By Josh Molina, WrestlingObserver.com
– Airdate: March 23, 1985
– Stars of the show: Andre The Giant, Jimmy Hart, Roddy Piper
Vince McMahon needs to watch this episode of TNT. Talk about knowing how to build a PPV. McMahon put together a great go-home show 10 days before Wrestlemania. There’s one more episode of TNT to come before Mania, but this show did a spectacular job of building up several matches on the card.
The showed kicked off with “the single-most recognized athlete in the world today, Andre The Giant,” McMahon says.
Andre just looks huge. The size of his head is enormous. He’s wearing pants and a jacket with a dark red shirt. Andre is mumbling a bit, but it’s clear that he believes he can beat Big John Studd at WrestleMania. There’s no doubt that McMahon played his cards correctly for the first WrestleMania, but what would have happened had he went right away to Andre vs. Hogan in 1985 vs. 1987? I am sure he thought about it.
We go to the ring to see Andre vs. Ken Patera. Patera landed two big blows against Andre in the corner, and announcer Gorilla Monsoon yells, “Andre didn’t even acknowledge the shots by Patera.” No, it wasn’t Andre’s job to sell.
The story in this match is that the supposed “World’s Strongest Man” Ken Patera cannot slam Andre. Monsoon got in some good lines here on Heenan when Heenan looked concernedd that Patera was taking a beating. “He doesn’t want to lose his meal ticket,” Monsoon says.
Actually it was the other way around. Patera’s meal ticket was Heenan, who just might have been the greatest overall performer in the history of the business. No he wasn’t Ric Flair or Shawn Michaels, but he was good at everything he did — from wrestling to announcing.
When it was clear that Patera was not going to defeat Andre, Heenan went into his tights and pulled out some brass knuckles. From the top rope, Heenan leapt and tagged Andre across the back. He sprung to the top rope like Shawn Michaels.
He then went to town on Andre, dancing around like Sugar Ray Leonard. He played the weasel role perfectly before Andre caught him and gave he and Patera a double headbutt.
Then we got the classic footage that opens up the TNT show. Andre delivered a series of slaps to Heenan’s face. Heenan sold these slaps perfectly, his head and hair flinging with every Andre swing.
Back in the studio and McMahon is somber and serious: “That was the first match you had since Heenan, Patera and Studd attempted to rape your dignity.” Geez McMahon has used that horrible phrase at least 10 times on air. All they did was cut Andre’s hair. It’s not like Patera forced Andre to join the Bobby Heenan “Kiss My Ass” Club.
McMahon then shifts gears. He says that Big John Studd is willing to put up $15,000 if he cannot slam Andre at WrestleMania. McMahon badgers Andre about what he’s going to put up.
At first Andre rolls with it, saying he already put up his hair. Then Andre says, “why do I have to put up something?” If they want to lose their money that’s fine with me.”
McMahon responds that Heenan wants you to retire if you don’t win the match. Andre refuses. McMahon then takes his life into his hands and says, “some people will say there’s a yellow streak down your back.”
Andre stood up and grabbed McMahon by the throat, saying no one calls him a coward and storms off the set.
McMahon was in-character, but clearly shaken up. He got up from his desk and walk away.
What an incredible angle. McMahon, also one of the greatest performers of all-time, provoked Andre not for fun, but to build toward the Mania match.
When they returned from commercial, Lord Alfred Hayes says that backstage Andre agreed to the retirement stipulation. This was back when retirement angles actually meant something. This angle was a great way to build a match.
The next guest is Intercontinental Champion Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and his manager Jimmy Hart. Valentine says that he acquired Hart from Memphis Tennessee to replace that “slob” Capt. Lou Albano as his manager: “This man knows what real rock and roll is, not punk rock and roll like Cyndi Lauper. She knows nothing about rock and roll she knows nothing about professional wrestling.”
They go to the ring and it’s Valentine against Jim Powers, pre-Young Stallion-tanning-booth days. Even back then McMahon didn’t like the little guys. Powers looked good and wrestled well, but he wasn’t anything until he was put in a tag team with Paul Roma, and even then they never took off. Powers should have started a “Yes!” chant to get over.
Valentine came to the ring in an incredible silver robe. With a finisher of a figure-four-leglock, it was clear that Valentine wanted be another Ric Flair. Color commentator Bruno Sammartino says it’s a “$5,000” robe.
Both Vince McMahon and Sammartino are gushing over Powers’ physique.
“Powers is a good looking young athlete,” Sammartino said. “He should give Valentine a run for his money.” McMahon calls him a “fine looking young athlete.” Valentine won with a figure-four-leglock, and back in the studio, Harts laughs hysterically at Valentine’s incredible victory.
Valentine is wrestling The Junkyard Dog at WrestleMania. Hart made it clear who is going over in the match. “He’s gonna play “Another One Bites The Dust” when he enters the ring, but we are going to play it when he leaves, Hart said of JYD’s entrance music.
Valentine then cut his own promo: “The Junkyard Dog calls himself the baddest black athlete in the professional wrestling today. I am ready for that mean, tough Junkyard Dog.”
Why does he gotta bring up race? Just saying . . .
Valentine reminds us that he has been the Intercontinental Champion for six months, and that everyone thought it was a fluke when he beat Tito Santana, but it clearly wasn’t.
“Wrestling Mania would not be a complete card without myself. I am not talking about chump Hogan,” Valentine says. Valentine clearly thought he was in line for a heavyweight title run, which, of course, was not the case.
Hart tells Valentine to stand up. “He used to be 265 pounds, hanging out with Albano with all that pizza and beer. Now he’s 250 pounds,” Hart says as he points to Valentine’s chest.
“He’s the greatest professional wrestler in the world today,” Hart says. Valentine finishes by saying that “Harts and Valentines go together and we are going to be in World Wrestling Federation for a long time.”
Hayes, who lost a lot of his air time when the show moved to Friday nights and dropped from two hours to one, finally gets a moment to talk. “Everyone in Europe and England is talking about WrestleMania,” Hayes said. “They have never been so excited.”
He said the main event of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Piper and Mr. Wonderfull Paul Orndorff would be “the most exciting match the world of wrestling has ever seen.”
Next we get what I like to call the original nWo — Piper, Orndorff and Ace Cowboy Bob Orton in Piper’s Pit. These two have the swag of Hall, Hash and Hogan. Piper is full of laughs and giggles, but Orndorff is serious. He does not like Hulk Hogan.
He calls Hogan “big” and “fat” and that he will “match him any day of the week in the weight room.” Piper tells Mr. T “we ain’t no cartoon character that comes on Saturday afternoon. We are the real thing. You are looking at primetime.”
Piper straddled the line between serious and funny well, sending a message directly to Mr. T.
“We will take your life and not even think twice about it,” Piper said.
From Piper’s Pit to the studio. Orndorff took a seat in the main chair, with Piper next to him and Ace standing behind them. “Hi Ace, how you doing? That’s my bodyguard, Ace,” Piper says with a huge smile, while chomping gum.
Orndorff was less cheery. He said McMahon “reminds him of those 8-to-5ers. He’s right with them.” Orndorff says his team is ready for Wrestlemania and that they have peaked, prompting McMahon to ask if they have peaked too soon.
Piper chimed in and asked McMahon if he’s ever peaked. McMahon responded that Piper had a hole in his shirt in the armpit. Piper said he wore the shirt specifically for the purpose of appearing on TNT.
Piper’s wit and ability to respond was unbelievable. He had Stone Cold Steve Austin-like, rapid fire comebacks. Piper then tells McMahon that the only time he has ever “peaked” is by paying 25 cents to look through a peephole.
For the third week in a row we are subjected to Sarah Soothsayer (I wonder if all of these segments were shot on the same day or if they had to create these sets three weeks in a row).
“Come to us spirits, divulge your secrets,” she says. “It’s Hulk Hogan whose shoulders are pinned to the mat.” Piper and Orndorff went nuts like they just found out they were having a baby.
“Wait it’s not Hulk Hogan, it’s … (she pauses). “I am sorry, Roddy” and runs away. Piper screamed “sorry about what you miserable,” before he, Orndorff and Orton destroyed the set.”
Next up is the WWF’s version of the Rock N’ Roll Express, the U.S. Express, Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo. First we go to a match featuring the U.S. Express against Rusty Brooks and Terry Gibbs. Brooks, you might recall, is the rather hefty individual who looks like he could have also played the role of Bastion Booger.
Windham was a sensational athlete at this time. We’re talking standing dropkicks, sunset flips, nip ups, just incredible athleticism for a big guy. Bruno goes as far to say that “the way they are going they are going to be champions for a long time.”
It appears that Sarah Soothsayer had a better ability to predict the future.
McMahon and Sammartino must have referred to Brooks as the “big man” at least 100 times during the match. Windham wins with a bulldog on Brooks.
In the final segment of the show, we are fortunate enough to visit Hogan and Mr. T shopping at a health food store.
Mr. T is at the counter ordering a smoothie. He approves of the carrot juice and the bananas, but when it comes to wheatgrass, forget about it.
“We ain’t going to mess with that because we don’t mess with that grass,” Mr. T says. Wow. In 1985, that’s about the funniest thing ever. Hogan looked totally stumped, just offering a strange face in return.
Back in the studio, McMahon is still doing his best to promote WrestleMania. “We’re going to see T cut loose,” McMahon said. “It’s Clubber Lang all over again, but this time for real.”
McMahon wraps up by calling Wrestlemania “the greatest sports entertainment extravaganza of all time.” Before we go off the air, Hayes once again explains the “The Great Wrestling Trivia Contest.”
The WWF was giving out a trip to New York for four people for three days and two nights, $500 in cash and tickets to a WWF event at Madison Square Garden. McMahon should have just given the $500 to Wendi Richter and maybe she wouldn’t have complained later in the year about her WrestleMania payoff.
It’s fascinating to see the final TNT shows before WrestleMania. McMahon clearly wanted the event to be a success and went back to the basics. The angles were clear. The characters were strong. The branding of the event was strong. We are watching the birth of some of the greatest wrestling characters of all time appearing on the national stage for the first time.