Friday, 14 September 2007

WWF Wrestlemania 1 - Retro Review

With the biggest wrestling show of the year just a week away, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at where it all began, back to Madison Square Garden in 1985, and the first ever Wrestlemania. Our hosts for the evening are the legendary commentary team of Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura.

After “Mean” Gene Okerlund sings the American national anthem, it’s on to the first bout as the masked Executioner takes on Tito Santana. For years I thought that the Executioner was Larry Zybyszko, but it turns out he was “Playboy” Buddy Rose, before he plied on the pounds. This was around the time Santana was feuding with Greg Valentine over the Intercontinental title, and Santana made his point to the Hammer in this match. After connecting with the flying forearm, Santana got the submission win with a figure four leg lock.

Next up, King Kong Bundy, then under the management of Jimmy Hart, against Special Delivery Jones. Bundy literally demolished Jones here - an avalanche in the corner, followed by a big splash, and it’s over in just nine seconds. Bundy was an awesome sight back then.

The third match sees the future Doink, Matt Borne, taking on Ricky Steamboat before he adopted the Dragon nickname. After some solid wrestling from both men, Steamboat got the win after a flying body press off the top rope. A good solid bout here.

Then, Brutus Beefcake, managed by “Luscious” Johnny Valiant, takes on David Sammartino, who has his father Bruno along for company. Sammartino junior was living on his name back then, and while he showed a few good moves, he was clearly out of his depth here. An average match, and even though there were a few good moves, things didn’t really get going until after Valiant slammed David on the arena floor. This brought Bruno into the equation, and a mass brawl broke out, involving all four men, which did nothing but earn both David and Beefcake a disqualification.

Title action next, as the late Junkyard Dog challenges Greg “The Hammer” Valentine for the Intercontinental title, with Valentine’s manager Jimmy Hart at ringside for moral support. Valentine spends most of his time working over JYD’s leg, before the Dog came back with several strong head butts. After Hart’s interference failed, Valentine got the pin with his feet on the ropes. However, Tito Santana came down to the ring and told the ref what had happened, so he restarted the match. But Valentine didn’t want anything to do with the Dog and walked away form the ring, getting counted in the process.

More title action follows, as future Horseman Barry Windham and future tax man Mike Rotundo defend their tag-team titles against the awesome team of Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik, managed by the fashion plate himself, the late “Classy” Freddie Blassie. Before the champs come down to the ring, Volkoff gave us his stirring rendition of the Russian national anthem, before the Sheik proclaimed his hatred of all things American in his own unique manner. The arrival of the champs, managed by Lou Albano, certainly cheered the crowd up afterwards. It’s a battle of youth against experience here, and a great bout with both teams putting in a good showing, and a controversial end to the bout. As the referee is trying to get Rotundo to leave the ring, Blassie hands his cane to the Sheik, who nails Windham with it seconds later. Volkoff then gets the cover to win the titles.

Afterwards, Mean Gene interviews the new champs, and hardly gets a word in as the Sheik praises his homeland. Gene then interviews “Big” John Studd and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan about the upcoming body slam match.

Then it’s time for the battle of the giants, as “Big” John Studd, along with his manager, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, takes on Andre the Giant in a $15,000 body slam match, with Andre promising to retire if he doesn’t win. Andre dominates Studd with his superior power, wearing down Studd with powerful punches and kicks, and a powerful bear hug, before slamming Studd in the middle of the ring to win the big bucks. Andre then grabs the bag with the money and throws some of it out into the crowd, before Heenan sneaks up on the Giant and steals the money back.

Backstage, Wendi Richter and her manager Cyndi Lauper get interviewed by Mean Gene about the upcoming women’s title match, before the mean one goes on to interview champ Leilani Kai and her manager, the Fabulous Moolah, who looked old even back then.

Back in the ring, and Leilani Kai defends her women’s title against former champ Wendi Richter. A little messy at times, but some good wrestling from both women, and a ringside brawl between Moolah and Lauper before Richter got the pin after reversing Kai’s body block from the top rope to win the title.

Then it’s time for our main event, with WWF champion Hulk Hogan and A-Team star Mr. T taking on “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. Hogan and T have Jimmy Snuka in their corner, while Piper and Orndorff have “Cowboy” Bob Orton watching their back. First, we get the introductions of the various celebrities taking part in the proceedings, Billy Martin as guest ring announcer, Liberace as guest time keeper, and Muhammad Ali as special referee. The unannounced match referee is actually the first ever Intercontinental champion, Pat Patterson. The heat for this match from the crowd was incredible, and while T looked a little out of his depth here, Hogan, Piper and Orndorff were more than able to make up for the actor’s failings. The end came after a miscommunication between Orton and Orndorff. As the referee tried to separate the brawling Piper and T, Orndorff held Hogan as Orton climbed to the top rope. But when the Cowboy came off the top, Hogan got out of the way, and clobbered Mr. Wonderful with his loaded arm cast. A three count later, and Hogan had won the match for his team.

In conclusion - while you can’t really compare this production-wise to today’s pay-per-view offerings, Wrestlemania 1 still stands the test of time. There’s some messy moments, but overall it’s a great show, a great example of 1980’s American wrestling, and a reminder of how good some of the former greats really were, including the commentary team of Monsoon and Ventura. It’s well worth a look for the nostalgia buffs among you.

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