Last Saturday night I was in a deep water break of my usual channel surfing when I came across the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies of the WWE. I instantly stopped, set the remote down, and decided to watch(which should give you a very clear picture of my current social calendar).
On the eve of Wrestlemania 25(which believe it or not I have no clue of the card), former squared circle combatants like Ricky ‘the Dragon’ Steamboat and Koko B. Ware were being inducted. As it was such a monumental occasion and the relevance these wrestlers had during my childhood, I was able to convince my wife to set a TiVo for the Jon and Kate plus 8 rerun on TLC.
As a kid, the lines of what is real and what is fake can be blurred. To a child, wearing a cape can make you Superman(despite warnings from Mom that I could not fly). My basement may not have “really” been a prehistoric jungle at the base of a waterfall with a timewarp paradigm but I can tell you that me, Holly, and Cha Ka fended Sleestaks and ran like hell from ‘Grumpy’. This is where the WWF fit in for me(and a lot of you too). Somewhere between a diabolical Lex Luthor plan and running from a Kroft dinosaur flew the likes of Ric Flair, the Junk Yard Dog, and ‘the Dragon’. While I think I remember all of it not being real, or at least I questioned the reality, it was real enough.
I grew up when the WWE was the WWF(I just missed the WWWF period). I grew up with crossbody blocks. Headlocks. Atomic knee drops. I grew up with the devastating running bulldog performed to perfection by Barry Windam(once again saving Mike Rotundo’s sorry ass). I saw Dusty Rhodes forehead bleed weekly(from a foreign object, a stiff breeze, or just squinting hard enough). I rooted for Ivan Putski’s Polish Power. I booed Jesse ‘the Body’ Ventura’s feathery boas and it was, at the time, all real.
I cringed when Damien slithered on a fallen opponent after a Jake ‘the Snake’ Robert’s DDT. I watched Hulk Hogan escape from an Iron Shiek Camel Clutch to capture the WWF title(consequently converting me to a bonafide Hulkamaniac in the process). I looked on in awe as the Hulkster scooped up Andre the Giant and body slammed him. I raised my arms with Snuka before he splashed down on a motionless wrestler in the middle of the ring. I hated Rowdy Roddy Piper(yet watched all of his matches and every episode of ‘Piper’s Pit’). And Cowboy Bob Orton? The guy had a forearm cast for like two years. Come on!
I learned about patriotism from Sgt. Slaughter. I learned about Communism from Nickoli Volkoff. I pumped my arms like a maniac when the Ultimate Warrior came to the ring. I rooted for Macho Man Randy Savage(“Oh yeeaahhh!”) winning back Miss Elizabeth. It all seemed so real then.
I threw WWF urged caution(DO NOT TRY WHAT YOU SEE AT HOME, THESE ARE PERFORMED BY TRAINED PROFESSIONALS) to the wind as I climbed on top of the sofa to Superfly the cushions on the floor. My sister was a master at the figure four leg lock, mastering it on me. Clotheslines. Chest chops. Dad scooping us up and power slamming us on the sofa.
I watched WWF Primetime(remember that show?). Monday nights. I could watch the first hour but my mom made me go to bed because it was on too late(I did catch Adrian Adonis’ announcement that he was gay. Except, at the time, I had no idea what gay meant except in Adrian’s case it meant carrying an exorbitant amount of pastel hankies and blowing kisses to his male opponents).
It didn’t take me too long to accept the stage the WWF created every week(my dad explaining the dangers of attempting a suplex on my sister helped to nudge that notion along). And yet, it was still real for me. I still practiced Bob Backlund’s crossface chickenwing. Classy Freddy Blassie still called me a pencil neck geek every Sunday. I knew the Brooklyn Brawler was everyone’s whipping boy. I knew Big John Studd was in trouble the moment Hogan began shaking and shrugging off the big man’s punches. I knew I could not miss the Greg ‘the Hammer’ Valentine’s match versus Tito Santana. I knew Bobby Heenan was the worst. I had it on good authority George ‘the Animal’ Steele was really a college professor and no one knew what the hell the Missing Link was.
Knowing WWF’s reality was a myth did not cool my anticipation for the Saturday Night Main Event. Leg drops and piledrivers looked real enough. Mr. Perfect could still hit a 3/4 court shot, nothing but net, every time. Ted DiBiase would bribe his way out of a Hacksaw Jim Duggan beatdown. And I sat on the edge of my seat watching the British Bulldogs try to capture the tag team titles from the Hart Foundation. It wasn’t real but it was real enough.
So what if the WWF had more choreography than a production of ‘A Chorus Line’? Soap operas are staged. The Hills is staged. Survivor sure seems staged. And none of those shows have ever had the main characters fighting in a steel cage(though Mark Burnett should make a note).
So I nod my head in respect to all of them. From Snuka, ‘the Dragon’, Mr. Fuji(and that mysterious powder he blinded everyone with), Brutus ‘the Barber’ Beefcake, Hogan, Andre, Big Bossman, Bam Bam Bigelow, Captain Lou, Don Muraco, the Killer Bees, the Tonga Kid, Miss Elizabeth, Piper and his Pit, and Leaping Lanny Poffo. All of it was apart of mine(and probably your) childhood. Fake or not. Staged or real live action. Wrestling was as real as being ‘faster than a speeding bullet’ or living in the ‘Land of the Lost’ which, for that part of my life, was real enough.
- Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for, I have grown not only gray, but almost blind in the service of my country (and bald...and cranky...and out of shape...in the service of being a parent) - George Washington
Seek and Ye Might Just Find