Getting back into Wrestling
I gave up on wrestling (from here on out will be called ‘rasslin’) years ago. There was a time where I even thought I was going to become a professional rassler. I even had my own gimmick picked out (was going to be called the Cobra Commander, due to a love for G.I. Joe, and my finishing move I used to put on my siblings when I wrapped my legs around their rip cage like an anaconda – hence the title the Anaconda Squeeze.) Yeah, you heard me, I wanted to become a professional rassler.
During my latter half years in high school, professional wrestling was in what I believe is now known as the third golden age of wrestling. The first age was in the black and white days on television, where they would actually post the results of matches in the newspaper. Well, that was until someone blabbed about how fake it was to the newspapers. The second age was what I grew up in, during the 80’s when Hulkamania was running wild and down South (something I unfortunately didn’t grew up with, the NWA showcased the likes of Dusty Rhodes and the Four Horsemen). But the third age was probably the most economical. The Monday Night Wars where a wrestling fan would watch TNT at 8, switch to WWF at 9 and then go back and forth until the shows were over.
Like I said, I grew up in the 80’s with wrestling. It was something that I started to stumble upon as a kid. I would watch my father watching it, who, he himself, was a life long wrestling fan up to that point. I would watch his head rise and crash as it followed the titans of the squared circle if they were body slammed or suplexed out of the ring. It is still actually quite entertaining and cute in a certain manner, to watch a grown man regress to such childlike qualities of bobbing his head all about watching something so fake as rasslers. So, I really had no idea on what was going on, so I would so innocently ask, “So who is the good guy?” As to which my father would reply without even glancing at me since he was so glued to the Saturday Night Main Event – “Oh, the guy in the red shorts.” “Oh that’s cool, can I watch?”
It must have been Saturday Night Main Events, WWF on the old USA network on possibly some of those showings on NBC in the 80’s, but I remember eventually getting closer with my father and watching wrestling. I believe when I first started watching, it must have been right around when I was in the second or third grade. Hulk Hogan just won back his belt from “Macho Man” Randy Savage at Wrestlemania V. I was instantly able to draw connections between wrestling and comic books. You had good guys, bad guys, silly storylines, weaknesses, banters back and forth and probably one of the most entertaining was the colored commentary by Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “the Brain” Heenan that would lead you through a match, but I saw them as the captions in a comic book. I think this is shows how many comic fans enjoy wrestling, and why my buddy Dave used to claim that wrestling, comic books and metal are considered “the triple crown of sexiness.”
Whenever I get into something new and nerdy – I need to know everything there is about it until I reach a point of excessive obsession. I went to the local video store and rented every video that I could get related to previous matches and pay per views. I was able to memorize the title changes of the heavyweight, intercontinental and tag team championship belts from the past ten years. I got a subscription to WWF magazine, cutting out pictures ( I even carried around a rather coveted Hulk Hogan folder that even showcased clippings of Suburban Commando and No Holds Barred from newspapers), collected all of the action figures (along with my sister Jackie and brother Joey who were also getting sucked into the wrestling hype) and my dad even scored us tickets to the Royal Rumble at the Pepsi arena in Albany – totally awesome.
I was sucked into wrestling and absolutely loved it. Hell, I even watched the crappy wrestling on the weekends just to get my fix. But over time, I began to lose my faith. The first stab in the heart was when Hulk Hogan lost to the Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania VI. I couldn’t believe that “the immortal one” could be defeated. My world was crushed, but when I got older, I had heard it was the WWF’s plan to get a new “main champion” and a way to give Hulk a break and hopefully some retirement for his terrible acting career. It didn’t last long because the Ultimate Warrior sucks and can’t hold an interview besides screaming, rambling and shaking of the ropes.
Time went on and I assumed that wrestling was only meant for little kids. As I got older, it didn’t seem to be as real anymore and even more gimmicky. Hogan got his ribs crushed by that fat guy Earthquake, but was still trying to focus on his acting career. In the mean time, they tried to plug the heroes of the 90’s to pick up the Hulkster’s slack. Shawn Michaels, Bret “the Hitman” Hart, The Undertaker, Yokozuna and yes, even the short lived Narcissist (Lex Luger). Wrestling lost it’s edge and one of the last matches that I can remember watching and throwing in the towel was when The Mountie shocked Rowdy Piper with his tazer/cattle prod, only for Rowdy to reveal to the crowd he was wearing a rubber/foam suit under his shirt. OH THE RIDICULOUSNESS!
By this point I had moved on to greener pastures. I would feel that wrestling was at all time down low. I moved onto nerdy things in life throughout middle school, like Transformers and into my early years of high school like video taping cartoon shows, cataloging my Star Wars collection, creating a wall of “What If… “and “Transformers” comic books and action figure collecting. I thought wrestling was just for kids, a cartoony drama with muscular guys. One Monday night I was flipping through the channels, I stopped on TNT because I saw that Hulk Hogan was on screen, yelling into the microphone and playing a total bad guy. I never thought such a thing was imaginable, then I noticed that he was there with two other wrestlers from my past Hall and Nash – but I remembered them as Razor Ramon and Big Daddy Diesel. Hulk Hogan had just recently became a bad guy, as this show “Nitro” that I came to know it, consistently showcased highlights from weeks of previous matches. They had this group of wrestlers called the New World Order, and nearly every other week, another wrestler from my childhood joined their ranks. It was SO cool, a whole group of bad guys banding together to single handedly dominated a wrestling organization.
I was getting back into it – there storyline was a simple one to follow, and their frequent recaps could get any fan back into the groove of things. It felt VERY comic booky – on one side, you had all of the bad guys binding together and taking out any in their path. You were either with them or against them – sometimes, they would even take out one of their own (poor Brutus the Barber Beefcake) to prove no one was safe. All of the heroic wrestlers turned to one man to aid them in their defeat, Ric Flair– it was truly feeling like a huge crossover book like an Infinite Crisis where all of the villains teamed up and all of the heroes teamed up for a common goal.
In a gruesome steel cage match Ric Flair and his Four Horseman were going up against the N.W.O. In a seedy moment of betrayal, of the Horseman’s own, Mr. Perfect (by this point he was Curt Henning to the world) slammed Ric Flair’s head in the steel cage door and cost the defeat and disbanding of the Horseman. The N.W.O. seemed damn near impossible, they held a clutch over WCW and they really made it seem like this was a place of panic, so wrestler was safe but in the shadows Sting lurked about to put fear in the fearless.
In the mean time, I would occasionally flip between WCW and WWF. There were some wrestlers that I would know by name and/or face but it seemed like it was the end of one era and the beginning of a new. It seemed to me that WWF couldn’t compete with WCW’s storyline about the drama of New World Order, so their storylines became racier, more aggressive, sexier and having no problem of using profanity. Stone Cold was the one we all loved to watch, we all wanted to see who he was going to give the old “stunner” to next – he even did it to Santa one time and then began to chug a beer. They had ladies in bra and panties matches, bizarre sexuality issues with Golddust (Dusty must be soooo proud), a fight between the boss and the employee and even some rather “racial” issues between groups of wrestlers such as the Nation of Domination, Degeneration X and a third group that I believe were called the “Disciples of the Apocalypse” – they appeared to be skin head bikers.
Finally, beneath all of the glitz and glam of multi-billion dollar stage productions, there was an underground hit that you would probably only know about from word of mouth. ECW was extreme hardcore wrestling. I saw performers do things to their bodies that I would have no idea could be possible. Falling through NUMEROUS tables, people on fire, jumping off of twenty feet high walls, etc, AND all the while the fans would treat this with the upmost respect. I would never see a man holding a suplex for about twenty seconds and get a standing ovation. Or an entire crowd to simultaneously utter “Holy Shit” over and over as they just saw someone fall through a ring. AND, they also had no problem letting you know that they knew the maneuver you were about to do and you didn’t do it correctly because you were still an amateur, “You fucked up, you fucked up!” And all the while using Joey Styles’ trademark “OH MY GODDDDDDDDD!” for the most devastating of hits, finishers and feats of wrestling majesty. Thus began the Monday Night Wars and the third Golden Age of Wrestling.
I felt like a little kid again and was able to relive my youth. By seeing Hulkster and rest of the heroes of days of old, I was opened up to back to the past – but a whole new era as well since I had never seen WCW wrestling (being that I was from up North and all, we never got TBS or were exposed to much of the Billionaire Ted’s rasslin’ group in WWF territory. I was exposed to not just the big heavy weights, but other divisions of cruiser weight as well and silly other belts such as “Television” and “United States” championship. If you ask me, it was just more belts to go around, but WCW offered me some interesting wrestling times that I’ll never forget. Like when Macho Man and Diamond Dallas Page had a Texas Death Match for what seemed like twenty minutes. The only way you won was to see who couldn’t stand up by the count of ten.
My friends in high school and family were also becoming over-whelming influence by the new wrestling craze. In school, I sat with a group of kids during lunch – yeah we were the biggest bunch of losers around. But there was one of us that stood out the most – John Bolland. John was a monster of a kid, he never talked much, always wore his jacket around and had a funny little wirey afro with a bald spot on top. I think he had some trust issues as it took him a while to begin to let you in to his private life. When he started to tell you how truly obsessed he was about wrestling - that he taped every house show and pay per view for the past few year; that he practically walked around with a Pro Wrestling Illustrated Magazine at all times (and occasionally the pocket sized reader’s digest version with a detailed list of the title belt changes over the past few years) or even his obsession of collecting the wrestling figures.
I think I was initially able to connect with John on this fact. By this point in my teenage nerdy years, I was previously equally obsessed with Star Wars memorabilia, in particular my Star Wars action figures and accessories. I still cherished all of my other older toys from the past, and was currently in the hunt of getting other old toys – but still bragged to John that I had all of my Hasbro WWF action figures and watched John’s eyes glaze over. Especially when I told him my brother owned the rather covenanted and rare Andre the Giant with “body slamming action.” On top of geeking out with my buddies at the lunch table, I rode the bus with John. Any questions I had for him about wrestling and what I had missed over the past few months / years – John could fill me in the storyline script to script. John was also the real guy that introduced me to ECW. He would give me tapes, fill me in on everything and he helped me really take a glimpse on the current wrestlers of WCW’s background in “Barb Wire City”.
And if I was getting back into wrestling, than my brother and father weren’t too far behind. We got WCW vs N.W.O. for the Nintendo 64 and we were addicted as all Hell playing as our favorite wrestlers. I Dad had some connections and he got us to matches and we were able to catch every major pay per view. It was actually pretty exciting seeing my father get back into wrestling again too. His words to me were, “You are always a wrestling fan – they’ll always find a way to get you sucked back in.” And just like his undying love and hatred for the NY Giants, he has many points throughout his years of stating “This sucks…I’m never watching this crap again,” to “Oh, guess what happened last night?!” But, I remember the real mayhem all started off with a trampoline….. my brother and I would have wrestling matches on it all the time. Lucky for me, I was making frequent visits to the gym and was roughly double the size of my brother. But he was still in football and quite the scrappy little chap, so he always gave me a run for my money. Our other siblings wanted to get involved, and it wasn’t before long that even my sisters were kicking the crap out of one another, wrestling with us – it was getting out of control. I know I was! I was probably the most testosterone pumped and hormone driven I ever was. I would head butt through doors, threw a butter knife through a door, choke slams and power bombs. It wasn’t until one day when I power bombed my sister Jackie over my knee by mistake that I saw her eyes roll back in her head. Or another time when I power bombed my then six-year-old sister Julie (aka Mankind) on a raft in the pool and I heard her neck snap back.
It wasn’t until too much later that similar stories of sibling violence imitating professional wrestling began to make the news due to serious injury or even death. Wrestling was beginning to be held accountable for their actions, and it became strike one for the third golden age. When WWF clearly labeled themselves as “sports entertainment” and even showing the beginning of each show that they are trained professionals and no one should try this at home. Well, hearing that only intrigued me more. I wanted to find out more about “sports entertainment,” I figured I wasn’t necessarily the strongest guy around. I could easily beat the Hell out of little children half and yes, even an eighth of my size. I wanted to know everything that I could about the real deal about wrestling, not just the televised stuff but the behind the scenes things. I wanted to know what it took to be a wrestler and would I be judged for getting really hit or faking an acting career. And in the real world, everyone in society was thinking – but is wrestling real or fake?
So returns John back into my life on the school bus. I would begin to ask him these questions and he would fill me in with as much as possible. There was a recent issue of PWI that was entirely dedicated to the inside and underground business of professional wrestling. I was introduced to the terms of face, heel, mark, juice, heat, gimmick, shoot and others. I knew somewhat of the business now and what it took. I really had a new set goal when I was about sixteen or seventeen – “I want to become a professional wrestler.” As I continued to gather information as much as I could and John and I went on our quest to see what it took, I idolized and truly looked up to two newer wrestlers – Mick Foley and Bill Goldberg.
Sure, say what you like about how cheesy, fake and gimmicky they were – but they had something in them at that point in my life that made me want to follow in their path. The first and most influential was Goldberg. During his initial run in WCW he was unstoppable. Destroying one enemy after another. With his patented spear, a suplex into a body slam finisher and this look of pure energy and animalism on his face after a match made you want to be as tough as him. I looked at Goldberg as a typical athlete that made the jump from football to wrestling – which kind of said to me that nearly anyone could do it. He was tough, could never do a great interview, but man – the fans went nuts for him whenever they slowly cheered his name as he was summoned the square circle. Goldberg was undefeated for a good number of opponents – I believe he was well over a hundred for a while and even won the belt from Hulk Hogan. But, unfortunately, no one can hold a belt forever and Goldberg’s reign was ended when Scott Hall snuck behind him and “tazed him with a cattle prod.” I was irate and a big love and faith in wrestling died that night for me. I felt cheated that they had to cheat to win (I was totally turning into a mark). For me, it was another strike in my love of wrestling that was slowly going down the drain.
Also around this time, probably one of the biggest stars in WWE was Mick Foley. I can remember first being introduced in the WWE to him as some psycho character that wears a mask that is almost a blend of Leatherface and Hannibal Lecter put together. He would maniacally scream and pull his hair out – what a weirdo. After awhile, he began to get the attentions of fans and would team up with Steve Austin making the two an awesome pair. He gained more fans and recognitions and began to get more silly interviews (along with his new dirty ‘ol friend Mr. Socko – which was an old dirty gym sock he would pull out from his pants and wear it around his hand like a cheap puppet act and then stuff it down your throat for a submission hold.) Over time, the fans wanted even MORE and MORE of Mick. He became several characters including himself, Mankind, Dude Love and the legendary Cactus Jack.
But what really got me into wanting to know more about him were these promos that they would shoot these promos of his rise to wrestling fame from a nobody jobber. Mick would talk about sleeping in a car so that he could attend wrestling school. He jumped off of his mom’s roof onto a pile of mattresses by imitating Superfly Jimmy Snuka. He was at first a jobber (a wrestler who primarily loses) but then would go around the Globe and do terrible things and injuries to his body. Hearing such legendary tales made me want to find the nearest wrestling school, practice more moves on my siblings and follow Mick’s rise to fame. But, I guess with every Mick Foley success story – there must be a thousand who have failed.
I will always remember the night when I saw Mick in a “Hell in the Cell” match against the Undertaker where my jaw would hardly stay shut from utter excitement and awe struck. For those unaware of the Hell in the Cell term, think about it as a steel cage match, but now fully enclosed on the top. Within this match I can remember the most hardcore images of all time. Such as Mick being choke slammed through the roof and onto a pile of thumbtacks and a chair below. The Undertaker hurling him off the top of the cage and landing on top of the Spanish commentator’s table sixteen feet below. He just kept getting up and coming in for more. Finally, it was when the Undertaker gave him a Tombstone pile drive on top of some tacks that the match was entirely over. Vince McMahon told Mick that he would never put his body on the line like that again. Over time, it was difficult for Mankind to out do himself – there was a silly attempt to come into the Royal Rumble as all three of his characters and another attempt with him in an “I Quit Match,” a feat he had never done in his career. Of course there was cheating and they used a recording of Mick saying it to win. I yet again felt cheated and turned into a mark – but I was getting down right disgusted with the sport.
I pretty much gave up watching it – but began to rethink more and more my choice of turning wrestling into a life long career choice. Sure the fame and excitement was excellent – but I could see the wrestlers my father’s age and what years of wrestling had done to them. How bad I felt that every time Macho Man did his patented elbow drop – he rolled around in pain and grabbed his knees. Was he acting? I don’t know, but I was seeing more and more wrestlers in their prime still duking it out and just looking down right sad. I feel society was also becoming more and more intrigued with the wrestling mania towards the end of the third Golden age. It probably hit it’s peak when it had a commercial on the Superbowl, but then must have spiked when Fox aired a television special about the tricks and secrets of wrestling. Just like it did in the 50’s – many people like myself lost some love. Not to mention, the accidental death of Owen Hart got me a bit jumpy about the profession.
Owen Hart was a man that worked so hard in hopes of retiring early – which seemed to me something that was never possible since some of the wrestlers from my childhood and my dad’s era, could still be seen backstage of scenes helping out with management and booking of shows. It seemed like you had to sell your soul forever. Then you had guys that were big years ago, but no one really cared about anymore. They were now doing “Legends of Wrestling” promotions where they would wrestle in high school gyms, sign autographs and make a quick buck to survive. Trust me! That is where I got my signed autograph from Greg “The Hammer” Valentine.
So, by the end of high school I guess I finally grew up. I gave up on the idea of becoming a professional wrestler since you seemed to have to wrestle until the day you died (which by that point more and more wrestlers of my youth were dropping dead due to “heart problems” no doubt from all the years of Roids abuse) or there was hardly no protection/benefits like a true job could give you. It was almost like working as a carnival strong man and travel the country three hundred fifty times a year. I ended up focusing more of my interests on art and I attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I had two students in my classes called Scott and Evan who seemed like hardcore wrestling freaks. They would randomly hit each other with chairs, throw each into walls or piles of garbage on the street and after it was all said and done – just laugh it off. I was too shy to go up to them and chat, so I decided to start just wearing my “E C F’N W” t-shirt to get their attention. One day Scott came up to me with a small photo of Sabu that he carried around with him everywhere. He asked if I knew who that was, I responded with the Sabu impersonation and pointed my finger to the air. I got to know them quite well and they even rode the train home with me back to Poughkeepsie where ECW had one of their final house shows. We yelled at Rhino and he spit on us and we freaked out when Mike Awesome “Awesome-bombed” his opponent – so awesome.
For the rest of college I had different classes and didn’t see them anymore. ECW lost their contrast with the MSG network so they were no longer on late at night – and it wasn’t too long thereafter that they went bankrupt and that was my official last viewing of wrestling. My dad would try to tell my brother and I about what he had recently seen on wrestling the night before but we were both officially done and just considered it kiddie stuff. The dream had died and I found my venue in the nerdier things in life again like comic books and Star Wars again. If I ever wanted to dapple in wrestling again, it was getting the newly released dvd’s of legendary matches and profiles of wrestlers I grew up with. Also, this past summer I saw that similar matches would be found on late night on ESPN when they showed old AWA wrestling. But it still wasn’t enough – it was like I was feeding a beast and it was needing more.
“You are always a wrestling fan – they’ll always find a way to get you sucked back in.” Those immortal words of my father will probably trickle down to my own son someday as he watches me geeking out. Here I am, nearly thirty and an on again / off again relationship with watching wrestling. One night I just decided upon myself to check out what this TNA wrestling was all about since WWE was still waaay too ridiculous and childish for me. I also thought I could bond more with my kids at school and be like, “Hey, did you see Super Eric last nigh?!” Watching the beginning of an episode reminded me of a guided tour of the DC Comics building that I had by legendary Batman writer Denny O’Neil who claimed the number one reason kids can’t get into comics because they had no idea where the story currently is or what / how extensive the continuities and histories some of these characters have. Well, TNA took care of all of that for me. They had a simple prologue to get me caught up into the story line, familiar characters such as Sting, Kurt Angle and Booker T that I remembered watching and some very entertaining new characters that brought back that silly childish fantasy of wrestling that I loved as a kid.
My fiancée and brother think it is sad and ridiculous that I am getting back into it. I doubt I will be as obsessive as I used to be – but it is still a nice place to escape to for a week. I guess that is why I still read comic books – I need that escapism for a while and journey into another world of fantasy, heroes and villains. Oh, and plus the girls are really hot when they beat the crap out of each other. I now feel more like my Grandfather who would watch G.L.O.W. (Glamorous Ladies Of Wrestling) with his hand down his pants. But I used to see female wrestling as cheesy and ridiculous girls running around in skimpy clothes trying to give the fanboys some cheap chubbies. But the ladies of TNA are amazing with their abilities – I’d say some of them, like the super skanky Old Dirty Bitch or the monstrous Awesome Kong are better or AT LEAST equal to some of the wrestlers I have seen in my day.
Well, so you have it. I have spilled my guts all over for a love of something so fake, while I hopefully educated some of you of it’s history, terms and my own personal connections to the business. I guess I always will be a wrestling fan and just have its ups and downs throughout it’s history. But I think I’m gonna get going now in order to watch last week’s taped show, but it just felt great reliving my youth through my notes and being able to write again.