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Kevin Reviews The WrestleMania Openers (1-5)

March 28, 2016 | Posted by Kevin Pantoja

With Larry Csonka reviewing every WrestleMania main event in history, I got the idea to review every WrestleMania opening contest. Some of my favorite matches ever were WrestleMania openers and I like that there is some serious versatility involved. There are tag matches, midcard title matches and sometimes, major stars are even involved. I’ll do my best to review the match itself, the impact it had on the card and the careers of the people involved. As we progress, I will not be counting the WrestleMania Kickoff shows or Free-4-Alls, so the openers of the actual Pay-Per-Views is what I’ll be focusing on.

Tito Santana def. The Executioner in 4:49

The Fink’s hair was a solid five stars here. This wasn’t something I’d call a great opener but for the time, it was kind of expected. The Executioner cut a pretty bad promo in the back before things started. Chico Santana (loved when Jesse Ventura called him that) started hot until the Executioner turned the tide a bit. One thing you can say about these shows from the 80’s is that the crowds were almost always red hot. I thought Santana had it when he started the babyface comeback but the Executioner got his knees up on a splash. It was something small but I liked that it wasn’t super predictable. He did make the Execution submit to the Figure Four. Tito was still a pretty big midcard face so the win for him was pretty clear, though according to Gorilla Monsoon, the Executioner came in undefeated. It was a fine opener with a good crowd that set the tone. In this era, I could think of much worse ways to open the biggest event in wrestling. **¼

WrestleMania 2
Paul Orndorff and Don Muraco went to a double countout in 4:14

After the rousing success of WrestleMania, the WWF reached and decided to hold this event in three separate locations. This opener took place in Uniondale, New York. Paul Orndorff dropped from main event heel last year to opening babyface this time around. They chose to work on the mat a bit which turned out to be mostly dull. I liked when they didn’t do mat stuff but not enough to save the score for this match. They ended up fighting outside and both men got counted out, which the crowd actually shat on. A lackluster opening contest for what turned out to be one of the worst WrestleManias ever. *

WrestleMania III
The Can-Am Connection def. Bob Orton and Magnificent Muraco in 5:35

93,000 or so fans were in attendance for this. Muraco made his second appearance in a WrestleMania opening contest. Right out of the gate, this was the first one to truly feel like a WrestleMania. Not just because of the large crowd, but something really just clicked here. The Can-Am Connection were pretty hot babyfaces and they showed off some cool double team moves. The WWF tag team division was pretty loaded in the late 80’s. These guys seemed motivated as even Muraco, who was pretty large at the time, took a Flair like corner bump. Muraco caught a cross body from Rick Martel using his power, but fell over Tom Zenk, allowing Martel to get the pin. A fun opening contest with a pretty hot crowd. The Connection wouldn’t last much longer, but Martel found success with Tito Santana as part of Strike Force. **¾

WrestleMania IV
Bad News Brown wins 20 man Battle Royal in 9:47

Bob Uecker joined commentary for this. He was pretty funny throughout. I didn’t get the names of everyone involved but it came off as your standard battle royal for the era for the most part. It featured a lot of guys kind of just standing around and doing the fake “I’m trying to eliminate you but I’m really just gonna hold you place” spots. George “the Animal” Steele spent most of the match at ringside, allowing everyone else to do their thing. There were some relatively big names like Bret Hart, Harley Race and Junkyard Dog to name a few. It came down to JYD, Brown and Hart. Brown seemed to plan out a partnership with Bret. It worked as they got rid of JYD and seemed to want to split the winnings. Brown turned his back on Bret, kicking him in the head. Shortly after, he tossed him out. Brown didn’t lose much in his WWF career actually. The bigger moment was Bret dropkicking him and breaking the trophy, which is one of my earliest Bret memories. This was about as fun as you’d expect from a Battle Royal at this time.**

WrestleMania V
Hercules def. King Haku in 6:51

I have zero recollection of this ever being a WrestleMania match. Hercules was the babyface and the crowd seemed pretty into him and the match. Bobby Heenan’s purple jacket was A+. The crowd being excited mostly died down once Haku got on offense and applied the dreaded bearhug, which seemingly lasted forever. Hercules busted out a high cross body, making me think he was motivated to showcase himself at Mania. Hercules got some measure of revenge on the Heenan Family when he used a back suplex with a bridge to best Haku. I didn’t expect much and it still didn’t really reach my expectations. Despite the win, Hercules would go on to basically get squashed at the following Mania, while Haku was part of the Tag Team Champions with Andre the Giant.

Early on, the openers for WrestleMania weren’t among the best in terms of pure workrate. Where they succeeded though was that they got the crowd going. They almost always featured a relatively hot midcard babyface, which was wise. Outside of the WrestleMania III opener, nothing was really fast paced. That will change as we advance through the years though. I do wish that we got to see more of guys who would go on to become bigger stars. The only one that stood out was seeing Bret Hart in the Battle Royal. A lot of stuff from this era doesn’t always hold up great and it showed in some of these matches for sure. If memory serves me right, the next set of openers would turn out to be better.