Happy Wednesday Everyone!
I had an ongoing series on here where I would review Main Events, so Every WrestleMania Main Event, Every Starrcade Main Event etc.
I decided I would try the format with opening matches as well, just to see if it would garner any interest and whether I’d have any fun with it. We’ll start with Every WrestleMania Opening Match, and if you guys enjoy that we could always do other events and pay per views down the line.
The Executioner Vs Tito Santana
And here we have it, the match that started it all. Executioner was played by Buddy Rose, a talented worker who wrestled in places such as Portland and the AWA. Here though he’s just a generic dude in a mask who is there to put Tito over. Executioner states in a pre-match interview that he’s going for Tito’s leg, which would be smart strategy as Tito was feuding with Greg Valentine at the time and they spent most of that feud trying to destroy one another with the Figure Four.
Tito controls things easily enough in the early going with basic moves like arm drags and dropkicks. Executioner gets some shots to the gut and then targets the leg as promised, but this serves only to fire Tito up. Executioner goes to the top rope but Tito throws him off and then goes for a splash, but Executioner manages to get his knees up. Executioner goes after the leg again, but Tito kicks him off over the top rope and then powerslams him back in. With Executioner in trouble, Tito hits a running forearm and then locks in the Figure Four Leglock for the submission victory.
WINNER: TITO SANTANA
Just a squash to put Tito over and introduce newer fans to the basics of wrestling. The fans enjoyed it though and were happy to see Tito pick up the win. Tito wouldn’t win a match at WrestleMania again until 1993, when he defeated Papa Shango in a dark match. Rose never really got used that well in the WWF, with probably the “Blow Away Diet” being the thing he was best known for when it came to being in the WWF. In the AWA Rose tore it up with tag partner Doug Somers though, including some memorable matches with The Rockers.
The Magnificent Don Muraco w/ Mr. Fuji Vs Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff
This one was a bit tricky as the show took place in three venues as part of a simulcast. However, the first of the three venues was New York and this was the match they opened with, so I decided to review this one rather than doing it for each venue. Orndorff had been a Heel in the Main Event of the first Mania, but he’s a babyface in the opener here. Muraco had helped King Kong Bundy hurt Hulk Hogan to set up the Main Event for the third venue.
Howard Finkel refers to Fuji as “a distinguished manager” in a very respectful way, which Fuji of course enjoys. We get to hear some comments from both men prior to the match, although it’s put over the footage as the two men wrestle. Vince McMahon is on commentary here and actually refers to both men as “wrestlers” at one stage, back when that wasn’t a dirty word on WWF/E screens.
This is your standard opening bout and works well as an introduction to what wrestling is if you happen to be a new viewer, with both men doing simple stuff like slams and arm wringers, but executing them well and the crowd enjoying it when Orndorff is in control. The finish is an absolute stinker though, as both men tumble over the top rope and start brawling until they are both counted out.
DOUBLE COUNT OUT
Fans think that non-finish was Bull Shine, and I can’t say that I disagree with them too much. The match itself was cooking along just fine until that though. Orndorff would end up going Heel later in the year and would have a record breaking run with Hulk Hogan on top until he suffered severe nerve damage. Muraco would continue to be a Heel for another year but would then turn babyface in order to back up Superstar Billy Graham.
Don Muraco and The Bodyguard Ace Cowboy Bob Orton Jr w/ Mr. Fuji Vs Tom Zenk and Rick Martel
Zenk and Martel are the most sickening fresh faced smiling babyfaces whoever babyfaced, and honestly I’m shocked they didn’t give out autographs for frail old grannies on the way down to the ring. However, it’s the 80’s and being nice young men who smiled and wrestled fairly was a perfectly acceptable wrestling gimmick before the cynical 90’s ruined everything, so the crowd gives them a nice reception. Muraco would end up going face later in the year, but at this stage he’s still a scowling heel and does an excellent job at it.
This is your prototypical opening tag match, as the faces get a nice shine with basic stuff and the crowd loves it. It’s amazing watching this crowd pop for hip tosses here when you consider how crap and belligerent some crowds would get during the Attitude Era the second a match lasted longer than 90 seconds. Eventually Muraco and Orton get the cut off and work some brief heat on Zenk, courtesy of an Orton cheap shot, and that’s fine. Zenk and Orton bang heads and that leads to Martel getting the hot tag. Things break down and a cross body block ends Muraco not soon after.
WINNERS: ZENK & MARTEL
This was good fun and a solid opener. Zenk and Martel wouldn’t stick together as a team due to Zenk leaving the WWF, which led to Tito Santana stepping up as Martel’s new partner, forming the duo known as “Strike Force”.
Sam Houston Vs Ken Patera Vs Boris Zhukov Vs King Harley Race Vs The Junkyard Dog Vs Jim Neidhart Vs Bad News Brown Vs Bret Hart Vs Paul Roma Vs B. Brian Blair Vs George Steele Vs Jim Brunzell Vs Jacques Rougeau Vs Ron Bass Vs Nikolai Volkoff Vs Hillbilly Jim Vs Danny Davis Vs Raymond Rougeau Vs Sika Vs Jim Powers
Starting the show with a Battle Royal can sometimes backfire, especially if it’s a “shove everyone in the ring right away” Battle Royal instead of a Rumble styled one where people can pop for the entrances. Sometimes it can just be a really flat way to start a show, although when it’s done well it can pop the crowd pretty good. The winner of this one gets a nice trophy.
Bob Uecker is on commentary for this, and I think he’d eventually go into the celebrity wing of the WWE Hall of Fame. He was known for being a baseball commentator. If you’ve seen a Battle Royal before then this shouldn’t really surprise you too much, as everyone picks someone else to fight and they hang around near the ropes or corners pretending to try and throw one another out. One thing I think it could do with is Howard Finkel announcing when guys get thrown out actually, just because it makes it easier to follow the action.
The crowd seems to really hate Danny Davis and there are audible exclamations of excitement whenever it looks like someone will chuck him out. Steele spends the majority of the match outside the ring trying to grab at people, and even drags Neidhart out of the ring at one stage. Eventually Steele is just told to leave by the referees. Bret Hart probably enters the best performance of the match, whilst Davis’ eventual elimination gets the expected pop.
Race gives JYD his win back from Mania III by letting Dog chuck him out and that brings us down to a final three of Brown, JYD and Bret. The crowd does come to life a bit at this stage due to JYD’s charisma, but tonight is not to be his night as Bret and Brown gang up on him and then chuck him out. However, Brown was doing Stone Cold’s “DTA” shtick long before Austin was and he ends up betraying Bret to fling him out as well.
WINNER: BAD NEWS BROWN
The crowd didn’t really care about that outside of hating Davis and liking JYD, so they probably should have had it come down to Davis and JYD with Dog winning, but instead they wanted to push Bad News and he got the win instead. The match itself was a pretty flat Battle Royal, but it mostly hit the beats it needed to and I wouldn’t say it was actively bad.
Bad News doesn’t get to enjoy his trophy for long though, as Bret comes back in to beat him up and then smashes it. Both Bad News and Bret were Heels here so the crowd doesn’t really know how to feel about it at first, although Bret gets some cheers when it’s all over.
King Haku w/ Bobby Heenan Vs Hercules
Haku had taken the King gimmick from Harely Race prior to this show, although he would eventually lose it to Jim Duggan, who would then lose it himself to Randy Savage. There’s a side story here of Herc being a former client of Heenan, with his babyface turn from that leading to him briefly becoming The Third Mega Power until that unit EXPLODED to set up the Main Event of this show. Heenan had tried to sell Herc to Ted Dibiase behind Herc’s back, leading to Herc refusing and becoming a good guy for a bit.
Herc gets the standard babyface shine on Haku to start but Heenan earns his corn by distracting him, which allows Haku to cut him off and work him over. Haku keeps it simple with punches, kicks and rest holds, but Herc sells it well and the crowd mostly stays with him, so it’s fine for an opener. Mania IV and V struggled a bit due to sections of the crowd not really being wrestling fans, which meant it was sometimes difficult to draw crowd reactions for traditional wrestling match structure.
Herc eventually manages to dodge a cross body off the second rope and makes a comeback with punches and clotheslines before getting a nice near fall with a powerslam. Herc tries coming off the top with something but Haku catches him on the way down with a kick. Haku makes a mistake by going up for a head butt though and misses, leading to Hercules getting a back suplex for the three count.
To steal a phrase from Scott Keith, this was a “perfectly cromulent” opening contest, with both men keeping it simple but doing what they needed to do. With a more responsive crowd this would have probably been a bit more fun to watch, as the match itself was worked well and told a solid story. Hercules would be back as a Heel by the summer of 1990 in a tag team with Paul Roma, whilst Haku would form a team with Andre The Giant before moving on to teaming with The Barbarian in a match we’ll cover next week.
Well that’s your lot for this week. Not much to it really but the match quality should increase quite dramatically when we cover VI-X next week!