Whenever the topic of Wrestlemania 3 comes up, the attendance issue tends to overshadow things. This is maybe the best built card WWE ever did and yet many people just want to talk about the 93,173 attendance figure. So I will get that out of the way off the top: The number is nonsense, Dave Meltzer got a figure of 78,000 from the company and no matter what myths you might want to believe, it is much closer to that. An argument is made that “well I never saw any sections blocked off” but who the hell would be taking pictures of empty sections anyway?
In reviewing shows I like to say that “the build” counts as part of the show. That’s why I consider Wrestlemania 31 to be very subpar without even mentioning the ridiculous Rollins cash-in that helped nobody. More on that another time. The television leading up to Wrestlemania 3 is pretty amazing with the Hogan/Andre story as the anchor and other great stories filling in the rest, like the Danny Davis evil referee angle. For each match here I am going to describe the build with links when available, weigh in quickly on the match itself, and lay out the verdict for it all.
Can-Am Connection vs “Cowboy” Bob Orton and Magnificent Muraco (w/Mr. Fuji)
The build: The Can-Ams (Rick Martel and Tom Zenk) were presented almost like a boy band, with women running over Jesse Ventura on Superstars to try and get at them. Their push was in its early stages. Orton and Muraco had very little to do at this point and served as credible veteran opponents.
The match: You can tell right away how much better Rick Martel is at everything than Tom Zenk. The latter would suddenly leave the promotion in the summer because he was upset that Martel made more money than him. Well no kidding, since Martel held the AWA world title for almost two years when that meant something. Lot of miscommunication between Orton and Muraco, and those guys would split in the late summer. Martel would get the pin on Muraco when the Magnificent one tripped over Zenk in the ring.
Verdict: Fine opener to establish the hot babyface team.
Hercules (w/Bobby Heenan) vs Billy Jack Haynes
The build: This was a battle of two bigger guys claiming to have the best full nelson. Billy Jack accepted a challenge from Hercules to try and break the hold and was attacked by Bobby Heenan. They actually had many matches before Wrestlemania 3 including one at Boston Garden on February 7 that is on the network. Hercules won that one with the help of Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff.
The match: This didn’t get a lot of time compared with house shows, when they often went to a 20 minute draw. Haynes got the full nelson on Hercules but they spilled to the outside, where Heenan hit a knee on Haynes. Back into the ring, Hercules destroyed Billy Jack with his chain, laying him out and covered in blood. This is pretty startling in the context of this card to see a blade job like that in the 2nd match. The match went into the books as a double countout, but Hercules came out looking pretty strong.
Verdict: Hercules would be built up as an IC title contender and a solid Heenan Family member for the remainder of 1987. Billy Jack floundered badly after this, ending up in a team with returning Ken Patera and getting saddled with job guy Brady Boone as his “cousin”.
King Kong Bundy, Little Tokyo, and Lord Littlebrook vs Hillbilly Jim, Haiti Kid, and Little Beaver
The build: Neither Bundy nor Jim had much going on in early 1987. Bundy took a huge fall from the main event the prior year to a comedy match here. This would be the last time “minis” would appear on Wrestlemania for many years.
The match: For a comedy match, they picked the perfect time to use Bob Uecker because he was pretty hilarious here with very adult innuendo. “Beaver reminds me of a girl I dated 25 years ago,” said Uecker, who also explained why he liked Lord Littlebrook. I enjoyed the term “shot in the boiler” which sounds like something Mr. Baseball picked up in the locker room in spring training back in the day. “There’s a lot of beaver all over this place,” says Uecker in a money line. The guy is an American treasure, and I may start reviewing Mr. Belvedere episodes just to make him a bigger part of this blog. Hillbilly Jim does a cartwheel that is far better than the one 2016 Chris Jericho can do. The little guys spend time annoying Bundy, particularly Little Beaver, who tried a dropkick even though you were only supposed to face opponents of the same size. Bundy eventually slams Beaver hard (ha ha), before dropping a big elbow. This would actually be Little Beaver’s final match and even his opponents Little Tokyo and Littlebrook turn on Bundy. Solidarity in height, I guess.
Verdict: Funny how killing a little guy cleans the palate after that Haynes blade job, but somehow it did. The lesson here is I want Bob Uecker announcing everything ever. He still does Milwaukee Brewers home games on radio and I often check out those games on SiriusXM radio just to hear him.
Mary Hart of Entertainment Tonight is with the lovely Elizabeth and tries to ask a question but Randy Savage interrupts. Hart says to Liz “Is it always this way?” in reference to the Macho Man. Strange aside: When I got out of college, I ended up working at a bookstore for a while and my manager there would make predictions on things each year with his friends. And for a decade plus, he had predicted that Mary Hart would die that year in a plane crash. Rather amusing, and random.
King Harley Race (w/Bobby Heenan and the Fabulous Moolah) vs Junkyard Dog – Loser must bow to the winner
The build: Race actually won a 1986 King of the Ring tournament (in Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro, MA of all places) and the crown was a way of acknowledging his prior fame as NWA world champion. The Dog would have none of this and they would battle on Saturday Night’s Main Event on Jan. 3. Heenan and race tried to force Dog to bow to the king.
The match: Uecker has left to go find Moolah, since he has been led to believe that she is good looking. Oh Ueck! Besides, he was barking up the wrong tree in any event. At this point the sunlight is fading and the building looks even more epic and is only enhanced by those ring carts ferrying wrestlers to the ring. JYD said that Race has been sitting on the throne too long because bathroom puns are funny. The King is bumping all over for JYD because the Dog can barely move by 1987. Race got tossed out of the ring in a variety of ways, and Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura argue over Heenan helping Race get back to his feet and the legality of that. Race hits the belly to belly suplex out of nowhere to get the win, clean as a whistle. JYD lives up the stipulation, though he more curtsies than bows. To get his heat back, Dog takes a chair and goes to town and steals the robe and crowd and preens for the Silverdome crowd on the cart.
Verdict: About as good as could be hoped for here, since Race was now being built as a post-Mania challenger for Hogan and the Dog’s days were pretty much numbered. They would actually have another encounter the following year in the Wrestlemania 4 battle royal. This was the only non-battle royal match Harley Race would ever have at a Wrestlemania.
Vince McMahon is with Hulk Hogan, who cuts a rather strange promo about working out and people telling him that this was his last ride. Brother. Very strange to see Vince in the broadcast outside of the opening in the ring. He wouldn’t broadcast a Mania until MSG in 1994 for 10.
Rougeau Brothers vs Dream Team (w/Johnny V and Dino Bravo)
The build: This is rather fascinating because it was back in the days when the WWF would still run angles specifically for the local markets. In this case, Montreal saw a six man match where Bravo turned on his fellow Quebecers to join forces with the Dream Team. So you may ask why isn’t Bravo in the match? The answer might be that he sucks, but not in this case because there was a second storyline wherein the role of Brutus Beefcake was being gradually reduced in the team in favor of Bravo. In a six man match on Superstars, the Dream Team and Adrian Adonis faced the Can-Ams and Lanny Poffo. While Beefcake worked Rick Martel in the corner, Adonis reached over to cut some hair off Martel but didn’t realize it was Beefcake. Kind of an odd thing to screw up, but it works. Watching this card in a vacuum without knowing that backstory (since there was no recap package) makes Beefcake’s anger at the victory and later appearance on this card seem nonsensical.
The match: The highlight here is that Bobby Heenan makes his Wrestlemania debut on commentary for one match to declare he is now 2-0 and this is his night. Gorilla informs him that he’s actually 1-2 since Hercules didn’t win and Bundy got DQ’d. Heenan replies that he wasn’t there for the Bundy match and will have nothing to do with midgets. Alright then. Crowd likes the Rougeaus moves but they were a very milquetoast tag team even by 1980s standards. During the bout, Beefcake nails the Hammer by accident roiling up tensions again. Rougeaus hit the Rougeau Bomb on Valentine but with the referee tied up with Johnny V, Bravo came in off the top with a sorry looking forearm to steal the win. Beefcake was not satisfied with the manner of victory so Bravo and Valentine took off on the cart without him.
Verdict: The switch to Bravo and Valentine as a team did no favors for anyone, except Beefcake whose night was not over. Bravo and Valentine had no chemistry and they would be back as singles by the end of the year. The Rougeaus were just an aimless lower card babyface team, similar to the Killer Bees who are on this card later.
Rowdy Roddy Piper vs Adrian Adonis (w/Jimmy Hart) – Hair vs hair, retirement match for Piper
The build: This dated back a long way to the prior spring when Piper went on hiatus so the Piper’s Pit segment was replaced by Adonis’ Flower Shop. When Piper returned in late summer, Adonis was not interested in giving up his spot. Even Piper’s old bodyguard Bob Orton had sided with Adonis and they beat the crap out of Piper during a segment with dueling shows. Piper would bust up Adonis’ arm on Saturday Night’s Main Event and put him out of commission for a while. In a January matchup, Adonis sprayed fragrance from an atomizer in Piper’s face, blinding him and getting a cheap countout victory. As if there wasn’t enough into this match, the hair vs hair stipulation was added which is why Adonis was carrying scissors to cut Beefcake’s hair in the first place. And to top it all off: this was to be Piper’s retirement match, during a time when such things carried much greater weight.
The match: This is how you do a blowoff match. Piper had to walk to the ring because his cart broke down, but it gave it more of an epic feel. This was like a strap match early with Piper whipping Adonis with his belt. Gorilla actually references Adonis as Jesse Ventura’s partner from years prior. Ventura says he’s got a new team: Braverman and Bloom, which is a Hollywood talent agency. Jesse’s movie career would take off that June in Predator. Adonis gets control and slaps on the sleeper, but lets go right before Piper’s arm comes down a third time think he has won. Beefcake appears out of nowhere to revive Piper. Adonis comically misses Piper with the cutting shears and it bounces back and he hits himself. Sleeper by Piper and it’s all over. Beefcake does the honor of shaving Adonis’ head, giving him a new gimmick and cementing his face turn. Piper deals with a kid who ran into the ring and shakes hands with him before security takes him out. Adonis is outraged when he sees himself in the mirror, and Piper celebrates by kissing the top of Howard Finkel’s head.
Verdict: This was just about the perfect blowoff match. Beefcake was transferred into feuding with Adonis, which didn’t work since the Adorable one was fired less than 6 weeks later. Brutus would remain highly popular though. After his firing, Adonis worked up in Canada and wanted another chance in the WWF. That would never come because he tragically died in a car accident on July 4.
Jesse Ventura disappears from the booth to be introduced in the ring. This had to be part of his contract since they did the same thing at the next two Wrestlemanias.
Hart Foundation and Danny Davis (w/Jimmy Hart) vs British Bulldogs and Tito Santana
The build: Oh boy. The Hart Foundation won the titles from the Bulldogs on the Feb. 7 episode of Superstars in very controversial fashion. Dynamite Kid was knocked out and Davis as referee permitted the Harts to double team Davey Boy Smith for the entire match. This married Davis to the Jimmy Hart stable when he was suspended by WWF President Jack Tunney for “life plus 10 years” which was funny since he would be refereeing again by the summer of 1989. As a further bonus, Davis just happened to be the referee in Boston when Tito Santana lost the IC title to Randy Savage, who used a foreign object. This was before the “evil ref” angle but this was retconned to make it seem like Davis screwed Tito.
The match: Mary Hart joined on commentary since Jesse was ringside to take Matilda the bulldog backstage. She let us know that despite her surname that she is not related to Jimmy or Bret and is not rooting for them because of Danny Davis. Gorilla calls Bret the “master of execution” which is fine because he said that Bob Orton had “excellence of execution” in the opener. Monsoon put over Bret strong in this match as a solid wrestler so you can sense that maybe they knew what they had in Bret. Davis gets in a shot and immediate tags out as the crowd howls. But he later gets caught and takes a friggin’ stiff looking tombstone and is generally killed dead. But the match breaks down, and Gorilla barely notices that Davis gets Jimmy Hart’s megaphone to knock out Davey Boy and score a cheap pin.
Verdict: People got what they wanted in seeing Davis get beat up, and I suppose they couldn’t kill him off now but nothing could come of this because Davis wasn’t much of a worker. There was nowhere to go unless they did a series where he got the crap beat out of him by all the faces that were wronged. Dynamite Kid was still ailing badly from his injury suffered in December, the one that precipitated the title change in the first place. This was the 2nd of four straight tag losses for Tito Santana at Wrestlemania, and he only took the fall in one of them because his partner abandoned him.
A promo from Andre the Giant and Bobby Heenan is shown…well, only Heenan actually talks. He says that Andre is the clear favorite.
“The Natural” Butch Reed (w/Slick) vs Koko B. Ware
The build: Not much to speak of here, except Koko had some success against members of Slick’s stable. But hey, Jesse Ventura said his friend Barry Blaustein couldn’t wait to see this match. You might know that name: that’s the guy who made Beyond the Mat in 1999. Reed was still a relative newcomer to WWF after some modest success in Mid-South. He had to leave there to due personal issues (i.e. his wife made him leave) and wrestled in Central States before heading to New York.
The match: Koko was always a master of getting the crowd involved so the placement here after the Davis victory makes sense. Not a lot of time here for his usual high spots, though. Reed reversed a crossbody and rolled it over to get the pin, while grabbing the tights. Slick comes into the ring, but Tito Santana comes out of nowhere to beat up the Doctor of Style and tears his clothes up. Tito also had a minor feud with Reed and Slick brewing, which included a match at MSG earlier in the month.
Verdict: Good enough to bring the crowd back to life. I just wish they could have found a better spot for Koko as a plucky underdog instead of a job guy to the stars.
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat (w/George “The Animal” Steele) vs “Macho Man” Randy Savage (c) (w/Elizabeth)
The build: A classic storyline that started the prior November when Savage faced Steamboat on Superstars and did a double axe handle to the outside to drive the Dragon’s throat into the guard rail. He dragged Steamboat in and hit him in the throat with the ring bell, all while Vince on commentary is screaming that the Dragon can’t breathe. A doctor would appear to give updates on Steamboat’s condition in the following weeks and the Dragon would be back for revenge on the January SNME. They had matches at house shows where Steamboat would lose his cool and get DQ’d so this match was presented as his last shot at the title.
The match: While it is a shade under 15 minutes, this is one of the greatest matches of all time because of the pace the two guys cut. There is no wasted effort in this match, which was planned out move for move in advance. This has been criticized in some circles and even Steamboat prefers his classics with Flair which were called on the fly. Savage gets a surprising amount of cheers on his entrance, which is acknowledged by Gorilla and Jesse. He would very gradually turn babyface late in the summer of 1987. Because of how many matches are on the card, this would not get the 25 minutes like it would in the NWA so it was a good idea to plan everything out. There are an astonishing number of near falls. Ventura gets really pissed off about the counts by the referee when Steamboat is outside the ring, but the Dragon is helped back in by Steele. Not only are Savage and Steamboat great, but Dave Hebner takes one of the greatest ref bumps in history of a reversed Irish whip. Savage hits his elbow with the referee down, then goes for the ring bell to do greater damage. Steele takes it away, but Savage gets it back so the Animal pushes Macho Man off the top. Savage tries a slam which Steamboat turns into an inside cradle to score the win. My only gripe about the match is that Steamboat failed to get his leg in the right position on the pin so both legs aren’t hooked like they should be. Ventura wants the Dragon to go all King Solomon and cut the belt in half to give Steele a share.
Verdict: Still holds up. Everyone should watch this at least once per year. Steamboat dropped the title within 3 months to the Honky Tonk Man which was probably best for all involved since Honky was actually more of a draw than Steamboat would have been as a babyface IC champ.
Honky Tonk Man (w/Jimmy Hart) vs Jake “The Snake” Roberts (w/Alice Cooper)
The build: Honky Tonk appeared on the Snake Pit several weeks prior and Roberts spent time making fun of him and taunting with his snake so Honky walloped Jake over the head with a guitar. Not exactly proportional response there. Jake would enlist Alice Cooper because of his snake handling skills to counter Jimmy Hart. Roberts suffered a legitimate neck injury from the guitar shot.
The match: Jake matches are never technical classics, and Honky Tonk never really had a four star match neither. The crowd was very much into Jake with “DDT” chants even as Honky Tonk controlled much of the match. Jake backdropped out of the Shake, Rattle and Roll but when he went for the DDT, Hart grabbed his leg. Honky rolled him up and grabbed the ropes for leverage to score a terribly awkward pin. The post match is a bit of a mess, with Jake getting Hart in a full nelson and Cooper just kind of pointing the snake at poor Jimmy.
Verdict: They would have rematches prior to Honky’s IC title win and Jimmy Hart started a “ban the DDT” campaign. But these guys would drift apart as Honky would move on to bigger and better things. Jake would end up getting suspended for drugs later in the year.
Mean Gene Okerlund announces that 93,173 is the attendance. Jeez, next thing you’ll tell me is that Roman Reigns-Braun Strowman might be the main event of a WWE PPV in 2016.
Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik (w/Slick) vs The Killer Bees
The build: Not much of one to speak of, just a way to get these guys on the card. Volkoff’s anthem singing raised the ire of newcomer Hacksaw Jim Duggan, who vowed to stop him every time.
The match: Duggan did indeed run off Volkoff before the match. Because you can’t sing that commie anthem because this is the land of the free. Thanks Jim. Anyway, Duggan is very much like his Mid-South character and not the more clownish character he would become. Poor Slick is still wearing his torn up clothes. This match is in what in recent years was the Divas Death Slot so the object was to just get us to the main event. Sheiky has the Camel Clutch on Brunzell, but Duggan runs in with his 2X4 and whacks him in the back for the DQ. Ventura wonders why the Bees wouldn’t be pissed at losing that way.
Verdict: Oddly this served to get a guy not in the match more over. Sheik and Duggan would famously be arrested together in May and would both be fired, ending what was a huge push for Duggan. Hacksaw would get rehired by the end of the year after having a great match with Ted DiBiase at the Paul Boesch retirement show in August. Volkoff would end up in the Bolsheviks by year’s end. (The Russian history nerd in me always wishes a team called the Mensheviks came in to feud with them) The Killer Bees floundered and B. Brian Blair’s reputed drug suspension didn’t help matters. That’s a shame, I always enjoyed Jim Brunzell.
Andre the Giant gets more promo time, and he can talk! He says that this won’t take very long.
Hulk Hogan (C) vs Andre the Giant (w/Bobby Heenan) for the WWF World title
The build: This goes back to 1984 when Hogan won the title from the Iron Sheik and Andre poured champagne on his head in the MSG locker room. In late 1985, Hogan teamed with Andre to face down Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy. By 1986, Andre’s health declined rapidly and he was off to make Princess Bride. In storyline he was suspended at the insistence of Bobby Heenan for missing a match. Late in the year he was mysteriously reinstated and no one was willing to say why. They would tell us that at the reinstatement hearing that Heenan was there but Andre was not. The Brain would always avoid discussion of this, seemingly out of embarrassment.
The match itself would be set up over several weeks on Piper’s Pit. On the first, Hulk Hogan was given a large trophy for being world champion for three years. Andre walked out in the middle and said “Three years to be a champion is a long time” and left. The following week, Andre was given a trophy for being undefeated for 15 years. This was a smaller trophy than what Hogan got. Before Andre had a chance to say a few words, Hogan came out to sing Andre’s praises but the Giant didn’t want to hear it so he walked off stage. Jesse Ventura was on Piper’s Pit the next week and said that something smelled funny about this whole Hogan-Andre business. He had tried investigating in prior weeks to no avail. Ventura said he would bring Andre the next week if Piper would bring Hogan. When that time came, Hogan was out there but Andre arrived behind Bobby Heenan. Hogan wanted an explanation but Heenan did all the talking. When Andre spoke, it was to challenge Hogan for the title to which Hulk said he couldn’t believe this was happening. “You don’t believe this? Maybe you’ll believe this Hogan!” said Heenan before Andre ripped Hogan’s shirt off, cutting him with his own crucifix as well. That was all that was needed, but in the weeks leading up Heenan demanded a belt to fit Andre.
The match: Andre waves to the crowd from the ring cart almost like a babyface as Bob Uecker announces his weight at 520 pounds. This is of course slightly off from Hogan’s estimate that Andre weighed 800. Who are you gonna believe? This was supposedly going to be Andre’s last match but he would return 8 months later. Hogan walks to the ring as Ventura lays out the tale of the tape for both guys. I should note that Uecker announced a one hour time limit and all I could think was that a 60 minute match would have killed Andre dead. Gorilla mistakenly says it will be the last time we see that version of the world title, aka the Hogan 86 belt. It would stay until the Main Event rematch in February 1988. Famous staredown to start and Hogan can’t slam Andre and nearly gets pinned. This effectively protected Andre in a way that he could claim victory which is why he would say he was undefeated a year later despite losing. Hogan is slammed with ease and does a good job of selling. Long bearhug spot because Andre was very limited, and Hogan fights back but gets booted to the outside. Andre hits the post and we get one of the most nonsensical spots in a wrestling match I have ever seen. Hogan pulls up the mats and tries a piledriver on the floor. I wouldn’t even try that in a video game, let alone in a real match. Andre counters with the slowest and worst looking backdrop in history. Back in, Andre misses on a boot and Hogan hits a clothesline knocking Andre to the mat and the place explodes. Time for the Hulk up and the famous slam followed by the leg drop for the historic win. Heenan is so despondent on the cart heading to the back which makes a great visual as he is pelted with garbage. Hogan does his posing as Jesse continues his tradition of threatening to come out of retirement.
Verdict: This wasn’t going to be a five star classic, but I think Hogan did a very good job considering Andre’s condition. It’s amazing that they carried out this storyline into the following year and made a second memorable angle out of it with Ted DiBiase.
Summary: This is the other side of the Wrestlemania 17 coin. Because that was also a major card in a dome that was a peak of its era, and things declined from there. After Hogan beat Andre, there wasn’t a whole lot left to do. But take a look at this card as a whole and how all the stories were built: it is pretty close to perfection for all the biggest matches. It’s a reminder that things really used to be better, but the reason why we watch is in the hope that maybe it can be like that again. Wrestlemania 3 is a card that should be watched yearly not only for how good it was, but for its historical importance in the history of the business.