Pro Wrestling: As Real As It Gets!
by John Andreula
Most people talk about professional wrestling and say That’s so fake!
I know differently however. Pro wrestling is as real as it gets. It my be a controversial viewpoint to take, but like flat-Earthers and creationists, I’m a true believer.
As a young boy I used to watch the World Wrestling Federation. The WWF’s unique characters and flamboyant costumes captivated me. The outrageous scripted story-lines had me on the edge of my seat.
Each telecast inevitably ended in an elaborate cliff-hanger. I couldn’t be stop thinking about the show until the next episode picked up where they had left off the following week.
My brother watched each episode along at my side. We’d wrestle during commercial breaks and try out the moves we’d just seen on one another. Our amateur matches could happen anytime or anywhere. Out showdowns were mostly friendly when our parents were nearby until we snuck out of ear and eye-shot where they would become no-holds-bars.
My father encouraged our love of wrestling. He would watch many of the shows with us. He regaled us with stories of the wrestlers he grew up with, especially those who were still featured in some capacity in the events we watched unfold.
My brother and my love for the sport grew even further as my father brought us home one foot tall rubber action figures of some of our favorite characters. He bestowed on us all the 1980s greats; Andre the Giant, Jesse “the Body” Ventura, Koko B. Ware, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Jimmy “Super Fly” Snuka, Hulk Hogan, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Bret “The Hitman” Hart—the list could go on for days.
He brought home so many wrestlers I can’t even remember them all.
We had the figures of managers like “Captain” Lou Albino, “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, and Miss Elizabeth. We even had the twelve inch of legendary announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund and a steel cage. Our father spoiled us.
Any geek knows hysteria and fandom grow as kids get their first jersey, starter jacket, or licensed toy. The acquisition of such an item can elicit a life-long connection with whatever athlete, team, or TV show it represents. This was no different with me. Those rubber action figures and the time spent with my dad and brother were gateway drugs to what became a full-blown obsession for much of the rest of my life.
By middle school I was a full-blown geek. It doesn’t embarrass me to admit it.
You wouldn’t find me away from video games or Magic cards very often. I forged relationships with friends who were into the same guilty pleasures I was. In addition to gaming we joined our school’s marching band and we watched and discussed professional wrestling. We did anything we could to ward off our classmates of the fairer sex.
In the mid 1990s by the time I hit high school. At the time the WWF’s popularity was waning, so was my interest in wrestling. The story-lines had gotten stale. The gimmicks—the pro wrestling term for shtick—were long past redundant.
The WWF’s largest competitor was World Championship Wrestling. The WCW was doing their best to fill the void that the monster that Vince McMahon built was leaving. Up until that time WCW was a promotion that lacked the excitement and flare of the WWF, but things were about to change.
First WCW signed many of my favorite wrestlers of the 1980s. Razor Ramon, Sid Vicious, The Giant, Macho Man, and even Hulk Hogan had been kicked to the curb by the WWF. Each in turn found new homes and second lives as megastars in the upstart WCW. This certainly spoke to my childhood nostalgia, but the gimmicks they would write for these characters changed the world.
All my childhood wrestling heroes had been good guys—baby faces in pro wrestling terminology—when I originally came to know them. WCW put them together into a collaborative entity of heels—bag guys—and christened them the “NWO”, or “New World Order.”
The New World Order made being bad so cool! As I write about them today I can still hear their theme song in my head. I can visualize this clique of villains led by the reinvented “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan coming out from backstage. They would all be clad head to toe in black.
Hogan carried his newly acquired WCW heavyweight championship belt. He spray painted “NWO” in black letters on the belt’s huge gold plate. He held it over his shoulder played air guitar on it.
The NWO was so cool! They were the comedic villains of modern professional wrestling. And they were so good at being bad they made the good guys look even better as they were forced to fight this monstrous movement.
The New World Order breathed new life into characters nearly forgotten by time and the fans. Even those who weren’t in the gang, such as Ric Flair and Sting.
Sting reinvented himself and started dressing and wearing makeup in the image of The Crow. He dropped from the rafters of many mega-arenas with his black aluminum baseball bat to systematically take out individual members of the infamous heel crew. The surprised and terrified faces of all the ginormous figures will be forever etched in my memories in all of its hilarity.
The NWO would run its course and eventually jump the shark, but not before leaving a significant impression on myself and my marching band of misfits. It brought us all closer together by giving us something to laugh and talk about.
Like countless other youths around the country some of us wanted to be in the NWO. Others wanted to fight and resist them. We took it upon ourselves to wrestle in our school’s hallways when the teachers weren’t looking. Occasionally a move or two resulted in minor injuries.
We formed our own crews of amateur wrestlers and went to war with other gangs. We each had our own nicknames, gimmicks, and unique finishing moves. Each of us thought our own NWO or counter-NWO was better than everyone else’s.
We didn’t mind pushing ourselves further to the outskirts of the social hierarchy. We were having too much fun.
The NWO eventually splintered and faded from television and mainstream popular culture. Yet my own passion and love for professional wrestling was as fierce as ever.
Most of my band buddies had moved on from the hallway and playground battles, but one of my closest friends and I looked for new ways to express ourselves and our shared love of professional wrestling. We discovered a crew of older misfits that loved wrestling as much as we did. These new friends opened our eyes to a world of pro wrestling we didn’t even know existed.
We were taught about real pro wrestling promotions like ECW, or Extreme Championship Wrestling. ECW was to professional wrestling what internet porn is compared to Playboy magazines.
ECW downplayed the pomp and glamour of the big two. They chose not focus on creative story-lines and scripts and instead focused on athletic wrestling, aerial acrobatics, and extreme violence.
At that time WWE and WCW were still featuring lame finishing moves such as Hulk Hogan’s “knee drop,” Macho Man and The Rock’s elbow drops, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s “Stunner”—another not-so-devastating finishing move. Over in ECW Rob Van Dam was jumping up into the ring’s corner, landing in a split on the top rope, bouncing into a back-flip, and finally landing on his opponents. Sabu was running along the top rope and performing insane flips with twists off during his suicide dives into his opponents inside or outside of the ring. I had never seen anything like it in sports.
Before I discovered ECW I had witnessed chairs being used as weapons and wrestlers thrown through folding tables, but ECW turned it all the way up to eleven. Members of their roster stacked tables into pyramids before “power bombing” or “pile driving” opponents through them. Thumb tacks and barb wire were commonly added to ladder and steel cage match for more blood and viewer enjoyment.
Anyone who experiences any modern wrestling promotion today will witness the crowd chant “Holy shit!” or “This is awesome!” after any intense maneuver or exchange. It all started with ECW.
The same new friends that turned my band buddy and I onto ECW also taught us that we didn’t just have to participate in all the wrestling hysteria in our minds. They also introduced us to backyard wrestling.
Backyard wrestling became the culmination of my love of professional wrestling. Additionally it solidified my place within the outcast community. I was not, nor would I ever be, a normal person, and that was okay.
We joined our friends’ backyard promotion, RMW—Real Man’s Wrastling. My friend and I would become the tag team Devil Dongs. As part of our hazing we were told to wear our diving team practice Speedos, which also happened to be animal print—mine was tiger stripe. We had no qualms with the gimmick as we were both true believers and wanted in.
We were placed in a match against the two friends who had introduced us to our new crew of friends. We were even allowed to win our first match after I got to perform my finishing move, the flipping leg drop. And trust me when I say, it was far less impressive than that sounds. There’s a video tape of the match somewhere in the world, and it ranks pretty high on the list of things that will prevent me from ever considering a run for higher political offices.
Around the same time I hooked up the Real Man’s Wrastling my parents got divorced. Shortly after that I had to say goodbye to my wrestling buds. I only moved one town over, but in the pre-cellphone world of the 1990s it may has well have been to another planet.
Luckily for me there were kids in the new town that were dorky wrestling fans like I was. They even had their own backyard league called. It was called the IWF.
My run with the IWF was short lived. Almost all of those guys graduated high school that same year. It could have left a void in my life, but I was just geeky enough to fill that void all on my own.
That next summer I took my part-time job savings and bought my own camcorder. I gathered up any misfits, miscreants, and wrestling fans I could find and started my very own wrestling promotion. It was called the BWF.¹
Calling the BWF amateur would be an extreme understatement. We didn’t have a ring to wrestle in. We had a grassy field. We didn’t have ring ropes or ring posts. We had caution tape and PVC pipe that we dug into the ground and surrounded our make-shift stage.
We wrote character profiles, back-stories, and event scripts. We included anyone who had any interest in getting involved.
I got my brother involved as well. I was finally mature enough to realize he and I could share some of the same friends. I hadn’t been very good in that regard since around the time my parents split. To this day he was the best backyard wrestling referee I have ever seen.
I even tried to extend an olive branch to my friends from the old town. I invited them to collaborate with us for one of the events. The two who had originally invited my friend and I to join RMW attended that show.
I fondly reminisce over winning the BWF championship as my pre-emo grunge character Eddie Spyke. After withstanding the blast of a hockey stick through the desk drawer I held over my crotch I got up and finished my opponent.²
I’ll never forget the championship belt I had made out of a nylon strap, one of my high school’s chair backs, and a black permanent marker.
Prom and my own graduation approached quickly that year. I had begun to take more of an interest in girls and pot smoking—the latter of which I had significantly more success with—and I outgrew my taste for professional wrestling.
About to head out of state to college in Colorado, I turned the reigns of BWF, as well as my camcorder, over to my brother and his friends. Unfortunately they were smoking pot too, and the BWF died while I was at school. Much of the passion my friends had for wrestling left town with me.
I still occasionally watched a televised wrestling event, but it didn’t seem to retain the sheen it once had.
ECW was absorbed into the WWE. Its intensity and cool factor had become diluted. WCW and WWE were just rehashing the old gimmicks. It had all gotten kind of sad. I myself had become too busy and too concerned with social status to build another community of wrestling die-hards at university. Thus I left the sport behind for many years.
Ten years later my daughter was born. A few years after that she became old enough to start rough-housing. . .And I knew the perfect way to do it.
I recreated many of moments from my childhood with her. I taught her all about professional wrestling. I gave her my vintage Macho Man “Wrestling Buddy” and showed her some YouTube videos of classic wrestlers and matches from my day.
The two of us began wrestling constantly. I would “baby-slam” her onto the couch during our “Wrestle-Baby-A” events. I showed her submission moves I hadn’t thought of in decades and more than a couple times put my wife in the “Boston Crab” to show our daughter how to execute it. Excessive giggling commenced.
Even though my wife wasn’t a fan of pro wrestling—or being put in a submission hold—we would all crack up together. Sometimes our bouts ended in tears as my daughter would land a bit hard or get bent a bit too far. But hey, that’s wrestling. As I said earlier it’s really real. We all must make sacrifices for the show.
Since then my daughter has acquired her own championship belt. It’s a replica of the WWE women’s title. She has successfully defended it in all but one match against me—not including the story-line where I stole it from her and she had to beat me to get it back.
And my daughter and my wife aren’t the only ones in on the wrestling in my modern, older life.
I’ve reconnected with a younger cousin who has been a life long fan of the sport. His involvement far surpasses my own, but even though our individual wrestling experiences only share limited parallels, it’s been nice to share a common bond with him since we weren’t that close when we were younger.
Even my mother-in-law has gotten into it. She and I watched a season and a half of Lucha Underground together when the show was still available on Netflix. She is probably the last person on Earth anyone would ever expect to appreciate professional wrestling, but there she was binging the acrobatics and hilarious, outrageous stories.
Pro wrestling has been a wonderful aspect in my life. I know the actual wrestling itself is scripted and staged. However the impact wrestling has had on me, my family, and my community is as real as it gets.
This week I was blessed to be able to attend All Elite Wrestling’s weekly live event called Dynamite at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield. I got incredible fourth row seats and a one-of-a-kind backstage experience. I sat so close I could feel the bodies slam onto the ring floor. I couldn’t help, but cheer as I saw the most amazing maneuvers of the night.
I had the opportunity to speak with Arn Anderson, one of the the legendary “Four Horseman.” HE thanked me for remembering his matches from the the 80s. And I had the strangest interaction with Dustin Rhodes, AKA Golddust. I learned he’s not a fan of vegetarian meatballs, nor any vegan food for that matter.
I got to see legendary announcers Jim Ross and Tony Schiavoni, and one of my teenage years’ favorite heels, Chris Jericho, all being regular people, just like me. A few hours later they donned costumes, make-up, and their TV personas, and became the characters I’ve come to know from over thirty years of appreciating the sport from afar.
As I sat there feeling blessed I scanned the crowd. I saw outcasts, geeks, and nerds that reminded me of myself all those years ago. I saw families and couples that looked just like mine today. I spotted young children with their fathers that reminded me of myself and my father, and my daughter as well.
I was sitting two seats away from a young girl who had Down syndrome. She was having the time of her life.
For so many people professional wrestling is just one big ongoing joke. It’s the butt of countless more. But to me, my daughter, my cousin, and that little girl, it’s a part of the fabric that makes up our culture, and who we are as people.
So yes, professional wrestling is as real as it gets.
¹ To this day there’s still controversy as to what the initials of BWF stood for. It may have been Badass Wrestling Federation or Brunswick Wrestling Federation. It was twenty years ago and none of us who are still in touch can remember. Regardless, it was the biggest wrestling promotion I would ever get involved in.
² I possess the only copy of the video for that one.
John Andreula is a writer and lifelong wrestling fan living in Colorado.
His unique behind-the-scenes looks at concerts & live events can be found on Insta at: