Who was your
favourite 80s wrestler?
I never liked Hulk Hogan. Even at the absolute height of Hulkamania, when I was 10-11 years old and the perfect age to be a young Hulkamaniac, I refused to cheer for him. “All his fights are the same,” I’d precociously insist to my classmates. Some agreed, but many others thought I was insane (usually the ones who loudly cheered “USA!USA!USA!” to their TV screens, even though we were–y’know–CANADIAN).
This was the period where kayfabe (the industry term for the pretense that everything that happened in and outside the ring was 100% real) still reigned supreme and the face (good guy) and heel (bad guy) dynamic was both strictly adhered to and as complex as an episode of Super Friends. Eventually, changing cultural tastes would allow for (slightly) deeper characterization and some moral shades of grey, while the Internet (combined with Vince McMahon’s rebranding the “sport” as “entertainment” for tax reasons) made keeping the curtain of secrecy up impossible.
It wasn’t really a more innocent time (if backstage stories are to be believed), but it definitely seems like it when we now revisit that period. My gateway was Stampede Wrestling, which was run out of Calgary by Stu Hart, father of Bret & Owen and a whole bunch of other Harts. Even as a kid it looked like the low-budget affair it was, but that only gave the essential theatre of the experience an added sense of verisimilitude. It was almost universally accepted amongst us faithful Mee-Yah-Noh Elementary School watchers that our favourite was Jason the Terrible, a big dude in a hockey mask who we all assumed was the actual zombie maniac from the Friday the 13th movies most of us hadn’t actually seen.
But once again, I had to be the contrarian. This was around the time I started taking gymnastics (inspired as I was by Footloose and the 1984 Olympics), so I vastly preferred the smaller, more nimble wrestlers who jumped and flew across the ring, over the muscle-bound brutes who all of my peers seemed to prefer. This held true even when the WWF finally made its way to our TV sets and we could at last see for ourselves who this Hogan guy was.
I choose my favourites for a variety of complicated reasons. I hated the cold war jingoism of the period, so I cheered for Nikolai Volkoff because the Russians were people too and just because they believed in communism didn’t mean they were evil. I cheered for Rowdy Roddy Piper because he was hilarious, even if he was a huge jerk. I liked George “The Animal” Steele because I had seen a movie version of Of Mice and Men and he reminded me of the tragic Lenny. I liked Jake “The Snake” Roberts because the DDT was awesome and I wasn’t afraid of snakes. I liked The British Bulldogs because they weren’t American and they actually had a bulldog.
But my favourites were Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and Macho Man Randy Savage.
The reason for this was simple. One of my earliest exposures to the full WWF experience was a videotape copy of Wrestlemania III (I cheered for Andre the Giant) and their match for the Intercontinental Championship was–easily–the most exciting thing I had ever seen. You could teach a screenwriting class based on the dramatic hills and valleys of that encounter. I cheered for Steamboat, because Savage was mean to his girlfriend/valet/manager Miss Elizabeth, but in my heart I would have been happy with whoever won.
Did you follow wrestling in the 80s? If so, who did you cheer for?