Characters like Mad Dog Vachon, The Crusher, The Baron, Verne Gagne, Larry "The Axe" Hennig, and Haystacks Calhoun ruled the ring. It wasn't about steroids, beer, and boobs. The wrestlers weren't genetic freaks or pill-popping piles of flesh.
Now, unfortunately, McMahon has turned wrestling into an overhyped corporate production aimed at young people with short attention spans.I know Baron Von Raschke goose-stepping around the ring was a little cornball—but darn it, wrestling was more innocent before McMahon. Sure, there were still the dwarves and the mud wrestling and villainy...but it was different, purer.
Put it this way: I'd much rather watch Mad Dog Vachon and Baron Von Raschke fight their way through a horde of angry Canadians than have to sit through another match between Triple H and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Professional wrestling used to seem less trivial. The rivalry between Jerry "The King" Lawler and Andy Kaufmann was the stuff of legend—unlike any rivalry between whichever two steroid statues happen to be feuding this week in Vince McMahon's WWE.
In McMahon's cold corporate world, every show is exactly the same. I didn't watch wrestling between 1999 and 2005—but when I tuned in again it was like nothing had changed.
Everything about the WWE was still geared towards the lowest common denominator.
Wrestlers themselves have devolved since the days of the AWA. The pressure to look like bodybuilders and still perform acrobatic stunts pushes many competitors to use steroids and painkillers. The sport has come a long way since the days when Verne Gagne would work potential performers in his barn and then force them to do time as general laborers before allowing them into the ring.
I hate to look to the past with rose-colored glasses—but I do so only because I can't recall any one of Verne Gagne's wrestlers ever murdering two people before killing himself in a home gym.
Under Vince McMahon, scandals have become the norm.
Stories of substance abuse and domestic violence are almost clich— in the modern era of the WWE. Chris Benoit seemed like a balanced guy in many behind-the-scenes documentaries—but it's clear that there is no normalcy in McMahon's dark world.
It saddens me that Chris Benoit became what he became. He was popular as a wrestler—and he deserved to be. But the fact of his being a good entertainer doesn't make up for the years he stole from his wife and son.
The efforts to excuse Benoit's action have disgusted me. Chris Benoit murdered his wife and seven-year-old son by strangling them with his bare hands. I don't care who you are—it takes a serious lack of humanity to wrap your hands around a seven-year-old boy and squeeze the life away.
Thousands of people abuse steroids and drugs everyday, but somehow they have enough control to refrain from murdering loved ones. The Chris Benoit we thought we knew didn't exist. There was a violent monster beneath the facade.
I've been moving away from professional wrestling for a long time. Now I know I won't ever go back. Instead, whenever I get the urge—the itch which drives otherwise rational people to watch professional wrestling—I'll purchase myself a DVD starring the extraordinary wrestlers of the past.
Sometimes it's not the rose-colored glasses.
Sometimes the past really is better than the present.