Influential WrestleMania Moments (Part Two)

3. The Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff win the tag team titles (1985)

Winning any championship in the WWE is important whether it’s at a house show, on free TV or on a pay-per-view event.  The title change either helps establish a new superstar or reinvigorates a veteran.  But to win a belt at WrestleMania carries a lot more prestige because of the hype surrounding the event, the added intensity of the match itself and the sheer amount of eyeballs who witness it.

At the first WrestleMania, there were two bouts where a new champion was declared but the one that mattered the most was the first one for the tag team championship, the match that preceded the Studd/Andre bodyslam challenge.  Mike Rotundo and Barry Windham were the U.S. Express, the then-reigning champions.  The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff were the challengers, two old-school foreign villains who loved to tweak the fans with put downs of America while simultaneously embracing Iran and The Soviet Union.

The finish for the match involved a foreign object.  With the referee suitably distracted, Sheik took manager Fred Blassie’s cane and wacked poor Barry Windham in the back of the head with it, shattering the impromptu weapon into several pieces which the wily former World Champion quickly removed from the canvas before detection.  With Volkoff on top of the fallen American, the three count was made.  The first title change in WrestleMania history was in the books and the fans weren’t happy about it.

Since then, roughly 50 more championship matches have resulted in not only new champions being declared but improved reputations for those particular superstars.  Think The British Bulldogs beating The Dream Team for the tag belts at WM 2.  Ricky Steamboat dethroning Randy Savage of his InterContinental Title at WM 3.  Or Rick Rude over The Ultimate Warrior for the same belt at WM 5.

Other significant title changes at WrestleMania included Demolition winning their first tag titles at WM 4 which resulted in the longest single championship run in the history of the title (they would regain them for a third time two years later at the same event), The Warrior beating Hulk Hogan for the World title at WM 6, Hogan regaining that belt at WrestleMania 5, 7 and 9, Shawn Michaels winning his first WWF Championship at WM 12, Steve Austin beating him at WM 14 and The Rock at 17 for the same belt, The Undertaker’s World & WWE title victories at WM 13, 23 and 24 plus John Cena’s back to back WWE title pushes at 25 and 26.

Being put over as a champion is a sign of respect but having that happen to you at a WrestleMania show is the biggest honour of them all.  Who will be pushed at WrestleMania 28, I wonder?

4. Mr. T wrestles in the main event of WrestleMania (1985)

Even before it became a cool thing to participate in, celebrities and outside athletes have long been a part of professional wrestling.  Muhammad Ali was an enormous fan of Gorgeous George to the point where whenever he was interviewed for upcoming fights he would essentially “cut promos” on his opponents like his hero.

During a 1976 WWWF TV taping Ali made the mistake of tangling with Gorilla Monsoon who promptly put him in an airplane spin and dumped him to the canvas like a sack of potatoes.  (Ali foolishly interfered in Monsoon’s scheduled match with Baron Mikel Scicluna who allowed himself to get counted out and walked away.)  Boxer Chuck Wepner, who once went 15 rounds with Ali and inspired the creation of Rocky Balboa, battled Andre The Giant in a famous boxer vs. wrestler match.  Ali had a similiar bout with Japanese legend Antonio Inoki which followed the Monsoon incident.

But it really wasn’t until the first WrestleMania that the concept of a celebrity being booked in a high-profile wrestling match carried any longterm significance.  During a Madison Square Garden house show in late 1984, Rowdy Roddy Piper interrupted a special ceremony by smashing a platinum award over Captain Lou Albano’s head, kicking Cyndi Lauper and powerslamming her then-manager/boyfriend David Wolf.  WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan made sure no further damage was done when he went into the ring.

That brilliantly orchestrated bit set up The War To Settle The Score in February 1985 during another MSG house show.  Hogan defended his title against Piper live on MTV which ended in chaos.  Piper’s pal, Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff, interfered in the match causing a disqualification.  When Cyndi Lauper tried to get involved, Mr. T, who conveniently had a ringside seat, jumped in to save her from being attacked by the hated villains who were slowly cornering her.  Soon, the NYPD arrived on the scene to maintain calm and order which just added to the atmosphere of the post-match bedlam.

The aftermath of that match led to the main event of the first WrestleMania in the same venue a month later.  Piper and Orndorff, with Orton as their corner man, would team up to face T and the Hulkster, who would have Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka” in their corner, in a straightforward tag team match.  (Two interesting bits of trivia:  1. Snuka defeated Orton at The War To Settle The Score MSG show during the undercard.  And 2, Piper’s bodyguard would soon start wearing an arm cast thanks to a worked injury involving a steel ring post during that match.)

As Piper would later reveal, whenever T was in the ring it was decided that amateur moves would successfully cover up his lack of wrestling experience.  Although Piper, Orndorff and Hogan would work the bulk of the match, T did manage to perform a body slam and a fireman’s carry at one point to the crowd’s delight.

The match, so crucial to the selling of the WrestleMania concept, ended up being named Match Of The Year by readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine.  The following year Mr. T “boxed” Piper during the New York portion of WrestleMania 2 which effectively ended their feud, at least in the ring.  Other celebrities would soon follow in the footsteps of The A-Team star.

During the Chicago section of WM 2, ten pro football players including Chicago Bear William “Refrigerator” Perry participated in the invitational 20-man battle royal that was ultimately won by Andre The Giant.  At WrestleMania 11, Bam Bam Bigelow had to put over another football player, Lawrence Taylor, which closed the show.  (Their feud began at the 1995 Royal Rumble.)  The finals of the Brawl For All tournament, where wrestlers and pro fighters would battle in real, unscripted encounters, took place at Wrestlemania 14.  Former Super Heavyweight Boxing Champion Butterbean easily disposed of Bart Gunn, one half of The Smoking Gunns tag team, in less than a minute.

At WrestleMania 21, The Big Show lost a special sumo match to Akebono who has since gone on to become a world champion in his own right in a Japanese wrestling promotion.  (Amusingly, current InterContinental Champion Cody Rhodes recently reminded Show of this “embarrassing moment” as part of the build-up to their title match at WrestleMania 28.)

Thanks to a memorable encounter at the 2008 No Way Out event, Show went on to battle current Welterweight Boxing Champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. in another wrestler vs. boxer match at WrestleMania 24.  The big man lost that one, too.  (Rhodes showed highlights of that “embarrassing moment”, as well.)  Most recently, at WrestleMania 27, Snooki from MTV’s Jersey Shore teamed up with John Morrison and Trish Stratus to take on Dolph Ziggler, Layla and Michelle McCool in a very brief mixed tag team match.  The meatball surprised many with her display of athleticism as she went on to score the pin for her side.

With Shaquille O’Neal scheduled to make an appearance at WrestleMania 28 (he famously tangled with The Big Show a few years ago), will the celebrity-turned-wrestler gimmick continue?  So far, nothing has been announced.  But one thing’s for sure, without the participation of Mr. T 28 years ago, we wouldn’t be talking about celebrity wrestlers or WrestleMania, for that matter, in 2012.

5.  Pat Patterson and Muhammad Ali work the main event of WrestleMania as Special Guest Referees (1985)

During the Orndorff/Piper/Hogan/T encounter, the first InterContinental Champion officiated inside the ring while the former Heavyweight Boxing Champion served as a celebrity enforcer at ringside, although at one point the latter climbed into the ring to take an unsuccessful swing at Bob Orton.  Ever since, the Special Guest Referee gimmick, whether we’re talking about a wrestler or a celebrity, has remained a staple of WrestleMania ever since, despite not being an original concept.

Dick Butkus and Ed “Too Tall” Jones were two of the outside officials for the invitational battle royal at WM 2.  At WM 5, Big John Studd officiated the match between longtime rival Andre The Giant and Jake “The Snake” Roberts.  Mr. Perfect screwed Lex Luger out of the WWF World Championship when he refused to make the 3-count against champion Yokozuna in their WrestleMania X encounter, while at that same event Rowdy Roddy Piper was far more professional when he oversaw Bret Hart’s regaining of that same championship against Yoko.  Also, out of work baseball umpire Larry Young (the umpire union was on strike at the time) was the third man in the ring for The Undertaker/King Kong Bundy match at WM XI.  Piper would return that same year to referee the I Quit match between Hart and Bob Backlund.  Also at WrestleMania 11, for the first time in a decade, Pat Patterson would serve as an in-ring official.  He oversaw the Bigelow/Taylor main event.

Mike Tyson was the special outside enforcer for the Steve Austin/Shawn Michaels WWF title bout at WrestleMania 14.  (When the original in-ring referee was knocked out, “The Baddest Man On The Planet” stepped in and made the fastest three count in history awarding Austin his first World title.)  In an unusual twist, Mankind and The Big Show wrestled at WrestleMania 15 to determine who would be the special guest referee for that show’s main event, The Rock vs. Steve Austin for the WWF Championship.  (It ended up being Mankind.)  Speaking of Mick Foley, he also refereed the infamous Street Fight between Shane & Vince McMahon at WrestleMania 17.

Last year, Steve Austin oversaw the embarrassing Michael Cole/Jerry Lawyer match at WrestleMania 27 and this year, at WrestleMania 28, Shawn Michaels is the third man in the ring for the Hell In A Cell match between real-life pal Triple H and longtime rival The Undertaker.  No matter what happens, more Special Guest Referees are sure to be used in the coming years.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, March 11, 2012
1:47 a.m.

UPDATE:  I forgot to mention Ken Shamrock who served as the Special Guest Referee during the Bret Hart/Steve Austin Submission Match at WrestleMania 13.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, March 11, 2012
2:47 p.m.

CORRECTION:  Mr. T performed a fireman’s carry, not an airplane spin, in the main event of WrestleMania.  My apologies for the mistake.  The right move is now in the text.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, March 12, 2012
5:45 p.m.

UPDATE:  Steve Austin was also the Special Guest Referee at WrestleMania XX when Brock Lesnar took on Goldberg.  That should’ve been included in the original piece.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
12:02 a.m.

UPDATE:  Another Special Guest Referee I forgot to include:  Val Venis oversaw the WrestleMania 2000 Catfight between Terri Runnels and The Kat.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, March 15, 2012
2:18 a.m.

UPDATE:  It’s now being reported that Shaq won’t be appearing in any capacity at WrestleMania 28.  But the celebrity-wrestler tradition will continue in 2012 with the recent announcement that former One Tree Hill star (and current entertainment journalist) Maria Menounos will be teaming up with fan fave Kelly Kelly to take on longtime nemesis Beth Phoenix (the current Divas champion) and Eve (who recently turned heel) in a tag team match at this year’s event.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, March 16, 2012
2:35 p.m.

CORRECTION:  Eddie Guerrero didn’t defeat Brock Lesnar to win the WWE title at WrestleMania XX, as I originally and erroneously stated and sadly, just noticed.  That happened at No Way Out.  Lesnar, of course, lost to Goldberg at WM XX.  The error has been removed.  My apologies that it didn’t get corrected sooner.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
3:25 a.m.

CORRECTION:  Another error I overlooked:  The Undertaker faced King Kong Bundy at WrestleMania 11, not 10.  This has now been fixed.  As a result, the next line about Roddy Piper officiating “the following year” has been changed to the more accurate “the same year”.  Sorry I didn’t catch this in the earlier correction.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
3:32 a.m.

Published in: on March 11, 2012 at 1:47 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] included The Problems With Aftermath’s Greatest Entrance Theme Tournament and my seven part series on Influential WrestleMania […]

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