I loved wrestling when I was a kid. I had a subscription to WWF Magazine (before they were forced to trade in the F and become WWE). I took out all the posters and wallpapered my room with them. I had shirts. I had Wrestling Buddies. I had Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart replica sunglasses. I had all the action figures and the ring. I checked out all the old Wrestlemania VHS tapes from Video Express and watched them over and over. I tuned in to TBS at 8:05 or 7:35 or whatever weird time they wanted to put on NWA/WCW.
Below are my top 10 favorite wrestlers as kid. For you wrestling purists out there, keep in mind, this is not a ‘best-of-all-time’ list or a ‘best-technical-wrestler’ list. This is just the guys that I loved the most. When you’re a kid, you gravitate toward the heroes (or ‘faces’ in wrestling-speak) or the guys that were really unique.
First, a few guys that were honorable mentions: Bam Bam Bigelow, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, “Flyin” Brian Pillman, “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka.
Here’s the list.
10. “The Red Rooster” Terry Taylor. OK, OK. This one is really a stretch. I didn’t actually love watching this guy (but, wrestling fans know how good Taylor truly was). He wasn’t exciting and his gimmick was a complete joke. There was nothing threatening or heroic about The Red Rooster. But, he was from my hometown of Vero Beach, Florida. I loved hearing the announcers say our city name.
9. The Rockers. Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty were high flyers and had a ton of synchronized moves. They were very fun to watch.
8. Arn Anderson. He might be the least glamorous person on this list, but I loved “The Enforcer.” Even as a kid, I could see how good he really was.
7. “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Look, if you pretended you were a wrestler, the elbow drop was definitely in your pretend repertoire.
6. Jake “The Snake” Roberts. I actually hate snakes, but I did love his DDT.
5. Ric Flair. The second Four Horseman on my list. “The Nature Boy” could talk the talk and walk the walk. I think I mainly just loved how he would flip completely over the turnbuckles and then fall flat on his face. Side note. I met Flair a couple years ago at a Charlotte Bobcats game. Wooooooo!
4. Hulk Hogan. It was impossible to be a kid and NOT love the Hulkster. I used to take the dry cleaning bags my mom would bring home and pretend to rip them off like Hulk ripped off his shirt.
3. The Road Warriors. OOOOOOOOhhhhh whaaaaat aaaaaa ruuuuuusssssshhhhh! They were big, they were bad, they were the best tag team around.
2. Sting. He was the epitome of a hero. He was colorful, he yelled a lot. Sting always played the underdog when he was fighting Ric Flair, Vader and others.
1. The Ultimate Warrior. This guy was awesome. Especially when you’re 10-years-old. His entrance music was exciting. The Warrior sprinted to the ring and his arm tassels flew along behind him. He wore face paint and he was completely ripped. I loved the Ultimate Warrior so much that my parents named our Boston Whaler after him for me. Looking back today, I can see that The Warrior was not a very good wrestler and he was completely bat-crap crazy. Want proof? Here you go.
I still like wrestling. I record Monday Night Raw each week. I read wrestler biographies. I read the dirt sheets (websites & blogs that talk about industry info, behind the scenes gossip and speculation). I’m a geek.
The difference between now and then is perspective.
I had a childhood friend who was trying to tell me that wrestling was fake. I couldn’t (wouldn’t?) accept this reality. I also didn’t understand how it was fake. To me, fake meant that it wasn’t happening. I knew that Santa Claus was fake. But, I didn’t realize that by fake my friend was telling me that it was scripted or pre-determined. I thought because they were actually throwing each other around, it mean that wrestling was real. I had no idea that these guys were pulling punches and helping each other land correctly as they suplexed the other guy into next week.
Here are a few other differences from then and now.
Then: It was real. Don’t tell me it’s fake, you’re wrong.
Now: Yes, I know it’s fake, just let me watch it in peace. It’s just as scripted as “reality” shows.
Then: Ripped dudes were battling other gladiators for glory and a gold belt.
Now: Yes, I realize that it’s a little weird that these shiny, hairless guys in their skivvies are aggressively holding each other.
Then: It is socially acceptable to wear face paint, stuff $100 bills in an unconscious person’s mouth, settle disputes in a cage or talk your parents into paying $50 for you to watch a pay-per-view.
Now: It is socially acceptable to privately look at wrestling websites, have in-depth conversations with your three other friends that still “believe” and talk your spouse into letting you pay $50 for a pay-per-view.
Then: The heroes were the guys that everyone cheered for.
Now: My modern-day heroes are becoming as taboo to talk about as a grown man watching wrestling.
Walk up to a stranger in the park and ask them who their favorite Royal Rumble winner of all-time was and see what their reaction is. Now, walk up to a different stranger and ask them who their favorite Biblical character is. The reaction is quite possibly the same.
My heroes are the people who obey God. They are the missionaries that serve in hostile countries. They are those Christ chose to follow him all the way to the cross. In fact, it’s Christ himself.
I would spend hours with my friends trying to emulate our favorite wrestlers. With enough practice, I could get the moves down. I could recite the catch phrases and replicate the mannerisms. Now, I strive to model my life after Christ.
I want my son to have authentic heroes. I want him to understand that the wrestler he might root for are simply characters. They are personalities that were meticulously vetted and practiced in order to elicit the biggest response from the crowd. I want my son to feel comfortable with his own personality and that he doesn’t have to appeal to the masses.
In order for him to understand this, I have to be the best dad I can be. I need to be a real person, free of face paint, costumes and facades that I might feel pressured to hide behind. I need to be the same Christian in public as I am at church or at the dinner table. I need to be the same disciple using the same language praying before bed as I would cheering at a Dolphins game.
One of the bad guys (‘heels’ in wrestling-speak) I despised the most was “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. The Million Dollar Man’s gimmick is that he was above everyone else because he had all the money. At one point in his career, DiBiase was so frustrated that he couldn’t win the championship, that he just had one made…out of diamonds. The Million Dollar Man’s most famous catch phrase was “everybody’s got a price.”
Indeed, I had a price. I had a price for my sins and luckily for me, that price has already been paid. Christ died on the cross so I can be forgiven. He took the pain. He felt the wrath that I deserved.
My kids (heck, my friends, my family, my coworkers, everyone) need to understand that our hero should be someone far greater than we are. Our hero should be someone that we are comfortable not truly comprehending. Our hero should be someone we’re willing to root for even though it might not be popular to do so. Our hero should be Christ (plus, he’s pretty ripped in most images and could probably force Satan to submit with a mean figure-four leglock).
Who were the wrestlers you loved the most as a kid? Who are your heroes now?