This day in wrestling history is a little bit different than usual. When we look back, we rarely see a non-wrestling movie make or break of break the industry. It just doesn’t happen. It’s the last thing we expect. But when it does happen, this day in wrestling history takes note as it changed the wrestling world forever.
May 28, 1982 marked a turning point in professional wrestling from a small, regional product to international fame. Rocky 3 made all sorts of history. First, it was the first official trilogy of any movie franchise. Sure, there was the James Bond movies, but they weren’t ever listed as official parts, and each one can be viewed without having to see another, meaning they aren’t a true series as we understand it today.
The second piece of history it made was pulling professional wrestling into the mainstream.
Professional wrestling has always been a local thing, often taking place in dingy, poorly lit arenas instead of the spectacular stadiums and arenas we’re accustomed to today. Basically, it ranged from poor to great environments, depending on the area. A perfect example is Monday Night Raw, despite it beginning in 1993, 11 years after Rocky 3 premiered. We’re used to a clean looking product now, but when it first started, it was anything but. Gene Okerlund even went so far to refer to the Grand Ballroom as the Manhattan Center in not so flattering terms.
By pitting the world’s greatest wrestler against a box office star like Sylvester Stallone and a hit franchise like Rocky, it gave professional a huge push and helped Vince McMahon to make the WWE into the Disney of wrestling it is today.
“The ultimate man versus… the ultimate meatball.” – Thunderlips
(Special thanks to @wrestlinghistorian for the excerpt.)
“Arnold Skaaland handed me a Western Union letter. It said Sylvester Stallone wants you to appear in his next Rocky movie.
“I had seen Rocky and Rocky II and Stallone seemed like a god in those movies. I remember sitting there in the theater thinking it would be a dream come true if I could ever be in that type of movie. I’d sweep up behind the horses in a parade to get into one of those movies. And there I was standing in the dressing room with Stallone’s letter in my hands.
“So I called Sylvester Stallone and on my next day off I found myself on a plane heading for Los Angeles. Later on, I found out who was responsible for bringing me to Stallone’s attention. It seems his casting director was a woman named Rhonda Young, whose brother was a huge wrestling fan named Peter.
“When Rhonda found out Stallone was looking for a wrestler, she naturally went to her brother and asked him who’s the biggest and best wrestler of all. Peter said, ‘Well, there’s this new guy named Hulk Hogan who picks two guys up at the same time and bear hugs them. In fact, I saw him bear hug three guys once. He rag dolls them and just throws them down.’ So Stallone got hold of a couple of tapes of me wrestling in Madison Square Garden and when he saw that, he said, ‘That’s the guy I want.’” – Hollywood Hulk Hogan book.
What’s cool about this is Hulk Hogan had really been a Thunderlips years earlier as a heel when he was in AWA, so he had no problem getting into character. It was a cool bridge between his old character and current one when he returned to the WWE. That’s a story in its own right, since he quit to do the movie after Vince McMahon Sr. refused to allow him to do the movie.
Hogan has been accused, and rightly so, of being selfish in regards to his character and bank account, but his choices nearly always worked out for the benefit of the business at large. Between that and being the largest draw in history, the man has definitely carved out his own section of history.
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