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A Mark’s Eye View: Inside the wrestling tape trading underground

How I got into wrestling tape trading.

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

Wrestling fans have it so easy nowadays. (I can’t believe I’m old enough to unironically say that.) With technology shrinking our world, wrestling footage from different eras and parts of the world are literally at our fingertips. Want to see Misawa vs Kobiashi from June 1994 or the Ric Flair/Barry Windham one hour draw from 1987? No problem. Find a computer and you are set.

When I was a child, it was so much more difficult. If you didn’t see the event live, you had to hope they showed it on television (they rarely did), read about it in the Apter mags, or have a friend who could give you a detailed account. It was pretty much impossible to get breaking news. Of course, wrestling fans are a resourceful bunch. Getting the latest results may have been difficult, but there was still a way to see wrestling you otherwise would not have access to.

One of the reasons for the wrestling boom of the 1980s was the popularity of VCRs. Major wrestling events could be recorded and sold on videotapes to those who had not seen the event live. Even better, it was a way for wrestling fans to watch their favorite wrestling matches over and over again. The natural evolution was for fans to trade these tapes amongst each other to learn as much about their favorite sport as possible.

So how does a nine year old child get involved in the world of tape trading? Through lots of luck, a willingness to bend the law just a little, and an unquenchable thirst for any wrestling I had not seen. In retrospect, it was pretty risky to send mail to complete strangers in other states. But as has been proven in many wrestling matches, no risk, no reward.

My first foray into tape trading actually had nothing to do with wrestling. My mom would take my sister and I to the swap market once a month. When you are a kid, the swap is a pretty cool place to hang out. There are all kinds of booths to check out and everything is really cheap. I would spend a lot of time exploring, but there were three booths I would spend the most time at. I could supplement my Choose Your Own Adventure collection where ever books were sold, I would buy mislabeled cassettes to fill my music fix and my day would end with the vendors that sold movies.

I never thought to look for wrestling tapes when I would look at the movies. I would just read the VHS covers. Eventually, I became interested in the Video Nasties that had been banned in the United Kingdom. These were the types of movies kids would whisper about on playgrounds. “Have you seen Faces of Death? My brother has a friend who has Evil Dead.” The swap market was the place where I could find these movies.

These tapes usually were not out in the open for everyone to see. They were usually in a box under a table or in the trunk of a car. They often were not the original tapes. (What I started calling copies, others called bootlegs.) I was lucky. I stumbled across someone who told me I would not have to pay for these illicit movies. He was willing to accept trades. He told me a list of movies he was interested in adding to his collection and just like that I had became a member of the tape trading community. All this double dealing was exciting for a child.

Things started easy enough. On the rare occasions we had cable, I would record as many movies as I could. This way I would be able to watch my favorite movies even whenever I wanted. I began trading these movies. Bachelor Party turned into Cannibal Holocaust, The Breakfast Club became Dawn of the Dead, and I just like that I was the kid at school with the cool movies.

There was a lot of trial and error. I learned quickly that in order to keep trading I needed a collection. Unfortunately, my stock was depleting quickly. I solved that problem after my mom won a VCR in a raffle. Now that we had two, I could hook the two up (not an easy feat with the all the cables, inputs, and outputs that came with VCRs) and record from one tape to another. I had already learned that quality was not important and knew even a third or fourth generation copy was acceptable. Last Tango in Paris taught me that just because a movie had the mythical X rating, it did not mean it was sexy  (or even good). I came across a porno and would charge the other kids to come to my house and watch it. This lasted all of two showings before someone told their mom who told my mom who brought the whole operation to a halt. It also almost ended my tape trading days.

This continued for a few months. I would record and rerecord, then trade for movies and record those to trade again. I would go to the swap market as often as I could, trade tapes with people at school (the suckers would be willing to give up actual retail editions for my copies; this was also a lesson learned as their parents would usually get mad. I solved this by asking to borrow their copy so I could record it), and would even find fellow traders in magazines like Fangoria and through comic book shops.

Things changed suddenly one day. Vendors were always coming and going at the swap. It was not unusual to see someone there for one week only. There was usually more than one table devoted to movies. Even the ones who were sold other things had a movie or two. During one of my trips to the swap I visited a new vendor. I sped through the normal stuff and was just about to ask if they had any other movies before a tape caught my eye. In between Revenge of the Nerds and Flashdance was a VHS with a label that simply read, “Great American Bash 1985.”

Next Week: The second part of my look at wrestling tape trading.

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