PART ONE: Rasslin’
Back in the day, the ‘sport’ of professional wrestling was my obsession. On Saturday afternoons, on TBS, there would be 2 hours of wrestling for my viewing pleasure. I don’t know what the appeal was, as basically it was couple of fat guys in their underwear, pretending to fight. But, I swear, there was some sort of energy coming through the TV, and I had to have more of it. I saw on the TV these smoky little arenas, rabid hillbilly fans, guys that looked as much like they should be pumping gas as kicking ass, but the main thing I saw was action. It looked like a sport to me, it was more interesting to watch than boxing, it was easy to follow, and it was good guys versus bad guys. It was intense, it was funny, it could get me angered at the despicable actions of the bad guys and even choke me up when the good guy finally succeeded.
It was really out of control for a while. I would wrestle pillows, stuffed animals, friends. When I got bored with that, my G.I. Joes became wrestlers, and I would stage these sometimes hours long matches between them on the back of my mom’s couch, my version of the dangerous scaffold match which was sometimes seen in the NWA in the early to mid-80’s. I would paint my face using whatever makeup I could find to look like Sting, or the Road Warriors, or the Ultimate Warrior. I would launch off the back of my mom’s couch onto the prone pillow in the center of the living room or on the couch itself. I remember the moves I had studied and learned actually being used a couple of times in self-defense. (In one instance, I threw a bigger kid in a hammerlock, another time I used a sidewalk slam and dropped the bully spine first on a pile of sawdust.)
I don’t know when I caught onto it being fake. I had been defending it for years before eventually deciding that the storylines and feuds were fake, developed for the interest of the casual fan, but the action inside the ring was real. It was after seeing a 250 lbs. wrestler tumble backwards over the top rope after being hit by what appeared to be a box of popcorn thrown by a fan that I started to have doubts. It was at that point, which would have been when I was 12 or so, that I became more of a critic of wrestling than a fan. I started analyzing match quality, predicting the direction of storylines, predicting who would jump ship between NWA/WCW and the WWF. I was dropping $2.50 here and there, buying these wrestling magazines down at the Price & Pride there in Reedsport, Oregon. I would read those things cover to cover, I mean I was lost in this world. My imagination, much like Hulk-a-Mania, was running wild. When my face was buried in these magazines, that was my world. I lived inside those periodicals, the action and articles I was reading was playing out in my head in brilliant Technicolor. I was in the locker room, I was in the crowd, I was in the ring. The other thing I really loved about the magazines was being able to follow the movements of all the smaller promotions who didn’t have the TV exposure of the bigger companies.
Back in the 80’s, in the small town of Reedsport, Oregon, (and probably nationwide), divorce was not as widely accepted as it is today. So, with this sort of stigma floating around, I wasn’t too quick to reveal why my dad was not in the picture. Shit, I don’t really like to talk about it now. Anyway, so with my dad bearing a sort of passing resemblance to ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka, I concocted this story that the reason my dad wasn’t around was because he was out on the road night after night, taking on the likes of King Kong Bundy, Don Muraco, and the One Man Gang. I have no idea to this day if anyone actually bought that line of crap, but I told it for years and years, to the point that in high school all the way up until AIT in Fort Gordon, Georgia I was sporadically referred to as Superfly. And, to this day, I have no idea if my dad was flattered or bothered by the comparison, or if he in fact even knew it was going on.
My obsession lasted right up until high school, in period that was known as the ‘Monday Night Wars’, where the WWF’s Monday Night Raw went head to head with WCW’s Monday Nitro. Wrestling had evolved into more adult entertainment (not that kind of adult entertainment), with more reality based storylines, less cartoony characters. The transition to this style had made it more popular than ever, almost almost to the point of professional wrestling being accepted as mainstream entertainment. There were matches with Jay Leno, Karl Malone, Dennis Rodman, Mike Tyson, even Mr. Courtney Cox himself, David Arquette, won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. WWF wrestlers were on the cover of TV Guide, and the two respective shows were frequently numbers one and two in the weekly primetime ratings. This was a very bizarre thing to me, because I had always been somewhat embarrassed by my viewing practices when I was younger. I mean everyone knew I liked wrestling, and I was often teased about it, but I don’t think very many people outside of my closest friends or family knew just deep in the shit I was. So to see mainstream coverage and see casual fans turn into rabid fans, it had a bit of a redemptive quality to it.
Now, on the brink of 32 years old, where do I stand? Well, to be honest, I don’t really watch wrestling any more. WWF has changed into WWE, WCW has gone out of business, and the new kid on the block, TNA, seems like an updated version of old ideas. If I do happen to flip on wrestling, I usually only recognize 3 or 4 guys. I don’t know if I simply outgrew it, or was away from it too long, but the appeal is gone. Perhaps the rise in popularity and of my interest in mixed martial arts is what lead me away from wrestling. Who knows. I know that when I see it now, I don’t get that same feeling that I did back in the 80’s and 90’s.
One thing that I can say definitively is that wrestling had a supremely long lasting effect on me: wrestling taught me showmanship. If it weren’t for wrestling, I would have never had the idea that my entrance to the ring before my MMA matches could be more memorable than my matches. I would have never thought to travel to Butte, MT and wear a Boise State Broncos t shirt to the ring, cupping my hand to my ear and encouraging the jeers. That showmanship carried over to karaoke, to hip hop shows, whatever situation it was that put me in front of the crowd; I knew what to say and do to own that crowd. Those weren’t things I was taught in school; I learned that from ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair.
Though I don’t always like to admit it, for better or worse, professional wrestling is largely responsible for shaping who I am today. For my sense of humor, my sense of entertainment, my interest in MMA, performing, my braggadocio style, so much of that came from the years of sitting in front of that TV watching and dreaming of piledrivers and powerbombs and figure four leglocks. If all we are, as humans, is a sum of our influences, a large part of that equation for me is wrestling. Sounds corny, it’s slightly embarrassing, and in that business which is notoriously and admittedly ‘fake’, it had a very real impact on me. And thus ends Part One.