The National Wrestling Alliance was a group of promoters who each ran their own geographic territories and shared the same World Champion. Because the Northeast promoters became too powerful and were making it hard to get the champion, Buddy Rogers to appear in other territories, the other promoters pulled a power play and voted for Lou Thez to become champ, a wrestler they knew wasn’t too popular in the Northeast. In 1963, the Northeast promoters formed the World Wide Wrestling Federation. In one of their first matches, Bruno Sammartino beat Buddy Rogers to become champion. The most powerful promoters of this new federation were Vince McMahon Sr. and Toots Mondt.
The first decade and a half of the WWF was dominated by Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales. Vince’s idea of having a strong ethnic champion that represented the nationalities of his customers was a very successful idea. During this time, Madison Square Garden in New York City became known as the mecca of professional wrestling. The fans in this part of the country loved to see big men fight each other while the other parts of the country featured a more amateur style of wrestling. After Mondt’s death in 1976, the company was renamed The World Wrestling Federation. Vince McMahon Sr. was very old school and believed his wrestlers should be wrestlers and avoid the limelight because of the inevitable questions about the legitamcy of wrestling. He fired one of his stars for appearing in a movie. That star was Hulk Hogan. Hulk went on to fight for Verne Gagne and the American Wrestling Association, the only other rival to the NWA which was based in the mid-west.
The new boss and a new business idea
Vince Sr. sold the company to his son in 1983. If his father knew what his son had planned, he might not have sold it to him. Vince knew that with the advent of cable TV, wrestling would not be a regional business anymore. He set out to conquer the wrestling world. In one of his first moves, he signed Hulk Hogan and used him as his ambassador for his brand of wrestling. Vince then started invading other territories by signing their stars, appearing in their local arenas and appearing on the local stations in their area. Vince saw the attention a small promotion in Memphis got when Andy Kaufman got involved in wrestling and he wanted that type of exposure.
The Rock-n-Wrestling Era
Wrestling manager Lou Albano appeared in Cyndi Lauper’s video “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. McMahon took advantage of this publicity by involving Lauper in his programming. This led to a match being featured live on MTV between the Fabulous Moolah (with Lou Albano) and Wendi Richter (with Cyndi Lauper). As Vince was expanding, it was costing him a lot of money to get TV time and he needed to do something big. In a make or break event for the company, Vince got Mr. T to main event in the first WrestleMania in 1985 and the WWF became an unstoppable force. All this exposure led to incredible licensing agreements that were previously non-existent in the wrestling business and a show on NBC that broadcast on some of the weeks Saturday Night Live wasn’t filming. While critics of his brand of wrestling complained it was becoming too cartoonish, Vince was making money on a WWF based cartoon that featured Brad Garret as the voice of Hulk Hogan. Vince was putting the other promoters out of business and by this point only had one real opponent left to conquer, Jim Crockett , who had a show on TBS. This era of wrestling was highlighted by the 1987 event WrestleMania 3 which set a North American indoor attendance record with an attendance of over 90,000 people. Even more importantly, this event was the first truly successful event for the pay per view industry.