The 1980s were arguably the most important time in the history of professional wrestling. Saturday was the day where you could sit in front of the TV and, if you so desired, watch wrestling all day. Although in the first half of the decade there were several wrestling promotions in the United States I will only be commenting on the two largest, the NWA/WCW and the WWF. Please forgive the quality of some of these pictures, they were taken directly from some of my personal Betamax tapes from the early 1980s.
The decade of the 80s can almost be broken directly in half when referring to the WWF. In the first half of the decade you would see a mostly "old style" wrestling show, with the top wrestlers being (then champion) Bob Backlund, Jimmy Snuka, George "The Animal" Steele, The Iron Shiek, Andre The Giant, The Samoans, The Moondogs, Chief Jay Strongbow and many others. In the early 80s Vince McMahon Jr. bought the company from his father and slowly started to buy out most of his competition and made the WWF a nationwide company. A definate turning point would have to be the first Wrestlemania, held in the early spring of 1985. Featuring a main event of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T versus Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff, this was the start of Vince turning the WWF into a huge corporation. The WWF just got bigger and bigger after that point. We would start seeing WWF dolls, toys, lunch boxes, albums, cartoons, and the infamous "Rock n Wrestling" connection that featured some programs on MTV. The biggest point for the WWF would turn out to be Wrestlemania 3, which had a main event of Hulk Hogan versus Andre The Giant for the "first time" (although they had wrestled several times years earlier, with Hogan as the "bad guy").
This event, held in the Pontiac Silverdome, broke the indoor attendance record held by the Rolling Stones up until that point. I can remember hearing then commentator (and future governor) Jesse Ventura shouting, "We beat the Stones!". The WWF had definately started looking less like a wrestling show and more like a spectacle with stars like Liberace, Kathy Lee Gifford, Muhammed Ali, Cyndi Lauper, Alice Cooper, and Mr. T showing up at Wrestlemanias and other events. The WWF would leave the 80s with their top wrestlers being Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Demolition, and Roddy Piper.
One of my favorite WWF memories from this era would have to be the Jimmy Snuka versus Bob Backlund cage match from 1981. This match was a classic because Snuka climbed up to the top of the ("15 foot high") steel cage to jump on Backlund, who actually rolled out of the way. These kind of high flying moves are common now, but back then this was unheard of. It had never been done before and it completely blew my 9 year old mind. After that match, Snuka would go on to turn "fan favorite" after a famous incident on Piper's Pit. Roddy Piper's weekly talk show would be a constant segment for most of the 80s. On this particular episode, Piper brought out some coconuts and bananas to make fun of Snuka's heritage. After Snuka asked "Are you making fun of me?" Piper answered by smashing Snuka over the head with a coconut. (I'm in the process of trying to find a good picture of this.)
I (Sheena) would just like to add two words here: WRESTLING ALBUM. Ok, here are more words: I was a casual wrestling fan back then, thanks in large part to my father. I started abandoning that ship late in high school, and especially when Vince McMahon turned wrestling into a traveling circus of sexism in the mid-to-late 1990s. Admittedly, it is a LOT better now - it was just too much for a while. Anyway, as proof of my fan-dom, I'd just like to say that I DO own the first Wrestling Album (pictured here) ON VINYL, from back in the day. Flavor, I noticed you copped that pic of Jesse Ventura from the album cover! :o) "Eat Your Heart Out Rick Springfield" by Jimmy Hart still holds a place in MY heart. And who could ever forget "Grab Them Cakes" by the imcomparable Junkyard Dog?! Thank you, drive through...
Every Saturday during the 80s my favorite wrestling show aired from 6:05pm to 8:05pm (Eastern Time) on WTBS. It started out as Georgia Championship Wrestling but it turned into "World Championship Wrestling". The wrestlers (which included Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Barry Windham, Tommy Rich, The Road Warriors, Ole and Arn Anderson, Buzz Sawyer, Mr. Wrestling 2, etc.) would battle for the NWA titles. Toward the late 80s and early 90s Ted Turner would buy the company and slowly turn it into WCW. Although the NWA itself was still a company, it would eventually not be seen at all on WTBS. Still my favorite announcer of all time, the late Gordon Solie (pictured above with The Iron Shiek and The Assassin) would call the action every week from a studio that seemed smaller than my living room. It only had 4 or 5 rows of seats but the fans certainly were a big part of the show with their cheering and various chants ("Fire it up, Tommy, Fire it up"...clap-clap). While the rest of the viewing audience was watching the WWF turn itself into an empire the true wrestling fan was watching Gordon Solie and the NWA. With it's great wrestling, interviews and innovative storylines, the show was definately the best of it's time.
Ric Flair was, without a doubt, the best wrestler of the era, and continues to be my favorite wrestler of all time. Before anyone ever heard of wrestling groups like the "NWO", Flair formed The Four Horseman. First consisting of Flair, Tully Blanchard, Ole and Arn Anderson, the Horsemen would change members often but would always be a constant focus of the show. Flair and Arn would remain the two founding members of the group which also had Barry Windham, Lex Lugar, Sting, Chris Benoit, and Dean Malenko (among others) as members. With or without the Horsemen, Flair had some of the best matches in wrestling history in the 80s against the likes of Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, Terry Funk, and Ricky Steamboat. Flair continues to be one of the most well respected wrestlers in the business and is currently involved in a major storyline in the WWF.
Another personal turning point concerning wrestling occurred in 1985 when 20/20 aired a segment "exposing" the business. There was obviously some question up until that point of the reality of the moves and outcomes of matches but I was never really sure until I saw this episode. The show featured former wrestlers Eddy Mansfield and Jim Wilson showing 20/20 reporter John Stossel how wrestling was "faked". In the picture above we see wrestler "Dr. D" David Scultz's reaction to Stossel's assumption. He slapped him twice (hard enough to knock Stossel to the ground) and asked "Is that fake? That's just an open hand slap!". Regardless of Schultz's actions I believed what the show was saying, but not necessarily how they said it. Although the outcomes of matches are predetermined and the wrestlers aren't trying to hurt one another they are definately some of the best athletes and entertainers in the world. I think some of my friends believed I would stop watching wrestling after that show, but I certainly have not. It is still, to me, the most entertaining, never-ending sports/soap opera that I continue to enjoy as much as I did back in the days of Snuka and Backlund.
UPDATE: On April 23, 2011, we received this e-mail from Ed Mansfield:
"Just to let you know the story was never told why I did that show and 20/20 double crossed me by using the word fake. The wrestlers at that time new why I did it and only thing I regret is they didn't interview the people that they were suppose to. I told them not to interview David or Vince and they did so he got the s**t slapped out of him. I am going to tell the true story at Greg Prices NWA Legends in Atlanta, Ga where it all started. Also I was never a disgruntled wrestler.
Compiled by Brian, with a couple of comments by