Those who were there didn’t know just how big it would become until the very end. How would they possibly top that? With the only Pay-Per-View to come out of three different cities at the same time, coverage bouncing from one to the next in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
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When it first went underway, people didn’t know just how special of an event they were involved in.
The last three matches personified the essence of just what WrestleMania has become known to be; marquee matches along with celebrity presences along the lines of Cyndi Lauper, Mr. T, Muhammad Ali, Liberace and the Rockettes.
It’s only fittingly appropriate that this night – also the first WWE Pay-Per-View in March – is this month’s “Throwback PPV.”
– The opening video was a cool generic montage of changing superstar pictures set upon a Manhattan skyline and moving stars in the background. It was the 80’s. What did you expect?
– Mean Gene Okerlund singing the Star-Spangled Banner is the first ever WrestleMania moment in history. Let that sink in for a moment.
– The Executioner… a character who surely stole the hearts of many. For a character nobody knew much about, stumbling over his promo lines was an unfortunate way for him to be introduced. Must be tough to come from Parts Unknown. His match with Tito Santana wasn’t much to write home about. Santana pretty much dominated him and made him tap out rather quickly. Quite far from a historic moment, but it does go down as the first Mania match in history.
– Did they really need to ring the bell 30,000 times after introducing every opponent?! The headaches that must have caused people.
– Special Delivery Jones looked like a decent party guy who could get down, and could deliver a charismatic promo. Unfortunately, these shining few seconds would be his highlight – unceremoniously pinned by King Kong Bundy in nine seconds, which set a record seemingly for the sake of setting one. Replaying the match in its whole entirety put over Bundy’s power, if anything.
– The Matt Borne-Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat match was all about Steamboat doing his thing in the ring – moving around flawlessly with grace and precision, as we all know him for. Borne sold well for him, but ultimately wasn’t much of a serious threat.
– What wasn’t to like about the David Sammartini-Brutus Beefcake match? First – the story here was simple and intriguing. We have a young son fighting to impress his well-known father, with Bruno garnering the highest pop by the crowd at that point. On the other hand, we had Beefcake and his quite vibrant mouthpiece, “Luscious” Johnny Valiant, who was quite simply a pimp in his own right. The match had some good time to develop and the buildup to the physical confrontation with the four men was good. The match being ruled a double disqualification was disappointing by the end but the story mad up for it.
– The Intercontinental Championship match between Greg Valentine and Junkyard Dog was good for what it was, as Valentine delivered a good promo beforehand, while Junkyard Dog simply talked too fast to follow. The Title looked like an absolute prize the way the two men fought tooth-and-nail over it. Valentine’s controversial pin used the ropes for leverage and drew good heat, with Santana coming out to sell the moment. The reversal of decision by countout was a crowd pleasing moment but it was obvious the title wouldn’t change hands.
– The Tag Team Championship match between Nikolai Volkoff/Iron Sheik and Barry Wyndham/Mike Rotundo was good for what it was. Volkoff/Sheik were perfect heat magnets, getting fans to throw garbage in the ring and chanting “U.S.A.” Them winning by using dirty tactics was perfect here. Freddy Blassie’s postmatch comments were entertaining as he denied any wrongdoings like a classic heel manager.
– The promos by Big John Studd and Bobby The Brain Heenan had Studd act confident, even though the bag with the $15,000 in it was distracting. The stipulation of Andre being forced to retire if he couldn’t slam Studd was a solid hook for the casual fan. Andre slamming Studd might’ve been the first hint that WrestleMania was indeed a special night given the great pop it drew from the crowd. Heenan grabbing the briefcase and running away when Andre threw the money away was a good way to garner heat. Andre’s postmatch promo had him act happy and sure – why wouldn’t he be?
– The promo by Wendi Richter with Cyndi Lauper was quite good, as Lauper could really talk for a celebrity. Leilani Kai (Champion) and Fabulous Moolah also delivered passable promo work. For a woman’s match, this was a big deal too, being for the Women’s Championship. The match itself was athletic and physical, with even the managers going at it. The finish was also cool as Richter used Kai’s momentum to pin her by surprise. The title change also sold the “big moment” this night become all too known for. Richter’ postmatch comments had her be appreciative and Lauper also continued on as a “tough girl” talker. Good stuff.
– The celebrity involvement on the day was turned up a notch for the main event, with Billy Martin as guest ring announcer and Liberace as timekeeper to start. How can you forget his “kicks” routine with the Rockettes? Muhammad Ali being involved as well, being Special Guest Outside Referee was a big deal. The Rowdy Roddy Piper/Mr. Paul Orndoff (w/Cowboy Bob Orton) entrance with the bagpipers band was the first elaborate Mania entrance. The place nearly came unglued with Hulk Hogan/Mr. T (w/Jimmy “Super Fly” Snuka) made their entrance. The match itself was quite entertaining as Hogan/T surprisingly worked well together. Who knew T had it in him to actually convincingly deliver? The postmatch comments from Hogan, Snuka and T was charismatic as you’d expect and sent the crowd home happy.
– Tito Santana def. The Executioner via submission
– King Kong Bundy (w/Jimmy Hart) def. Special Delivery Jones via pinfall
– Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat def. Matt Borne via pinfall
– David Sammartino (w/Bruno Sammartino) and Brutus Beefcake (w/”Luscious” Johnny Valiant) to a double DQ
– Intercontinental Championship – Junkyard Dog def. Greg Valentine (w/Jimmy Hart) via countout; Valentine retains
– Tag Team Championships – Nikolai Volkoff/The Iron Sheik def. The U.S. Express (w/Captain Lou Albano) via pinfall
– $15,000 Body Slam Challenge – Andre The Giant def. Big John Studd (w/Bobby Heenan) to not forcefully retire
– Women’s Championship – Wendi Richter (w/Cyndi Lauper) def. Leilani Kai (w/The Fabulous Moolah) via pinfall to win Championship
– Muhammad Ali/Pat Patterson Special Guest Referees – Hulk Hogan/Mr. T (w/Jimmy “Super Fly” Snuka) def. Rowdy Roddy Piper/Paul Orndoff (w/Bob Orton) via pinfall
When it came down to it, the 1988 Royal Rumble had a little bit of everything: two separate two-out-of-three fall tag team matches, a questionable Dino Bravo bench pressing segment, a thriller of a match between Rick Rude and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and a decent angle that involved Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant and an oak table.
Who could also forget the Rumble match itself? More on that below.
– It’s crazy to see how the Royal Rumble took off from where it started: a three-hour TV special in Canada. Nowhere to go from there but up. At the time, this must’ve been a glorified “Saturday’s Main Event.”
– Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura made for an interesting duo on commentary all night long. They were certainly no Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan, but for 80’s WWE, we can settle. Ventura was almost like the JBL of his time; the perfect commentary foil to the straightforward McMahon.
– The Rick Rude-Ricky Steamboat match looked good on paper with their mixing of styles. Steamboat was over with the crowd too. How ironic was it to see that Steamboat was thrown over the top rope, held on, swung himself back over and let Rude go over the top rope a la a Royal Rumble elimination? Steamboat was like a one-man show here, in the prime of his career. The match pace was slow at times, but the psychology was strong and it was a very technical affair. At the end of the night, this match stood out on its own. The 80’s were strange times in wrestling compared to now. There was a point where Rude had Dragon in a Camel Clutch and Dragon tapped his hand on the mat multiple times while in the hold and it didn’t count as a submission. The finish was a way to give Steamboat the DQ win because of how Rude pushed the official in front of him when Steamboat went to the top.
– They actually sold megaphones to fans back then? Can’t see that happening now. Ugh. That guy was annoying as hell during the Steamboat-Rude match.
– It wouldn’t be an 80’s PPV if it didn’t involve some kind of body-building angle. Mean Gene Okerlund’s interview with Jesse Ventura set the rules for the bench pressing. This was such a filler of time. It was obvious Dino Bravo was a heel out there to get heat by telling the crowd to be quiet in spite of him going for a world record. For that reason, why would Gene keep asking Bravo’s manager questions if he didn’t understand French? That angle took freaking forever. Can we even officially count what he did? Were those actual weights?
– The Glamour Girls (w/Jimmy Hart) (Champions)-Jumping Bomb Angels two-out-of-three falls Women’s Championship Match was something you definitely won’t see nowadays, but the match wasn’t anything special despite the stipulation. It was hard to root for the Jumping Bomb Angels when they had no personality; just two Japanese ladies. The finish was hot though and that was the loudest the crowd was all night to that point. Winning the Women’s Tag Team Champinships must have been big back then.
– Anything involving Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant after WrestleMania III would make it must-watch. The angle surrounding the Sale of the World Title Belt with Ted Dibiase and Andre “buying in” was also intriguing for its time. Contract signings must not have been important back then seeing that the ring had a school desk with folding chairs around it. Dibiase was good on the mic here. Of course, a contract signing never goes without a hitch as Andre slammed Hogan’s head into the “solid oak” table and pushed him back with it. The hype for that match was on.
– The original Rumble had only 20 men, no countdown with the crowd and nobody’s music hitting when they came out. The differences were subtle, but noticeable. That aside, the RR magic was evident as everybody worked hard here. Jim Duggan seemed to have a career moment by eliminating One Man Gang. Bret Hart – one of the first two men in the match, also lasted way longer than originally thought. There were a lot of Harts in this match.
– Hogan’s promo on Giant was solid. Guy could sell a match in his day with words alone.
– Dibiase’s promo with Andre and Virgil did more selling for their upcoming match. There’s nothing better to a story than consistently delivering both sides of it. It was a bit hard to take the claim of “Giant-A-Mania” seriously, but that was supposed to be the point.
– The Islanders (w/Bobby Heenan)-The Young Stallions two-out-of-three falls tag match was okay and got better as it went on. The Stallions looked resilient at times but pushovers in others, yet The Islanders were dominant with two straight falls. It was what it was. Strange choice to end a show with.
– Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat def. Rick Rude via DQ
– Women’s Tag Team Championship – Two Out Of Three Falls – The Jumping Bomb Angels def. The Glamour Girls (w/Jimmy Hart) (Champions) Two Falls To One to Become New Champions
– Royal Rumble – “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan Wins
– Two Out Of Three Falls – The Islanders (w/Bobby “The Brain” Heenan) def. The Young Stallions Two Falls To None