From The Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, MI
March 29, 1987
How do you know when something is great? True, “great” is a subjective concept; what is considered great by one might be a putrid pile of refuse to another. There is no definitive answer to what “great” actually is.
If I had to define the word, however, I would define “great” as “something that stands the test of time.” When people of all walks of life, different economic backgrounds, and are possessing varied tastes, when all of them come to some sort of agreement on something having an intrinsic importance, then I would consider that “great”.
Actually, there are two good reasons.
When you have an event in which the two marquee matches are of different quality (one a technical classic, the other a slow-paced brawl that is the biggest money-making match ever), but are often spoken of in the same reverent tones, then you have a winner on your hands.
No American wrestling event had ever been presented before a crowd of its size: 93,173 was the number given officially, though dissenters will say it was closer to 78,000. Regardless, it’s an impressive figure that adds to the event’s mythic reputation.
In addition to the main courses that were sure to entice, you also had the impending retirement of a wrestling icon, one that had served as antagonist for many. This time, he would be walking out the door a hero, and the very fans who booed and jeered him with little restraint were now saddened to see him walking into the glow of the silver screen.
12 matches in all filled the slate of Wrestlemania III, and a few were certainly bigger than others.
Vince McMahon would be the first voice of the night to be heard. The WWE’s fearless leader addressed the sea of humanity at the onset in order to introduce Aretha Franklin, the show’s opening songstress. In subsequent interviews, McMahon has always made a point of sharing the surreal experience of feeling his father’s presence in the ring with him. Three years after Vincent J’s demise, McMahon was still coming to grips with not only losing his father, but with the slight separation between the two at the end. While both men disagreed on the direction the company should go, as Vince’s father didn’t like the “national” expansion concept, Vince sensing his dad’s presence was seemingly a watershed moment for his psyche, as he officially felt vindicated in taking WWE global.
Even if Vince is telling the truth about his father’s spiritual apparition confronting him, it may not have even been necessary. WrestleMania III had the perfect build up, with story arcs and character twists that would become a standard going forward for the sports entertainment powerhouse.
The big money draw, of course, was Hulk Hogan defending his WWF Championship of three years against Andre the Giant, his former friend who, after prodding from Bobby Heenan and Jesse Ventura, coldly challenged his comrade for the title, making it clear that he felt Hogan had been ducking him. No further story turns were needed, as the prospect of Hogan and Andre colliding would be enough to sell even the biggest naysayer on viewing the show.
In an era where the densest rube believed that Hogan’s gold was in jeopardy against the likes of Killer Khan, Kamala, and other career midcarders, the very notion that Hogan would have to face the “undefeated” Andre, who many fans had never seen taken off of his feet once, threw the outcome in doubt more than any other big match to date.
It’s possible that the WWF could have proceeded with even a bare bones undercard, but instead, the production would bloat with a bevy of delectable asides. The most notable of these matches was Randy Savage defending his WWF Intercontinental Championship against Ricky Steamboat, whom he had injured months prior with a dastardly assault. Many expected their grudge match for the gold to be a highlight of a great show, but nobody expected it to establish WWE’s main event style for years to come.
As for Rowdy Roddy Piper, Wrestlemania III was to be his swan song. Going out after a hair vs. hair match with Adrian Adonis, win or lose, Piper was to chase the Hollywood dream. A part in sci-fi thriller “They Live” would soon be “Hot Rod’s” and fans who had long hated Piper for his vile words and acts against Hulk Hogan, Jimmy Snuka, and others (which may have drawn cheers from another portion of the audience) would be seeing him possibly for the final time, and ruing Madison Avenue for plucking their caustic Scotsman away from them.
Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura would provide their usual top-notch commentary work for the event, and both would be joined by baseball legend Bob Uecker and entertainment journalist Mary Hart. As mentioned earlier, legendary diva (not the wrestling kind) Aretha Franklin would kick off the monumental occasion with her rendition of “America the Beautiful”.
The Cam-Am Connection def. Don Muraco/Bob Orton in 5:37
(Good opener that set the tone for the day; fast paced and, while formulaic, what’s wrong with a formula when it works?)
Billy Jack Haynes fought Hercules to a double count out in 7:44
(The storyline on display here was that both men argued over who had the superior full nelson. Kinda lame by modern standards, but it was a good match that actually had a backstory, which is rare for 1987. Here’s a hearty “BOMBSHELL TONIGHT” for Billy Jack)
Hillbilly Jim, Little Beaver, and Haiti Kid def. King Kong Bundy, Lord Littlebrook, and Little Tokyo in 4:22
(Of note: Bundy squashing Little Beaver, and the fact that all four midgets each have one more Wrestlemania match to their credit than Shane Helms)
Loser Must Bow to the Winner: Harley Race def. Junkyard Dog in 3:23
(Good thing this was short. Dog was about as motivated at this point as Charlie Sheen after three days in a hotel suite with a BAC of .75. Even his post match chair shot was sad)
The Dream Team def. The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers in 4:03
(Weirdest face turn ever: Brutus Beefcake becomes a face when the other heels leave him behind as they get on the motorized cart. And you thought Randy Orton’s 2004 face turn made no sense)
Hair vs. Hair: Rowdy Roddy Piper def. Adrian Adonis in 6:54
(Average match, funny comedy, insane crowd, and satisfactory post-match with Adonis getting shorn. Then a fan celebrates with Piper and promptly gets stomped by security. Didn’t detract from the moment though; in fact, I feel like it added to it)
The Hart Foundation/Danny Davis def. The British Bulldogs/Tito Santana in 8:52
(An underrated gem; Davis’ heel tactics pissed the crowd off to no end, and he took an absolute beating when enough heat was built up. Note to independent spot monkeys: you can main event on heat alone without taking insane dives. It’s all a matter of subtlety and conviction.)
Butch Reed def. Koko B Ware in 3:39
(The fact that there is one Hall of Famer involved in this match and it WASN’T Slick angers me. Let’s just move on)
WWF Intercontinental: Ricky Steamboat def. Macho Man Randy Savage in 14:35 to win the title
(Match of the year, match of the decade, whatever you wanna call it; Savage and Steamboat cut an incredible pace, and never once looked awkward or contrived. WWF matches were generally slower and more dull until these two showed everyone the way. If you’ve never seen this match, we cannot be friends until you do)
The Honky Tonk Man def. Jake Roberts in 7:04
(Decent match that was given little chance after Savage and Steamboat stole the show. However, a smart psychologist like Roberts, and a natural heat magnet like Honky did good for themselves. Plus, Alice Cooper was there. Good times!)
The Iron Sheik/Nikolai Volkoff def. The Killer Bees by disqualification in 5:44
(Sadly, Brian Blair didn’t get humbled here. It almost happened, though)
WWF World Heavyweight: Hulk Hogan def. Andre the Giant in 12:01
(The most famous match in wrestling history, and the reason WWF packed so many fans in the stands, as well as on their couches. It may not be a technical classic by any means, but it’s certainly the “worst five star match” in wrestling history. Yes, I’m calling it a five star match. Those who want to argue, I give you Vince McMahon’s money vault as exhibit A)
WrestleMania III has found many of its highlights plastered into highlight reels and video montages as time has gone by. Hogan bodyslamming Andre the Giant is forever embedded into the subconscious of any fan who saw it live. It’s no surprise that, twenty years later, at WrestleMania XXIII, the ending video package spliced together highlights of both shows that were of similar circumstance.
Simply put, WWE decided in 2007 that to make its biggest show of the year a success, it would juxtapose it with one of their all time greatest spectacles.
Drawing $10 million in pay-per-view revenue alone, Vince McMahon’s greatest creation to date only encouraged him to increase his empire. As the territories died around him, McMahon decided to punch the NWA in the throat with Survivor Series in November and a free Royal Rumble in January 1988 that would both be matched up with Jim Crockett’s pay-per-view failures.
If anything, WrestleMania III was so successful, that it increased McMahon’s bravado and swagger. After stepping on the little guys en route to national success, McMahon was now bull-rushing the other big dogs in NWA and AWA.
WrestleMania III made Vince McMahon richer, stronger, and more determined than ever.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
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