Posted in: Mr. Tito
MR. TITO STRIKES BACK - How Sylvester Stallone's Rocky 3 Film Made WWE and Wrestlemania Successful
By Mr. Tito
Mar 7, 2015 - 1:04:04 AM

Follow Mr. Tito on @titowrestling

Wrestlemania 31 is just around the corner... Yet, I'm worn out on talking about this year's show. I feel like I've said all I need to say on Roman Reigns, I'm waiting to see what happens with Brock Lesnar, and the rest of the Wrestlemania 31 card needs to develop. Gotta love how the WWE is shoving as many warm bodies on their roster as possible into the Intercontinental Title Ladder Match and the Andre the Giant Battle Royal, as if winning either match means anything long-term. We saw what happened to Cesaro last year and the WWE hasn't really given a crap about a midcard title since 1998.

So... I'd rather write about something fun or at least fun to me.

I LOVE the Rocky films which star Sylvester Stallone as a boxer who starts from nothing and yet with a lucky break given to him by boxing champion, Apollo Creed, becomes somebody. The first film sees Creed wanting to give a lower level boxer an opportunity against the World Champion. Creed loves Rocky's nickname the Italian Stallion and gives him an opportunity. Lucky for Rocky, he has an amazing oldschool trainer named Mickey who prepares him well against Apollo. The fight goes the distance and that sets up the sequel, Rocky 2, where Apollo gives Rocky another World Title shot to prove that the first match was a fluke. In what amounts to a classic finish with a double-knockdown, Rocky is able to beat the 10 count while Apollo can't. Rocky is now the World Champion. That sets the stage for Rocky 3 where Rocky heads into the film as World Champion. The film starts out with Rocky defending the World Title repeatedly for a while through a montage but then a new challenger emerges.

Rocky 3 debuted on May 28th, 1982 and end up making $270 Million in the box office, a major hit for its time. Consider that Rocky #1 made $225 Million and Rocky #2 made $200 Million, that is remarkable. Rocky 3's success would lead to another sequel in 1985, Rocky 4, which made $300 million. For 1980's numbers, that's amazing especially considering that each film had a budget under $30 million each. What made Rocky 3 and Rocky 4 more financially successful than Rocky 1 and Rocky 2 were the villains. Whereas Apollo was just a confident champion, Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago appeared as villains who aggressively sought Rocky as an opponent and really challenged Rocky as a human being to overcome major obstacles. At the very least, you could feel sympathy for Apollo and by Rocky 4, you openly cry when Ivan Drago actually kills him in the boxing ring.

But anyway, the point of this column... Rocky 3 was a MAJOR success! $270 Million made in 1982 is quite absurd. But what might have helped Rocky 3 was the nationwide debut of 2 new celebrities that would just dominate the rest of the 1980's and help headline the debuting Wrestlemania 1 in 1985. The Rocky 3 main villain mentioned above, Clubber Lang, was played by none other than Mr. T. Before Rocky fought Mr. T or Clubber Lang in 2 fights during Rocky 3, Rocky fought a pro wrestler named Thunderlips in a charity fight. Thunderlips was none other than Hulk Hogan whom the WWF let go because Vince McMahon Sr. was upset that Hogan requested time off to film a movie. Oops... Lucky for Vince Sr., his son Vince McMahon Jr. was able to get Hulk Hogan back into the WWE by late 1983. Through 1985, the WWE was able to team up the Rocky 3 stars to help co-headline Wrestlemania 1 against Roddy Piper and Paul Ordorff.

Without Mr. T and Hulk Hogan being in Rocky 3, where would the WWE be during the 1980's? How effective would Wrestlemania 1 be in 1985? Reportedly, Wrestlemania 1 was a huge financial gamble for Vince McMahon Jr. that paid off with how well the show drew nationwide attention and helped grow the WWE brand. Who would Vince McMahon turn to as a babyface draw if he didn't have Hulk Hogan on fire after the 1982 hit movie Rocky 3? Where would Mr. T be without Rocky 3? Mr. T would go on to star in other films, have his own television show called the A-Team, and do very well with merchandise.

If I were Sylvester Stallone, I would at least ask for a WWE Hall of Fame spot for his indirect contributions to the WWE. Seriously... Better yet for Stallone, would the WWE come up with the Lana character if they didn't have Ivan Drago's Russian wife character in Rocky 4? I think not...

Without Rocky 3, how would most of America know Mr. T? Before Rocky 3, he was a bouncer, a bodyguard, and he did some fighting through toughman competitions. He was gaining popularity among celebrities because of his look. He would do some television work for NBC and eventually caught the eye of Sylvester Stallone looking for a heavy to box in Rocky 3. As he heard Mr. T talk more and more, the speaking role in Rocky 3 significantly increased. Mr. T had an amazing personality that portrayed toughness and he was legitimately tough to boot. He was amazing in Rocky 3 as he not only challenged Rocky, but he questioned his manhood. Rocky didn't take the first fight seriously and Mr. T, playing Clubber Lang, took advantage of the situation (especially after Mickey took a bump in a backstage altercation). Rocky had to really muster up the courage and retrain himself (with help from Apollo Creed) to beat Mr. T in the rematch. Mr. T became a huge star thanks to this movie.

Hulk Hogan, on the other hand, wasn't quite the big babyface sensation until after Rocky 3 debuted in 1982. He started off in the WWE during 1979 as a heel. He did OK... Years before he feuded with Andre the Giant through Wrestlemania 3 in 1987, he was feuding with Andre through 1980. Hogan then went to film his Thunderlips scene in Rocky 3 and along with some international tours, he debuted in American Wrestling Association (AWA) during 1981. He started off as a heel again but was naturally turned into a babyface as Hogan's natural charisma began to shine. Then, May 1982 arrives and fans saw him as Thunderlips in Rocky 3... Suddenly, AWA had the biggest potential wrestling star on their roster. Eventually, Hogan began to chase the AWA Title that was held by longtime AWA veteran Nick Bockwinkel. Whether AWA bookers thought Hogan's "chase" would keep fans captivated or they were purposely protecting Bockwinkle, AWA failed to crown Hogan as AWA Champion despite many false finishes that reversed title decisions. AWA's reluctance created opportunity for Vince McMahon Jr. to steal Hogan as a free agent through late 1983. By January 1984, WWE made Hogan become WWE Champion and he wouldn't drop that title until 1988.

While Hogan and the WWE were drawing through 1984, they needed something bigger to put the WWE over the top of the rest of the competition. A new event was conceived for 1985 and thanks to a snappy named created by announcer Howard Finkle, thinking of "Beatlemania" as a fan of the Beatles band, "Wrestlemania" was born. Not only was the Wrestlemania 1 show in 1985 going to draw huge gate numbers at Madison Square Garden, but it was going to air on closed-circuit television (or private screenings, used widely before Pay Per View on Cable systems were more available). Reportedly, over 1 million individuals were able to watch Wrestlemania #1 on closed-circuit television during 1985 which was the largest viewership number using that type of television technology for its time. And just why was it so big?

Because, again, it put 2 made stars from the film Rocky 3 on the card as a Tag Team in the main event of Wrestlemania 1. Then, the WWE saw the emerging Mtv market as that channel, dedicated to music videos back then, was growing like fire. WWE wanted to be a part of that and thus dispatched wrestling stars to cross over with music stars. Pop singer Cyndi Lauper was white hot through 1985 (named "Best New Artist" that year for the Grammy Awards) following the success of her 1983 album She's So Usual that would go on to sell 6 million copies in the United States. That's the album with the smash hit Girls Just Want to Have Fun and it had a music video which featured WWE's Captain Lou Albano. She would later appear with Hulk Hogan for several WWE/Mtv cross-promotional appearances to help hype the eventual Mr. T/Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper/Paul Orndorff main event. At Wrestlemania 1, Lauper would help manage Wendy Richter in the Women's Title match.

Cyndi Lauper and Mtv's help aside... What does the WWE have to hype if they don't have Hulk Hogan and Mr. T?

Now, longtime AWA fans will tell you that Hulk Hogan was blossoming as a star through 1981 and early 1982 before Rocky 3 came out... He could have made it as a star anyway. While Rocky 3 helped, Hogan was still charismatic and had the perfect personality as a pro wrestler. If you look at his Thunderlips character versus what Hulk Hogan became, there's a big difference. He plays a cheesy heel in Rocky 3 but a superhero in a wrestling ring as a babyface. Quite possibly, Hulk Hogan could have become the big star anyway... But damn, Rocky 3 made him grow exponentially into a nationwide superstar that made Vince McMahon's mouth water through 1983 when looking to raid territories for their top wrestlers. Without Hulk Hogan, it's unknown who Vince could push instead... Some say that Greg "the Hammer" Valentine was loved by WWE officials at the time, but with the way Hammer was under appreciated later by the WWE, I don't know... I figure Roddy Piper or Paul Orndorff could have done well as the top babyface. It's quite a mystery as to what WWE would have done if they didn't steal a red hot Hulk Hogan from the AWA during late 1983.

As for Mr. T, I would worry about his star power without Rocky 3 and Wrestlemanias 1 and 2 (he boxed Roddy Piper) needed his star power to help draw casual fans. Mr. T was the perfect personality that caused many fans to fork over cash to see him wrestle. Mr. T and Mike Tyson are in that exclusive celebrity club that helped use their star power to help boost a wrestling promotion's drawing power (maybe Dennis Rodman for WCW during 1997). Mr. T did an amazing job, too, in Rocky 3 as Clubber Lang. It wasn't just a lucky break for Mr. T but what he made of it that made him famous. His personality as Lang in Rocky 3 was off the charts!

In my opinion, the WWE's rapid growth during the mid-1980's slows down and Wrestlemania 1 wouldn't be as popular without Rocky 3 happening during 1982. Its establishment of two new stars, Mr. T and Hulk Hogan, was extremely important for the WWE to exploit through 1985. WWE made fans relive Rocky 3, but with Thunderlips and Clubber Lang tagging up, during Wrestlemania 1. The WWE was able to keep milking that film with Mr. T's boxing match at Wrestlemania 2 against Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan's King Kong Bundy match as well. Mr. T would on to more Hollywood projects while Hulk Hogan's star kept growing thanks to his Andre and Macho Man feuds. Hulk Hogan would become the biggest star ever in pro wrestling, period.

Without Rocky 3, the pro wrestling landscape is different... WWE needed its newly created stars, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, to grow as fast as it did through 1985 and beyond. Enjoy Wrestlemania 31 but also check out Rocky 3, one of the luckiest reasons why the WWE and Wrestlemania became great.


Enjoy some Hulk Hogan / Thunderlips clips if you haven't seen Rocky 3 yet...

And the awesomeness of Mr. T / Clubber Lang from Rocky 3 as well:


Comments and feedback are welcome. Follow and Tweet me @titowrestling or login in below to post comments.

© Mr. Tito and - 1998-2015