If boxing is the sweet science, then professional wrestling is The brutal ballet—Oh I’m a Hulkamaniac, there’s no denying.
True, the king of my boyhood dreams remains firmly lodged in the drug induced nightmare that is reality TV (SEE ALSO Hogan Knows Best), and most of my favorite wrestlers are either dead or retired, but I couldn’t resist watching WrestleMania 24 last Sunday. (Yes, this was written 10 years ago.)
Those of you unfamiliar with, or unimpressed by, sports-entertainment may wonder why a grown man would pay $54.95 to watch sweaty behemoths paw each other in a contest with a (Spoiler alert!) preordained outcome.
My fascination with large men in tights goes back to the early 1980s.
Me on the living room floor and grandpa in his rocking chair, we watched stars of the National Wrestling Alliance like Larry Zbyszko and Ric Flair battle for supremacy along with guys like Lex Luger and Dusty Rhodes.
With six boys in my family, we didn’t just appreciate the pageantry of the squared circle, our entire lives revolved around it.
One of my best Christmas memories was the year I got Rowdy Roddy Piper and Nikolai Volkoff action figures and an official WWF wrestling ring. My brother Hammy got Big John Studd and Hillbilly Jim figures.
Saturday mornings were spent watching WWF (now the WWE) matches from the makeshift ring on our living room floor—blankets became canvas, couch cushions became turnbuckles.
Then, in the mid ‘80s, we discovered Saturday Night’s Main Event. It was the ultimate fix for our wrestling jones.
The mere fact that it began at 11:30 at night and preempted Saturday Night Live reruns every couple months or so made it special. Being 11 and 7 respectively, brother Hammy and I were the only kids allowed to stay up that late.
And, poor as we were, mom always managed to scrape together enough change or pop bottles so the two of us could get some chips and soda for the special event.
I remember the feeling of glee when good guy Junkyard Dog chased bad guy Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart under the ring and tore his pants off revealing boxer shorts covered with a heart pattern.
“They can’t do that on TV!” we shouted. (This was decades before Jersey Shore.) Oh how we squealed with delight!
I also remember watching with sweaty palms and racing pulse the night Hulk Hogan was savagely beaten by the evil King Kong Bundy, who interfered with Hogan’s match against Don Muraco.
In tears, and pounding on the floor, I screamed at the TV as Bundy repeatedly performed his signature move The Avalanche on Hogan.
I’m not sure how many ribs the Hulkster broke, but he got his revenge at Wrestlemania II in a steel cage for what could be one of my all time favorite matches.
For me, those were the golden days of wrestling. Nowadays one is forced to sift through female porn stars clad in lingerie passing themselves off as wrestlers.
And I dare you to figure out who is good and who is bad.
Modern wrestling is full to bursting with antiheroes—the good guys are all bad guys and the bad guys aren’t really that bad.
Whereas Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and his family of ne’er-do-wells, which included scoundrels like Ravishing Rick Rude and Paul Orndorff, always managed to get my blood boiling, there aren’t really any heels of substance these days.
The closest thing to a villain I’ve seen is the guy who, a couple weeks ago, beat down the illegitimate Irish midget son of his former friend.
On a sad note, the more than 30-year career of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair likely ended for real last Sunday.
I’ve seen a lot of “Career Threatening” matches in my time, but I’ve never seen one where the loser was in tears and took the time to hug and kiss his family at ringside before heading backstage.
They may pull punches and rehearse matches, but the impact wrestling has had on my life is very real.
Maybe it’s childhood nostalgia that keeps me tuned in, but when the Hulkster told me that, by drinking my milk and eating my vitamins, I would never go wrong, I believed him—brother!