I didn't even realize before seeing all the mentions on the Pro Wrestling Roundup Twitter this morning that today marks the 30th anniversary of arguably the most iconic WrestleMania event ever - WrestleMania 3. If you lived through that era, especially if you were a kid like me, you got to experience the magic in wrestling that will probably never be captured again.
If a current fan that didn't live through the 80s as a wrestling fan but went back and watched WrestleMania 3, they may not even think it was that great; it wasn't based on the best in-ring wrestling (although Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage will always be viewed as one of the greatest of all time) but the majority of the show was built on something that you don't find much of today - raw emotion.
As a kid that became a wrestling fan in 1986, it wasn't hard to figure out where each wrestler stood - there were clearly defined good guys and bad guys. Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, the Junkyard Dog, Jimmy Snuka etc. were the good guys, and Roddy Piper, Mr. Wonderful, The Iron Sheik, King Kong Bundy etc. were the bad guys. The sides were clear, you know who was friends with who, and you sat back and watched the sides battle it out. All of this worked out great until your mind was blown when a wrestler actually decided to switch sides.
Sure you might see a guy like Paul Orndorff turn on Hulk Hogan, but Orndorff was a bad guy to begin with so you might say he wasn't trustworthy from the beginning. Then you have a guy like Roddy Piper who seemed like he might go off on anyone at anytime, so seeing him start going off on fellow bad guys was a welcome change. One thing was for sure, Hulk Hogan's die hard friends turning on him wasn't even a thought at the time.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the match that drew the most interest for WrestleMania 3 was Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant - as a kid I simply couldn't even imagine these two best friends in the ring against each other. Sure some wrestling historians or even older casual fans would say that Hogan and Andre had wrestled before, but it was nothing like this. In 1985 when Vince McMahon ushered in the Rock N Wrestling Era, it was like a new beginning and it brought in new fans including myself that weren't overly exposed to wrestling's past....this was the pre-Internet era remember.
In 1984 it was established that Hulk Hogan was the leader of the new era in WWE (WWF) and that Andre the Giant was his best friend, always there to help him against attacks from the likes of The Heenan Family or other dastardly villains. Hulk and Andre were on the same level - you would never see them pinned, both were "good guys" forever, and Andre was OK with Hulk being the World Champion because that was his friend. So sitting back in early 1987 and suddenly watching Bobby Heenan represent Andre and bring up (viable) claims that Andre was never offered a shot, got a smaller trophy than Hulk's (Andre got a trophy for going 15 years undefeated ((not true, but why would a kid question it)) and Hulk for being champion for 3 years) was just too much to process.
Why didn't Andre just ask? Why wasn't Andre just like the other good guys that were cool with their friend being champ? Wrestling was really making us think. Then came even more emotion - what if Andre won? What if Hulkamania is over? Does Hulk even have a chance?
The above feelings were some of the things I felt and undoubtedly were felt by many fans at the time. I remember being crushed at the news that I'd be unable to watch the show on PPV (not all providers carried all events back then) and trying to go through channels to hope WrestleMania 3 magically popped up on my TV; but my WrestleMania 3 live experience consisted of calling the "WrestleMania Hotline" to get results. As much of a downer as that was, just knowing the results, knowing if my hero Hulk Hogan could overcome the greatest obstacle he'd ever face, it was all worth it.
I remember calling the hotline a couple of times that day - with my parents even picking up other lines in the house during the final call to hear what Hulk's fate was. I remember the hotline going through the results as we waited......"Ricky Steamboat defeated Randy Savage for the Intercontinental Championship" which was followed by a "YES!!!" from me (my parents were only listening in for the main event result.) "Roddy Piper wins his retirement match against Adrian Adonis....." and then the moment....."Hulk Hogan body slammed and defeated Andre the Giant to retain the WWF Championship" followed by a roar in my house as if I was right there in the Silverdome.
I still get chills thinking about that moment, just knowing Hulk Hogan overcame a challenge that really had me worried about my favorite wrestler's future. It was amazing to see a single photo in the sports page the following day, no one could deny the massive impact of WrestleMania 3. Seeing 93,000 (or 78,000 depending on who you believe) fully engulfed in my sport just verified what I felt all along, pro wrestling was a really big deal and I wasn't alone in thinking so.
Although I didn't get to see the actual WrestleMania 3 show until months later on the Coliseum Video release, It held up over time as the biggest event I'd ever seen. It didn't have pyro or flashy musical performances, there was only one match that could be considered great based on pure wrestling, and there were no overly crazy twists or surprises on the show. There were also no spoilers, no leaks that gave away match results or the fact that Andre was actually barely mobile and was really passing the torch here due to his health, and there was legit emotion and reason for almost every match on the card. WrestleMania was THE card of the year, and not having 12+ PPVs in a year like we have today made it seem even bigger.
Here's a look at the end of the Hulk vs. Andre match, but going back and watching the full event on the WWE Network is definitely recommended, especially this week: