The Glory Days of pro wrestling are gone
By Alun Thomas
The world of professional wrestling changed forever in March of 2001 when the WWE (then known as the WWF) bought out its main competitor, the fast fading WCW. Essentially wrestling became a one federation industry, the WWE becoming dull as a result, with no competition to push it creatively. Since then Jerry Jarret's TNA has attempted to force itself into the picture, and after three years of relative failure recently signed a deal with Spike to air its Impact show. The WWE currently on Spike is scheduled to move back to the USA network in a few months. To many wrestling has never been duller or bereft of ideas. Current champions John Cena and Batista lack the all round skill of past stars such as Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Steve Austin and The Rock. It appears there is nothing to be excited about. But there is. And as always it comes from the past.
One of the only positive aspcts of the WWE's buyout of the WCW was acquiring its considerable library of matches and footage from previous decades. The same can be said for the ECW also, whom the WWE bought the rights to. Over the last three years the WWE has set about releasing dozens of DVD sets comprised of vintage footage from the 70's to the modern day. Some are collections of individual wrestlers while others are compilations, such as the recent 'Greatest Wrestling Stars Of The 80's'. Over these three years DVD sets of wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Mick Foley, Chris Benoit, Eddie Gurerro, The Road Warriors and Rob Van Dam have been put out, most of them running over six hours, featuring career highlights and their best matches. Other titles, including 'The Rise And Fall Of ECW', 'Blood Bath: Wrestling's Most Incredible Cage Matches' and the mentioned 'Greatest Wrestling Stars Of The 80's' cram in historic matches, which for longtime fans like myself are a collectors dream come true.
I first started watching wrestling in 1988 shortly after WrestleMania IV and was quickly drawn in by the flashiness and brutality, which to an eleven year old seemed entirely real. Most people grow out of the sport but I never did, regardless of the decline in quality over the years. Going back and watching the classic contests of the 80's is not just a trip in nostalgia, but also important in realising how far the sport has come. The best example is on the Flair DVD where a clip is shown of the Four Horsemen 'breaking' Dusty Rhodes ankle in 1985 inside a steel cage. The crowds reaction is hostile and intense, leaving me with the impression the crowd would have murdered Flair and his cronies given the chance. Some try to hit the assailants on their way from the ring. Adding to the tension, the faces (good guys) are locked out of the cage while the annihilation occurs.
So here we have poor old Dusty broken and beaten, playing the angle to perfection, while Terry Taylor, The Rock 'N' Roll Express and Magnum T.A. appear to be in tears. The crowd is in shock, probably thinking it isn't a work, but a real event. That's the difference between then and now. With the advent of the internet fans are too smart, knowing every intricacy of the business. If an angle like that happens in 2005 most of the crowd wouldn't care. Firstly no current wrestler has enough dedicated fan support to react as passionately as that crowd in 1985. Secondly they know it's all a work, so who cares? As naive' as it sounds, I suspect many of the fans in 1985 stil believed the sport to be real. What else could explain the change in reactions?
Back in the 80's you had superstars to get behind, ones that were believable, tougher almost. I sat for hours last week watching The Road Warriors crush teams in minutes, most laughably their one minute demoilition of Arn Anderson and Paul Jones in 1983. True brutes of men, watching Animal and the late Hawk destroy the Midnight Express in a scaffold match makes me wish for those times again. The look, the crudeness, it is unbeatable. There is so much to digest on these DVD's that there simply isn't time. Flair vs Rick Steamboat Clash Of The Champions 1989 one hour marathon? Jerry Lawler's bloody win over Kerry Von Erich at Superclash 3 in 1988? Greg Valentine's dog collar match with Rody Piper at Starrcade 83? Just a hint of the hundreds of highlights these DVD's contain.
Future sets supposedly include overdue Bret Hart and Ultimate Warrior releases, but for the amount of footage currently on the market the wait is feasible. How can you not get caught up in mid 80's bloodbaths? The fiasco of Joe Frazier stopping the Starrcade 84 ttile match between Flair and Rhodes because of a cut on Rhodes head? That's a diabolical finish for such a big match (repeated in 1988 with Lex Luger and Flair). If that happened at a Wrestlemania today the crowd would riot. For historical purposes it's worthy viewing. Simply knowing I have these matches forever is one asset I hold dearly.
After all fast forwarding through RAW every week and the Diva search, plus endless interviews gets tiresome. If I can transport myself back to a time when I was younger and wrestling was new then so be it. I'll take Paul Orndorff vs Salavatore Bellomo anyday over Chris Masters vs Rosey. In the 80's and 90's there used to be ludicrous articles in Pro Wreslting Illustrated titled 'NWA vs WWF: Who's Better?' Up until 1990 I would have said the WWF. Fifteen years later I think they were both equal. The DVD's have seen to that. Right now it's the only thing the WWE can do right.