As we continue to travel down the road to WrestleMania with WrestleMania XXX just around the corner, we here at eWrestlingNews.com are going to start looking back at some of the most historical moments in the history of the classic event. And what better place to start than the beginning?
WrestleMania I took place on March 31, 1985 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was an event promoted by Vince McMahon as his “Super Bowl of wrestling” type show, as well as his response to rival Jim Crockett’s “Starrcade.” The idea was simple — create a show that is positioned and promoted as the biggest event of the year.
To launch WrestleMania, however, McMahon had to broaden his national reach. At the time, pro wrestling was still a territorial business. Each promotion had their key regions, most of which reached as far as their local television would go. McMahon saw an opportunity to break all of the rules, buck tradition, and take over the entire landscape. To do this, McMahon needed a hook. And boy did he ever find one.
Hulk Hogan had worked in the WWWF as a heel in the 1970s, however it was in Verne Gagne’s AWA — thanks in part to Hogan’s role in the blockbuster film “Rocky III” — that he truly started to emerge as a mega-star. Hogan’s rise to stardom caught the eye of McMahon, who saw Hogan as the key figure in his expansion. Hogan was going to be the guy. To make a long story short, Hogan left Gagne’s AWA and ended up in New York as McMahon’s poster boy.
To make WrestleMania the spectacle that he had envisioned, it was going to take more than just the hottest star in the wrestling business to catch the attention of the mainstream. McMahon was in the midst of a Rock ‘N Wrestling connection, one that involved co-promotions with MTV such as “The Brawl To End It All” and “The War To Settle The Score.”
Cyndi Lauper was one of the key celebrities early in the Rock ‘N Wrestling connection, but a Hogan vs. Lauper showdown wasn’t exactly going to work as a WrestleMania headline attraction. It was at the latter MTV co-promotion that WWE really began turning up the heat on the angle that was going to be the featured match on the first WrestleMania.
WWE had secured a deal with “A-Team” television star and coincidentally enough, “Rocky III” lead villain Mr. T. McMahon’s idea was to use Mr. T, who was one of the hottest celebrities in the country, along with Hogan, the hottest wrestling star in the country, as a combo that he felt would gain the type of media attention needed to make WrestleMania a success. It should be noted that McMahon was gambling everything on this event. If it didn’t succeed, WWE possibly wouldn’t be where it is today.
It succeeded. Big time.
Thanks to the Mr. T and Hogan duo, which was featured all over the place at the time, including shows like “Saturday Night Live” and pretty much every stop on the talk-show circuit, McMahon had a great deal of media attention on this event. Cyndi Lauper helped get him coverage from the music and entertainment world (for those unaware, Lauper was basically the early 1980s version of Britney Spears or someone along those lines). Muhammad Ali, Billy Martin and these type of celebrities, all of which were involved in the event as well, got them on the sports pages. Mr. T and Hogan had the entertainment section covered.
Because of the unique style of event that this was, which was utilizing closed-circuit locations and early versions of pay-per-view, WWE was also getting coverage in business sections. They had virtually every section of the newspaper covered, along with tons of television and radio promotion. There was a definite feeling going into the show that this was going to be a big deal. Maybe people didn’t realize how big of a deal it would be, especially in terms of its’ historical significance as time went on, but you could certainly tell that it felt like a big deal at the time.
At the end of the day, 19,121 fans packed New York’s Madison Square Garden to watch Hogan and Mr. T take on “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, with “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka and “Cowboy” Bob Orton in the corner of each team, respectively. Additionally, over one million fans ended up tuning in through closed-circuit television, making it the largest showing of an event on closed-circuit television in U.S. history at the time.
Thanks to all of the celebrity involvement, as well as the raging feud between Hogan and Piper, WrestleMania I was an absolute success. It spawned what would become the biggest annual event in the business, as well as the early development of WWE’s use of pay-per-view television to greatly expand their national, and soon-to-be international business.
McMahon’s plans to expand worked. He was well on his way to taking over the wrestling industry, well on his way in driving all of the remaining regional promotions out of business and well on his way to becoming one of the most legendary promoters in history. And it all started with WrestleMania.
Stay tuned to eWrestlingNews.com as we continue to travel down the road to WrestleMania XXX, and continue to look back at some of the history that helped build what is easily the biggest and most lucrative annual tradition in pro wrestling history.
Until then, we want to hear from you! What did you guys think of WrestleMania I? What memories do you have of the build-up and the show itself? What lasting impressions did the show leave on you? Leave your feedback in the “Comments” section below. You can also hit me up directly at Facebook.com/MattBooneWZR.