In the first weekend of March in 1989, I was a senior at Largo High School. My grades and studies there weren’t the best, and I wallowed through that time in my life a bit unmotivated. With a little help from some family members, who lit the proper fire under my ass, that part of my life was turning around, and I had made the Honor Roll soon after the second half of the year started.
So my mother arranges for her co-workers who had families of their own to take me to the WWF matches at the USF Sun Dome the first Saturday of the month. All the Saturday evenings I had spent watching the rasslin’ on TV, I had never attended a card, nor visited USF. To give you an idea of how much wrestling I watched back then, I could usually spot a good guy about to turn bad or vice versa well before it happened.
For example, the main story back then was the breakup of the “Megapowers” team of Terry Bollea (Hulk Hogan) and Randy Poffo (Randy “Macho Man” Savage). Randy was managed by real-life wife Elizabeth Hulette (with the stage name dropping her last name and throwing a “Miss” in front of her first name, even though she was really a Mrs.), but his WWF character was such an egomaniac that I’m thinking that there’s no way the duo could last long without a clash of personalities and temperament taking place. And sure enough, they have a series of tag team bouts on TV and PPV with that storyline, introducing the premise that these two can’t trust each other, culminating with a prime time bout on NBC where Savage eventually betrays the Hulkster.
The card I went to in Tampa had a “steel cage” match (designed to favor the good guys, but the bad guys were always able to figure out chicanery of their own) between Hulk Hogan and Ray Traylor, better known at that time as The Big Boss Man, a deranged prison guard from Georgia, or so he portrayed. Hogan won the match in short order, and was flexing his biceps and bending his shoulders as we left to beat the traffic out to I-275 and head back home.
Now, I wasn’t a naive kid growing up. I knew that there was some stagecraft involved with these matches. If they realistically beat the poo out of each other as they appeared to, their medical bills would go through the roof. So the night after the matches, my mother lets me in on a secret: the very same matches that we just saw in Tampa would be taking place in Ft. Lauderdale the following night. With that, I showed her the roster of matches on the card, and pointed her to the small print on the bottom that said that these matches were exhibitions.
A few months later, the two same men had a cage match on Saturday Night’s Main Event, the late night NBC show that aired in lieu of Saturday Night Live on occasion back then. It had the exact same moves as the match I had seen in Tampa a few months prior, with a few different spots thrown in to give the resemblance of authenticity to it. A few weeks after the match I had seen in Tampa, another near duplicate of the match I had seen in Tampa took place in Boston.
But I have nothing against wrestling. Wrestling was like a church for the nonreligious. A place you could believe in your favorite good guys, at root against those satanic villains. I’ve been to two other wrestling cards in my lifetime, one in Jacksonville, another at a used car lot in Largo, of all places. Every time I went, I had fun. And if you have fun, you’re living right.