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WrestleMania 1: Awkward Promos and Bad Perms

-Coming to you live from my sofa and Olevia flat screen, it’s time to have a look at the original WWE WrestleMania, as we gear up for numero twenty six. So journey back in time with me as we go to an era where muscleheads were becoming all the rage, and Vince McMahon panhandled to celebrities to enhance his product. I’m talking about 1985, of course.

-March 31, 1985 from Madison Square Garden in NYC. At this point, I was in a crib, doing my best Randy Orton impression into a pair of Swaddlers. I even had the same range of facial expressions as Orton, to boot. The commentators are Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura, who can shill for the product while maintaining a sense of gravitas. Are you listening, Michael Cole? VINTAGE BURN!

-I’m watching the un-edited 1998 VHS version, which means no songs are dubbed over. This is great for many reasons, including…

-AN INSTRUMENTAL OF EASY LOVER! Why hasn’t Phil Collins hosted Raw? He CAN’T be busy. Vince McMahon voices over the opening bit, listening off each match in a voice so wooden that my surround sound speakers need to be liberated from splinters. Is this really the man who held up his end of the Austin feud on the mic?

-All things told, I’d roll in the hay with Cyndi Lauper. 1985 Lauper, that is.

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-Lights out! Mr. Kennedy’s mic! Truly the MSG I remember! Screw production value!* Also, it’s Howard Finkel’s first of 25 Mania appearances, forecasting a legacy of dependability and excellence that may never be matched. So he gets pushed aside for Lillian Garcia and Justin Roberts. Life? Fair? Really?

(* Bill Watts had a bumper sticker that said this)

-Mean Gene Okerlund is here to sing the National Anthem, and he “needs help” from those in attendance. To say the least. Gene speeds through his version of the song, looking off index cards all the while (classy). Gorilla Monsoon calls Okerlund “unbelievable”. I don’t think that’s hyperbole, kids.

-Ventura has the scrotes to compare Okerlund to Robert Goulet. “I don’t care if won a tag team match with Hulk Hogan. Can he croon? Papa…..I like it when you callll me big Pa-paaaaaaaa”

-Lord Alfred Hayes takes us to pre-recorded (you know, recorded earlier as opposed to later) from Tito Santana and The Executioner (a slimmer Buddy Rose). He calls them “two super wrestlers”, which doesn’t sound bush league in the least. Santana’s interview is rather basic (more emotion than Charlie Haas, less than Phil Lafon), and Rosecutioner says that he’s a “big leaguer”. Because that red, nylon mask just screams “star quality”, after all.

-Funny moment during the ring intros, as Executioner’s weight is “unknown”. I used to make the same joke about Andy Reid, honest.

-Ahh, a ‘criss cross’ between the two men, which serves no purpose, other than to “look pretty”. If a match in 1985 had 2 criss crosses, a flying forearm, and a backdrop, you could legally call it a “spotfest”.

-Ventura says WrestleMania is like Woodstock, as the match begins to get clumsy and awkward. Given the way that Santana and Rose are stumbling through this, they look like Janis Joplin revelers, I guess. Also, for a ‘big leaguer’, Rosecutioner is sporting some nice love handles and arm flab. Kind of the Mo Vaughn of his era.

-Nice! I’d forgotten the spot where Santana leg presses Rose over the top rope, with him landing seated in a ringside chair. If that was Sabu, he’d have missed the chair. And the floor. There’s no telling where he would have ended up, really.

-A flying forearm and Figure Four end it to give Santana the win. You know, if you had to do a Money in the Bank match in 1985, who would be in it? Santana, Jimmy Snuka, Ricky Steamboat, Randy Savage, the Harts, and The Bulldogs? I think I just blew my own mind.

-The way Alfred Hayes keeps moving his eyes before each prerecorded interview, you’d think he was being questioned about the whereabouts of a missing child. “My WORD, I have no idea as to what you allude to, officer….”

-Next up is King Kong Bundy vs. SD Jones in a rather unassuming, yet historically noteworthy match. It’s also noteworthy for the promo beforehand, in which Jones speaks a beautiful blend of “Jamaican” and “autistic”. On an upside, Jones is sporting a nylon ring jacket so gaudy, that it’s sure to be in Lady GaGa’s hall closet.

-And just like that, it’s over! Corner slam, avalanche, and big splash in 24 seconds for Bundy! Wait, no, my stopwatch broke part way through, so it’s actually NINE seconds. This is the one time where Vince McMahon lied about a number by actually LOWERING it. Monsoon and Ventura lie so convincingly about the fraudulent time, that they’re immediately invited to speak on Linda McMahon’s behalf at the next stockholder meeting.

-I just took nine seconds to get another Vitamin Water. Maybe it was twenty four. You don’t know, do you? And you never will.

-Up next, Ricky Steamboat takes on pre-Doink, pre-lumberjack Matt Borne. Just look at Borne. Bad hair, bland promo. Are we certain that he’s not Evan’s dad?

-So here we go, future NWA World Champion vs. a guy who once beat Crush senseless with an arm that was loaded with batteries. IT’S WRES-SUH-MAY-NEE-UHHHHH!!!! Borne immediately wins me over by doing the classic 1980’s “atomic drop sell” that every heel was required to do, where your body goes wobbly and you appear ready to mess your pants. In other words, Borne looks like the victim of one of Curt Hennig’s ribs.

-Gorilla Monsoon calls WWF “the Mecca of professional wrestling”, saying that nobody does wrestling better. Why, that would seem to imply that there’re other wrestling promotions! Good thing Monsoon was untouchable, or McMahon woulda had him returning to the ring to do jobs for Terry Gibbs by week’s end.

-You know, it’s a shame that Borne never amounted to more than just a midcard character. He’s holding his own beautifully with Steamboat, and has a natural villainous streak, even if he looks like John Ritter if Ritter were a fugitive here.

-Steamboat finishes with a sloppy high cross body. Good, fluid match that was way too short. If this were on Raw today, it’d STILL be too short. Though you could play a drinking game for everytime Cole says “VINTAGE DRAGON”! Vintage Dragon? I think I ordered lobster lo mein from there once.

-Hayes informs us that the next match will feature two “great stars”. It’s between Brutus Beefcake and David Sammartino. Well, Lordship, you’ve lied to us. Beefcake doesn’t even cut a promo beforehand, relying on manager Johnny Valiant (who’s dressed like a 55 year old deadbeat who wants you to believe that he exercises regularly).

-David brings out his father, the legendary Bruno Sammartino, who outpops the kid 27-1. Seriously, it’s like Bruno is Stacy Keibler, and David is Test. Though I’m not anxiously awaiting Bruno to shimmy his legs over the middle rope. Maybe you are, but not me.

-This match is atrociously sloooooow, so here’s a fun anecdote. At a convention a few years ago, David Sammartino called Mick Foley a disgrace to the industry. I dunno, Mick a disgrace? I’m fairly certain no one goes running up to Mick and says “OHMIGOSH! I am SUCH a HUUUUGE fan……of your dad!”. No wonder David has rage issues.

-A double DQ ends the abomination, as the crowd is clearly enamored with watching Bruno beat the crap out of Valiant. Here’s an idea: leave David home, and let Bruno beat up three or four guys who take the mic and make fun of Italians. Would anybody object to this?

Next, we have Greg Valentine and Junkyard Dog for the Intercontinental Title. Valentine, who never wore shades regularly until he teamed with Honky Tonk Man, has a pair on for his promo. Wearing sunglasses during a wrestling promo is a red flag that says “I shift my eyes a lot and look awkward when I speak”. Somebody get a pair for Lord Alfred! JYD has no problem speaking, coming off like the world’s most polite version of John Shaft. That’s a compliment.

-ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST! Already, the soundtrack for this show beats the modern WWE. Compare this to Tiffany’s “I’M INSATIABLE!” that sounds like something Miley Cyrus will write when she’s 21 and counting down the days until she gets out of Matawan.

-See, now here’s a good basic match: the charismatic face and the treacherously determined heel. Valentine gives himself up to the cheer spots (dog headbutts) and then takes control with torturous holds to allow JYD to sell pain to the fans. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

-This moment of self-righteousness brought to you by Vitamin Water! TRY IT!

-Jimmy Hart, managing Valentine, just took a WICKED bump, getting knocked off the apron and landing backfirst on the concrete. He’s like Jack Evans, except he can cut a promo. Yeah, I went there.

-Cheap ending, as Valentine uses the ropes to score the pin, but it gets overturned when Tito Santana (dressed for a night at the discotheque, looking to score some E perhaps) reports that Valentine cheated. So the match is restarted, but Valentine walks off, weirded out by Tito’s shirt and slacks. I’m with the Hammer, who retains the IC Gold.

-Up next, Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff challenge for the WWF Tag Team Titles against the US Express, who are two “fine young athloots”. Hayes said it, not me. Mike Rotunda and Barry Windham look splendid in their polo shirts, while Rotunda’s promo is basically him saying “When I become a tax man, I’m going after Barry’s dad and brother for counterfeiting”. Okay, he didn’t say it, but it’s my rant, so get off my cloud here.

-The Express have “Born in the USA”, which is a GREAT theme to have. If you’re Sean Penn.

-Also of note, Volkoff sings the Soviet National Anthem, giving the camera crew a chance to pan the crowd, showing enough bad perms to fill one of my old Health books. Did you ever go through your health book and laugh with your friends at the bad clothes and hair in the pictures? You didn’t? Liar.

-Solid match, as any match where Sheik tries to sell pain is perversely entertaining. After a cane shot to Windham, the foreigners steal the gold. Post-match, manager Freddie Blassie claims that he never even brought a cane to the ring. He’s immediately offered a position in the Reagan Administration.

-Time now for the $15,000 Bodyslam Challenge, between Andre the Giant and Big John Studd. Great bit from the pre-promo, where Studd and Heenan are showing off the money, and Okerlund tries to paw through it about 7-8 times. I never would have guessed that he would have run an exploitative hotline in WCW, would you?

-I always liked Andre because he hardly sold for anyone. He would just ignore the worked punches and such in a subtle fashion. Even a guy the size of Studd, Andre just wouldn’t give an inch. It should be noted that Studd is wearing Wilt Chamberlain’s smoking jacket in the ring this afternoon. It’s a good look for him.

-Punch. Chop. Punch. Kick. Punch. Chop. Kick. Chop. Punch. They need to come out with a Dance Dance Revolution game where the options on the stomp mat are “punch, chop, kick, and sell”. Ta da! You’ve just worked an Andre match from later in his career!

-The amount of bear hugs and facelocks in the match, along with the strikes, make this into a predecessor for UFC. The only difference is that Ventura doesn’t come off as a low life jocksniffer like Joe Rogan.

-Andre catches Studd’s foot, and I swore that Studd would try for an enzuigiri. That’s what I got for watching this at 2 AM.

-Andre slams Studd and begins to throw the money to the crowd. I think WWE should employ this practice after every lackluster PPV event, just as a show of faith. You can Vince do it himself while performing that classic “fake laugh” of his, just for effect. After the match, Andre cuts a promo with Mean Gene where he sounds like a heavily inebriated Scott Hall. In other words, he sounded just like Scott Hall.

-Women’s title time, as Leilani Kai defends against Wendi Richter, who has Maria’s current make-up scheme going. Too bad that she doesn’t have Maria’s looks. It’s amazing how mall hair can make any woman look hideous. Not that Wendi had a chance anyway. According to Wikipedia, Wendi was 23 here. REALLY?!? Did she develop a taste for Old Crow when she was 11?

-For the record, Kai doesn’t look much better. I thought it was Jamie Farr at first. Kai assures us that she’ll have her “hand in Victor” after the match. I’m supposed to have a witty joke here?

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-“OH GIRLS…..JUST WANNA HAVE FUH-HUN!!!!!”. Don’t EVER try to cover this again, Miley.

-If you’ve seen one women’s match from the 1980’s, you’ve seen em all. Hairdrag! Awkward bodyslam! Kick! Look at the cellulite jiggle! For the record, I’m not trying to sound misogynistic here. Even Gloria Steinem can’t defend this drek.

-Go figure, the match ends with a bad cross body and a nearly-botched rollover, as Richter gets her title back, and allows Cyndi Lauper to cut a promo that was at least coherent, thus putting Lita to shame.

-Let’s just move on

-Main event time, and here are the celebrities: guest ring announcer Billy Martin (booooooed by the fans of the team he MANAGED to the WORLD SERIES), guest timekeeper Liberace (why is he even here?), the Rockettes (outpopping David Sammartino), and guest outside enforcer Muhammad Ali (who probably would have declined had it not been for Larry Holmes scrambling his brains). Pat Patterson is the inside official (THAT’S why Liberace’s here).

-Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Paul Orndorff, along with Cowboy Bob Orton, are led to the ring by a Scottish bagpipe precession. Men in kilts? How much leeway DID Patterson get for booking appearances for this show? Meanwhile, Orndorff looks overly tense here. That’s like saying “Michael Cole sounds utterly clueless here”.


-Hulk Hogan and Mr. T hit the ring along with Jimmy Snuka, as it’s turning into a madhouse. Ever wonder why WWF took off and the other territories didn’t? Just look at the pageantry and showmanship on display here. If you don’t find any of this to be good fun, then you’re either a boring person or a liar. Or both, like Paul Roma.

-Mr T (wearing some nifty pajama pants) actually shows off some “mad skillz” as the kids say. He really missed his calling in wrestling, executing the very basics. With his charisma, tell me that you don’t turn him heel and pit him against Hogan at WrestleMania 2 for the title. MONEY!

-Speaking of money, Piper was the greatest heel of all time. To hell with Ric Flair.

-Hip toss! Scoop slam! Mr. T’s one move up on Kevin Nash!

-Barring the aforementioned heel turn, Hogan and T could have easily faced Volkoff and Sheik for the tag titles. Tell me that’s not a money idea. Even better, years later, the shoot interviews where Sheik threatens to humble “that no good disrespectful punk Mr T” would be priceless. See? You’re marking out right now.

-After a miscommunication, Orton accidentally clobbers Orndorff with his cast and Hogan scores the pin. Lesson learned: it takes interference to beat Paul Orndorff, even if you’re the Hulkster. Vader couldn’t do it, so what chance does the Hulkster have?

-Afterward, the faces celebrate in the locker room, and Snuka cuts a promo in English. Truly, a banner night for all.

-So what happened? WrestleMania helped pave the way for pay per view, helped modernize the industry, and brought wrestling to a national level that led to a lot of good as well as bad, much like the story of any great rock band. Can this show be any better?


-CYNIC SAYS: Every WrestleMania is recommended viewing, but this one gets a bigger pass, since it was the first one out of the womb. While much of the action is primitive and awkward, it’ll give you a great perspective on how things came to be. A staggering 24 future Hall of Famers appeared at this event, and it’s a nice primer for younger fans to get a sense of wrestling history.

Rock n Wrestling, indeed.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at and He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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Justin Henry
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at and He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.


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