How WrestleMania 3 helped a new fan truly understand pro wrestling
Web Hosting

As someone who pops in from time to time to cover wrestling, I probably should’ve watched WrestleMania 3 sooner than Tuesday, May 12, 2020.

So many things about the sport make sense to me now in a way they didn’t before. I understand why fans went nuts for the match between Charlotte Flair and Rhea Ripley at WrestleMania 36; it was a callback to the extremely physical, old-school style on display in Detroit 33 years ago.

I understand why Undertaker’s entrances at WrestleManias of the past have been shrouded in dry ice, booming dirges, and lightning bolts flashing from the Jumbotron; they’re a nod to the entrances of 1987, when guys were pushed down a long aisle on wheeled, miniature wrestling rings.

I understand the bizarre parrot and weasel puppets that popped up in WrestleMania 36’s Firefly Fun House segment with John Cena and Bray Wyatt; there was an actual parrot at WrestleMania 3, and an announcer named Weasel.

Most importantly, I understand how today’s sleek, glitzy spandex-clad world evolved from the days when a wrestler had HONKY TONK MAN embroidered across the butt of his tight pants.

In my short few years as a fan, I’ve only ever known current-day wrestling’s polished storylines, promos, and moments that take place out of the ring. Those attributes all make the matches compelling, but there was something beautifully gritty and straightforward about two guys just really beating the crap out of each other in Detroit. WrestleMania 3 — which took place in front of 93,173 people at the Pontiac Silverdome on March 29, 1987 (one year and 361 days before I was born, but who’s counting) — had a raw energy to it, a purity. It was the genesis.

The slam heard ’round the world!

‘The Immortal’ @HulkHogan slams Andre The Giant at #WrestleMania3 pic.twitter.com/vRMCep3krY

— WWE on FOX (@WWEonFOX) May 13, 2020

I can see how wrestling’s past sinks its hooks into fans and doesn’t let go; the sport has a sprawling history, and so much of it ties into this particular event, even as the sport has evolved since then. One storyline literally involved one wrestler from the Soviet Union and another named The Iron Sheik, both of whom were hit over the head by a guy wearing an American flag bandana wielding a two-by-four. The 1987 event made me appreciate how far wrestling has come, especially in putting women forward. Wrestlers like Charlotte Flair and The Man have reached heights that used to be reserved for guys like Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat.

Speaking of Randy Savage, we have to talk about Randy Savage.

We actually have to talk about a lot of things, because several moments really blew me away, and I need to put these thoughts somewhere before I explode in a flurry of glitter, sweat, and sequins.

1. I finally know who Randy Savage is. I have known of this guy for years; his name floats through the cultural consciousness. I did not, however, realize that Randy Savage is the same person as Macho Man. Like, Macho Man is Randy Savage’s nickname. I just … didn’t know that. That really threw me for a loop.

2. You know what else blew my mind about Randy Savage? His outfit. He was wearing a cape covered in maroon and teal sequins, a white feather boa, white sunglasses, and a sequin headband. It was absolutely fabulous. His love interest, Miss Elizabeth, rocked an asymmetrical, pink strapless dress and white heels. Her perm was on point. It was like a 1980’s prom, but elevated. I wish more sports involved such metal uniforms.

An entrance befitting a legend. #WrestleMania3 pic.twitter.com/gx7fp08aZ2

— WWE on FOX (@WWEonFOX) May 13, 2020

3. Okay, sorry, one more thing about Randy Savage and then I’ll move on — the match between him and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat was the most intense physical display I’ve ever seen in a ring. They flipped each other over, slammed each other into the turnbuckles, and flew off the ropes for what felt like an hour. By the end, I couldn’t believe they were still able to move their fingers, let alone take flying leaps onto each other’s heads.

I was thrilled that Steamboat ended up winning. I’m not sure why. But sometimes wrestling is about going with your gut, and that’s what I went with. The crowd, for what it’s worth, seemed to agree with me.

4. During a match between a wrestler named Billy Jack Hayes and another named The Mighty Hercules, two announcers exchanged perhaps the most incredible dialogue I’ve ever heard come out of a television. Announcer Gorilla Monsoon (I’m not making these names up), turned to announcer Jesse Ventura, and said, “Billy Jack’s back is out, Ventura. ” Ventura replied, quite calmly, “It certainly appears that way, Gorilla.”

5. A little bit later in the show, Mary Hart, a host for Entertainment Tonight who was also announcing the broadcast, said, “feels real strange to call a grown man Gorilla.”

6. Animals featured much more prominently than they do today. I’m relieved that live creatures are no longer in the ring, because I was very worried for them (yes, I am the person who’s like, “get rid of the bug in my room but don’t kill it, thanks”). The British Bulldogs, a tag team duo, brought a — you guessed it — bulldog named Matilda into the ring. A wrestler named Coco, known as Birdman, showed up with a parrot (I do not remember the parrot’s name). Jake “The Snake” Roberts carted in a python named Damien into the ring in a burlap sack.

7. Yeah, you read that right. Jake showed up with a LIVE BURMESE PYTHON. I’m not that squeamish, but snakes freak me out. When Jake threw the snake at his rival, the Honky Tonk Man (again, not making up the names), I felt physically ill. And then I worried about the snake.

I have more thoughts, but they’re all about Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan, so I’m going to start over with the numbers:

“To beat me, you have to beat ALL the Hulkamaniacs.” – @HulkHogan to Andre The Giant#WrestleMania3 pic.twitter.com/YzwDOz8Jeb

— WWE on FOX (@WWEonFOX) May 13, 2020

1. The match made me very sad. I’ve been a huge Andre the Giant fan since before I even knew he was a professional wrestler, because I grew up loving the movie “The Princess Bride”. I was hoping Andre would win, because I much prefer him to Hulk Hogan, but the crowd in the Pontiac Silverdome did not agree with me. They lost their minds for Hulk Hogan.

2. I’d never seen Hogan do his thing in the ring before, and I have to hand it to him: the man could summon about as much energy as the 93,173 people there combined. Apparently this was Hulkamania, and Hogan was the greatest thing all of these people had ever seen.

3. But oh, poor Andre. At the time he was “undefeated” in his fifteen-year career. His health was deteriorating, so the match wasn’t ever going to be the display of physical ability that Savage’s and Steamboat’s was. But the sheer size of these guys and the storyline made up for it. Andre’s manager, someone called Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, wanted to manage a champion rather than let Andre remain friends with Hogan, so The Brain pressured Andre into challenging Hogan for the World Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Championship belt.

4. It was wild to watch anyone make a 6’8” man like Hogan look small, but the 7’5” Andre did so. It seemed like Andre was going to win for a minute there; he pinned Hogan and I’m *pretty sure* he got him, but the ref said Hogan kicked out (really don’t think he did!!!). Later in the match, Andre slammed Hogan with his butt, headbutted him, and squeezed the air out of him. But Hogan ultimately rallied. He managed to pick up Andre the Giant, throw him down, and pin him.

I honestly had no idea what was going to happen, and I felt a deep sense of despair when Andre lost. He looked so despondent when he rode off on that little cart thing with The Brain into the depths of the stadium. Knowing that the true story of Andre’s life is pretty heartbreaking didn’t help.

The 8th Wonder of the World. #WrestleMania3 pic.twitter.com/d7P7f3lVB5

— WWE on FOX (@WWEonFOX) May 13, 2020

Even though I wasn’t even alive when WrestleMania 3 occurred, I took comfort in it. I may not have grown up anywhere near this world, but I still felt an attachment — to Andre from my childhood, to a time when people could gather in crowds and scream their heads off because they felt alive.

I’ve been soothed by a lot of old events recently. The highlights of Michael Jordan playing for the Bulls in the The Last Dance documentary are a salve for my sports-starved soul. And while the ‘80s and ‘90s weren’t necessarily any better than any other time in history, people my age — Millennials, sorry — were kids then. Looking backwards is like crawling under a thick blanket of nostalgia and remembering a time when I didn’t know enough yet to realize how frightening the world could be.

Wrestling can take your mind off the way the world is, because to truly enjoy wrestling, you have to actively watch. You have to follow fantastical storylines and understand that these athletes often coordinate with each other to make it look like they’re beating each other up, yet still marvel at one 350-pound man picking up another. What WrestleMania 3 made so clear to me is how deeply rooted that tradition of suspending belief is. How far back the wrestling canon goes. And that all great myths evolve as our attachments to them grow and change — some just involve more sequins.

Read More