Wrestlemania III: 30 Years of Memories

a first hand account of Wrestlemania III

March 29th, 1987 is a date that will always be a day of remembrance for me. No, there was not any sort of war, attack on the nation, or even a Presidential election. On this date, thirty years ago, I attended my very first wrestling event. It just so happened to be Wrestlemania III. The Pontiac Silverdome, in Pontiac Michigan, just outside of Detroit was the site that hosted the third annual Wrestlemania event, and it was something of a specticle from the time we arrived, until we left the arena that evening. I was just seven years old, and freshly into watching the World Wrestling Federation. I was a huge fan of Ricky Steamboat at that time, while most of my other friends were fans of Hulk Hogan. The event was based on one match; Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant. Hogan, who was the World Wrestling Federation Champion at the time, was facing off against his long time friend, and a man who had been undefeated in fifteen years of his wrestling career. Commentators would state it is the indestructible force meeting the immovable object. The feud began with Andre ripping the shirt off of Hogan on an episode of Piper’s Pit, and challenged him to a match for the championship. Hogan quickly accepted, and the match was set, the contract was signed, and Wrestlemania III was upon us.

So I will take you to the beginning where I think we were in traffic for nearly an hour, the Silverdome was in plain sight, and the building was enormous, especially to a seven year old kid. After we got all parked an situated we walked up to the Silverdome, and we actually did not have to wait in line too long to get into the building. The atmosphere even on the outside was that of a Super Bowl tailgate party. People cooking hot dogs, brats, and beer right there in the parking lot. Some wrestling fans were drunk as hell dressed up as Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and one guy even was dressed as Billy Jack Haynes. I can remember a guy coming up to my dad and I saying “Whatcha gonna do brother, when Hulkamania runs wild on youuuuu?” I just laughed and kept on walking. So we get into the building, and found our seats. Not too bad for the venue as we were about mid way up center ring facing the isle where the wrestlers would come out. We were about an hour or so to bell time so we went and looked at some souvineirs, and grabbed a couple soda’s and popcorn. I remember vividly that the amount came to $5.50 for everything, and my dad bought me a Ricky Steamboat T-Shirt for $10.00. I can remember him saying how expensive things were here, and I look back now and think you cannot even get a bottled water for $5.50, funny how inflation can effect the slightest things. So as we get back to our seats, I can tell that the building had already started to fill up, and by the time Vince McMahon came out to welcome everybody to Wrestlemania III, and introduce Aretha Franklin to sing America the Beautiful, there were easily 90,000 plus fans screaming at the top of their lungs, you could not hear anything. It was an amazing spectacle to say the least.

After an awesome rendition of America the Beautiful by Miss Franklin, the show started. Before I go into this, I can only appreciate today what I witnessed with the National anthem seeing such a legend in the music industry. At seven years old, I was not able to appreciate it, but I do now. Okay, so on to the show. It started with one of my favorite up and coming tag teams Rick Martel and Tom Zenk (later known as the Z-Man in WCW) the Can Am Connection against The Magnificent Murroco and Cowboy Bob Orton. While it was not the greatest match on the card, it was a good opener to start off a fantastic night of action. The Can Am Connection won the match with a high cross body, I was just in awe of everything around me.

Then came Billy Jack Haynes, you know the guy I saw in the parking lot earlier in the night, facing off against Hercules. Now honestly I did not have much interest in this match as I was not a fan of either wrestler, but it was the first time we got to see Bobby Heenan on this night. I can remember after the match when Hercules used the chain to bust open Billy Jack and the match ended in a double countout. Then came the six-man tag team match between Hilbilly Jim and his midget wrestlers Little Beaver and The Haiti Kid vs King Kong Bundy along with his midgets Lord Littlebrook and Little Tokyo. This was entertaining from the start, as they even introduced Bob Uecker to the announce desk. I was in complete shock when Bundy actually slammed and then elbw dropped Little Beaver basically flattening him. I honestly thought he killed him. If Jim Ross was on the announce team he would have screamed “GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY”!! So we are three matches in, and still I am having the time of my life.

The next match on tap was one that I was really looking forward to as King Harley Race faced off against one of my favorites, the Junk Yard Dog, in a crown match. Basically, if JYD won the match he would win the crown and Race would have to bow down to him. If Race won, the the Dog would have to bow down to him. As I said, JYD was one of my all time favorite wrestlers, and it would appear that the crowd was really into him as well, as when he came down to the ring the place just went crazy. I would say one of the three biggest pops of the night as far as fanfare goes. My horse did not win the match, as Race won with the belly to belly suplex, and JYD did bow down to the King, but just after he did that, he clocked him with a chair, and put on the robe, and left the ring area all smiles as if he won the match. As a kid who really did not know much about the background of wrestling, I did not understand how a guy who lost the match could be so happy. The next match was the Dream Team Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake vs the Rougeau Brothers. Honestly I missed most of the match taking a piss, but caught the tail end of the match won by the Dream Team with help from Dino Bravo. They then left Beefcake in the ring by himself as he did not like the way they won the match. It would not be the last time we see Brutus on this night.  Then came another six-man match between WWF Tag Team Champions along side former referee Danny Davis facing off against Tito Santana and the British Bulldogs. The Bulldogs were one of my favorite tag teams, and Davis had cost them the titles a few months prior to Wrestlemania, Davis was also the referee when Tito Santana lost the Intercontinental title to Randy Savage some fifteen months earler. Davis was a former ref now turned wrestler, and this was his first ever match up. Davis got pounded for much of the tail end of the match, but a megaphone shot to the Dynamite Kid gave Davis and the Harts the pinfall victory.

Next up was Rowdy Roddy Piper against Adrian Adonis in a Hair vs Hair match. It was also said to be the last match of the career of Rowdy Roddy Piper, now we all now know that this was not the case, as he would go on to wrestle for nearly twenty more years, but at the time I thought I was witnessing history. Piper applied the sleeper hold on Adonis, and then Beefcake came out to cut the hair of Adonis. While it was not Piper’s last match obviously, as he would return to the WWF two years later at Wrestlemania V, it was the debut of Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake into the squared circle. So I guess in some way, I did witness history. And it was a really nice feel good moment for the night, but nothing, and I mean nothing would compare to what came up next.

What I witnessed next was seriously the single greatest match in my 30 plus years of watching wrestling. Randy “Macho Man” Savage was defending the Intercontinental Championship against my favorite wrestler Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat. So okay, call be biased, but you be the judge. Watch the damn match and try to disagree with me. My dad was a big fan of George the Animal Steele, and he just so happened to be in the corner of Steamboat. The match was intense from bell to bell, you saw near fall after near fall, Savage has the match won, then Steamboat has the match won. It appeared on more than one occasion that Steamboat won the championship after a near fall, as it looked like referee Dave Hebner counted to three on two occasions after a chop off the top rope, and again after a small package cradle. You could tell that Hebner was about as gassed as the two wrestlers in the ring, as even at a distance you could see the sweat pouring out of the flesh of the referee. It was that intense of a match. Savage inadvertinly knocked out the referee, and he went to the outside to grab the bell. This was a weapon that he used to take out Steamboat, and nearly end his career, just a few months earlier. George the Animal was not going to let that happen as he grabbed the bell from Savage, but Savage caught him with a boot to get the bell back. Savage climbed the top rope withe bell in hand, but Steele was able to push him off the top, and it looked like Savage hit his head on the bell on the way down. Savage got to his feet and went for a slam, before Steamboat countered into a cradle to score the pin fall, and we have a new WWF Intercontinental Champion. What you did not see after the match, was the poor referee, had to be carted out to the back as he was so gassed. I guess he stayed down a long time just to get a rest. If you have not seen this match, I highly recommend check it out on the WWE Network. Match of the century if you ask me.

Mean Gene Okerlund was front and center in the ring to announce that we set an indoor attendance record of 93,173 fans that packed the stadium. It was deafening after the announcement, as even as a child, I knew we were apart of history. That record would stand firm, until last years Wrestlemania eclipsed the one hundred thousand mark. The next two matches were really nothing to get excited about as I missed most of them. Butch Reed defeated Koko B Ware (Hell he is a Hall of Famer) but I was in the bathroom again, as I nearly pissed my pants watching the Steamboat vs Savage match. I caught last part where Tito Santana came back out and ripped the clothes off of Slick, that was the only thing that made that match halfway entertaining. Then we got The Killer Bees vs The Iron Sheik and Nicolai Volkoff. Again, nothing too exciting except when Nicolai was singing the Russian National Anthem, Hacksaw Jim Duggan came out to interrupt, and he stayed at ringside. The Sheik applied the camel clutch, and Hacksaw took it among himself to just hit the Sheik with his two by four, causing the Disqualification.

Main event time as this is what many wrestling fans all over the World was looking forward to. Andre the Giant getting his first shot at championship gold as he faced off against Hulk Hogan for the World Wrestling Federation Championship. We are introduced once again to Bob Uecker, who was the guest ring announcer, and Mary Hart, the host of Entertainment Tonight, She was the guest time keeper. Andre was introduced first, as he came down the isle with Bobby Heenan, waiving to the fans. It appeared, and later confirmed that fans were literally throwing food, drinks, paper wads at him as he was coming down to the ring. He just continued to waive, not affected at all by the loud boos heard all over the building. Hogan was introduced next to an enormous ovation, while I am far from a Hulk-a-maniac, I had to cover my ears the crowd was so loud when he was introduced. As both men were standing in the ring, it was the stare down seen around the world, as they stared at each other for a few moment, but it seemed like it was forever. Andre then shoved, Hogan, and Hogan shoved him back and followed up with a few quick punches. Hogan went for a slam, but the weight of Andre fell on to Hogan, and it did appear that the referee counted to three, and many in the crowd thought that we in fact had a new WWF Champion for a split second. We then saw Joey Marrella affirm that it was a two count, but his hand did come down for a three count. I saw it with my own two eyes. Andre was robbed!! Andre controlled most of the match, with Hogan getting a little bit of offense, but mostly was dominated by the Giant. Hogan was eventually knocked out of the ring, and Andre missed a head butt and hit the post. Hogan, being the stupid idiot (Jericho pun) that he is, tried to open up the match and try and piledrive Andre through the floor. Andre countered and back dropped Hogan on to the floor. They worked there way back into the ring. Hogan was whipped to the ropes, and a kick was missed by Andre, into a forearm/clothesline that actually dropped the Giant to the mat for the first time in the match. What followed was a moment that has lived in infamy over the past 30 years. The slam heard around the world, as Hulk Hogan lifted Andre up and body slammed Andre. He followed up with the leg drop and scored the pin fall, ending a fifteen year undefeated run for Andre the Giant. The crowd was insane cheering for Hogan, and I just sat back and listened to it all. It closed just an amazing night of action.

As the night closed out, my dad and I sat in our seats as the crowd slowly filtered out, I wouldn’t say we were the last people in the building, but there was not a lot of people in their seats when we finally left. They were even starting to take down the ring, and some of the ushers were starting to clean up the isles. It was a good half hour before we actually left our seats. I remember him saying that he wanted to wait to get out to try and avoid some of the foot traffic getting to our car. That really did not do too much good, as the moment we walked outside, it was a zoo of people still in the parking lot. Im pretty sure that we did not leave the Silverdome parking lot at least three hours after Wrestlemania ended, but even as a seven year old boy, I just kept staring back at the Silverdome in the rear view mirror, just taken back of what I had saw. Little did I know that even thirty years later, and after 29 Wrestlemania’s that followed, it would still go down as once of the greatest nights of wrestling that anyone has ever witnessed. Since Wrestlemania III, I have attended two other Wrestlemania’s. Wrestlemania 13 and 22, both in Chicago. And while both were exciting events, and many other events I have been to, whether it was Raw, Smackdown, Summerslam, No Mercy, The Great American Bash, or even a LIVE event, nothing will ever compare to what I witnessed as a seven year old boy at Wrestlemania III.

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