On Sunday, WWE presents its biggest show of the year, WrestleMania 33! But 30 years ago today, the event that turned WrestleMania into a cultural phenomenon happened. It was bigger, it was better, it was BADDER!
WrestleMania III – March 29, 1987 – Pontiac Silverdome, Pontiac, MIchigan
Vince McMahon has spent 19 years trying to top this show in terms of attendance and hype. Last year, he beat the attendance, but he may never beat the hype. Whether or not you believe the 93,000-plus number announced as attending the event, you can’t deny that the proverbial “sea of humanity” in the Pontiac Silverdome was an impressive sight.
So what was the draw for that impressive sight? Mostly, it was the main event: WWF Champion Hulk Hogan facing off against the biggest challenge since he won the title three years earlier: the 7-foot-5-inch, 525-pound Andre the Giant. How could Hogan possibly defeat his monstrous former friend, a man who spent his career winning battle royals and handicap matches? The WWF made a lot of money off the people who wanted to see if it could be done.
In the end, the champion managed to lift the Giant off his feet and slam him to the ground, finally hitting him with the big leg drop for the win. If it wasn’t the first official “WrestleMania Moment,” it is certainly one of the biggest and most important. It was the slam heard ’round the world, and it turned WrestleMania into a juggernaut.
This was the first WrestleMania I watched live as it happened, sitting in the TV room of my great-uncle’s house. While I was a huge Hulkamaniac back in the day, it wasn’t the main event I was talking about with my friends the next day. I was raving about the Intercontinental Title match. Which leads us into…
Best Match: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, WWF Intercontinental Championship. Easily the best match of the show – and of the 33 matches that have comprised WrestleMania history up to this point. The action was fast-paced, it told a great story and Savage and Steamboat had me at the edge of my seat with every arm drag, body slam and pinfall attempt. It was the first opportunity for a 7-year-old me to appreciate work rate.
Worst Match: “King” Harley Race vs. Junkyard Dog, loser must bow. At WrestleMania 2, JYD was in the second best match on the show. But there was no one to save this match from being a clunker. The only thing comes close is the Bundy and Jim with midget madness match, but even that had a perverse comedy to it, especially with Bob Uecker on commentary. Ueker and Mary Hart were amazing celebrity guests who enhanced the show whenever they appeared. Maybe including one of them in this match would have been helpful, but then mayber Uecker wouldn’t have been chasing after the Fabulous Moolah (who was in Race’s corner).
His (Not-So) Last Match: After tussling with Mr. T at the first two WrestleManias, WWF fans started to get behind the villainous “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, so when he came back from an injury and fans were cheering him, the WWF ran with it and set him up in a feud against “The Adorable One,” Adrian Adonis. Piper was seeking revenge for the attack, but because he was off to Hollywood to try and become a movie star (seriously, watch They Live), WrestleMania III was going to be his last match. Adonis added the twist – the loser would have his head shaved. Adonis bounced around the ring like a pinball as Piper put him to sleep and the newly-turned Barber, Brutus Beefcake, came in to shave Adonis’ head. Piper would be back, but you only have your first retirement match once.
Missed Opportunity: They are few and far between on this show but I would have loved having a straight up Hart Foundation vs. British Bulldogs tag team title match on this show. Danny Davis and Tito Santana played their parts perfectly (and the match atmosphere again was enhanced by Uecker and Hart joining Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura on commentary), but I still always see them as unnecessary additions.
Setting the Standard: It’s amazing how well put together this event is. All 12 matches flow perfectly. The wrestling is in no way overshadowed by the celebrity guests (cutting down from 17 in 1986 to four – Uecker, Hart, Aretha Franklin and Alice Cooper) and the announcing from Monsoon and Ventura was on point.
Ranking The WrestleMania III Matches (winners in bold)
1 – “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat – Intercontinental Title Match
2 – Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant – WWF Title Match
3 – Hart Foundation and Danny Davis vs. British Bulldogs and Tito Santana
4 – “Rowdy” Roddy Piper vs. Adrian Adonis – Hair vs. Hair Match
5 – Rick Martel and Tom Zenk vs. Don Muraco and “Cowboy” Bob Orton
6 – Honky Tonk Man vs. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
7 – Billy Jack Haynes vs. Hercules (double countout)
8 – The Rougeau Brothers vs. Greg Valentine & Brutus Beefcake
9 – Koko B. Ware vs. “The Natural” Butch Reed
10 – Killer Bees vs. Iron Shiek and Nikolai Volkoff
11 – King Kong Bundy, Little Tokyo and Lord Littlebrook vs. Hillbilly Jim, Haiti Kid and Little Beaver
12 – “King” Harley Race vs. Junkyard Dog – Loser Must Bow
Parts of this article originally appeared at Scott’s Blog of Doom and Place to be Nation, as part of the WrestleMania Top 10 series.