Retro Wrestling Re-Run: WrestleMania 2

David is back with a detailed history of WrestleMania 2 and the men who were in it.

Retro Wrestling Re-Run: WrestleMania 2

Imagine how much intestinal fortitude it took to attempt something like WrestleMania I, knowing full well if it failed that you and your kids could find themselves struggling to eat. Now imagine the pure balls it took, just one year later, to run your WrestleMania show in three different arenas at the same time…

Frankly, it’s amazing that they were able to sell out three arenas, because each arena was only getting 1/3rd of a show. Meaning only one Arena even got Hulk Hogan, WWF’s top draw. The first part was at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale New York, which is on Long Island, not far from NYC. The second part was at the Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont Illinois, which is just outside of Chicago. The third part was at Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, in Los Angeles, which was the biggest arena of the three at the time, and so was the one that got Hulk Hogan.

Together, the three events drew capacity crowds that rounded out to 40K, so while it’s a ballsy strategy… it at least worked. If you were in attendance at this show, you were treated to a big screen that showed the other two parts of WrestleMania. WWF/E never tried this again… I’m so happy about that.

This may have been inspired by the 1985 edition of Starrcade which was presented at two arenas, the Omni in Atlanta, and Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina, which drew 30,000 fans in total. Vince McMahon has never been one to be outdone. If they can do a two arena show, then by God Vince McMahon will do a show in three arenas and sell out all three.

While I’m getting ready to talk about celebrities, I want to take a moment to acknowledge one in particular and his contribution to WrestleMania tradition. Ray Charles never sings the National Anthem and the previous WrestleMania opened with the National Anthem. Ray Charles has always preferred to perform "America the Beautiful." He did not believe that any artist had the right to make alterations to the National Anthem, and any song that Ray Charles performed that he didn’t own, he always made changes to so that there would be a definitive Ray Charles version of the song.

As a result, Ray Charles performed "America the Beautiful" at WrestleMania 2, and because of that, WWF/E took the lead from Ray Charles and made "America the Beautiful" the traditional opening for most Wrestlemanias.

However sometimes WrestleMania does still feature the National Anthem on some of their shows. WWE seems to switch around between the two. "America the Beautiful" itself, would be featured 25 (so far) out of 37 WrestleMania events, with it being performed on both nights of WrestleMania 37. Whereas the National Anthem has been performed far less often.

There are many other celebrities involved as well, more so than the previous year’s WrestleMania. Susan St. James was with Vince in New York, who after the New York Show is finished, also offered some general commentary between matches from the other venues. I really don’t much care for Susan St. James here. They are trying to have a kind of “almost talk show” format, but Susan St. James doesn’t really understand wrestling and can’t add anything insightful or interesting. I think it’s the weakest part of the show.

Cathy Lee Crosby was with Gorilla Monsoon at the Rosemont, and she’s not even memorable. It’s mostly just Gene Okerlund and Gorilla Monsoon doing commentary, and it’s the best commentated part of the show. Gorilla and Gene did a lot of commentary over house shows and some TV together, so they had a good chemistry and can handle this show fine.

In LA, Elvira is with Jesse Ventura. She doesn’t know much about wrestling either, but she’s got a lot more personality and is quite interesting to listen to from an outsider point of view. She is freaked out by the violence, and since she’s Elvira, that puts over the show. She is also amazed by the size of guys like Hogan and Bundy. Jesse Ventura and Elvira have decent chemistry too, so it’s passable.

Other celebrities included Tommy Lasorda, Joan Rivers, Cab Calloway, among others. None of these people other than Ray Charles really holds a candle to Cyndi Lauper, but it does succeed in giving the show a star-studded feeling that helped keep WWF in the popular culture.

Now… we can talk about the wrestling...

We start with one of the worst openers in WrestleMania history. Paul Orndorff has always been one of my favorites, so it sucks to come across such a terrible match. Paul Orndorff was in the main event of WrestleMania, just one year ago. Now he’s opening the show. That might not mean much in the modern era of wrestling as it’s quite common for guys who’ve been top guys to suddenly open the show. Some WWE PPV's have even started with a World Title Match. But in this day and age it’s a reflection of how low Orndorff was in terms of booking.

The problem is simple. Paul Orndorff is a face at this point in time. WWF has no shortage of faces who are over. Hulk Hogan of course, but also Junkyard Dog is massively over still. There is Andre the Giant, who’s heel turn was still almost a year away. Later on WWF would recognize this problem, and turn Orndorff heel and kick off the greatest run of his career. For now however, Orndorff as a face meant he was fighting an uphill battle with better established faces.

This match solves none of that, as it ends in a double count out. The crowd chants “bullshit” and they are right. This is WrestleMania, not Prime Time Wrestling. You shouldn’t end matches like this, even then. A bad opening match can taint the entire show and this does just that. In collective consciousness, this WrestleMania is remembered very poorly… which is sad because there are several quality matches on the show that get overlooked. Such as...

This is Randy Savage’s first WrestleMania match. It gets a lot of hate because it’s frankly not at the same level of in-ring quality as Randy Savage’s later matches, but it’s not as bad as people say. What it lacks in technical quality it makes up for in sheer entertainment. Randy Savage can go hold for hold with Ricky Steamboat, but he can match wrestlers whose style is based on theatrics just as well.

Lots of biting from George, and cowardly antics from Randy Savage. Savage crawls under the ring, under Miss Elizabeth’s skirt even. At one point, he beats up George with flowers. It’s not meant to be scientific, just entertaining.

Randy Savage won and continued his reign as Intercontinental Champion into the following year. The feud with George Steele was so popular with the crowds that it continued for almost a year in of itself. Nothing against scientific wrestling, but it does prove that feuds based on entertainment value can draw too. It’s also very important for George Steele to put over Randy Savage at WrestleMania. People might forget him now, but he was a long time WWF veteran then, putting over a wrestler who was much newer to the promotion.

On one hand, you’ve got a match that does not belong on a WrestleMania event. This should be on a regular WWF show or maybe a Saturday Night’s Main Event. George Wells in WWF is a jobber, but one with a lot of skill. Jobber matches however, aren’t WrestleMania matches in my opinion.

That said, the match was good for what it was as a short match. Jake Roberts let George Wells get in a lot of good offense, in fact while some reviews incorrectly claim that Jake Roberts dominated the match, there were times when it looked like George Wells really had Jake Roberts in hand. What this turned into was actually wonderful booking. Because Roberts was losing, but then one DDT and he won.

That’s a great way to put over a finishing move. One move not only changed the direction of the entire match but it also got Jake Roberts the pinfall. Simple, yet effective booking. And then the snake comes out. The effect on the crowd was out of this world. They were not ready for that snake. Roberts puts the snake on George Wells and becomes one of the rising heel stars in the company, just like that. I disagree with the use of a jobber, but the principle is the same. This was a great moment for Jake Roberts, a forgotten match for the fans, but an important step for Jake Roberts.

Soon after this, Jake Roberts will begin to feud with Ricky Steamboat, in what many consider one of the top feuds of the year. It would be the first of many iconic feuds for Jake.

WWF/E always gets into trouble when they go outside of their comfort zone. They booked a boxing match on WrestleMania. I’m a boxing fan, not as much as I like wrestling but still. Compared to real boxing matches, this absolutely sucks. I don’t understand why they didn’t just book a regular match. It probably would have drew just as well. If they were worried about Mr. T’s limited in ring ability showing, the boxing match didn’t hide it.  

After this match, Mr. T will never wrestle in WWF ever again. He largely pulls out of wrestling, other than the odd cameo. Roddy Piper takes time off and won’t be back in a WWF ring for several months. This match means nothing, is nothing, and is not fun. If you watch this show, you can feel free to skip.

Now for something that actually does have some meaning, we have the battle royal. Famously, many NFL players were involved in this match including William "The Refrigerator" Perry. The decision to include the NFL players was a bizarre decision that could have backfired. However, because it was a battle royal, no harm was really done and William Perry was so memorable that he’ll go into the WWE Hall of Fame for it.

The most important part however, is Andre the Giant winning it. His victory will inspire the “Andre the Giant Battle Royal” years later. Andre the Giant came in and looked dominate. It wasn’t a special story or an angle, just an opportunity to remind the fans that Andre the Giant is an awesome force. This is important so that he’s a more legitimate threat to Hulk Hogan at Next Year’s Wrestlemania.

There are a couple matches that need to be acknowledged because they were on the show but aren’t really worth talking about. Fabolous Moolah squashed Velvet McIntyre in a match for the women’s championship. It did nothing for the title, and the belt was soon forgotten. Moolah wasn’t willing to put in the same kind of work that Leilani Kai, and Wendi Richter did the year before, and basically helped kill her division. Then there is the flag Match: Corporal Kirschner vs. Nikolai Volkoff, it’s a nothing match, not even a very good angle based on patriotism. Both should be avoided.

The best match of the show by far and one of the top matches of the year. The Dream Team, Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine are set to lose the titles, and the era of the British Bulldogs has begun. The finish is genius too, Dynamite Kid was kayfabe knocked unconscious and happened to fall over and win the titles. The best part is how everyone is celebrating, and Dynamite Kid doesn’t even know he won the titles.

This victory was a seismic shift in the WWF tag team scene. The entire division shifted towards more technically skilled teams running the division. Even when a power-based team like Demolition had the titles, their foes tended to be the technically skilled teams, like the Hart Foundation. I believe that this victory kicks off the WWF Golden Age of Tag Team wrestling which continued to around 1990 or 1991. Never before, or since, would WWF give so much to the tag team scene or that we’d have so many great teams. It starts here, in this match… and it’s a must watch.

That said, the Dream Team was left behind in the ensuing Golden Age and would never win gold again. They went their separate ways. There would be a “New Dream Team” which would be Dino Bravo and Greg Valentine, but they never achieved the success of the first version. Brutus Beefcake would go all out on his barber gimmick, becoming a fundamental face in the mid card of WWF.

This match is one for the category of good matches that are under 10 minutes. Hercules doesn’t have a long history of iconic matches under his belt, but Ricky Steamboat does already, at this point in his career. His most famous matches haven’t even happened yet, but he already had a reputation as one of the best in ring wrestlers. As a result, they create a nice wonderful little match to make this lacklustre WrestleMania a little more acceptable.

Ricky Steamboat from here, will go into a feud with Jake Roberts, and get knocked out for real with a DDT. It became part of an amazing feud between them. It was one of several amazing feuds for Ricky Steamboat in the coming years. There are some fan rumors that it was supposed to be Ricky Steamboat vs Bret Hart. I don’t know if that was true, but I would have wanted to see that match.

For Hercules, this is his first match on a major card. He joined the company in 1985, but mostly had been under the radar. After this match he’d go back under the radar until he joined the Heenan Family later this year. Still, he showed a lot of promise. Vince must have thought so too as Hercules had a nice career in WWF overall.

I have hatred for this match for many reasons. Adrian Adonis has by this point adopted the gimmick where he wears a dress and has what must be some of the worst make up jobs I’ve ever seen. They’re literally making him out to be a crossdresser and perhaps gay... and doing so in a very negative light.

Well, it’s the 1980s… The story goes that this was a punishment angle, but that could be an urban legend. But I feel it makes sense, Adonis is a solid wrestler even at this point where age was really getting him down, so it doesn’t make sense to treat him this way… unless they are punishing him for something.

In the match itself, Uncle Elmer, our good guy, is so angry about Adrian Adonis wearing a dress that he’s going to beat him within an inch of his life. Absolutely God awful, even in those days. It’s just a terrible notion, that a good ol' country-boy beats up a “crossdresser” because he’s a crossdresser. I consider this to be one of the worst matches in Mania history, and this angle is part of the reason why… never mind that the match itself is also really bad.

Neither wrestler would live very long after this. Adrian Adonis was killed in a car accident, just two years later. Adonis had been working out to get in better shape, and had hopes to return to WWE but his death came before he ever could. Uncle Elmer made it to the 90s… He left WWF in May of this very year, he worked in CWA for a while, even winning the AWA Southern Tag Team Championship with Jerry Lawler, beefore he died of Kidney Failure in 1992.

This is the other good match that I think you should go and see, not counting the main event of course. JYD’s still prime in booking, his partner is Tito Santana who is another like Steamboat, a treasure in the ring. Of course, the Funk Brothers are also legends, with incredible in-ring abilities.

The match isn’t really for anything, Vince probably put it there to have a more complete card and gave them the time so the audience wouldn’t be dead for Hogan v Bundy, which was a success. The audience were very happy and very pumped so that when Hogan comes out, they are plenty warmed up.

The Funk Brothers run in WWF was poor, with Terry Funk having one of the worst main event matches I’d seen in 1986, against Hulk Hogan. They had a lot of potential, but all they seemed to be there for was to enhance some of Vince’s boys. Terry was out first, and Dory stuck around until after the Big Event, but soon left himself.

JYD fell down the card over the next year. He still had his moments, such as wearing Harley Race’s crown at WrestleMania III, but his peak was over. Tito however would continue to get favorable positions, at this time… with his talent he’s well ahead of most of the roster and is someone that Vince will often go to in order to have great matches. Eventually, others will catch up to him, but not for a few years.

The year before, Hulk Hogan didn’t defend his title at WrestleMania, so this show represents a first. The first time the WWF/E Championship is in fact defended at WrestleMania. Naturally, every WrestleMania afterward will always feature a WWE Championship match.

Building up to this, for a while I didn’t feel like WWF knew where they were going with WrestleMania 2 for the main event… but Hogan and Bundy started having little encounters at the end of 1985, and it seemed to be the first indication that a match was coming. In terms of heels, WWF was kind of up a creek at this point. They let Piper’s relevance decline. They turned Orndorff face. They really didn’t have much to go with.

Except for Bundy. King Kong Bundy is, other than Andre, the most definitive giant of WWF in the 1980s. Were it not for Andre’s presence, I believe King Kong Bundy would have been a top star for half a decade or more, instead, after losing here, Bundy will drop hard…

Even in this match, King Kong Bundy wasn’t treated as the threat he should have been. Hogan kicked his ass in this match with Bundy only getting some offense. I didn’t understand why they did this. Bundy not only loses, but doesn’t look like a threat to Hogan. It’s like they planned to drop him before WrestleMania 2 even happened.

Regardless, Hogan does win, and the crowd is happy. For me the nostalgia comes back, watching Hogan pose in the ring and listen to Jesse Ventura bitch about him. That’s iconic right there.

Hogan of course is the star of the WWF, so he’ll go right into his next feud. Against Paul Orndorff, one of my favorite feuds of his, but I’ll save that for another article. For now though, Hulkamania ran wild all over King Kong Bundy… perhaps Bobby Heenan needs to find a bigger, meaner, giant.

WrestleMania 2 was a success, they sold out all three arenas… so whatever bills that Vince needed to get paid, probably got paid. I’m not sure that, if he did set his goal to outdo Starrcade, that he really achieved that. NWA’s hot streak was far from over, even if NWA wasn’t getting the same coverage as WWF.

But making money was one thing… the shows in three venues, with each show that had a commentary team that included people who didn’t know anything about wrestling, really didn’t go over well in the wrestling world. It wasn’t much more than a bump in the road, if that for WWF… but Vince never attempted a Triple Venue WrestleMania again… thank God for that.