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    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    The 'No Bullshit' Review - Early WrestleMania Collection

    Welcome back to the “No Bullshit Review”, where we judge matches based on whether they can sustain the illusion of a contest well enough that I’m not forced to involuntarily shout ‘bullshit’ (or similar) at my TV three times. Today, I have another selection of matches – and this time the thing bringing them all together is that they come from WrestleMania in the 1980s. I’ve decided to sidestep the very first event because I don’t have especially good memories of it, and have instead chosen five matches from WrestleMania II through to WrestleMania V. The three major titles of the era are going to be represented, as will several of the biggest names from the biggest boom period in recent wrestling history. I hope you’ll enjoy the chance to step back in time and consider some of these matches once again, maybe in this kind of way for the first time.

    We’re going to start things off here by looking at a tag match for the first time….

    The British Bulldogs vs The Dream Team, WrestleMania II, April 7th, 1986
    For the WWF Tag Team Championship
    Rosemont Horizon, Chicago


    I am tempted to give this one a bullshit right off the bat, for Gene Okerlund saying that Ozzy Osbourne comes from Manchester rather than my own hometown of Birmingham. But I’ll stroll straight past that, not least of all because the bell hasn’t rung.

    Bulldog and Hammer start us off, and if there’s a pair I’m not expecting to trouble me in this one it is these two. Beefcake and Dynamite, instinctively I’d say, offer more potential for problems. But Davey Boy starts out strong working the arm of Valentine. A tag to Dynamite, some more high energy, brutal offence, before a turnbuckle to the head and Valentine does a better comedy flop than Flair ever managed to pull off. The pace of this one is frantic right off the top, with the Bulldogs setting the agenda.

    The first bit I don’t really like is Valentine doesn’t sell enough in the first major turnaround. I buy that you could hit the turnbuckle and not come out perfectly to take your opponent’s next move the way people do nowadays, so I don’t have problem with him getting his shot in, but the fact that he seems untroubled despite being on the receiving end of all the offence so far is a bit much. That’s undone some of their earlier good work as he tags in Brutus Beefcake.

    But a lot of minutes pass by with nothing to complain about – the next thing bothers me even at all is Valentine and Dynamite trading blows in what has now become a cliché, but even that doesn’t go on too long before Billington takes the advantage, so it is plausible enough that one could take three or four shots before the telling one lands – and under the circumstances, the right man won the exchange.

    There’s an odd little sequence where Valentine inexplicably tries to bridge and Dynamite gets his knees up to defend, which catches him low. It’s obviously just there so he can turn the match around, but it makes no sense for Valentine to try and do that there. His heading to the top rope immediately after, when a tag was there, is even weirder. We’re heading into some dangerous territory as a devastated Valentine and Beefcake both end up outside, but there’s a miracle recovery for The Hammer when he gets back into the ring and attacks Billington…. And you know what, a tiny little bullshit escapes under my breath. That’s the first strike.

    When Davey gets the tag things improve, not least because he takes a tremendous shoulder bump to the turnbuckle. I’m thrown back into a weird mood a moment later when the referee counts a cover when Valentine doesn’t seem to be pinning him. Funny, I said Valentine would be safe and yet he’s been the source of almost every problem. Before that can build and they incur a second strike, Hammer is thrown into the corner and collides with Dynamite, and Davey Boy is able to pick up the cover for the title change.

    Result – Pass with One Strike


    Macho Man Randy Savage vs Ricky The Dragon Steamboat, WrestleMania III, March 29th,1987
    For the WWF Intercontinental Championship
    Silverdome, Pontiac


    There’s a moment early on here where you can see Savage and Steamboat stood across the ring from each other, and I’m not sure the staging of wrestling has ever been bigger, has ever made its combatants look so much like the big time. I reckon that factors into the match that these too had, but it could also be the peak in so many ways. But there is the potential for some bullshit in this match, despite the high reputation, and we’re reminded of that early on when Savage jumps out to escort Elizabeth to another corner, putting some distance between her and George ‘The Animal’ Steele. That whole subplot could be rife for this sort of thing. Anyway, let’s see how we get on.

    Savage uses some good heel tricks before he hits a turnbuckle hard, which brings us into the affair in a big way, and soon after Steamboat lifts Savage up with a very cool looking hold. Someone might expect a strike here, but if you’ve ever actually experienced someone lifting you up by your wrist you will believe it because you’ll know – as I do, for the record – that in those kind of situations you go where your aggressor wants to put you. Anyway, we’re through to the sequence with Savage preventing Steamboat from getting back into the ring, and not only do we not look like hitting a strike yet, but everything has looked superb. First moment of weirdness comes in a series of reversals off the ropes that just doesn’t ring true, but I’m enjoying it and that just takes a little shine off rather than presenting any huge problems. The fact that they are straight back to those arm drags helps, too.

    There’s an interesting moment a little later as Animal Steele helps Steamboat back to the ring, once he’s been thrown over the railing by Savage. The commentators talk about how this should be against the rules (with Jesse taking the harder line on it, of course). But for all the complaints, I sort of buy it. Savage has transgressed more first, and we’ve seen the referee berating him. It’s easy enough to fill in the gap that Steamboat is getting more leeway from the referee because Savage has been pushing the boundaries of the law. And again, soon after, we’re back to good-looking offence from Macho Man.

    The adrenaline starts to pick back up with Steamboat’s comeback, and we’re entering that kind of territory where you can probably get away with quite a lot. It’s hard to imagine calling bullshit when the hairs on your neck are standing on end, and that’s where we’re at when Hebner counts three but waves it off when Savage gets his foot on the ropes at the last second. Jesse’s complaints add to it, becoming more frenzied in their hypocrisy as the match starts to get away from Randy Savage.

    A frantic series of reversals leads into a moment where we get the closest that they have to a bullshit so far, and it is referee Hebner’s comedy bump that causes it. I’d forgotten how over the top that was. Though to be fair - I stay quiet at the time, possibly because deep down him getting bulldozed by a much bigger man in Steamboat could produce all sorts of weird consequences. Anyway, that’s the worst bit so far, and if memory serves there can’t be long left in this one.

    Savage got the better of the fallout from the ref bump, and soon he’s on the top rope where he hits the flying elbow. If only there were a referee, because Savage clearly has the match won. He goes out for the bell, and George Steele stops him. When he gets it back, Steele pushes him off the top rope, which the still incapacitated Hebner misses as he gets back to his feet. One roll up later and this one is done. And what’s more, it’s in the books with a Gold Standard.

    Sometimes we get some hot takes in this column – and sometimes, the match with a big reputation just gets through completely unscathed.

    Result – Gold Standard


    Hulk Hogan vs Andre The Giant, WrestleMania III, March 29th,1987
    For the WWF Championship
    Silverdome, Pontiac


    Probably the largest match I’ve looked at so far, with two legitimate super-heavyweights in there – and I think what we’re mainly interested in here is how much Andre’s ageing body might hurt the credibility of the match, if at all. We know for starters that he wasn’t the performer he had been even just a couple of years earlier and that his decline was fairly rapid, and that the match has taken some stick from people like Dave Meltzer as a result. But are the good wrestling instincts intact, so much so that it can escape unscathed? I think that is the question here. It’s never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but can they still cover the limitations?

    The match starts memorably, with Hogan rocking the big man and attempting the body slam only to see his back give out leading to an immediate near-fall, with Andre following up on the now-injured area. Hogan brings maximum melodrama to the bout, something that I think you can only really get away with when you are in there with Andre, with his reputation and sheer size. Something that would look silly in other situations sort of works when you are up against those odds.

    Hogan’s turnaround comes sensibly, as a matter of chance as much as anything, and his offence in this match plays well with the kind of desperation you’d expect him to be feeling – there is none of the stupidity of an intricate big move off the ropes that no one would be able to think of hitting in that kind of situation. Hogan throws big right hands to rock the big man, and when he comes off the ropes, it is with shoulders and fists. His comeback is cut off, again sensibly enough, with a huge boot to the face when he gets caught running in. Once again, moves from the ropes carry risk with them, and Hogan went to the well once too often.

    I’m quite into it by the time that Hogan does the ‘arm drop’ spot in the bear hug, so I stay quiet through that bit, and in fact it’s Hogan’s two-stage bump a minute or so later that really gives me my first problem in the match. I can’t imagine there’s long left in this one, though, so the question is whether the clock will expire before we hit a bullshit?

    Andre misses a headbutt and hits the ring post, something that makes all manner of turnarounds possible, and Hogan manages to avoid what should be either a DQ or a bullshit when Andre reverses his attempt at a piledriver on the unprotected floor. Obviously, such an attempt should be a DQ, but you can see why the referee wouldn’t want to save the perpetrator’s title with that decision when he wasn’t actually able to hit it.

    Then Hogan hulks up – something that in later years would be an automatic bullshit as it becomes a parody of itself and I laugh myself half to death. I’m reminded here though, of how relatively inoffensive it was in the early years. Hogan reverses Andre and knocks him down, and rather than miraculously recovering and becoming impervious seems to will himself through the fatigue into another state altogether. This is something that I’ve long believed – that things which are fine exaggerate themselves over time into more problematic figures once they are already over and people are more inclined to buy into it.

    Hogan doesn’t even have to no-sell in the finish – a more tired Andre, one who has had his bell rung by the ring post and been taken off his feet in a rare moment, can’t hold his weight down and Hogan is able to get him up with the second slam attempt, followed by a leg drop and the three count.

    There were some less than great moments in the match, and Hogan had to do a lot of bumping for Andre and not all of it was brilliant. But with that said – I didn’t have any major problem with anything that I saw here. In fact, as this was the peak of Hogan’s popularity, I’m inclined to wonder if pushing the superman theatrics beyond this level might be, in part, to blame for the decline he’d suffer in the next couple of years? But the second match we’ve looked at from WrestleMania III gets the same grade.

    I don’t expect any American Hogan matches after this to trouble the Gold Standard, though – I’ll make that prediction right now.

    Result – Gold Standard



    “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs Ted DiBiase, WrestleMania IV, March 27th, 1988
    For the WWF Championship
    Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City


    This match is the finale at WrestleMania IV and is shorter than average for that – both men have wrestled already in the tournament for the WWF Championship.

    The first thing of any real note is the way that Andre and Savage work the trips beautifully. Andre always times it perfectly, not tripping for no reason but when it would tactically make sense to do so. He also never buries the referee by doing it in plain sight and revealing the whole thing as nonsense. Savage, for his part, gesticulates wildly, letting everyone in the room know what has happened, but somehow manages to do so in a way that never really feels contrived. It’s in watching this moment that it occurs to me Savage might have been the best at combining theatricality and believability in the history of wrestling. Something to consider, at any rate.

    About three minutes in, the sense is starting to build that this isn’t one in which you’re going to see anything particularly special, but what you are going to get is every little detail brilliantly expressed. It’s been the basics done impeccably so far, rather than going above and beyond. Of course, that also plays quite well into the system I’m using here – little to no evidence that either is inclined to stretch the bounds of credulity too far. At one-point DiBiase plays to the crowd, ignoring the downed Savage, but this is consistent with the story that they are telling – in which Savage is basically beaten and DiBiase is enjoying the moment.

    There’s a fair bit of shenanigans in the sequence where Andre stands over DiBiase to protect him outside the ring, and Savage sends Liz back to get Hogan – but nothing stands out as being too bad in and of itself, other than Hogan’s facial expressions. The first time I’m remotely troubled is whether there’s a touch of the ‘miracle recovery’ about Savage getting to the top rope in the final sequence, though he misses the elbow drop anyway. I’d say that’s the first time the match is living dangerously. The second doesn’t seem so bad, oddly – I don’t know if it’s the effect of seeing him up and selling rather than down, but some combination and the fact that the Million Dollar Dream wasn’t on for long before Hogan clobbers DiBiase with the chair (behind the referee’s back, of course) all allows this finish to coast through.

    Probably the weakest match to hit the gold standard so far in many ways, but one that never really over-extended itself and, as it was executed well, is more than good enough for me. Perhaps more to the point, Randy Savage becomes the first guy to get two matches into the elusive gold standard.

    Result – Gold Standard


    Strike Force vs The Brain Busters, WrestleMania V, April 2nd, 1989
    Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City


    I thought we’d finish this one with another tag match – quite a famous one – as a bit of a palate cleanse from all this Hogan and Savage. As Jesse Ventura says early in this one, ‘you’re going to see some fine wrestling here’.

    Full marks for the opening – the Busters have a viciousness in the corner and Martel has an absolute frenzied energy as he fights both off to fight his way out of there. Can’t downplay the quality of the start, and they even manage to pull off the slightly ludicrous double dropkick spot without it looking too fake. Anderson takes control with a leg scissors on the mat (which looks curiously like an MMA full guard position) only to see it reversed by Martel into a Boston crab. Good stuff, this.

    Too many men in the ring in the next sequence, though this is saved both by the fact that you’ve got no clue who to disqualify (he spends his time reprimanding Strike Force as they are the aggressors, though all four are in there), and by Jesse Ventura’s comments indicating that this is far from normal and that the referee has to get control. We’re still going well.

    Shortly after Anderson breaks up a Santana roll-up, and a short-but-frantic time later Santana comes off the ropes and accidentally catches Martel with the forearm. Anyone who has seen the bout knows where this is going. Santana has used this as a finish as a singles competitor, so there’s no surprise that this puts Martel on the outside for a long time.

    The next couple of sequences are great, as they all take place in the Busters corner – or near enough that the advantage is with the heel team as they can make tags, no matter what Santana does. A slingshot spot one time, a sunset flip the next – impeccable. The real advantage of all this, of course, is that it doesn’t go to Martel too early – the plot can mature. But that’s neither here nor there for this review.

    Eventually Santana catches Anderson on the top rope and can move towards the corner, only for Martel to walk away from the tag. When he’s fully recovered, he gestures to Santana and angrily leaves. My favourite detail of all this is the little disbelieving smirk on the face of Blanchard when he realises what is happening – it’s almost like he can’t believe his luck, that he has Santana down on the mat and now Strike Force are exploding. It’s actually during this sequence that we have my first problem of any kind – uncharacteristically it’s Arn, throwing some weak-looking kicks into Santana’s back. But that feels a bit like nit-picking at this stage. Let’s face it, your attention is diverted by Martel walking off unless you’re watching it in close detail. Santana tries to put together a flurry for a comeback but around two minutes after Martel walks off, The Brain Busters pick up the win with the spike piledriver.

    Result – Gold Standard




    Never let it be said that I can’t be positive! We’ve covered five matches here and there was only one strike across the lot, and after 25 matches we still only have the one failure. Y’know, it’s incredible just how much talent the WWE had stored up in their ranks during the 1980s and I think that’s probably why, in spite of so many ridiculous gimmicks and other things that could have been really off-putting, so many people were willing to go along with it. I’m not going to pretend that all of these matches were perfect – other than Savage and Steamboat you’ll see references to little problems everywhere – but a lot of these matches didn’t overstay their welcome, nor did they push their luck. Two lessons for wrestling to re-learn, I think.

    I’ll just finish by saying that I’m pleased this trip back to the 1980s has allowed us to double the number of matches in the ‘Gold Standard’ section in one fell swoop, and I’ll leave you with the final table.

    Code:
    
    Match					Date		Promotion	S/R	Time	
    --------------------------------------------------
    
    Nick Bockwinkel vs Curt Hennig		02/05/87	AWA		0	23:34
    Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat		20/02/89	WCW		0	23:18
    Bret Hart vs Steve Austin		23/03/97	WWF		0	22:05
    Ricky Steamboat vs Randy Savage		29/03/87	WWF		0	14:35
    Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant		29/03/87	WWF		0	12:01
    Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase		27/03/88	WWF		0	09:27
    Brain Busters vs Strike Force		02/04/89	WWF		0	09:17
    Shawn Michaels vs Undertaker		05/10/97	WWF		1	29:55
    El Hijo Del Santo vs Negro Casas	19/09/97	CMLL		1	24:01
    Daniel Bryan vs Kofi Kingston		07/04/19	WWE		1	23:45
    Dustin Rhodes vs Cody			25/05/19	AEW		1	22:30
    Razor Ramon vs Shawn Michaels		20/03/94	WWF		1	18:47
    Batista vs The Undertaker		01/04/07	WWE		1	15:51
    AJ Styles vs Kurt Angle			02/06/13	TNA		1	15:45
    British Bulldogs vs Dream Team		07/04/86	WWF		1	13:03
    Kushida vs Drew Gulak			12/06/19	WWENXT		1	10:08
    Mitsuharu Misawa vs Toshiaki Kawada	03/06/94	AJPW		2	35:50
    Andrade Cien Almas vs Johnny Gargano	27/01/18	WWENXT		2	32:19
    Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels		05/04/09	WWE		2	30:44
    John Cena vs Daniel Bryan		18/08/13	WWE		2	26:55
    Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels		28/03/10	WWE		2	23:59
    Nick Aldis vs Marty Scurll		27/04/19	NWA		2	23:45
    Rey Mysterio, Jr. vs Juventud Guerrera	08/03/96	ECW		2	16:09
    Samoa Joe vs Nigel McGuinness		27/08/05	RoH		2	14:46
    Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega		04/01/17	NJPW		3	29:54
    

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  2. #2
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    You're going soft in your old age
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  3. #3
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Aren't you older than me?!

    But yes, quite possible.

    EDIT: Just realised Savage isn't the first guy to get two matches into the Gold Standard, is he? That'd belong to Steamboat, just ahead of him.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  4. #4
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    Don't know - probably though. 45 on Friday.
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  5. #5
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    All hit the gold standard. I must say I liked your comment about people taking things that are fine and through exaggeration make them BS, you could write a whole series on how wrestling has done that. In fact this whole series may stand as testament to that fact.

    Anywau reading this made me want to hear your thoughts on Savage v Warrior. I don't know why but I get a perverse pleasure of recommending the most potentially problematic matches for this series. I love the match, particularly its character work but I can see some areas that would make it a fun examination.

  6. #6
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Not quite all - Bulldogs and Dream Team took a strike. But certainly very close to a clean sweep.

    Savage and Warrior is an intriguing one, and I'd say it was a prime candidate if I repeat this with the early 1990s Wrestlemanias at some point. Can't think of much from VII that would topple it!

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  7. #7
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    I'm not sure if you've mentioned this before, but these older matches has a higher chance of getting that pass rate. Reason for this is that the matches back then weren't to over the top as they tried to incorporate logic and sensible wrestling into the matches. Psychology was a big part of the time, something that's almost forgotten these days forgetting the psychological aspects and focusing on how many cool moves they can get in the match. Therefore it comes as no surprise that all these matches passed with only one strike between them.

  8. #8
    The Brain
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    Moreso than any small issues from Valentine, I'm surprised a bullshit didn't escape from you when Dynamite Kid is nearly killed falling off the top to the floor late in the match and the referee allows things to continue! One of the most terrifying bumps I've seen, from what I recall.

    But the 80s are certainly always going to have the advantage by this metric, Hogan included. I'm surprised the shenanigans in Savage/DiBiase didn't bump you over the edge though, they were quite egregious if I remember rightly!

    Pleased to see Arn appear on the board here. You'd have to think, unless his opponent was just trash, he'd be the gold standard bearer in a series like this!

    Great stuff Pete, love it as always!

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