It all started in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, some 20+ years ago. At four years of old, maybe five the Care Bears just didn’t do it for me and sometimes I didn’t feel like going outside. So I headed over to the TV, and that’s when I saw them….
Two whiskey voiced behemoths wearing awful scowls, studded leather vests and intimidating face paint. Little did I know, they were just cheap Road Warrior knockoffs. But at the time I thought Axe & Smash were Satan’s personal henchmen.
But it was their opponents that truly captivated me. Enter Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty, the World Wrestling Federation’s resident highlyflying dynamic duo. The Rockers were the real life Spider Man & Gambit. If you didn’t get a rush from those two performing tandem missile dropkicks, double crescent kicks and synchronized flying attacks, you didn’t have a pulse.
Weeks later, I still didn’t know exactly how I felt about professional wrestling. Until I set my sights on the man from Calgary *Dramatic pause*, Alberta, Canada, The Excellence of Execution, The Best There Is, The Best There Was and The Best There Ever Will Be, Bret Hart.
When I first saw Hart step into the ring I was a fanatic of The Pink & Black Attack. This began my long run as a diehard professional wrestling loyalist.
Luckily for me my Father was a huge wrestling fan growing up in Quebec, where he actually saw Giant Jean Ferre (Andre) wrestle in his prime. Between my Dad’s stories and my Uncle Matt’s childhood wrestling book collection I was informed of the NWA, the AWA, WWC and WCCW. So you see, I was a ‘smartened up elitist’ long before the almighty internet.
Anyway, I was now hooked on the world of pro wrestling. And I didn’t stop at the World Wrestling Federation. I would soon move onto AWA reruns featuring the likes of Nick Bockwinkel, The Road Warriors and Big Jerry Blackwell (What, he was captivating). Eventually I moved on to WCW in time to catch classic Flair vs. Sting match ups, the dominant run of Big Van Vader and the incredible Steiner Bros. Back before Scott stopped caring about in ring work and started caring more about his posing, talking gibberish and banging female bakstage interviewers.
Come the early 90’s I witnessed my first live WWF house show at The Yardman Arena in town. Sure, I was in the nosebleeds, but hey, my Dad was no rich man. There I ran down to the lower levels and met and shook hands with then ‘WWF President’ (Kayfabe) Jack Tunney in the crowd. Keep in my mind I was about 7, and meeting the ‘WWF President’ was like a young actor meeting now deceased thespian Marlon Brando. At this show my Brother Adam and I saw the likes of Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and several other stars.
Adam and I saw another live show in 1993, this show had more star power, but of course, no Hogan. I hardly recall the event apart from Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. Around this time Monday Night RAW began. I could never have predicted the enormous success of the RAW, but I sure enjoyed it. My favourite was of course Bret Hart, but I also loved The 1-2-3 Kid, Mr. Perfect and surprisingly Alundra “Medusa” Blaze.
Then came my favourite show up until that point; the shocking opener of WrestleMania X, and my opinion by far the best match of the year, Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart. I was half expecting a donnybrook (McMahonism), but what we got instead was one of the best WRESTLING matches of all time.
For my third ever live WWF event in November of 1994, Adam and I sat front row centre (my Mother knew the head of security). There we not only met and got an autographed from Owen Hart, my Mum cut off by Randy Savage in the parking lot what I think was a limo and Bret Hart kissed my Mum on the cheek (it was a friendly thing). At that show Yokozuna knocked Earthquake from the apron to the guardrail, where my brother had to hang his arm over the edge a bit, his arm was crushed by Quake, but he received no more than a bump, but it locked like he got demolished. Owen stole the show. But Alundra Blaze vs. Bull Nakano was no slouch.
In the mid 1990’s The WWF was very different from the WWF that was dominated by the gargantuan egos of Hulk Hogan & The Ultimate Warrior. The Next Generation era was ruled by scientific wrestling, and gimmicks, a shit ton of shitty gimmicks. I was actually a huge fan of Bret, Owen, The Steiners, Kid & Raz Ramon. They were known for putting on great shows every time I turned on WWF TV.
Then came 1997. My childhood hero Bret Hart was screwed (twice, once by WCW). Wrestling had drastically changed, in my view, the entire world was altered. Wrestling had became more edgy, gritty and realistic. This wasn’t the family entertainment I grew up on. I was a huge Bret Hart fan still, but I began liking Steve Austin. I liked when guys cussed, I loved ECW and the PWI 500 had became my holy book. Being a wrestling fan was suddenly cool, dirt sheets were almost mainstream and backyard wrestling seemed like a good idea (it wasn’t). We stuck mostly to submission wrestling and construction site death matches though, we avoided pile drivers and concussions somehow, we were all about the low blow.
The wrestling undercard in the WWF had taken a huge slide downhill, but the main event scene and the tag team division more than made up for that. In World Championship Wrestling, the big boys were playing in the main event while mid carders like Steven Regal, Eddy Guerrero & Dean Malenko were out to set the wrestling world on fire. Meanwhile in ECW, the most well rounded company at the time; we had compelling angles, real drama and a diverse roster (despite all the shitty run-ins, TNN and The Baldies).
With all the international talent in WCW, ECW and even in the WWF Light Heavyweight division I was now exposed to new styles.
Then I moved to the home of The Hitman….
With Austin raising hell, whooping ass and putting on compelling matches, Stone Cold Steve Austin became the best in the world, at least in my opinion. Meanwhile Goldberg was becoming a mega star in WCW; despite his limited ability, his unwillingness to make other guys look good and his complete lack of pro wrestling knowledge. Taz ran the land of the extreme in 1998. But he had the likes of Rob Van Dam, The Impact Players & Mike Awesome to compete with.
When I heard of Owen Hart’s tragic fall and untimely death I don’t think I got over it for a few years. The entire city of Calgary was docile for awhile. No one knew quite what to say. Owen Hart in truth was probably the most talent wrestler in the world from 1994 until right before his death. I still miss Owen. With guys like Tyson Kidd & Daniel Bryan around to carry the workhorse torch Owen’s memory remains.
In the early 2000’s wrestling become secondary and shook value, sex and violence took precedence, at least in North America. Meanwhile in Japan guys were killing themselves wrestling 40 minute masterpieces filled with head drops, stiff blows and excruciating apron spots. The Rock was also setting the world on fire with his twenty million dollar smile, his silver tongue and his undeniable charisma.
Live events where more fun than ever in the 2000’s; rowdy crowds, flashers and more cussing than a fishing boat. Plus the main events always delivered, even when the undercard blew.
In 2002 I once again become a massive fan. WCW had been put out of it’s mercy, ECW had lived on only in our memories and wrestling had taken precedence for the first time since the mid 90’s, and this time we didn’t even have to endure the gimmicks. Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Edge, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, the tag team division and Brock freakin’ Lesnar. The card was loaded from top to bottom. We had the hottest women in WWE history, and most of them could actually wrestle. 2002 was probably the best booked time period in wrestling, I would put SmackDown in 2002 up against any weekly wrestling program at any point in history.
For the next couple of years the WWE continued to deliver.
By the time the WWE was hot and cold I tuned into Japan for Puroresu and to Ring of Honor for great American wrestling. Suddenly names like Bryan Danielson, Jun Akiyama & James Gibson meant more to me than Batista & Matt & Jeff Hardy. Workrate had replaced bra and panties matches, nonsensical storylines and B movie drama (I’m being generous), I was a wrestling fan again.
In 2006-2008 I was obsessed with scientific wrestling; my favourite wrestler was Bryan Danielson, at the time he was the top work in the world, he could talk and he could brawl with the best if he had to.
Around 2009 I found myself becoming a fan of technical spotfests. Davey Richards had gotten Bryan Danielson’s seal of approval and that was good enough for me. I was praising matches for the amount of moves, dozens of nearfalls and ‘fighting spirit’. Eventually I wised up and realized I wasn’t watching wrestling, I was watching really short guys poorly imitate Misawa and Kobashi.
Now here we are in 2012, and where is professional wrestling? The indies are nothing special, apart from Chikara making an effort to be different. TNA has been an abomination for the last 5 years or so, only just recently improving again. And WWE has the best roster in the world, despite the booking being schizophrenic, at best.
Watch the 1000th episode of Monday Night RAW because of CM Punk vs. John Cena, watch to see The Rock return and watch to see Brock Lesnar stand toe-to-toe with Triple H. Watch to see Christian defend his Intercontinental Championship crown, tune in to see Daniel Bryan ‘wed’ AJ and tune in because you love professional wrestling.
With RAW 1000 just one day away I am proud to call myself a wrestling fan, and it’s not because of the suits, the storylines or the physiques. The reason I’m a fan of professional wrestling is because of the wrestling and above all else the wrestlers.