In August of last year I turned 30. It was a milestone in my life, because I assumed by 30 I would have something to show of my life besides a job I was apathetic about and a few hundred Twitter followers. It was also the shot in the arm I needed to start taking things more seriously such as finances and budgeting, even though I will still occasionally spend $100 on a Muppet that looks exactly like me. Growing up is imperative when it comes to paying bills and saving for a house, but you should never grow up so much that you forego all the wonderful things that make you who you are.

Likewise, the WWE has grown up a lot in the last 30 years. They’ve dominated their industry, become a worldwide power in the entertainment world, and have dipped their toe in outside ventures which have had mixed results (XFL was a disaster, but that whole Network thing is panning out nicely). Still, at the end of the day the WWE is at its heart a wrestling company, which is as goofy and ridiculous as you can get. It’s the epitome of embracing your youth and letting it guide you into adulthood. It’s both awesome and immature, but in the best way possible. It made them a juggernaut, and they embrace that inner-child every year at WrestleMania.

Every year at this time I sit back and think about how not only WrestleMania but myself have grown over the past 30 years, but this year I’m going to share it with all of you because sharing is caring. Let’s take a look at where the show of shows and I were every year, and see how far we’ve come as both pay-per-view and fan. And yes, I realize that I’m not actually the same age as WrestleMania, I’m actually older than it, but the numbered age lines up, so just roll with it okay?

Let’s start at the obvious…

WrestleMania: March 31st, 1985

Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York

Main Event: Hulk Hogan & Mr. T defeated Rowdy Roddy Piper & "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff

Where was WWE?

The then WWF was in their infancy when it came to becoming a real player in the world of pop culture. The Rock & Wrestling Connection gave them some much needed exposure with 80’s youth culture, and made Hulk Hogan and the WWF a household name.

How was WrestleMania?

Honestly, aside from the main event, it was a pretty boring show. I didn’t watch the show until 14 years later when I got that VHS box set for Christmas, and I remember putting it on and suffering through it because I felt like I had to justify owning it. There’s a sense of duty that comes with naivety, and I didn’t realize I could just say f**k it and watch the stuff I wanted to. The folly of youth. I could’ve skipped over so many Dino Bravo matches.

The Andre and Big John Studd bodyslam challenge was pretty cool though.

Where was I?

My brother Adam was born a month before the show, so I bet I was dealing with some real stressful “DON’T TOUCH THE BABY OR YOU’LL KILL IT” kind of crap that I don’t really remember but I’m sure had an effect on my ability to be comfortable around newborns to this day.

WrestleMania 2: April 7th, 1986

Venue: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale New York; Allstate Arena, Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California

Main Event: Hulk Hogan defeated King Kong Bundy in a Steel Cage Match

Where was WWE?

Having had huge success with the first WrestleMania, they finally had some much needed exposure and were milking the Rock & Wrestling Connection for all that they could. It’s hard to explain how huge Hulkamania was in the 80’s without referring you to a VH1 show, but let’s just say WrestleMania 2 had the most B-list celebrities of any WrestleMania ever, and it showed in the quality of the product.

How was WrestleMania?

WrestleMania 2 was the epitome of the sophomore slump. Feeling the need to top the last WrestleMania, the WWF went overboard with trying to be innovative, splitting the show across the country at three different venues, and had way more celebrity guests than were necessary. The 20-man battle royal was filled with NFL players, Mr. T pretended to box Rowdy Roddy Piper, Susan St. James embarrassed herself on commentary, and Herb from Burger King’s “Where’s Herb?” ads and the “Where’s the Beef?” lady were treated like royalty. Seriously, it was a like WrestleMania took place at a goddamn retirement home for terrible television ads. The WWF’s bar was so low for what they considered “celebrity” that the Taco Bell Dog would trip over it.

Oh, and the matches sucked. When a battle royal featuring Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle and notable “shooting a gun at police” person Ernie Holmes in it is the best you’ve got, your show’s got problems.

Where was I?

My mom likes to tell a story of when I was 2 she and her sisters took their kids to the zoo and I shit myself so powerfully I not only ruined my clothes, but I destroyed all the spare clothing she had in the bag under my stroller. Because of this she had to dress me up in my Cousin Becky’s spare dress and everyone at the zoo commented on what a beautiful little girl I was. Hindsight being what it is, they were right; I was beautiful.

WrestleMania III: March 29th, 1987

Venue: The Silverdome, Pontiac, Michigan

Main Event: Hulk Hogan defeated Andre the Giant

Where was WWE?

At the tails end of the Rock & Wrestling Connection. Having cemented themselves in pop culture proper with the help of MTV and B.A. Baracus, it was time to put up or shut up. Vince McMahon likes to get wax poetic about how WrestleMania III was a personal victory for him, and that its success is what helped secure the company’s future going into the next decade. As the territories around them started to die off, the WWF was about to blow up bigger than it ever had before, and a great deal of that success had to do with WrestleMania III.

How was WrestleMania?

At the time it was the best WrestleMania the WWF had put on, and it would remain that way for several years. It had the largest crowd of any WrestleMania to this day. The card was stacked with well built feuds, and featured two of the most iconic matches in WWE history. Steamboat/Savage was heralded as the blueprint of what a great wrestling match should be, and Hogan/Andre, despite being a stinker to actually sit through, had one of the most iconic images in WWE history when Hogan body slammed the Giant, despite the fact that he and a bunch of other guys had already done it a few times before. Regardless, the imagery was so iconic that coupled with Hogan’s ego I assumed the Andre Memorial Battle Royal trophy would just be a bust of Hogan lifting and upside-down Andre. It’s THAT iconic.

Where was I?

That summer my extended family went on a trip to Myrtle Beach and made a home movie called “Endless Summer.” It featured all of my older cousins hamming it up for the camera, my dad mooning the entire beach, and me hiding behind my Cousin Stefanie any time I noticed the camera pop up. On the car ride home Stefanie poured juice all over me and made me cry, something she still laughs about to this day because she’s inherently evil.

WrestleMania IV: March 27th, 1988

Venue: Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey

Main Event: “The Macho Man” Randy Savage defeated “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase in a tournament final for vacant WWF Championship

Where was WWE?

The WWF title scene was in turmoil, after a convoluted and unnecessary storyline where Andre the Giant defeated Hulk Hogan for the belt and tried to sell it to Ted DiBiase ended in the title being vacated. This led to a tournament at WrestleMania to crown a new champion, which sounds a lot cooler than it actually was. The WWF was a legitimate powerhouse now, with Hulkamania running wild all over the world and all over Randy Savage’s title win.

How was WrestleMania?

When I was a kid watching the tapes it was a dream come true for me. I love tournaments, especially ones that occurred in one night, and thought the concept was dope as hell, but upon retrospect the show was actually kind of a drag. Aside from Savage’s matches (which were all pretty solid) I don’t really remember anything standing out. I thought Hogan/Andre was a bore, the IC title match paled in comparison to the previous year’s classic, and there was more Hogan in the main event than there was either DiBiase or Savage. In the end, I remember WrestleMania IV for being the show that had the most potential, but failed to deliver. Also, Hogan stealing the spotlight from Savage was Hulk at his most despicable, at least until five years later when he’d do it all over again.

Where was I?

I have a vague memory of laying on my dad’s belly watching Return of the Jedi on the TV. Other than that I couldn’t tell you. I think it was at this age that my mom accidentally spilled hot gravy on my lap as she was passing it to my dad, which gave me a weird PTSD that keeps me from even getting near a gravy server to this day, but I could have my ages mixed up.

WrestleMania V: April 2nd, 1989

Venue: Trump Plaza, Atlantic City, New Jersey

Main Event: Hulk Hogan defeated “Macho Man” Randy Savage

Where was WWE?

The WWF spent the past year building up Randy Savage as Hulk Hogan’s buddy, but he never was given the proper “top guy” treatment despite being the champion for over a year. It was a lot like CM Punk’s 400+ day run with the WWE Championship without ever really being the main event of any big shows he defended it at. Savage, realizing that Hogan was an egomaniacal dick who he felt was making moves on his lady, had enough and challenged Hulk to a match at WrestleMania over manhood or whatever. This caused a lot of friction between Savage and Miss Elizabeth which would lead to them splitting up, but would eventually culminate in their heart warming reunion at WrestleMania VII two years later.

How was WrestleMania?

Not bad. WrestleMania V was the first Mania I ever watched (on VHS) so it’s always going to have a soft spot in my heart. The card was full of superstars I would come to love over the years. Mr. Perfect beat the Blue Blazer (Owen Hart) Rick Rude upended The Ultimate Warrior for the Intercontinental title, Demolition returned as babyfaces against the Powers of Pain, and Rowdy Roddy Piper had a “so bad it’s great” Piper’s Pit moment with Morton Downey Jr. and Brother Love. Seriously, I loved that Piper’s Pit. I don’t care how objectively terrible it was, I’ll never get tired of watching Piper spray people with fire extinguishers.

Where was I?

This was around the age where I first started to understand what wrestling was. I remember my Uncle Tim introducing me to Dusty Rhodes, and my dad started to rent VHS tapes for me from HR&S Video. The boxes were so colorful and animated I couldn’t keep myself away. I also remember this was the year we finally got an NES so I spent a lot of time ignoring basic math equations in order to memorize the code for Contra. To this day I can’t count without the aide of my fingers but I can do up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A start in my sleep.

WrestleMania VI: April 1st, 1990

Venue: SkyDome, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Main Event: The Ultimate Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan

Where was WWE?

Over the course of 1989-1990 the WWF was building up a new star in the Ultimate Warrior, and was ready to put the company on his veiny medically enhanced shoulders. In a way the WWF was in the beginning stages of a change in the guard, even though a real shift in wouldn’t occur until four years later. But, all signs pointed to change, and this was the first glimpse as to what the WWF without Hulk Hogan as its figurehead might look like.

How was WrestleMania?

I didn’t watch this show live; I had to wait until it was available on VHS which was an eternity in the early 90’s. I remembered my dad telling me he was going to rent it and I waited all day for him to come home. When he finally arrived I grabbed the tape, popped it into the VCR, and immediately fast-forwarded to the main event. All I cared about was Warrior/Hogan, and I’m sure a lot of other kids felt the same way.

I’ve probably watched WrestleMania VI a hundred times, but I can’t really remember anything from it except how I felt while watching Warrior/Hogan. The anticipation, the awe, the fanfare; I doubt anything WWE produces will ever top that feeling again.

Where was I?

I was an awkward kid that became a hardcore wrestling fan and a hardcore comic book fan in the same year, so I was a real hit with the ladies. Luckily girls were still gross at the time so I didn’t really care. Also this was the age where I won my first trophy in baseball, and felt the enormous sense of pride you get from being #1. It was also the year I crashed a soap box derby car into a park bench and scared the shit out of everyone.

The story of this event is one my family loves retelling at almost every gathering. I was heading down hill fast when I realized the breaks weren’t working in my car (which was painted like a zebra, which is basically the story of my life) and plowed right threw a hay bail meant to stop the cars from going off the track (something my uncle loves to point out was my dad’s job, which he botched). The only thing that kept me from driving right into the lake was the aforementioned park bench, which I DESTROYED with the impact of my zebra car. It was without question the most damage something with black and white stripes ever caused.

After the shock wore off I remembered I was handed a participation trophy, which my dad made me take despite the fact that I didn’t want it. It was at 6-years-old that I realized that trophy’s are stupid, especially a participation trophy that is awarded to a kid for basically not dying.

WrestleMania VII: March 24th, 1991

Venue: Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles California

Main Event: Hulk Hogan defeated Sgt. Slaughter

Where was WWE?

The Ultimate Warrior as the face of the company didn’t pan out quite like they had planned, so they were leaning their elbows on two proven entities to get them back to form: Hulk Hogan, and hyper-patriotism. The United States was at the end of the Gulf War, so WWF being the topical entity that it is, decided to vomit Iraq’s flag all over Sgt. Slaughter and make him the Saddam Hussein to Hogan’s Red, White, and Blue bald eagle with giant man arms holding machine guns and nukes.

How was WrestleMania?

Depends; if you love America more than anything else, think minorities should know their place, and have truck nuts under your gun rack, you probably loved it. If you thought it was a little too over the top with the American flags and stars and stripes puns, you’re probably a communist and should be shot out of a cannon into the socialist hellscape you came from. If you thought “It’s alright” than you’re probably a normal breathing human being able to disconnect from “America Rah Rah” hive mentality nonsense and just watch wrestles happen.

The matches themselves were pretty hit-or-miss to be honest. Savage/Warrior was better than it had any right to be and the blindfold match between Jake Roberts and Rick Martel was dumb but fun. The highlight of the show was watching Savage and Miss Elizabeth reunite, while the lowest point was suffering through the main event. Hogan/Slaughter was exhausting to get through. Instead of taking 20 minutes to do rest holds Hogan should’ve just rushed the ring, f**ked up Slaughter and General Adnan, pissed on the Iraqi flag and pinned him, and the end of the show would’ve been exactly the same.

It should also be noted that with the inclusion of Regis Philbin’s insensitive remarks towards Asian people, this was probably the most racist WrestleMania to date, which is shocking since the previous year’s show had Rowdy Roddy Piper painted in half-blackface.

Where was I?

At 7 my dad took my brother and me to our first WWF house show. I remember my dad buying me LOD shoulder pads that I wore exactly one time, and Hogan wrestling Mr. Perfect. The whole time during this match a skinny blonde teen with a mullet kept screaming “YOU’RE NOT SO PERFECT MISTER PERFECT” until Hennig looked at him and said “Chill out, loser” and everyone in our section laughed at him. I remember really enjoying that.

This year was also the first time I went to Disney World with my family. I don’t recall a lot from the trip except two weird moments, both involving costumed characters:

-While sitting on a bench Minnie Mouse accidentally sat on me, and made me cry. She then waved her finger, scolding me, because her giant mouse ass squished my face.

-There was an attraction where you went to Mickey Mouse’s birthday party which was part stage show part interactive experience. At one point during the musical number Chip from Chip & Dale picked me up and carried me into another room where there was a giant birthday cake and music playing. My mom eventually caught up and grabbed me out of Chips arms, which is the normal reaction you should have when a giant rodent kidnaps your child.

The morals of those stories are of course

1) Always keep an eye on your kids at the park

2) Minnie Mouse is a bitch

WrestleMania VIII: April 5th, 1992

Venue: Hoosier Dome, Indianapolis, Indiana

Main Event: Hulk Hogan defeated Sid Justice by DQ

Where was WWE?

1992 was not kind to the WWF. With allegations of steroid abuse and sexual harassment, the WWF was starting to lose its family friendly image. Hogan’s image in particular took a blow, and took a leave of absence from the company following WrestleMania VIII. Meanwhile WCW mainstay Ric Flair had debuted in the WWF and won the championship at the Royal Rumble, and began a feud with Savage for the title which was overshadowed by Hogan’s feud with Sid, which sadly was the story of Savage’s career. Things were about to change in a big way, but unlike in the past the WWF wasn’t going to have Hogan to fall back on much longer.

How was WrestleMania?

Uneven and anti-climactic. The title match between Savage and Flair was fine, but it wasn’t the match anyone wanted to see. Flair vs. Hogan was the dream match, but because of Hulk’s impending sabbatical it made it really hard for him to pin Flair for the belt. The main event match was slow and plodding as most Hogan matches were, and the inclusion of Papa Shango and the Warrior at the end made little to no sense. I wish I could have been in the writer’s room when someone said “You know what would be cool? Papa Shango!” just so I could throw a phone book at him before getting tossed from the building.

However, not the whole card was a wash. Piper and Bret Hart had one of the best IC title matches since Savage/Steamboat, Undertaker vs. Jake Roberts was creepy and fun, and Randy Savage and Ric Flair made the best out of a crappy situation. It wasn’t a particularly good WrestleMania, but at least they weren’t all wearing togas.

Where was I?

1992 wasn’t exactly a kind year to me either. After nine years of marriage my parents decided to separate, causing immense friction in my family life. They would officially divorce two years later. I remember them sitting us down in the living room, telling us they were splitting up, and then taking us to get ice cream. I also remember not eating a bite of it, and my brother threatening to move to my grandmother’s house, which was literally at the end of our driveway.

It was the first time I remember actually feeling change occur in my life. After that I wasn’t really a kid anymore; I had responsibilities. I was the oldest, so taking care of Adam became my full time job, because after my dad moved out there was no one else to do it. My mom had to work her ass off to support us, and we only saw dad on Wednesday’s and alternating weekends. At that point I kind of felt like I didn’t really have anyone I could lean on either.

I don’t want to paint my childhood as being bad, because it wasn’t. I was really lucky to have two parents that loved me and took care of me despite the fact that they hated each other and made the divorce as difficult as it could be for a child. But, they didn’t do it with malice and they definitely didn’t want to hurt us. It was just a shitty situation, and there was nothing I could do about it. If you think about all the people that legitimately had their childhoods ripped away from them by way worse things, I got off pretty easy. It wasn’t Paradise Lost, but it was definitely the beginning of a huge transition in my life.

WrestleMania IX: April 4th, 1993

Venue: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada

Main Event: Hulk Hogan defeated Yokozuna

Where was WWE?

1992 was the catalyst for change in the WWF. Gone were several of the Superstars that made the WWF a household name, and the doors were opening up for hungry young talent to step up and take center stage. Unfortunately change doesn’t happen overnight, and it would take another full year before the old guard was finally gone, and the New Generation was ready to take hold of the company. Hulk Hogan would make his final WrestleMania appearance for 9 years, and the WWF was about to enter the age of the Monday Night Wars. 1993 was the quiet before the storm.

How was WrestleMania?

Woof. Without question WrestleMania IX was hot garbage. Between the Roman theme, the painted onesy Giant González wore, and the horrendous booking, the only thing saving WrestleMania IX from being the worst Mania of all is the fact that Mania 2 exists. The show was a mess from start to go, and if it weren’t for the efforts of Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, the Steiners, and the Headshrinkers, it might have caused a riot. Easily the low point of the evening was when Hulk Hogan decided that he wanted to be WWF champion again so they had an impromptu main event where Hogan stole Bret and Yoko’s thunder and ended the show with the belt on his shoulder. It would be the last time in history that would ever happen again, until he takes Daniel Bryan’s place and beats Randy Orton with a finger poke.

Where was I?

A year after my parents separated my mom, brother and I moved out of my childhood home to downtown, where I ended up living throughout my formative years. It was actually pretty cool to get out of the proverbial suburbs and live where other kids my age were. Plus there was a park, shops I could buy comic books at, and a basketball court I could play at until the older kids decided they wanted the court space. It wasn’t the worst place to grow up. Also, I got my first three CD’s that Christmas; Kris Kross: Totally Krossed Out, MC Hammer’s 2-Legit single, and Brian Adams: Waking Up the Neighbours. Yes, I had terrible taste in music.

Part 2: WrestleMania’s X-XIX

Twitter: @TheAEJohnson

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