2015 marks the 30th anniversary of a lot of cool stuff; the release of ‘Back to the Future’, the birth of my magnificent self and, of course, Wrestlemania. Granted, it is the 31st instalment of the showcase of the immortals – and WWE does have trouble differentiating between instalments and anniversaries – it is still a tad perplexing that more hasn’t been made of this significant milestone. Fear not though, for I have saved the day. To celebrate 30 years of Wrestlemania, today I shall rewind the clock and take a look at the – until yesterday – only Wrestlemania I had never seen: Wrestlemania 1.
Before I begin, I should point out that I am heading into this retrospective somewhat blind. While I have a general idea of what was happening in mid-80’s WWF, I am only really aware of the characters, moments and angles which modern day WWE chooses to highlight. With that said, let’s see if Wrestlemania 1 was actually any good…
The broadcast begins with what can only described as a PowerPoint presentation featuring slightly unflattering photos of the wrestlers and celebrities we can expect to see on the show. The 80’s guitar riff backing track confirms that we are indeed in 1985. Commentators Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura welcome us. Jesse has come dressed as a pimp, complete with pink suit and pink bandana. Despite his best efforts, these precious few seconds would prove to be Jesse’s only camera time. In the ring, Howard Finkel introduces the singer of the national anthem; Mean Fucking Gene! So does Gene have a secret, sultry singing voice? In a word: No. While an admirable effort, Mean Gene sings exactly as you might imagine i.e. like how he speaks, only louder. We are then introduced to Lord Alfred Hayes, who is our man on the ground for the evening. Dressed as a white chocolate Crunch wrapper, Alfred’s job is to introduce upcoming matches. This is handled primarily by introducing pre-recorded interviews conducted by Mean Gene.
Match #1: Tito Santana vs. The Executioner
Pre-match – and in true Scooby-Doo villain style – The Executioner revealed his game plan; attack the leg of Tito. As a result, Tito controlled much of this match. As such it was well-paced, mildly entertaining, and at just over four minutes did not outstay its welcome. Ironically, after attempting to target Tito’s leg, it was Santana who scored the submission win over the masked man with a Figure Four Leg Lock.
Introducing more pre-recorded promos was Lord Alfred Hayes. Bizarrely he was stationed at the curtain, and with so much going on he was looking everywhere apart from the camera. This would be a recurring theme throughout the night…
Match #2: Special Delivery Jones vs. King Kong Bundy
Pre-match, Bundy forecast a 5 count – a gimmick borrowed by Big E in his NXT days. The match itself lasted a whopping 9 seconds, featured no offense from SD Jones and Bundy forgot to seek his 5 count. Ah well…
Speaking to Mean Gene, ‘Maniac’ Matt Borne accused Ricky Steamboat of being “too nice”. Borne, the heel, didn’t come across as such, and certainly didn’t seem like a maniac…
Match #3: Matt Borne vs. Ricky Steamboat
The future Doink The Clown’s body language and general demeanour cleared up his status as heel or babyface; most certainly a heel. Steamboat, the perennial babyface, was in fantastic shape here and, along with Borne, had probably the most athletic and satisfying match of the night. They were hardly diving around the ring, but this was a crisp, well-executed 1980’s style match. Steamboat took the win with a cross body.
Heading back to the locker room, Matt Borne very nearly wondered in front of Lord Alfred Hayes as the old boy was linking to Mean Gene. Honestly, why did they position him directly on the wrestler’s path to and from the ring?!
Match #4: David Sammartino (with Bruno Sammartino) vs. Brutus Beefcake (with Johnny Valiant)
Bruno and Johnny were both fired up in their pre-match promos. I mention this because these promos were shot back to back i.e. Brutus and Johnny were standing just off camera while David and Bruno were speaking. I just found it weird that no words were exchanged directly. Johnny gave Brutus an opportunity to speak, but instead the future Barber made the noise a baby being sick. Johnny then reminded us of his role as ‘The Mouthpiece’. The match itself was pretty dull for the most part. David utilised lots of mat wrestling and rest holds, with Beefcake opting for punches and kicks during his short bursts of offence. Ventura described David’s offence as “slow and deliberate”, which is hardly befitting a fiery young babyface. The temperature did increase when Johnny V took advantage of David and slammed him at ringside. This prompted Bruno to jump in, which garnered a huge pop from the crowd. While Bruno and Johnny’s involvement did add some excitement, it also brought about the double disqualification ending.
Match #5: Intercontinental Championship Match – Greg Valentine (c) (with Jimmy Hart) vs. The Junkyard Dog
Pre-match, heel Valentine said that he was in great shape and had lost a bunch of weight. Both commentators put this over during the match, and also put Valentine over as the best IC Champion to this point. JYD got the first entrance of the night, although the version I was watching – the WWE Network version – had dubbed over music. The story of this fun, albeit unsatisfying, match was that Valentine couldn’t quite apply his patented Figure Four Leg Lock. As a result, he resorted to a pinfall using the ropes to get a three count. Seeking justice, Tito Santana hit the ring and informed the referee of Valentine’s actions. The ref then restarted the match and counted Valentine out. Not knowing anything of the backstory here I can only assume that Tito got involved due to Valentine’s claim over the Figure Four. So, in conclusion; JYD got the popular win, Valentine kept his title and Tito is positioned as next in line for an IC Title match.
Backstage Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik said some things in English, but I had no idea what…
Match #6: Tag Team Championship Match: The US Express (c) (with Captain Lou Albano) vs. Nikolai Volkoff & The Iron Sheik (with Classy Freddie Blassie)
Volkoff sang the Soviet national anthem, and got bombarded with rubbish. The fist-pumping good guys used ‘Born in the USA’ as their entrance theme, I think. Once again the music was dubbed over. Captain Lou – who I only really know from the Rock n’ Wrestling stuff – was sans beard. He only had a moustache, and looked more like a darts player than a wrestling manager. The match was as you expect. IRS and The Stalker, sorry Rotunda and Windham, were too quick for heels early doors but eventually the heels managed to isolate Rotunda. In the end, Windham got nailed with Blassie’s cane while the ref’s back was turned. Winners, and new Tag Team Champions – Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik.
Backstage, Big John Studd and Bobby Heenan had $15,000 of their own money in a very cheap looking WWF holdall. Mean Gene tried to sneak his hand into the bag, but he was sharply told to behave himself. I have no idea why all the notes were scrunched up…
Match #7: Big John Studd (with Bobby Heenan) vs. Andre The Giant
Here’s the chat for this match, as I understood it anyway – It was a bodyslam challenge match, thus the first person to slam his opponent would win. If Andre could slam Studd then the bad guys would lose $15,000. If Studd could slam Andre then The Giant would be forced to retire. Andre bossed pretty much the entire match – which was fought largely in slow motion – and slammed Studd with relative ease. Post-match he threw some of the money into the crowd until Heenan grabbed it back. Backstage Andre said he didn’t care about the money, which was good because the heels kept hold of much of it anyway. I was left wondering why the money was involved to begin with, very strange.
Match #8: Woman’s Championship Match – Leilani Kai (c) (with The Fabulous Moolah) vs. Wendi Richter (with Cyndi Lauper)
I can only assume Richter and Lauper – who looked like a young Lois Griffin – came out to one of Lauper’s songs, it was dubbed over though. In an odd juxtaposition, this match was both terrible and entertaining at the same time. The actual wrestling was abysmal; lots of clumsy mat wrestling and awkward looking bumps. The one cool spot came from Richter, who hit Kai with some kind of inverted Attitude Adjustment for a two count. The entertainment was provided by Lauper and Moolah after the latter had attacked Richter on the outside. Lauper stepped in and sorted it out. Back in the ring Richter scored the win with the worst roll through reversal of a cross body you’ve ever seen. Post-match Moolah literally fell into the ring while the Richter celebrated her title win with Lauper. In an ill-advised show of consistency, a slow motion replay of the finish was shown.
Prior to the main event a bunch of famous people got introduced. Billy Martin came out to be guest ring announcer. He introduced Liberace – who did a wee dance with some scantily clad ladies – as the time keeper. I couldn’t hear the next announcement, but Mohammed Ali walked out wearing a referee’s shirt. Ali was more of an enforcer; Pat Paterson fulfilled actual refereeing duties.
Match #9: Hulk Hogan & Mr T (with Jimmy Snuka) vs. Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff (with Cowboy Bob Orton)
Piper and the bad guys were led out by a pipe band, which was pretty cool. Hogan and the good guys probably came out to Hogan’s old Rocky-esque theme, but ‘Real American’ was dubbed over in its place. Annoyingly – and in keeping with the rest of the show – there was no reference as to why this match was happening. No recaps, no video promos, not even a quick mention by the commentators. That said, even without knowing the backstory this was easily the most enjoyable match on the show. Hogan was so popular and Piper got so much heat, it was fantastic. Hats off to Mr T too, he played his part fantastically. Things were kept basic when he was in the ring, but everything he was required to do he did well. The match was actually quite the back and forth contest, and there was rarely a dull moment. In fact, shit kicked off with all six men a couple times, requiring Mohammed Ali to take charge. Hogan claimed the slightly tainted victory for his side when Cowboy Bob accidentally nailed Orndorff with his cast, allowing Hogan to make the pin. Post-match the babyfaces celebrated to send the punters home happy.
So that was Wrestlemania 1, and I have to say that it was far better than I thought it would be. At a little over two hours long, and with nine matches, the action was kept at a good pace with no matches dragging on for too long. I’ve always assumed Wrestlemania 1 would rank as one of the worst ‘Manias, hence my reluctance to watch it. Thankfully I’ve been pleasantly surprised. In fact, Wrestlemania 1 is probably my favourite Wrestlemania of the entire Hulk Hogan era.