With their national expansion continuing apace, as well as the Rock and Wrestling Connection putting their product into homes across America via MTV, Vince McMahon and his World Wrestling Federation were at a critical stage in their path to mainstream success. They had been able to get their superstars notoriety from their exploits on network television – but would people now actually pay to see their next big event?
Pay per view as we know it now was still a short time away from coming to fruition; instead the WWF would have to rely on closed circuit television to allow fans across the country to watch the show. It may seem archaic now, but a closed circuit event would involve people travelling to a nearby venue to watch the show, with it being beamed back from the building.
The McMahon family were putting it all on the line with this new event – they had brought in a host of celebrities to take part in the event. The broadcast itself was an expensive outlay as well, as theatres across America would have to take their cut. This is even before the wrestlers themselves had to be paid. With all their eggs in one basket this event had to be a success (the family and the WWF business faced certain ruin if it didn’t) and it also needed a name to match the grandeur of the occasion. Ring announcer Howard Finkle would go down in folklore by coming up with a name that would become synonymous with the WWF: WrestleMania!
With the world of wrestling looking on (many of whom wanted WrestleMania to fail and thus force McMahon into bankruptcy), the show had to hit a home run. The stage was set: Sunday 31 March 1985 at the iconic Madison Square Garden – the inaugural WrestleMania.
While it was one of the most historic events in the history of wrestling, the first WrestleMania does not really stand up to the test of time in terms of in ring action. However, when viewed in context, it was an incredible undertaking from McMahon and the mix of stars from the world of entertainment, sports and of course wrestling was something never before seen on this scale.
The Main Event of the evening was the one that everyone had paid their money to see. ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper and ‘Mr Wonderful’ Paul Orndoff (accompanied by Cowboy Bob Orton, father of ‘The Viper’ Randy), faced off against the WWF’s premiere star, Hulk Hogan and the star of ‘The A-Team’, Mr T in a tag team match that had Mohammed Ali as a special referee of sorts. Vince McMahon’s right hand man and first ever Intercontinental Champion Pat Patterson acted as the main official. He was put in charge so that the match could go as planned, particularly with Mr T being a novice on this stage. Patterson was the go to man for wrestling finishes, and still works with the WWE today. Baseball star Billy Martin was the ring announcer (nope, me neither) and best of all, Liberace was the special guest ring announcer, who was led to the ring by the famous dance troupe The Rockettes. It was a true smorgasbord of popular culture. Hogan and T would triumph following a backfired attempt at interference from Cowboy Bob.
The show closed with the image of T and Hogan standing tall with their arms raised by Ali (who had earlier given Piper a good old fashioned smack in the mouth). Now the real crunch would come, as the numbers started to roll in from the closed circuit venues across the country. Would WrestleMania be the making or breaking of not only the World Wrestling Federation, but the McMahon family itself?
What happened next?
As you may well have guessed, WrestleMania was a huge success, and helped the World Wrestling Federation grow even stronger, with its product now a true national powerhouse. It remains the single biggest event of the wrestling calendar, with hardcore, lapsed and casual fans alike joining to watch. It also helped Vince McMahon become a self-made billionaire (depending on the WWE stock price), as he is so fond of reminding the world. The advent of Pay Per View only helped grow the WrestleMania name further, and it has since gone on to draw over 1,000,000 pay per view buys worldwide on more than one occasion.