On March 29, 1987, WrestleMania III took place at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan just outside Detroit. It was on this night that wrestling fans will remember as the event that drew the largest in-door attendance in sports history. The night is remembered with great star attractions, but one moment stood above them all and is forever etched in our memories. The event also had the famous tagline, "Bigger! Better! Badder!"
In early 1987, a feud began to surface as Andre The Giant turned heel and aligned himself with hated manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan as he challenged WWF Champion Hulk Hogan to a match at WrestleMania III. "The Irresistible Force met the Immovable Object" as well as the champion facing the undefeated challenger(technically incorrect as he lost in matches by countout).
The WWF cleverly promoted this match and was billed as "the biggest main event in sports history". The feud between the two was significant, and is highly regarded as one of the best in the industry's history. The two names were plenty enough to draw ratings in record numbers for this event. But other great moments took place with stars up and down the card appearing...
The event kicked off with CEO Vince McMahon saying to the capacity crowd, "Welcome to WrestleMania III!" Legendary music recording artist Aretha Franklin then sang "America The Beautiful" before the event got underway.
In the opening matchup of the evening, The Can-Am Connection of Rick Martel and Tom Zenk defeated the Don Muraco and "Cowboy" Bob Orton. Martel used a flying bodypress on Muraco to gain the win in the opening bout of the evening.
In a feud over who was the master of the Full Nelson, Hercules who was accompanied by Heenan, took on Billy Jack Haynes in a Full Nelson Challenge where the winner had to win with that finisher. This all began when Heenan verbally assaulted Haynes saying that Hercules was the true master of that finisher. Haynes locked the finisher on Herucles in this match, but both were on the outside of the ring when this happened which ended the bout in a double-countout. When the match was over, Hercules used his trademark chain to attacke Haynes before putting on Full Nelson.
Next up was a mixed tag team match with King Kong Bundy with two midgets, Lord Littlebrook and Little Tokyo, against Hillbilly Jim with his two midgets, the Haiti Kid and Little Beaver. Bundy was disqualified when he attacked Little Beaver because he wasn't allowed to go against a midget. In reality, Beaver suffered a severe back injury at the hands of Bundy which forced him into retirement.
The next match all started when Harley Race began to refer to himself as "The King" and forcing his opponents to "bow" down to him after beating them. This eventually infuriated the Junkyard Dog who said no monarchy would rule the WWF. This led to a "Loser Must Bow" match which was won by Race with a belly-to-belly suplex after Heenan distracted JYD. JYD semi-bowed to Race because of match rules, but later attacked him with a steel chair and took the royal cape with him.
The next match had the "Dream Team" of Greg "The Hammer" Valentine and Brutus Beefcake with Dino Bravo going against the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers. During the match, Valentine and Beefcake did not get along at all, but an elbow drop off the top rope by Bravo on Raymond Rougeau allowed them to win. After the match, Valentine and Bravo left Beefcake by himself which then set up his face turn.
In his retirement match, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper faced Adrian Adonis with Jimmy Hart in a feud that started after Piper returned to find Adonis' effeminate show replacing Piper's Pit. This setup a "Hair vs Hair" match that Adonis thought he won when he put a sleeper hold on Piper. Hart came into celebrate, and Beefcake came back down to the ring to revitalize Piper! Piper recovered and attacked Adonis before winning the match with his trademark sleeper hold. Afterwards, Piper held Hart down while Beefcake cut Adnois' hair. Beefcake's hair-cutting gimmick was born.
Because of wrestler-turned referee Danny Davis allowing The Hart Foundation to beat Davey Boy Smith to gain the tag team titles in January that year, a six-man tag team match took place at this event. The Hart Foundation(Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart) and Danny Davis with Jimmy Hart faced The British Bulldogs(Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid) and Tito Santana. Davis used Hart's megaphone on Smith to gain the win much to the dismay of the crowd who really disliked Davis.
Butch Reed with Slick made his PPV debut by facing the "The Birdman" Koko B. Ware. Ware used a flying bodypress on Reed, but it was reversed by Reed to give him the win. Slick and Reed beat down Ware after the match until Tito Santana came out for the save.
One of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history took place as Intercontinental Champion Randy "Macho Man" Savage with Miss Elizabeth defended his title against Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat who had George "The Animal Steele in his corner. This match showed great athleticism and technical skills in which 19 near-fall attempts happened. This feud started when Savage crushed the larynx of Steamboat with a ring bell in November of 1986. Steamboat returned and both men had an intense and often bloody feud.
In the IC match itself, Savage attempted to use the ring bell again only to have Steele push him off the top rope with referee distracted. Steamboat then countered a body slam attempt into a small package pin to win the IC belt. The match lasted 15 minutes which would turn out to be the longest on the card.
The Honky Tonk Man with Jimmy Hart were set to face off against Jake "The Snake" Roberts who had celebrity Alice Cooper in his corner. Legitimately, Roberts had a neck injury from a guitar shot from HTM on the Snake Pit show that ignited the feud. Because of a distraction by Hart, HTM was able to win with a roll-up pin on Roberts. Roberts had his pet snake Damien with him at ringside, and Cooper used it to attack Hart after the match was over. The look on Hart's face after Roberts was holding him for Cooper and the snake was priceless!
Before The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff with Slick faced The Killer Bees in a tag team match, Slick asked the crowd to please stand and respect the singing of Soviet National Anthem. However, newly hired "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan came out and interrupted the singing, and stayed at ringside for the match. Duggan used his trademark 2x4 on Iron Sheik which caused The Killer Bees to get disqualified. Finally, the biggest main event in wrestling history was coming up next!
Hogan and Andre faced off for the WWF Title which began because of jealousy and bitterness from Andre towards Hulk after the two were long-time friends. Bob Uecker was the guest ring announcer while Mary Hart was the special guest timekeeper.
The match between the two gave us quite possibly the greatest memorable moment ever in WresteMania history, if not, wrestling history. Hogan slamming Andre will always be a defining moment in the event's history, and here's a video of the match:
The event itself was so successful that the Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, and SummerSlam Pay-Per-Views were launched within two years after. Millions watched this event on Pay-Per-View, and it drew a revenue of over $10 million. The main event itself had the two marquee names in the business at the time which was built up wisely by the WWF.
I personally was one of the those fans that watched this along with my brother and dad as it happened. I remember when I saw Andre live in person at a match not long after this event, and thinking there was no way anyone could do that. While wrestling is staged, most that seen Andre up close knew how big he was. According to him, he weighed 550 lbs for this match. The guy was a tank and the name fit.
One of the biggest disappointments now is how many people have left us that participated in matches at this event 22 years later. Let's look at it:
-Andre The Giant died in 1993.
-Junkyard Dog died in 1998.
-Hercules died in 2004.
-Adrian Adonis died in 1988.
-Little Beaver died in 1995. Bundy was remorseful after hearing of his death, but the official cause was emphysema.
-Dino Bravo died in 1993.
However on the flip side, many had or went onto successful careers from this event. The WWE Hall of Fame recognizes many wrestlers from this card:
Andre The Giant(the first ever inductee in 1993)
And this year, the WWE will induct three more members that appeared at this event:
Koko B. Ware
Ring announcer Howard Finkel
In my opinion, this event was one of the most influential in the history of the industry. The success built around the main event to go along with stars up and down the card, WrestleMania III gave us memories and future Pay-Per-Views because of this show. If you want to know why many WWE PPVs are around, WM III is one big reason why. It was cleverly done, and the use of the two biggest drawing names in the business at the time was a strategic move that paid off very well. This was the pinnacle of wrestling entertainment during the booming 1980s when it came back to the public spotlight.
Thanks for viewing, and I hope you enjoyed today's history flashback!
3/29/2009 07:51:00 PM David Funk