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A Mark's Eye View

A Mark’s Eye View: Inside the wrestling tape trading underground (part 3)

Tape trading was one the best things about the wrestling boom.

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

Through luck and coincidence (and after many conversations with my mom) I had become a part of the wrestling tape trading underground. Finding other traders was much easier than I thought. I had received my first tape (almost four hours!) with an extra one thrown in. Now that I had found a legitimate avenue for trading bootleg tapes, what was next?

First, I had to balance things out with Steven. He sent me almost five hours of wrestling across two tapes. I mailed him one that was barely an hour and a half. I decided to send him the Best of Starrcade 1983-1987 set and told him it was my way of saying thanks. This actually started a years long friendly competition. We would send tapes back and forth with thank you notes and the occasional request.

After squaring up with Steven, I knew I had to build a bigger customer base. Since I knew where to look, this was simple. My mom would take my sister and I to the PX every once in a while. (For those who do not live near a military base, the PX, or Post Exchange, is a giant retail store. Think Walmart for the military.) I hated these trips, but the PX had a huge magazine section.

While my mom shopped, I would hang out at the magazines. Initially, it was to browse through everything. Even a crappy wrestling magazine is fun to leaf through if you’re not going to buy it. Once I learned I could find other tape traders, these bad magazines had value. I would take a notepad, look through the ads, and jot down people I wanted to contact.

In retrospect, it sounds weird. I was a child going through magazines looking for pen pals I could trade videos with. But in a pre-To Catch a Predator world, I had no problems with it. I ignored the ads about apartment wrestling. Plus, these were not the same types of strangers I was warned about. Yes, it was risky, but how else was I going to watch wrestling I otherwise had no access to?

It was a recipe for disaster. Even though I lied about my age, would type letters to first time customers, and never reached out to anyone who gave my the slightest doubt, I was asking for trouble. I knew that eventually I would get nothing in return or someone would send me something nasty that would lead to my mom stopping the whole thing. 

Surprisingly, that never happened. As I built a network of regulars though, they would refer me to others. At the same time they were letting others know about me. It was not long before I stopped looking through awful wrestling magazines. I had found a tight group of fans that I could trust and never disappointed me. Today, people argue about which community is the most toxic. Some even wear the title as a badge of honor. Wrestling tape traders can make a strong argument for best community ever.

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I had customers, I had merchandise, and I had my mom’s approval. I was like that kid in that one candy shop. There was almost too much to choose from. Non-fans will scoff, but professional wrestling is very diverse. Where would I even begin?

I decided to start with what everybody claimed was the best wrestling on the planet. All the “experts” seemed to agree: the best wrestling was in Japan. (Some things never change.) I already received a fantastic Bruiser Brody and Stan Hansen collection and and enjoyable collection of AWA World Title matches in Japan. I decided it would be best to stay in the Land of the Rising Sun.

I was amazed by the Jumbo Tsuruta matches, found out that Antonio Inoki was overrated, and Giant Baba was awful. I sought out collections of big time American stars in Japan like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Harley Race. I came to the conclusion that though it was stylistically different, Japanese wrestling was not necessarily greater than its American counterpart.

I circled back around to the States and continued building my every growing collection. I loved the stuff from Florida. I rushed to get the Kevin Sullivan devil worshiping angle, the Bonebuster saga, and the Battle of the Belts cards. I headed to the Pacific Northwest to watch their weekly television television program and its amazingly hot angles. I shot across the country to Tri State to watch D.C. Drake and Larry Winters. Windy City Wrestling and The Road to Birmingham were all in my collection. I watched the Misawa/Kawada wars because you are not a real wrestling fan until you have. I saw the birth of King’s Road and the death of World Class.

I miss those days. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be able to log onto a computer and instantly watch pretty much any wrestling match ever. Trading wrestling tapes was different though. There was an excitement to finding someone who had what you wanted. The journey was just as fun as the destination. Sure, I received tapes that were poor quality or were just awful, but even then, the fun was still there. I was a part of something cool that even the most ardent fans were not involved with. Lots of things will never come back in pro wrestling, but few things will be as deeply missed as tape trading.

Next week: A hot reunion.

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