WrestleMania I from March 31, 1986 at Madison Square Garden
The WrestleMania that not only started it all but kicked off sweeping changes in the industry as more than 1 million viewers tuned in over closed-circuit in the pre-PPV days and further launched Hulkamania into the hearts of millions across the world. This is where sports entertainment was born as Vince McMahon bet the house on his combination of celebrities from the world of sports, music, fashion and more with his bulky pro wrestlers at the mecca that is Madison Square Garden in New York City from March 31, 1985.
This is the first in a Court of Nerds and Geekiverse collaboration that will present “34 Days of WrestleMania” as we look back on each Showcase of the Immortals as we lead you into WrestleMania 34. Keep an eye out for a couple of podcasts in the near future from Austin Brunner and Benjamin Raven as we break down each decade in podcast form.
WrestleMania is not a card full of mat classics, but rather a show focused on entertaining you or inciting an emotion from every second of the show. There are influential moments that make you smile, and then there are moments like Jesse Ventura saying Junkyard Dog is “shuckin’ and jivin” Greg Valentine that makes you want to rip your ears off of your skull.
WrestleMania has obviously always meant a lot to me as a wrestling fan because, let’s face it, even if I was pissed off at wrestling and not watching every week … I still watched WrestleMania each year. This is a historic show for many reasons, and we’re going to cover some of the best and worst moments while considering how it still holds up more than three decades later.
Favorite moments and matches
The main event is hands down my favorite moment and match on this card thanks to Hulk, Roddy, Mr. T and Mr. Wonderful all being over as hell. When those bagpipes hit, I get chills. I know who’s coming, the crowd knows who’s coming and we still all react with everything that we have. Piper is the coolest guy on Earth in 1985, he exudes this badass feel with his facial expressions, bursts of anger and just the way he moved. The fans absolutely loved to hate him, and his impact on this industry is so damn evident during this time period from the Brawl to End it All, WrestleMania I and his foray into acting.
Hulk and Roddy were just absolute gold together, and Hot Rod was the perfect heel for the perfect time. The crisp clean American superhero vs. the kilt-wearing, cocky, smug Piper. Before the match, freaking Liberace comes out and dances with Rockettes as the guest timekeeper, Muhammed Ali and Pat Patterson serve as referees. This show had a mix of everything, it’s like the NBA All-Star Game but some of the guys at least play a little defense. Vince McMahon did an absolute stellar job in nailing the right combination of celebrity involvement and actual wrestling with the first Mania.
I’m going to focus on the main event, because it’s the perfect encapsulation of what went right on that night. Tag team wrestling is full of swerves, theatrics and storytelling just by the common-sense fact that its two guys taking on two other guys. That means there’s an extra mind on each side of the ring, and Piper-Mr. Wonderful-Bob Orton on the outside was the perfect complement to Hogan and Mr. T. The in-ring action isn’t going to please those looking for a Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels type classic, but its full of emotion, has a hot crowd and one of the most memorable finishes in the company’s history.
Orton going to the top rope with his infamous cast as Paul Orndorff holds Hogan leads the crowd to believe that the heels are going to steal one right until the moment Hulkster moves and Orton’s cast hits Mr. Wonderful for the 1-2-3. For those unfamiliar with Orton’s cast (Randy Orton’s father), Cowboy Bob Orton sold an arm injury and wore a cast for an obscene amount of time to create the perfect shit-heel gimmick.
Piper and Co. had benefitted so much off of that damn cast, which makes the fact that it cost them a big match on this card pure brilliant storytelling. The main event was fun, anything but technical but hit on all the right spots to make it as fondly remembered as it is today.
It just feels like the perfect main event for this type of show, because it’s fun, tells a story and puts two amazing talents like Piper and Hogan in the mainstream where they belong.
Least favorite moments and matches
My God, David Sammartino got 11 minutes on the first WrestleMania card which makes it the second-longest match on the card. He’s an absolute tank and I’m shocked at how much he looks and moves with his dad, who of course is Bruno Sammartino and the sole reason David has a spot on this card. That’s not a dig on David, as he looks like a damn bulldozer and moved around well enough for as big as he was. It’s just a sad match to watch when you know that it’s only happening for Bruno to get involved and do a couple of appearances later in 1985.
The Executioner was weird and confusing, and that match just seemed to end as I didn’t see anyone pass out or tap. The theme of weird, unexplained or confusing finishes is going to be a theme for about the first 15 WrestleManias and the first one is no different.
Also, that ****9-second**** match between King Kong Bundy and SD Jones holds up even worse than I remembered. What the hell?
I’m not going to sit here and hate on something for being slower when it took place more than 30 years ago, because at the time, this show was an absolute spectacle that launched so many careers and paved the way for the pro wrestling boom of the 1980s and 1990s. Even in the down years, there was that one night a year where everything felt more special and that’s what this show set up.
Does it hold up?
Hey, it’s 1985 and still a damn entertaining show, and that’s what they were absolutely going for. It also doesn’t hurt that the MSG crowd was lit and responsive that night. Ventura and even Gorilla Monsoon makes some comments that don’t hold up very well in 2017, but this is hindsight from my La-Z-Boy.
The first WrestleMania set everything up that we know and love about the show today and while it might not resemble the massive football stadium shows of present, the impact of blending entertainment with wrestling in a big Super Bowl type show can still be felt and seen today. This is one of those shows that holds up because of what it paved the way for in the future, the risk it represented for McMahon and the promotion and that humongous payoff that is still building.
WrestleMania is an absolute spectacle in the fact that this show is so god damn weird, lacking in wrestling and short, full of slow in-ring action yet I still enjoy and appreciate the hell out of it. Andre the Giant and Big John Studd with Bobby Heenan is absolute gold, and the main event is the birth of sports entertainment. That was pure entertainment, and it set off a spark that grew the industry tenfold across the nation.
My main takeaways are that I want to watch more Andre the Giant and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, these two guys had me glued to the screen. A fun show that doesn’t have a classic match in the Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker sense. MTV and mainstream entertainment met the WWF on this night, and my god, the 80s were weird but thank god for them.