WrestleMania 2 (1986) – Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (Uniondale, New York); the Rosemont Horizon (Rosemont, Illinois); and the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena (Los Angeles, California) – Main Events: Los Angeles: Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy; New York: Mr. T vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper (Boxing Match); Chicago: Tag Team Championship: British Bulldogs vs. Dream Team.
WrestleMania 2 is kind of a disaster. Which isn’t to say it isn’t enjoyable, but it is definitely a chaotic mess that preferences doing lots and lots of things quickly and too few things well.
Spread over three venues in three cities, Vince McMahon’s fondness (some might say weakness) for over-indulgence is on full display. WrestleMania isn’t just a place for the best wrestlers in the company to perform on the biggest stage, it’s also a way for Vince to hobnob with celebrities. The celebrities Vince gets to show up for WrestleMania has long been a sense of amusement for me because as great as Vince has been in reading his audience in terms of wrestling, he seems to be something of a disaster in terms of celebrity.
Or not. Maybe 1985 wrestling fans really did want to see Liberace, Billy Martin, and Cyndi Lauper more than anyone else last year, and maybe 1986 WWF fans really were excited to get Susan Saint James, Cathy Lee Crosby, and Elvira on commentary.
Hey, at least we get to see Ray Charles sing “America the Beautiful.”
Susan Saint James is equal parts disaster and hilarious and useless. During the opening match between The Magnificent Don Muraco and Paul Orndorff, Saint James might as well not even be there, just as this match might as well have never taken place, but during the next match between George “the Animal” Steele and “Macho Man” Randy Savage, she’s unintentionally hilarious. She makes it crystal clear (like, 100 times) that she wants George to win because he knows how to treat a woman, unlike that mean guy who has a beautiful manager who he mistreats. The fact that James is so awful at announcing – she simply talks whenever she wants regardless of the action in the ring or whether Vince is talking or not – actually makes a rather enjoyable match even more enjoyable. When the Animal bites Savage’s leg – which is, you know, a pretty awful thing to do, especially for the match’s face – Susan gleefully squeals, “All right, George! Eat his leg!”
Yes, kids, Susan Saint James not only looks fantastic, she’s into cannibalism.
In the next match (which Vince and Susan appear to be broadcasting from hotel lounge chairs), she’s completely disgusted by Jake “the Snake” Roberts’ snake. She says (like, 100 times) that she hopes there’s no snake in Jake’s bag and that Jake’s opponent, George Wells, wins just so we don’t have to find out if there is a snake. The match is rather pointless, memorable only for Wells foaming at the mouth after Roberts wraps his snake around him after getting the win. We’re starting to see the first signs here that the wrestling is not the most important part of the show, which is exacerbated in the next match, the Main Event of the New York portion of WrestleMania 2, a scheduled 10-round boxing match between Mr. T and Roddy Piper.
Before we even get to the match, we’ve got Joan Rivers as the special guest ring announcer, and three judges: Darryl Dawkins, Cab Calloway, and G. Gordon Liddy. Piper gets Lou Duva in his corner while Mr. T has Smokin’ Joe Frazier hanging out. Just like Pat Patterson was charged with keeping the main event going in the first WrestleMania, it’s poor Howard Finkel here doing his best to keep Rivers on track.
I don’t really know why anyone would give a f*ck about watching Mr. T and Roddy Piper in a boxing match, but Vince likes to work boxing matches into WrestleMania every now and then so it’s not surprising he thought it was a good idea. The match itself slows the program down to a halt – there’s so much chaos going on between the short matches, the interviews, Vince tossing to Gene Okerlund in Chicago and Jesse Ventura in Los Angeles that watching WrestleMania 2 is like eating at a buffet where the restaurant never lets you finish one dish before tossing the next plate on the table. And then here, where the show finally gets its footing, it’s when you’re eating some food you’re not really crazy about. It’s not that Piper and T just stand there because they’re throwing punches, and when Piper knocks T down in the second round, it looks totally legit, but you can tell the crowd isn’t into it except for when Piper starts getting heat for going heel. Compared to the previous year, Mr. T has put on some weight and he’s gassed pretty early in the fight.
Plus, I’m not entirely sure how many actual fights Vince and Susan have called before, but I’m guessing they were not the Lampley and Merhcant of 1986.
The match ends in the 4th round when Piper decides to body slam T, even though he was winning the fight. So thanks for coming, New York wrestling fans, you got to see Muraco and Orndorff both get DQ’d on a double count out, an entertaining Intercontinental Championship Match between Savage and Steele, a quick blah match memorable for a snake, and then a DQ’d boxing match, all of it delivered in an hour.
We’re right off to Chicago (really, Rosemont), where Gorilla Monsoon and Mean Gene Okerlund have to call matches with Cathy Lee Crosby, who tells them, “This is the first wrestling match I’ve ever seen in person.”
What could go wrong?
The first match is the Women’s Championship between the Fabulous Moolah and Velvet McIntyre. Moolah is 62 freaking years old and she puts out more energy than anyone did in New York. She’s actually incredibly impressive in a total joke of a match. Once again, though, the real disaster/joy is listening to our guest announcer. Susan Saint James at least sounded like she studied a bit, but Crosby is completely lost. She does manage a Jim Nantz worthy, “Fabulous is just what she was!” in reference to Moolah’s dominating performance.
A decent flag match followed between Corporal Kirchner and Nikolai Volkoff when Classy Freddie Blassie tossed his cane in the ring and Kirchner intercepted it, knocking Volkoff out and getting the pin. Again, though, the match is so short it’s like the match is a sideshow to everything else that’s going on.
After those two short bouts, we’re on to the main event, a 20-man battle royal. Not to be outdone by the celebrities involved in the Mr. T/Piper match, the Chicago fans get the Where’s the Beef? Lady as the timekeeper and Dick Butkus and Ed “Too Tall” Jones as the guest referees. The gimmick here is that it’s football players and wrestlers involved in the same match. The football players don’t do a whole lot for me: Jimbo Covert (Bears), Harvey Martin (Cowboys), Ernie Holmes (Steelers), Bill Fralic (Falcons), Russ Francis (49ers), William “the Refrigerator” Perry (Bears). In contrast, there’s quite a bit of star power among the wrestlers: Pedro Morales, Tony Atlas, Ted Arcidi, Danny Spivey, Hillbilly Jim, King Tonga, Iron Sheik, The Killer Bees, Big John Studd, Bret Hart, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, Bruno Sammartino, and Andre the Giant.
That’s right, in a silly, put-20-men-in-the-ring-at-the-same-time-so-no-one-can-follow-any-action, we somehow manage to get Andre, Sammartino, Sheik, Hitman, Anvil Studd, and Hillbilly Jim.
Russ Francis is particularly useless, spending most of the match just standing around looking for someone to not fight with.
The last six are the Fridge, Studd, the Hart Foundation, Francis (who eventually has to get knocked around by Andre, though he clearly didn’t want anything to do with the Giant), and Andre. Studd eliminates Fridge, who then offers his hand to Studd, who takes it and gets pulled out. After the Hart Foundation dumps Francis, it’s just them and Andre and, well, there was never really any doubt who was going to win this, was there? The whole match was just faceless people getting tossed until the end, when Hitman, Anvil, and Andre put on a solid ending.
A Tag Team Championship match is next between the titleholders, the Dream Team (Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and Brutus Beefcake) and the British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid). For some reason, the Bulldogs are accompanied to the ring by Ozzy Osbourne wearing a pink pastel suit taken off the Miami Vice wardrobe rack, but given that the Bulldogs are being managed at this point by Captain Lou Albano, maybe Ozzy is just a perfect storm of being British and allowing an echo of the Rock and Wrestling connection from the previous year.
I dig this tag match tremendously. Hammer and Beefcake are solid pros from this mid-80s era, but the British Bulldogs are true tag team superstars. Dynamite and Davey Boy tag frequently, setting each other up beautifully, and are real technicians in the ring. They spend most of the match working against Valentine, which is a perfect decision because the Hammer is a big, beefy dude. He’s got a set of movies in the ring that reminds me of the kind of guy who goes to a bar looking for the wrong person to make eye contact with. Beefcake isn’t useless – he does one awesome move on Davey Boy where he stands behind him and locks his arm behind him back, then picks him up and drops him on his back but for the most part he just stays out of the way.
The WWE gives the Bulldogs and Dream Team plenty of time to build to some real drama and the ending is unique and fantastic: Davey Boy shoots Valentine into the corner where he bashes his head into Dynamite’s, then falls down, only to have Davey fall on him for the pin. Good stuff.
It’s also worth it for the way Crosby calls the match, which is to say that she basically says nothing, then interjects with a, “Wow,” or “I’ve never seen anything like it!” or reminds us that this is the first time she’s seen a wrestling match in person. Needless to say, my admiration for Susan Saint James grows with each passing second. Crosby is certainly nice enough and game enough, and she spends the whole time smiling and in awe of the proceedings (which must have been one of Vince’s reasons for including all these celebrities), but she doesn’t add much to the proceedings except to enhance the carnival aspect.
After the Bulldogs get their win, Gorilla pitches it back to New York, where Vince tries to get Ms. James to offer some thoughts on the proceedings in LA. Vince is doing his best to sell the overall Main Event of Hulk Hogan versus King Kong Bundy, but all James will add is, “Hogan all the way. I have no doubts.”
Our announcers in LA are Jesse “the Body” Ventura, Lord Alfred Hayes, and Elvira.
Yes, Elvira. What’s amazing is that she actually seems to make sense if you’re insistent on having a guest female commentator. Who better to commentate the absurd than Elvira? Like James and Crosby, Elvira is perfectly game to be involved and she keeps spouting off about how much she likes violence, so, yeah, good on her. She’s also willing to play a bit of heel announcer, which really is awesome. The opening match is Ricky Steamboat vs. Hercules Hernandez and Steamboat wears white trunks with a red sash tied around one leg, just above the left knee. Ventura asks what’s the deal with that scarf and Elvira is all, “He looks kinda like a wimp to me, Jesse.”
Steamboat and Hernandez put on an enjoyable match. They’re similar sized, and while Steamboat has a clear advantage in speed and athleticism, Hernandez does his part to keep the action fast. They work in good breaks by going to the mat, and they take full advantage of the 7.5 minutes they get to perform. I don’t have a lot of memories about Hercules but he’s a total pro here.
Up next is one of those “clash of cultures” matches between the effeminate, cultured “Adorable” Adrian Adonis and hillbilly Uncle Elmer. Speaking of Adonis and his pink dress and pink bow on the top of his head, check out this exchange between Elvira and Hayes:
Elvira: “That’s a lot of man. Or something.”
Hayes: “Maybe you could be more specific of ‘of something’.”
Elvira: “I don’t think I can. We’re live on radio.”
These are both big guys, but where Uncle Elmer’s biggest attribute is that he’s a massive human being (his billed height and weight is 6’10” and 450 pounds), Adonis actually has a fair amount of athleticism (being 6’1″ probably helps, but he’s still on the plus side of 300 pounds). I have so much respect for huge fat dudes like Adonis or Bam Bam Bigelow who can really move around the ring because we get so many fat guys who get to wrestle just because they’re big.
Another 2 great Elvira moments: When Adonis gets his dress ripped off, Elvira yells, “Put the dress back on!” And after the match: “I never trust a man who never wears pink leg warmers.”
I have no idea how the WWE decided to split up the competitions between the three cities, except that Hogan was obviously going to be in whichever city went last. One possible reason why LA got two of the matches they did, however, is the presence of Jimmy Hart, who manages both Adonis and the Funk Brothers (Terry and Hoss), who are up next in tag team action against Tito Santana and the Junkyard Dog. I have to say that if I had been a wrestler in this era, I would not have wanted Jimmy Hart as my manager just because of that damn megaphone that he’s constantly using to make himself heard.
Seeing all these managers spread out over the event, however, makes me wish we’d see today’s WWE employ more managers. Vickie Guerrero has done yeoman’s work over the past few years, and Paul Heyman is as good a manager as anyone, anywhere, but there are plenty of wrestlers who could benefit from having someone with a more colorful personality in their corner. The current pairing between Zeb Colter and Jack Swagger is a perfect example of how a good “mouth” can benefit a wrestler who has less than zero personality.
Jesse Ventura: “All’s fair in love and war, Elvira.”
Elvira: “Well, I’ll say that for love, Jesse, but I don’t know about war.”
I am equally confused and amused nearly every time Elvira talks. She’s fantastic. It helps that she’s also annoyed by Hart’s megaphone usage.
The match itself is pretty good. These are four old school pros and they work well together. The amount of abuse Terry Funk puts his body through (and the amount of abuse he sells) is impressive. JYD tosses him out of the ring than slams him into (but not through) a heavy table. The Funk Brothers get the win when a distracted ref (Dave Hebner) doesn’t see Hart give his megaphone to Terry, who cracks it over JYD’s skull.
The final match of the night is next and it’s a steel cage match. What’s great is that they have to ASSEMBLE THE CAGE! It doesn’t just drop in from up on high. Nope, we’ve got a delay while some rather ordinary looking guys (some in ties, some income out and assemble it. Two things make this delay bearable. The first is another great contribution from Elvira:
Ventura: “Elvira, does this cage look at all like your house?”
Elvira: “It looks like one of the rooms in my house.”
Ventura: “The one with all the bats?”
Elvira (laughing): “Yeah, the one with uh … something like that.”
The second is we get an actual recap package on top of the interview with Mean Gene so we understand the storyline. The interview takes place at “Hogan’s private gym,” which looks like a pretty regular basement gym, but it’s nice to see a proper set-up to a match. It’s also a little weird/creepy/awesome that Hogan’s workout partner is Hillbilly Jim, who tenderly caresses Hogan’s hurt ribs repeatedly during the workout session. We also get another toss back to New York for more insightful commentary with Vince and Susan Saint James. I’m starting to think Vince went on first with Saint James just so he could spend the entire evening hitting on her as they sat in those cheap chairs.
A WrestleMania main event means celebrities doing ring announcer and timekeeper duties, so before the match we get to see Tommy Lasorda as the guest announcer (being a natural ham, Lasorda is a million times better than Billy Martin was last year), Silver Spoons-era Ricky Shroeder as the guest timekeeper, and Robert Freaking Conrad as the guest referee. It’s a steel cage match, though, so referees don’t matter. I don’t like injury angles when it interferes with the match, but it’s not like Hogan has a plethora of moves. Hogan’s strength has never been his moves, but his understanding of ring psychology. He’s one of the all-time bests at working the crowd. I mean yeah, “Hulking out” is stupid, but the crowd eats it up. Hogan is the ultimate cartoon wrestler, and while I’d rather watch wrestlers like the British Bulldogs, technical wrestlers like the Bulldogs can learn a whole lot from how Hogan works and plays the crowd.
Hogan is pretty violent in the match. It’s Bundy that gets busted open, and Hogan seems to enjoy choking Bundy. Bundy is no match for Hogan’s psychology, but luckily he’s got Bobby Hennan in his corner to rile the crowd up. Hogan wins by climbing over the top of the cage and then chasing Heenan into the cage, where he has the manager trapped all alone. Hogan then tosses Heenan against the cage as Jesse Ventura goes nuts about how this isn’t fair. He’s right, and it reinforces how Heenan is really Hogan’s best rival. I’d like to see a modern take on this, too, where a manager goes through wrestler after wrestler trying to take out an opponent. Hogan goes through his whole pose routine, and it’s actually Hogan who calls Robert Conrad into the ring so he can get his hand raised in triumph with the championship belt.
As I said, Hogan knows how to work the crowd. He understands what people want to see and gives it to them.
WRESTLEMANIA 2 is a massive 3 hour show and the event is clearly designed to toss as many things at the audience as possible. I feel a bit bad for the people in attendance, as they only got to watch an hour of live wrestling (each venue had 4 matches and none of them lasted as much as fourteen minutes) but overall, WRESTLEMANIA 2 is like an out of control circus. It’s a mess, but it’s an entertaining mess that desperately wants to prove to you how important it is, and in as a result, the carnival overtook the wrestling.
MATCH OF THE NIGHT: The Tag Team Championship between the British Bulldogs and Dream Team for technical skills, Savage vs. Steele for psychology.
STAR OF THE NIGHT: With so much going on, no one performer really stands out, but Hogan does the best job selling the night.
MOMENT OF THE NIGHT: Andre the Giant tossing the Hitman out of the ring to win the Battle Royal.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “All right, George! Eat his leg!” – Susan Saint James
RUNNER-UP QUOTE: Anything that Elvira says.
Mark Bousquet is the author of several novels and collections, including Gunfighter Gothic, Stuffed Animals for Hire, Dreamer’s Syndrome, Harpsichord and the Wormhole Witches, and Adventures of the Five. He has also published a review collection entitled Marvel Comics on Film, which covers every cinematic and TV movie based on a superhero from the House of Ideas. A complete listing of all his work can be found at his Amazon author page.