I Want My MTV: The Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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I Want My MTV: The Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection

Chris Morley wants his WWF.
MTV is often quite rightly lauded for its contribution to popular culture. But just how many would guess its part in something of an Eighties revival in the popularity of professional wrestling? And indeed the rise of what was then the World Wrestling Federation? (As it would remain before the World Wildlife Fund got involved amd forced a name change.)

First, it's probably prudent to consider the system as it was before, the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) having been firmly in control since 1948 as a sort of governing body for several smaller promotions with the aim of combining various regional championships into a “world” title. All of which were operated under a territorial system - the various states of the US split and governed by member promoters. The first five of whom were Paul “Pinkie” George, Sam Muchnick, Al Haft, Tony Stecher, Harry Light & Orville Brown, who was also formally recognised as the first holder of the "world" title.

As the Online World of Wrestling explains-
“Over time, the National Wrestling Alliance grew into the largest wrestling organization in the world. Eventually, every single long-standing promoter in this country (including the McMahons of the World Wrestling Federation) became members of the NWA.

The only one that didn’t (Verne Gagne’s AWA) was still invited to NWA meetings and was generally regarded as an honorary member. The advantage of having all the promotions in the country belonging to the NWA is that the established promoters all maintained monopolies over their own regional territories because NWA rules dictated that no promoter could cross over into the territory of any other promoter.

Thus, being a member of the NWA meant not having to deal with competition from any other promoter. If a non-NWA promoter tried to muscle in on someone else’s territory, the rest of the NWA members would join forces to make it nearly impossible for the invading non-member promoter to survive.

Since NWA rules also dictated that members of the organization could recognize only one World title, the McMahons’ title was always called the WWF title (not the WWF World title), until 1983 when Vince McMahon broke away from the NWA.”
With the advent of cable TV, the system would eventually be on its knees, and WWF owner Vince McMahon saw an opportunity for the company he'd acquired in 1982 from his father to step in as the first major national wrestling promotion.

Two years later he purchased a TV slot on cable Superstation WTBS, taking over from Georgia Championship Wrestling which had been previously broadcast in that time, for an event which would come to be known as Black Saturday. This was a further expansion following his earlier buying out of another time slot, Sunday morning on the USA Network, formerly belonging to Southwest Championship Wrestling. And having bought out his competitors, McMahon would soon begin signing their stars, including the man most probably popularly aligned with the sport, or more properly "sports entertainment", of the period. From the ranks of the American Wrestling Association, McMahon secured Hulk Hogan.

How does MTV factor into all of this? Well, former wrestler turned manager “Captain” Lou Albano had met Cyndi Lauper on a flight to Puerto Rico. He subsequently appeared as her father in the video for Girls Just Want To Have Fun (WWF wrestlers also appear in some of Lauper's later videos including She Bop, Time After Time and The Goonies R Good Enough). Their friendship, and Lauper's interest in wrestling, led to a scripted fictional storyline in which Albano's sexism angered Lauper, with the pair appearing on various WWF television programs to voice their anger at each other.

From this, Albano spearheaded the "Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection,"a period of cooperation and cross-promotion between the WWF and elements of the music industry. The first major highpoint of this movement came on July 23rd 1984 when it was decided that Lauper & Albano's feud would be settled in a wrestling match. Lauper chose WWF female wrestler Wendi Richter to represent her, while Albano managed reigning WWF Women's Champion, The Fabulous Moolah.

Titled The Brawl To End It All, it was the first wrestling event broadcast on MTV, and also the first live cable broadcast of a woman's wrestling match. There was, in fact, eleven events on the card, with Hogan defeating Greg Valentine and milking Hulkamania for all it was worth. But only the women's match was broadcast live, with Lauper helping Wendi Richter win the WWF's women's title thanks to her 'Loaded Purse Of Doom' and bringing to an end what was promoted as a 28-year reign as champion for the Fabulous Moolah.

MTV then broadcast a second event on February 18th 1985, The War To Settle The Score, which saw The Fabulous Moolah avenge her loss to Richter by managing Leilani Kai to a victory over Richter for the WWF Women's Championship. Cyndi Lauper was involved again, as she intervened in the main event match that saw Hulk Hogan defend his WWF World Heavyweight Championship against Roddy Piper.

Both events were held at Madison Square Gardens, and the main card match from The War To Settle The Score essentially set-up what was marketed as the Super Bowl of professional wrestling - the inaugural Wrestlemania, which took place on March 31st 1985.

Designed as a counter to similar events by the comparatively more established AWA & NWA (Super Sunday & Starrcade), Lauper once more appeared as part of the women's championship match after Hogan & Mr T - another guest - had hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live the evening before the event to help promote it. As The Bleacher Report remembered of the whole effort...
“The show was an event that tried to make wrestling mainstream. It had Muhammad Ali, Billy Martin, Cyndi Lauper, and Mr. T. It was Vince McMahon's official statement that wrestling was no longer just a regional business. Vince was in New York City and Liberace was in the ring playing the piano.

They worked with MTV to help with promotion. MTV was hip and definitely on the up and up with pop culture America and it was the perfect launching pad. With Lauper in tow and MTV in their back pocket, they could market Hulk Hogan, Vince's hand-picked superstar, to the masses.“
But Wrestlemania was not broadcast on MTV. This time McMahon took all that publicity and Hulkamania popularity and turned to pay-per-view broadcasting. A canny business move now the Rock 'n' Wrestling market was well established and his own unique WWF brand had latched onto MTV's pop culture vibe.

Since then, Wrestlemania has grown to become the longest running 'professional wrestling' event in history, as well as most likely the pinnacle of sports entertainment itself. The phrase "sports entertainment" was first coined as "sportive entertainment" by Lou Marsh, sports editor for the Toronto Star in 1935. A variation was then used by the WWF itself to argue to the New Jersey Senate that its product should be classified as such to avoid the sort of regulation applied to conventional sport.

Vince's daughter Stephanie would later offer up a slightly different explanation, though.
“Advertisers either had an adverse reaction to the words 'professional wrestling' or they simply did not understand what it was. So how could we create a term or a label potential partners could understand...that's when we coined the term 'sports entertainment.'"
A term MTV would go from promoting to directly parodying with Celebrity Deathmatch a decade later. Good fight, good night!

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