The real history behind Wrestlemania
April 4, 2009 (WPVI) -- In March of 1985, professional wrestling was in the height of its Rock N' Wrestling era.
Riding on the shoulders of Hulkamania, Vince McMahon and his World Wrestling Federation company saw record amounts of new fans tuning into their television shows and going to local arenas to catch the action live. To capitalize on the soaring popularity, McMahon conjured up the idea of a mega-event where wrestling match after wrestling match would be intertwined with cameos from celebrities across various divisions of the entertainment world. He called it Wrestlemania.
25 years later, the Super Bowl of sports entertainment will be celebrating its silver anniversary on April 5, as the superstars of World Wrestling Entertainment invade Houston, Texas for the global phenomenon.
Wrestlemania has been the site for many memorable moments in the past quarter century - in fact, there has been something to remember in each event.
If you don't believe me - take a look.
The first Wrestlemania was held March 31, 1985, from Madison Square Garden and itself was an historic feat on its own. Celebrities from all walks of life, including Cyndi Lauper, Mr. T, and even, Liberace, helped ring in the inaugural show. As the AP puts it, "WrestleMania I, like virtually any 25-year-old televised event, looks laughably outdated today. "Mean Gene" Okerlund sang a stilted version of "America the Beautiful"; backstage reporter Lord Alfred Hayes had all the camera presence of Brick Tamland from Anchorman; and let's just say spandex technology was not what it is today."
The NFL-WWE battle royal is not the biggest memory to come out of the second edition (though, you have to see William the Refrigerator Perry battle Big John Studd to believe it). The most remarkable achievement of Wrestlemania 2 was the fact that it emanated from three different venues - Los Angeles, New York, and the Chicago area. The other remarkable fact was that Elvira did commentary. Yes, Elvira.
What many consider to be the pinnacle of all Wrestlemanias, over 93,000 packed the Pontiac Silverdome and saw two epic encounters that displayed the extremes of what a memorable wrestling match can be. One match had athleticism, numerous false finishes, agility, and an "out-of-nowhere" pin to win. Fans today still talk about the Ricky Steamboat-"Macho Man" Randy Savage match for the Intercontinental Championship as a wrestling clinic; any Wrestlemania match to come will always be compared to it. On the flip side, a match that had no "out-of-nowhere" rollup pin, but was no less historic, saw reigning WWE Champion Hulk Hogan successfully defend his title against the eighth wonder of the world, Andre the Giant. During the contest, Hogan was able to lift up the giant and slam him to the mat in a moment that will be forever frozen in wrestling fans' minds. An "out-of-nowhere" Hulk-up did take place in the match, too, but that was expected.
Wrestlemania IV & V
Donald Trump got what he wanted back in 1988, when back-to-back Wrestlemanias came to Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. Wrestlemania taking place in the same venue back-to-back years has never been duplicated. Wrestlemania IV was home to the only Wrestlemania championship tournament which saw Macho Man Randy Savage take home the gold, with the aid of Hulk Hogan. The following year, Wrestlemania V saw Hogan take the belt from his former ally, who since turned on all the WWE fans. Drama at its finest. Also of note, Shawn Michaels made his Wrestlemania debut as one half of the tag team The Rockers at Wrestlemania V. Keep that in mind.
The SkyDome in Toronto could have been confused with London as most thought it was the changing of the guard when Hulk Hogan lost his WWE title to the Ultimate Warrior. The passing of the torch would not last long as the Gulf War called for the return of the real American as champion one year later.
With patriotism running high in 1991, Wrestlemania VII was subtitled "Superstars and Stripes Forever." Catchy. Hogan regained the title from Sgt. Slaughter, who had turned his back on America and sided with the enemy. Hogan's leg drop was enough for Slaugther to see the light and pretty soon, the Sarge was seen waving Old Glory once again. Also of note, The Undertaker made his Wrestlemania debut by defeating WWE legend "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka. Keep that in mind.
Wrestlemania 8 was memorable as it was the only Wrestlemania, until a decade later, to see WWE's rival promotion at the time, World Championship Wrestling's, biggest superstar at WWE's biggest event. "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair left WCW and joined WWE back in 1991, and soon became the champion. However, at Wrestlemania 8, Flair would lose the title to Macho Man. Flair would not be seen at Wrestlemania again until the 8 became 18. Also of note, The Undertaker successfully defeated Jake the Snake Roberts. Keep that in mind.
Wrestlemania IX took place at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. There was a Roman theme throughout the show, including future wrestling hall-of-famers Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, "Good ol' J.R." Jim Ross, and Gorilla Monsoon wearing togas. It would also be Hogan's last Wrestlemania for many, many years. The Undertaker defeated Giant Gonzales via disqualification to win his match. Keep that in mind.
The Associated Press has it right: The ladder match.
When Shawn Michaels took on Razor Ramon in a ladder match at WrestleMania X, wrestling took "Oh my god" to a new, more profane level.
Michaels - and his glorious mullet - and Ramon were feuding over who was the rightful holder of the Intercontinental belt. They went so far as to each have a version. Naturally, the only way to solve this was to hang both belts high above the ring and let whoever got them down keep both.
The Heartbreak Kid had the advantage - nearly the belts - when Razor knocked the ladder over and sent Michaels down on the top rope - crotch-first - for victory.
The first televised WWE ladder match, this would be the spiritual predecessor to many gimmicks to follow. Once a single ladder became passe, multiple ladders, chairs and tables became the norm.
No, at this event, the most memorable moment was not Jonathan Taylor Thomas playing chess with Bob Backlund, but, it was Lawrence Taylor, of NFL and Dancing With the Stars fame, beating Bam Bam Bigelow at his own game. Taylor, with fellow football players in his corner, showed he had what it took to take down the Beast from the East (Bigelow came from New Jersey). As singing group TLC foreshadowed to Bam Bam on his way to the ring, "Bam Bam, you're gonna get slammed." He sure did. Also, the Undertaker defeated King Kong Bundy at this event. You keep that in mind.
Once again, AP is on the mark: The Iron Man
Michaels finally became a headliner, challenging reigning champ Bret Hart in a 60-minute battle for the title.
HBK and the Hitman traded blows for a full hour with Michaels valiantly refusing to tap out of the sharpshooter submission hold. Since neither had scored a fall, they headed to overtime. A little over a minute into OT, the Heartbreak Kid planted a pair of superkicks to Hart's jaw - the "Sweet Chin Music" - for the pin and his first heavyweight title.
It wasn't the first iron man match, but HBK-Hitman did feature two technically proficient wrestlers at their peak. It also elevated Michaels into the top echelon of WWE talent and helped him build his "Mr. WrestleMania" legacy.
Just to add, the Undertaker defeated Diesel, too.
Take it AP: Stone Cold vs. The Hitman.
Stone Cold Steve Austin built his reputation as a beer-drinkin' anti-hero with his "Austin 3:16" gimmick. But it was his match against Bret Hart that gave him his reputation as a tough SOB.
In a submission match refereed by mixed martial arts fighter Ken Shamrock, Austin and Hart battled out of the ring, through the crowd and back into the ring, where Hart put a bloodied Austin in his submission hold. Austin eventually lost consciousness - but never tapped out - and Hart won the match.
Austin's grit and willingness to be knocked out rather than give up helped give him his boost to the top as the anti-corporate everyman. Well, for a couple of years, anyway.
Undertaker did defeat Sid for the championship at this event, too, bringing in the "dark days" of the WWE.
If Wrestlemania 13 was on the cusp of WWE's hottest resurgence since the 80s, Wrestlemania XIV was right in the thick of the Attitude Era. The 14th edition is best remembered for truly ushering in the Austin era, as he stunned Michaels on his way to his first WWE championship. Also, the Undertaker defeated his brother Kane, who prior to the match, attacked an out of place Pete Rose. Yes, that Pete Rose.
In 1999, the granddaddy of them all took place in the city of Brotherly Love. While Austin meeting The Rock for the first of their three Wrestlemania matches may be what most remember. Those who were there can't forget seeing the great Gorilla Monsoon one last time at a WWE event before he passed.
Undertaker did defeat the Big Bossman that night, as well.
There was no 16 or XVI, but 2000. That was about how many McMahons were outside the ring for the main event Fatal Fourway match. Each participant in the championship match had a member of the McMahon family in their corner. It would take a backstabbing Vince McMahon to cost The Rock the match and to keep the title in the possession of his son-in-law Triple H.
Steve Austin turned his back on all his fans and Stone Cold the anti-corporate, boss-hating antihero, became Stone Cold, Vince McMahon's best friend. It was a moment many could not believe, but just days earlier, fans found out WWE bought WCW after years of battle, so anything can truly happen in wrestling. Undertaker defeated Triple H at this event.
Not since Wrestlemania in 1993 were fans able to cheer the name Hogan, but as the wrestling Super Bowl returned to the SkyDome in 2002, the man who is synonymous with the event returned. The crazy thing is that he was supposed to be booed. He wasn't. Hogan returned to the WWE one month earlier as a villain (or heel), but at Mania fans cheered every move the evil Hogan made, thus, turning the antagonist of the match into the protagonist.
Hogan told the AP: "When we hit the ring, 70,000 loyal people didn't want to hate Hulk Hogan," Hogan said. "Everybody kind of started to panic and I just said, 'Brother, stick with me and I'll get you through this."'
The Rock won, but Hogan won back his legacy to all his Hulkamaniacs. The Undertaker defeated Ric Flair (who also made his Wrestlemania return).
The two men who are arguably the reason why Wrestlemania is still going strong today, Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon wrestled out their differences at the 2003 event; actually, it was a street fight. Even with interference from a returning Rowdy Roddy Piper, Hogan defeated his boss. The Undertaker defeated Big Show and A-Train in a two on one handicap match. (Are you keeping these things in mind?)
Wrestlemania returned to Madison Square Garden for its 20th anniversary. The tagline for this edition was "Where it all begins again." Wrestlemania XX marked new beginnings as John Cena and Batista made their Wrestlemania debuts. It also marked an ending as The Rock wrestled his final Wrestlemania match and moved on to Hollywood. The Undertaker defeated his brother Kane for a second time at this event.
Wrestlemania followed The Rock in 2005 and "went Hollywood." Hulk Hogan even made a brief appearance. However the biggest moments came when the two wrestlers who made their Wrestlemania debuts the year prior, were able to grab the brass rings and walk out champion. Batista left the event World Heavyweight Champion and John Cena walked out WWE Champion. What did the Undertaker do? He defeated Randy Orton, the son of Cowboy Bob Orton who was part of the Wrestlemania I main event 20 years earlier.
Shawn Michaels, throughout the years, became known for stealing the show so much that he was dubbed Mr. Wrestlemania. At Wrestlemania 22, he took on the man who created Wrestlemania, Vince McMahon, who, yet again, put himself in the center of the wrestling ring. Michaels walked out the winner that night, as did the Undertaker in his match against Mark Henry.
Almost two decades after Wrestlemania occurred at Trump Plaza, Donald Trump decided to get even closer to the action and that's what he did at the 2006 event. He chose Bobby Lashley to represent him in a Battle of the Billionaires match. Lashley's opponent, Umaga, represented Vince McMahon. The losing billionaire would have his head shaved after the match. Donald's interesting hairstyle was intact after the bell rang to end the contest, as Lashley defeated Umaga, and Vince was still left a billionaire, but, now, he was a bald billionaire at Wrestlemania. Undertaker defeat Batista for the World Championship.
Not since Wrestlemania 2, when Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. T fought, was there a boxer vs. wrestler challenge at the grand spectacle. That all changed last year when boxer Floyd Mayweather tried to tame the 7-foot Big Show&and yes, he did.
However, the most memorable moment of the night came as "Mr. Wrestlemania" Shawn Michaels ended the historic career of the man who should be dubbed "Mr. Professional Wrestling" Ric Flair. After mouthing the words, "I'm sorry. I love you," Michaels executed his patent superkick and pinned the 16 time world champion in a career ending match. The next night on WWE Raw, Ric Flair got the sendoff he deserved. Woooo. Also, the Undertaker defeated Edge for the World Championship.
And now we have arrived at this year's granddaddy, which has all the glitz and pageantry of years' prior, including 1985.
Just like Wrestlemania 1, celebrities will make their presence known as Kid Rock, Nicole Scherzinger, and Mickey Rourke are scheduled to appear and, just like Wrestlemania 1, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka will take part. In their corner will be a still retired, but very energetic, Ric Flair.
Now, since you have all been taking notes, you should now know that the Undertaker is undefeated at Wrestlemania with a record of 16-0. He will put his undefeated streak on the line against the only man who surpasses him in seniority on the WWE roster, "Mr. Wrestlemania" himself Shawn Michaels.
Titles will be on the line as former mentor and student, Triple H and Randy Orton, battle for the WWE Championship and a love triangle gets heated as WWE General Manger Vickie Guerrero's husband Edge defends his World Championship against her new love interest the Big Show and a man who just wants the title John Cena.
Two brothers will go face to face as Jeff Hardy grapples with his sibling Matt.
The women wrestlers, known as Divas, will try to garner the honor of being called "Miss Wrestlemania" in a 25-Diva Battle Royal.
Ladders will be used in an 8-man Money in the Bank match as superstars try to climb a ladder to reach a briefcase which holds a championship match contract inside. Just like at Wrestlemania X, the ladder can be used for offense.
Two tag teams will clamor to be called the sole WWE Tag Team Champions.
Will there be another Hogan slamming Andre moment?
Will there be another Savage-Steamboat classic?
Will there be another Wrestlemania memory made?
We won't know until the lights go on bright, the music plays, and the bell rings on Sunday night.
For Vince McMahon and WWE, just like in 1985, it's time to make history, again.
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