Skip to main content

A Brief History of Pro Athletes Participating in Wrestlemania

A Brief History of Pro Athletes Participating in Wrestlemania

A Brief History of Pro Athletes Participating in Wrestlemania

Retired New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will host Wrestlemania XXXVI, taking place April 4-5, at an empty WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. This will mark the second time Gronk has appeared on World Wrestling Entertainment's (WWE) flagship event.

Over the past 35 years, plenty of professional athletes have participated in Wrestlemania. Some storylines have been memorable, and others have been controversial. One of the most memorable was Pete Rose's feud with Kane over three straight Wrestlemanias that started with him insulting the Boston fans at XIV because of his Cincinnati Reds' victory over the Boston Red Sox in the 1975 World Series. Rose may not be enshrined at Cooperstown, but he is in the WWE Hall of Fame for his work. Here is a brief recap of the rest of the appearances.

Wrestlemania I (March 31, 1985)

As groundbreaking as it was, the first Wrestlemania had the look of old wrestling matches that you see in documentaries. Muhammad Ali refereed the main event, which featured a tag team match pitting Hulk Hogan and Mr. T against Paul Orndorff and Roddy Piper. The Greatest officiated from outside the ropes and Billy Martin, who was in between stints managing the New York Yankees, served as a ring announcer for the main event.

Wrestlemania II (April 7, 1986)

Wrestlemania II is considered a bit sprawling, as it took place at three separate venues: the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, the Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont, Illinois, and the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. The Illinois installment featured a 20-person battle royal that included then-current and former NFL players Jimbo Covert, Bill Fralic, Russ Francis, Ernie Holmes, Harvey Martin, and William "The Refrigerator" Perry, while Dick Butkus and Ed "Too Tall" Jones served as referees. None of them were a match for Andre the Giant, who was the last man standing. In Los Angeles, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda was the ring announcer for the main event cage match between Hulk Hogan and King Kong Bundy. The MLB season started the next day, so Lasorda did not have to miss a game.

Wrestlemania III (March 29, 1987)

Wrestlemania IV (March 27, 1988)

Former baseball player and longtime Milwaukee Brewers announcer Bob Uecker was a commentator and ring announcer for Wrestlemania III and IV. Most notably, he served as ring announcer during Hulk Hogan's epic clash with Andre the Giant.

Wrestlemania XI (April 2, 1995)

With Hulk Hogan and other stars having bolted for World Championship Wrestling (WCW), the WWE was still finding its way and proposed the controversial idea of pitting retired legend Lawrence Taylor against Bam Bam Bigelow in the main event. Regardless of the frustration amongst wrestling purists, Taylor was athletic enough for the task and pinned Bigelow after jumping from the second rope to knock him out with a forearm as players Ken Norton Jr., Chris Spielman, Rickey Jackson, Carl Banks, Reggie White, and Steve McMichael supported him at ringside. McMichael went on to become a wrestler and joined Ric Flair's Four Horsemen in the WCW.

Wrestlemania XIV (March 29, 1998)

With the Montreal Screwjob of Bret Hart at the 1997 Survivor Series, the WWE launched the “Attitude Era” to compete with the WCW. This ushered in a period of double-fisted birds from Stone Cold Steve Austin, overt lewdness, and the persona of Vince McMahon as the evil owner. For the first Wrestlemania of this era, the WWE brought in Mike Tyson to serve as special enforcer for the main event (Keep in mind that this was nine months after he bit off Evander Holyfield's ear.). When Austin pinned Shawn Michaels, Iron Mike did the three-count and Austin won his first heavyweight title. Michaels then confronted Tyson, who decked him with one punch.

Wrestlemania XV (March 28, 1999)

The WWE had created a “Brawl for All” tough-man contest tournament, where wrestlers donned boxing gloves and legitimately fought each other. Bart Gunn won the 18-man tournament and was pitted against Butterbean at Wrestlemania XV with Vinny Pazienza serving referee and trainer Kevin Rooney and Rocky inspiration Chuck Wepner as judges. Everyone involved had a short night as Butterbean knocked out Gunn in 35 seconds.

Wrestlemania XXIV (March 30, 2008)

Floyd Mayweather Jr. reportedly made $20 million to face The Big Show in a no-disqualification match and kept his perfect record in place by knocking out the giant with brass knuckles to the face.

Wrestlemania XXXI (March 29, 2015)

Refusing to hit a woman, The Rock brought UFC Women's Bantamweight Ronda Rousey out of the crowd to give Stephanie McMahon what for... and she did. Rousey is now a wrestler with the WWE and has fought at the past two Wrestlemanias.

Wrestlemania XXXIII (April 2, 2017)

In the 33-wrestler Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, Jinder Mahal approached an animated Rob Gronkowski who was sitting ringside and threw his cup in his face. Gronk responding by coming into the ring and exploding out of a three-point stance on Mahal. This allowed Mojo Rawley to win.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

(Top photo courtesy of