The World of Wrestling
Wrestling. Call it a sport. Call it entertainment. Call it what you want. To me it’s a mix of both. It’s also part male soap opera, part comic book come to life, part live theater, and part action/adventure movie. Say what you want about wrestling, but it has given me plenty of hours of entertainment for the past 16 years. Here’s how I became a fan of it and why I remained a fan for many years.
I actually didn’t get into wrestling until I was in my early 20’s. Back in the 80’s when wrestling was huge, I wasn’t into it. I didn’t dislike it, it just wasn’t my thing. I was aware of some of the big stars like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Ultimate Warrior, Sgt. Slaughter and many others. Being a G.I. Joe fan, I had the Sgt. Slaughter G.I. Joe action figure and then when I became a horror fan I loved They Live, so I was a big fan of Roddy Piper. Other than that I knew very little about wrestling until 1994. I owe being a wrestling fan and my wrestling knowledge to one of my best friends, Simon. We have been friends since Jr. High, but it wasn’t until we were in college back in our hometown of Utica is when Simon got me into the world of wrestling.
Simon was a fan of it since he was a little kid. He would watch all the wrestling organizations back in the 80’s like The World Wrestling Federation (WWF), American Wrestling Alliance (AWA), National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), and many others. Here’s some wrestling history for you. Before 1984, wrestling was in territories around the country. There was no global wrestling program you could see all over the country. If you lived in New York, you saw WWF on TV and if you lived in Tampa you saw Championship Wrestling of Florida. When Vince McMahon took over the WWF from his father in late 1983, he made the company worldwide by buying out most of all the territories, taking most of all the talent, and putting his product on national television stations around the country.
Fast-forward about ten years later in the summer of ’94 when I was hanging out with Simon and my other friend Andy. Simon had an old wrestling tape on that we started to watch. I knew Simon and Andy were big wrestling fans and they use to always talk about the big pay-per-views (PPV) like Wrestlemania and all the shows they use to see at the Utica Auditorium. It wasn’t until that summer when I started to watch some wrestling for the first time and after that, I got hooked. I remember watching one of the old wrestling shows that Simon had on tape, which was WWF’s Main Event from 1989. I saw a tag match between then WWF champion Macho Man Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan vs. The Twin Towers (The Big Boss Man and Akeem). What I liked about this match was what happened afterwards. Macho Man gets into Hogan’s face, cuts a promo on him (as the say in wrestling) and beats the hell out of him backstage because Hogan left Macho Man hanging during the match. It was great and somehow I got hooked after that.
To play catch up a bit, I borrowed old wrestling PPVs that Simon and Andy had on tape. I watched hours of WWF wrestling and saw all their PPVs up until that point in time. I watched PPVs like, Wrestlemania, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, Summerslam, and their newest one at the time, King of the Ring. I watched programming from 1985 up until 1994 and became an instant fan. I also started to watch current wrestling from WWF and their competitor World Championship Wrestling (WCW). On Monday’s I would watch WWF’s Monday Night RAW on USA Network and catch their show Superstars on Sunday mornings. I would also watch WCW’s Saturday Night, which aired on TBS.
During the time when I became a fan of wrestling, it wasn’t popular anymore. It wasn’t as big as it was in the 80’s because a lot of the popular wrestlers were not wrestling anymore, left WWF and were wrestling somewhere else, or people just didn’t care about it anymore. Although when I was watching it, it didn’t seem that way. All the shows were packed with screaming fans, they were tons of shows on TV, and lots of celebrities would show up for the big PPVs. WWF was my favorite, which at the time had superstars like Bret “The Hitman” Hart, The Undertaker, Razor Ramon, Yokozuna, Shawn Michaels, and Big Daddy Cool Diesel. This was WWF’s New Generation that took the place of the old guard like Hulk Hogan and the gang. WCW had plenty of the old guard wrestlers back then like, Hogan, Ric Flair, Sting, Vader, and Macho Man Randy Savage, that just joined WCW in December of 1994 after sitting on the sidelines as a color commentator for WWF for the last few years, Savage wanted to wrestle again and he got that opportunity in WCW.
Around that time I picked out my first favorite wrestler, who was the new WWF Champion Diesel. Diesel, whose real name is Kevin Nash, started in WCW under names like Steel, Oz, and Vinnie Vegas, then joined WWF in 1993 as Shawn Michaels’ bodyguard. A year and a half later he was the top guy. Almost seven feet tall, Diesel was a monster and would kick anyone’s ass. In late December of ’94, I got to go to a WWF show at the Utica Aud with Simon and Andy. I was very excited to finally see a live show and it was very cool. I got to see my favorite wrestler Diesel along with other WWF superstars like The Undertaker. Just like my fandom of horror films and classic rock music, I was becoming a wrestling fanatic.
As 1995 rolled around, wrestling was my new addiction. Monday night became sacred and I never missed a Monday Night RAW and I still catch it every Monday to this day. I also discovered a new wrestling organization, Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). In early 1995, Simon had told me about a wrestling show that played late at night on weekends on the New York sports channel, MSG. This group didn’t have the money like WWF and WCW and was very low budget, but what they didn’t have in production value they made up for in the style of wrestling. The company started in 1991 as Eastern Championship Wrestling and was a division of NWA based in South Philadelphia. In 1994, they broke away from NWA and renamed themselves. The matches they did were of course very extreme such as, table matches (where you put your opponent into a table), ladder matches (you climb the ladder to get to a title or object hanging above the ring and an use the ladder as a weapon), barbwire matches (the ring ropes were replaces with bardwire), and many others. ECW was like rated R wrestling with their type of matches, characters, and content in their storyline when WWF and WCW was very family friendly.
When I first saw ECW, I was hooked. I couldn’t believe some of the stuff they were doing. It was also very gritty and took place in the same small arena in South Philly. I kind of started to like ECW more than the two major companies. I soon started to get familiar with the wrestlers on that show which ranged from well known ones like Terry Funk and Cactus Jack (Mick Foley) and ones that were new or I never heard of like, The Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, Shane Douglas, Sabu, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and my personnel favorite Taz. Soon after ECW started to become a cult favorite with wrestling fans, WCW and WWF started to copy their style and take some of their talent in years to come. For the most part WWF and WCW mainly did a lot of traditional style matches, which were regular one-on-one match ups, single or tag at that time. ECW did a lot of untraditional matches like the extreme style they did, plus instead of having two wrestlers against each other they would sometimes have three or four. ECW also had a lot of high-flyers and cruiserweights wrestling which was mainly popular in Mexico and Japan. The two other companies started taking more risks and doing different types of matches and using more wrestlers with different types of styles.
The year of 1995 was great time to be a wrestling fan and it was a huge year for me. In August of that year I moved to the Tampa Bay area to go to college. One of the main things on my mind was where can I watch wrestling, since I didn’t have a TV. I did happen to find some wrestling fans in my dorm, so I would go to their room on Monday nights. They were only a few people that watched wrestling at college. When I told people I was a fan of it, they would ask why or say, “I use to watch that when I was a kid.” I didn’t care what anyone said because wrestling was fun to watch and gave me hours of enjoyment. Wrestling was about to start getting hot again, with the start of WCW’s own Monday night show in September of that year called Monday Nitro to go head-to-head with RAW. Most of us thought WCW wouldn’t have a chance against WWF, but less than a year later Nitro started to beat RAW in the ratings and the Monday Night Wars began.
When I moved to Tampa, I soon realized that it was the wrestling capitol of the world with dozens of wrestlers calling the Tampa Bay area home and they were many different wrestling schools in town. Wrestlers like Hogan, Macho Man, Undertaker, The Big Show (known as The Giant at the time) and countless others lived in the area. I thought that was very cool and maybe there was a chance I would run into one at the mall or restaurant, which actually happened a few times.
One thing I missed when I was in Tampa was ECW. At the time the area didn’t carry it on any channels so I missed out on a lot of programming. Simon would often tell me what was going on in ECW when I would talk to him and when I came home for winter break I got to see it again and Simon happened to tape some episodes from the past three months. I also saw a new ECW superstar by the name of Steve Austin. He was a thrash talking, in your face, don’t take any shit from anybody kind of guy and he fit perfectly in the land of extreme. He quickly became one of my favorites and would also become the favorite to millions in the years to come. Austin started wrestling in the late 80’s and was most known for wrestling for WCW in the early 90’s. He never became a star in that organization and was eventually fired. In late 1995 he joined up with ECW and raised some hell. He caught the eye of WWF and as soon as he joined ECW, he was gone in late December and now a WWF superstar and the rest is history. Austin left a lasting impression in ECW and that’s where I became a fan of his. I followed him in WWF when he started there, at first he wasn’t a big star and I hoped they would use him right. Late in his first year he became one of WWF’s main heels (bad guy) then later he developed a fan following and then switched from a hated heel to a fan-favorite babyface (good guy) and I then watched him become a huge superstar as Stone Cold Steve Austin.
In February of 1996, I got to go to my first live wrestling PPV event. It was in St. Petersburg at the old Bay Front Center and the PPV was WCW’s Superbrawl. This was the second time I saw a wrestling event live and this was on live TV. The show wasn’t the best wrestling show, but it was cool being there. I got to see Macho Man vs. Ric Flair in a steel cage match for the world title and also saw Hogan vs. The Giant, which was also a cage match. This would be the start to many live wrestling events to come that I would see from WCW, WWF, and independent wrestling shows as well.
That summer, wrestling was becoming hotter than ever. One of my favorites, Diesel (Kevin Nash) left the WWF along with Razor Ramon (Scott Hall) and joined WCW. Hall and Nash would join forces with the new heel-turned Hogan and formed the popular wrestling group, The New World Order (nWo). Starting that summer, many WWF superstars jumped ship and joined WCW, making it a force to be wrecking with. WWF and WCW would battle it out for the next four years on who was the best wrestling promotion. ECW also started to get bigger and launched their first PPV in April 1997. ECW was now known as the #3 wrestling promotion instead of this small independent organization. Competition would make all three brands better and with the popularity of the nWo, Sting, and later Goldberg in WCW and Steve Austin, The Rock, and Degeneration X (D-X) in WWF, wrestling became popular with mainstream audiences and was just as big as it was in the 1980’s if not bigger. The only thing that sucked was all these people I knew who three years earlier said they hated wrestling were now wrestling fans. Lots of people jumped on the bandwagon because wrestling was in again and after it had its run for about four to five years and started to die out in popularity, those people stopped being fans.
Today, WCW and ECW are gone and the one left standing in the wrestling wars was WWF, now called World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). In 2002, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) started to fill the void and gave wrestling fans an alternative again. By 2005 the promotion debut on a national network, Spike TV, on primetime. I am still a wrestling fan and still watch every Monday night and any other time during the week when wrestling is on. I have to admit that it’s not as good as it use to be. Many of the new stars are not as exciting as the ones from the 80’s and 90’s and with not a lot of competition it makes the product dull. Now, with TNA starting a Monday night show opposite Monday Night RAW, maybe competition will be good for the business again. Wrestling has always been a great source for entertainment and has always wowed me. The great athleticism, compelling matches, and the fantastic talent keep me watching all these years later. For me, wrestling is super-heroes and villains in the flesh and a live action movie in front of my eyes. That’s why I like wrestling.