Classic Era Network w/ Kace: WWF WrestleMania III (1987)

This is the day Pontiac, MI got to be the Center of the Pro Wrestling Universe. 93k packed in the Silverdome to witness one of the more important cards in the history of the sport. Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura are on commentary together for the first time since 1985’s The Wrestling Classic.

It starts off on a Sunday afternoon then fades into evening by the end of the event. This is the first WWF major event in the PPV list of the Network where every match was at least good.

We start off with Ace Orton and Don Muraco teaming up and Mr. Fuji in their corner against the Can-Am Connection of Rick Martel and Tom Zenk. The CAC dominate the match and get the win and it seems like Martel and Zenk are the team to look out for between now and WrestleMania IV. Of course history and Zenk’s angst would intervene. This was also Orton’s last hurrah before moving on, Muraco would be a much different person by the end of the year and Fuji would have a new tag team to manage called Demolition.

Hercules Hernandez and Billy Jack Haynes wrestle to a double count out, an unsatisfying rematch to their Big Event match in Toronto the previous year. Hercules does manage to bloody Billy Jack up post-match and Haynes is gone by the time the next WrestleMania rolls around. So far, Portland representation hasn’t fared too well at WM events.

King Kong Bundy goes from challenging Hulk Hogan for the WWF Heavyweight title the previous year to Midget Madness. Bundy’s manager, Bobby Heenan doesn’t bother to go to ringside as he’ll claim in an inerview later in the event, “I don’t deal with midgets.” It’s Bundy, Little Tokyo and Lord Littlebrook against Hillbilly Jim, whose “Don’t Go Messin’ With A Country Boy” theme is overdubbed teaming up with the Haiti Kid and Little Beaver. Beaver’s something of a living legend at this point when it comes to the Midget Division of the sport. Mixed rules for this which means Jim and Bundy can only wrestle each other while the other guys can only wrestle each other. Beaver however continues to provoke Bundy throughout the contest and it earns him a bodyslam and an elbow drop from King Kong. This also causes Bundy to be DQ’d and Bundy’s own partners come to the aid of Beaver.

King Harley Race takes on Junkyard Dog in a Loser Must Bow match. Supposedly the King’s Crown could be on the line here as well since there’s post match bowing involved. This is the first WM in which Dog doesn’t have to deal with Jimmy Hart in the opposite corner. There is Race’s manager, Heenan however along with Fucking Spider Lady. Race gets the win, Dog does give a brief bow and then attacks Race afterwards. Sportsmanship, pass it on.

Another rematch from The Big Event in Toronto the previous year is next as Jacques & Ramon Rougeau take on the Dream Team of Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake along with their manager Johnny Valiant and also… in wrestling gear for some reason, Dino Bravo. It should be noted that just prior to this event, Valiant had unveiled his latest find, another tag team called Demolition. In retrospect, this was a sure sign that Johnny was beginning to have doubts about the Dream Team lasting much longer. Bravo showing up ready to compete is another sign that Valiant’s ready to make a change somewhere.

That change happens post match, even though the Dream Team manage to get the win thanks to some Bravoference, Valiant and Valentine blame Beefcake for almost costing them yet another match against the Rougeaus and leave him behind. For Jacques and Ramon it’s gotta suck losing to a team that breaks up immediately afterwards. Soon after, Valiant would officially announce Bravo as Beefcake’s replacement in the Dream Team while the Demolition contract would be sold to Mr. Fuji. As for Beefcake, he’ll make his decision on what to do next a bit sooner.

Portland finally gets to celebrate a WM win as Roddy Piper defeats Adrian Adonis in a Hair Vs. Hair match. It’s also announced that Piper is retiring, but of course he’ll be back in action again. Beefcake runs down to take care of the haircutting and shaving of Adonis’ head, soaking in cheers from the audience for the first time in his WWF tenure. Piper goes out with a win, Adonis winds up looking a little odd before departing for the AWA and Paul E. Dangerously. Jimmy Hart and Beefcake will have issues with each other the following WM. Piper’s off to kick ass and chew bubblegum.

Danny Davis, not to be confused with Nightmare Danny Davis teams up with the Hart Foundation, all managed by Jimmy Hart who has to forget about the Adonis thing right away in a 6-man tag against the British Bulldogs and Tito Santana. This marks the second WM in a row where Santana has to deal with Hart in the opposite corner and the second time he has to deal with being on the losing end. Davey Boy Smith could have ended the match with a pinfall after hitting Davis with a jumping tombstone piledriver, but didn’t, getting a megaphone to the noggin for his troubles. This is also the start of two straight years of WM 6-man futility on the part of the Bulldogs.

We get Midsouth Vs. Memphis as Butch Reed takes on Koko Ware. Reed is managed by Slick and in terms of color barriers, this does mark the first black man vs. black man contest, complete with black manager at a WM. Reed gets the win and then Santana, still smarting from his earlier loss while also upset at Slick over stuff that happened prior to this event, runs in and destroys Slick’s outfit. Thankfully Monsoon on commentary was willing to offer some context as to why this was happening.

One of the highlights of this card both going in and afterward is the WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight title fight between Champion Randy Savage and challenger Ricky Steamboat. Things had gotten personal between the two over the previous several months with Savage looking to end Steamboat’s career. Steamboat’s “Sirius” theme is overdubbed. He also has George Steele, the guy who challenged Savage the previous year only to come up short in his corner. Savage of course has Miss Elizabeth, his manager. The match is a classic though it’s brought down a bit by Steamboat struggling on the outside of the ring a bit much, to the point where Steele had to help him get back in so he wouldn’t get counted out. This match also provides for a couple of deja vu moments.

The first occurs when Savage launches Steamboat over and out in a manner similar to when Jake Roberts did the same to Steamboat during their match at The Big Event in Toronto. Later on, Steamboat back body drops Savage over and out and it’s identical to when JYD did the same to Savage in the Wrestling Classic Tournament Final. In that tournament, Savage was dealing with a concrete floor to land on as well as exhaustion. Here, there’s a more forgiving surface at ringside with the mats and plywood which have a little more give to them.

This all leads to a moment where the ref, Dave Hebner is knocked out thanks to a collision not just with one of the competitors, but also the corner. Savage uses this as an opportunity to attempt some cheating by way of getting the timekeeper’s bell to use as a weapon, something Savage had done to Steamboat in a prior showdown to put him out of action. Steele interferes with that and as the ref gathers his wits about him, Savage forgets about the bell and goes for a bodyslam which Steamboat counters by holding on to Savage into an inside cradle and the pinfall for the title. The crowd goes nuts and the commentators consider this the best match ever, even Ventura despite disagreeing with the interference of Steele.

While the crowd is still coming down from the high of the previous match, they get to enjoy the Honky Tonk Man with manager Jimmy Hart take on Jake Roberts who has his snake, Damien and also Alice Cooper with him. HTM is crafty, avoids the DDT and gets the win. It turns out to be a big win that eventually helps HTM catapult to contention for the WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship. HTM will eventually capture that Championship, beating Steamboat and holding on to the title for a while.

Slick reappears, his outfit still in tatters thanks to Santana and this time he’s with his tag team of Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik. Slick had taken over as manager for the departing Fred Blassie. Jim Duggan arrives and prevents Volkoff from completing his rendition of the Russian National Anthem, citing that we’re in the “land of the free.” Apparently that freedom doesn’t involve the right to sing the anthem of the country you represent before a sports contest. It’s safe to say Duggan doesn’t quite understand certain concepts of freedom. In any event, Duggan manages to cost the Killer Bees a chance at victory as he gets involved and whacks Sheik with a 2×4. So Volkoff and Sheik get the win, though Sheik never gets to fully make either Bee humble. Duggan’s war with Sheik is just starting though they’ll at least find common ground at some joint… er… line… fuck… point.

We now get to the reason this card packed 93k into a football stadium, Hulk Hogan against Andre the Giant for the WWF Heavyweight Championship. Now, Hogan and Andre weren’t exactly strangers to each other in the ring. They had faced each other multiple times and Hogan had slammed Andre during those showdowns. Andre pretty much ruled the rivalry back then as Hogan was still learning. Once Hogan reached Hollywood stardom and returned to the WWF with a more positive attitude, he and Andre became friends. Andre was there to celebrate with Hogan when the Hulkster defeated the Iron Sheik in 1984 to win the WWF Heavyweight title. They teamed together in tag matches against members of the Heenan Family. They had each other’s back. Heading into 1987, it looked like Hogan would be dealing with Paul Orndorff at WM3, especially after their controversial iron cage match that didn’t seem to have a clear cut winner. Then Orndorff disappeared. Andre, sensing an opening and realizing that he’d never been in line for a title shot despite an impressive win-loss record over the years… and with a little encouragement from Bobby Heenan, himself apparently tired of dealing with Andre as an enemy, finally decided it was time to issue a Championship challenge. It was to Hogan. Hogan, not wanting such a match to get in the way of their friendship, but realistically also remembering the losses to Andre earlier in his career was initially hesitant to accept. Andre got mad, ripped Hogan’s shirt and crucifix necklace off him and walked off. That’s when Hogan decided the match was on.

Something else to keep in mind about this bout heading in. Andre had a lot more girth on him now. Picking him up for a bodyslam would prove to be a lot harder than in previous years, thus Hogan’s gameplan was in jeopardy. Really, Hulk only had a pair of positives, one was his striking ability and the other, his power game. Both would prove ill-effective at the start of the match. Eventually as the match goes on, Hogan decides to stick with the strike game, going with punches, knife-edge chops, running elbow strikes, and eventually the Ax Bomber clothesline which finally knocks Andre off his feet. With that, Hogan had Andre worn down enough to try another bodyslam, this time proving successful. One atomic legdrop later and Hogan is your winner.

Hogan had a total of 2 legal non-strike moves in the match, the failed bodyslam that almost cost him early and the successfully bodyslam that led to the legdrop finisher. Hulk knew he could only rely on conditioning and strikes to take Andre down and it would take a bevy of them.

Other fun stuff.

If anything mars this event, it’s the constant throwing of debris by fans either towards the aisle or the ring. During the main event, referee Joey Marella has a great moment where he shows off his baseball fielding skills, catching a piece of trash launched into the ring and quickly throwing it out, almost in one fluid motion.

Bob Uecker and Mary Hart were the guest celebrities for this event. Hart denied any relation to Jimmy or Bret. Also, despite being known as the woman with the “Million Dollar Legs” Hart wears pants for this event. Not pointing this out as positive or negative, just something I found worth noting.

Also worth noting, if you pay close attention you can see Blackjack Lanza, one of the ringside officials almost slip and fall on his ass while walking Mary over to the timekeeper’s table before the main event. Lanza made the save of the day, otherwise people would still be laughing at that moment to this day, much like the Shockmaster.

The 93k attendance figure has been disputed at times, but I’m cool with it. It would remain the largest pro wrestling audience in the United States until a later WrestleMania in the Current Era was credited with eclipsing it. For what it’s worth, the largest reported audience ever still belongs to Pyongyang, North Korea and their 2-night event in 1995, the second night of which reportedly (and allegedly) drew 160k. On the other hand, the 93k in Pontiac were there by choice.

While the first WM was a Madison Square Garden show with a spiffy name and the second WM was a mad science experiment, WM3 stands out as the first WrestleMania to truly have the classic WrestleMania feel and atmosphere. The WWF won’t return to another dome however until WrestleMania VI at Toronto’s Skydome. In between here and then are WM’s IV and V which take place at Trump Plaza.

Ricky Steamboat’s WM streak goes to 3-0. It’ll be snapped the following year by Greg Valentine.

This is the first WM to have a WWF Heavyweight title bout not involving a cage. This is also the first WM not to have a World Tag Team or Ladies’ Championship match.

The WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight match at WM continues its streak of having a manager at ringside. Jimmy Hart in 1985 followed by Miss Elizabeth in 1986 and 1987. 1988’s WM4 will see Hart return as the manager involved.

As I mentioned earlier, Portland didn’t have much to cheer for up until Piper’s victory over Adonis. Buddy Rose as the masked Executioner, Matt Borne, and Piper had all come up short at WM1. Piper came up short in a farce of a boxing match at WM2. Haynes had a double count out and a bloody face at WM3, but Piper finally got Portland a win. One could also say that Piper’s win was yet another for the Mid-Atlantic contingent.

Up next, WWF Survivor Series 1987, aka “Screw You, Starrcade!”
Seen by Kace Box at 2:23pm

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