Thursday, March 7, 2024

The History of WWE WrestleMania: I

Hello and welcome to this special blog, The History of WrestleMania!  This series will discuss and dissect all 36 previous installments of the annual supercard and determine what I feel were the highlights and lowlights each year.

WrestleMania season is usually one of my favorite times of the year, and I always find myself reflecting back on the storied history of this great spectacle.  I think about some of my favorite 'Mania matches, what makes a great 'Mania card, and why some shows were so successful while others really don't deserve to fall under the WrestleMania banner.  For the record, I'm writing this piece completely from memory, which should give you some idea of how sad and twisted I am.

So without further prattling on, let's get to it.

Madison Square Garden - 3/31/85

This of course was the show that started it all.  The great McMahon gamble that paid off not in spades, but truckloads of money.  This was one of the first truly mainstream wrestling events on a national scale, and the hype allowed the WWF to break into the pop culture vernacular.

Surprisingly though, the inaugural 'Mania card more resembled a house show than a true supercard.  For one thing, having a tag team match as the main event rather than a WWF Title match seems like such an odd choice.  Hulk Hogan's ongoing feud with Roddy Piper was such a draw it seems like a singles match for the belt would be the natural main event.  However the WWF put that match on MTV that February as a way to hype 'Mania.  Clearly it worked, but it made for kind of a watered-down main event for the supercard.  Hogan/Mr. T vs. Piper/Orndorff was fine for what it was, but I hardly consider it a classic.

I always dug this poster for some reason.
These two guys together would beat Rocky Balboa's ass!

This match also began the trend of celebrities getting involved in big money matches as actual competitors.  It occurs to me that the match would've been greatly improved by swapping T out for Jimmy Snuka.  But I suppose seeing T wrestle was part of the draw.  Mr. T certainly looked like he could hang in the ring with the actual wrestlers but I've always felt that having celebs wrestle damages the business somewhat.  More on that later....

The show was also not very stacked for such a marquee event.  To be fair, the WWF's roster would expand considerably after this show (Savage and Jake would arrive, the Hart Foundation and the British Bulldogs would form).  Elsewhere on the card we had Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd in a bodyslam challenge (again, this felt watered-down since it wasn't a traditional wrestling match but ended when one man bodyslammed the other) which aside from the spectacle was just two nearly immobile guys plodding through a short match.

The first 'Mania also inexplicably featured several glorified squashes.  Tito Santana vs. The Executioner opened the show and was roughly the kind of match you'd see on Wrestling Challenge.  King Kong Bundy vs. S.D. Jones and Ricky Steamboat vs. Matt Borne also fell into that category.  Hardly worthy of the biggest show of all-time (at that point anyway).

First match in WrestleMania history
The real stinker of this particular 'Mania though was Brutus Beefcake vs. David Sammartino.  I guess Vince et al hoped David would follow in his father Bruno's footsteps and become a bona fide star.  This clunker lasted a good nine minutes and was totally forgettable.  Surely the real money would've been in having Beefcake wrestle Bruno, since Bruno was still a part-time active wrestler at the time.

While there was no WWF title match on this card, the other three championships were defended, with lackluster results...

Intercontinental Champion Greg Valentine had a fairly brief defense against the Junkyard Dog culminating in Valentine getting a cheap pin with his foot on the ropes.  But Tito Santana (with whom Valentine was feuding, begging the question "Why didn't they book Valentine vs. Santana on this show) ran down and explained the infraction to the referee, who restarted the match and counted Valentine out when the Champ failed to get back in the ring.

Women's Champion Lelani Kai, flanked by The Fabulous Moolah faced Wendy Richter, who was accompanied by Cyndi Lauper, one of the architects of the "Rock n' Wrestling Connection" that brought so many new eyes to the WWF.  This was a totally forgettable match, other than Richter's Title win.

The best of the championship bouts was for the Tag Team Titles, as Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo defended against The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff.  After seven minutes of solid action, Sheik waffled Windham with manager Freddie Blassie's cane to steal the belts.

Do it Barry!!

Overall this WrestleMania is really only enjoyable for historical purposes.  It's interesting to see how primitive the production values were (oddly they were considered first-rate at the time), and the near-embryonic stages of the 1980s boom period.  I liken this to the debut album of a great band who hasn't quite found their voice yet.

Best Match: Hogan/Mr. T vs. Piper/Orndorff
Worst Match: Brutus Beefcake vs. David Sammartino
What I'd Change: Make the main event Hogan vs. Piper for the WWF Title
Most Disappointing Match: Most of the show is underwhelming
Most Pleasant Surprise: I guess Tito vs. Executioner?
Overall Rating: 3/10

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