Over the last three decades there have been many wrestling promotions that have come and gone, but the one that has remained the longest is World Wrestling Entertainment.
WWE has become more popular over the last three decades than ever before. It has showcased some of the most legendary superstars and events in history.
In the next three articles I will take a look at WWE's evolution over the last three decades beginning with the 80's and concluding with the 2000's.
This article will focus on the 80's.
To me the 80’s remain one of my all time favorite decades in wrestling. Not only was this when I became a fan, but throughout the decade it seemed that the wrestling world changed overnight, and the superstars who entered the ring were larger than life.
It was in this decade that some of the biggest names in wrestling history would debut, WrestleMania would take over the wrestling world, and WWE would be thrust into the mainstream pop culture phenomenon of the 1980's.
The 80’s were an era that cemented WWE as the place where the best wrestling on the planet would take place. If you were a fan in the 80's you just knew that you were going to see things that no one had seen before in wrestling.
Throughout the 1960's and 70's the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), as it was known at the time, was run by Vincent J. McMahon (Vince Sr.).
In those days wrestling was divided into territories that each promoter ran. McMahon would promote events in the northeast, most of which took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City (Which would become WWE's home) and be sold out for most events.
The northeast was a hot bed for wrestling back then. Superstars knew that if they wanted to make it big then the northeast is where they needed to be.
One of its main attractions during the 60's and 70's was WWE Champion Bruno Sammartino, who would hold the WWE Title on two occasions for a record 7.5 years.
By the start of the 80's the wrestling world was changing and Vince Sr. would fall ill to pancreatic cancer. He would give the company to his son Vincent K. McMahon who would then take his fathers company and the entire wrestling world to places it had never been before during the 1980's.
In 1982 Vince Jr. took over his fathers company and immediately started his vision of what pro wrestling was to become.
The WWWF would become the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) and Vince would set out to get the top talents from each territory to come and work for him in the WWE.
By the mid to late 80's the territories were petty much defunct and not too many promotions were left. Little by little Vince would start running shows out of the northeast and all over the country as the decade moved on, broadcasting his T.V. shows on major networks, showcasing the top talent in the business, and starting to get more recognition throughout the globe.
With the launch of cable T.V. in the early 80's wrestling was starting to be seen by more and more viewers each week. It was at this time that a major force was about to put the wrestling world on the map and take the industry to a whole new level.
On January 24, 1984 Hulk Hogan would defeat the Iron Sheik for the WWE Championship in Madison Square Garden signaling not only the start of Hulkamania, but the start of a new era in wrestling.
Hogan would go on to become one of the biggest names ever in wrestling history. With Hogan's popularity continuing to soar in the 1980's the WWE would explode onto the pop culture scene.
It was at this time that the entertainment world would come into play.
In 1984 pop music sensation Cyndi Lauper and T.V. tough guy Mr.T would have prominent roles in the WWE. The WWE would form the Rock 'N Wrestling connection and would get noticed on MTV.
In February of 1985 the WWE would broadcast "The War to settle the Score" on MTV. The event featured Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper facing off at Madison Square Garden with appearances by celebrities and music performers. It was this event that set the stage for the first WrestleMania just one month later at MSG.
On March 31, 1985 the very first WrestleMania would take place at WWE's home, Madison Square Garden in New York City. It would be the first event of its kind to feature a mix of WWF superstars and celebrities.
Vince McMahon wanted to come up with a groundbreaking event that the wrestling world had never seen before. Vince would put all of his money into the first WrestleMania and if it did not succeed then the WWE would not have succeeded.
But it was a huge success.
The inaugural WrestleMania garnered a slew of mainstream attention all over television due to the appearances of Muhammad Ali, Liberace, Cyndi Lauper, and the fact that Mr. T was competing in the main event teaming with Hulk Hogan.
At the time of the first WrestleMania things were different then they are today. When WrestleMania took place there were only two ways that fans could see the event.
Back in the mid 80's there really was no Pay-Per-View so the only way fans could see the events if they were not able to be there live, would be to go to a closed circuit location, mainly a gym or arena, and watch it on a giant screen with other fans. This would continue for the rest of the 80's for the first five WrestleMania events.
By the mid to late 80's PPV was starting to apprear on some cable companies and fans were able to see WWE PPV's at home, but WWE still offered the closed circuit option for people who did not have PPV capabilities. By the start of the 90's closed circuit was no more and PPV became permanent.
Two months after the success of the first WrestleMania Vince McMahon was still finding new ways to take the WWE to even better heights. The next step would be to introduce fans to a new late night T.V. show that would become WWE's staple program not only in the 80's, but as one of the most memorable shows in the company's history.
On May 14, 1985 Saturday Night's Main Event would debut on NBC. It would mark the first time that pro wrestling would be seen on network television since the 1950's.
Taking over Saturday Night Live's timeslot (when there were no new episodes) SNME quickly became a must see show.
SNME would not air every week, but every couple of months until it ended in 1992.
Back in the 80's there were not as many PPV events as there are today, so this was a way for fans to see PPV quality matches in the months that preceded the big name events. SNME also provided fans with actual matches.
Let me explain.
At this time all of WWE's other shows featured matches pitting big name stars against weird no name wrestlers, or "jobbers" as they are known as—they would always lose.
SNME would feature matches that pitted big name stars against one another, thus giving fans something different to see. SNME would also develop some key storyline happenings to build up the events that would follow in the coming years.
In 1986 WrestleMania Two would take place from three different cities in the same night. Once again Vince McMahon would defy the odds, but no one could have imagined what he would have up his sleeve just one year later.
Ask any wrestling fan about WrestleMania III and they will simply give you one answer...historic.
On March 29, 1987 a world indoor attendance record of 93,173 fans would witness WrestleMania III in the Pontiac Silverdome and it would be historic. It was an event like no other that is still talked about to this day.
The build up to this event was truly remarkable. Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant would meet in the main event for the WWF Championship and most people were picking Andre to win.
In what was a mega hyped match, where no one could have predicted its body slamming conclusion, Hogan slammed the 500lb 7'5" giant to the mat.
WrestleMania would become a household name after this night.
The event would also showcase what many fans believe to be one of the greatest matches ever. Macho Man Randy Savage and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat would put on a wrestling clinic for the Intercontinental title and steal the show. This event was so big that it would be blacked out on T.V. in the state of Michigan where it was held.
The only way to see it was to be there live.
Current WWE superstars have stated that the results of the event could be heard on radio stations as it happened and on television stations after its conclusion.
WrestleMania III broke new ground for all the WrestleMania's that would follow and still remains the most famous WrestleMania of all time. The WWE was going places that it had never been before.
After the success of WrestleMania III the WWE continued to grow in popularity.
Saturday Night's Main Event was putting out record breaking ratings on NBC, a new Pay-Per-View event known as the Survivor Series would debut on Thanksgiving night, and future legends were starting to make their debuts.
By the end of 1987 stars like The Ultimate Warrior, Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, Ravishing Rick Rude, and Jake "The Snake" Roberts were all becoming top stars.
The tag team division was also heating up as teams like The Hart Foundation and The British Bulldogs were putting on classic 30 minute tag matches every time they stepped in the ring.
New teams like Demolition (who would hold the tag titles for a record setting 16 months) and The Rockers (Which would feature the debut the legendary Shawn Michaels) would become top teams in 1988 making the tag matches some of the best matches to see on the card.
This is when tag matches actually meant something, unlike today.
In February of 1988 the rematch between Hogan and Andre would take place and air live on NBC. The show would break ratings records as millions tuned in to see this historic rematch that ended in controversy.
The WWE title would be vacant heading into WrestleMania IV setting up a single elimination tournament to crown a new champion. Macho Man Randy Savage would win the vacant title and go on to hold it for a full year as he became the WWE's top star only second to Hogan.
Savage and Hogan would team up for the remainder of the year and form The Mega Powers with Miss Elizabeth as their manager.
Over the next year the WWE created two new PPV events, SummerSlam in August of '88 and The Royal Rumble in January of '89 (The first Rumble took place in '88 but aired on T.V and was not an official PPV). This brought their total of yearly PPV's to four.
Today the WWE currently holds 13 PPV events during the year.
By the close of the decade the WWE would make headlines in the media. By 1989 steroid scandals were starting to rear their ugly head. During the decade drug usage among wrestlers would become wide spread.
Most legends of this era have talked about this topic on many occasions. The WWE itself also came forward and stated that wrestling was indeed scripted.
The WWE would, however, go on with the show.
WWE would release a movie entitled "No Holds Barred" starring none other than Hulk Hogan in the summer of '89. Hulk Hogan would also go on to win his second WWE Championship at WrestleMania V by defeating his former tag partner Macho Man Randy Savage.
At this point it would be a question of weather or not the WWE would maintain the success that it had during the 80's throughout the next decade.
The 1980's will always be remembered as WWE's golden days.
It was a decade that put the WWE into the mainstream. Future Hall of Famers would make their debuts and give fans matches and moments that are remembered to this day.
When I look back at this decade of wrestling I think of my childhood. I started watching WWE in 1989 and to this day I always enjoy watching old matches and events from the decade. I can speak for many other fans when I say that this decade is where most of us started to become fans.
In part two of my three part series I will focus on the 1990's. A decade that would provide fans with a new generation of superstars, a Monday Night War with a rival company, the most controversial screw job in history, and the birth of Attitude that would bring the WWE past the heights that it reached in the 1980's.