In the first chapter of my journey as a professional wrestling fan, I took us through what I referred to as the “curiosity” stage. I was aware of it, I occasionally watched it, and friends of mine were into it. But I was still far more interested in keeping up on the stats of my personal hero, Cincinnati Reds third baseman Chris Sabo, and the ongoing plot of “The Muppet Babies” to devote much time to the warriors of the squared circle. However, that all changed when I realized that after my typical Saturday morning schedule of animated shows was over, or when I returned home after one of those 9 a.m. Little League games (which parents must curse while guzzling coffee to maintain a parental level of feigned interest), there existed an hour-long program showcasing squash matches and ridiculous promos from the larger-than-life characters of the WWF. This led to the second chapter of this professional wrestling fan’s journey, “discovery.”
You'd think with my sense of style, I'd be a Kona Crush fan. But Crush sucked.
CHAPTER 2: DISCOVERY
The first time that professional wrestling became a fixture in my home, and in my life, was when I started watching the WWF on Saturday mornings. WWF Superstars was there every Saturday around 11 a.m. to fill that void after cartoons ended and before noon when mom would kick my siblings and me out of the house to actually enjoy the outdoors. These were the days when the WWF would parade out mid-card guys like Adam Bomb and Mantaur to squash jobbers who were seemingly plucked from the obscurity of the late-'80s independent circuits. I soon fell in love with the spectacle of it all. Even now, I miss those simpler times when they’d run ridiculous introductory promos for some inane new character weeks in advance before finally debuting someone like Waylon Mercy, only to have him beat Gary Jackson with some gimmick-centric finishing maneuver in a three-minute match. The characters were so entertaining for a young kid who grew up on cartoons with characters just as a bizarre. (Just try and tell me that a humanoid rat like Splinter from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is any more ridiculous than a psychotic clown that does a top rope seated senton.) I had never seen a garbage man as charismatic as Duke “The Dumpster” Droese, and used to wait for the garbage men to arrive in the morning to see if any of them carried their garbage cans proudly or wore a smile. I never saw either of those things. I also remember being legitimately afraid of Papa Shango, partly because of the gimmick, and partly because he was a large black man. (I went to private Catholic school in the Cleveland suburbs.) I can still recall watching on the morning that Lex Luger flew in on a helicopter, landed on the U.S.S. Intrepid, and body slammed the until-then un-slammable Yokozuna. At the time, that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I ignored the fact that just a week or so ago I had hated Lex Luger as “The Narcissist” because he made fun of fat kids…and I wore Husky pants. I think that event served as my first ever official “mark out” moment.
Poor Gary Jackson...he tried so damn hard.
History's only recorded proud garbage man.
Those Saturday morning sessions are when I first fell in love with professional wrestling and my brother and I would watch those Saturday morning WWF shows religiously. Like any hardcore wrestling fan with a younger brother, I also decided that the bedroom we shared was just a WWF ring with two beds. I was yelled at countless times by my mother for body slamming my brother onto the twin beds in the room we shared. My brother also became very good at the classic heel move of taking advantage when the referee’s (our mother) back was turned. He would sell moves even when I was minding my own business in order to get me in trouble. He would get an evil glint in his eye, like a 6-year-old version of Jim Cornette, and actually yell out in anguish while slapping his own hands together and scream down the stairs that I was beating him up. Then, I’d get in trouble for the perceived beating. Although it was unfair, I couldn’t help but to respect his underhanded “coward heel” work. A little further down the road, when I was probably far too old to be attempting German suplexes on my brother, we actually destroyed a bed frame with a particularly well-sold choke slam. Bedroom rasslin’ was pretty much done after that one. But beyond the weekend wrestling shows, and the various battle royals with my brother in our bedroom, I think it was my discovery of WWF magazine that took my love to a full-blown obsession.
I first came across WWF Magazine at our local library. While my mom was busy perusing the adult fiction section under the assumption that I was selecting which Gary Paulsen novel I wanted to take home, I was actually reading about the 1-2-3 Kid’s favorite food or a review of a Super Nintendo game by Lex Luger. (If I could go back in time, I would LOVE to have the job of writing those Super Nintendo game reviews done in the “voice” of WWF superstars. “Man Mountain Rock gives Earthworm Jim five guitar solos up!” “Take it from us, ToeJam & Earl are definitely two MEN ON A MISSION!” “Comix Zone has superb gameplay and cutting-edge graphics, but the learning curve may not appeal to the casual player…OOOOH YEAH!” ) After months of racing to the library’s magazine section at the beginning of each month in hopes that someone hadn’t already torn out the Razor Ramon poster and perforated cardboard trading cards commemorating the inaugural King Of The Ring, my mother finally gave in and got me a subscription. I would read every month’s issue cover-to-cover the day I got it. I learned exactly what Bret Hart thought of Pearl Jam’s “Vitalogy” and to a much lesser extent what his dumb ass kid, Dallas, had to say that week. (I always hated Dallas. In a family with such terrible luck, how is it that he was able to dodge the Grim Reaper?) I felt like an insider finding out what Vic Venom had to write that month in his dirt sheet. (As you may well know, “Vic Venom” was actually Vince Russo…who would later bring wrestling to its highest highs, and then to its lowest lows.)
Maybe if this was about Brian “The Hatchet” Robeson,
a protégé of Larry “The Axe” Hennig or Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart,
I would have cared.
Combining two things that kids love,
Canadian wrestling family legacies and Lonesome Dove.
These kids didn't have many friends.
I only play video games that are also played aboard the “Lex Express”.
Pearl Jam used a quote from The Hitman’s review
on the cover of the re-release of this album.
God, I hate Dallas Hart.
He HATED Jack Tunney.
One of the most vivid memories of my early WWF magazine readership was when the character of Kamala happened to come up during a family dinner. I was explaining to my father how one of the wrestlers had actually been discovered in the deepest, darkest jungle of Africa. When he chuckled at my misguided trust, I ran to get the magazine and prove it because, hey, if it was in a magazine it HAD to be true. We got into an argument which ended with him belly-laughing and telling me that the guy was probably some taxi driver from Brooklyn named Jerome. I decided to drop the issue since my father was obviously ignorant, and it was chicken casserole night (which was, what I assumed, the meal that Jesus would serve me if I died and went to heaven hungry). Today, as I reflect on that conversation and read the Wikipedia page on Kamala, it seems that my father wasn’t far off. Kamala was actually some plumber from Mississippi named James.
Nothing racist to see here. Move along.
When WWF magazine wasn’t enough to whet my appetite for all things wrestling, The Cleveland Plain Dealer actually had a section of the newspaper that listed several free hotline recordings…and one just happened to be a weekly updated rundown of the latest news and rumors in professional wrestling. Looking back, I imagine this was recorded by a guy in his mother’s basement after reading a pile of the early mailed out dirt sheets and Apter magazines. I memorized the number and would call before dinner every Sunday.
Yes, by this point I had become a full-fledged WWF disciple. Once I had become fully-ingrained in my love of the WWF, it seemed that I was able to find other friends in elementary school who loved it just as much as I did, which was cool as long as “legitimate sports” were still tops on our list…at least in public. You see, it was okay to watch the WWF and talk about it during sleepovers, but it was absolutely social suicide to wear a Bret “The Hitman” Hart shirt to school, just the same as it was to wear a Spin Doctors hat or admit to enjoying the New Kids On The Block. (Early 90s Catholic elementary schools had very specific “hot or not” lists.) One of those who I found shared my love of the WWF was my best friend Steve. We would play WWF: RAW on Super Nintendo for hours at a time. For some reason, our favorite thing to do was to play the Royal Rumble and eliminate everyone but leave Macho Man Randy Savage in the ring. Then, we would spend literally a half hour ganging up on him and doing our finishing moves to him over and over while screaming, “They’ve ended his career! The Macho Man is dead! My God, these men have gone too far!” We were some sick kids. We also cut out a picture of The Repo Man and put it on Steve’s wall, and claimed him as our favorite wrestler, and ourselves as the only two members of The Repo Man fan club.
Retroactively, the inspiration for 1984’s “Repo Man” starring Emilio Estevez.
It was also around this time that I learned that our local video store, Video City, carried a selection of WWF Pay-Per-Views on VHS. (This was before Blockbuster put Video City out of business, and far before Netflix put Blockbuster out of business, and far far before you could just search matches on YouTube.) I was able to increase my WWF history knowledge by renting some of the early Wrestlemanias. I can still remember Steve and I crying from laughing at Bushwhacker Luke’s immediate elimination from the 1991 Royal Rumble. (In fact, upon watching it again, I still almost hurt from laughing.) Video City also had some of the more recent PPVs including Wrestlemania X (during the time when Crush had gone from a hang 10-ing Hawaiian to some kind of purple-and-black garbed ninja). I also remember renting the 1993 Survivor Series, with a VHS cover that looked like Lex Luger was about to murder someone with a knife. (Miss Elizabeth? Himself?)
Surfer dude gimmick’s not working?
How about you turn on America and wear purple?
I hope Lex laid off the prescription meds before grabbing that knife.
Now, I realize at this point that some of you who grew up watching wrestling in the south are wondering where WCW exists in all of this. I was aware of WCW at the time, but I hated it. I thought it was only for hillbillies. Sting was a poor man’s Ultimate Warrior to me and I never understood the allure of Ric Flair. I had no interest in watching what seemed to me like guys that looked like my dad and my uncles wearing tighty whities. It wasn’t until later when my family moved south from Cleveland to Jacksonville, that I’d come to appreciate WCW and consider myself a two-brand man. It was also right after that move to Jacksonville that I came to appreciate something else that would have a huge impact on my journey as a professional wrestling fan…the internet. Once the internet arrived, everything changed.