BY MATT PERRI
Vince knew he had to top NWA in scope. He also had to top the last Wrestlemania in terms of size and match importance.
Hogan faced the biggest challenge of his career in the form of Andre the Giant — somebody who Bobby Heenan had pushed as the man “Hogan had been ducking”.
The stage was set and all Vince McMahon needed was a venue. As the NWA had gone big with an event the year prior at the Superdome, Vince chose the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit, Michigan where he would attempt to bring over 90,000 wrestling fans to watch the WWF’s marquee event.
How did it turn out?
Fancy computer graphics (for the time) lead us into Wrestlemania III.
Vince welcomes us to Wrestlemania…and, holy fuck, that crowd is big.
Aretha Franklin does America, the Beautiful. Lovely version.
We are LIVE(!!!) from the SuperSilverdome in Detroit, Michigan!
Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura are the guys on the mic.
They’re with Bob Uecker and Mary Hart. They’re pumped for Wrestlemania III as we go to our first match of the night…
MATCH #1: The Can-Am Connection (Rick Martel & Tom Zenk) vs. Magnificent Muraco & Cowboy Bob Orton (w/ Mr. Fuji)
Zenk and Muraco start. Muraco gets some early shots but Zenk comes back with a hip toss and roll up for two. Tag to Martel and the Connection hits a double monkey flip. Tag to Orton on the heel side and tag to Zenk on the face side. Orton hits a shoulderblock but then gets caught in a scoop slam. Zenk rams Orton’s head into the buckle, then hits an armbar. Orton hits him with a knee and a Full Nelson but Zenk reverses. Orton reverses again and Muraco decks Orton by accident. Two count. Tag to Martel who Orton tries to toss to the mat but Martel hangs onto Orton’s wrist and keeps it locked. Tag back to Zenk but Orton tags Muraco. Zenk slams him and goes for a run off the rope. Orton knees Zenk in the back and tags in and collides with Zenk on an Irish Whip. Orton tags Muraco and Zenk tags Martel. Martel’s a house-a-fire as all four men get in. The Connection whips the heels into one another. Orton gets double dropkicked and Zenk hits a Crossbody on Muraco for the win.
WINNERS: The Can-Am Connection via pinfall
GRADE: C+. This was ok.
- Bob Orton would continue to wrestle for the WWF, had a short comeback in 1989 and left for the NWA the same year.
- Tom Zenk left the WWF in late 1987 as the result of a contract dispute, would wrestle in Japan for a couple years and turn up in the NWA in 1989.
- Haynes would leave the WWF in 1988 and move over the NWA in 1991.
- Lionel Giroux (AKA “Little Beaver”) had one more memorable appearance in the WWF almost a year after Wrestlemania III. He appeared on Primetime Wrestling in a comedy match against One Man Gang. He was posthumously inducted into the Pro-Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2003, having passed away of Emphysema eight years earlier at the age of 60.
- Raymond Kessler (AKA “The Haiti Kid”) still lives in New York. His only claim to fame was his limited time in the WWF and his one appearance in a Blaxploitation film called “Penitentiary III”.
- Shigeri Akabane (AKA “Little Tokyo”) wrestled with the WWF in 1987, made a few more appearances in 1989 and finished out his career in WCCW as well as indie circuits. He was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2010 and passed away, a year later, after a heart attack. Akabane was 70 years old.
- Eric Tovey (AKA “Lord Littlebrook”) was an accomplished championship midget wrestler and had been in the pro-wrestling business for nearly 50 years as a wrestler, manager, and trainer. He is a member of both the Canadian Pro-Wrestling Hall of Fame as well as The Pro-Wrestling Hall of Fame. He is 85 years old and lives in Missouri with his son, Bobby.
This was the Wrestlemania where the WWF really hit its stride. Not only did they have a massive star in Hulk Hogan, they also had the likes of Andre the Giant, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, Rick Martel, Jake Roberts and up-and-comers like the Honky Tonk Man and The Hart Foundation (who really started taking off here.)
At the end of Wrestlemania 2, Hulk Hogan had been the WWF World Champion for three years and was given a trophy to celebrate that fact. Andre the Giant, his friend (and face) at the time came out to congratulate him. Later that day, Andre was given a trophy for having been undefeated for the last 15 years. When Hogan came out to congratulate him, the interview focused entirely on Hogan, stealing Andre’s time and spotlight. Andre didn’t appreciate it. Shortly thereafter, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Hogan’s long-time nemesis, announced that he was now Andre the Giant’s new manager on “Piper’s Pit”, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s interview segment. Hogan was shocked when he found this out and even more shocked when Andre challenged Hogan to a match at Wrestlemania III for the WWF Championship.
Randy Savage’s storyline was entirely different: George “The Animal” Steele got a rematch with the “Macho Man” Randy Savage but lost the match and, thus, Savage retained the Intercontinental Title. Soon after, Savage brutally attacked Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and left him hospitalized when Steamboat was greeting fans by ringside. Steamboat challenged Savage to a title match with the stipulation that George “The Animal” Steele would be in Steamboat’s corner. Savage accepted and the two exchanged in some bloody altercations leading up to the event.
Wrestlemania III would also see the Hart Foundation with their friend, Danny Davis in a 6-man tag match against the British Bulldogs and Tito Santana. The Harts won the Tag Team titles from them in a screwjob perpetuated by Davis and this would be an attempt at revenge. Also, Jake Roberts got into a feud with the Honky Tonk Man, becoming a face.
The event would take place at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit. Over 93,000 fans bought tickets in one of the biggest entertainment events ever conceived.
The event propelled the WWF and Vince McMahon into the stratosphere and cemented Wrestlemania as their flagship event.
Instead of a low-lit arena, the lights were up all over the seating around the ring, showing the entire world that wrestling was big and it was here to stay.
Aretha Franklin was one of the many celebrities to grace Wrestlemania with their presence and she treated the crowd of 93,000+ with a great rendition of America, the Beautiful. That year, Franklin also gave Wrestlemania its first theme song — “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?” Ah, the 80’s.
Mary Hart would be broadcasting at ringside and Bob Uecker would also be there to interview some of the wrestlers. Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura would do the announcing honors for their third straight Wrestlemania.
MATCH #1: The Can-Am Connection (Rick Martel & Tom Zenk) vs. “Cowboy” Bob Orton & The Magnificent Muraco
At this point in their careers, Orton and Muraco were nearing the ends of their WWF careers. The two teams fought a great match, very quickly paced. It was obvious, at this point, that matches were being worked more succinctly and had a modicum of ogranization to them. Eventually, The Can-Am Connection electrified the crowd with a cross-body block pin on The Magnificent Muraco and win the match.
WINNERS: The Can-Am Connection via Crossbody
GRADE: B-. Decent tag match. The Can-Am connection was being built up as the next Hart Foundation but Tom Zenk couldn’t come to an agreement on his contract and left the WWF. Martel continued on, eventually teaming with Tito Santana, becoming “Strike Force” and then to a singles career, which we will see later.
MATCH #2: Billy Jack Haynes vs. Hercules (w/ Bobby “The Brain” Heenan)
It always seemed, to me, that Heenan had, like, 20 wrestlers he was managing. In real life, I keep telling myself that Heenan was that damn good as a heel. In fact, I dare say that he was one of the greatest heels EVER in the business of wrestling. He had that perfect storm – charm, the voice, humor, and it never seemed like he could EVER be taken down by anybody – not even Hulk Hogan. Anyway, this was billed as a match between two very strong guys and I have to say, Hercules looks more ripped here than last year’s event. I mean SCARY ripped. Haynes come out first on a rolling “ring”. This was something that started here and, I believe ended after Wrestlemania VI:
|They see me rollin’…they laughin’…|
The match, itself, is quite good, with two guys of big-time strength in the same ring. Haynes, at one point, gets a full-press slam on Hercules, which is incredible, considering Hercules was billed at 275 pounds. Normally, I frown on these matches, but both men are in such good shape, that the match really rolls. One almost has to wonder if, perhaps, this match caused irreparable damage to Haynes. Hercules tosses him around like a rag doll for most of the match after a clothesline that looked like it went awry. At one point, Hercules gets his Full Nelson around Haynes but Haynes powers out. It’s VERY clear that Haynes is not operating at 100 percent. Every single time he hits a move in the match, he cradles his own back and neck. The match ends with Haynes putting his Full Nelson on Hercules. Hercules powers out of it by pushing himself and Haynes out of the ring. However, Haynes locks it in again outside the ring and the referee counts both men out.
WINNERS: None. Double count-out.
GRADE: D+. Another good match ruined by a double countout. Haynes was another wrestler whose WWF career ended shortly after Wrestlemania. As the story goes, he had a few weak feuds and then was told to job in a tag team match. When he refused, the WWF fired him. Haynes, since then, has been a very outspoken critic of Vince McMahon.
Post-match, Hercules bloodies Haynes by punching him with his chain wrapped around his wrists, then applies a Full Nelson.
I also have to say that Gorilla and Ventura play off one another really well. Not as well as Gorilla and Heenan, mind you, but it’s a different “good”. They fight a verbal battle during each and every match. Nobody does it like these two.
MATCH #3: King Kong Bundy w/ Lord Littlebrook and Little Tokyo vs. Hillbilly Jim w/ Little Beaver and Kid Haiti
The next match saw King Kong Bundy with two midget wrestlers, Lord Littlebrook and Little Tokyo versus Hillbilly Jim and his midgets, Little Beaver and Kid Haiti. Let me say this right now: I find midget wrestlers to be in the wrong business. They don’t work. They’ve never worked. They don’t work now (Hornswaggle, I’m looking at you) and I think it’s humiliating that they degrade themselves. (Let me re-phrase: they still don’t work but they’re not degrading themselves either.) I guess it’s good work but they’re mostly there as comic relief and it’s just not right. Before the match, Bundy TRIES to look serious with Mean Gene, telling him that they’re gonna be victorious. Somewhere, in Bundy’s mind, he HAS to be wondering how, in a year, he went from main-eventing to THIS. Also, Gene interviews Hillbilly Jim with Little Beaver and Kid Haiti. Folks, this is a giant redneck in overalls, a beard, and a sweaty-looking hat with a black midget in a Chippendale tux and a wrestler in stereotyped Indian garb. At one point, Hillbilly Jim lifts them both up like children and looks at Haiti like he wants to sing him to sleep.
|The photo above is proof that I’m NOT high and I’m definitely NOT fucking with you.|
Prior to the match, with Bundy and his guys already in the ring, Hillbilly Jim proceeds to what can best be described as square-dance with his midget partners
|Once again, I prove to you that I’m totally sober right now.|
There are always moments in professional wrestling where their fans and viewers have to give its detractor. This was one of them. Bobby Eucker joins the broadcast booth for this and the mood lightens to match the mood in the ring, but it’s still humiliating to watch. I don’t think Hillbilly Jim was ever that great, either. In fact, if you want to be fair, I think his character was a private joke on the part of Vince McMahon who must have thought HBJ was who his audience resembled. Thankfully, the match ends when Bundy attacks Little Beaver. This was, easily, the worst match of the event.
WINNERS: HBJ and his partners.
GRADE: F. This was just awful on every level.
Post-match, HBJ, showing everybody that he has an unnatural fetish for handling midgets, picks up Little Beaver and carries him around the ring before placing him on the mat in the corner. I think two pictures to prove my sobriety is enough.
Backstage, Mary Hart tries to interview Miss Elizabeth but the Macho Man interrupts and pulls her away from Hart.
MATCH #4: “King” Harley Race (w/ Bobby “The Brain” Heenan & The Fabulous Moolah) vs. The Junkyard Dog in a Bowing match.
The stipulation for this was that whoever won this match would have their opponent bow to them. The Dog, being a fan favorite, got a HUGE reception here on his way down the aisle. This match was very odd. JYD is obviously a favorite. He was ruling the match until Bobby Heenan tried to distract him. Race pulled JYD from behind, suplexes him, and then pins him. The thing is, Dog kicked out and the referee counted to three. I don’t know if that was planned or what. In any case, Dog bows to Race, post-match, then grabs the chair Race was sitting in and clocks Race in the head with it. He dons Race’s robe and wears it.
WINNER: Race via heel cheating, I guess.
GRADE: F. Another dud.
Vince McMahon interviews Hulk Hogan backstage at this point. He tears his shirt off for no reason other than the fact that he can and will. But, at least he’s not chewing on his headband.
|Om nom nom nom…|
MATCH #5: The Dream Team (Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake) (w/ Johnny Valiant and Dino Bravo) vs. The Fabulous Rougeaus (Jacques and Raymond)
Midway through the match, Heenan gets on the mic which is a great treat. This match was noteable for Brutus Beefcake being kicked off of The Dream Team due to a new wrestler on their team, attempting to insert himself into the match. The late Dino Bravo would escort the team down to the ring next to Luscious Johnny Valiant and, because of him, The Dream Team would record the pin. Brutus, for some reason, argues about the outcome of the match that they won. Most likely, it was jealousy over Bravo attempting to take Beefcake’s place. Bravo, Valentine, and Valiant would leave Beefcake at the ring and a NEW “Dream Team” would be formed.
WINNERS: The Dream Team
MATCH #6: Roddy Piper vs. “Adorable” Adrian Adonis (w/ Jimmy Hart)
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper had gone heel after attacking the Honky Tonk Man. The winner of this match would shave the loser’s head completely. Adonis dropped his effeminate gimmick for the most part here and was a pure heel. Piper gets a nice reception here. This isn’t really a match of skill. Piper had his hands all over Jimmy Hart throughout the match, much to the delight of the crowd. Hart had to be the most annoying manager in the history of the WWF and that’s what made him so great. He had such style, even as a heel. There was a lot of personal animosity in this match. The lead-up was brutal. Piper took a hiatus from the WWF after Wrestlemania 2 and, upon his return, had discovered that Adonis had overtaken his set, “The Piper’s Pit”. He trashed the set with a bat. But it didn’t end there. Piper had Hart on his show and was ambushed by Adonis, his former friend, Bob Orton, and Jimmy Hart. They traded attacks in the weeks leading up. The match was vicious and one of my favorites in Wrestlemania history. A LOT of hype was put on it. Piper was to leave the WWF again for a movie career. This was to be his “last match”. The hatred between the two men is wholly apparent. The punches they dole out are incredible. The energy is spectacular in the arena. The end comes when Beefcake, having been dumped by Valentine, turned face. Adonis attempts to give Roddy a Sleeper Hold and lets it go too soon. Hart leapt in the ring to celebrate with Adonis, thinking that the referee had counted Piper out and unconscious. He wasn’t. As they celebrated, Beefcake came running out to the ring and woke Piper up. Piper, getting his second wind, annihilated Jimmy Hart, knocking him from the ring. He beat Adonis with his trademark Sleeper Hold.
WINNER: Roddy via Sleeper.
GRADE: B+. Roddy can make any crap match a winner. This was no exception.
Post-match, Beefcake helped Roddy by cutting Adonis’s hair.
Mary Hart and Bob Eucker join Gorilla Monsoon in the ring as Jesse Ventura goes down to the ring to get introduced. Gorilla points out that Jesse Ventura will star alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Predator”. Ah, memories.
MATCH #7: WWF Tag Team Champions The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart) & Danny Davis (with Jimmy Hart) vs. The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid) & Tito Santana
This was a match stemming from Davis, a former referee, allowing the Hart Foundation to use illegal maneuvers throughout the match, leading to the Bulldogs’ defeat. Because of the screwjob, a match was made where the Foundation had to team up with Davis to face the Bulldogs. This match features some of the greatest names in wrestling. Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid are incredible on their own but Tito Santana and Bret Hart had great careers and Jim Neidhardt was, of course, part of one of the greatest tag teams wrestling ever saw. The match is pretty good as far as tag team contests go but ends, of course, cheaply. The ol’ Hart-Megaphone-to-the-head gives Davis the pin.
WINNERS: The Hart Foundation and Danny Davis via Screwjob
GRADE: C+. Kinda fun though the megaphone-to-the-head screwjob got old. The highlights of the match were watching Bret Hart and Santana in the ring as well as Smith showing his power. The man was incredible and NOBODY powerslams like he did.
MATCH #8: “Birdman” Koko B. Ware vs. Butch Reed (w/ Slick)
Whereas Reed had speed and strength, B. Ware was high-flying and had some good technical skills. However, as popular as he could be, B. Ware was often used to put over other wrestlers. While he beat the usual jobbers on television, he lost several matches to the higher talent. This match was no exception. B. Ware was pretty much an afterthought here. Reed tosses him around and beats him up. At the end, B. Ware hits a splash on Reed, but Reed reverses the pin using Ware’s tights, pinning him for the three-count.
WINNER: Reed via roll-up.
GRADE: C+. B. Ware is fun to watch even though he had hit JTTS status. Reed, however, parted ways with the WWF a year later.
Post-match, Santana comes out to help his friend to get a cheap pop because, honestly, the fans really didn’t care much here.
MATCH #9: “Macho Man” Randy Savage (champ) (w/ Miss Elizabeth) vs. Ricky Steamboat (challenger) (w/ George “The Animal” Steele) for the WWF Intercontinental Championship
The Intercontinental Title was still around the waist of the Macho Man Randy Savage and he would defend it against Ricky Steamboat in one of the greatest matches in Wrestlemania history. This match is back and forth, incredibly well-worked. Steamboat has such agility and brilliance. Savage is a perfect wrestler to work with in this instance. He feeds off of the crowd and off of the energy of his opponents. Ventura, at one point, says that “nobody does an arm drag like Steamboat”. I have to agree. There’s a lot of outside-the-ring play in this match. You’ll notice that the WWF cleared the entire ringside area and there’s padding and more space. There are so many reversals in this match, it’s impossible to keep up. Steamboat tosses Savage into the ring, but Savage kicks him. Then he goes off the ropes again and lunges at Steamboat but Steamboat tosses Savage out of the ring. He gets a NEAR-fall after a top-rope splash but only gets a two-count due to Savage putting his foot on the ropes. Steamboat pulls EVERYTHING out of his repertoire including a Sunset Flip, a reverse pin flip, and atomic drops and small packages but Savage just battles back. Pound for pound, the two wrestlers are about even. At one point, Earl Hebner gets knocked out. Savage hits his patented Elbow Drop from the top ropes. This was one of those great moments where Savage SHOULD have won the match but didn’t. The match ends with Savage trying to grab the ring bell to hit Steamboat and end the match. Steele pulls him down twice from outside and then tosses Savage into the ring. Savage’s head hits the bell and Steamboat rolls him up for the pin.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: Ricky Steamboat via roll-up.
GRADE: A-. Slight markdown because Steele doesn’t need to be here. This, to me, was the pinnacle of Steamboat’s career. I don’t think he ever topped this match or this moment and that’s a shame. He was a victim of Vince McMahon and his ruthless management style and was buried all because he needed family time to see his kid born. Very sad story.
MATCH #10: The Honky Tonk Man (w/ Jimmy Hart) vs. Jake “The Snake” Roberts (w/ Alice Cooper)
During the match, Gorilla Monsoon says “Pearl Harbored” for the third time, tying his usual record. The Honky Tonk Man was not my favorite wrestler and I think the only reason he was champion for so long was because a) Hart was his manager and b) there was nobody else suitable to be Intercontinental Champion until The Ultimate Warrior showed up. Roberts nearly turns the match into a squash until Tonk escapes a DDT and levels Roberts outside the ring. Eventually, the action returns to the ring and HTM gets the upper hand. HTM calls for the Shake, Rattle and Roll but Roberts reverses with a back body drop. However, HTM quickly gets the upper hand and attacks Roberts in the corner. Roberts breaks out with an Atomic Drop and begins to level HTM with punches to the head. The crowd calls for the DDT and Jake obliges but Hart interferes, Honky Tonk Man rolls up Roberts and holds onto the ropes to get the pin.
WINNER: The Honky Tonk Man via cheat pin
GRADE: C+. Eh. BTW, Alice Cooper was in Jake Roberts’ corner to make sure that Hart didn’t cheat. Good work, Alice.
Post-match, Jimmy hart is surrounded by Alice Cooper and Jake Roberts. Cooper tries to fight Cooper but Roberts puts Hart in a Full Nelson while Cooper grabs Damien, Roberts’ python. They drop Damien on top of Hart who runs from the ring with Honky Tonk Man.
MATCH #11: The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff (with Slick) defeated The Killer Bees (B. Brian Blair and Jim Brunzell) by disqualification
The one thing I’ve learned after three Wrestlemania events: if you want cheap heat, feature somebody from a country that your country AND make them sing their national anthem. Thankfully, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan comes in and stops Volkoff from singing it anymore. The Jingoism is off the charts here. The match is actually pretty good until Duggan inserts himself into the match and nails Sheik in the back with his 2 x 4. Then he takes the mic and gets the crowd to yell “U.S.A.” over and over. When you’re being upstaged by Hacksaw Jim Duggan, you know your career is in trouble.
WINNERS: The Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff via DQ
GRADE: D+. Another match, another bad finish. This would be the last time we would see The Killer Bees in tag action. Brian Blair would leave the WWF a year after this because he was frustrated with being told that his team would be given the Tag Team titles but never got them. It’s a shame because the two of them have such talent and agility. There are so many rolled-up balls of paper in the ring, it looks like the floor of a horse-race track, post-race.
MATCH #12: Hulk Hogan (champ) vs. Andre the Giant (challenger) w/ Bobby “The Brain” Heenan for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship
Finally, we come to Hogan vs. Andre. I have to say, this is, and always will be, one of my favorite matches of all-time. When people talk about wrestling and why it’s popular, this is one of the matches you turn to and say “this is why”. This was wrestling’s biggest star vs., quite literally, “the world’s biggest star”. This was a dream match. Hogan had faced some decent opponents before this but this was, definitely, the biggest person he’d gone against. EVERYONE was talking about this: kids as well as adults. I will never forget coming back to school and hearing my friends say, “Did you see it?! Hulk slammed Andre and BEAT HIM!!!” At the time, my Mom explained that it was all fake but I played along and said, “Yeah, I saw it! It was great!” It was just one of those iconic moments. Hulk slamming Andre is right up there with the greatest entertainment film reels of all-time. Even still, I get goosebumps, seeing the flash bulbs pop when it happens. The match moves slowly and, again, all Hogan does is punch, give weak clotheslines, and shoulderblock but, here, it’s fitting. It works. This isn’t a battle of the technically-skilled. It’s a battle of giants. Steamboat vs. Savage still beats it but this match is also a classic. And I am not a Hogan fan. The match ends with the big body slam and legdrop. Hogan retains.
WINNER: Hulk Hogan via Legdrop
GRADE: A+. I’m allowed this grade. It was slow and stupid but iconic and it fills me with nostalgia.
I have to say, this is one of my favorite Wrestlemania events.
I give this one an A- for sheer spectacle and some of the best matches ever made.
(More like a B- now that I think about it.)