The global pro-wrestling phenomenon known as WrestleMania wasn’t just built on muscular powerhouses, hot feuds, and gigantic sporting venues. When Vince McMahon wanted his WWE brand to propel to new heights in 1985, with the intent to take pro-wrestling to the mainstream and out of a niche market, he needed to take some risks. Already blazing through the wrestling territories and snatching away talent from his father’s peers, his goal was for the WWE to reach a new standard with television, and for the promotion to be the most dominant one on the planet.
The very first WrestleMania, held at New York’s Madison Square Garden, it had its fair share of superstars to front a show. Hulk Hogan, WWE’s world champion at the time and blockbuster attraction, was front and center, alongside a heel many loved to hate, Roddy Piper. Even the mid-card talents, such as The Junkyard Dog, Ricky Steamboat, and Wendi Richter, rose to prominence and filled a bill that would go down as one of pro-wrestling’s most important events. Speaking of main attractions, the main event featured the team of Piper and Paul Orndorff against “Hulkamania” and his partner, famous actor Mr. T. The latter wasn’t exactly expected to perform a dropkick, so it was apparent McMahon had wanted to stretch his audience and appeal to others outside the pro-wrestling bubble, especially since he hired boxing legend Muhammad Ali as the special guest referee, too.
For the attraction to have more magnetism, as well as presenting itself to the wrestling fan as something different and eventually rival Jim Crockett’s Starrcade, WrestleMania would dive into the world of Hollywood, partnering up with celebrity figures from across the globe. Whether it be singing national anthems, backstage segments, or in-ring action, superstars from the world of film, sports, and music, would partake in numerous activities throughout the show. Some accompanied wrestlers to the ring, while a handful of A-list stars were used for less, like Kim Kardashian, Alex Trebek, or Paul Reubens (Pee-wee Herman).
In terms of the sporting world, it made sense for numerous athletes to lend their services for “The Showcase of The Immortals,” and some incredibly popular sports figures did more damage in the ring than wrestlers who habitually found themselves on WrestleMania cards year after year (mostly pro boxers). With that said, some from the world of sports were on the receiving end of unfortunate moments as well.
Here are the top 10 WrestleMania invasions from popular sports figures:
10 Tommy Lasorda - WrestleMania II
Along with fellow sports figures like Vinny Pazienza and Dick Butkus, who received big ovations from their respective crowds, Tommy Lasorda didn’t have an immense role at WrestleMania 2, acting as the guest ring announcer for the Cage Match featuring Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy.
Lasorda, who managed The Los Angeles Dodgers at the time, made announcements for both competitors in front of the crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles, California. It wasn’t a huge part of the show, but one that would get the crowd fired up, considering it featured a major component of their baseball team.
9 Akebono - WrestleMania XXI
In one of the worst worked matches in WrestleMania history, WWE thought it would be a brilliant idea to bring in sumo sensation, Akebono, and pit him against Big Show, who didn’t have a set opponent or worthy feud at the time.
In a Sumo Match that took place at WrestleMania 21, the Japanese champion defeated the WWE veteran, who was sporting a traditional black mawashi and looked out of place in this short match, contested in a dohyo (circular ring).
Thankfully, we never got to see another sumo battle at future WrestleMania events. Also, it should be noted that wrestling did borrow some terms from the sumo world years before, including the names Rikishi (term for Japanese sumo wrestler) and Yokozuna (a sumo wrestling champion).
8 Bob Uecker - WrestleMania III & IV
Bob Uecker became one of WrestleMania’s most beloved sports figures, courtesy of his work at WrestleMania 3 and what came after the following year.
The 2010 WWE Hall of Famer had an itch for comedy, a big reason why the Atlanta Braves great was invited back for a second year in a row at New Jersey’s Historic Atlantic City Convention Hall.
In one of the most recognizable Mania segments in history, Uecker was looking to chat with another WrestleMania 4 celebrity, Vanna White, until he was bombarded by the presence of Andre The Giant. The baseball legend thought it would be fun to poke the bear before Andre’s contest against Hogan, which resulted in a chokehold slapped on by wrestling’s most popular giant. The Frenchman’s hands wrapped around Uecker’s neck looked as if a human being was cupping a yellow bird.
7 William Perry - WrestleMania II
The second annual WrestleMania will mostly be remembered for taking place in three different cities, as well as the inclusion of multiple celebrities from all over the globe.
Taking place at the Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Illinois, a battle royal featuring WWE and NFL stars served as one of the main attractions, where NFL notables such as Bill Fralic, Russ Francis, and Jim Covert participated. One of the jewels of the Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears team, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, also made his presence felt to a huge ovation from the Illinois crowd, and set his sights on WWE legend Big John Studd, as the latter was obviously targeting him.
As the two big men duked it out amidst the chaos in the ring, Perry made it to the final six until Studd eliminated him. Playing possum and wanting to shake hands, Studd obliged and fell victim to the NFL player’s tricks, as he pulled Studd over the ropes and onto the outside.
Perry was inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame celebrity wing in 2006.
6 Eric Esch (Butterbean) - WrestleMania XV
WWE’s Brawl For All shootfighting tournament was easily one of the promotion’s stupidest ideas, since it forced talented WWE wrestlers to lace up the gloves and pummel each other’s heads to a bloody pulp.
This paved the way for combat sports figure Eric Esch (Butterbean) who would challenge tournament winner Bart Gunn in 1999, who defeated Steve Williams, The Godfather, and Bradshaw all via knockout.
Since Gunn proved to be a surprising slugger, he was matched up against Esch at WrestleMania 15 in a boxing match where Chuck Wepner served as a judge, and Vinny Pazienza acted as the special guest referee. Unfortunately for Gunn, he succumbed to a brutal knockout in just 35 seconds, proving he was no match for a professional boxer.
This incident capped off a string of wretched incidents for numerous wrestlers involved, some sustaining significant injuries because of this atrocious idea.
5 Lawrence Taylor - WrestleMania XI
New York Giants star Lawrence Taylor took on Bam Bam Bigelow in the main event of WrestleMania 11, which took place in Hartford, Conn. The feud started months earlier at Royal Rumble 1995, where Bigelow assaulted Taylor after he and Tatanka lost the tag team titles to giant underdogs Bob Holly & 1-2-3 Kid.
Acquiring an abundance of media coverage, it was a great idea to include Taylor in the show, yet WWE had no choice but to put the scrap at the top of the card, considering the amount of hype it was generating.
Bigelow, who was well equipped to be a main event star, headlined his first and last Mania against someone with no ring experience, and it showed. Surrounded by linebackers and tackles from the NFL world, “L.T.” defeated “The Beast From The East” in a match that received mixed reviews, considering it surpassed a world championship match between Shawn Michaels and Diesel (with the inclusion of Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy).
You have to credit Bigelow for putting over a guy with no background in the business, even if the brass was trying to appeal to a wider audience.
4 Pete Rose - WrestleMania XIV
Holding the record for most celebrity appearances by a sports figure at WrestleMania (four), Pete Rose’s inclusions were often comical and downright embarrassing for the former player and manager. It’s safe to say he’s not exactly Kane’s favorite person.
The controversial baseball star fell victim to a Tombstone courtesy of “The Big Red Machine” at WrestleMania 14, where Rose served as the guest ring announcer. A year later, Rose dressed up as The San Diego Chicken and ambushed Kane from behind. It was a pretty tall order, and one that would see Rose get obliterated from another Tombstone for the second straight year.
Before he was inducted into the celebrity wing of 2004’s WWE Hall of Fame, baseballs’ all-time hit leader was unsuccessful in scoring revenge for the third straight year, tricking Kane into thinking he was the San Diego Chicken who danced with Rikishi & Too Cool. Rose’s night ended in a Stink Face, thanks to the big Samoan.
3 Floyd Mayweather Jr. - WrestleMania XXIV
Boxing’s hottest attraction, Floyd Mayweather Jr., certainly understands the glitz and glamor when it comes to sporting events, since his celebrity friends usually accompany the undefeated boxer to the ring. Superstars such as Justin Bieber and Lil Wayne have walked “Money” out to the ring, and besides actors such as Bruce Willis and Denzel Washington attending his fights, WWE legend Triple H has also accompanied the 38-year-old slugger to the battlefield.
In another unfortunate occurrence for Big Show at WrestleMania 24, Mayweather defeated his larger counterpart after decking him with a knockout blow (courtesy of brass knuckles). Mayweather had broken Show’s nose weeks prior at No Way Out, helping Rey Mysterio out of a bad situation.
Mayweather played face for this feud, which was slightly odd, considering his persona suggests he is better suited as a heel -- even if the world of pro-wrestling is vastly different from boxing. It wasn’t a match to remember, yet Mayweather’s inclusion was an important one in terms of athletes invading the year’s biggest wrestling showcase, even though “Pretty Boy Floyd’s” acting wasn’t up to par and his entourage stole most of the thunder.
2 Muhammad Ali - WrestleMania I
The greatest boxer that ever lived was one of the star attractions at the very first WrestleMania, involved in the main event match between Hogan & Mr. T vs. Piper & Orndorff as an outside guest referee (basically an enforcer).
Ali, who didn’t quite have referee experience in the squared circle, joined the likes of Liberace and Cyndi Lauper as some of the most important celebrities of 1985’s offering. Ali, who received a standing ovation, was more or less inserted to put emphasis on Mr. T, and didn’t exactly referee the match (Pat Patterson did). Serving as an outside enforcer, he didn’t exactly do much, considering Jimmy Snuka and Bob Orton were all over the place in the finish.
He did, however, join “Hulkamania,” the popular 80s actor, and Liberace in the ring at the end of the contest, capping off one of the biggest sports entertainment attractions of all-time.
1 Mike Tyson - WrestleManie XIV
Fresh off his biting incident in a rematch against Evander Holyfield in mid-1997, Mike Tyson was forced to take time off from boxing, which became a blessing for Vince McMahon (one that would also give him an edge against WCW and Eric Bischoff, too).
Since Tyson was regarded as a savage, McMahon hired him to be the special enforcer in a match between champion Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The boxer, who lived through forgetful events in the 1990s, had sparked a brawl between his crew and Austin weeks before on Monday Night Raw, and even joined Michaels’ D-Generation X faction later on.
The odds were stacked against Austin, yet “The Baddest Man On The Planet” rightfully awarded Austin the WWF Championship after referee Mike Chioda was knocked out. “The Heartbreak Kid” was upset that his stable mate awarded Austin the victory with a fast three count, only to get floored by a knockout blow seconds later.
This event wasn’t only significant because of Tyson’s inclusion, but also because it birthed WWE’s notorious Attitude Era. Tyson returned for a WWE Hall of Fame induction in 2012, receiving the honor from the original DX members.