Hello, Again by Jerry Whitworth
Considering the popularity of my introductory post to the Nerdfect Nation, I thought I’d speak on my history with pro wrestling considering it’s such a huge aspect of our content and coverage. I first came into contact with the WWF in its auxiliary ventures, receiving some of the LJN action figures as a youth (an eight-inch rubber Hulk Hogan and some of the thumb wrestlers), watching Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling on TV, playing WWF WrestleMania on the NES, and getting my face painted like the Ultimate Warrior because everyone else was doing it (I always wanted to get a Tonka Wrestling Buddy but they alluded me). The earliest aspect of an actual wrestling program I can recall is my dad leaving it on one night when he fell asleep and I saw Papa Shango put a voodoo curse on Mean Gene Okerlund in 1992 on Superstars which terrified me. I would, however, come back to the product later where I became a big fan of Hakushi (as I was seemingly born into an interest in Eastern martial arts thanks to my father) and where I was introduced to wrestlers like the “Portuguese Man O’ War” Aldo Montoya, 1-2-3 Kid, and Tatanka all of whom in which I also became a fan. A casual viewer at best, Hakushi seemed to appear less as my interest grew in the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels. I officially wouldn’t became a fan of wrestling, however, until WrestleMania XII in 1996.
My house was always something of a second home for family as over the years events would displace many of them and they would live with my parents and I until circumstances would change for them. Virtually all of my first cousins lived with us and in 1996, one such cousin stayed with us. His father a huge fan of wrestling, he invited my cousin and I over to watch WrestleMania XII which I believe was the first wrestling pay-per-view I’ve ever watched. While I didn’t watch the entire show as I played with the kids in the house and hung out in the kitchen, I distinctly remember the Hollywood Backlot Brawl with Rowdy Roddy Piper and Goldust. It was a brutal fight with a surprising finale (Goldust in lingerie was jarring to see at age thirteen). But it was the Iron Man match between Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Shawn Michaels that made me a wrestling fan. That hour-plus performance by two of the greatest performers in the history of pro wrestling had the best qualities of the art. Physicality, drama, an engaging story, the match between Hart and Michaels helped me find a new passion for my life. From there, Monday Night Raw became a regular program on our television as the Ringmaster transitioned from the Million Dollar Champion into “Stone Cold” Steve Austin while for my birthday that year, my cousin and I were given tickets to my first live wrestling show in In Your House 10: Mind Games (1996). Sitting in the third row on the floor, we missed a great deal of the show as we were too short to see what was going on inside the ring and when they fought outside the ring, people stood up in front of us. We had sore necks that night as we stared up at the screen suspended high above the ring. About the only match we really had the opportunity to enjoy was Sycho Sid vs. Vader in a dark match after the main event when we could move to different seats.
The same year I became a fan of wrestling, the Monday Night Wars ramped up between the WWF and WCW. I can’t quite describe how I heard about it, but Scott Hall’s appearances on WCW’s Monday Nitro had reached me (I occasionally watched bits of Nitro, intrigued by the Giant’s ascension against Hulk Hogan). I tuned in the same night Kevin Nash emerged to join his partner. The Nitro following 1996’s The Great American Bash saw me begin to transition from watching Raw to Nitro as the nWo arose. In fact, I stopped watching Raw following the episode after WrestleMania 13 (1997) because, as a fan of Bret Hart, I was upset that there was a change in turning Hart into a heel and his opponent “Stone Cold” Steve Austin into a babyface (where, given Austin’s behavior, confused me at the time). In my opinion, Nitro was consistently putting on a better show in any event. The nWo would largely bookend the program with segments in between as the midcard had the likes of Chris Jericho, Último Dragón, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio Jr., Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Psicosis, JL, Juventud Guerrera, and Prince Iaukea all of whom I was a huge fan of their work. Actually, as time passed, WCW’s handling of these wrestlers helped turn me off of the company.
At some point in 1997 as I abandoned the WWF for WCW, my friend and I were switching between local stations on TV late at night when we discovered ECW Hardcore TV. We were instantly hooked. The level of violence, excessive sexual content, and interweaving storylines simply blew us away. It’s hard to nail down exactly when we started watching, but I vividly recall the invasion by the WWF lead by Jerry “The King” Lawler during the summer. In fact, it wasn’t long after that the same station that aired ECW also aired USWA which I also began to watch (which featured Glenn Jacobs, later Kane in WWF, as the menacing Doomsday and Jerry Lawler’s son Brian Christopher). Going back to ECW, I was amazed to see the promotion’s wrestlers emerge on WCW as I was only just introduced to Raven only to see him come to Nitro. This was followed by Stevie Richards, Perry Saturn, Louie Spicolli, and more. Regarding WCW, I had begun to grow tired of the nWo’s dominance in the promotion and the lack of traction of cruiserweights within the company toward the main event scene. I became interested in what WWF was doing with D-Generation X, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock and the Nation of Domination, Sable, and Taka Michinoku. However, I largely left Nitro in favor of Raw following the rise of the Ministry of Darkness.
By 1998, my attitude had heavily fallen into the realm of cerebral independence. Friends with a group decidedly anti-establishment, many elements about myself were different from how I dressed to how I spoke to how I thought and felt. While I wasn’t so wild to change my hair color or paint my fingernails because I still had a healthy fear of my father’s reaction (who was about as traditional as they come), I wore black, adorned myself with enough jewelry to make the daily morning metal detector scan at my high school a chore, and pierced my left ear. My parents were actually openly supportive of my decision to be different (my dad use to even buy me rings he came across with skulls, spikes, armor, monsters, and so on making me think perhaps he secretly wished he could join in). So, it should come as no surprise that the Undertaker’s turn as some undead cult leader called the Lord of Darkness leading zombies and vampires would be so intriguing to me. A comic book fan, I even picked up the Undertaker title from Chaos! Comics (written by Beau Smith whom I was a fan of from Guy Gardner: Warrior). It was also the start of a remarkable storyline that saw the Undertaker not only face the heroes of the WWF but its other villains and Vince McMahon himself (targeting his daughter Stephanie). Although sounding in some ways similar to the nWo, the difference was the depth of story as the Ministry were not just dominant but terrifying like a living nightmare casting a shadow over the WWF. Sadly, the whole thing fell apart when it was revealed the Ministry was secretly controlled by McMahon. If Nitro hadn’t fallen on such hard times creatively (following the infamous “Fingerpoke of Doom” in 1999, I was completely done with WCW), I may have switched over but I stuck it out with Raw for the time being. Fortunately, ECW on TNN premiered a couple months later giving me wrestling I actively loved on Friday nights (losing some of its best stars to WWF and WCW, they made new ones like Justin Credible, Super Crazy, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Rhino, Masato Tanaka, and Kid Kash). Of course, infamously, the program was shortlived as ECW was only a test case for TNN to see if wrestling could work on its station dropping the promotion after a little over a year on air and bringing in the WWF a week and a half prior to ECW on TNN‘s final episode. As it turned out, 2001 would be a terrible year for wrestling fans.
WCW would be sold to the WWF in March 2001 and ECW would declare bankruptcy in April 2001 and also be bought by McMahon. Prior to these acquisitions, WWF had changed internally as the program became more scripted and micromanaged as noted recently by Steve Austin commenting on when he returned from injury in 2000. And while many of those who watched WWF were unaware of this, the show felt different from my perspective. At some point in early 2000, I had checked out of watching the WWF for the most part. I watched the final episode of Nitro and switched back-and-forth to Raw in 2001 and stuck around a while for the Invasion storyline, but I felt like the WWF barely knew what to do with its own talent anymore let alone those acquired from WCW and ECW (it didn’t help the invaders didn’t seem booked to be very threatening making their level of danger rather impotent). I broke up with wrestling save for a fling in ECW One Night Stand in 2005, the last PPV I’ve ever purchased. The show was simply amazing and it got me excited again, making me eager to watch ECW return in 2006 until I watched it and realized it was just another brand of WWE and had little to nothing in common with the original promotion. My relationship with wrestling was officially over.
Following the death of my father while on the job in 2004, I decided to return to college because I was afraid I would follow a similar path as he did working a manual labor job intended for a young person that would be the death of me. My life became nothing but work it seemed between classes, homework, and working part-time as a tutor. I learned my college had an active student life scene with dozens of clubs offered for free to students. Dissatisfied with what clubs already existed, I decided to start an Anime Club learning I was a few weeks too late as someone else was already in the process of starting the school’s first such club. Instead, I came on as a founding officer of that club and it became the most popular club at the college. By coincidence, some of my friends from school and I heard about a Kaiju Big Battel event (All Out War 2: The Search for the Golden Treasure) offered for free to anyone who attended Wizard World Philadelphia 2009 at the Trocadero which we went to see and loved. Along the way, my friends and I came across a clip online about a wrestler named Dragon Dragon which amused me to no end. Later, I would also discover video about a heel stable called Bruderschaft des Kreuzes (BDK) which intrigued me. These elements made me start talking about wrestling again where I learned a number of my friends were huge ECW fans. One day at the school, we all assembled to watch ECW One Night Stand and it was amazing. I learned WWE put out a number of ECW DVDs so I ordered what was out and reminisced about the good ole days. But, of course, it was fleeting as within a few days I expended my purchases. Desperate for more wrestling, I looked into Chikara considering my discovers of Dragon Dragon and the BDK as I bought a bunch of their “Best Of” DVD compilations. I was hooked. Learning about the companies that crossed over with Chikara, I began snatching up DVDs of Kaiju Big Battel (including the show my friends and I attended), Dragon Gate USA, and Ring of Honor. I started watching any wrestling I could tune into on TV (save WWE) by trying TNA (before giving it a pass), CMLL (which would stop airing in my area), CWFH (before giving it a pass), Lucha Underground (which I loved), Pro Wrestling Syndicate (before it ran out of new episodes), Paragon Pro Wrestling (before giving it a pass), New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV (which I loved), and Ring of Honor (when it was available on Destination America).
In 2014, WWE would stream its WWE Network. Commenting online that I wish WWE would produce more ECW DVD sets with more haste, friends of mine from the website PoP! – Panels on Page insisted a great deal of ECW content was available on the Network. Caving to my hunger for more ECW, I joined the Network and started watching ECW Hardcore TV from the beginning (something I missed out on because I didn’t discover the promotion until mid-1997). Along the way, I started hearing about how good WWE’s developmental promotion NXT was which piqued my interest. Checking it out on the network, I was happily surprised to see the likes of Pac, El Generico, and Claudio Castagnoli performing under new names. I started giving Monday Night Raw chances to bring me back but repeatedly they disappointed me. I heard the 2015 Royal Rumble was so bad, I decided to check it out and was pleasantly surprised how good the triple threat match between Brock Lesnar, John Cena, and Seth Rollins was to watch. Having the Network (not to mention having joined the Nerdfect Strangers podcast), I decided to give WrestleMania 31 a shot and it wasn’t bad. It at least made me interested in the product and I would watch rebroadcasts of Raw when I would hear about good Open Challenge matches for John Cena’s United States Championship. It would be Kevin Owens’ arrival on the main roster that made me stand up and pay attention to what WWE was doing. I watched Elimination Chamber 2015 live and was amazed at the match Owens had with Cena (not to mention his victory considering it being his first main roster match and Cena’s reputation as “Super Cena”). Today, I make an effort to be aware of what WWE is doing and watch the PPVs, but mostly I watch NXT and eagerly await the return of Lucha Underground and New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV as I’ve also made a yearly tradition of picking up DVDs from Chikara on Black Friday (which this year I expanded to check out PWG and Beyond Wrestling as well).