WWE: WrestleMania 1 Recap – March 31, 1985 | MatMagMania

WrestleMania 1. It may not have been the first wrestling Supercard (Starrcade predates it by 2 years). But it certainly changed the game for what they would become. Celebrities, glitz and glamour, sale via pay-per-view. The largest annual wrestling show started in 1985 as a major gamble for the then WWF. One that allegedly had Vince McMahon mortgaging his house to fund the event. It has become “legend” that the failure of the vent would have sunk the company.

Luckily for the WWF, it was a roaring success. The event has morphed over the years into an entertainment colossus that sucks in even the most casual of wrestling fans. But how exactly did it all begin? At Madison Square Garden on the 31st of March 1985 if you want the perfunctory response. But if you want the full answer, let’s dive straight in.

A very understated opening by modern standards. A simple video package cuts straight to Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura at the desk. Gene Okerlund sings the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ pretty impressive given he had no music to follow. The legend goes that a famous singer was supposed to perform but pulled out at the last minute, although their name has remained shrouded in mystery to this day.

WrestleMania 1: Tito Santana vs The Executioner (Buddy Rose)

In retrospect, a strange way for the first Mania to start. Tito Santana was a recent Intercontinental champion, yes but against Pacific Northwest icon Buddy Rose under the one-and-done mask of the ‘Executioner’, it is a strange match-up.

Pre-recorded interviews from these two opened the show, an interesting choice given Santana was never a fluid promo and the Executioner stumbled through his at points. They magically teleport to the ring and once the bell rings the action is fast-paced for the era, Santana, in particular, looking good. There are a few high-flying moves and even a spill to the outside for the Executioner. Santana eventually locks in his rival Greg Valentine’s figure four leglock on the Executioner for the win.
An odd-looking match to forever hold the record of the first-ever Mania match but it’s not all that bad. Nothing that would blow anyone away today but it’s a good showcase for Santana. Santana’s feud with Greg Valentine would continue after this and eventually lead to him regaining the Intercontinental title. Worth noting that commentary kept referring to Santana as a ‘young man’ throughout the match despite him being 32 at the time.

WrestleMania 1: King Kong Bundy vs Special Delivery Jones

The most famous 9-second match that lasts 17 seconds in history. It’s a small category admittedly but this tops it. Nothing much to say about it, makes Bundy look great but apart from the mythology about the length it didn’t need to be here. This is a good example of how the WWF had yet to fully nail down what WrestleMania should look and feel like. At least SD Jones maximised his minutes in his pre-match promo and Jimmy Hart was entertaining in his role.

WrestleMania 1: Ricky Steamboat vs Matt Borne

The first WrestleMania match between two well-known names, even if one is again under a different persona. Ricky Steamboat would go on to mega success in both WWF and WCW but Matt Borne is most memorable as the first (and best) Doink the Clown.

With two very capable grapplers in the ring, the action is solid from the off. Steamboat looks exactly as good as his legacy would suggest but Borne more than holds his own against him. It’s nowhere near as slow as the stereotypes of the time would suggest, nothing blows away but smooth well executed action from both men. Steamboat wins with the biggest high spot of the night so far, a flying tackle/crossbody from the top rope.

WrestleMania 1: Brutus Beefcake vs David Sammartino

The closest the WWF ever got to have their first real icon on a WrestleMania show. Bruno is in his son’s corner for this match, but David never really lived up to the iconic heights of his father. This is Brutus Beefcake before the ‘Barber’ gimmick that would make him most famous. David’s pre-match promo is fairly fluent, and he is the first person all night who is announced as he is making his way out instead of simply walking out to little fanfare.

A very slow start, with lots of stalling from Beefcake and his manager Johnny Valiant, both before the bell and once the match begins. Some decent grappling from Sammartino countered by pantomiming from Beefcake and Valiant. Plenty of cuts away to Bruno at ringside show that this match served an additional purpose of getting him on the broadcast in some way. This is the first slow match of the night, it ends up being the second longest of the night. Given the generally basic feel of the action, it doesn’t make for a great watch.

The match ends when Beefcake throws Sammartino to the outside, Valiant gets involved and all four men end up brawling to end things in a double disqualification. A classic finish of the era, designed to try and keep everyone looking strong. A strange decision given that the company were trying to get Sammartino over at the time, was Beefcake so important that he couldn’t take a loss?
This was the only time that a Sammartino wrestled at a WrestleMania, despite the energy the company put into him David never really caught on. He’d wrestle very sporadically in various companies until 2010. Beefcake, we’ll see again.

WrestleMania 1: WWF Intercontinental ChampionshipGreg Valentine vs Junkyard Dog

The first championship match in Mania history as Greg Valentine. Valentine had only recently won the title from Tito Santana and defends against the Junkyard Dog. Despite being the challenger JYD is the first man all night to get an entrance with music. Given the reaction he got, it’s clear why this became the norm for everyone pretty quickly after this.

From the second the bell rings there is more personality on show in this match than we’ve seen all evening to this point, with JYD doing plenty of goofy stuff and bouncing off the cowardly Valentine well. The action isn’t anything particularly special but the crowd noise throughout tells you a lot about how much they’ve got invested in the first ‘big’ feeling match all night. Jimmy Hart plays the distraction on the apron but gets taken out accidentally by Valentine.

A sneaky pinfall with his feet on the ropes from Valentine gets him a three count but his rival Tito Santana runs out and gets the match restarted. With Valentine already on the outside, the referee quickly reaches a ten count and Valentine is counted out. JYD celebrates but Valentine keeps the title. This kind of strange finish has thankfully gone out of fashion, it makes the champion look cowardly yes but it makes the challenger look foolish for celebrating when he didn’t win the title but celebrated anyway, especially as he makes no effort to get Valentine back in the ring. A very 80s title match finish.

WrestleMania 1: WWF Tag Team Championships
The U.S. Express (Barry Windham & Mike Rotundo) vs The Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff

Straight into another title match, with a very 1980s theme, as the All-American champions defend against the foreign menace challengers. The Iron Sheik & Volkoff pre-match promo is about 10 seconds of pure chaos, pretty much what you’d expect from anything featuring the Sheik. Lou Albano’s appearance is most notable for the adornment on his cheek that looks as if he’s been hit by some confetti, a typically odd sartorial choice from the ‘Captain’.

The match is announced with a 1-hour time limit, thankfully it doesn’t get anywhere near that. Classic cheap heat from Volkoff, singing the Soviet national anthem as rubbish is thrown into the ring. It worked though because the pop for the U.S. Express is immense.

The Sheik and Volkoff are not yet anywhere near as immobile as they would become, and the U.S. Express are pretty dynamic for the time. Plenty of quick tags keep things from getting too slow at any point. Compared to the bulk of the show to this point, this match is high paced and the crowd are vocal throughout. The finish comes out of nowhere a bit with a sneaky attack from the Sheik with his manager Freddie Blassie’s cane to give the foreign heels the win. A post-match promo from the new champions underlines the chaotic end of the match. The first title change in WrestleMania history would be undone just under 3 months later as the U.S. Express won the titles back on syndicated television.

WrestleMania 1: Andre the Giant vs Big John Studd
Career vs $15,000 Body Slam Challenge

The battle of two Giants, Andre’s allegedly undefeated (and un-slammed) career on the line opposite Studd and Heenan’s $15000 (just over $40000 today). In hindsight, the retirement stipulation does make it obvious who is going to win but it’s hard to work out how much belief there was at the time that Andre’s career was in genuine peril.

A very basic, massive man match breaks out. A very simple action, it’s more about the spectacle of the sheer size of the two men than anything else. Andre is beyond his athletic peak for sure, not quite as immobile as he’d become but, at 39, far slower than he had been.

Big clubbing blows and bear hugs predominate. It’s slow stuff that worked for the era but is little more than a spectacle today. The noise when Andre finally slams Studd to win the match is incredible and in one of the more memorable moments of the night instead of keeping the money for himself, Andre starts to throw it to the crowd. Heenan steals the bag back and runs off to save some of his blushes. Not a great match but an important one for getting Andre on the show and giving such a major name a showpiece moment.

WrestleMania 1: WWF Women’s ChampionshipLeilani Kai vs Wendi Richter

One of the matches helped build the event into a pop culture moment. This being the match that brought Cyndi Lauper onto the show, she’s in the corner of the challenger Wendi Richter. The first ‘ladies’ match in Mania history (Howard Finkel calls the title the Ladies Championship), very much a showcase of what the Fabulous Moolah school of women’s wrestling looked like. Moolah herself in the champion’s corner. An awful lot of stalling between the entrances and the start of the match itself for some reason.

The action isn’t spectacular, lots of hair-pulling and slow, soft strikes. It’s a good job for Kai that the idea of tapping out for a submission hadn’t come into wrestling yet as she regularly pounds the mat when in a hold in a way that today would be called a submission. Much like in previous matches we get a lot of picture-in-picture shots of the managers at ringside, giving you an idea of who this match in particular was really about.

Moolah gets involved from the outside at one point and is sloppily fought off by Lauper, there are far too many directions at ringside for anyone to move about comfortably. The two wrestlers hit some good moments at times but the finish is unfortunately sloppy, Richter rolling Kai over off a crossbody. Richter generally looked pretty good and it’s a shame that women’s wrestling in the company went backwards not long after. She would lose the belt in the infamous ‘Original Screwjob’ in November of that year as a masked Moolah beat her in shady circumstances. Richter wouldn’t return to the company until she was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.

Entrances for the Main Event

Before the main event, we get the additions of all the celebrities involved in the main event. First is New York baseball legend Billy Martin as a guest ring announcer. Next up is the guest timekeeper, Liberace. This is where you can see the idea coming through of WrestleMania as a pop culture event, not just a wrestling one. Muhammad Ali joins as an outside enforcer to keep order between each team’s seconds. Pat Patterson is the referee, seemingly to help guide things along, but he doesn’t get a special entrance, even though he was only recently retired as a wrestler at the time.

Hulk Hogan & Mr T. vs Paul Orndorff & Roddy Piper

THE match that built the show. The involvement of pop culture crossover celebrity Mr T. alongside the icon that Hulk Hogan was already becoming. The two had hosted Saturday Night Live the night before as part of the final push of promotion for the show. Jimmy Snuka is in Hogan & Mr T.s corner, Bob Orton Jr. in Orndorff & Pipers.

Orndorff and Piper get the first real ‘WrestleMania entrance’ of the night, coming out with a full Scots pipe band, visually it’s probably more spectacular than Hogan and Mr T’s. The noise the crowd makes during this match makes the rest of the night look fairly quiet in comparison. It’s not the action that makes this match remotely memorable. Given how rabid everyone in attendance was they probably could have just pantomimed the whole thing and gotten a huge reaction. That’s not far off what they do in reality, both sides make a tag before anyone touches anyone on the other team. Mr T and Piper finally come to blows. It’s the performance of Mr T that’s the most interesting to watch. He doesn’t look all that bad for a complete rookie.

It’s not all that long before we see everyone involved get physical, all four men in the match, their seconds and Ali all brawl in the ring before Piper and Orndorff try to run away and take a count-out. They’re escorted back to the ring by police and resume the beating they were taking. That’s generally the theme here. Piper and Orndorff bounce off Hogan and Mr T at every opportunity. It’s not a back-and-forth contest by any stretch.

The bad guys finally get an opening with a chair shot to Hogan on the floor and some related cheating but it doesn’t last too long. In general, the match is fairly sloppy, a big panto brawl, but that’s all the rabid crowd needed. They don’t let up all matches.

Big cluster finishes with everyone involved, Bob Orton hitting his charge Orndorff with his cast to hand Hogan and T the win as if there was any doubt. Piper decks Patterson before scarpering as fast as possible.

Not a truly classic match by any stretch but a classic moment. It was the success that this match brought Mania that meant it became a regular event and set the stage for it to run until this very day. The show wraps up with Hogan posing in the ring and then a promo backstage.


Far more important that it was good. The main event is worth watching if you haven’t got the time to watch the whole show. The tag team title match and Steamboat vs Borne are probably the other matches worth taking the time to watch. Lord Alfred Hayes as the link man is deeply comedic in hindsight, not only is stood in an awkward spot but every time the camera cuts to him he seems deeply unprepared.

He gave off the appearance of a ‘Fast Show’ character of some description. The lack of entrances for most of the wrestlers gave things a quaint feeling but did contribute to the show rattling along. The longest match of the night is 13 minutes and only two matches going over 10 minutes helped in that regard. The breathless rushed feeling of backstage promos also contributed. Worth a look back for the history for sure, but it would be a few years before Mania featured great matches as well as spectacle.

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