1980s wrestling boom

The 1980s wrestling boom (sometimes referred to as the 2nd Golden Age of Wrestling) was a surge in the popularity of professional wrestling in the United States of America throughout the 1980s. The expansion of cable television and pay-per-view, coupled with the efforts of promoters such as Vince McMahon, saw professional wrestling shift from a system controlled by numerous regional companies to a system dominated by two nationwide companies: Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and McMahon's World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment). The decade also saw a considerable decline in the power of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), a cartel which had until then domineered the wrestling landscape, and in the efforts to sustain belief in the verisimilitude of wrestling.

Although many individuals were associated with the 1980s wrestling boom, the most well-known was perhaps World Wrestling Federation mainstay Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea.

History

The early 1980s were characterized by a scramble for cable television access, with Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW) the first NWA member to gain a timeslot. In May 1984, the owners of GCW, Jack and Gerry Brisco, sold their controlling interest in GCW to Vince McMahon. On July 14, 1984 - "Black Saturday" - WWF programming began airing in the WTBS timeslot formerly occupied by GCW programming. The WWF programming was not successful, and in May 1985, McMahon sold the WCW name and the WTBS timeslot to rival promoter Jim Crockett, Jr.

First steps at going national

The first step in McMahon's attempt to go national was to sign American Wrestling Association superstar Hulk Hogan, who, due to his appearance in "Rocky III" (Hogan had been fired from the WWF by Vince McMahon, Sr. over his disapproval of Hogan appearing in "Rocky III") had a national recognition that few other wrestlers could manage. To play Hogan's nemesis, he signed both North Carolina badboy Roddy Piper and Jesse Ventura (although Ventura never wrestled in the WWF at that point due to the lung disorder that caused his retirement). It has long been a point of contention whether McMahon could have gone national without Hogan's presence, or vice versa.

Other promoters were furious when McMahon began syndicating WWF television shows to television stations across the United States in areas outside of the WWF's traditional Northeastern stronghold. McMahon also began selling videotapes of WWF events outside the Northeast through his Coliseum Video distribution company. He effectively broke the unwritten law of regionalism around which the entire industry had been based. To make matters worse, McMahon would use the income generated by advertising, television deals, and tape sales to poach talent from rival promoters. Wrestling promoters nationwide were now in direct competition with the WWF.

Vince McMahon stated in the documentary "The UnReal Story of Professional Wrestling" that he didn't think his father would have ever sold him the company if he knew what he was planning to do: "He probably would have said, Vinny, what are you doing? You're gonna wind up at the bottom of a river," explained McMahon, Jr. The younger McMahon held a bold ambition: the WWF would tour nationally. However, such a venture required huge capital investment - one that placed the WWF on the verge of financial collapse.

Going national

In a bid to create a nationwide promotion, Crockett absorbed several other NWA members into a single entity known as Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP). In 1986, he renamed JCP "NWA World Championship Wrestling". He would acquire several more promotions, including some non-NWA members, in the following year. By late 1987, Crockett's ownership of so many NWA affiliates, coupled with his continued presidency of the NWA, gave him considerable power.

However, Crockett's spending had left WCW indebted. Crockett's attempt to generate revenue with the broadcast of the highly promoted Starrcade pay-per-view in late 1987 was thwarted by Vince McMahon, who held his "Survivor Series" pay-per-view on the same day. A similar situation arose in January 1988, when Crockett's "Bunkhouse Stampede" pay-per-view was counter-programmed by the inaugural "Royal Rumble", which aired on the USA Network. On November 21, 1988, Crockett was obliged to sell WCW to Ted Turner. Under the ownership of Turner and the presidency of Eric Bischoff, WCW would resume competition with McMahon's WWF in the 1990s.

Besides Hulkamania and the emergence of Wrestlemania, another legacy of the 1980s was the destruction of the regional territory system which was in place for pro wrestling for Canada, USA and even Latin America. Many fans especially those in the Deep South were angered by the collapse of their local wrestling promotions. Some of the more well known promotions in Canada and USA included WCCW in Dallas, Championship Wrestling from Florida, World Wrestling Association (Indianapolis), St. Louis Wrestling Club and Maple Leaf Wrestling.

In the late 1980s, many fans in the Deep South disappointed in the collapse of regional territories turned to WCW which was based in Atlanta. Starrcade and Great American Bash, both of which made its debut in regional territories in the Deep South now came under the control of WCW. Starrcade started up in Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling while Great American Bash started up in Jim Crockett Promotions.

Thanks to the collapse of regional territories across Canada and USA, the WWF was now able to sign the best wrestling talent across both countries. Other than Hulk Hogan, the WWF eventually signed stars from other promotions such as Roddy Piper, Dusty Rhodes, Bret Hart, and the British Bulldog. The 1980s also had success in the growth and popularity of the tag team division. Some of the best tag teams included the likes of Demolition, Legion of Doom, British Bulldogs, Hart Foundation and The Rockers.

The Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection

While Crockett created a nationwide company, Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation would go on to a period of then-unprecedented success. The success was in part precipitated by the "Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection", a period of cooperation and cross-promotion between the WWF and elements of the music industry. After WWF employee Lou Albano appeared in the music video accompanying Cyndi Lauper's single "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" in 1983, Lauper joined the WWF in the following year, attracting a degree of mainstream attention. [ cite web |url=http://www.onlineworldofwrestling.com/columns/misc/jakehamar04.html |title=Understanding The Mystique Of Captain Lou Albano
accessdate=2007-04-05 |author=Hamir, Jake |authorlink= |coauthors= |date=2006-03-15 |year= |month= |format= |work= |publisher=ObssessedWithWrestling.com |pages= |language= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote=
]

The connection between Lauper and the WWF continued with the video for the song "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough". The short and extended versions of the video include appearances by such notable WWF personalities as "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Captain Lou Albano, Nikolai Volkoff, André the Giant, the Iron Sheik, the Fabulous Moolah, Wendi Richter and more.

On January 3, 1984, Hulk Hogan returned to the WWF. Hogan had been fired from the company by Vince McMahon, Sr. for appearing in the film "Rocky III" (seen by the elder McMahon as a breach of both etiquette and kayfabe), but was welcomed back to the company by Vince McMahon. McMahon was able to parlay the mainstream popularity Hogan had gained from his role in "Rocky III" into an even greater level of celebrity. On September 14, 1985, "Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n Wrestling", an animated television series starring the character of Hulk Hogan, premiered on CBS. The series ran until June 6, 1987, in the process expanding Hogan's young fanbase. [http://www.tv.com/hulk-hogans-rock-n-wrestling/show/3843/summary.html?full_summary=1&tag=showspace_links;full_summary Hulk Hogan's Rock 'N' Wrestling] ]

The road to WrestleMania and beyond

To counter the NWA's primary supercard, "Starrcade", the WWF created its flagship show, "WrestleMania", held at Madison Square Garden and available on 135 closed-circuit networks. The future of not just McMahon's national experiment, but also the WWF, the NWA, and the whole industry came down to the success or failure of McMahon's groundbreaking sports entertainment concept. "WrestleMania" was a pay-per-view extravaganza (most areas of the country saw "WrestleMania" available on closed-circuit television) that McMahon marketed as being the Super Bowl of professional wrestling.

The concept of a wrestling super card was nothing new in North America; the NWA had been running "Starrcade" a few years prior to "WrestleMania", and even the elder McMahon had marketed large Shea Stadium cards viewable in closed circuit locations. However, since McMahon wanted to take the WWF to the mainstream, he tried to target to a public who were not regular wrestling fans. He drew the interest of the mainstream media by inviting celebrities such as Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper to participate in the event. MTV, in particular, featured a great deal of WWF coverage and programming at this time.

The show was a huge success with Hulk Hogan, who won in the main event, going on to appear on the cover of "Sports Illustrated". After the swimsuit issue, it was the magazine's best seller. Professional wrestling began to become mainstream, thanks, in large part, to the appeal of Hulkamania among children. Large television networks took wrestling into their weekly programming, including "Saturday Night's Main Event", premiering on NBC in 1985.

"WrestleMania"'s popularity and ratings appeal made wrestling a television mainstay. Professional wrestling, now synonymous with the WWF, began to throw more grandiose matches. In 1985, the first-ever pay-per-view wrestling event, "The Wrestling Classic", took place. The concept, a one-night tournament, was a huge success and would become a regular event, titled "King of the Ring". Later, Pat Patterson would invent the "Royal Rumble match", another grand invention showcasing the most talent.

WWF held its most successful event, "WrestleMania III", in 1987. It achieved the largest recorded attendance for a live indoor sporting event in North America. The main event, where Hogan scoop-slammed and defeated André the Giant, helped the show go down in wrestling history as one of the greatest ever produced and made the WWF's popularity soar.

In February, 1988 Hogan and André faced each other in a special WrestleMania III rematch on the Friday night prime time spin-off of Saturday Night's Main Event, titled "The Main Event" which saw Hogan lose to André by manipulation of "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase. After the match André handed the title to DiBiase as promised, resulting in the title being vacated and setting the stage for a WWF Championship tournament at WrestleMania IV. Also, that same night Randy Savage made his official transition as a face in his match against The Honky Tonk Man, following a previous altercation The Hart Foundation and The Honky Tonk Man, this eventually struck a friendship with Savage and Hogan.

At WrestleMania IV a special WWF Championship tournament was held and resulted in Randy Savage winning, with Elizabeth and Hogan at his side.

After WrestleMania IV Hogan and Savage formed The Mega Powers, And at the first ever Summerslam they faced off against DiBiase and André's tag team known as The Mega Bucks.

Though friends and tag partners, over the period of a year tensions began to build for various reasons, finally resulting in Savage striking Hogan in early 1989, turning Savage heel once again, and setting up a WWF title match at WrestleMania V, which saw Hogan after over a year once again hold the title.

Though technially not in the 1980s, the early matches and PPV's of 1990 can be considered a continuation on the 1980s wrestling boom. Hogan defended his title a few times against Randy Savage in from 1989 to 1990, the last one being on the 1990 "Main Event" before WrestleMania VI.

WrestleMania VI had two important and noteworthy events, the first was André the Giant and Haku lost their tag titles back to Ax and Smash, afterwards, André's manager Bobby Heenan slapped him, resulting in André striking him, turning André face once more, and making it a fitting end to his heel status since Heenan was the one who had turned him heel three years prior in 1987.

The other noteworthy match was the main event against Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, both wrestlers were face, but tensions began building as Warrior constantly stressed he did not wish to be Hogan's enemy, but that winning the championship from Hogan was his destiny and inevitable. After a hard fought match Warrior won, and after the match Hogan handed the title to Warrior, then hugged him before quietly walking back to the locker room, signalling the end of an era.

The fans who were kids in the mid 80s were teens by 1990, and many eventually grew bored with the comic book style of wrestling of the 80s, turning their attention away from their childhood favorites such as Hulk Hogan, Junkyard Dog, and "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka, in favor of newer and grittier wrestlers like The Undertaker, Mr. Perfect , Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels.

ee also

* History of professional wrestling

References


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