Oct. 24, 1986. The American Dream Dusty Rhodes makes his way to the ring, pushing through the throng of NWA fans who are anxious to see their hero take on Ole Anderson and JJ Dillon of The Four Horsemen inside a steel cage. Dusty enters the ring, but he is not alone.
Walking just a few feet behind him is one of the biggest heels in the company, the Russian Nightmare, Nikita Koloff. Dusty attacks Dillon and Anderson, and as fans begin to take notice of the monster lurking behind him, immediate concern sets in.
Dusty was going to be ambushed. Had Nikita cut a deal with Ric Flair and The Horsemen? Koloff entered the ring and stared silently at the crowd who was anticipating the worst.
Then, suddenly, without notice and to the shock of fans all over the world, Nikita Koloff rushed to Dusty’s aid, tearing the roof completely off the building.
On that night, The Russian Nightmare and The American Dream came together to form one of the biggest partnerships the business of professional wrestling has ever seen.
Born out of Nikita’s deep respect for Dusty’s original partner, Magnum TA, The Superpowers waged war against not only The Four Horsemen, but every heel in Jim Crockett Promotions who crossed their path.
This was drama. Sheer drama, that evolved out of necessity because of the horrific accident that nearly killed Magnum 10 days earlier on a rain-soaked road in Charlotte, N.C.
A plot twist, the likes of which come along only once in a lifetime in the business, made for some compelling television, as fans everywhere gained immediate love and respect for the man who had once been Magnum’s toughest opponent.
This was professional wrestling storytelling at its absolute finest. The pop heard that night was true, heartfelt, the biggest example of how good the sport can be, in its finest hour.
Moments like this define the love that true fans have for the business. I was 13 when Nikita turned face, and to this day the moment gives me cold chills.
When Magnum returned, walking with a cane down to the ring, I cried with him when he hugged Dusty. That moment, too, was unforgettable.
Anyone who knows me understands the love I have for the business. The truth is, I feel that the moments of real emotion and drama in today’s pro wrestling scene are few and far between when compared to those old days. That’s not to say they don’t happen, but it’s just not like it used to be.
I’m not the only one who feels this way, as evidenced by many writers online, some on this site, who yearn for the days of real wrestling action and drama to unfold before them.
Silly theatrics and elaborate showbiz are now the norm, and a lot of fans continue to be upset by it. But if we are truly looking for the reason behind this shift in pro wrestling, we need look no further than the mirror.
Why? Simple. It’s our fault.
Yes, we as fans can blame Vince McMahonfor dumbing down the product for six-year-olds, and pushing guys who have no business being in the ring. We can be upset with TNA for simply “not getting it,” and relying on stars who are past their prime to carry them to the top.
While both of these points are valid, the fact is that the major difference between fans today and 30 years ago is that while those fans believed what they were seeing, we know better. And, we’re so smart, aren’t we?
We know that for the most part, the guys in the ring do not really hate each other. We are aware of what goes into a match, from the opening hook up, to every bump and spot, leading up to and including the finish.
We know all of the backstage gossip and innuendo on what wrestler is unhappy, who’s getting a push, and who will be in the main event on next week’s program. We are so informed. We are so smart. And the source of our pro wrestling education? Why, the Internet, of course.
The second a rumor hits the net, we’re all over it like a pack of wild dogs, tearing apart every syllable, regurgitating it and presenting it as the word of God.
It does not matter that the facts behind it may not have surfaced yet, why let a little thing like the truth get in the way of sounding like an expert on a website?
This phenomenon of fans gaining more and more insight into the inner workings of the business has now caused us to even label ourselves. We used to be simply fans, who shared our common love of the sport. Now? We are the Internet Wrestling Community. How cute.
We go on and on, under the “IWC” banner, about how much we hate John Cena, or love John Cena. We debate how the PG era of the WWE is lame, or how its great, and we foam at the mouth over The Miz, who doesn’t deserve the WWE Title…or, no, no, he really does.
Why do we insist on existing under this generalized label? Because it makes us sound important, smarter than the average wrestling fan? Because being a fan equals being a mark, perhaps? Heaven forbid any of us accept the role that the basic pro wrestling audience has played since the day the business began. No, again, we’re all much too smart, much too informed, to simply just sit there and enjoy the show. That’s something all of those clueless kids who cheer for Cena do, right?
This newly evolved era of the “smart mark,” another cute term by the way, has caused promoters to change the way they do business. Changing plans at the last minute, veering left in the middle of a storyline when they should have went right, all in an effort to keep the rabid “IWC” at bay.
After all, if everyone already knows the outcome of every event, then why even go? Why watch on TV? The secretive nature of pro wrestling that made it work for so long has been all but completely destroyed, disassembled by the very people who made it famous to begin with, all for the sake of being smarter than the next guy.
Of course, some of us have gained our knowledge of the business by actually being in the business. We understand the elements that go into a successful program, and what it takes to entertain the fans in attendance.
But as a whole, the fan base of professional wrestling, in our insatiable need to be informed, have ruined the otherwise dramatic moments that now occur, and have taken all the fun out of the presentation.
How many people actually read the last page of a novel first? How many more demand to know the secret of Criss Angel’s illusion before they even see it? How many people go online and read every minute detail of The Expendables before they go to the theater?
This is what pro wrestling fans do. We absolutely cannot stand to be in the dark on any event that’s taking place. We have to be “in the know” on every aspect of the business. Our collective ability to suspend our disbelief in what we’re seeing, and just enjoy the show, is all but gone.
By the time the majority of the crowd watching a pay-per-view sits down with their nachos, they already have a pretty good idea who’s winning and losing, what storyline may begin or end, and what surprise wrestler may be returning that night. Where is the fun in that?
The typical pro wrestling audience, circa 1986, allowed themselves to get sucked into what they were watching. The obvious reason is that a large majority of that audience still believed that what they were seeing was actually happening.
The Internet did not exist then; the proverbial cat had not yet been let out of the bag.
The whole world was not privy to the backstage reality of a promotion the way we are now. Of course, a lot of people bought into the drama they were witnessing. They simply weren’t as informed as we are. Right?
But the truth is, that no, not everyone believed that The Horsemen really broke Dusty’s arm in a parking lot. When Ron Garvin caught a “fireball” in the face from Jim Cornette, any fan who knew what he was looking at, could plainly see that it was nothing more than flash paper.
So, no, not everyone in the crowd was a mark who believed everything that was fed to them. But, those fans chose to ignore the truth. Why?
Because the purpose of the business, the entire thing from one end to the other, is meant to, for lack of a better word, entertain.
Fans 30 years ago didn’t care about all of the backstage goings on. It was widely known, that while often times heels would only travel with heels, that the majority of these guys were friends behind the scenes. Again, none of that mattered.
What mattered was the in-ring action. The feuds, the matches, the storyline…the drama. That’s what kept fans tuning in and buying tickets.
At some point, we each need to decide if we are to continue with our pretentious collection of knowledge, that causes us to needlessly bicker back and forth, or if we can just let all of that go, if only for a moment, to appreciate the sport we all love.
Yes, it is our fault that its not as fun as it used to be. No, its not too late to change it. Hopefully, we’re not too smart to realize that.