LoW Roundtable: Wrestlemania

We’re back after a short holiday break. I hope whichever holiday you celebrate from Festivus to Hanukkah to Christmas to Boxing Day was everything you hoped it would be.

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Roundtable looks back at Wrestlemania as this was taped right before Wrestlemania XXIV at The Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Gene Okerlund has replaced Jim Ross in the moderator’s chair and Mick Foley, Michael Hayes, Dusty Rhodes (YES!) and Pat Patterson join him.

Mick starts this off and says he was a college student at SUNY Cortland during the first Wrestlemania. He was unable to attend this card as he did with so many MSG cards in his younger days. He says he had already used his hitchhiking card up (which begs to wonder how hard it must have been to hitchhike from NYC back to Cortland because that area isn’t exactly on the way to any place else. Maybe Syracuse I suppose.). He had no access to closed circuit TV and he said it hurt him to miss that. Gene reminds the viewer that the first Wrestlemania was only available on closed circuit. Patterson talks about the arenas that had access to closed circuit and how they were all sold out.

Hayes says Vince and Linda completely rolled the dice for Wrestlemania. He says it was their his fault the Freebirds weren’t on the card and he was shocked of the success. He admits the celebrity involved worried him and he thought it would fail. Dusty brings up Starrcade and Hayes says that Vince stole the idea from him but Dusty disagreed. Dusty said at first he and the rest of the territory guys hoped it failed but its success made everything better. Hayes and Dusty have a great exchange here:

Hayes: Just admit he took your idea and made it better.

Dusty: I don’t know that he made it better!

Okerlund talks about riding from the hotel with Ventura and both of them wondering what the hell was going to happen. Mick brings up the plans of sabotaging Wrestlemania from the other promoters. Hayes says there was always talk from murdering Vince and throwing out a bomb scare at MSG, etc. (Funny thing I don’t think Hayes is wrong, they talked about it but I think most of the promoters just knew Vince was going to fail and they decided to just let nature take its course. Oops.). Okerlund talks about how the WWF melted with mainstream music but also had iconic figures like Muhammad Ali. Patterson talks about how Ali was supposed to be the main referee but his Parkison’s was beginning to show itself and he made the suggestion to make himself the ref and Ali the outside (And the guys chide him about getting the payday for being on-air talent too).

Patterson says that he also thought it was the best idea because he spent so much time with Mr. T on the promotional events that he wanted to make sure everything in the ring went without incident. And right away during the melee in the first minute of the match Ali is upset with the heels and really trying to take legit swings at Orndorff and Orton before Patterson could get his guys to get him to the outside.

(Clips of the Mr. T/Hogan vs. Piper/Orndorff tag match. Really underrated little match too. I think I gave around three stars.)

Patterson and Okerlund said that the atmosphere in the locker room was exciting. The boys were excited and they had a big party at the Rockefeller Center building with Dick Ebersol and the NBC execs. During the party Patterson talks about almost getting into a fight with a drunk Billy Martin at the party. Okerlund talks about doing his promotional piece with Billy Martin in California during the afternoon and Martin was smashed and wooing a flight attendant. They show clips of it and Okerlund is right, they made it work but it’s clear he was drunk off his ass. He calls the wrestlers ‘fat’ and ‘great movie actors’ but later retracts the fat part.

Okerlund skips Wrestlemania 2 (like the rest of the company as that event didn’t happen) and they talk about Wrestlemania III. Dusty said he was on vacation in Colorado and name drops Liza Minnelli. He says that seeing Wrestlemania III highlights on ESPN made him happy because he knew the business was never going to die. They talk about the Steamboat-Savage match. Hayes said the match really ushered in a new era of workers. He also says that Steamboat was exasperated by Savage’s need to go over the match for several hours a day (dude should be happy cell phones didn’t exist back then). Hayes then says how CNN, a Ted Turner-owned network, read off the results of Wrestlemania III and didn’t mention the card the NWA ran for free against it on one of his own networks. Dusty said that all the WWF guys were on Larry King and he didn’t understand it. But Turner even understood that Mania was a big deal.

Patterson talks about Wrestlemania 2 but they quickly jump back to III as Foley talked about Savage-Steamboat and he said that was the first time the matches were really starting to matter. He says the hype was crazy but the actual matches were starting to have an impact. Hayes said that up until that point the territory guys were still hopeful they could outlive the “circus show” but after Hollywood John Tatum told him that Savage-Steamboat was the greatest thing he had ever seen he knew they were doomed.

(Clips of Savage-Steamboat, yes it’s still five stars, yes it’s still awesome, yes it’s still a must see for any fan.)

Hayes talks about what Wrestlemania does for the host city and the money it brings in during the week. Okerlund says now cities are competitively bidding for Wrestlemania. Patterson says after Wrestlemania III he went to the airport the next day and it was packed with people from different countries and it seemed like everyone either had a Wrestlemania program or was wearing a piece of merchandise. Patterson talks about an exchange with a woman who just wanted take her son to Wrestlemania and she ended up becoming a fan. Dusty says (in his own special way) that Wrestlemania III was the day everyone went to the pay window. Patterson says Wrestlemania III was a bigger gamble than Wrestlemania I.

Hayes said that when he walked out on Ford Field last year before the crowd came in he just thought back to the armories and the smoky joints where the guys used to work and said that everyone on this panel in one way or another contributed to the success of this event by just helping the business get to the place where it could happen. Patterson relays a story about Savage and how protective he was of Elizabeth. Well at Wrestlemania V she’s in the neutral corner for the Hogan-Savage main event and has to walk to the ring alone. Well Savage was freaking out about something happening to her as she went to the ring (i.e. a fan grabbing at her) so Patterson suggests to Vince that he walk behind her (she was also surrounded by like 10 policemen) and naturally nothing happened…but had something happened Savage would have killed Patterson so he doesn’t understand why he suggested it to begin with.

They talk about the behind the scenes and dealing with the boys and getting them to the ring. Patterson says it’s the Super Bowl and it means a lot to the boys to be on the card. Patterson says one of his more fulfilling moments was suggesting the Ironman match and watching it from the crowd. Mick said most of the workers will try to watch some of the card from seats in the crowd just to feel the energy of the event. Dusty says that Vince treats the workers’ families so well for the event. He says that his Wrestlemania moment was Toronto and everyone wants that moment. Dusty said that Mick’s moment came two years ago in the street fight with Edge. He talked about his various great matches but he never felt like they happened at Wrestlemania. Going into the Edge match he was wondering if he would just be known as a ‘Backlash’ guy or a ‘Summerslam’ guy. Really honest stuff from Mick there that gives you a perspective of what went through his mind.

(Clips of the Edge-Foley street fight. Tremendous, brutal, bloody brawl with a super shock ending. Lita trying not to throw up is an awesome visual as well.)

Foley says while he’s laying there smelling his burning hair he’s thought ‘I finally got that moment.’ Patterson talks about wanting to see the end of Hogan-Warrior and wanting to feel the ending of that match. He and Vince watched the final sequence and started crying. Patterson said he caught up with Warrior in the dressing room and he was also emotional about his victory. Meanwhile Okerlund said he was in a limo ride with Hogan from Toronto to upstate New York and Hogan rode in total silence. Okerlund said the match exceeded all expectations.

They talk about the celebrities. Hayes said a lot of times they add a lot but they are a pain in the ass. Hayes said Mike Tyson, however, was easier to deal with than Shawn Michaels that year. Patterson remembers warning Burt Reynolds not to shake hands too hard because someone will grab his hair piece. Hayes said that Pamela Anderson had to be coddled out of the limo from Tommy Lee according to the scuttlebutt. Dusty said the celebrities are ducks out of water and they sometimes come into the wrestling cards thinking they are the show and they are just enhancement. Patterson said the parking lot atmosphere in the hours leading up to Wrestlemania is also tremendous.

They talk about Lawrence Taylor and Patterson booked himself as the ref in that match too. Patterson said Taylor was a natural and he trained him extensively. Foley said he likes to deal with the celebrities that want to be there. Foley said Tyson was like a kid in a candy store and he was a complete mark for all the workers and telling them his favorite memories of their work. They also mention how awesome Pete Rose was (and I will never forget…my favorite moment of Wrestlemania XIV was Rose shooting on the Boston audience. Kane actually gave him a nasty looking tombstone albeit perfectly safe and Rose sold it like a champ.) Hayes says for the most part the celebrities are bad because they aren’t used to doing live improv and the big audience overwhelms them. Dusty says that what the wrestlers do on the fly, the actors do over the course of several days with several takes.

Okerlund asks each panel member their favorite Wrestlemania moment. Foley skips at first. Hayes says the Undertaker victory over Batista because of the work in the match and the growth of Batista in that loss (and an awesome match too, recently saw it and upgraded it to ****1/2 stars.). Mick says all of Wrestlemania 17 because he was able to take it all in from a fan’s perspective. Foley adds that Bret Hart’s Hall of Fame induction was another moment. Dusty has three things, he said his favorite moment hasn’t happened yet and he hopes it’s when he sees Cody at his first Wrestlemania. He says his Hall induction was a favorite and Savage-Steamboat was the ultimate match. Patterson says Andre-Hogan, Shawn-Bret, Shawn-Cena, Taker-Batista and Rey Mysterio winning. As a wrestling man Patterson says Shawn-Bret trumps them all. Okerlund says his return for the gimmick battle royale with Heenan was his favorite moment. Hayes mentions the great Heenan line when he said that it would be Wrestlemania 37 by the time the Iron Sheik got to the ring. And they close it there.

The Bottom Line: It was fine. I’ll admit I was hoping for a little more Dusty but I think we’ll get that in the next show. Pat Patterson’s attempts to always work on the Wrestlemania card was also pretty funny.