Oh, Andre The Giant, I miss you. Maybe more than missing you, I miss my love of professional wrestling as a whole. I was a huge pro wrestling fan as a kid. It just occurred to me that it was the one “sport” that I was actually super interested in. I couldn’t be bothered with baseball or football or anything involving a ball, but I loved to watch me some rasslin’. I can count on both hands the number of sports figures I’m familiar with. Unless it’s the wrestlers from my youth. Like you, Andre The Giant. Or Hulk Hogan. Or Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. The Junkyard Dog. “Bam Bam” Bigelow. The Iron Sheik. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Ric Flair. Hillbilly Jim. George “The Animal” Steele. Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Bret “The Hitman” Hart. To name a few.
I was enamored with that sweaty ring of glory. The piledrivers. The grand leaps from the top rope. The faces smashed into the turnbuckles. I vividly remember my dad letting my brother and I stay up late on a Saturday night because they were showing “The WWF Main Event” instead of “Saturday Night Live”. It was at the height of Hulk-a-mania, and Hulk Hogan was going up against somebody for the title. Maybe it was even you, Andre The Giant. I remember like it was happening right now how absolutely stressed I was, how my stomach was tied in knots as it looked like Hulk was going to lose. And then I remember the unabashed elation I felt when Hulk did his thing, where right when it looked like he was about to be completely demolished, the roar of the crowd would energize him, and his opponent would punch him or slap him, and instead of getting beat down, each blow would only energize Hulk and his eyes would bug out and his head would start shaking and he would slowly rise to his feet and in our living room my brother and I could hardly contain our excitement at this resurrection. Had they included this kind of drama in the Bible, I may very well have continued going to church. As it was, I remember excitedly telling my fellow Sunday School attendees about the previous night’s excitement.
I had WWF action figures, I watched the WWF cartoon show, my brother and I would practice wrestling moves on each other (if I recall, The Camel Clutch was particularly painful and impossible to get out of), and pretty much worshiped those sweaty, sparsely dressed barbarians of the mat. And if someone dared to suggest that “it was all fake”, I might very well attempt to put that someone in The Camel Clutch, Andre The Giant.
It’s been awhile since I’ve thought about pro wrestling, Andre The Giant. I watched “Beyond The Mat”, which depressed the hell out of me. And then Hulk did that reality show and turned into a weird, pervy skeev. And, of course, I eventually understood that while “fake” maybe wasn’t the best word to describe it, “staged” was pretty close to the mark. Talking about it with you now, Andre The Giant, my relationship with pro wrestling is a great metaphor for life. When you’re a kid, the world is this gigantic place where everything is real, where the Hulk Hogans of the world will always prevail, where you can affect the outcome of a wrestling match through the sheer power of wanting your hero to win. When you become an adult, you come to find that Hulk Hogan never really existed, that he was just a flawed guy like everyone else, that the game is rigged and you had absolutely nothing to do with anything. Where it’s almost impossible to feel awed by anything, even though you overuse “awesome” in a desperate attempt to get that same feeling you did as you watched Hulk Hogan rise to his feet and vanquish his evil opponent.
I miss you, Andre The Giant.