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Thursday, 26 February 2009

Retro Mania - Wrestlemania 1

It’s March 31, 1985.

No, really it is. It’s the start of a Pay per View that has never been done before. And it’s the start of my Wrestlemania retro reviews. I’m going to try and get through all that I can. I tried to do this with Royal Rumbles last year and never quite got up to date. Hopefully I can cover all the Manias possible.

There may be two exceptions. I don’t have copies of Wrestlemania 22 or 23. Perhaps some kind soul will send a copy my way, who knows? J

I intend this to be a light hearted look back on the Wrestlemanias. I will be scating here and there, I will be complimentary here and there. The likelihood is that I will occasionally be harsh on the old fashioned way of producing television, but that isn’t the intention.

We kick off with an old fashioned soft rock tune and a stills montage of the wrestlers and personalities who will be involved before the first words of Wrestlemania are spoken “Welcome everyone, Gorilla Monsoon ringside with my colleague Jesse “the Body” Ventura.”

From time to time I miss Gorilla’s voice. He was such a lovable character and had such an inoffensive way about him. Jesse was an old scholl heel broadcaster that we would basically not see the likes of until JBL’s run on the Smackdown headsets. Jesse has a spectacularly garish Pink suit on. Ugh. Gorilla hands it over to the Fink.

It’s anthem time – and what a quiz question this would be. Who sung the anthem at the first Wrestlemania?

No, don’t know?

Mean. Gene. Okerland. No really, he did. I think he said “bums” and not “bombs” and even did a little “everybody” before the song kicks up a notch. Hideous singing, but lovely sentiment.

Jesse rates Mean Gene up there with Robert Goulet, he says. I think Goulet sung at Wrestlemania VI, didn’t he?

Over to the equally lovable but staggeringly rubbish Lord Alfred Hayes, who mumbles his words sufficiently to tell us that Tito Santana is wrestling The Executioner. The masked man walks past Alfred while he is talking, so no music here. You forget that things like that even existed.

Gene and Tito know nothing about The Executioner, who as I understand it was Playboy Buddy Rose under a hood. Standard wrestling would make you think the masked guy would be mysterious, but not only does he speak, but he tells Tito that he is going after his leg. Little mystique behind this guy.

Announcements with Fink. Weight unknown and from parts unknown. A little mystique back, there. Big cheer for Santana. He was a great guitarist. I love smooth, particularly.

This is actually a fun match. It’s not a classic but it’s not stupidly short, has some nice to-ing and fro-ing, and includes a nice spot where Tito propels Executioner over the ropes, and ends with the big forearm, which Bobby Heenan used to call “The Flying Jalapena” and then ends it with the figure four, which the announcers say is a message to Greg Valentine. I love how this is Wrestlemania, and it’s a build of a storyline!

Next is King Kong Bundy v SD Jones. Bundy looked shockingly like a clean shaven Big Show.

They hook up.......and it’s over. Shoulderblock, avalanche, splash, and that’s it. Bundy wins in about twenty seconds, although they announce it as nine. It wasn’t that quick.

When was the last time we had such a squash at Mania? Oh yeah, like last year, when Chavo lost to Kane.

The matches coming thick and fast. Steamboat is up next, and the rumoured inductee of this year’s Hall of Fame takes on.........Doink. Well, it’s Matt Borne, wrestling in that name, several years before he put the clown suit on. That’s the real Bourne Identity.

Tip for you when watching Doink. Borne was left handed, so when the clown is a southpaw, it’s Borne. After that, it’s other people, usually Ray Apollo.

Steamboat wins a reasonably slow one with a crossbody. Lots of headlocks and little wrestling. We have to wait a couple of Manias until Ricky Steamboat gets going.

David Sammartino is up next with his old man, the Living legend. His opponent, manager by Johhny Valiant, is Brutus Beefcake. I forget he was a heel back then. His contribution to the backstage interviews is to blow a raspberry. Classy, Ed, classy.

Brutus (or Bruti, as Gorilla nearly always called him) and David battle away at a reasonably slow pace, with Brutus really hamming it up, 1980s WWE style. Not a criticism at all, this was the way the wind was blowing.

A note on the commentary. It’s really, really in depth. Gorilla and Jesse talk tactics, call on their own experiences and even talk about how greasing your body clogs pores and stops your skin breathing! How I miss incisive commentating rather than Cole saying interchangeable “Diva of the Day” stuff and talking about “swashbuckling” or “leaping ability”.]

The match ends in a double DQ, thanks to Valiant slamming David on the floor, prompting Bruno to get involved. The fans don’t care, they are simply delighted to see Bruno get into the ring and throw a few punches and kicks. Father and son clear the ring, and the draw is called. This is easily the most the crowd have got into this so far, and it’s because Bruno was such a legend, especially in MSG.

Next up we have our first title match, and Lord Alfred talks up JYD, Junkyard Dog. “His charisma is second to none.” Don’t put yourself down, Alfy baby, you are a pretty charismatic dude, yourself.

JYD takes on Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, who has Jimmy Hart with him, for the Intercontinental title. JYD calls Jimmy Hart a weasel. Did they call Hart that before Heenan came along? Or was that a one-off?

We have some music, but by the sound of the DVD it wasn’t what I’m hearing now, because Fink’s voice sounds dubbed on. However, it’s the first entrance music of the event, so this tells you how highly thought of JYD was.

More of the crowd getting involved, and a very strange match ending. First Jimmy Hart shows you what a good antagonist he is, by riling the crowd, then delighting them but getting knocked to the ground by his own guy. Pretty hard landing, too. JYD takes control, to the audience’s delight, but Valentine gets a pin with his feet on the ropes.

Wait, here’s Tito. Santana tells the ref about the feet on the ropes, prompting the ref to restart the match. What? How the hell does he get to influence like that? The ref starts to count with The Hammer on the outside, and with Jimmy convincing his charge not to go back in the ring, gets counted out.

Of course, the title does not change hands, but the crowd go wild for the JYD win anyway. Odd stuff.

Next is tag action, with Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo (“Great Afflutes” according to Alfred) against the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. I love this act, and can watch them all day. Sheik gets his words muddled and calls Mr Okerland “Gene Mean” while Volkoff, the Russian (Lithuanian, I think, actually) speaks in Latin. Go figure.

The heels have Blassie with them, while the babyfaces have Captain Lou, who in his backstage interview appears to have been stabbed by matadors, judging by the things he has sticking out of his face. Bloody Santana throwing his weight around again, I bet.

Volkoff does his singing of the anthem to a chorus of boos. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Comrade Jillian Hall! That’s money right there.

The crowd go mad for the entrance of tag champs Rotundo and Windham, collectively the US Express. For some reason Finkel only announces Rotundo.

Back and forth tag action, which ends with Sheik levelling Windham with Blassie’s cane. New champs here, but no sign of Sherriff Santana demanding justice. That’s a shame.

The heels laugh in an evil manner before Blassie says he never had a cane – last time I heard someone deny something like that he got impeached – and Sheik talks more rubbish as per usual.

Big John Studd – along with Heenan, so the earlier ‘weasel’ wonderings get stranger – is out with $15,000 for Andre the Giant, as long as the Frenchman slams his adversary. If not, Giant has to retire.

Wait, now they are chanting ‘weasel’. Forget everything I’ve said.

Match, as you would expect with two barely mobile 400+ guys (although that’s a little unfair on Studd, who was in reasonable shape) is slow and methodical, with very little to write home about.

It ends with Andre slamming him opponent, netting him 15k and saving his career. Brilliantly, Andre doesn’t immediately celebrate, he simply turns and asks for the cash. He decides to distribute it with the fans, but it cut of by Heenan, who leaves with the bag full of money.

Backstage Andre says he doesn’t want to retire, which is fortunate given the stip. He wants to say more, but he gets cut off.

To Lord Alfred, who gets a smacker from the Fabulous Moolah and then Leilani Kai, signalling the ladies match. Mean Gene has the girls for a word, and Cyndi Lauper cuts best promo of the four.

Kai says something about coming back with her hand as victor. I think she meant ‘hand raised.’ She better come back with her hand, unless Sheik was a Minister of Justice for Iran and demands she have it cut off.

To the strains of Lauper’s hit “Girls just Wanna have fun” here’s Wendi Richter, and she was a huge star back then. This match was crucial in the build to Mania, what with the Rock’n’Wrestling cross promotioj with MTV. Or “Wrestling Rock” as Lord Alfred called it. Sorry to keep ragging on him, but as nice a guy as he may have been, the guy makes Adamle look like The Rock.

The match is awful, and they botch the ending when Kai’s cross body was supposed to be rolled through, but it looked terrible. Cyndi does the thumb-on-the-nose-and-waggle-your-fingers gesture that we all did when we were seven at Moolah, then it’s to the back for a word with Gene Mean, as I will call him from now on.

Cyndi says that she was keeping an eye on Moolah “I brought my towel, because she’s bigger than me”. I don’t know why that isn’t used in hardcore matches more often, the old towel trick.

Main event time, and local Baseball legend Billy Martin handling the ring announcing. He brings out guest timekeeper Liberace who kicks in time with some dancing girls for an eternity. Come on, get on with it. Why isn’t the ref stopping this?

The camera pans out – the ref is Pat Patterson. Question answered.

Guest enforcer time, and it’s some boxer fella. Forget his name.........

Just kidding, it’s the Greatest of All Time, Muhammed Ali, or Cassius Clay as he was in a former gimmick.

Bagpipes sound, and play Scotland the Brave for Canadian born Rowdy Roddy Piper, with Paul Orndorff in tow. Piper clearly loved all this. He was such a great heel. I hated watching Piper as a face, not because he wasn’t still good, but because he was such an awesome heel. Cowboy Bob Orton is with Piper and Orndorff.

“Real American” hits and it’s Hogan and Mr T with Jimmy Snuka seconding them. What follows is a masterclass in how to run a match will little wrestling and plenty of razzmatazz. It’s chaos. Ali gets in the ring and swings punches, Mr T does the odd slam and the announcers go mad as if he is the greatest wrestler they’ve ever seen, and everybody hams it up big style.

Most importantly, the crowd go nuts. The thing to notice is that this all feels like a huge deal, with the elusive ‘big fight’ feel, which is a phrase now almost dead thanks to Todd Grisham using it for Jack Swagger v Matt Hardy or other matches of such calibre.

Do you know, I’ve been trying to work out who TNA referee Shane Sewell looks like – it’s Orndorff. That’s been annoying me for weeks.

Heels get the upper hand as in most tag matches, but the big comeback is absent. The pop is reserved for Snuka cutting off Orton in the ring, but when the ref deals with Superfly, Orton, complete with his ubiquitous cast, ascends the ropes (err, Ali? Where are you?). He jumps off but strikes Orndorff inseatd of Hogan. Hulkster covers, and it’s over.

It’ll never be considered one of the great wrestling matches, but it is truly an iconic “Sports-Entertainment” moment. The spectacle was genuinely unique, and was so well-executed it started off a true legacy.

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