RELIVING OLD WONDERS
I recently watched WrestleMania VI to see if it was as much fun as I remembered. It was. To set the stage, it was 1990, and a great time to be a fan. I was in my early teens, and I had never loved wrestling more.
Everything was magical then. The two biggest guys in the business, Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior, were scheduled to go head-to-head. My friends and I had endless debates about the matchup. The buildup lasted for months - with nonsensical promos about the dark side and cosmic balances and Hulkamaniacs versus Warriors (the silliness of which even we were old enough to detect). But we were pumped to see who would come out on top. Hogan was the icon, the hugely popular champion, but for us, the Warrior was the new breed. He was the alternative, the rock star, someone fresh off the pages of a comic book. When the Warrior hit the ring, he snarled and shook the ropes and we went nuts.
And there were so many others on the card - Shawn Michaels (still with the Rockers), Bret Hart, Jake Roberts, Rick Rude, Jimmy Snuka, Honky Tonk Man, Ted Dibiase - all of the characters that made watching wrestling so entertaining. Watching them years later, I tried to remember how much I hated them. Or was in awe of them.
It was such a big deal, to see the top guys in a match with each other. Things had such a greater importance back then. Feuds lasted several months. Wrestlers cut so many promos and teased so many confrontations that fans were chomping at the bit to see them lock up with each other.
There were still some things that looked bad - Andre's slap of Bobby Heenan that missed by several inches. Mr. Perfect getting "knocked out" after a slingshot by Brutus Beefcake. Countout finishes.
When it finally came time for the Hogan/Warrior match, the Skydome went nuts. I saw signs in the crowd, back before they were a mainstay. Warrior hit the ring at a sprint. He raised his hands skyward and pumped them like pistons, as if he could grab the cheers and pull them inside. Then the ever confident Hogan strolled to ring. He always seemed at his best in those minutes before a match. Watching those two, I wondered how anyone could return to their normal life after basking in all that glory.
The match was nothing special. Bear hugs, tests of strength, typical stuff for the time. But when it was over, the Warrior's hand was raised. It seemed like a new day had dawned. Hogan brought him the belts and the two embraced. I swear the Warrior was crying. Then Hogan made the loser's walk while the Warrior celebrated. The facepaint was all gone, just the victor and it spoils.
Watching it all again, I found that I couldn't revisit my past, even though I wanted to. That feeling of being 13 years old and watching my idols on stage. But I could sense those old emotions a little bit, tugging on the inside.
It's that special place that's reserved for comic book characters, Hulkamania and the dreams of a boy.