Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Pro Wrestling: A Mark's History, Part 1 (How I Became a Wrestling Nerd)

Howdy!  Welcome to the first chapter of Pro Wrestling: A Mark's History!   Over the weeks and months (or however long I end up doing this) I’ll be publishing an ongoing memoir of my nearly three decades of wrestling fandom.

For this entry I’ll start by talking about how and why I became hooked on this bizarre phenomenon involving grown-ass men putting on tights and pretending to beat each other up.

Yup, I blame this stupid cartoon

It was just before my 11th birthday in 1986 that I officially became a wrestling fan.  All it took was one 60-minute episode of the syndicated Saturday morning WWF show to suck me in beyond all reason.  However it took me about four years to arrive there. 

I guess my first exposure to wrestling would've been going to see Rocky III, which of course featured Hulk Hogan in the famous "wrestler vs. boxer" scene.  Being only seven at the time, I found this sequence rather strange and confusing.  My stepfather, with whom I saw the film, explained to me that pro wrestling was nothing but simulated combat.  As is the case for many non-fans my first reaction was, "Well who'd want to watch fake fighting?"

Skip ahead a few years and Hulk Hogan popped up again, this time on his Saturday morning cartoon show, Hulk Hogan's Rock & Wrestling.  A terrible show to be sure, but 9-year-old me became enthralled with the characters of Hogan, Superfly Snuka, Roddy Piper, etc.  I still hadn't seen a single wrestling match, as the cartoon really had nothing to do with the in-ring product.  But it was the comic booky characters that drew me in.  Couple this with the release of the LJN line of WWF Wrestling Superstars toys, and it was the coolest thing since He-Man.
The first actual wrestling I ever saw was courtesy of a cheap VHS tape my best friend picked up in 1985 – part of the AWA Wrestling Classics series.  This particular volume featured a fresh-faced Rick Martel challenging and defeating then-Champion Jumbo Tsuruta.  In hindsight, not a great match.  But for me at the time it was exciting to see an obvious good guy win the World Title, even if the match itself had already happened a year prior.

The first babyface I ever rooted for

Which brings me to the almost 11-year-old boy who had just finished watching Pee-Wee's Playhouse and wasn't ready for the weekly Saturday morning TV bonanza to end.  I flipped around (sans remote control in those days), and happened upon a little show called Superstars of Wrestling.  The intro featured clips of various WWF stars, but as soon as I saw a clip of Hogan I was ready to commit.  Like most kids of that age I fell in love with all the good guys and hated all the villains, but the first feud that really provoked a strong emotional response (and really the first feud I was privy to) was when Randy Savage crushed Ricky Steamboat's larynx (or "lar-nix," as the announcers repeatedly mispronounced it).  Instantly Savage became a source of revulsion for me, and week after week I rooted for him to lose (not being aware yet that at no time did fellows like S.D. Jones or Sivi Afi have a snowball's chance in hell of beating anyone).

From then on I watched Superstars every single week, and soon after stumbled onto Wrestling Challenge which aired an hour earlier on a different channel.  It wasn't long before the NWA's World Wide Wrestling was added to my schedule (though at first I found the NWA product totally alien and bush-league - what the hell did I know, I was eleven!).

Evidently the recognized symbol of excellence in sports-entertainment

My parents were less-than-thrilled with my new hobby, but they were generally tolerant about it, and in fact took me to see live wrestling several times over the next few years.

Over 30 years later and I'm still watching this stuff.  I've also amassed an encyclopedic knowledge of wrestling history (something I'm both proud of and not), and a library full of wrestling DVDs (something I'm kind of asham-- ah, who am I kidding, these DVDs are awesome).

Continued in Part 2 of A Mark’s History...... 

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