WM PPV Countdown: #4 – WrestleMania III

When color commentator Jesse “The Body” Ventura called Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III the biggest match in wrestling history for once it wasn’t hyperbole.

Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant were the most widely recognized wrestlers in 1987 when they met that historic night. Hogan had been WWF Champion since 1984 and was a dominating force and the face of the World Wrestling Federation brand. Andre had been a hero in the WWF for nearly fifteen years at that point. He was used more as an “attraction” than a featured player who won spectacle matches against multiple men, fought off rival “giants” and dominated battle royals.

The seeds of dissension between the two heroes began in early 1987 when Hogan was presented a trophy for being WWF Champion for three years straight. The next week Andre was presented a smaller trophy for being “undefeated” for fifteen years. Hogan came out congratulate Andre and ended up hogging the interview spotlight, causing Andre to storm off. Then shortly thereafter on Rowdy Roddy Piper’s “Piper’s Pit” interview segment Jesse Ventura promised to bring Andre next week if Piper could produce Hogan. The two met face to face the next week on The Pit where it was revealed that Andre had hired evil manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan to be his new manager, and he was challenging Hogan to a World Title match at WrestleMania III on March 29, 1987.

The stage was set for the biggest main event any pro wrestling company could logistically put together. The event drew mainstream attention, featured a variety of celebrities and is considered the height of the ‘80s wrestling boom. The show was inside the massive Pontiac SilverDome in suburban Detroit, Michigan. The pay per view was announced as having a record-breaking crowd of 93,173 fans in attendance, which stands as the largest recorded attendance for a live indoor sporting event in North America. That number is often disputed as being inflated but there was no denying the massive capacity crowd that filled the SilverDome.

WrestleMania III featured twelve matches but it was no secret that Hogan and Andre were the two men that drew that large of a crowd. Fans were divided on the outcome as even though Hogan had been an unstoppable force for three years, Andre had been a domineering force for over a decade. To say the crowd was whipped into a frenzy by the time the match started would be an understatement. The match itself was pretty atrocious as Andre enlarged body was in constant pain and there wasn’t much Hogan could do with a 7’2, 500 pound giant. But after only about ten minutes of the match, Hogan body slammed Andre and dropped a leg drop onto the Giant to pick up the win.

That night Andre successfully passed the torch to Hogan as the new face of the industry. Andre was so big and powerful and commanded so much respect that if Andre didn’t want to lose that match he wouldn’t have. He felt it was right for the business to lose to Hogan and allow him to truly be The Man in the WWF. The actual match performance was pretty terrible but it is still considered a classic match just because of the history and the drama and “changing of the guard” aura that surrounded it.

Hogan, who was already a mega-star at that point, was made to look even more superhuman by body slamming the big man and ending the supposed undefeated streak. Hogan would use momentum from this match to carry him through the rest of his career. Hogan himself admits that he owes a lot to Andre for “doing the honors” for him that night.

In that era no two other wrestlers could have drawn 90,000 people into one spot to watch a wrestling event. It’s a testament to the charisma and drawing power of these two men that they could draw a crowd such as the one they did. I dare say this event was instrumental in creating the WrestleMania legacy that we still see today. WrestleMania was still an infant concept at that point and the success of Hogan and Andre proved that a yearly supercard like that could be successful as long as you had a main event concept that fans would buy into.

Over the course of this countdown I have talked a lot about two wrestling superheroes meeting in the WrestleMania main event, but without Hogan and Andre there would be no “clash of the titans” or talk of “Icon v. Icon” each year. Later WrestleMania events have been called the “Showcase of the Immortals” but Hogan versus Andre at WrestleMania III was the true “Showcase of Immortals.”

While Hogan and Andre brought the crowd to the SilverDome, it was the match between Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and “Macho Man” Randy Savage that left them breathless.

Sometimes a professional wrestling match reaches almost mythical standards. Every once in a while a wrestling match comes along that transcends any storyline or event and just becomes a standalone feature. It becomes a match that every person who calls themselves a wrestling fan needs to see at least once, if not a dozen times. It becomes a match that you can show other people, non-wrestling fans who criticize this form of entertainment, so they can see what professional wrestling is in its purest form.

In late 1986 “Macho Man” Randy Savage defended his Intercontinental Championship against Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat on a WWF television broadcast. The match turned into a disaster as Savage attacked Steamboat before the bell and injured his larynx, dropping him throat-first across the security railing and then dropping the ring bell on his throat as well. Savage became a bigger villain because of the attack while Steamboat was out of commission for months.

Eventually Steamboat returned to action and vowed revenge on Savage for his heinous actions. He wanted to inflict pain on Savage but more so he wanted to hurt him by taking his Intercontinental Title, a Championship Savage had held for nearly fourteen months at that point. Steamboat chased Savage all across the country until the stage was set for their final encounter at WrestleMania III.

It’s been said that Steamboat and Savage made a pact to go out and put together the best possible in-ring exhibition that they could. The Macho Man was a stickler for mapping out his big matches down to the last detail while The Dragon was and is considered one of the top five or ten in-ring technicians in history. Needless to say it had all the makings of being a great match. But no one could have expected just how good it would end up being.

For fifteen minutes tore into each other, trading near falls and just essentially putting on a wrestling clinic for everyone watching. In today’s wrestling world a blood feud like this one would have been settled in a hardcore or an extreme environment with blood and weapons and excess violence. But here Steamboat chose to beat Savage by simply outwrestling him; taking his Title and hurting his pride by beating him clean in the middle of the ring.

And he did just that. After fifteen minutes of non-stop pure technical excellence, Steamboat caught Savage in perfect cradle in the center of the ring to win the very prestigious Intercontinental Championship. He enlisted George “The Animal” Steele to act as his “second” for the match; a long-time rival of Savage’s who also had an infatuation with Miss Elizabeth, Macho Man’s valet. Steele proved to be a worthy comrade as he stopped Savage from using the ring bell as a weapon like he had done months previous. He helped even the playing field and allowed the match to be decided inside the ring, as it should have been.

Ricky Steamboat got his revenge and the Title and put a perfect fairy tale ending on a story that saw the villain come ahead on every turn during the story. The consummate hero showed that good prevails out in the end, and he did it in style. In my humble it was one of the best pure wrestling matches in wrestling history.

The rest of the card wasn’t much to write home about, but there were some fun moments. The opening tag team match featuring The Can-Am Connection defeating Don Muraco & Bob Orton was a fun way to rile the crowd up. The six-man tag featuring The British Bulldogs & Tito Santana taking on The Hart Foundation and ex-referee Danny Davis was the finish to a rivalry that had built for over a year. Rowdy Roddy Piper versus Adrian Adonis was supposed to be Piper’s retirement match, so the crowd was charged to see him for the “final time,” plus the ending saw Adonis get his head shaved by Brutus Beefcake, introducing the world to the wildly famous Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake character. And legendary rocker Alice Cooper accompanied Jake “The Snake” Roberts to the ring for his match against The Honky Tonk Man. It was the perfect way to use a celebrity so as to not overshadow the entire show and yet fit within the WWF’s characters.

So while critics say this match is one match or a two-match show, in reality WrestleMania III was the event that got the ball rolling in regards to WrestleMania being the supercard juggernaut it has evolved into. Featuring an insanely large crowd, an unbelievable undercard show stealer and the biggest main event conceivable, it’s hard not to appreciate its magnitude.

Match Results:
– The Can-Am Connection (Tom Zenk & Rick Martel) beat “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Jr. & Magnificent Muraco.
– Billy Jack Haynes went to a double count out with Hercules.
– Hillbilly Jim, Haiti Kid & Little Beaver beat King Kong Bundy, Lord Littlebrook & Little Tokyo by disqualification.
– Harley Race pinned Junkyard Dog.
-The Dream Team (Greg Valentine & Brutus Beefcake) beat Jacques & Raymond Rougeau.
– Rowdy Roddy Piper beat Adorable Adrian Adonis.
– The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart) and Danny Davis beat The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith & Dynamite Kid) and Tito Santana.
– Butch Reed beat Koko B. Ware.
– Ricky Steamboat pinned “Macho Man” Randy Savage to win the WWF Intercontinental Championship.
– Honky Tonk Man beat Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
– Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff beat The Killer Bees (B. Brian Blair & Jim Brunzell) by disqualification.
– Hulk Hogan (c) pinned Andre the Giant to retain the WWF World Heavyweight Championship.

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