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 heart beats 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.