Hulkamania didn't run wild on young Joe E. Legend
"...And the book of LEGEND was opened at the page marked SLAM! Wrestling."
JOE E. LEGEND - For SLAM! Wrestling
|Hulkamania runs wild in Maple Leaf Gardens -- and you can tell it's MLG by the ramp to the ring and the ushers with the caps. Photo from the Greg Oliver Collection
Actually, I firstly want to warn any wrestlers who are reading this column to PLEASE get your wage in advance if you are going to work in Scotland. I just had a booking lined up there, helped the promoter find talent, didn't freak out on him when he screwed up my travel arrangements several times and then at 11:00 p.m. the night before the show, he canceled me off and screwed me out of my wage.
I'll eventually get it when I make my way to Scotland as it's not too hard to find a crook who screws over a LOT of people, but it's the headaches I dealt with during my dealings with him that make me feel obligated to warn everyone.
If you come and see me in person at an event I'm wrestling at, just ask me and I'll tell you all about it. Got no patience for a crook.
Just be careful and get your cash in advance, that's all I'm saying.
* * *
Now, where was I? Oh yeah... my first WWF show.
Speaking of which, the company was called WWF when this happened so that is how I will refer to it until we get to a point chronologically in my storytelling when the company was forced to change it's name.
In the weeks leading up to the the big WWF show, wrestling was HOT in Toronto. Actually it was hot everywhere as "Hulkamania" was truly running wild and it was almost impossible to get a ticket. Back then if you wanted a ticket for something like that, you had to go to the box office on the morning after an event and get tickets in person. Nothing over the phone and no internet booking (hell... no internet) so if you didn't show up to buy, you didn't get to go.
Fortunately, dad's pal had a friend or relative living on his couch or something and had no job to worry about getting to in the morning, so he went and stood in a LONG line to get us tickets... and they weren't exactly the best seats in the house!!
Still, we were happy to have them in our possession and I wasn't shy about bringing it up to anyone who didn't. This was a BIG DEAL in Toronto and only a select group of about 16,000 would get to attend Maple Leaf Gardens.
You know, it's really nice to get in to these small, exclusive, elite little clubs.
I guess this was all foreshadowing my eventual predilection for being a "heel."
I watched weekly as Bobby "The Brain" Heenan (possibly the best manager EVER) told everyone how Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff was going to drop Hulk Hogan on his big, bald head and win the WWF title right in Maple Leaf Gardens with his vicious piledriver. I studied the face of the Hulk as he would yell into the monitor, imploring all of the Hulkamaniacs to come to MLG to support him and his cause of the training, the prayers and the vitamins (the three commandments of Hulkamania) and it gave me the impression that MAYBE this Hulk guy was a little bit worried that Orndorff might beat him.
Seeing that Mr. Wonderful was such a close personal friend of Roddy Piper (the man could do no wrong in my eyes), was so confident he could beat the Hulk, had The Brain to formulate a game plane AND Hulk seemed so worried, I was SOLD on having Orndorff as the new champ!!
Now before we go on, I want to confess something.
I was never a Hulkamaniac.
I have always been a fan of more technical wrestling than brawling and Hulk was a brawler. I wasn't a real fan of his promos as he seemed to just yell and yell and flex and flex. But most importantly, he always seemed to have something behind his eyes that said "I might lose without your help," and quite frankly, I wanted more confidence than that in a champion if I was to support his cause.
Little did I know, Hulk was playing me (and everyone else) like one of those guitars in the cheap music videos WWF produced to shill their albums (The Wrestling Album and Piledriver) and he was doing it brilliantly.
You see, it's difficult having a babyface champ who is such a monstrous man because he's difficult to bully and have people believe it, offer their sympathy and thus, their support of one man fighting insurmountable odds. If you look at Hulk versus Ted DiBiase Sr. on paper, it really looks a joke. Hulk is about five inches taller and 40-50 pounds north of DiBiase, not to mention that he's bigger in all the strongest places. (Hey now...keep it clean, folks!)
Then as now, I was and am a huge "Million Dollar Man" fan. I've worked for the man on a few occasions for his Christian wrestling promotion and I've toured Japan with his son, Ted DiBiase Jr., who is currently in WWE (see how I changed it from WWF to WWE to accommodate the time frame! I wouldn't lie to ya!) and found that the timing and skill are traits that can be reinforced but can't really be taught. Both generations of DiBiase's have it in spades.
Genetically gifted for this particular industry, no two ways about it.
"Everyone's got a price, yadda, yadda, yadda..."
Anyways, nothing against DiBiase, but at the time from a physical standpoint, Hulk looked like he would have flossed with him.
So as a promoter, how do I get people to buy tickets for what looks like a no-brainer Hulk victory? People want to support Hulk and want to feel their presence was needed in the moment of confrontation, but they also want to be there when history takes place so they can mouth off at family gatherings for years to come about how "they were there when..."
If you're Hulk, you talk a good game but always have that tiny look of worry behind it to show how good your opponent might be. This gets the people who support you to cheer louder and support stronger because they believe in you even when you don't believe in yourself. If you're Mr Wonderful, you look so confident, speak so confidently, kill TV squash guys in quick, decisive, deadly fashion and have your manager tell everyone how confident he was that you will win the title that people believe he might have your number.
Worked on EVERYONE.
Worked on me.
But not how you'd expect.
I actually wanted Hulk to lose. I liked how funny The Brain was and thought Orndorff would be a strong, tough champ. As I mentioned, he had the body, the skill, the attitude, the confidence and the aura of a champ.
And I loved winding people up telling them all of these reasons why Orndorff would win -- loudly and repeatedly!!
Now, despite what most people will tell you as to why they watch wrestling (the moves are cool, this or that guy is good on the mic, the chicks are hot, etc.) the strongest reason is EMOTION.
People get emotional when watching it as they gravitate to the stars performing and live vicariously through their successes. In turn, the wrestlers listen and read the reactions from the audience to lead them on an "emotional roller coaster" (so to speak) as they tell their physical story. No other sport or entertainment product I can think of runs so interactively. At least, none that command the audience numbers that wrestling does.
And the best way to have people act and react is to make them care about the something or someone. Say, a character.
And if they care about a character, there is an emotional attachment.
If you have an emotional attachment to a babyface, then you're going to be particularly angry when a heel screws them over, and you're gonna want to be there when your favorite gets his/her revenge.
That's reason why wrestling uses the time honored tradition of "good guy versus bad guy" and it's because people invest emotionally in characters of, well... character. At that time, people wanted to BE the Hulk because Hulk represented everything right and good in the world. The age of the "anti-hero" hadn't dawned yet and when the Iranian hostage crisis hit America, the American public turned to a patriotic hero with HUGE muscles and a code of ethics (this is BEFORE Hogan Knows Best) to defend Lady Liberty, fly the Stars and Stripes and WIN LIKE ONLY AN AMERICAN CAN, DAMMIT!!
"Oh say can you seeeeee...."!
Sorry, I guess I got caught up in Obama's "wave of change."
But wait a minute... he... uh... ahhh, never mind.
So anyways, by this point I was pretty confident that we were going to see a new World Champ and I was ready to cheer like a mad man for it. This wasn't Scarborough Arena, so no one there would ever have to know that I didn't always cheer the good guys.
Except I ran in to about 50 people from those events at Maple Leaf Gardens.
But I didn't care. I had read the magazines. I had watched the shows. I knew more about the greater business than these fly-by-night "Hulkamaniacs" and it was time for me to stand out from the crowd and show them all! They could cheer the Hulk all they wanted, but when the dust had settled and a new champ was crowned they would have to admit I was right all along when Orndorff held the title up high!
Yes... I was a SMARK!! (look it up)
I bought a program (WAY too expensive, but I bought every other wrestling magazine so I gotta keep the streak alive, right?) and we found our seats.
I may have had a better view of the planets aligning considering how far back we were, but history was going to be made tonight, and I was a part of it!
The lights dimmed and Billy Red "Don't ya dare miss it" Lyons (God rest his soul) came out to the ring and asked us all to rise for the National Anthem.
This was PERFECT!!! Hogan was all about the stars and bars, but we were in Canada!! No home field advantage for him!
"Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff. Photo by Terry Dart.
Oh yeah, Orndorff is from Tampa, Florida. Still, I liked his chances!
Now, most people have this impression that wrestling fans are a bunch of obnoxious animals with little to no respect for anything. Well I'm here to tell you that in every wrestling show I have done worldwide, one common factor is that people are respectful enough of their fellow countrymen to either stand quietly or sing along to their national anthem.
Mr. Lyons followed it up by announcing that some old-time wrestler had passed away recently (I wish I could remember who so I could write a proper tribute to him) and would we please remain standing as they rang the bell 10 times in his memory.
Not a sound from the crowd.
So I want to offer a big "thank you" to all of those wrestling fans around the world for showing the class that the rest of the general public seems to think we lack and proving them wrong about us!
However, that was the last time it was quiet in MLG that night! It was now time for the superstars of the WWF to take charge!
As I mentioned in an earlier column, I get hit in the head for a living so some details may escape me. But I do remember it being SO LOUD during that show. It made the Scarborough Arena shows sound like a library by comparison as there were simply THOUSANDS more people to make the noise.
One specific I do remember is Nikolai Volkoff. At the beginning of his matches he always sang the Russian National Anthem (terribly, on purpose to get an EMOTIONAL response from the audience) and we were asked to rise for this. Of course, most people stayed seated and booed like crazy as:
"Stand up for the Russian National Anthem, you pencil-neck geeks!"
a) He was a foreigner and at the time, wrestling fans were conditioned to hate ALL foreigners.
b) He sounded like someone beating a baby to death. With a cat. On a tin roof. (You get the idea.)
So, being the good "heel" I believed myself to be that evening, I (of course) stood up and saluted for the duration of it. Like a good "heel" should. "Roddy would be so proud," I thought.
People were throwing stuff at me and yelling at me to sit down but I stood steadfast in my resolve to honor this goodwill ambassador from a foreign nation.
And to be a nuisance.
My dad was begging me to sit down, but he didn't understand what this felt like. This is what Roddy does every week. He swims upstream (so to speak), marches to his own beat, puts up his dukes, fights the whole world (figuratively) and WINS!!
Kinda heroic, don't ya think?
Not to mention the fact that I could be this much of a jerk in a crowd and not have to worry about a fight since I was just a kid and security was pretty close anyway to protect a dumb-ass intentionally getting strangers mad at him!
The other thing I remember before the main event was King Kong Bundy killing Hillbilly Jim!!
Bundymania was just beginning to run wild in 1985.
Bundy was being prepped for a big push towards the main event of WrestleMania 2 and was destroying people on the march forward. Jim was a "simple country boy" replete with goofy hat, bib overalls and of course, the very boots Hulk gave him as a present (which he called his "magic slippers" -- I kid you not!) for his wrestling debut because they were such good pals.
Hulk was going down tonight and I wanted this rube going with him... AND HE DID!!!
The match didn't last long but I ran a LOUD, heel color commentary during the whole thing that actually got enough heat from the crowd that a little girl started hitting me (once again... I'm a stranger!) and her father actually ENCOURAGED her!!
This pretty much cemented me as a die-hard heel fan for life and most importantly, in career goals as I felt a full on success in my first "heel" endeavor! I loved getting booed but at the same time being right. I guess it's the standard "rebellious" thing that all teenagers go though and this was my outlet.
Some people turn to drugs and get tattoos, I made excuses as to why heels weren't ACTUALLY cheating.
In hindsight, ANY of that stuff is pretty weak!
Either way, the main event was about to start and I was ready.
In truth, I think I may have been the only person within 200 yards cheering the heels, but I did it loud and proud. I booed when I saw the Hulk, but no one knew as it was positively DEAFENING! I have been to MANY events, concerts and other large crowded gatherings, but NONE have surpassed the sheer volume of the audience that night when Hulk came through the curtain. Some have compared, but none louder.
Hulk started by tearing off the t-shirt and chasing out Heenan, but Orndorff jumped him and beat him down.
"Holy crap," I thought. "This will be quick."
I started cheering Orndorff on when Hulk exploded with some clotheslines which sent Orndorff all over the shop. He looked TOTALLY unstoppable and I looked a fool for backing the wrong horse.
But when Heenan got on the ring apron to distract the Hulk, Orndorff seized the opportunity and beat nine bells out of him. It was MAGNIFICENT and I told everyone who would listen so.
Eventually, Orndorff set up for the Piledriver (his big move that ALWAYS won the match) and I was jumping up and down like a lunatic.
This was it!!
I was right!
No, I wasn't!
Legend's memory might be a little fuzzy on the details, but here are the results from the show he went to:
Maple Leaf Gardens - April 21, 1985
Jim Neidhart (w/ Jimmy Hart) pinned Rick McGraw at 7:47 with a powerslam
Don Muraco pinned Steve Lombardi at 6:09 with the tombstone
Ivan Putski pinned Jerry Valiant at 5:23 with the Polish Hammer
Bret Hart (w/ Jimmy Hart) pinned George Wells at 9:11 with a reverse roll up and grabbing the tights for leverage
Davey Davey Boy Smith & the Dynamite Kid defeated Moondog Spot & Barry O at 16:31 when Dynamite pinned Barry O with a diving headbutt after being thrown by Smith
Ricky Steamboat & Tito Santana defeated WWF IC Champion Greg Valentine (w/ Jimmy Hart) & Brutus Beefcake at 15:31 when Valentine submitted to Santana's figure-4 after Santana avoided an atomic drop, grabbed Valentine's leg, and applied the hold; after the bout, Steamboat fought Beefcake all the way backstage
WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan pinned Paul Orndorff when the momentum of a crossbody by Orndorff put the champion on top; after the bout, Orndorff shook the champion's hand
-- Courtesy TheHistoryOfWWE.com
Hulk backdropped Orndorff to break the move and started shaking like a mental patient. I'd seen him do this before and I didn't like it because it was at this point that he really was unstoppable.
Orndorff peppered him with punches but Hulk didn't feel them. He knocked Orndorff around with a few of his own then a clothesline, a bodyslam and a legdrop. He then went for the pin, the audience counting along with the referee.
"One." After the beating Hulk just took, Paul HAS to kick out. He's "fresher."
"Two." Why won't these people shut up? What did I ever do to them?
"Three." Well... crap!
Hulk won. And EVERYONE were kind enough to let me know I was wrong about Orndorff all along.
I was less than happy, to say the least. Orndorff was so close. Why didn't he hit the piledriver earlier when he had the chance? Why did he wait so long?
I'll answer that question as myself now to myself.
Me now: "Because that was the program, dumb ass, and it was the right thing to do for business and it worked perfectly... you heard the crowd."
Me then: "Oh."
I left MLG drenched in sweat but fired up for more. I rationalized to everyone that this loss didn't matter as Ric Flair was NWA champ and that was the belt that mattered.
Yup, I fibbed!
This is the equivalent of getting turned down when asking a girl to dance and then saying "Well she was ugly anyway." It's a cheap "out," but I took it to try and save some dignity. Didn't really work.
But this fueled my desire to return to MLG and see the WWF superstars again. To be there on the night Hulk FINALLY lost just so I could rub it in the faces of all of the "Hulkamaniacs" who laughed in my direction when I was wrong. (notice how the WWF belt all of a sudden MATTERED when someone I like wins it? I told ya, weak!!)
Not to mention, there was a new star on the horizon who I believed would finally bring us all out of this "Hulkamaniac Hell.
His name was Randy "Macho Man" Savage, and he would be my second inspiration to actually make this my vocation.
But I'll talk more about him next time.
All the best and God bless.
Joe E Legend
Previous Joe E. Legend columns
EDITOR'S NOTE: Joe E. Legend's column will run whenever he delivers on SLAM! Wrestling. Be sure to visit every day to see if he's come through!
For more on Legend's career, see his biography in our Canadian Hall of Fame. The best place to figure out where he is in the world at the moment is his website www.legendwrestling.com. Email Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org.