Wednesday, May 14, 2014


We'll just start at the top and get the truth out in the open: I still kind of love professional wrestling. I still make WWE jokes all the time, I still have a Stone Cold Steve Austin bandanna and I still follow it a little bit. Not to the extent that I used to, but enough to know the broad strokes of what's happening and who's who.

I just never actually watch it.

When I was a kid, I watched it all the time. Only, by "all the time" I mean "once a week on Saturday night or early Sunday morning." Back then, it was the WWF and there was a weekly show that aired sometime on Saturday or Sunday. It basically gave everyone the gist of what was going on, who was feuding with who, who held the title and when they were putting it on the line next. My favorite wrestler was, of course, Hulk Hogan. I loved everything about him.

At one point, when I was about 7 or 8, I had a tank top that I wore around the house (and only around the house, because my dad thought they were trashy and wouldn't let me wear it out in public). It got a little tear in it one day, and I wanted to rip it off the way Hogan did before a match so badly. But I had to ask permission first. I couldn't just run around ruining clothes—even ones my dad hated.

My mom finally said that it was okay for me to destroy it, but I couldn't. I physically couldn't do it. My arms were too weak and I could't tear the ribbing that ran across the front. The Hulkster and his 24" pythons were much stronger than I thought. After a few minutes of trying, my mom made a little cut in the front so it would rip easier and assured me that's probably what Hulk had to do, too.

A few years later, one of the story lines had Hulk Hogan feuding with Earthquake and they were coming to the Salt Palace for a stretcher match. My brother and I wanted to go more than anything, but neither of my parents had any interest in going, and they were also a little bit weary of sending a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old to the Salt Palace. A few weeks before the WWF event, AC/DC had played there and three people died when the crowd rushed the stage and they were trampled underneath. Eventually, we found another way to go and my cousin Robbie stepped up to take us. We just had to promise to stay in our seats the whole time.

It took a little bit of digging, but I was able to find out the whole card for that night:

WWF @ Salt Palace, Salt Lake City, UT - February 7, 1991

Sam Houston vs. The Barbarian
The Legion of Doom vs. Mr. Fuji and the Orient Express (handicap match)
Tito Santana vs. Haku
WWF Tag Team Champions Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart vs. Hercules & Paul Roma
Kerry Von Erich vs. Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase
Jake "The Snake" Roberts vs. Rick "The Model" Martel
Hulk Hogan vs. Earthquake

I have no idea who won any of those matches, but I have to assume that Hulk won because I vaguely remember him strutting around as Earthquake was wheeled off on a (presumably reinforced) stretcher. That's about the last time I can remember caring about professional wrestling until about 1999. The WWF rolled out Thursday Night Smackdown on UPN then had a recap show that covered both RAW and Smackdown that started about midnight on Saturdays. The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon as the bad guy had me intrigued, so I started paying attention again.

The matches themselves were never the part that interested me. It was always the story lines and the performances that drew me in, and those guys were much better than the guys I saw in the 90's.

When The Rock and Stone Cold moved on I pretty much tuned out. I was only kind of paying attention when McMahon bought the rival WCW and merged them, but was so lost that it didn't matter. When CM Punk started showing up, I hated him for using Straight Edge as his gimmick, but then I actually learned a bit about him, began to like and respect the guy, and started paying attention again. At that point though, I could just get all the best stuff in YouTube clips and Bleacher Report recaps a few days afterwards. Again, it was never about the matches, but always about the stuff that happened elsewhere.

A few months back, I updated my Apple TV and there was a little icon with the WWE logo on it. I'd heard that the company was developing their own network, but I thought it was going to take the place of some other fledgling channel buried deep inside an upper-tier basic cable package that I had no intention of upgrading to. Then I found out that it was going to be a Netflix/HBOGo type thing with a monthly fee. I did some digging and found out that for $10 a month, you get everything that the WWE has ever produced and you get access to all 12 of their Pay-Per-View matches every year. It was insane how much content they were putting on there.

I was amazed, excited and badly wanted to shell out the ten bucks every four weeks that it would cost me to have access to the WWE library from the past 30 years. But I also wanted to have a shot at dating an actual woman again sometime soon, so I decided against it. Then I found out that they were offering a one-week free trial just to test the waters and to get people interested, so I did that instead. (editor's note: It's actually like a 6 day free trial, because I signed up on a Friday afternoon and had to cancel by the following Thursday or I'd be locked in for six months.)

When I got home from work that night, I turned on the TV and launched the app. Then I was fucking lost. Being a brand new product, things were still a little wonky. The search function is atrocious and while there are some individual matches from the mid-week programs, there's nothing from the Pay-Per-Views. To get any of those matches, you have to know which event it happened at, where it was on the card and then fast-forward (no chapter markings! It was like a goddamn video tape with much better quality) to the appropriate time.
Having no idea where to start, I used Google to search for notable matches in WWE history, then had to figure out how to locate them within the app. It took kind of a long time. I watched Mankind and The Undertaker in a Buried Alive match, the WCW Bash at the Beach match where Hulk Hogan turned heel and the NWO was formed, the Tables, Ladders and Chairs match that the Internet loves, the Montreal Screwjob and the match where CM Punk won the title and walked out just before his WWE contract expired.

All great stuff, but again, I don't care about any of it. I want the off screen stuff. I want the behind-the-scenes action. I want to pay attention to the man behind the curtain. I want to see how the sausage gets made.

After McMahon screwed Bret Hart out of the title, he hid backstage. The Undertaker was so mad that he went to McMahon's dressing room and demanded that he apologize to Hart. I want to see that. I want to see what Shawn Michaels had to say when Hart confronted him.

There was the segment of RAW when CM Punk aired all of his dirty laundry with Vince and was cut off, but I couldn't find that in any of CM Punk's listings. I was able to find it very easily on YouTube though. And that's free.

The Buried Alive match between The Undertaker and Mankind had some great moments, but I wanted to know more about the logistics of it than anything else. I wanted to know all the little details about how intricately they planned those types of matches.

Maybe things will get better as time goes on, but as of the few hours I spent with it, the matches had no context. The reality is that it would be fairly difficult to include three decades of overlapping story lines, but that's what I want, damn it.

All of those things aside, I got my free trial's worth. I spent a few hours watching things the first night and maybe a half an hour at a time here and there the rest of the week. Mostly, I just wandered through the singles matches remembering wrestlers that I hadn't thought about in years. I started wondering what happened to the also-rans that never quite made it to Icon status the way Hogan and The Rock did. You know, wrestlers like:

William Regal - Currently broadcasting or something like that for the WWE's minor league/developmental program.
Kurt Angle - Climbed all the way to the top of the WWE payroll but quit in 2006 because he was being forced to work while injured. He's been wrestling for TNA (the only real competition to WWE) ever since.
The Hardy Boyz - Jeff and Matt split up and have been making the rounds in TNA and the smaller circuit shows like OMEGA.
Eric Bischoff - Worked for TNA for a while before being let go sometime in 2013.
Lita - She was the "manager" for the Hardyz, held the women's championship for a while, but retired in 2006. Afterwards, she formed a punk band called "The Luchagors" and has been kind of floating around ever since.
Trish Stratus - Also held the women's championship belt for a bit before retiring in 2006. She's been working as a trainer and opened a yoga studio in Toronto.
Kevin Nash - He was "Super Shredder" in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 2, and Tarzan in MAGIC MIKE. He's still employed by WWE.
Test - Overdosed on oxycodone in 2009, and his autopsy showed that he had advanced Alzheimer's usually found in professional boxers.

The list goes on and on. Staying at the top for a long time is hard to do and the only ones that have come out of it pretty much in tact are The Rock, HHH, Hulk Hogan (to an extent), Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels. It's strange that out of everyone I grew up watching in the 80's, Hogan is the only one still in the spotlight. Granted, it's mostly been for his shitty reality TV show, his messy public divorce, and his sex tape, but he's still managed to right the ship when things start to go south. Everyone else is either dead or still scraping by and performing at shows in YMCA auditoriums, battling addiction problems and living in their car. It's really kind of sad.

I look back on that card from the Salt Palace show I saw in 1991 and it's depressing to see where everyone is now.

Sam Houston - Wrestled sporadically for a few years but never found his footing. In 2005, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for repeated DUI offenses. He only served a fraction of the time and was last known to be wrestling in the independent circuit in Louisiana.
The Barbarian - Only under contract in the WWE for three years, then bounced around for a while. Since 2001, he's been wrestling part time in the independent circuit and running a construction company in North Carolina.
Legion of Doom - They were one of the greatest Tag Teams in wrestling and lasted quite a while. Hawk died in 2003, and Animal still appears on the live shows every once in a while.
Mr. Fuji and the Orient Express - Mr. Fuji retired in 1996, which was two years after The Orient Express split up and disappeared.
Tito Santana - He was one of the mainstays of the old WWF guard, wrestling from 1979 to 1993. He's been doing independent shows ever since, even though he's 63 years old.
Haku - Still doing independent shows.
Bret Hart - Hart left the WWE after the Montreal Screwjob, but eventually came back. He's currently signed to the WWE Legends program (which is essentially a way to keep beloved wrestlers of the past on a payroll of some sort. McMahon probably got sick of all the negative press coming his way when one of the stars of yesteryear spiraled out of control in some way) and appears every once in a while.
Jim Neidhart - After he left the WWE, he's mostly been working for TNA. There's not much on him since 2009. He's not dead though.
Hercules - Died of heart disease in his sleep in 2004.
Paul Roma - Tried his hand at boxing after his wrestling career stalled out, but that didn't last long. He now runs a wrestling training school in Connecticut.
Kerry Von Erich - He was involved in a motorcycle accident in 1986 that badly damaged his right foot. Doctors tried to repair it, but Von Erich put too much pressure on it too soon after the operation and made it worse, which resulted in its amputation. Somehow, Von Erich was able to keep the fact that he had a prosthetic foot—going as far as to shower with his boots on—a secret and kept wrestling. He became addicted to pain killers, his marriage fell apart and he eventually killed himself following in the footsteps of two of his brothers.
Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase - Still alive, signed to the WWE Legends program and occasionally appears on shows. He has two sons that have been signed to WWE at some point. One is now doing the independent circuit and the other retired due to knee problems.
Jake "The Snake" Roberts - Was featured in the ultra-depressing documentary BEYOND THE MAT, gained too much weight and moved in with Diamond Dallas Page, whom Roberts trained and mentored during the early years of Page's career. Page got Roberts in much better shape through Yoga and helped him with his recovery from addiction. Roberts was diagnosed with muscular cancer below his knees, but has been fighting it. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year.
Rick "The Model" Martel - Still alive, but not really doing anything that revolves around wrestling.
Earthquake - Started out as a sumo wrestler, switched to the WWE and had a pretty great career. He died of bladder cancer in 2006.
The WWE app wasn't enough for me to go back to, and I've still never watched a live Pay-Per-View event. I probably never will. But I'll always have a bit of a soft spot for the squared circle, the Hell in a Cell, the Tables, Ladders and Chairs matches and everything else that goes on in the Vince McMahon empire.

I just don't want to actually watch any of it.

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