Thursday, June 28, 2007

Back when pro wrestling wasn't fake...

This is going to seem like an odd post- especially after a string of more lofty blog thoughts. Sorry, I am what I am. Never been one to put up a good front...not to mention I'm not preaching for the next three weeks so I have time to think about some other important stuff.

Back in my early teens I loved to watch professional "wrestling". The quote marks are to indicate my understanding that many "real" wrestlers (the kind that starve and spit to make weight, wear hideously tight uniforms, blather on about how wrestling is the most grueling sport anyone could participate in, and have cauliflower ears) are offended that pro wrestling calls itself wrestling. Anyways, back in the day (I grew up in the 80's), I enjoyed watching "old school" professional wrestling which still had some connection to "real" wrestling in that most of the participants came from the Greco Roman and Freestyle genres of wrestling before getting in to the world of pro wrestling that everyone knew was fixed and somewhat fake (strictly speaking, what pro wrestlers do is not "fake". The moves are hard to do and they hurt- yes, they are acting and being careful not to really hurt their opponent, but the impact of a suplex or a piledriver is not fake).

I enjoyed the old "NWA" with Ric Flair, the original "Four Horsemen", Dusty Rhodes, Jimmy Valiant, and others. The "WWF" began it's ascent in the 80's with the first "Wrestlemania" and the likes of Jimmy Snuka, Roddy Piper, Captain Lou Albano, Brutus Beefcake, Jake Roberts, Andre the Giant, and of course, Hulk Hogan. This was also the era when Brett Hart- my personal favorite of all time-began his climb to the top of the wrestling industry (Oh that dreaded day in Montreal !). The "AWA" was inferior to the other two major wrestling organizations, but they boasted the greatest tag team of all time- The Road Warriors. Ah...those were the days- No half naked girls, in fact, the only women who had anything to do with wrestling looked meaner than the male wrestlers (The Fabulous Moolah, for instance). Those were the glory years when there was virtually no steroid use (the early 80's at least), if there was, the users should have gotten their money back, there was a lot more pudge, stretch marks, and flab than monster biceps and six pack abs (see Dusty Rhodes, Abdullah the Butcher, Kamala, Captain Lou, the Samoans, the Moondogs, etc.). There was a sense in which a regular guy could relate with the wrestlers of old. Those were the days when there was little to no swearing and obscenities at a wrestling show. The worst thing you might see is the Iron Sheik spit on the American crowd and tell us how great Iran is while Jesse Ventura (before Minnesota thought he would be a good governor) defended him for doing so. This, of course would be followed by Sargent Slaughter slapping the cobra clutch on him to the delight of the patriotic crowd. Hulk Hogan (with all his cheeseyness) would bid little kids to play fair, say their prayers and eat their vitamins. I miss those days of wrestling.

Back then, the wrestlers put up a humorous, but unified front about the "fakeness" of it all. There was a code of silence about the obvious scripted nature of the sport. I remember ABC reporter John Stossel asked "Dr. D" David Schultz if wrestling was fake back in the early 80's. Schultz open-hand slapped him twice (for real) saying something like "you think this is fake?"- classic old school wrestling way of defending their "sport".

Then, in the mid 90's it all changed. Vince McMahon was able to conquer the other wrestling organizations and become a monopoly of sorts. "World Wrestling Entertainment" was born and old school wrestling died a swift death. By putting "entertainment" in the organization's name, McMahon made a concession in order to advance his business. He conceded that wrestling was "fake" or more accurately, the outcomes of matches were predetermined. In return, being a form of entertainment instead of a legitimate sports competition, substances like steroids were not a problem, in fact, they became understood tools of the trade. Oh sure, McMahon talks about there being mandatory testing for steroids, but that's just a PR front. Now that wrestling is overtly in the "entertainment" genre, the scrutiny isn't as intense. Most people who still follow pro wrestling accept that steroids are what make their heroes look like disproportioned cartoon superheroes.

With this shift to the entertainment genre, McMahon introduced obscene language (and poster boy Steve Austin), seedy soap opera-like plots, gross and weird contests, half naked women "wrestlers" laced throughout the programs, and most disturbingly- a new breed of freak, 'roided up wrestler that you just knew wasn't going to live long if he kept injecting whatever it was that made him look like the circus sideshow he had become. Pro wrestling today is nothing like what it was. Only men (and a few women- see Chyna) willing to take lots of steroids and human growth concoctions or those morbidly overweight (check out Yokozuna's sad story) have a place in wrestling today. Gone are the average guys who were entertaining personalities (Piper, Honky Tonk Man, The Funks, Freebirds, etc). Clearly pro wrestling has become a dangerous circus freakshow filled with vice and obscenity. No matter what you think of old school wrastlin', it wasn't what it has now become.

Pro wrestling had it's share of tragedies over the years preceding the McMahon "entertainment" era, that's for sure. This new McMahon era of sex and steroids, however, is starting to litter the wrestling landscape with many victims at an alarming rate (Owen Hart, The British Bulldog, Rick Rude, Curt Henning, Brian Pillman, Eddie Guerro, to name a few). Just this past week Chris Benoit, a model example of a steroid-dependent wrestler, killed his wife and 7 year old son before taking his own life. Steroids are no excuse, but they are definitely a huge part of the reason he carried his violence to the degree he did. Dependence on and abuse of steroids are shown to cause wild mood swings (roid rage) and deep depression. We're talking powerful stuff. There are still details coming out about this tragic Benoit situation, but mark my words- steroids and the pressure to be superhuman-looking will be shown to be a huge part of why the Benoit family is now dead.

I'm not sure what value a post like this has, most likely none to those who aren't aware of who Nikolai Volkoff or Bruiser Brody were. For me, I wish the good old days, when pro wrestling wasn't fake (at least no one would admit it), were back. No more Junkyard Dog, Tully Blanchard, Paul Orndorff, Bob Orton, Ricky Steamboat, Don Muraco, King Kong sad.

I guess I'll go watch my Nacho Libre video again, after all, he did it for the orphans!


Sean Brandt said...

Three words for ya: Hacksaw Jim Duggan!

JDogg said...

Nice post. That brought back a lot of fond memories. I remember when WWF had what was basically a kids show on Saturday mornings. I think I was into it at the early part of the transitional stage. I remember Brutus "the Barber" Beefcake cutting off the hair of some no name wrestler nearly every other week. The Ultimate Warrior, Axe and Smash of Demolition, Big John Studd, the Macho Man, the lovely Miss Elizabeth... those were good old days when Vince was still basically a ring announcer.

GUNNY said...

I loved kickin' it old school. I grew up watching Wrestling at The Chase in St. Louis. Then in high school I got some World Class Championship Wrestling at The Sportatorium in Dallas.

"Wrasslin" is part of my DNA as well.

Good post, though I have 2 comments of dissent:

First, I don't think 'roids had anything to do with the death of Owen Hart or the Benoits. The premeditated and sadistic nature of his murders go beyond mood swings and rage. The 'roids likely didn't help, but that's some serious depravity run amuck.

Second, you did a good job trying to convince me of your wrasslin' knowledge, but without any mention of Iceman King Parsons OR the VON ERICHS I have to wonder if you're just pretending to be a real fan.

What kind of a man gives love to the dreaded, feared, and hated Freebirds, but none to the Von Erichs?!

Man, I sure loved me some Dusty Rhodes back in the day.

Kampfgruppe Hoppa said...

I wrestled in junior high and high school. A little bit Greco-Roman and Freestyle and have been doing Judo for the last five years. Anyway, my dad and I use to watch WWF when I was in high school. My all time favorite was Hot Rod Roddy Pipe and my dad loved the Junkard Dog. Every once in awhile my dad would take my buddies and I to McNichols Arena in Denver to watch the WWF "show." Great fun. I almost thought about a career in the world of professional wrestling...although it would have been in the professional midget wrestling league.

AJF said...

I'm loving who is responding to this post! A Major in the U.S. Army, an elder and two fellow ministers! Awesome.

Gunny- Von Erichs are one of the real tragic stories of wrestling, no doubt.

Total Depravity is no doubt the underlying issue. Throw mind-altering drugs on Total Depravity and you have the Benoit situation, in my opinion.

Frontier Forest said...

Tony and fellow bloggers: I remember watching Saturday night “Professional Wrestling” back in the early 60’s in OKC. The WKY Disc Jockey, Danny Williams was the Saturday night host, along with an old, almost blind wrestler himself, Leroy Magirk. It was pure fun-fake, but for a youngster, very entertaining, even way back then. Just ask Malcolm. The guys I remember that were always the greatest villains and yet the loudest crowd pleasers, were “THE GREAT BOLO!” and “The MASK MARVEL”! Both of these guys were always sly about pulling a “supposed” set of brass-knuckles from some where in their masks, then beating the “good-guys” into oblivion. Then, while the referee would have his head turned, playing like he hadn’t a clue as to what was going on, these bad-guys were also very gifted in taking a broken, but partially fixed chair, then busting their opponents right over the ole’ crown. O’ the crowds loved it! They would stand up, shaking their fists valiantly and booooo furiously.
It was no secret that the villains and the nice guys always took turns winning. I loved it when they would pair a bad guy up with a good-guy, then the ole “tag-team” matches would begin. It was great excitement but you didn’t know who to root for? Even when the match was over, and a new match was going on, the losers became roving teams of angry vigilantes, running around the outside of the ring, right beside the spectators on the front rows, and the anger and rage would rally-on forever! And we mustn’t forget big ole “Hey Stack Calhoon!” He was worth just watching him trying to get in the ring! And best of all, I loved the way Danny Williams ended this late night free-for-all. Williams would look right into the camera and say, “Good-night and watch out for flying chairs!”

William Perry Guilkey said...

How could you leave out "George 'The Animal' Steele" and his destruction of the turnbuckles in front of the lovely Elizabeth? I used to enjoy playing with my much younger cousin's action figures (I DON'T play with dolls -- just felt the need to "man up" for a second). This brought back some pleasant memories. Thanks. Oh, and add one "nerdy accountant" to your demographic statistics.

Anonymous said...

Well, all I can tell you is I remember my grandparents 'living' for the 6PM wrestling match on Saturday night on their TV set. My poor Grandmother, a snuff dipper from way back, living for the moment of that 'action' and my Grandfather, who could not see but loved to listen to the 'bodyslams' of the wrestlers and the animated broadcasting 'color'. Aw,,,cannot believe it was fake back in the 60's as that had to be how to make a living!!! Great post!! Brings back fond memories...especially emulating the boxers and kicking the 'c@#@' out of my younger brother trying to imitate them. :)

Anonymous said...

Wow! This sure brings back some memories. My Dad and little sister just lives for saturday nite wrestling. The Von Erichs was his favorites. I remember, I enjoyed watching Dad do his moves while watching wrestling(he was hilarious),but would get mad if we laughed at him.
I never really cared for wrestling,but I was always around on Saturday nite, because Dad was more entertaining.
Very nice post. TXM

GUNNY said...

"Ooooohh ... the Macho Man ..."

Remember Iceman King Parsons? Another favorite of mine.

Great reminder of the trip down memory lane. Back when wrestling could be a family show.

It's not so much anymore with the language and the scantily clad shenanigans, though I'll TiVo and have the kids watch a little bit every now and then (fastforwarding through the previously screened tomfoolery).

It's cute to see the kids practicing some moves on each other and claiming a wrestler as their favorite. I could never take them to a live event, but every once in a while the new stuff makes for good theater.

"Let me tell you somethin' brother ..."

I hated to see the Rock leave the show, for left quite a void, but he's a pretty good actor. Of course, one could make a case that he had plenty of practice in the WWF/WWE.

I liked Benoit and hated to see him have such a mental meltdown. I feel ya ... pumping the juice with a little rage & depravity ain't a good equation.

P.S. Perhaps we need some sort of support group for those of us who are having to go through life without quality wrestling.

Qayaq said...

I can't believe you revealed that "wrestling" is fake...I suppose next you will be saying that there is no Santa Clause or Easter Bunny :(

Mark Davis said...

Zowie. I'm turning in my redneck-in-training card at the next opportunity. If rednecks had a race (and it weren't NASCAR), you guys just lapped me. Twice.

I never could understand how "wrasslin" was able to stay on TV, and now I know why. You guys were watching it! One thing I do appreciate is the irony, though. It's fair and legal to chop a guy across the throat, punch him in the head, and hit him with a chair, but you can't grab him by the tights. A spectacle with standards like that needs no defenders.

AJF said...

Aw come on Mark! Don't be dissin'. Frankly, you're lack of appreciation for Wrasslin' makes me doubt your supposed redneck credentials! Pro Wrestling is second only to NASCAR in the "Mullet per capita" department...You're from Alabama- the home of Mid-Sout wrestling of old and the like. Come on now...

Qayaq said...

Now that I am getting older and going bald maybe I will jsut let it grow out and have a "Skullet" just like ol' Hulk Hogan.

AJF said...

When I started this blog in January, I never imagined a post on pro wrestling would get the most comments...

Mark Davis said...

Hey, don't get me wrong. I've tried to watch. I've even attended a main event, and seen Hogan wrestle in person. I bought one of those slashed up gold and red t-shirts as proof, and wore it on mountain bike club rides. I just couldn't take more than an infrequent dose of wrasslin without hitting my holy-crap-was-that-some-50-year-old-mom-spitting-at-nature-boy-rick-flair internal limit.

And I remembered the guy on Saturday night wrestling in Birmingham: Tojo Yamamoto. He had the whole Asian villain bit: wooden shoes that had to be removed before the fight (but sometimes came back later), salt to throw in the corners for luck (that sometimes came back later), a Samurai robe with a long sash he took off with great ceremony before the match (and you guessed it, the sash sometimes came back later).

AJF said...

Ahh....Mark! The truth comes out! Heck, I didn't even buy a Hogan T-shirt. You're back in, despite your rhetoric! I do have to admit, however, I did by a "Hot Rod"/Rowdy Roddy Piper t-shirt in the late 80's.

AJF said...

Please note the partial demographics of the responders:
3 pastors
1 elder
1 deacon
1 seminary student
1 Missionary-leader
1 US Army Major
1 Nerdy Accountant (by his own designation)