On January 23rd, 1984, Hulk Hogan pinned the Iron Sheik to win the WWF (know called WWE) World Championship. This began a phenomenon lovingly referred to as “Hulkamania.” It also set off one of the more interesting periods in professional wrestling, and in pop music, which came to be known as the Rock & Wrestling Connection.
Having inherited the WWF from his ailing father in the early 80s, Vincent K. McMahon was setting out to make wrestling history in a variety of ways. For those unfamiliar with early pro wrestling, the sport was controlled and promoted on a regional level prior to the rise of the WWF. These regions were called “territories.” McMahon’s power base in NYC and his substantial financial clout enabled him to poach talent from these territories, eventually eclipsing and subsuming them into his own.
|After inheriting his father's wrestling promotion, McMahon would go on to turn it into a multi-million dollar enterprise.|
One critical weapon in this conflict was the insertion of the WWF into 80s pop culture. Men like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage became household names, and this was done in part by making pro wrestling “cool.” By tying it in with popular music and other cultural fixtures, McMahon made the WWF name a drawing point in itself, a sum of the colorful characters and bigger-than-life storylines.
In 1985, Hulk Hogan began hanging around with 80s pop sensation Cyndi Lauper on televised wrestling. Dave Wolff, Cyndi’s boyfriend and manager at that time, was a huge fan of pro wrestling growing up, and helped to engineer the deal with McMahon and the WWF. Prior to this, Wolff had recruited WWF personality “Captain” Lou Albano to star in Lauper’s video for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Things were about to heat up, however, and Cyndi’s involvement in sports entertainment was about to deepen.
|Wendi Richter, posing with her manager Cyndi Lauper|
For the buildup of the inaugural Wrestlemania event, Lauper declared that she was managing WWF Women’s Championship contender Wendi Richter. At Wrestlemania, Richter marched to ringside as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” blared over Madison Square’s sound system, and beat Fabulous Moolah for the Women’s Title. In addition, she began “feuding” (the term used within wrestling for a staged, extended rivalry or conflict) with both Albano and infamous WWF bad guy “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. A match was even hyped and shown on MTV, called “The War To Settle The Score,” which also involved Piper’s fellow heels (wrestling bad guys) Bob Orton Jr. and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, as well as TV celeb Mr. T coming to the aid of Hogan. In his autobiography, Piper recalls being tempted to hurt Cyndi Lauper for real; it was suggested by an unnamed WWF employee that “the end of Lauper’s career could be the beginning of yours.” Piper, however, went easy on Lauper but developed some real-life heat with Mr. T. The two went on to have an (allegedly) semi-legitimate boxing match at Wrestlemania II, in which Piper claims (in his autobiography) that his hands were purposefully misplaced in his gloves so as to handicap him.
|Hogan and Mr. T prepare to battle Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. Also pictured is WWF Superstar Jimmy Snuka.|
Cyndi Lauper was not the only 80s rocker to make appearances at WWF events and get involved; the subsequent two ‘Manias had cameos from famous rock icons as well. At Wrestlemania II, The British Bulldogs, a popular tag team consisting of Davey Boy Smith and the Dynamite Kid, were joined by not only Lou Albano but the infamous Ozzy Osbourne. While he refrained from biting the heads off any small animals, Osbourne did stay ringside with Albano as the Bulldogs took the Tag Team Titles from the duo of Greg “Hammer” Valentine and Brutus Beefcake. At the third Wrestlemania, dark rocker Alice Cooper accompanied Jake “The Snake” Roberts to the ring to confront the Honky Tonk Man and try (unsuccessfully) to unseat the Elvis-gimmick villain as Intercontinental Champion.
|"BRITISH BULLDOGS FOREVAAAAAAAAAH!!!"|
|Jake and Alice, pictured with Damian the snake.|
Celebrity cameos and involvement at major WWF events would continue well into the 90s and the modern era, but nothing could hold a candle to the craziness that was the Rock & Wrestling Connection. While the WWE is currently very popular, not to mention a very lucrative company, it owes its initial launch into mainstream entertainment to the brilliant mix of pop culture and sports entertainment that took place in the mid to late 80s. It was a formula that made people take notice, and that put, in wrestling slang, “an ass every eighteen inches.” That is to say, the tickets sold out and the plan was a success.