Wrestlemania Takes Hold

updated 04/15/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/15/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

It all started when Cyndi Lauper decided to feature Captain Lou Albano in her rock video Girls Just Want to Have Fun. This gave Albano, then a wrestling bad guy, the opportunity to take full credit for Lauper's recording successes. "I made her," he said. (Wrestling bad guys brag a lot.)

Lauper disagreed, which Albano felt was typical of women. "They're slime," he said. Lauper became annoyed, bopped him on the head with her purse and called him a "fat bag of wind."

It wasn't exactly the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

They settled the feud in chivalrous fashion, each sending a champion into the ring. Wendi Richter, fighting for Lauper, defeated the Fabulous Moolah, representing Albano.

Albano immediately reformed and announced that he would spend his life raising money to fight multiple sclerosis. This made him a wrestling good guy, although he still wore safety pins in his cheeks. No wonder kids are confused by role models these days.

In December at New York's Madison Square Garden Albano received a plaque for his selfless efforts. The otherwise warm ceremony was marred somewhat when Rowdy Roddy Piper broke the plaque over Albano's head and kicked the 108-pound Lauper across the ring.

Enter Hulk Hogan, 6'8" and 303 pounds of platinum-blond posturing.

To avenge the honor of Lauper, the woman who launched a thousand fists, World Wrestling Federation (WWF) champ Hogan fought Rowdy Roddy in the Garden on Feb. 18. The bout, billed as "the War to Settle the Score," ended inconclusively, but not before Mr. (A-Team) T had entered the fray.

All this evolved into last week's extravaganza of hype and headlocks—WrestleMania, the grudge tag-team Match of the Century, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T against Rowdy Roddy and Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff. Assisting Hogan in his corner was Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka. Assisting Piper in his corner was Cowboy Bob Orton, seemingly useless with his arm in a cast.

Ringside tickets sold for $100, T-shirts for $14.75 and the 16-page program for $5. Professional wrestling was not about to peddle Cyndi Lauper's honor cheaply.

There was a time, not many years ago, when the only singer wrestling fans could recognize was the guy who sang the national anthem before the opening match. Traditional fans were middle-aged, middle-class folks who no sooner got into their folding chairs than they were arguing whether or not the bouts were fixed.

These people still go to matches and they still argue, but wrestling is no longer just for working stiffs driving '69 Chevys with bald snow tires and looking for a quick fix of good conquering evil. There is a whole new audience today, a weekly TV audience estimated at 25 million and climbing. Four of the top 10 shows on cable TV feature grunt-and-groaners, NBC will broadcast wrestling once a month in place of Saturday Night Live reruns, and CBS is about to begin an animated cartoon series based on WWF performers.

A great many of the new fans are kids, drawn to the sport by the creative promotions of the WWF and what has come to be known as the "rock 'n' wrestling connection" (actually Lauper's manager, David Wolff). Among the great differences between the old audience and the new is that the kids don't worry about authenticity. They see wrestling as costumed theater with continuous action and insane acts of gratuitous violence, just like MTV. In the final seconds of a match, when their hero is being tortured so terribly his organs aren't worth donating, they forget their cynicism and suffer with him.

"Wrestling provides a very apt kind of metaphor for life, especially American life," says Mark Workman, 35, whose University of Pennsylvania doctoral dissertation was on pro wrestling. "It depicts a very simplistic universe of bad guys and good guys."

Or as the Hulk once said, "Now you know what's it's all about, brother."

Hulk Hogan, the reigning good guy in wrestling, is a different breed of American hero—the kind who doesn't mind throwing a sucker punch while he's saluting the flag. Nice to fans, which is mandatory for good guys, he advises impressionable youngsters to "say your prayers and eat your vitamins." Abdullah the Butcher, a bad guy, has been known to eat live chickens in front of a horrified audience.

WrestleMania Day dawned cold and damp on Palm Sunday, but fans ringed Madison Square Garden more than two hours before the first match. Backstage, the bikers, celebrities, security guards and Rowdy Roddy's 16-member bagpipe band all mingled in chaotic harmony. Liberace, the celebrity timekeeper, appeared underdressed in comparison to Freddie Blassie's red sparkle costume and Jesse "The Body" Ventura's pink tie-dyed tuxedo. Pre-match tension gripped some of the contestants.

"Where is that stupid woman, Cyndi Lauper?" shouted the Iron Sheik, a bad guy if you haven't already guessed.

"Where's the hair on your head?" said Cyndi to the Iron Sheik, a bald guy if you haven't already guessed.

There was only one dramatic upset on the nine-match program. That occurred when the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff, the most despicable duo of potential deportees you ever saw, scored a richly undeserved win over Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo, two fine American boys. At the post-Mania party, held at the Rainbow Room, a telling rumor was overheard: Windham and Rotundo lost because they are switching affiliation from the WWF to the rival World Wrestling Association.

Life was not all that easy for the loyal, either. In the main event the Hulkster was kneed, stomped, gouged and slashed across the back with a folding chair. There were moments when he didn't have the strength to crawl across the canvas and touch the hand of tag-team partner Mr. T, who himself absorbed a series of lethal and unsportsmanlike blows that could have dented a battleship turret.

In the final seconds the Hulk got himself into some real trouble. Mr. Wonderful put him in a full nelson and Cowboy Bob leapt into the ring, swinging his arm like a club, with every intention of battering the helpless Hulk senseless. Luckily he missed and instead hit his partner on the head. Mr. Wonderful fell unconscious, and Hulk fell on him for the pin.

It was all very satisfying, although nouveau fanatic Jamie Gold, 15, of Paramus, N.J. had a complaint. "I think it's great that they brought in all the big names, but they're overdoing it with Liberace. Knowing them, they could be putting Liberace in a match."

Knowing them, Liberace could win.

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