What ‘Matt’ers: Who grew up a fan of pro wrestling and was a dedicated Hulkamaniac?

Matt Mackinder

If you grew up in the 1980s like me, then odds are Hulk Hogan was a part of your childhood, if in name only.
Everyone knew that name in the 1980s. The Hulkster was everywhere – posters, notebooks, lunch boxes, newspaper ads, you name it. Mostly, he was on your TV.
In my opinion, and I suspect there are facts and numbers out there to back this up, but without Hulk Hogan, professional wrestling is not what it is today.
And yes, I know that it’s a show and that it’s choreographed and predetermined. I mean, I know now. I didn’t know that in the innocence that was the 1980s, though.
But if you’re like me, tell me you didn’t lose your mind when the Hulk came through the curtain during a Saturday morning wrestling show to that epic “Real American” theme song?
And if we watched him wrestle, we knew that when his opponent hit their finishing move that the Hulkster would kick out of the pin, “Hulk up,” and eventually defeat the villain with his leg drop finisher. He would then pose for the crowd, and all was right with the world.
These days, I watch wrestling through a new set of eyes. And I’ll explain.
Like I said, I used to watch pro wrestling like I would any sport. I expected the hero to win most of the time, but when the villain would win, it was usually due to underhanded tactics or cheating. And I would cheer when the good guys won and sulk when the bad guys won.
I didn’t know any better. Not many of us did some 35-40 years ago.
Nowadays, knowing what I know, I watch it for the sheer entertainment aspect. Yes, the style has changed a bit, most of the mainstream companies have cut down on the gore, but it’s still fantastic men’s and women’s athletes giving it their all, performing for the paying customers and those streaming the matches or watching on cable at home.
There are times, mind you, that watching wrestling makes me feel simply old.
For instance, there are wrestlers wrestling now that have fathers that I grew up watching take to the mat. Example – Cody Rhodes’ dad is “the American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, Natalya’s father is Jim “the Anvil” Neidhart, Roman Reigns’ dad is Sika, one of the Wild Samoans, and Randy Orton’s father is “Cowboy” Bob Orton. And the list goes on and on.
The pro wrestling industry has a unique fan base. Just check the comments section of any social media post regarding pretty much anything pro wrestling related. You’ll have half the fans that love whatever happened in a select match, and you’ll have the other half all with ideas on how the match could have gone better. And they all will claim that their way of finishing a match is better than what was shown that night on a certain event.
Over the years, I have taken our sons to shows when they are in the Detroit area. They are a blast, let me tell you. Watching wrestling live and in person is the real deal. I mean, it’s great watching it on TV, but being there and seeing the wrestlers up close, nothing beats it.
Last summer, the boys and I went to WWE SummerSlam at Ford Field. It was amazing. It was loud. It was the time of our lives.
The crowd was into the event for the entire time, which was more than four hours. There was literally never a dull moment. Not one.
The drive home was dissecting the matches, what made sense, what didn’t make sense, and how that event was setting up future shows of “Monday Night Raw” and “Friday Night Smackdown.”
And it’s crazy that now, almost 37 years later, people still talk about WrestleMania III at the Pontiac Silverdome. Yes, the show where Hogan bodyslammed Andre the Giant. I wasn’t there but have watched that entire show from start to finish dozens of times over the years.
I did, however, have the opportunity to go to WrestleMania 23 in 2007 at Ford Field. That was a night I’ll never forget. I remember standing up in my seat at one point and looking around and wondering how many of those fans were 1980s geeks like I was. My guess is that there were many in attendance that night.
In many respects, watching wrestling these days is father-son bonding time. We watch. We laugh. We question certain things. We disagree. But we keep watching.
My wife and daughter try to watch with us, but they usually end up rolling their eyes and leaving the room. At times, I can’t say I blame them.
Still, it’s hard to hold back when someone asks me a question and I resist the urge to respond with, “Well, let me tell you something, brother!”
Old habits are hard to break. And after 40 years of being a pro wrestling nut, here’s to another 40.

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