Hello, everybody! Thanks for stopping by for another installment of my “journey” as a referee on the independent pro wrestling circuit. I put the word “journey” in quotes this time because, with the current state of society, my journey is at a standstill. These are the beginnings.
I wish I was previewing Empire State Wrestling shows. Or going into detail about the fun times and weird happenings I encountered at them. But with the global concern about COVID-19 being paramount these days, independent wrestling, as we all know, is at a standstill.
With nothing else to really discuss wrestling-wise on the Jarkaster front, I decided to write about my life as a wrestling fan growing up. These are the roots of my wrestling fanhood, which are relative experiences for everyone and I hope mine are unique enough that you will enjoy reading about them.
Overall, I have been a wrestling fan for the majority of my life. Albeit at certain times I was more into it than others, and even went through a lapsed fan phase. But even during the times, I was not watching wrestling, I still respected it. Wrestling through my entire life was always something I looked at positively.
I can trace my oldest root of my fanhood all the way back to when I was a toddler. My dad was a big wrestling fan and was heavily into the sport during the mid-1980s. He, my mother, and I went to my first wrestling show in 1987 when I was two-years-old. It is one of my oldest memories as I faintly remember Hulk Hogan and The Missing Link being on the card. However, it is most memorable for me because this would turn out to be the last family outing the three of us would go on together. In December of 1987, my dad passed away after battling appendix and colon cancer.
I continued on as a fan after his death and I watched WWF exclusively, with WWF Superstars on Saturdays and All-American Wrestling on Sundays being my go-to’s. I did not realize there were other promotions outside of it and I rooted for Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior like many kids of my age. Ric Flair was the first person I called a jerk. The Undertaker and Papa Shango frightened me to the point where I needed to change the channel. Taker’s body bag and Shango’s voodoo antics really got to me. I also rooted hard for guys like Bret Hart and Lex Luger. I continued to collect those big, unmovable wrestling action figures (they are not dolls, Uncle Gary) and had one of the rings for them.
My interest in wrestling waned a bit around 3rd grade. I grew a liking to some other things like kids do at that age. I also think with WWF’s emphasis turning to Monday Night Raw and it airing past my bedtime also contributed to that. But even though I was not focused on it so much, I still liked it and stayed somewhat current on what was happening.
In 6th grade, that changed dramatically. The summer before I entered my middle school years, my cousin’s boyfriend at the time was a big wrestling fan and told me about how Diesel and Razor Ramon were in World Championship Wrestling now as The Outsiders and went by their real names. On a family trip to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, we stopped at the Ontario Science Center and went to a computer lab where all the machines were connected to this thing called “the internet” and we tried searching out who was going to join them at Bash at the Beach that night against Randy Savage, Sting, and Luger.
He called me after we got home and, to my surprise, said it was Hogan. The next Monday was the first time I watched WCW programming when I turned into Nitro. That was the first of two big hooks that made me a super fan.
The second hook came the next year. I slept over a friend’s house and the next morning I woke up and started flipping through the television channels. I came across a wrestling match on the Empire Sports Network between Skip from the Body Donnas who was now being called Chris Candido and this Sabu guy. My other friend woke up and told me this was Extreme Championship Wrestling. I read about ECW in a few wrestling magazines. But this was my first time watching what would be my favorite wrestling promotion of all-time and stocked with many of my favorite wrestlers.
The Middle School Years
I started going to wrestling shows again during my middle school years. I went to WCW’s Legends of Wrestling II at the now called KeyBank Center in Buffalo and a pair of Monday Night Nitros. At the Legends of Wrestling show, I got a bunch of autographs afterward including Diamond Dallas Page signing my shirt. I remember Roddy Piper beating Bret Hart for the United States title at the Nitro on my 14th birthday. My 8th grade Spanish teacher was also working security that night and tossed Vincent over the railing after he fell into the front row.
Extreme Championship Wrestling Fandom
I went to three ECW shows at the Burt Flickinger Center during this time frame. The electricity among the crowd is something special that I never quite experience at any other type of event. I was there when Rob Van Dam did the flip onto Bam Bam Bigelow into the crowd. This was en-route to winning the ECW World Television title. I sat in the bleachers for one and was right next to The Sandman as he started his walk down to the ring and patted his back. I could go on for a long time about all the cool little memories from these shows.
I was more into ECW and WCW than WWF in middle school. Part of it was because they were so new and fresh to me. The other part is that I am a natural contrarian. I saw all these new wrestling fans wearing Austin 3:16 t-shirts but had no idea who Big John Studd was. It seemed more like a popular fad than true fanhood so even though I still watched and liked WWF programming, it was not my favorite.
I did not deviate much outside of the booked personalities in terms of who I rooted for in this era. My favorites were babyfaces like Taz, The Sandman, and The Gangstas. I despised Shane Douglas, Rob Van Dam (as a heel), and The Dudley Boyz. In WCW, I was pro-Four Horseman and Team WCW, especially Sting and DDP, and hated the new World order.
The Journey Through High School
As I entered high school, my wrestling fanhood began to waive. A lot of the things going on started to seem too stupid – even some things that were well-liked in general. My interest was also growing immensely in another sport: American football. I was a Buffalo Bills fan since after their first Super Bowl appearance and played two years of little league football. Now I was joining my high school team and I was getting more heavily invested into it. I was finding myself watching Monday Night Football more than Nitro or Raw.
WCW was the first one I stopped watching. The clincher ended up being The Stro. The second was WWF. I did not like the biker Undertaker gimmick at all and when he started feuding with Kurt Angle and his moped, I thought the whole thing was lame. I stuck with ECW to the very end. When it died, so did my super fanhood for the time being. The very last gasp came after I tried watching the Raw after WWF bought WCW. The whole idea perked my attention, but how the whole invasion angle occurred that night seemed very dumb.
The Lapsed Fan Phase
Obviously this would not be the be-all-end-all for me as a wrestling fan. But I did enter a lapsed fan phase. Even though I did not consider myself a fan during these years, I still respected wrestling. I just was not into it if that makes any sense. Thus a few years later, when fresh seeds of wrestling fanhood were planted in my mind, it was of no surprise that they flourished so easily.
I will be covering these new seeds in my next blog entry that truly pushed me into enjoying wrestling. Diehard purists probably will not like it, but I do not care. This was an important phase for me whether you like it or not: my backyard wrestling era. This was my beginnings to my wrestling fandom.
As always, thanks for reading!