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SLAM! WRESTLING: Guest Columnist

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SLAM! Wrestling







Tuesday, October 27, 1998

SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column

Post-Hulkamania blues

By CHRIS W. ENGLER -- For SLAM! Wrestling

Having been a pro-wrestling fan since I was about 10 (approximately 15 years) I've been witness to the what I refer to as the "birth of the modern era" where pro wrestling was brought into the mainstream by the vehemence and determination of the WWF to bring wrestling into your living-room and, more specifically, the phenomenon known as "Hulkamania." As I grew a little bit older, I came to the realization that Hulkamania would have to end sooner or later and wondered what would become of pro-wrestling after it. The answer is what we're seeing today in the weekly Monday-night ratings battle between WCW and WWF (and to a lesser extent ECW).

The advent of online wrestling forums has dramatically increased the knowledge of the average wrestling fan and due to inevitable (and often planned, no doubt) leaks of information from various "sources." If we look hard enough, we can often know (or have a pretty solid idea) about how any Monday night broadcast or PPV event is going to turn out hours or even days before it happens.

Even if you ignore the extensive online community that embraces pro-wrestling, one can't deny that the quality and frequency of wrestling entertainment has never been better. Every week you can see several main-event calibre matches between superstars both old and new. In addition, both big promotions have a PPV event every single month. Web sites abound, quality merchandise is readily available, and there is hardly a location in North America that isn't within a fairly short drive of a live event for too long. So why, then, are wrestling fans so unsatisfied with what the big leagues are giving them, generally "cranky" based on their online reviews, and longing for better days gone by?

In many of the web-hubs of fan interaction following a Nitro, RAW, or PPV event, you inevitably find many posts (quite often the majority) to the effect of "That was the worst {insert event here} ever! Who booked this crap!?" While my intent with this article is not to tell these people that they're wrong (indeed, I'm often griping alongside them!) I'd like to examine why exactly these feelings are so prevalent in an era where wrestling has literally never been better. I'd ask all who read this to bear in mind that I include myself in every example I'm about to recite (I don't think I'm superior! No flame mail, please!).

Many are critical of the celebrity involvement that has taken place over the last year or so. WCW has done much more of this than WWF recently with the inclusions of Dennis Rodman, Karl Malone, Jay Leno, and Kevin Greene. While I whole-heartedly agree that trading off good matches for media attention is a poor choice, celebrity inclusion has been a staple of wrestling PPVs for years. Wrestlemania 1 gave us Mr. T in the main even, Wrestlemania 2 saw Mr. T again as well as a battle-royale with as many football players as wrestlers, and there have been too many "guest referees" to count. I'm not going to argue the finer points of whether or not celebrity involvement is a good or bad idea; my point is just that celebrity involvement has been part of wrestling for years so I don't think wrestling fans' more recent dis-satisfaction can be exclusively attributed to it.

Another point often raised is why certain wrestlers are given pushes when other more talented ones who have "paid their dues" are not. The most commonly flogged one is, of course, current WCW Champion Goldberg. I think most people already know the answer to this one is marketing, plain and simple. Besides, wrestling is first and foremost a business and in any business there's always people who get what they want seemingly unreservedly while others who have gone "by the book" remain under-appreciated and under-utilized. We fans are a fickle bunch, too. The talent coordinators and bookers can't read our minds so they're inevitably going to come up with a few stinkeroos every once in a while. Bad pushes were no stranger the 80s, (remember "Dangerous Danny Davis" and "Outback Jack"?) so, again, I don't think this has to do with fans' repeated negative reactions of late.

Still another thorn in the side of wrestling fans is the non-sensical involvement of things that have absolutely nothing to do with wrestling like the recent "Chucky" skit on WCW Nitro. For those of you that can't remember the last time something as stupid as this happened I have one word for you: Gobbledeegooker. For those too young to remember the Gobbledeegooker I'll summarize it quickly: The WWF had a huge polystyrene egg displayed at live events for weeks before an upcoming PPV (Survivor Series, I think). Anyway, the egg was to hatch at the PPV and many people thought it would be the launch of a new wrestler. It turned out to be just a guy in a turkey costume called "The Gobbledeegooker" that danced around in the ring with Mean Gene to a huge chorus of boos. It was never seen again.

So what is it about wrestling recently that has us longing for the days of Hulkamania? The answer is very simple: we're all spoiled brats! When wrestling made the big jump to prime time TV the only way they could break through was to provide PPV-quality cards on a weekly basis. When it came out we all loved it. This is great! Hogan's wrestling Sting on LIVE TV!! Titles are changing hands!! Yes, we all loved it for the first little while and thought we were in wrestling heaven. But, like the little boy who promises to walk his new puppy every day only to end up forgetting and letting his mom and dad take care of it, we settled in to high expectations and become bored with anything that isn't completely revolutionary.

But we can't even be blamed for falling victim to this. The reason that we remember Hulkamania-era wrestling so fondly is because on the weekly program we were only given small doses of the superstars. Now when people see a squash live Scott Norton vs. Barry Horowitz end in 30 seconds they're disappointed and call the match "boring." But back when we were kids that was all the matches you got to see; you had to wait for "Saturday Night's Main Event" to see feuds come to a head or titles change hands. I remember watching "WWF Cavalcade" on CHCH TV-11 with Billy Red Lyons on Sunday afternoon just hoping to catch a glimpse of Hulk Hogan, and when you did see Hulk Hogan it was in an interview in "Piper's Pit" or "The Barber Shop" but NEVER a match.

I remember when I was in grade 10 (circa 1986) when the British Bulldogs lost the tag-team belts to the Hart Foundation and they showed the match on WWF Cavalcade. I was absolutely STUNNED! I called my friend to tell him about the match and he didn't believe me! That kind of thing NEVER happened on the weekly programming. Now think of how many times in the past year you've seen a title change hands on Nitro, Thunder, or RAW. Title reigns are so short and lackluster that they've lost all meaning. The textbook example of this in recent wrestling history happened a few months ago when Lex Luger won the WCW US Title on Monday Nitro only to lose it right back to Bret Hart on Thursday Thunder.

To come back to my point... our disappointment with the perceived "lack of quality" of prime-time wrestling is in some ways analogous to a drug addict that progressively needs a stronger and stronger dose to get high. That may seem like a dismal comparison but it's true; unless we see a 30-minute barb-wire-dog-collar-ring-is-on-fire-cage match between our 10 favourite superstars for the world title we call it boring. We need to be weened off the steady diet of main event-calibre matches that we're delivered every week!

It brings to mind those times when you were a kid and you counted down the days until Christmas and you could FINALLY open that big present with your name on it. It was the excited period of waiting that made the gift seem bigger and better than it actually was, and I think that's what wrestling needs to do to become exciting again. Better than the deed, better than the memory..... the anticipation.

Wrestling's already gone too far too fast to just revert to the way it was 10 years ago, and going backwards is not what I'm suggesting. So what do we do? Don't lose hope; there are "ways to re-kindle your love." One way is to perhaps let yourself be surprised by not reading every wrestling rumour and prediction on the web before every RAW or Nitro. I realize that this is a rather inappropriate comment to make as I submit this guest column with the hopes that it will be posted on the internet, but it's the truth.

Another suggestion I have is to go out to some of the live events put on by the local, smaller promotions in your area (e.g. the AWF in Toronto or ECCW in Surrey, BC). Attending these and watching these newcomers from up close giving their all to entertain makes you realize how hard wrestlers work. These guys work night and day and give 110% to put on a show every few weeks with very limited resources. Now imagine what the guys in WCW or WWF go through to put on a PPV-calibre performance 2 or 3 times per week and travelling all over the U.S. and Canada to boot. These guys are literally destroying themselves to bring us entertainment.

I don't want to get all high and lofty, but the wrestlers you're watching on Monday nights are the folk heroes of the 20th century. Lots of important history took place eight years ago but I think we all remember the day after The Ultimate Warrior beat Hulk Hogan for the WWF title cleanly as if it was yesterday. Let's give 'em a break if they slow down a little this Monday!

Chris W. Engler is from Toronto, Ontario. He can be emailed at cengler@home.com

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