by Raywat Deonandan
April 11, 2002
This column is a regular feature on 411wrestling.com. It is reproduced here with the author's permission.
Look at me. I’m on the same website as some of my favourite “sports entertainment” writers: Eric Szulczewski (whose age bracket and political leanings are well in line with my own), Scott Keith (a fellow Canadian), Hyatte (who invented --nay birthed!-- the current style of Internet wrestling journalism), Dog Ape & Man (who is, you know, part dog, part ape and part man) and, if you count the new TheSmarks subsite run by 411, The Scotsman (who lets dogs hump his leg). I am truly humbled, in a completely non-ironic way.
I’m Ray Deonandan and, like the rest of you, I’ve been a fan of this mutant brand of homoerotic faux sport for many years now. I remember the days of Don Muraco and Dino Bravo, of Bob Orton’s perpetually broken arm, and of when the very interesting Iron Sheik won the WWF title, only to lose it again to the balding man with blonde locks. I remember a 1970's issue of Omni magazine (or was it Penthouse?) in which was printed in a forgettable corner, “Bruno Sammartino is the coolest man in the world.”
I remember wondering why the ref never penalized the Hart Foundation for double-teaming the Rougeau boys, or why Greg “The Hammer” Valentine never used moves that had anything to do with hammers, or whether Kamala and George “The Animal” Steele showered with the other wrestlers (Ewwwww).
I remember actually being frightened of the Road Warriors, then being genuinely horrified when they once tried to sing. No, really. And, in the modern era, I remember The Big Show’s debut in the WWF, back when he was just plain old Paul Wight.... with a T-shirt that read, “No Gimmick Needed.” Quick, theatre buffs, tell me what kind of irony that is.
Some of the most memorably moments in televised wrestling history are in fact excerpted commentary, and not in-ring action. The funniest quip (and most risque for that era), courtesy of Gorilla Monsoon, was: “Before he was managing wrestlers, Slick used to manage a stable of young ladies in Detroit.” Then there was Jesse Ventura’s lauding of Hulk Hogan during Wrestlemania III, easily the first time I’d heard a heel commentator speak admiringly of a face wrestler. It sold the moment as special, and made Hogan out to be a bigger star than he already was. Fast forward to the 1998 King of the Ring, where, upon seeing The Undertaker toss Mankind from the top of the cage, Jim Ross shouted, “Oh My God, they’ve killed him”, and not “he’s” killed him. Hyatte pointed that out, and it has stuck with me since.
Like many fans, I strayed from the fold in the early 1990's. I even missed the steroid scandal and the MSG incident. Then I turned on my much-missed illegal cable descrambler one day, and accidentally caught Shawn Michaels take on WWF champion Bret Hart in something called an “iron man match”. I was perplexed --the last time I’d seen Bret Hart, he and Neidhart were still pummeling the Bulldogs! Of course, the match blew me away. I realized for the first time that professional wrestling was more than superhero and supervillain mullet-ridden characters summoning fake ‘roid rage and pretending to strike each other. At its best, as the iron man match showed, it can be superlative and gripping athletic theatre.
While we number in the millions, only a fraction of the total TV watching audience “gets” the beauty to which wrestling sometimes aspires, such as the sublime physical poetry of the iron man match. We constitute an endlessly fascinating subculture, one to which a friend once compared the collectors of Elvis memorabilia! I think Star Trek geeks are a more apt comparison, but her point is well taken: there’s an innate specialness to being “in on the joke”, especially when the jokers often take themselves too seriously. So no matter how bad the product sometimes gets, I can’t help but smile. Its idiocy can have its own kind of perverse beauty.
The realization has brought me here. According to some of my friends, by writing this column I have crossed the line from “wrestling geek” to “wrestling dork”. Mind you, if they ever noticed the replica WWF belt and luchadore mask on my bookshelf, they would understand that I probably crossed that line a long time ago. But hey, everyone needs a hobby.