Originally presented at Canadian Bulldog's World.
On March 31, 1985 the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) ran a little show at Madison Square Garden called WrestleMania. From there, the show would go on to become the wrestling equivalent of the Super Bowl. As I think back on what it was like to attend the first show, I recall having a great time but never imagining that the show’s success would transform the WWF into a global phenomenon.
Much has been said about the story behind WrestleMania. Many a book has been written and there’s even a DVD, The True Story of WrestleMania. Of course I heartily recommend my book Wrestling’s Greatest Moments for a look at how WrestleMania came to be.
I will never forget going to the first WrestleMania. While I was always more a Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) fan, the power of Hulkamania along with the all-star lineup of talent in the WWF was warming me over to the WWF way of doing things. Looking back at how well the WWF promoted WrestleMania, it was almost inevitable that my friends and I went to see it.
While I grew up watching JCP, I was a Hulkamaniac from the first time I saw him. Ever since Hogan’s appearance in Rocky III, I wanted to see more of this amazing performer. My wish came true when Hogan entered the WWF in 1984, quickly winning the WWF championship from the much hated Iron Sheik. The WWF must have shown that match a half a dozen times on the promotion’s various syndicated shows. I watched it every time it aired.
No wrestling hero is complete without a hated heel to compete against. Vince McMahon wisely signed one of the wrestling world’s top heels, none other than “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Piper had made a name for himself in the 1970’s and traveled to JCP, becoming the promotion’s top heel. Piper was so versatile and he could play heel and babyface well. When the “Rowdy Scot” left JCP, he left as a face. Vince McMahon knew Piper’s ability to raise the fans’ ire and Piper entered the promotion as a heel.
Piper started his weekly interview segment “Piper’s Pit”, berating babyfaces, praising his fellow heels, and driving the fans up a tree. All it took was a couple segments of Piper in the Pit and I quickly remembered why I hated him so much. Piper was an excellent worker in the ring but his true skill was behind the microphone.
After a hot feud with Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Vince McMahon started building up a confrontation between “Rowdy” Roddy and Hulk Hogan. McMahon’s goal was to run a supercard just as JCP had with the first two Starrcades. He knew that he needed a white hot feud to main event the show and so, McMahon set about building up his main event around Piper and Hogan.
Showing the marketing savvy that would make him the undisputed king of professional wrestling, McMahon teamed up with MTV to air several wrestling specials. One of them featured “Rowdy” Roddy Piper crashing an awards ceremony for Cyndi Lauper, taking out Lauper, her manager David Wolff, and wrestling manager “Captain” Lou Albano. Hulk Hogan ran in for the save and the fans went crazy when a bout between Piper and Hogan was announced. The match sold out Madison Square Garden but that wasn’t enough. The match was set to air on MTV and would be called The War to Settle the Score.
I remember hearing about The War to Settle the Score. Unfortunately I didn’t have MTV but my friend Keith did. We were both huge wrestling fans so it didn’t take much for me to invite myself over. So on Monday night February 18, 1985, we tuned in (somehow getting parental permission to stay up “late” on a school night).
The MTV special ran an hour but only featured one match. The show was mostly promos and hype videos for the match. While it was funny to see Piper make fun of rock music (saying that MTV stood for “music to vomit by”), we grew impatient for the main event. After all, who wanted to see music stars and politicians going off on what a jerk Piper was. Anyone who watched wrestling already was well aware of what a jerk he was.
After a long wait, Hogan and Piper squared off. Like any match used to build up a return bout, there was no conclusive finish. After a ref bump, Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff ganged up on the Hulkster. Cyndi Lauper was at ringside and she got up on the mat apron to protest the heels’ tactics. Fortunately for her, Mr. T was at ringside as well and he got Lauper to let him handle the action. Although Mr. T came up short, he gave Hogan time to regroup and both he and T drove Piper , Orndorff, and “Cowboy” Bob Orton off. The fans in the Garden were going crazy and so were we watching it at home.
Naturally the talk of the day at school was what happened the previous night. All of my friends watched wrestling, even the ones that said they didn’t like it. That’s how good of a job Vince McMahon was doing and how over the Hulkster was. What was going to happen? When would Piper and Hogan go at it again? We all wanted to know.
Let me be completely upfront with you, gentle reader, all of this happened thirty years ago so please forgive me if some of these recollections fall into the category of “fuzzy memories”. I promise I won’t go all Brian Williams on you and claim I was in Hogan and T’s corner at the card’s main event but please bear with me if I forget a thing or two.
The following Saturday on WWF TV (All-Star Wrestling and Championship Wrestling), my brother Dave and I learned that Hulk Hogan had accepted Mr. T as his partner against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. What was interesting about All-Star Wrestling was that it was aired on a New York City affiliate so we often got to see promos for upcoming matches at Madison Square Garden and the Nassau Coliseum. Most matches back then were squashes so the highlight of All-Star Wrestling was watching the promos. Watching them, we knew that there was going to be a big card in the Garden.
What we didn’t know was that the card at the “Mecca of Professional Wrestling” was going to be broadcast across the nation on closed-circuit television. Over the next few weeks, we learned that this event was going to be called WrestleMania. From what I remember, the show was initially hyped just as a house show but things quickly changed and we discovered that it was going to be made available through a technology we’d never heard of before.
Naturally, we had to see this card. While we would have loved to have gone to New York City, none of us had a driver’s license and we didn’t have the scratch to get to the Big Apple. Thanks to the clever marketing of Vinnie Mac, we could go to our local arena and watch the show on something called closed-circuit TV.
However. we weren’t really familiar with the concept of closed-circuit TV. Fortunately our dads had gone to boxing shows on closed circuit and they gave us the scoop on things. At first, some of us were hesitant to go. After all, all we’d be doing was watching an event on a big screen.
The allure of WrestleMania was too much to resist though. In addition to the main event, the show featured three title matches (Tag Team titles, Women’s title, and the Intercontinental title). Then you had the $15,000 Body Slam Match between “Big” John Studd and Andre the Giant (with Andre putting his career on the line).
With so many great matches on the card, we prepared to buy tickets. This was before online purchases so we had to go to the box office or a ticket outlet. All of us wondered whether or not we’d be able to get tickets for the show. What if it sold out? What then? Of course we made it to the show (well, nearly all of us but that’s a story for next time) but what did we think of it? Did WrestleMania live up to all the hype? Was it even possible to live up to all of the hype?