On March 31, 1985, an event that would forever change the wrestling business took place. It was on this night that the very first WrestleMania event took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The commercial and financial success of this event propelled the WWF/E into the top wrestling promotion in the world.
After WWF/E CEO Vince McMahon had seen the success of NWA's Starrcade Pay-Per-View event, he wanted to start his own with WrestleMania. In order to put over the event with fans, he garnered a contract with MTV which began formation of music and wrestling called "Rock 'N Wrestling" connection.
One of the leaders in storyline against the new connection was "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. On his Piper's Pit show, he insulted those associated with connection which led to him having a bitter feud with WWF Champion Hulk Hogan. Piper recruited "Cowboy" Bob Orton as his bodyguard, and was managing Paul Orndorff until they began teaming up. Hogan brought in Mr. T, who was legitimate bodyguard, into the storyline. After Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka was hit over the head with a coconut by Piper in the famous Piper' Pit segment, he was added to the match as the manager for Hogan and Mr. T. So the main event was set as Hogan and Mr. T with Snuka in their corner took on Piper and Orndorff with Orton in their corner.
In the opening match of the evening, long-time great Tito Santana easily dispatched The Executioner by beating him with a figure-four leglock. Santana would not be done on this night.
In what was the shortest match on record in WrestleMania, King Kong Bundy squashed S.D.(Special Delivery) Jones with crushing in the turnbuckle followed by the big splash which ended the match in nine seconds according to WWE which was actually longer in time.
Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat had just signed with the WWF/E in early 1985 and adopted the new dragon gimmick. It took him less than five minutes to beat his opponent Matt Borne. Steamboat had better days ahead, and Borne wouldn't appear at WM again until WrestleMania IX as Doink the Clown.
In a match that went over 12 minutes in length, David Sammartino along with his dad Bruno, faced Brutus Beefcake with Johnny Valiant in his corner. The action too place on the arena floor twice between the two, and the match ended in a double countout at its conclusion. Bruno would continue to wrestle, but his son David never was pushed again. Beefcake would pushed as a tag team wrestler not long after this match.
The first ever defense of a title in WM history took place as Intercontinental Champion Greg "The Hammer" Valentine faced the challenger, the Junkyard Dog. Valentine cheated with his feet on the ropes to pin JYD to seemingly win the match. But Valentine's nemesis Tito Santana came out to protest the cheating to the referee which led to the match being restarted. JYD then won by countout, but not the title because it couldn't change hands that way. Valentine and Santana would face for the IC title later while the JYD was given a push by the promotion later in the year.
The WWF/E Tag Team titles were on the line next as the U.S. Express of Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo with Captain Lou Albano defended against the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff with Freddie Blassie. Blassie's famous cane was used as a weapon by the Iron Sheik on Windham, and Sheik got the pin for his team. This marked the first time in WM history that a title changed his hands. The U.S. Express would win the titles back three months later.
In a feud that had gone on for nearly two years before took place with a special stipulation. Andre The Giant faced Big John Studd with Bobby Heenan in a Body Slam Challenge for $15,000 where the winner had to slam his opponent to win. If Andre lost, he would also have to retire. Prior to this match, Studd along with partner Ken Patera cut the long hair of Andre after knocking him out in the ring. Andre saved his career by slamming Studd to the mat for the win and the money. In a famous scene, Andre took the money and threw it to the crowd looking on until Heenan took the money bag from him. Andre would make very notable WM appearances later as Studd's career was winding down until returning in 1989 as a face where he won the second Royal Rumble match.
In a match that epitomized the "Rock 'N Wrestling" connection days, WWF Women's Champion Leilani Kai with the Fabulous Moolah defended the title against Wendi Richter with famous recording artist Cyndi Lauper in her corner. Kai won the title from Richter at MTV's War To Settle The Score. Richter had ended Moolah's long reign as WWF Champion(WWF doesn't recognize the losses from Moolah which gave her a run of over 20 years as champion) on the first MTV special: The Brawl That Ends It All. Lauper was very well-known at the time and her face was all over MTV as well. Richter won the belt back after reversing a flying body press into a pin.
Richter would later encounter a contract dispute with McMahon which led to a screw-job finish in November that year with Moolah winning the belt back. Until recently, Richter had no contact with McMahon or with Moolah before her death. The future of the women's division would later take a big hit with Richter out of the picture.
Finally, the main event of the evening had arrived as Piper, Orndorff, and Orton came down to the ring in a chorus of boos after Piper's bagpipe music hit. Hogan, Mr. T, and Snuka came out next to the delight of the capacity crowd. Iconic and popular boxer Muhammad Ali was the special guest referee for the main event, and even punched Piper at one point in the match to restore order after both teams couldn't be separated. Eventually, Orton's use of his "loaded" cast accidentally hit Orndorff after attempting to knockuout Hogan. Hogan pinned Orndorff to win the main event match. Piper punched Pat Patterson, the second referee, after being disgusted with the outcome.
To date, this is the only time the World Championship was not defended on the show as Hogan would hold it for another three years. Piper would face Mr. T in a boxing match at WrestleMania II. Orndorff began his face turn after this match because of being blamed by Piper and Orton for the loss.
According to Hogan's autobiography, Mr. T nearly didn't make it for the main event because security wouldn't let his group of people into the arena. Hogan calmed him down and he kept him from walking away from the match which might have hurt the franchise because of the mainstream popularity he had at the time.
Other special guests for the first WrestleMania were former baseball manager Billy Martin(as guest ring announcer for the main event) and Liberace with the Rockettes. The announcing team was Gorilla Monsoon with Jesse "The Body" Ventura. "Mean" Gene Okerlund sang the "The Star-Spangled Banner" and shared the interviewing with Lord Alfred Hayes. Howard Finkel was the ring announcer.
Over 19,000 fans and one million viewers on close-circuit television witnessed this event that would forever change the wrestling business. McMahon had spent a lot of money to overtake his competition with a concept that would have either made the WWF/E flourish or go bankrupt. The entertainment aspect going away from technical wrestling had finally come full circle as the promotion became the most dominant in the world. Though many have criticized his use of over-the-top and edgy storylines that took place later on, one can't deny his vision of the franchise that impacted the business like no other.
WrestleMania has made the careers of many stars over the years, and several celebrities have taken part in the franchise to give it more appeal to a wider range of fans. While the wrestling business is scripted, no one could have written out how successful this event was that put the WWF/E over all the rest of the competition. Combined with vision, determination, and the willingness to change, WrestleMania will hold its place as a ground-breaking event that forever changed the business of wrestling like no other. Whether you like wrestling or not, one can't deny that WrestleMania is one of the most popular events around.
Thanks for viewing, and I hope you enjoyed today's history flashback!