WrestleMania 3: After the drab and boring WrestleMania 2 the previous year the WWF ramped up the event in a different way. Rather than try and make multiple venues work, they focused on one, massive venue. Whether or not you believe the attendance figure of 93,173 is up to you. The Pontiac Silverdome was definitely full though, something that gives the whole event the scale that one associates with WrestleMania today. As well as booking the event in a massive venue the company had already turned living legend Andre the Giant to the dark to give Hulk Hogan a genuinely threatening title challenger. Let’s dive right in.
The opening shot of a packed Silverdome is instantly iconic, after the two previous events had been held in generally fairly dark indoor arenas, it’s a refreshing change. Aretha Franklin is here to open things up with ‘America the Beautiful’. Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura are the main commentators, joined in one form or another by TV’s Mary Hart and baseball legend Bob Uecker. Most of the time they’re just there but they occasionally join in.
WrestleMania 3: The Can-Am Connection (Rick Martel & Tom Zenk) vs Bob Orton & The Magnificent Muraco
After being in the corner of Roddy Piper for the previous two events, Bob Orton finally gets a chance to wrestle on the show. It’s still common on this show for some wrestlers to simply appear in the ring without a real entrance, there’s no music for most people and sometimes the camera doesn’t even capture them riding little carts down the aisle.
Orton and Muraco are visibly bigger than their opponents, particularly Muraco but the Can-Am Connection have a speed advantage. The crowd are loving everything that Zenk and Martel do. At one point commentary call Bob Orton ‘the excellence of execution’, a nickname that would be Bret Hart’s not long after. Lots of back and forth with the Can-Am fighting nice and clean against the must nastier Orton & Muraco.
Given that he’s probably best remembered today as the heelish ‘Model’ it’s fun to see Rick Martel in his early babyface form. The Can-Am Connection pick up the win with a sneaky assisted crossbody, Ventura on commentary not happy with the amount of double teaming. A good opener, babyface win to start the show off on a high.
WrestleMania 3: Billy Jack Haynes vs Hercules
A battle between two big beefy boys, battling over the application of the Full Nelson hold. Hercules cuts a pre match promo that suggests he actually is the ancient Greek hero.
Some headbutting and mouthing off before they get to the fairly standard powerhouse wrestling for the day. Some big slams that are pretty impressive and Haynes is the first to try and apply the Full Nelson. Clotheslines and similar striking attacks are the meat and potatoes here but it’s compelling purely because of the size and general intensity of the two men. To be fair it’s not pretty by any stretch.
Hercules has the chance to win but chooses to pull Haynes up from a pinfall in order to focus on the Full Nelson. After some more punishment Hercules manages to get a lose application of the hold in, not locking his fingers just yet. Even without it being fully applied the hold still forces Haynes to his knees. Billy Jack Haynes comes back with a very Hogan-esque big boot/leg drop combo before he gets his own Full Nelson applied. He only manages to get it fully locked in after both men spill to the floor and the match ends in a disappointing double count out. Post-match Hercules attack Haynes with a chain then locks in the Full Nelson to gain some manner of victory.
WrestleMania 3: Hillbilly Jim, Haiti Kid & Little Beaver vs King Kong Bundy, Little Tokyo & Lord Littlebrook
A six-man tag featuring two massive men each teaming with two midget wrestlers. Given that he main evented the previous year this is a bit of a comedown for King Kong Bundy. On the WWE Network (at least) Hillbilly Jim comes out to the same music that Uncle Elmer used the previous year.
According to the rules the bigger wrestlers can only wrestle each other and the smaller than same. It’s basically just a comedy match. The four small guys had probably worked together hundreds of times so their interactions as at least well-constructed. There’s some fighting between Little Beaver and Bundy before Hillbilly Jim and Bundy go for it. With the referee distracted Bundy starts to attack Little Beaver but he takes too long and gets disqualified. Bundy’s partners turn on him for his actions and whilst technically Hillbilly Jim’s team win, the five men who aren’t Bundy all stand together in the ring.
Mary Hart is trying to get an interview with Miss Elizabeth but Randy Savage bursts in and takes over.
WrestleMania 3: Harley Race vs The Junkyard Dog – Loser Must Bow To The Other
A pretty long build for this match, Harley Race having used his King of the Ring victory to try and lord it over Junkyard Dog and get him to bow down. Harley Race is past his best by this point, but he’s still got visible class. Fabulous Moolah is at ringside for him, she’s the women’s champion but there’s no chance of defending it.
Junkyard Dog has been a standout in these early WrestleMania’s, and he gets probably the loudest reaction of the night so far for his entrance. The action is fairly simple, Bobby Heenan interjecting himself from the outside and Race taking at least three big spills to the outside are highlights. A diving Race headbutt to the floor looks particularly nasty with the chosen camera angle. The crawling headbutts from JYD look to have him on top but a distraction from Heenan lets Race pin JYD for the three. JYD kicks out milliseconds after the count but Race wins.
Junkyard Dog gives a very perfunctory bow to satisfy the stipulation before decking Race with a chair to get some measure of comeback. He steals Race’s robe and leaves, even as the loser he essentially gets the moral victory.
We go back to the dressing room for our first glimpse of Hulk Hogan of the evening, with Vince McMahon. It’s the first promo for Hogan on the night and he’s already buzzing, tearing his shirt off and rambling in typical fashion. He hits all the greatest hits as Ventura questions whether he is too hyped up.
WrestleMania 3: The Dream Team (Greg Valentine & Brutus Beefcake) vs The Rougeau Brothers (Jacques & Raymond)
Valentine and Beefcake lost the tag team championships at WrestleMania 2 and are back in action here against the Rougeau brothers, with both Johnny Valiant and Dino Bravo in their corner. The pre match promo for the Dream Team almost completely side-lines Greg Valentine, he’s literally stood in the shadows.
Ventura is quickly complaining about double teaming as the match begins, with the two Rougeau’s bringing a lot of speed to things and the Dream Team slowing it back up. Brutus Beefcake’s tights are fairly distracting, yellow leopard print with windows so you can get a good view of his thighs. Lovely stuff. Bobby Heenan joins the commentary team to complain about the treatment of his clients earlier in the night to further pull attention from the match in the ring.
Beefcake takes his eye off the ball and almost costs his team but he eventually provides the distraction for Dino Bravo to come in and help Greg Valentine pick up the win. Brutus looks conflicted to some extent about the result and Valentine, Bravo and Valiant leave without him.
WrestleMania 3: Roddy Piper vs Adrian Adonis – Hair vs Hair match
When Roddy Piper took a break from hosting his Piper’s pit talk show it was replaced with Adrian Adonis and the ‘Flower Shop’ leading to a pretty violent feud over a talk show. Piper is promoting this as his final match ever before he retires (he’d wrestle until 2011 and even win a championship ). Adonis is less cartoony and ridiculous than the previous year and shows a glimpse of a decent promo pre match. Piper is the first person all night (and one of only two by the end) who doesn’t make his way to the ring in a cart, allegedly because the cart he was assigned failed to start in time.
Nothing finessed about the match once it kicks off, at least that fits the build. Both men hit each other with Piper’s belt and we get some classic goofy manager stuff with my Hart. The sheer amount of noise for the fairly simple stuff that Piper is doing really shows how much of a star he was. It’s nowhere near as short as some of the matches on the night but it manages to maintain a much higher pace than many of them did. Almost as if they were determined to maximise the time they got as much as possible. Jimmy Hart keeps trying to get involved and he sprays Piper in the eyes with perfume to leave him open for the sleeper hold by Adonis.
Out of nowhere Brutus Beefcake is back out and helps revive Piper after Adonis drops the hold early. Piper locks in his own sleeper and gets the victory. Beefcake joins in with the cutting of Adonis’ hair, which would lead to him adopting the ‘Barber’ nickname that would define his career. A fan jumps in the ring post-match to celebrate with Piper, who celebrates his ‘retirement’ as the camera’s soak it all in.
WrestleMania 3: The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart) & Danny Davis
Vs. The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith & Dynamite Kid) & Tito Santana
The Hart Foundation beat the Bulldogs for the tag team championships in dubious circumstances with the help of the now banned referee Danny Davis. They team up to basically face the people they’d screwed over; Davis having made an enemy of Tito Santana by costing him the Intercontinental title 14 months earlier. Jesse Ventura has left commentary to stand at ringside, but he doesn’t seem to do much beyond getting an introduction in the ring.
There’s some fun stuff with Matilda the bulldog chasing Jimmy Hart around pre match before being escorted away by Jesse Ventura. Five of these six men are great workers and Danny Davis knows his role is to be the comic relief cheater. The interactions between the Hart Foundation and the Bulldogs are a higher level than we’ve seen all night. It’s clear they have the special chemistry that comes with not just training together, but also being family outside of the ring.
Every time Danny Davis joins the action, it’s when his team are on top, and he gets a couple of shots in then tags straight back out. Eventually the cockiness backfires and Davis is left isolated in the ring. He takes a beating from all three opponents. The match breaks down into a cluster and Davis manages somehow to get a pinfall over Davey Boy Smith in amongst the chaos to give his team the win. A big step up in terms of action, there’s a reason that both the Hart Foundation and the Bulldogs are considered to be two of the best teams of their generation and the most influential of all time.
It’s Andre the Giant who gets a chance to respond to Hulk Hogan. Well, more accurately, Bobby Heenan does it for him.
WrestleMania 3: Butch Reed vs Koko B. Ware
The only match on the night that features a parrot. And the only one where someone uses a song written by Prince as their entrance music. Both of those details are for Koko B. Ware, opposite future WCW Tag Team Champion Butch Reed. This feels like a palette cleanser of a match between two that have far both build and stakes.
It’s the kind of decent, well done, but ultimately nothing, match that fits on TV but feels out of place on a show of this size. Koko shows plenty of fire and personality, Reed countering with his power. It’s all well wrestled and nothing is sloppy but it’s ultimately forgettable. Reed wins by rolling a Koko pinfall over to sneak the win.
Reed’s manager Slick attacks Koko with a cane post-match but is run off and partially disrobed by Tito Santana. Much like Junkyard Dog earlier, Ware doesn’t look to bothered by losing as he heads to the back.
WrestleMania 3: Randy Savage vs Ricky Steamboat – WWF Intercontinental Championship
The first classic WrestleMania match. A bona fide legendary match. Savage had been brutalising Steamboat for months, focusing in on his throat and larynx. George Steele has also got involved to further his infatuation with Elizabeth that played into Savage match at the previous year’s show.
No amount of play by play will be able to illustrate this match, every little interaction is so detailed and smoothly performed. So many sequences that would be inspire homage and influence the way big matches are structured all the way up to today. The pacing and ebb and flow are on point all the way through, the timings and the way it builds are brilliantly executed.
Jesse Ventura is blatantly anti-Steamboat throughout, so against the challenger he seems to forget how to say the word ‘larynx’ properly. The run of close near pinfalls and kick outs in particular is a sequence that would repeat in main events all over wrestling for decades to come. Savage tries to use the ring bell to attack Steamboat’s larynx but Steele blocks the attempt and Steamboat manages to roll Savage into a small package. The win for Steamboat, who snaps the 14-month reign of Savage and becomes Intercontinental Champion.
The match lives up to the legend. It holds up today. At under 15 minutes there is no reason to not give it a watch. Unfortunately for Steamboat his reign with the title wasn’t all that long, he would drop it to the Honky Tonk Man not long after.
WrestleMania 3: The Honky Tonk Man vs Jake Roberts
The future ‘greatest Intercontinental champion of all time’ Honky Tonk man faces the man he attacked with a solid looking guitar on the ‘Snake Pit’ talk show. Jake Roberts has gone from being an evil heel the previous year to getting a hero’s reception, being joined by local music legend Alice Cooper at ringside won’t have hurt either.
Roberts attacks as soon as Honky Tonk Man reaches the ring, leading to a moment where the Elvis impersonator is getting beaten up in his entrance jumpsuit. There are some spooky shots of Roberts’ snake Damien moving around inside its bag before the action spills to the outside. Roberts takes a spill into the crowd barrier twice in succession whilst Ventura on commentary admonishes Alice Cooper for helping Roberts to his feet.
Honky Tonk Man is in control for a bit too long for it to be truly interesting, Roberts’ comeback are short and snuffed out usually pretty quickly. A bit of Jimmy Hart intervention and Honky Tonk Man gets a cheap win with a rope assisted pinfall. Roberts and Cooper console themselves by terrorising Jimmy Hart with Damien the snake for a couple of minutes. A running theme on the show is sneaky heel wins followed by the babyface getting some comeback post-match. This match, Koko B. Ware, and Junkyard Dog all followed this pattern.
Gene Okerlund is here to announce the show has set a new indoor attendance world record. As mentioned in the intro, there is some controversy about the figure given the WWF likely counted every single person in the building, paid or not, fan or employee. Just the stands in the Silverdome held 80+ thousand, and with the floor seats, it’s not too hard to see where 93 thousand came from.
WrestleMania 3: The Killer Bees (B. Brian Blair & Jim Brunzell) vs The Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff
The Sheik and Volkoff are back for another WrestleMania as foreign menaces. That’s a trope that clearly needed some space on the card so here we are, the foreigner’s vs the yellow and black attack of the Killer Bees. Volkoff sings the Soviet National anthem again. He’s cut off by a debuting Hacksaw Jim Duggan, just to really make the US vs Foreigners theme blindingly obvious.
Classic sneaky heel stuff from the Sheik and Volkoff countered by double teaming and quick pace from the Bees. Not all that different to the opening match really. There’s rubbish all over the ring from Volkoff’s attempt to sing the anthem, and some still flies around during the match. It’s inoffensive palate cleansing action before the main event, probably too similar to the opener to be that interesting. There’s a missed tag before The Sheik locks in the Camel Clutch. Duggan comes into the ring and for some baffling reason, hits The Sheik to cause a disqualification victory for the Iron Sheik and Volkoff. A daft ending that makes Duggan look dumb on his debut. Thankfully for him he manages to distract everyone with a ‘USA’ chant.
WrestleMania 3: Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant – WWF World Heavyweight Championship
After 15 years of being ‘undefeated’ Andre the Giant had finally turned on the fans and gone after the World Championship, aligning himself with Bobby Heenan in the process. It’s an instantly iconic match for the generation that grew up with it and highlights from it will feature in WWE’s marketing for the rest of time. But with Andre so immobile due to his gigantism ruining his back, so ruined he was wearing a brace under his gear, it’s hardly likely to be a good match beyond the spectacle.
Really this match is all about the visual spectacle and the history between the two men. We even get a decent video package to illustrate the relationship between them.
Bob Uecker hasn’t been seen for a while on the show, turns out he’s preparing to be guest ring announcer for this match. And Mary Hart is guest timekeeper. Three WrestleMania’s in and it’s still not clear quite what that role entails.
From the opening stare down onwards, this is all spectacle, a chance to watch all the highlights that the WWE use to this day all strung together. Hogan goes for a body slam in seconds and nearly gets it, just teasing the crowd. The action is basic and nothing special but it at least feels like an event and like there might actually be a threat to Hogan’s title, things that were missing the previous year. A crowd this big that vocally cares elevates what is otherwise nothing special. The most athletic thing Andre does is climb out of the ring at one point. This lets Hogan tease a piledriver on the floor, one he doesn’t hit obviously.
The most iconic moment of the match comes next. The body slam. Acclaimed for years as the first time anyone had ever slammed Andre, in reality, it wasn’t even the first time Hogan had done it. At least it’s an iconic ending to an otherwise bland match…
The first truly good WrestleMania even if it is still plagued by the short meaningless matches that mark out the early events. The show as a whole is elevated by the stadium setting, the early matches with the natural sunlight streaming in are a visual treat after the previous, dark, indoor shows.
There are still the same sort of strange production issues that marred the earlier event. Music plays over promos and we cut away from matches before the result is announced on a few occasions. Some of the matches are hurt by kick outs milliseconds after the pinfall, a plan surely to keep people hot but it means some of the matches don’t feel like they have a clear winner. The same thing goes for how many matches feature the babyface losing but then immediately attack the heel to come out on top anyway.
It’s the first Mania that is truly worth going back to outside of pure historical context. The Savage/Steamboat match is iconic but the six man tag also deserves a rewatch. It lays the groundwork for how tag team matches flow today, even if its let down by a cluster of a finish.