The other night I was at the local watering hole. It was around 1am. ESPN or ESPN Classic was on and they were airing old AWA matches. The gentlemen a few stools down started talking about it and this sparked a good old fun, lively (maybe a little drunk too), conversation.
I think a lot of nostalgic wrestling conversation always start or lead to the negative side of the sport. The number of early drug related or "shady" deaths of the "celebrities" is unmatched by any other occupation. These guys lived and partied like rock stars and in doing so did severe damage both chemically and physically to their bodies.
Curt Hennig, who I knew mainly as "Mr. Perfect" was one casualty who happened to be wrestling during our lively chat. Others that you might remember were:
Ms. Elizabeth - Pills
Dino Bravo - Shot in Montreal
Adorable Adrian Adonis - Car accident
Andre the Giant - he was too big
Owen Hart - Fell about 40 feet during a live event
Ravishing Rick Rude - Heart failure
***Look up the Von Erich family as this is too tragic for me to speak of. They have videos on this.
The movie "The Wrestler" did quite an outstanding job of portraying the life. This movie should be seen by all wrestling fans of the appropriate age.
Is there anything good about this "sport"?
Off the top of my head I can say it brought great joy to me, my friends, and my grandma. Her favorite was Ivan Putski, the Polish Hammer. My favorite was Ric Martel. Both of these guys are still alive I think. I know Ric is. Martel was an arrogant fashion model and also a great technical wrestler. I knew how to do the "Boston Crab", his signature move. Yes, we did go to some events to see him wrestle. Yes, I did spend one evening making signs. I'm not ashamed to admit any of this. ((Check the video below to see Martel))
I would piss my friends off in 7th and 8th grade by insisting it was all real. I knew it wasn't, but back then I realized suspending disbelief would allow me to enjoy this thing on a far greater scale. Plus I just like pissing people off. I think I got this trait from my dad. He had a special knack for knowing what would get under our skin.. this is for another blog.
Another element to the "sport" that led to its popularity was that it played on stereotypes. During the middle east crisis you had the Iron Shiek. Towards the end of the cold war we had Boris Zukhov. Shortly after WWII you had Fritz von Erich, the German bomber. Fritz was the patriarch of the above mentioned tragic Von Erich (Adkisson) family. All of these enemies and their characters helped get us all fired up.
I'd be ignoring the greatest wrestler of all-time if I didn't mention Hulk Hogan. Hulk wasn't the most technically proficient wrestler but he could inspire the crowd like no one else. He played the role of the strong American. His theme song was "I am a real American." While there was a silliness to this character you couldn't help get excited about him. He was great in his interviews. He had a great tough voice and attitude. I remember almost being in tears when Mr. Wonderful turned on the Hulkster during a tag team and "beat the shit out of him" with Big John Stud and Andre the Giant (Bobby Heenan was behind all that). I felt helpless watching it all as a youngster. Hulk had a history of being "pearl harbored" as he'd call it. Someone would always turn on him. He was the best though.
So, in closing, some swell memories came to mind the other night at the bar. I hope this blog brought you some good warm feelings. Writing this during the snow put a smile on my face, recalling my youth. My god I'm getting old. I was blessed for having this staged sport in my life though, and good friends and family to share the excitement with. My heart goes out those who have passed as either good guys or bad guys and their families as well. While many folks in the business have led "shady" lives, they did get our juices flowing and our energy up. They got us excited. Thank you. Job well done.
(Below is a little bit on wrestler's deaths.)