Yes, it’s now time we move onto the biggest wrestling show of the 1980s. Yes, there were probably larger crowds if you want to believe that there were only 78,000 people at the Pontiac Silverdome. But the biggest match took place on March 29, 1987 when Hulk Hogan confronted Andre the Giant. (This wasn’t even their first match) All the variables that made it a huge attraction were there — Hulk Hogan, and the WWE for that matter, were at the peak of their own respective popularities. Andre did a big time heel turn that resonated with fans, aligning himself with one of the best managers of all time with Bobby Heenan. The promos and segments leading to the big match were intense. Who knew in 1987, if everything was booked properly, you could have one of the biggest gates and shows of all time?
We open with a large shot of the crowd — there’s a lot of people here at Wrestlemania III, in case you didn’t know! You can immediately tell there’s a huge leap in production values here compared to the first two Wrestlemanias, night and day, essentially. Vince McMahon, who you have to imagine was beaming over how successful this show was going to be, welcomes us to the show and introduces Aretha Franklin who sings America the Beautiful. It was a wonderful rendition.
Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura are with Bob Uecker and Mary Hart, the latter being best known for being on the TV show Entertainment Tonight. We’ll see more of them later tonight, Gorilla says as we start the first match.
Cowboy Bob Orton and Don Muraco vs. The Can-Am Connection (Tom Zenk and Rick Martel). Can-Ams start off hot, but Orton knees Martel in the kidneys allowing the heels to take over. Can-Ams regain control after reversing both irish whip attempt by the heels as Muraco and Orton collide into one another. Orton is sent outside as Martel scores the pinfall over Muraco with a crossbody. Basic opener that got the crowd hot, so therefore everyone’s job was accomplished here. **1/4
A video package is shown between Billy Jack Haynes and Hercules. Feud seems to primarily be focused on who has the better full nelson. I don’t think either of them have the best one, to be honest. I’ll always be a fan of the Masterlock, unfortunately for them.
Mean Gene interviews Hercules. He’s gone from being Hercules Hernandez to believing he’s the actual Hercules in a span of a year. Well, that is, if there is an actual Hercules. He thinks he’s the mythical figure, I think that’s the best way to phrase it. Bobby Heenan corrects Mean Gene, making sure he knows that Hercules’ opponent is Billy JERK Haynes, not the other way around.
Billy Jack (Jerk?) Haynes vs. Hercules. Haynes controls early but Hercules escapes before the full nelson can be applied. Hercules cuts him off with another scary lariat, though not as scary as the one he gave Steamboat last year. Haynes gets a hope spot, but it doesn’t last long as Hercules secures the full nelson. Haynes breaks free and soon both are down after a double clothesline. Haynes counters with an atomic drop and hits a full nelson of his own. Hercules escapes out of the ring, but Haynes sinks it in on the outside and soon the bell rings for a double count out. Not the best finish, to be honest. *3/4
Heenan attacks him after the bell rings, but Hercules comes in and waffles Haynes with his chains. Haynes is busted wide open as Hercules puts in the full nelson, basically squashing Haynes. A year later, he’d be gone from the WWE and go on to becoming more infamous for being interviewed about conspiracy theories for RF Video.
King Kong Bundy, along with his midget friends, cuts a promo. Says he’ll squish his opponents tonight. His midget friends seemed scared by this. Hillbilly Jim is interviewed and says he’s not worried about himself, he’s worried about his little friends. King Kong Bundy is serious business, you see.
Little Tokyo, Lord Littlebrook and King Kong Bundy vs. Little Beaver, The Hati Kid and Hillbilly Jim. The midget faces work over the midget heels doing comedy. Bundy is tagged in, and Beaver hits a dropkick before tagging in Hillbilly. He gets a nearfall, but Bundy throws him and the midgets off him. The face midgets keep interfering until Bundy finally bodyslams one of them and gives Little Beaver a huge elbow for the DQ. Well, GOOD! Bundy stood up for himself and bodyslammed Little Beaver who kept annoying him. This wasn’t Bundy attacking him for no reason, Little Beaver was being a LITTLE JERK. He got what was coming to him. A nothing match. DUD
Mary Hart tried to interview Elizabeth, but Randy Savage immediately comes in and assumes he’s the one being interviewed. That was pretty awesome. He sends Elizabeth off, so Mary has no interview. Mary Hart calls him “a real charm” in the most sarcastic manner possible.
A video package is shown detailing the Harley Race/Junk Yard Dog feud. Could Junkyard Dog end up becoming the king of the WWE? Or will have to bow to Harley Race? Mean Gene interviews Race, who is with Bobby Heenan, then JYD, who says he’s ready to sit on the throne. I should note Moolah was here holding the king’s crown. She was a replacement for Samantha Fox, a british pop sensation back in the day.
Junkyard Dog vs. King Harley Race. JYD controls early, but Race cuts him off after a Heenan distractions works in Race’s favor. Heenan distracts JYD again and Race pins him after a belly to belly. No really, that’s it. Nothing bad but extremely short. 1/4*
Race and Heenan order him to bow. He eventually obliges…then grabs a chair and wallops Race, then puts on his robe to mock him. What a jerk, and a poor sport to boot. You lost dude, the stips are the stips. What’s with the babyfaces being total assholes on this show?
Hulk Hogan interview. Some say that tonight is his last night. But it’s not. For you Andre, it’s time to face the truth. All I have to do tonight is beat down a 7’4 500 pound giant. To beat me, you have to beat every Hulkamaniac. He can’t wait to see Andre go down at the feet of all the Hulkamaniacs. A fiery, intense promo indeed.
The Rougeau Brothers vs. The Dream Team. Johnny V and my favorite wrestler in the world Dino Bravo are in the Dream Team’s corner. Thankfully I don’t think I have to talk much about my favorite wrestler in this column. Dream Team spent a lot of time on offense. Bobby Heenan comes in during the match and talks about how his men (Race, Hercules) won. Gorilla points out he’s 1/3 tonight (Bundy also lost, remember). Beefcake accidentally sledges Valentine and that allows the Rougeaus to hit the senton splash. They had it won, but then Bravo jumped on the top turnbuckle and attacks Raymond allowing Greg Valentine to cover him for the victory. Another short match that’s not much of note. *
Johnny V, Bravo and Valentine leave the ring and exit without Brutus Beefcake despite them winning the match. I guess they can’t take an accidental collision all that well.
Recap segment of Adrian Adonis destroying Piper and his set, then Piper doing the same to the Flower Shop. It’s the battle of the talk show hosts in Roddy Piper’s RETIREMENT MATCH. Man, I’ll never see Piper in the ring again after this. So sad.
Roddy Piper vs. Adorable Adrian Adonis. The gimmick to this match is that the loser will have his head shaved. Why? Ummm, not sure. Either I didn’t pay attention to the video package enough or they just didn’t explain it. Either are feasible. Piper charges at him and immediately whips him with a belt. I guess this is a no DQ match. Jimmy Hart gets involved and ends up getting thrown onto Adonis as both fall to the floor. Piper throws him off the top rope onto Adonis, but after about 30 seconds manages to clip Piper’s legs as Adonis gains control . Some sort of substance is sprayed on Piper which distracts him long enough for Adonis to apply his sleeper. Adonis lets go and poses, thinking he’s won the match. This causes Brutus Beefcake, who was abandoned earlier by his teammates, to come down to the ring and help Piper by waking him up. That was a sudden change of heart. Piper comes to and from behind sinks in the lamest looking sleeper I’ve seen in a while, and that causes Adonis to submit for the victory. It was a wild brawl that turned out to be pretty fun, albeit a bit overbooked. **1/2
After the match, Piper and Beefcake take out Hart as they cut Adonis’ hair. When Piper shows him what he looks like with a mirror, Adonis freaks out and exits. Finkel declares Piper the winner and a random fan runs to the ring and hugs him. How nice! Piper exits the ring as the fan is whisked away in handcuffs. Oops. A great farewell moment for Roddy Piper as we never, ever saw him again in the wrestling world.
Jesse Ventura is introduced in the ring. I have no idea why. I think this would be repeated the following year, also for no real reason.
The Hart Foundation and Danny Davis vs. The British Bulldogs and Tito Santana. I like how Danny Davis was suspended for being a crappy referee for life PLUS ten years. He was that evil. I also love his outfit, which looked like the gaudiest thing imaginable. Aha, here’s Jesse’s role- he steals Matilda, the Bulldog’s mascot, and rides away on the motorized vehicle, with the Bulldogs being none the wiser. The Bulldogs did not seem to care at all. Harts get the heat on Dynamite until he gets the knees up after a splash by Davis backfires. Santana is tagged in and runs wild, laying out Davis with the forearm and goes for the figure four but Anvil breaks it. Eventually it turns into a wild brawl. but Davis grabs the microphone from Hart and strikes Davey Boy with it for the victory. It was solid, but executed well. **1/2
Heenan cuts a promo on tonight’s main event. It’s been a good three years, Hogan, but tonight Andre the Giant takes the gold.
Butch Reed vs. Koko B. Ware. Reed is in control early, but Koko manages to sends him to the ropes on the outside and does a cartwheel. For a split second, I thought he was going to do the Sasuke special. Eventually Reed just pins him after grabbing the tights. I’ve already forgotten most of it. *
Santana runs down after the match and rips apart Slick’s fantastic wardrobe FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER. Again, the babyfaces are assholes here. Koko and Tito lay out Reed with a double dropkick after for good measure.
Recap of the Ricky Steamboat/Randy Savage feud. You all know this one. The bell shot that sent Steamboat away for months. The speech therapy that, in hindsight, was rather stupid. Actually, they edited that part of the video out. I remember it being slightly longer. They show video from SNME of Steamboat and Savage confronting one another. Savage cuts one of his zany promos as he and Steamboat head to the ring.
Intercontinental Championship: Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage (c). Steamboat starts off fresh by working on Savage’s elbow. Savage counters and fights dirty, including using his shin to shove Steamboat over the barricade into the crowd. Savage continues the heat until Steamboat unleashes a huge back body drop to the floor. Steamboat almost gets it, but the referee says Steamboat was on the ropes. Lots of great nearfalls. Savage stays in by doing a couple of his own. Savage manages to send Steamboat into the turnbuckle. A ref bump and clothesline allows Savage to hit the elbow. He grabs the bell tries to launch off the top rope with it, but George “The Animal” Steele grabs it. Savage stomps on him, but Steele counters by pushing Savage off the top rope. Savage gets up and grabs Steamboat, but he turns it into one more small package for the victory. Loved this. Everything in this match mattered and meant something. Who cares if this was planned out beforehand- this was great. ****1/4
Jake Roberts promo. He’s with Alice Cooper, of all people. Makes sense, though. Promises revenge after Honky Tonk Man smashed him in the back with a guitar. Honky Tonk Man promises that no one wants to see no “nightmare song” Alice Cooper has, but rather they want to see him sing, which he promises to do tonight when he beats Roberts.
Jake Roberts vs. The Honky Tonk Man. Roberts jumps him even before the bell rings. Back and forth match. Roberts wails on him from the beginning, but HTM manages to get in a post shot that allows him to regain control. HTM works on him for a while until Roberts makes a comeback and goes for a DDT. Jimmy Hart distracts Roberts, however, and this allows HTM to roll up Jake Roberts and grab the ropes for the three count. Nothing of note. *3/4
After the match, Roberts breaks Honky’s guitar and that keepts HTM out of the way. Cooper and Hart have a STAREDOWN as Roberts grabs Hart and puts him in a full nelson. Cooper takes out the snake, and Jake puts it on Hart as he squirms out of there like nobodys business. In the end, the heel got his, so it’s all cool! AND he was being an asshole during the match, so the faces were justified in attacking him!
Mean Gene announces 93,173 as the attendance for Wrestlemania III. It’s a number that will be debated about for a long time. But the belief is that it’s more likely to be in the 78,000 range. Take it for what it’s worth.
Nikolai Volkoff wants to sing the Russian National Anthem before his match starts. Slick, still selling the beating from earlier by not changing clothes, is there along with Volkoff’s tag team partner the Iron Sheik. Hacksaw Jim Duggan then comes out and stops him, because he is mean and doesn’t recognize other nations and their practices. The Killer Bees follow soon after, and it’s match time!
Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik vs. The Killer Bees. Brunzell and Blair work over Iron Sheik to start things off. Iron Sheik is not a good seller at all, even back when he was still sort of mobile. I wonder if he was ever mobile, actually. A two on one by the heels start their offense. Iron Sheik gets one of the Bees in the camel clutch as Duggan, who’s still at ringside because, well, because, sees what’s going on then just whacks Sheik with the 2×4 for the DQ. What a stupid finish. 3/4*
Duggan says if you don’t want to play with the rules, neither do we. Keep in mind Iron Sheik and Volkoff were breaking zero rules and were winning the match cleanly. So hey, guess what, Duggan’s an asshole here. The Bees proceeded to pat him on the back. Um, guys, he cost you a match. Ventura smartly pointed this out. Gorilla says they were happy he had their back. Um, no. In the real world people would be pissed regardless. Hacksaw cost them potential winnings, even if it seemed like they were about to lose. DUUUUUUUUUUMB.
Pre-tape with Andre. He says he’ll have the belt. Heenan says he’ll go down in the record books and Hogan, you better be ready.
Hype video. The storyline goes all the way back to when Hogan won the title in 1984, with Andre saying how he was proud of of him. Hogan being an ally and friend by saving him in the ring on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event.. Andre looking at Hogan’s trophy for being champion for three years and leaving disgusted. Andre confronting Hogan in Piper’s Pit demanding a title match and introducing his new manager, Bobby Heenan. Andre ripping the shirt (and most importantly, the cross) and throwing it to the floor. Such a great storyline here. All that’s left is the match…
Hulk Hogan promo. He’s on fire. He’s worried about what the people outside will do when the giant is on the ground, and whatcha’ gonna do when the earth rumbles on my feet.
Celebrity pimping time. Bob Uecker is the special ring announcer, and Mary Hart is the special timekeeper. This was not the most star studded event of all time, I have to say.
WWE Championship: Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Andre the Giant. This is one of the most fabled matches in WWE folklore. And the first thing I have to say is: no wonder the only thing they ever show is the bodyslam. Andre was on offense for most of it and looked slow as molasses. I think present day Khali is slightly more mobile, and think about that for a minute. Hogan came back with a bunch of turnbuckle shots. Andre comes back with a big boot from the corner. Super long bearhug. It felt at least like five minutes. Hogan finally does his comeback. You can see around this time in the match that Andre is wearing a backbrace. Pretty sad. Andre accidentally posts himself, which sets up Hogan pulling the padding out and going for a piledriver. Andre reverses it with a super sloppy back body drop. Andre misses a big boot and just sorta falls down. Crowd is going crazy despite the action being pretty bad. He bodyslams Andre in the biggest moment of his career and hits the legdrop for the three count. Huge response from the crowd. This was a largely awful match, though. Andre had no business wrestling at this point, but he’d be crazy to turn down something like this, so I know why he did it. He was a draw and people responded to him, even if he could barely move and was largely awful. And to think he wrestled full time for at least two or three more years after this. -*3/4
This was WWE’s apex moment of the eighties, and in the end…eh, it was fine. Steamboat/Savage still holds up today. That was pretty much the sole, standout match here as everything else was decent to forgettable, save for the main event which was pretty awful. The structuring and pacing of these shows a big problem, though. PPVs in 1987 and 2014 are the same length. But WWE structures their cards in a way that it doesn’t make you feel tired once the show finishes. I think that’s an art they hadn’t perfected yet because this show felt SUPER long even though it was only slightly over 3 hours. It’ll take a few years for them to get this right, but eventually everything turns out for the better. Wrestlemania III is one of the most fabled wrestling shows of all time. And for good reason- the build towards Andre/Hogan is some of the best stuff WWE’s ever done. It was both subtle and direct when it needed to be, and it presented a match everyone wanted to see. Now, the said match sucked, but people did pop for it in all the right places, so in that essence WWE did their job very well with this production.