WM Top 25: #17 – The Concept of WrestleMania

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Twenty-four years ago WrestleMania started on a gamble and a prayer from a fearless and wildly ambitious Vince McMahon, Jr.

On March 31, 1985, Vince McMahon took his then fledgling World Wrestling Federation to a place no one could have imagined when he envisioned a wrestling supercard; a destination for wrestling fans, superstars and celebrities alike to convene to celebrate a new era in wrestling history.

During this time, the then-World Wrestling Federation was deep into the “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” era that featured celebrities like rocker Cyndi Lauper and actor Mr. T regularly interacting with WWF stars and on wrestling television specials on MTV. They even made a Saturday morning cartoon out of the whole deal called “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling.” And the night before the original WrestleMania, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T even co-hosted “Saturday Night Live.”

It has been said that Vince McMahon bankrolled his entire savings (and the company itself) on the success of WrestleMania. If it failed, the WWF failed. The show aired live from Madison Square Garden (the company’s home base) on that Sunday afternoon at one o’clock in the afternoon with over one million other fans viewing the event via closed circuit television all across the country, packed into the very arenas that WWF would tour in the weeks, months and years to come. MSG itself was packed with an announced attendance of 19,121 that afternoon.

The match card itself was pretty atrocious, but the show wasn’t built on the quality of the matches. WrestleMania was built on the pomp and circumstance of the celebrities and pageantry of the new concept. The event was promoted off of the backs of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T and their tag match main event against Rowdy Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. It was a big time event as Liberace served as the guest timekeeper, The Rockettes made an appearance and Muhammad Ali served as the guest ringside referee for the main event.

The rest of the card featured Andre the Giant battling Big John Studd in a “Battle of the Giants” body slam match and three Championship matches, including the Women’s Title match that saw Wendi Richter (who was managed by Cyndi Lauper at the time) defeat Leilani Kai for the belt.

Other matches on the card featured promoted talent beating lesser-known enhancement talent in hopes of continuing to gain momentum for the bigger stars. This was in the days before monthly pay per views and weekly television shows that featured established stars wrestling each other. In those days all the money were in the “house shows,” or the un-televised live events that happened all across the country. It was important to make sure all the top stars of the day looked “strong” on television so that the fans would pay money to see their favorite heroes and villains battle each other on an even keel. This meant that many of the big feuds of the day were not settled at WrestleMania, but rather were prolonged so fans all across the country could see their conclusions. My how times have changed over the years.

As a stand-alone event WrestleMania I is pretty bad. The matches aren’t really that entertaining. It was filmed in a dark, dingy-looking Garden with WWF mainstay “Mean” Gene Okerlund performing the National Anthem. The in-ring quality of the matches is quite bad, and some of the big stars of the day weren’t even apart of the event because they didn’t think how big the event would become or weren’t asked to be apart of it.

The day wasn’t about five-star, high-quality wrestling matches, it was about putting professional wrestling into a different direction. Any true fan of wrestling needs to see WrestleMania I at least once in their lifetime just to say they have seen it for historical purposes. I mean when are you going to see Mr. T, Hulk Hogan and Muhammad Ali ever in the same arena at the same time again, whether you want to or not?

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