It was on this day in 1987 that WWE claimed the world indoor attendance record, 93,173 reportedly in attendance to see Hulk Hogan bodyslam Andre The Giant at the culmination of the third annual WrestleMania. It is an event that transformed the landscape of professional wrestling in the United States perhaps for decades to come.
While the card is full to the brim with familiar and legendary names such as Roddy Piper and Adrian Adonis, The Honky Tonk Man and Jake Roberts (who were accompanied to the ring by Jimmy Hart and Alice Cooper respectively), not to mention The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff, who squared off against The Killer Bees of Jim Brunzell and BRIAN BLAIR!!!! to give us a legion of humble memes into the present, WrestleMania III is remembered for the most part for two classic matches, both very different and both highlighting two very different aspects of the sport of professional wrestling.
What a fan of wrestling believes is the best match on the card at WrestleMania III characterises the division between two camps of thought – those who champion workrate and those who champion storytelling.
Steamboat vs. Savage
The build toward the legendary encounter between Intercontinental Champion “Macho Man” Randy Savage and challenger Ricky Steamboat began after a cowardly attack by the heel Savage, laying into Steamboat as he greeted his fans at ringside and sending him to the hospital after a series of shots to the neck, including dropping the ringbell across The Dragon’s throat. Building toward the WrestleMania blowoff for six months, Steamboat and Savage would engage in a bloody and brutal feud before their showdown at the Silverdome.
Running to 14 minutes, 35 seconds, Steamboat and Savage is considered to be an all-time classic match and one of the greatest in WWE history, showcasing both men’s individual athleticism. Steamboat was finally able to overcome Savage following a scoop slam reversal into the small package and in doing so became the Intercontinental Champion for the first and only time. Both Pro-Wrestling Illustrated and The Wrestling Observer would go on to name the match as the best of 1987.
“[The match at WrestleMania II] was the moment in time that defined me as a wrestler.”Ricky Steamboat
Hogan vs. Andre
The build toward the “biggest main event in sports entertainment” was a masterful piece of presentation like only WWE can pull off at their best. A classic tale of a friendship betrayed, Andre The Giant began to hint at his jealousy of Hogan’s immense run as champion after figurehead President Jack Tunney awarded the Hulkster a trophy to mark three years as WWF Champion. The slight would be compounded when Tunny awarded Andre a significantly smaller trophy for being kayfabe undefeated in fifteen years and a subsequent interview became focused on Hogan instead on Andre and his own achievement. Andre would soon appoint the hated Bobby Heenan as his new manager and on a memorable edition of Piper’s Pit challenge Hogan for the WWF Championship at the forthcoming WrestleMania, attacking the Hulkster and tearing his t-shirt and precious crucifix.
Fighting in front of a heavily partisan crowd, Hogan’s WWF Championship never looked in more danger than early in the match itself when the Immortal One failed to lift the 525lb Andre on the body slam, falling and nearly suffering the pin from The Giant. After a close and hard fought contest, Andre made his mistake and Hogan pounced, ducking the attempted big boot and coming off the ropes to score with the clothesline. Andre was down for the first time in the contest and the crowd held their breath with anticipation, feeling that Hogan could overcome the odds and the irresistible force could indeed defeat the immovable object. Hogan did his trademark hulking up and in arguably the most memorable moment in wrestling history lifted Andre for the scoop slam.
Hogan slamming Andre is the quintessential “WrestleMania moment” and one that will be replayed for as long as professional wrestling is a thing. It is iconic and despite the greatness of Steamboat and Savage, this is what the fans paid to see on that legendary evening. Hogan immediately hit the leg drop and scored the pin on Andre, cementing the legacy of Hogan and making him an even bigger star than he already was. The superhero defeating the bigger and more powerful heel is a formula that WWE would go back to time and again over the years, from Shawn Michaels to John Cena.
Hulk Hogan would eventually lose the WWF Championship following a screw job finish, the title being held-up for a tournament at WrestleMania IV where Hogan and Andre would square off again in the first ever WrestleMania rematch. Despite the high profile nature of the match, it ended in a disappointing double disqualification and is not remembered in the same league as their match just a year ago.
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