Shawn Michaels, Hulk Hogan and WWE: Why I (Still) Love Professional Wrestling
At one point during the CM Punk/HHH/Vince McMahon debacle last summer, I wrote about how disappointed I was with the creative direction of the WWE.
A lot of my friends were mad because I was writing about something they weren't interested in. No one could understand why I loved professional wrestling so much and why I still love it. It's one of those things that's almost impossible to explain, but I will try.
Wrestling is ingrained in my blood. My dad had loved wrestling growing up (his favorite wrestler was Bruno Sammartino) and passed that down to us. When he was in first grade, he and his buddy Charlie Zubriski used to go down to my grandma's basement and roll out carpets to wrestle on. My brothers and I used to wrestle on our beds, which usually ended with me on the wrong end of a Razor's Edge or Torture Rack.
I grew up watching Livewire, SuperStars, Monday Night Raw, Monday NItro, Wednesday Night Thunder, SmackDown and all the shows. We didn't have the Pay-Per-View box so we never really got to watch the big events except for when we'd go to Philadelphia for Christmas and would go over to Charlie's for Starcade, but we would turn to channel 1 and watch the fuzzy static just in the hopes of getting a brief glimpse or catching a quick soundbite.
I would hide behind the couch when it was time for bed so I could get five more minutes of time to watch my favorite wrestlers. I always loved sports growing up and still do, but even now if I were to pass Michael Jordan, it would be awesome, but If I were to see Shawn Michaels, Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold, The Rock, hell, even just seeing someone like Bobby the Brain would get me more giddy than seeing the GOAT.
Pro wrestlers, probably because they were playing characters, were always so much larger than life and to me were Gods sent down to Earth to be worshipped (which the Ultimate Warrior took a little bit too seriously).
I somehow came across a career retrospective of Sting on Youtube and, as always with me, that kicked off a two-day binge of watching old WCW and WWE videos (again, thank you Youtube) and I couldn't even keep track of how many times I got chills.
To me, there will never be anything that gets me more excited than how I felt when I'd hear Shawn Michaels' music or one of my other favorites. I don't think anything will be able to draw such a wide range of emotions from me.
It's funny when I think about my favorite wrestlers of all time and who always gets left out. I never include Hogan on that list, partly because it's sort of cliché but mainly because I tend to favor technical wrestlers (for reference, Shawn Michaels is my favorite ever).
But, after going through about eight hours worth of old video, I came across his match against The Rock at Wrestlemania. The Rock definitely lives up to the self-proclaimed title of "Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment" and he always puts on a hell of a show, but when they both got in the ring I couldn't look away from Hogan.
I was awestruck.
I wasn't even in the arena, wasn't even watching it live, wasn't even watching it for the first time, but the only thought in my head was, "I can't believe that's Hulk Hogan". I've never had that feeling about another wrestler as long as I've been watching.
As long as I've been alive, the only people who I've ever felt that about was Michael Jackson. If you were to make a list of "holy $%!^ I can't believe that's ____" people over the last twenty years, it's not very long. In fact, all I can think of would be Jordan and Michael Jackson. That's the King of Air, The King of Pop, and Hulkamania. Even though it may only be me that includes him, but if you inspire that in one person that has to mean something, right?
During my surfing, I came across the Bret Hart documentary that (I believe) A&E did a while back: Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows. I've seen it five different times and each time I am enthralled.
Hart is arguably the most talented wrestler in the history of the sport. Few were able to capture the audience's (shameless pun alert) hearts while also being one of the most technically gifted wrestlers there ever was.
Also, few were ever routinely screwed over as much as Bret was. Vince McMahon took advantage of Bret's loyalty and played with Hart's character way too much, and then we all know about the Montreal Screwjob, one of the most despicable acts ever committed.
The Hitman was a star, he was respected by the wrestlers and the fans loved him. He didn't want to turn heel by taking the anti-American angle but still did so even after turning down Ted Turner's big money deal to join WCW. And then after that McMahon still goes behind his back after telling Bret to go to WCW, in Canada, and tells Earl Hebner that Shawn Michaels was to win. Inexcusable.
I just don't know why all that happened. I understand changing the character because that was the direction the sport was moving at the time, but to stab your most loyal employee in the back, one who was a huge draw all over the world, is something I'll never be able to grasp.
And yet this exemplifies what non-fans just don't understand. Of course not everything in Professional Wrestling is real. Everyone knows that. But a lot of it is real. The consequences are real. The injuries (for the most part) are real. There are emotions going through those athletes that are far more intense than what football, basketball or other sports brings. That's what draws me. It's a delicate balance of kayfabe and real stories. Hearing behind the scenes stories of relationships between the wrestlers and management are some of the most fascinating stories I've ever heard.
It's not just entertainment to me. It's not just entertainment to all of us fans. Watch the last game of a great baseball player's career. Watch the last match of a great heavyweight's career. Now go watch the last match of Ric Flair's career, or any other wrestling superstar. The difference is unbelievable. Those cheers aren't fake and neither are the tears.
And yet my friends will never get it. You can't just hop into wrestling in your twenties, at least I don't think (if you can, good), so they'll never be able to understand. But I do. I get it. And I always will.
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