Vintage Vault Repost: WrestleMania I


Vintage Vault Reposts are Pay-Per-View recaps with Justin and Scott’s commentary, including star ratings. Please note, these were written in the past and may have dated references. Each repost comes with the audio for the Place to Be Podcast episode where the show is reviewed.  Please scroll to the bottom to find your listening and downloading options!

Vintage Vault Repost: WrestleMania I

March 31, 1985
Madison Square Garden
New York, New York
Attendance: 22,000
PPV Buy Rate: 1.1
Closed-Circuit Attendance: 380,000
Announcers: Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura

1) Tito Santana (Mercedes Solis) defeats The Executioner (Paul Perschmann) with a Figure Four at 4:49

Fun Fact: The first ever WrestleMania match features a man who would go on to become a PPV Iron Man, Tito Santana. Tito will be featured in tons of PPV matches between now and his departure in 1993. He also will go to wrestle in the first nine WrestleManias, something only he and Hulk Hogan would do. Buddy Rose, on the other hand, makes his one and only WWF PPV appearance. He would stick around on and off through 1990, but would be nothing more than an entertaining jobber to the stars.

Scott: The one that started it all begins with an elementary opener. Tito was on fire the previous year as Intercontinental Champion. He lost the title to Greg Valentine in September, and had just wrestled him in a big Lumberjack match just two weeks before in this same Garden ring. Here he defeats The Executioner, who is really “Playboy” Buddy Rose with a mask on. Not much more to say, except this is the last time you will see a wrestler called The Executioner on PPV until the 1996 Survivor Series, coincidentally in Madison Square Garden as well. Tito stays on fire, and will recapture the IC Title from Valentine in July inside a steel cage in Baltimore. Grade: **

Justin: A basic match to help get the crowd worked up and to put a very popular face over in the first match. Buddy Rose is looking quite svelte here, compared to the tub of lard he would transform into by 1990, and actually helps keep up a quick pace with Chico. This was some nice continuity here as well, as the Executioner promised to take apart Tito’s leg in his pre-match promo, and he does just that: work the leg. Tito is able to reverse the attack, however, and makes quick work of the future “Playboy.” As Scott said, Tito was in between I-C Title reigns here, but is still very over with the Garden crowd. A solid, well worked opener that served its purpose. Grade: *1/2 

2) King Kong Bundy (Chris Pailles) defeats S.D. Jones (Roosevelt Jones) with an Avalanche Splash at :24

Fun Fact: The original WrestleMania served one purpose: feature a bunch of wrestlers who will never see the light of day on another WWF PPV ever again. “Special Delivery” Jones is well known in the wrestling world, but never rose above jobber-to-the-stars status. SD had a decent run in Mid-Atlantic, teaming with Rufus R. Jones in a feud with the Andersons and also with Porkchop Cash for a brief NWA Americas Tag title run. He migrated to the WWF in the early 80s, and ended up playing a big role as a recognizable enhancement talent as Vince Jr. started to make his push towards national stardom. Jones would hang around as a jobber until December of 1988. Despite his lackluster career, “Special Delivery” gets to be a part of history here, on the first WrestleMania.

Scott: Now, that is the realistic length of this match. Remember when everyone said it was :09? Yeah, whatever. This was a chance to begin the slow one-year burn of Bundy as a big main eventer. I don’t think he was groomed for WrestleMania II just yet, but definitely for a main event run. SD Jones was just fodder for the “Condominium with Legs”. Bundy was managed by Jimmy Hart at that point, but in a year it would be Bobby Heenan. Grade: *

Justin: Just a match to get Bundy over as a monster. SD Jones knew his role, and he plays it well, selling Bundy’s splashes like death and doing the job in less than 30 seconds. Jesse and Gorilla play up how dangerous Bundy is, and the mission is accomplished. A year later, and Bundy’s career would peak with a huge cage match. This was a quick and harmless match and nothing more. Grade: 1/2*

3) Ricky Steamboat (Richard Blood) defeats Matt Borne (Matthew Osborne) with a High Cross Body at 4:36

Fun Fact: Matt Borne is a second generation star who is best known for some of the outrageous characters he has played throughout his career. After having some success in Mid-South Wrestling, where he formed the “Rat Pack” with Jim Duggan and Ted DiBiase, Borne arrived in the WWF just in time for the first WrestleMania, as he made his first appearance at a house show in Boston on March 2, 1985, going to a draw with Rick McGraw. Borne would hang in the WWF until mid-1986. He would pop up in WCW in 1991, portraying bad-ass lumberjack, Big Josh. After mild success in the lower-mid-card, Borne would jump back to the WWF and take on the most well-known persona of his career: Doink the Clown.

Fun Fact II: Ricky Steamboat had built up quite the resume during his six years in NWA Mid-Atlantic, and be well known for his brutal feud with Ric Flair and his famed partnership with Jay Youngblood. The 1977 PWI Rookie of the Year won nine championships during his years in Mid-Atlantic, but in late 1984, he decided a change of scenery was needed, and made the jump to Vince McMahon’s burgeoning WWF. Ricky Steamboat made his WWF debut on March 5, 1985 (three days after Borne) on a Championship Wrestling TV Taping in Poughkeepsie, NY, defeating Steve Lombardi. Steamboat will hang around for the next three years, and will go on to provide tons of memorable matches and moments.

Scott: The man who would be part of some of the greatest matches over the next ten years defeats a grizzled veteran in Matt Borne, who had been around for the block, but was new to the WWF, which was similar to Steamboat, who had just left NWA Mid-Atlantic. He actually still had his NWA white tights on. This would be Matt Borne’s last PPV appearance until Survivor Series 1992, when he would re-debut as Doink. Steamboat? He was just getting started. Grade: **

Justin: A well worked match that serves the same purpose as the opener: put over the popular face in a quick, but solid bout. Borne was always a great worker, so it is no surprise that he and Steamboat put on a good match, despite the tight time restraints. Steamboat showcases his wide arsenal, and even busts out his world famous chops on Borne’s chest before finishing him with a graceful High Cross Body. The “Dragon” was on his way, and things would only get better for him as we move along. Grade: ** 

4) Brutus Beefcake (Ed Leslie) and David Sammartino wrestle to a double countout at 11:42

Fun Fact: WWF mega-legend Bruno Sammartino used his pull with Vince McMahon to land his son David a gig. David never really caught a fair shake, and always had his last name held against him. Add in the fact that he sucked, and this thing had disaster written all over it. He would last a little over a year in the big leagues, before vanishing in July of 1986, with his last being a bout with Hercules on July 10th. After a brief stay in the AWA, Sammartino would bounce around the Indy world for the next ten years, and eventually found himself on WCW Nitro on December 16th, 1996, where he faced Dean Malenko for the Cruiserweight Championship and lost.

Scott: This match was between Hulk Hogan’s buddy, and the Living Legend’s kid. It was way too long, and really pointless. This match should have been at the “War to Settle the Score” show in February, and this should have been a tag team match with the Sammartinos against Beefcake and Luscious Johnny Valiant, Beefcake’s manager. Beefcake would move on from this, and by the end of the year, would attain tag team gold. Sammartino would get into a rift with his father, and vanish off the face of the wrestling earth. Grade: **

Justin: A boring encounter here between two guys who just flat out sucked at this point. Beefcake is pre-Barber here and is basically supposed to be a Chippendales-type stripper. By 1990, Beefcake would turn into a pretty good wrestler, but at this point in 1985 he is pretty damn bad, and sticking him in there with someone as green as Sammartino was a stupid, stupid idea. As Scott said, they should have done the tag deal, as Bruno and Johnny V at least know how to work a match. The match somewhat kills the crowd, despite Bruno being ringside, as these two battle to a boring double-countout. God, why give them nearly 12 MINUTES to do a lame double countout ending? Dumb decision here that just turned into a mess. Grade: *

5) Junkyard Dog (Sylvester Ritter) defeats Greg Valentine (John Wisniski Jr.) by countout at 7:03; Valentine retains WWF Intercontinental Title

Fun Fact: Greg Valentine was a big time heel in NWA-Mid-Atlantic. His resume includes the US Heavyweight Championship, a tag team title with Ric Flair, and a legendary dog collar match with Roddy Piper at the first Starrcade. He jumped ship to the WWF and defeated Tito Santana for the Intercontinental Title on September 24, 1984 in London, Ontario. Tito had won the Intercontinental Title from Don Muraco on February 11th, ending Muraco’s 13 month reign.

Scott: The current Intercontinental champ detours from his vicious feud with Tito Santana, to take on Santana’s pal, the JYD. Dog was a big time babyface in Louisiana, and in Memphis. He arrived in the WWF in 1984, and immediately became a fan favorite. This stems from a Lumberjack match Santana and Valentine had two weeks prior at MSG. JYD was one of the lumberjacks and a skirmish broke out between the two. Here, Valentine apparently won with a roll-up that included his feet on the ropes. Tito Santana came out to dispute with the ref that Valentine’s feet were on the ropes. The ref agreed, and counted Valentine out as he was leaving the arena. This would be JYD’s only WrestleMania win. Valentine and Santana would continue their feud for a few more months, and Santana would regain the IC Title in a classic cage match on July 7, 1985. Grade: **

Justin: A boring match here, as not even Valentine could carry the deteriorating JYD to a decent showing. Despite being quite over still, Junkyard Dog’s in ring ability was swiftly moving downhill as he got older. During the early 80s, Junkyard Dog drew millions of dollars throughout the Mid-South territory, where he had a well known feud with Fabulous Freebirds that drew a huge gate to the big blowoff match. After making his name as a mega-star, he was quickly gobbled up by Vince to help in his worldwide expansion, but never quite reached the levels expected, mainly because Hulk Hogan OWNED the mid-80s and the best you could do was second place. Add the Hogan factor to his poor conditioning and bad workrate (not that it mattered too much at that time) and things just never panned out. He was still insanely over with the crowds, but he never became that huge name draw that he had been in Mid-South. Valentine tries his best here, but it just wasn’t happening, and the weird ending doesn’t help matters much, as it was just an attempt to continue the build the Tito-Valentine rematch. JYD probably deserved better here than to play second fiddle in this feud, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Grade: *1/2

6) Iron Sheik (Khosrow Vaziri) and Nikolai Volkoff (Josip Peruzovic) defeat US Express to win WWF Tag Team Titles when Volkoff pinned Barry Windham after Iron Sheik hit him with Freddie Blassie’s cane at 5:00

Fun Fact: The song “Real American” was originally for the US Express, not Hulk Hogan.

Fun Fact II: In early 1985, Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo were the fair haired golden boys of the WWF. On January 21st, they defeated Adrian Adonis and Dick Murdoch for the straps, but their reign would be short-lived, as Vince wanted to pull a shocker on PPV. They would regain the belts from Sheik and Volkoff on June 17th, but would quickly lose them again to the upstart Dream Team (Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine) on August 24th. Following the loss, Barry Windham got into an argument with Vince and decided to bail to the NWA. Rotundo, never one to burn bridges, decided to go with his partner, but he made sure to leave on amicable terms with Vince to ensure he would have a future with him. Rotundo’s foresight definitely paid off six years later, when he was looking for a job and Vince gave him one, along with a solid long-term push and a solid character: Irwin R. Shyster. Windham’s careless bailing stuck in Vince’s mind, and even though he rehired him a couple of times, he never gave him a good push again.

Scott: The first title change in WWF PPV history came as quite a shock. Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo had been on a roll since winning the titles a few months before. They were also quite popular with the fans. Their opponents had been put together only recently before this, but, since both Iran and the Soviet Union were on the country’s collective shit list, Vince figured why not. So, in what would be one of many heel screwjobs in PPV history, the Eastern Bloc heels gain a win thanks to Freddie Blassie’s cane. It’s a great example of the old school manager we don’t see in current day wrestling anymore. Sheik and Volkoff would hold the titles for a couple of months, and then the Express gets it back. Not a bad match. Grade: **1/2

Justin: A fun little tag match here that features a MAJOR upset. It was expected that the US Express would have a fairly easy time with the newly constructed foreign contingent, but Vince wanted a shocker, so Volkoff and the Sheik pick up the titles thanks to help from the Ayatollah Blassie. These four bust out the classic tag formula and it works quite well, as the crowd is pretty pumped and hot to see the Express take down the evil foreigners, and is quite shocked when they lose. Looking back, the change was a good decision, as it gave us a memorable title change on the first PPV in WWF history and it didn’t really hurt the Express in the long run since they got the belts back anyway. Grade: **1/2

7) Andre the Giant (Andre Rousimoff) defeats Big John Studd (John Minton) in a $15,000 Bodyslam match when he slams Studd at 5:49

Fun Fact: There were two huge stipulations in this match: if Andre the Giant wins he gets $15,000 of Studd’s money, but if Studd wins, Andre would be forced to retire.

Scott: Two of the biggest (literally) legends of the ring clash in a match that had been brewing for some time. This stems from a feud that started in late-1984 that saw Ken Patera and Studd shave off Andre’s famous afro. Many considered this match at main event level when the card was released. The match itself is not great, as Andre was already showing his age and the effects of his condition that made him as big as he was. The big pop comes as he slams Studd, takes the duffel bag with the cash, and tossed it into the crowd before Bobby Heenan swiped the bag and ran away. If Andre lost, he would have to retire, and you knew that wasn’t going to happen. A big win for the legend. Grade: *1/2

Justin: A horrible match that is only remembered for the big slam at the end and the fun visual of Andre handing out the money to the crowd. Andre was really falling apart here, and it is too bad that the national audience never got to see Andre in his prime. Due to the huge hullabaloo surrounding the Main Event, the fact that Andre’s career is on the line here is often overlooked. On any other card, a match like this would have been able to be a Main Event and draw thousands to see it, but on a Supercard like WrestleMania, it’s just another match, which I guess was the point of having a Supercard. Despite the match sucking, it’s always nice to see Andre honored and allowed to have a moment in the sun, as he truly is one of the greatest legends of all time. Grade: *

8) Wendi Richter defeats Leilani Kai (Patricia Karisma) to win WWF Women’s Title when Richter reversed a High Cross Body at 6:12

Fun Fact: Richter shocked the wrestling world when she defeated The Fabulous Moolah for the title on July 23, 1984 at MSG, after Moolah dominated the title since 1956, only losing for a few days here and there. Moolah then took on Lelani Kai as her charge, and Kai (with the help of Moolah) took the title from Richter on February 18, 1985 at “The War to Settle the Score”.

Scott: One of the highlights of the show has the very popular Texan defeating Moolah’s girl from Hawaii. The match is a little sloppy, and even the ending with Richter reversing the High Cross Body was not quite smooth. This match was all about Richter’s “manager” for the night, Cyndi Lauper. She was part of the big “War to Settle the Score” card in February. This also included heel manager Captain Lou Albano, but he was a face by now. The place went crazy when Richter won the belt, but she was on borrowed time. When a contract was offered to her, she balked about signing the guaranteed deal. Due to that, in a Montreal type incident, an uninformed Richter lost the title to The Spider Lady, who ended up being Moolah with a mask. A pissed and humiliated Richter was not seen on WWF TV again. However, she was still getting WWF paychecks. Well, not really. Her ex-husband is Spanish announcer Hugo Savinovich. Grade: **1/2

Justin: A far cry from Trish Stratus vs. Molly Holly this is, but the excitement of the Garden is off the charts. The main reason, you ask? Cyndi Lauper. The pop star was hot as ever at this point, and her albums were flying off the charts. Luckily, Vince McMahon ignored all the old school purists who told him his Rock ‘n’ Wrestling idea would never work. Vince had the vision and long term planning to hook up with MTV early on and jump on the music bandwagon. Thus, once Lauper hit it big, it was all worked out to have her and her manager, David Wolfe, get involved in storylines, including a classic moment where Roddy Piper kicked her in the head. The heat was out of control for the whole thing, and it spills over to the culmination at this show. The match itself is a clusterfuck of blown spots and sloppy wrestling, but it really didn’t matter. When Richter gets the three, the roof nearly blows off, and causes this to be the absolute peak of women’s wrestling during this era, as it was placed on an important part of the card and overshadowed everything before it. Just a fun moment that sees a lot of chaos and a hot ending. Grade (factoring in the heat and excitement): ***

9) Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) and Mr. T (Lawrence Trudeau) defeat Roddy Piper (Roderick Toombs) and Paul Orndorff when Hogan pins Orndorff after Bob Orton accidentally hit Orndorff with his cast at 13:22

Fun Fact: This also stemmed from the “War to Settle the Score” show at MSG on February 18, 1985. The show was televised on MTV, and it included a World Title match between Hogan and Piper. The match ends in a messy schmozz, including security and police officers, and we come to this. Over the coming weeks, lots of workout vignettes from both sides aired to pump up the match. Then, in the days leading up to this match, Mr. T began to get a little weird about the whole thing, and even ended up disappearing for a while the DAY of the show. Hogan and Vince were freaking out, but T finally surfaced and the match went off with out a hitch.

Scott: The first main event in WrestleMania history is an entertaining affair between the three hottest wrestlers in the promotion at that time, and one of TV’s hottest stars. This match, just like the show in general, was reaching national mainstream attention. That was highlighted by Hogan and T hosting Saturday Night Live the night before. With all the celebrities, from Muhammad Ali, to Liberace, to Jimmy Snuka and Cowboy Bob Orton on the outside, MSG was at a fever pitch. In the climax, Orndorff has Hogan held, and Orton goes to the top rope, set to drop the cast. Hogan moves out of the way and Orton whacks Orndorff. Hogan gets the pin, and MSG explodes. This leads to a few things: 1) Orndorff turning face, 2) The Piper/Mr. T boxing match at WrestleMania II, and 3) The beginning of many great Hulkamania moments in WrestleMania history. Grade: ***

Justin: There isn’t much to bitch about here. Sure, the wrestling wasn’t great, but sometimes a match is about much more than workrate and star ratings, and this is a perfect example. The crowd was at a fever pitch and the mainstream media swarmed around the show for this one encounter. Celebrities surrounded the ring and the aura is unbeatable. Add to the mix the fact that Mr. T could lose it at any time, and the fact that Piper was out of control, and you had quite the explosive environment. For a guy who had never really wrestled, Mr. T does a pretty admirable job and definitely holds up his end of the bargain. Hogan picks up the pin, ending the first chapter of Paul Orndorff’s WWF career and sending the Garden crowd home happy. Grade: ***


Scott: This is the first one, the one that started the greatest extravaganza in wrestling history. OK, as a card it was average. It was pretty much a glorified MSG house show. Who cares, this is WrestleMania. The reason we’re all wrestling fans today. There’s urban legend that AWA promoter Verne Gagne offered Bruiser Brody $100,000 to jump from the crowd and break Mr. T’s leg. This wasn’t the first time Gagne, who despised Vince McMahon, threatened something like this. The Iron Sheik says in the Greatest Wrestling Stars of the 80’s DVD that Gagne offered him money to injure Hogan in the January 23, 1984 title match. Gagne’s fault was not realizing soon enough that wrestling was evolving, and he wasn’t. That’s why in 1990, the AWA went out of business. Alas, none of it happened, and history was made. There were some shocks (Sheik/Volkoff), some disappointments (Beefcake/Sammartino), and a great main event. As a show, there were better WrestleManias, heck better house shows. It was the first wrestling tape I ever rented, and even though I had been a fan for about a year and a half at that point, I was hooked forever. Final Grade: A+

Justin: Well, the grandfather of all future PPVs was in the books and Vince was a successful man. It has been stated many times that Vince invested so much in this show, that if it bombed or failed, he may have gone out of business. Everyone was nervous, right down to Jesse Ventura, who had to be held up from behind by Gorilla Monsoon at the beginning of the show. Thankfully, the show was a mega-hit and WrestleMania is still the main force in wrestling today. In 1984, Vince McMahon had a vision, and many of his confidants followed his lead, and those are the men that helped revolutionize the sport. The men who thought Vince was stupid and didn’t jump on the bandwagon would quickly fall to the wayside. His long-term vision of what he wanted the WWF to be came to life with WrestleMania. The 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, Scott and I have plenty more PPVs to review. If this were just a regular PPV, it would warrant a C-, maybe a D+, but because of the historical significance, it escapes unscathed. Final Grade: A+