8 Wild Facts About WrestleMania I

Hulk Hogan gets his hand raised by Muhammad Ali during the first WrestleMania in 1985.
Hulk Hogan gets his hand raised by Muhammad Ali during the first WrestleMania in 1985.
Amazon

Every spring since 1985, World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly the World Wrestling Federation) puts on a sporting spectacle that has to be seen to be believed. WrestleMania brings together contemporary (John Cena) and vintage (Hulk Hogan) pro wrestlers in the WWE for an extravaganza of athletic and theatrical melodrama. With WrestleMania 36 broadcasting from Tampa, Florida on April 5, we’re taking a look back at some of the more intriguing facts behind the event that started it all, held 35 years ago in Madison Square Garden.

1. The WrestleMania name was inspired by the Beatles.

Unlike other wrestling promoters of the 1980s, who promoted in regional territories across the United States and Canada, WWE (née WWF) promoter Vince McMahon had larger aspirations. After signing a number of top stars from across the country like Hulk Hogan, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and the Iron Sheik, McMahon wanted to promote an event via closed-circuit television that would be available nationally and emulate large sporting attractions like the Super Bowl. Originally, McMahon was going to call it The Colossal Tussle. According to ring announcer Howard Finkel, it was Finkel himself who suggested the name WrestleMania based on a pop culture phenomenon of the 1960s.

“[McMahon] was trying to come up with a name for what we could call the event,” Finkel told Bleacher Report in 2013. “And I said, ‘The Beatles, when they came to the United States in back in 1964, their phenomenon was dubbed Beatlemania. Why can’t we call our event WrestleMania?’” (WWE employee George Scott, who was a matchmaker for the company at the time, has claimed he was the one who came up with the name.)

2. MTV and Cyndi Lauper helped promote WrestleMania.

In order to make WrestleMania a success, McMahon knew he would have to reach audiences beyond wrestling fans. Fortunately, he had a point of contact thanks to wrestling manager Captain Lou Albano, who appeared in Lauper's 1983 music video for the song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Lauper and Albano struck up a friendship encouraged by Lauper’s manager and boyfriend, David Wolff, a wrestling fan. The partnership eventually evolved into a marketing strategy known as the Rock ‘N Wrestling Connection, with Lauper making appearances in WWE programming and MTV airing WWE specials like The War to Settle the Score, which helped raise awareness for WrestleMania. Lauper even solicited feminist icon Gloria Steinem and politician Geraldine Ferraro to insult Roddy Piper in taped comments that aired on MTV. (Lauper occasionally got physical inside the ring and later appeared during WrestleMania.)

3. Mr. T was not necessarily a welcome participant at WrestleMania.

In order to maximize the general public’s interest in his event, McMahon enlisted actor Mr. T, who appeared as the villainous boxer Clubber Lung in 1982’s Rocky III and was a regular on the NBC action drama The A-Team. (Mr. T's talent agent, Peter Young, also worked with Hulk Hogan, who had also appeared in Rocky III.) With no pro wrestling experience, Mr. T met with a mixed reception in the locker room, with some wrestlers resenting his presence—and large paycheck. “The wrestlers whose minds worked old-school, they didn’t like Mr. T,” wrestler Nikolai Volkoff told Bleacher Report in 2013. “They felt he didn’t belong there. But, as entertainment, he was perfect.”

Mr. T was apparently aware of the friction his presence was causing and even contemplated dropping out the day of the show because he allegedly feared one of the wrestlers going rogue and hurting him in an unscripted assault. While Mr. T went through with it, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper—who was wrestling opposite Mr. T and Hulk Hogan in a tag-team match during the main event—insisted that Mr. T never pin his shoulders to the mat. “I wasn’t being difficult,” Piper later said. “I’m not going to let someone come into my business and treat me like a clown.” Instead, Hogan pinned Paul Orndorff, Piper’s partner, to win the match.

4. Liberace was the guest timekeeper at WrestleMania I.

WrestleMania had no shortage of recognizable faces. In addition to Cyndi Lauper, McMahon invited possibly the most famous athlete in the world, then-retired boxer Muhammad Ali, to be a guest referee for the main event. To fill the role of timekeeper, he enlisted singer Liberace. “If my mother was alive today, she would say, ‘Son, you’re finally a man,” Liberace told reporters during a press conference in 1985 to promote the show. “Because she was a great fan of wrestling.” Liberace took to the ring to dance to “New York, New York” with another group of guests: the Rockettes.

5. “Mean” Gene Okerlund sang the National Anthem at WrestleMania.

Subsequent WrestleMania events were notable for enlisting A-list talent like Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But for the first WrestleMania, no performer was able or willing to step into the ring. Instead, the WWE asked ring announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund to sing the song. Okerlund wrote some of the lyrics on his hand.

6. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T hosted Saturday Night Live before WrestleMania I.

McMahon got a significant amount of publicity when Hogan and Mr. T hosted Saturday Night Live the night prior to the March 31, 1985 date for WrestleMania. They were late fill-ins for comedian Steve Landesberg, who couldn’t appear in the entire show due to a family illness. The episode is probably best remembered for cast member Billy Crystal commenting while in character as talk show host Fernando on Hogan’s heaving pectoral muscles, causing Hogan and Mr. T to begin laughing.

7. Hulk Hogan got sued for promoting WrestleMania.

As Hogan and Mr. T made the press rounds, it was a spot on cable talk show Hot Properties that garnered the most attention—from lawyers. Demonstrating a choke hold on host and future Law & Order actor Richard Belzer, Hogan squeezed too hard and rendered Belzer legitimately unconscious. Belzer popped up, blood trickling from his head, and went to a commercial. In 1987, he filed a lawsuit for $5 million against both Hogan and Mr. T, who encouraged Hogan to put him in a submission hold, or what he called a “pipsqueak sandwich.” The case was settled before going to trial in 1990.

8. A technical glitch angered a lot of WrestleMania fans.

Before pay-per-view on home cable boxes was common, major premium sporting events like boxing matches were broadcast on closed-circuit, which meant theaters or other locations would pay for the signal and screen it for customers. WrestleMania went out to 200 locations, with an estimated 400,000 people watching. Not all of them went away happy. Roughly 11,443 fans entered the Civic Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to watch the show, with tickets priced at $8 to $10 each. Unfortunately, a technical glitch prevented the signal from being unscrambled, and they were met with a blank screen. After hearing an announcement that the show would not go on as planned, fans pushed over a television and began throwing folding chairs. All attendees were refunded. Three were cited for disorderly conduct. Pittsburgh fans were able to see the show a week later on local station WTAE.

The refunds didn’t hurt McMahon. WrestleMania grossed a reported $12 million, including ticket and merchandise sales, and has been an annual tradition for the WWE ever since.

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

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Apple

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Apple

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14 Facts About International Talk Like A Pirate Day

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iStock

Ahoy, me hearties! As many of you know, September 19 is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, an annual phenomenon that’s taken the world by storm, having been observed by every continent, the International Space Station, and even the Oval Office since it first made headlines back in 2002. So let’s hoist the Jolly Roger, break out the rum, and take a look back at the holiday’s timber-shivering history.

1. Talk Like a Pirate Day was originally conceived of on D-Day.

Talk Like a Pirate Day creators John Baur and Mark Summer (who’ve since acquired the nicknames “Ol’ Chumbucket” and “Cap’n Slappy,” respectively) created the holiday while playing racquetball on June 6, 1995—the 51st anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. Out of respect to the battle’s veterans, a new observance date was quickly sought.

2. September 19th also happens to be the birthday of the ex-wife of the holiday's co-creator.

“[September 19th was] the only date we could readily recall that wasn’t already taken up with Christmas or the Super Bowl or something,” the pair later claimed. Summers claims to harbor no ill will toward his former spouse, who has since stated, “I’ve never been prouder to be his ex-wife!

3. Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry is largely responsible for popularizing the holiday.

Dave Barry was so smitten with the holiday after having been introduced to it via email in early 2002 that he dedicated an entire column to its publicity that September, turning an inside joke into a global sensation. He later went on to make a cameo appearance in one of Baur and Summers’s buccaneer-themed music videos in 2011 (look for him in the video above at the 3:25 mark).

4. Real pirates spoke in a wide variety of dialects.

Despite some extensive “English-to-Pirate” dictionaries that have cropped up all over the Internet the idea that all pirates shared a common accent regardless of national origin is historically absurd, as National Geographic pointed out in 2011.

5. Actor Robert Newton is hailed as the "patron saint" of Talk Like a Pirate Day.

So where did the modern “pirate dialect” come from? Summers and Baur credit actor Robert Newton's performance in Treasure Island (1950) and have accordingly dubbed him the “patron saint” of their holiday. Tasked with breathing life into the scheming buccaneer, Newton simply exaggerated his native West Country accent and the rest is history.

6. John Baur's family was featured on a pirate-themed episode of Wife Swap.

The reality show’s highly-anticipated 2006 season premiere pitted the Baurs (in full pillaging regalia) against a family which, according to John’s wife Tori (a.k.a. “Mad Sally”), “behaved as though ‘fun’ was something that had to be pre-packaged for their protection.”

7. John Baur was also on Jeopardy!

Baur was described to the audience as “a writer and pirate from Oregon” in his 2008 appearance. “I didn’t win,” Baur said, “but the introduction made Alex blink.”

8. International Talk Like a Pirate Day has become a cornerstone of the Pastafarian movement.

Bobby Henderson, founder of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, cited Earth’s dwindling pirate population as the clear source of global warming in his 2005 open letter to the Kansas school board which established the religion. Since then, Talk Like A Pirate Day has been observed by devout Pastafarians worldwide. 

9. A Florida mayor once ignited a local controversy for making an official Talk Like a Pirate Day proclamation.

In 2012, Lake Worth, Florida Mayor Pam Triolo lightheartedly urged her constituents to embrace the holiday last year, writing, “The City … is known to possess a spirit of independence, high spirits, and swashbuckling, all traits of a good pirate.” Her actions were criticized by the city’s former commissioner, Jo-Ann Golden, who took offense to the association with murderous seamen.

10. Day of the Ninja was created in response to Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Not to be outdone by their hated rivals, the pro-ninja community was quick to execute the first annual Day of the Ninja on December 5, 2002. For Summers and Baur’s take on the warring factions, see the clip above.

11. Astronauts once celebrated Talk Like a Pirate Day aboard the International Space Station.

In a 2012 interview, Summers recalled being “informed that the astronauts on the International Space Station were awakened to ‘A Pirate’s Life For Me' and joined in the pirate talk from space.”

12. President Obama once celebrated with a costumed buccaneer in the Oval Office.

In 2012, Barack Obama tweeted this image on Talk Like a Pirate Day with the caption “Arr you in?”

13. A congressman later used the holiday to slam President Obama's tax plan.

In 2011, Florida’s 12th congressional district representative Dennis Ross used the festivity as a political punchline after Obama made a speech detailing his tax plan, tweeting, “It is TALK like a pirate day … not ACT like one. Watch ye purses and bury yr loot, the taxman cometh.”

14. It's an official holiday in the state of Michigan.

On June 4, 2013, state senator Roger Kahn’s proposal to grant International Talk Like A Pirate Day official acknowledgement from the Michigan government was formally adopted, to the chagrin of some dissenting landlubbers. 

This story originally ran in 2013.