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1985: The World Wrestling Federation's Historic Year [Videos]

The year was 1985, and the world of professional wrestling was about to change forever under the direction of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation.

In June 1982, Vince and his wife Linda finalized their purchase of the company that is now known as WWE (formerly the World Wrestling Federation or WWF). At first Vince McMahon attempted to expand his company by acquiring other wrestling organizations within the longstanding territory system, however, he met little success. Rather than physically expanding throughout the country, McMahon simultaneously set out to acquire the industry's top talent and expand his company's presence on television. Under McMahon's leadership, in less than three years the company would be in 95 percent of the households in the United States, making it the largest syndicated professional wrestling presence on television. The WWF was featured on cable television with popular programs like All American Wrestling, Tuesday Night Titans, and WWF Prime Time Wrestling. McMahon soon developed agreements with television stations that stated the WWF would pay five percent of the net receipts of each live event in the station's geographic area. This arrangement would encourage television stations to promote upcoming WWF live events, resulting in increased exposure for the WWF and continuous live event sellouts.

In 1985, the World Wrestling Federation's roster of wrestlers was developing into what would be the best in the industry. The centerpiece of the WWF roster was Hulk Hogan, a charismatic and larger than life character who had honed his professional wrestling skills since 1977 and had recently become the WWF World Heavyweight Champion in 1984. Hogan was the perfect mix of "Americana" with the morals of a good guy, but the aggressiveness of the "toughest guy in the room."


Hogan was an immediate hit with WWF fans, however, Hogan's intense rivalry with the wrestler known as "Rowdy" Roddy Piper helped the WWF overtake their competitors in 1985. Although Piper had made his mark in the wrestling business in the early 1970s, his addition to the WWF roster as a villain in 1984 propelled his career to new heights. Piper was obnoxious, quick-witted, aggressive, and at the forefront of a trend of popular bad guys. The combination of Hogan and Piper provided the perfect main-event atmosphere needed to make the WWF excel and grab the attention of the American mainstream.

Interviews with WWF Superstars
February 1985 - Oakland, California

On March 30, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T hosted NBC's Saturday Night Live.

To highlight his wrestling organization with a marquee event and surpass his competitors, McMahon utilized his excellent marketing skills to showcase his product. On March 31, 1985, the WWF produced the wrestling entertainment mega-event known as WrestleMania, which would soon become an annual occurrence. The first WrestleMania was broadcast on 135 closed-circuit networks and featured celebrities like Liberace, Cindy Lauper, former Yankee manager Billy Martin, and boxing legend Muhammad Ali. WrestleMania also included A-Team and Rocky III actor Mr. T, who teamed with WWF World Heavyweight Champion Hulk Hogan to defeat the nefarious team of "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff in the main event.

WrestleMania Promotional Video

World Wrestling Federation Logo Introduction

WWF Promotional Commercial from Australia

McMahon's strategy of combining professional wrestling, mainstream entertainment, and television exposure continued to build throughout 1985. Cindy Lauper's involvement with the WWF included multiple appearances at wrestling events and numerous WWF wrestlers appeared in her music videos. WWF dubbed its collaboration with Lauper, The Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection in 1984, a marketing move that would open doors for the WWF everywhere in 1985 from MTV to network television.

Cindy Lauper's Goonies 'R" Good Enough featuring WWF Superstars

The year 1985 also saw the WWF aggressively expanding its merchandising division, selling T-shirts, wrestling action figures, and home entertainment options. The WWF licensed LJN to produce its first-ever line of wrestling action figures. The first batch of action figures featured the likeness of Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, the Junkyard Dog, and the Iron Sheik. These WWF figures provided an ingenious and invaluable way to expose young fans to the new, more kid-friendly version of professional wrestling. T-shirt sales also grew tremendously with the popularity of the WWF. While the initial sale of T-shirts began at live events, a mail-order business soon became very profitable as the desire to display their favorite wrestlers boomed with the youth throughout Canada and the United States.

World Wrestling Federation Merchandise Catalog

With his previous success, McMahon created new and creative partnerships to further the WWF's impact on American culture. In the spring of 1985, the WWF released its first series of Video Home System (VHS) tapes through its new home video company Coliseum Video. During 1985, the WWF release 14 VHS tapes which included pay-per-view events, wrestler profiles, and compilations.

Match from Coliseum Video's The Best of WWF: Volume IV 

In April, highlighting the immense popularity of professional wrestling led by the WWF, Hulk Hogan was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. On May 11, after a 30-year professional wrestling absence from broadcast network television, WWF's Saturday Night's Main Event debuted on the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) television network. Saturday Night's Main Event's three 1985 episodes brought in some of the best ratings for NBC during the 1985 television season.


Although the WWF had a lucrative deal with the USA Network cable television station, McMahon saw the need for more television exposure. While the WWF continued its partnerships with the Philadelphia Spectrum and its television network PRISM and the Madison Square Garden Network, it also entered into a valuable agreement with the Boston Garden and the New England Sports Network.

Advertisement for the WWF on the Madison Square Garden Network

On September 18, 1985, the animated series, Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n Wrestling premiered on Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) television network to further extend WWF's exposure to children. The cartoon was broadcast on Saturday mornings and lasted for two seasons, with reruns airing until June 1987.

Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n Wrestling Cartoon Opening

To extend the music and wrestling connection, The Wrestling Album was released in November 1985, by the World Wrestling Federation. The album featured ten songs that mostly featured professional wrestlers singing. One of the exceptions was a track by Rick Derringer, "Real American," that became Hulk Hogan's theme music until he departed the WWF in 1993.

Hulk Hogan Theme, "Real American"

Land of 1000 Dances sung by the WWF Superstars

The WWF received a major superstar to its roster with the addition of "Macho Man" Randy Savage in June 1985. Some of the most memorable wrestlers of all-time made up the supporting cast of the WWF in 1985, like the Junkyard Dog, Tito Santana, Lou Albano, Paul Orndorff, Wendi Richter, Big John Studd, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and Andre the Giant.

Randy "Macho Man" Savage's WWF Debut

Randy "Macho Man" Savage on TNT on the USA Network

WWF Heavyweight Champion Hulk Hogan vs Randy Savage
December 30, 1985

On July 2, 1985, with so much mainstream attention and all-star roster, the industry standard Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) and its sister publications reinstated world title recognition to the World Wrestling Federation in their magazines, after ignoring the wrestling promotion title since 1983. The power and impact of Hulk Hogan as world champion could not be ignored. This move by PWI symbolized that the WWF was a force to be recognized.


In 1985 the WWF and Vince McMahon took full advantage of the changing American society to become the leader of "Sports Entertainment" in a new Golden Age of Professional Wrestling.

1985 World Wrestling Federation (WWF) Roster
WWE Hall of Fame Members: Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy PiperAndre the Giant"Macho Man" Randy SavagePaul OrndorffWendi RichterTito Santana"Mr. USA" Tony AtlasGreg "The Hammer" ValentineBig John StuddRicky "The Dragon" SteamboatIron SheikNikolai VolkoffJunkyard DogBret "Hitman" HartDavey Boy SmithHillbilly JimJesse "The Body" Ventura,"Polish Power" Ivan PutskiRocky Johnson"Cowboy" Bob Orton"Superfly" Jimmy Snuka"Magnificent" Don MuracoGeorge "The Animal" SteeleBarry WindhamMike RotundoTerry FunkPedro Morales, Mr. Fuji, Mad Dog Vachon, Mil MascarasTop Superstars: Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, Adrian Adonis, King Kong Bundy, Dynamite Kid, Ken Patera, Leilani Kai, Brutus Beefcake, Hercules Hernandez, Dino Bravo, King Tonga, B. Brian Blair, "Jumping" Jim Brunzell, Judy Martin, Dick Murdoch. Other Superstars: "Leaping" Lanny Poffo, Corporal Kirchner, Uncle Elmer, Danny Spivey, Paul Roma, Jim Powers, Wenona Little Heart, SD "Special Delivery" Jones, "Quick Draw" Rick McGraw, "Playboy" Buddy Rose, David Sammartino, George Wells, "Iron" Mike Sharpe, Tiger Chung Lee, Jose Luis Rivera, Luc Poirier, The Spoiler, Matt Borne, Moondog Spot, Moondog Rex, Cousin Junior, Barry O, Steve Lombardi, Mr. X, Salvatore Bellomo, Velvet McIntyre, Missing Link, Tony Garea, Rene Goulet.

Major 1985 World Wrestling Federation Events
February 18: The War to Settle the Score, held at Madison Square Garden in New York City
March 31: WrestleMania, held at Madison Square Garden in New York City
May 11: Saturday Night's Main Event, held at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in New York
July 8: King of the Ring, held at Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts
August 26: Lutte vs. WWF, held at the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
September 5: Saturday Night's Main Event, held at Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey
November 2: Saturday Night's Main Event, held in Hershey, Pennsylvania
November 7: The Wrestling Classic, held at the Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Illinois

Hulk Hogan vs "Rowdy" Roddy Piper
November 7, 1985


Interesting quotes about WWF's historic year, from the CBS SPORTS article, WWE in 1985: An Oral History 
  • "Mr. USA" TONY ATLAS (former WWE Tag Team Champion): What Vince would do, he would let another company spend the money to build you up. Then he would call you up, offer you more money and get you to leave the company that made you.
  • "Leaping" LANNY POFFO (WWE wrestler, 1985-1992 and brother of Randy "Macho Man" Savage): Nobody could overcome the inertia that they were starting. The only people that didn't admit that it was a phenomenon were the jealous people.
  • TITO SANTANA (former WWE Intercontinental Champion): I think everybody had mixed feelings when Vince started bringing big names into professional wrestling. The wrestlers ourselves, we didn't think we needed it. But Vince was thinking in a different way. He was thinking about giving us publicity with a different fan.
  • THE IRON SHEIK (former WWE Champion): [Speaking of WrestleMania] I know that Mr. McMahon, he have the vision to make the best show for the fans. New York always number one territory so when he tell the boys Muhammad Ali, the Liberace, Lauper, all them come to show, I know it become the best show of all time.
  • DON MURACO (former WWE Intercontinental Champion): That was really the start of the change. 1985 you could say was the beginning of the changing of professional wrestling into the new era with the merchandising and the dolls, and there was a wrestling cartoon.
  • BRUTUS BEEFCAKE: Vince was a marketing genius who was able to really put the greatest show on earth together. He was the man. I thank God for him every day that he put us all together and gave us an opportunity and put our faces out around the world.
  • DON MURACO: Vince had a brilliant mind. Took wrestling in a whole different direction. He made professional wrestling relevant as an entertainment industry, or a sport or however you want to look at it. He may be enjoying his billion. I hope he is. But I imagine he's still going over scripts and issues for the next SummerSlam.
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) story about the WWF



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