It was November 23rd, 1991. And the “Macho Man” Randy Savage was in trouble. He had gotten onto Jake “The Snake” Roberts bad side, and how found himself tied up in the ropes, unable to defend himself. And Jake had some evil intentions that day. His pet cobra, Lucifer, was digging his fangs into the Macho Mans arms. Vince McMahon was screaming “I don’t think that snake has been devenomized!” http://youtu.be/yC58TAVprS4
And I was sitting on my couch watching it all. This was my earliest pro wrestling memory. I’m sure I had watched bits and pieces of it before, but this was the first time I was hooked. The bite itself had happened weeks earlier, and was just being aired that day, and the snake had been devenomized of course, and in fact, it was the snake who perished shortly after the bite.
I was 12 years old at the time, and the World Wrestling Federations Federation era was in full swing. From that morning “Wrestling Superstars” was part of my regular Saturday morning routine. I think I grew up at the perfect time to be a wrestling fan. When I was a kid, it was the Federation era, colorful characters, Saturday morning tv, and family friendly enough that I was able to watch, snake bites aside. As I became a rowdy teenager, the attitude era was kicking in. “The Rock” was telling you to shut your mouth and know your role. And Stone Cold Steve Austin wasn’t afraid to open up a can of whoopass on anyone who stood in his way. The Monday night wars promised can’t miss TV.
Back to the early 90’s. Wrestling on the national stage was still somewhat new. The Saturday morning show would feature two or three matches where an established wrestler would face a jobber, someone who would never win their matches. There might be an interview segment, usually hosted by a wrestle, such as the Barber Shop, or the Funeral Parlor. The main event would feature two non jobbers, in a match where you didn’t know who was going to win. Important matches were rare. Pay Per Views didn’t happen every month. You had the occasional “Saturday Nights Main Event” on NBC, and you had “Prime Time Wrestling” on cable, which we didn’t get. At least not until the final few episodes of that show, when Monday Night RAW was just about to go on the air. RAW was a different experience for me, everything happened just a bit faster, the matches were more meaningful. And PPV’s were happening more often. For me, the moment that really sold me on this new show was May 17th, 1993. Razor Ramon was taking on a young jobber simply named “The Kid” that night. Everything I had experienced up until that point told me that Razor would win the match easily. But that’s not what happened. http://youtu.be/ghoAFLkFqPo After taking 3 minutes of abuse, the Kid climbed to the top turnbuckle, and unleashed the moonsault heard round the world, picking up the win. Clearly there were some new rules. Anything could happen.
I went to a few shows during this time. “Captain” Lou Albano lived a few streets away, and occasionally brought in the WWWF to do shows locally. But the show I remember first was my first time going to the Westchester County Center in White Planes, to see a house show ( A show that’s not televised) I was hooked by the theatrics. There was the national anthem, then the bell would ring, and the first entrance music would hit. The match would never start right away, there was some posturing, a move or two. Then they would separate, and do it all again. It actually reminded me a lot of a recent match I saw between Bobby Fish and JP Black. Classic stuff. Then you’d have some running of the ropes, and few moves from that setup. Some chain wrestling, and then they were off.
Pro wrestling really shaped the way I saw the world. Wrestlers theme songs would be in my head almost all the time. When I spoke, I often imagined myself cutting a promo. My friends and I would test submission moves on each other. And I often found myself thinking in wrestling terms. Often picturing myself as a heel (bad guy) or face (good guy) When I had a problem I was dealing with, I’d often picture myself superkicking it away. Sometimes it was a Stone Cold Stunner. To this day, I imagine how every TV show or movie would be better if Stone Cold Steve Austin would just show up, stun everyone, drink some Steveweisers, and leave.
I had watched some of WCW’s Saturday Night show, but wasn’t really into them until they launched their own Monday night show. This upped the anti. With the two shows competing head to head, you couldn’t have a dull moment on your show, or everyone would flip over to the other show. More important events were occurring on free TV, and the WWF was switching over to the Attitude Era, where the envelope was getting pushed every night. WCW countered with the unthinkable, turning Hulk Hogan heel. The NWO era would catapult WCW to the top, and nearly ran the WWF out of business. However, they didn’t have a great exit strategy to the angle, and things eventually got stale.
PPV’s had become a monthly occurrence. I rarely watched them, but in those early days of cable, if you tuned to the channel, you could hear everything. This is what I did. We did occasionally get some people together to watch PPV’s. I still remember the Wrestlemania X party we had at Justins house, and watching the Royal Rumble at Adams. A year later, Wrestlemaina XI was in Hartford, and we were in attendance. I went to a house show in Madison square garden a few times. I was convinced we were going to see a title change hands when Golddust and Savio Vega had the crowd whipped up to near riot levels. Recently I went to a WWE house show in Glens Falls. I hadn’t watched WWE in a few years, and didn’t know most of the wrestlers. But I was able to predict the winner of every single match before the bell rang. The lack of surprises hurt the show in my opinion, but I still had fun.
Also in the late 90’s you had ECW. These guys also kept things fresh by breaking all sorts of established rules. The matches were violent, but you also had characters. You never knew what was going to happen, but you were often impressed. I used to love staying up till one in the morning to watch the shows on MSG, and we actually got to a few of them. Took my girlfriend at the time to a show in Poughkeepsie, the Sandman stood next to us and split beer on her. How’s that for a date? Then there was the show we got front row seats for, and my friend got kicked in the head by RVD, and Tommy Dreamer used my chair. I actually heard Tommy Dreamer was running his own show at the Mid Hudson Civic Center. Too bad he scheduled it for the same day as my 5 year anniversary. Should I just tell her to get in the car and tell her I have a surprise for her?
After college I still watched Monday Night RAW a bit, but to me it was getting stale again. And there’s only so many times you can promise the most anticipated match of your lifetime! It was on late, I wanted to get rid of cable… Smackdown had moved from Thursday to Friday, and I went from never missing an episode, to not watching it once. So, I was done with WWE. Though I did start watching once they came back to Glens Falls this year. It was weird after all these years, bad guys were now good, good guys were now bad, and I didn’t know who 90% of them were. But like I said, I was able to call all of the matches. So maybe things have gone back to like when I started watching. There’s no more monday night war, you can slow things down a bit, build up angles and characters a bit slower.
Upon moving to Queensbury ten years ago, I found a new outlet for my fandom. I was new to the area, didn’t know anybody, and I had just found a flyer for an indy show coming to Hudson Falls. I went, disposable point and click camera in hand. Little did I know the effect this would have on the rest of my life. I had a great time at the show, the wrestlers really worked the crowd and interacted with the fans in a way you don’t get at the big time shows. By the next show I had a FujiFinePix 2800, and even though the pictures probably sucked, I showed them to some of the wrestlers, who were happy to have the attention, and encouraged me to take more. It was Shane Alden who suggested I walk right up to the ring. From that point on, I did not have to pay for a ticket, I was working for the company. Over the years of the companies run in Hudson Falls, I only missed one show, so I think I was there more than pretty much everyone on the roster. Because of the encouragement I was receiving, I purchased better equipment, and started to learn how to use it. I was starting to do promo pictures with the wrestlers and some of their friends. This eventually led me to working weddings, and other sporting events. And I owe it all to wrestling.
World of Hurt was a great fed to work for. The fans were passionate and intense, you never knew what they were going to do. Someone actually wrote a letter to the editor of the Post Star complaining that Triple H was a poor champion, because he used a sledge-hammer to hit people. They ran two shows a month from Hudson Falls, with a second show running in Schenectady. I was now taking professional quality pictures, and even though every attempt to sell them at shows led to a modest profit at best, I was still having a blast working at ringside, and being a part of the company. As a teacher, sometimes I walk into a room, and the students wonder why I couldn’t just get some horrible disease and have to call in a sub. In wrestling, when I show up, people are genuinely happy to see me there. These two jobs collided on October night in 2004. It was our schools spirit day, and rather than having a dance as a fundraiser, I convinced them to bring in the World of Hurt Wrestling to put on a show.
During the schools pep rally during the day, I introduced a guest, who had travelled a great distance to be at the show that night, and he wanted to meet them to say hello. It was the “Good Lord Willing” and he wanted my students to “Shut your mouth” and listen to him confuse our school with our arch rivals down the road. hilarious stuff, and the kids were booing as appropriate. This brought out Shane Alden, who promised a great show that night. A few hours later, we were all sitting at a local pizza shop, talking about the show, Good Lord Willing ordered a tea and crumpets, then stating he was in character. A few hours later, he would not be as friendly to me. I had gotten into the ring to thank people for attending, when Willing came out. He wasn’t happy with the way he was treated earlier, and he was going to take it out on me. This meant Damage Inc, and that meant I was in trouble.
Fortuntaly the WOHW champion, the Texas Outlaw, was there to help me. Unfortunatly, he suggested a tag team match for the main event of the evening. This meant I would have to get into the ring again, and fight off the man known as Danger and “Mr. Spotlight” Jeff Starr. Big dudes, and had a reputation for brutality inside the ring. So I bravely let Mr. Outlaw handle most (all) of the wrestling. Even standing next to the ring wasn’t the safest thing to do, I got slapped a few times by Danger. Then things got even worse. The Texas Outlaw had started the match strong, but taking on two people was starting to take its toll on him. He needed a tag, and I took in a big gulp, and started to call for it. At this point the crowd was in a frenzy, the tag was made, and I found myself charging across the ring at my much larger opponents. So I went to the only move I knew, and clotheslined both of them to the mat, twice.
Then things went wrong again as me and my partner tried to throw our opponents at each other. They missed, and Danger crushed me into the corner, knocking me senseless. Jeff Starr tried to capitalize by superkicking my partner, who ducked, causing the kick to knock out Danger instead. The Outlaw hit a big spine buster, but I had finally succumbed to the splash in the corner, and collapsed onto the mat. And I fell right on top of Danger. 1..2..3 the good guys win.
So, thats the story of how I am undefeated as a pro wrestler. It was a moment I will never forget, and that I will always be grateful to the people who helped make it happen.
My career as a photographer was also picking up, I was getting offers to travel around the state, as well as into Vermont. And I was getting more and more non wrestling assignments as well. I was now a semi professional photographer.
All good things must come to an end, and WOHW was forced to close it’s doors. Wrestling falls under the jurisdiction of the NYS Athletic Commission, and it was becoming harder to run a show in NY. Wrestling was still considered a sport, and was treated the same way boxing was. The commission also assumed that all wrestling was like the WWE, where they could pay a lot of money, and do a lot of paperwork, and still make a profit. I love it when people come up to me and tell me “You know, wrestling is fake” As if this is going to shock me. I’m not sure what to say to them, “So is 90% of what you see in movies and on TV”? The news that the matches are rigged isn’t news anymore. And I personally don’t see any difference between wrestling, and watching the latest hollywood blockbuster. That’s not to say that the contests aren’t physically demanding. And I have a lot of respect for those who put their bodies on the line to put on a show for the fans. Most nights at the shows I go to, you’re looking at 100-200 fans, sometimes less. No matter the crowd size, they always work hard to make sure they go happy, and bring their friends next time.
For several years, there wasn’t too much wrestling for me. TNA did a show at the Civic Center, and I got to work ringside for that. Which was awesome. In late 2007, In Your Face Wrestling began in Rutland Vermont, and this became my new “Home” fed. There’s a lot of people from my early days in World of Hurt still around, and its good to see them when I get a chance. IYFW opened their own training school in Cohoes, training the next generation of wrestlers to learn the business and craft of wrestling. Shows eventually moved back to NY, mostly in Ballston Spa, but over this summer, Whitehall. In fact, the next show is this Saturday. So, you know where you can find me.