30 years ago: The build up for the first WrestleMania

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been almost 30 not-so-long years since the original WrestleMania took place on March 31, 1985, in Madison Square Garden.

With WrestleMania 31 coming up on March 29, 2015, I thought it would be fun to look at the history of the first Mania, starting in this post with the show’s build up.

The seeds for the original Mania got planted in July 1984, when Wendi Richter defeated the Fabulous Moolah for the WWF Women’s Title during a live MTV special. With pop star Cyndi Lauper in the corner of Richter and Captain Lou Albano seconding Moolah, the victory ushered in the Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Connection to the video music generation. Later that year, Lauper was involved in an angle with Rowdy Roddy Piper, whom the WWF wisely inserted into the mix.

Embed from Getty Images

The result was the War to Settle the Score, another MTV special featuring Piper challenging Hulk Hogan for the WWF Heavyweight Title in February 1985. Actor Mr. T, at the time another huge star, was at ringside, and in wild ending scene, T jumped the barricade to help Hogan as he was getting beaten down by Piper and his cronies. Earlier that night, Richter lost her championship to Lelani Kai.

T and Lauper’s involvement with the WWF played a huge role in the success of the first WrestleMania a month later, and Lauper’s absence from the WWE Hall of Fame is ridiculous when goofs like Drew Carey and Pete Rose get nods.

The main event saw Hogan and T face Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. Other big matches included Richter taking on Kai in a rematch, and Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd in a bodyslam challenge.

One of the most memorable WWF skits came in the weeks leading up to the supercard, as Mean Gene Okerlund snuck into a secret training session with Piper and Orndorff. It was a hilarious piece with so many great moments, including the heels beating a “passerby” on the streets of New York City after they threw Okerlund out of their gym.

And incredibly, on the eve of the first WrestleMania, Hogan and T hosted Saturday Night Live. Here’s a quick clip:

Can you imagine Roman Reigns hosting SNL the night before Mania? I just don’t think it would happen today, which is testament to how aggressively the WWF promoted WrestleMania in 1985. For many people, WWF-style pro wrestling was pop culture because of Lauper and T. Had all of the pieces not come together so perfectly, the first Mania could have bombed. Had that happened, it’s possible the WWF would have gone out of business due to the loans the company had taken out to finance its national expansion.

For sheer survival, the WWF’s build up of WrestleMania had to be a home run.

In my next post, I’ll take a look at the preliminary matches at the first WrestleMania.


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  6. david

    I to shelled out 20.00 to see it at the garden what most young fans don’t realize is it started in the late afternoon and was over fairly early , I looked forward to the matches between JYD and Greg Valentine and the tag match with the us express vs Volkoff and Shiek ,it was so special because things like that never happened back then and pro wrestling was getting exposer on the national news and all over tv and radio people who never watched were talking about it , now there are PPVs every month and it takes away from the excitement .

  7. Joe Lowry

    No doubt one of the most defining moments of the WW(F)E and its heyday. I cannot believe its been 30 years since this magical event took place. I was one of the 15,000 plus fans who shelled out $20 bucks for a ticket to sit in the Old Boston Garden and watch history take place via closed circuit tv. For all you younger fans, PPV was about a year away from existing and the only way the WW(F)E could showcase this event was through the use of closed circuit tv in all the major arenas. I remember the hype was everywhere. Radio, TV, Print Media. I even remember that oddly produced song called “Wrestlemania” that was played like every hour on the radio up until that Sunday. Yes the night before Hulk Hogan and Mr. T were on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. It was wrestling crossing over into the main stream. This was unheard of back then. I also remember WCVB Channel 5’s Mike Dowling interviewing myself and a few other fans on the days events at the Garden. As years passed we also found out that this was Vince and Linda McMahon’s “end all/be all” for the company. They took a huge gamble and it paid off. What I find most amazing was the following year at Wrestlemania 2. This Wrestlemania was held in three different arenas with three different main events. Nobody seems to talk about that Wrestlemania…All good stuff!

  8. Anonymous

    What sweet memories of the build-up for a 6 year old kid. And yes, the feeling of real hustle and promotion, the energy from it was just off the charts. Hulk and T were showing up everywhere! And seeing Hulk with Lauper just couldn’t get any cooler. Mr. T brought real legitimate heat, and the Heels genuinely were Heels.

    Fans who didn’t live through it just cannot fathom the innovation and experience of it. Nothing (not even WM3 or any Stone Cold vs Rock WM) compares to the promotion aspect of it.

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