Like most of you, I’m not a kid anymore. Far from it. But professional wrestling has been a constant for as long as I can remember. Now, I wasn’t one of those kids whose grandmother took him out to see a bunch of stocky, hairy men wrestle at the county fair. But as far back as I can remember, body slams and clotheslines were an integral part of my life.
It’s not quite sport. I know that’s a point of debate. Yes, I firmly believe that the men that “compete” in the squared circle are athletes. I think anyone that disputes this is an idiot. That said, I’m fine with referring to professional wrestling without using the word “sport”. It’s more than entertainment though. Again, this label is a point of debate. “Entertainment” has become a dirty word to those of us who respect and admire the things that professional wrestlers do. But it is entertainment. It always has been. Far before Gorgeous George dyed his hair and walked to the ring in a robe and a healthy dose of haughty disdain for the crowd, the “entertainment” that professional wrestling is imbued with is what keeps us all watching.
So, I’d like to share my personal journey with professional wrestling and the chapters of this love story with you. I’m positive that many of you reading this have a very similar story.
CHAPTER 1: CURIOSITY
1983 - 1993
I was exposed to wrestling during my very early childhood during the “Rock and Wrestling Connection” of the mid-to-late-80s. But I wasn’t an instant wrestling fanatic. I was just something that I was aware of. A lot of wrestling fans inherit their love. I wasn’t one of them. My father never mentioned professional wrestling until much later when I showed the first signs of interest. Even then, all he would talk about is how he used to watch “Big Time Wrestling” as a kid and tell me stories of Bobo Brazil and The Sheik. I remember being highly confused that there used to be a Sheik when my father watched in the 60s, but it wasn’t the Iron variety that I was aware of.
"This is what my father remembered as professional wrestling."
In fact, I believe my parents instilled an “it’s fake, so it’s stupid” mindset in their young son. I even had a brilliant plan to finally PROVE that professional wrestling was fake. That plan was hatched when my family’s new VHS player came with a, and don’t have a heart attack from shock here, SLOW MOTION BUTTON! For some reason, the very first thought I had when I realized this was that I could finally be the one to put the debate to rest and show everyone that wrestling was fake. I literally had fantasies where President Bush would congratulate me and thank me for exposing this fraud that had been a thorn in the side of all decent REAL sports fans for decades.
I never followed through with that plan, and in hindsight, wouldn’t have proven anything since my belief at the time was that wrestlers punched at each other but narrowly missed, giving the illusion of contact. God, kids are fucking dumb.
I think the first real exposure to wrestling was through friends. A couple friends of mine had Wrestling Buddies stuffed toys. The Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan were the standard. Though, I did have one friend with a Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase Wrestling Buddy. I never understood why my friend would want to sleep with the likeness of a man that kicked a basketball away from a kid dribbling for cash.
Either way, I was so jealous that they had a colorful toy that they could body slam and growl at. They were way cooler than the Pound Puppy that I neatly placed at the end of my bed after I made it, or the “Where The Wild Things Are” monster that sat at the head of my bed, proudly at the base of my pillow. They were certainly cooler than the Popple my sister had, but not necessarily much cooler than My Pet Monster. I would have traded all the Wrestling Buddies in the world for one My Pet Monster. Sadly, I think my mother was scared of the idea of her kindergartener cuddling up with a grotesque blue demon wearing handcuffs and a purple 5 o’clock shadow. But Wrestling Buddies were the very first memory I had of these larger-than-life characters that populated the mysterious world of professional wrestling.
"Pretty sure these kids' parents were pissed when they saw what they did with the furniture and pillows."
"This dog adoption comes with absolutely no lesson in responsibility."
"It's LIKE 'My Pet Monster' but has mom's approval."
“Hey kids, play with incarcerated rape monster!”
One of those friends that had Wrestling Buddies was my next door neighbor and best friend, Jonathan Faulk. Jonathan Faulk was the kid who had everything. He was Jewish, so I think that explains a lot. If I saw a commercial for the new He-Man Castle Gray-Skull playset, Jonathan had it the next day. Battle Beasts? He had every single one. If I got Spy Gear sunglasses with mirrors on the side to see Russian spies creeping up behind you, Jonathan had two pairs AND the night vision goggles. But he also had a Hulkamania t-shirt…and I was very jealous of the awesome colors…but thought it was totally gay to wear a wrestling shirt. (I went to Catholic school. Everything that isn’t prayer, real sports, or praying before and after real sports, was gay.)
"Wish they would have done a “Cribs” episode with Skeletor.”
“To read Elie Wiesel in the dark.”
“I am a real American…who hates the constriction of sleeves.”
But probably the BEST thing that Jonathan had was the original Nintendo. He got it before anyone on the block even knew what it was. I swear his parents flew to Japan to steal one off the production line. One of the games that he had was Nintendo’s original “Wrestlemania”. Before this, I only knew Andre The Giant as Fezzik from “The Princess Bride”. I didn’t realize that he was a professional wrestler. (Thank God he died before “My Giant.“)
“A = punch. B = kick. A+B = body slam. All = hours of fun."
Another chance encounter with professional wrestling happened when I went to an Ace Hardware with my father and he let me pick out an ice cream snack from the mini freezer. I selected a Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake WWF ice cream bar, I think only because of how bizarre I thought it was to eat something with a person’s outline on it. Maybe I was showing early signs of subliminal cannibalism.
“Even Strike Force got an ice cream bar.”
Professional wrestling came directly into my home at one of my brother’s early birthday parties. Someone whose parents obviously didn’t know what the hell kind of a toy you buy a 5-year-old boy whose parents only invited their daughter to his birthday party because she invited him to her birthday party, got him two wrestling action figures. One was the Ultimate Warrior.
The other was Smash from Demolition. My brother Kevin didn’t seem to care for them, but I was blown away. The Ultimate Warrior action figure had an odd protruding bump on his back that you could push down to spring him into a splash. (More accurately, the figure would slightly spring upward and just fall over…which honestly was pretty accurate considering the subject.) Smash had no cool action figure selling point, but with that white face paint and red tongue, he really didn’t need kung-fu grip. (Not to mention that I don’t think Smash himself really had any moves besides punching and sticking out his tongue. So, again, it worked.)
“With realistic bridge-burning action!”
“I would wager that Smash tried to eat this.”
But even through all of this, I never really got “into” it. There was baseball, basketball, and football in my life, and I didn’t really get the obsession people had with these larger-than-life men doing battle in the ring.
But then, just like professional wrestling exploded in the '50s with the advent of television, it was television…specifically Saturday morning television…that drew me in.