Thursday, 27 March 2008

WWF Wrestlemania III - Retro Review

With this year’s Wrestlemania just a few days away, it’s time for me to keep up the tradition I started a couple of years ago by reviewing a past Wrestlemania, and this time it’s a biggy! For this review we’re going back to the Pontiac Silverdome in 1987 for Wrestlemania III, headlined by Andre the Giant challenging Hulk Hogan for the WWF title, and THAT match between “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Handling commentary duties are the dream team of Jesse “The Body” Ventura and Gorilla Monsoon.
The show begins with tag-team action, as The Can-Am Connection team of Tom Zenk and Rick Martel take on Mr. Fuji’s team, “Cowboy” Bob Orton and The Magnificent Muraco. Quite a fast paced match this, with Zenk and Martel looking great as a team. It’s a shame that Zenk had a big falling-out with the powers that be, because the Can-Am’s could have been a really great team. Orton and Muraco looked okay, but they didn’t really have the same fluidity as Martel and Zenk, who emerged victorious with Martel scoring with the cross body-block on Muraco, with Zenk using the schoolboy trip for added zip. A good opener.
It’s a battle of the powerhouses next, as Bobby Heenan’s Hercules takes on Billy Jack Haynes. Given the wrestling styles of these two, this wasn’t going to be a technical classic, it’s two muscle men just beating the crap out of each other, but even though it’s not one for the purists, it’s entertaining in it’s own way as Hercules and Haynes battle it out to find out who has the best full nelson. Hercules was the first to execute the hold, but as he was unable to lock his fingers, he didn’t have it on properly. Haynes had the same trouble when he applied the hold, but after they slipped through the ropes and out to the ring, Haynes applied the hold again, which only earned both men a count out. Then, for some reason, the segment where Hercules clobbered Haynes with his chain was edited out of the UK video release, and after all these years, I still haven’t seen it, although it’s probably on YouTube somewhere.
Then came a match that I didn’t really enjoy when I first saw it, six man action, with King Kong Bundy, Lord Littlebrook and Little Tokyo against Hillbilly Jim, The Haiti Kid and Little Beaver. You see, this is what gets me about this match - just one year before, King Kong Bundy was headlining Wrestlemania 2 against Hulk Hogan in a steel cage match. A year later and he’s teaming with midgets against one of the most annoying characters in WWF history. And in case you start moaning at me for calling these guys midgets, Jesse Ventura called them midgets in his commentary, so that’s okay with me. As for the match, I suppose seeing Little Beaver dropkick Bundy is okay for comedic effect, but as for the rest of the match, it’s just plain awful, and it thankfully came to an end when Bundy earned his team a disqualification when he elbow dropped Beaver, with the rest of the little guys turning on the big guy afterwards.
Thankfully, normal service is quickly resumed with King Harley Race, accompanied by Queen Moolah and his manager Bobby Heenan, takes on the Junkyard Dog, with Race’s crown on the line, with the stipulation being that the loser must bow to the winner. Not the best Harley Race match I’ve ever seen, and quite a quick one at that. The Dog managed to get off a few of his trademark head butts, before the Brain interfered, distracting the Dog so Race could come back and execute a belly-to-belly suplex for the win. Afterwards, after the Dog bowed to Race as per stipulations, he grabbed a steel chair and took race out, before stealing Race’s robes and prancing around the ring. Hmmm, not bad I suppose, but it seemed more like filler material.
Back to tag-team action, as Johnny Valiant’s Dream Team of Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine, who also have Dino Bravo in their corner, go up against the Rougeau Brothers. Sadly, this is before they turned heel, so we don’t get to hear that classic entrance song. This was basically the set up for the break-up of Valentine and Beefcake. Halfway through the match Beefcake accidentally clobbered Valentine, which lead to the Hammer getting taken down by the Rougeaus, and it was only when Bravo interfered, breaking up the pin, that the Dream Team got the win. It was then that Valiant, Valentine and Bravo left Beefcake in the ring because he almost cost them the match. I think I’m going to give this another hmmm, mainly because it was good, but a tad too quick.
Then it was time for Roddy Piper’s retirement match, as he took on “Adorable” Adrian Adonis in a hair v hair match. Adonis has his manager, Jimmy Hart, along for company. Of course, this wasn’t actually Piper’s last match, as he came back two years later. The crowd went absolutely wild in this one as Piper took the fight to Adonis, even using Hart as a weapon a few times. Like others before it, it isn’t a technical classic, but the emotion surrounding Piper’s retirement is what gives this match it’s emotion. As Adonis made his comeback, Piper wouldn’t say die, and it was only when Hart sprayed something into Piper’s eyes that he was able to lock in his sleeper hold. Adonis thought he had the victory, until the referee told him that Piper’s arm had only dropped twice. As Hart argued with the referee, Brutus Beefcake came down to the ring and brought Piper back to life. It was then that a reinvigorated Piper put Adonis out with a sleeper of his own to get the win. Beefcake’s face turn was then complete as he cut Adonis’s hair as Piper held Jimmy Hart back. On sheer emotion alone this was great, and well worth viewing again.
Six man tag-team action follows, as the British Bulldogs and Tito Santana take on The Hart Foundation and referee-turned-wrestler Danny Davis, with Jimmy Hart making a quick return to the ring as manager. This one looked good on paper, given the pedigree of the majority of the wrestlers here. This match was a great example of how good the Harts and the Bulldogs were, and how their rivalry was one of the best things about the tag-team division at the time. Of course, Davis only got into the match when things were going his team’s way, although the weakest link of the team did take a pounding in the end from Santana and the Bulldogs. In the end it was Davis who got the pin. As a brawl broke out between both teams, Davis clobbered Davey Boy Smith with Jimmy Hart’s megaphone to get the pin. A great storyline here, with neither the Bulldogs or Santana able to get revenge on the former referee for costing them their respective titles.
It’s back to singles action next as “The Natural” Butch Reed, managed by the man with the greatest entrance music ever, the doctor of style himself, Slick, faces Koko B. Ware in a battle of size against power, and that’s basically what it was. Reed spent time using power moves against Koko, before Koko used some fast-paced moves, using a cross body block to take Reed down, only for the Natural to roll through and get the pin with a handful of tights. Enraged, Koko attacked Reed after the bell, only for Slick to come into the ring and attack the Birdman with his cane. This resulted in Tito Santana making a return to the ring to halt the attack, before trying to rip the clothes of the manager’s body. Another match that gets the hmmm treatment. Not bad I suppose.
Then it’s time for that match - “Macho Man” Randy Savage defending the Intercontinental title against Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Savage, as always, has Miss Elizabeth in his corner, while Steamboat has George “The Animal” Steele backing him up. So what can I say that hasn’t been said by countless other writers over the past twenty-one years. With the storyline surrounding Savage’s previous attack on Steamboat, and the Dragon’s return from a near career threatening injury, it was obvious that there would be a ton of emotion surrounding this one, and it made for an electric atmosphere, and a hell of a match between two wrestlers in the prime of their careers. Tons of drama and false finishes, the referee getting accidentally clobbered, Savage failing to get the pin after his top rope elbow because the referee was still out, Steele stopping Savage from using the ring bell, and Steamboat getting the simplest of pins when he held on after a Savage body slam to win with a small package. Even after all these years, Savage v Steamboat stands out as one of the greatest matches in WWF/E history.
The grudge matches continue as Jake “The Snake” Roberts, accompanied by Alice Cooper, takes on the Honky Tonk Man, managed by Jimmy Hart. This one was set up after Honky clobbered Roberts with his guitar during a Snake Pit segment. The Snake Man began this one quickly, and it soon degenerated into a sheer brawl, before settling down into a more traditional kind of match. However, despite Roberts gaining the upper hand towards the end of the match, Honky got the win with a modicum of cheating. As Roberts went for the DDT, Hart grabbed his leg, preventing him from executing the move. It was then that Honky came up from behind and took Roberts down with a schoolboy roll-up, holding the ropes for extra leverage, to get the three count. But the fun didn’t end there. Honky tried to clobber Roberts with his guitar, but failed, which left Hart in the ring alone with Roberts and Cooper. Naturally, Damian made an appearance, and it wasn’t long before he was draped over the manager, before Honky returned to save the day. A really enjoyable match. But then again, it had the master of wrestling psychology in it.
Back to tag-team action, as the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff, with their manager Slick along for company, go up against The Killer Bees, “Jumpin’” Jim Brunzell and B. Brian Blair. Before the action starts, Volkoff tries to sing the Soviet national anthem, but is interrupted by “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, who promised that Volkoff would never sing that anthem again, before taking up what looked like a guard’s position at ringside. Watching this I forgot just how good a team Volkoff and the Sheik where. Mind you, the Bees weren’t that bad either. So we’ve got a relatively good match here between two good teams, in a way ruined by Duggan. As the Sheik had Brunzell in the camel clutch, Duggan began chasing Volkoff and Slick around the ring, before chasing the Russian into the ring. Hacksaw then stopped, looked at the Sheik, and whacked him with his two-by-four, earning the Bees a disqualification. Good match, let down a little by the ending.
Main event time, as Hulk Hogan defends the WWF title against the Bobby Heenan managed Andre the Giant. At the time this was the biggest match in the history of professional wrestling, and it’s something of a miracle that it actually took place, because Andre had undergone major back surgery just a few months before. It’s the slow methodical approach from the two big men, with Andre dominating early after Hogan’s failed body slam attempt. Hogan attempts a few brief comebacks, but doesn’t really get back into the match until he takes Andre down with a powerful clothesline, followed up by the massive body slam and the patented leg drop to get the winning pin. As a spectacle it’s a great match, and possibly the best match Andre had during the final few years of his career, and while it won’t go down in history as a mat classic, it’s definitely one of the most spectacular of all time.
In conclusion - even after twenty-one years, Wrestlemania III still stands the test of time, and it’s still a good show and a good example of the WWF in the 1980’s. Savage/Steamboat was clearly the highlight of the show, but the sheer emotion and hype surround the Hogan/Andre match ran it a close second, with a few of the under card matches providing quality entertainment in their own way. So if you’re looking for a good piece of mid-80’s WWF, then watch this show.
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