I recently posted a podcast interview with Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer about the legacy of WrestleMania III. For those of you who were unable to hear the podcast or didn’t have time, below is the complete transcript of the interview, during which Meltzer discusess why so many people remember the Savage/Steamboat match, how Rock vs. Austin compares with Hogan vs. Andre, and why the often touted 93,173 attendance figure is wrong.
Scott Wallask: Hi everyone, this is Scott Wallask from the Boston Garden Balcony blog, the No. 1 place on the web for WWF 1980’s wrestling and memories of some of the great matches from the old Boston Garden. In just a few weeks, we’ll hit the date of March 29, 2012, which will be the 25th anniversary of WrestleMania III. To talk about this event with us, I’m happy to welcome Dave Meltzer, the publisher and editor of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Thanks very much, Dave, for being with us today.
Dave Meltzer: No problem. My pleasure.
Wallask: So, I’ve seen all the WrestleManias, and I’ll be watching John Cena fight the Rock this year. But to me, at least, I still think WrestleMania III is the best Mania ever. And I realize I may be a bit nostalgic about that. So, I’m wondering from your perspective, where do you think WrestleMania III ranks in terms of importance?
Meltzer: Pretty high in terms of importance. I think that the modern WrestleManias, not last year, but a lot of the ones in recent years blow it away just because the mentality is completely changed. The wrestlers who are in WrestleMania now grew up with the idea that WrestleMania is the big, like a larger than life event. It took a generation for that to happen.
The wrestler who were in WrestleMania III, it was like a big show, but they’d been in big shows before. And the meaning to the wrestlers, it was, “Well, I get paid more than any other show,” but it was nothing compared to the meaning to the guys now. And it’s not like they were training for WrestleMania back then or they had it in their mind that they were out there to steal the show, or have the best match on the show, which a lot of guys that are given the opportunity now will have.
I mean, in WrestleMania III, which was a good show, Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat was a great match, you know, no doubt. It was the best match of the first, I don’t know, 10, 12, 13 WrestleManias. Aside from that I don’t think there was any match that was really anything special, as far as a blow away match. It’s not like some of the shows where you have five or six matches that are really, really good. This didn’t have that at all.
I think WrestleMania I still is the most important, because if the promotion of WrestleMania didn’t work, if WrestleMania I didn’t work, there wouldn’t be a WrestleMania 2. And WrestleMania III was pretty important, and I think in hindsight, the WrestleMania with Mike Tyson, and WrestleMania 13, only because of the Steve Austin babyface turn.
Meltzer: You know, that was not a well bought WrestleMania. But historically I think it’s important. I think the one with Mike Tyson was really important because that turned WrestleMania from like 300,000 buys to 700,000 buys, at the level it’s been. The one in 2001 with Rock and Austin, I think was huge. The Trump one obviously was the biggest, but I don’t think historically is the biggest even though it made the most money. So those would be the big ones: I, III, 13, XVII were real big, and maybe what’s the other one, maybe XIV. To me those are probably the most important.
Wallask: You have mentioned, of course, Savage and Steamboat from WrestleMania III, and you know there have been lots of other great in-ring matches since then at WrestleMania. So why do you think that Savage and Steamboat sticks with people all these years later?
Meltzer: Because there weren’t as many of that caliber, they didn’t blur together. Like I said, when you talk about until really, to me, the Bret Hart/Austin match, which was in 1997 or ’96 — until that match, I don’t think that there was a WrestleMania match that really could compare with Savage and Steamboat. I think some might say Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels, but I wouldn’t agree with that, especially having been at that one live. It was a good match, but I wouldn’t put it at the same level. So, you were talking about something that was, from 1987 to 1997, was clearly the greatest match in WrestleMania history.
Then from there, there’s a lot of matches since 1997 in the last 14, 15 years that have been really, really good, but they don’t stand out because those shows had other good matches. So, I think that’s why, and plus it was the first match at WrestleMania that was the equivalent to a great NWA match honestly, which WWF, I don’t want to say they never had, but they never had at WrestleMania until, again. the Bred Hart/Steve Austin match.
Wallask: I totally agree with that NWA comparison there. Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant fought in the main event at WrestleMania III, and the work and the match pretty much sucked. But for me, I see the replay and I see the crowd explode for Hogan when he slams Andre, and it still kind of gives me chills to watch it. What do you think that the Rock and John Cena need to do this year at WrestleMania XXVIII to get the crowd into their match to that degree?
Meltzer: Well, it’s almost impossible because you’re talking about a different era, and you’ve got to remember that you had two guys larger than life who have been protected forever. I mean, Hogan, when he came back at the end of ‘83, and this is already now early ‘87, had not lost one match by pin, submission, or anything like that. Andre nobody had ever seen lose; he lost in foreign countries or he lost in the ‘70’s at a house show here and there for the Sheik or something, that nobody even remembers because nobody was aware.
So, as far as most people who were around, Andre has been 15 years unbeaten and Hogan had been four years unbeaten. So, it would be like that was like Ali/ Frazer. With John Cena losing on several pay per views each year and the Rock being an actor coming back, that thing where you had two guys where nobody could perceive either losing? The pinfall was big, you had the bodyslam thing had been well built up. I mean, when was the last time — I’m trying to remember when was the last anyone had seen Andre slammed. Hogan did it in the territory seven years earlier, 1980, when they did the Hogan/Andre thing.
So, you’re talking a large percentage of that fan based had no idea that ever happened and in fact — and I’m sure you remember — when they built up the Hogan/Andre match, part of the build-up of that match was pretending that whole 1980s period never existed, it was the first time they ever wrestled, and things like that. So, nobody had ever seen Andre slammed, nobody had ever seen Andre beaten. It was like the culmination of a giant, long story. You can’t do that. That’s one of the reasons why that match is so well remembered, because the circumstances leading up to that match were something that will probably never be duplicated because guys don’t go in the main events for four years because it just doesn’t happen.
Wallask: Finally, last question here. They often mention the attendance of WrestleMania III was 93,173 and they’ve really hammered that number for years. However you reported in the Observer many years back, that the real attendance was closer to 78,000 or so. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Meltzer: Sure. I remember — it’s funny, because at that time in ’87, I was getting all the gates of all the WWF shows from WWE. And they would say like, “Blah, blah, blah, blah” and they gave me the gate of $1,599,000. And I said, “What was the real attendance?” And I just remember it’s funny because they just said there were 2,300 freebies. But I was never actually told 93,173, and it was sort of like, well, what was the real number. And just kind of the subject was changed. So, I just figured 93,173 was probably the real number. Nobody else had ever questioned it. It wasn’t like anybody came up with a, you know — like now, now every year at WrestleMania they announce a number and six weeks later I get the real number, and it’s 8,000, 10,000, 12,000 different. They make up the number to have the record for the building, even though usually they don’t have the record for the building because they got the big stage. For a football game, you actually can get more people for a football game than you can for a WrestleMania, than if you have a Final Four or something like that at some of these indoor stadiums, where you don’t have the big screens or anything. You draw out far, far more people.
So, the point is, yeah, at that time I didn’t know and it really wasn’t until, God, I don’t know seven or eight years later that I remember this. There had been, and I don’t know if it was E! or somebody who did a True Hollywood Story on Hulk Hogan. And Hogan was out there talking about 93,000, and I got a phone call while I’m watching the show from Zane Bresloff, who promoted that show. And he just goes — and he and Hogan are tight, they were good friends — and he just goes, “God, Hogan probably really believes that number.” And I go, “Isn’t that the real number?” And he goes, “No, of course not!” Because when I was getting numbers from WWE, the numbers, even for the indoor WrestleManias, the numbers that they have on their computers and the numbers that they announce are always different.
But in ‘87, as I told you, they kind of like, in the conversation, I think one of the things is that they didn’t want me to know that number, so they didn’t tell me that number. So, that was my first time, seven or eight years later, because Hogan was already on WCW by then, so it’s probably ‘95, I’m thinking — maybe ‘94, ‘95, ‘96. And he just goes, “No, no the real number is 78,000.” And I go, “Really?” And he goes, “Yeah, we made up 93,000,” because, whatever it was, the Rolling Stones had drawn like 87,000 or something like that. Maybe the Rolling Stones was after it, but they knew it was coming.
But there was the pope and the Rolling Stones and them, so they’ve created a number that neither of those groups could have and nobody could have because you couldn’t get that many people in the building. So it was a number that was created before the show ever started and it was a number — I mean, they did sell out. The sellout was real. And the truth of the matter is, that if the building was big enough to where they could put 93,000 in, they really would have. But you could say that about a lot of WrestleManias. Of all the WrestleManias, the one that would have put the most people in the building was the one at the Astrodome with Rock and Austin, because that one, they sold out every ticket as soon as they put tickets on sale. Whereas this WrestleMania, you know, they might have sold 20,000 tickets the first week at the Pontiac Silverdome, the WrestleMania with Rock and Austin, they sold like, I don’t know what it was, like maybe 50,000 tickets the first day. You can’t even compare the two. That one would have sold the most.
But the Astrodome was smaller than the Silverdome, so they didn’t get as many people in. But anyway, since then I’ve talked to many people there, and I’ve talked to Vince about it once. And he said, “The numbers that we give you are the real numbers, and the numbers that we say on television are for entertainment purposes only.” And that was the answer. So, it’s for entertainment purposes only, that number, so they could claim the record. You know for a long time they would claim the largest indoor, whatever, the largest indoor sport crowd in the history of the world or something. So, they claimed that for a while and everything. But that was the story behind that. I mean the fact is, like I said, they probably could have got, I don’t know how many people, maybe a 100,000 there. They probably could have gotten 120,000 there maybe for the Austin match. But who knows? No one really knows because they filled up the stadium, that’s all you can say. And how many extra they would have gotten, no one really knows.
Wallask: Well, I think WrestleMania XXVIII has potential to be memorable with the Rock and Cena, so we’ll see how it compares after to WrestleMania III and some of the other great shows of the past. Dave, thank you so much for your thoughts. I hope the Observer keeps going strong.
Meltzer: Thank you very much.