If this were WrestleMania 31, we might borrow a Baskin-Robbins motif and assign a specific flavor to each superstar setting foot in the ring (Roman Reigns would be Butter Pecan, because nobody likes him).
Alas, it’s WrestleMania 32, and there aren’t a lot of ways to get cute with the number 32. You might say it’s an almost trivial number, or go a step further and suggest that inherent triviality has trickled down to the mediocrity of this year’s ‘Mania card. From where we sit, that makes this Sunday’s brouhaha in Dallas the perfect opportunity to inundate you with trivial information spanning the event’s three-plus decades of grappling and grandeur. Specifically, 32 pieces of obscure, esoteric and extraordinary WrestleMania facts dating back to 1985 that illustrate how WWE’s signature event has come to exemplify the company’s beguiling marriage of sports and entertainment.
Now, if you’ll excuse us – we’re going to track down some of those Superstars Ice Cream Bars.
The T and T Connection
Plenty of celebrities and/or celeb athletes have participated in WrestleMania over the years. But only two have pulled on tights to compete in a ‘Mania main event. Mr. T teamed up with Hulk Hogan to topple Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff and close out WrestleMania I. (Mr. T returned the following year, too, earning a victory in a boxing match against Piper by DQ.) Ten years later, at WrestleMania XI, L.T. (aka ex-New York Giants great Lawrence Taylor) improbably put down the mighty Bam Bam Bigelow to wrap up the night. And who said wrestling’s not realistic?
The “Phenomenal” A.J. Styles is making his WrestleMania debut against Chris Jericho this week, a rite of passage that puts him in elite company alongside, uh, Fandango. What really distinguishes Styles’ appearance is that it puts him in a unique category of one. After Sunday, the globetrotting, 38-year-old Georgia native will be one of a handful of wrestlers to have competed in WWE, TNA and New Japan’s flagship PPV shows (Mania, Lockdown and Wrestle Kingdom, respectively). Before him, Jeff Jarrett was the most recent to accomplish the feat when he worked WK 9.
Page-ing a Chauffeur
Never subtle, Jimmy Hart titled his entrance theme for Honky Tonk Man and Greg Valentine, aka Rhythm & Blues, “Honka Honka Honka Honky Love.” The pair debuted their “hit” – which, incongruously, was already honored with a gold record – at WrestleMania VI on April 1, 1990. And driving their vintage Caddy down the ramp was none other than Diamond Dallas Page, then a fledgling manager and sometime wrestler for AWA and other promotions. The next time he made his way through the curtain and toward a ‘Mania ring was 12 years later as WWF European Champion. Diamond, apparently, is forever.
Playboy or Bust
Historically, WWE has rarely shied away from soliciting audiences with attractive women, but only a handful of ‘Mania‘s celebrity guest stars had posed for Playboy prior to making a cameo at Vince McMahon’s premiere gala. Vanna White showed up on a cover in 1987, prior to signing on as guest time-keeper at WrestleMania IV the next spring; 20 years later, Kim Kardashian parlayed her sex-tape infamy into a December 2007 Playboy cover, E! TV show and, in March 2008, an inexplicable role as “host” of WrestleMania XXIV; Late-night seductress Rhonda Shear (who’s no Renee Young) graced the mag’s pages in 1991, and kept time at WrestleMania X in ’94; Jenny McCarthy memorably valeted Shawn Michaels to his title match against Razor Ramon at WrestleMania XI in April ’95, just a couple years removed from being named Playboy‘s Playmate of the Year; and in her opposite corner at ‘Mania XI, accompanying eventual victor Diesel, was none other than Pamela Anderson, whose first Playboy pictorial hit stands way back in 1989. And no, Clara Peller never stripped down for a payday.
Queen of Soul’s Double Take
“America the Beautiful” is always a prominent WrestleMania moment, and WWE’s managed to recruit everyone from Ray Charles to John Legend for the performing honors. But only one world-famous recording artist has stepped behind the microphone twice for the occasion (no offense to Lilian Garcia), and it might be our greatest living vocalist: Ms. Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul brought the Silverdome to its feet at WrestleMania III, and waited 20 years for her encore at ‘Mania 23. In retrospect, it’s rather unfortunate that during the latter, she wailed her ode to our country’s greatness while sharing an arena with this guy.
Lemmy At ‘Em…Again
Not to be outdone by Ms. Aretha, the late, iconic Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister – who of course penned Triple H’s pair of latter-career theme songs – earmarked significant distinction in his own right. Motörhead are the only musical act to have performed during a wrestler’s entrance – the Game’s, naturally – at two separate WrestleMania events (X-Seven and 21). The only tragedy is that Lemmy and the boys can’t make it a threepeat.
The Legend of 93,173
Fans and statisticians have long debated whether WrestleMania III actually packed 93,173 attendees inside the Pontiac Silverdome. Regardless, it is still considered a record for live WWE attendance – one they hope to break Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
The Charles Wright Stuff
When longtime WWE talent Charles Wright accepts his place in the Hall of Fame Saturday as the Godfather, he’d be justified in reminding folks that he was more than some pimp daddy in a cheap vest. Wright, as it happens, can claim to be the only individual to compete in various ‘Mania matches over the years as four disparate, assumed personas. First, there was Papa Shango (circa ‘Mania VIII); next came a tussle with the Undertaker as Kama at ‘Mania XI, followed by debut as the aforementioned Godfather at ‘Mania 2000 and finally, his U-turn as Right to Censor enforcer the Goodfather the next year. The man wore more ‘Mania hates than any other, and deserves a feather in each one.
Speaking of Hall of Fame…
We all know that Pete Rose is one WWE regular who fell a bit short of enshrinement in his original league’s most hallowed building, but a shocking number of Hall of Famers from across pro sports have taken part in at least one ‘Mania. That list includes NFL greats Dick Butkus and Lawrence Taylor, MLB luminaries like Tommy Lasorda and boxing stars no lesser than Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. It’s still real to them, dammit.
Garden of Eden
New York City’s Madison Square Garden wasn’t only home to the very first WrestleMania in 1985. The yearly showcase revisited its ancestral home to commemorate its 10th and 20th installments as well. There hasn’t been an MSG ‘Mania since, but its three turns as host are still the most for any venue in the nation. Take that, Arrowhead Pond.
Miz’s ‘Mania Reality Check
Monetarily, it was likely bigger than any pay stub he collected while on The Real World or The Challenge. And for wrestling fans, it was a message that in the realm of sports entertainment, top-level talent can emigrate from any corner of pop culture. Though to this day, Mike “The Miz” Mizanin can boast that he is the one and only former reality star who made the transition to WWE and eventually headlined WrestleMania, besting John Cena at XXVII (the rare late-era ‘Mania to receive the Roman Numeral treatment) in 2011 to retain his World Heavyweight Championship. He even managed to outshine fellow MTV alum Snooki, who won a six-person mixed-gender tag match on the very same card. Todd Chrisley, it’s your move.
Molly Won’t Go Lightly
Back in the good ol’ days when WWE’s Hardcore Championship could change hands anytime, anywhere, 24/7, “Mighty” Molly Holly became the first and only woman wrestler to win the haphazardly adorned belt at WrestleMania (she did it at X8, after smacking incumbent Hurricane with a frying pan). Naturally, she lost it to Christian the same night. Bonus trivia: The very first female to take the Hardcore title? Indie performer Cynthia Lynch, then playing one of the Godfather’s ladies of the night, at a May 2000 Raw.
The Record-Breaking Kid
There’s a reason Shawn Michaels is dubbed “Mr. WrestleMania,” and it’s not because he it sounded catchier than Hickenbottom. The man has laced up boots for five ‘Mania main events spanning more than a decade. More astoundingly, he’s actually the only superstar who’s opened ‘Mania and closed it out at least three times each, having kicked off the action on his own and with the Rockers at ‘Mania VII, VIII and IX. After playing second fiddle to Lawrence Taylor at ‘Mania XI, the showstopper finally inaugurated his run as top guy by triumphing over Bret Hart in their epic Iron Man confrontation at ‘Mania XII in 1996. Seems like Michaels, not Booker T, should have laid claim as master of the bookend.
Shawn of the Undead
Need more Michaels milestones? How about the unreal fact that he’s the only man who’s wrestled on the ‘Mania card in four different decades? Granted, timing is everything, and his run happened to start in the late ’80s and come to a halt at the turn of the ’10s, but trivia is what technicalities are for.
All Good in the Hood
We know what your highlight of WrestleMania VII was: the Mountie beating Tito Santana. Who can blame you? But a few of us still harken back to that same year’s gimmicky blindfold match between Jake Roberts and Rick Martel, in which the foes went at it while wearing bags on their heads. Not that Jake was worried. In fact, according to a 2014 interview, Roberts beams that he and Martel didn’t even perspire, a feat that maybe wasn’t repeated for another 21 years.
Actually, it’s nowhere in sight. Howard “The Fink” Finkel, WWE’s longtime ring announcer and affable Legends House cast member, has appeared onscreen at some point in every single ‘Mania. So much for Darren Young’s assertions of being “Mr. No Days Off.”
Even Better Than the Heel Thing
It almost happened – John Cena nearly flipped the script and went full heel on the WWE Universe as part of his two-year program with the Rock that arced from WrestleMania XXVIII to 29. Per his revealing interview with Chris Jericho, the face of the company (in every meaning of the word) went so far as to commission new villainous music and gear. Alas, the idea apparently died on the vine fairly early into their storyline (Cena admits to preferring his inspirational role), but maybe one day he’ll auction off those never-worn bad-guy trunks.
It’s been 11 years since Chris Jericho hatched the notion of a Money in the Bank ladder match. Over that time, the fan-favorite quest to climb a bunch of rungs and retrieve a suitcase guaranteeing the winner a future title shot acquired a singular recognition. MITB is the only concept match first installed at WrestleMania (21, to be exact, with Edge as the winner) and later spun off as its own titular PPV (as of 2010). Hell in a Cell, for example, was first unveiled at the defunct Badd Blood event in 1997 when Shawn Michaels and Undertaker tore each other apart. And sadly, the ingenious Playboy Lumberjill premise devised for ‘Mania XXIV never led to protests for further iterations. Money in the Bank, the honor is yours.
The Real “Big Guy”
Nope, not Ryback. We’ll see what becomes of his blowoff with Kalisto for the U.S. Championship on Sunday, but arguably the most underappreciated mammoth dude in WWE lore is the late Nelson Frazier, aka Viscera, Big Daddy V, Mabel, King Mabel, etc. And the cornerstone of his legacy might be having won or retained titles in both singles and tag-team competition at WrestleMania, and under different gimmicks. While all eyes focused on Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon at ‘Mania X, Men on a Mission (comprised of Mabel and then-partner Mo) held onto their straps via count-out against the Quebecers. Fast forward to Mania 2000, and Frazier – as Viscera – was one of several superstars to snatch fleeting Hardcore glory during a notoriously wacky battle royal. Proof that, while he may be remembered for his exploits at King of the Ring, Frazier was secretly a WrestleMania stud.
Rob Van Dam Good
The Undertaker’s no longer undefeated at WrestleMania, but you know what veteran part-timer is? Rob Van Dam. In fact, he’s four for four at the big show, probably in large part because he never had to face the Undertaker. RVD’s tear started with winning the Intercontinental title at ‘Mania X8, and he was last witnessed frog splashing across the ‘Mania ring as part of a victorious foursome feature his old ECW mates. Not sure when the statute of limitations expires on qualified streaks, but it ain’t like this Sunday’s IC ladder match would have suffered for his contribution.
Sure, Dave Bautista’s Mr. Guardians of the Galaxy these days, but in a sense, his real thespian debut (wrestling itself notwithstanding) came in 2005 while promoting WrestleMania 21. Remember when ‘Mania, taking place in Los Angeles that year, went “Hollywood” with MTV Movie Awards-style film spoofs? Unfortunately for Batista, most of us do, especially his starring role in this Taxi Driver send-up, which pre-dated his first legit acting credit on Smallville (ironically as himself) 19 months later. No word on when Bluetista will make a similar leap.
Dead Man Main-Eventing
Fun fact: No one has appeared in ‘Mania main events over a longer span of time while remaining consistently active on the roster than the Undertaker. Or to break it down, the Phenom first headlined at 1997’s ‘Mania 13 versus Sycho Sid, and most recently top-billed the show of shows at XXVI in 2010 by sending Shawn Michaels’ career straight to hell. That’s 13 years between closeout bouts, illustrating just how immortal the Dead Man’s truly been. Yes the Rock nudges him out by a year, but the Great One was on a Hollywood holiday for most of the 2000s and returned for his tangoes with John Cena as a glorified guest star, so there’s really no comparison. None, I say!
For those skeptical of this year’s broadcast being able to leave them agape, bear this in mind: Seth Rollins had no idea he was walking out of Santa Clara last year as champion until the precipice of the moment. Confirming rumors this time last year, Rollins told U.K. publication the Independent that far as cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase and pinning Roman Reigns, “They sprung it on me at the last second.” There’s that mysterious “they.” Hopefully, “they” will be thinking on their feet so that we’re compelled to rise to ours come Sunday night.
The Race Card
WrestleMania lineups have reflected a spectrum of racial, ethnic and gender makeups, though there is one glaring detail: Discounting celebrity cameos a la Mr. T and Lawrence Taylor, fewer non-white superstars have main-evented Mania over the past 30 years than participated in one fell swoop during Mania 2‘s WWF vs. NFL Battle Royal headliner at the Rosemont Horizon. Yokozuna broke the mold (and, quite possibly, the ring) against Bret Hart at ‘Mania IX, but only the Rock and his cousin Roman Reigns have followed in his wake. Shinsuke Nakamura for the Heavyweight Championship next year, anyone?
Austin 3:16 was born at 1996’s King of the Ring, but babyface megastar Steve Austin came into his own against Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13 on March 23, 1997. The image of Stone Cold, a heel par excellence, passing out from blood loss instantly resonated with sympathetic fans, and it’s still rightly regarded as an epic ‘Mania moment. Just ask King Jerry Lawler, who, as Austin can tell you himself in this incisive match commentary, got the Rattlesnake’s blood all over his notes – notes he’s held onto till this day as a token of that fateful clash. Ew.
The Gunn Show
It’s been years since the Smoking Gunns, Billy and Bart, last blew WWE audiences away. But at WrestleMania XV in 1999, there was a reunion of sorts for the pistol-packing duo. Or at least they appeared in separate solo competition on the same’ Mania card for the first time before or since. Believe it or not, Bart was billed higher – though losing the infamous “Brawl for All” to Butterbean might have represented a new nadir. Billy, now zeroed in on singles success apart from the New Age Outlaws, kicked off the night by failing to capture Hardcore Championship glory against Al Snow and Hardcore Holly. No word if the two blew off some steam at the firing range for old times sake.
The Mouth of the South Jimmy Hart was many things to WWE in its first bountiful decade under Vince McMahon’s stewardship: megaphone-toting madman, entrance-theme composer extraordinaire and more of a WrestleMania fixture than Howard Finkel. Over the first eight Mania installments, the Mouth of the South was ringside as manager on 16 occasions. Not even Bobby Heenan could contest that milestone. Though if we’re talking quality vs. quantity, not all of Hart’s charges in those halcyon days – e.g. the Mountie and Earthquake – rank quite as prestigiously as the Brain’s clientele.
Speaking of ringside abetting, the late “Sensational” Sherri Martel was no mere valet or arm candy. She was terrifying, mostly, and broke ground for future atypical women’s competitors like the creepy (and also, sadly, deceased) Luna Vachon. She’s also the only female manager to have been at the side of two former or future World Heavyweight Champions at WrestleMania. After aligning herself with Randy Savage after his ‘Mania V defeat to Hulk Hogan, the two actually teamed up in a Mania VI mixed-tag against Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire (they lost). Soon after, she hooked up with Shawn Michaels – who was a star on the rise after smashing Marty Jannetty’s head through Brutus Beefcake’s barbershop window – and led him out to battle in a successful romp over Tito Santana at ‘Mania VIII. And yes, she’s the original voice on the unfortunate entrance music that dogs Michaels to this day.
State of ‘Mania‘s Union
Surprisingly (or not, when you consider it’s approached like the Super Bowl of pro wrestling), WrestleMania has only touched down in 16 states – or one-third of the continental United States (sorry, Alaska and Hawaii—ain’t happening). So while it’s fun for WWE to fantasize about staging one overseas, what does that do for the fine folks in North Dakota?
Wonder why WWE’s tag division is in disarray? Let’s rewind back all the way back to…2014, when the Usos successfully defended their championship against Los Matadores, the Real Americans and RybAxel – i.e. three teams that have long since either split or ceased appearing on television. Yeesh. Even the Twin Towers managed to survive more than one ‘Mania cycle.
If Triple H goes down to Roman Reigns on Sunday (a distinct probability), he will have one more thing in common with his former DX runningmate and BFF Shawn Michaels. A defeat would mark the Game’s 11th loss at WrestleMania, tying none other HBK (though the current champ’s nine wins, compared to Michaels’ six, save him some face) for all-time notoriety. Naturally, that’s a testament to their longevity and, moreover, gamesmanship later in their careers. But who would’ve thought these guys would have absorbed more ‘Mania losses than Heath Slater, Zack Ryder and the Bushwhackers combined?
Thank God It’s Sunday?
People kid about PPVs sometimes feeling more like Sunday Night Raw, but odds are WWE’s monthly marquees won’t be trading timeslots with its flagship USA show anytime soon. Though there was one instance when the powers that be arbitrarily aired WrestleMania on a Monday evening: the all-around anomalous, multi-city simulcast melee that was ‘Mania 2. Why it took place on April 7, 1986 as opposed to April 6 is anyone’s guess. Then again, maybe it’s a more appropriate notion for these modern times, when finding time for Walking Dead finales, MLB openers, awards ceremonies and Game of Thrones while prioritizing WWE’s umpteen Sunday specials leaves us wishing – in the spirit of Mania 2 – we could be in three places at once.