Falling In Love With Wrestling, Part 1: Superstars At First Sight

Our man recalls the origins of his love affair with professional wrestling, starting with the bright lights of WWE Superstars in the 80s.

Wrestlemania 5 - Mega Powers Explode

It is May 1989, and the Kachhala family have just moved house. Previously, we lived behind a jewellery shop owned in Coventry by my father and grandfather, the success of the business meant we could purchase a newly built four bedroom detached house. Importantly, the move came with a promise of cable television.

My two brothers and I, were duly informed by our uncle, who was closer to age in us than my father (and was our de-facto guide in navigating the world of 80s pop culture), that with cable television, came one important, must watch programme, American Wrestling. 

This eight-part series aims to look at my earlier memories of WWF and how they shaped my fandom to this day. It spans a period when there was limited information about the backstage goings on, and certainly during the earlier days there existed a degree of uncertainty, at least in my mind as to whether wrestling was staged or not.

In some ways this made the product more entertaining, the internet was still 10 years away, and “spoilers” were not easily available to inform you of what was about to pass. The only additional information on offer beyond television, were in magazines which were either WWF branded, or the Bill Apter ones; Pro Wrestling Illustrated and The Wrestler were two examples of content from Kappa Publishing Group.

Apter was so closely associated with these magazines, they became known as the “Apter Mags”. Most sources of material maintained “kayfabe”, or the art of assuming that wrestling and the associated feuds and allegiances were all real, so while the “dirt sheets” existed, the concept of these were alien to a nine year old boy living in the West Midlands.  

The term “WWF” (World Wrestling Federation), which became synonymous with American Wrestling, was introduced to us on a Saturday afternoon as we switched through the 39 channels (39 seemed like so many at the time!) on offer by our local supplier, Coventry Cable, and we stumbled upon The Sky Channel. 

The Sky Channel was a pre-cursor to Sky One and the home of WWF wrestling, so in 1989 on a sunny Saturday afternoon in May, WWF Superstars of Wrestling, appeared on the screen and our eyes were opened to a brand new world of wonder.

The colour and contrast of American television in the 80s had a different gloss and shine to the British TV product, if I were to offer a non-wresting example, imagine comparing how EastEnders looked in 1985, with its various grey tones, to the US soaps opera Dallas, which was bright, vibrant and polished.

What was certain though, is that this was not the smoke-filled low budget halls of British Wrestling we experienced in our earlier childhood.

WWF Superstars of Wrestling was a weekly show featuring the WWF’s Superstars (as the WWF’s 80s and early 90s wrestlers were known) pummelling various ‘jobbers’ on a weekly basis. These jobbers were average sized men in stark contrast to the gargantuan physiques of the Superstars and often the result was a forgone conclusion.

Effectively these were squash matches and the main aim of these were to highlight the Superstar’s abilities and push forward a particular storyline or feud with another Superstar that they were involved with at the time.

However we were given a rare treat that day, as with Wrestlemania 5 approaching, we were shown highlights of a recent Saturday Night’s Main Event show which pitted two of the era’s most recognisable Superstars against one another, Hulk Hogan and Bad News Brown.

Hogan, who had been the WWF champion for over four years from 1984-88, was being dominated by a Brown, who walked and talked as if he had a permanent chip on his shoulder. Later I would learn that Brown, whose real name was Allen Coage, had an accomplished Judo career, winning bronze at the 1976 Olympics, the first solo Olympic medal won outside of track and field and boxing for an African American athlete.

Brown would go on to have some classic feuds with Jake Roberts and Rowdy Roddy Piper, but when I think of Brown, I always recall his hatred for Hogan and how he grabbed the microphone during the middle of this match to taunt him (it was 10 years later until I saw someone try this again, and The Rock would use the same trick to even greater effect). 

Hogan was instantly recognisable as the man who fought Sylvester Stallone at the start of Rocky 3 so as a keen Rocky fan he had my immediate support. Even on first viewing it was clear to see from the match that he was the sympathetic babyface taking a beating from the nasty heel, Brown. Hogan was larger than life, but he had that unique gift of drawing in the live crowd, and audience at home.

Eventually Hogan would stage his comeback, courtesy of his ‘Hulking Up’ routine (he became really angry and impervious to pain) and defeated Brown. Watching this routine immediately evoked memories of another Hulk: Lou Ferrigno’s huge green Incredible Hulk that the mild-mannered David Banner, played by Bill Bixby would turn into. However the Incredible Hulk TV show wasn’t really family friendly and Hogan flying into a rage on television against a dastardly opponent was much lighter hearted, as he delivered his own brand of justice. 

This was an era before the superhero explosion of the 21st century, Marvel and DC characters were still mainly confined to comic books, morning cartoon shows and sometimes low budget live action shows. As a boy from a Hindu family, I would keenly read tales of the heroes of the Ramayana and Mahabharata such as Krishna, Ram, Arjun and Hanuman but one couldn’t follow their exploits on a weekly basis on television.

The era of multi-million dollar superhero action films was in its nascent stage with Tim Burton’s Batman set to be launched that very summer.  Therefore the larger than life Superstars of WWF wrestling with and their titanic struggles and their own version of mythology quickly became a staple in the Kachhala household. 

Following the Hogan and Brown match we were quickly exposed to the ongoing storyline of the day – the Megapowers were about to explode. The Megapowers, an alliance between Hogan and then WWF champion Macho Man Randy Savage (who, with Hogan’s assistance had won the WWF title at the previous year’s Wrestlemania 4) had been fractured, mainly due to Savage’s paranoia and jealousy regarding the relationship between his manager since his early days in WWF, Miss Elizabeth and Hogan.

WWF wasn’t just a series of matches pitting two angry men against one another, it had added storyline and elements of soap opera too. On this specific edition of Superstars of Wrestling, Elizabeth, who was Savage’s off-screen wife, was torn in the storyline as to whom she would side with at Wrestlemania 5, where in the main event, Hogan would challenge Savage for the WWF title.

It was compelling television, friends were now enemies, relationships were compromised, choices had to be made and those choices has consequences. In the end, Elizabeth, chose to remain neutral. 

In 1989 there was approximately a three month delay in what we saw on UK television (and even then spoilers were limited!), so Wrestlemania 5 was actually shown on Friday 30th June, in an edited three hour form (seven months later, Sky could show a five-hour uncut version of the event). The first live show, to the best of my knowledge, was the 1990 Royal Rumble.

How the TV guide looked back then, featuring simply “Wrestling” (source: UK Fan Forum)

Hogan prevailed in the main event, but more importantly the Kachhala brothers discovered new characters, each unique in their own way, such as, The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase (we believed he was an actual millionaire, especially with that diamond studded belt which my father, the jeweller, took a keen interest in) and the Ultimate Warrior who became my younger brother’s preferred wrestler and would eventually be pitted against my favourite wrestler Hulk Hogan one year later, at Wrestlemania 6.

A new universe had opened up, and quickly we discovered that friends, cousins and neighbours were also keen followers of WWF. Therefore I attempted to become the knower of all things WWF; so on that sunny Saturday afternoon in May, I signed up as a bonafide Hulkamaniac and my wrestling journey, had begun.

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