March 29, 1987. What a day for professional wrestling fans.
My father, my best friend and I spent the late afternoon and early evening hours, along with thousands of other excited Hamiltonians, inside Copps Coliseum that day where we witnessed probably the best card of wrestling ever put together.
Even though the enormous live event took place many miles away in the Pontiac Silverdome in the state of Michigan, we got to see everything as it happened on a large closed-circuit Television screen. Nothing beats the real experience but this was an acceptable compromise.
With the 23rd edition of the most famous annual supercard happening in three days, how likely is it to top the spectacle of WrestleMania III? I mean, think about it. You had Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant battling it out in the main event. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and Randy “Macho Man” Savage putting on a clinic in perhaps the best match of the 1980s. Brutus Beefcake turning babyface, Alice Cooper putting a snake on Jimmy Hart, King Kong Bundy bodyslamming a midget, and on and on and on.
In the end, there were 12 matches. I have memories of all of them.
After Aretha Franklin sang America The Beautiful while playing piano to kick things off, a tag team match opened the third WrestleMania. Long before he was The Model, but a year after he was the world champion in the American Wrestling Association, Rick Martel teamed up with Minnesota wrestler, Tom Zenk, to form The Can-Am Connection. (Martel is French Canadian.)
Their opponents: former Inter-Continental Champion The Magnificent Muraco and Cowboy Bob Orton (accompanied by their wiley manager, Mr. Fuji). Orton, named after his father who also grappled professionally (and now, the father of current superstar, Randy Orton), was, for 2 and a half years, Rowdy Roddy Piper’s trusted bodyguard. After a storyline that had him turn on Piper in order to look after the ironically named Adorable Adrian Adonis (a gimmick thrusted on him by WWF owner Vince McMahon as punishment for bad behaviour), he was teamed with Muraco. (As an aside, they wrestled the then-WWF Tag Team Champions, The British Bulldogs, on December 13, 1986 for the titles. My dad, best friend and I watched the match live at Copps. Something went wrong and The Dynamite Kid got seriously injured when it was over. As a result, they had to drop the titles to The Hart Foundation during a TV taping sometime in January 1987. But they remained champions on December 13 after winning their match.)
It was an entertaining opener and the team of Zenk & Martel, who ultimately won the encounter, proved themselves worthy of the big stage. It’s too bad the team would split sometime later in the year. Zenk was never happy with the steroid situation in the WWF and has since been one of its most vocal critics. He never returned to the WWF. Martel, who had some success in the early 80s in the company, teamed up with Tito Santana later that year. Both had been Tag Team Champions with different partners previously. They would beat The Hart Foundation in the fall of 1987 to become champions together.
Orton and Muraco would split up in either the spring or summer of 1987. Muraco would become The Rock Don Muraco, a good guy, and appear more chiselled than his previously flabby “Beach Bum” persona. Orton would accompany Adrian Adonis to the AWA after the televised split.
In the next encounter, Billy Jack Haynes (whose moniker was inspired by the famous film character that Tom McLaughlin portrayed in a series of films) battled Hercules. Originally named Hercules Hernandez (the now-deceased Florida-based wrestler was born Ray Hernandez) and the last wrestler to be “represented” by the late Fred Blassie, his “beef” with Haynes was that he was the real master of the full nelson. Hercules’ original finishing move was what Lex Luger called The Human Torture Rack. (I don’t exactly remember what Hercules called his version.) But during an early 1987 TV taping, he challenged Haynes to let him put on the full nelson. It started “the feud”.
The most memorable moment of their WM III fight was the end. After both were counted out of the ring, Hercules used his big chain on Haynes and immediately, you could easily see his bloody forehead. As far as I can remember, that was pretty much the end of that storyline which, in retrospect, didn’t have much going for it. Haynes would move on to briefly team with former Inter-Continental Champion (and ex-con) Ken Patera through the first half of 1987. He would leave the company before the end of that year.
Match #3 was pretty odd. A mixed six-man encounter where a fully grown wrestler had two midgets for partners. The only rule was midgets wrestled midgets and the regular-sized wrestlers battled each other. Thankfully, that rule was broken when the wonderfully evil King Kong Bundy easily threw Little Beaver square into the mat. He then gave him a big elbow drop for good measure. Colour commentator Jesse Ventura openly wished that one of the midgets would get squashed by Bundy. Too bad Eric The Midget wasn’t participating. Hope he doesn’t call Johnny Fratto to order a hit on me, having said that.
Unsurprisingly, the team of Hillbilly Jim, Little Beaver and The Haiti Kid defeated Bundy, Lord Littlebrook and Little Tokyo by disqualification. The encounter was quite a comedown for Bundy. In WrestleMania 2, he battled Hulk Hogan inside a steel cage for the world title. (Hogan won. Saw that entire card with my best friend and father on closed circuit TV, as well.)
Despite losing to “The King” Harley Race (a former 7-time National Wrestling Alliance world champion), The Junkyard Dog ended up having the last laugh in the fourth match. It had an unusual stipulation. The loser had to bow in front of the winner. JYD actually did a curtsy (before eventually bowing properly) and then he took out Race big time. After doing his thing, much to the crowd’s delight, he left the ring in one of those mini motorized versions complete with Race’s cape and crown. After a few more years in the business, JYD died tragically in a car accident after attending his daughter’s graduation.
Race would stick it out a couple more years, as well, before switching to managing and finally, retirement.
Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine were dubbed The Dream Team. The pinnacle of their success was their 8-month reign as WWF Tag Team Champions (August 1985 – April 1986). Nearly a year after dropping the belts to The British Bulldogs during a famous encounter at WrestleMania 2, The Dream Team were on the outs. The late Dino Bravo was recruited by manager Johnny V to join his very small stable of wrestlers. At the end of WM III it was clear where things were going even if the execution was a little strange.
Beefcake and Valentine were battling The Rougeau Brothers, the French-Canadian team they had been feuding with for almost a year. I’ll never forget the finish for the match. The Rougeaus did their special signature move (turning around, Ray scooped up Valentine’s legs, holding him up high, and then Jacques Jr. nailed his face crotch first) and looked like they were going to win. But the referee was distracted (aren’t they always?) and while Ray had covered Valentine for the victory, Bravo leaped off the turnbuckle crashing onto Ray. He then placed The Hammer on top of the fallen Rougeau Brother and got the hell out of the ring. The ref slapped the mat three times and The Dream Team cheated their way to another victory.
What happened next has never made any sense to me. Beefcake stayed in the ring with The Rougeaus while Bravo, Valentine and Johnny V started yelling at him. Bravo gave him a famous variation of “Up yours!” and then all three “beauties”, as the late Gorilla Monsoon called them that afternoon, got into that motorized mini-ring and left ringside. It has never been clear why the team split up in this manner. (More on Brutus in a moment.)
Next up was Rowdy Roddy Piper’s retirement match (or so we all thought at the time). Piper was always my favourite, even when he was a heel. His “final” storyline involved his short interview segment, the infamous Piper’s Pit, which was unceremoniously replaced by the less engaging Flower Shop. The latter was hosted by Adorable Adrian Adonis who Piper soon feuded with.
Besides being the “last” match of his career, regardless of the outcome, his battle with Adonis was also a Hair Match. The loser would have to be shaved bald by the winner. It all came to an end when Adonis was put in a less-than-convincing sleeper hold and Piper was declared the winner. Brutus Beefcake ended up taking care of Adonis’ dyed blonde locks while Piper took care of the fat one’s manager, Jimmy Hart. (At one point, he knocked him to the ground, then placed his foot on his back so he couldn’t save his wrestler.)
Why was Beefcake, now a babyface, so eager to shave down Adonis? Not too long before WM III, there was a six-man tag team match on Television. Adonis and Beefcake were on the same team. At one point, thinking he had grabbed the head of an opponent, Adonis whipped out a pair of scissors and accidentally trimmed some hair off Beefcake. This was the origin for his new gimmick, The Barber. He would remain a fan favourite for years. (He’s now retired and a happily married father of a young daughter.)
Adonis, unfortunately, died in a tragic car accident on July 4, 1989 while en route to an independent wrestling show in Newfoundland. Contrary to his awful final gimmick, he was a married, family man. Valentine would stick with the company until the early 1990s. Johnny V would briefly manage Demolition (before Barry Darsow became the second guy to play Smash) before going on to manage the AWA World Tag Team Champions, The Destruction Crew (later known as The Beverly Brothers in the WWF).
Piper retired to pursue a career in show business. Things didn’t quite work out for him (although They Live, his highest profile film project to date, did get some strong, critical notices in 1988) and after two years, he returned to the WWF. (He still does the occasional acting gig, by the way.) With longer hair and less bulk, he hosted a special Piper’s Pit during WrestleMania V. His guests were Brother Love (remember the red-faced preacher?) and controversial, chain-smoking talk show host, Morton Downey Jr. (now deceased). Piper would stick with the company until the early 1990s. (He was briefly Inter-Continental Champion in early 1992.) Since then, he’s drifted in and out of the company (now known as WWE). Late last year, he announced his current fight with cancer. May he beat it swiftly and completely. He remains one of the great characters of wrestling. He has always been my favourite.
And to think, this was only the first half of WrestleMania III. Even more interesting things happened in the second half.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, March 29, 2007