Wrestling VS. Sports Entertainment"
November 10, 2005 by Scott Binns
I was recently going through a box of old wrestling magazines that I had started collecting right around the time the "Macho Man" was quickly becoming Hulk Hogan's #1 nemesis, as he was at the time was the Intercontinental champion. A particular edition that grabbed my eye (besides of course a couple of the PWI Achievement Awards issues) was a copy of Pro Wrestling Illustrated, May of 1986 edition. The reason I decided to leaf through this particular issue was a cover photo of Randy Savage with the WWF World Title belt around his waist. He had not in fact won the coveted prize, but had merely laid a kamikaze job on the champ after Hogan had yet again dispatched Savage to retain his Heavyweight Championship. The belt in question, ironically, was the same "1986 Classic" strap that are seen in many wrestling magazines, which I would love to get a copy of. That and the 1986-1997 Intercontinental belt. That's not strange for a semi-intelligent 34 year-old man is it" But I digress.
The reason I decided to tone in here with a column on Online World of Wrestling is I feel that the history of the sport I love is beginning to slip away. I don't mean we're all going to forget about who won which main event at what WrestleMania, or who the greatest wrestler in the last 20 years was (which may in itself spark a few blarneys). No, what I'm talking about is a decrease in the honoring of our past heroes. I know that everyone says they respect the pioneers of the sport; George Hackenschmidt, Ed "Strangler" Lewis, and Lou Thesz, just to name a few. But I doubt many wrestling fans today, from the old school followers of the NWA to the fans of the Hardcore/high-flying style in TNA. Ring of Honor, and if I may throw in a little plug here Border City Wrestling, my home territory is probably the two promotions that try to hark back to the glory days of wrestling, where story lines are drawn out longer, resulting in more fan interest and feuds that actually go somewhere, last more than two weeks and tell better stories; which in turn make us care for the combatants involved, and the story they're trying to tell.
Although I love ECW like everyone else (except for the true purists, I suppose) I believe the "hardcore revolution" was the beginning of the end for professional wrestling as we know it. Either that or it was the fault of WWF Creative and a botched "Attitude" era. Of course, out of that came the Austin-McMahon feud, and the Monday Night Wars. So obviously, it wasn't a total loss. My point is wrestling today sure isn't the way it used to be. It's not professional wrestling anymore, it's "sports entertainment" It's a show now. Some I like (Angle vs. Lesnar-: WrestleMania XIX, Iron Man match, SMACKDOWN!, The Royal Rumble match, Elimination Chamber, etc.). But I really yearn for the days of the old Hogan (or the young Hogan would be better), 'Rock'n' Roll' Buck Zumhoffe, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, The High Flyers, Mad Dog Vachon and the rest of the AWA roster. Then came WrestleMania, and wrestling's popularity took off like never before, only to be rivaled 12 years later by the unparalleled success of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock.
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love some of the new styles and exciting matches offered in ROH, CZW, BCW, TNA and yes, even some of the modern classics still being churned out today by the likes of Jerry Lynn (great guy), A.J. Styles, Petey Williams (Knew him when he was training - boy, has he come a long way), Chris Sabin (another BCW alumni), Paul London, and others. Of course I don't have to mention established stars that have historically given us everything they have, but I will: Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho (hometown favorite) and even amateur stars like Brock Lesnar, Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Hass.
The problem is we know these athletes too much. We know their real names. We know who their families are. We see them going into the mainstream entertainment field such as movies, television, and books. I remember wrestling (and keep in mind I am only 34) when there was no middle-of-the-road players. You were either loved or hated. There were no "neutral" wrestlers. No shades of grey. Somebody hated somebody else, and that was it. There were good guys and bad guys. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a purist by any means. I still love RAW, but the most insulting thing I've seen on WWE television is without a doubt the infamous "Bra and Panties" matches. Or anything else that includes the lovely RAW or SMACKDOWN! Divas getting half-naked or submerged in some sort of liquid; be it jello, chocolate milk or mud. Don't get me wrong, I like seeing half-naked woman as much as the next guy, but not on my wrestling show, please.
Paul Boesch, Toots Mondt, Vince McMahon, Sr., Wally Karbo and Stu Hart never had to resort to showing skin to get the wrestling fans into their buildings. Why" Because they simply had a superior wrestling product. And this was before entrance themes, special lighting and pyro. You would be hard pressed to find many promos (interviews) back then. Hell, if you could get two words out of Maurice "Mad Dog" Vachon or Baron Von Rashke, then you were doing something. Of course, you would then have to decipher what you had just heard.
I thought for a short while that the McMahons were trying to appease people like me for just a little while there back in 2002 when it appeared that the WWE may just be going a little retro. First off, when Paul Heyman was backing Brock Lesnar, and Theodore (Teddy) Long was "Backin' the Mack" and later getting "Down with the Brown" I thought maybe they were bringing back the managers. Then again, do we really need to see another Jim Cornette or Tom Parker hanging around the ring" What I wouldn't mind seeing is another Bobby Heenan (of course there will never be another "Brain") or an eloquent lady manager - not valet, manager like the late and lovely Miss Elizabeth. However, there are certain personalities who are going that route. Of course, they're still not called managers. i.e. "Coach" Scott D'Amore and "Father" James Mitchell. They also brought back the tag ropes that were on hiatus for awhile.
I guess I just miss my old-time wrestling. Don't worry. I'll probably end up being just like one of those old ladies in the front row of every house show I've ever attended. Loud, crusty, obnoxious, and having the time of my life.
by Scott Binns ..
Trust me, Scott, you are not alone. I also long for
the gold ole days of bare-knuckled no-nonsense style
of wrestling, which was symbolized by the NWA of old.
Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, Lou Thesz, The Midnight
Express of Bobby Eaton, Dennis Condrey, Stan Lane, The
Rock N Roll Express, Magnum TA, Tully Blanchard,
Arn-Anderson, Ole Anderson, Ric Flair, Lex Luger,
Barry Windham, Nikita Koloff, Ivan Koloff, Krusher
Krushev, Jimmy The Boogie Woogie Man Valiant, Paul
Jones, the Original Legion of Doom the Road Warriors
Hawk and Animal, and a whole host of others. That was
wrestling at its VERY, VERY, VERY, BEST.
Then you had the WWF of old, Macho Man Randy Savage,
Bret Hart, Jim the Anvil Neidhart, Hulk Hogan (for
better or worse) The Ultimate Warrior, Greg the Hammer
Valentine, Brutus Beefcake, Hercules Hernandez, The
Rock Don Muraco, Canadian Strongman Dino Bravo, Tito
Santanna, Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff, Ace Cowboy Bob
Orton, Rocky Johnson, Mr. USA Tony Atlas, Jimmy
Superfly Snuka, Pat Patterson, Bruno Sammartino,
The AWA of old: Nick Bockwinkel, Ric Martel, Curt
Hennig, Larry the Ax Hennig, Larry Szybysko, Sherri
Martel, The Road Warriors in their AWA days, Jerry The
King Lawler, Abdullah the Butcher,
And of course you had the UWF, the Mid-South promotion
of Cowboy Bill Watts, WCCW based in Texas with the
Fabulouse Freebirds and the Von Erichs headlining the
card with their famous feud, and so on.
Those were the glory days of Pro
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