Friday, May 10, 2019

Pro Wrestling: A Mark's History, part 2 (WrestleMania III Rocks My World)

Welcome back!  Now presenting Part 2 of A Mark's History....

As I said, the first feud in which I had an emotional stake was Savage vs. Steamboat, to the point that watching a Randy Savage promo made me physically angry.  Now I knew from the beginning that wrestling was "fake."  I knew the results were predetermined and that the guys weren't really trying to hurt each other.  However, I bought into Steamboat's throat injury completely.  I thought Savage had actually crushed Steamboat's larynx, and in my eleven-year-old mind the vignettes they showed of Steamboat going through therapy to regain his voice were indisputable proof.

The next angle that really got my blood boiling was when referee Danny Davis screwed the British Bulldogs out of the Tag Team Championship.  Very shortly after I started watching in the fall of '86, the Bulldogs became my favorite team.  One Saturday in January of '87 the Bulldogs were scheduled to wrestle the Hart Foundation - a heel team but one I had started to enjoy, mostly due to Bret Hart's quite obvious wrestling ability (I didn't know much at that age but on some level I recognized a good worker when I saw one.).  My reluctant fondness for the Harts evaporated very quickly however when Davis's atrocious officiating caused the Bulldogs to lose the straps.  I remember thinking, "There's no way this decision can stand."  Sadly this was the first time I encountered the old "referee's-decision-is-final" bit, and I was highly pissed.  The following week, WWF President Jack Tunney (who I thought was legitimately the head of the company - it wasn't until about a year later that I learned play-by-play commentator Vince McMahon was the real owner, which blew my mind) angrily announced that Davis was "suspended for life."  I actually stood up and cheered at this.  True, swift justice!

You sir, are pure scum!

Around this same time I started to become slightly more interested than before in what the NWA was doing, mostly because when WWF progamming wasn't on TV I still yearned to watch wrestling.  Something was better than nothing, after all.  The first NWA match I specifically remember watching was the classic 60-minute time limit draw between Ric Flair and Barry Windham for the NWA World Title, in January 1987.  I of course took a liking to good guy Windham right off the bat, and about Flair I remember thinking, "Wait, that's the NWA Champion??  He looks nothing like a World Champ."  You must remember that to me at the time Hulk Hogan was a prototypical champion and any small-to-medium sized wrestlers were somehow of lesser caliber (WWF conditioning worked fast on eleven-year-old me).  Anyway, I half-watched the match, sure that Windham would dispatch Flair handily to win the belt.  When the match ended in a draw and Flair got to keep it, I was outraged.  "But he didn't win either, why is he still the Champion?"

Back on WWF TV, ads were starting to pop up for something called WrestleMania III.  I had no idea what they meant.  I had never heard of WrestleMania, and sort of felt an odd sense of guilt for having missed 1 and 2.  I figured they were some sort of convention for wrestling fans maybe.  I didn't really think much of it beyond that, until the now-legendary Hogan-Andre Piper's Pit segment aired.  Now obviously Hogan was my first "favorite wrestler," given that he was the reason I even started watching in the first place.  I knew of Andre from the cartoon show and from a series of vignettes talking about his being reinstated to the WWF after a suspension.  Why he was suspended I had no idea, but oddly Bobby Heenan seemed to take an interest in his return - nice foreshadowing, eh?  When Andre confronted Hogan and challenged him to a match at WrestleMania III, I simultaneously felt crushed at Andre's betrayal, and excited beyond belief for 'Mania.  Suddenly the whole WrestleMania concept snapped into place for me.  "Ohhh, that's what WrestleMania's all about!"  Incidentally I actually feared for Hogan's Title reign.  The hype about Andre having never been defeated or even bodyslammed (both bollocks, mind you) worked completely on me.

They don't hype matches like this anymore.....

The build for 'Mania was off and running, and soon the Savage-Steamboat rematch was set, as well as the Bulldogs/Santana vs. Harts/Davis 6-man tag (which I mistakenly thought was for the tag belts).  My favorite part of the Saturday morning shows quickly became the WWF Update segments where "Mean" Gene would announce additions to the 'Mania card each week (This is something I still miss - WWE is terrible about booking and announcing the entire card ahead of time nowadays.).

Sadly because WrestleMania was on pay-per-view and my parents didn't even have premium cable channels, I knew they wouldn't pay to order the show for me, so I didn't even ask.  I sat around that Sunday afternoon, dejected at not having the means to watch (I think I even flipped around the cable channels to make sure the cable company didn't give it to us by mistake.).  In hindsight I think that's my biggest regret as a wrestling fan - not even attempting to coax my parents into ordering 'Mania 3. 
The next morning the sports section of the Boston Globe actually covered partial results from the PPV (the first and last time I've ever seen that happen), and I was thrilled and relieved to learn that Hogan retained the belt and Steamboat beat Savage (for whom I had slowly developed an appreciation by this time).

Oh wait, Jim Ross wasn't at that show.

I had become aware that the previous two WrestleManias were available on VHS, so I made it my life's mission to rent the third when it came out (which in those days was at least three months after the fact).  Meantime, I decided to catch up by watching the first 'Mania, by which I was pretty underwhelmed.  The second however piqued my interest due to the Hogan-Bundy steel cage main event.

That summer when I finally got to watch WrestleMania III on VHS, it was the most exciting videotape rental of my young life.  From start to finish the show was everything I had hoped for.  The biggest surprise for me was that Savage-Steamboat actually upstaged the main event (Again, I was eleven - to me it was a given that Hogan-Andre would be the best match.).  I was totally blown away by how good the I-C Title bout was, and it's still one of my favorites to this day.  In fact every year during 'Mania season I try to squeeze in a full viewing of WrestleMania III.  The magic of that show still holds up for me.

Part 1                                                                                                                                 
Part 3

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