The light side of pro wrestling

 
 

Written by Corey Taylor

It has been one hell of a road. I’ve been a wrestling fan for so long. I tell you what, nothing can make a guy in his late twenties feel old like a lifetime passion for pro wrestling. Watching wrestlers start young and inexperienced go on to have long memorable careers and then seeing them retire. Guys like Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and eventually, not just yet, I refused to admit it but eventually The Undertaker. When I think of all that it has given me I can’t help but smile with appreciation for the past and excitement for the next twenty–five years.

I was born with a severe facial deformity that required over 50 surgeries before I was fifteen and as a young kid, it would have been a lot to handle…it was a lot to handle, but with outlets, it can be a bit easier. For me, that outlet was professional wrestling. In no time that outlet became a passion.

How many kids wake up after an operation and the first words out of there mouth is “what time is it?” and “What day is it?” Surgery or no surgery I was NOT going to miss Raw, Nitro, Superstars, Livewire, Action Zone or any other professional wrestling that was on in the 90s on the east coast.

This past Monday was the twenty-fifth anniversary of Monday Night Raw, and I have seen every episode over the last 25 years it has aired. Sure, I may throw my remote on a few occasions, swear I’d never watch again. But there I am every Monday. In the 90s I flipped between WCW, and WWE and now, I sit glued to my TV and watch WWE Raw, Tuesdays, WWE Smackdown, NXT, Lucha Underground and Impact Wrestling on Thursdays. It’s kinda like a rocky relationship. You break up, make up, break up again. Swear you will never go back, and then you do. It’s a love affair that I am so grateful to have.

I saw the birth of the Monday Night Wars, the birth of NWO, Owen Hart memorial show, The Radicalz debut after leaving WCW, The downfall and end of WCW. I’ve seen attitude, I’ve seen PG, the entire career of The Undertaker, and everything in between. Critics don’t want to see the side of wrestling that I’m talking about because it isn’t “newsworthy” It’s not about the alleged “dark side of pro wrestling” It’s about the light side. A passionate lifelong fan’s side.. The side that has kept me loyal for twenty-five years. I have two words for the WWE and everybody in the pro wrestling world…THANK YOU.

My love started before I can even remember. Both grandparents were big wrestling fans until the early 90s and I just naturally took to it. I loved the larger than life characters from Undertaker to the fantastic wrestlers like Bret Hart.

After watching it on TV for a year in early 1994, I got to go to my first event live. The WWF came to my high school. That night I saw Bob Backlund who was winding down his career at that point wrestle. After the match, he spotted me came over and lifted me up out of the handicap seating section and hugged me. I wasn’t sure who he was at the time but thought it was cool nonetheless. Looking back now, and knowing what a legend Bob Backlund is it’s even cooler knowing he was the sweaty wrestler that hugged me. That same night, Bret Hart came out, and I was the lucky kid who got his sunglasses. I was speechless. Mom told me “what do ya say?” I just barely got out a weak “thank you” before he winked gave me a thumbs up and went into the ring and won a match against Irwin R Schyster, also known as IRS. The flame was lit, and from that night on I was hooked on pro wrestling.

It only got more intense a few months later. Again, the WWF was at a local school, and I went with my styrofoam Undertaker Urn, Undertaker action figure and was in my Undertaker Halloween costume. We go to the event and were in about the fifth row. After a match or two, a man came up to my dad. A man by the name of Tony Garea, another wrestling legend. I wish I knew who HE was back then so I could tell him that it was nice to meet a legend. He was an agent at the time with the WWF(E) and asked my dad if I’d like to meet The Undertaker who was wrestling in a casket match that night. We went backstage to the locker room. A bathroom stall was on the other side of the room and beside it was The Undertaker’s casket. Dad dared me to go across the room and touch it. No way. Was he nuts? Touch it and make The Undertaker mad and have him pop up, no way. The next thing I knew, out of the stall came to The Undertaker and Paul Bearer. Undertaker was quiet but very nice, and Paul Bearer was one of the friendliest people I have ever met. I got a picture with them, and to this day it is such an honor to have met them both. To know that I got to meet The legend, the icon, THE UNDERTAKER, I hope someday to meet him again and thank him for that moment because it meant so much to me. A year before the WWE made a Public Service Announcement with The Undertaker. “Don’t drink and drive or sooner or later you will meet The Undertaker” It stuck with me. Don’t ask why but I truly got it. That PSA just implanted it in my head to never get into a car with someone drunk. I can’t drive because of my vision so driving drunk was never an issue. The Undertaker and Bret Hart remained my favorite wrestlers even as I got older and their personas started to change.

Toward the mid-90s my parents were separated, I didn’t know how to talk to girls, I was still going through surgeries, and I was starting painful orthodontic work. So things felt miserable The Attitude era was beginning in late 1996. It was becoming a more risque product. I’d have people see I was a fan and just gasp and shake their head at how “raunchy” it has gotten. I agreed but only to an extent and for a short time. I was eight in 1996, so I think as far as the demographic they were looking for I was behind by a year or two, and I was loyal to it at that point. I had been a loyal fan for so long I wasn’t walking away now. Though I was loyal to pro wrestling I was still holding onto the product I grew up with. I liked the characters like Doink the Clown, an evil clown. Papa Shango a voodoo practitioner, Big Boss Man a cop who (sometimes) fought for law and order. I was in so deep that one day when I was five, I was misbehaving in the car and refusing to put on my seat belt. A cop pulled up beside us. Dad told me if I didn’t behave he’d have the cop tell The Big Boss Man. My seat belt went on without a problem. Growing up in that animated but still thrilling era as a kid who was going through facial reconstructive surgery and on occasion the world could be a not so pretty place. So having things like Bret Hart who usually was fighting for not what was right and wrong but for the things that he saw as wrong like most of his feuds showed. Like the feud with Jerry Lawler. It was Bret sticking up for his family, against Lawler’s abuse. I always loved his message even more than the over the top take your vitamins say your prayers stuff Hogan was peddling. Bret’s message was to be true to yourself, stand up for what you believe in and don’t let others push you down. The messages were real.

It was tough to accept the new “ATTITUDE.” so I held onto the two guys that have led me this far already, Undertaker and Bret Hart. I watched them both change drastically. I watched Bret go from soft-spoken to sticking up for himself against the evil boss Mr. McMahon. The big transition was The Undertaker. Going from a grim reaper that slowly morphed into a full-on satanic cult leader who then morphed into a biker who then morphed back into the phenom without ever missing a beat….I kinda liked it! As I’ve said before, I loved the over the top gimmicks, so this was PERFECT.

I saw that they weren’t throwing away the over the top gimmicks but instead were combining them with truer to life situations. Like when a gang war broke out. I loved when The Nation of Domination and the DOA were going at it. I wish I saw more factions. The factions were one of the best things in wrestling since I started watching around the time of. A group of wrestlers joined for a reason or common cause. Factions could be utilized more than they are.

In 1996 I still didn’t get Stone Cold Steve Austin. The fact that he’d yell at the fans broke the rules and used profanity he was always cheered more than booed. But Bret Hart a guy who was standing up for his home country was being booed. He only rarely put down the USA, so he wasn’t an anti-American gimmick. Most of the time he ranted about the fans disrespecting him and not appreciating him in America which wasn’t wrong. I looked at the fans cheering Austin and just did not get it. As you can probably tell I have always had a special place in my heart for Bret Hart which is why The Montreal Screwjob frustrated me to no end, but that is another story for another time. So I’m going to jump ahead a few years.

For years I continued watching both WCW and WWF. I just loved wrestling. One night I woke up at two AM and my mother and grandmother were sitting at the kitchen table. I sat up to hit a few buttons on the remote, and a wrestling event was on. It wasn’t WWF or WCW. A big wrestler had a masked wrestler on his shoulders as they walked down the aisle. I found out later what I found was ECW. My grandmother turned to my mother and said: “How does he just know when wrestling is on?” I just knew, and I loved it.

Being a fan of the nostalgic 80s and 90s style, WCW was the perfect place for me. I even found myself watching more WCW than WWF on a few occasions, but I was finally starting to appreciate the Attitude era and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Attitudinal approach was finally growing on me. Oddly enough I saw more issues with Stone Cold cursing and attacking people in 1996 then I did when he had the gun angle with Brian Pillman. When that happened, I rolled my eyes at how much people overreacted. I even loved The Undertaker’s Satanic faction in 1999. So my scale of okay and not okay might be a bit off.

My medical stuff was at a point that the surgeries were becoming more spread out but more severe. In early 2000 I had a surgery that left me unconscious for days. I was going through nose reconstruction. They were using cartilage from my hip, skin from my rib, and built a nose from nothing. It was a lot on me both mentally and physically, and this surgery left me in a coma for about three days. Years later I barely remember it, but apparently, it didn’t look good. They were shocked how well I was afterward.

When I got home, we got a call from the Make A Wish Foundation. They wanted to know what a wish would be. I was shocked so said the first thing that came to mind “I want to go to see WWE in a limo.” A few weeks before WWE ran the music video for DX’s new theme song done by Run DMC and they were riding around in limos and riding on the DX Express partying and having a good time, so wrestling and limos were on the brain.

I got to go to the city about two hours from my house and see WWE at Madison Square Garden. No limo but the rest of the night more than made up for that. It was a house show featuring one of the early table matches in the new feud with The Hardys and Dudleys, and a match with DX was the main event. Thanks to Make A Wish I got to go backstage and meet Triple H and Stephanie. To this day its one of my biggest regrets. I was mute, and the worst part is I had planned on what I’d have said. Something I loved about pro wrestling is that the drama and chaotic storylines let me have a break from my drama and trauma at that time where it would be hard for me to keep reminding myself it was a show. So the dastardly Triple H and the evil Stephanie McMahon were just that…Dastardly and evil. I didn’t plan on them being so nice. We were led into a room, and Triple H came in and said hello and I just forgot how to speak. He tried a few times all I could do was give the occasional nod but hardly said a word. Looking back, the part that gets me is when Stephanie McMahon walked in. I was gonna tell her she was mean for slapping her mom, but once she smiled at me and talked I saw that she was SO sweet and not to mention she was drop-dead gorgeous. The week before she slapped her mother Linda on Smackdown and I wanted just to say “dude that was cold,” but she was so nice, so beautiful that it threw me off and I was completely starstruck by the both of them. Meeting them again and having a conversation with the two of them is definitely on my bucket list.

I got to meet Undertaker, Triple H, and Stephanie and got Bret Hart’s sunglasses; all before I was even sixteen. A year later I saw the shocking moment of seeing Vince McMahon on WCW and WWF television. This was before I was on the internet all the time and I hadn’t seen anything about it ahead of time. I was in complete shock. I was about to see my dream situation come to life. I was going to see WWF vs. WCW…and instead we got the Invasion angle… I’ll just leave it right there. To this day I still make sure to tune in every Monday night. Some nights are great, some not so good but I have watched through better and will watch through worse.

Matt Hardy was a big favorite. I liked Jeff but never got why everyone favored him, but something about Matt Hardy just resonated with me more, and to this day I have a deep respect for him. Especially in 2005. He was big on social media, and I loved that. Being able to see the life of one of my favorite wrestlers and being able to interact with him through (at the time) myspace. Then he posted about finding out his girlfriend had cheated on him with not just another wrestler but a very close friend. At the time I was going through my own romantic entanglement where I ended up being the one hurt, so I was behind Matt one hundred percent. Then when he was released for it, I was irate. How does the victim get fired for telling everyone about it? It was ridiculous. Then his big return…I have never been so confused about what was and wasn’t “real,” but I loved every second of it.

I suffered severe depression and for over, a year was in a very dark place. I was tired all the time, I felt like I wasn’t the person I saw in the mirror and just felt very flat and unmotivated to do anything and on top of it, the orthodontic work was getting more painful and involved braces, retainers and at one point headgear. I found out years later that a hormonal imbalance caused everything but the orthodontic issues due to a medical issue that went unnoticed and those few years were a very dark lonely time for me. I barely talked to anyone and didn’t think anyone wanted to know me. If not for throwing myself into pro wrestling, even more, I don’t know if I’d be here today. Not only did I watch it on television but I was a teenager and was starting to learn about independent wrestling.

I couldn’t drive and found out before turning sixteen that my vision was too bad. Driving wouldn’t be likely. So going to see pro wrestling was rare. Trying to get someone to drive me forty-five minutes or further for wrestling events was very unlikely, and I never wanted to bother anyone, so I never liked to ask. But one company that still came out to my little town in New York was Northeast Wrestling.

They came to my area about once a year, and my cousin offered to drive me because his godson was wrestling. When we got there, he introduced me to his godson by the name of “The Dynamic Sensation” Gus Harlacher. Someone that somehow got missed by the WWE. From that night on I was a fan and followed him the rest of his career.

As I continued checking out independent shows, I met Matt Hardy for the first time at a local signing and then again a few months later at a show in New Jersey. By the third and fourth event, it got to the point he’d be like “Hey, Corey.” Before one event he had written on Twitter that fans ask the same questions and he’d like to get some different ones. So I tweeted back with I’ll have to come up with a good one.” I saw him a few days later at an event, and he asked me “So have that question for me?” I did not.

Those are the kind of wrestlers that when I meet them, it means the most to me. The ones who care and have the same or more passion than I do for pro wrestling. The ones who would talk with you and maybe tell you a few road stories. The ones that have left a mark on me, personally or the ones I know will make a mark in the future. I love to meet them, shake their hands and thank them. The thing about pro wrestling for the people inside the business and those that watch it; it’s all about PASSION. People can find so much inspiration in pro wrestling if they look. Bret Hart, The Undertaker, Steve Austin, Matt Hardy, Bob Backlund, The NWO, Diamond Dallas Page, all inspired me and helped mold me.

I think my passion and loyalty for pro wrestling tells a lot. I mean If I can watch Triple H dressed as Kane fondle what I will just call a doll. Or after watching a middle-aged Mae Young give birth to a hand and am still watching years later, it’s safe to say that the fact I’m still in this twisted relationship and love it so much shows that if I ever meet a girl I will know that I will be just as loyal and passionate to her…if she is a fellow wrestling fan. Otherwise, I will leave her on the side of the road. Nevertheless, the passion and loyalty does tell me I can go the long haul. My passion and loyalty run deep. If I were going to bolt from any situation and weren’t in for the long haul, I’d have bolted from the first sight of Vince McMahon’s ass after he dropped them at the first Vince McMahon kiss my ass club. Nope, still here and NOW I KNOW IM IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL.

To this day I continue to watch wrestling and enjoy it as much as I did back then but at the same time, I study it. I have a writer’s mind and when I watch I can’t help but study, predict and think to myself how would I have done differently? I love everything about the pro wrestling business; What happens in the ring, behind the scenes, while traveling. It’s my goal to be able to gain more insight into the going-ons. Maybe sometime down the road, I’ll be able to contribute to the universe that helped mold me.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Corey Taylor is 29 years old and lives in a small town in New York and has been a life long wrestling fan. After being a full-time caregiver for his grandmother for eight years, he is now working on getting his writing career off the ground by writing everything from an unpublished novel to freelance articles. He can be reached on Twitter @Coreyt0304 or e-mail at [email protected].