Today (January 15, 2019) would have marked Martin Luther King Jr.’s 90th birthday. A prominent leader of the Civil Rights movement, Martin lived a rich and fulfilling life. He helped to stir about change in our country and his dream lives on today in the hearts and minds of many. I’m a fan of great speeches. When certain words are strung together in a way that flow majestically, it can really resonate deeply with me and touch me to my very core. With that said, one of my favorite speeches that has flown under the radar came from Mr. USA Tony Atlas. I’m proud to replicate his 2006 WWE Hall of Fame speech. Damn was 2006 a great year for speeches (see Bret Hart and Mean Gene Okerlund). I loved Tony’s speech so much that I used parts of it in a graduate course I took in 2007 when I had to play out a patriotic role. The class gave me a standing ovation and thought I was crazy for coming up with something so extravagant on the fly, but truth be told I had seen Tony’s speech probably a dozen times on my Wrestlemania 22 DVD by that point. They even nominated me for an Oscar Anyway, without further ado, please welcome WWE Hall of Famer, TONY ATLAS!
Known for his incredible strength and astonishing agility, Tony Atlas is one of the most impressive physical specimens in the world of professional wrestling. A former Mr. USA, Atlas is one of the first body builders to ever enter the wrestling industry.
In the mid 1970s, Atlas made a name for himself in the NWA. After Atlas muscled his way through the NWA, it was on to the World Wide Wrestling Federation. It was there that Mr. USA became a nationally known superstar, competing against legends such as Rowdy Roddy Piper, Mr. Wonderful, Big John Studd and Sgt. Slaughter. Atlas also had memorable matches against Hulk Hogan, even press slamming the “Immortal One.” Tony takes pride in the fact that he was never pinned by the Hulkster.
The highlight of his career came in 1983. Tony Atlas and his partner, Rocky Johnson, made history. By defeating the Wild Samoans, Mr. USA and Rocky Johnson became the first superstars of African American descent to win a tag team championship in the World Wrestling Federation.
Tony Atlas is a leader in the world of power lifting, an icon in the world of body building, and a legend in the world of professional wrestling. Tonight we are proud to welcome in the WWE Hall of Fame, Mr. USA Tony Atlas.
King: In this business, you’re lucky if you find that special tag team partner. Here to induct Tony Atlas tonight is his former tag partner and best friend, Special Delivery Jones!
Tonight I’m here to induct my best friend, Tony Atlas.
Tony Atlas and I met 1980, in Allentown, Pennsylvania… long time ago. We talked, we became very close friends, and we decided to talk to office, maybe we could become tag team partners. Finally, they turned us wide open. Tony Atlas and I became one of the best tag teams, that time, around Pennsylvania, New York, Baltimore, Maryland — all the way around Maryland. Anyway, let me get there… I’m getting excited, excuse me.
Tony said to me, “SD, we need the straps.” I said, “OK, we have to wrestle Saito and Mr. Fuji.” We tried and we tried and we tried. I could not do it. I was the one that killed the tag.
So, I had to step aside. When I stepped aside, Rocky Johnson came to town. They became the first African Americans to ever win the WWE tag team championship. I think I did the right thing, because I couldn’t carry the load and Rocky Johnson was a better partner… BUT… I made a mistake. It didn’t last 3 weeks. They fought, they fought, they had mistakes, they had problems. And I had to push Rocky away and I went back to Atlas. We became partners again.
We traveled the world. Tony and I were in Spain at one time. I saw some body builders doing some stuff in a gym. I asked them where is the gym where all the power lifters are? They told us it was in another town, I can’t remember the name right now but anyway… we flew all the way to Barcelona… listen to me, Barcelona — JUST to meet those guys.
Tony Atlas and I flew there, six hours it took. When we got there they brought the Olympic lifters to meet us. They say they wrestlers they suppose to be strong. Tony Atlas says to me “Bossman” — he calls me Bossman a lot — “I’m hungry.” I said, “We not gonna eat, we have to do this, we have to represent WWE.” He said, “OK Bossman.”
We got in there and I did my little 510 pounds. Think I was a big shot, that’s what I thought. They pushed me aside. Tony says, “Bossman, stand behind me.” When Tony got on the bench ladies and gentlemen, he lifted SIX HUNDRED AND SIXTY pounds and all the guys — they took off.
I didn’t stop there. We went on to Vienna, Austria. I found out where they were lifting also. I went in, I said to them, “I have a man here who can OUTLIFT EVERYBODY.”
They said, “No wrestlers can outlift us. We are Olympic.”
I said, “OK my brother.”
I brought in Tony.
I said, “Tony sit down, rest yourself.”
Tony went up again. He started off with 400 pounds, went all the way up to SIX HUNDRED and TWENTY POUNDS. And one of the guys said, “He IS an Olympic lifter!”
I didn’t stop. We went on to Egypt for WWE — those are the places that we went FOR THIS OFFICE.
When we got to Egypt one guy told me that we have to go to Cairo, on the other side of the river, which they say is the Nile. I said we are going to do it. I got a bus, I pay the guy, we went over.
I said “No, I want to show the world that Tony Atlas is one of the best we ever had in this business.”
When I got there there were lifters, lifters from the Olympics. One of the guys looked at us and said, “I saw this guy in a book some place, they call him Mr. USA right?”
Tony went on the bench and Tony did SIX HUNDRED and THIRTY-FIVE pounds, walked away. He said “Bossman, I’m hungry.”
I didn’t stop there. He said, “SD, when are you going to stop? Bossman stop it.” I said I’ll stop, but I didn’t.
We went to Norway for this office — this WWE office — those are the places that we went together, doing what we love.
We were pioneers. “Tony, just call yourself a pioneer for WWE” — that’s what I told him.
In Norway I met some guys. They said they weren’t too good, we got a gym and all. One guy went up to 600 pounds and stopped. I told Tony, “Please don’t do it, please don’t. He has all his family here…”
Tony did SIX HUNDRED AND FORTY pounds and we walked away.
He looked at me, “You gonna stop. If you don’t stop, Bossman, I’m gonna pop you one of these.”
We were very very close friends, we are still very close. We call each other like 3, 4 times a month just talking about LIFE. Tony is one of the greatest in our business. He won the Atlantic championship, he won tag team championship. He won the championship in Puerto Rico, he is one of the best we ever had in our business.
And he did not stop there. He went on to do bodybuilding and won the Mr. USA contest. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I’m honored. Tony, tonight your name will be with the best of the best in our business and the Hall of Fame. Congratulations my brother, and God Bless you.
Tony Atlas makes his way out to the sold out capacity crowd at the huge Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, Illinois.
The World’s Strongest Man, Mark Henry, gives Tony Atlas a nudge nudge wink wink.
WEEELL… first of all, I like to uh… I like to thank… the wrestling fans.
Because, without you fans, there be no Hulk Hogan…. *crowd cheers*
There be no Ric Flair…. *crowd cheers twice as loud*
There be no Tony Atlas… there be nothing. You guys — I have been to arenas where the snow is up to my hip — wrestling fans come out to see it. I been down in Florida with one of the greatest wrestlers and a very good friend of mine by the name of Dusty Rhodes the American Dream *crowd cheers*
I been in Mid Atlantic with another great wrestler by the name of Ric Flair — the Nature Boy *crowd cheers*
I had the honor of wrestling Olympic champion Ken Patera *minor applause*
I had the honor of matching STRENGTH with the man that HAD the 23 inch guns — SUPERSTARBilly Graham!
You KNOW… what I gonna say right now is from the heart, because it’s probably my last time for saying anything to such wonderful people.
But my mother, Beatrice James White, gave birth to NINE kids. Worked TWO jobs. They called it a SPLIT SHIFT. She got up in the morning went to work at 7 O’Clock, work until 2 went back at 4 worked until 11. I’m from Virginia, raised up in the SLAVE SHACK where we didn’t have wooden floors — we had dirt on the floors. I got up and scrubbed dirt floors. We didn’t have dishes in the house; my mother brought home newspaper, dumped food on the newspaper, we sat there and ate… with no dishes in the house.
I graduated from high school with the same pair of pants I started school with. We were DIRT POOR. But I was BLESSED. Because, regardless of if you born in a mansion on the HILL, or you born in the SLAVE SHACK in Virginia… I was born in the greatest country in the history — the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!
And EVEN THOUGH… even though they say that Mr. USA represent body building… when the people WAVED THEM AMERICAN FLAGS… when the people hollered U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A… I feel PRRROOOOUD to be an American!
And if you APPLY yourself, if you work hard, keep your nose clean and do as you’re told, and really really put forth a good effort, in the United States of America I don’t care where you was born, or how you came up, or what color you are, or what race you are, or what GENDERyou are, you can make it because YOU ARE… in the UNITED States of AMERICA!
*crowd goes absolutely nuts*
And IN THE UNITED States of America I met a very good friend by the name of SD Jones, Blackjack Mulligan, Bobby Heenan, Dusty Rhodes, and the list go on and on and on but right now I want to give a special thank — y’all folk don’t know this but I don’t mind telling you because I AM in America and I AIN’T ASHAMED OF NUTTHIN’!
I want this lady right here to stand up. Stand up, Monica, please darling.
Now, in 1989 I found myself homeless… I made a lot of money but as the old timers say, “It ain’t what you made it’s what you saved.” I shoulda listen.
Because my mother always told me, “A hard head makes a soft behind.” I shoulda listen to mom… ‘coz she always say “Don’t lemme tell you again BOY!”
This lady took in a homeless man… fed him, didn’t know who I were.
She took in a homeless man, fed him, built him back up, and educated him. Now I’m a certified personal trainer because of this lady here.
And I’m gonna say something else I DON’T CARE who don’t like it. 3 months later Vince McMahon called me… and made me some money, get me back on my feet. Thank you Mr. McMahon I don’t care WHO DON’T LIKE IT!
Being a professional wrestler was the greatest thing that ever happened to a poor ol’ Virginia boy, raised up in the sticks of Virginia, with nothing to eat. But I’m not complaining now, because I love my ham hock and beans. More so than them steaks and them lobsters — what them little snails y’all guys eat — that Escargot stuff? Now if y’all be eating that then don’t be making fun of MAH BEANS.
And one day somebody asked my wife, “Why you marry Tony Atlas?” She said, “He makes good pork chops!” *blinks while crowd laughs*
Anyway, I don’t want to take much more time. From the bottom of my heart, I love all the people in the wrestling business. I love all the great fans that made the wrestling business, because without you fans there would be none of us.
And all I got to say is God bless each and every one of you. And always remember, you live in the greatest country in the history of the world — U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A! Thank you!
Another wildly entertaining and inspiring speech, one can learn a lot from Tony’s life experiences. There is a lot of crap that goes on in this world but at the end of the day, I like to believe in the goodness of the human race. Of course there’s a select handful that tries to ruin it for everybody else, but stories like Tony’s warms my heart. How Monica, a completely random stranger, took in a homeless man, fed him, gave him shelter and rebuilt him from the ground up. Amazing tales like this remind me that genuine kindness and compassion — even in the smallest way — goes a long way.
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.