PTBN’s Excellent WWE Network Adventure: WrestleMania I

As many of you are aware, WWE Network is pretty packed with all sorts of content. And as you may also know, we here at Place to Be Nation love long term, in depth projects. So, as part of this initiative, JT RozzeroChad CampbellJason GreenhouseScott Criscuolo & Dan McGinn are starting in 1975 and are planning to watch the entire offering of the WWE Network chronologically. They have plotted their course and after watching each program, they will share their thoughts, notes and recommendations with our readers. So, settle in and enjoy this epic ride through wrestling history!

wrestlemania-1

WrestleMania I
3/31/85
Run Time: 2:16:13

Card:
Tito Santana vs. Executioner
SD Jones vs. King Kong Bundy
Matt Borne vs. Ricky Steamboat
Brutus Beefcake vs. David Sammartino
Greg Valentine vs. Junkyard Dog – WWF Intercontinental Championship
US Express vs. Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff – WWF Tag Team Championship
Big John Studd vs. Andre the Giant – $10,000 Bodyslam match
Lelani Kai vs. Wendi Richter – WWF Women’s Championship
Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff vs. Hulk Hogan & Mr. T

Best Match

JT: The easy choice here is the main event. It was loaded with star power from both inside wrestling and the world of pop culture. It featured tons of celebrities, the biggest players in the WWF and a locked in, rowdy crowd. The match itself was pretty good in its own right as well, with Mr. T doing a fine job of blending right in and not seeming out of place. We also get some good story development after with Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff splitting apart. Great way to close the biggest show in company history to date. Match Grades: *1/2, 1/2*, **, **, 1/2*, **1/2, *, **, ***

Brian: Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff vs. Hulk Hogan & Mr. T was the best match on the show. It had a ton of heat and the crowd was hot. It was the reason why the building was packed. From a pure wrestling standpoint, I thought the Tag Team Title match was really good as well but this main event was just awesome from all aspects.

Dan: With honorable mentions to the tag title match with its shocking ending or the quite memorable slam match, the nod here goes to the main event. So much was on the line and plenty of hype and TV time was dedicated to this encounter and it delivered in being unique, exciting and molten hot. Plus, you could not help but be intrigued at what Vince was doing at this point bringing in megastars from pop culture showing the world that wrestling was alive and a global phenomenon. So much rode on the principal characters and they all delivered. From Mr. T looking like he belonged in the ring, to Piper at his all-time heeliest (is that a word?) by threatening to walk out and even striking poor Pat Patterson after the match. The company was on its way up to the stratosphere and this match was the liftoff.

Scott: No doubt it’s the main event, although I’ve always liked the Borne/Steamboat match even though it’s a sprint. The main event is the match this show is remembered for and was built around.

Best Performance

JT: Even though the in ring action was not very good in any way, I have to go with everyone involved in the Women’s Title match. The build and hype was tremendous coming in, as this feud was at the center of the Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Connection. The usage of Cyndi Lauper was perfect and she radiates star power that Wendi Richter absorbs by proxy. The atmosphere throughout is amazing and when Richer regains the strap, the roof nearly blows off MSG. The women’s division wouldn’t see these heights again for nearly two decades and that has to count for something.

Brian: Tough to say but I’ll go with everyone involved in the main event. I thought Steamboat did a great job in the ring tonight and got himself over by the end but the main event was such an awesome spectacle that delivered as all those guys did a great job with the build too.

Dan: It was short and sweet but I’m going to go with King Kong Bundy. When this day started, he was just the new big guy who could talk a little bit. Maybe some remembered him from World Class and Devastation Incorporated. After nine seconds, or maybe closer to 30, he was a monster heel who looked unstoppable. Gorilla called him “a mountain with legs, feet and arms.” After squashing SD Jones like roadkill, he instantly entered WrestleMania lore. Good thing he isn’t paid by the hour.

Scott: Andre the Giant is starting to break down physically but he was The Boss during his match with John Studd and the crowd ate it up. The main event participants all were on their game but I give the vote to the Boss.

Biggest Surprise

JT: I was surprised that they took the WWF Tag Team Titles off Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo so quickly. They had just won them in late January and were starting to heat up before dropping the belts here to the upstart foreigners. A strong defense on this card could have set them up for a great run, but instead the company went for the shock value loss. I would have had the US Express retain here and then switched the IC Title as I lay out below. I am also surprised that with all of the celebrities and hype for this show, they ran Gene Okerlund out there to sing the National Anthem. They couldn’t find ANYONE else? They had a hot partnership with MTV going on, there had to be some professional singer that would have agreed to do it?

Brian: Having Windham & Rotundo lose the Tag Team Titles this soon was the biggest shock here. The crowd seemed stunned by the result too.

Dan: Captain Lou shaved his face! I didn’t even recognize him! But seriously, his boys getting jobbed on the biggest stage probably didn’t do those kids any favors. I can see the whole shock value argument and the company putting over the whole “anything can happen” angle, but this just seemed out of left field. On the flip, I have enjoyed Nikolai and Sheik leading up to this show so it’s not like I’m angry, but this definitely wasn’t what I was expecting thinking back to my first viewing of this show.

Scott: I was surprised we didn’t have a Santana/Valentine title match since that was the big feud at the time. No knock against the Junkyard Dog but Tito was the former champion who was injured and got hosed out of his belt.

Biggest Disappointment

JT: I was really disappointed that we didn’t get the big blowoff between Tito Santana and Greg Valentine here. Santana regaining the IC title would added to the legend of this card greatly. They had a red hot feud boiling across the country and we have watched Tito’s return from the knee injury play out over the past couple of months. Veering off into a feud between the Hammer and Junkyard Dog didn’t make much sense at all. I am also disappointed that Ken Patera wasn’t involved in the Bodyslam Challenge match at all as he was such a bit part of the build.

Brian: The IC Title match was the biggest disappointment since Santana and Valentine were in the midst of a heated feud and we instead saw Valentine face off against the Junkyard Dog in a bad match where they did not do much besides try and protect both guys with a lame countout finish.

Dan: Ultimately, my biggest beef was with the Sammartino/Beefcake match. That definitely was a contest that should have included a stipulation of some sort. Those two by themselves, while acceptable, were a great cure for my insomnia but I think everyone else just wanted to see Bruno throw a few haymakers at Johnny Valiant. And who can blame them? I like the tag idea but I’m also thinking that if Beefcake lost or if Sammartino could last 10 whole minutes, then maybe Bruno could get five minutes alone with the Lucious one. Just a thought but on the plus side, I definitely appreciated the extra sleep!

Scott: The Sammartino/Beefcake match is a huge pile of trash. That singles match should have been at the War to Settle the Score and here should have been the tag match with Bruno and Luscious Johnnny V. The ticket sales for closed circuit would have been even higher.

Additional Observations

JT: Mean Gene’s National Anthem was a mess; Lord Alfred looks like a deer in headlights throughout all of these previews; They should have just let Buddy Rose be Buddy Rose and made his opener a competitive bout; I love the psychology there as Executioner goes right at that rehabbed knee; The King Kong Bundy squash is always a fun watch, especially since they are focusing on establishing him as a monster for the upcoming year, it kicks off his next twelve months perfectly; It was neat that they got Ricky Steamboat squeezed into the card even though he had just debuted with the company only weeks earlier; As I noted in my Vintage Vault Refresh entry, “David Sammartino looks like a guy that groomed and bred dogs from a home kennel, not a pro wrestler.”; Beefcake and Sammartino worked a pretty basic match but it really wasn’t as bad as the legend that precedes it; The big brawl that triggered with Bruno and Johnny V was pretty fun and the crowd loved it; After watching Greg Valentine on our last TNT I wish he had brought more of that charisma to this match as it just felt really flat and the convoluted finish didn’t help things; Lou Albano guzzling soda during the prematch was quite the sight; The crowd really was quite shocked when Sheik & Volkoff stole the straps, so it was effective, but I thought Rotundo and Windham were worth investing in with a long, uninterrupted reign; Andre the Giant getting his revenge on John Studd and Bobby Heenan by slamming the big man and tossing around the Brain’s money was really good; Cyndi Lauper butchering Leilani Kai’s name always makes me chuckle; The crowd heat in the Women’s Title match never fails to astound me; I think including Moolah in this angle was smart to add some credibility as she was so synonymous with women’s wrestling at this point; The celebrities were well utilized in the Main Event, as they all got some shine but didn’t mess with the important stuff; They were also well booked given their ties to the NYC area; “Mr. T has been living on tuna fish and water” is a great line; The chaotic finish to the match just added to the entire package

Brian: According to Gene Okerlund, he ended up singing the National Anthem because the person who was originally supposed to perform no-showed the event (Okerlund joked that this person might have been partying with Jimmy Snuka the night before) and he went up to Vince suggesting he sing because the show could not start without the Anthem being played. The opener was a solid match as Buddy Rose was underneath the mask as the Executioner. It was his last match for the WWF until his return in 1990. After that, we had King Kong Bundy beat S.D. Jones in “nine seconds” which was really in 23 seconds. King Kong Bundy stated that S.D. Jones was not happy about losing that quickly and that S.D. was the reason it didn’t actually happen in nine seconds as he took too long. Steamboat vs. Borne was good action for a short bout. Steamboat was an unknown to the WWF audience coming in but did a good job in getting himself over by the end of this match. David Sammartino vs. Brutus Beefcake was way too long but the crowd dug Bruno beating up Johnny V. Like I said above, the IC Title match was a disappointment. According to Valentine, the original plan was in fact supposed to be Valentine vs. Santana but then booker George Scott wanted to save that for the house show circuit instead. I felt from an in-ring prospective, the Tag Team Title match might have been the best on the card. It was all action. I also loved Blassie in the interview afterwards as he played dumb when asked about his men cheating. I loved the end of the $15,000 Bodyslam match but the rest of it was really bad. It was pretty much a squash match for Andre, who appeared to be in really bad shape. The finish to the Women’s Title match was a disaster but it had a lot of heat at least. I’ll say it again but Richter was lucky she was in the right place at the right time because she was a lousy performer. The main event was an awesome spectacle and should be watched by all wrestling fans. Also, it should be noted that the crowd was not as rabid for Mr. T as you would think.

Dan: You must have heard by now, but Mean Gene belted out the Star Spangled Banner. I’m so glad he remembered to bring his cue card with him. Ventura with some forshadowing as he compares Oakerlund’s performance to that of WrestleMania VI crooner Robert Goulet. Tito was a fantastic choice for the opener as the crowd still absolutely adores him. Too bad he fought a masked guy no one in the building knew from Adam instead of killing off the red-hot IC Title feud with Valentine. Jesse with a great description of Bundy’s size saying his back could be used to show drive-in movies. I love the realism in the commentary by Gorilla as he speculated that Jones had fractured ribs which played into his swift defeat. I had no idea there was a connection between Steamboat and Jimmy Snuka. Monsoon called them the South Pacific Connection and at the end of the match, the Superfly comparisons were abundant. Gorilla also loved to criticize lackadaisical pinning positions. I thoroughly enjoyed the ending of the Beefcake/Sammartino match and must have forgotten how loud it got when Bruno started throwing punches. I really think Jimmy Hart ended his night heavily concussed after his awkward spill off the apron during the IC Title match. Valentine was still pissed about losing even though he got to keep his belt. Now that’s a bad guy for you. Irate that he’s getting the loser’s purse for the evening. God, I never fully appreciated young Greg Valentine! Shame! Andre was brilliant softening up the legs of Studd before delivering the “Slam Heard Round The World.” That women’s match was a sloppy mess, but the fans sure seemed to love it regardless. Mr. T and Ali just couldn’t keep from running in and making their presence known. I get the feeling neither one of them paid too much attention to the folks who booked the match. It wasn’t as terrible as Joe Frazier or anything, but Ali definitely took his role of ring enforcer very seriously. T though just kept squirming around and never really sold like he was ever getting hurt. I have a sneaking suspicion he didn’t cooperate much with the wrestlers. Dammit! No more Orndorff yelling at ordinary people segments on TV for a long time after this!

Scott: Good choice to have Tito Santana open the show, as he was still one of the top flight babyfaces, and with Executioner mentioning Greg Valentine that is clearly the case; This is probably the 15th time I’ve seen this show and I’m just noticing that SD Jones is wearing a satin jacket with the Phillies’ colors; For anyone interested, the “official” time of the Bundy/Jones match is :24; Matt Borne definitely took something before that interview; It was so funny to see these prematch interviews where they are in essence in the same room, but pretending that they’re not; I can’t fathom the Beefcake/Sammartino feud continuing, so why end in a schmozz? Is it so Bruno’s talentless kid doesn’t lose; Regardless of anything else that happened on this show, Andre the Giant still comes off as the biggest star in all of wrestling; You could have easily made the Women’s Title match the main event, that’s how big a deal it felt; What if Muhammad Ali had connected on that punch to Bob Orton? That would have been interesting

Consensus Best WWE Network Match to Date: Roddy Piper vs. Greg Valentine (NWA Starrcade 11/24/83)

Consensus Worst WWE Network Match to Date: Ivan Putski vs. Baron Von Rashcke (Madison Square Garden, 6/27/77)

Final Grade

JT: This show was a perfect blend of wrestling and pageantry and was a prime example of the newest fad in the sport: Rock ‘n’ Wrestling. WrestleMania was a mega-hit, and because of it, we get to continue on this Adventure. The show itself flew by with great pacing and no wasted time. The MSG crowd was insane all night long and everyone worked hard to deliver. This show was much better than I had given it credit for in the past with solid work up and down and tons of memorable moments that live to to this day. The wrestlers, celebrities and fans all held up their end of the bargain. Based on historical significance this deserves a pretty high grade. I can’t go the full monty because there were still some glaring issues and down spots, but as far as big time blow offs go, this rates quite highly. Final Grade: 8/10

Brian: If you watched all of the build for this show, it comes off a lot better than going in cold. Plus, you get a better grasp on just how historical the event was. The production values were improved and they had several celebrities in attendance and involved in the show itself, a trend that remains true today. Vince McMahon put a lot on the line to make this go off and it was a success. Sure, there were some duds but the top matches on the card had a ton of heat and the crowd reacted to pretty much everything. Final Grade: 7/10

Dan: What hasn’t been said already in the previous 3,000 words or so that I could possibly add to put a bow on our first WWF supercard? Awkward Alfred. There you go! No, I’m kidding. Let’s just say that if not for the success of this show, our Excellent Adventure would now be coming to a close. But alas, because it succeeded, you are stuck with us for the rest of your God-forsaken lives! The ride has just begun suckas! Final Grade: 8/10

Scott: I won’t go too crazy with my comments as you can check both mine and JT’s comments on our E-Book and the Vintage Vault Refresh, but I will still give it the same grade I gave it there. It’s the first PPV and it kept the WWF afloat after Vince bet the farm on it. Superstars were created and legacies cemented. Is it the best WrestleMania of all time? No, but it’s the first one and that is all I need. Final Grade: 10/10

You can find every grade and category winner from the entire Excellent WWE Network Adventure by clicking this link!

Author: Place to Be Nation Staff

Place to Be Nation Staff pieces feature any number of our contributors who are multifaceted when it comes to Pop Culture expertise.