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A Mark’s Eye View: On the way to the circus

It was an uphill battle for the World Wrestling Federation in the southwest.

A Mark’s Eye View‘ is a weekly look at some of the things that made me a huge fan of professional wrestling.

There was no way the WWF could be my favorite wrestling federation. For starters, I grew up in the southwest. While as not as much of a hotbed as the southeast, the NWA had a very strong foothold in my area. Mid-South/UWF was also all the rage. Of course, growing up in Texas in the 1980s meant the Von Erichs were kings of the mountain. Quite simply, it was an uphill battle for the World Wrestling Federation in my area.

The wrestlers of the WWF came off as very fake (wrestling is filled with these little ironies.) Sure, they had impressive physiques — they were athletes, after all. But for whatever reason, they looked like action figures come to life. True, the WW(W)F was always known as the “land of giants,” But in 1985, these giants were especially big.

That was part of the problem. The men in Mid-South looked like the type of guys you would run into in a seedy bar. The NWA had people like the Barbarian and Billy Jack Haynes, but they didn’t look larger than life. Kerry Von Erich may have looked like he was chiseled out of granite, but the rest of World Class looked like normal athletes.

Meanwhile, the WWF had monstrosities like Brutus Beefcake and Jimmy Snuka. These men were more walking stacks of muscles than actual wrestlers. They looked like the parodies of wrestlers you would seen drawn in cartoons. Every movement seemed to be impeded by their sheer mass. Even supposed “high flyers” like Snuka could be painful to watch.

“Workrate” wouldn’t a popular term amongst wrestling fans until the dawn of the internet, but even in 1985, I knew that I liked that guys who could actually wrestle. It was still almost a year before I would become a full fledged fan. When I first started watching wrestling, it was just something that was on in the background. In order to truly grab my attention, that match needed to have action that amounted to more than punches and kicks. While there were some exceptions, the WWF was not the best place to find those matches.

The biggest offender was Hulk Hogan. My decades-long hatred of him had not yet begun, but he certainly did not interest me. Fans joke about Hulking up, but even before getting there the matches did not offer much. Punches, kicks, back rakes, some homophobic and/or xenophobic humor, and that was a Hogan match. In that order. Without paying attention, a person could memorize an entire Hulk Hogan match.

(Before anyone tells me how all of Ric Flair’s matches are exactly the same, watch his Holy Trinity with Ricky Steamboat from 1989. Three different matches, same opponent, all within four months.)

Yet for whatever reason, the shows still captured my attention. It certainly was not the announcing — Vince McMahon, Bruno Sammartino, and Gorilla Buffoon were terrible. It was not the great production either. The venues were bigger, but World Class had better production and both the NWA and Mid South were less sterilized.

It may have been the promos. It was sometimes tough understand what their point was, but Hogan and Roddy Piper could get you excited for an upcoming match. For the wrestlers that could not speak, there were great mouthpieces like Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. I may not have paid attention to every match, but I listened to every word.

It may have been the characters. In Mid-South there were basically tough Americans while the NWA just had wrestlers doing their thing. In WCCW, there were Von Erichs and everybody else. The WWF had actual characters to spice things up. Randy Savage was a misogynist who was fiercely protective of his valet, for example. If that was more than you wanted from professional wrestling, you also had Hillbillies and Animals.

In the end, what it amounted to was I loved professional wrestling. Obviously, I had my favorite promotions and wrestlers, and I learned very quickly as a what style of wrestling I enjoyed. The World Wrestling Federation did not have the best wrestlers and they rarely had matches I liked, but I watched it every chance I had. It was wrestling and that was all I cared about. Plus, the entrance songs were some of the best ever.

Next week: Before the Attitude and Evolution.

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