was in the eighth grade, sitting in the back of the class waiting for
the teacher to come in. Several of
the boys standing near me were pushing and shoving each other and
heatedly discussing the previous night’s live wrestling show on
television. They were talking about two disgustingly evil ‘bad-guy’
wrestlers – Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson. I knew nothing about
professional wrestling, and I wondered what these wrestlers could
possibly have done to cause my fellow students to hate them so much.
“That Rip Hawk should be barred from wrestling. He’s a dirty
son-of-a-*$#%* cheater,” said one of the boys. “Yeah,” said another,
“and he called every single one of us -- everybody in the whole state of
North Carolina -- ignorant dirt farmers. He should be shot!” The more
I heard, the more I knew I had to watch the next week’s wrestling
show. I did, and it changed my life!
There they were: two
very tough, bigger-than-life blond bad-guy wrestlers, Rip Hawk and Swede
was impressed. Finally, role models! Two men who actually thought for
themselves, made their own rules, and even seemed to enjoy the fact that
everyone hated them. What freedom! To me, it was obvious that they
were having great fun in their bad-guy roles. They were definitely
enjoying the journey. I saw Rip try to keep from smiling several times,
and I understood the humor. Everybody else was angry. I was smiling,
occasionally even laughing, and totally enjoying myself. Finally,
somebody who understood my kind of humor! And, it gave me a great
idea: Why not start a fan club for these two villains? Can you imagine
starting a fan club for someone who is universally hated? Now, that’s
humor. At fourteen years of age, I started the International Rip Hawk
and Swede Hanson Fan Club. Our motto: “Fair, Square, Modest, and
Honest!” Talk about heat! That motto caused people to hate me.
They did not see the humor in what I was doing. But, it certainly
opened the door for a new chapter in my life.
When Rip Hawk discovered that I had actually started a fan club for him,
he was sincerely flattered. He was surprised that I understood and
appreciated his humor. He liked that. He mentioned me on a live TV
show, and I even got to speak on camera. Wow. Not bad for a shy
14-year-old boy from North Carolina.
I liked the attention.
I would sit front-row ringside wearing my International Rip Hawk & Swede
Club jacket, cheering for my favorite villains and heckling the good-guy
crowd favorites. I even handed Rip a "foreign object" at a live event,
and he and Swede used it to batter their opponents. I think I was the
only 14-year old fan in history to cause a riot at a wrestling match.
The police officers were not particularly pleased that they had to
protect me from the crowd – an angry mob who blamed me
because their favorites were bloodied and beaten. I had my life
threatened by staunch wrestling fans several times, and more than a few
restaurants refused to serve me, especially in my little home town of
Burlington. Once again, the vast majority of people failed to see the
humor in the antics of Rip Hawk, Swede Hanson, and fan club president
Rock Riddle. With the rare exceptions of times when I was in fear for
my life, I really enjoyed the fame. I was interviewed in local
newspapers and even had a story in one of the world’s top wrestling
I discovered many
fascinating things about professional wrestling. For example:
Professional wrestling was the number one spectator sport in the country
and drew more fans and more money than any other sport, including
football, basketball, and baseball combined! In short, professional
wrestling was the most popular sport there was. Of course, it has
dramatically changed over the decades. Whether it has evolved or
devolved is open to debate. What is not debatable is the fact that
professional wrestling is still the number one sport in the
country. In fact, it’s bigger now than ever before. Over 500,000,000
people watch televised wrestling every week. Billions of dollars per
year are realized from merchandising alone.
Take a brief look at its
history: The public had little interest in purchasing television sets
when they were
introduced in the late 1940’s -- that is, until they discovered that
they could watch Gorgeous George wrestling on that little screen. Yes,
the masses bought television sets so they could see wrestling;
television owes its initial success to professional wrestling. When
pay-per-view was introduced, no one cared – not until wrestling was
offered. Professional wrestling made pay-per-view. Most of the
world’s major arenas set all-time attendance records with professional
wrestling cards. Take the Staples Center in Los Angeles, for example.
They had never sold out for any event until pro wrestling chose them as
a venue. Within ninety seconds of tickets going on sale for a Sunday
‘Wrestlemania’ event, every seat in the building was sold, resulting in
an all-time attendance record. The next night, the televised wrestling
show "Raw" took place there, and the Staples Center sold out again. The
following night, there was a taping of the "Smackdown" wrestling show at
Anaheim’s Pond, and it completely sold out. In fact, the largest
attendance record for any indoor event in history is held by
professional wrestling: Over 98,000 people attended Michigan's Pontiac
Silverdome for a Wrestlemania event.
So, why is wrestling so extraordinarily popular? And, why isn’t its
popularity touted (or even mentioned) in the mainstream media? Who are
the stars who built the wrestling business? Who are the stars now?
What was wrestling like before Vince McMahon changed it forever? What’s
happening in the world of professional wrestling now, and what does the
future hold? What’s the inside information and innermost workings of
the business and its superstars – all of the
"not-for-public-consumption" information? What’s real and what’s not?
These are just a few of the questions this column will answer. And,
this column welcomes your wrestling-related questions as well.
You may contact the author via email:
Be sure to enter “Wrestling Question” in the subject line.