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The Wrestlemania Plunge (1983-1985)

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"If WrestleMania I hadn't succeeded, there would be no WWF today." - Vince McMahon


In preparation for the 18th-annual installment of WrestleMania, Vince McMahon made a calculated, yet monumental, gamble. By hiring the aging, potentially-virulent impetuses of Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash, the WWF head not only risked upsetting his company's meticulously-constructed, scrupulously-protected locker room harmony, but he also imperiled the future of his promotion itself. After all, two-thirds of the NWO troika are notorious political masterminds, and since all three are inked to exorbitant two-year contracts, they will almost certainly be long-term fixtures at the top of the Federation's cards, where they have the potential to do as much harm as good.


Thus far, the results of this hazardous plunge into the unknown have been mixed, to say the least. WrestleMania X-8 almost certainly brought home a larger buy rate than it would have without the three men's involvement, and Hogan's appearance -- athletically-limited though it was -- was positively show-stealing. However, the remainder of the faction's early returns have not been promising, and as locker room morale continues to deteriorate amidst ebbing ratings and swirling rumors regarding contract reductions and roster cuts, it appears that, six months to a year from now, this is one gamble that will turn out to be ill-fated. McMahon, though, is nothing if not a gamester, and, as risky as his latest role of the dice was, it was not nearly as iffy as one in which he participated seventeen years ago.


In the spring of 1985, McMahon was locked in a bitter fight to keep his upstart wrestling empire afloat. As a result, he opted -- in a case strikingly similar to that of his NWO signing decision -- to take an enormous, yet carefully-contemplated, risk. This time, however, there was no middle-ground, and his caution-to-the-wind maneuver was either going to be a complete boon or a complete bust. If it succeeded, the promotion would survive well into the future. If not, the WWF would almost surely meet with a dramatic end.


This high-stakes promotional poker match was not without its scary moments, and there were times when McMahon's co-players mistook him for a defeated man. Much to their amusement, the WWF was in shambles leading up to Vince's desperation, all-or-nothing wager, and the then-new-sprung owner was drowning in a sea of red ink and employee unrest. In April 1985, industry-wide domination was the name of the game, and, after seventeen months of priming and posturing, McMahon's very existence as a promoter was highly precarious.


Among the other participants in this decisive, if unruly, battle for wrestling supremacy included eminent promoter linchpins like the Mid-Atlantic's Jim Crockett, Georgia's Ole Anderson, the American Wrestling Association's Verne Gagne, Southwest Championship Wrestling's Joe Blanchard, and Mid-South's Bill Watts. To many of them, Vince was somewhat of a joke, and he seemed destined to fall flat on his face, a victim of his own effrontery. At one point, in the late winter of 1985, most of them ever went so far as to gather together for the expressed purpose of snickering at the naivete of this relatively young social climber, who had been spending money hand-over-fist for a year and-a-half and getting comparatively little in return. According to their line of thinking, there was no way he could succeed with such a rash business plan, and it was only a matter of time before his unconventional methods exploded in his face. Make no mistake about it: McMahon could felt the precision of their scorn, and, although the odds seemed stacked imposingly against him, he was determined to get the last laugh.


Finally, when the upshot went down on April 1, 1985, there was, in fact, still plenty of chortling reverberating throughout the industry. However, all of it was now emanating from Vince's side of the table. Much to the shocked outrage of his co-players, McMahon had just plunked down a royal flush. Its name was "WrestleMania," and on Sunday, it celebrated its 17th anniversary.


Perhaps it's an exaggeration to say the WWF might have died had that climacteric Madison Square Garden card not been such a resounding success. McMahon did still have a couple of other aces up his sleeve, not the least of which was a remunerative agreement with NBC that was scheduled to kick in two months later. Nevertheless, there can be no doubting that the blow-away success of his New York closed-circuit extravaganza entirely changed the face of the wrestling industry, and it also officially heralded the arrival of the Federation as the preeminent wrestling franchise in the country.


Of course, McMahon's ultimate success, while admirable from a capitalistic business standpoint, far from made him heroic. At best, he was acting as a shrewd entrepreneur who was simply looking out for his own best interests and doing nothing that the United States' social system didn't allow. At worst, he was an avaricious megalomaniac who cared little for the lineage of the industry which had made him so successful and felt even less remorse for the dozens of hard-working wrestling employees he put out of work during his rise to prominence.


However, this story is not so much about the content of McMahon's character as the wrestling renaissance he created. In 1983 and 1984, the northerly winds of change were blowing steadily. And, when they momentarily settled in the spring of 1985, the course of wrestling history had been irrevocably altered.



I. A Tale of Two Vinces


When 1983 began, the terms "pro wrestling" and "mainstream notoriety" were about as mutually exclusive as any that existed in contemporary North American culture. At the time, some twenty regional wrestling offices (known, collectively, as the National Wrestling Alliance) dotted the U.S. and Canada, and, while most of them were extremely popular local institutions, few had ever conceived of expanding outside of their regional spheres of influence.


Among this coterie of affiliated promotions was the Connecticut-based World Wrestling Federation, formerly the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), which had been owned and operated for the previous two decades by Vince McMahon, Sr. Arguably, it was the largest and most well-known territory of them all -- largely due to its proximity to the country's epicenter, New York -- and drew the biggest gates in the business for its regular monthly stops in Manhattan, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore. Nonetheless, relatively few fans outside of the Northeast had so much as seen a WWF match, let alone knew of the local repute of the famous McMahon family.


The company's "World" champion at the time was Bob Backlund, who, while a household name in the Federation's homebase, was hardly the type of performer capable of capturing the imagination of the American public at large. Dubbed the "All American Boy," he was a fairly colorless -- albeit technically very proficient -- wrestler who had been a major draw for the better part of his then-five-year title reign, thanks in part to the enormity and/or flamboyance of heel opponents like "Superstar" Billy Graham, Sgt. Slaughter, Greg Valentine, John Studd, Jimmy Snuka, Pat Patterson, Ken Patera, and Peter Maivia. However, the once-hearty gates he drew at all of the company's monthly stops were beginning to dwindle, and it was clear to all involved that a changing of the guard would soon be in order. Just how dramatic that change would ultimately be, much less who would reap its ample benefits, was a matter completely unbeknownst to all but two men.


By the fall of '83, the McMahons -- Vince Sr. and Vince Jr. -- had already begun formulating plans to transform their family-owned business from a locally-favored entity into a national and, eventually, international powerhouse. Jr. had actually purchased the company from Sr. and his minority stockholders in 1982, but Sr. -- who was in poor health -- remained an integral decision WWF maker. However, 38-year-old Jr., who had been involved with the company in various capacities for 13 years -- most of them as an announcer -- certainly was the head honcho at this point.


In truth, the Vinces were not alone in their expansionist aspirations. Over the previous 15 years, several wayward promoters had attempted to go against the established grain of the NWA by creating national promotions, including Ann Gunkel of Atlanta in the early-'70s and one-time basketball promoter Eddie Einhorn in the mid-'70s. In addition, Joe Blanchard's Southwest Championship Wrestling had been making rumblings about invading other territories' groups for several years now, and, because of his national cable exposure on the USA Network, several of his peers were wary of his threats.


So, while what the McMahons' designs were certainly nothing new to this often-ruthless business, they initially did a masterful job of keeping their intentions a secret. They did such a nimble job of concealment, in fact, that the vast majority of the old guard of wrestlers and promoters who have since spoken out regarding this historic period have emphatically asserted that the WWF's monopolistic aspirations belonged solely to McMahon, Jr. -- a theory which Vince himself has since propagated on many occasions. However, as much as this entire period is open to interpretive judgements, several basic facts demonstrate otherwise. It's not clear exactly to what extent McMahon, Sr., was involved with the plan, and it's entirely likely that Jr. contrived the majority of the expansionist blueprints. However, it is clear that Sr. was also very much implicated in the scheme, and it likely never would have worked without his cooperation.


When the McMahons embarked on their first notable strategic front, it was so well formulated that none of their competitors even recognized it for the offensive strike that it was. In late-1983, the WWF purchased Blanchard's slot on the USA Network at the cost of $3,000 a week and also agreed to pay off the debt SCW had accrued in its three years on the station. The network had been disillusioned with Blanchard dating back several months, not only because he was often tardy with his payments, but he relied on a violent, bloody brand of wrestling that didn't square with the station's standards of acceptability. Conversely, the McMahons' product was becoming increasingly family-friendly, and Jr. Vince had several investors lined up that allowed him always to make his payments on a timely basis.


The McMahons -- with Jr. making the majority of the day-to-day decisions by this point -- dubbed their new cable program "All-American Wrestling," which was a highlights-based show which featured arena matches involving both the WWF's top stars (Backlund, Sgt. Slaughter, Jimmy Snuka, Andre the Giant, Don Muraco, etc.) and select big names from other territories. In this way, the other promotions were actually grateful to Vince and believed he was doing them a favor by giving their big cash cows national exposure. In reality, although he obviously never let on as much, McMahon had something far different in mind. The non-Federation tapes he chose to air showcased the matches of wrestlers he had marked as potential acquisitions when it came time to consummate his plans more fully, with Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, the Von Erich brothers, Paul Orndorff, Barry Windham, Roddy Piper, and the Junkyard Dog being only some of the immense talents he opted to showcase.


The McMahons' next maneuver, which also went mostly unheeded, was to initiate the several-month-long process of undermining Ole Anderson's Georgia Championship Wrestling, the WWF's chief competitor due to its exposure on the WTBS cable station. Suddenly, in October '83, several of Anderson's top stars started disappearing from view, only to resurface on tours for New Japan Pro Wrestling later that month. The remainder of the NWA promoters were dumbfounded by this occurrence; since the WWF had a working relationship with NJPW, they suspected that the wrestlers had all signed contracts with New York, but Sr. McMahon, whom they respected greatly, quickly reassured them that his promotion had no intention of extirpating GCW, much less attempting a monopoly on the entire business. And, because the group -- which included the aforementioned Piper and Orndorff, along with the Masked Superstar and Brian Blair -- had yet to wrestle on any Federation cards, he actually did have a fairly convincing case.


Finally, on December 26, 1983, in Madison Square Garden, all of the competing promoters had their worst fears confirmed. The exact nature of what transpired that night remains shrouded in mystery to this day, but what was very much apparent was that the wrestling business was about to undergo rapid and distinct changes. The Iron Sheik had ended Bob Backlund's near-six-year run atop the WWF, and while a World Title change was very significant unto itself at that time, what it represented -- a changing of the guard -- was of far greater consequence.


For several years afterward, Backlund claimed he was double-crossed in the match, and that he had no inclination that his manager, Arnold Skaaland, was going to throw in the white towel to signify that he had submitted to the Sheik's camel clutch. Many of Backlund's contemporaries were skeptical of his lamentable tale and figured it was nothing more than a way for him to cope with the disgrace of being phased out of the company, and they point to the fact that he remained in the Federation for another eight months, before quitting in disgust when McMahon insisted he die his hair black and turn heel. However, in light of several of Jr. Vince's other infamous actions during his near-twenty-year run as the Federation's head honcho, Backlund's version of the incident has gained credence over the years.


The Sheik, for his part, was an accomplished 12-year veteran, a former Olympic wrestler, and had been a headliner in several territories in the South for the previous four years. However, it was clear that he was little more than a transitional champion, and his reign was to serve the primary purpose of setting the stage for something much bigger that was about to come roaring along.


McMahon wasted little time in allowing that something to manifest itself. Immediately after that the infamous post-Christmas Madison Square Garden show, the flood gates opened, and a torrent of marketable talent stormed New York, leaving numerous once-thriving, now-dying promotions in their wake.



II. The Torrent of Talent


The WWF had always predominately been a big mans' territory, and it's clear that -- 20 years later -- Vince Jr. is a product of his upbringing in the business. For McMahon, the prototype of the ideal, marketable wrestler was 1970s heel powerhouse , the self-denominated "Man of the Hour, the Man with the Power, Too Sweet to be Sour!" and the owner of the original "22-inch pythons." Graham was a well-sculpted, flamboyant, ultra-charismatic bleached-blond and owns the second-longest heel WWF Title reign in company history, from 1977-1978. More importantly, he was Jr. McMahon's favorite wrestler at the time and, as such, became the archetype for the Federation mogul's new vision of the business.


McMahon felt that, to market his product to the general public most effectively, his performers should resemble bodybuilders more than traditional wrestlers, and that their personalities are more important than their in-ring skills. The wrestlers he pursued during his numerous talent raids from '83-'85 (and beyond) reflected this preference: In were hulking musclemen (many of whom were loaded with charisma and lacking in actual wrestling ability); out, with a few notable exceptions, were talented technical wrestlers with mediocre physiques.


Hulk Hogan: Unfortunately for McMahon, he was unable to enlist primo "Superstar" Graham himself, who, with his marketability waning, jumped ship to Mid-Atlantic as a mid-carder in late-1983. Luckily for Vince, though, he was able to attain the services of the next best thing: a 6'4", 290 lbs. Graham-inspired performer named Hulk Hogan, who was billed as 6'8" and over 300.


Wrestling lore will likely forever hold that, prior to his pixilated appearance as "Thunderlips" in the box office smash "Rocky III" in 1983, Hogan was a relative unknown in the business. However, the truth is that he had been the biggest, most consistent drawing card around since his early-1982 babyface turn in the AWA, and the mainstream rub he received from his cinematic efforts alongside Sylvester Stallone only augmented his burgeoning success. The "Incredible" Hulk possessed dynamic physical charisma, which perfectly complimented his unique, chiseled, and steroid-fueled physique. What's more, his ear-cupping, power-fueled, posing-and-posturing live act; garrulous rap on promos; long, corn silk (and thinning) hair; chestnut tan comprised a package unlike any fans in the Twin Cities had ever seen before. It, combined with his "Rocky" notoriety and the national reputation he had amassed as Andre the Giant's frequent WWWF rival in 1979-1980, made him the most marketable performer in the business -- not even with the exception of the vaunted Andre.


The future "Hulkster" set numerous box office records in feuds with Jesse "The Body" Ventura (below), the late "Crusher" Jerry Blackwell, and -- briefly -- AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel. Before long, fans throughout the Midwest were clamoring to see their favorite star realize his World championship aspirations. However, company owner/operator/wrestling demigod Verne Gagne had other designs, and it wasn't long before Hogan justifiably became disillusioned with his incommensurate push and salary (estimated at $5,000 per week).


Two promoters who certainly did realize Hogan's potential value were the McMahons, who had helped boost him to national prominence in the WWWF during his 1979-1981 tenure in New York. As fate would have it, it was while the he was on one of his frequent tours as the top foreigner in New Japan Pro Wrestling -- a McMahon family ally -- that Vince, Sr., approached the "Incredible" Hulk with promises of an appreciable raise and an elusive, sustained World Title run. Hogan clearly found the woos to his liking, because in December, 1983, when he landed down in the United States, it was not in Minnesota, but in New York.


Only one week after Backlund's title loss to the Iron Sheik, Hogan made his WWF return in typical dramatic fashion. On an edition of "All-Star Wrestling," the "All-American Boy" was in the midst of a ruthless beat down at the hands of the treacherous quartet of the Wild Samoans and "Captain" Lou Albano. Before long, Hogan emerged from the back and, as the crowd greeted him with a huge reaction, proceeded to lay waste to four of the the heels (four of the tops in the Northeast) in one fell swoop. Hogan's dominating display, while impractical, was like few in the history of the promotion, and it was immediately clear that he, not Backlund, was now the promotion's number one babyface.


The Hulk's massive push continued the next week as he and Backlund met and defeated Mr. Fuji & Tiger Chung Lee. Naturally, Backlund played the part of the weak link in the tag team, and every time Hogan entered the ring, he contiguously and thoroughly cleaned house.


"Hulkamania" was born, and the next step in the now-yellow-and-red-clad Hogan's dominating path seemed inevitable. For the next month's Madison Square Garden card, the WWF eschewed standard World Title rematch protocol by granting the Hulk next crack at the champ, while Backlund -- as the storyline went -- had a severe shoulder injury and was unable to accept the bout. Hence, on January 23, 1984, the company's changing of the guard took place, and shockwaves promptly reverberated throughout the industry. The bout ushered in a new era of brief title showdowns which were characterized by Hogan's overpowering presence, and, in this particular match, he even forced his way out of the heretofore-unbreakable Camel Clutch before winning the title at just past the 7:00 mark with a bodyslam and legdrop combo. The response to the match was overwhelming; not only did it earn one of the biggest pops in the history of the hallowed Garden -- replete with Hogan's new theme song, "Eye of the Tiger," from Rocky) -- but the show drew a sell-out of approximately 22,000 fans, with 4,000 more watching on a closed-circuit broadcast at the adjacent Felt Forum. Few onlookers were aware of the historical magnitude of what took place, but it was clear that Hogan was marked for an extended title run, and his status as the business' premiere attraction was more secure than ever.


Roddy Piper: The new-look WWF was branded by the time-tested struggle between good and evil, and for superhero Hogan truly to achieve any kind of long-term success, he would need a nearly-as-charismatic foil.


Ironically, when "Rowdy" Roddy Piper first entered the company in December 1983, at age 32, he figured to be one of the last people to whom the McMahons would ultimately assign that role. At a legitimate 6'1" and 230 lbs, and without the unwieldy mass that suited the penchant of the Vinces, the native of Scotland seemed as though he would be a role player -- and nothing more -- within the confines of this new form of wrestling. In fact, one well-known story in the business at the time told of how Vince, Sr., having heard of Piper's drawing prowess in Portland, had flown him in for a WWWF card in the late-'70s, only to get one look at the then-200-or-so-pound wrestler and tell him to board the next plane back to Oregon.


Piper had, at various times during his 13-year career, been one of the top two drawing cards in four different regions, including the Southern California, Pacific Northwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Georgia territories. It was while working for Jim Crockett's Mid-Atlantic and Ole Anderson's Georgia Championship Wrestling promotions that he had achieved his greatest notoriety, by way of classic feuds with the likes of Ric Flair, Greg Valentine, and "Mad Dog" Buzz Sawyer. He had also achieved great success as Gordon Solie's color commentator on GCW's WTBS show, which alone made him one of the most recognizable performers in the entire industry.


However, when Piper arrived in the WWF, he did so not as a wrestler and not as a commentator, but as a manager. His charges included two other Federation newcomers, "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff and "Dr. D" David Shults, and, initially, he very seldom set foot in the ring. The "Rowdy Scot" took his depiction in stride, however, and was such a phenomenal (and hilarious) manager and was so highly endowed at drawing attention to himself at ringside that the Vinces quickly caught on. Within weeks, they began slotting him more interview time, and Piper -- arguably the premiere mic man in the business at the time -- instantaneously got over like gang-busters. Ultimately, his rollicking "loose cannon" act proved to be more than bullet-proof enough to overcome the McMahon Family's big man fetish.


It was less than two months into his WWF tenure that the WWF assigned Piper his own weekly talk show segment, called "Piper's Pit." Naturally, these exhibitions were a major hit and, before long, made the "Rowdy Scot" the most over personality in the company, with the possible exception of the Hulkster. Whenever a babyface would visit (Jimmy Snuka, Tony Garea, Rocky Johnson, etc.), Roddy would hog nearly all of the mic time, and on the rare occasions that he would hold the microphone out for his guest, he would either snap it away or click it off. On several occasions, he would even attack the fan-favorite guests, before standing above them and, invariably, spouting his famous catch-phrase, "Just when you think you know the answers, I change all the questions." Conversely, whenever a heel visited (Lou Albano, Shults, Orndorff, etc.), the two parties would spend the entirety of the segment joking, commiserating, and devising hilarious rationalizations for the most unscrupulous of dirty deeds. In other instances, Piper would even interview himself.


No doubt about it: Piper was steadily gaining heat, and as the winter came to a close in '84, he was the McMahons' most entertaining act.


"Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff: One of the wrestlers who suddenly disappeared from Georgia Championship Wrestling in late-1983, only to turn up in the WWF months later, was "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff. Ironically, "Paula," as he was referred by the company's hostile patrons, debuted the same night Hulk Hogan won the WWF Title from the Iron Sheik in Madison Square Garden. He would go on to become one of the Hulkster's top three rivals throughout the next two years and, in fact, was on the losing end in Hogan's first title defense at MSG the next month.


Orndorff was a well-built, athletic, and -- above all else -- arrogant performer who, in addition to headlining in Georgia in 1982 and 1983, had also been a top star in Mid-South in the early-'80s. Although he was not nearly as charismatic as his ally Piper, he had a well-earned reputation as one of the top workers in the country (he was certainly one of the top five in the WWF) and cut solid -- though not extraordinary -- promos. As such, although he never received an extended run on top in the Federation, he was a solid draw whenever plugged into the main event slot, and, of course, he would ultimately go down in history for his integral involvement in WrestleMania.


Wendi Richter: An attractive, shapely 23-year-old, Richter arrived in the Federation in early-1984 after honing her craft in the Southern promotional belt and in Japan. Although her tenure only lasted two year, she went on to become one of the most important performers in the entire business during this period.


The athletic commission had actually enforced a ban on women's matches in New York for a number of years in the '60s and '70s, but not for long. Not only were Richter and her division a central component of Jr. Vince's early marketing efforts, but her feud with her real-life trainer, the Fabulous Moolah, was the second most heavily-pushed issue in the promotion for a period of several months.


Mike Rotundo & Barry Windham: In 1984, two of the most promising young wrestlers in the business were real-life brothers-in-law Mike Rotundo, 26, and Barry Windham, 24. Fresh off a Tag Team Title run in Florida at mid-year, they arrived in the WWF in September, at which point Jr. McMahon christened them the "All-American Boys" and gave them a huge push right to the top of his tag division. Ther, they promptly won the titles from the ultra-talented heel tandem of Adrian Adonis & Dick Murdoch, before laying on an even more syrupy coat of heartthrob-flavored patriotism in their feud with the Iron Sheik & Nickolai Volkoff.


Windham, with his long, blond bangs and premium athleticism, was considered especially talented at the time, and many observers already had him pegged as a future World champion. He had already cleaned up as the top star of the Florida territory for the previous year, and, in an interesting bit of trivia, was Dusty Rhodes' first choice for the role Magnum TA eventually got in the Mid-Atlantic: the dominant, All-American pretty boy. Instead, he opted for the big money of the WWF, like half the other big-league talent of the period. Rotundo, meanwhile, was also considered a first-rate talent and had demonstrated as much as a frequent titleholder the previous two years in both Florida and the Carolinas himself.


Greg "the Hammer" Valentine (John Winiski, Jr.): Fresh off of legendary feuds with Ric Flair and Roddy Piper in the Mid-Atlantic, Valentine (who had actually had a famous feud with Bob Backlund three years earlier) was also one of the influx of WWF arrivals in early-1984. Initially, he was a protege of "The Guiding Light" Lou Albano, whose promo ability, combined with Valentine's very strong working ability, made the "Hammer" one of the Federation's top-five heels during the expansion period. Not surprisingly, he won his first Intercontinental Title just four months into his run, by beating Tito Santana .


"Ace" Bob Orton: Once Roddy Piper had effectively riled up 90% of the WWF's babyface roster through his antics on "Piper's Pit," he found himself in dire need of a bodyguard (or, so the storyline went). That was the cue for the re-arrival of "Cowboy" Bob Orton, who re-debuted with much fanfare by sitting in on a "Pit" segment involving jobber Aldo Marino. After Marino upbraided Piper for needing a "henchman" to protect him, the "Rowdy Scot" had Orton punk him out, setting the stage for a series of Piper & Orton main event tag team matches throughout the summer of '84.


Orton had actually been a WWF mainstay throughout 1983, but he apparently burnt out and disappeared for several months before once again cropping up as Piper's accomplice. At the time, "Cowboy" Bob was a top-flight worker and, arguably, one of the top 10 in-ring performers in the country. He had had several runs on top in other territories -- including Memphis, the AWA, Mid-South, and Mid-Atlantic -- and, in another bit of trivia, had even been Randy Savage's tag team partner for a brief spell. After his Federation re-debut, he would remained one of the McMahons' top heels for the next two years -- and a well-deserved one, at that.


"Dr. D" David Schuls: A noted hot-head who became more (in)famous for his outside-of-the-ring exploits than anything he accomplished inside of it, Schuls jumped ship from the AWA to the WWF in early-1984, at the behest of his good friend Hulk Hogan. "Dr. D" had actually been exiled from the country at one point, in connection with an out-of-the ring scrape with the law, but because he was a large, effectively obnoxious heel, he was always able to find work in various territories. His pairing with the Roddy Piper stable immediately made him a top star in the Fed, but, as we'll see later, his tenure proved short-lived. The closest comparison to him among today's wrestlers might be Scott Steiner, although Schults obviously wasn't nearly as well-muscled.


Jesse "The Body" Ventura: A veteran heel with major stints in Oregon, Minnesota, and New York under his belt, Ventura was one of about a half-dozen wrestlers to jump ship from Verne Gagne's operation in early-1984. Although he received a big push initially -- mostly due to his superlative promos and physique -- and was scheduled to headline a Madison Square Garden match against Hulk Hogan in mid-'84, he was hospitalized with blood clots in his lungs just a couple of days before the match. As a result, he was sidelined for the next several months, before attempting a comeback, then ultimately retiring because of the health conflict.


Ventura landed on his feet, of course, and went on to achieve his greatest fame in wrestling several months later. He became the WWF's primary color commentator and instantly gained a huge cult following. The heel announcer act had actually been perfected by Roddy Piper in GCW, but "The Body" was so successful in the role that, without it, he never would have achieved anything resembling his recent meteoric heights of non-wrestling success.


Junkyard Dog: JYD was actually just removed from a four-year run as arguably the top drawing card in the United States when the WWF cherry-picked him from Bill Watts' Mid-South in late-1984. And, while he never displayed the same form in the Federation, he was a very popular mid-card fixture there for nearly four years, stowed with his familiar entrance theme ("Another One Bites the Dust"), dog collar, head butts, and wry promos.


Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat: Steamboat had been one of the top stars and best workers in the business dating back to the late-'70s, when he entered Mid-Atlantic and commenced his legendary rivalry with Ric Flair. By late-1984, however, "The Dragon" had grown disenchanted with the Crockett territory, whose new booker -- Dusty Rhodes -- refused to push him because he abhorred being on the road and only agreed to work 8-10 cards per months. As a result, while on a temporary "retirement" from the business in early-'85, he was only too happy to defect to the WWF when the inevitable call came from Jr. McMahon. Although the workload in the Federation would be demanding, and he would regularly have to travel all over the country, the ample salary (rumored as $5,000 per week -- or $260,000 per year) was too enticing to turn down. In addition, with former Mid-Atlantic friend/booker George Scott now handling the majority of Titan's booking duties (as we'll see below), Steamboat suspected he might actually be used more befittingly in New York.


Steamboat never really did fully realize the vast promise of his working relationship with the WWF, but, for the time being, he was arguably the premiere worker in the company, and his karate-inspired gimmick helped make him a very popular mid-carder. At the very outset, he assumed a role as Jimmy Snuka's tag team partner in a tandem called the "South Pacific Connection."


Hillbilly Jim: A scant two-year pro when the WWF signed him in late-1984, the strapping, thickly-bearded, overalls-clad Jim was one of the promotion's top mid-carders in the mid-'80s, despite his want for actual wrestling ability. Following a stint in Memphis as "Harley Davidson," he was actually introduced to Federation audiences as part of a "fan out of the crowd" gimmick, then through a series of "training videos" with Hulk Hogan himself. Naturally, his persona was that of a big, convivial country bumpkin. Partly because he was one of Vince, Jr.'s pet projects, and partly due to the rub from his association with Hogan, he got a big push and ran through much of the company's mid-card corps in 1985.


Nikolai Volkoff: The imposing Volkoff had been a headliner in the Midwest and was, like so many of the wrestlers on this list, plying his trade in Georgia when the WWF came calling in mid-1984. After jumping to the Federation with his Russian xenophobe gimmick in tow, he became one of the company's top heels, challenged Hulk Hogan for the WWF Title, before settling in as the Iron Sheik's tag team partner in 1985.


King Kong Bundy: Following tenures on top in World Class and Memphis, Bundy joined the WWF in 1984 and almost immediately got over strong by virtue of his size (billed at 6'5" and 450 lbs.) and insistence that referees count to five, instead of three, during his matches. However, the best for him was to come at WrestleMania II.


Bobby "The Brain" Heenan: Having already demonstrated himself as one of the greatest managers of all-time through his near-twenty years of service to the AWA, Heenan joined the tidle wave of defectors from Minnesota to New York when he signed a contract with McMahon in September, 1984. Initially, he lent his considerable comedic and verbal abilities to John Studd, King Kong Bundy, and others.


Jimmy "The Mouth of the South" Hart: After a legendary stint in Memphis, Hart came to the WWF in mid-1984 as the manager for Greg Valentine, and then Brutus Beefcake. Many of those who regularly viewed his work in Tennessee in the early-'80s contend that he had the greatest single managerial run in the history of the business, but, unfortunately, he never had sufficing opportunity to display the full range of his talents in the WWF. He was, however, a very valuable component of the promotion's mid-card for over nine years.



III. The Mainstays


Sgt. Slaughter (Robert Remus): One of the many facts about the period leading up to WrestleMania that history has obscured is that Sgt. Slaughter, not Hulk Hogan, actually achieved the greatest mainstream notoriety of anyone in the industry in 1984. The Sarge was the focus of nearly all of the budding number of newspaper and magazine write-ups regarding the WWF's unique success around this time, and, although much of the attention stemmed from the fact that descriptions of the flag-waving patriot gimmick made for good copy, Slaughter's renown was very well-deserved. After all, his feud with the Arabian Iron Sheik was the hottest ticket in wrestling in the spring of '84, drawing strong gates around the horn -- and producing several very good matches, to boot. Also, he was a strong big-man worker who took great bumps for his size (around 270 lbs. legit -- billed as 310); cut money-drawing, craggy-voiced promos; and executed his nationalistic persona to perfection. Unfortunately, though, he soon fell into the common trap of believing his own press and, by the end of 1984, had begun complaining loudly about his salary, which he believed was inequitably low.


On one fateful night in 1984, after failing to make good on several vows to quit the company if Vince, Jr., did not capitulate to his demands, Slaughter gathered the entire locker room together and attempted to unionize them. This maneuver proved to be ill-advised: Hogan ratted him out to management -- a fact which only came out several years later -- and Vince wasted no time in firing him, temporarily ending his relationship with the company that had first brought him to national prominence in 1980. Ultimately, he was little more than an afterthought when the WWF embarked on its greater period of success four months later, when he just as easily could have been one of its centerpieces.


Andre the Giant (Andre Rousemoff): Although the late Giant was several years removed from being the top drawing card in the industry, he remained a valuable entity in the WWF, which had been his primary homebase for the past several years. In addition, Vince, Sr., had been his booking agent since 1973 (at which point he emerged as the biggest attraction in the industry, in more ways than one), which made his relationship with the McMahon family an especially amenable one.


In particular, the Giant had never fully recovered -- both in terms of mobility and drawing power -- ever since sustaining a broken ankle during a 1981 match against Killer Khan. By 1984, he was limited to remaining relatively stationary while his opponents (usually similarly-hulking men) did their best to sell his now-feeble offense. However, because of his size and vaunted reputation, he was a valuable role player, and his rivalry with "Big" John Studd was one of the central feuds in the company in the years immediately preceeding WrestleMania.


Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka (James Reiner): The legendary Snuka had been one of the top stars in the business ever since enlisting the legendary "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers as his manager in 1980, and his career especially blossomed while under the guidance of Lou Albano in the WWF in 1982. He was the first authentic top-rope wrestler in the history of the northeast, with his Superfly Leap (top-rope splash) having inspired the awe of many an MSG fan for several years by the time 1984 rolled around. Unfortunately, by that time, Snuka was also beset by numerous personal problems, not the least of which were his well-known substance abuse and the unaccountable death of his girlfriend in a hotel room in Pennsylvania. Not coincidentally, as soon as Hogan arrived, the McMahons made the executive decision to phase the "Superfly" down their cards slightly, but he remained one of the promotion's top three babyfaces for several more months, and he went on to participate in the company's hottest feud of the year in 1984.


Don "The Magnificent" Muraco: A multi-time Intercontinental champion, the heel Muraco had been one of the top two or three wrestlers in the WWF for the previous three years, in addition to possessing ample charisma and mic skills. He was only one year removed from a violent, bloody, and entertaining big-money feud with Jimmy Snuka when the expansion hit full stride in 1984, and he was rewarded for his years of service with a big raise. However, his push wasn't quite what it once was, due to the roster depth charts' having grown, and he never regained his headlining spot after losing the IC strap to Tito Santana early in the year. With Mr. Fuji as his manager, he did remain a central part of the company, but he was still one of several performers whose choicest years were behind him when the new generation of fans discovered the business.


Tito Santana: A WWF mid-card pillar on-and-off since the late-'70s, Jr. Vince continued to give Santana an ample push, casting him as the company's IC champ and token Latin star throughout 1984 and up until WrestleMania. McMahon particularly favored him due to his natural attractiveness, although he was a solid worker and slightly-above-average interview as well.


"Big" John Studd: The gargantuan Studd (billed at 6'10" and 380 lbs, although he was legitimately closer to 6'7" and 330) had several stints with the Federation, with the concurrent one dating to 1982. In addition to his now-legendary feud with Andre the Giant -- which raged throughout 1984 and 1985 -- he was one of Hulk Hogan's earliest WWF Title challengers and drew big money against the Hulkster ala carte in mid-late-'84. Of note is that Studd is culpable for the bad knees which plague Hogan to this very day, stemming from a Madison Square Garden match during their feud.


Fabulous Moolah: Moolah had held the World Womens Title (such as it was) for nearly thirty years between several different reigns by the time she dropped the title to Wendi Richter in 1984 and, of course, remained a centerpiece of the division throughout the next several years. Now well into her 50s, she was actually a poor worker by this point and owned ill-repute in some circles for her subordination of other female performers. Regardless, she did achieve the greatest celebrity of her career at this stage.


George "the Animal" Steele: An old-time favorite, the turnbuckle-chomping Steele was wrestling only sporadically by 1984 and 1985, but he remained a viable heel throughout the period in his pseudo-retarded role. He had always been a poor worker, but he had been an on-and-off main eventer in the company for the previous 12 years, nonetheless.


"Captain" Lou Albano: The "Guiding Light" and the manager of over a dozen different Tag Team championship combination, Albano was one of the most indispensable components of this period, for reasons extending outside his vast talents at ringside and behind the microphone. As it was, his gravelly-voiced portrayal of a slob was top-notch, and he cut great, comedic promos.


"Classy" Freddy Blassie: In pop culture, his greatest influence was as the originator of the phrase "pencil-necked geek." In wrestling circles, however, he is one of the all-time legendary performers and went on to become a terrific manager after retiring in the '70s. In '84 and '85, he was most notable for guiding the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff.


Mr. Fuji: Many of Fuji's co-workers resented him because he lacked talent, yet received a push -- both as a wrestler and a manager -- for nearly three decades in the WWF. By 1984, the cane-wielding native of Hawaii (not Japan, as labeled) was best known for managing Don Muraco.


Assorted Others: Tony Atlas (muscular former World title contender and Tag Team champ, the bloom had fallen off his rose by 1984 and 1985, at which time he became a glorified jobber); Brutus Beefcake (journeyman wrestler, long-time Hogan comrade, got over as a pseudo-male stripper when arrived in the WWF in late-1984); B. Brian Blair (low-mid-card babyface, defected from Georgia in late-1983); Matt Borne (former Tag champ with Arn Anderson in Georgia in early-'80s, joined McMahon for a brief time in 1985); Dino Bravo (lower-card babyface at this point, though positioned strongly on cards in his native Quebec); the Freebirds (three of the top heels in the business, had a very brief run in 1984, though you'd have missed it if you'd blinked); Charlie Fulton (large, mid-card heel); Rene Goulet (lower-card babyface, WWF mainstay for the previous 15 years, long-time Federation road agent); Swede Hanson (recently deceased former main eventer was now an aged, glorified jobber); Bret Hart (Came to the WWF in 1984 as part of Jr. Vince's buy-out of Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling and was already one of the best workers in the business, but he would not have his opportunity to shine for two more years); Rocky Johnson (The Rock's father, one-time upper-card babyface throughout the country, career was winding down in 1984 and was out of the company by "WrestleMania"); S.D. Jones (long-time jobber, almost like a predecessor of Barry Horowitz); Lelani Kai, Velvet McIntire & Princess Victoria & Judy Martin (Four female Fabulous Moolah trainees); Tonga Kid (A 19-year-old rookie in 1984 but did get a brief push as Jimmy Snuka's lunatic cousin, as we'll see later); Rick McGraw (solid performer, little more than a jobber at this point); the Moondogs (Large, ivory-colored mid-card tag team mainstays with zany heel tendencies); Dick Murdoch (Top-notch performer but was lost in the shuffle in '84 and switched over to Mid-South in '85); Jim Neidhart (brawny 29-year-old, jumped from Florida and Mid-South to the Federation in early-'85); Ivan Putski (long-time WWF Polish powerhouse with limited working ability, was out of the company by WrestleMania); Johnny Rodz (future WWF Hall of Fame inductee, though he was only a non-descript lower-mid-carder) David Sammartino (son of legendary former WWWF kingpin Bruno, never amounted to much outside of occasional tag matches with his dad); "Chief" Jay Strongbow (Another long-time WWWF star, was also out of the picture come 'Mania); and the Masked Superstar (another Georgia-to-WWF defector from late-1983, but he was out of the Fed within months, only to resurface as one of the "Machines" in 1986, then "Demolition Ax" in 1987).

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IV. "Black Saturday" and the Mainstream Furor


If his sudden change in creative direction, his relatively-new-sprung cable TV exposure, and his numerous talent raids hadn't roused the ire of his fellow promoters, Jr. McMahon's next maneuver certainly did. He had purchased the local time slot and broadcasting rights to the NWA St. Louis program -- called "Wrestling at the Chase" -- for $2,100 a week, and, on December 27, 1983, the WWF's "Superstars of Wrestling" emanated from the famed Chase Hotel. Hulk Hogan was there, Roddy Piper was there, newly-arrived ex-AWA broadcaster "Mean" Gene Okerlund was there, and so were most of the Fed's other stars -- both new and old. It was McMahon's first significant strike in the TV marketplace since purchasing the USA Network slot, and the remainder of the NWA promoters were now hyper-aware of this new, undeniable threat to their very survival in the industry.


The impact of this incursion cannot be overstated. St. Louis had been the epicenter of the NWA for decades. The city's one-time promoter, Sam Muchnick, had been the most powerful man in the business since the middle part of the century. And, although the recent incarnation of the local promotion -- fronted by the collective of Verne Gagne, Bob Geigel, Harley Race, and Pat O'Conner -- was struggling at the time, it was still considered one of the most sacred (and profitable) markets in the country. McMahon now had control of it, and when he began running regular cards at the Kiel Auditorium, he dealt the NWA a major financial and psychological blow. For its part, the Alliance didn't back down and continued to send all its big guns (Ric Flair, Race, etc.) to its own Kiel cards in an effort to compete with the WWF. Nonetheless, Hogan, Piper, and company consistently managed to outdraw the competition there for the remainder of the "War of '84" -- largely due to the Federation's superincumbent TV exposure.


Next, McMahon made another brilliant strategic move when he employed ex-GCW promoter Jim Barnett as his new right-hand man in attempting to expand his nationwide syndication network. Barnett, who had promoted in Georgia for nigh on two decades before Ole Anderson ousted him from power, was bitter at his fellow NWA promoters and shared in Jr. Vince's expansion-at-any-cost ambitions. The newfound allies went to work in haste, foisting the WWF's product on one market after another across the country. When possible, they bought out the timeslot of whichever regional promotion was already entrenched, and they often paid more than $100,000 a year to broadcast in pivotal locations like Los Angeles, Chicago, and the aforementioned St. Louis. "Superstars of Wrestling" and, generally, this was the centerpiece of the syndication package, and, generally, the program on which the company's major angles took place. Initially, these broadcasts were taped from the old Felt Forum, which was adjacent to Madison Square Garden, before they moved to Glen Falls, NY.


Of all the outlets which the company acquired during this period, L.A. may have been the most important. By wielding almost total autonomy over the market, McMahon was able to win over the extensive local media, which was second only to New York's in terms of size and influence. When the WWF began its full-throttle media blitz, its leverage in the "City of Angels" became especially important.


In fact, the general public had already begun to take notice of the WWF's success, and, in early-1984, the promotion had already garnered a reputation for running the hottest programming on


cable TV. In actuality, as impressive as the Federation's numbers were at the time, Ole Anderson's Saturday night Georgia Championship Wrestling broadcast had actually been the highest rated cable program in the country for three of the previous five years. However, numerous print articles, radio programs, and TV newscasts had been propagating the notion that the USA Network wrestling shows were the number one ratings juggernauts in the country, so McMahon received virtually all of the credit for the business' staggering TV success. GCW was still every bit the national powerhouse the WWF was at that point, though, and, as evidenced by his previous plundering, McMahon was bent on eliminating it.


For McMahon, the timing of his onslaught on Anderson could not have been more auspicious. GCW had been reeling throughout 1983 and 1984, thanks to a string of incompetent booking decisions, the defections of Piper and (to a lesser extent) Orndorff, and a stale and/or paling batch of remaining stars -- including Ole himself, Buzz Sawyer, and former NWA World champion Tommy Rich. During the period, the company's only saving grace was a muscular, face-painted, and highly-charismatic rookie duo, the Road Warriors, who became the group's top stars virtually from the first moment they set foot in the promotion. However, the Roadies were unable to carry the promotion single-handedly, and its house show business was fading -- even if its ratings were not.


Jr. McMahon sensed that Anderson was struggling regardless, but he also knew that if could somehow undermine Ole from within, he would be able to eradicate his threat that much more efficiently. On that account, while everyone's back was turned, Vince undertook a hostile takeover and began buying out one GCW minority shareholder after another, while also purchasing the shares still held by Jim Barnett. It's almost unfathomable to think that McMahon was able to continue an appropriation of a private company for so many weeks, without Anderson's having the slightest inclination of what was going on, but he succeeded in doing so nonetheless. By May, he was poised to gain majority control of the promotion, but, in order to do so, he needed to persuade the legendary Jack and Gerald Brisco to sell him their own sizable allotment.


The Briscos Brothers were the NWA Mid-Atlantic Tag Team champions at that point, and they strongly represented the tradition of wrestling every bit as much as any of their contemporaries. Jack was a former NWA champion, and both men (Jack in particular) were stand-out NCAA collegiate stars. However, Jack was the older and more famous of the pair, and, after some 25 years on the road, he was burnt out on the business. Moreover, McMahon offered him and his brother $750,000, which would have been nearly impossible to refuse, especially since GCW was faltering as it was. So, although both men were no doubt somewhat hesitant to accept the proposal, the opportunity for a decent measure of financial security outweighed whatever qualms they had otherwise, and they promptly dumped their shares off to Vince. Afterward, they even briefly joined the WWF, but the fatigued Jack retired only months into his Federation tenure. Gerald followed suit, before cropping up as a member of the WWF front office in 1994 and attaining arguably his greatest stardom as "Mr. Mac-Mahon's" dutiful on-air associate in 1998.


Almost immediately after completing the purchase, McMahon flew to Georgia to inform Anderson in person that he had been outstripped. Interestingly enough, Vince brought the late Gorilla Monsoon along to serve as his "bodyguard" during the encounter. The shocked Anderson managed to obtain a restraining order against the WWF, but he didn't possess enough resources to sustain what would have been a protracted legal battle against Vince, who was steeped with financial backers and the millions of dollars he had borrowed over the previous few years. In late-June, Anderson conceded his fight, McMahon folded GCW, and a handful of the promotion's wrestlers accepted jobs in New York. The next, almost inconceivable step: The WWF was about to start airing in the vaunted Saturday night timeslot on WTBS.


To this day, July 14, 1984, lives in infamy to diehard wrestling fans nationwide. It came to be known as "Black Saturday," and its impact -- much of which was psychological -- was so far-reaching that it definitively merits an "AW Chronicle" all of its own. Gene Okerlund opened up the show, instead of legendary long-time host Gordon Solie, and the matches were not taped in the studio in Atlanta -- but, rather, in an auditorium in the northeast. Almost immediately, fans across the country inundated TBS with phone calls and letters demanding that GCW be reinstated to the station, although it took quite a while for their influence to be felt.


The quality of the WWF's shows on WTBS themselves left much to be desired, and, to McMahon, his position on the station became little more than an afterthought. The Atlanta-based program was mainly a vehicle for him to claim credit for running four of the top ten programs on cable, as well as a means of ensuring that he received all of the commendation for wrestling's nationwide success. "Superstars of Wrestling" and his USA Network broadcasts ("TNT," "All American Wrestling," "Special Wrestling Events") remained his primary concerns, and they also remained the locus of the Federation's principal TV angle and match efforts.


By this time, McMahon's product was already starting to take on more family-friendly overtones, but his most dramatic attempt to strip away the vestiges of the old-style pro wrestling image came with another new television venture, "Tuesday Night Titans (TNT)." The wrestling-talk show hybrid program, which debuted in May 1984, aired on the USA Network every other Tuesday night. Vince himself was the host and star and assumed a mock Johnny Carson role, while long-time Federation announcer/ex-wrestler-manager "Lord" Alfred Hayes acted the part of Ed McMahon. The WWF's performers themselves acted as guest (Hulk Hogan was a very frequent one, of course) and also participated in a number of goofy skits which attempted to portray the jovial side of the industry. Hardcore fans, along with numerous long-time wrestling employees, chafed at the program; to them, it was a disgrace to the profession and made a mockery out of the "sport" whose integrity they had championed so tenaciously over the years. They weren't the only ones who rejected the show, either: The show alternated weekly in its Tuesday slot with a program called "Special Wrestling Events," which aired recent house show matches from arenas like Madison Square Garden and the Meadowlands. Lo and behold, TNT's ratings were appreciably lower than the more traditional, wrestling match-oriented format, and this would-be revolutionary concept in wrestling TV was actually a Titan-sized disappointment.


However, one of the most common adages in pro wrestling is that "perception is reality," and to the general public, the program was nothing short of a resounding success. And, although the ratings were somewhat disappointing, it served its intended purpose extremely well. McMahon had embarked on a year-long campaign to convince NBC President Dick Ebersol that pro wrestling could take on a fun, family-friendly form, and TNT was his main means of doing so.


Doubtless, Ebersol was even more impressed by the WWF's now-full-fledged mainstream media campaign. In mid-1984, it had become a la mode to run wrestling stories, and, to the masses, the terms "pro wrestling" and "WWF" were synonymous. Thanks to the Federation's brilliant manipulation of the New York and Los Angeles press outlets -- which was every bit as important as any other facet of its expansion -- the great multitude began to view McMahon's brainchild as the latest fad, and the numerous still-thriving regional NWA pockets seemed like the "minor leagues" of wrestling. Gradually, Vince became an eccentric genius and the "Walt Disney of Pro Wrestling," Sgt. Slaughter became a modern American hero, and Hulk Hogan was a pop culture celebrity on par with Michael Jackson, Mr. T, and Madonna. Everyone from Newsweek to People to Time to Forbes ran these token fluff stories. The company was even the focus of the first wrestling article in Sports Illustrated, and, with Hogan on the cover, that issue was the publication's second best seller of the year -- trailing only the swimsuit edition.


Indeed, McMahon's application of his monopolistic plans had worked to perfection, but he didn't succeed merely because he was a shrewd, aggressive businessman. The rest of the time, he doubled as a nimble promoter and booker.



V. "Rock 'n' Wrestling" is Born


Vince, Sr. finally succumbed to Cancer in early-May, 1984, in the midst of the WWF's full-scale national invasion. Before he departed, he left his son with a list of people whom to take care of for the rest of their lives -- including Gorilla Monsoon, Arnold Skaaland and former Philadelphia promoter Phil Zacko -- and, naturally, he was also sure to leave Vince Jr. himself in good hands.


The WWF's head booker from 1984-1986 was a gentleman named George Scott, a legendary Carolinas wrestler whose greatest previous booking success had been as the foreman for Mid-Atlantic during its late-'70s, early-'80s Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper, Wahoo McDaniel, Greg Valentine heyday. Scott first came to the WWF because of the importuning of long-time friend Sr. Vince, and had been involved in brokering the deal with TBS in July. As inconceivable as it sounds today, the WWF planned out all of its matches and storylines six weeks ahead of time at that point, and Vince was involved in the storytelling and matchmaking on only a fringe basis, save for the main event feuds.


With Vince and Scott at the helm, Hulk Hogan roared on in feuds with Paul Orndorff, John Studd, Nikolai Volkoff, and others. However, unquestionably the hottest program in the WWF in early-mid 1984 involved Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka. Piper had just completed a feud with Rocky Johnson when Snuka appeared as his guest on Piper's Pit for the second time, and what ensued was an angle so potent that it still carried enough weight nearly 18 years later to warrant a snippet in the "Lonely Road of Fame" WWF "Desire" video two months ago.


Piper opened the famous segment by addressing complaints that he hadn't been cordial enough to many of his guests, including Snuka; so, to make up for it, he was now going to do his utmost to be an accommodating host. He then pulled out a brown burlap sack, which included "gifts" like bananas and, of course, coconuts. "The only thing I didn't get for you was a tree so you could climb -- up and down, up and down," he said. Snuka, who was generally a man of few words, did an excellent job of conveying a kind of brooding irritation. When finally given an opportunity to speak, the "Superfly" asked slowly, "Are you making fun of me?" "Am I making FUN of you? Oh, no!" was the reply, at which point Piper smashed a coconut over Snuka's head, sending him hurtling into the set. He then daubed a banana in his helpless rival's face, before putting his finger against his own nostril and blowing his nose on Snuka (a trick that Chris Benoit revived for a short time in WCW about 13 years later). Finally, the "Superfly" recovered, started wailing like a banshee, and went after Piper like a madman. Several members of the babyface locker room came out to restrain Snuka, and, with that, one of the hottest feuds in wrestling was born. The two men drew huge gates throughout the Northeast, both for singles matches and for Snuka & Tonga Kid vs. Piper & Bob Orton tag team matches.


As great as Piper vs. Snuka was -- and it was arguably the hottest feud in wrestling that year, behind the Von Erichs vs. the Freebirds in Texas -- its impact paled in comparison to that of the "Rowdy One's" next major rivalry. The first angle in the history of the WWF that truly transcended pro wrestling was the fabled "Rock 'n Wrestling Connection," and it, more than anything else, catapulted the company to its heretofore-unattained level of mainstream acceptance.


It's a fairly well-known fact that, when he first formulated his plan to dominate the industry, Jr. McMahon was fixed on fashioning a wrestling-rock 'n roll hybrid entertainment form, such as that had existed in Fritz Von Erich's World Class promotion in 1982-84. Ironically, though, the last time he and his father had been presented with an opportunity to incorporate celebrities into their product, they had chafed at the very notion. Only two years earlier, the late, eccentric comedian Andy Kaufman -- of "Taxi" and "Man on a Moon" fame -- had pitched the Vinces the idea of using him as part of a worked-shoot storyline that would, in theory, generate them a deluge of media publicity and lead to his defending the Intergender World Title throughout the Northeast. When the McMahons balked, Kaufman went to Memphis with his concept, and it was a few weeks later that he and Jerry "The King" Lawler performed a legendary worked-shoot on the "David Letterman Show."


Following the success of the famed Memphis angle, McMahon apparently had a change of heart. In 1984, he opened negotiations with David Wolff, the manager of one of the hottest pop music stars on the planet at the time, Cyndi Lauper, via "Captain" Lou Albano, who was a good friend of the singer's. By then, McMahon had was fixed on landing a spot on the now-three-year-old MTV, which would be the most chic and easiest access route to the hip audience he craved, and, with one of the most famous pop divas in the country in his corner, the odds were great that he would be able to do so.


The WWF first planted the seed for Lauper's appearance when Albano appeared as her curmudgeonly father in the MTV video for her number one hit single, "Girls Just Wanna' Have Fun." Soon, rumors abounded that Albano was actually her business manager, and publications as venerable as Rolling Stone printing this misinformation as fact. Next, the company made its first attempt to capitalize on the publicity when Albano appeared on a mid-1984 edition of Piper's Pit. There, Piper engaged the "Captain" in a discussion of his relationship with Lauper and asked -- without the slightest hint of irony -- whether he might be able to book her as a guest on his "show." Initially, Albano told the "Rowdy Scot" he would have to wait and see, but, over the next few weeks, the prospects seemed to brighten as the "Captain" came back with more and more favorable reports of the negotiations. One week, he even vowed that he would, in fact, deliver Lauper to the "Pit" the very next week -- much to Piper's delight.


Albano failed to produce as promised, which, naturally, vexed Piper to no end. On the installment of the Pit on which Lauper had been scheduled to appear, an exasperated Roddy did a boisterously entertaining parody of the "Captain," replete with moussed back hair, squalid attire, and multi-colored clothespins and colored bands plastered all over his body. Much to Piper's surprise, though, Lauper finally did show up on the Pit a few weeks later, at which point she finally revealed that Albano wasn't really her manager. An enraged Albano, apparently feeling betrayed, stormed the set and began rattling on about how ungrateful Lauper, because it was he who made made her a success. Piper, of course, sided with Albano -- the heel. Not one to back down, Lauper got into a shouting match with the "Captain," ripped Piper's shirt, and fumed off the set.


The next week, Lauper appeared once again -- this time to lay down a challenge. She propped up Wendi Richter as her charge and demanded that Albano answer her dare by delivering a female wrestler of his own, so that the two women could meet in the ring. Albano selected the Fabulous Moolah, the WWF Womens champion, and so the match was made. Dubbed the "Brawl to End it All," it would air on July 23, 1984, live on MTV, as a one-hour special.


Accompanied by Lauper and entering to "Girls Just Wanna' Have Fun," Richter won the match -- and the title -- thereby briefly time sparking a female wrestling renaissance of sorts. The match itself was actually quite poor and featured a terribly botched finish, but it garnered the WWF tremendous crossover publicity, and Hulk Hogan -- who had successfully defended his own championship against Greg Valentine on the undercard -- even turned up for the backstage celebration. The broadcast drew a tremendous 9.0 rating, and the "Rock 'n Wrestling Connection" had begun in earnest.


In an effort to keep the momentum alive, Lauper and Wolff continued to make regular appearances on WWF TV for the next several months, and Richter continued to have successful almost-weekly title defenses against the likes of Judy Martin and Velvet McIntire. However, the best was yet to come for this storyline, which reached its zenith on December 28, 1984. Then, at a Madison Square Garden card which was taped partially for MTV, Lauper, Richter, and Wolff came to the ring to accept a gold record. Lauper took the house microphone and invited Albano out to "bury the hatchet," and the tuxedo-clad "Captain" came out and embraced the "classy gesture." One of the company's longest-running heels had just turned babyface, and all appeared right with the world, except to one man: Roddy Piper. Piper promptly hit the scene, and, initially, he also appeared to be undergoing a change of heart. At first, he assured everyone involved that he came in peace, gently grabbed the plaque, and claimed, "I just wanted to personally present this record to Ms. Lauper."


With that, Piper turned and smashed the record over Albano's head as the crowd let out a giant "oooh." Lauper dove headlong after him but got a kick in the face for her efforts, and the Rowdy One also laid out Wolff. It was a groundbreaking storyline, and the crowd was in shock -- genuinely speaking, the last thing they expected was for the WWF's two honorary celebrities to become physically involved. Of course, who else but Hulk Hogan should show up to make the save, and the legendary Hogan-Piper rivalry was born. Not only was this segment plastered all over WWF programming for the next several weeks, but it also aired in full on MTV, where it drew a massive response.


It was apparently several weeks prior to this angle that McMahon conceived WrestleMania. As legend has it, Vince was on a rare vacation with his wife, Linda, somewhere in Florida, and he suddenly announced his idea to stage a Madison Square Garden spectacular which he would beam across the country via closed-circuit, in addition to hosting several major celebrities and resolving numerous of the company's major feuds. Vince was not the first man in wrestling to attempt to capitalize on the burgeoning closed-circuit market; in fact, the WWF itself had featured an ill-starred CC venture in 1976, the headline attraction of which was a famously-wretched Antonio Inoki vs. Muhammad Ali match. Most recently, Jim Crockett's Mid-Atlantic had held a pair of Thanksgiving night extravaganza known as "Starrcade," in both 1983 and 1984. However, McMahon would be the first to hold such an event on such a massive scale. With his promotion's business faltering (as we'll see later), this was to be his make-or-break card, and the "Rock 'n Wrestling" saga was to be its central storyline.


The next major RNW progression was the "War to Settle the Score," on February 18, 1985, which was to feature Hulk Hogan against Roddy Piper live on MTV.


Madison Square Garden was abuzz that night, sold out to the tune of 22,000 fans, with 4,000 more watching on closed circuit in the Felt Forum. Gene Okerlund and Gorilla Monsoon handled the play-by-play for the historic broadcast, and the added energy in their voices was unmistakable. It was the most important card in the history of the WWF up to that point, and, for once, Monsoon's familiar appeal to the audience to "feel the electricity!" did not seem the slightest bit out of place. A cadre of celebrities was on hand, including Danny Devito, Andy Warhol and Mr. T


The opening four matches did little to sate the crowd's appetite for top-shelf excitement. In a triumvirate of unannounced bouts, Moondog Spot quickly disposed of Rick McGraw, Johnny Rodz topped the feckless Jose Luis Rivera in a battle for jobber supremacy, David Sammartino bested Moondog Rex, and Nikolai Volkoff overpowered Swede Hanson. Next up, though, was Hillbilly Jim, who got a big rise out of the crowd in toppling petulant-looking veteran lower-carder/jobber Charlie Fulton.


Next, the audience had its first genuine mark-out moment -- as well as the first major booking WrestleMania angle primer -- when out popped Wendi Richter and Cyndi Richter received a tumultuous babyface reaction, but her opponent, Lelani Kai, managed to scratch, claw and hairpull her way to victory -- thanks to the Fabulous Moolah's interference. The Womens Title had changed hands, and the feud would be settled in a rematch at WrestleMania.


Paul Orndorff vs. Tony Atlas followed, and Orndorff continued his destructive path to WrestleMania main event superstardom by quickly dispatching Atlas, who played the part of a veritable jobber in the match. Another mismatch followed, as Don Muraco topped Salvatore Bellomo in a short match, thanks to the piledriver, before Roddy Piper surrogate Bob Orton took on Jimmy Snuka in the best match of the night. Snuka received the largest pop on the show up to that point, then proceeded to tear the house down against "Ace" Bob, winning with the Superfly Leap. This bout also served as a prelude to a larger issue that was to be resolved at WrestleMania.


Tag champs Barry Windham & Mike Rotundo anchored the undercard by beating the Assassin and the Spoiler, without a great deal of trouble. Then came the main event...


After months of build-up that brought the tension between them to a crest, the WWF's two top stars, Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper, squared off in front of the electric MSG crowd and two million viewers on MTV, which cut away from its regular programming and joined the card in progress prior to the introductions for the main event. Orton accompanied Piper, who was bedecked in his customary kilt, a now-familiar yellow "Hulkamania" T-shirt -- which he mockingly tore to shreds upon reaching the ring -- and an electric guitar -- which he smashed to smithereens on a ring post, in an affront to the musically-inclined audience watching at home.


With the crowd now thoroughly riled by Piper's antics, Hogan stormed the ring to a huge reception -- flanked by Lou Albano, Cyndi Lauper, and Lauper's boyfriend -- and stopped to greet Mr T at ringside. After a period of stalling, the match got underway, following a familiar pattern for the two men: Hogan opened up early with a bodyslam, a clothesline, and a succession of punches, before Piper resorted to underhanded tactics to gain the advantage and locked on the sleeperhold at about the three-minute mark. This was the Hulkster's opportunity to "hulk up," as he suddenly began trembling with adrenaline, shaking his fists around frenziedly, and no-selling everything the "Rowdy Scot" threw his way. Hogan set up for the big boot, bodyslam, legrop combo; the crowd was geared up to witness the emphatic conclusion of the feud; and the MTV executives were hoping that the WWF was about to deliver an ending that was commensurate with the massive hype. However, Vince McMahon had a closed-circuit extravaganza to sell, and he wasn't about to job Piper out for free. Instead, the referee took a bump, Orton hopped into the squared circle, followed by several wrestlers from the undercard, and the match ended in a DQ. In the middle of the ruckus, Mr. T hopped the guard rail, assailed the ring, and got into it with Piper, before "MSG security" and WWF officials broke up the melee.


As trite as such an angle would seem today, its impact was immense. Because of his legitimate tough-guy credentials that stemmed from the hard-ass characters he played in movies and on TV, T caused a lot of hitherto-skeptical fans take stock in the credibility of "fake pro wrestling." The old-line of promoters was furious and fearful that the likes of T and Lauper would bring ruin to the business if they ever divulged its true, predetermined nature to the public. Many veteran wrestlers felt similarly and considered it a personal slap in the face that, after years of arduous road trips, an outsider like T would receive main event treatment. Even many long-time WWF fans were adverse to these unconventional proceedings and cheered for heels who maintained that "rock 'n roll don't belong in pro wrestling." What's more, the Hogan vs. Piper match itself, which clocked in at just over four minutes, was a major disappointment and left a number of fans -- not to mention MTV management -- feeling burned.


Ultimately, though, T's involvement in the post-match may have been the single most important angle in the history of the WWF. It had to be. Otherwise, the WWF, which was limping along on a hand-to-mouth basis by that point, likely would have gone extinct.


VI. The Rocky (III Stars') Road to WrestleMania

An all-new swarm of publicity resulted from the "War to Settle the Score" angle, and the WWF reached even more dizzying heights of pop culture awareness. For those in the company, who only two years earlier had placidly plied their trade in the relative obscurity of the decidedly-nonmainstream pro wrestling business, this level of attention was almost surreal. Suddenly, their names and faces were plastered all over the pages of magazines, newspapers, and television broadcasts across the country. To them, it was almost like they weren't pro wrestlers anymore. Vince McMahon had done away with the industry to which they had dedicated their professional lives and transformed them into "sports entertainers" -- a term which had an almost entirely different connotation from that of "pro wrestlers."

Of course not all of the WWF's mainstream publicity painted a rosy picture of this unique, le dernier cri business; in fact, many media pieces centered around the "phoniness" that characterized it, and they chaffed at the sudden popularity of what they perceived as a categorically low-brow entertainment form. None of these features did the industry any real harm, however; nor did they really intend to cause any substantive damage to the Federation's aspirations.

However, one piece which certainly did strive to sabotage the company's momentum leading into WrestleMania was ABC's 20/20. On February 21, 1985, the popular nightly newsmagazine program attempted to "expose" wrestling in a piece which, to this day, remains every bit as notorious as Vince McMahon's famous escapades on Bob Costas' show sixteen years hence.

Long-time ABC consumer reporter John Stossel hosted this expose and, as part of his three months of WWF research, had ventured backstage at the "Brawl for it All" card at Madison Square Garden, where he hoped to interview several of the company's most famous wrestlers. Unfortunately, he made the mistake of attempting to strike up conversation with David Shults, who was legendary within the business for his temperamental, neurotic behavior. Shults, having just returned from his match against Antonio Inoki, was drenched in sweat, high-strung, and clearly resented the presence of the "intruder," who was attempting to expose the business.

The shocking scene that ensued aired in full at the end of the "20/20" piece:


Stossel: Is this a good business?

Shults: (Curtly) Yeah, it's a good business. I wouldn't be in it if it wasn't.

Stossel: Why is it a good business?

Shults: Because only the tough survive; that's the reason you ain't in it. And this punk holding the camera, (that's) the reason he ain't in it, (that's) the reason these rednecks out here ain't in it. Because it's a tough business.

Stossel: That's terrific.

Shults: Why, is that all you got?

Stossel: I'll ask you the standard questions, you know.

Shults: The standard question...

Stossel: I think this is fake.

Shults: (incredulously) You think this is fake?! (hits Stossel on the left side of his head, knocking him to the ground) What's that, is that fake?! Huh?! What the hell's wrong with you?! That's an open-handed slap, huh? You think it's fake, you -- (hits Stossel on the other side of the head).

Background voice: Easy, easy.

Schuls: Huh, what do you mean, fake?! What the hell is the matter with you?!


Stossel was understandably enraged by the abuse and was dead-set on "embarrassing" the WWF leading into its monumental, make-or-break card -- particularly because McMahon, Jr., failed to fire Shults in connection with the incident. As a result, the reporter spent the majority of the piece focusing on the farcical "real vs. fake" issue and airing footage of ex-wrestler (including in the WWF and the AWA) Eddy "The Continental Lover" Mansfield demonstrating how to execute basic moves like body slams, arm drags and punches. Mansfield even went so far as to say, "If somebody believed that (wrestling is real), they'd be stupid." In addition, Stossel provided a forum for an ex-wrestler of far less repute, Jim Wilson, to levy allegations of homosexual coercion against a promoter.



Ultimately, Stossel's attempts to smear the WWF backfired, and the company actually benefited from the publicity of the piece -- which was one of the highest rated in the history of "20/20." The legitimacy of the athletic competition in the Federation at that point was about as much in doubt as the innocence of a prostitute, and while the company certainly did have a seedy underbelly that, if exposed, could have caused it real harm, by harping on the real vs. fake debate, ABC wasn't revealing something that most wrestling fans didn't already realize. Consequently, the general public only became more curious regarding this unconventional sports-entertainment hybrid product following the "20/20" piece, and "Dr. D's" indecorous outburst may actually have been a blessing in disguise.


The Schults saga didn't end there, however. He was more vocal than anyone in his umbrage over celebrity involvement in wrestling. In an apparent attempt to "prove" that wrestlers are legitimately tough, he attacked Mr. T backstage at a house show in Los Angeles, less than two weeks before the "War to Settle the Score." This time, of course, McMahon fired him.


Even with the glut of publicity, the WWF was in dire financial straits by the time the big MTV angles arrived. As unbelievable as it sounds, Hulk Hogan's drawing power was floundering after his ultra-successful first few months as champion. Traditional fans were not yet conditioned to his brief, formulaic, brawling-style matches, and many of them left house shows feeling gypped when he disposed of his heel foes so quickly. As a result, gates waned every time the WWF returned to a given market with Hogan as the headliner. When the company attempted to invade the Mid-South, the Mid-Atlantic, and Texas, it met with disaster. Despite losing his main cash cow, the Junkyard Dog, Bill Watts had the greatest run of success in his promotion's history in 1984, and he handily outdrew the Federation's cards in Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and East Texas. Dallas' Fritz Von Erich was also . Mid-Atlantic, which remained NWA World champion Ric Flair's homebase, was going strong, thanks in part to the run-away success of new booker Dusty Rhodes, and McMahon's cards in the Carolinas largely flopped. The Federation did manage to draw well in Canada, California -- both in Los Angeles and the Bay Area -- and a few other pockets throughout the country, and shows in St. Louis and Hogan's old mid-west stomping grounds drew reasonably well. However, of the company's northeastern strongholds -- including New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh -- were also drawing inordinately poorly.


Shockingly, even ticket sales at Madison Square Garden were the most sluggish they had been in years. The promotion only managed to sell out the building four times all year in 1984, and one of those was on the strength of the drawing power of Roddy Piper vs. Jimmy Snuka, rather than Hulk Hogan's. The August attendance figure at the historic building of 14,500, which was only two-thirds of capacity, was the lowest in at least several years and an outright embarrassment for the company. Even the "Brawl for it All" in December only managed to draw 15,000, which was an atrocious figure for the time. The Rock 'n Wrestling phenomenon had helped business rebound in early-1985, but the fact remained that the WWF wasn't drawing very well, and it was losing a substantial amount of money.


Because the company was now running substantially more cards than ever, it was, in fact, grossing more money than ever, but McMahon's self-imposed enormous payroll, exorbitant syndication package, expensive production values, and added travel costs combined to wreak havoc on the company's bottom line. He was losing money hand-over-fist, and if he hadn't been able to secure a couple of new, emergency investors at the last minute, he may have never made it to WrestleMania.


To compound the already-tense situation, McMahon had Ted Turner breathing down his neck because TBS had been inundated with viewer complaints regarding the quality of the WTBS show. In addition, Turner was upset with Vince for taping the shows in the northeast -- instead of the more traditional, southern-friendly Atlanta studio, as the agreement between the two sides dictated. By late-1984, McMahon probably already wanted to sell the rights to TBS slot, if only to wash his hands of the entire situation, but he still held down the fort to ensure that the WWF was the only game in town in the eyes of the mainstream. Much to the Federation's chagrin, though, Turner proceeded to make a moot point out of McMahon's stubbornness, first by giving a short-lived Ole Anderson restart promotion a new early-Saturday morning timeslot, then by passing it over to Bill Watts' flourishing Mid-South. To the added discomfiture of Vince, even in the discommoding timeslot, the Watts promotion soon wrested away the WWF's stranglehold on the top of the cable ratings chart.


McMahon's other primary source of stress was that his competition had finally formed a strong (and ultimately short-lived) united front, called "Pro Wrestling USA." First, they pooled their resources to put on as strong of cards as possible in close proximity to WWF shows in a given area. When that tactic succeeded fairly well, they were making preparations to invade New York, if only to make Vince's life as difficult as possible. In fact, Jim Crockett had even managed to draw a crowd of upwards of 10,000 in New Jersey the previous April, with a trusty old Flair vs. Steamboat match as his main event, and Mid-Atlantic was starting to draw strong houses in the Federation's old Baltimore stronghold.


McMahon's desperation reached its apogee in the month leading up to 'Mania. He had booked WrestleMania in over 200 large closed circuit locations across the country, and he anticipated an initial upswell of interest in the show in connection with the WWF's massive "War to Settle the Score" exposure. Conversely, early ticket sales were alarmingly poor -- even in the northeast -- and the event was rapidly shaping up to be a disaster. The company's front office was mystified -- as well as quite dejected, presumably -- and, with less than two weeks to go, live events coordinator Ed Cohen went to work canceling the venues that were showing the most cataclysmic returns. It's no exaggeration to say the WWF was in a state of unadulterated panic at this point, and Vince even caved in and sold the coveted TBS timeslot, to Jim Crockett, for a much-needed $1 million.


Tensions were running high throughout the entire industry in the days preceding the big show. Throughout 1984, the "Pro Wrestling USA" promoters had scoffed at McMahon's audacious business practices, and several of them had even held a meeting ostensibly to plot strategy to counter the all-out assault on their territories. However, by all accounts, the rendezvous degenerated into little more than excuse to whoop it up at Vince's expense. By that point, it almost appeared as though they wanted Vince to cherry-pick their top stars at exorbitant prices, simply because they felt doing so would work against him in the end.


Following the MTV specials and the Mr. T angle, though, they were no longer so convinced. Most of them were flabbergasted by the WWF's unparalleled level of mainstream acceptance, and they were at a loss for how to counter it. One promoter even attempted to convince Bruiser Brody, pro wrestling's ultimate outlaw, to buy a ticket to Madison Square Garden and attack T during his ring entrance, just to embarrass the Federation and ensure that its big show was a major embarrassment. Brody declined the offer, but such outlandish notions were surely not uncommon, and they only served to underscore the high-strung disposition that diffused the industry at the time.


Even when absolved of the pressure from Turner and his audience, McMahon's situation really was more hopeless than ever before. If WrestleMania was a huge failure, not only would he lose a huge amount of money at a time when he was already on the brink of insolvency, but he also possibly stood to lose his agreement with NBC. His empire was crumbling, and he needed something -- anything -- to bail him out of the frantic situation.


Luckily for the WWF, it had one last media surge remaining -- and this one turned out to be the most fruitful of all. Hogan and Mr. T embarked on a promotional tour de force, making countless TV and radio show appearances and taking full advantage of the company's NBC connection. In the week leading up to the big show, it was impossible not to notice the two: Most notably, they appeared in tandem on the "David Letterman Show" on comedian Richard Belzer's "Hot Properties" talk show, on which Hogan demonstrated a front-face lock on Belzer and accidentally dropped him to the floor -- resulting, amazingly enough, in a multi-million dollar lawsuit. Then, on the night before the card, the original host canceled out of a scheduled appearance on "Saturday Night Live," and Hogan and T -- who, naturally, were near the program's New York taping site at the time -- were major successes as the last-second replacements. The last-moment hype was phenomenal, and the Federation was riding a crest of mainstream prominence heading into the big card, on March 31, 1985.


Partially because of the quality and sheer preponderance of Hogan's and T's promotional jaunt, and partly because closed-circuit patrons -- unbeknownst to the WWF at the time -- almost always buy their tickets at the last minute, the nearly-200 remaining closed-circuit auditoriums were beginning to sell much more briskly, in most locations. Still, tensions remained at peak levels for Crapshooter Vince and his colleagues on the day of the show, and, to the very moment the card when on the air, it remained uncertain whether the show would be a financial success. One overriding fact was clear, though: Madison Square Garden was sold-out, the crowd was spirited, and New York's privileged few celebrities and press corps were out in full force. To mint a phrase, if the WWF was going down, it was going to go down in a blaze of glory -- and with all eyes fixed upon it.


It certainly wasn't the Federation's most aesthetically-pleasing fare, but to the new, chic audience it was only starting to attract, the quality of the in-ring action was of secondary importance. In the opener, Tito Santana downed the masked Executioner (Buddy Rose) in a decent match that got the crowd sufficiently acclimated to the historic proceedings. Santana had just recently lost the Intercontinental Title, and, at that point, he certainly stood to regain it down the road -- if the belt still existed by then. Next, King Kong Bundy continued his new-sprung monster push and demolished SD Jones in all of nine seconds -- a WrestleMania record.


The next bout pitted newcomers Ricky Steamboat and Matt Borne against one another. Borne had been a top star in Georgia, and, although he never achieved anywhere near the same level of success in the WWF, he'll always be able to boast that he was involved in the best match at WrestleMania I. Although it was relatively short, he and Steamboat threw a bone to fans of strong in-ring action by putting on a quality athletic bout -- which should have come as no surprise, given who was involved. In the end, "The Dragon" won with the bodypress.


Although the in-ring quality of the next match was abortive, it provided the MSG throng with some of its favorite moments of the night. Brutus Beefcake, accompanied by Johnny Valient, battled David Sammartino, but the unquestioned highlight was extracurricular: Bruno Sammartino -- then the most revered performer in the history of the promotion, evened the odds by throwing down with both of his son's enemies. The bout ended in a double-DQ after an unsightly gaggle of moves, but, for New York wrestling diehards, it was a rousing several minutes.


Next, Greg Valentine defended the Intercontinental Title against the Junkyard Dog. Once again, the ending was disappointing (Valentine walked out, earning JYD a count-out win), and so was the match, despite Valentine's best efforts.


The card then got a healthy dose of old-fashioned nationalistic fervor -- and the match didn't even involve Sgt. Slaughter. Barry Windham & Mike Rotundo attempted to wrest the Tag Team Titles from the Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff, who were accompanied by Freddie Blassie. After a decent match -- the majority of which saw the heels methodically work over Rotundo -- the malfeasance of Blassie's cane came into play, and Volkoff pinned Windham after the Sheik had struck the babyface with the foreign object.


The famous $15,000 "Bodyslam Challenge" was next, involving Andre the Giant and "Big" John Studd. The incensed Andre had suffered through the indignity of having his locks trimmed at the hands of Stuff and his manager, Bobby Heenan, about a month before the bout. After a short match, in which Studd made several failed attempts to lift Andre, the Giant wielded "Big" John into the air like the proverbial "sack of potatoes" -- as color commentator Jesse Ventura observed -- and slammed him to win the big purse. Much to everyone's disappointment, Heenan filched the money from Andre, right as he was throwing it out to the crowd. "The Brain" would get his comeuppance later on.


It was all "Rock 'n Wrestling" from there. Wendi Richter, with Cyndi Lauper by her side, then attempted to extract revenge against Leilani Kai, with the Fabulous Moolah, in a Womens Title match. The "Girls Who Just Wanted to Have Fun" got the biggest reaction on the show at that point and, of course, there was only one logical way to end this match: Richter regained the title, after rolling through on a Kai flying bodypress.


The best was yet to come -- at least as far as the audience at large was concerned. With the crowd sufficiently atwitter, the pre-main event ceremonies got underway. First, long-time company ring announcer Howard Finkel introduced multi-time Yankee manager Billy Martin as the guest ring announcer. Liberace, meanwhile, served as the guest timekeeper and the guest co-referee was Muhammad Ali -- who had played such an integral role in MSG's only other closed-circuit divertissement nine years earlier. The New York Rockettes also partook in the festivities, and they even took a moment to kick their legs up in the air in center-ring with Liberace, in an oft-replayed moment on newscasts throughout the country.


By this point, every single one of the main event wrestlers were celebrities in their own rights, though, and the heat for Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, Bob Orton, Jimmy Snuka, Mr. T, and Hulk Hogan dwarfed that of the others. Hogan's presence stole the show, and he made T -- whose Hollywood reputation was that he had unmatched size and muscularity -- look comparatively puny, as the press noted in their coverage of the event.


MSG was agog with the proverbial nuclear-level of heat, and the match itself was surprisingly passable -- mostly because Hogan, not T, handled the bulk of the in-ring activity for his team. In the end, Bob Orton's interference backfired when he accidentally smashed Orndorff across the head with his cast, the Hulkster made the cover, and special co-referee Pat Patterson made the pin. The Piper feud had ended relatively unresolved (largely because the "Rowdy One" legitimately refused to do any jobs for the entirety of his WWF tenure), but it was of no matter. Live, the event had been a major success. All that was left was to see if, somehow, the business side of the event had been commensurately fruitful.



VII. The Aftermath


Several well-worn cliches apply to WrestleMania's overwhelming prosperousness. It succeeded in the face of adversity. It overcame the overwhelming odds against it. And all things good to know are difficult to learn.


Between closed-circuit, video tape, live, and merchandising sale, the event drew over $5 million in revenue, which was more than five times the record for any previous single-event wrestling gross. The last-minute rush of closed-circuit customers had been enormous -- and absolutely imperative. The mainstream media reported the success of the card en masse, serving further to solidify the WWF's faddish popularity and officially marking Hulk Hogan's arrival as a household name.


Two months later, the Federation achieved even greater success when it embarked on its "Saturday Night's Main Event" era on NBC. Several licensing deals, a Saturday morning WWF cartoon show, and still more newspaper and magazine stories were to follow. In 1985, the company grossed an unheard-of sum of $90 million. Its next-closest competitor barely pulled one-sixth as much.


In retrospect, Vince McMahon succeeded largely because he contrived a brilliant sleight-of-hand in regard to the media. The press picked up on the WWF's boom in popularity long before it even took place, which, ironically, was what created the company's resonant popularity. In a sense, Hulk Hogan became a superhero for millions of children before he really was, and McMahon proved his mettle as an ingenious promoter long before he actually had. Even though he was relatively inexperienced as a promoter at that point, even then, Vince was a master manipulator.


The wrestling war wasn't officially over at that point, but, for all intents and purposes, it became a two-horse race after that point. Now solvent for the first time since he embarked on his expansion, McMahon conducted even more raids and gained even greater syndicated exposure, and, now, the WWF really was the hottest draw in the country in almost every market. Trying to combat the WWF was like standing in the face of hurricane winds at that point: Territory after territory was obliterated over the next few years, and even Bill Watts' Mid-South/UWF failed was unable to delay the inevitable for long. Over the next three years, the Ric Flair-bolstered Mid-Atlantic, with its new TBS timeslot, was the only true obstacle in Vince's path toward a total monopoly over the business.


One of the most exciting periods in the history of the wrestling industry was about to commence. But that, of course, is another Chronicle altogether.

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When did guys Ted Dibiase, Jake Roberts, Jim Duggan, and Randy Savage jump ship to the WWE?

DiBiase: summer 1987


Roberts: February/March 1986. I have a tape of his March 86 Boston match with Jose Luis Rivera, and I don't think his TV debut had aired yet.


Duggan: 1987, just before WrestleMania III.


Savage: Summer 1985.

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Savage's TV debut was on the 7/6/85 (taped 6/17/85) edition of Championship Wrestling, defeating Aldo Marino.


Roberts debuted at a house show in Toronto on 3/2/86 defeating Scott McGhee. He appeared on the 3/15/86 Body Shop, and his debut TV match was against Jim Young on the 3/22/86 Championship Wrestling.


Duggan made his debut on 2/14/87 in Baltimore, defeating Sika. I would assume he debuted on TV a couple of weeks after that, as he was at WM3, but I'm not sure exactly when his TV debut was.


Dibiase's debut (or return, I should say) was on 6/7/87 in Houston, losing to the One Man Gang. His TV redebut was on the 8/15/87 Superstars against Jerry Allen.

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Why didn't the WWE have Adonis and Ventura a tag team like they where in the AWA?


Alot of what if's in the story. What if Vince could of gotten Superstar Billy Graham?


Edit to add was Dibiase originally not the Million Dollar Man, and his redebut was when he first had that gimmick?

Edited by Vern Gagne

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By hiring the aging, potentially-virulent impetuses of Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash, the WWF head not only risked upsetting his company's meticulously-constructed, scrupulously-protected locker room harmony, but he also imperiled the future of his promotion itself. After all, two-thirds of the NWO troika are notorious political masterminds, and since all three are inked to exorbitant two-year contracts, they will almost certainly be long-term fixtures at the top of the Federation's cards, where they have the potential to do as much harm as good.

Let's see...


Scott Hall - lasted three months

Hulk Hogan - lasted until the summer of 02, did afew 10-10-220 commercials, came back, and then left again in May 03

Kevin Nash - tore his quad, came back, nobody cared, left in December 03

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Guest LooneyTune
By hiring the aging, potentially-virulent impetuses of Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash, the WWF head not only risked upsetting his company's meticulously-constructed, scrupulously-protected locker room harmony, but he also imperiled the future of his promotion itself. After all, two-thirds of the NWO troika are notorious political masterminds, and since all three are inked to exorbitant two-year contracts, they will almost certainly be long-term fixtures at the top of the Federation's cards, where they have the potential to do as much harm as good.

Let's see...


Scott Hall - lasted three months

Hulk Hogan - lasted until the summer of 02, did afew 10-10-220 commercials, came back, and then left again in May 03

Kevin Nash - tore his quad, came back, nobody cared, left in December 03

Also the "as much harm as good" comment seems wrong. Hall didn't do anything but become the bitch for Steve Austin, Nash wrestled maybe 20 matches in the 2 years, including a clean loss to Test in less than 90 seconds, and Hogan, although had a World Title reign, put over almost everyone he faced in big match situations clean. No one probably predicted any of this to happen.

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Guest Hass of Pain

If they are from AltWrestling, then the author is Will Parrish, who I think was by far the best writer the internet has ever produced. Damn I miss that website.

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Guest LooneyTune

Well, if it's a sign of things to come, when Vince isn't backstage to look over things, everything is a complete mess with Stephanie, Triple H, Jim Ross, and the rest of the gand pulling together to make it work.

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I was going to do a top 50 most important moments in wwf/e list.I'm not sure if I'm going to do it because I would be stealing alot of the information from this article.This might be the best wrestling article I've ever read.I bumped it incase anyone wants to check it out who hasn't already.

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It's been brought up before, but I can't fathom what will happen to the WWE when Vince McMahon dies.


As long as Vince keeps getting his operations done to him every Friday night that are meant to keep him alive for a week and makes sure to keep his deals with Satan Vince will never die.

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