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Thursday, 5 March 2009

Retro Mania - Wrestlemania III

Wrestlemania III is often talked up as being the best of the early Wrestlemanias, and this is likely due to two things. One a quality wrestling match, the other an iconic moment. We will get to them in due course.

We start this event, which took place in March 1987, with some delightful cheesy 80s graphics and music, and in the ring is Vince, with his famous “Welcome to Wrestlemania III”. He hands over to Aretha Franklin to sing America the Beautiful. She would show up for Wrestlemania twenty years later looking like Rikishi, but even as a non-American I have to admit this version is pretty stirring stuff.

Over to Gorillia, who has Jesse dressed like Jake the snake’s gay friend, and two celebs. They are “Entertainment Tonight’s Mary Hart” as Gorilla says with a petrified look on his face, as if he didn’t know who she was and was desperately making sure he didn’t forget. Also with them is Bob Uecker, who my research tells me is a baseball player-turned-actor-turned-broadcaster, who starred in a series of adverts. Ok.

Can-Am connection (Rick Martel and Tom Zenk) are up first in the daylight of the Pontiac Silverdome, in Michigan, to face Don Muraco and Bob Orton, with Fuji in their corner.

Before the first bell rings, Gorilla has called Wrestlemania “This happening” four times.

The babyfaces (Zenk and Martel) are in control early on, and Monsoon says that Zenk has “the excellence of execution”. Wrong Canadian, Gino.

This match doesn’t last long, and considering the prestige of the individuals in the heel corner, they get very little offence in. Can-Am wins in short order, with the old playground trick of one guy bending over behind someone who is reversing. In this case, it’s not a push but a cross-body that topples Muraco.

Off to Gene Mean for a chat with Bobby Heenan, who brings in his charge, Hercules Hernandez. Herc says that he brought Samson and Atlas down, which is mixing all kinds of things up, because Hercules was a Roman mythological figure, Atlas from Greek mythology and Samson biblical.

He faces Billy Jack Haynes, he of the big tall black hat and the only man I’ve heard of from Oregon, or at least that talks about Oregon.

The combatants come to the ring in those little carts shaped like a wrestling ring, which I’d completely forgotten about. I’d love to see those return for one time only.

This is allegedly the battle of the full nelsons, since each man had the move in his repertoire. That doesn’t fill you with confidence since that tends to be a move used by lumbering (allegedly) roided up monsters – Warlord, Chris Masters etc.

As expected, this is a slow on, full of slow, ponderous power moves, and not even one with a satisfactory ending. Haynes eventually slapped on his full nelson, but both men fell to the outside, and Haynes turned out to be from that stupid brand of babyfaces that can’t count, because he didn’t release the hold and they both got counted-out. Swell.

Heenan interjects after the bell, causing Haynes to be distracted and for Herc to nail his adversary with a chain. Bizarrely, Haynes – remember this is a relatively low-interest second match with a draw ending – blades heavily. Hercules puts the full nelson on, and then leaves. Very dull, and very puzzling.

And to make matters worse, a replay of the first chain shot is shown, and you can see Haynes blading if you look closely.

Uecker is with Gorilla and Jesse for this next match, and for one competitor it’s quite the fall from grace. King Kong Bundy was in the main event with Hogan last year, and now he’s accompanied by two midgets (Little Toyko and Lord Littlebrook) to face Hillbilly Jim and his two partners of restricted size, Haiti Kid and Little Beaver.

Imagine if Lawler got to call a match involving a little Beaver. Carnage.

This ‘contest’ is basically midgets running around and bumping into each other quite a lot, then Bundy tagging in and them running around him. Jesse is constantly calling for Bundy to squash the little guys, with Monsoon typically sounding shocked.

I was expecting to see Bundy chase them to no avail and see Hillbilly Jim stop him, but instead Bundy gets fed up of Little Beaver tormenting him, so slams him and drops an elbow. That was hilarious. Bundy gets DQ-ed and all the midget show their scorn for him. How dare he. So that’s three matches, and only own clean finish so far.

Next is Harley Race v Junkyard Dog. Heenan is back along with Harley, who is King of Wrestling at this point, and has the music we now associate with Jerry Lawler. Moolah is with Race and Heenan, proclaimed as the queen of pro wrestling, and Uecker excuses himself from the announce position because he wants to get with Moolah. Ohhhhh-kayyyyy.

The stipulation, says Gorilla, is that the loser must bow down to the other man. Now, people far more learned than I wax lyrical about these two, both hall of famers. All I’ll say is that I’ve seen little of both guys, but in what I have they don’t seem to be up to much in my eyes. It looks like two sixty year olds fighting, and it ends after Harley hits a very soft belly to belly and the ref does an unconvincing count.

JYD is supposed to bow down post match, and although he does, he then grabs a chair and blasts Race. I hate that, I never think a babyface should do this unless majorly provoked. Otherwise what distinquishes between good guys and bad?

Back to Vince backstage with Hogan, who yammers on about riding a bike and having people say he’ll lose, but it’s generally nonsense with “brother”, “man” and “Dude” liberally sprinkled within the dialogue. Even Vince looks at Hulk as if to say “what the hell are you on about?” The message is essentially that he’ll beat Andre, I think.

Back in the ring are Jacques and Raymond Rougeau, who are talked about in positive terms by Gorilla and vaguely cheered, so they must be face at this point. I liked them when they did the All-American Boys heel gimmick. They are against Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake, the Dream Team, accompanied by manager Johnny Valiant and, for some reason, Dino Bravo. Better to have Bravo doing this than wrestling. TNA love him, though, they are always talking up Bravo when I speak to them.

Ray Rougeau is the guy with the moustache who was on the French broadcast table when it still existed, and Jacques was later The Mountie. I’m not listing all the characters Brutus Beefcake has been because this site only has so much bandwidth and I’m going away in five weeks.

Midway through the match, just as the heels get the upper hand, Bobby Heenan appears alongside Gorilla and Jesse. The Brain claims two victories out of two, and Gorilla explains it is one from three.

In the ring, Rougeaus hit a double team move on Valentine, but with the ref distracted Dino Bravo nails Raymond and rolls the Hammer on top for the win. For some, not really explained reason, Brutus isn’t happy with this. Valiant, Bravo and Valentine celebrate outside, and Beefcake looked pissed off. The other three leave Brutus behind for no good reason. Was this a babyface turn?

Next up is Adrian Adonis v Roddy Piper, and nice to see Adorable Adrian get a match with Piper rather than Uncle Elmer like last year. Piper admonishes Adonis for wearing a dress, but seems to miss the irony that he wears a skirt.

Adonis has big shears and Jimmy Hart a mirror, with the premise being that the loser of this match has a haircut. Piper is now a babyface, as you can probably tell. The commentators talk up the fact this is Piper’s last hurrah, and that he is leaving wrestling after this match. Ironic given that this is twenty two years ago, and we was on Raw three weeks ago.

Adonis and Piper start the match trading shots with a leather belt before Piper gets the upper hand, frequently using Jimmy Hart as a weapon and sending the crowd into raptures. Man, Piper just has always had a connection with the fans. Two years prior to this he was a staggeringly good heel against Hogan, and now he is being cheered hugely.

Adonis gets the upper hand, and the commentators keep talking about him getting “Goodnight Irene” on Piper, which is a sleeperhold. Another match where both men have the same finisher. Hart sprays some perfume in Roddy’s face, and Adonis puts on his sleeper.

Adonis and Hart celebrate when they think they have won, but Piper didn’t drop his arm. That actually makes far more sense that the usual miraculous comeback which makes no real sense. If the move is applied and puts a guy mostly to sleep, how would he comeback while the hold is still on?

Anyway, while Hart and Adonis celebrate, Brutus Beefacke appears to massage Piper’s shoulders, and Roddy slaps on the sleeper and gets the win. Brutus begins to shave the Adorable One’s hair, while Piper stands on Jimmy Hart. I guess this is the start of the “barber” gimmick, and explains why Brutus meekly turned face in the previous match.

Beefcake does a terrible job, since Adonis loses very little hair, but the crowd go nuts for Piper, who would then depart to go and make a few average to poor films.

A fan runs in to celebrate with Roddy, and Piper seems delighted to shake his hand. Then two security guys come in and kick the shit out of the intruder. Oh well.

Next, Ventura heads to ringside to be introduced to the crowd, and to wish the heel team in this next six-man tag match. They are The Hart Foundations, tag champs at the time, along with Danny Davis. This was Davis’s debut, after he had been an evil referee for some time. He had been allegedly suspended forever at this point, as an official, but he’d be back soon after his brief wrestling tenure. The story was that he’d cost The British Bulldogs the tag titles, with the Hart Foundation profiting.

The Bulldogs are two-thirds of the opposing team, along with Tito Santana. The trio in the commentary booth are Gorilla with the two celeb guests, Mary Hart and Bob Uecker. They have to be given credit, actually because they are a million miles from Susan “uh-oh” St James, and actually add a little to proceedings. They let Gorilla do the talking and chip in where necessary.

It turns out Davis is quite the heel , because the crowd, although entertained by the fun tag team exchanges with the other five, go nuts when Tito starts hammering him. Davey Boy takes over, even hitting a early Tombstone (Taker was in World Class at the time) and having the former ref beaten before Anvil breaks it up.

Typically, though, the dastardly heel gets the decision, as while the other four are fighting, Davis procures Jimmy’s megaphone and cracks Davey Boy in the head. Strangely, the commentators don’t actually see this, and it takes a replay for them to realise.

Backstage, Gene Mean has Andre and Heenan with him, and Bobby is superb here. This is where great managers came to the fore, because he talks his man up something terrific here, and Andre’s frame says the rest.

Slick is in the ring with Butch Reed, and he’ll face Koko B Ware. Creature number two at ringside, after we’ve already seen the Bulldogs with, erm, a Bulldog. Why isn’t Koko the Macaw Man, and not the Birdman?

This, unfortunately, is another match of big guys doing basically the same punch, kick, slam, backdrop match. Reed wins after Koko’s cross body is rolled through. Slick lays into Koko post match, but Tito makes the save and for some reason tries to take Slick’s clothes off. The Doctor of Style runs away, and the two babyfaces dropkick Reed out of the ring.

Next is Randy Savage v Rick Steamboat. Footage of Savage attacking The Dragon is shown, and then a doctor, apparently Dr. R Jeremy, says that Steamboat’s recuperative powers are amazing.

Savage was IC champ at this point, so these two will be tangling in a title match. He hits the ring first, and I don’t care how many times I hear it, I will always love Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, otherwise known as Land of Hope and Glory. It is one of the finest pieces of music I know, and I believe contributed majorly to one of Savage’s babyface turns, which we will witness in about four Manias time.

This was, as it is always said to be, is a classic. Savage is perfect as the arrogant misogynistic heel, the Dragon the virtuous, athletic babyface. The match is based on a storyline with feeling, and is performed with such precision timing one cannot help but marvel. It goes to and fro so many times, I cannot possibly explain it in linear fashion.

Basically, if you have never seen this match, find it, watch it then rewind it and watch it again. It’s terrific. Steamboat wins with a small package.

Jake Roberts, with Alice Cooper, takes on Honky Tonk Man next. No sign of his brilliant theme song we’d come to know and love.

This is quite a fun one. It’s not a classic wrestling match like the one before, but Honky’s infectious personality gives the bout a flow, and the roll up victory by HTM with the aid of the ropes is redeemed when Alice Cooper and Jake pour the python over Hart.

Gene Mean announces the dubious indoor attendance record, and then it’s time for....Gorilla to call it a happening again.

Tag team action next, and it’s flag waving nasty foreign bad guys Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. The big Lithuanian starts to do the Soviet anthem as usual, but Hacksaw Jim Duggan heads out to give Americans a bad name like he normally does. He isn’t wrestling, though, he’s just interrupting. The Killer Bees those charged with taking on the Sheik and Volkoff.

It’s typical tag action for several minutes before Duggan decides to go chasing Volkoff. Sheik has one of the Bees in a Camel Clutch when Volkoff runs through the ring, Duggan in pursuit. Hacksaw smacks Sheik with the wooden plank, and this one is over, with the Killer Bees disqualified. More idiocy to have good guys cheating and acting like morons. Never understand this.

Back to Bobby and Andre, who predict victory, and then some background on the feud. More ‘wise’ words from Hogan, and then Bob Uecker is brought out as special guest ring announcer. Mary Hart is timekeeper, and then Heenan, resplendent in white, seconds Andre to the ring for the biggest match of The Boss’ life.

Jesse calls it the biggest match in the history of professional wrestling. You are used to hearing that kind of hyperbole from Tony Schiovane, or Michael Cole, or Jerry Lawler, but in this case Jesse Ventura is probably right. At this point, this may well have been the biggest match ever.

Hogan hits a right hand, goes for a slam and Andre falls on him. The Frenchman then dominates for the next five minutes or so. Hogan briefly rallies with a few right hands which elicit the biggest response of the night, only for Andre to boot the champ and then clamp on a bearhug.

Hogan makes a vague comeback and the action spills to the outside. He removes padding to expose concrete, and laughably tries to piledrive Andre on the concrete. Andre of course counters, and Hogan takes one of the weakest backdrops of all time. Back in the ring Hogan basically runs into Andre who bumbles backwards. On their feet Hogan slams Andre, and a legdrop later it’s over.

Frankly, it wasn’t good to watch, but it is completely wrong to judge this by aesthetics. Just one look (and a listen) at the crowd and you can hear what they think. Hogan was just so over at this point that he was almost the sole attraction. As long as Hogan was winning it was all that mattered to people, so if Steamboat and Savage entertained on the undercard then cool, but as long as the people went home happy with a Hogan victory, as was becoming Wrestlemania tradition, that was what mattered.

Overall, this was not a great PPV. It had one great match, an entertaining six man and a half decent Jake v Honky match, but most other matches were slow and ponderous.

Not it’s cracked up to be, frankly, but the Macho Man v Steamboat match is everything people say it is and more.

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