Mr. T is finally on his way into the WWE Hall of Fame — and deservedly so — as he was a large part of the reason that the first WrestleMania was a success and the WWF became a household name in the 1980s.
On March 31, 1985, in Madison Square Garden, T and Hulk Hogan defeated Rowdy Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff in the main event of Mania. This match stemmed from the War to Settle the Score match that Hogan and Piper fought a month earlier at MSG.
That earlier battle was broadcast live on MTV, and Mr. T, who was in the audience, stormed to the ring to save Hogan from a beatdown by Piper, Orndorff, and Cowboy Bob Orton (Randy Orton’s father). What a brilliant opportunity to shoot a big angle.
At the time of the first Mania, Mr. T was a cast member of a popular NBC show called The A-Team, which was about a group of ex-military dudes who helped out people in need who had no one else to turn to. Mr. T played B.A. Baracus, who was the muscle of the group. Also fresh on people’s minds was T’s portrayal of vicious boxer Clubber Lang in Rocky III opposite Sylvester Stallone (this was the same movie Hogan was in, although T and Hogan did not share screen time).
The public bought into T’s image as this intimidating tough guy; most people thought that was T’s personality in real life, which was a huge benefit to the WWF in bringing him in as Hogan’s partner.
For many fans, this wasn’t an actor like Jay Leno or Andy Kaufman lacing the boots; Mr. T was a guy who meant business and could kick some ass.
Mr. T giving an airplane spin to Piper during the match was probably one of the most important photographs ever taken in the WWE’s history, because it appeared in newspapers all over the place the next day.
Behind the scenes, Vince and Linda McMahon sunk a whole lot of money into the first Mania, and had the event flopped, they probably would have gone bankrupt. So it’s not an exaggeration to say that T and Cyndi Lauper, who also was prominent in a WWF storyline at the time, set the stage for what has become of the WWE 29 years later.
I have read many anecdotes, but have never heard any of the wrestlers involved confirm it, that Mr. T had cold feet in the hours before WrestleMania and did not want to get in the ring. Supposedly Piper and Hogan had to convince him everything would be fine and he would not get injured accidentally, and assured him that they would lead him through his spots.
Also, WWF exec Pat Patterson was the in-ring ref for that match, which was very unusual. There is no doubt Patterson was directing traffic to ensure the match went along smoothly, too.
A year later in 1986, Mr. T also fought Piper in a boxing match at WrestleMania 2, although that match-up was largely forgettable.
This year’s Hall of Fame class is such a strong remembrance of the 1980s scene, with T, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and Ultimate Warrior heading in. I’m sure from a marketing perspective, those names will attract the attention of an audience segment the WWE wants to get hooked onto the WWE Network.