So after the bad sequel that was WrestleMania 2, some kind of rebound was needed. Not that they were in trouble or anything, but ‘Mania 2 did not age well as a show and was surpassed by house shows and pretty much everything the NWA was doing that year. As 1987 was coming around there were three really huge programs going on in the company: Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff for Hogan’s World Title, Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat fighting over the Intercontinental Title, and Roddy Piper doing battle with Adrian Adonis. Hogan-Orndorff wound down and on the surface there was a real question as to Hogan would face at ‘Mania III. But Vince had it all figured out a while back. The plan was for Hogan to face literally the largest man on the roster, the legendary Andre the Giant. Hogan had pretty much beaten everyone else up to that point and Andre was getting older so it was now or never time to pull the trigger on it. We were at Peak Hulkamania here from drawing power to overall popularity (people like me hadn’t gotten tired of him yet) to strength of opponent. The card had 12 matches as had been customary so far.
The Can-Am Connection vs Don Muraco and Bob Orton w/Mr. Fuji
Short match, about five minutes and change. The Can-Am Connection was Rick Martel and Tom Zenk, the WWF’s answer to heartthrob tag teams like the Rock n Roll Express. Muraco and Orton were two veterans who’d recently started teaming together. This was more or less a showcase for Martel and Zenk, their first televised match against guys who weren’t jobbers. This should have been five minutes longer; it was well executed but it was too short to go through the usual pattern that tag matches got through and no one looked tired enough to get pinned at the end.
Hercules w/ Bobby Heenan vs Billy Jack Haynes
This was billed as the battle of the Full Nelson; Haynes had been using it as finisher forever and Hercules started using it recently (to set up the angle for this match, of course). Pretty good power match between two musclemen, lots of hard slams, suplexes, clotheslines. Seven minutes was about right for that kind of affair. Both attempted the Full Nelson at different points during the match, but Haynes locked it in a second time outside the ring and both guys got counted out. Post-match Heenan distracts Haynes and Hercules attacks him with the chain he carried to the ring, busting him open pretty good. As much as I complain about short matches from this era this one was done right. I don’t like the double countout finish but that was to set up house show matches between the two over the next few months.
Mixed Tag Team Match: Hilbilly Jim, the Haiti Kid, and Little Beaver vs King Kong Bundy, Little Tokyo, and Lord Littlebrook
I didn’t watch this. The ‘Little’ means that yes, we had little people mixed with….uhh……..regular size wrestlers? This was a true ‘how the mighty have fallen’ moment for Bundy, as he was in the main event of Wrestlemania 2 just a year earlier. Jim’s team wins by DQ after three minutes when Bundy slammed then dropped an elbow on Little Beaver…..ugh. There was no need for this match on the show. They could have easily given more time to some other matches, like the opener.
Junkyard Dog vs King Harley Race w/Bobby Heenan
There was a special stipulation for this match that the loser had to bow to the winner afterwards. Another short match (four minutes and change), but JYD got all of his limited offense in so I guess it was enough. The ending was really abrupt; JYD got distracted by Heenan then Race hit him with a suplex for a three count that seemed a little off, as if JYD was supposed to kick out and mistimed it. After the match JYD half bows then hits Race with a chair. Hey, why not?
Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake w/Dino Bravo and Johnny Valiant vs The Rougeau Brothers
You had three good workers in there and Brutus Beefcake. Valentine and Beefcake were former tag team champs, and this match would be their final one together as they’d break up here and Beefcake would turn face. Match was short but they were able to tell a full story in four minutes so it was all good. Beefcake would get left behind in the ring after the match as the rest of the crew got angry with him for making a mistake during the match.
Rowdy Roddy Piper vs Adrian Adonis w/Jimmy Hart
This was the culmination to one of the hottest feuds of the previous six months. Piper had gone away to do a movie then came back to see his Piper’s Pit talk show segment replaced by the Flower Shop with Adrian Adonis. That didn’t go over well with him then Adonis attacked him, injuring his leg. Piper came back weeks later and took a baseball bat to the Flower Shop set, reestablishing Piper’s Pit in the process. Piper announced he was retiring after this match, win or lose. The match was a Hair vs Hair match, and the loser was to be shaved bald. This was a very good match for the time it got. Lots of crazy brawling and timely interference from Hart on behalf of Adonis. The finish saw Brutus Beefcake coming down to help Piper (as payback for Adonis accidentally cutting his hair weeks earlier). Piper wins, the crowd goes crazy and……some guy runs in the ring and gets taken down by security. The haircut stipulation was for all intents and purposes a big setup for Beefcake becoming Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake afterwards. Piper was so over it was crazy, and his crowd reactions rivaled Hogan’s. Great send off for Hot Rod until he would come back (of course!) two years later.
The Hart Foundation and Danny Davis w/Jimmy Hart vs The British Bulldogs and Tito Santana
Davis was a disgraced referee turned wrestler; the hook to this match was that as a referee he cost the Bulldogs and Santana championships with bad officiating. The Harts were tag team champions – would have been really nice to have them defend the titles at the biggest show of the year. Longest match of the show up to this point (eight minutes and change). The finish came when Davis clocked one of the Bulldogs in the head with Hart’s megaphone and pinned him. Good match for what it was; the Harts and the Bulldogs could have a good match in their sleep at this point.
Butch Reed w/Slick vs Koko B. Ware
We have two black guys who aren’t doing anything……hey, put em in a match against each other!! Wrestling promoter logic up until just a few years ago. Both guys had been signed away from Bill Watts Mid-South promotion over the past year and were here to hurt Watts’ more than help Vince. Reeds manager Slick is someone I’d rather not talk about. Short match, three minutes and some change. Koko was still using ‘The Bird’ by the Time as his entrance music, and to my surprise the network did not dub over it like they did on all the NWA/WCW shows. Given his propensity for finding people that used his music and shutting them down it’s shocking that Prince never got to the WWE for this. Anyhow, basic brawl with a few dropkicks from Ware for good measure. Reed wins dirty….yawn.
Intercontinental Title Match: Randy Savage (c) vs Ricky Steamboat
The crowd was HOT for this one. You’ve probably heard all the accolades for this one: best match of the night (true), match of the year (I don’t think so), best Wrestlemania match ever (for a long time, yes). Savage and Steamboat are two of the best ever and they put together a classic. The only problem with this match is that time has given us many matches that have surpassed it as of today. For the work plus the significance it’s still an all-time WrestleMania match, though. Watch the show just for this if nothing else.
Honky Tonk Man w/Jimmy Hart vs Jake ‘the Snake’ Roberts
Roberts had recently turned face, while Honky Tonk Man had gone heel. HTM attacked Jake a month or so before to set up the match. Jake was accompanied to the ring by Alice Cooper. Decent back and forth match, HTM wins by cheating. After the match, Jake chases HTM away then Cooper helps him put the snake Damian on Hart before he runs away, too.
Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff vs The Killer Bees
OK, I skipped this one. Sorry guys. Hacksaw Duggan hit the Iron Sheik with his 2×4 and the Bees got DQ’ed.
World Title Match: Hulk Hogan (c) vs Andre the Giant
When I say this show was Peak Hogan, this match is a huge part of that. In just 12 minutes, he and Andre put on a highly entertaining, back and forth struggle that emphasized Hogan’s strength and how Andre was the opponent who put it to the test better than anyone. Andre was slowing down but was still mobile and flexible enough to hold up his end of the match. This was probably the last good singles match he was in for his career; before too long he’d be down to choking people and squashing them in the corner. Andre’s size helped make his pretty basic offense look more than credible against Hogan. And what was really good was that they didn’t fall into the face dominates/heel takes over/face makes a rally/finish formula. This was truly a back and forth with both guys laying the lumber to each other. And the build towards Hogan finally being able to knock Andre down was great storytelling. No this wasn’t a workrate extravaganza, but it was as good a big man match as one could ask for.
Good show. Some matches could have been left off, but there were a lot of good entertaining ones as well. A lot of the show looked skip worthy on paper but wasn’t bad if you actually sat and watched it through. Compared to WrestleMania V this show felt a lot less like it was preprogrammed; I remember there being legit doubt as to how the main event would go and they even went through the trouble of making a bigger belt for Andre should he win and showing it on TV to spread doubt. This show was the 1980s Vince show format at it’s best, where the short match times did not keep good in ring stories from being told and the main event was the right mix of entertainment and skill. Definitely worth checking out.