My Very First WWF Broadcast
Travel with me, if you will, back to a period of time before the evil savior known as the Internet was available to the mainstream public. A time before the Monday Night Wars and thirty-something pay-per-views per year dominated wrestling media. The very year, in fact, the very first broadcast where a young eleven-year old Kansas City kid discovered this thing called "professional wrestling." Surely many of us remember the World Wrestling Federation in 1992, a year dominated by outstanding pay-per-views and enough colorful characters to rival even today's talented roster. Because of this experience, I have always been a lot more enthusiastic about the WWF product over WCW, though I do acknowledge and appreciate a lot of the things that the WCW product tries to do. 1992 was a time, however, in which I had no previous knowledge of professional wrestling, outside of various toy commercials and an interesting Nickelodeon biography about the childhood of Hulk Hogan.
One Sunday in early February, while perusing the thirty-something cable channels most of mainstream America received in those days, my eyes fell upon the USA Network, a channel I had associated with nostalgic reruns of "He-Man" and "Fat Albert." This morning, however, I was surprised to see a WWF ring and two of its combatants going at it in the full heat of battle. As the unseen announcers continued to argue while I dropped the remote and watched in utter fascination, I eventually learned that I was watching the Big Boss Man battling the physically impressive Warlord. Immediately, my mind rushed back to some of the toy commercials I had witnessed previously, and a rush of familiarity came to my head as I recognized the police officer on screen as one of the "Wrestling Buddies" advertised by the WWF at the time. Before, he had existed as nothing but a plush policeman who any red-blooded American child could kick the crap out of, but now, here he was, a real-life human being on my television screen battling an even larger man than he. Of course, I had to see who would win this encounter, as various questions raced through my head, like "Which one's the good guy and bad guy?" and "Why are they fighting to begin with?" The answers would soon follow, as the Boss Man took the role of good guy and they were fighting for the simple reason that they didn't like each other. For my eleven-year-old mind, that was good enough. Eventually, as the two traded power moves, I surprised to witness the heavyset Boss Man actually climb up the corner of the ring and fly off with a clothesline across Warlord's neck. That was enough for the pin and the one-two-three. Little did I know that this, my first viewing of a wrestling match, would eventually turn into literally thousands more.
As the show went to commercial, and another unseen wrestling announcer proclaimed that, next, I would bear witness to an interview with Jake "The Snake" Roberts, another Wrestling Buddies personality, I found myself eager with anticipation-this was cool, I actually knew another one of these ring warriors! When the show returned to the air, I now discovered that the name of this interesting program was called "WWF All-American Wrestling," and was shifted to a TV control room flanked by two guys in suits, apparently the hosts of the show. The shorter of the two, a bald, beady-eyed little man with a mustache and microphone, didn't interest me as much as the other, a smug-looking, blond haired fellow with the words "Mr. Perfect" glittering on the back of his sports coat like rhinestones on a disco jacket. Again, another face I recognized, this time from a friend's "WWF Superstars" Game Boy video game. But, wait a minute-isn't he supposed to be a wrestler? Why was he in this studio talking to this boring bald guy with the obnoxious voice?
While I speculated this, the Dynamic Duo cut to what can be best described as a funeral parlor, complete with a coffin, eerie music, and a rotund, pale man holding an urn and microphone. He mumbled on and on about metaphysical nonsense in one of the highest tenor voices I'd ever heard-very freaky. Eventually, as promised, Jake "The Snake" Roberts made an appearance on the funeral set and verbally abused the pale-faced wonder. Suddenly, out of nowhere, one of the upright coffins opens up and a large, even more pale-faced ring warrior clad in black emerges and pulls Roberts away from Mr. Freaky. Jake bales, and I am shocked to see him actually grab a nearby steel chair, and smash it furiously over the man in black. I remember cringing in disgust at the pain that the man in black must have been feeling. What followed next was even more incredible, as the "Undertaker," as the announcers now declared him, simply looked at Roberts with an icy stare that could stop a moving car in its tracks. Roberts would continue to slam Undertaker's fingers into one of the horizontal coffins, trapping Taker's hand inside. As Roberts made his escape, the most amazing wrestling personality I had witnessed to this point topped himself by stalking his adversary, DRAGGING the coffin with him, not stopping for anything. And with that, the show went to commercial again, as I continued to stare in silence and immense awe.
No doubt about it-I was hooked by this point, and, noting that the show started at eleven o'clock, and seeing how it was an hour long, I had about ten minutes left-ten minutes to savor what was sure to come-these kinds of shows always saved the best for last, right? Well, then bring out the man who was obviously the most famous from all of the toy commercials and vitamin ads-I wanted to see the most famous man in all of professional wrestling, the undoubtedly-awesome Hulk Hogan. But it was not to be. When the show returned, the Dynamic Duo graced my screen yet again, and continued to jabber about this-and-that about some upcoming, special event called "Wrestlemania 8." Both announcers then announced the final match-which would be for the World Wrestling Federation Championship-without mentioning either of the combatants. Of course, I figured, the Hulkster is the best wrestler ever, so he must be the champion, and he's going to kick the other guy's butt! Cut to the ring again, and, instead, standing in the corner is the apparent challenger to the title, a bullfighter called El Matador, looking extremely clean cut and receiving cheers from the fans. Now, things were not making sense...why would the great good guy Hulk Hogan fight a guy who was obviously a good guy as well...it didn't make any sense until the real champion walked down the aisle. Immediately, I was struck by his arrogant swagger, glowing white hair, and the sparkling championship belt around his waist. Most of all, I was struck by the fact that this guy was definitely NOT Hulk Hogan. As I sat in confusion, the two wrestled a very short match as the champion pinned the bullfighter with a quick pull of the tights after about three minutes. What was really confusing was that, this guy was supposed to be the best wrestler in the world, right? Then, how come I'd never heard of him in the toy commercials and video games? Why was he not a large, muscular, and extremely powerfully built human being-those wrestlers were the best, right? And, perhaps most importantly of all, how in the great name of TV did Mr. Perfect get from the control center to that arena to be by the champion's side?
The miracle of TV editing continued, as the Dynamic Duo returned in the final minute to provide hype for this large show called "Wrestlemania 8" near the beginning of April. Apparently, that was when all of the big matches were going to take place, including HULK HOGAN battling a large man I'd never heard of....Sid something or other. There were other matches the seemed to make sense based on what I had just witnessed...Jake "The Snake" Roberts would take on the Undertaker while the Big Boss Man was teaming with three other guys to take on four other people I'd never heard of, and Warlord seemed absent from the hype altogether. Finally, I caught a whiff of the mysterious champion's name, as he would be defending his title against the "Macho Man" Randy Savage, another of the few wrestlers I had actually heard of. Ric Flair. The "Nature Boy." The World Wrestling Federation Champion. And, with that, my very first WWF TV experience had ended.
As the USA Network shifted off into reruns of "MacGyver," I sat for a minute contemplating what I had just seen (in an eleven-year-old way, of course) and figured that the first two things I had seen held my attention like nothing else, while the last match had left me somewhat confused about my preconceived notions about professional wrestling. Anyway, what I remember exists in my head alone, and I did not have the mindset at the time to pop a tape into the VCR to treasure this new phenomena in my short life. After years of He-Man toys, Transformers, and Ninja Turtles, I had finally found something that, in its own special way, was absolutely REAL. When I clashed my WWF Action Figures together, that was something that emulated the feuds I saw on my TV by real-life men working their asses off.
Of course, the eventual decision after watching this broadcast was to tune in again the next week with a high level of anticipation, and of course, it was nearly every week following for another three years, until wrestling fizzled out of my mindset until the Attitude Era in mid-1997. While wrestling today is arguably more interesting than it was in 1992, I will always treasure those innocent years when my markish mind was at its happiest, and I doubt it will ever reach that level again.