1. Tito Santana vs. The Executioner (Buddy Rose)
And here we go. The very first match of the very first Wrestlemania. A very solid, standard work by both Santana and The Executioner to kick off what would would become the WWE’s signature Pay Per View event. The match itself is nothing special, with some very standard back and forth, but there are some elements of the match that just seem very quaint and charming compared to wrestling in 2015:
- No entrance, both competitors start in the ring. They continued with this trend almost right through Wrestlemania 3. It took them 4 years to get the hang of the entrance and the understanding about how that component of the match is almost as fun as the match itself
- They dub the executioner as “parts unknown, weight unknown”. The implication being he literally refused to participate in the weigh in and they couldn’t eyeball it. I guess he also got paid in cash if he wouldn’t reveal where he’s from? What does the “from” in wrestling signify anyways? Where you born, or where you currently lived? Why would the executioner be from parts unknown? I’d hazard a guess that he’s American, but couldn’t they take a stab at that either?
- “I have not seen of late this particular executioner”. Man, Gorilla Monsoon is the best. After The Executioner headbutts Tito, he follows up with this comment: “Might we one of his forte’s, we really can’t tell at this time”. They are really playing up the angle that they have no idea who this wrestler is. It’s fantastic. How would that booking even realistically work? Did he show up backstage in the mask, just say “I’m one of several Executioners, I want to wrestle at your signature event.”? I guess they shrugged and said sure? This is why wrestling is the greatest sport on Earth.
- Absolutely no room outside the ring. This carries through all of Wrestlemania – the action really stayed in the ring. There is almost no outside match to speak of.
- Tito’s Flying forearm was a great finisher and he really sold the move. It just goes to show that you don’t need something absurdly complicated (I’m looking at you Sister Abigail) to have a great finisher. It also shows how a great wrestler can sell a really simple move and how terrible wrestlers can’t (I’m looking at you Superman Punch)
Overall: A very good start to both WWE Replay and Wrestlemania: 16 out of 22
2. Special Delivery (SD) Jones vs. King Kong Bundy
There is so little to stay about this match. The entire thing existed to put Bundy over as an unstoppable monster. Bundy wins in 8 seconds.
Here’s a fun fact (citation needed): after the match was over, SD Jones was so disillusioned by wrestling that he immediately quit the sport to play football as “Special Delivery” Eddie Jones – a white running back who played for the Chicago Bears in 1941. This required him to build a functional time machine, which he fashioned out of old watch parts and a calculator. This would eventually prove to be the inspiration for the hit show, Quantum Leap which aired just 4 years later. SD Jones was never credited with its creation.
Overall: Ultimately Quantum Leap was a brilliant series, marred by a very disappointing finale. 4 / 12
3. Ricky Steamboat vs. Matt Borne
I don’t think it’s possible for Steamboat to have a bad match. I really don’t. What I find kind of interesting is when I was a kid watching this, I thought Steamboat was a “small” guy. But look at him! He’s jacked! I think it’s just a measure of how fast he was that he could be considered as one of the smaller wrestlers. Alternately I have a horrible memory. Either or.
Generally, nothing wrong with this match at all. It’s great to see some of the moves that you don’t see anymore, specifically the atomic drop. No one does those anymore, but why? It’s a great move!
Steamboat ends the match with what I thought was called a “high cross body” but that Jesse Ventura calls “A beautiful flying… tackle.. off the top rope, a la Jimmy Snuka” or “ABFTOTTRALJS”.
Overall: Fun fact: Matt Bourne is “Doink the Clown”! 18/21
4. Brutus Beefcake vs. David Sammartino
Wow, what a total piece of garbage this match is, that I am completely not excited for. Here’s a question though – why did they list Brutus Beefcake as parts unknown? I thought they only did that for guys with masks.
This match is really, really slow. Just a lot of jockying for position, arm locks and a series of amateur takedowns. Sammartino is a plodding, slow wrestler. He moves with all the speed of an amateur screenwriter finishing a coffee in starbucks. If he was continental drift, I’d be typing this from Africa. His attacks are as gently ineffective as an occupy movement. Philosophy majors find meaningful employment faster than he can land a headlock.
The one bright light in this otherwise horrific match is that it ends
Overall: Obviously, I hated this match. 0 / 10
5. Junkyard Dog vs. Greg “The Hammer” Valentine
Gorilla calls him “The Juker”. Was that a thing we were ever doing in 1985? I can’t stress enough how much I dislike the Junkyard Dog. For example, if him and David Sammartino were forced into a kissing contest, I would not be turned on.
Here’s the challenge with JYD. His entire in-ring persona was based on his spectacular charisma. The crowd absolutely loved the guy, and he rose to be an insanely popular mid-card solely on the strength of his personality. His actual wrestling skills – at least to the extent they were displayed in the WWE – were virtually non-existent. So to be a fan of his, you have to fine him entertaining for himself. Which I don’t. <Shrug>. Different strokes I guess.
This match ends with Valentine putting his feet on the ropes for the pin. Before the match can end, Tito Santana runs out and sets the ref straight. The ref agrees with the random Mexican stranger who interrupts the match to explain what he saw from the dressing room 300 meters away and appropriately decides to change his own decision without going to the replay, the timekeeper, any of the photographers at ringside or the commentators.
Fun fact about Greg Valentine – this entire page of insanity
Overall: Another match bites the dust. 2 / 72
6. Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff vs. Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo
Here are some things I apparently cannot spell. Sheik, Nikolai, Volkoff, Windham, Rotundo. This match is a challenge to recap for me.
Volkoff singing the Russian anthem before the match has to be one of the best heel moves in the history of wrestling, followed by the Sheik’s cutting geopolitical punditry: “Russia! Number One! Iran! Number One! USA! Ha-phooey!”.
I love Windham and Mike Rotundo as a tag team, and I don’t know why. While they were not the most exciting duo, they ushered in an era of –
Wait, is their entrance version of “Born in the USA” a weird, elevator-music instrumental only version? Holy crap, it is. Why aren’t they using the real version? Also, why do half the pages list Mike Rotundo’s name as “Rotunda”? A Rotunda is any ground building with a circular floor plan, not one half of the (eventual) USA Express.
The point is – this is a pretty decent match. Sheik and Volkoff were a great heel tag team and Rotundo and Windham really did work well together. The arm drag by Rotundo on the Sheik is gorgeous. The crown pops through the whole match and it’s a lot of fun.
Overall: USA! USA!
7. Andre The Giant vs. Big John Studd
It’s a shame that by the time the WWE really hit the mainstream in the 80’s Andre was already a few years past his prime. For anyone whose only impression of Andre is the Wrestlemania 3 matches, go back and watch some of his stuff from the 70’s. He could move for a guy his size.
Sadly, by the time WM1 came around we had this Andre – a poor man nearly crippled by acromegaly. He gives it his all in this match, but he didn’t really have many moves left at this point. A match consisting entirely of punches and kicks. John Studd does a great job with what he has.
The match ends with the slam and despite his condition, Andre scoops up Studd like a child.
Overall: Anybody want a peanut?
8. Lelani Kai vs. Wendy Richter
I don’t normally watch women’s matches. This one is no exception.
9. Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper & Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff
Here we go, the main event! Hogan! Piper! S..Snuka? Funny, I thought in Wrestlemania 1 Hogan was still using Eye of the Tiger as his entrance music. For anyone who doesn’t remember this, before the days when the WWE commissioned all their songs (and thereby avoided pesky licensing fees) they used to use actual music. Hogan originally came into Eye of the Tiger by Survivor. While “Real American” has grown into it’s cultural significance, it really can’t compare to the pop he used to get. Check out the difference.
Well that’s interesting. Now thanks to Garfunkel and Oates, when I hear “Eye of the Tiger” all I can think of is “Sports, Go Sports”
Hogan and Piper are just filthy with Charisma. For the first minutes of this match it’s just Hogan and Piper posturing for the crowd and it’s literally the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen. The crowd agrees with me, they’re on their feet for basically the whole match. The first few minutes is all heat and it’s fantastic. Piper and Hogan were incredible in a way that wrestlers today just aren’t.
I have spent a lot of time trying to understand why Hogan works and Cena doesn’t. Because essentially they’re the same wrestler – big, good looking guys with incredibly limited repertoires of moves who win their matches by being indestructible. Same matches every time. Here’s what I’ve come up with, and it boils down to sweat. Bear with me.
In order for the Hogan / Cena match template to work, they need to create a suspension of disbelief with the crowd – namely that they might actually lose. We know they’re not actually going to lose, but they need to sell us on the concept, and the degree they’re successful doing that is how well they sell moves. Hogan is not necessarily better at selling moves than Cena, but within 4 minutes of any match, Hogan is just absolutely bathed in sweat. His hair is soaking wet and he’s actually glistening. This really helps give the impression that Hogan is struggling. Whereas with Cena – he’s too athletic and really in shape. He’s just a fantastic athlete who glides effortlessly through the matches. He never feels like he’s in any danger, so it’s tough for the crowd to really get invested. Whereas with Hogan you think “Christ, this 40 year old man might actually die of a heart attack”.
Anyway, this entire match is a fantastic end to to the show. Hogan, Piper and Orndorff are all at the top of their game. The match has great flow and the crowd is over the top for the whole thing. The match ends when Bob Orton misses Hogan with the cast off the top ropes and hits Orndorff instead. In the 80’s I would estimate that 75% of matches ended by either the heel hitting his own partner with a foreign object, or small package out of nowhere.
Overall: Sports, Go Sports! 9/5/11