Scott & Justin’s Vintage Vault Refresh: WrestleMania III

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*** Scott & Justin’s Vintage Vault Refresh reviews are a chronological look back at WWE PPV history that began with a review of WrestleMania I. The PICs have revisited these events and refreshed all of their fun facts that provide insight into the match, competitors and state of the company as well as their overviews of the match action and opinions and thoughts on the outcomes. Also, be sure to leave feedback on the reviews at our Facebook page. Enjoy! ***

WrestleMania III: The Slam Heard Around the World

March 29, 1987
Pontiac Silverdome
Pontiac, Michigan
Attendance: Somewhere between 78,000 and 93,000
Closed Circuit Attendance: 441,000
Buy Rate: 8.0
Announcers: Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura

Match #1: The Can-Am Connection defeat Magnificent Muraco and Bob Orton when Rick Martel pins Muraco with a Flying Cross Body at 5:36

Fun Fact I: The Can-Am Connection is Tom Zenk and Rick Martel, both from the AWA (more reasons Verne Gagne hates Vince McMahon). Zenk was a tag team specialist mostly, but Martel has a bigger line on his resume. Martel actually held the AWA World Heavyweight Title for a time in 1984, defeating Jumbo Tsuruta. He held the title until he was defeated by Stan Hansen in East Rutherford, New Jersey in early 1985. Now he makes his WWF re-debut. He had actually held the WWF Tag Team titles in the early 80s with Tony Garea.

Fun Fact II: “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Jr. was born on November 10, 1950 and is the son of Bob Orton, Sr., who was also a professional wrestler. Orton, Jr. dropped out of college and at the age of 22 began his professional wrestling training under Hiro Matsuda. He debuted in the territory his father was in, Championship Wrestling from Florida, as Young Mr. Wrestling. He and Bob, Sr. won the tag team championships together in this promotion in April, 1976. Orton moved on to other NWA territories in 1980-81 using a cowboy gimmick. He moved around between the NWA and WWF through the early 80s before sticking with the WWF in 1984 where his work is best known. In his second run with the WWF, he became “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s bodyguard. During “The War to Settle the Score” event in 1985, Orton legitimately broke his arm in a match with Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. The injury would lead to a new gimmick which he would be remembered for. Even though his arm had healed in real life, he would continue wearing the arm cast, claiming that it was on doctor’s orders that he do so. He used the cast to his advantage, hitting opponents while the referees back was turned, resulting in numerous wins. Orton took part in the main event of the inaugural Wrestlemania event in Madison Square Garden, where he cost his team the victory after he accidentally hit Paul Orndorff with the cast. Orton remained as Piper’s bodyguard through WrestleMania II before the pair went separate ways when Piper took a hiatus.

Orton continued on as the bodyguard for the successor to Piper’s Pit, “Adorable” Adrian Adonis. In “The Flower Shop”, Adonis had Orton wearing a pink cowboy hat. When Piper returned to action in 1986, Orton turned on his friend, which led to a series of matches through that year. Orton also formed a tag team with Don Muraco, managed by Mr. Fuji. During the summer of 1987, the team would begin arguing during and after matches, resulting in the team dissolving and a feud between the pair. Late in 1987, Orton left the WWF and took a hiatus from wrestling until later in 1988.

He reappeared in All Japan Pro Wrestling, teaming with his brother, Barry Orton. They would form a team called the Gaspar Brothers, which Bob taking on the name Billy Gaspar. After his run with his brother and with friend Dick Murdoch in AJPW, he returned to the US in 1989 to join World Championship Wrestling. Orton bounced around to various territories over the next few years, including Smoky Mountain Wrestling, the Universal Wrestling Federation and the American Wrestling Federation. In 2005, Orton was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Scott: First off, that is definitely 93,173. I will go to my grave believing the kayfabe number. We see a crossing of generations in our opener to the third installment of WrestleMania. Orton and Muraco seem like old dogs in that ring taking on two young newcomers. Martel is of course a former AWA World Champion and Zenk also an AWA alumnus. Since his break from Roddy Piper, Orton seems very dated and out of sorts. I will say though that I liked this team of he and Muraco. As out of date as they seemed, I think they could have had a decent run as a solid heel tag team. The match is very formulaic as Orton & Muraco would dominate the action with a mix of power and technique. However some expert double teaming would lead to a Muraco pin and the new team on the block comes away with the win. A solid opener to get a memorable show going. Grade: **

Justin: Our third WrestleMania is officially under way with what should be a pretty hot tag team opener. Looking at the jam packed Silverdome was intense and awe-inspiring. It makes you realize just how far this company has come in two years time. The Can-Ams were a good team, had a great look and seemed prime for a solid run. They face off with a couple of veterans that seemed to be nearing the end of the runs. They feel a bit like relics from the past here, making this match seem like a transitional one. The Can-Ams worked a crisp pace, keeping their opponents off kilter completely, giving them no chance to get any momentum at all. Muraco and Orton were really working hard out there, bumping all over and showing ass left and right. They got basically no offense in at all, making this quite the squash. It was stunning to see two guys of this pedigree get nothing in at all on a big stage. Any brief offense they had was cut short immediately due to stooging. It was a great showing for the Can-Ams and a nice way to open this massive supershow up. There wasn’t much to it, but it had loads of energy and the Can-Am teamwork was fun to watch. Grade: **

Match #2: Billy Jack Haynes and Hercules wrestle to a double count out in a “Full Nelson” match at 7:54

Fun Fact I: Billy Jack Haynes is an Oregon native who as recently as 1985 was US Tag Team Champions with Wahoo McDaniel in Mid-Atlantic. He arrived in mid-1986 and lasted as long as early 1988, but this was his only PPV appearance. He would show up in WCW in 1990 and wrestle as the masked Black Blood, but other than that he never resurfaced in the big time.

Fun Fact II: Ever wonder who had the best full nelson in wrestling? Well, in the 1987 WWF, there were two superstars who claimed to have the best. The feud between Billy Jack Haynes and Hercules started in 1986 when Hercules began using Haynes’ signature finishing move, the full nelson, as his finishing submission move as well. Hercules’ manager, Bobby Heenan, called out Haynes during an episode of WWF Challenge, challenging Haynes to get out of his client’s hold. When Haynes agreed to take up the challenge and was waiting for Hercules to apply the hold, Heenan reconsidered the challenge. Haynes got tired of waiting and shoved Heenan, which led to a clothesline by Hercules followed by the application of the full nelson until Haynes passed out. This set the stage for their full nelson match at WrestleMania III.

Scott: A fascinating matchup here of two big power hosses. Hercules is now under the tutelage of Bobby Heenan, which means he was instantly moved up the card. This match was all about who could execute the Full Nelson first and get the submission. In his previous employments Haynes had normal colored tights. However Vince wanted Haynes to show his heritage so he’s wearing the colors of his beloved Oregon. The match is a typical plodding power affair that sees a lot of slow maneuvering and Heenan posturing. Both men were unable to lock in the Full Nelson because they couldn’t lock their fingers through the others hair. They eventually fall out of the ring and it ends in a double countout. Then for some reason Hercules gets his heat back by beating Haynes down with his steel chain. Haynes was left in the ring busted wide open. I didn’t understand this, as the feud ends up not really continuing and Haynes just quietly leaves the promotion. The match really isn’t much and the post-match beatdown didn’t really make much sense. Grade: *1/2

Justin: After a sprint tag team opener, we turn to the power game with two very similar competitors spilling their feud into the Silverdome. Since last year, Hercules has cut his hair short and dropped the Hernandez surname along with picking up Bobby Heenan as a manager. Billy Jack also had a good look and was decked out in the colors representing his home state of Oregon. This match was centered around the full nelson, a move both men showcased. Gorilla referenced that Hercules never used the hold until Billy Jack arrived, basically saying he flat out stole it. Haynes would withstand an early assault and sent Herc flying a with a nice press slam. When Herc did take over, he worked a very slow pace. In a shocking spot, he hit a suplex and then picked Haynes up at two. I am not sure who looked weaker on that one. Herc would maintain control and be the first to hook the full nelson, but as Gorilla pointed out, he did not have the fingers locked, which allowed Haynes to break it. Haynes would come back and eventually get the full nelson as well, but as he worked the hold, they tumbled to the floor. He would keep it locked in, leading to a double countout. After the match, Haynes got tied up chasing down Heenan, allowing Herc to bash him with his chain, leading to a gushing blade job for Billy, and locking in another full nelson. The post match assault was much better than the match, which was slow and plodding outside of a few spots. I can’t say either guy came out looking well here, but Herc left with his hand raised and Billy was left laying in his own blood. Grade: *1/2

Match #3: Hillbilly Jim, Little Beaver & Haiti Kid defeat King Kong Bundy, Lord Littlebrook & Little Tokyo by disqualification at 4:26

Scott: I’m going to try and get through my comments without openly stating that I’m not a big fan of midget wrestling. Boy how low has King Kong Bundy sunk? He goes from main eventing WrestleMania II for the World Title in a steel cage, to being in a forgettable match with a bunch of midgets. Hillbilly has actually moved up from not being at I, to being lost in the battle royal at II, to being in an actual match here. I love Bob Uecker’s line about “Wow there’s a lot of beaver in this place.” We get the usual midget parlor tricks but I was waiting for Bundy to squish one of those little guys. Eventually Bundy actually catches Little Beaver after Beaver was giving him grief throughout the whole match. Bundy eventually slams Beaver and then drops a 458 pound elbow on him, forcing a disqualification. Slowly but surely WrestleMania would weed out these real bad gimmick matches. This match wasn’t much other than having midgets almost get killed. Incidentally Hillbilly Jim has said that Bundy wasn’t supposed to drop the elbow on Little Beaver, just slam him. Maybe that led to Bundy’s leaving by the end of the year. Grade: *

Justin: Welp. Here we go. I will never understand this decision here and why they didn’t just run a solo match between Hillbilly and Bundy, which could have been a OK big man battle. Instead, we get this mixed tag mess. Poor Bundy has really fallen quite far down the card since he faced Hulk Hogan in the cage a year earlier. He does look like he has slimmed down a bit though, so good on him for that. These are four veteran midgets and their age shows as they are looking quite a bit haggard at this point. The only positive here is that Bob Uecker joined the booth and got some good liners in. Jesse was great here as well. Little Tokyo is one ugly little person. I think Matt Rotella owns Haiti Kid’s slippers. The crowd dug this but it wasn’t much beyond the usual midget comedy spots except for when Jim and Bundy tussled. After Little Beaver kept getting in Bundy’s grill, annoying him, Bundy finally snapped, slammed him and dropped a big elbow on his tiny chest. That moment made this all worth it. Bundy’s little friends turn on him and protect their own as Bundy storms off, angry he couldn’t levy more damage. The second highlight of this match was angry agent Jack Lanza yelling at the midgets to get out of the ring so they could move along with the show. Yeah, not much. Grade: 1/2*

4) Harley Race defeats Junkyard Dog with a belly-to-belly suplex at 3:23

Fun Fact: Harley Race was a world renowned wrestler who had been an eight time NWA Champion. He had dominated the NWA region and, in 1983, graciously passed the torch to his successor, Ric Flair. In late 1986, he decided to finally make the jump to the WWF. He handed over the NWA Missouri Championship and packed his bags to head north.

Fun Fact II: In 1986 when Race joined the WWF, it was a time when the promotion did not acknowledge or recognize achievements made by wrestlers in other promotions. In order to indicate Race’s wrestling achievements, they had him win the King of the Ring tournament. After this, he began referring to himself as “King” Harley Race, began wearing a king’s crown and cape to the ring and made his defeated opponents bow before him. Typically the opponent would not oblige willingly, so Race’s manager, Bobby Heenan, would grab their hair and assist them in bowing before their king.

In January 1987 on Saturday Night’s Main Event, during a match with JYD, Race headbutted the Dog, causing more injury to himself than his opponent. While he was rolled out of the ring and was talking to Heenan, JYD put on the crown and cape of the King. Heenan entered the ring and hit JYD from behind, doing little damage and leading to a retaliatory punch from the Dog. Race reentered the ring, continually hitting JYD even after the bell rang disqualifying Race. Heenan and Race attempted to get the Dog to bow to the King, but instead he did everything in his power to keep his head upright and not bow. This leads to their WrestleMania III confrontation where the loser must bow to the winner.

Scott: This is a fascinating matchup for me because I really knew nothing about Harley Race until he arrived in the WWF in 1986. I mean I read the old Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazines and I knew that he was a former NWA World Champion. However in the Northeast he wasn’t on TV much, so until I saw the Race/Flair match from Starrcade 1983 a couple years later I hadn’t seen much from the ring of Race. JYD was crazy over still but his workrate had really slid once he arrived in the WWF a couple years earlier. The match was a lot of posturing and tossing of Race outside the ring, In fact it was for the most part a Dog squash until a Bobby Heenan outside maneuver led to Harley’s belly-to-belly suplex and a shocking victory for The King. That totally took me by surprise as at the time I thought the babyfaces won all the matches at WrestleMania. My buddy Tom was a huge JYD fan and he was devastated. Then to add insult to injury the Dog had to bow down before the King. To get his face heat back he drills Race with a chair and leaves with his robe. The match wasn’t much to write home about but seeing a different kind of guy like Harley Race was pretty cool. Grade: *1/2

Justin: The parade of middling matches rolls on. This would have been fantastic in the Superdome five years earlier, but now Dog is a shell of his former self and Race, while still decent enough, wasn’t much in the position to carry him. Uecker leaves the booth to chase after Fabulous Moolah, who is the “Keeper of the Crown” here. I am guessing that is just a reason to get her a payday. Bobby would run some early interference to get Harley an opening, but Dog fought through it and hammered away. Dog is really moving in slow motion here. Race delivered the spot of the match with an attempted headbutt off the ring apron. Dog moved and the King came up empty, making it even uglier. Harley took some wild bumps here, giving it his best shot to make this thing work. In our racist moment of the match, Race headbutts Dog but only hurts himself, natch. Heenan again distracts Dog, allowing Race to hit a fairly week belly-to-belly for the win…barely, as Dog basically kicks out just at three. Dog basically crapped on the stipulation by giving Harley a shit bow and then cracking him with a chair. Another nothing match to open this show, but hell the crowd loved it, so what do I know. Grade: *

Match #5: The Dream Team defeats The Rougeau Brothers when Greg Valentine pins Jacques after Dino Bravo interfered at 4:02

Scott: What was supposed to be just a typical face-heel match between two random teams ended up being the birth of one of the Federation Era’s most popular babyfaces. The Rougeaus were making their WWF PPV debut here and we were expecting a pretty normal match and that’s what we got. The Rougeaus were an exciting team that could move very quickly in the ring. Add that to the Bulldogs and the Killer Bees, along with the tag team Champion Hart Foundation and the tag division was slowly becoming a strength of the company. The match is pretty straightforward until we saw some heel miscommunication when Beefcake attempted to break up a Rougeau grapple hold on Valentine but he accidentally hits the Hammer instead. Thinking the match was over, we have our second straight heel swerve when Dino Bravo interfered. He comes in and when the referee wasn’t looking he drills Raymond, which allowed Valentine to get the pin and win it for the Dream Team. However the heels leave the ring except for Beefcake who was left high and dry in the ring. Thus we may have a new babyface perhaps? The match is pretty standard but is more remembered for the swerve at the end. Grade: **

Justin: Our second tag match of the evening features former WWF tag team champs squaring off with a team making their WrestleMania debut. Since losing the straps in Chicago a year earlier, the Dream Team have had an up and down ride. Most recently, they have added a second corner man in strongman Dino Bravo. The Rougeaus were pretty fantastic in the ring and were a prototypical face tag team of the late 80s. Beefcake’s hair is looking a bit screwy here as he had it cut accidentally by Adrian Adonis just before this show. It is basically an aborted mullet. Valentine would steady things for the Dream Team, pounding Jacques to the mat and setting up some nice double team moves to wear the brothers down. Bobby Heenan hops in the booth here to brag about his evening and set up his biggest match to come. He also shit talks the midgets. The Rougeaus made a quick comeback and also got an assist from a Beefcake miscue that allowed them to hit the Le Bomb. However, the referee was tied up, which gave Bravo a chance to get involved and Valentine to cover for the win. After the match, Johnny V celebrates with Valentine and Bravo, leaving Beefcake jilted as the fourth wheel. It certainly looked as if change was now in the air for the Dream Team. The match was fine and actually I wished we got a longer outing here between the two teams, as it could have been a hidden classic. Grade: **

Match #6: Roddy Piper defeats Adrian Adonis in a Retirement Haircut match when he knocks Adonis out with The Sleeper at 6:55

Fun Fact: This feud started in October 1986, when Piper, then a heel, went on vacation (on-screen and off). He trusted his good friend Adrian Adonis to keep Piper’s Pit going until he got back. Well, Adonis changed the whole set from plaid to petunias. Piper’s Pit became The Flower Shop. When Piper came back from vacation he was not amused. He returned to find his bodyguard Cowboy Bob Orton wearing a pink cowboy hat. Piper would be beat down by Adonis, Orton and Magnificent Muraco. The feud simmered throughout the weeks, including Piper destroying the Flower Shop with a baseball bat. A haircut stipulation was added and Piper also announced this would be his retirement match. Also, the week before this PPV, Adrian Adonis accidentally shaved Brutus Beefcake’s head, which would come back to haunt him.

Fun Fact II: Adonis was killed on July 4, 1988 in Newfoundland when the van he was in with a group of fellow wrestlers crashed. The van allegedly swerved to avoid a moose and ended up driving into a lake after being blinded by the sun.

Scott: We come to one of the highlight matches of the card, since it is the “final match” for one of the foundation members of this era. So hated was Roddy Piper just a year earlier at WrestleMania II, here he is absolutely loved by the fans. Adonis stole Piper’s pit in the fall and turned it into a “flower shop”. Piper returned and he was attacked by Adonis, Magnificent Muraco and his former bodyguard Bob Orton. From there the turn continued until the early part of 1987 when he became a full-blown favorite. Now we see his farewell here. This is definitely an upgrade from Uncle Elmer a year earlier. The match really isn’t much as Adonis muddled his way through the match and then foolishly lets go of the sleeper on Piper before the arm dropped the third time. Out of nowhere comes new babyface Brutus Beefcake who wakes Hot Rod up, allowing Piper to get his own sleeper on Adonis and gets the victory. Then to add insult to injury Beefcake helps Piper shave the Adorable One’s head. Well half of it anyway. Piper then leaves to the bagpipes and the adulation of 93,000 fans. Was this it? Who knew, but if it was there was no better way to end it. Sure the match wasn’t much but the moment is one of the greatest in wrestling history. Grade: ***

Justin: After a two year heel run, the WWF finally gave us permission to cheer for Roddy Piper. While on sabbatical, Adrian Adonis turned Piper’s Pit into the Flower Shop and began taking as many shots as possible at the Hot Rod, even stealing his buddy Bob Orton away. Piper returned and we got some memorable brawls to set up this highly anticipated match. It would be Piper’s “retirement” match as he was ready to hang up the tights and head off to Hollywood for good. There was also a haircut stipulation on the line here as well. The crowd was red hot for Piper as he came down to the ring and to me this was the first time the overwhelming attendance really made a moment feel extra special. They wasted no time getting nasty, using a leather strap on each other right off the bell. Piper was on fire, keeping both Adonis and Jimmy Hart all out of synch. Despite the increased girth, Adonis’ bumping was always so great to watch. Adonis found an opening with an assist from Hart and started his assault. Just when Piper started to fend him off and make a comeback, Hart sprayed him in the eyes with the atomizer. That allowed Adonis to hook in his sleeperhold, but Piper kept fighting. Eventually, Adonis decided to just break the hold to celebrate and maybe start clipping a bit prematurely. Instead, Brutus Beefcake, who was looking for revenge for Adonis accidentally cutting his hair, showed up to help awaken Piper and that is when chaos ensued. Both Adonis and Hart got wiped out in the ensuing mess, followed by Piper locking Adonis in a sleeper for the win and massive pop from the fans. After the bout, Beefcake got his revenge by shaving Adonis bald, officially stamping his face turn in the process. This was a really fun and energetic match with a quick pace and lots of bumping around by both men. The atmosphere for Piper’s final match was fitting of one of WrestleMania’s earliest stars, a man that was key to the entire concept. It will be weird going forward without him for now. Grade: ***

Match #7: The Hart Foundation & Danny Davis defeat The British Bulldogs & Tito Santana when Davis pinned Davey Boy Smith after he used Jimmy Hart’s megaphone at 8:52

Fun Fact: This feud, believe it or not, started way back on February 8, 1986. That night at Boston Garden, Tito Santana lost the Intercontinental Title to Randy Savage. Savage was trapped in a back suplex, and in mid-air he whacked Tito in the face with a foreign object. Davis didn’t see it and Savage was the new IC champ. Though they didn’t know it at the time, the WWF had a ready-made storyline. In late-1986, Davis would start blowing matches, messing things up, such as slowing counts. Of course, it was always the face that got screwed. Finally in January 1987 he screwed the British Bulldogs in a Tag Team Title match in Rochester, and the Hart Foundation were the new champs. Davis was a full-blown heel and President Jack Tunney stripped him of his refereeing duties. To set up the match, they went back to the archives and found Davis refereed the Santana/Savage match. So, might as well use it to get Tito in the match.

Scott: This is one of the first great cases of continuity in WWF history. This storyline started way back in February 1986 when Randy Savage beat Tito Santana in Boston to win the IC Title. Danny Davis was the referee but at the time that meant nothing. However, it was clear Davis had the chops to be a pretty solid heel. So he helps the Harts beat the Bulldogs for the straps and then was suspended for life. So why not use the IC title match from over a year earlier and slot great worker Tito into the mix? The previous chemistry between both these tag teams from their Stampede Wrestling days made this match so much better than you thought. Danny Davis was there for no other reason than evil comedy purposes but he was carrying serious heel heat. This is the first match on the card after the sun went down so we get the dusk match right here. Also different is that Uecker and Mary Hart are in the booth with Gorilla since Jesse was introduced at ringside before skulking off with Matilda. Great systematic double team work by the pink and black attack but Tito gets a hot tag and cleans the ring out to a red hot response. I thought he should have pinned Davis after the flying burrito forearm but Tito keeps beating on Davis and the match moves on. Davey Boy drills Davis with a piledriver but the point of the match was to have the evil referee who screwed our heroes over get the payback he deserves. Then there was chaos in the ring but somehow Davis pinned Dynamite with the megaphone. Very strange ending and another shocking heel win. Grade: ***

Justin: As dusk started to take over Pontiac, we move into the back half of our card with a pretty intriguing six-man affair. Former referee Danny Davis had wreaked havoc on the title runs of both the British Bulldogs and Tito Santana over the past year or so, and now he has been converted into a wrestler by Jimmy Hart. He steps in alongside stablemates, the Hart Foundation to face off with the men he screwed over. The Bulldogs have also picked up a new mascot, an actual bulldog named Matilda. We have Mary Hart and Uecker in the booth for this one, as Jesse went down to ringside to be recognized for being awesome. The Bulldogs and Tito dominated early on, quick tagging and working over the Anvil. I know they wanted to get Davis involved here, but I am surprised they didn’t want to have the tag titles on the line on a show like this. Davis would pop in here and there to land a quick shot, but the champs were wise to leave him camped on the apron, tucked away from danger. Dynamite was gutting his way through this, but his back was in pretty rough shape at this point, severely limiting what he could do. Davis would finally get caught and got smacked around by Santana, who had pure hate in his eyes. Things wouldn’t get easier when Davey Boy tagged in, as he got Tombstoned to oblivion. That was nasty. Davis was getting all his comeuppance here as he gets racked with a powerslam as well. However, the Harts ran some interference, used Hart’s megaphone and put Davis on top of Davey Boy to pick up the win. Well, that is certainly how you build some heat. That was a really good match and gave you just enough of Davis getting murdered to justify him stealing the win. Grade: ***

Match #8: Butch Reed defeats Koko B. Ware with a roll-up while holding the tights at 3:39

Fun Fact I: In the summer of 1986, Butch Reed, alongside manager Slick, was banished from the NWA: Central States territory when he lost a loser-leaves-town match to Bruiser Brody. Then, in the fall of ’86, both men signed on with the WWF. Slick took part of in an angle where he agreed to take over managing half of the ailing Freddie Blassie’s stable. After a few weeks, however, it was clear that Blassie had to call it quits, so Slick took over the whole operation, specifically the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. A month or so later, Slick debuted the “Natural” Butch Reed as a prized acquisition.

Fun Fact II: James Ware, better known by his in-ring persona, Koko B. Ware, was born on June 20, 1957. Ware made his pro wrestling debut at the age of 21. He spent much of his early career floundering in the Mid-South, Georgia and other NWA territories. Koko’s fortune began to change when he won a battle royal and became the Mid-American Television Champion. His reign was a short one as Dutch Mantel defeated him when he returned to the promotion. Ware saw tag team success with Bobby Eaton, winning the AWA Southern Tag Team championship. He also saw tag team gold as part of the PYT Express (Pretty Young Things) with Norvell Austin in the AWA and NWA Florida.

In 1986, Ware joined the WWF and was repacked as the “Birdman” Koko B. Ware. He would come to the ring flapping his arms with his macaw mascot “Frankie”. He was a fan favorite with his colorful outfits and constant smile, especially with the young audiences that were now attending WWF events. Ware was mainly confined to the midcard, developing and putting over new talent. During the early 1990s, the WWF teamed with the USWA to exchange talent. In this time, Koko made appearances in the USWA and won their World Title twice and tag team championships once with Rex Hargrove. Ware remained in the USWA until his semi-retirement in 1995. Ware was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009.

Scott: We get three PPV debuts in one match here, and we also have a historic match as two black wrestlers go head to head on a big PPV stage. I remember Butch Reed from the mags so I was familiar with him but I had never seen Koko B. Ware before. We also had the debut of a new manager: Slick, the Doctor of Style. So we have a match where all major participants are African-Americans, a historic moment for the company. The match isn’t too much as Butch Reed dominates the action but Koko gets a late comeback that’s thwarted by some heel chicanery and Reed gets the win. Tito Santana comes out to strip Slick to his underwear and then he and Koko double team Reed out of the ring. There’s not much more to say here as other than the historical significance of the match, there’s nothing to it. Grade: *

Justin: And we have a slew of debuts here, with the most iconic being the manager on the outside: Slick. The Doctor of Style and Butch Reed arrived from Missouri as a package deal and settled nicely into the midcard. Koko came out of Memphis and had a bit of a switch in gimmick, as he now portrays a happy, Gospel singing, dancing, bird loving high flyer that rallies the fans. Reed dominated Koko here, using his size advantage to control. I thought Reed was a perfect fit for the WWF landscape, thanks to his look and size. He was a prototypical heel for the company during this time. Koko had a very brief comeback, but Reed would roll him up, hook the tights and steal a less than impressive win. After the match, Koko wiped out Reed, but Slick jumped him with his cane. That drew out Tito Santana, who beat up Slick, ripped his clothes off and then ran off Reed. This was nothing special due to time, but could have been solid enough if they had a few more minutes. Grade: *

Match #9: Ricky Steamboat defeats Randy Savage to win WWF Intercontinental Title with a small package at 14:33

Fun Fact: This legendary feud started in November of 1986. Savage was defending the IC Title against Steamboat, when he draped Steamboat over the railing and dropped a double axe-handle on the back of his neck, driving his throat into the railing. He then put Steamboat into the ring, and was DQ’d when he came off the top rope with the ring bell and drove it into Steamboat’s throat. This was one of the most awesome angles at that time, and put Savage over as a big time heel. Steamboat sold it like he was shot, and was out of action for a few weeks. He came back on December 14 in Hartford (a show Scott was at) to protect his friend George Steele from the same fate. From there, the slow burn grew and grew until the title match was announced for WrestleMania.

Scott: What can you say? If you are a WWE fan, this has to be in your top three in the WrestleMania greatest matches list. Both these men put everything on the table for 93,000 in the Silverdome and millions watching on PPV at home. Steamboat was already established as one of wrestling’s best mat technicians, but it was Savage that everyone was surprised at. Savage was a solid performer in Memphis, but so far in his WWF tenure he used stalling tactics and dirty tricks to get through his matches. On a big stage like this, Macho Man would have to do a little more than that to keep his title, and keep the fans jacked. Well, Savage crossed the line from heel asshole, to bona fide WWF superstar. My brother and I were on the edge of our seats watching this match, wondering who would get the three-count. There were a total of 23 two-counts, 16 by Savage. Every possible combination of moves and roll-ups could not keep Steamboat down. In the climax, with referee Dave Hebner down, Savage went outside to get the ring bell and injure Steamboat again. George “The Animal” Steele would take the bell from him, but a boot to the head would get Savage the bell back. As he went to the top rope to hit Steamboat with the bell, Steele would push Savage off the ropes and the bell goes flying. Savage gets up, and lifts Steamboat up for a bodyslam. As he does, Steamboat hooks his leg, and rolls him into a small package as the revived Dave Hebner counted three. Steamboat was the new Intercontinental Champion, but Savage also established himself as a force in the WWF landscape. The commentating of Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura also reached the levels we’re used to, as both were on their respective sides in the match. This was one of many examples of how Jesse Ventura spun his story so well, you almost were rooting for the heel. Regardless, it’s the first perfect match of the modern PPV era, and #1 on my list, even after almost three decades. Grade: *****

Justin: And here we go with the culmination of a red hot feud with gold on the line. In a year’s time, Savage and Elizabeth have developed real aura around them. He has now reigned as IC champion for over a year and is presented and viewed as a superstar. These guys were tailor made for each other and Steamboat was tremendous is conveying his anger and desperation for revenge. He has long time Savage nemesis George Steele in he is corner, in the role he should be in. They wasted no time diving right into things, working at an accelerated pace until Savage bailed out to the floor. Even that was brief, as Steamboat went right after him. The crowd rallied the Dragon on as he worked over the champ’s arm with a series of wringers and strikes to the limb. Savage would eventually dump Steamboat to the floor to buy a minute to regroup and then followed that up by attacking Steamboat’s rehabbed throat. He wrestled a possessed style, locked in and efficient in every step he took. As Steamboat first attempted to come back, we kicked off a flurry of near falls that would continue throughout the match. Jesse was great in this match in his unabashed backing of Savage and ripping Steamboat, Steele and the referee for any misstep the entire time. Savage was so quick here, snapping off moves and quickly drifting from spot to spot effortlessly. The hottest near fall came when Steamboat hit a chop off the top rope but Savage got his foot on the rope to break the pin. The crowd was ready to blow on that one. The two counts kept flowing and by this point it was clear that this was going to end up being a classic. Savage would find himself back in control and even cash in with his big elbow, but the referee was down and out and couldn’t make the count. This would lead to Savage’s downfall as he got frustrated and grabbed the ringbell, which drew Steele into the action. The Animal would shove Savage off the top rope and rattle him enough to basically walk into a small package that would end the match. The Savage visual pin was a good one because it gave Savage an instant bitch for a rematch. As much as I dislike Steele, he was fine here and it made sense for him to factor in. This still holds up as a classic and is easily the first ***** star WWF PPV match in the company’s history. Savage’s reign has finally ended and the Dragon now stands strong atop the division. Grade: *****

Match #10: Honky Tonk Man defeats Jake Roberts with a roll-up using the ropes as leverage at 7:16

Fun Fact I: Honky Tonk Man’s heel turn is one of the most interesting of all time. After his brief run as a face, the WWF asked fans to write in and vote whether or not they like HTM. The fans answered with a resounding NO, so the bookers revamped his character and gave him the legendary Elvis impersonator gimmick that he carries to this day.

Fun Fact II: On the February 21, 1987 episode of WWF Superstars, Jake Roberts’ guest on the Snake Pit was the Honky Tonk Man with manager Jimmy Hart. Roberts was going through a face turn at the time and was becoming popular with crowds, with more and more “DDT” chants coming during matches. During the interview, HTM hit Roberts in the back with a guitar, injuring him and starting him on a dependence of prescription pain medication. The guitar was supposed to be a gimmicked balsa wood guitar, but was instead a real guitar. The attack led to the feud between the two and their match at WrestleMania III.

Scott: Another entertaining match, but not too much that the crowd would be burnt out by the main event. Roberts was a heel when he entered the WWF about a year ago, but the fans (like with Piper) took to him so much he was eventually turned face. Alice Cooper would second him to the ring, one of only a few celebrities involved this year. His opponent is a man who came in as a tweener friend of The Junkyard Dog but the fans never warmed up to, so now Honky was being showcased as another heel newcomer (there were a lot of them at this WrestleMania). It seemed as 1986 was progressing that Jake Roberts was gaining the support of the crowd after the Ricky Steamboat feud and then was getting pops a house shows that were matching Hogan. Honky cracked Roberts with the guitar about a month earlier to set this match up. The match was entertaining, as Roberts was pinned by nefarious means. Roberts was tossing Honky around the ring and I thought this was an easy win for the Snake. However Honky rolled Jake up and held the top rope for leverage to get the win. It didn’t spare Jimmy Hart from Roberts’ partner, Damien. The big python chased Hart and Honky down the aisle. So the match served two purposes successfully: It got a cheap win for Honky, and it ended with the fans happy Damien was out of the bag, and Roberts face heat returned. There were many heels on this show that totally shocked me they won, from Harley Race to the Dream Team to the Harts/Davis and even Butch Reed. This match is maybe the biggest shock of them all. Grade: **1/2

Justin: In another one of the most anticipated matches on the card, the newly minted face Jake Roberts looks for revenge on the Honky Tonk Man, the man who nearly crippled him with a guitar. As great as Jake was as a smarmy heel, it was tough to keep him on that side of the ledger because the fans wouldn’t allow it. Honky was the exact opposite case, as he was brought in as a face but was quickly booed into being a chickenshit heel. Jake has metal legend Alice Cooper with him and gets a very hot reception from the massive crowd. Having Cooper back him up definitely made Jake feel like an even bigger deal in his new role, so that was a good move. This definitely seemed like it was going to be a fairly quick squash for Roberts to get his heat back and move on. Roberts attacked right off the bell, not even allowing Honky to disrobe. He would keep the heat on Honky, hitting his standard move set right up until Honky was able to slither out of a DDT attempt. Honky finally turned things around on the floor, where Cooper would do what he could to get Jake back in the ring. Honky had really built up the cocky aspects of his character quite quickly after his heel turn. He already seemed really natural in the role by this point. Jake slowly stalked his way back into control and was looking ripe for the win until Jimmy Hart got into the mix, allowing Honky to roll Jake up and hook the ropes to steal a big upset victory. This was pretty shocking as it seemed obvious Jake would blow off the feud, but I guess they had bigger plans set for Honky after this. Jake gets his heat back after the match when he and Cooper tease him with Damien the snake. This was a solid match that had some good heat and intrigue behind it. Grade: **

*** Mean Gene Okerlund announces the new indoor attendance record of 93,173***

11) Nikolai Volkoff & Iron Sheik defeat the Killer Bees by disqualification when Jim Duggan interferes at 5:41

Fun Fact: Jim Duggan was a huge star in the UWF and Mid-South regions during the early 80s. He won numerous titles, including the Louisiana Heavyweight Title, the Mid-South Tag Titles and the North American Title. He had big feuds with Ted DiBiase, Krusher Khrushchev and Dick Slater. He was a huge raw in the South and regularly brought big houses to the Louisiana Superdome. But, as was the case in the late 80s, when Vince called for him, Duggan made the jump to the big time.

Scott: Match placement was absolutely perfect for this show. They had the right slots for the big matches, the mid-level matches of importance and the filler matches. After the crowd was disappointed their guy Jake Roberts lost, and knowing the biggest main event ever was on deck, a mere filler match was needed here. Nothing too long was necessary, just a chance to showcase another young great tag team in the Bees and let the crowd go get one last beer or hit the head before the main event. Two years earlier Sheik and Volkoff shocked the world at Madison Square Garden by winning the Tag Titles, and now they are filler. Sadly they are being passed over for younger talent and newly signed guys from other promotions, but Vince was loyal and gave these guys a big time payday by fitting them in. The heels controlled the action with big clubbing moves and strikes. There’s a myriad of trash around the ring from Nikolai’s Russian National Anthem and its still in the ring when they wrestle. Then there’s another debut: Hacksaw Jim Duggan from Mid-South. Incidentally it’s our second “Hacksaw” of the night. What boggles my mind is that he comes in and causes the Bees to get disqualified. This would be the first of many times where Duggan is booked ass-backwards to cost himself or other guys a match. So we get ANOTHER shocking heel win, although this one probably makes the least sense. Grade: **

Justin: The darlings of WrestleMania I are right back at it once again, this time tussling with the underdog team of the Killer Bees. Volkoff & Sheik are now repped by Slick, who is still in his shredded clothes, courtesy Tito Santana. As Volkoff sings the Russian anthem, Hacksaw Jim Duggan makes his PPV debut, crashing the ring and running Slick’s boys out to the floor. Well, that is one way to make a debut. He tells Volkoff that he can’t sing the Russian anthem, because “this is the land of the free and the home of the brave”…welp. Sheik was still pretty fit here, as were both Bees. Duggan continued to pace around ringside, patrolling the area. The match is a bit messy as all four men brawl right off the bell and keep it going. Sheik would be the victim of some double team action as the Bees began to dominate. Sheik & Volkoff were completely out of synch as the referee had zero control at all in this one. Once the former champs did take over, they went right to the power game, wearing Brunzell down with a bearhug and a series of suplexes. And just when thinks were really cooking, Duggan got involved and used his 2×4 to club the Sheik and cost the Bees a win. Damn, give that another seven or so minutes and we could have really had a nice little classic. Ah, well. As is, it was still fun. Grade: **1/2

12) Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) defeats André the Giant (André Rousimoff) to retain WWF World Title with a legdrop at 11:58

Fun Fact I: This all started on the 1/17 edition of Piper’s Pit, when Hulk Hogan was awarded with a trophy for being World Champ for three years. The following week, Tunney awarded a similar trophy to André the Giant for being undefeated throughout his career. The trophy was quite smaller than Hogan’s, and when Hogan came out to support his friend, André walked out without saying anything. The next week, Jesse Ventura and Piper promised they would bring out each man the following week to iron out their differences. Then, on the memorable February 7, 1987 edition of the Pit on Wrestling Challenge, André came out with Bobby Heenan, turned heel, and demanded a title match for WrestleMania. Hogan pleaded with André, but André then ripped off Hogan’s shirt, but more importantly, his cross. Holy shit, this was fucking huge. A week later, Hogan accepted the challenge. We were off and running.

Fun Fact II: In 1986 after WrestleMania II, André’s health was beginning to take a downturn. His weight was putting a lot of pressure on his bones and joints, with his back taking the brunt of the abuse. He took a leave of absence from the WWF where he returned to his home country of France to have back surgery. After the surgery, André would wear a back brace for the remainder of his life, which he also wore under his wrestling singlet.

Scott: This is without question the biggest main event in professional wrestling history, and may still be so. André the Giant, the biggest superstar ever (size-wise), is in his first PPV main event. Hulk Hogan is the WWF Champion and the biggest superstar at that moment. There was only one main event that could put 93,173 in the Silverdome, and this was it. Jesse says on-air this is the biggest match in the history of professional wrestling, and he wasn’t lying. I can most definitely tell you that I was absolutely speechless on my living room floor that February 7th morning when Andre ripped the cross and the shirt off of Hogan and walked out with Bobby Heenan. I had only been a fan for about four years at that point but I knew the world-wide babyface that Andre was, so seeing this was crazy. There isn’t many heel turns over the coming years that would come even close to this. I love Bobby’s white tuxedo for his huge moment, and Andre was smugly still waving to the crowd like he was still a favorite. I also loved that Hogan walked down the ramp, like Piper earlier in the day. The darkness of the arena with all the flashbulbs and the gleaming silver aprons, there wasn’t a better sight to see as a wrestling fan. This was it for anybody there at the Silverdome or at home like me, my brother and my dad. I was an unabashed Hulkamaniac while my brother was actually rooting for Andre. I felt he was like a Communist in the era of Reagan for rooting against Hogan. The match itself was about what you’d expect. André was in pretty bad shape at this point, as the disease that made him the size he was also not stopping, and kept breaking him down. On top of the fact that Hogan, as good a superstar as he was, couldn’t carry a napkin, so this was no Steamboat/Savage. It was full of drama and psychology, including the phantom three-count in the first 15 seconds of the match. Hogan went for a slam, and André fell on him. Referee Joey Marella counted three, even though Hogan barely got his shoulders up. It was a source of storyline controversy throughout the year. Andre would rough Hogan up for a majority of the match, even forcing Hogan to try a piledriver on the wood floor. He recovers from the beating and after the bodyslam of all time, Hogan won the match, and was on top of the professional wrestling world. This feud with André would continue, but in terms of heat it doesn’t get much better than this. Grade: **1/2

Justin: After a long, winding road we have finally arrived at the match that filled the Silverdome with a record crowd. For years, these two stood atop the promotion as the two alpha dog living legends. Thanks to the help of Bobby Heenan, André had a change in personality and turned on his buddy, citing a strong desire for the World Title as the reason. And thus, the biggest match in WWF history was officially signed. Even André’s entrance here is epic, with his imposing figure dominating the motorized cart and waving to the crowd, ignoring the cascade of boos and trash that flew around him. What a presence. Hogan’s pop was massive as always and as he hit the ring, we were witness to one of the most iconic images in wrestling history as Hogan and André stood face-to-face in the center of the ring. As soon as the bell sounded, Hogan tried to slam André immediately, but his back gave out and André nearly picked up a quick win. In fact, it was so close that André and Bobby were shocked it was only a two count. That would play a key point later in the year. With Hogan’s back reeling, André went to town, tossing Hogan around with ease and standing tall, feeling as if it were only a matter of moments. The booking here was really smart, putting André immediately on the offensive where he could lumber around, looking impressive and letting Hogan really sell the back to build the sympathy and curiosity up. The crowd started to come unglued as Hogan fired back at André with a series of right hands and chops. Hogan made a big mistake, running into an André boot, allowing the Giant to hook in a massive, lengthy bear hug. Hogan would survive and punch his way free as the Silverdome began to really rock. However, any time Hogan had any momentum, the Giant clocked him and kept him grounded and hurting. The two would spill outside and in an act of desperation, Hogan pulled away the mats and tried for a piledriver, but he had no chance as André reversed it into a back drop. Back inside, Hogan finally landed a big blow, knocking André down, proving he was mortal. He followed that with the bodyslam heard around the world and the most memorable legdrop in WWF history to retain his title. Man, that is a tough loss for André as he nearly dominated bell to bell, but Hogan got in the big blow when it mattered the most. Sure, there wasn’t a ton here in the way of workrate, but shit you didn’t need it. The atmosphere was fantastic and it was very smartly booked to keep André in control and looking like a very likely threat to possibly take the gold. In the end, Hogan prevails and he completes his third WrestleMania as WWF Champion. Grade: ***

Final Analysis:

Scott: This was the big one. After watching the first two WrestleManias and being impressed but not blown away, this was it. It had everything: A hot crowd, a good balance of matches, a few celebrities, a five-star wrestling classic, and an unforgettable main event. There’s been plenty of WrestleManias since, and other big time shows. This one is still the standard bearer. There is a lot of debate over which one is the best. Justin and I will certainly get to them, and you can make your own decisions. This one is certainly one of my favorites, because it clinched it for me as a fan. You can’t get wrestling out of my blood now. The match that hooked me was Snuka/Muraco in the cage in 1983. The show that sealed it was this one. After the clusterfuck of WrestleMania II, Vince got this one perfectly right. Final Grade: A+

Justin: This is the perfect definition of a major wrestling super show. It had everything you could want: pageantry, storylines, celebrities, workrate and epic confrontations. The crowd is massive and hot the whole time, never once dying down. It is just an amazing show to watch and be in awe of. This was the absolute peak of wrestling in the 80s as far as popularity and mainstream recognition go, and is the predecessor to the huge Wrestlemania events of today. Sure, the match quality is lacking throughout the card, but there is just enough good in ring action to fill in the gaps between the legendary moments that carry the show. With a molten hot crowd, big time moments, an iconic IC title match and arguably the biggest match in North American pro wrestling history, it is hard to grant WrestleMania III anything besides a perfect grade. Final Grade: A+

Author: JT Rozzero

JT Rozzero is a cohost of the Place to Be podcast and original member of the legendary Moliseum Video. He enjoys all sports. The only thing he hates more than traffic and customer service is people. He is a proud Svenjolly and has had a sinus infection since October 2013. Send Justin an email