There were lots of things that captured the youth imagination in the ’80s. There were loud fashions, Swatches, music videos and the Brat Pack. For me, though, professional wrestling ranked high on my list of interests.
In the middle of the decade, there was no greater wrestling organization than the WWF. Back then, the World Wrestling Federation – now WWE –had not been fighting with pandas over their name. I think I was in sixth grade when it first caught my eye. There had been this thing called Wrestlemania, and after the success of the first couple of years, it really started picking up steam.
In my neck of the woods, the weekly show was syndicated on one of my local stations. There were dudes dressed up in tights with names like Andre the Giant, King Kong Bundy, the Iron Shiek, and Hulk Hogan. They always seemed to be angry with one another, and after all the posturing in Mean Gene Okerlund interviews, they would come out to the ring in front of a capacity crowd and beat the crap out of each other.
I was 12, and I had no idea that wrestling was more theatrics than sport. It gradually dawned on me that these guys couldn’t really tour around and hate each other constantly. I mean, if you hate the people you work with, and you’re constantly getting into fights, would you stay with that job? Also, some of the moves seemed like they were designed to distribute the force across the body so as to not actually hurt the other person. I mean, stomping the foot when they hit a dude, landing on the upper back when getting knocked down, choking a dude on the ropes when the rips are under the armpits… it’s clearly fake, right?
What did I know? I was 12. All I knew was that there was a dude named Hulk Hogan who told me to say my prayers and take my vitamins, and I would be able to defeat any challenge that came my way. That was easier said than done for a kid with a giant head and tiny body. I still have a giant head, but my body seems to have caught up.
Regardless, like many wrestling fans my age, I completely idolized Hulk Hogan. He was uber-patriotic. He would carry the flag into the ring. He would fight people who picked on the little guy, and he was like the modern-day Superman without all that flying stuff.
I remember watching these shows and getting so excited if they mentioned Hulk Hogan would appear. The best entrances, though, were the ones where you never expected him to appear. Like this one… (cue it to :45-ish)
When the music starts (“Real American” by Rick Derringer, btw) in the clip, I still get that same feeling I had 25 years ago watching Hulk Hogan come in and beat down some moron.
I don’t remember when I stopped watching wrestling. As I got older, it just wasn’t as important to me anymore. Certainly as the ’90s wore on, wrestling got more and more into story lines and less about wrestling. In fact, I challenge you to watch a WWE show today and find any wrestling within the first 20 minutes. It can’t be done.
I still remember what the Hulkster taught me, though. He always said that if I applied myself, I could accomplish anything in the world. That’s what Hulkamania was all about… not letting people tell you that you can’t do something… and showing people what hard work and determination can accomplish.
As my kiddo grows up, I try to instill that kind of positive thinking in him. I want him to succeed so bad. I want him to succeed in ways I never did. If a problem ever approaches him in life, I want him to have the confidence to jump from the top rope and knock it on its ass.