30 years ago: The big matches and main event at the first WrestleMania

Let’s continue my look back 30 years ago to the original WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden by running down the big matches on March 31, 1985. Please check my prior posts in this series about the build-up for WrestleMania and a review of the preliminary matches on the supercard.

  • Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik defeat Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo to win the WWF Tag Team Title – The match was short, but all action and was probably the best in-ring performance of this Mania. Captain Lou Albano accompanied the babyfaces to the ring, while Classy Freddie Blassie managed Sheik and Volkoff. Jesse “The Body” Ventura, on color commentary with Gorilla Monsoon, actually claimed Volkoff was a former Olympian. There were some great, simple spots in the match, including Sheik accidentally dropkicking Volkoff (I’m not sure I ever saw Sheik do another dropkick since then) and a high backdrop by Rotundo. Fans at the time buzzed about the ending, when Sheik broke Blassie’s cane over Windham’s back, leading to the title change. Interesting to note that Rotundo performed in the original WrestleMania, and this year his son, Bray Wyatt, faces the Undertaker at WrestleMania 31.
  • Andre the Giant defeats Big John Studd in the $15,000 bodyslam challenge – The rules were simple: If Andre slammed Studd, he would win $15,000 in cash in a duffel bag; if Studd wasn’t slammed, Andre had to retire. As you might imagine, this was the typical slow match these two often did, with the prerequisite rest hold bearhug from Andre. The slam came out of nowhere, and then Andre attempted to throw the cash to the crowd, but Studd’s manager, Bobby Heenan, ran up and stole the bag from Andre. The crowd went nuts at the end of the match after getting the slam they wanted.

  • Wendi Richter defeats Lelani Kai to win the WWF Women’s Title – Kai, who was managed by the Fabulous Moolah, won the belt the prior month at MSG. Cyndi Lauper managed Richter, and Lauper’s presence on this show was a big part of its pop culture success. A modern-day equivalent would be someone like Lorde accompanying A.J. Lee to the ring as the culmination of a year-long angle. This was not presented as a filler match like today’s divas matches, and instead came across like a real contest. Richter reversed a flying bodypress by Kai into a three count. The ending scene was great with Lauper thumbing her nose at Moolah while Richter carried Cyndi around the ring. Lauper and Richter had a ton of charisma together.
  • Hulk Hogan and Mr. T defeat Rowdy Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff – The celebrities were out in force for this match, with Yankees manager Billy Martin serving as ring announcer, entertainer Liberace acting as timekeeper, and legend Muhammad Ali officiating outside the ring. WWF exec and former Intercontinental Champion Pat Patterson was the in-ring ref. Mr. T, a huge TV star at the time, did not phone in his performance and was in great shape. Perhaps the most photographed and broadcast clip of the event was T giving Piper a fireman’s carry. At the end, as Piper and T tussled, Orndorff held Hogan for Cowboy Bob Orton to come off the top rope and hit him with his forearm cast. Hogan moved, Orndorff got nailed, and Hogan took the pin. There was a lot of smoke and mirrors going on here, but the match delivered what it was supposed to, which was T fighting Piper. On a recent podcast with Chris Jericho, Patterson explained why he stood in as ref, as originally Ali was to handle those duties. Patterson said he met Ali earlier that day and felt that even back then, Ali did not appear to be fully in the moment and perhaps already suffering from Parkinson’s disease. However, Patterson said Ali was difficult to keep in line at ringside, as he often jumped into the ring and wanted in on the action. Patterson said because he knew the match layout, he suggested to Vince McMahon that he substitute for Ali as in-ring ref.

Clocking in at a little over two hours, the original WrestleMania moved along at a good pace, and even the bad matches didn’t have enough time to stink up the joint. There were no classic matches, and in hindsight, I wish the Tag Team Title match had gotten more time, but the main event was just the right length to give fans a satisfying bout. Next time: A look at the immediate aftermath of the first WrestleMania.

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6 comments

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  4. david

    Barry Windham one half of the us express is also Bray wyatt uncle as Rotundo is married to Windham sister, when Barry left the WWF and Danny Spivey took his place the team was never the same, but Rotundo went on to a pretty good run in the NWA Varsity club and as IRS.

  5. markrorke

    Mate, I love your blog. I always read it with great interest. This one about Vince though I really enjoyed cos I have always thought that Vince locked in Kayfabe commentary was simply awesome. The best commentary teams always had Vince in them . Either with Jesse or Bruno. As always…. Thanx

    -Mark

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • bostongardenbalcony

      Yes, I find that I appreciate Vince’s commentary more now than I did back in ’80s. I mean, the guy never knew the names of moves, but he knew better than most how to tell a story and how to make the heels seem like really bad people.

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