Former Los Angeles Lakers beat writer, future screenwriter, and currently enjoy writing about the amazing superstars & legends of the WWE!
I've loved watching the WWE ever since I was a crazy 5-year old kid running around my living room and beating up my Hulk Hogan wrestling buddy on my couch. For whatever reason, one day I became unglued to my television screen while watching the likes of The Hulkster, The Ultimate Warrior, and Randy "Macho Man" Savage. To this day I have no idea how this passion for professional wrestling started for me or why I was so intrigued by it at such a young age. Some may call it love at first sight I suppose. Whatever it is, there's a few WWE legends of the past that I would like to discuss and express my appreciation to in this article.
Each former WWE superstar I'm about to list, one way or another, has inspired my passion for the sport of professional wrestling. I'll talk about certain moments in their careers, what made them the legends that they are, and mention a few personal funny stories about some of them. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride while I reminisce!
Perhaps my biggest inspiration in getting into professional wrestling, like countless other Hulkamaniacs around the world at the time, Hulk Hogan was the epitome of a role model for children. The Hulkster was the ultimate superhero that kids like myself strived to resemble. Each time he came out, butterflies would start flying around my stomach and my level of excitement increased to the point of exhaustion. I couldn't wait for Hulk to destroy his adversary, or in better words, BEAT UP THE BAD GUY!
I remember my mother would try to feed me vitamins, to which I replied with a stern "no", as every child obviously would. She would then have to remind me that Hulk Hogan said that I had to, which made me comply. THAT'S the kind of power that Hulkamania had on me.
Hogan was such a positive influencer for the young kids who grew up watching him. Although I can talk about that aspect of his impact, how about I talk more about the memories he's given to us?
With that being said, however, I really don't think I need to get into the details of that one night where he picked up Andre The Giant at WrestleMania 3 and body slammed the crap out of him, do I? Or how about the time where Hulk faced off against Warrior at WrestleMania 6 in one of the biggest spectacles ever seen in pro wrestling history? Or what about the time he came back to the WWE as Hollywood Hogan and went face-to-face with the most electrifying man in sports entertainment at WrestleMania 18?
I definitely don't think I need to get deep into the details of any of those monumental moments since the whole wrestling world knows them by heart. Therefore, it's pretty safe to say that The Hulkster will always be labeled as one of the greatest pro wrestlers ever to walk this earth, brother.
Bret "The Hitman" Hart
After my admiration of The Hulkster simmered down, I needed a new hero to take over in his place. Enter Bret "The Hitman" Hart. The Excellence of Execution proved without a shadow of a doubt that he would go down as one of the greatest technical wrestlers ever. Stemming from a remarkable run as a tag team with the late, great Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, The Hitman emerged as a top star for the WWE. His relatable personality mixed in with his flawless grappling skills made Bret an immediate fan-favorite. Whenever he would take off his pink sunglasses and place them onto a young fan during his entrance, the feeling of jealousy suffocated me as I WISHED I was that fan every single time.
I think because of the simple fact that Bret Hart wasn't an over-the-top character like many before him, the guy stood out as a regular dude that you just wanted to root for. Not only that, he had this "cool" factor that always followed Bret around wherever he went, and it just made you want to be friends with him. That sort of likeable characteristic in a WWE superstar was absolutely perfect for this time in WWE. With Hulk out of the picture, Bret stepped in as that perfect role model for the kids all around the world.
His matches with the likes of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The British Bulldog, Mr. Perfect, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and of course, his own brother Owen Hart, were absolute classics that I will never, ever forget. I could go deep into each of those matches and discuss every one of them separately, but let's face it, I'd be sitting here all week without any sleep. THAT'S how much I enjoyed them.
Bret Hart will always be known as one of the greatest to ever lace up the boots.
Wait, I'm sorry. I wrote that wrong.
Bret Hart will always be known as the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be!
"The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels
As someone who's been singing "Sexy Boy" for over 25 years, I find it absolutely hilarious that I was singing the song when I was a kid. Only "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels can make a song that ridiculously over-the-top and make it the coolest song ever. The attitude and personality of HBK when that character began wasn't everyone's cup of tea at first. The arrogance of Michaels led fans to wishing someone would superkick him in the face. However, you couldn't deny his incredible skills and athleticism when it came to competing inside the ring.
That respect and admiration for those skills eventually made HBK a fan-favorite and the jetpack was placed right on the guy's back, ready to take him off to the next level of superstardom. He then became my favorite wrestler to watch inside a squared circle, and still owns that spot for me to this very day. The way he connected with the fans is something I've never seen anyone do before. There's this certain bond that he created with them that somehow formed this electricity in the air whenever he would perform. I can't even tell you how many times goosebumps appeared up and down my arms each year at WrestleMania because of what Shawn Michaels was doing inside the ring.
It's literally impossible to list ALL of the amazing matches and moments that HBK has given to us wrestling fans over the years. However, I will mention a few that come to mind right off the bat. Who can forget the time when Michaels threw Jannetty into the Barbershop window?! That was one of the most iconic and most shocking betrayals in WWE history. Another moment that needs mentioning is the Iron Man Match he had with Bret Hart at WrestleMania 12 where the two biggest names in the WWE at the time squared off for 60-plus minutes. Also, his matches with the likes of Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Triple H, Steve Austin, and Razor Ramon all pop into my mind whenever I think about Shawn Michaels' matches. However, my favorite match(es) of all time (not even just in HBK's career) are the two jaw-dropping battles he had on the grandest stage with none other than, The Undertaker. Words can't ever describe the feeling of excitement and the roller-coaster of emotions I had during those two epic showdowns.
In my opinion, Shawn Michaels is the greatest in-ring performer in WWE history--and I have a strong feeling he will continue to be labeled that for a long, long time.
Perhaps my biggest adversary (in my eyes) when I was kid, there was nothing more satisfying to me than seeing Sgt. Slaughter get his rear-end kicked. Back then, I obviously had no idea what "kayfabe" was and thought the "bad guys" were REALLY bad guys. That just meant that superstars like Sgt. Slaughter were doing one hell of a job with their on-screen characters. As you read earlier, Hulk Hogan was my absolute hero, and during WrestleMania 7, which was my very first live wrestling pay-per-view, my hero was going up against my biggest adversary. Along with General Adnan by his side, the Sarge entered Mania as the reigning WWE Champion. The ending of that battle of good vs. evil, however, gave me the biggest smile on my face as my hero toppled over my adversary, celebrated with his newly won title belt, and waved the American flag in all its glory!
Looking back on all the performances of the legendary Sgt. Slaughter now as an adult and understanding the artform of pro wrestling, I don't think anyone would have fit the role of his character better than he did. The guy was SO good at being the ultimate heel and he always did a phenomenal job at making you despise him. He looked the part, he acted the part, and he certainly excelled at the part.
I have nothing but respect for Sarge and I thank him for being my adversary for those few years in the early 1990's! Keep being the awesome Hall of Famer that you are, Slaughter.
AND THAT'S AN ORDER!
Hacksaw Jim Duggan
How can you think of Hacksaw Jim Duggan and not instantly have a smile pop onto your face? The guy was one of the most entertaining and beloved WWE superstars in the company's history.
I remember attending an event at the Nassau Coliseum in the early 90's, enjoying the ambiance of the nosebleed seats. I used to LOVE chanting "U.S.A!" and "Hoooooo!" whenever I watched Hacksaw in my living room at home so I decided that it was time for the 7-year old me to start a "U.S.A!" chant. And well, needless to say, I succeeded in my attempt. I started screaming "U.S.A!" over and over again at the top of my lungs until the entire arena followed suit. I will NEVER forget that moment. I was totally hooked as a Duggan fan for life after that...
Marching around with his patented 2x4 and waving his American flag around was always such a heartwarming sight to behold. His lovable personality and connection with the fans all over the world made Hacksaw one of the most special superstars the industry has ever been blessed to have. If you have a moment, quickly re-watch his surprise entrance in the 2012 Royal Rumble match and look at the reaction he gets. The fans LOVE the guy!
I will forever be grateful to Hacksaw Jim Duggan and all the moments he provided me as a kid growing up. He'll forever be known to me as THE tough guy!
The British Bulldog
I remember seeing The British Bulldog for the very first time as a kid and saying to my mother, "Mommy, he talks funny!". At that age, I wasn't used to hearing a British accent at all so the Bulldog very much stood out to me from the get-go. He then started bringing along a special 4-legged barking sidekick named Matilda to the ring and that just made me a fan of the guy even more! I then began mimicking his finishing powerslam move with a pillow on my couch every day and hummed his theme music after every "win" of mine. I absolutely loved making myself believe that I was the British Bulldog.
Davey Boy became an absolute favorite of mine for those reasons listed above, but looking back on his career now, I can see the other reasons why I was drawn to him. I distinctly remember how PUMPED UP I was while watching the 1995 Royal Rumble match where Davey and HBK went the distance together. In my opinion, that rumble match goes down in history as one of the best, and The British Bulldog is a huge reason for that.
His incredible and monumental match with his brother-in-law, Bret Hart, at SummerSlam 1992 is STILL talked about today as one of the greatest of all time. The electricity in the air that night made that battle at Wembley Stadium between family so remarkably special. I would suggest to every up-and-coming professional wrestler who is looking to learn the ropes (literally) to watch that match over and over again. The technical wrestling Bulldog and Bret displayed throughout their battle for the Intercontinental Title was extraordinary.
Much respect to The British Bulldog, to his family, and the legacy he left behind.
Let me kick this one off with a story about the late, great Owen Hart.
I went to an autograph signing after a show at the Nassau Coliseum (it might have actually been the same show I talked about in the Hacksaw Jim Duggan part earlier) and had to go down the line of all the wrestlers that were sitting there. One of those wrestlers was Owen Hart. As I also stated earlier, I had NO idea what kayfabe was and really thought that the bad guys who were doing and saying bad things were REALLY bad guys! I did not appreciate the antics of Owen's on-screen character so I gave him this detested look while he was signing my picture, and then, unfortunately, ripped that picture when I got into the car. THAT'S HOW GOOD OWEN HART GOT ME! He was SO amazing at being that annoying heel that he actually made me rip his autograph up...
Obviously looking back on that day now, I really, really hate my 7-year old self for doing that--haha!
The love and respect I now have for Owen Hart is completely unparalleled. He was hands down one of the greatest mat technicians the sport of professional wrestling has ever seen. I will NEVER forget the match that kicked off WrestleMania 10 that featured Owen vs. Bret, and seeing Owen finally get the upper-hand and pin down his older brother for the 1-2-3. That match is definitely one of my all-time favorites as it had everything you could possibly ask for.
Whenever I'm having a bad day or even a bad week, muttering the words, "Enough is enough, and it's time for a change!" always comes to my mind. It especially makes me feel better when I imagine Owen screaming it at me.
Hearing all of the ribs and jokes that Owen pulled on his peers over the years is always such a treat for me. The guy was so full of life and so full of love towards every person he came into contact with, and even though I didn't exactly love him at the time, I'm incredibly grateful that my 7-year old self got to even come into arm's reach of such an amazing person.
You are certainly NOT a nugget, Owen. You're one of a kind. Never forgotten.
Back when the WWE was full of so many different kinds of characters, they had a very special character by the name of Tatanka. My mother, who isn't a wrestling fan at all and just knows a handful of guys, still talks about Tatanka to this day. You want to know why? Because I would march around the house all day, every day, singing Tatanka's theme music (especially the Native American call in the very beginning), and it would drive her NUTS. I looked like a crazy kid all hopped up on sugar without an end in sight, chopping everything around the house, and it was all while pretending to be Tatanka.
The guy was so distinctly different from anyone the WWE Universe at the time had ever seen and he stood out in such an awesome way. I'll never forget when he turned heel on Lex Luger at SummerSlam 1994 and joined Ted Dibiase's Money Incorporated faction. I was completely heartbroken--haha. However, looking back on that moment now, it was such a shocking turn of events and an incredibly memorable moment in SummerSlam history.
In my opinion, Tatanka should someday be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. He obviously has the vote of my 7-year old self!
Jake "The Snake" Roberts
One of the most feared and chilling superstars back in the early 1990's, Jake "The Snake" Roberts scared the living poop out of me when I was a kid. His calm and ominous promos alone were enough to make me have nightmares at night. Whenever he would whip open his snake bag and Damien would start to slither around the ring, I would have to hide my face with all the pillows I could possibly find. Anyone remember that time when the snake was biting down on the arm of The Macho Man when he was tied up in the ring ropes? My younger self did NOT enjoy that--haha!
I then got over my fear of the Snakeman when I met him at a meet-and-greet one time at the bowling alley I would go bowl at every Saturday morning. Jake was such an awesome guy to me and truly made the effort to ensure that everyone there had the best time possible. I remember constantly asking him what was inside the bag that he brought in with him, thinking Damien was going to get himself loose and bite me! It was such an awesome experience with one of the greatest wrestlers in our lifetime, and I'm glad I was able to get a picture with Jake, which I still have framed today.
No matter how anyone felt about the character of Jake "The Snake" Roberts, there's one thing we all could agree on: The DDT never looked better than when Jake Roberts hit it. Trust me on that.
Other Notable Mentions
I could go on and on with this list of professional wrestlers that helped shape my love and respect for WWE, but my fingers would fall off from all the typing. Instead, I'll briefly mention a few others that I felt an awesome connection with.
Rowdy Roddy Piper: Coming from being the most hated man in pro wrestling to one of the most beloved, there's no question that The Hot Rod was always a walking spark of controversy. Piper will forever be labeled as one of the greatest mic talkers of all time and his level of passion that he brought into each promo was completely unparalleled. His match with Bret Hart for the IC strap was one of my personal favorites, and of course, the backlot brawl with Goldust at Mania is something I can NEVER forget. Much love to Roddy always!
Bobby "The Brain" Heenan: The comedic relief. How could you listen to The Brain on commentary and NOT laugh your rear-end off? The man was the perfect heel color commentator and such a blast to listen to. I'll never forget WrestleMania 9 when he rode into the arena on a camel...backwards! Heenan was truly one of the greatest personalities in wrestling history and is severely missed by all.
The Legion of Doom: I am forever grateful to have been able to sit inside an arena and be in the midst of a Road Warrior pop. There's seriously nothing like it. They had the look, they had the personality, they had the mic skills, and they had the powerful in-ring abilities that made them the greatest tag team in the history of the business. No matter what they did, the fans always felt the RUSH!
Mr. Perfect: Literally every single thing this extraordinary athlete did was exactly what his name was--perfect. In my humble opinion, Curt Hennig is the best seller to ever step foot in a wrestling ring. His match with Bret Hart at SummerSlam 1991 was the first time I realized how amazing technical wrestling truly is. There's no doubt that he's one of the all-time greatest in-ring performers to ever lace up the boots.
The Ultimate Warrior: You were either a Hulk Hogan fan, or an Ultimate Warrior fan back in the day. Although I was a Hulk guy, there was nothing like hearing the Warrior's music hit and watching this crazy, face-painted animal burst out of the curtain like he was shot out of a cannon. One of the greatest characters in the history of WWE, hands down. Do yourself a favor and go watch Warrior vs. Hogan from WrestleMania 6 again and just FEEL that energy. It was such an unbelievable spectacle.
"The Macho Man" Randy Savage: OH YEAH! There's no way I was going to write this without mentioning Macho Madness. The guy is one of the most respected performers in pro wrestling history. SO many wrestlers today are in the business because of Savage, and his legacy is truly remarkable. Savage vs. Steamboat is STILL mentioned as one of the greatest matches ever performed, and for good reasoning. I'll always DIG the Macho Man!
Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart: I briefly mentioned this larger than life character earlier when talking about Bret Hart, but I wanted to say a few words about him here. That laugh and beard stroke was something I ALWAYS adored about The Anvil. Watching the Hart Foundation do their thing inside the squared circle was such a special time in WWE history. The two guys worked SO well together, and the love that their shared for their craft, especially side-by-side, was obvious. Much love and respect for Jim Neidhart.
As you could tell, my passion for the WWE and its superstars stems from a long, long time ago with these amazing entertainers I mentioned above. When you first started watching WWE, who did YOU share a connection with? Leave a memory of yours in the comments below OR reply to me on Twitter (BadNewsSmitty) where the article will be posted. I hope you all enjoyed my little trip down Memory Lane. Thanks for reading!