I’m likely to get my dates wrong and events mixed up in a massive orgy of nostalgia, but I can still remember the day that we got Sky TV installed. One of the first people on our street. Satellite television is significantly more popular in Europe, compared to North America where cable television rules. These days, satellite dishes dot the sides of houses in England like 21st Century church steeples. Sky TV salesmen beat their heads against brick walls in shopping centres, trying to sell a subscription to anyone who doesn’t already have one.
I was terrified that we wouldn’t be able to get Sky TV. The engineer was perched a-top a ladder fiddling with the dish while I had to yell instructions like “Yes! That’s a good picture! No! It’s gone again!”. I was probably about 12 years old, but technically minded enough to have been given this supervisory role by my parents. The picture would flicker as the engineer jiggled his sextant to align the dish with the Astra satellites gently thrusting around Earth in a geo-stationary orbit at 19.2°E, using science. Christ, all this stress just to be able to watch constant looping of some occasionally heard of American cartoon known as The Simpsons and the inaugural season of The Premier League?
At some point, my younger brother and I must have stumbled across this WWF thing. It was completely foreign to us. It literally was. This is back in the early 1990’s. The internet was in its absolute infancy. Anyone MENTAL enough to have a modem would most likely just be using it to access text-based “bulletin boards”. To communicate with America, you had to send a letter. It would get there in a week, probably, and only if the nice man at the post office would give you one of those blue Airmail stickers. You know, The Post Office? Remember them?
We were hooked on The WWF. It was completely ridiculous pantomime spoken in American accents, so you knew they bloody well meant what they were saying. Allow me to add some more context through the medium of yet more nostalgia. This was at a time where television continuity announcers spoke with received pronunciation (“Queen’s English”) pretty much excluding anyone not middle-class. It was a time where television stopped broadcasting during the night, closing down to the national anthem. But not anymore, apparently. Those American people were doing suplexes, DDTs and they were gouging each others’ eyes. And the commentators were screaming. Really, really screaming. It just wasn’t cricket.
My favourite wrestler was The Ultimate Warrior. I forget which wrestler was my brother’s favourite, but at different times he seemed to like Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker and The Legion of Doom tag-team. The Ultimate Warrior was (and still is, if you manage to be able to read any of the impenetrable bullshit on his website) a complete nutcase. The Undertaker was terrifying with his world ending choke slam and his bizarre manager with his puntastic name, Paul Bearer. The Legion of Doom wore armoured chest plates with black spikes protruding outwards. It was the most stupid thing ever, but it KNEW that it was stupid.
I grew up in a town called Kidderminster in England. Snugged away just outside of town near Station Hill was a video rental shop called The Video Nest. Since closed down, it was a converted downstairs room of someone’s house. They had VHS and Betamax. It was basically a disordered mess reminiscent of the video store from Be Kind Rewind, but smaller and more cluttered. That was the charm of the place. Your selection was determined by how you stumbled and fell past shelves until being hit in the face with the cassette tape you ultimately took home with you. I couldn’t tell you how many times I ended up renting a Betamax version of an obscenely patriotic feature length animated film called The American Rabbit in a decade where people actually admired America. Imagine that! Behind the sales desk, there was a selection of pornography. Categorised beside it, there were WWF videos. Suddenly, the research could begin. We rented them in no particular order and. through these video cassettes, we began to learn the history of The WWF.
Wrestlemania VI was my favourite because The Ultimate Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan in a gruelling match lasting over 20 minutes. Coincidentally, it was also the first pay-per-view WWF event to take place outside America, occuring in Toronto – where I now find myself. I’m sure I didn’t realise at the time and probably just found the singing of “O Canada” puzzling at best. The videos allowed us to learn the characters better than the one or two shows per week could. Especially those that had since left, like Andre The Giant. And of course, there were the Royal Rumble events. These were the one we anticipated most of all. 30 wrestlers secretly draw numbers. The first two come to the ring and fight it out, and the next entrants are counted into the ring every couple of minutes. It doesn’t take long to become a ludicrous mêlée.
You knew WWF was getting popular in The UK when kids at school started staging wrestling matches at school (I gave a friend concussion from a DDT) and swapping baseball style cards with pictures and statistics of wrestlers. The cards told you where the wrestler came from and it was surprising how many came from “parts unknown”.
But then it started to degrade. At the time, I just got bored with it. I still can’t really put my finger on exactly why I lost interest. I seem to recall some nonsense with Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake throwing his tag team partner through the window of his barbershop in a scene that was only slightly less believable than something from The Days of Our Lives. I think WWF started to take itself too seriously. I felt as though it used to be knowingly stupid and that was fine. The Ultimate Warrior, from “part unknown”. Nobody can possibly take that seriously or question the realism. It doesn’t really require a concious suspension of disbelief. But now there was a stupid wrestler carrying shears around his shoddy barbershop set that looks like it wouldn’t even need a huff, let alone a puff, to blow it down. It became a concerted effort to suspend disbelief.
I tuned in a few years later. My brother still kind of liked it. He convinced me to watch it. It was the era of The Rock and Triple H and female wrestlers had emerged. I’m not against female wrestlers. I’m against bad wrestlers. Let’s just say I wasn’t surprised when the fights descended into cat fights where breasts were occasionally exposed. I’m not against breasts, either, but I’m good with looking at breasts in the context of looking at breasts and not necessarily when looking at wrestling.
Essentially, I think it was Vince McMahon who ruined wrestling. For me, anyway. It seems that one day a decision was made that people like the ‘bad guy’ wrestlers. Various injustices occurred and, in character, Vince McMahon was often shown to be the evil leader of The WWF. This did nothing for me except cause disappointment. The Montreal Screwjob was when Bret Hart was screwed out of his championship (allegedly) without knowing he would be. The fighting became inconsistent. The Ultimate Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan, one of the greatest WWF wrestlers. A year later he couldn’t beat Sgt. Slaughter, for goodness’ sake. And then the ludicrous trials after he lost to The Undertaker and the ultimate firing of The Ultimate Warrior.
I didn’t realise, until quite recently, how poorly The WWF was doing financially at this time. It also struggled against competition from WCW. Again, I didn’t know this at the time. I always thought the WCW was gash, awful and boring. Living in England, I always figured that the only reason it was popular was because it was on free-to-air television and was watched by poor people with tiny brains. I was very attached to WWF as a brand and by the time the name changed to WWE, I’d had enough anyway. WWE sounds stupid. I understand there was no choice but to change the name due to a dispute with The World Wide Fund – instigated by the charity. Also a stupid decision. I can tell the difference between men in leotards and facepaint who are wrestling and a couple of pandas who are resolutely not having sex. Although, by this stage, both had become as stagnant.