1980s professional wrestling boom

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The 1980s professional wrestling boom (more commonly referred to as the Golden Age) was a surge in the popularity of professional wrestling in the United States and elsewhere 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 one dominated by two nationwide companies: McMahon's World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) and Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling (WCW); the latter in the 1990s, as by the time the WWF were in the top during the '80s and early 90's, the WCW was still a National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) territory. The decade also saw a considerable decline in the power of the NWA, a cartel which had until then domineered the wrestling landscape, and in the efforts to sustain belief in the verisimilitude of wrestling.


World Class Championship Wrestling[edit]

In 1982, a one hour syndicated broadcast from the Sportatorium in Dallas, Texas, of the former NWA affiliate World Class Championship Wrestling introduced a number of modern production techniques learned from professional sports to the television broadcast that was the first significant change in the production of professional wrestling programming used in professional wrestling. The show featured the babyface Von Erich brothers David, Kerry, and Kevin against heels from the stable of Gary Hart and Skandor Akbar's Devastation, Inc. stable. That show earned extremely high ratings - higher than Saturday Night Live and many wrestling promotions in the United States, including the American Wrestling Association (AWA) and the WWF.[1] The Von Erichs were the most recognizable babyfaces in professional wrestling throughout the United States in 1982 and 1983.


The year of 1984 was critical to the history of professional wrestling in the 1980s. At the end of 1983, two major developments at rivals to WCCW occurred that meant increased competition to the premier professional wrestling promotion on cable television. On November 24, 1983, Ric Flair defeated Harley Race for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship at the first closed circuit wrestling event Starrcade, which brought professional wrestling to pay-per-view territory. On December 23, 1983, WWF signed Hulk Hogan to return after appearing in Rocky III and developing a babyface gimmick in the AWA.

The year began with a major opportunity for the WWF due to misfortunes for WCCW. On January 23, 1984, Hogan defeated The Iron Sheik for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at Madison Square Garden. Shortly after the match, the WWF began promoting wrestling shows with Hogan in the main event in parts of the U.S. outside the Northeast, which disrupted the long standing relationships between wrestling promotions. On February 10, David Von Erich died in Tokyo, Japan. On May 6, Kerry Von Erich defeated Flair for the NWA World title in front of a packed Texas Stadium crowd; the WCCW would have begun a national touring program in support of their promotion or pursue stars from other promotions like the WWF did to continue their dominance but did not do so.

WWF goes national[edit]

Vince McMahon, owner of the World Wrestling Federation, is responsible for bringing professional wrestling mainstream.

The first step in McMahon's attempt to go national was to sign American Wrestling Association superstar Hulk Hogan. To play Hogan's nemesis, he signed both North Carolina-based badboy Rowdy Roddy Piper and Jesse "The Body" Ventura (although Ventura wrestling was limited in the WWF at that point due to the lung disorder that caused his retirement).

Other promoters were furious when McMahon began syndicating WWF television shows to television stations across the U.S. 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 label. He effectively broke the unwritten law of regionalism around which the entire industry had been based. To make matters worse, McMahon used 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.

McMahon stated in the documentary The UnReal Story of Professional Wrestling that he did not 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'", he explained. 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[edit]

In May 1984, in what became a failed attempt to garner a greater appeal outside the Northeast, McMahon bought a controlling interest in Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW), an NWA member which held the lucrative Saturday time slot on Atlanta-based independent station WTBS—known outside of Atlanta as "Superstation TBS." [2] On July 14, 1984—later dubbed "Black Saturday"—WWF programming began airing in the TBS timeslot formerly occupied by GCW programming.[2] The WWF programming was not successful and viewed as comical compared to the NWA.[2] Due to low ratings and viewer protests, TBS began airing wrestling by Ole Anderson's promotion, as well as Bill Watts's Mid-South Wrestling, both of which garnered higher ratings than McMahon's WWF show.[2] Later, McMahon sold the TBS timeslot to rival promoter Jim Crockett, Jr. for $1 million.[2] In the WWE documentary The Rise and Fall of WCW, Crockett explained that his purchase of the timeslot basically paid for McMahon's first WrestleMania.[3]

Crockett, also envisioning a nationwide promotion, 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 JCP indebted, with the promotion facing a $5 million deficit.[3] Crockett's attempt to generate revenue with the broadcast of the highly promoted Starrcade pay-per-view in late 1987 was thwarted by McMahon, who held his Survivor Series pay-per-view on the same day. The WWF threatened to cancel their contracts with cable companies that dared to carry Starrcade.[4] As a result, only five cable companies opted to remain loyal to Crockett, which gave them only an $80,000 profit after expenses. 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 for free on the USA Network. On November 21, 1988, Crockett was obliged to sell his promotion to Ted Turner. Under the ownership of Turner, the promotion was rechristened World Championship Wrestling (WCW). After years of financial turmoil and the constant changing of bookers, WCW would resume competition with McMahon's WWF when former AWA commentator Eric Bischoff was appointed as the promotion's Executive Vice President.

Besides Hulkamania and the emergence of WrestleMania, another legacy of the 1980s was the destruction of the regional territory[5] system which was in place for pro wrestling for Canada, the U.S., 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 included WCCW in Dallas and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling in Charlotte. In the late 1980s, many fans in the Deep South, disappointed in the collapse of regional territories, turned to Atlanta-based WCW. Fans in Nashville and Dallas turned to the USWA. In most of these areas, WWF shows were not financially successful until 1997-98.

Thanks to the collapse of regional territories, the WWF was now able to sign the best wrestling talent across the U.S. and Canada. Other than Hogan, the WWF eventually signed stars from other promotions such as Roddy Piper, Dusty Rhodes, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, and Jake "The Snake" Roberts. The 1980s also had success in the growth and popularity of the tag team division, which included Demolition, Powers of Pain, The Hart Foundation, The Rockers and British Bulldogs.

Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection[edit]

While Crockett created a nationwide company, McMahon and the WWF would go on to a period of unprecedented success in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s.[6] 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.[6] The idea was formed by WWF manager Lou Albano, who met singer Cyndi Lauper on a trip to Puerto Rico.[6] Lauper asked Albano to appear as her father in her video for the single "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" in 1983.[6] McMahon later booked Lauper and Albano on a segment of Piper's Pit.[6] During the segment, the Rock 'n' Wrestling storyline began when Albano called Lauper a "broad", while Lauper retaliated by hitting him with her purse.[7] She then challenged Albano to a match between two female wrestlers of their choice.[7] Lauper chose Wendi Richter, while Albano chose The Fabulous Moolah.[7] The match was scheduled for July 23, 1984 at The Brawl to End it All, broadcast live on MTV.[7][8] During the match, Lauper interfered on Richter's behalf by hitting Moolah in the head with her purse, dubbed "The Loaded Purse of Doom".[7] At the conclusion of the match, Richter defeated Moolah for the WWF Women's Championship, which the WWF had promoted as Moolah holding for the previous 28 years.[9] Meanwhile, the connection between Lauper and the WWF continued with the video for the song "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough", "Time After Time", and "She Bop", all of which featured WWF wrestlers.[9] Richter later had a match with Moolah's protégé Leilani Kai at The War to Settle the Score, with Lauper and Moolah in their respective corners.[10] Kai won the title with the help of Moolah.[10] Richter and Kai had a rematch at the inaugural WrestleMania, where Richter regained the title.[11]

On January 3, 1984, Hulk Hogan returned to the WWF. He had been fired from the company by Vince McMahon, Sr. for appearing in Rocky III, which was seen by the elder McMahon as a breach of both etiquette and character, but was welcomed back to the company by Vincent K. 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.[12]

The inaugural WrestleMania[edit]

Main article: WrestleMania I

To counter the NWA's primary supercard, Starrcade, the WWF created its flagship show, WrestleMania, held at Madison Square Garden and broadcast on 135 closed-circuit networks. The future of not just McMahon's national experiment, but also the WWF, the NWA, and the whole professional wrestling industry, came down to the success or failure of his groundbreaking sports entertainment concept. WrestleMania was an extravaganza that McMahon marketed as being "the Super Bowl of professional wrestling." The concept of a wrestling supercard 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 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 of 1985. 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 May 1985, as well as the syndicated weekly show WWF Championship Wrestling (which was also broadcast internationally). While Championship Wrestling was generally taped in Poughkeepsie, New York, Saturday Night's Main Event was taped in front of packed arenas around the country.

WrestleMania's popularity and ratings appeal made professional wrestling a television mainstay. Professional wrestling, now synonymous with the WWF, began to throw more grandiose matches. In November 1985, "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 contest showcasing the most talent.

Hulk Hogan, André the Giant and Randy Savage[edit]

WWF held its most successful event, WrestleMania III, in March 1987. It achieved the largest recorded attendance for a live indoor sporting event in North America. The main event, where Hogan scoop-slammed (later dubbed "the body slam heard around the world") 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 the "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. On a previous edition of the same show, Randy "Macho Man" Savage made his official transition from heel to babyface in his match against The Honky Tonk Man, with Miss Elizabeth bringing in Hogan to aid Savage against The Honky Tonk Man and The Hart Foundation. This eventually struck a friendship between Savage and Hogan.

At WrestleMania IV, Savage won the WWF Championship tournament, with Elizabeth and Hogan at his side. Months later, Hogan and Savage teamed up as 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. Savage and Hogan continued to feud until the February 1990 edition of The Main Event, where Hogan successfully defended the title in a special WrestleMania V rematch.

End of an era[edit]

Generally, WrestleMania VI on April 1, 1990, is acknowledged as the end of the 1980s wrestling boom. The event saw one of the last WWF appearances of André the Giant (as a member of the Colossal Connection), who had become barely mobile in the ring due to real life health issues, and his parting with long-time manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan. In addition, Nikolai Volkoff (then part of The Bolsheviks) played his standard part as the evil Soviet Russian for one last time before turning babyface and embracing America, reflecting the end of the Cold War.

The main event was a title-for-title match between WWF Champion Hogan and Intercontinental Champion The Ultimate Warrior. It not only pitted the WWF's two greatest faces against each other, but was intended as the "passing of the torch" from Hogan, the star of the 1980s, to Warrior, who was immensely popular and considered to be Hogan's successor. Hogan's clean pin fall loss (another first) signaled the end of an era. However, Hogan lingered on in the WWF for the next three years, winning the title for another three times. By the early 1990s, Hogan started appearing with much less frequency on WWF events, with Warrior taking the main-event spot through all of 1990 and 1991.

In 1992, allegations of anabolic steroid abuse and sexual harassment were harming the WWF's family-friendly image. Around this time as well, Dr. George Zahorian, a member of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, was accused of selling anabolic steroids to many WWF wrestlers, including Hogan, who took a long hiatus from the WWF after WrestleMania VIII.

The fans who were kids in the mid and late 1980s were teens by the 1990s, and many eventually grew bored with the comic book style of wrestling of the 1980s, turning their attention away from their childhood favorites such as Hogan, Junkyard Dog, and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, in favor of newer and grittier wrestlers like The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Mr. Perfect, Razor Ramon, and Bret "Hitman" Hart; then in the Attitude Era in favor of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Mick Foley (whether competing as Cactus Jack, Dude Love, or Mankind), and The New Age Outlaws. This was special to Hogan's return to the WWF in February 1993, episode of Monday Night Raw (which replaced another WWF program during the 1980s, Prime Time Wrestling) where Hogan received a lackluster reaction from the crowds.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mackinder, Mack (June 13, 2006). "Heroes of World Class DVD a definite treasure". CANOE – SLAM! Sports. Retrieved April 12, 2015
  2. ^ a b c d e Molinaro, John F. "End of an era on TBS Solie, Georgia and 'Black Saturday'". SLAM! Sports. Retrieved 2007-04-10. 
  3. ^ a b The Rise and Fall of WCW DVD
  4. ^ Assael, Shaun; Mooneyham, Mike (2002-07-16). Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation. Crown Publishers. p. 76. ISBN 0-609-60690-5. 
  5. ^ "WrestlingTerritories.png". Freakin' Awesome Network Forums :: Freakin' Awesome Wrestling Forum :: (w)Rest of Wrestling. Retrieved 25 March 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Ellison, Lillian. First Goddess of the Squared Circle, p.166–167.
  7. ^ a b c d e Ellison, Lillian. First Goddess of the Squared Circle, p.169–170.
  8. ^ Shields, Brian. Main Event: WWE in the Raging 80s, p.87.
  9. ^ a b Ellison, Lillian. First Goddess of the Squared Circle, p.171–173.
  10. ^ a b Ellison, Lillian. First Goddess of the Squared Circle, p.176–177.
  11. ^ Ellison, Lillian. First Goddess of the Squared Circle, p.184.
  12. ^ Hulk Hogan's Rock 'N' Wrestling


  • Ellison, Lillian (2003). The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle. ReaganBooks. ISBN 978-0-06-001258-8. 
  • Shields, Brian (2006). Main Event: WWE in the Raging 80s. World Wrestling Entertainment. ISBN 978-1-4165-3257-6.