The Piledriver Report 02.14.14: WrestleMania I - The Beginning of a Cultural Phenomenon
Posted by Ronny Sarnecky on 02.14.2014
With the Road to WrestleMania XXX in full swing, 411's Ronny Sarnecky remembers the humble beginnings of the very first WrestleMania!
WrestleMania. Just hearing the term builds a sense of excitement in the hearts and minds of wrestling fans. From the first time I heard "WrestleMania," I instantly knew that this was not your normal professional wrestling show. It was just something about that word "WrestleMania" that rolls off the tongue like magic.
The first WrestleMania was unlike anything that I have ever witnessed before. Was it the first supercard in professional wrestling? Far from it, Crockett Promotions had Starrcade. World Class Championship Wrestling gave us the David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions. Plus, numerous regional promotions across the country would run huge shows on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. This was different.
On the December 1984 house show at Madison Square Garden, the first "Road to WrestleMania" began. On the show, rock superstar Cyndi Lauper made amends with former friend Captain Louis Albano. As part of the show, Cyndi Lauper was presenting Albano with a gold record from her top selling albumn "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." During the presentation, Roddy Piper crashed the party, grabbed the glass framed gold record, and smashed in over Captain Lou's head. This led to Hulk Hogan storming the ring to clear house.
The stage was set for February 18th, 1985. It was billed as "The War to Settle the Score." Hulk Hogan was scheduled to defend the WWF title against Roddy Piper at Madison Square Garden. This was not your normal WWF Garden house show. At the time, the WWF would air their monthly Garden cards on the MSG Network. Like I said, this was no ordinary house show. The WWF aired the Roddy Piper-Hulk Hogan match on M-TV for the whole country to see.
Even though only the Piper-Hogan match aired on the young cultural phenomenon network, the card was pretty memorable, and helped to set the stage for the first WrestleMania. On the undercard, Jimmy Snuka defeated "Cowboy" Bob Orton. The reason why this match was memorable is because Orton legitimately broke his arm in the match. His bad break led to the finish of WrestleMania I, and also created a gimmick that would last for years.
Also on the undercard, Lelani Kai defeated Wendi Richter for the WWF Women's championship. This was significant because Cyndi Lauper managed Wendi Richter when Wendi dethroned the Fabulous Moohla for the title in the first wrestling match aired on M-TV in July of 1984. Moohla finally got her revenge against Richter and Lauper, as the Fabulous Moohla managed Lelani Kai to her title victory.
Throughout the night, the show was littered with celebrities. Bob Costas was the special ring announcer for the show. Sitting ringside were MTV's Alan Hunter, David Wolff, Cyndi Lauper, Mr. T, Andy Warhol, Billy Squire, and Danny DeVito. Towards the end of the match, with the referee down, Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff cornered Cyndi Lauper, who made her way onto the ring apron. Just as they were about to get close to the pop star, Mr. T hit the ring to protect Lauper. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T were set to square off against Piper and Orndorff when the NYPD hit the ring to break things up. It was too late. The stage was set. The first WrestleMania main event was born.
The build-up to WrestleMania I was just getting started. The WWF was about to show what separated them over all of the other wrestling territories. The WWF was at its best in marketing their wrestlers, and being the greatest hype machine in wrestling history. The WWF had Hulk Hogan and Mr.T all over the media circuit. The hottest new tag team was everywhere. They hit the Tonight Show. They were the hosts of Saturday Night Live. Perhaps their most famous personal appearance took place on Richard Belzer's "Hot Properties" talk show. During their segment on the show, Belzer asked Hogan to apply a wrestling hold to him. The Hulkster applied a front face lock to the TV host. When Hogan loosened his grip, Belzer fell to the floor and his head was cut open requiring several stitches.
As each day passed, and WrestleMania drew closer, I couldn't wait for the show. To this day, I could still picture watching the WWF's weekend shows, where they ran a list of all of the closed circuit locations that would air WrestleMania with Phil Collins' "Easy Lover" playing as the locations scrolled on the screen. Unfortunately, I was not able to witness WrestleMania at any of these locations. Instead, I was at my father, where my first WrestleMania memory was dialing into the WWF's 900 number in order to find out the results of the show. I was so mad when I heard that Hogan and Mr. T won the match. Back then, I didn't realize that Booking 101 would predictably have the faces beat the top heels on the biggest show in the company's history.
The WWF had previously announced that the only way you would see a match at WrestleMania would be to go to the Garden or to visit one of the closed circuit locations. However, a few days later, the WWF aired the WWF World Tag Team title match from the show. Was it the greatest tag team match in history? Not even close. However, watching an actual match from the WrestleMania card left me wanting to see more. A couple of months later, the WWF released WrestleMania on Coliseum Home Video. At the time, I didn't even own a VCR yet. However, I knew that I would eventually get one. I was so excited to finally see the show that I didn't even care that I didn't have a VCR. I spent $40 on the WrestleMania video cassette. A couple of friends invited me to their house to watch the tape.
That day, I experienced two firsts. When I got to their house, they were watching an "adult" movie. It was the first movie of that type I ever saw. That was followed by my watching WrestleMania for the first time. The card was everything that I had hoped for at the time. While not one match reached even three and a half stars, I was still entertained by the show.
Despite only two matches that went over ten minutes, the first WrestleMania was filled with WrestleMania moments. There was King Kong Bundy destroying SD Jones in "nine" seconds. Bruno Sammartino springing into action to defend his son David after manager Johnny Valiant interfered on his charge, Brutus Beefcake's behalf. The first WWF championship bout featuring the WWF Intercontinental champion Greg Valentine faced the Junk Yard Dog. I must admit that I was disappointed that the JYD didn't win the title. The first title change where the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff defeated Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo for the tag titles will forever be linked as a WrestleMania trivia question. Andre the Giant won $15,000.00 by bodyslamming "Big" John Studd. After the match, he started to throw legitimate hundred dollar bills out to the crowd. Wendi Richter regained the Women's championship from Lelani Kai, as Cyndi Lauper got in a nice shot on to the Fabulous Moohla. The main event had several images that left a lasting impression. There was Mr. T and Roddy Piper going nose to nose in a slap fight. Mr. T hit an airplane spin on Roddy Piper. Bob Orton accidentally nailed Paul Orndorff with his arm cast that caused Piper and Orndorff to lose the match.
Most competing wrestling promoters predicted that WrestleMania would bomb at the box office and put the World Wrestling Federation out of business. After all, VinceMcMahon put ever thing he had into the event. If WrestleMania I was not a financial success, he would have gone out of business. Instead, the walk-up business to the closed circuit locations went through the roof, and each location called in with terrific news for the WWF. WrestleMania I was a blockbuster success, and a tradition was born.
As fascinated as I was, and still am, with WrestleMania, I never dreamed that WrestleMania would becoming the phenomenon that you see before you today. Back in 1985, I never would have believed that WrestleMania would turn into what it is today. WrestleMania isn't just a once a year show. It's week long event. In that week, you can visit the WWE Fan Axxess, attend the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, watch any number of independent shows and conventions, not to mention seeing the big show itself.
The first WrestleMania took place in front of 19,121 fans. Today, WrestleMania routinely sets attendance records in stadium after stadium. The event has gotten so big that the WWE doesn't recruit towns to host WrestleMania. Instead, cities come to the WWE with a presentation to try to land WrestleMania in their city.
At the inaugural WrestleMania, Jesse Ventura quoted, "What Woodstock was to rock and roll, WrestleMania is to wrestling." While I wasn't born when Woodstock took place, I have seen the growth of the Super Bowl and WrestleMania. I would adjust Ventura's statement to read "What the Super Bowl is to the National Football League, WrestleMania is to wrestling." I think that sums up what WrestleMania has become. WrestleMania is the Super Bowl of wrestling.