- It’s that time again, where the wrestling world reaches a fever pitch and fan outrage begins weeks before the event takes place… that’s right, it’s “WrestleMania Season.” Before I continue, when did that become a phrase? I don’t ever recall using the term “WrestleMania Season” as a child, but in the last few years I’ve noticed it’s become common language. Did I miss something? Was this from the same meeting where “WWE Universe” became a thing, too?
Since all the WrestleMania’s have been covered on this here web paradise in detail, there was no need to go back and revisit them all in 4,000 word, 10 page detail again. Instead, I’ll be going through them all chronologically, talking of the good, the good, and the random crap in between, just to give everyone a gist of them all. The only thing I was on the fence with this whole concept was including complete match results. Since I am going through with it, I am including my up-to-date star ratings for every match. Some probably haven’t changed, but a few will be significantly different, no doubt. Most of the WrestleMania recaps from myself from WrestleMania 1-20 were done a decade ago, back when I was a smarmy, know-it-all who felt it was necessary to disagree with the masses. ANYWAY, this is going to be a long journey, so it back, relax, and enjoy WrestleMania: Through The Years… Part 1.
Lows: This was the first WrestleMania, so naturally it didn’t age well. With the exception of an incredibly hot Main Event, everything else is standard undercard filler for house shows at the time. With so much talent under contract, the undercard featured matches with a masked Executioner, Matt Borne, and “Special” Delivery Jones (doing a “9 second job” that was clearly half-a-minute long) in matches designed simply as warm-ups to pushed talent. Greg Valentine, who at the time was involved in a heated rivalry with Tito Santana, has a token defense against the Junkyard Dog. Just for comparison’s sake, that would be like doing WM III with Ricky Steamboat on the undercard vs. someone like Jimmy Jack Funk, and having Randy Savage defend the IC Title against Blackjack Mulligan, or someone else at complete random that he had little to no involvement with.
Anything You Might’ve Missed: The Executioner is played by “Playboy” Buddy Rose, before ballooning to 300+ pounds no more than a year later. Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper, Bob Orton Jr. and Greg Valentine are the only men to work the inaugural Starrcade and WrestleMania. WWE has removed the following music from most, if not all, future releases: Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” (used by US Express, and a totally inappropriate song to be used if you listen to the lyrics), Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” (used by Wendi Richter), Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger” (used by Hulk Hogan), Phil Collins and Phillip Bailey’s “Easy Lover”, used for the opening montage, and “Axel F” from the Beverly Hills Cop Soundtrack, used for the closing credits. No, I won’t be doing this for EVERY Mania (especially when music produced in house started to get edited for whatever reasons), but just to point out how much licensed music was used and edited out, even on commercial releases that same year.
Overall Rating: D-
For years, I, and probably countless others, have used the “it was the first WrestleMania” excuse to avoid really judging the card, but to be honest, if you take away the Main Event, this isn’t just a poor WrestleMania card, it’s a poor card even taking into consideration the quality and expectations of the time. Too much filler could best describe a card where two men in one of the hottest angles are in separate matches, another where the legendary Bruno Sammartino is used as a corner man and to build heat for the NEXT card at Madison Square Garden, and in what should’ve been a blood feud over “raped dignity”, Andre The Giant is happy to simply slam the man who shamed him in front of hundreds of people live, and millions watching on television.
Lows: Holding the show from three different locations. While I enjoyed the idea and execution of having a show in three different time zones, it also meant spreading the roster as thin as you could get, especially with the inclusion of a 20-Man Battle Royal (6 of which were present or former NFL players). The over-saturation of “Celebrities”, a literal who’s who of anyone willing to work with WWE on April 7th: Joan Rivers, Joe Frazier, Lou Duva, Dick Butkus, Ozzy Osbourne, Cathy Lee Crosby, Susan Saint James (UH-OH!), Ricky Schroder, Tommy Lasorda, Elvira, Clara Peller (Where’s The Beef?), and Herb, the nerdy Burger King mascot who never had a Whopper, just to name some. The entire portion of the show held at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY, especially the poorly choreographed “Main Event” between Roddy Piper and Mr. T. Uncle Elmer.
Anything You Might’ve Missed: Original plans were to include a singles match between Ricky Steamboat and Bret Hart, but for whatever reasons, the plans were scrapped. Ed “Too Tall” Jones, who served as one of the guest referee’s for the 20-Man Battle Royal, was originally listed as a participant. Bill Fralic, at the time an NFL Rookie and Pro-Bowler for the Atlanta Falcons, would make another WWF appearance 7-years later, then a member of the Detroit Lions, attempting to slam Yokozuna on the U.S.S. Intrepid on July 4th, 1993. Joan Rivers, doing guest introductions for the “Boxing” Match in New York, introduces Bob Orton Jr. as “Ace Funny Man.”
Overall Rating: D+
A slightly better effort and in-ring product than the 1st WrestleMania, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. There’s still too much undercard filler, but that can be credited to stretching things across three different venues. The first third of the show bombing really takes it down a notch, and the first really good match isn’t until the 8th presented on the card. The good is “good enough”, but most of the bad is REALLY bad.
Lows: I’m going to have to dig really deep for this one. I guess having an inconclusive finish to Billy Jack Haynes and Hercules to continue their house show program despite being a heavily pushed feud for several months. Needlessly teasing a program between Tito Santana and Butch Reed that never went anywhere. The pointless match involving the midgets.
Anything You Might've Missed: King Kong Bundy sets the honor for biggest fall from WrestleMania grace, having gone from the headliner of the most important part of WrestleMania 2, to being one of the bottom matches on the card. The Fabulous Moolah, whom I don’t recall ever having been associated with him before, accompanied Harley Race to the ring as the “Queen of the WWF.” Paul Orndorff, who spent the latter half of 1986 in the hottest program in the company, is left off the card. With all the big players already paired up, it probably was for the best.
Overall Rating: A
One of the best WrestleManias, and arguably THE best. One of the most historic Main Event’s of all time, what is widely regarded as the most influential match of the era over the Intercontinental Championship, a trio of babyfaces waving off victory just to brutalize a former crooked referee, solid tag team action up and down the card, the nuclear crowd for Roddy Piper’s “farewell”, and even Billy Jack Haynes vs. Hercules was surprisingly good. There’s so little to complain about that there’s no point in mentioning it here.
Lows: Probably the worst WrestleMania crowd of all time. With 16-matches packed into a 4-hour window, plus a dozen or so interviews and backstage segments, almost every match is rushed. The longest match on the card is a 15-minute Time Limit Draw which effectively kills the excitement of the show, and it doesn’t come back until the final 30 minutes. Filler moments like trotting out the One Man Gang and Ted Dibiase just to announce they have “Bye’s” into the next rounds due to double eliminations. Opening the card with a Battle Royal containing mostly JTTS and tag teams going nowhere (I guess you could say there’s nowhere on the card for a cool down match when the crowd never gets hot). Ultimate Warrior vs. Hercules is the early leader for worst match in WrestleMania history. The Intercontinental Championship is contested in what is mostly a comedy match. One of the laziest booked finishes in Mania History, where Bam Bam Bigelow is counted out while on the apron and being attacked by his opponent.
Anything You Might've Missed: The original brackets were changed a few weeks before the show, for reasons unknown. The big difference was Dugan/Dibiase and Rude/Roberts switched. In one of those early day “fantasy booking” moments, smart and casual fans alike couldn’t help but ponder the possibility of a rematch between Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat. Of course, doing babyface vs. babyface on a show designed to push Savage as the new #1 babyface in Hogan’s absence would’ve been a dumb move, and the match would’ve died in front of such an apathetic crowd. For the second WrestleMania in a row, the British Bulldogs are on the losing end of a 6-Man Tag that offers a handicap in their favor.
Overall Rating: C-
This has the honor of being one of my “guilty pleasure shows”. The workrate is unimpressive, thanks to so many matches and very little getting anywhere near 10-minutes. The crowd is terrible. The booking was pretty good, the commentary kept things going, and there’s some memorable moments on this card. Did I mention this was released on a Double-VHS from Coliseum Home Video? If you clip out the 40-minutes that is devoted to Roberts/Rude, Warrior/Hercules, and Andre/Hogan in consecutive order, the show becomes a lot more watchable. With that in there, it’s a real soul crusher.
Lows: For the second straight year, we are treated to one of the worst crowds imaginable, thanks to a return to Trump Plaza. Most of the undercard is filler or awful finishes. One of the top matches, featuring Jake Roberts and Andre the Giant, ends with a lame Disqualification, the Tag Team Championship Match ends with the semi-retired Manager taking the fall, two matches with high-profile singles workers (Beefcake/Dibiase, Duggan/Bad News) ends in double DQ/CO finishes, and hey, the Red Rooster gets a WrestleMania moment, defeating former manager Bobby Heenan… then gets his ass handed to him by the BROOKLYN BRAWLER. And WHAT THE HELL was with the “surprise return” of Jimmy Snuka, during the introductions of Dino Bravo and Ronnie Garvin’s match?!
Anything You Might’ve Missed: Despite being employed by the WWF from the Winter of 88-89 through the Summer of 1996 and being regularly featured on TV for most of those years, WrestleMania V is the only year the Bushwhackers were featured in a match on the PPV (they had a non-wrestling role in 1990, and worked dark matches in 1992 and 1994). A lot of people tripping on their way to the ring, including Bret Hart, Mr. Perfect, and Bushwhacker Butch, to name a few. Bobby Heenan appears at ringside for 5 of the 14 matches, 4 as manager (King Haku, the Brain Busters, Andre, and Rick Rude) and one as a participant. For reasons unknown, the WWE Anthology DVD cuts out Roddy Piper ripping off Brother Love’s kilt, revealing his pasty white legs and underpants. And for that, we thank them. Frenchy Martin makes his last notable appearance as Dino Bravo’s manager, soon to be replaced by Jimmy Hart (that would be 3 different managers in 3 years for Bravo).
Overall Rating: C
When you can make the argument this is a one-match show, and that match delivers, then you have to say the show was a success, overall. Everything else ranges from good (Warrior/Rude, Strike Force/Brain Busters, Perfect/Blazer) to watchable (Beefcake/Dibiase, Rockers/Twin Towers) to absolute garbage (Roberts/Andre, Bushwhackers/Rougeaus, Bad News/Duggan). There’s so much going on that it all pretty much balances itself out, leaving the above mentioned Main Event as the deciding factor. Not a great show, nor even a very good show, but with the exception of WrestleMania 3, is the best so far in a fairly weak field.
Highs: With one of the biggest Main Events pulled off at WrestleMania III, and the (sort of) blowoff to the biggest angle spanning WrestleMania IV and WrestleMania V, it would take a lot to pull off a Main Event worthy of the “WrestleMania” name. The solution: Pitting the face of the company of the last 6 years against the rising star, and doing a straight up face-vs-face battle where both of their Championships would be on the line. While Hulk Hogan has never been recognized as a great worker (he’s not, but at the time, I’d call him a “smart” worker), and Warrior was… Warrior, but through great match structuring and planning, they delivered an unexpected classic. With the exception of the Main Event… there’s little left to praise. Steve Allen was a blast as one of the celebrity guests, with a hilarious segment with the Bolsheviks and ridiculous commentary during the Snuka/Rude match. The crowd was hot for pretty much everything (except that dumbass Jim Duggan, who tried getting USA chants over in Toronto). Jesse Ventura’s commentary, especially during Tito/Barbarian and the Mixed Tag.
Lows: Randy Savage, who you could say was the MVP of WrestleMania’s III, IV, and V, was featured in a comedy mixed tag team match with Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire, featuring so many poorly executed spots and overall bad wrestling (this is mostly when Sapphire was involved in the action, but it’s not like Dusty and Savage were busting their asses, either). Jake Roberts and Ted Dibiase have a near-year-long feud end in a boring mat wrestling match AND a shit finish. Big Boss Man vs. Akeem, which should’ve been featured a bit more prominently, is put late in the show and trimmed to about 90-seconds. You’d think the duo that ended the Mega Powers would get a little bit more respect, even if the work was terrible. Andre The Giant is so immobile he never legally participates in a 10-minute Tag Title defense. Roddy Piper’s half-black body paint.
Stuff You Might’ve Missed: During the introductions of Roddy Piper vs. Bad News Brown, Jesse Ventura makes reference to Roddy Piper as his “Tag Team” partner. Tag Team was a TV Pilot at the time starring the duo, but Gorilla Monsoon doesn’t go with it. Demolition is recognized as the first 3-time Tag Team Champions, but the feat had been accomplished before… twice: Mr. Fuji & Prof. Toru Tanaka (reigns spanning 1972-1978) and the Wild Samoans (reigns spanning 1980-1983). Mr. Perfect does a pinfall job to Brutus Beefcake, his “first” since coming to the WWF, but he did a pinfall job two weeks prior to the Ultimate Warrior that was televised on the MSG Network. This wasn’t the only time Roddy Piper wrestled in the half-black face: He actually did that at a handful of TV tapings leading into the show, without going full-body, though. Makes you question the “story” of someone (Andre) tampering with it so it wouldn’t come off. Keepin’ Kayfabe alive for no reason since 1905!
Overall Rating: D+
Much like WrestleMania V, this was a one-match show. If you weren’t buying it for Hogan/Warrior or just the WrestleMania name, there’s nothing else to justify it. Although a solid Main Event, it’s only at about par with the Mania V Main Event, but the undercard is most definitely a step down. Even though it’s mostly a filler undercard, the stuff that really counts either disappoints or had terrible finishes. Everything else is putting stuff out there for the sake of giving everyone a match. As much as I enjoy seeing everyone given a spot to shine, it becomes less special when so little is working towards making an entertaining product.
Next time on WrestleMania: Through The Years, we cover WrestleMania’s VII through XII, featuring the end of the Hulkamania Era, and the rise of the New Generation.