WRESTLEMANIA Part 1
Madison Square Garden, New York, March 31, 1985
WrestleMania has become the Super Bowl of Sports Entertainment, aka Pro Wrestling. Arguably, the World Wrestling Entertainment-produced mega-spectacle — which debuted in 1985 — rivals the global appeal of the NFL showcase, as WrestleMania airs in more than 160 countries in more than 30 languages.
The strategic placement of the date of the event has long gone overlooked, as it is nestled on the Sunday between NCAA men’s basketball Final Four on Saturday and the championship game on Monday. No football … spring training baseball … no Olympics … and the off day for college hoops proved perfect.
“There is nothing else like it,” longtime WWE creative member Bruce Prichard told me recently. “Imagine the grandest event you can think of and for a fan of wrestling, WrestleMania is the ultimate experience.
“It is the one weekend of the year where everyone can be a fan again and get lost in the revelry.”
When Vince McMahon created the concept, many pro wrestling promoters around the world thought that the brash — albeit brilliant — entrepreneur had essentially signed his own bankruptcy papers. WM I was the ultimate, calculated risk as McMahon has often said. In truth, the future of the WWE — known as the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) during these early days — was heavily mortgaged on WM being a huge hit.
If WM had failed, the future of WWE was bleak. Rival promoters were pulling for WrestleMania to fail.
That didn’t happen.
The first WrestleMania was held in Madison Square Garden, the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” in New York City on Sunday, March 31, 1985. The special guests read like a who’s who from entertainment and sports.
Those unique bookings allowed the WWE to receive amazing outside-the-box publicity, which the genre could rarely accomplish unless it was the media reporting a tragedy or controversy. The multi-media body slam created the awareness for fans to not only sell out MSG, but, much more importantly, to invest in the event in multiple closed-circuit locations around the country in the days before the proliferation of pay-per-view on cable TV.
Veteran ring announcer Howard Finkel actually gave McMahon’s brainchild its name. For the main event, the WWE decided to go non-traditional with a unique tag-team match, which in itself was a gamble as it did not feature resident super hero and top star Hulk Hogan in a hyped singles match.
Rolling the dice, McMahon booked Hogan and popular TV action star Mr. T of the hit show “The A Team” to face the villainous duo of Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff in a match “garnished” with celebrities. This included Muhammad Ali as a special referee, baseball legend Billy Martin as ring announcer and Liberace as guest time keeper.
“The way WM was pitched to me was the way things got done back in the day,” Piper recalled. “I was in Poughkeepsie (NY) doing interviews during the day! I got finished and headed down stairs to the dressing rooms. As I was walking away, George Scott said, ‘Hot Rod, how would you like to fight Mr. T?’ Without turning around, nor breaking stride, I said, ‘Book It!’ and I continued down the hall. It’s the timing that’s important here. George asked me about T before ‘The War To Settle The Score!’
The first WM was dictated by the success or lack of success of the MTV’s ‘War To Settle The Score,’ which was the first time Hogan and Piper went toe to toe.
Of course the Rock ‘N Wrestling connection spearheaded by pop music star Cyndi Lauper was huge in the building of WM I. Lauper’s interaction with Piper is still vividly remembered as one of the first “WrestleMania Moments.”
Many also speculate that being involved in WM truly thrust Lauper into the mainstream because of all the media she received for being engaged in an in-ring storyline of significance.
McMahon’s right-hand man, veteran wrestler Pat Patterson, was the in-ring referee. He not only helped produce the match, behind the scenes, but was in the ring to see it went as planned, especially as it came to the inexperienced and nervous Mr. T, who was legitimately not well liked by his opponents. The villains, taking their role and profession with dead seriousness, would have been elated to have been able to legitimately injure Mr. T — the street smart actor was keenly aware of such.
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
“Mr. T, who was the toughest bouncer in the world, according to him, wanted to come and play pro wrestling, bang our heads together, flex and go home laughing about the phony wrestlers,” Piper said. “Not on my watch! I started pushing T hard in the interviews, making a fool of him. People can say what they want, but if you’re going to challenge someone to a pro wrestling interview contest, Roddy Piper should not be the one you pick!
“Now, there’s a press conference in New York with all the principals. From behind, Mr. T leg dives me and we both go off the stage on to the floor! Really …
“I am a professional, and I know the line as far as pro wrestling. It was (supposed) to be a classy press conference and (that was) exactly what our business did not need.
“When I got backstage, I pulled T into a room, at which time he started apologizing as he was just trying to make a good show … ‘I don’t need your help T, just listen and do what you’re told!’ Mr. T just kept getting more out of hand.
“Here’s the truth. I’ve never spoke of it.
“‘I told my brothers in arms that I’m taking T out,’ I recall telling Hogan about five years ago. There was going to be a spot where T and I fell out of the ring onto to the floor. When T and I hit the floor, I was going to tell T to get me in a headlock. There were not any mats at ring side … just floor. I was to back suplex T on the floor and hold on so I could drive his head into the floor and me land on top in hopes of breaking (his) neck. That’s how bad (we wanted to take T out).”
Some hardcore fans look back at WM I as an event heavy on “sizzle” and moderately built on “steak.” T’s success of the “Big Gamble” changed the face of the business and actually created a renaissance within the genre that McMahon’s detractors, of which there were many, begrudgingly benefited and attempted to emulate to varying degrees by promoting their own major shows in their regions, aka territories.
“I realized with Cyndi Lauper and all MTV stars shouting my name, saying ‘Hogan’s going to get you, Piper,’ that we were getting a lot of attention,” Piper told me recently.
“But it was not until Geraldine Ferraro (who was running at that time for vice president) and Dr. Ruth Westheimer said, ‘Roddy Piper, you’re not fit to wear a dress!’”
That’s when it clicked. Yeah, we’re mainstream.
McMahon’s “Big Gamble” had worked and it helped fund his growing company, including footing the bill for WWE’s continued national expansion and soon-to-be prolific global growth.
Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY
Rosemont Horizon, Chicago
Los Angeles Sports Arena, Los Angeles
April 7, 1986
How could WM II outperform the first WrestleMania? While the utilization of the many celebrities as support role players lessened, the venues tripled. WWE strategically used the top three US media markets, NYC (specifically Long Island), Los Angeles, and Chicago to all host the second WrestleMania.
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
“The first Mania I ever watched was Mania II on pay-per-view,” Bubba Ray Dudley told me. “Thought it was a very cool concept to have it come from New York, Chicago and L.A. However, watching Mania III on pay-per-view at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island was my strongest memory. I remember walking to the car after the event and telling my dad and uncle, ‘That’s gonna be me someday.’ ”
WM II was the only WrestleMania event not held on a Sunday.
Mega-villain Rowdy Roddy Piper, who in real life did not embrace Mr. T as an in-ring peer, was booked in a boxing match with the “A Team” star in Long Island, essentially a return match from WM.
The only mystery of that main event was to see if Piper was going to physically humiliate the actor who Piper felt did not respect the Scotsman’s vocation. Cooler heads prevailed, much to Mr. T’s relief.
Chicago featured a 20-man Battle Royal — by the way, it’s pronounced “Royal,” not “Royale” — featuring WWE wrestlers and several NFL football stars, including media darling and Chicago Bears star William “The Refrigerator” Perry. Legend has it that rehearsals for that attraction may have been more entertaining than the actual Battle Royal.
In Los Angeles, the main event was the sport’s No. 1 star, Hulk Hogan, in a more traditional, one-on-one match inside a steel cage vs. one of the great super heavyweight villains in the business, King Kong Bundy.
This match was the culmination, aka “blow-off match,” of a long, arcing storyline that utilized the age-old theory of putting the hero in grave jeopardy from his much larger, win-at-all cost, antagonist. The Hulkster won the show-closer and put himself in more of a position to become the WrestleMania poster boy for years to come.
Using three sites was another McMahon bold move, as WWE utilized its superior TV production abilities and technological expertise to pull off the three-city, three-time zone, hat trick. That was another WWE “calculated risk.’’
WM II saw WWE utilize its celebs inside the ring in more expanded roles – examples: ‘T’ vs. Piper and the NFL players in the Battle Royal.
WWE once again defied traditional thinking by mass marketing its second WrestleMania in three major cities that continued to brand WWE as the national pro wrestling brand. WM II also marked the event where WWE cemented itself as the innovator of a new technology called pay-per-view television.
After utilizing three major US markets and producing another “hit” how would WWE continue to one-up itself at WrestleMania III? Without question, it would take a Giant effort and arguably the best sales job of McMahon’s career.
Pontiac Silverdome, Pontiac, Mich., March 29, 1987
WrestleMania III was, without question, the undisputed champion of the 1980’s wrestling boom. The event took place before a reported 93,173 in the then-home of the Detroit Lions.
“The lead-ups for each match were the best piece of work I had ever seen,” Roy Farris, aka the Honky Tonk Man, told me. “Each match was programmed with something special, a neat twist to each one. The sheer size of that audience in that huge venue will be a lasting memory of something I do not think any of us thought was going to be that big.”
The match that the world of wrestling — and pop culture — was clamoring to see, the face of WWE Hulk Hogan vs. the legendary Andre the Giant, almost did not take place.
Andre had been in poor health with chronic back issues for quite some time and was in dire need of surgery.
Notwithstanding the fact that Andre was living with a death sentence known as acromegaly, aka gigantism, which at the time had no cure.
At the age of 40, the last thing Andre the Giant wanted to do was to undergo back surgery and endure a painful rehab, all to prepare for a villain turn on his fans after decades of being one of the most popular personalities in the world. Add in that the organizers wanted him to lose to Hogan at the biggest money event in the history of the business.
McMahon had to do his greatest sales job in convincing Andre to begin the arduous journey to essentially “pass the torch” to golden boy Hogan, who was not on the Giant’s holiday gift list.
McMahon succeeded by selling Andre on the concept, and the epic WM III match took place. The script was followed, even though many wrestlers to this day feel that it was at the 11th hour the day of the event that Andre the Giant finally made up his mind to go through with the planned creative and not impose his will on the Hulkster once they stepped into the ring.
Others have told me that Andre liked to have fun by making Hogan sweat about what might happen in the ring if Andre changed his mind on a night that was created to make the Hulkster “immortal.”
Hulk attempting to manhandle a 500-pound, angry giant who was allegedly in significant pain would not be a feat that Hogan or anyone else could accomplish.
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
Rumors have circulated over the years that WWE paid Andre and Hogan approximately $1 million each for 12½ minutes of work that night in Michigan.
“Of course the Hogan-Andre main event was a locker room sellout,” Farris said. “We all wanted to see that match!”
Most wrestling pundits feel that the Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat Intercontinental title match — which at 14 minutes, 36 seconds was the longest of the 12 bouts booked for the show — was by far the best match of the card and arguably of the year within the entire business.
“I attended WM III as a fan, in Pontiac, Michigan, as a passionate fan,” wrestler Rob Van Dam said. “The Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage match blew me away. I couldn’t believe it every time one of the grapplers kicked out of another pin attempt.”
It is widely speculated that when, during lead-up to the match on WWE TV, Andre ripped Hogan’s shirt off and accidentally ripped the crucifix from Hulk, which legitimately bloodied Hogan’s chest, was the moment that Andre’s fans truly turned on him.
An unscripted moment, along with McMahon using his superior salesmanship, helped turn WM III into one of the most historic WrestleMania events in history.
Trump Plaza, Atlantic City, NJ, March 27, 1988
WM IV began a relationship between two of the most controversial and successful entrepreneurs in America, McMahon and Donald Trump.
Trump played host to WrestleMania events in back-to-back years. No other site has hosted back-to-back WrestleManias.
Trump had earned great awareness for his Atlantic City investments by hosting multiple Mike Tyson fights, and “The Donald” saw his facilities hosting WrestleMania as another great marketing/promotional vehicle.
“I had never experienced anything like it before. The crazy thing for me was the enormity of the event, coming from Texas and Mid-South, the biggest event we had was the Superdome,” said Bruce Prichard, who was taking part in his first WrestleMania. “WM took over the entire Northeast. Everywhere you went was WM. We were on billboards, TV, radio, on every street corner literally. They had WM chocolate bars in the hotel.”
Abundant sizzle returned to WM IV as Gladys Knight sang “America the Beautiful” on an event that would include MLB’s Bob Uecker in a broadcasting role, “Wheel of Fortune’s” Vanna White as guest time keeper, and a special appearance by Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
The aftermath of Hogan beating Andre at WM III lingered in the primary storyline at WM IV as the WWE title was held up after Andre beat Hogan for the title in the first NBC “Saturday Night’s Main Event” in February when twin referees were utilized as a way to protect Hulk in his title loss.
Andre then “sold” the title to Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, who was later stripped of the title, setting up a 14-man tournament to determine a new champion at WM IV.
“Even though it was advertised as a tournament to crown a new champion, I was at the center of the program,” DiBiase said. “I wasn’t even working for the WWE a year earlier when they set the indoor world attendance record, and now, I would be in the feature match at the end of the night. It was one of those ‘pinch me, is this really happening?’ moments for me.
“The other feeling was one of great nervousness. It’s my first WM, I’m in the main event, and I’m wrestling three times in that one event! Wow. Pressure! Coming from a wrestling family, I wanted to very much live up to my father’s good name and also wanted to prove that I deserved to be there.”
With Hogan and Miss Elizabeth at ringside, Macho Man Randy Savage defeated DiBiase with Andre the Giant in his corner in the tourney finals to win the WWE title. And so the brand-building began in a serious way for Savage, who would be a vital part of WrestleManias for the next several years as he struggled to remove himself from Hogan’s giant shadow.
“It was a great match with a great opponent,” DiBiase said. “It really put the Million Dollar Man character front and center. Going forward from there things just got better and better.”
This WrestleMania is also known for having a whopping 16 bouts, a WM record, and this was also the WrestleMania debut for the Ultimate Warrior, who was being positioned to eventually replace Hogan as the top fan favorite.
“In hindsight, it was probably the smallest WM I have ever been a part of, but at the time, I couldn’t imagine anything bigger or more indulgent,” said Prichard, member of McMahon’s inner circle who along with Pat Patterson and McMahon did much of the creative planning, including writing TV broadcasts. “Let’s just say, I was wrong.”
After an 18-year absence from WWE, Warrior — whose legal name is now just that, Warrior — will finally be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on Saturday, April 5 in New Orleans during WM XXX week.
“The build up to this one mega-event was the likes of the Super Bowl and Academy Awards wrapped into one,” Prichard said. “For me, it was the WM return of Andre vs. Hogan. We were crowning a new champion and sailing into unchartered waters.”
WM IV ignited the WWE careers of Savage and the Ultimate Warrior and featured a rare, time-limit draw between 2014 WWE Hall of Fame Inductee Jake “The Snake” Roberts and the late Ravishing Rick Rude.
Trump Plaza, Atlantic City, NJ, April 2, 1989
WWE utilized strategic, long-term planning to build to the main event of WM V a year after the controversial and unpredictable Savage won the WWE title in the finals of a 14-man tournament.
WWE utilized Savage and Hogan as a tag team called “The Mega Powers” throughout much of 1988 leading into WM V. Along the way, WWE also utilized its NBC “Saturday Night’s Main Event” broadcast to further the story involving Hulk, Macho Man and Savage’s wife on TV and in real life, Miss Elizabeth.
The three-way, soap opera-based relationship eventually led to Savage getting overwhelmingly jealous of Elizabeth and Hogan’s business relationship. The volatile Savage lashed out at his tag-team partner in a deal-breaking moment on Saturday night, Feb. 3, which led into the pay-per-view.
Savage’s jealousy and overprotective nature of Elizabeth was a classic example of art imitating life.
This main event also featured excellent, long-term, creative planning by McMahon & Co. along with Dick Ebersol’s input that resulted in a compelling main event storyline particularly utilizing WWE’s prime-time “Saturday Night’s Main Event” clearance on network TV.
The Warrior, who was being groomed for bigger things, was “cheated” out of the Intercontinental title by Ravishing Rick Rude with the help of the greatest pro wrestling manager, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan.
Notable at this particular WrestleMania was a “Piper’s Pit,” featuring Piper and his guest — controversial talk show host Morton Downey, Jr. Piper used a fire extinguisher to the face of the chain-smoking Downey during the segment, which was one of the highlights of a card that some pundits panned because it had 14 bouts, some of which were not considered pay-per-view stalwarts.
After two years in Atlantic City, the WWE decided to head north for WM VI and leave the States for the first time.
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
SkyDome, Toronto, April 1, 1990
WM VI was held before more than 60,000 fans, which was the attendance record at the time in the SkyDome.
Always looking to make each card unique, the WWE headlined WM VI with the first fan favorite vs. fan favorite main event match at a WrestleMania, featuring WWE champion Hogan vs. Intercontinental champion the Ultimate Warrior in a title match. This “baby-face” contest was arguably the biggest of its kind in WWE since a generation earlier when Bruno Sammartino faced Pedro Morales at Shea Stadium in a non-televised live event.
“The atmosphere is different because it’s such a huge event,” said DiBiase, who faced Jake Roberts on the card.” It’s one thing to wrestle in front of a coliseum full of people, but wrestle in front of a stadium full of people, and a viewing audience that is literally, “worldwide,” … it’s a whole different ball game.
“It’s bigger, so the nervousness is bigger. The buildup is bigger, everything is bigger about WM. It’s not just a one-day event. It’s the entire weekend, much like a Super Bowl. Fans come from all over the world to attend and the festivities start on Thursday and go literally right up until bell time.
The live audience was particularly loud during the main event, which came at the end of another arguably overbooked show that featured 14 bouts, but there was only one that truly captivated the packed stadium, Hogan vs. Warrior.
Hogan lost cleanly to Warrior, who won the WWE title to go along with the Intercontinental title, which at that time had significant equity. It was Hogan who may have stolen the show with his post-match theatrics, including passing the proverbial torch to Warrior followed by an emotional embrace and then riding off, literally riding off, into the sunset as the honorable, fallen albeit “immortal” hero.
Hogan also kicked out of the Warrior’s pin at 3½ minutes into the match, which is one of the older and more subtle tricks in the book. It was the same, old-school technique that the Iron Sheik did to Hogan when Hulk first won the WWE title in 1984, and the same thing that Sgt. Slaughter did at WM VII while losing to Hogan in Los Angeles.
There are many interesting tidbits surrounding this WrestleMania event. Sixteen-year-old Adam Copeland, who would become WWE Hall of Famer Edge was there as a fan wearing a “Hulk Rules” tank top and a fashionable mullet.
Diamond Dallas Page was the anonymous driver of a pink Cadillac that brought Rhythm and Blues to the ring. Longtime TV personality and former wrestling broadcaster Steve Allen was a guest performer. Years later, Allen became one of WWE’s harshest critics as a supporter of the PTC (aka Parents Television Council). Plus, it was the event where the fearless Piper painted half his body black as he prepared to face Bad News Brown.
“My favorite WM opponent was Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts at WM 6,” DiBiase said. “I always loved working with Jake because he was a real pro. Working with Jake always made my job easier. We call it, ‘doing the dance,’ and I danced well with Jake. His timing was great. He was always at the right place at the right time.”
Warrior was the first non-major territory star to be featured in a WrestleMania main event, which spoke to the potential that WWE officials felt that he possessed in their hopes of him becoming the WWE’s next “it” guy for years to come.
The bottom line at WM VI is that Hogan passed the torch to Warrior and the stage was set for a long Warrior run on top and dominating main events for years to come. The next year’s event in Los Angles would tell a much different story.
Los Angeles Sports Arena, Los Angeles, March 24, 1991
This became one of the more memorable WrestleManias for a variety of reasons. The original setting was to be the 100,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum but the event ended up being held before 16,000-plus in the sold-out L.A. Sports Arena.
Why the change in venues?
There are two schools of thought on this matter. The featured attraction was WWE champion and “former” US Marine turned Iraqi war sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter defending his championship against the American patriot, the “Immortal” Hogan.
One theory regarding the move was for security reasons. Operation “Desert Storm,” had just concluded in the Persian Gulf — a controversial war that many Americans did not understand the country’s participation in, and which had its share of American casualties on a daily basis while this storyline was running on WWE TV.
Many “true believers” felt Slaughter was disgusting and the future WWE Hall of Famer had many death threats made on his life while portraying the Iraqi sympathizer TV persona. Slaughter’s family had to have around-the-clock security for months.
Another theory is that many fans were turned off with the timing of using a fresh-in-the-mind war as a backdrop for a TV wrestling storyline and ticket sales were sluggish as a result, hence the move to the L.A. Sports Arena seemed prudent.
The card was especially strong on top as the co-main event was the Warrior facing Savage, who helped cost Warrior his WWE title at the January Royal Rumble against Slaughter.
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
At WM VII, Hogan beat Slaughter to once again become the WWE champion, which some may have thought predictable. However doing what makes creative sense always trumps being predictable.
Savage, who entered the match a villain, left a hero after being reunited with his former wife Elizabeth, so the overall tone of the pay-per-view had an overwhelmingly positive feeling, which was a wise move by WWE officials considering the era and the atrocities of the Gulf War.
WM VII marked the beginning of the Undertaker’s vaunted, undefeated streak at WrestleMania events, which now stands at 21-0. It was also the first WM broadcast that was without Jesse Ventura on commentary as Heenan joined Gorilla Monsoon ringside.
It was Bret “Hitman” Hart’s last WrestleMania event in a tag match as Bret’s WWE singles career ascension started soon thereafter.
WM VII also marked the in-ring WM debuts of Kerry (The Texas Tornado) Von Erich and the Legion of Doom, aka the Road Warriors, and the first Blindfold Match at a WrestleMania, which featured Roberts vs. Rick Martel.
WWE went “Hollywood” in a big way for this L.A.-based event that featured Willie Nelson singing “America the Beautiful,” and appearances by Regis Philbin, Alex Trebek and Marla Maples (a former Mrs. Donald Trump).
So, WWE left Los Angeles with its standard bearer, Hogan, in the captain’s chair once again, and Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth back together. Meanwhile the WWE Universe was asking what was on tap for WM VIII and what creative changes — i.e. new stars — were on the horizon?
Hoosier Dome, Indianapolis, April 5, 1992
WWE featured, for the first time, a double main event for WM VIII.
When Ric Flair, the long-time legend who had built a cult-like following around the world as the traveling NWA champion, came to WWE in 1991, it was assumed by most that it would be Flair vs. Hogan at WM VIII.
Flair vs. Hogan under the WWE banner was long considered a “dream match” because they were the two most iconic figures of the mat game.
Almost immediately upon arriving in WWE from World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 1991, the WWE began booking Flair vs. Hogan matches in a variety of non-televised live events. According to WWE promoters at that time, the match did not draw well at these live events.
Some promoters that I spoke with said that the legends had limited, in-ring “chemistry” with each other, which might have been the case. One promoter even went so far to say that the match was “10 years too late.”
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
I personally feel that the fans idolized both men, who had been massive stars on various wrestling TV shows for years. Neither was considered to be a true antagonist by this stage of their careers, so the fans really did not want to see either lose. It’s another illustration that when there is an absence of a hero and a villain from a pro wrestling storyline, the match suffers.
In hindsight, perhaps if WWE had put Hulk and the Nature Boy together as a team, like the Mega Powers, and allowed this dynamic duo to have a successful run, then had Flair turn on Hogan, WWE might have been able to get the desired “dream match.”
Instead, the Flair-Hulk match at WrestleMania never happened.
So, the double main event was Flair defending the WWE title that he won after a 60-plus minute stay in the 1992 Royal Rumble vs. Savage, and Hogan vs. Sid Justice, aka Psycho Sid.
It would be the first time that the WWE title, when booked, was not the closing attraction at a WrestleMania, as Flair vs. Savage went on fifth in a nine-bout card and Hogan vs. Sid closed the pay-per-view.
Two points about that: WWE learned from past WrestleManias that it would have a better pay-per-view with fewer but longer matches and that Hulk Hogan apparently was more important to WWE than its own title.
Flair lost to Savage and would be gone from WWE less than a year later. Hogan won by disqualification, which facilitated the surprising return of the Warrior to “save” Hulk from an attack by Sid and voodoo practitioner Papa Shango. Sid, too, would leave WWE not long after this event, as did the Warrior.
Certainly, at least in hindsight, one can term the double main events as dysfunctional, but WM VIII is still remembered for multiple “WrestleMania Moments.” It was Shawn Michaels’ first WrestleMania singles bout as HBK defeated fellow Texan Tito Santana.
Hart, no longer a member of the Hart Foundation, defeated fellow Canadian Piper in an Intercontinental title bout that many pundits felt was the best match of the night by far. The Undertaker won his contest over Roberts to go 2-0 in WrestleMania events.
Soon after WM VIII, WWE began the task of rebuilding its top-tier main-event roster of talents and a transition period ensued.
The following year would see the arrival of subtle changes to the in-ring product, but the more things appeared to change the more they would remain the same at WM IX in Las Vegas.
Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, April 4, 1993
This will always be a special event for me because it was my first broadcasting assignment for WWE after working 19 years to get to there.
An overnight sensation, I was not.
This also marked the first WrestleMania to be held outdoors and was highlighted by lions, tigers, elephants, and weasels, oh my!
WWE had begun to transition to a more athletic, faster-paced in-ring product by the time WM IX rolled around. Bret Hart was the WWE champion and would be challenged by the seemingly unbeatable 600-pound Yokozuna, while Shawn Michaels was the Intercontinental champion and would face Tatanka.
However, a major storyline was the return of Hulk Hogan, who had departed WWE not long after WM VIII. Hogan returned to team with his friend Brutus Beefcake to challenge for the WWE tag titles held by Money, Inc. — Ted DiBiase and IRS. But wait … there’s more.
Hart, thanks to the “salt” in his eyes thrown by Yokozuna’s manager Mr. Fuji, lost the WWE title to the 600-pounder. An outraged Hogan came to the Hitman’s aid — amazing irony at the end of the day — challenged the new champion and defeated Yoko in a mere 22 seconds in the impromptu show-closing match.
As legend would have it, the creative plan for later in the summer of 1993 was for Hulk to defend and lose the title to Hart at Summer Slam. That match never happened. Hogan would again depart WWE after the King of the Ring pay-per-view in June of 1993, where he lost the title to Yokozuna thanks to a flash bulb to the eyes from “photographer” Harvey Whippleman.
This was the first time that I worked a major pay-per-view within the confines of a three-man broadcast booth. I had never worked with Randy Savage or Bobby Heenan before and likely wouldn’t have that day, either, if Gorilla Monsoon had not taken ill. Plus, I had never broadcast a match outdoors in the sunshine, which wreaked havoc on our TV monitors.
Heenan was a joy, while the intense and talented Savage was challenging at times.
To this day, I still get asked if I was angry I had to wear a toga and the answer is definitively, no. As a matter of fact, Vince McMahon asked me prior to the show if I felt uncomfortable wearing the toga and that if I did, I didn’t have to work and could start my WWE career after WM IX.
Heenan tried to convince me to go “commando” for that event — not don underwear under my toga. The wise Monsoon intervened when he heard “The Brain” putting the sales pitch on me and stopped the proceedings before anyone’s shortcomings were exposed.
Lastly, the toga was a rental so, no, I don’t still have it hanging in my closet next to my collection of black western hats.
WM X was on the horizon as a new era of in-ring wrestling was donning in earnest within the WWE as they were Madison Square Garden-bound for 1994.
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
Part II coming Tuesday, April 1
You can follow Jim Ross on Twitter @JRsBBQ, listen to him on the Ross Report Podcast, and see him live at RINGSIDE: An Evening with Jim Ross. JR’s products are also available online at wweshop.com, americansoda.co.uk and beyondtheropes.co.uk