Earlier this week, the wrestling world was saddened by the loss of Eugene Arthur Okerlund (1942-2019). Better known to wrestling fans worldwide as Mean Gene Okerlund, Mean Gene was one of a kind. He was one of my favorite personalities in the wacky world of professional wrestling. I have so many fond memories of him conducting interviews with guys like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Ultimate Warrior and the list goes on and on. Hearing of his passing at age 76 was like losing a small part of my childhood. He meant a lot to me and millions of other fans who grew up on late ’80s and early ’90s WWF. To honor his legacy, I’ve transcribed his WWE Hall of Fame induction speech from 2006. Enjoy.
MEAN GENE OKERLUND HALL OF FAME SPEECH APRIL 1, 2006
Please welcome WWE Hall of Famer, Hulk Hogan!
When it comes crashing down and it hurts inside… You gotta take a stand; it don’t help to hide!
Um, it was really great to be in the back and come up to Gene Okerlund…
Alright you guys. Um, it, it was really great to be in the back and shake Mean Gene’s hand and say hello to him…
Aw, aw stop it! I knew I’d get you guys to shut up. No, thank you very much.
*Crowd massively pops*
You think uh, Austin could handle the power of HULKAMANIA?
*Crowd boos a bit*
ANYWAY, tonight guys, it’s a great night because I finally got a chance to shake Mean Gene’s hand and give him a hug in the back. Because usually, we’re on the run. And for 20 years, whenever I see Mean Gene, it was always last minute running.
Trying to put the headband on my bald head, slide in front of the microphone…
*Crowd goes bonkers*
That’s how we usually hooked up. But tonight I’m here to uh, induct Mean Gene into the Hall of Fame.
And I’d love to tell you a bunch of stories, but I don’t think uh, it would be really appropriate for today’s day and age.
But anyway, Mean Gene started in this business when he was 16 years old. He started uh, in radio. And soon after he started in radio in the Twin Cities he moved right on to TV. And uh, at that time I was just getting ready to get started in the business. Just thinking about being a wrestler and had no idea that Mean Gene and myself would become very, very close friends.
Anyway, in 1980 I had a little run here in the WWE. I worked for Vince Senior, Vince’s dad, and had a great time here.
And after my little run here, I went to the AWA. Mr. Verne Gagne promoted and ran that company.
And that’s where Verne and Greg started dialing me in to what Hulkamania was all about. Teaching me how to work like Hulk Hogan and get it together in the ring.
During that time I became very good friends with Mean Gene. I had no idea back then how close we would be today.
We started running around the Twin Cities. I was single at the time. Mean Gene would show me where all the parties were. We would go to all the rock and roll clubs. Stay out til the wee hours in the mornings til the sun came up. And as the days went by, we became closer and closer friends.
Then I got a call from Vince McMahon, and I had a chance to come back to the WWE, and I begged Mean Gene Okerlund to come with me. And thank God he came. Because at that time, the WWE was going through a huge transition. It was basically going from a very small territorial wrestling company…
… around New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts… to this huge conglomerate that covered the globe.
And Mean Gene — a lot of you fans don’t understand — was like the FOUNDATION of this company.
He was there for the interviews, he was there for the wrestlers like myself that at certain times wouldn’t know what to say or what direction to go in. And Gene Okerlund basically worked harder than the wrestlers, traveling and sometimes you know, spent a lot more time on the road and in different hotel rooms doing interviews, because we used to do interviews on a daily basis.
I had an opportunity when I was in the Twin Cities actually to get Mean Gene in the ring with me. And I had no idea that as I was trying to get Mean Gene in the ring as my tag team partner, he was more popular than the wrestlers at that time because he had been in the Twin Cities and he basically was the face of professional wrestling.
We had a chance when we came to the WWE to get things up and rolling, and Mean Gene became the VOICE of professional wrestling. Everywhere you turned, there was another wrestler standing there.
And if Mean Gene wasn’t there conducting the interview, it kinda wasn’t the same.
So not only was Gene like a life support for Hulkamaniaand myself — LEMME TELL YOU SOMETHING MEAN GENE!! — everybody else such as Bret the Hitman Hart*crowd pops massively* and a lot of the guys in this room, they depended on Mean Gene to help them a lot in the interviews.
He was a HUGE part of this transition… from the small wrestling era to the huge arena of sports entertainment. You guys take a look here and I’ll show you what I’m talking about.
It’s my honor to have Mean Gene as a friend, and now it’s a greater honor to induct Mean Gene to the Hall of Fame… Mean Gene!
All you’re gonna be is a prop in the corner, and you’re not even gonna have to get in the ring with George the Animal Steele or Mr. Fuji.
Well he got in there, cleaned house, came over, gave me a hi-five.
Each and every one of these guys, and gals, can stand out there and cut one hell of a promo. I can be there as a prop with a microphone and throw in a question now and then, but they know how to get the job done. And I’ve had some very unique experiences through the years… which I’d like to share with you.
I think, uh, Bobby the Brain Heenan, we’ve gone through it all.
Taking a look at that hair… on that package we just saw, I’m glad I went bald!*Crowd laughs*
Verne Gagne… Verne Gagne started me out in April of 1971.
Verne, I learned a whole lot from you. Greg Gagne and the class of ’72, with Jim Brunzell and Brockwinkel and all of the great stars of the AWA.
You deserve recognition — finally getting it — welcome to the Hall of Fame.
The Iron Sheik… who uh… you go to work and you’re entertained *crowd laughs*
There was a promotion — I don’t know who came up with it — it’s called The Great Turkey Tournament. And it happened around Thanksgiving time, as usual. And all of a sudden, Howard Finkel got this turkey up in Groton, Connecticut. We were doing interviews in New Haven. He brought the turkey back in a cage. I did interviews with Paul Orndorff, Dusty Rhodes and everybody else.
Howard had to send uh, one of the boys back up to Groton, Connecticut to the turkey farm to get another bird.
AND SPEAKING OF BIRDS… what about that COCKAMAMIE… Gobbledy Gooker?!
No that uh, that was quite an evening. All of a sudden we touted this big, huge EGGup to Hartford, Connecticut for the Survivor Series.
And when it finally cracked open, here comes a knockoff of the San Diego Chicken… the Gobbledy Gooker.
Couple of guys by the name of Hillbilly Jim, Cousin Junior… OH, Uncle Elmer!
Great, great interview here. I start the interview out with Hillbilly Jim. He gives us a little bit of his own music. And finally he turns it over to Uncle Elmer.
Now I’m down on my knees. And he’s got a handkerchief on the back of his overalls which he’s had for two months.
*Crowd goes WOOOO!*
Ric… everybody’s talked about Ric Flair.
Ric Flair I saw as a BOUNCER in a bar… not that I went to many bars…
But he was there with Kenny Patera… in the Twin Cities. Then of course uh, he went to Verne Gagne’s camp, and cranking it up. And that was the beginning of the Nature Boy.
Finally ended up with a career in dancing… the robe, the bar.
I’ve seen it coast to coast, and border to border and EVEN INTERNATIONALLY!
We were doing a market specific, which was an interview that would only air in Cleveland, Ohio.
I can’t think of a better town. The great fans here. The Browns, the Cavaliers, at that time the Cleveland Barons. I mean THEY HAD IT ALL. And I said the people in Cleveland are fantastic.
Those teams are all losers. The people here don’t have any personality. They’re all ugly. And uh, he says quite candidly, I CAN’T STAND THEM.
I take a look back at the years that we’ve been active with this Hall of Fame.
And I gotta tell ya, I’ve played golf with a guy by the name of Carlton Fisk of the baseball Hall of Fame, and this…*crowd pops*… and this… this honor here tonight ABSOLUTELY THRILLS ME.
This month I’ll be 35 years… in announcing professional wrestling… in one fashion or another.
… wedding anniversary with my lovely wife, Jeanne… *crowd pops* down there somewhere.
The behind-the-scenes people. They are the LIFEBLOOD of this great entertainment mecca.
And I will say this… I’ve been PROUD to be a part of the WWE and professional wrestling for 35 years. And I’m gonna do it for another 35 — if at all possible.
Superstar Billy Graham, I encourage signing up for ORGAN DONATION.
*Crowd cheers* Thank you. I got a couple of them here. That whiskey’s a little tough on them but…
… you gotta get the right one from a trainer. You know what I’m saying?
Mean Gene Okerlund will be missed but never forgotten. He left a lasting imprint on not just my childhood but countless others who grew up watching WWF in the late ’80s and early ’90s. A true legend in every sense of the word, they broke the mold when they made Gene Okerlund. There’ll never be another one, that’s for damn sure. A tip of the cap to you, Gene. Rest in Power and thanks for all the fun memories.
Earlier this week, on July 2nd to be precise, Bret “The Hitman” Hart turned the big 6-0. That’s right. If you grew up as a wrestling fan of the late ’80s/early ’90s then you know Bret Hart was one of the key figures of the industry and remains highly regarded as one of the best wrestlers to ever lace a pair of boots. Born on July 2, 1957, Bret came from the Hart family. One of the most famous families in pro wrestling history, Bret developed his craft at a young age in the infamous Hart Dungeon where his father, Stu Hart, and his 87 brothers applied various stretch holds on the poor lad. My uncle Jimmy introduced me to wrestling in 1987 and I’ve been a fan ever since. I fell in love with the action and larger than life characters. I became a Bret Hart fan early on. It was evident that he was born to be a wrestler. They didn’t call him the EXCELLENCE OF EXECUTION for nothing!
Bret began his WWF career tagging with his brother-in-law, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. Together they formed one of the most memorable and successful tag teams in the World Wrestling Federation. Bret’s impeccable wrestling acumen was sharply complemented by Jim’s sheer brute force. Managed by “Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart, the Hart Foundation ruled the tag scene and soon became fan favorites.
My brother and I loved Demolition, we loved the Rockers… but DAMN DID WE LOVE the Hart Foundation. I remember the highs and I remember the lows. They won the tag titles twice and we cheered. However, their shocking defeat to the Nasty Boys at Wrestlemania VII left a very sour taste in my mouth. I remember Jimmy Hart, who was then managing the Nasty Boys, gave his megaphone to Knobbs or Saggs, and they bloody took off Anvil’s head to win the tag titles. It was a dark day for Hart Foundation fans everywhere. The team split up after that when the WWF realized Bret’s potential as a major singles star. He went on to win the WWF Championship five times, before leaving the company after the infamous 1997 Survivor Series screwjob in Montreal.
In the wrestling business there’s a famous saying… NEVER SAY NEVER.After nearly 10 years of not being a part of the WWE in any fashion, Bret Hart was announced to headline the 2006 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. It was a huge moment in the industry and for all Bret Hart fans. This was his big homecoming. ONE NIGHT ONLY. April 1, 2006. It was one of my favorite Hall of Fame speeches ever. Tonight we relive the memories of that unforgettable evening.
BRET HART’S INDUCTION VIDEO INTRO
Alright, and now to induct Bret “The Hitman” Hart… there are some people who need no introduction. But if you don’t give this next guy one, he’ll open up a can of whup ass on y’all and I don’t want that to happen here tonight. I’d like to say a lot of nice things about this guy but… I rather be honest. He’s… [WHAT! -Audience]he is NOT a nice man [WHAT!]. As a matter of fact, [WHAT!] he is the meanest [WHAT!], he is the toughest [WHAT!] son of a bitch in the WWE… STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN!
You know, I was going through my bag in the back and…
Call it a hunch but I think the crowd wants a Steve Austin vs. Hulk Hogan dream match . The great Mean Gene Okerlund has seen and heard it all in this great business, but even he is taken aback by this rabid fan response. The crowd is absolutely LIT here in Chicago tonight.
You know it’s funny… I was uh, I was going through my bag in the back and I couldn’t find something. I lost something. I went in the back looking through my bag and uh, I found a can of WHUP ASS and it had Hulk Hogan’s name on it.
*CROWD POPS LIKE CRAZY*
It’s a good night to be up here today with all these legends and uh, it’s fun for me. And it’s a great honor and I know everybody’s been saying that but I really mean it, because I ain’t the most humble sumbitch in the world.
You got the Blackjacks over here. The black trunks, the black boots, the black vests, bad attitude. If I coulda ridden down the road with you guys, it woulda been great.
I never told Sherri this but I’ve always been in love with her. I just thought she was sexy, gorgeous and just a tremendous work — I just loved everything she did.
You were talking about the blondes a little bit earlier in the evening — I just love everything you did.
A lot of people don’t know this but I traveled up and down the road with Tony Atlas. And uh, where’s that cheapskate Mick Foley, because he traveled with us.
And everybody knows that Tony was a great bodybuilder, and he’s a great powerlifter, and a great wrestler too, but he’s also a great beer drinker.
And we’d ride up and down the road… he was good but he couldn’t drink as much as Stone Cold could, I’ll tell you that much right now. But we’d drink beer until the late hours of the night, and then me and Tony would go to the gym. I’d be working chest, bench pressing about 225 for about four, five reps, and Tony would be over there bouncing 500 off his chest about 10, 15 times. IT REALLY PISSED ME OFF!
So it’s good to be here tonight. And uh, you know, I’m here to talk about a guy that I’ve always respected before I even knew him. And you know, I’ve always had a deep respect for the great workers in the business, the great technicians, and the great storytellers. And uh, Bret “The Hitman” Hart never was the biggest guy in the business. And Bret never was the flashiest guy in the business. But I always had an unbelievable chemistry in the ring with him. I knew that any time the bell rang there was a trust and there was a level of respect in there between us and just, good things always seem to happen. And I remember one time I was laying at the house on my couch and I was watching Monday Night Raw. Of all things I had a busted knee. And I’m listening to the announcing — this was back when Vince McMahon used to do the announcing — and it was Wrestlemania 13 right here in Chicago at the Rosemont. My favorite building to wrestle in… it’s just a magic environment. And I hear Vince go, “Yeah, and in a submission match it’ll be Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin!”And that was news to me, because I was watching the broadcast and I didn’t know a DAMN thing about it.
And it got me kinda hot because I’m not a submission wrestler. You probably know that from watching me; I only got about three offensive moves.
So when I showed up to Chicago that night, I remember I needed to get in shape for the match, but I had a busted knee. So I stopped drinking for about 17 days. And uh, Lanza commented on how good I looked. And I remember going to the match that night and I was thinking it was at a point in my career where I needed something big to happen. The King of the Ring had already happened, I cut a promo which kind of put me on the map, and this was kind of put up or shut up time. It was a semi-main event that night, a submission style match and I just knew that we were gonna go out there in my favorite town to work and my favorite building and completely stink the joint out. What we did was go out there and, things happened, and it was the greatest match of my career.
*Crowd claps respectfully*
I’ve had a lot of great matches after that but Jack Lanza came up to me and he said, “You’ll probably never have a match like that again.” And he kinda was right, we never really achieved anything like that again. But any time I stepped into the ring with Bret, whether it was overseas or here in the States somewhere, I’ve wrestled him a million times, and Bret was a guy that always showed up. He didn’t miss his shot, now he always showed up LATE, but he never missed his shot. So I’m proud to induct him into the Hall of Fame tonight. He’s a guy that’s always called himself the excellence of execution. He lives that, he breathes that, and he truly believes it in his heart. And that’s why he was so good. He’s the best there is, he’s the best there was, he’s the best there ever will be, he’s Bret “The Hitman” Hart!
Thank you! I just wanna say um… it’s an honor to be here and it’s an honor to be up here with so many uh great legends like everybody said. And uh… you know, nobody’s more surprised and more amazed to be here than I am. But uh, this is a big night for me.
And despite what anyone thinks, many years ago when I had my fallout with Vince McMahon at the 1997 Survivor Series and all that, I made a promise to myself THAT DAY, that if they ever asked me to do the Hall of Fame I would be here.
I wanna say that while I’ll never forget what the WWE took away from me, I also wanna say that I’ll never forget all the great things that they gave to me. And I’ve had a great great life and I’ve had a great career here. And first of all I want to thank the McMahons, especially Vince, for giving me the chance to work on his canvas.
*Fans jeer at the mention of Vince*
Every night that I went out years ago when I first started, I uh, I was just honored to be in the ring and wrestle for the WWE.
You know when I think back years and years ago, when I was about uh, well three years old I think, I was watching my first wrestling matches on TV and I was watching Killer Kowalski. And uh, I think in my family everybody just became ingrained from the very start to love this business and love the circus life. My family growing up, I mean, everybody loved wrestling and we always been grateful for all the funny adventures and stories that we’ve had through this great business.
I want everyone to know that I came here to celebrate my career, not to mourn over it. And uh, I had a fortune cookie today that said uh, “You’re welcomed at any gathering,” on my Chinese fortune cookie today.
I want to go back to when I was a little kid. I remember going to the wrestling matches for the very first time, and I’d be riding in the car down to the wrestling matches with my brothers, and right from the very start I can remember I’d be riding in the car and my dad would pull up to the hotel and uh, I remember when I was real young they picked up the midgets.
And uh, I remember I thought “Cool, finally I got some wrestlers that I can play around with,” you know. And it was uh, I remember Sky Low Low and Little Beaver and that whole bunch, they just all get in the backseat.
My dad had a big stretch limo with four different rows of seats, just enough for all us Hart kids and uh, he let the midgets climb in there and they get in the back and I can remember I thought, “Great.” And I remember trying to headlock them and stuff like that.
And if you ever uh, if you knew midget wrestlers you know that you don’t want to be headlocking them — they don’t appreciate that too much.
But anyway, wrestling’s always been part of my life. I can remember my first experiences with wrestling. I was about uh, 10, 12 years old and I’d go down to the basement, and my dad had all these huge wrestlers. And I remember you were kind of safe when you were about that age — 12 you’re OK you know — you could sit down there and as long as you didn’t say anything. And it was pretty interesting to watch my dad put these guys into all these holds and they’d be screaming for their lives down there. I think my mom sometimes, I don’t know what she thought, I think she sometimes phoned the police. She was worried someone’s getting killed down there.
My dad was an amazing character and I want to say first that… I owe everything I am today to my dad. And uh, the man I always longed to be was the one I first thought my father was. He was a one of a kind guy in this business. And I can remember when I first got in, I always introduced myself around the dressing room as Bret Hart, Stu Hart’s kid, and this was always my passage to safety. Everybody I know who really understood him and got to know him loved him. He was everything that was good about the wrestling business. I know he’d be really proud of me standing here today.
*Crowd applauds respectfully*
I uh… got all kinds of funny stories and memories. I’ll try to not go too long here. It would only be right for me to tell a few funny stories about my brother, Owen.
My brother Owen was uh… he was a hilarious guy.
*Crowd chants O-WEN! O-WEN! O-WEN!*
I remember being on the road getting a call from somebody telling me that someone from delivery service was giving me a free pizza. I think I already eaten… but they would sell me on it. It was free and bringing it up and it’s on the house. And I was like OK. And the next thing you know I would be arguing with the guy about how he wanted me to pick my toppings — what kind of toppings I wanted. And it was like OK. So I started going through the toppings and then he starts pushing more toppings on you. Then finally he tells you after all that he’s going to charge you for the toppings. And you go through this charade… anyway, that was Owen.
*Crowd laughs and cheers*
One time we were checking into a hotel in Dayton, Ohio. All the wrestlers were walking in and uh, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan [HOOOOO! -Crowd] was there with his wife, and he went to his room.
We were all standing around the front desk signing in. Duggan phoned down and asked the guy at the front desk, “Where’s the gym?” The guy puts his hand over the phone and he goes, “Anyone know where the gym is?”
And Owen goes, you know, “Give it to me.” So he hands the phone over to Owen and Owen gets on the phone and of course, Jim, Hacksaw just thinks it’s somebody at the front desk. Anyway, Owen tells Hacksaw, “Why don’t you look it up yourself, YOU LAZY BASTARD.”
So Hacksaw got all worked up and Owen tells him,“If you wanna do something about it, come down here and I’ll kick your ass.”
Hacksaw couldn’t believe it. So then Hacksaw, you know, he’s getting dressed to come down to the lobby to straighten out this front desk guy. And I remember Owen just hands the phone back to him and the guy goes, “Don’t do this to me!“
Owen goes, “Don’t worry, just tell him it’s me… Jim Powers.”
*Crowd erupts in laughter*
Hacksaw comes down to the lobby and the guy goes, “Hey, it wasn’t me! It was Jim Powers.”
*Crowd erupts again*
I remember that night in the dressing room, Hacksaw came up to Jim Powers and uh… well, that was funny anyway.
If you knew Owen, I’m sure he pulled a joke on you somewhere.
I remember in the beginning of my career I had a chance to uh… I got called and they said they needed me to take the Dynamite Kid’s place. He was going to wrestle in Madison Square Garden against the great Tatsumi Fujinami from Japan. Anyway, Dynamite Kid couldn’t get across the border and I was called up at the last minute.
I remember I got to the building — this was such a big thing for me… I was only about 20, 21 — and I remember I was walking through the lobby getting ready for that big walk over to Madison Square Garden and I kept thinking to myself, “One day I get to tell my kids that I wrestled in Madison Square Garden.”
*Crowd claps respectfully*
Anyway, they met me, the Japanese guys that brought me in for this. They stopped me in the lobby and they said, “We have to take you off the card. You don’t have a big enough name to wrestle in Madison Square Garden.” And I remember that in the beginning of my career…
When I first got to the WWE in 1984, I was fortunate and lucky enough to be a part of this new surge in wrestling thanks to Hulk Hogan, Vince and the whole team of wrestlers that took wrestling to a whole new level.
Back in those days wrestling was pretty tough. I worked 304 days my first year and I think I worked pretty much close to that for the next six years that I was in the WWE. Double shots. It was a tough life. But I want to say I would never have made it through those years if it hadn’t been for my tag team partner, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart.
*Crowd pops for The Anvil*
Jim Neidhart was you know, he was just the greatest character. I got a little pug over in Italy right now that I keep just because I think he reminds me of Jim. He’s got those sad puppy dog eyes you know, and he always wants you to have one more round.
I got so many funny memories and stories of Jim Neidhart, but I’ll just tell one. I remember Owen had just flown in; I think he was getting a new start with WWE back in 1991, maybe. We just did one night in Texas — I worked with a guy named Skinner. Anyway, all the wrestlers were kind of celebrating and I took Owen to a strip bar in San Antonio…
*Some fans scream YEEEEAAAAH!!*
Owen wasn’t really prone to those kind of places but I managed to talk him into it because it was a big night for him. He was starting back in WWE and he’d flown in from Germany. And it was a crazy night, that night in Texas, I’ll tell you that much. We were all drinking in the bar and everyone’s kind of talking and stuff…
And Vince had a few soda pops somewhere else. He was primed and ready that night. I bet Sergeant Slaughter remembers this — he was driving, thank God.
But anyway, I remember just kind of hanging out in the bar with Owen. And Hulk, you know, he could always stir up shit, you know.
He was stirring up the Legion of Doom. Hulk got them all worked up. And I remember Hawk and Animal were talking about how they were going to do their finisher on Vince.
*Crowd erupts in laughter*
And I remember watching it and I’m thinking, “No way. They’re not gonna do it. Nobody would do their finisher on Vince.”
And um, next thing I know I see Hawk saying he’s not kidding and Animal’s kind of going along with it. Quite a few of the wrestlers were starting to mark out over this, and see if it’s gonna actually happen.
Anyway, next I see Animal come up behind Vince. And like I said, Vince was already in a pretty good state of mind. So Animal came up from behind and he hoisted Vince up. I look and there’s Hawk right there on the little table with the poles.
And uh, I’m waiting. I’m watching. I’m thinking, “Here it is… they’re gonna take Vince’s head off.”
Hawk came off the table with a little powder puff clothesline and I remember Hulk, Beefcake and everybody kind of caught Vince and set him down. I think they even gave a little golf clap.
And I remember I had a beer in my hand. I think I had a shot of Jack Daniels. And I can see Jim pulling on his beard. He goes…
*Crowd laughs and cheers loudly*
I remember thinking, “I better get the hell out of here.”I couldn’t set my drinks down fast enough. I told Owen, “Listen, I gotta get out of here RIGHT NOW.” Next thing you know, Jim’s got Vince up in the bear hug position…
I remember Hulk looking at me like, “So… what’s gonna happen here?”
Jim Neidhart… I remember so many funny stories about him. I can’t resist telling this one. Whenever we stayed at a hotel we would always forget to put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob. We’d be lying there in bed and I can hear the maid fumbling with the key to come into the room. I’d be sound asleep and I remember just sort of hearing Jim pull the whole blanket off, and just be lying there like a big old starfish.
And then you see the maid come in. I mean, we went through this quite a few times. It was standard Hart Foundation. You hear them scream and run out of the room as fast as they could. Over a period of time I think we could do it in stereo, you know. Anyway, I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart.
*Laughter and applause*
There’s a lot of wrestlers I wanna take the time to thank. In my early days, I’ll never forget Cowboy Bob Orton, Roddy Piper, Don Muraco, Mr. Fuji, Iron Sheik and so many others that uh, every night, they were my family. And uh, I love those guys. I had some uh…*Fan interjects, “ONE MORE MATCH!“*
“ONE MORE MATCH!
ONE MORE MATCH!
ONE MORE MATCH!”
I wish. I wish I could have one more match. I wanna take the time to uh, think about and remember some of my great matches and great experiences I had. I’ll never forget the matches I had with Mr. Perfect, Curt Hennig.
He was uh, he was just the greatest guy to work with every night. I never looked at working with him as work. It was a night off. He was just the greatest guy to work with every night. He was just so much fun and he was so safe and so careful. And I miss him.
I remember wrestling Curt Hennig in Anchorage, Alaska. It was sold out and I remember it was a big crowd. Andre was working in those days with Warrior, and they were going about 25 seconds every night.
So they needed some extra time, you know, for someone to do the work out there. I was working with Curt that night, and I don’t think I ever had a bad match with him, but I remember that night we uh, we just had such a beautiful match that I’ll never forget it.
Another guy I wanna tell you a story about is Earthquake.
Earthquake, you’re in my prayers.
Wherever you are out there I hope you’re doing OK.
I remember we were flying from Columbus up to Seattle or something, and we had about a six in the morning flight. I remember we got delayed for hours and everyone was sleeping on the floor near the gate. It took hours and hours. And everyone was really tired and really cranky. We finally got off and we’re in the air on our way to Seattle. Poor Earthquake, he was in the very last seat in the airplane. You know, he was a big guy so he was against the wall sleeping with his head down. I remember going to the back of the plane to use the bathroom, but someone was already in there. And uh, Jimmy Hart was across from Earthquake, and I was talking to Jimmy.
Anyway, this little black kid came up and he was about four or five years old. He wanted my autograph and I remember I signed it for him, and then he asked Jimmy to sign it. And then he looked over at Earthquake and he goes, “Should I wake this guy up?”
Jimmy Hart goes, “Yeah go ahead.” I say, “Yeah, he’s a pussycat.” But Earthquake had a long day, you know, he had about enough. I remember this kid pulling on his coat like “Hey hey!”
And I remember Earthquake just looked up, and his eyes were like red holes. He yelled at the little kid and told him to GET OUT.So then he put his head back down…
… and he just leaned back and I couldn’t believe it, he just slapped Earthquake as hard as he could right on the forehead.
*Laughter and gasps ensue*
And I remember Earthquake, good thing he had a seat belt on, he tried to explode out of that seat. And I remember Jimmy Hart was trying to find a place to hide and I remember I kept praying whoever’s in the bathroom better come out, you know.
Anyway, as you can tell I had a life filled with all kinds of characters, and great stories and memories… and uh…
*Fan shouts, THANK YOU BRET!*
I wanna say that everything I did and accomplished in wrestling I did it for my kids. Everyday, you know, you get up and it’s not the easiest thing in the world to go out there all the time and entertain everyone else’s kids. It seemed like birthdays, Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter, you’re just always entertaining somebody else’s kids, and you’re always packing your bags. Your kids pay the ultimate sacrifice. I just want them to know that everything I did, I did it for them.
I remember a few months before “THE SCREWJOB” …
*Fans boo vehemently*
I uh, I was trying to put my youngest son, Blade, to bed. It was in the summer time. I ordered him to go to bed and he went up. I remember he got really mad, and he’s got a pretty bad temper anyway.
He was slamming doors and making quite a fuss. I remember finally putting him in his room. I went back downstairs and I was sitting in my kitchen. Like half an hour later, all of a sudden I see Blade come down. And he’s got on Shawn’s t-shirt.
And he’s got the Shawn glove and he’s looking at me like this and he’s opening his hand.
I still put him to bed. I remember telling Shawn that story. But uh, you know, when I think back to those days of the Hart Foundation… with um, Brian Pillman…
*MASSIVE POP for Pillman*
Jim Neidhart, The British Bulldog, Owen…
Those were the happiest days of my life.
And I uh, I always look back on those days with a real deep fondness.
And I was lucky — I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the great fans I’ve got all around the world. If I could give any advice to all the young wrestlers out there: never forsake your fans. Never forget them. Because if he’s a fan of yours, you’ll want to hold on to them for as long as they’ll take ya.
I wanna say that I was a real world’s champion. I traveled around the world, and uh, I was really proud to be a world champion. I wrestled in India, Israel, South Africa, the Philippines. I wrestled in so many places. And Germany, I wanna say a special thank you to all the fans I had in Germany. I remember they knocked down the barricades just to come up and give me a big hug before my match, or after my match. It was a beautiful experience that I’ll never forget. They were probably the most loyal and devoted fans I ever had. Canada, you know… I was always a Canadian first. I never ever forgot where I came from.
People always say why would you wear pink? Pink was a very special color for me. If you mix a little red and white together, you get pink. Sometimes I thought maybe I should have had a better color throughout my career. Maybe black and gold or something would have been a little nicer. But you know, there was something very neutral about pink as a color. I always said it took a real man to wear pink. Pink can be whatever you want it to be. And I uh, I love the color pink.
I’m getting ready to close but I wanna say that uh… to the wrestlers… you need to pace yourselves for the long haul. And it’s not so much about hurting one another. It’s about respecting the art.
I wrestled for 23 years, and it’s not easy to go out there every night and describe yourself as the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be. But I wrestled 23 years and I never once injured one wrestler ever. That I know of, anyway. And I was a pretty physical wrestler. And the whole business is about trust and respect. And there’s a deep meaning behind the words, “Doing the honors.”
I wanna thank every wrestler that I ever worked with anywhere around the world. And in closing, um, I want to thank my wife in Italy. When I had my stroke a couple years ago, I remember I got emails and letters from fans all around the world saying they were praying for me. And they must have been praying good because I was lucky and fortunate enough to have been blessed with a great recovery. And I’m standing here today.
If I didn’t have the recovery that I had, then I would never have met the sweet angel that saved me over in Italy. She’s over in Italy now with my pug and I just wanna say hi to her. Cinzia, thank you for being my angel.
And uh, I wanna thank everybody for all the great memories. Wembley Stadium, all my fans in England…
That was my favorite match that I ever had, and I’m happy to tell you that. And I wouldn’t change that minute, that moment for anything.
I guess I’m gonna wrap up here but I just wanna say that uh, to all the wrestlers and everyone around the world, if I could give only one message to them it would be this. “The best chance you have if you want to rise to the top is to give yourself up the loneliness. Fear nothing, and work hard. One thing you’ll discover is that life is based less than you think on what you’ve learned and much more than you think on what you have inside you right from the very beginning.”
And I’m happy to say that uh, you don’t have to worry about me anymore. I’m good, I’m happy to be alive, I’m glad to be here. And I thank each of you for coming out here tonight. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
The pink and black attack.
The excellence of execution.
The best there is.
The best there was.
The best there ever will be.
Whatever you want to call Bret, he was a wrestler for the ages. His Hall of Fame speech still gives me goosebumps to this very day. Although I was never in the wrestling business, there is a strange nostalgic bond I have with these crazy larger than life characters. Even though they don’t know me, I feel like I somehow know them. They almost feel like distant uncles you only see every other Christmas. I guess that’s why I still follow wrestling today. Not as religiously as I once did, mind you, but I’ll always follow the product and be a fan for life. Always looking for that chance to jump out of my chair and mark out like I’m five years old again watching Hulkamania reign supreme. The WWF (now WWE) has given me many fond memories over the years. Whether you like or dislike pro wrestling, there exists a special brotherhood and fraternity within wrestling circles. You see it clear as day through Bret’s stories. Every week these guys and gals go on the road, traveling thousands of miles, sacrificing their bodies, their families and more. To all the wrestlers out there, and especially to Bret “The Hitman” Hart, thank you for everything. Through all the ups and downs I will forever be a fan.
Fire Pro Wrestling. It’s a cult classic franchise that has picked up steam over the years. Even back in the day of the late ’90s, when the internet was still relatively new, I remember hearing the rumblings online of Fire Pro. People were talking about Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium for the Super Famicom and Fire Pro S: Six Man Scramble for the Sega Saturn. My brother bought Fire Pro G on the Sony PlayStation and we played it to death. A little later on I bought Six Man Scramble.
Fire Pro games are well known for being very realistic and in-depth. There were several entries on the Super Famicom but the last one, Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium, was the best of the 16-bit lot. Four could wrestle at once, and there was an extensive create a wrestler mode where you could create and save up to 80 wrestlers. It blew away any other “CAW” at that time (1996). It was revolutionary in many ways. The grappling is based on a timing and strength system. No button mashing here! I never was a huge fan of wrestling games where you had to mash away in order to win a grapple. Here you win based on timing, which is far more enjoyable. There are weak, medium and strong buttons. If you start out a match trying to use medium or strong moves, your opponent will counter because they’re still too fresh. No energy bars are shown — you’ll just instinctively know how strong or weak someone is.
REVOLUTIONARY FOR ITS TIME
There are a crap load of wrestlers to choose from. It spans many different federations and even include a few familiar American faces, like Hawk here of Road Warriors/Legion of Doom fame (R.I.P.)
SUPLEX CITY! Somewhere Brock Lesnar is pacing as Paul Heyman preps his vocal cords. “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, MY NAME IS PAUL HEYMAN…”
There are several modes to select from. The game is mostly in Japanese but of course there is a fan English translation floating out there. I always switch the ref to this old guy here — he counts the slowest of all the refs and so the matches are extended a little bit beyond the norm.
HULK HOGAN and UNDERTAKER?! Yup, they’re available from the start.
Tonight’s main event is a FATAL FOUR WAY featuring the Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, Hayabusa and ECW’s homicidal, suicidal, genocidal death-defying maniac, SABU! It’s gonna be a barnburner, folks! That shot of all four men knocked out on the mat is a sign of the chaos and sheer insanity to come…
Hulkster does his classic pose. Sabu then points to the sky to honor his uncle, The Sheik. Just like their real life counterparts back in their hey day. Great attention to detail! Coming from HUMAN and Fire Pro you wouldn’t expect anything less.
Tonight’s main event will continue until there is one man (or dead man) left standing. Every man for himself, elimination style. Let’s check out the action!
Undertaker delivers a high impact side suplex while Hogan tries to shut up the marks with a well executed Boston Crab.
Hogan with the Big Leg Drop of Doom! Hayabusa tried to intercept it but his timing was a bit off there. In reality we all know nothing stops Hulkamania.
Hayabusa shows off his strength by slamming the dead man, followed by a nice senton flip. Meanwhile, the Hulkster delivers a sweet vertical suplex to the mad man, Sabu.
Taker with his patented beautiful running flying clothesline. Meanwhile, Hulk hits Sabu with a nasty pinning power bomb.
Hayabusa shows off his classic 450 Splash.
German suplex well executed. That’s gonna leave a mark.
Nobody ever said Sabu was smart now. He lives up to the “suicidal” part of his nickname, for sure. Meanwhile, notice that gorgeous DDT on the Hulkster there. Hayabusa spiked him good! Somewhere Jake “The Snake” Roberts is grinning.
FLYING SPINNING CARTWHEEL KICK AND A BEAUTY! Taker displays his power with a standing delayed vertical suplex. The mat crashes with the bodies of these fierce, insane gladiators.
Break up pin falls if you wish to have all the glory for yourself.
Hayabusa and Sabu form a temporary alliance to take down the Immortal One, but the Undertaker has other plans.
So much for that alliance, eh? Sabu turns on the masked warrior right after and gets him to submit. Not only that but judging by the referee’s X signal, that means we have a legitimate injury… after all, referees show the X sign in real life for real injuries. They’ve never used it as part of a storyline…
Speaking of the legendary Nature Boy, Ric Flair, look at Hogan taking a page out of Flair’s playbook!
Choke Slam and a beauty! That HAS to be it!
WHAT THE FU — !
Hogan tried to mock D-Generation X by doing their signature crotch chop, but the Dead Man wasn’t having any of that.
Guess Taker really took great offense to Hogan trying to rip off DX…
“WOULD SOMEBODY STOP THE DAMN MATCH!” Look at the way Sabu’s head bounced violently off the mat. “GOOD GAWD ALMIGHTY!” is right, Jim Ross.
“AS GOD IS MY WITNESS HE IS BROKEN IN HALF!”The winner of the match, via DEATH, THE UNDERTAKER!
NOT QUITE PERFECT, THOUGH
Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium does a lot of things right, especially for 1996 standards. However, it’s not quite perfect. For starters, when you’re near the apron of the ring it’s far too easy to fall outside. It’s awkward and kind of kills the flow of a match. This of course was fixed in later Fire Pro games. Another disappointment is that submission moves are way overpowered. I hate seeing an opponent tap out in a simple head lock hold five minutes into the match. It’s just not realistic. Later Fire Pro games gave you the option to turn submissions off, which negates this flaw. Unfortunately there’s no such option here. Another thing that this game is missing are steel cage matches, tables, fluorescent light bulbs, barb wire and all the crazy gimmicks and weapons that the later Fire Pro games would introduce. Think of this as a very PG and promising start to the series, but it’s far from being the “perfect” Fire Pro game. It’s like an early proto of what would become the successful backbone of the series. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an excellent game but whenever I play it it’s hard not to think about the improvements the series would later introduce, and you kind of wish at least a few of those made their debut here. Hell, just give me the no submissions and I’d be happy. Nevertheless, even as is, this is easily one of the greatest wrestling games of the 16-bit era. Possibly even the greatest…
CAW CAW CAW!
The Create A Wrestler (CAW) mode was revolutionary for its time. You could create and save up to 80 wrestlers. There were tons of moves and body models to pick from that you could closely replicate your favorite titans of the squared circle. Here we see Macho Man Randy Savage, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Sgt. Slaughter and the Ultimate Warrior. They all resemble their real life counterpart pretty damn well! So if you take the time you can easily recreate the magic of late ’80s/early ’90s WWF!
It’s easy to see why Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium is so beloved. Released in March of 1996, it’s been over 20 years now and the game remarkably still holds up well. As I stated a bit earlier, there are definitely better more recent Fire Pro games available, but considering this now 20 plus year old game can still stand toe to toe with most wrestling games from ANY era is no doubt impressive indeed. It speaks to how innovative and fresh this game was back in ’96. You want to recreate the Attitude WWF era? Or the Ruthless Aggression era? Or WCW? ECW? Perhaps relive the Monday Night War? With a little time and devotion to the CAW mode, you can! The game certainly isn’t without its flaws but you simply have to appreciate how deep this game was and still is. Human did a great job and should be highly commended. The series definitely didn’t peak here, but it no doubt laid its grass roots with Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium.
I love and will always love wrestling. Growing up, I was a huge WWF fan. A mark, “if you wheel” (R.I.P. “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes). With WrestleMania right around the corner, I find myself reminiscing fondly about my WrestleMania weekend experience this time last year (2015). It also made me think of my fandom origins and what wrestling has meant to me growing up.
IT BEGAN ONE SATURDAY NIGHT IN ’87
My fandom began in 1987 when one night my uncle flipped on Saturday Night’s Main Event. I witnessed the awesome pairing of the “Immortal” Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage, better known as The Mega Powers. Macho Man’s raspy, iconic voice of “Ooh yea dig it!” combined with the Hulkster’s classic trademark saying of “Eat your vitamins, train hard and say your prayers” won me over. The two colorful characters were bigger than life. And in that moment they made me, an impressionable four year old boy, believe in a greater force and a higher power, brutha.
From that point on, I was hooked for life. It was not long before my uncle took me to the local video store so we could rent the latest wrestling extravaganzas on VHS. My brother got into it as well, and for the three of us, wrestling quickly became a religion.
My uncle and I rented all our wrestling tapes from Video Mart. A mom and pop shop, Video Mart had a solid wrestling selection right next to the horror section. It was a blast gawking at the various covers. The one that sticks out in my mind even to this day is Halloween Havoc ’89. It looked more like a horror movie. I felt the only thing missing from Halloween Havoc ’89 was a white William Shatner mask. The Legion of Doom posing with that sinister pumpkin grinning in the background is firmly embedded in my soul.
BECOMING A CULTURAL PHENOMENON
Wrestling exploded beyond just television. You also had them in the form of toys. What ’80s child doesn’t remember M.U.S.C.L.E.?
But the real prize was Hasbro’s first WWF run. In the summer of 1990, my mom and brother went to Paris for vacation, leaving me and my old man to fend for ourselves. There are three things that resulted from that which I fondly recall:
I missed them dearly, especially my mom
I ate a lot of McDonald’s (my mom did all the cooking)
It was the summer that I discovered Hasbro’s WWF lineup. I never looked back
When my brother got back from Paris, he and I built our collection together slowly but surely. There were 12 figures in the original 1990 lineup. We had all of them but one…
One Saturday night, in a most shocking turn of events, my mom told me and my brother that she was taking us to Toys R Us to find the last action figure we needed — in her words – “the wrestler with the snake.”My mom was frugal but there was definitely magic in the air that night. Thanks mom.
In addition to their toys, the WWF even made trading cards, which my bro and I quickly began collecting.
Google “Lonely Virgil” for a laugh.
One day in late ’92 there was a sign at our local mall advertising an upcoming special appearance by WWF superstar Virgil. My uncle, brother and I were stoked. This was our chance to meet our first wrestler up close and personal. I wanted to ask Virgil one question: “Is wrestling fake?” I replayed the question in my head for days. But by the time I came face to face with Virgil and saw his bulging muscles, my mind went completely blank! Even though Virgil was a lower tier wrestler, he was larger than life and I found myself in sheer awe of the guy. Such is the magic of wrestling!
The WWF found more ways to penetrate the consciousness of the public in the early ’90s.
THE BEST WRESTLING WEEKEND OF MY LIFE
My childhood best friend Nelson and I grew up huge WWF fanatics. We always promised each other that one day, somehow, we would attend a WrestleMania together. Last year, we finally made good on a 20+ year childhood vow. We made the trip over and it turned out to be three days of wrestling nirvana. Join me for a look back.
NXT is WWE’s “developmental” brand.
I’ll never forget being there. The energy in that building was electric. We chanted all night long, and the wrestling was SUPERB. WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross came out to sit at ringside and received a rousing ovation. There was a real “ECW vibe” to the whole event, and when it finally ended at 1 AM, five thousand crazed wrestling fanatics filled the streets of downtown San Jose. It was quite the scene! WrestleMania was now just two days away and you could feel this incredible buzz. Everyone was drunk on wrestling. It’s corny but I get the feels just thinking back on it.
Speaking of good ole JR, the very next morning (a mere 10 hours later) it was off to…
Jim Ross was a long time commentator of the WWE and often considered by many as pro wrestling’s best commentator of all time (with all due respect to the late great Gordon Solie). JR has accumulated a great deal of epic wrestling tales over the years, and I wasn’t about to miss out on JR Story Time.
JR opened his bit with an amusing mock phone call. It went something like this…
“Oh hey Vince. Hey listen, I’m kind of busy right now. I’ve got um, a few folks here (note: there were 800 of us, so that line drew a good laugh). I’m running a show here bah Gawd, but um, you wouldn’t know that would you? Oh, as it pertains to tomorrow night’s main event between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, I’m telling ya, GO WITH BROCK.”
About 90% of the room popped, while the other 10% (the Roman fanboys) quietly stewed.
All in all, a good time was had by all. JR told stories around the campfire, and then there was a Q&A session. Samoa Joe also made a special guest appearance. It was fun. Next, it was off to…
I enjoyed the Hall of Fame, but it was definitely my least favorite of the four events that weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some WWE Hall of Fame. The stories are what make it great. The speeches in 2015 left something to be desired, especially compared to other years. It’d be a different story if Randy Savage were still alive and able to speak, but it was not meant to be.
Finally, it was the moment Nelson and I had been waiting 20+ years for…
Nelson and I left the show giddy like we were two kids on Christmas Eve. We rode the high of the night as we walked back to his car, with fireworks falling all around us. BEST.RASSLIN.WEEKEND.EVER.
It was great to meet fans from all over the globe that weekend. Despite being total strangers, everyone was connected through the memories we share of the business. It’s awesome having that shared connection and laugh with strangers as though you’ve known them your whole life. That’s what WrestleMania weekend is all about: fans worldwide coming together for one epic party. Wrestling has a way of bringing out the kid in you, and WrestleMania weekend is as big as it gets. Words don’t do it justice. It’s something every wrestling fan should experience at least once in their life.
And now, here’s a look at my top 10 favorite wrestlers.
10. “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase
With his custom built expensive Million Dollar Championship title belt, Ted DiBiase was one of the very best and most consistent bad guys of late ’80s and early ’90s WWF. The man with the evil laugh never put on a single bad match. You loved to boo him but you also loved watching DiBiase wrestle. After all, few did it better than the Million Dollar Man.
9. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
The Hot Rod was one of the best mic men in the business. He was magic on the mic. Although his in-ring work wasn’t particularly great, he always lit up a room with his endless charisma and shenanigans. Completely unpredictable and always entertaining, the Hot Rod will be fondly remembered as one of the all-time legends. One of the few wrestlers in the 1980s to truly cross over into the mainstream, he was the leading man in the 1988 cult favorite, John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE.“I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum” goes down in cinema history as one of the best lines ever. Sadly, Piper passed in the late summer of 2015. He is missed, but his legacy lives on forever.
8. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
There was nothing Jake did that did NOT have a measure of meaning. No movement, no gesture, no move. Everything he did in and out of the ring served a purpose. He was one of the best psychologists that the wrestling business has ever seen. Who could ever forget his slithery python, Damien, or his infamous finishing move, the DDT? Jake blazed a trail and he did it like no one else did. When he returned to Raw for one night in 2014, it was just like Jake: EPIC.
7. “The Bad Guy” Razor Ramon
“A-yo, chico.” A cock of the head. A flick of the toothpick. And with that, the Bad Guy stole our hearts. The Man Oozin’ with Machismo, Razor burst on to the WWF scene in 1992. He was booed at first, but inevitably, fans all over the world fell in love with the Bad Guy. With his devastating Razor’s Edge finisher, Razor went on to hold the Intercontinental title four times. By far his most memorable moment in the WWF took place at WrestleMania X where Razor and Shawn Michaels stole the show in a groundbreaking Ladder Match for the undisputed, unified IC title. Razor is also widely remembered as the key spark plug that jump-started the infamous nWo faction in WCW that launched the industry altering Monday Night War.
6. Mr. Perfect AKA Curt Hennig
From his perfect entrance theme to his perfect look, Mr. Perfect was a world class athlete and entertainer. Widely regarded as one of the best Intercontinental champions of all time, nobody and I mean NOBODY sold bumps like he did. Plus, who could forget those classic sporting vignettes? Tragically, Curt’s life was cut short on February 10, 2003. But his wrestling legacy lives on.
5. “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels
Before he became the Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels competed in the tag team ranks. But mega superstardom beckoned and the Showstopper answered. One of the greatest performers I’ve ever seen, his legendary dive off the ladder at WrestleMania X remains an iconic image. HBK would go on to rightfully earn the nickname “Mr. WrestleMania.”
4. Bret “The Hitman” Hart
Bret Hart came from humble beginnings, starting out in a tag team in the WWF known as the Hart Foundation. After scratching and clawing to the top of that division, Bret broke out and found singles success as he became a prominent holder of the Intercontinental Championship title. But he truly cemented his mark on the business in Saskatoon on October 12, 1992. That’s when Bret Hart defeated the great Ric Flair to earn his first WWF Championship, ushering in a new era. Bret Hart was never the biggest guy or the flashiest guy, but he always put on the best matches. The excellence of execution, indeed.
3. The Ultimate Warrior
Intensity personified. The Ultimate Warrior was truly one of a kind. From his war paint to his tassles to his bulging muscles, he looked like a comic book super hero. And for any boy living in the late ’80s, the Ultimate Warrior was truly a comic book hero come to life. Sadly, the Warrior journeyed to parts unknown on April 8, 2014. But his legacy continues to endure, and the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will run on for generations to come.
2. “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan
Growing up in the late ’80s, few superstars captivated your imagination quite like the Hulkster. With one tear of his shirt, or one classic “hulk up” moment in the ring, arenas all over the universe went bonkers.“Eat your vitamins, train hard and say your prayers” became a mantra for boys all over the globe in the late ’80s. Hulk Hogan was sort of this mythical figure in the world of professional wrestling. Wrestling would not be where it is today were it not for his many contributions. He wasn’t a great worker but few had the presence of the Hulkster. There’s no denying he took the industry to a whole ‘notha level, “BROTHER!”
1. “Macho Man” Randy Savage
“OOOH YEAH! DIG IT!” Often imitated but never duplicated, they broke the mold when they made the Macho Man Randy Savage. He was on another planet. When you factor in both charisma and wrestling ability, there might be none finer than the Macho Man. Always flamboyant and intense, Randy Savage carved one hell of a legacy that extended beyond the squared circle. He became the voice and face of Slim Jim. To this day whenever I’m at the checkout counter of a Target or gas station, I can’t help but think of Macho. Sadly, he passed on May 20, 2011. However, the Macho Madness lives on through the memories and moments etched in the annals of WWF history.
And now, to cap things off, here are some of the most memorable wrestling moments that have left an indelible mark on me
THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE
The date, April the 1st, 1990. The scene, the SkyDome in Toronto. The event, WrestleMania VI. It was the most anticipated main event in wrestling history. The Ultimate Challenge. The aging world champ versus the upcoming superstar in the making. Title for title. It didn’t get any bigger than this.
The match lived up to the hype. I rewinded my tape and wore it out as a kid. I must have watched this match 50 times. It went back and forth with lots of false finishes that kept you on the edge of your seat. Finally, when the smoke cleared, a new king emerged and the torch was passed. Epic.
RETIREMENT AND REDEMPTION
The Macho Man sabotaged the Ultimate Warrior, costing him his WWF Championship at the 1991 Royal Rumble. This led to a feud for the ages that culminated in a showdown at WrestleMania VII. Not only that but it was a career ending match, raising the stakes even higher.
Speaking of high stakes, Bobby the Brain Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon had a great exchange during this match:
Heenan: Everything is on the line. Maybe the humanoids don’t understand it. EVERYTHING IS ON THE LINE.Everything they’ve worked for their whole career… the prestige, the wealth, the fortune, the fame. It’s all over here for one of them!
Monsoon: For the guy who loses, when he wakes up tomorrow morning, WHAT’S HE GONNA DO?!
Heenan: HE’S GONNA BE JUST ANOTHER HAM AND EGGER!!
The 20 minute match featured multiple false finishes. Back in 1991 this was unheard of. Especially when the Ultimate Warrior kicked out of FIVE Flying Elbow Drops. Never before had I seen such drama in a match. The Warrior would eventually score the pinfall. However, as great as this match was, what happened after made it one for the history books. After the Warrior left the ring, Macho Man’s manager, Sensational Sherri, turned on Savage with a flurry of vicious kicks. The camera then panned to Elizabeth, Macho Man’s long time partner on and off camera. Her face a teary mess. The crowd started to rise. Elizabeth, no longer able to take it, then jumped the guard rail. She ran to the ring and flung Sherri out to the floor.
A groggy Randy Savage climbed to his feet. He spotted Elizabeth. It was as if he just seen a ghost. The crowd cheered louder as Elizabeth, tears streaking down her face, stood there waiting for Savage to respond. Savage finally embraced her as the humanoids erupted. Gorilla Monsoon’s epic commentary “WHAT A WOMAN, AND WHAT A MAN!” punctuated the moment, as the camera zoomed in to show grown adults crying in the audience. It was one of wrestling’s most redemptive moments: his career “ended” but the rest of his life with his love was just beginning. Storytelling at its best.
THE ULTIMATE RETURN
By 1992, Hulkamania was starting to wane. The ’80s were long over by now, and the Hulkster was looking more and more obsolete as the years and miles added up. In fact, if you look closely you can see signs in the audience that were pro-Sid (who was supposedly the villain going into the match). Vince McMahon pushed this main event as Hulk Hogan’s “final stand.” The match was what it was. But it was the aftermath that makes it one of my favorite wrestling memories. After the match ended in a weird anticlimactic DQ, Papa Shango hit the ring. This was highly bizarre as Papa Shango wasn’t even in the Hogan-Sid program at any point prior, but clearly the two bad guys were looking to finish off Hulkamania.
God bless the Godfather but the story goes he missed his run-in cue. This resulted in an awkward botched DQ finish. As Psycho Sid went to grab a steel chair to end Hulkamania, a familiar entrance theme roared throughout the arena.
It took a few seconds for the fans to register it, as the Warrior had been out of the WWF for some time. There was no internet back then and no rumors of the Warrior coming back at all. It was the last thing on anybody’s mind. But once he came running down the aisle at 200 miles per hour, the fans lost it as did I. It was nuts.
The hair was shorter. The body was less muscular. But yes indeed, it was the Ultimate Warrior. Just two short years prior, Warrior and Hogan headlined WrestleMania in one of the biggest matches of all time. Two years later, ironically, Warrior returned to save the Hulkster. And the fans went absolutely bonkers.
THE KICK HEARD ROUND THE WORLD
The Rockers was one of the most popular tag teams in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But as time went on it was evident the breakout star of the team was Shawn Michaels. Sometimes, you just gotta kick dead weight to the curb. Literally.
THE MONDAY NIGHT WAR
As hot as wrestling and the WWF became in the late ’80s, rising to prominence seemingly overnight, the industry hit one of its lowest points in the mid ’90s. By then wrestling companies were struggling with a stale product that relied on old gimmicks past its heyday. But as wrestling fans know, the late ’90s saw yet another boom. With WCW going live every Monday night opposite WWF’s Monday Night Raw, viewers suddenly had a choice. This began the Monday Night War. But it wasn’t until the summer of 1996 that things really heated up. That’s when the New World Order faction was born and all-time good guy Hulk Hogan went DARK.
Wrestling then exploded into mainstream popularity with stand out stars such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, D-Generation X, Goldberg and the nWo. Monday nights became a constant fun-filled two hours of switching back and forth. Then all day Tuesday you and your friends talked about it at lunch and speculated about what might happen next Monday night. It was a great time!
The war officially ended 15 years ago yesterday. On March 26, 2001, the WWF bought out WCW. And ever since then, wrestling has not been the same.
GETTING TO THE “HART” OF THE MATTER
Wrestling is at its best when real life elements seep in. Look no further than the whole Bret Hart Shawn Michaels Vince McMahon Montreal Screwjob incident. Bret was out of the WWF family for over 12 long years. Finally, on the first episode of Monday Night Raw in 2010, Bret came home. He and Shawn hashed it out in front of a national audience on live TV. What a way to kick off the new decade! It felt like watching two uncles, once seemingly inseparable, burying the hatchet at a family reunion. The moment gave me goosebumps. It was good to see Bret move on once and for all.
RESURRECTION OF JAKE “THE SNAKE” ROBERTS AND SCOTT HALL
For a long time if you had asked any wrestling fan which former star was most likely to die next, number one on the list would be Jake Roberts. And second, Scott Hall. Both men had their addictions, and their fall from grace was ugly. Former WCW World Heavyweight Champion turned yoga fitness guru, Diamond Dallas Page, reached out to Jake in 2012. Using DDPYoga and taking responsibility for his own actions, Jake managed to turn his life around. He lost weight but he shed more than just that. He DDT’ed his demons. He got his life right and in 2014 was inducted into the Hall of Fame. It was crazy seeing him up there. Like seeing a ghost or a distant wayward uncle. His story of resurrection and redemption still resonates deeply with me to this day. In his own words, “I’m not where I wanna be, but I sure am better than where I was before.” I salute thee, Mr. Roberts. Keep it up!
On that same fateful night, Scott Hall went in the Hall as well. Much like Jake, it was surreal to witness it all. Scott struggled with his drinking demons for years. But DDP took him in and Scott Hall put in the work. He’s an example of how anyone can overcome their hang ups, as long as they’re willing to put the work in.
THE ULTIMATE COMEBACK… AND THE ULTIMATE FAREWELL
Not only did Jake and Scott go in, but later that same night the Ultimate Warrior took his rightful place in the Hall of Fame as well. It was the first time he appeared on WWE TV in any capacity in almost 20 years. He delivered one epic speech. For me it was hands down the greatest feel good night in the history of wrestling. April 5, 2014 was a mark out evening for the ages.
On Monday night, April 7, 2014, the Ultimate Warrior made his first appearance on RAW in 17+ years. Sadly, it would also be his last. He delivered the speech of a lifetime in the sort of way that only the Ultimate Warrior could. His life would sadly end the following day. But in his soliloquy, he talked about one day every man’s heartbeats its final beat and his lungs breathe their final breath. It was a little eerie. Warrior’s passing sent shock waves through the wrestling community. It seemed surreal. Right before he died, he at least made peace with Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan and several others. He went out in a blaze of glory.
Professional wrestling will always hold a soft spot in my heart. I grew up on it. I went through Hulkamania. And the Madness. I witnessed the rise of the industry in the late ’80s. I followed it through the mid ’90s when it hit rock bottom. I watched as it EXPLODED in the late ’90s Attitude Era. And to this day I keep up with the product. Every once in a while they’ll do something to make me feel like a little 10 year old kid again. Those magical moments that make you jump out of your chair with mouth agape and goosebumps popping all over your arms. In some ways I feel like these larger than life athletes were once distant uncles of mine growing up. I could always count on them each weekend (and later Mondays) to entertain me for an hour or two. Wrestling has always given me great memories, and regardless of where the business heads going forward, I will always be a fan for life.