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WrestleMania I Recap - Fabulous Moolah & Lord Alfred Hayes
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Turn Heel Retro

Turn Heel Retro: WrestleMania I Recap

The main event is a complete spectacle that helped make pro wrestling become a “thing” in popular culture.

I’ve wanted to add to the “Retro” part of this site for a while. I’ve decided I’m going to begin the daunting task of watching and recapping every WWE PPV from the first one up to where the site kicked off from in 2015. I may never complete this project, but we’ll see how far I get over the following months and years. C’mon it’ll be fun! I haven’t seen some of these shows since I was a little kid and some of them I’ve never seen. I’m going to start this project off by recapping the first WrestleMania event from 1985. I was only nine years old at the time, so I think I saw this one on a VHS tape I rented from the local video store a few years after it happened. I first got into pro wrestling in late 1986, since I remember WrestleMania III being the first big show promoted around the time I first started watching. So, let’s go back in time with the Turn Heel Retro: WrestleMania I Recap.

I’m watching all of these on the WWE Network. You can watch WrestleMania I on the Network here.

Turn Heel Retro: WrestleMania I Recap

Well, we kick things off with a weird instrumental guitar track over some still images of random wrestlers. I dug up a rip of the show from VHS somewhere on the internet and realized this awkward open is because Phil Collins’s “Easy Lover” is playing over the visuals on the original footage. Because of this, we also miss Vince McMahon’s narration of the card since I’m assuming there was no way to isolate just his narration. So, instead, “generic 80s rock song #97908734” plays and we see images of tonight’s performers and the celebrity guests. I’m grateful the WWE archived all of this content, but I’m sure the licensing of music during the “Rock n’ Wrestling” era is going to make this a chore with all of the royalty free music I’m going to have to sit through.

We’re live from the Madison Square Garden and are welcomed by Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Monsoon and Ventura are literally standing at ring side to open things and Jesse is decked out in a pink suit and pink do-rag. Nice. Howard Finkel then welcomes us to WrestleMania. Of all people, Mean Gene Okerlund is tapped to deliver the National Anthem. Huh. I figured with the “Rock ‘n Wrestling” connection they’d have been able to get some rock star, but Mean Gene it is. Gene attempts to get the crowd to sing along with him, but they mainly just cheer him on. Jesse puts Gene over and compares him to Robert Goulet… and everyone younger than me has no idea who that is. Fun fact: Robert Goulet would go on to sing “O, Canada” at WrestleMania VI. Jesse knew! Monsoon then throws it to Lord Alfred Hayes who introduces our first match between two “super” wrestlers, Tito Santana and the masked Executioner (aka Buddy Rose).

Mean Gene has previously recorded interviews with both wrestlers so we hear from Tito Santana first. Apparently the Executioner is undefeated, but that doesn’t phase Tito. He’s got goals and makes a few references to the Executioner not being able to hang in the “big leagues”. The Executioner cuts an awkward promo giving away his strategy of going after Tito’s injured leg that was previously weakened by Greg “The Hammer” Valentine.

Match #1: Tito Santana vs. The Executioner

At a glance this is nothing more than a squash match to open the show, but the crowd is insanely hot. When Santana hits his flying forearm to set up the finish, the pop is pretty unreal by today’s standards. This is otherwise a serviceable match. Both guys clearly know what they’re doing and know how to tell a story when they only have six minutes to work with. The Executioner gets a few hope spots in, but this match is otherwise a Tito Santana showcase. When he slaps on the figure four leglock, it is curtains for the Executioner.

Verdict: Thumbs Up – An enjoyable little match. The crowd was super into things which just made this feel that much bigger of a match too.

Post-match, Santana takes a while to break the hold, but finally does. Another thing I noticed in this match is just how loose the ropes were back in the 1980s. It’s crazy how much they sag when Santana climbs a corner to pose after his victory. During the replay, Jesse lets us know that Santana used the figure four to send a message to Greg Valentine. We’re then sent to Alfred Hayes again who mentions the next match features King Kong Bundy and he sends us to more “prerecorded interviews”. In modern WWE, this would be an “earlier today” video or something that plays as they make their way to ring. Hayes must be standing near the curtain, in what is now known as the Gorilla Position, since you can see SD Jones walk past him on the way to the ring as he sends it to the production truck for the interviews.

First up is SD Jones, who is about to be demolished, but still manages to stay more hype than Mojo Rawley during his brief promo. Jimmy Hart and King Kong Bundy enter next. Bundy does most of the talking and says he’s going to hit SD Jones with the Avalanche and get a five count on him. Boom!

Match #2: SD Jones vs. King Kong Bundy (w/ Jimmy “The Mouth of the South” Hart)

LOL. SD Jones does his best Leeroy Jenkins impression and rushes at Bundy to start the match. Bad idea. Bundy catches him in a bear hug, deposits him in the corner, hits the Avalanche splash in the corner, and then does a pinning splash on Jones for good measure. Despite mentioning the “five count” in the promo, he only gets a three count and wins this match in a few seconds.

Verdict: Thumbs In The Middle – Not much to see here, but they’re clearly wanting to push Bundy as an unstoppable monster and a threat to Hulk Hogan so I’ll allow it.

Post-match, Jones sells his ribs like they were smashed to bits and Finkel announces that the match only lasted nine seconds. Seemed a bit longer than that though.

We’re sent backstage to Okerlund again who is with Matt Borne. Matt cuts a promo on Ricky Steamboat while wearing sunglasses. He says Steamboat is doomed because he’s “too nice of a guy”. Steamboat cuts a promo putting over WrestleMania and seems like the best promo guy out of the ones we’ve seen so far.

Match #3: Matt Borne vs. Ricky Steamboat

This match reminded me a lot of the opening match. Steamboat is essentially in control the entire time and this match serves to showcase his wares. Bourne gets in almost no offense at all and Steamboat is never in any peril throughout the match. A far cry from the epic match Steamboat will have in a few years at WrestleMania, but one can tell from this match that he’s one of the best in-ring guys in the company at the time. Steamboat wins this one with a crossbody off the top rope.

Verdict: Thumbs In The Middle – Points off since this match reminded me too much of the Santana match that opened the show. I realize WWE was all about squash matches back then, but something this one-sided after the Bundy thing just didn’t work as well as something more evenly paced might have.

We’re sent back to Alfred Hayes again. Poor guy has Steamboat coming back from the ring and walking directly behind him, and then has Brutus Beefcake and Johnny Valiant walk right in front of the camera while he’s trying to put over the next match. No wonder the guy looks so frazzled and keeps stumbling over his words.

Earlier today, David Sammartino, with his pops behind him, cuts a promo on Brutus Beefcake. Bruno Sammartino then threatens Beefcake’s manager, Johnny Valiant. Beefcake and Valiant enter and Johnny V no sells Sammartino’s threat. Beefcake just makes a raspberry sound into the mic and Johnny Valiant says he’s the “mouthpiece” and will not let him talk. Man, I want to see Brock Lesnar do that into a microphone sometime and then have Heyman take over. Anyway, Valiant keeps ranting so Okerlund starts talking over him to end the segment.

David Sammartino is the first wrestler who gets to make an entrance. Everyone else, including Beefcake are already in the ring when Finkel makes the announcements. David and Bruno run out and Bruno gets the hugest pop of the night so far.

Match #4: David Sammartino (w/ Bruno Sammartino) vs. Brutus Beefcake (w/ Johnny Valiant)

So, this is a long, rather boring and plodding match. Neither guy shines all that brightly and the crowd isn’t very into things until the very end. Everything breaks down after about ten minutes when Sammartino is thrown out of the ring and Johnny Valiant body slams him on the floor. Bruno comes tearing over to hit Valiant and the crowd explodes. Everyone ends up in the ring and the ref starts counting and then eventually throws the match out. Clearly, this existed for the star power of Bruno Sammartino and to get to the schmoz.

Verdict: Thumbs Down – It took way too long to get to the only hot part of this match. Up to this point this match was twice as long as anything on the card with nothing really to show for it.

Post-match, David and Bruno knock the heels out of the ring and Finkel announces the double DQ.

We then send it back to Hayes who has Jimmy Hart and Greg Valentine walking in front of him while he tries to give a brief run down of the next match. You’d think after the first or second time this happened they’d try to put him somewhere else for this… or not send the wrestlers to the ring until he was done. But, nope.

Earlier today, Jimmy Hart and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine are with Mean Gene. Valentine cuts a promo putting himself over as the greatest Intercontinental champion of all time. Junkyard Dog cuts a promo saying he could become the next IC champ. We’re sent back to the ring where the champ is already hanging out with Jimmy Hart. JYD gets an entrance, complete with obviously dubbed “Grab Them Cakes” instead of Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust”

Match #5: Greg “The Hammer” Valentine (c) (w/ Jimmy “The Mouth of the South” Hart) vs. The Junkyard Dog (WWF Intercontinental Championship match)

Kind a fun little match. Valentine is really good and the JYD’s offense almost entirely consists of head butts. We get that spot where JYD has it won, but Hart gets up on the apron, Valentine goes for the cheap shot and takes out Hart instead of JYD. Valentine seemingly wins by pinning JYD with both of his feet on the ropes. However, Tito Santana, in street clothes, comes running out and convinces the ref to restart the match. Valentine refuses to get in the ring and gets counted out to keep the title.

Verdict: Thumbs Up – A fun contest and I enjoyed the false ending. This kind of stuff happens all of the time today, but this was novel back then. Also, the Junkyard Dog is insanely over with the crowd so he gets a pass with his limited offense.

The trend continues with Volkoff & The Sheik walking directly in front of Alfred Hayes as he tries to set up the tag title match. Mean Gene is with the heel team and Iron Sheik calls him Gene Mean. Their manager Freddie Blassie predicts he has the next tag team champions and Volkoff just says “veni, vidi, vici“. Lou Albano then enters and his team, Mike Rotunda (known as Mike Rotundo for whatever reason during this time period) and Barry Windham appear. Rotunda starts giving Albano a shoulder rub and Windham gives Mean Gene a shoulder rub. It’s worth mentioning to anyone unaware that Rotunda is Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas’s dad. Albano cuts a promo and Rotunda and Windham both only tell Gene they’re headed to ring right now. They’re dressed in street clothes so I find that hard to believe.

The heels are already in the ring, which we know because they walked right in front of Alfred Hayes earlier. Volkoff sings the Soviet National Anthem and gets huge heel heat. I mean huge. He has one guy in the crowd loudly screaming something while pretending to masturbate at him. Yeah, America was pretty conditioned to not like the USSR back then. Sheik caps this off with his trademark “Russia #1, Iran #1… USA *spits on ground*” catch phrase. The faces get an entrance and come out to “absolutely not Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen”, which is a horrible guitar song with the same beat as Springsteen’s song that they really came out to. They seem to do this here so every once in a while the music is close enough to the Springsteen song that they can quietly fade in a quote from Gorilla Monsoon and then drop the original audio again. Whoever did the audio dubbing for these shows on the Network had their work cut out for them. Wow.

Match #6: The U.S. Express (c) (w/ Capt. Lou Albano) vs. Nikolai Volkoff & The Iron Sheik (w/ Classy Freddie Blassie) (WWF Tag Team Championship match)

My two big takeaways from this match are that it is creepy how much Bo Dallas reminds me of his father in the ring and that the Iron Sheik is a great heel. We’re finally getting to some more evenly booked matches on the show. The faces have this one all but wrapped up when Windham hits the bulldog on Volkoff, but Sheik breaks up the pin. After no selling a dropkick from Rotunda, Sheik grabs Blassie’s cane and hits Windham in the back with it from the apron. The ref is distracted by Rotunda so he doesn’t see it. All Volkoff has to do is roll over Windham and get the pin. Ladies and gentlemen we have new tag team champions!

Verdict: Thumbs Up – Heels winning like this used to make me soooooo mad as a kid. Considering the real heel heat these guys had, it was a great decision to put the titles on them here. Well done.

Post-match, people throw things into the ring while Sheik yells his catch phrase on the mic and the new champs pose with their belts.

We’re then sent backstage to Okerlund who is with Blassie and the new tag champs. Blassie freaks out when Okerlund says it was a controversial match. Blassie then claims he doesn’t need a cane and doesn’t know what Mean Gene is talking about. Iron Sheik starts ranting something unintelligible, which starts Volkoff ranting, and Okerlund tries talking over them again to end the segment.

Meanwhile, Alfred Hayes makes it through an entire match set-up without a wrestler walking directly in front of him. Up next, we’re getting a match between Big John Studd and Andre the Giant. The stipulation is that if Andre can body slam Studd, he wins $15,000. If Andre fails to slam Studd he has to retire from wrestling. Earlier today, Okerlund is with Studd and his manager Bobby Heenan. Studd has a duffel bag filled with what looks like crumpled up one dollar and five dollar bills. Okerlund keeps trying to reach into the bag, but Heenan keeps swatting his hands away. Studd calls Andre “Andrea” and Heenan cuts one of his amazing promos. Seriously, Heenan is so good nearly every time he gets a mic in the 80s.

Match #7: Big John Studd (w/ Bobby “the Brain” Heenan) vs. Andre the Giant ($15,000 vs. Retirement Body Slam match)

A body slam match featuring two huge, largely immobile guys. This one wasn’t going to be a mat classic. That said, Andre gets most of his offense in and is hugely over with the crowd. Studd teases a slam on him at one point and fails. Eventually Andre wears Studd down and gives him the body slam to end the match.

Verdict: Thumbs In The Middle – It’s not much to watch, but I understand why this is here. Andre was a major attraction and they needed him on this card in some capacity to make this show work. It’s kind of crazy to know that in two years he’d be working one of the highest profile matches in WWE history.

Post-match, Andre gets the duffel bag and starts throwing money into the crowd. Heenan runs up and swipes the bag and he and Studd escape before Andre can get them.

We’re sent backstage to Mean Gene who is with Andre. Gene wonders where the money went, but Andre doesn’t care about the money. He just wanted to show the fans that he could slam Studd. He also says he’s not ready to retire just yet. Now we’re back with Lord Alfred Hayes. At least interrupting him has become a backstage rib by this part of the show, as the Fabulous Moolah and Leilani Kai both give him kisses on their way to the ring. Earlier today, Okerlund is with Cyndi Lauper and Wendi Richter. Lauper cuts a promo on the heels and then Richter cuts an aggressive promo on Kai. Moolah then walks in wearing dollar sign glasses. Okerlund asks about the glasses and then tells Moolah to “not let Jesse Ventura know about them”. LOL. Kai is dressed like a “hula girl” but she has a southern sounding accent which is just confusing. She cuts “generic heel promo #897023” on Richter.

We’re then sent to the ring with Kai and Moolah having already entered. Richter and Lauper come out to the most ridiculous generic “80s synth pop” royalty free music you could imagine in place of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.

Match #8: Leilani Kai (c) (w/ The Fabulous Moolah) vs. Wendi Richter (w/ Cyndi Lauper) (WWF Women’s Championship match)

So, Kai sells by slapping her hand on the mat. To the untrained eye it would look like she’s spending a huge chunk of this match tapping out. This match is… not very good. I mean, it’s better than some of the “Diva” matches I know I’m going to suffer through later on, but Sasha Banks vs. Bayley this is not. The crowd pops huge when Moolah grabs Richter’s hair from the outside and Lauper intervenes. Mainly, this match exists to get Lauper on the show. Kai is in control for most of the match but Richter starts to come back. Wendi sets Kai up for an airplane spin, but just sort of drops her. Whether that was intentional or not, it is one of the stiffest looking moves in this match. Kai attempts a cross body off the ropes and Wendi sort of just rolls with it, ends up on top, hooks the leg, and becomes the new champ.

Verdict: Thumbs In The Middle – Another so-so match, but I totally get why it’s here and why the finish is the way it is.

Post-match, Lauper attacks Moolah again and then Finkel announces the new champion. The horrible dubbed music plays again, and it looks ridiculous seeing Lauper and Richter dancing to it.

We’re then sent to Okerlund who talks to Lauper and Richter who cut promos about the victory. Lauper either got color from Moolah or her lipstick is smeared all over her teeth.

Next, we’re back in the ring where Finkel introduces the guest ring announcer for the WrestleMania I main event, former Yankees manager Billy Martin. Finkel hands over the reigns to Martin, who then announces the guest time keeper, Liberace. In the original broadcast, Sinatra’s “New York, New York” plays, but here we get something that sounds like generic music from the Fallout New Vegas in game radio station. Anyway, Liberace is escorted to the ring by the Rockettes and he does a dance with them in the ring. Martin then tries to announce the guest referee, Muhammad Ali, but is drowned out by the crowd chanting “Ali”. In reality, Pat Patterson works the match as the ref but Ali is essentially there as an enforcer outside the ring.

Roddy Piper’s team is led to the ring by a band playing drums and bagpipes and is out to a huge heel reaction. Originally, Hogan’s team comes out to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” here, but they’ve dubbed over “Real American” instead. Hogan, Mr. T, & Snuka are out to a massive crowd reaction.

Match #9: Hulk Hogan & Mr. T (w/ Jimmy Snuka) vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper & Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff (w/ “Cowboy” Bob Orton)

Taken out of the context of the time, this match is average. It’s not nearly as bad as some people seem to think it is, but it’s no five-star classic either. Hogan and T are so over that nearly anything that happens in this match gets a huge reaction. I’m kind of shocked that the faces go over by Orton jumping off the ropes and accidentally hitting Orndorff with his cast. I’d imagine they’d have wanted Hogan to go over strong with the leg drop, but nope. Clearly, there was no way a celebrity non-wrestler like Mr. T was getting the pin fall in this match. Regardless, the match itself is okay for what it is and the live crowd totally loved every second of it.

Verdict: Thumbs Up – The match is a total spectacle, but that was totally the main event this show needed to strike the spark that got us to where we are today.

Post-match, Piper takes out Pat Patterson and he and Orton leave the ring. Orndorff is still down, Mr. T checks on him, and Orndorff comes too and starts freaking out. Surprisingly, he leaves after a bit and the faces don’t take cheap shots at him like they would in the modern day product. Hogan poses in the ring and soaks up the adoration of the fans.

We’re then sent back to Okerlund who interviews the face team. Mr. T cuts a promo saying how hard he trained to be able to survive in the ring. We then turn to Hogan who tells Mean Gene what “turned him on” – phrasing Hulk. Hogan then puts over Mr. T and Snuka. Superfly then puts over Mr. T and Hogan.

Monsoon and Ventura close the show with a recap of the main event. We then get credits, which originally had “Axel F” playing but instead we get some generic general MIDI synth music.

Well, WrestleMania I was definitely something. The crowd clearly seemed to be completely on board with the vast majority of the matches so it’s no surprise that WrestleMania became a “thing”.

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