I really didn’t think that I’d ever see the day where I had zero interest in WrestleMania, but that day has come. This isn’t going to be a giant putdown of the show nor the current WWE product, it just isn’t for me. Plenty of people still enjoy it. Instead, I want to celebrate what brought us to this point of WrestleMania 38. Personally, I feel that there were moments of brilliance in the show through WrestleMania 31. The spectacle is unmatched and that’s only enhanced when combined with a great match, a great story, or even both. The hype of the show has, for the most part, always been very real. There’s a reason that fans travel from around the globe to the event. As much as some fans would like you to think that it’s the piggyback shows and events that go on that weekend that draws those fans, it isn’t. It’s purely the name WrestleMania.
As I admitted above, I could point to entertaining editions of the show even within the last decade. That being said, the true spirit of WrestleMania lives within the first six. When I first started encountering wrestling discussion on the internet nearly thirty years ago, I was shocked as to the little regard that those “fans” held these shows in. They would take whatever “five star” match from each show that they could and disregard the rest. Honestly, it’s the same kind of toxicity that’s killed wrestling fandom today. Nonetheless, if this is your mindset, stop reading now. My kind of wrestling fan is the type that appreciates The Big Boss Man versus Akeem as much as Steamboat – Savage. This is the fan that loves every second from the opening announcements to the final three count. The look and feel of the arena is as important and defining to you as the individual superstars. That’s you, isn’t it?
Everything starts somewhere. For the World Wrestling Federation there was no better launching pad for their signature event than Madison Square Garden. While watching today you can sense that even the stars themselves know that something big is happening. When you can still get often-jaded wrestlers to admit that nearly forty years later, it was obviously a big deal even then. The fact that major mainstream stars of the time were involved and that others came out just to watch showed that the boom had begun. This is the “Rock ‘N Wrestling” WrestleMania for sure. While the look may be underwhelming to some, it captures the birth of a phenomenon coupled with the gritty “New York wrestling” feel that the WWF was built on.
WrestleMania 2 is when the “super show” aspect started to appear with the never-again-duplicated factor of having the show emanate from three different venues. The celebrities were tripled to ensure that each location (New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, respectively) would each have their share. Many have doubted the impact of the true main event, Hulk Hogan versus King Kong Bundy, in hindsight. I think it was perfectly adequate for the time, with this being the first “Hogan against a monster” main event to be seen on this grand of a scale. While Roddy Piper was certainly one of, if not Hogan’s greatest villain, the grotesque Bundy brought a different sort of menace to Hulkamania that year. Throwing the company’s biggest villain in Piper against their biggest available celebrity in Mr. T into a boxing match certainly shows that even from the beginning, the spectacle could at times triumph over any other booking decision. The “What The World Has Come To” tag line from the show was a memorable prototype for a similar slogan which would arrive just about two years later and define a generation.
So much has been said about WrestleMania III, but it truly was the peak of the ‘80s wrestling boom. The surge of a decade later was certainly as big, but it didn’t have anything near the heart and charm of the ‘80s. By this time everyone knew that WrestleMania was something special. I often point to a fun, but often overlooked, little Coliseum Video segment featuring Gorilla Monsoon and Lord Alfred Hayes. It’s a simple little scene discussing the advantages of home video, but the two veterans talking about the first two WrestleMania’s and the one about to begin is a lot of fun. It’s small, every day banter like that which is missing from today’s presentation and commentating. Monsoon and Jesse Ventura peppered their commentary with that very flavor, thus cementing them as my favorite WWF team for life.
I’ve often said that if you’re a fan of WrestleMania IV, we’re automatically friends. I still mean that. Of all of the classic WrestleMania events and WWF content that saw hate in the early days of the Internet, it was the 1988 edition that seemed to garner the most hate. It ranks as my second favorite of them all. While I’m not a boxing aficionado, that sport truly knows how to make an event feel special; it’s where “big fight feel” comes from. Maybe it was the Atlantic City setting, but WrestleMania IV had that feel. To this day there are those who are bitter that Savage – Steamboat didn’t happen again here. It’s time to move beyond that. Are some of the matches short? Sure. It’s a tournament. It’s no stretch to think that timed matches in a tournament where the biggest title in the game is up for grabs would cause frantic action. The whole presentation feels different from anything else the WWF has ever done and is honestly refreshing. It also feels like the most “eighties” WrestleMania to me. I don’t know that I can quite put that feeling into words, although this is the show that can be summed up in the company’s slogan at the time, “What The World Is Watching.” In a company that’s had countless catchphrases over the years, to me this was the best. Epic yet simple. Though we were a bit past the peak of the ‘80s wrestling boom, you DID know a ton of people who were watching the World Wrestling Federation at the time. Adding to the fun, I should mention that this is really when the extracurricular activities of WrestleMania truly kicked in, thanks in part to the show being held at Trump Plaza. Superstar appearances, meals and the 5K race were all created to make a big wrestling show into a family event.
WrestleMania V does have a lot of the uniqueness that it’s predecessor had the year before, but I’ve never been quite as attracted to it for whatever reason. Still, “The Mega Powers Explode!” was enough to excite the many fans who were still fervently following. I will admit that the crowd does seem a bit more into this show than the previous year, but there’s just something missing that keeps V from being as memorable to me as IV. Nevertheless, both of these Atlantic City WrestleMania shows are chalk full of the legends that so many of us grew up with. I've eaten up the many fan recollections of attending these shows that have popped up over the years. There was even a gallery of photos that showed amazing candid shots of many of the stars in and around Trump Plaza on both of the weekends. Sadly, they seem to have vanished. (If anyone has saved those photos or knows where I can view them, please reach out to me.) Accounts from The Blue Meanie and Lance Storm can also be found on their respective sites and social media. While I disagree on a lot of wrestling philosophy with the latter ECW original (though we both loved the Gorilla and Jesse team), his photos from WrestleMania IV are an absolute joy if you love the event as much as I do.
Finally, we get to what is and will always be my favorite WrestleMania. It has a main event that was an absolute clash of titans. It has Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire. It has ring carts. It even has Mary Tyler Moore. WrestleMania VI flows like fine wine. The transition from the crowd cheering Robert Goulet's rendition of “Oh, Canada” to the opening strains of “Do The Bird” as the opening match commences is impeccable. Can I be so bold as to insert a chef’s kiss here? The WWF production was absolutely on fire and this show honestly looked even more polished and glossy than many standard sporting events of the day. It also feels like a transition of the times. Of course Hogan losing was a big deal in that sense, but the list of stars featured spanning from Andre the Giant, Randy Savage, Rhodes and Piper but also including the likes of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels is really amazing to think about.
The photos accompanying these Mania memories are what tie this whole thing into the theme of this blog, each picture being a mix of promotional materials. Some of the most inquired about items in my entire collection are the WrestleMania press kits. They are not easy to come by and, like most of my favorite items, are rather undocumented. Keep all the bland prototype figures that you want, give me these pieces of history any day.
As for this year, I will not watch. I didn’t watch last year and sought out just a few matches in the years prior. Still, I’m very happy that the tradition lives on. Perhaps some day the product will veer back around to the presentation that I enjoy. Again, there is plenty of talent to go around and probably always will be. For those of you who still faithfully watch, I do hope it's an amazing event full of great matches and moments.
And remember, The Iron Sheik is scheduled to make it to the ring this year. If you know, you know.