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A WrestleMania RetroSpective: Part 1

by Alixx D

WrestleMania. Over the years, the WWF has added more and more PPVs to its calendar, but WrestleMania has always been the highest-profile event, the one by which all WWF PPVs are measured. WrestleMania is one of the few events where even the wrestlers are awed and thus give some of the finest performances of their careers.

The legends of WrestleMania last even to today... Hulk Hogan bodyslamming Andre the Giant... Rick Steamboat's classic match against Randy Savage... The Ultimate Warrior pinning Hogan cleanly... Ric Flair's face a crimson mask in his only WrestleMania appearance... The fiasco of WrestleMania 9... Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon's classic ladder match... Lawrence Taylor pinning Bam Bam Bigelow... Shawn and Bret Hart's hour-long draw... Steve Austin passing out rather than giveup... these are the events which define wrestling history. These are the memories that stay with you as a wrestling fan. Over the next month,leading up to WrestleMania, I'm going to use this column to take you back through 13 years of WrestleMania, leading up to WrestleMania 14 and another potential classic in Shawn vs. Austin.

WrestleMania was first held on March 31, 1985 at the mecca of professional wrestling, Madison Square Garden. Unlike its descendants,and contrary to popular belief, WrestleMania was NOT a PPV card. (The WWF's Wrestling Classic holds the distinction of being the first wrestling PPV, and would not be held till later that year.) Instead,WrestleMania was shown at 135 closed-circuit TV locations to an estimated viewership of 400,000 people. The event itself was a celebrity studded gala, with such celebrities as Liberace (guest timekeeper), Billy Martin (guest ring announcer), and boxer Muhammed Ali, who was a special "enforcer" at ringside for the main event, much like Mike Tyson is scheduled to do at this year's event.

The undercard itself was not particularly spectacular... David "Son of Bruno" Sammartino and Brutus "Barber/Butcher/Zodiac/Booty Man With No Name/Disciple/Ed Leslie" Beefcake fought to a double DQ... Rick Steamboat pinned Matt "Doink" Borne... Tito Santana beat The Masked Executioner... King Kong Bundy pinned SD Jones in 9 seconds!... Junkyard Dog beat then-IC champ Greg Valentine by countout... Nikolai Volkoff & The Iron Sheik beat Barry Windham & Mike "IRS/Wallstreet" Rotundo to win the WWF Tag Team titles... and Wendi Richter beat Leilani Kai to win the WWF Women's title. The two big matches, however, were HUGE.

Andre the Giant faced Big John Studd in a special "$100,000" challenge match. Studd had offered $100,000 to Andre if he could bodyslam him. Andre did and claimed his reward, which he promptly began throwing to the fans! Before Andre could distribute the reward, however, Studd and his manager, Bobby Heenan pearl harbored Andre and took the gym bag with the remaining money back to the dressing room. This first "clash of the giants" would serve to further the legend of the Gentle Giant. And then there was the main event. Several months earlier, Hulk Hogan had faced Roddy Piper on a special match shown on MTV. Hogan was getting beaten down by Piper's cronies, Bob Orton and Paul Orndorff, when who should rescue the Hulkster but Mr. T! A tag match between T & Hulk and Piper and Orndorff was quickly signed, and the promotion of WrestleMania began. Over the next few months, T and Hogan would begin a whirlwind publicity tour that included such stops as the cover of Sports Illustrated and a hosting stint on Saturday Night Live. Eventually, the match came to be, and, with Superfly Jimmy Snuka in their corner, Hogan and T defeated Piper and Orndorff despite the interference of Cowboy Bob Orton. Their bout was awarded PWI's match of the year for 1985, and really kicked off the boom of wrestling in the late 80s. Interestingly enough, this was the only WrestleMania in which the WWF World title was not on the line.

The question people were asking next was, how could the WWF top WrestleMania? Well, on April 7, 1986, WrestleMania 2 was broadcast via PPV from not one, not two, but THREE seperate arenas: The Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY; The Rosemont Horizon in Chicago; and The Sports Arena in Los Angeles. Each venue had its own card and own main event, as well as showing matches being fought at the other two arenas. At the Nassau Colisem: Paul Orndorff and Don Muraco fought to a double countout; Randy Savage (making his WrestleMania debut) pinned George "The Animal" Steele; Jake Roberts pinned George Welles; and in the main event, Mr. T beat Roddy Piper in a boxing match when Piper was DQed in the 4th round for bodyslamming T.

At the Rosemont Horizon: Fabulous Moolah defended her Women's title by pinning Velvet McIntyre; Corporal Kirshner pinned Nikolai Volkoff; and Andre the Giant won a 20 man battle royal, last eliminating Bret Hart, who was making his WrestleMania debut. The battle royal also included Jim Neidhart, John Studd, Hillbilly Jim, Bruno Sammartino, The Tonga Kid (Meng), Jim Brunzell, Pedro Morales, Tony Atlas, Ted Arcidi, Dan Spivey, B. Brian Blair, The Iron Sheik, and NFL players (proving that LT wasn't the first) Ernie Holmes, Harvey Martin, Jim Covert, Russ Francis, Bill Fralic, and William "The Refrigerator" Perry. On the undercard at that arena was also The British Bulldogs (Dynamite Kid & Davey Boy Smith) beating Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake to win the WWF Tag team belts. That match was the runner-up for PWI's Match of the Year.

At the LA Sports Arena, Rick Steamboat pinned Hercules Hernandez; Adrian Adonis pinned Uncle Elmer; Terry & Dory Funk Jr beat Junkyard Dog & Tito Santana; and in the main event, Hulk Hogan, despite having his ribs taped from an attack by King Kong Bundy, beat the big man in a bloody cage match to defend his WWF title. This was the first and only cage match at WrestleMania.

WrestleMania III happened the next year on March 29, 1987 at the Pontiac Silverdome, and the WWF set a record for attendance at an indoor event with over 93,000 screaming wrestling fans in attendance. They came to see Hogan vs. Andre, but left talking about another match. A few months earlier, Andre the Giant had turned on his longtime friend Hogan on Roddy Piper's "Piper's Pit" interview segment, demanding a title shot and aligning himself with Bobby the Brain Heenan. Now, at WrestleMania III, Hogan was finally going to face his former friend. Hulkamania was at an all-time high. He had all the momentum going into the match. Yet it almost ended moments after it began. Hogan went for a bodyslam of the Giant, only to find himself unable to get him up. Andre fell on Hogan and very nearly held him down for the 3 count. In fact, for months afterward, Heenan would appear on WWF TV claiming to have been robbed by the WWF officials. Hogan eventually rallied back, bodyslammed Andre, and defended his title. But that was not the match of the night, although it WAS the 2nd runner-up for PWI's Match of the Year award. Unfortunately, the Match of the Year was ALSO on that card, as Ricky Steamboat challenged Randy Savage for the IC title. The bout featured an amazing 18 2-counts and was over 20 minutes of non-stop action. This is one that must be seen to be believed, it's impossible to describe in words.

Other bouts on the card: Rick Martel & Tom Zenk beat Bob Orton and Don Muraco... Billy Jack Haynes and Hercules Hernandez were both counted out... Hillbilly Jim and midgets Haiti Kid & Little Beaver beat King King Bundy and midgets Lord Littlebrook & Little Tokyo by DQ when Bundy began splashing the midgets... Harley Race pinned Junkyard Dog... Greg Valentine & Brutus Beefcake beat Jacques and Raymond Rougeau... Roddy Piper, in his "retirement" match, beat Adrian Adonis; following the match Brutus Beefcake gave his first in-ring haircut; Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart and referee-turned-wrestler Danny Davis beat the British Bulldogs & Tito Santana... Butch Reed pinned Koko B. Ware... The Honky Tonk Man beat Jake Roberts... The Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff beat B. Brian Blair & Jim Brunzell by DQ.

In the months before WrestleMania IV, the WWF title was shrouded in controversy. On the "Saturday Night's Main Event" show, Andre the Giant was given the pinfall over Hulk Hogan by Earl Hebner despite Hogan getting his shoulder up in time. Moments later, Andre "sold" the WWF title to Ted DiBiase, and DAVE Hebner came out, revealing for the first time that there were in fact TWO Hebners, identical twins, and DiBiase had bought off Earl. In the aftermath, WWF President Jack Tunney ordered the title held up, claiming Andre had willingly vacated the title in giving it to DiBiase, and set up a one-night tournament at WrestleMania IV, with the winner receiving the WWF title.

WrestleMania IV was held at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City on March 27, 1988. Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant were given first-round byes and were scheduled to face each other in the first match of the second round. In the first round matches, Ted DiBiase pinned Hacksaw Duggan; Don Muraco beat Dino Bravo by DQ; Greg Valentine pinned Rick Steamboat; Randy Savage pinned Butch Reed; One Man Gang beat Bam Bam Bigelow by countout; and Rick Rude and Jake Roberts battled to a time-limit draw, giving the One Man Gang a second round bye. To open the second round, Hogan and Andre battled to a double disqualification, eliminating BOTH men and giving Ted DiBiase a bye in the semifinals after beating Muraco. Savage also beat Greg Valentine in his second round match. In the only semifinal match, Savage beat the One Man Gang by DQ, and in the finals, Savage won his fourth match of the night to win the tournament AND the WWF title by pinning Ted DiBiase. Andre the Giant tried to give DiBiase a hand, but Hogan saved his friend and sometime partner. Unfortunately the friendship wouldn't last until the next year.

In other matches, Bad News Brown won a 20-man battle royal, last eliminating Bret Hart... The Ultimate Warrior (in his WrestleMania debut) pinned Hercules Hernandez... The Islanders & Bobby Heenan beat The British Bulldogs & Koko B. Ware when The Islanders dropped an unconscious Heenan on an even MORE unconscious Ware for the pin... Brutus Beefacke beat then-IC champion Honky Tonk Man by DQ... Demolition beat Tito Santana and Rick Martel to win the WWF tag team title.

Next time, we'll cover WrestleMania V - IX, up to the end of the Hogan era.

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