My first exposure to professional wrestling came via a massive Zenith Chromacolor television set in my parents’ living room in 1976. Big and bulky, I believed the boob tube weighed a metric ton.
A staple of my father’s weekend viewing was the Saturday morning-televised grapplin’ program. If I wanted to get any morsel of media at the time, then I watched it too.
Since I grew up in downstate Illinois, I didn’t get to view the St. Louis-based “Wrestling at the Chase” that some of you are familiar with. My wrestling diet in “The Spirit of ‘76” consisted of what was defined as the “Jarrett Promotion,” more known in wrestling folklore as “Memphis Wrestling.”
Every week, my dad and I were entertained by the studio-based shenanigans of mat men Jerry “The King” Lawler, “Superstar” Bill Dundee, “Handsome” Jimmy Valiant, “The Universal Heartthrob” Austin Idol and Jos LeDuc, the Canadian lumberjack.
My pops liked it due to its blue-collar foundation and I liked it even more because of the “heroes vs. villains” aspect that superseded any comic book. Most importantly, it provided an area of engagement between us both. We had our baby faces and heels that we gravitated towards.
For better or worse, and much to the chagrin of my mom, wrestling provided the connection between father and son, headlocks and all.
As time went on, my consumption of the sport would be cyclical in nature, much like the overall popularity of the genre itself. There would be stretches of continuous watching followed by spans of ambivalence.
Often the flashpoint of interest centered on the sport’s global kingpin, the World Wrestling Federation (now branded World Wrestling Entertainment) and its yearly showcase, Wrestlemania.
The matches of Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat versus “Macho Man” Randy Savage at Wrestlemania III, Hulk Hogan versus Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania VI and Lawrence Taylor versus Bam Bam Bigelow at Wrestlemania XI slingshot-suplexed myself back into a six-year old’s mindset. For those moments, I continued to be a “mark” for the genre.
Although those specific spectacles provided the sports entertainment flavor that every mat fan craves, not all Wrestlemanias provided the same uplift. Sumo champion Akebono versus The Big Show in the former’s specialty at Wrestlemania XXI made me feel like Mr. Fuji had just thrown salt in my eyes. It was painfully brutal.
John Cena versus The Miz at Wrestlemania XXVII’s main event certainly wasn’t the show-stealing spectacle that the company projected. It fizzled and, as a result, I casually lost interest.
And no disrespect intended for the other gender’s participants, but there hasn’t been a compelling “WWE Divas” match in quite some time. More often than not, they were merely a buffer that enabled audiences to restock on snacks.
If a Wrestlemania didn’t deliver from bell to bell, then it made me care less about the WWE product for the remainder of the year. Monday night’s cable television viewing would be occupied by something else besides squared-circled hi-jinks.
I was in one of those low points of indifference at the beginning of 2015, but for some wacky reason, I ponied-up for a subscription to the WWE Network mere hours before January’s “Royale Rumble.” I was intrigued by the event’s line-up, and for a $9.99 tab with an option to bail out within 30 days of ordering, I figured that it would be a “one and done” sort of deal and subsequently cancel the subscription.
Getting an event for “under a Hamilton” via an Apple TV hook-up compared to the $40 spent via traditional pay-per-view methods with a cable box? In my mind, it was “no harm, no blood, no foul.”
Now committed contractually, and longing to retain the perpetual title of “cool dad,” I involved my two ragamuffins, the 15 year-old son and the 12 year-old daughter. I ordered pizza, a parent’s best marketing ploy to get offspring engaged, and made it a quasi-event. I figured that if I shoved slices and sodas in front of the kiddos, then they would be satisfied with daddio’s knee-jerk purchase.
I also assumed that my son would observe the event non-stop, for teens his age like action, even if it is choreographed action. It seemed like a slam-dunk to me.
But as the three-hour “Rumble” shindig went on, the boy casually spent more time on his laptop, engaged in online gaming that involved flamethrowers. No wrestler was set on fire during the evening, I guess.
Meanwhile my daughter, who had age-evolving, feminine-targeted interests that had ranged in the past five years from Disney Princesses, Monster High and One Direction, was hooked.
But that didn’t matter to a 12 year-old girl. To her, Adam Rose was a bona-fide rock star that night. The wrestling newbie, in the span of an evening, had become an unlikely target. A bona-fide “Rosebud” had been planted and would subsequently blossom.
Since January, my second-born has steadfastly followed the trajectory of WWE’s storylines as they have progressed heading into this Sunday’s Wrestlemania event. It’s now billed as “Wrestlemania 31” because Roman numerals are so passé.
She follows it more so than I and has essentially become the spitting image of the imp that watched “Memphis Rasslin’” in his parents’ living room in 1976.
Even though we are 22 years apart in age, she and I discuss WWE plot twists and characters as if we were equals. We concur that Dean Ambrose is a “lunatic,” Damien Mizdow is “funny” and Lana is “pretty.”
Conversely, we kindly disagree on certain minutiae. She believes that the Usos are the best tag team around while I support Tyson Kidd and Cesaro. She thinks Brock Lesnar advocate Paul Heyman is a blowhard while I’ve been a “Paul Heyman Guy” since he toted a cell phone back in the mid-1980s. She proclaims The Big Show is kind of “meh” while I try to educate her that, since he played collegiate basketball for SIU-Edwardsville in the 1992-93 season, we should support the local talent.
Regardless of position, this father/daughter tandem now swaps opinions about Sunday’s “Showcase of Immortals.” Sure, we can dissect global politics when she reaches high school. For now, I’m perfectly at ease talking with her about the importance of winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale.
I don’t consider myself a “bad dad” just because my daughter and I have a current mutual interest in professional wrestling. I believe that in order to be a positive parent, one has to engage in a child’s interests, whether it be art, music, baking cookies or watching a bearded-man climb to the top turnbuckle and lead a chant of “YES! YES! YES!” in front of a projected 70,000 fans.
It’s my patriarchal pact with her, even if it currently involves the Bella Twins, who she thinks are “rude.”
While we munch on bread sticks and slurp sugary drinks Sunday, I can predict that there will be times when we’ll both be giddy. A hearty high-five if Ambrose wins the Intercontinental Championship, if Sting defeats Triple H or if Randy Orton “RKOs” Seth Rollins out of nowhere.
We’ll also shoot each other opposing stares during the Brock Lesnar/Roman Reigns fight for the WWE Heavyweight Championship. She has perfectly studied the “Samoan Wrestling Family Tree” to back-up her knowledge of Reigns and thinks the challenger will win. Conversely, I hope Lesnar gives him about ten “F5s” and stomps out victorious.
In the end it will be, if you count the two-hour pre-event show, six hours of quality time spent between father and daughter. Your definition of “quality time” might not be similar to mine, considering I’m writing about Wrestlemania.
But it has to beat the two hours that I surrendered when I took her to see that One Direction movie back in 2013, right?