If you make a list of historical events I lived through, moments that I can not only recall the event, or what was said, but just how I felt about it at the time, there are big ones like 9/11 in my third year of college. the inaugurations of George H. W and George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. I remember the OJ trial in high school, I remember when the Starr report was released during high school, but the one that I go back to in my mind most frequently and with the most fondness is the moment that Hulk Hogan picked Andre the Giant up over his head and then threw him down to the mat, eventually winning the WWF Championship belt.
It was 1987. I was 6, and my grandfather and I watched it live on Pay Per View while the rest of the family were at Sunday night services. It was the greatest thing I'd ever seen, and even now, watching it on YouTube or the WWE Network app can give me chills.
Hulk Hogan is far from my favorite wrestler at this point. Even when I had a subscription to the network (I don't have an active one as I release this episode), I don't generally watch new events, I watch the old stuff and the documentary series about the old stuff. I'm not what you would call a wrestling fan, by almost any stretch of the imagination, at least in my current life. But, I will forever love the squared circle, and all the chicanery that two (or more) big, burly men can get up to in and around it.
Wrestling was for me at 6 a real life version of the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon I so loved at the same time. Real life giant good guys and bad guys, exploding out of my screen and into my heart. I had action figures, and "wrasslin' buddies" and video tapes and Papaw and I would buy at least 3 or 4 pay per views every year.
The WWF was basically just for TV, but the WCW actually visited our area and Papaw and I were there in person to see Sting and the Steiners and Ric Flair and a host of others, slugging it out and stomping for emphasis on the punches and selling the angle and pushing the face over the heel, almost every single time.
I love Hogan and Savage and Warrior and Rhodes. I love Flair and the Firebirds and Steamboat and Stinger.
When the "sport" was reborn with the Attitude era, I was there, flipping back and forth every Monday night. I followed the Outsiders, the NWO, Mick Foley and more. I also found an even better way to watch Pay Per View, as a buddy had a hacked satellite dish and a desire to host folks on Sunday nights. I spent at least two Sundays a month at Clarence's house with a rotating cast of friends from high school cheering for this good guy or that heel and loving every single minute of it.
Why do I still hold this fondness for wrestling? Why do these moments mean so much to who I am?
They were morality plays performed in a manner that made them impossibly pleasant to swallow whole for a boy my age, learning to be the person I’d grow to become. When Hogan was at his height, I did need to take my vitamins, say my prayers and work hard. When Nash and Hall “destroyed” the WCW, I was driving for the first time, applying to colleges and trying to wrap my head around moving out of my parent’s house to become “a grownup”. When The Rock became Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and better known for The Fast and the Furious than the People’s Elbow, I was having kids and happy to get to see my idol once a year instead of every Monday night (plus one Sunday a month).
As my kids reached the age where they might need a simple good vs. evil story to drive something home (and also really enjoy a properly performed moonsault), the WWE Network was there to give us affordable Sunday PPV’s, but also an easy forum to show them my favorite moments and memories from a lifetime of loving these larger than life superstars.
Wrestling taught me how to put on a show, how to show up every night, and that no matter how tired you are or how long the road trip has been, some kid is always watching you. So give them what they came for.
For now, I’m Joel, this is my story or one of them anyway, thanks for listening.