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Wrestling with the 90's

It had to happen eventually, Hulk Hogan went from a shining golden warrior, to a dirty, scruffy thug, and with that, my experience of watching tough guys mix it up in the squared circle was forever changed. To me, this was the defining moment of the 90’s wrestling scene and before I knew it, I was forced to choose sides between the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling on Monday nights. I know a lot of you were right there with me in claiming an allegiance to your preferred wrestling promotion, so let me tell you how I ended up carrying a WCW flag and waving it high.

Here’s the thing, from 1982 to 1996 my whole view on pro wrestling was shaped by televised bouts between WWF Superstars like Mr. Perfect, Ted DiBiase: The Million Dollar Man, Tatanka and of course, Hulk Hogan. I had the toys, I watched the cartoons, and rented the VHS tapes as was well documented in my previous article “When Wrestling Rocked”. But by my freshman year of high school in 1996 I was really only watching by accident, if I happened to land on Monday Night RAW while flipping channels. Wrestling seemed kind of tame by this point, since a new bad boy, the Ultimate Fighting Championship or UFC had hit the scene.

I remember 2 separate occasions of my buddies inviting me over to watch the UFC pay-per-views with promises of, “They really beat each other up in a steel cage!” “There’s like blood and stuff!” “One guy’s eyeball popped out!” As I recall, what made the original group of UFC shows cool was that that they had different fighting styles squaring off against each other. A sumo would be fighting a jujitsu instructor or a boxer would square off against a Greco-roman wrestler to see whose discipline was superior. So basically it was a live action Street Fighter II. This sounds awesome, but when we actually sat down to watch, it was basically a lot of ground fighting with guys on top of each other trying to throw punches through raised fists. In a word, lame. It clearly lacked the entertainment value of pro wrestling, but as luck would have it I was about to hop back in the ring for some fun.

My high school friends and I were a bunch of drama kids, hardly athletic and not very macho. Most of our time hanging out (which was about an hour before school and then every weekday evening) was spent watching movies and coming up with goofy in-jokes. So while it may seem an odd fit for us to start tuning in to TNT to watch renegade WWF stars mix it up with rising ‘rasslers like Chris Jericho, I totally see the connection now. After all, pro wrestling at its core is about 30% athleticism and 70% theater. Nobody cares who is throwing punches at who if there’s no story behind it. A viewer needs something to motivate the violence, so you can choose who to root for.

Really the fight could be for any reason, “My tag team partner betrayed me during a match with our arch-rivals, now it’s time to settle the score with a spine-buster.” or “You put a cobra in one of my wedding gifts and it’s scared my new bride half to death, now I will destroy you.” That is some Shakespearean drama right there and at the time there was nothing more dramatic than Hulk Hogan’s previously mentioned “heel turn” to join the N.W.O. or the New World Order.

I think what really got my group of friends to switch over from re-runs of Mystery Science Theater 3000 was the revelation that, “Hulk Hogan’s a bad guy now!” How could the ultimate boy scout become the ultimate bad guy? Apparently by hanging out with Diesel and Razor Ramon aka “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, a pair of wrestlers who abandoned Vince McMahon’s WWF to crash WCW as The Outsiders. With their help “Hollywood” Hogan became the leader of the group, ordering hits on other wrestlers like Sting or Randy Savage. Soon they were recruiting other wrestlers on the roster to join their crew by putting on the infamous black and white of the N.W.O. It seemed like everyone looking to get some street cred was wearing those N.W.O. shirts from 1997-1999, without even knowing it was related to wrestling. 

Though my best friend, Jeff, idolized Kevin Nash and enjoyed when he and Hall split-off to become the rival N.W.O Wolfpac with a red logo, most of my buddies identified themselves with the non-conformists like Diamond Dallas Page aka DDP. My favorite wrestler was the always itchy, Kidman who was a part of The Flock. But because I was more heavy set in those days I was forced to accept my role as The Giant (aka The Big Show in WWE). The fact that he had a cameo as Captain Insane-O in The Waterboy starring Adam Sandler was a small consolation to me at the time. What’s even funnier were my schoolmates who forever trapped me in the role, out of their sheer hilarity.

Kwong and Ian were the Beavis and Butt-Head of our high school. They were always together and both spoke in low, monotone voices that would break into breathy laughs whenever they thought they got a good insult off at somebody. Plus, they were HUGE wrestling fans. During lunch they could be seen practicing clotheslines by bouncing off invisible ropes and Ian even messed-up another friend’s neck attempting a piledriver during some backyard wrestling. They referred to each other as Kwong “Bond” Hogan (because he always looked like a spy who was up to something) and Ian was “Macho King”, but it was the wrestling names they came up with for other people that really cracked me up.

My buddy Jeff and I had a weight-lifting class with Kwong and Ian where we would talk wrestling in between reps. Much like my friends, these wrestling fanatics decided I was obviously The Giant, but they had a very low opinion of his wrestling skills, so every time they passed me on campus I heard, “Giant Sucks”. After a while it just became a reflex for them. If either one happened to catch sight of me across campus they would shout out, “Giant Sucks!” and it cracked me up every time. In Jeff’s case, he once mentioned his appreciation for bearded weird-o, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan which got a hearty laugh out of our resident wrestling critics. They took to calling him “DOO-gin” and snorting in disdain every time he arrived to do dead-lifts. There was a less P.C. name they came up with for him as well…

Since Kwong and Ian knew me better than Jeff, they actually never spoke directly to him, only in the 3rd person. “Giant, tell DOO-gin that Kevin Nash is a loser”, was usually the type of message that I was supposed to relay to the man standing 2 feet away from them. One day Jeff was going on and on about something non-wrestling related which was boring Kwong and Ian to tears, suddenly Ian shouted out, “Giant, tell the gay-guy to SHUT UP!” Jeff looked over his shoulder, turned to me and said, “Who’s the gay guy?” to which I could only respond, “YOU are!” Flabbergasted, Jeff (who was constantly chasing girls, by the way) just stood there speechless. Kwong and Ian weren’t very open-minded or politically correct, but they did manage to shock the laughs out of us quite a bit.

After school, we would get on the WCW website on this still pretty new thing called “the internet” to get the latest rumors on Goldberg or pass the time playing WCW/N.W.O. World Tour and WCW/N.W.O. Revenge on the Nintendo 64. Hours were spent making CG versions of Ric Flair and “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner battle for supremacy with high-flying maneuvers off the top rope. We even got wrestling related gifts for each other on our birthdays. I specifically remember getting a The Giant toy whose action feature was to vibrate. Yeah, you pushed a button on the side and the thing started buzzing. What did that have to do with wrestling?! Of course Jeff saw an opening to modify Kwong and Ian’s “Giant Sucks” chant into the equally nonsensical, “Giant Vibrates”. It didn’t catch on.

By '97-'98 Monday nights were reserved for WCW Monday Nitro and later in the week, the lesser WCW program Thunder. What’s crazy to me is that we literally never even flipped the channel to watch Monday Night Raw. It was totally off our radar. So we missed out on all the wackiness with The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Mankind. We were fully plugged in to Sting battling the N.W.O.’s various factions in his Crow make-up and trenchcoat. We could even identify N.W.O. Sting, who was an imposter that would dress in his signature clothes to attack other wrestlers. One of my favorite comedic moments was when a wrestler named Raven, who had a grunge rocker gimmick, got really depressed and would just slump down in the corner at the start of his matches saying, “What about me? What about Raven?”.

Another ridiculous, but entertaining “wrestler” was a guy named Ernest “The Cat” Miller, who was supposedly a "3 time world karate champion", but would never show it off. “The Cat” would walk into the ring and tell his opponent, “I’m gonna give you to the count of 5 to walk out of this ring, before I whup ya!” He would then proceed to turn his back, count to 5 and inevitably when Ernest turned around the other wrestler would start pummeling him, leading to a quick 1-2-3. I just loved his bravado and the fact that he obviously had no wrestling ability to back up his big talk.

From 1999-2000 WCW really won the "Monday Night Wars" as they came to be known, by recruiting my 2 favorite bands of all time to get in on the wrestling game. First to step in the ring was Jerry Only of the newly re-formed Goth-Punk band the Misfits, who were promoting one of my favorite all-time albums, Famous Monsters. Jerry wasn't a seasoned grappler by any means, but by partnering with Vampiro and with a little interference from his bandmates during matches, he at least got some screen time. The Misfits even worked the wrestling angle into their live stage show by battling Frankenstein's monster with chair shots and choke slams, which I witnessed several times during those years. My only regret is that they didn't get a chance to play any of my favorite songs on the show, unlike my other favorite band, KISS.

Oh yeah, KISS sponsored a wrestler named The Demon who wore Gene Simmons make-up and managed to lose every match he entered. His reveal was about the only awesome thing The Demon was ever involved in. At the end of one Monday Nitro KISS lip-synched  "God of Thunder" with all their usual fire and make-up until The Demon emerged from a literal Iron Maiden at the end of the song. My friends knew of my love for KISS, so you better believe they didn't let me live down his less than stellar record. Still, can Bruce Springsteen fans lay claim to a wrestler? No way!

Gimmicks like this pretty much spelled the end for WCW as my friends and I lost interest in the total lack of wrestling. We may have gotten into it for the theatrics, but pretty soon that's all they seemed concerned with. The Mexican luchadores like Rey Mysterio, Jr., Psychosis and even El Dandy or Silver King always had energetic matches, but even they became one of the many factions of the N.W.O. (which had really overstayed it's welcome by this point), dubbing themselves the Latino World Order or L.W.O., it was just a mess. My friends and I quickly lost interest and eventually substituted wrestling night for role playing games in the vein of Dungeons and Dragons, if you can believe it.

Still, I would buy wrestling magazines a few times a year to stay in touch and even found myself tuning in to the WWF when they bought out their rival to combine the companies. In retrospect, the hype and madness of WCW was really pretty hollow, but man did they constantly surprise us on a weekly basis. I didn't even mention the time that David Arquette became the legit World Heavyweight Champion to promote a movie starring the WCW roster, Ready To Rumble. Say what you will about the film (which is actually pretty funny, in my opinion), but it was my last fond memory of the time spent as a wrestling fan in the 90's.

So tell me, what was your Monday Night Appointment television from 1996-1999? Who was your favorite wrestler?

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Looking for more from Hoju Koolander?

Hoju Koolander Posted on Aug 22, 2020 at 02:55 AM

@egome2 we can definitely relate. Never became a Juggalo myself, but glad you dug the return of the rock n' wrestling connection as much as I did.

egome2 Posted on Mar 30, 2020 at 04:22 AM

My all time favorite was Vampiro and The demon cause I loved their gimmicks and loved the fact that I got to see Kiss and The Misfits on wrestling and the fact that I got to see two things I love witch are punk,metal and rock and wrestling come alive in one place for me was mind blowing but I was immediately hooked again for sure in the late 90s early 2000s when ICP or Insane Clown Posse came up to WCW to team up with Vampiro to form the tag team The Dark Canival and had Vampiro tag team alongside Shaggy 2 dope and Violent J was the moment I was immediately hooked cause by that time ICP came to WCW cause by that time I went from being a full blown punk to a full Blown ninja (juggalo) also WHOOP WHOOP MWFL! yeah I just knew where I belonged when I saw all three of my favorite bands come together but personally Vampiros Dark Carnival gimmick was the most iconic and memorable for me that I remember cause without it I would have never known what being a juggalo is about or would have never turned to one and thanks to WCW I found my family and love the ninjas to death and helped me hear something that was ever heard of for me from then on I found out of groups like twiztid,ABK,Zug Island and would have never heard the 6 jokers cards from Carnival of Carnage to my favorite the Wraith and Wraith Shangri-La

optimus87 Posted on Dec 28, 2019 at 09:17 AM

I love wcw and and sting is the best

egome2 Posted on Mar 18, 2018 at 07:44 PM

best wrestler ever for me is Goldberg

Retro King of the Land Posted on Apr 04, 2015 at 07:12 PM

Gordon Solie was the man. RIP.

Mr Magic Posted on Mar 13, 2015 at 09:22 PM

Hogan was a heel you just loved to hate.

I mean he was a heel in the early 80s, but it was nothing compared to his NWO persona.

Vaporman87 Posted on Mar 13, 2015 at 09:07 PM

I think, at first, I looked at Hogan's transformation into "Hollywood" as a bit of a joke. It seemed like something thrown out there just to rock the boat, and nothing more.

But as time went on, it really seemed to fit. Hogan could do the heel almost as well as the face.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Mar 11, 2015 at 11:55 PM

@thecrow174 Glad to hear you enjoyed Ready to Rumble too, "Crown me, King!" There was definitely a competition on merch between Goldberg and Stone Cold during those few years, but Austin;s legacy burns brightest in retrospect. Still, I love Goldberg's catch phrase, "Who's next?!"

@comic_book_fan Razor Ramon was such an iconic character. To this day, I can't pick up a toothpick without wanting to flick it in somebody's face and call them "Chico". During his Scott Hall days, my favorite bits were when he started his promos with, "Hey yo, survey time..."

comic_book_fan Posted on Mar 11, 2015 at 02:58 PM

i flipped between raw and nitro but my favorite wrestler on raw atleast in the early days was razor so when i saw scott hall on nitro and go face to face with sting who was my favorite on wcw i lost my mind in 1999 wwf got better than nitro but from 1995 through 1998 nitro was better and i always enjoyed wcw better as far as the wrestling went but wwf's craziness was to much to pass up.

Mr Magic Posted on Mar 11, 2015 at 02:19 PM

I think I started watching Raw around 1994, but I started watching it regularly beginning in summer of 1997. Bret Hart was a heel at the time, which was weird because he was always a fan favorite. But yeah, I was so committed to watching Raw since then. But I also watched Nitro as well. They were both equally good imo. I never stuck with with just one wrestling product. When 2000 came though, I mostly watched Raw. Mainly due to the McMahon/Helmsley storyline. That was some good stuff. There were some other things that made Raw really worth watching too.

You know, I don't care what anyone says, Ready to Rumble was a decent film. The wrestling fan in me liked it.

As for who my favorite wrestler is, I would have to say Bill Goldberg. Not just because of his very, very, VERY long undefeated winning streak, but because of the fact that he was a Georgia Bulldog in college. Go Dawgs! I had a great deal of Goldberg stuff: Shirts, a cap, an action figure and other stuff.

But anyway, well done article.

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