While WrestleMania in the 1980s didn’t exactly feature a ton of qualitative, bell-to-bell wrestling matches (or events, for that matter), it was home to countless iconic moments and encounters that stood the test of time, and most of them are still remembered even to this very day.
In a side project to my WrestleMania lookback series, I will pick the ten best ’Mania bouts from each decade and rank them in a subjective top ten list. Since we are going chronologically, this mini-series will begin with the 1980s, as it is the first decade to feature a WrestleMania event. Without further ado, let’s get to the countdown!
10) Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant (WrestleMania III)
This wasn’t initially going to be on my list, but I simply can’t make a 1980s WrestleMania ranking without including THIS. I literally lost count of how many times I’ve watched this. The massive staredown at the start is still enough to give me goosebumps. Hogan failed to slam Andre early on, and that ultimately became the bout’s main story. Can the Hulkster slam the Giant? Andre smartly went to work on Hogan’s back off that, and Hogan sold all of it like a champ (no pun intended). They optimized everything to maximum efficiency, milking every single spot available to prevent Andre from running out of gas.
Everyone talked about the famous slam heard ’round the world, but the moment where Hogan was able to knock Andre off his feet for the first time via a clothesline is equally breathtaking. Hogan finally slammed the Giant to a gargantuan reaction, then dropped the big leg on him for an epoch-making victory. It’ll be hard to judge this without acknowledging the gigantic atmosphere, the terrific build-up, and the monumental financial success. This is arguably wrestling’s most popular match ever, and that will never change. This might only get a *** judging by silly pro-wrestling stars, but on a scale of 1 to 10, it deserves a 100.
9) The Rockers vs. The Twin Towers (WrestleMania V)
The former Midnight Rockers of the AWA faced the colossal duo of Twin Towers in this exciting tag team battle of power versus speed. The Rockers overwhelmed their much-larger opponents using innovative, fast-paced tandem offense. Bossman, Akeem, and Jannetty all looked great, but it was Shawn who stood out from the pack.
The Heartbreak Kid bumped all over the place like a pinball and took a helluva beating from the Towers, including a vicious lariat from Akeem that looked like it could’ve decapitated him! We got a badass finish, with Bossman catching the future HBK with a spinning powerbomb in mid-air, before an Akeem splash brought this one to an end.
8) Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff (WrestleMania I)
They stuffed shedloads of celebrities and stars to make this the biggest wrestling main event in history, and it absolutely worked for the period they were in. Hulk Hogan was at the height of his popularity yet, and the crowd went buck wild for him and his partner. Piper and Orndorff were in their element here, bumping their asses off and doing some excellent heel work, facials, and characterization to add to the bout. Mr. T had his vast lack of experiences well documented, as shown when he got trapped in the heel corner rather easily after tagging in.
After Hogan cleaned house with the final hot tag, all hell broke loose, resulting in Bob Orton hitting Orndorff with his cast by accident, thus giving Hogan’s team the victory. We got a tease of Orndorff’s face turn afterward, as he woke up only to find himself left alone in the ring. The post-match stuff worked, as it signaled Orndorff’s babyface run and didn’t take away from Hogan & T.
7) Ricky Steamboat vs. Greg Valentine (WrestleMania IV)
Steamboat’s last hurrah in his first WWF run saw him battling Valentine in a technical-hard-hitting, Mid-Atlantic-style contest. Valentine held serve for most of this, with Ricky doing a masterful selling for his attacks as expected. Seeing these two traded chops on each other urged me to check out some of their other matches.
Valentine taking his trademark bumps for Steamboat’s chops might be cartoonish, but I’d be lying to say I wasn’t entertained by it. Valentine got the win by rolling through Steamboat’s crossbody into a pin full of tights, but this was a good sendoff for the Dragon all the same.
6) The British Bulldogs & Tito Santana vs. The Hart Foundation & Danny Davis (WrestleMania III)
Dynamite Kid’s unfortunate injury put him as the face-in-peril of the match. He was worked over by the Harts, who used tag team wrestling 101 to isolate him. Danny Davis finally tagged in, and he soaked in all the boos like a true dickhead, only to then hit Kid with one wussy stomp before tagging out. This eventually blew up in his face when he tagged in again, as the Harts unknowingly slingshotted him onto Kid’s knees!
Tito soon got the hot tag, and he was a literal house of fire! Davey Boy got his rightful revenge for his team by murdering Danny with the mother of all Tombstone. All kinds of pandemonium broke loose in the final minutes, and Davis clocked Smith with Jimmy’s megaphone to pick up the win for his team. An underrated WrestleMania gem that never gets enough love from the fandom.
5) Tito Santana & The Junkyard Dog vs. The Funks (WrestleMania II)
This is one of the many examples of why Terry Funk is the GOAT of wrestling. He took several hellacious bumps in this one, and his brilliant selling along with pitch-perfect mannerisms brought this to a positive light. Dory, on the other hand, didn’t do as much, but I thought he did fine as a secondary hand to his brother.
Tito brought tons of fire as expected, and he showed exactly that in his opening shine. JYD was mainly here to be the hot tag guy, so he didn’t stink up the joint. Melee ensued in the final minutes, and Terry used Jimmy Hart’s megaphone to knock JYD out while the ref wasn’t looking for the pin. A very good tag match that played well to the formula and featured an MVP performance from the legendary Terry Funk.
4) The Dream Team vs. The British Bulldogs (WrestleMania II)
An ultra WWF 1980s workrate match with off-the-chart physicality. This had no hot tag or face-in-peril segment, so it felt like an exhibition contest for the most part. Every move executed here had an extra snap, giving it a more impactful feel.
The Bulldogs exploded with hard-hitting, energetic offenses, while Valentine used his methodical approach to slow them down. Beefcake was only here to provide a brief interference for his teammate and hit a few moves here and there, so he didn’t harm the match in any way. The finish was wild, with DBS cracking Valentine’s head into Dynamite, sending him to the floor for a crazy bump before Smith pinned the Hammer to give us new tag team champions.
3) Roddy Piper vs. Adrian Adonis (WrestleMania III)
This might not be Piper’s “retirement” match, but it’s his last one as a full-timer, and the crowd was stoked to see him win nonetheless. Adonis is such an underrated bumping machine. He bumped around like a ragdoll for Piper and fed all his shine like crazy! Piper was no slouch here either, throwing wild punches and selling the possibility of him losing in the most believable way possible.
Adrian put the Goodnight Irene on Piper, but he released the hold early, thinking he’d already won. This set up a run-in from Brutus Beefcake, who revived Piper, allowing the Hot Rod to put Adonis away with a sleeper for the happy ending. An entertainingly heated brawl for the hero to go out. The Beefcake face turn was also brilliantly done if you’ve been following the TV leading up to this (if not, the previous match could still shed some light on you).
2) Randy Savage vs. Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania V)
This has tons of backstories behind it, arguably dating back to late 1987 when the Mega Powers initially united. Miss Elizabeth was in a neutral corner, and Jesse Ventura hilariously accused her of being a gold digger as she walked down the aisle. I consider this one of my top Hulk Hogan bouts ever, but truth be told, his opponent was actually the one who did most of the heavy lifting. Savage turned in an amazing heel performance, cheating like a maniac and riling up the crowd with his shady antics. Macho using Liz as a human shield was a genius heel move that you can’t help but smile at.
Hogan received colors after getting kicked square in the forehead, and Savage was just a crazed man targeting that cut. Elizabeth finally got ejected from ringside after her troublesome appearance nearly caused a brawl that could’ve halted the whole match. Savage continued his onslaught by jamming away at Hogan’s throat in a brutal fashion. He went up top and landed the Macho elbow, but Hogan immediately hulked up, landed the boot, and dropped the big leg for the win. This was a marquee bout between two of the biggest stars in wrestling, with spectacular build-up and off-the-chart heat.
1) Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat (WrestleMania III)
This still aged well like a fine wine. They worked at a lightning-quick pace here, popping the crowd with a series of spectacular false finishes and fast-paced sequences. Savage was an awesome prick through and through, going after the Dragon’s previously injured larynx like the true Macho Man he is. I particularly loved the spot where he dumped Steamer after the latter skinned the cat back in. Steamboat, in return, was fantastic in his selling and comeback, garnering immense sympathy and showing magnificent fire in his attacks, be it chops, arm-drags, dropkicks, you name it.
It all came down to the ring bell in the end, but just when Savage was about to use it, George Steele pushed him off the top rope, allowing Steamboat to reverse a slam into a small package for the win and the title. I don’t mind the finish, as it made perfect sense according to the storyline, and really, seeing the Dragon with that belt justified everything. My rating on this has changed throughout the years between ***** and ****¾, but it will certainly be a certified MOTYC anytime I visit 1987.
And that will be all for today, folks. What did you think of the ranking? Did you agree with the majority of the list? Share your thoughts in the comment below!
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