By Jared Rosenblum
Professional wrestling, or what is now known as sports-entertainment, has always been a worldwide phenomenon. World Wrestling Entertainment, otherwise known as WWE, is the biggest and most well-known company and is a pop culture icon. Many past and present WWE Superstars, such as Hulk Hogan, Triple H, The Rock, and John Cena have been featured in various television shows and movies. However, the question remains, how did a once small company become so recognized?
WWE started as the Capitol Wrestling Corporation and was promoted and owned by Roderick James “Jess” McMahon. Jess McMahon was known as a boxing promoter in the early 1900’s but it wasn’t until he got together with former pro wrestler, Joseph Raymond “Toots” Mondt that he became famous as a promoter of pro wrestling. Not a lot is known about the early history of CWC except that it joined with the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) in 1953.
In 1953, Jess’s son Vincent J. McMahon was brought in to take over for his father and promote the CWC in the northeast territory. In a short amount of time Vince, Sr. and Toots Mondt controlled 70% of the NWA’s booking and started a wrestling revolution.
In 1963, the NWA Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion was “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers and because wrestling was very territorial Rogers was to travel to every territory to defend his title. Mondt rarely let Rogers leave the northeast territory, thus making the rest of the NWA territories very unhappy. When Rogers lost the NWA Championship to Lou Thesz in Toronto on January 24, 1963, McMahon and Mondt left the NWA in protest and formed the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) with Rogers as their world champion.
On May 17, 1963, Bruno Sammartino defeated Buddy Rogers for the WWWF title and his reign lasted seven years, eight months, and one day, making him the longest reigning WWWF champion of all time. Some of the great stars at this time were Gorilla Monsoon, “Superstar” Billy Graham, Pedro Morales, and Ivan Koloff, just to name a few. But it wasn’t until 1980, after the promotion became the World Wrestling Federation, that wrestling became something more.
In 1980, Vincent K. McMahon, who is still the owner, took over for his ailing father and began an expansion process that eventually changed wrestling forever. McMahon’s first step was signing Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Jesse Ventura. Hogan had national recognition for appearing in Rocky III and became the WWF Champion on January 23, 1984, which is believed to be the day that Hulkamania was born. McMahon also teamed up with a small upstart television network named MTV to feature his wrestling promotion. Celebrities such as Cyndi Lauper and Mr. T joined in and became a part of the action and started the era known as “The Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection”. Wrestling had reached an all time peak and McMahon wanted to capitalize it with a mega event to encompass it all.
WrestleMania became the event that shook wrestling to its foundation. WrestleMania featured spectacular matches such as Andre The Giant vs. Big John Studd and a women’s championship match between Wendi Richter, accompanied by Cyndi Lauper against Leilani Kai. The main attraction of WrestleMania was Hulk Hogan and Mr. T facing off against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff with Muhammad Ali as a special guest referee. Other well known figures that appeared at the extravaganza were Liberace and Billy Martin. WrestleMania was a huge success and is an event and tradition that continues to this very day.
McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation had become a pop culture icon. WWF sold out arenas and stadiums everywhere they went and the wrestlers were looked at as heroes and role models, especially Hulk Hogan. However, in the early 90’s, a scandal broke out that nearly crippled the WWF and changed its place in pop culture.
McMahon was charged with distributing steroids to his employees and taken to trial. This put wrestling in a bad light and caused the popularity of the WWF to fall. However, McMahon was ultimately acquitted of the charges and decided to promote wrestling differently. Instead of pushing larger, muscular wrestlers, McMahon pushed smaller, agile and more technical stars such as Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. “The New Generation,” as this era was called, became much more family oriented but the business fell into a lull until the late 90’s.
World Championship Wrestling, WCW, became WWF’s main rival and WCW started to push the envelope. By centering storylines around sex and adult subject matter, WCW was looked as being a breath of fresh air to WWF’s family orientated programming. In order to compete with WCW and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), WWF decided to go in the same direction with their “Attitude Era.” Stone Cold Steve Austin became WWF’s next big star. Austin was a beer-drinking, foul-mouthed, rebellious wrestler who gained a huge fan following. Austin started doing things that normal people wished they could do, such as beating up their boss. Vince McMahon eventually became an on-screen character and feuded with a large number of his own wrestlers in storylines, but perhaps his most famous rival was Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Austin-McMahon rivalry became the centerpiece of the “Attitude Era” and in the end, put WCW and ECW out of business in 2001.
In 2002, WWF became WWE after a lawsuit by the World Wildlife Fund over the use of the letters WWF. WWE was now more focused on the entertainment value and less about the actual wrestling, which forced a number of fans to look for other promotions. Recently, WWE has started to notice that fans want to see more wrestling and are slowly evolving to please those fans. Two matches that supports this are Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXV and XXVI.
While wrestling doesn’t have a clean record, it is definitely a great mix of sports and entertainment. Many people may not realize how much their daily interactions are wrestling related. Many people can be heard saying “suck it,” which stems from WWE’s D-Generation X. This just shows that wrestling is such an influential form of entertainment and should not be denied its place in pop culture.
For Further Information
Shields, Brian, and Kevin Sullivan. WWE Encyclopedia.
Bradygames, 2009. Print.
Jared Rosenblum is an undergraduate student at St. Thomas Aquinas College, majoring in Communications. Currently a junior, he plans to work in some fashion with the WWE coordinating their live events.