Friday, February 28, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania I

So recently, in an effort to diversify my online wrestling reading from the jaded axe-grinders at Pro Wrestling Torch, i started checking out Cageside Seats, which has been very hit-or-miss so far--typical of a content farm blog, i suppose. Right now they have some chud recapping every WrestleMania leading up to number 30, and he's pretty atrocious. As my man Joey Pink pointed out, "This was a very entertaining and technical match, with lots of holds" = primo analysis.

With the WWE Network now online, i've been looking for an excuse to dig deep through the archives and get back into a regular writing mode, and realizing that i can write circles around some of the guys on this blog is motivation enough. So dig: i will attempt to also use the WWE Network to recap all 30 WrestleManias. I'm not saying i'll get through the previous 29 before April, but i'll do what i can. I do have a life, after all; i mean, there are so many non-WM things i need to watch on the Network, too, you guys.

Now, i'm by no means an expert on everything that goes into a wrestling match. While i've been watching pro wrestling since Randy Savage took on Bret Hart on Saturday Night's Main Event, i have probably a dozen friends who can break down a wrestling match with far more detail than i can. That said, i'm damn witty, so here i go. I've got my WWE Network on my Roku (network timeouts and all, damn you, Network), i've got my New Glarus Cabin Fever honey bock, and the fiancee is working at the bar tonight, so it's time. WrestleMania I, from what i remember from renting it from the local gas station along with a portable VCR(!! the 80s!!), was by and large dogshit, so this will be interesting. I told the dude at the corner store tonight that i probably wasn't going to drink all these beers tonight, but David Sammartino vs. Brutus Beefcake is on the card, so this could get ugly. Let's see what happens.

Oh, man. Ya know, the 1980s don't seem that long ago, but in the world of TV production, it may as well have been the zoetrope era. These are some...these are definitely opening graphics, i will give them that much. Nice mid-80s guitar rock intro too. Very Rick Derringer.

We have Gorilla and Jesse the Body on commentary! Outstanding. And Howard Finkel is so young! So crazy that his male pattern baldness started when he was 14 years old.

Mene Gene Okerlund is singing the National Anthem, which is pretty much all you need to know about what we're in for on this PPV. (Is it right to call this a PPV? It was closed circuit TV back then, after all.) "Unbelieveable!" says Gorilla, which is right up there with "they're literally hanging from the rafters!" in the pantheon of Gino Marella bullshit. (Everyone keeps calling Gorilla Monsoon "Gino," too, which, i know it's his real name, but it's very distracting.)

Match 1: Tito Santana vs. The Executioner

OK, holy hell, i had no idea The Executioner was Playboy Buddy Rose until today during a Facebook conversation. He just busted out a hilariously clumsy pre-match interview where he promised to go after Tito's leg, and only his leg. "I am a big leaguer," he says, or some shit, as if he's trying to convince himself more than any of us. If this is a sign that they actually were building a story for this match before WrestleMania, that gives this match more build-up than any given undercard on a WrestleMania these days.

The Executioner is billed as from "Parts Unknown," so we know he went to high school with The Ultimate Warrior. Also, "weight unknown," which is bullshit because A) masked wrestlers get excused from the weigh-in? and B) everyone knows he weighs a slim, trim 217 pounds.

Jesus, how close is the front row to the ring? At one point Santana knocks Executioner over the ropes and he's practically in some press dude's lap. I do remember seeing this as a kid and being amazed that there wasn't more separation between the crowd and the talent. Man, if security was a little more lax at the entrances, a good ol' New York shivvin' could have cut Beefcake's career blissfully short.

Anyway, short match that Santana mostly dominates. Buddy Rose makes him look good as he spills out of the ring after eating a Santana dropkick. Playboy Executioner tries to work on that leg, all right. I'm extrapolating from a mention of Greg Valentine in the pre-match interviews that Valentine took the Intercontinental belt from Tito by damaging his leg in the figure-four leglock, which is interesting because Tito's finisher is also the figure-four. Again, i wasn't watching wrestling yet at this point, but if the Valentine/Santana feud was a war of figure-fours, that's awesome. No one in WWE does feuds based on who has the better version of the same finisher anymore. Not that Kane/Batista in a war of powerbombs would be anything but visual Melatonin. (Other side thought that occurred during this match: why is Tito's leg still hurt in March when he lost the belt the previous September? Man, stories took longer to develop back when there was only one huge event per year.)

ANYWAY, Tito wins in a brisk 4:49 with his figure-four, barely breaking a sweat, proving that The Executioner is not ready for prime time and sending Buddy back to the buffet. I know, he's actually kinda in shape in this match, but it's Buddy Rose! Fat jokes, y'all!

Winner: Tito Santana by submission in 4:49

Watching Lord Alfred Hayes awkwardly read cue cards off-camera to his right is...well, i'll judge Michael Cole less harshly going forward from this.

Match 2: King Kong Bundy (with Jimmy Hart) vs. Special Delivery Jones

Man, King Kong Bundy in his youthful prime is something to see. Bearhug, avalanche, splash, as Bundy squashes poor S.D. in the first sub-minute match in WrestleMania history, paving the way for a grand tradition of WM surprise pins from Hogan/Yokozuna (grrr) to Mysterio/JBL to Sheamus/Bryan. Hilariously, Finkel announces the time of the fall as nine seconds, Twenty-four seconds is the actual time. The WWF here uses the same mathematical formula that Scotty uses to estimate warp drive repairs in Star Trek IV, or that the guitarist in my band uses to exaggerate audience numbers.

Winner: King Kong Bundy by reckless homicide in :24

Match 3: Ricky Steamboat vs. Matt Borne

Fun fact: Matt Borne was known to most fans as "wait, who the fuck did Steamboat wrestle at 'Mania I again?" until the 90s, when he donned the Doink the Clown mask. Here's a sentence from his Wikipedia page: "In 1991, Osborne signed with World Championship Wrestling and debuted as Big Josh, an outdoorsman who danced with bears and was friends with Tommy Rich." Well, there you go then. Some hardcore indie wrestling historian could probably school me on how awesome this dude really was, i'm sure, so i'll just kick back and see what he can do against one of the greatest high-flying technicians of all time.

Ok, dude is selling pretty well for Steamboat. There's a decent moment about a minute fifteen in where Steamboat mimics Borne's wobbling after an atomic drop, which is a move that needs to come back already, for Christ's sake. Borne gets about a suplex's worth of offense around the two and a half minute point, but otherwise this is all Steamboat in a snoozer. So weird to see a major event like this start off with three enhancement matches when a friggin' World Title bout has opened recent 'Manias. In 1985 this may have thrilled the masses that hadn't seen much wrestling before, but a hardcore fan that just watched six years of Bob Backlund title matches (or, for that matter, knew who the champ was down in the Carolinas at the time) must have been throwing shit at the giant projection screen in whatever theater or arena they were seated in.

Winner: Ricky Steamboat via pinfall after a flying cross-body block in 4:38

Fun fact: according to Wikipedia, WrestleMania I's official song was "Easy Lover" by Philip Bailey and Phil Collins, which is going to thrill my Collins-loving fiancee, but frustrate her when i tell her i haven't heard that song once on this broadcast. Vince McMahon had yet to master the art of shoving things down people's throats that he would eventually master with Nailz (ALLEGEDLY. Allegedly).

Seriously, Lord Al Hayes is complete dogshit on the mic on this show. I've done commentary on one wrestling DVD ever and i blow this dude away. I seriously do not remember him being this garbagetastic. It's like Black Dynamite reading lines, but with less kung-fu and insane pecs and banging chicks. Then again, i did have the scholar Daryck St. Holmes carrying my ass, and poor Lord Al is floundering by himself with nothing but his stilted-ass cue cards, so maybe i shouldn't judg--oh fuck it; he fucking sucks.

Match 4: David Sammartino (with Bruno Sammartino) vs. Brutus Beefcake (with Johnny Valiant)

David's actually not bad in his pre-match interview (by an-hour-watching-Al-Hayes standards), but Johnny V's on fire. He throws it rapid-fire to Brutus, who awkwardly pauses and just blows a raspberry into Mean Gene's mic. Holy shit. Beefcake sucked so hard in his early days that he couldn't even talk yet. I mean, sure, ok, that's why you put the motormouth managers with the guys that can't get themselves over by talking, but even most of those guys can at least get a sentence out. A damn raspberry? Really?

Also, Brutus at this point is billed from Parts Unknown, which makes no goddamn sense. Everyone knows that masked wrestlers and babbling brown-skinned foreigners with face paint hail from Parts Unknown, not white dudes who...well, i suppose it hasn't been established here that Brutus can speak English or any language, so maybe his non-existent talking is in character, i dunno.

"Fans are definitely getting a good look at the beefcake," says Jesse as both dudes roll on the floor in a front facelock, asses aloft.

OH MY GOD. SOMETHING HAPPEN. These guys would be putting on a rest hold clinic if any of these looked impressive. We're eight minutes in and i think we've had about twenty seconds of action. Is Larry Zbyszko in the ring? What's happening? Of course, as soon as i type that, both guys are off the floor and finally stuff happens. Brutus gets David in a corner and lands some elbows, but David fights back with some fists, maybe a clothesline, a couple boots...holy shit! A suplex! A wrestling move! What the hell! David goes flying out of the ring and gets bodyslammed by Johnny Valiant for his trouble. Well, geez, Johnny, you can't do that! That's naughty! Bruno runs him down and both managers end up in the ring, fists a-flailin'. The ref calls for the bell and the longest, most boringest match of WrestleMania so far ends in a boring-ass double-DQ. Hilariously Finkel announces that "the referee has disqualified both teams" from this one-on-one wrestling match. Oy. Well, that was a waste of...eleven minutes and forty-three seconds? Of front facelocks and the occasional hip-toss? Fucksake. I know wrestling's evolved to a much more action-packed exhibition overall since these days, but it's weird watching a bunch of relatively fit dudes molasses it up. Did Scott "Flash" Norton get his nickname after someone watched this match in comparison?

Winner: Not the viewers, that's for fucking sure. Double-DQ in 11:43

"What action we've seen already!" says Gorilla Monsoon. Exactly! What action have we seen already?

Match 5: Greg "The Hammer" Valentine (with Jimmy Hart) vs. Junkyard Dog for the Intercontinental Championship

I have no idea what JYD was talking about in his interview, but it was awesome. Something about grabbing a bone, an art mastered in later years by Vince McMahon and Nailz (ALLEGEDLY). Finkel stresses that this title match has a one hour time limit, which no one takes seriously. JYD, by the way, is the first wrestler to come out to music in this entire event. Grab them cakes! Signature JYD headbutts at 1:54 send Valentine out of the ring to consult with the Mouth of the South. After a few minutes of him working on JYD's leg, the Dog fights back and slams Valentine with a headbutt that leads to a trademark Hammer faceplant into the mat. Finally, a watchable match! ....A watchable match that ends in six minutes after Valentine uses the ropes to pin JYD. No, comes Tito Santana to yell at the ref about the illegal leverage, and the ref inexplicably decides to take the word of the babyface who has a legit grudge with The Hammer as gospel and restarts the match, quickly counting out Valentine before he realizes what's happening. Well, that's dumb. Sheesh, this show.

Winner: Junkyard Dog via countout/reverse decision in 6:55, which is a grotesque waste of the one-hour time limit

Match 6: Nikolai Volkoff & The Iron Sheik (with Freddie Blassie) vs. Barry Windham & Mike Rotundo (Rotunda) (Whatever) for the World Tag Team Championship

Holy hell, everyone's in fine form in this pre-match interview. Iron Sheik calls Gene "Gene Mean" and says right now is his best "shape situation," while Gene goes on to address Volkoff as "commie--i mean, comrade Volkoff." Great stuff. Meanwhile Captain Lou carries a beer during his calm, cool, babyface interview. And OH MY GOD WINDHAM AND ROTUNDO(A) LOOK SO CUTE. I also just realized that Bray Wyatt's legal name is basically "U.S. Express," which is fucked up.

Oh man, Volkoff and the Soviet national anthem. People are throwing shit in the ring. You can only get that much heel heat these days if you keep Daniel Bryan out of the Royal Rumble. Christ a'mighty. Meanwhile, The U.S. Express come out to the ring to an early Stan Bush demo or something, and the ladies squeal. Awww.

Jesus, The Iron Sheik is a fucking tank.

Early dominance by the tag champs Rotundo(a) & Windham as Rotunda(o) lands a dropkick so high he simply grazes the Sheik. Sheik responds later by getting Rotunda(o) into his team's corner but accidentally dropkicks Nikolai off the apron. Volkoff with some basic power moves, but man, the fans want this dude dead, so a shitty punch gets about five suns' worth of heat. Windham with the hot tag and Volkoff takes Barry's bulldog like a clumsy chump. Sheik grabs Blassie's cane during the four-man donnybrook, brains Barry behind the ref's back, and new champs in 6:56. Sheik immediately grabs the mic and drops some hot Tweets on the crowd, telling Hulk Hogan to go fuck himself and calling the entire crowd gay. Hey, you listen to him babble on the mic and tell me what he's saying.

Winners: Volkhoff/Sheik via foreign object pinfall to win the WWF World Tag Team Titles in 6:56

Match 7: Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd - $15,000 body slam challenge

Oh, fuck me. Time to crack another beer. At least i get to hear Bobby Heenan be awesome on the mic during the pre-match. This also reminds me why Andre's heel turn in '87 was such a huge deal: here we are in 1985, and Andre's future manager is obsessed with running him out of wrestling. Man, they didn't even realize they were booking the biggest main event of the 80s yet. Unfortunately, this is about to be several minutes of plodding, plopping horseshit.

Fun fact: Andre the Giant is riding a 13-year undefeated streak going into this match.

Fun fact: The previous fun fact is complete bullcrap.

Man, Vince sure loves his "special attractions." This match can't be anything but garbage, but fuck it; it's two supersized dudes slapping each other like two steaks recording foley. I guess you don't see that every day (because even Vince is smarter than to book Great Kahli vs. Big Show on a consistent basis). Andre is sweating bullets, because walking around the ring with Big John Studd is exhausting. The match ends when Andre gets the bodyslam, and Andre throws the $15,000 into the crowd until Heenan steals the money back and runs for the locker room and oh who fucking cares.

Winner: Andre the Giant via bodyslam, because that's thrilling, in 5:54

You guys, i'm spending my Friday night watching the most underwhelming franchise-launcher since Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Not even a hot bald chick with fuck-me scent could save this steaming pile, But Cyndi Lauper's gonna try.

Match 8: Wendi Richter (with Cyndi "I'd Still Hit That at 60, Because Damn" Lauper) vs. Leilani Kai (with The Fabulous Moolah) for the WWF Women's (not Diva's) Championship

Oh shit! Leilani Kai is the champ going into this! Cyndi and Wendi cut a slightly clumsy promo, but the hell with it. Cyndi Lauper.

The good news: this women's match is as good as anything else that's been on the card; the ladies are living up to the second billing semi-main event status of this match as they're keeping pace with anything the guys have done. The bad: that previous sentence means jack shit on this event. That said, this is still better than most any Divas match you'll see on Raw or Smackdown, unless Natalya, AJ or an NXT wrestler is involved. After a brief kerfluffle outside of the ring where Moolah grabs Wendi's hair, sending Cyndi over to break it up and get some shots in (all in front of the ref, who doesn't disqualify Leilani Kai for outside interference, so ok), Kai tries to hit a flying cross-body block, which Richter VERY awkwardly kinda sorta flips into a pin good for the three-count and the win. New champ! Cyndi is stoked! Meh!

Winner: Wendi Richter via pinfall to win the WWF World Women's Championship in 6:12

Cyndi says something in the post-match interview about not being afraid of Moolah at ringside because Cyndi had her towel with her. I'm not sure either, unless she's making a really obtuse Douglas Adams reference. Meanwhile, Wendi Richter says something that only people in Texas would understand, so for all i know it was "go Cowboys" or OH SHIT WAIT THERE'S LIBERACE

Wow, that dance went long enough. Liberace is the guest timekeeper, and is fabulous. Muhammad Ali comes to the ring to serve as one of two referees along with Pat Patterson, and does his best to not remind anyone about his shitty-ass kickfest match with Antonio Inoki.

And here comes "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, accompanied by a row of bagpipers, Paul Orndorff, and "Cowboy" Bob Orton, who is already ashamed of his future son's tribal tattoos and is wicked pissed that "Cowboy" is in quotes.

Main Event: Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff

Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka is in the corner for Hogan and Mr. T, i assume because Piper brained him with that coconut. Wait, why is there an old lady ringsid--oh, wait, that's Liberace again, getting ready to ring the bell. The bell he rings is a crystal hand bell, because of course it is.

The crowd goes batshit as Hogan tags Mr. T early, but after a fireman's carry into a slam, Piper recovers and pushes T into his team's corner, which brings Hogan into the ring to start a four-way brawl, because running into the ring illegally is ok when you're Hulk Hogan. Ali restores order and the heels try to take a powder, but Pat Patterson orders them back into the ring. After another four-way brawl, Hogan and T take control with fists, clotheslines, fists, and more fists, because fists. Hogan follows Piper outside and gets a chairshot from Piper for good measure. Amazingly i think Mr. T's fireman's carry is the only legit wrestling move we've seen so far. I'm sure the actual wrestlers would be embarrassed if they weren't earning the largest single-night purse of their careers. No, wait--a suplex from "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff on Hogan! Make that TWO wrestling moves! Hogan gets a hot tag on Mr. T, who attacks the heels with illegal eye rakes!

Piper's front facelock on T means that every combatant in this match has executed at least one wrestling move, except WWF World Heavyweight Champion Hulk Hogan, who has done zero. The end of the match comes just after the 13-minute mark when Paul Orndorff tries to hold Hogan (in a full nelson! Four moves!) for Bob Orton to come off the top rope with the ref's back turned. Orton of course, misses and accidentally nails Orndorff, which leads to the cover from Hogan, who has done jack shit in this match. Boy, what a scintillating, dramatic main event. "Unbelievable," says Gorilla. I dunno, Gino--i don't think Hulk Hogan slumming it is much of a stretch.

Winners: Hulk Hogan and Mr. T via pinfall in 13:17

"Real American" plays as Hogan poses in the ring, exerting more energy during his post-match celebration than he did in 13 minutes of action. Well, this was a big ol' pile of poop. Nice to see that my teenage self remembered that much correctly.

Lack of compelling wrestling aside, watching this was a fascinating throwback. As stilted as most of the promos and interviews were, it was refreshing to know that these guys weren't as scripted as a lot of the dudes and ladies are now. Sure, most of what they said was incomprehensible, but it was refreshingly so. And hell, it's nice to be reminded that the Iron Sheik's always been a hilarious batshit lunatic.

Well, i just liveblogged a 2 1/4-hour wrestling event and it took me almost four hours. I may have gotten in over my head with this idea. BOY, I SURE CAN'T WAIT FOR WRESTLEMANIA 2.

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