The countdown to the biggest show of the year in pro wrestling is on. WrestleMania is to pro wrestling what championship games are for professional sports. No matter how may pay-per-views the WWE may hold in a year, WrestleMania is always the biggest. In counting down to the big event, I will take a look at my top five WrestleMania shows of all time.
The criteria in determining the top five WrestleMania shows is a little complex. For one, I look at historical significance. The first WrestleMania is historic as the original and gets high consideration on that alone. Other WrestleMania shows may be historic for crowd attendance, availability, a particular point in wrestling history, matches, appearances, or a variety of other reasons.
There are a lot of great matches from WrestleMania but only a few are considered the greatest. It is common for a terrible WrestleMania to be looked upon far more favorably years later due to one great match. One great match can make a WrestleMania and put the show in the history books forever.
Star power is another big component in the mix. The power of the stars may be just as much about wrestling star power as it is power from the outside world. There is a big difference in a WrestleMania stacked with great stars as opposed to a show without a Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Steve Austin, The Rock, Bret Hart, etc. One WWE superstar doesn’t make a show, but a collection of stars is something that can truly make a WrestleMania special.
4 – WrestleMania 1 03/31/85 New York, NY
It seems like it was just yesterday that I was sneaking up past my bedtime skimming the news and looking for results of the first WrestleMania. I turned the television on and off every time I heard my parents walking around the house. Finally, WPIX channel 11 out of New York had the story, showed a few clips, and I was intrigued even more by the greatness of WrestleMania.
Rather than sit back and review the matches, I’d like to talk more about the event itself. Let’s face it. I am not putting WrestleMania 1 in the top five because of a great Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff vs. Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda or Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd match. This show is here for its history. That said, let’s take a look back and see what makes this show so special.
How WrestleMania evolved is debatable in terms of pro wrestling history. The most important component to the success of the show has been the branding of WrestleMania. It really is all in a name because no matter how good or bad the show is, WrestleMania is always the biggest pro wrestling show of the year.
People talk about UFC overtaking the WWE and maybe they have for a brief time. However, I dare any UFC fan without doing research to name me the title of one UFC event? Most can’t even tell you the name of the most recent UFC show. Everyone knows the name WrestleMania, but what will UFC 111 mean twenty-six years from now?
Many claim that “Dr. D” David Schultz came up with the WrestleMania name. Hulk Hogan often takes credit for coming up with the name of the show. In the True Story of WrestleMania DVD, Howard Finkel takes credit for the name. Regardless of the name, the concept of a pro wrestling super show was contrived long before WrestleMania.
The biggest of the pro wrestling super shows prior to WrestleMania was Jim Crockett’s Starrcade. The first Starrcade was held in 1983 and featured wrestlers from all over the NWA. The show was headlined by Ric Flair challenging Harley Race for the NWA title. Starrcade was actually the evolution of Dusty Rhodes‘ super shows that he promoted in Florida. However, many wrestling territories promoted super shows going back decades in pro wrestling. Yet, Starrcade was definitely a big inspiration to WrestleMania.
The tale of WrestleMania is often told as if it was a make it or break it deal for Vince McMahon. Legend has it that Vince McMahon bankrolled everything behind the first WrestleMania. If WrestleMania had failed, the WWE would have been finished and out of business. Think about how incredible of an investment that is for someone to make and how different the wrestling industry would have turned out if WrestleMania bombed.
The market for WrestleMania was closed-circuit television. Pay-per-view was still in its infancy, so the idea would be to telecast the event all over the country in movie theaters and sports arenas. Here in Philadelphia, for the price of seeing a live event you could go to the Spectrum and watch WrestleMania on the big screen. Some towns offered the opportunity to watch the event for a fee in a local movie theater, similar to Muhammad Ali’s biggest fights later in his career. The idea of millions of fans paying $50 a piece to watch this event in their homes was years away from becoming a reality.
WrestleMania had to be bigger than the local WWE events that came to the big cities on a monthly basis. Having Hulk Hogan in the main-event was not enough to make this show special. This show needed something to put it over the top and appeal outside of the box to casual fans. The idea of celebrity involvement was nothing new to pro wrestling. Yet, the idea of putting several of the generation’s biggest stars inside of a wrestling ring was the unique component needed to put this one over the top.
Mr. T had just finished Rocky III and believe it or not, was as big in popular culture as today’s biggest television and movie stars. Back then, kids loved Mr. T and people believed he was a legitimate tough guy. The idea of tagging Mr. T with Hulk Hogan against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff on a marketing level was brilliant. The media bought it hook, line, and sinker. Hogan and Mr.T were everywhere including talk shows, MTV, and even hosted Saturday Night Live. Yet, this was not without controversy within pro wrestling.
The wrestling community hated the involvement of Mr. T. The wrestlers thought by putting a celebrity into a wrestling ring that it exposed the business. Remember, the times were different and people within the wrestling industry would go to great lengths to protect their business. David Schultz almost got into a fight with Mr. T at a house show leading up to WrestleMania. There were all kinds of rumors about Bruiser Brody jumping the guard rail at the show and attacking Mr. T. Paul Orndorff and Roddy Piper were very against the idea of using Mr. T, as were most of the wrestlers within the WWE.
The involvement of Cyndi Lauper cannot be discounted to the success of the company. To put it in perspective, this would be like having Lady Gaga at WrestleMania managing one of the Divas, if not bigger. Lauper had a unique appeal at the time to teenagers and kids and was massively popular. Lauper managed Wendi Richter on the event. Richter was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame for her efforts in making WrestleMania a success. A well worthy induction if you ask me, considering how important her role was to the success of WrestleMania 1.
In addition to the involvement of Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper, Vince stacked the deck with celebrities throughout the evening. Muhammad Ali was a guest referee for the main-event. Liberace and his Rockettes were time keepers for the match. Ex-Yankee manager Billy Martin was also on hand for the festivities. This was truly the number one entertainment event in the country. For one night the eyes of the world were on pro wrestling and WrestleMania.
It is truly an honor for anyone to wrestle on WrestleMania whether it is the opening match or the main-event. Say what you want about pro wrestling, but most wrestlers who wrestle on WrestleMania take it very seriously. All involved go out there with serious intentions of stealing the show and making their marks into wrestling history. A great match at WrestleMania could change your career forever. Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Chris Jericho, Randy Savage, and The Rock are all true examples of this. It all started with their memories of WrestleMania 1.
Twenty-six years later WrestleMania has turned into the Super Bowl of professional wrestling. Whether you are a fan of pro wrestling or not, chances are that you have heard of WrestleMania. There is even a bigger chance that somehow or another you have watched a WrestleMania at one point in your life. WrestleMania is a celebration for all wrestling fans and a day to get excited about the biggest day of the year. A lot will probably change twenty-six years from now but I can almost guarantee you that there will always be a WrestleMania.
Complete WrestleMania 1 Results…
Tito Santana defeated The Executioner.
King Kong Bundy (with Jimmy Hart) defeated Special Delivery Jones.
Ricky Steamboat defeated Matt Borne.
David Sammartino (with Bruno Sammartino) fought Brutus Beefcake (with Johnny Valiant) to a double disqualification.
The Junkyard Dog defeated Greg Valentine (with Jimmy Hart) by countoutNikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik (with Freddie Blassie) defeated The U.S. Express (Mike Rotundo and Barry Windham) (with Lou Albano).
André the Giant defeated Big John Studd (with Bobby Heenan) – $15,000 Body Slam Challenge.
Wendi Richter (with Cyndi Lauper) defeated Leilani Kai (with The Fabulous Moolah).
Hulk Hogan and Mr. T (with Jimmy Snuka) defeated Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff (with Cowboy Bob Orton).
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