How WrestleMania Made The WWF: Hulk Hogan And Mr. T On Wrestling's Biggest Stage

By | March 29, 2021

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Mr. T holds Paul Orndorff aloft as Hulk Hogan cheers him on at WrestleMania I. Source: WWE

On March 31, 1985, Madison Square Garden played host to one of the most historic nights in professional wrestling. With the gamble that was the first WrestleMania, Vince McMahon and the WWF (now WWE) proved that sports and entertainment could mesh, that audiences didn't really care if the matches were predetermined, and that there was a lot of money to be made in what was seen as working class entertainment.

Getting to the actual event was half the battle. McMahon had to convince larger than life performers like Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and the Iron Sheik to do business and share the ring with performers like Mr. T, Cyndi Lauper, and Liberace, and then there was the question of how audiences across the country would see this groundbreaking event.

By the time the curtain fell on WrestleMania I, the doubters, the naysayers, and the real life heels were proven wrong and the industry was changed forever. Today, WrestleMania makes close to $15 million in one weekend and wrestling is a multi-million dollar business, but in 1985 things were just beginning to get hot.

The road to WrestleMania

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Mr. T and Hulk Hogan stare down Paul Orndorff at WrestleMania I. Source: WWE

When Vince McMahon took over the WWF from his father, Vincent K. McMahon, in 1982 he had dreams of growing the regional northeastern territory into a global empire. It was all in the name: World Wrestling Federation. He started running down the dream with a two pronged approach. He brought in well known territory stars like Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper for exclusive contracts, so if you wanted to see these guys who ran roughshod over the AWA and NWA territories then you needed to start watching the WWF.

Then, McMahon moved in on syndication with shows like WWF Championship Wrestling and Tuesday Night Titans on USA. By putting Hogan, who appeared in Rocky III in 1982, onto syndicated programming McMahon insured that there were plenty of eyeballs on his product which was vastly different than the rest of what wrestling had to offer at the time.

In the 1980s the WWF was just one of many wrestling territories in America. These companies were competition in the vaguest sense, and many of them shared the same performers. They protected the secretive nature of the industry and put on a performance that was meant to be taken seriously. None of that really interested McMahon. He cared about entertainment first and wrestling second, which is a great business model for a global entertainment company but it didn't make him any friends in the territories.

As McMahon focused more on the entertainment aspect of professional wrestling he still looked to the territories for ideas. After witnessing Starrcade, a massive show first put on by Jim Crockett promotions in 1983, McMahon had the idea to do something similar with the WWF. He correctly believed that if he brought in talent from outside the wrestling industry, a super show could turn the WWF from a regional territory into a worldwide entertainment brand. And thus, an event McMahon planned to call "The Colossal Tussle" was born.