As I was reading the book “Accepted” by Pat Patterson last month, I got more than halfway through and wondered if he had left out the first WrestleMania or something. Fortunately, he went back in the timeline later to discuss that and inventing the Royal Rumble.
I have all the respect in the world for Muhammad Ali, but when he showed up to be the referee for that match between Hulk Hogan and Mr. T against Paul Orndorff and Roddy Piper, I realized right away that he would not be able to perform a normal referee’s duties in the ring.
Muhammad Ali was promoted as the special referee for the first WrestleMania main event, but was bumped to the outside at the very last minute as Patterson took over those duties. Ali had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease within the prior year so it was not clear how many people knew what that meant. Patterson being in the ring was helpful to get Mr. T through the match as well since Pat had a role in training him. With so much on the line, things needed to go smoothly.
“Don’t worry, I’m Pat Patterson; I will take care of everything,” I said. And you know what he said? “I’m Chuck Norris and I trust you.” Ain’t that something? Somebody should put that on the internet: “When Chuck Norris gets nervous, he trusts Pat Patterson.”
I highlighted this just because it amused me, re: Pat’s troubleshooting the Mania 1 main event.
What a lot of people don’t know about the first WrestleMania is exactly how much Vince gambled on that show.
I wouldn’t say people didn’t know since they push this narrative strongly in WWE Canon. As part of the expansion in the prior year, Vince was leveraged heavily and if closed circuit locations didn’t make big money then bankruptcy might be in the offing. But they got lucky with some of the promotion: Hogan choking Richard Belzer and Hogan and Mr. T getting to host SNL the night before the show. A lot of the closed circuit business was walk up the day of the event or advance purchases late in the game.
The first Royal Rumble was on January 24, 1988, in Hamilton, Ontario.
WRONG! While this is true in terms of a televised show, there was a Royal Rumble match held as a test in October 1987 at the old St. Louis Arena. In a screwup that sounds more WCW than WWF/E, they announced that the winner would receive a title shot at the next show in St. Louis even though Hulk Hogan vs. One Man Gang was already announced. Surprise! The Gang won the match, which lasted all of 12 minutes.
Like many fans, I am fond of older Rumble matches and I reviewed all of them, at least the ones from 1988 to 2002 and 2014 to the present.
I wanted to create something special, something just like we had in San Francisco where it had been such a hot event.
Battle royals were an annual tradition in the San Francisco territory and were a pretty good draw there and in places like Los Angeles and St. Louis (that 1987 debacle notwithstanding). For how renowned Patterson is as a booker, this is probably his number one idea that was put into action.
You know what I would like to see done every year? I’d love to be introduced as the creator of the match and give a cup to the winner at ringside. It would be just like the Stanley Cup in hockey.
I love this idea, except how in wrestling they only use trophies for props to advance angles and they get destroyed. Even with something that was treated as “solemn” like the Andre the Giant battle royal, on the very first edition Cesaro’s trophy was destroyed the very next night. Along with his post-WM30 push, but that’s a rant for another time.
I fondly remember asking Vince about putting together an old-timer battle royal. He was sure no one would come because he felt they all hated him. They all came at my request. I caught some flak because I forgot about Angelo Poffo. A few days after the show, Vince told me Macho Man was going crazy because I didn’t invite his father to participate.
Randy Savage was very devoted to his father that he held this grudge supposedly until the end of his life. I would love to see this match, but it doesn’t exist on tape. Lou Thesz won it at the ripe old age of 71 which is mildly surprising given the number of longtime WWF veterans in the match like Arnold Skaaland, Tony Garea, and others.
It wouldn”t be the last time something with Angelo Poffo caused havoc; in 1995, announcer Gordon Solie resigned from WCW because he left Poffo was not worthy of induction into the WCW Hall of Fame. That’s only surprising in that there was a WCW Hall of Fame?
Coming up next time: A discussion of the infamous Bulldogs/Rougeaus backstage fight, and thoughts on the city of Montreal.