I catch a lot of flack for being a wrestling fan. As form of sport, it’s just not acceptable the way hockey, football, foosball, and ping-pong are. But while the results may be predetermined and often times (these days, anyway) highly predictable, I think wrestling has something none of those more respectable sports have – truly memorable characters.
Even if you didn’t grow up watching wrestling, I’m sure you’d at least admit to remembering names like “Macho Man” Randy Savage, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, or King Kong Bundy. You may even recall lesser stars like Iron Mike Sharpe or Leaping Lanny Poffo (Randy Savage’s brother, fyi). With larger than life characters taking the industry to new levels, beginning in the mid-1980’s wrestling started making inroads into mass culture, where it’s pretty much stayed ever since. Wrestlers have come and gone, some names have been bigger than others, but it’s safe to say no name has ever been bigger than Hulk Hogan.
Now, I’m not talking about the Hulk Hogan whose marriage and children have made his name tabloid fodder. I’m talking about the wrestler who sold out arenas for the better part of two decades, who extolled the virtues of training, saying your prayers, and eating your vitamins. Who slammed Andre The Giant in front of 93,173 fans at the Pontiac Silverdome at Wrestlemania III. Forget the sideshow circus that Hogan’s life has become. The Hulk Hogan I’m talking about was a real hero to millions of people. Including me.
So why the remising? A couple of weeks back a new 3DVD set hit store shelves – Hulk Hogan’s Unreleased Collectors Series. The set is as advertised – 3 discs worth of previously unavailable Hulk Hogan matches. Tag team matches with Bam Bam Bigelow, battles with Andre The Giant and Ric Flair, even the first time the Hulkster officially locked up with Bret “The Hit Man” Hart. Sure the majority of the matches follow the typical Hogan routine – Hogan in control, bag guy takes over, Hogan hulks up, clothesline, legdrop, one two three. The thing is, the routine still holds up, even after all these years. Speaking of years, the moments that really stuck out to me while watching Hulk Hogan’s Unreleased Collection were the ones that came right from my own backyard.
Growing up as a wrestling fan in Toronto, the ritual for me on Saturday night was turning on CHCH Channel 11 at 7pm to watch Maple Leaf Wrestling. The majority of matches were recorded around the Southern Ontario area, with each weeks main event bout taped at Maple Leaf Gardens. Those were always lit darker, with a long rampway coming from the dressing room straight to the ring which sometimes the action would spill out onto. Commentary on the show was done by one of the greatest broadcast teams in any sport – Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Interspersed throughout the matches were interview segments promoting upcoming World Wrestling Federation cards and were hosted by the always entertaining Billy Red Lyons (“doncha dare miss it!”). The Hulk Hogan Unreleased Collectors DVD has a few Canadian moments contained from the Maple Leaf Wrestling days and clearly they took me back in time. Of course, there’s also the match from a May 2002 episode of Monday Night Raw between the Hulkster and Ric Flair that features a close-up shot of Pdawg and myself in the first row that gave me a kick, but that’s not what inspired these confessions of a hulkamaniac.
80’s wrestling was a fundamental part of my youth. It was a product that was for the most part inoffensive and the characters were larger than life superheroes, Hulk Hogan the greatest of them all. Today, things are so different. While there are still many talented and engaging performers working the squared circle, the ones that capture the imagination seem to be few and far between. It’s probably no coincidence that the most iconic wrestler in WWE today is The Undertaker, someone who originated his character in 1991 and made his first real impact working with Hulk Hogan. Watching this 3 disc set reminded my why I became a wrestling fan in the first place, and why I rarely if ever feel inclined to turn it on these days. I’m sure I will though. Every generation has a wrestler who captures and captivates an audience.
Luckily for me, mine wore red and yellow.