Lee Maughan: The final entry in the short-lived Collector’s Series of Coliseum Video releases from 1985, and a rather redundant one at that. Obviously there’s a little more to this tape than meets the eye because you see, during the early days of the VHS industry, most tapes were intentionally overpriced to ensure repeat rentals for the burgeoning video store business, in which many film studios had a stake. On top of that, video tape was significantly more expensive at the onset of the home entertainment boom than it would become, just like with any physical format, be it magnetic video tape, DVD, Blu-ray or whatever. These shorter tapes were a way of giving the consumer something affordable that they could own, rather than having to rent and returnHosted by Vince McMahon. All matches come from March 31st, 1985 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Greg Valentine (c) vs. The Junkyard Dog
This comes from an early WrestleMania tradition that many younger/more modern fans just don’t seem to have any comprehension whatsoever for when it comes to watching these old events. Namely the fact that the issue over the Intercontinental title at this point was between Valentine and Tito Santana. You’d get that a lot with WrestleMania in its younger years, and it’s a real indication of just how much the industry has changed in the intervening years, because in the era of 12-15 pay-per-view events a year and four-to-six hours of first-run prime time television every week, big matches are never ‘saved’ for live events only. Modern fans simply expect to have every match of any marginal value to be accessible to them through the medium of a flat screen TV or an illegally pirated download, but back in the 80s and early 90s, the WWF made the vast majority of its money not from advertising revenue or premium private home broadcasting, but from a hectic house show schedule. With information travelling much less frequently in the days prior to mass internet usage, it was possible for the promotion to travel from town to town, night after night running the same main event matches over and over to red hot crowds who’d yet to experience the big match. In modern times, if WWE were to run Steve Austin vs. The Rock or John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar, they would do it on pay-per-view where anyone who wanted to see could tune in that one time, at which point that match would largely become a dead issue (give or take a rematch or two.) But in 1985, Tito Santana and Greg Valentine could square off on a hundred consecutive nights and play to a different audience every time out, from Boston to Brooklyn, from San Francisco to San Juan, drawing monster houses at arenas across the globe and making a killing at the concession stands every time out. So next time you pop in a copy of SummerSlam ’88 only to whinge about Rick Rude facing JYD and Jake Roberts taking on Hercules, when Rude and Jake were the ones with the ongoing feud, there’s your answer as to why. Simple economics. One match on one show vs. an entire house show loop of them. So with that having been said, here’s JYD as the challenger because he’s a credible enough opponent for Valentine, whilst ‘The Hammer’ waits to get back on the road with Santana again, only they don’t want him doing a clean job because he’s still somewhat new to the promotion and quite high up the card, and Valentine can’t do the honours for obvious reasons. Instead, you get this lame duck finish where Valentine pins JYD whilst using the ropes for leverage, only for Santana to come in and explain what happened to the referee with the referee actually listening to Santana and restarting the match, with Valentine quite rightly thinking “fuck that” and walking out, giving JYD the win by count-out. Phew. Really bad finish to an okay match.
Tito Santana vs. The Executioner
Trivia time now as here’s a look at the very first match in WrestleMania history, an extended squash for Santana over the masked Executioner (‘Playboy’ Buddy Rose under a hood, doing a long-standing wrestling masked man gimmick. I figure he was picked for the role as someone they trusted to do a good job, but given the mask to protect his name value elsewhere in taking such a high profile loss). It was clipped down to just the last minute or so here, but the full match isn’t bad.
Ricky Steamboat vs. Matt Borne
This was during Borne’s extremely brief initial tenure with the WWF, as he was more of a Mid-South guy in the 80s, but would return to the Federation in late 1992 under the make-up and green wig of the original Doink the Clown character. Vince McMahon’s devilishly evil answer to all the “WWF is turning professional wrestling into a circus!” barbs thrown around by hardcore territorial fans and the mainstream press alike. And they just show a couple of clips here, not even a finish. What a worthless inclusion.
WWF Women’s Championship
Leilani Kai (c) vs. Wendi Richter
This was one of the main attractions for the show as MTV icon Cyndi Lauper was assigned as Richter’s on-screen manager, after choosing Richter to represent her against Captain Lou Albano’s charge The Fabulous Moolah for the MTV War to Settle the Score special, where Richter won the women’s title, only to lose it at Madison Square Garden to Leilani Kai with Moolah in her corner. And it’s another clip job that just shows about a minute of the middle of the match without even bothering to include the finish. Utterly pointless.
WWF Tag Team Championship
The US Express (c) vs. The Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff
More trivia here, as this was the first title change in WrestleMania history, although any fans who grew watching WWE after the Edge & Christian vs. Hardy Boyz vs. Dudley Boyz era would probably be completely bemused at the idea of a tag team title change having any sort of significance. Then again, a tag team title match even so much as making the main WrestleMania card would probably be notable, which is a pretty sad state of affairs for anyone who grew up loving tag team wrestling. And yes, you guessed it, another clip with no finish included, just Sheik suplexing Rotundo, and Rotundo suplexing Sheik in kind. Of note – the on screen graphic erroneously names “Barry Wyndham.” Score one for quality control.
King Kong Bundy vs. Special Delivery Jones
Bundy avalanches Jones in the corner and pins him in an announced time of nine seconds, although bell-to-bell it was actually more like 24. For reference, Kane’s ECW title win over Chavo Guerrero at WrestleMania XXIV in 2008 lasted a legitimate 11 seconds, while Daniel Bryan’s World title loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania XXVIII took a barnstorming 18 seconds. For true comedy value, they would have just shown a clip of this and not bothered with the finish.
$15,000 Slam Match
Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd
These two had been rumbling for months on end across the house show circuit, over Studd’s claim to be the one true giant of professional wrestling, not to mention the unwelcome haircut Andre received at the hands of Studd and Ken Patera, hence this match as the final blowoff. On top of all that, Studd and his manager Bobby Heenan put up $15,000 over Studd’s claim that nobody could slam him, and Andre had promised to retire had he failed to do so. Plenty riding on it, then. This is more action joined in progress as the footage is clipped to the undoubted high point of any professionally staged grappling battle – the bear hug. Andre then kicks Studd in the legs a couple of times and just casually slams him out of nowhere for the win. I’m just thankful we got a finish here. Afterwards, Andre starts throwing Heenan’s bag of hundred dollar bills out into the crowd, only for Heenan to steal the bag back and do a runner. What a cheapskate Vince McMahon used to be, eh? Still, I’d rather this than another round of McMahon’s Million Dollar Mania.
Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs. Paul Orndorff & Roddy Piper
I’m not really sure what can be said about this match that hasn’t been said a million times before, I guess other than how interesting it is to see how the perceptions of celebrities involved in wrestling matches, on what has now become the biggest show of the year for any promotion anywhere in the world, has changed so drastically. In 1985, Mr. T was accepted completely as being worthy of the spot as Hulk Hogan’s tag team partner to tangle with the nefarious duo of Piper and Orndorff, whereas someone like Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi was derided by fans and roundly booed by the 71,617 fans packing Atlanta’s Georgia Dome for WrestleMania XXVII in April 2011. The again, she did come from Jersey Shore, so maybe that kind of reaction shouldn’t be surprising. But one thing you can say about the way WrestleMania itself has changed, is how the celebrities were used to bring the wrestlers’ star power up for those early entries into the series, but in more recent times, the wrestlers… er, ‘sports entertainers’ have been positioned as the stars themselves, without outside names like Floyd Mayweather and Maria Menunos acting somewhat as window dressing to the proceedings, despite an in-ring spot on the card. Still, one would be remiss not to point out that it was the involvement of Donald Trump and the premise that either he or Mr. McMahon would have his head shaved bald at the conclusion of WrestleMania XXIII’s ‘Battle of the Billionaires’ match, pitting Trump’s charge Bobby Lashley against McMahon’s representative Umaga, that not only broke Michigan’s Ford Field attendance record (80,103, a number larger than the legitimate 78,000 fans WrestleMania III pulled in the same state) but both WrestleMania XVIII‘s $3.9 million live even gross (to the tune of $5.38 million) and WWE’s all-time pay-per-view buyrate with 1.2 million individual buys worldwide. Still, despite the acceptance of Mr. T by both wrestling fans and the mainstream media, one person who didn’t buy into him (and in fact, legitimately hated the guy for his apparent rotten attitude) was Piper, who told Vince McMahon in no uncertain terms that he would not allow T to get any offence in on him or Orndorff. This might all seem a bit like sabotaging your own match, cutting your nose to spite your face if you will, but back in 1985 with kayfabe still largely protected, it made a lot of sense not to allow an actor, even one with the (fabricated) tough guy reputation of T, to take it to Piper or Orndorff at the risk of them losing their own tough guy auras. Let’s face it, if T exposed Piper and Orndorff as frauds, they were done. If Piper and Orndorff were to destroy T, well, they’re wrestlers, why wouldn’t they? And T would always go back to The A-Team, no harm done. But even with that semi-shoot unfolding in the ring, even with all the chicanery from the corner men and the involvement of celebrity guest referee and all-time pro boxing legend Muhammad Ali, the magic was there that afternoon. The stars aligned and the massive personalities and monstrous egos all mixed in a volatile, explosive crescendo of sheer excitement. And the Garden was pandemonium as Orton struck his own man Orndorff with a plaster cast he’d been dragging a not-actually-broken arm around in to gift the victory to Hogan’s Heroes in what I’d probably call the first baseline “good” match in WrestleMania history.
Summary: So that was WrestleMania. Sort of. The event on which a greasy gang of Hell’s Angels bikers forced their way past a startled Linda McMahon and into an overcrowded Madison Square Garden to see a show featuring Liberace doing the can-can with The Rockettes, and all helpfully butchered into a less-than-satisfying three quarters of an hour for your apparent enjoyment. At least they didn’t dick around with the one match you probably wanted to see most of all, but where was the David Sammartino match? Him and Brutus Beefcake clearly got shafted there, big time. Naturally a sliced n’ diced cut-price WrestleMania highlights tape holds practically no value in today’s market, especially when you can probably find the uncut show in a whole bunch of different formats anyway. It’s just a shame they couldn’t have cut up WrestleMania‘s IV and V like this.