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A Mark’s Eye View: Inside the wrestling tape trading underground (part 2)

Before the internet, the only way to watch a lot of wrestling was through the shady tape trading market.

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

Even during its most popular periods, wrestling is a niche hobby. (Even though ironically, it has a low barrier of entry.) This was especially true back in the 1980s. Hot Topic was not around, Walmart was more into monster trucks, and VHS tapes were consigned to a tiny part of the sports section. Unless you wanted a WWF action figure, getting professional wrestling merchandise was very difficult. 

Last week, I wrote about how I got into tape trading. Even in this somewhat illegal and highly questionable market, it was still hard to find wrestling tapes. It was so difficult that it was months before I even saw one. I soon came to discover that trading movies was easy; wrestling tape trading was a lot more difficult.

It certainly did not start that way. The woman who had Great American Bash 1985 was so eager to get rid of it, she was willing to take Short Circuit. When I took it home, I found out why. Consisting of clips, the entire tape didn’t even last an hour. I had traded a complete unedited movie for what amounted to a best-of episode of some television show. And I loved every second of it.

Watching face Ric Flair take on evil Russian Nikita Koloff was thrilling. A tag team match that had the NWA Tag Team Champions defending against their AWA counterparts — who also put their belts up! — blew my mind. Another part of the Dusty Rhodes/Tully Blanchard feud? I was hooked. Unfortunately, I could not find other wrestling tape traders. I asked around the swap. I went to some of my normal tape trading haunts. Just as quickly as I had discovered this new avenue to satisfy my wrestling fix, it was taken from me. Thankfully, it would not be long until I lucked into the world of wrestling tape trading.

Before the internet, wrestling magazines were the best source of wrestling news. While nothing was breaking, it was a great way to learn about promotions you otherwise didn’t have access to. I learned early that the Apter mags were the best by far. They were also the hardest ones to come by. One day, my mom took my sister and I to a convenience store. While there, I went to the magazine rack. To my dismay, the only wrestling magazine was a full color one with a generic name like Wrestling Main Event. Another early lesson: color usually covered for awful writing. 

As expected, the magazine ended up being terrible. There were typos, names were spelled incorrectly, and there was information that even I knew was incorrect. But there was a cool Barry Windham photo. There was also a classified section. I had never seen anything like this in any wrestling magazine. There were no SWF designations or talk about being a lonely person needing someone to talk to. Instead, these were people who were willing to trade wrestling tapes. 

 

The conversation I had with my mom was not an easy one. First of all, I had to explain to her what I was attempting to do. Trying to get my mom to agree that it was okay for me to receive mail from strangers was one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life. She was never completely on board with it. Up until I quit trading years later, she would open each box and watch portions of the videos to make sure there was nothing fishy being sent to her only son.

My mom wasn’t the only one who was hesitant — I had no idea how any of this was going to turn out. I was going to be mailing out packages to strangers. I had no idea what they would think of the quality. There was no guarantee I would get anything in return. What would I ask for and what would I send?

I went through the ads many times. Obviously, there were WWF and NWA tapes. It didn’t really surprise me that there was stuff from Florida and Memphis. There were even tapes that were from the 1950s and 60s. I finally picked an ad that looked safe to me. It was well written and got to the point. Lots of other ads said stuff about what big WWF fans they were or how they had been watching for years. This one simply stated what they wanted and what they were offering. After lots of hand wringing and weighing the pros and cons (and more arguing with my mom), I decided to go ahead. 

It was fairly easy. “Steven”‘s ad stated he wanted any NWA tape. Since this was the first time I would be doing this, I wanted to make sure it was something impressive. I considered Bash 85, but instead decided to rent Starrcade 86 and send a quality bootleg. I sent a letter to Steven and about a week later, I received word back he was interested. He also sent me a list of tapes he wanted. He asked me to send him the same.

Just like that I seemed to have my first steady supplier. I recorded Starrcade 86, included a list of stuff I wanted to see, and had my mom mail it off for me. For weeks, I played the waiting game. I had convinced myself it really didn’t matter when it was obvious I would not be getting anything in return. I was shocked when I got home from school one day and my mom told me I had received a package. I couldn’t believe it. Steven had sent me the Best of Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody collection I had requested. He also included a bonus tape of AWA World Title Matches in Japan. I was in.

Next week: The final part of my look at wrestling tape trading

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