A Mark’s Eye View is a weekly look at some of the things that made me a huge fan of professional wrestling.
It is really easy to spot a true wrestling fan. Anyone can stick around during the good times. You watched wrestling during the Rock ‘n Wrestling Connection? Watching during a boom period when wrestling was on NBC and cool with the in crowd doesn’t necessarily make you a fan. You watched during the Monday Night Wars? So many people were watching during this period that it was common to see Stone Cold Steve Austin and nWo shirts in the wild. The Rock turned his popularity into a film career that is still thriving today. Again, not impressed.
A real fan was watching while Hulk Hogan went away after losing his first WWF title, when ECW was considered legitimate competition to the WWF and WCW, and during all of 1988. It takes a truly dedicated fan to watch when no one else gives a crap. I wrestle with this every day. After watching wrestling for thirty years, I just stopped watching the current product. Some days I tell myself I am just not as big as a fan as I thought. Others I think I may have been chased off from watching, but I still keep up with the news. I am just older and more jaded now.
There was a time when nothing could make me stop watching, however long I could put up with Vince McMahon’s hatred of wrestling fans. I watched Arachnaman and Lazer Tron. I even followed IWCCW and Herb Abrams’s UWF. If I cannot say I am a fan now, I definitely was one for most of my life. Still, there were times I was tested. Here were the hardest moments to be a wrestling fan.
Jim Herd (WCW)
When it comes to professional wrestling and dumb decisions, most fans will look at WCW. Jim Herd’s run may be the most infamous. After years of making a strong claim to being the best wrestling promotion in the country, WCW had nothing to show for it. Sure, Ric Flair and Rick Steamboat may have had the greatest series of matches ever, but who cares if no one is watching? Thankfully, Herd came in to save the day.
It never worked when WCW (or anyone, for that matter) tried to copy the WWF. Still, Herd doubled down on his efforts by having jobbers ring bells and suggesting wrestling hunchbacks. (See, their shoulders could never touch the mat so they couldn’t be pinned! Get it?) Worst of all, Herd let Flair leave the company, leaving longtime fans with nonsense like lumberjacks with dancing bears. We want Flair, indeed.
New Generation (WWF)
Titan was having its own problems in the early 1990s. Everyone knew the Hulkamania era was not going to last forever, but no one knew it would end as suddenly or dramatically as it did. After Vince was indicted by the United States government for his connection to steroid distribution, the WWF had to make some changes. On the surface, getting rid of roided monsters like Warlord and pushing all time great workers such as Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels seemed like a good idea.
The problem was fans of the Fed had been conditioned to like big men. In Vince’s Land of the Giants, a smaller wrestler was seen as weak. Even still, with enough time, fans may have liked the new product. Patience is not something Vince is known for, however. When the New Generation failed to immediately catch on, fans were subjected to race car drivers and hockey players. Art Donovan’s call of the 1994 King of the Ring is a thing of beauty, however.
Banking on tragedy (World Class)
I grew up in Texas, so unsurprisingly the first wrestling show I ever watched was World Class Championship Wrestling. The Von Erichs were beloved across the entire state. In Texas, even non fans knew who Kerry and Kevin were. The entire state felt the tragedies that befell the family.
The closest I ever came to never watching wrestling again was because of World Class. There was too much death around the promotion. Even worse, Fritz Von Erich had no problems using the deaths of his sons (and the wrestlers that worked for him) to market his promotion. It all came to a sickening head in December 1987 when Fritz faked a heart attack. I quit watching World Class completely and only began to follow them again after Eric Embry renamed it the USWA.
Mini Movies (WCW)
You can make an entire list of the things WCW did to drive of its fanbase. (Believe it or not, Robocop was not one of them.)
Vignettes are an important part of wrestling. From the music videos of the early 1980s to the slickly produced works of WWE today, a good vignette can draw fans into a story and pique their interest in a wrestler. WCW decided to take this to the next level in the early 90s. Instead of short video packages, the wrestling people at Turner thought fifteen minute mini movies were what the fans wanted. This lead to Mick Foley being ‘Lost in Cleveland’, a journey to Vader’s ‘White Castle of Fear’, and a bunch of bungling cowboys looking for Stan Hansen. At least fans got Cheatum.
In all fairness, by the time I first saw the AWA in 1986, the promotion was on a downturn it would never recover from. It was the type of wrestling you would see on an episode of a sitcom making fun of the sport. Everyone was old, slow, and/or boring. People like the Midnight Rockers and Curt Hennig brought an unreal amount of energy and charisma to a show that wanted to focus on geeks like Greg Gagne. Stunts like the Team Challenge Series and SuperClash III screamed desperation. At the end, they were filming in front of a green screen in an empty studio. Stan Hansen’s “fat wife at home” promo was pretty awesome, though.
Next week: Hyatt & Hot Stuff International?
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