Why did Hulk Hogan get sued by Richard Belzer for promoting Wrestlemania I on his show?
The reasons behind the well-known lawsuit in the mid-eighties that entangled a renowned wrestler, Hogan, and a big TV personality and host, Belzer.
WrestleMania was WWE’s first-ever PPV produced and is the most successful and longest-running professional wrestling event in history. The event has been shown through PPV since 1985 and has been available to live stream through the WWE Network and Peacock. Since premiering in 1985, 37 editions followed, most recently in Arlington, Texas, on April 2 and 3, 2022.
The widespread success of WrestleMania helped transform professional wrestling, and the annual event has facilitated the rise to the stardom of several top WWE wrestlers. Most WrestleMania events have occurred in large city stadiums, with some in sports arenas. Much like the Super Bowl, cities bid for the right to host the year’s edition of WrestleMania.
Forbes anointed WrestleMania one of the world’s most valuable sports event brands from 2014 to 2019, ranking it sixth with a brand value of 245 million $ in 2019 behind the Super Bowl, Summer Olympics, NCAA Final Four, the FIFA World Cup, and the College Football Playoffs.
WrestleMania I was the inaugural WrestleMania competition and inaugural professional wrestling pay-per-view (PPV) event produced by the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE). It happened on March 31, 1985, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The NYC fans could follow the show consisting of nine professional wrestling matches.
Vince McMahon, the former owner of WWF, had pooled all his resources into arranging one supercard match for the WrestleMania headliner. His biggest star at that time, Hulk Hogan, was the star attraction. The main event featured Hulk Hogan teaming up with Mr. T against the villainous duo of Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. Yes, the same Mr. T from the third Rocky movie and A-Team series.
As the babyfaces, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T carried out the marketing of the mega event. While they were making promotional tour rounds in the lead-up to WrestleMania, a notably horrific incident led to Hogan being sued for five million dollars.
The Belzer show incident
On March 27, 1985, mere days before the main event, Hogan and Mr. T appeared on the Hot Properties show hosted by comedian Richard Belzer. The interview started well, and Belzer led most of his questions at Hogan.
During the interview, eventually, Belzer asked Hogan to conduct a wrestling move on him. Mr. T, sitting all the time quietly, spoke up and refused his request. Belzer was insistent and continually requested Hogan to try wrestling moves on him.
Hogan was hesitant and even warned Belzer that the floor was hard and he might get hurt, but the crowd wanted to see, so Hogan was left with no choice. Hulk Hogan used a front chin lock on the host, and Belzer passed out within a few seconds. According to Belzer, Hogan had told him to let him know if the hold was too much, and while he did signal to Hogan that he was suffocating, the Hulkster did not detect it as he was busy chatting with his tag-team partner. Belzer then tumbled to the ground, and his head hit the floor with a loud crack, leaving Hulk Hogan looking somewhat disconcerted as Belzer was legitimately unconscious and was not moving. A few moments later, the host eventually recovered consciousness. He cut to a commercial when he was up and staggered off. There was a splatter of red on the floor, and the wound on his head was constantly leaking blood. Richard Belzer did not return after the commercial break ended, and Hogan apologized to the people watching.
The following week, Richard Belzer returned to Hot Properties and revealed that the wound on his head required a hundred stitches. Belzer then sued Hogan for personal injury.
The case was held at the New York Supreme Court, and while Belzer and Hogan reached an out-of-court settlement, the lawsuit continued on the issue of attorney fees. When the judge rejected the request for the additional costs and the case, Belzer v. Bollea, became a precedent about contingent attorney fees.
With the money, Belzer bought a farmhouse in France and named this property Chez Hogan. WrestleMania was a thriving success; the incident likely had a hand in that, as Hogan got a lot of publicity. With this in mind, the whole show might have been revoked if Belzer suffered something more serious.