The True Story of Wrestlemania

And my final piece for this Wrestlemania season. The Princess Rant on The True Story of Wrestlemania (Sort of) For those interested the matches included in this set are:

Wrestlemania: Hogan & Mr. T vs. Piper & Orndorff Wrestlemania III: Savage vs. Steamboat Wrestlemania III: Hogan vs. Andre Wrestlemania VII: Savage vs. Warrior Wresltemania X: Ladder Match: Razor vs. HBK Wrestlemania XIV: HBK vs. Austin Wrestlemania 2000: Tag Team Triangle Ladder Match Wrestlemania X-Seven: Vince McMahon vs. Shane McMahon
Wrestlemania X-8: The Rock vs. Hogan Wrestlemania XIX: Angle vs. Brock Wrestlemania 22: Cena vs. Triple H Every match includes the full lead-ins so pre-match interviews, ring introductions, Liberace dancing, you name it. We see a nice highlight montage of Wrestlemania moments from the beginning to the end. Edge, Triple H, Rey Mysterio, Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan all talk about the electricity and the legend of Wrestlemania. Vince talks about it being the biggest night of the year in the business.

Gene Okerlund said Wrestlemania took the sport that used to be in the national guard armories and turned it on its ear.

Wow Stu Saks got some speaking time on this one. I wasn’t sure if he was a real guy.

We go into a few clips and words about Vince building the organization from being a territorial base to a national one. Hulk Hogan said that Wrestlemania was something he didn’t understand and it was a little concerning because he was afraid it would ruin his territorial career.

Howard Finkel and Okerlund talk about how cable television helped the WWF reach out to celebrities and help the organization become a part of pop culture. They go into the Rock & Wrestling connection and the relationship the WWF had with MTV including the “War to Settle the Score”, which was the lead-in to Wrestlemania. Okerlund interviewing Andy Warhol about a wrestling card is one of those things that you wouldn’t believe unless you saw it.

Vince said the Wrestlemania idea sort of came from brainstorming during a vacation. Okerlund and Finkel add in their thoughts and said that the event was going to be a hybrid or wrestling and entertainment. Finkel takes credit for the name ‘Wrestlemania’ as he took it from ‘Beatlemania’, when The Beatles came to America. Hogan said Vince completely stacked the deck with celebrities for the first show with Liberace, Muhammad Ali, Billy Martin, The Rockettes, Cyndi Lauper, etc.

Saks said that the general consensus from the rest of the wrestling world was that they hoped it would fail because the company will go under. Gerry Brisco confirms that pretty much all the company’s funds were invested in this card. Vince says it was a huge gamble to do it with closed-circuit TV and they secured over 200 venues nationally and each had their own marketing and ticketing plans.

Hogan said Vince Sr. would have rolled over in his grave if he knew what his son was up to. Once he saw how it went down and what it accomplished, however, he would have been proud.

Highlights of the first Wrestlemania. I’ve mistakenly called this a super beefed-up house show in the past, but it wasn’t, it was a hell of an event.

Lawler said while wrestling purists might have turned their nose at the event anytime a wrestler could be put on the same level of a movie star it’s a good thing.
Vince said the numbers along the east coast were great and there were lot of parties that night. Had it not been successful he wouldn’t be doing this DVD right now. Claims over a million people watched this on closed-circuit. Vince said the success of the first Wrestlemania gave him the belief that anything was possible. Finkel said he knew this wasn’t going to be a one time thing.

We move to Wrestlemania 2 and Okerlund and Dick Ebersol both said the plan of having it at three locations wasn’t desirable. Ebersol says it was going to be tough to pull off without Vince at each sight.

(I want to note there is a lot of Ted Arcidi in the early footage. Some of him was lifting weights, some of him training Hulk Hogan. Just wanted to point that out.)

Basil DeVito, WWE’s senior advisor of business strategies, explains that each venue had a one-hour show and watched the other two hours on large screens.

(Is there a “full” version of Wrestlemania 2 that exists? Like full with interviews and full matches and everything? Because the only version I’ve ever seen is the Coliseum video and it’s awfully hacked)
William Perry talks about his experience and they show footage of his interview with Gene Okerlund and Okerlund cracking up the minute they cut the camera.
Chris Jericho says he watched his first Wrestlemania, which was Wrestlemania 2, on closed circuit in Winnipeg. The main concerns about closed circuit were if a satellite feed was lost. It happened around Pittsburgh and for that reason they showed the full card on Tuesday for free on an independent TV station. Devito said it was the first and last time. Ebersol said the whole production and execution were not up to Vince’s standards.

Onto Wrestlemania III and Vince’s big idea to break all attendance records. He wanted the biggest venue and the biggest crowd. He chose the Silverdome to make this happen and when approached DeVito admitted he was scared to death. To demand that sort of attendance you couldn’t just do it with celebrities along. There had to be a major attraction. Enter Andre vs. Hogan. DeVito said the celebrities were put off to the side a little because the match was going to be the selling point. DeVito says on camera that the week before the card they sold out 93,173 tickets so screw you Meltzer! DeVito was worried about the fan experience because 93,173 tickets are nice but if they can’t see anything what the f---? So they put up massive projection screens to make sure that even the bad seats were good seats.

Brisco and Finkel talked about how much fun the fans were having before the ticket booths open with all the tailgating and things that were normally reserved for football games.

And for my favorite part of this documentary as Vince gets legitimately emotional (I think, never know with that guy) talking about his dad and feeling his dad’s presence as he walked to the ring to kick off the start of Wrestlemania III (with Aretha Franklin singing “America the Beautiful” in the background). It’s a feeling that he’ll never forget and still thinks about today. (Personally I’ve always thought there was way too much time spent on trying to confirm a 93,173 number and not enough time spent on celebrating the accomplishment that was. That’s why this part is my favorite, not just Vince getting emotional, but the fact that the focus was where it should have been – Wrestlemania III was a landmark day for this business.) Cena says Hogan vs. Andre was the biggest match ever. Okerlund said the match had to happen and this was, in many ways, Andre’s swan song. Vince said Andre wanted everyone to watch the match and see what he was about to do. And Hogan was naturally scared, at least according to him. Vince’s evil smile when he talks about Hogan’s fears is pretty funny. Everyone talks about the match as the highlights run. They still treat the bodyslam like it was some exclusive moment but we all know Hogan slammed him in every match they had from like 1979 to 1981.

Vince said Andre was so proud of what he had done. Triple H said it was Hogan’s moments but it was just as much Andre’s moment. Brisco said Andre had officially passed the torch. Of course they fought 3 or 4 more times after that but whatever.

Jericho and Saks said the Steamboat-Savage match stole the show. Jericho said he watched the match so much he memorized it and used to simulate it with his friend. Rey Mysterio and finally the man himself, Ricky Steamboat, add their thoughts. Steamboat says the pop of 93,000 people was amazing. Jericho said that match was the watermark in terms of what he thought a wrestling match should be. Brisco said it’s proof that a match didn’t need to be the main event to steal the show and the fact that the match is still widely regarded 25 years later shows how greatness can stand the test of time.

They jump to Wrestlemania 23 just to spotlight their return to Detroit. This time they had 80,000+ at Ford Field and Aretha Franklin sang again.

Donald Trump talks about Vince approaching him with Hair vs. Hair match. Vince talks about his friendship with Trump. Trump says Vince’s level of detail is amazing and he’s not only a great promoter but a great businessman. Vince says that the real Trump is a very nice, humble man. Clips of Vince getting his hair cut is tremendous. Vince can be so entertaining he wants. Trump says Wrestlemania 23 had the highest buyrates and he reminds Vince of it often.

Now we jump back to Wrestlemania IV and V to talk about the early years of the Vince-Trump relationship. Trump says he had a ton of Mike Tyson fights in Atlantic City and thought Wrestlemania was as good, if not a little better, and he wanted a piece of the action at his casino. DeVito wasn’t sure if the casino crowd was a good fit so Trump suggested making a weekend event out of it. And that was how Wrestlemania’s fan fest and now called Fan Axxess began.

And onto the nuts and bolts of Wrestlemania IV – the tournament – and it’s just as boring hearing them talk about it today. The narrator says Wrestlemania IV was more of a financial success than Wrestlemania III and of course they doubled up and did Wrestlemania V there.

Time to move on and move out of the states. WWE/F always had a great presence in Canada and especially Toronto. With a fairly new, beautiful domed stadium in Toronto they had a natural fit.

Edge talks about attending Wrestlemania VI and the atmosphere surrounding Hogan-Warrior and the split crowd. Pat Patterson said Warrior cried like a baby after the match and was so humble.

Skip to Wrestlemania X-8 where Hogan stole the show again, this time with The Rock. Jericho and Triple H argued that Hogan-Rock should have been the Main Event and they didn’t want to go on last. Jericho said 26 (now 27) matches have went on last but some weren’t the Main Event. They talk about Hogan a little bit and Vince says that Hogan is the iconic figure of Wrestlemania. Triple H said Vince is the mastermind but Hogan was the figurehead. Jericho said Hogan built Wrestlemania and if not for him it wouldn’t exist now. Okerlund agrees and simply says Hogan was box office. Hogan, of course, pats himself on the back and talks about how awesome he is. But he also says that Wrestlemania is the foundation of his career. Saks says Hogan, Wrestlemania and McMahon wouldn’t exist or have the success they have had without each other.

Sgt. Slaughter relays a story that he told Vince how great Wrestlemania VI was and Vince talked about needed a new villain to headline Wrestlemania VII and Hogan didn’t want to work with no one else. They go into the Slaughter character of being an Iraqi sympathizer and it was heavy stuff. Slaughter explains all the death threats that were received and it was serious stuff as Vince had to get security to Slaughter’s house for his wife’s protection.

They talk about wanting to hold the card at the Los Angeles Coliseum and they looked at the security the NFL had for Super Bowl XXV because of the Gulf War. DeVito admits they had sold about 17,000 tickets at the time and with security being a huge concern (and expense) they made the quick decision to move to the L.A. Sports Arena. Kerwin Siflies said it was the right move, especially because it was a cold, rainy night in L.A.

On to Wrestlemania VIII and the hopes of the dream match between Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan and the big switcheroo. Saks wonders how they didn’t make that match. Brisco explains that the Hogan-Flair matches in the house shows didn’t have a good run and Ric Flair wasn’t accepted into the WWF/E like they expected. Okerlund says he would have still loved to see it. Okerlund says the components were there for greatness but things didn’t come together and it was a so-so-Wrestlemania (I totally disagree but whatever).

And Wrestlemania IX and turning some plain bleachers at Ceasar’s Palace into a Roman Coliseum (to this date it’s the best set they’ve ever done in my opinion, with the Orlando set for Wrestlemania XXIV being a super close second). They documented much of the progress of this event which allows us to see cool footage of Vince explaining to Shawn Michaels how the sound travels in an outdoor facility and Vince working with Lex Luger on his ring entrance. Yokozuna walking with his kid, Hulk Hogan and the Giant Gonzalez hanging out, Bret Hart asking where the girls were, and a whiteboard of the match card being displayed. All incredibly cool backstage stuff. Silfies talks about how much fun the show was. They acknowledge the double title switch at Wrestlemania IX and how it could have been political but the surprise factor outweighed everything.

Wrestlemania X at MSG and they talk about how MSG was the perfect venue to celebrate the 10th anniversary because it’s where it all started. Vince says Madison Square Garden says it all and it’s a special place for the WWE. It was only natural to go there for Wrestlemania XX and let’s completely ignore that Benoit stuff because it didn’t happen. Instead they focus on Cena’s first Wrestlemania and winning the U.S. Title and The Rock returning to Wrestlemania. Saks says Wrestlemania at MSG is a perfect fit because it’s the media capital. Although I don’t see Wrestlemania XXX being held there, I hope it is. Chris Jericho agrees on camera and says every 10th Wrestlemania should be held at the Garden.

Finkel talks about the expansion of the fan fest and how it started at Wrestlemania 10 and how they have tried to make it the ultimate fan experience. Triple H says Wrestlemania is now a week-long fan experience much like the Super Bowl and it makes sense because Wrestlemania is the Super Bowl of the industry. It gives the superstars a chance to meet the fans, extend the brand, do a ton of charity events and give the whole event for of a vacation feel.

Jericho talks about Hall of Fame adding even more to the overall experience. Finkel says having the Hall of Fame during the Wrestlemania weekend is very prestigious. It’s another great thing for the fans and the legends that have a chance to talk about their experiences in the industry. Silfies explains that it has become the most memorable experience of the weekend.

Moving on to Lawrence Taylor stepping in the ring. And I have to admit LT really earned his half million dollars because he didn’t suck in the ring and he was EVERYWHERE for the promotional stuff. Vince gives credit to the late Bam Bam for helping make that match what it was and taking advantage of the opportunity to headline the card. Saks says that Taylor took it seriously and his efforts were a big reason why they pulled it off.

Wrestlemania XII and the Iron Man match. Patterson says that Hart and Michaels were the only two guys in this era that could go 60 minutes and he was happy that they pulled off the match he expected.

Wrestlemania 13 and the WWF/E was reeling as WCW was dominating the ratings. The organization needed a major spark of energy. Enter “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Brisco says the Hart-Austin match was completely different than anything they had done before at Wrestlemania. It was a perfect mixture of hardcore and old school and the new generation. Edge said that the match with Hart started the Austin phenomenon and the image of Austin fighting out of the sharpshooter with the blood streaming from his face was the start of the new era. Austin led Wrestlemania and the WWF/E into a new place. Triple H said Stone Cold helped Wrestlemania get a second life. He became was Hogan was in the beginning as the face of Wrestlemania. Lawler says that Austin surpassed what Hogan was at Wrestlemania (Hmmm I don’t know about that one). Jericho said Austin rescued Wrestlemania (I agree with that) and Saks adds that Mike Tyson was a huge part of that. DeVito says the investment is Tyson was enormous (I’ve heard close to $2 million). Devito thought Tyson was a bad idea and it was too much money but Vince explained simply “how can we explain this business to grow if more people don’t see it and [Tyson] was a way for more people to it.”

(And Vince was right, Tyson boosted TV ratings and much like LT, Tyson was everywhere and willing to do everything to help promotion.)

Vince said the publicity was great for the brand and if it accomplished nothing else that was a success. Jericho said Tyson’s appearance alone created a buzz even though he was going to be in a non-physical role. Saks said Tyson’s aura of invincibility wasn’t quite broken yet so he drew a ton of attention. HHH agrees with that sentiment and he was still one of the more recognizable guys in sports. Watching Tyson do crop chops (horribly) is still hilarious.

Jericho said the Austin-Michaels match was the kick start the WWE needed (and the beginning of the end for WCW). Saks said it changed the direction of the promotion.

The talking heads talk about celebrities a bit. Jesse Ventura even chimes in and says it’s like going to a Los Angeles Lakers game and it gives the fans a feeling like they are at a major event that only a few people can get into. And we get some clips of the various celebrities and their involvement. Mike Tyson attempts to speak English with limited success. Lawler talks about Pete Rose’s involvement and his reoccurring appearances. They agree that celebrities will always be a part of Wrestlemania because that’s how things got started. And we get into the first encounter of the Rock-Austin and then the tag team ladder matches at Wrestlemania 2000 and Wrestlemania X-Seven. Edge admits that they raised the bar too high and just says that everyone wants the steal the show at Wrestlemania because people never forget it.

By 2001 the WWE bought out WCW and had taken in many assets from ECW as well. Edge said him spearing Jeff Hardy from a ladder was the snapshot of his career. They actually acknowledge the HHH-Undertaker match at Wrestlemania X-Seven. They talk about Wrestlemania XIX in Seattle and Austin said that the OMR on his jacket stood for “One More Round” and if he got through that match he was done. And he was. They add in some great footage of Austin limping out of the arena with his in-ring career now behind him.
Jericho talks about his match with HBK and Jericho says it’s the one night where you can him a timeless match. He says you can have the greatest match at a house show and it’s great for those thousand people. You can have the greatest match at RAW and it lasts a little longer, but Wrestlemania is where the classics happen.

HBK talks about Wrestlemania and it’s everything good about life and the business. It is very much known as his show and he credits the guys he’s been in the ring with to help him. He spotlights the ladder match and the iron man match as the two that are the most special to him. Jericho says Michaels’ ideas and the chances he takes are part of his genetic code and he was born to be the star of Wrestlemania. Triple H says you put an HBK match at any spot on the Wrestlemania card and he will steal the show. Cena says his match with Michaels at Wrestlemania 23 was a special moment. Randy Orton says HBK is the “match of the year” man and most times that match is at Wrestlemania.

They talk about Wrestlemania’s rotation of New York, L.A. and Chicago but the day after Wrestlemania in the Staples Center Vince said he wanted to go to stadiums after their Wrestlemania XXII run in Chicago. Big Show, Jericho, Ted DiBiase Sr., Edge and Sheamus all agree that Wrestlemania should be on the biggest stage possible. Cena, however, disagrees and likes the smaller venues and says the crowd in Chicago for Wrestlemania XXII seemed 10x louder than the following year in Detroit at Ford Field. HHH says it’s a challenge for performers to understand how sound travels and guys couldn’t feed off the crowd energy the same. Edge agrees and said it affected his psyche at Wrestlemania X-Seven. Jericho says whatever problems the performers have are outweighed by the fact that 70,000 people are coming to a wrestling event and it’s about them and their desires.

They flip back to Wrestlemania 21 and the Hollywood stuff. Jericho says he and Brian Gerwitz created the Money in the Bank ladder match and it worked out because it allowed more guys on the show. Jericho says everyone deserves to be on the show and they do everything possible from Battle Royales to 12-man tag matches to get everyone on the card.

Jericho talks about his Wrestlemania moment – him closing the show with Triple H. Orton says his moment was Wrestlemania XX because that’s where his father helped start things 20 years before at Madison Square Garden. Edge mentions Wrestlemania 2000 and winning the titles with his great friend Christian.

And they talk about Cena and they put him in the same room with Hogan and Austin in terms of being a crucial part of Wrestlemania.

Vince talks about his choice of using America the Beautiful over the National Anthem because he thinks it’s a more beautiful song (I agree).

And they get into the music. Motorhead, P.O.D, Saliva, etc. etc. (I’m wearing down guys). We get into Wrestlemania XXIV and how it was moved from the uber small Amway Arena to the Florida Citrus Bowl. Vince didn’t know how they could go from an 80K venue in Detroit to a 14K venue in Orlando. Good point. Problem with the stadium is that it’s a dump (it still is, a total POS facility). Jericho agreed. Silfies said that Jason Robinson and his crew put MILLIONS into building sets and decorating the place. (I remember seeing in that Wednesday and I was flabbergasted, it was so cool). Robinson admits that might have lost money but the value they brought to the city is worth 10x the box office.

They go into the Floyd Mayweather-Big Show match. Moving on (I stop to see Bert Sugar’s commentary here and I pause to say Rest in Peace to the boxing historian).

25th Anniversary and Edge says he struggled following Shawn-Undertaker because the fans were burned out. Jericho says the best match of all time in Shawn-Undertaker I and 75% of that was the match and 25% was because it was at Wrestlemania. Jericho says the buildup was worthy of the match because one guy always steals the show and the other guy never loses. Orton said Wrestlemania and Undertaker goes hand in hand. Edge says everyone has a part at Wrestlemania and being the main event has changed because there are 4 or 5 great matches but Undertaker’s streak will always dominate the conversation. Jericho says he doesn’t believe Undertaker wants to end his career without losing. Vince says he doesn’t if the streak will ever be broken.

Wrestlemania XXVI saw the event crack the 1 million mark in total live fans. They talk about the impact the event makes on local communities. Vince said he doesn’t look back and after Wrestlemania happens he just wants to focus on the next one. Dick Ebersol says it’s the rare event that has been created in the last 30 years that sticks. Everyone gives their final thoughts.

Bottom Line: It’s basically a 2-hour marketing piece for advertisers but you know, f--- it, I love Wrestlemania. I LOVE WRESTLEMANIA. And if anything deserves two hours of blow job treatment it’s Wrestlemania. It’s the reason many of us are fans. There’s nothing wrong or markish about loving Wrestlemania and looking forward to Wrestlemania every year. It’s a beautiful thing and after 28 years these guys deserve to pat each other on the back because they continue to try to make it better each year and give us a reason to invest.