playaplayaplaya-ClubbaLang & Thunderlips-playaplayaplaya
(THE ONE WITH LIBERACE)
The year was 1985. Pro wrestling was a wonderful fad of the era. Like rubix cubes, chia pets and Molly Ringwald. The thing about fads is the architects of the fad either adapt and become something new or they dig in their heels and watch their sudden burst of money go bye-bye. A fad only lasts as long as that generation lasts. Once the original generation has moved on, the fad fades. If you don't adapt and reach out to a new generation you will die (apart from becoming a niche that is more about nostalgia and irony than general popularity).
Video games adapted. There's a lot you can do to keep them fresh as generations of children evolve.
There's not much you can do with a rubix cube to keep the concept "fresh."
In 1985, pro wrestling was a pop culture fad. Was it profitable? You bet. But it reached its peak with WrestleMania III and then slowly diminished in popularity and profit until it became a niche for die hard supporters in the mid-1990's. Credit to Vince McMahon and Steve Austin (with an assist from Monday Nitro) for turning a faded property into a pop culture phenomenon again. To pull that rabbit out of the hat once is impressive.
To do it twice is remarkable.
But -- and you may disagree with this -- the late 90's "second wrestling boom" was not as big as the first. Pro wrestling in the 90's may have generated more revenue, but that's because by then Vince and co. had learned how to squeeze more revenue out of it. In the 80's, when pro wrestling was hot, it was as big as anything. It attracted Super Bowl level numbers for its TV specials, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated Magazine, and was a hit with people of all ages, gender and class.
And WrestleMania I was the celebration of that fad.
Why was WrestleMania such a big deal? I don't mean "Why was it a big deal to pro wrestling" or "Why was it a big deal to Vince?" Those questions have obvious and well-chronicled answers. The question is "Why was wrestling a big deal, period? Why was it so popular with so many aspects of culture?" The answer is because it was woven into so many aspects of culture. Music, television, movies and sports are the four-pronged entertainment touchstones of pop culture and pro wrestling had its finger in each of their pies.
The buildup to the event happened, not on a weekly wrestling show, but on, of all things, MTV. The top two matches of WrestleMania had their seeds planted on a July 1984 MTV/WWF special: The Brawl to End it All. On the show (in the MAIN EVENT, no less), Fabulous Moolah lost her women's championship to Wendy Richter, who would lose the title to Leilana Kai on a February WWF/MTV special entitled The War to Settle the Score, setting up WrestleMania's clear number-two match.
At the same event, the top WrestleMania match was also set up. That show was main-evented by Hulk Hogan, who put his year-long WWF Championship reign on the line against Roddy Piper. That match ended in a DQ as Hogan was attacked by Piper and Paul Orndorff. During the beatdown, Mr. T. (Rocky III co-star with Hogan), who was sitting ringside, joined the fray to help "The Hulkster" fight off the heels.
WrestleMania's main event was all but decided.
The crossovers in promotion for the event included more than today's standard radio interviews and the late night talk show circuit. Hogan and Mr. T had interviews with big time newspapers, magazines, and even hosted Saturday Night Live.
The show was a gamble, in that the fortunes of the company had been spent advertising and promoting the event and signing the gauntlet of celebrities. These weren't D-listers or random crowd shots of slightly-embarrassed movie stars, these were big names and they all converged on this explosion of pop culture and pro wrestling.
So why is this main-event, which was discussed as potentially being Hall of Fame-worthy, so low on the countdown? Well for one thing the match itself isn't very good. It's a tag match main-eventing WrestleMania. And even though there was no precedent yet set, everyone knows if you can go 1-on-1 in the main event, you do it. To take the title out of the equation basically sacrifices the integrity of the pro wrestling product on the altar of pop culture.
Having said that, you can't really blame Vince for going with the match he did. Having Mr. T. as an outside enforcer or guest ref or something like that would not appeal to the mainstream fan who wanted to see Clubber Lang mix it up alongside Thunderlips. People got the other WrestleMania main event free a month earlier, when Piper and Hogan went 1-on-1.
All of that is an excuse why they went with the match they did, but that doesn't change the diminished greatness of the match as the years went on. Other than the novelty of the show, the first WrestleMania, as has been said, was a glorified house show. Take away the celebrities surrounding the spectacle, and fans can see the equivalent of that card every Saturday night via WWE Live Events.
A Hogan vs. Piper title match, featuring Mr. T on the side (like Mohammad Ali was used) would have been a much more thrilling pro wrestling main event, but it would not have offered the kind of box office sizzle Vince needed to stay afloat. He offered the "right" main event, but in terms of WrestleMania history, it's in the bottom third. It wasn't offensive like some of the lower-rated matches, but its not as spectacular or replayable as later ones will be.
Sound off, Cagesiders. Does the spectacle, novelty, starpower and nostalgia-factor mean this main event should be ranked higher? Should it be lower? It is just a tag match after all. Let us know your thoughts on this main event in the comments below.
Tomorrow's main event is the one no one saw coming, not even when it happened since everyone was asleep by then. See you then!
- Ranking Mania main events #21: Triple H vs. Chris Jericho
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- Ranking Mania main events #23: Triple H vs. Randy Orton
- Ranking Mania main events #24: Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice
- Ranking Mania main events #25: John Cena vs. The Miz
- Ranking Mania main events #26: Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid
- Ranking Mania main events #27: Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter
- Ranking Mania main events #28: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna
- Ranking Mania main events #29: Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow