In the build-up to WrestleMania 32, the Flickering Myth writers look back at previous installments of the ‘Showcase of the Immortals’…
Tito Santana vs. The Executioner
Special Delivery Jones vs. King Kong Bundy w/Jimmy Hart
Ricky Steamboat vs. Matt Borne
David Sammartino w/Bruno Sammartino vs. Brutus Beefcake w/Johnny Valiant (No Contest)
IC TITLE MATCH: Greg Valentine (C) w/Jimmy Hart vs. Junkyard Dog
WWF TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH: Barry Windham & Mike Rotundo (C) w/Lou Albano vs. The Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff w/Fred Blassie
Andre The Giant vs. Big John Studd w/Bobby Heenan ($15,000 Body Slam Challenge)
WWF WOMENS TITLE: Lelani Kai (C) vs. Wendy Richter w/Cyndi Lauper
Hulk Hogan & Mr. T w/Jimmy Snuka vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff w/Bob Orton Jr.
Over the years, we’ve grown fairly used to WWE massaging certain ‘facts’ for their own benefit. However, one of the most peculiar cases the company out-right lying to fans has to be the squash match between King Kong Bundy and S.D. Jones. Bundy got the job done quickly, hitting Jones with a Body Avalanche and a Splash before pinning him for the victory, all in 24 seconds. Impressive, sure, but not nearly as impressive as the NINE seconds that the announcers would have us believe that match was. It’s such a strange lie to tell as it’s so easy to disprove; you can literally time the match yourself! Plus, the margin of difference between 24seconds and 9 seconds is more than a little noticeable.
Squash matches are something of a disappointment, particularly at an event like Wrestlemania. That being said, its effectiveness can’t be denied; this match and the many that followed would build Bundy into a monster heel capable of headlining Wrestlemania II.
Of the three title matches on the undercard, the tag team bout has got to be considered a stand-out. The babyface team of Windham & Rotundo, aka The US Express, were phenomenal in-ring performers whose work was ahead of their time in many ways. Combine that with the decent amount of Cold War heat that the heels had going for them, and you have a match that the crowd can really sink its teeth in to.
The match itself was good fun, if a little formulaic. Having said that, the tag-team psychology was incredibly on-point, and highlights a real pitfall in today’s tag division. The finish too was particularly memorable, with The Iron Sheik taking advantage of a chaotic situation and nailing Windham with Blassie’s cane to pick up a dirty victory. The title change, and the manner in which it happened, gained some monstrous heat from the capacity crowd.
If much of the undercard was underwhelming, Vince and company wanted to make sure the main event was worth the price of admission. Over the years, it is easy to grow a little numb to wrestling’s overuse of hyperbole, but looking back now it is easy to see what a huge deal the main event was. Gorilla Monsoon billed it as ‘the biggest moment in Pro Wrestling’ (This is obviously back before Vince outlawed that term), and right from the start it is clear that the promoters were throwing absolutely everything at this match: Muhammed Ali was the Special Guest Official, New York Yankees Manager Billy Martin was Special Guest Ring Announcer, and Liberace (Really!) was the Special Guest Timekeeper. That’s some serious star-power before Hulk Hogan and Mr. T have even walked through the curtain!
The match itself was actually pretty short by today’s standards, with the babyfaces wrapping up the victory in a little over 13 minutes. The in-ring action was of a fair standard and Mr T. didn’t look entirely out of place, which isn’t massively surprising given his physique and the stellar workers around him. It may have not been a wrestling clinic, but it’s extremely difficult not to get swept up in the pageantry and historical significance of it all.
There really can be no overstating how momentous the first Wrestlemania was. It is important to remember that, at this point at least, Vince McMahon hadn’t completed his monopoly on the industry, and still faced serious competition from the likes of Jim Crockett Promotions. In 1983, Crockett had launched Starrcade, which set a new precedent for major wrestling events. McMahon knew he had to counter the success of Starrcade with a ‘franchise’ event of his own, thus Wrestlemania was born.
While the inaugural event may have lacked some of the logistical smoothness and technical proficiency that we’ve come to associate with latter instalments, it certainly bears a lot of the hallmarks that we see today.
Noticeably, Vince’s heavy reliance on entering the public mainstream is front-and-centre at the first Wrestlemania. Mr T. was one of the biggest stars on the planet at the time, thanks to Rocky III and The A-Team, while the likes of Muhammed Ali, Cyndi Lauper, Liberace and Billy Martin were also globally-recognised entities. The night before the event, Hogan and ‘T’ even hosted Saturday Night Live, which was just as culturally significant in 1985 as it is today.
The very first Wrestlemania seemingly set the mission statement for every event that preceded it: ‘Come for the spectacle, stay for the wrestling’.
Jackson Ball – Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn