Back When Pro Wrestling Was Fun To Watch
I am taking a deep breath today. No Covid19 talk. No protesting. No cancer. Nothing serious today. Instead, I want to share some memories from a simpler time. It was a simpler time, as I often remind my daughters, “stay a kid for as long as you can.” It was a time period in my mid-teens. I had just switched schools. I made several friends right off the bat.
One of those friends invited me to come along to his bowling league. I had prior experience where I had moved from. I enjoyed it. But had no opportunity in my new location.
My friend had told me that he was going to be a “coach” also for the younger bowlers, the real little squirts, back before there were bumpers in the alleys. The plan would be to bowl the first shift, early in the morning. Then we would walk a few blocks away to his grandparent’s house, have some lunch (a hoagie from the local grocery store), watch this thing called “pro wrestling” for a little bit, and then walk back to the alley to coach the little kids.
We did this for a few years. It was the same routine. And while my bowling skills improved over time, it was the time in between the bowling shifts that I remember most.
I enjoyed my friend’s grandparents. They were very sweet. During our lunch break, my friend’s grandfather would always tell us of his experiences in the military during the war. This was not entertainment I want to emphasize. I was learning. I was drawn to his details and that is where I first learned to always say thank you to those who have served and sacrificed. This “friendship” would carry on into adulthood, and we would all bowl together as adults in league play, even winning a championship. I often felt of him as a grandfather, because that is how kind he was.
So anyway, after we were done eating and talking, we would go into their living room and turn on the television to channel 9, a New York based channel, for Saturday pro wrestling from what was filmed by Vince MacMahon, the son of the prior owner, of the original World Wrestling Federation.
The first thing I had to learn, was that pro wrestling was fake. The second thing I had to learn was not to say that pro wrestling was fake. Pro wrestling is definitely not fake, though it is performed. But you really have to be in awe of some of the physical conditioning of some of the athletes and superstars, as well as the physical stunts they perform, 99% of which I would never survive (I am fairly confident I can bounce off of the ring ropes).
Unlike today’s WWE, that records their shows in major venues like stadiums and arenas, back in the day, pro wrestling used to be filmed in a “farmer’s market” section of the Allentown Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania, called Agricultural Hall. Once or twice a month, the WWF would roll into town, and record three episodes worth of matches to be televised on Saturday mornings on syndicated cable television. Attendance was probably the size of a basketball court, not the arena, smaller than the size of an elementary school gymnasium.
Another cool fact, the ring announce, was an elderly man by the name of Joe McHugh. A scrawny cigar smoking man, holding the mic lowered from the rafters, wearing Mr. Magoo glasses. He was THE announcer before Michael Buffer was ever born. Turns out, his brother was the principal of my high school, located just blocks away from Agricultural Hall. My connection to watching the WWF was firm.
My stepfather, did accounting work on the side for local hotels. It just happened that some of the hotels were where many of the pro wrestlers would stay while in town. This would lead to one of the few subjects that I could talk about with my stepfather. I needed to know who was in town as if it would give me a clue as to potential changes of championships and such.
My interest would take a strange twist. One night, while visiting my grandmother, I asked to watch pro wrestling on her television. And that is the first time I learned that my grandmother was a fan. I lived with her for nearly fifteen years, and never knew it. She enjoyed the women wrestling and the “midget” (yes, I know not a nice term, but that was how they were referred to before we all got woke) wrestlers. What she enjoyed was those wrestlers getting involved with the referees of the match. Really it was quite silly to watch.
But those Saturday mornings, they were special, fun, a lot of memories. I honestly do not recognize the majority of pro wrestlers today. As we deal with the restrictions of Covid19 (yes I know I was not going to say that word), the WWE, which films here in Florida, films in front of an empty audience. And it is just weird, almost as sad as watching a soap opera. But either McMahon or the network got smart and made the decision to show older matches, and not just from 2018, but completely retro, back to when I used to watch.
Recognize this guy? That’s right, it is The Rock, Duane Johnson, also known as Rocky Maivia. His father was also a great pro wrestler, named Rocky Johnson. All of a sudden I was seeing all kinds of matches back from when I thought the WWF was enjoyable, involving Shaun Michaels, The Undertaker, Brett Hart, even Hulk Hogan.
But the truth is, I go back way further than that. After watching a documentary the other night of a career autobiography of a journalist, part of his life was focused on his personal interactions with the WWF. And then my mind really went off the deep end in memories. Reflecting back to those Saturday morning with my friend and his grandparents.
Yeah, this is when I thought pro wresting was good. Don’t get me wrong, I loved watching the Undertaker and Brett Hart and all of that next generation. But once the story lines began to involve McMahon and the owners, and making it more nepatunistic, I began to lose interest. Today, I find it difficult to watch at all.
But for today, I am remembering those fun and simple times. Good memories for me. A time that I clearly took for granted and would give anything to have back.