $15,000 back to the bank. Okerlund acts like an annoying child in this interview as he constantly keeps grabbing at the $15,000 and whimpering to Heenan when he can’t touch it.

-$15,000 Slam Match: Big John Studd (w/Bobby “the Brain” Heenan) vs. Andre the Giant:

The feud here is based on the fight over who is the real “giant” of the WWF and fuel was added to the fire when Studd ambushed Andre and cut off most of his hair. The stipulation for the match is that Andre has the time limit of the match to slam Studd and if he succeeds he gets $15,000. However, if Andre fails to slam Studd then he has to retire from professional wrestling. Studd gives Andre a Pearl Harbor job to start, but Andre chops and headbutts his way out. Studd bails and Monsoon & Ventura do a nice job in explaining how that fits into the psychology of the match by saying that it’ll stop Andre from gaining enough momentum to where he’ll stagger Studd and be able to slam him. That’s another thing that I find missing from wrestling today for the most part: commentating that makes sense. I really wish the WWE would hire Jesse Ventura back to do commentary. I don’t care how much they have to pay him because he’d definitely be worth it. Back in, Andre crushes Studd in the corner and Studd retaliates by stupidly trying to slam Andre. Um, worrying about slamming Andre would be the last thing from my mind in a match like this, even if I was over 350 pounds like Studd. Andre attaches a bearhug, works over the back, and gets Studd in a big headlock. Andre starts kicking away on Studd’s leg and then starts going after the arm in the corner. Please pick a body part Andre, it’ll help make the match make sense. Finally, Andre kicks away at Studd’s legs and slams him to win the match at 5:51. That was pretty anticlimactic. If it were me I’d have Studd pound Andre for a while, get too cocky, make a careless maneuver, and then get slammed. This way everyone saves face, but instead Studd was treated like a jobber for the most part. After the match, Andre gets the bag of money and tosses some of it into the crowd before Heenan rushes into the ring, steals the bag of money, and runs into the aisle. Even nostalgia can’t save this match. DUD

-Okerlund interviews Wendi Richter and Cyndi Lauper who do a decent job in saying that Kai’s reign as women’s champion is coming to a close

-Okerlund interviews Leilani Kai and the Fabulous Moolah and this is interview makes the Richter-Lauper one look like gold

-WWF Women’s Championship Match: Leilani Kai (Champion w/the Fabulous Moolah) vs. Wendi Richter (w/Cyndi Lauper):

Looking back on it today this is quite an interesting show because each of the champions has a manager this evening, something you don’t see very often. This is probably the highest profile Women’s Championship match in WWF history (and one of the few times people card about the belt) as the matches following this for the title wouldn’t quite have the same intense feeling this one does. Some people may be wondering why it’s a big deal Cyndi Lauper is in Richter’s corner for this match, but back in 1985 Cyndi Lauper was a REALLY big deal, so you just have to keep that in perspective. Lockup to start and they tumble into the corner where Richter gets a forearm and chokes. Kai kicks out and gets a sloppy armdrag, however Richter turns it into a hammerlock and brutally takes Kai down to retain control of the move. That looks pretty cool. Kai gets a hair filled snapmare for two. Kai works over the arm, using the hair to her advantage (which I guess is the thing that distinguishes men’s and women’s wrestling) and takes Richter weakly to the buckle. Kai chokes, out of a lack of anything better to do, but gets herself into a bodyvice. Richter with an awkward takedown for two. Takeover (which should’ve been a small package) gets two. Kai tears more of the hair out, but gets kicked down by Richter when she makes a blind charge into the corner (after a weak whip into the buckles) for two. Moolah tries to grab more of Richter’s hair to interfere, which prompts Lauper to come over and fight for Richter’s honor just to give the audience the impression that she’s tough. Rough bodyslam (coming out of an airplane spin position) gets two after a splash. Blind charge eats knee, though, and that gets two for Kai. Backbreaker by Kai gets two. Bodyslam by Kai, but a flying bodypress gets rolled through by Richter on the canvas for the belt at 6:08 to a HUGE ovation. That ending sequence with the bodypress wasn’t as smooth as it should’ve been, but that’s that. Afterwards, Moolah gets beat on by Lauper and Richter just for fun. A lot of the spots in this match looked messy, but compared to other “women’s matches” we have to sit through today this was like watching Steamboat-Flair or something. *½

-Main Event: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper & “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff (w/”Cowboy” Bob Orton) vs. Hulk Hogan & Mr. T (w/”Superfly” Jimmy Snuka):

Here is our list of celebrities: guest timekeeper is Liberace, guest ring announcer is Billy Martin, and the guest referee (actually outside referee because Pat Patterson is doing the job inside the ring) is Muhammad Ali. Piper has a really cool entrance with a band of bagpipes leading the way to the ring. Now THAT’s an entrance baby. Hogan, of course, was WWF Champion at this point and was having issues with all of the heels. A lot of people wanted to see a Hogan-Piper main event, but the WWF wanted to go the “sports entertainment” route by putting Mr. T in there so they added Orndorff to the mix for fun. Hogan & Mr. T come out to the same entrance music that Richter used in the last match which is funny. Awesome crowd reaction for Hogan showing once again that Verne Gagne was an idiot for not giving him the AWA World Championship. Liberace rings a little bell in conjunction with the ring bell to start the match and I could make some inferences to his homosexuality, but in good taste I won’t. Everyone rotates partners to start the match and we get a staredown between Piper and Mr. T. Slapping abounds and Piper gets a wrestling takedown on Mr. T, but Mr. T escapes and Monsoon hypes it like the return of Jesus. Lockup goes nowhere and Mr. T slams Piper down. Four-way brawl when Piper shoves Mr. T into the heel corner and all hell breaks loose as Muhammad Ali comes inside and starts taking swings at Piper and Orton. That’s kind of awkward, but it’s a change of scene I guess. The heels tease a walkout, but Hogan stops Patterson’s count and tells them to return to the ring. The action returns and Hogan dishes out punishment to the heels and gives them a double-noggin knocker. Hogan gives Piper a atomic drop and shoves his face into the canvas. Tag to Mr. T and they double-clothesline Piper. Mr. T slams Piper, hiptosses Orndorff (rather well I might add), and slams Piper again. Mr. T smartly tags out and we see a slugfest and Hogan gives Piper a big boot sending Piper to the floor. However, when Patterson is trying to keep Mr. T in his corner, Orndorff comes in and clotheslines Hogan to the floor. Nice spot. Outside, Piper smashes a chair across Hogan’s back. Back in, the heels cheat behind Patterson’s back and are one step ahead of Ali on the outside to wear down Hogan. I might add that the camera angle for this match is rather wide, which makes it difficult to see. Ali comes into the ring again when the heels deliver a double-atomic drop and I’m starting to think that he doesn’t know what his role in this match really is. Anyway, back to the match where Piper gets a running kneelift off the ropes for two. Orndorff hits a standing elbow off the top rope onto Hogan for two. Orndorff hits a backbreaker, but a top rope elbowdrop (or kneedrop couldn’t tell b/c of the camera angle) misses and Mr. T gets tagged in. However, since Mr. T isn’t a regular guy on the roster the heels quickly overcome his eye gouges and start to wear him down. I don’t think the crowd has shut up for a single second of this match; the entire thing just has a “buzz” something you don’t see too often. Monsoon does a nice job in explaining how Mr. T can reverse a Piper front facelock. Mr. T fights over to tag in Hogan and he gives the heels a double-noggin knocker again, but he’s stopped with a side suplex courtesy of Orndorff. Fun moment as Orton runs in to do some damage, but is intercepted by Snuka who headbutts him to the floor to a huge reaction. Patterson catches Snuka’s presence in the ring and yells at him till he leaves and then all hell somehow breaks loose for the second time as Orndorff holds Hogan in a full nelson for a Piper fist, but Piper gets intercepted by Mr. T. Patterson then tries in vain to break them up in the corner as Orton motions for Orndorff to bring Hogan over to the corner where he is standing on the top rope (and just missed detection by a confused Patterson seconds earlier), which Orndorff does. However, when Orton comes off the top rope to hit Hogan with his cast, Hogan escapes at the last second, and Orndorff takes the blow. Hogan rolls over to cover and Snuka knocks Orton outside the ring again so he can’t break up the pinfall and that’s all she wrote at 13:24. This isn’t what you’d call a “formulaic” tag team match, but it was a wild brawl that entertained the fans and the crowd’s “buzz” really added something unique to it. ***

-Okerlund interviews Hulk Hogan & Mr. T and Mr. T says it was “really hard out there” and Hogan says that Orndorff & Piper realized that he doesn’t just pick up slouches for partners

OVERALL TAPE RATING (BUST-****): **½. Yes, I know that may be an exaggerated rating for this tape, but you have to listen to me here. This is the very FIRST WrestleMania and you get to see for yourself where the biggest event in WWF history began. I know there aren’t a lot of great matches on the tape, but if you’ve never seen Hogan/Mr. T vs. Piper/Orndorff then it’s worth a look just to see the great heat it carried. Also, you get to see a time when the Women’s Championship actually MATTERED to the WWF bookers, see Greg Valentine wear a championship belt, Tito Santana ACTUALLY WIN a match, and King Kong Bundy set a WrestleMania record (although dubious). I know nostalgia can be hit or miss when it comes to vintage wrestling action, but this event really does stand the test of time and if you haven’t added it to your home video collection I’d recommend you do so. This may not be the greatest WrestleMania of all-time, but just think: if this one had failed there wouldn’t have been any other ones.