I’ve mentioned the beginning my wrestling fandom many times before, but since this series is all about our first favorite wrestler, I’ll do it again.
Though I haven’t been able to validate this information, I remember seeing the very first WrestleMania on some kind of delay on HBO. I didn’t know any of the storylines going on. I just knew that Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper were involved and Hulk Hogan was the champion while Rowdy Roddy Piper was his main competition. I would catch WWF sparingly on the weekends after that, but never really followed all that closely until early 1986. At this point, I wouldn’t say I was a full-fledged Hulkamaniac, but I definitely thought the Hulkster was cool.
My fandom went haywire on March 1, 1986. It was Saturday Night’s Main Event, taped from two weekends prior. By the way, who let nine-year old me stay up that late? Thanks mom.
Hulk Hogan was going to face Don Muraco, the magnificent one. Mr. Fuji wasn’t feeling well, so Bobby “The Brain” Heenan was Muraco’s second on this night. Even as a kid, you knew something was up. That’s why it was effective. I knew that something was about to happen and by me thinking I was in on what was going on, I felt smart. And when you feel smart as a pro wrestling fan, you become more intrigued. And when you become more intrigued, you want to learn and know more. I think my hardcore fandom started there, all because of a super simple angle.
I didn’t think Muraco was actually going to beat Hogan. Just that something was in the air. When Heenan jumped in the ring and Hogan grabbed him by his shirt collar and raised him above his head, in came King Kong Bundy. Bundy, Muraco, and Heenan triple-teamed the Hulkster giving him avalanche after avalanche and big splash after big splash. Jesse “The Body” Ventura told Vince McMahon who wondered if Hogan was unconscious after the brutal attack, “I believe he is unconscious.” The way he said it in such a serious tone, which was different from his normal bombastic commentary, it felt real.
I’d never seen an ambulance on a wrestling show before and as they wheeled away the Hulkster, I remember not being able to really care about what else was going on with the show.
Hogan not heeding his doctor’s advice was a little over the top as even as a young child, I knew what the main event of WrestleMania 2 was about to become. There’s no way Hogan wasn’t showing up, and he was going to get his revenge inside the steel cage.
The match itself (as well as the event) wasn’t anything to write home about. I’m not sure I truly understood what good wrestling was. The match was slow and plodding. It was built around Bundy attacking Hogan’s ribs. But it was still dramatic. And there’s something to having a babyface hero. I was rooting for Hogan, not because I thought he was a good wrestler, but because I found him bigger than life and someone I felt sympathy for when he wasn’t winning. I desperately wanted him to win like I would want my local sports teams to win.
I became as loyal to Hogan like I was to my sports teams as well. When Randy Savage won the strap in 1988, I was a Savage fan, but he was always number two to Hogan. Same with the Ultimate Warrior. I liked them as babyfaces, but they were placeholders for me until Hogan was back and in his rightful place as champion.
Much like has been stated in other essays, you try and separate the real person from the bigger than life character. And pro wrestling itself doesn’t age gracefully. The same characters who made you fans for life aren’t preserved by the companies they put on their backs. They’re only persevered in your memories and lists like this.