I was only a handful of rows back of SkyDome’s main stage on April 1, 1990; one of 67,678 jeering fans at the majestic WrestleMania VI.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper and the villainous Bad News Brown were trading haymakers so intimately on the ringside floor that they failed to notice the referee nearing the 10-count: the maximum time a wrestler can be outside the squared circle before being disqualified.
The larger-than-life behemoth Earthquake splashed his corpulent frame onto Hercules, reducing the robust face (good guy) to nothing but a motionless heap of muscles.
Grandiose entrance themes, thousands of unrelenting flash bulbs and quirky miniature rings, carrying superhuman figures to the platform (because gods of this stature get the royal treatment) got a four-year-old kid, seven days shy on his fifth birthday, hooked – it was real.
It has been more than a decade since I followed wrestling religiously, or sat down for the many hours requisite to see a pay-per-view event from start to finish, but there was a time when the greatest show in sports entertainment and I were unquestionably linked.
During the early-90s, my Saturday mornings re-ran weekly with an unrelenting consistency: starting with a string of timeless cartoons – X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took the cake – followed by the live action brilliance of wrestling.
WWF Mania gave way to WWF Action Zone, but the format never seemed to matter much. This was love at first sight, and I was committed.
A cardboard box of rubber action figures still remains in my cramped closet, and it speaks volumes of my former obsession and toy-collecting compulsion.
Inside there is a worn-out Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, by my time, a ringside manager, dressed in slacks and an initial-embroidered sweater. Honestly, who desires the figures of wrestling coaches?
Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, King Kong Bundy, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and George “The Animal” Steele are just a select few of the solid rubber, inflexible, LJN Titan Sports figurines that were smashed, bent, pounded and thumped by an extremely imaginative child.
Likely in a middle-of-nowhere trash heap sits a half-cracked plastic ring, the victim of countless body slams and pile drivers; hopefully it hasn’t fully decomposed.
My list of choice ‘90s battles is extensive and varied. It no doubt includes the 1994 Royal Rumble, where Lex Luger and Brett “The Hitman” Heart managed to simultaneously eliminate each other, creating an immediate controversy over who would land a title shot against Yoko Zuna at WrestleMania. My head was undergoing cerebral pandemonium at the time; you couldn’t make this stuff up – turns out they did.
Monday Night Raw was never the same after the “10,000 Match” between Razor Ramon and the 1-2-3 Kid. Ramon was so incensed that “the kid” had pinned him in a stunning upset the week prior, that he offered a bag of hard cash to his foe just to lure him back to the ring. Mid-match, the youngster grabbed the bag, boarded a back-stage limo and fled the scene. “He set Ramon up!” Tantalizing stuff people.
Can anything edge the artfulness of the renowned Undertaker vs. “fake” Undertaker war at Summer Slam, where the true “dead man” banished his sinister doppelganger from the wrestling universe with three consecutive devastating “tombstone” piledrivers. I was never really an Undertaker fan, but that imposter had to go.
A moment I’ll never forget, but wish I could, was the day my devious sister attempted to spoil the party, telling me that wrestling was a sham – a scripted, non-athletic, children’s play for doltish kids. I may have cried, but it must have been out of pity, for she clearly failed to register the brilliance of wrestling, and for that she deserved unyielding sympathy.
Maybe I already knew that the outcomes of matches weren’t left simply to fate, but a part of me still held out hope that these feats of strength were authentic and not some corny hoax concocted in a dingy arena dressing room. At the end of the day, it didn’t really matter; wrestling still rocked and a little screenplay wasn’t going to slow me down.
Before girls, bars and any semblance of popularity mattered to a young me, a lifelong friend and I took wrestling to new heights. We made home movies with some of the corniest acting and commentary likely ever assembled in North America. We even coaxed several friends and siblings into guest cameos; costumes, entrance themes and the willingness to take a tin pan to the face were all required.
Royal Rumble became a not-for-profit gambling event, where each wrestler’s entrance position and ultimate exit-point were predicted and subsequently charted. (These are the things you can now easily locate on the Internet.) There was even a trophy for the fortunate victor: a glass bottle with a Mick “Mankind” Foley action figure glued to its top. Did I actually just reveal that?
My father called a couple hours after the recent and tragic death of Randy Poffo (aka Randy “Macho Man/ Macho King” Savage), knowing that the passing of my favorite childhood wrestler was heartbreaking. Savage was more than an actor or fighter; he transcended the sport and was indispensable in evolving wrestling from lowbrow entertainment to can’t-miss TV.
Aspects of his storyline even became real, like marrying his beautiful manager Elizabeth. There may never be anything quite like Savage’s flying elbow – a dangerous leap from the top turnbuckle that invariably brought fans to their feet, and now arouses goosebumps in sentimental middle-aged men.
His following, not unlike several other ‘90s superstars, was monumental; Twitter was dominated by Savage tributes the day of his passing, and for weeks afterwards.
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. Savage at WrestleMania III is arguably the greatest match of all-time.
But, as the saying goes: all good things must come to an end. Eventually, and probably five years too late, wrestling and I split up. It was a perfect pairing no doubt, but I quietly began to outgrow my childhood obsession, slowly replacing its role with more acceptable sports and out-of-the-basement activities.
Wrestling became too complex, overly sexual and scandalous – trying too hard to reel-in the audience. It became something indefensible, and bore no resemblance to the lovable pageant I grew up on. I always absorbed the comedic aspects – clowns, sumo wrestlers and army generals. It morphed into darkness, extreme violence and an exhibition in male chauvinism.
I understand wrestling has pulled back from its ill-fated over-extension, and believe it now bears at least some resemblance to the golden age.
The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin kept me lingering on the exit ramp in my early teens; afraid I would miss timeless moments if I cut the cord too soon. No question that the correct call was made, because The Rock and Austin provided some of the greatest wrestling tomfoolery of all-time.
Our relationship did end, and I have honestly not followed wrestling in a once-unthinkable amount of time. Replaced by MLB box scores, HBO boxing and the Cleveland Browns, wrestling and I were no more. I couldn’t tell you who fought at the last WrestleMania or currently holds the WWE title, but I can name you an obscure National League fifth starter – funny how things change.
The ‘90s will always be synonymous with immeasurable wrestling in my eyes. The action figures, Saturday shows and pay-per-views were all key ingredients in sparking a young boy’s imagination.
And now, I simply have a heavy box of rubber toys that hang tight with the luggage in my closet.
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