This is the biggest week of the year for wrestling fans as Vince McMahon’s titan of a company, WWE hosts its 33rd annual supershow, WrestleMania from Orlando, Florida. While I know Geeks of Doom doesn’t always cover wrestling; (I’d quit my job and write full time if it did), one cannot deny the crossover appeal of pro wrestling, pop culture, and geek-based entertainment.
This is an industry that has spawned its own film company, and created some of the biggest stars in the world. Look no further than the highest grossing star in Hollywood right now, Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock. The Rock headlined wrestling’s Super Bowl 5 times and featured in some of the events greatest matches. Last year in Dallas, Texas at Cowboys Stadium, they set an indoor attendance record with 100,000 packed in, and wouldn’t you know who showed up with a flamethrower to commemorate the event… it was The Rock.
WrestleMania was Vince McMahon’s grand wager in 1985, designed from the beginning as a blend of entertainment and sports, the first show in NYC’s Madison Square Garden relied heavily on celebrity involvement. At the first show were Muhammad Ali, Liberace, Yankee skipper Billy Martin, and Mr. T even wrestled in the main event. Despite its success for the then World Wrestling Federation (WWF), it wasn’t until WrestleMania III two years later in Detroit’s Pontiac Silverdome where wrestling officially boomed, with an announced then-record crowd of 93,000 plus (although it’s likely closer to 65-70K). That event happened on March 29th, 1987, 30 years ago yesterday.
So why was WrestleMania such a big event, and why bring it up on a geek-centric website 30 years later? Just take a look at the three biggest matches on the show.
One of the highlights of the early stages of the spectacle saw the “last match” of renowned grappler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Piper was leaving the WWF and wrestling for good (or so he thought) and seeking the greener pastures of Hollywood. A year later he starred as Nada, the iconic nomad who stumbled onto an alien invasion in John Carpenter’s cult classic, They Live. Piper appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, many low budget and B-level, and mostly in the horror genre.
One of the main matches was for the Intercontinental Title, and showcased Ricky Steamboat challenging the “Macho Man” Randy Savage. The match lives on as one of the best pure bouts in the event’s history. Savage, before his death in 2011, was a cultural phenomenon. Known the world over for his maniacal voice and mannerisms, he was the longtime commercial spokesperson for Slim Jim. Ask anyone in their mid-20s and beyond about Slim Jim, and they’ll likely give you one of Savage’s slogans; “Snap into a Slim Jim!” or “Dig it!” Savage starred as cagefighter Bonesaw Mcgraw in Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man back in 2002, and lent his talents to many other shows, both live action and animated.
The main event of WrestleMania III featured wrestling’s two biggest stars, Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. While both have a spot on wrestling’s Mt. Rushmore, Hogan is almost as synonymous with entertainment as he is wrestling, especially in the past decade, when he had his own reality series Hogan Knows Best on VH1. Three years before the inaugural event, he appeared opposite Sly Stallone and Mr. T in Rocky III as Thunderlips and after his main event with the 500-pound giant, he went to star in many feature films including No Holds Barred (1989), Suburban Commando (1991), Mr. Nanny (1993), and the Thunder in Paradise series. Andre the Giant forever endeared himself to generations playing Fezzik in Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride (1987). Author William Goldman reportedly admitted to writing the part with Andre in mind, and there is currently a biographical film and a documentary about him in the works.
The links between the world of wrestling and entertainment are unending. This year, as WrestleMania III turns 30, the event hosts more celebrity involvement. On Sunday, Al Roker is acting as special ring announcer, and there will be a musical performance by Pitbull and others. Though not announced, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been at each of the past six events, so don’t rule that out.
WrestleMania XXXIII is this Sunday, April 2nd at 7:00pm ET on PPV and the WWE Network. WrestleMania III, like all past events, are on the WWE Network, available through the WWE Channel for $9.99 a month.
Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant – WWE Championship Match: WrestleMania III
Hulk Hogan defends the WWE Championship against Andre the Giant at WrestleMania.