One night recently on ABC's "20-20," reporter John Stossel tried to put a hammerlock on the "sport" known as pro wrestling. An ex-wrassler spilled his considerable guts to Stossel about how the punches are pulled, the flips planned, the cuts self-inflicted and the matches fixed. Saturdays my old man used to let me stay up till 11 to watch "Live Wrestling." Go, Stossel, go. Expose these bleach-blond pork bellies as the frauds they really are. Show assembly lines of unsuspecting Americans what they're wasting their daily bread on. Oh, beautiful, for spacious lies.
Stossel's defector even showed us how, with a fragment of razor blade concealed in his wristband, he did a quick Zorro number on his forehead to produce what I always figured was catsup-bottle blood. Slash-slash-slash, and right before the "20-20" camera, real blood began to mix with sweat and streak down his face. This is called "red for green"--bleeding for bonus pay. The guy had the scar tissue to prove it.
But even more nauseating was the final segment of Stossel's expose. Stossel put The Question to some current wrassler, some redneck version of Mr. T. Is it rigged?
The guy decked Stossel with an open-hand right to the ear. Then he decked him again with an open-hand left to the other ear. Stossel says he may have permanent ear damage. Stossel may sue.
As a journalist, I naturally was outraged. Who did this fat man think he was, Batman? Could he no longer distinguish between law-and-order reality and the bad acting that is hero-vs.-villain wrasslin'?
Why is it I almost can't flip around on the TV dial without seeing two whales in tights throwing one another out of the ring? Why do so many vegetable brains sit and watch some Missing Link lean into the camera and hiss, "I'm going to put the Death Grip on Kerry Von Erich and then cut off all his pretty hair! Ah, ha-ha-ha-ha!"
Why is it wrestling drew, what, 30,000-plus fans not long ago at Texas Stadium? Why is it everywhere I turn someone asks, "Why don't you ever write about wrestling?"
So I set out to write about it. Boy, would I.
The Sportatorium, just across the tracks from Reunion Arena in Dallas, reminds you of a condemned hangar. Musty, dimly lit, smoke-filled--great place for cock fights or pro wrasslin'. Yet the crowd generally is family-oriented, though some might have passed for Manson family. Black, white, Mexican--all of 'em more pumped than you'll see even a pre-game Maverick crowd.
I kept thinking of the joke, "What has eight heads and three teeth? The front row of a Willie Nelson concert." Camels, Coors, corn dogs and enough hair oil to drown an Arab. Teen queens by the backseatfull, all squealing for a hug or wink from a sweat-covered Von Erich or Beautiful Bobby. The general admission line was a block long, but there was no waiting for a reserved $10.50 seat. I also bought a $1 program--a folded sheet that looked as if it had been run off by hand.
And I started reading, "Last Monday night, Badstreet met Halstead St., and it turned into a complete street riot--Gary Hart, who is sponsoring the One Man Gang (who weighs 468 pounds), attempted to interfere with the match--but all Hart encountered was the Oriental spike. Had it not been for the Gang's chains, it could have been curtains for Gary permanently."
Spare me. Pictured was this bearded Neanderthal with a chain and single clump of hair atop his shaved head. I had to see this guy--maybe even ask him The Question. He was supposed to wrestle the second event--but he didn't show. In fact, not one match followed my program -- and the fans didn't boo or riot or even seem to care.
I think the first match involved Beautiful Bobby and Jim, his manager, who wore a white tux jacket and actually carried a tennis racket. Bobby and Mike kissed before Bobby crawled through the ropes. The crowd went crazy.
"Jim is a wimp!" they chanted. A voice behind me bellowed an unprintable about Jim's sexual preference, and I turned to see a guy about the size of One Man Gang wearing a sweat-stained "Frozen Food Express" ballcap, a day's whiskers and a Coors grin. I'm sure I saw him in "Deliverance."
Couldn't the poor soul see they were toying with his emotions? What a racket.
Before the second event, there was a P.A. announcement for someone to "call your bookie." I don't think it was a joke. But the third event was. The third suddenly became the fifth--the Main Event. Gino Hernandez, the "handsome halfbreed from Highland Park," and "England's" Chris Adams vs. the Von Erichs. This was a "Lumberjack Match," in which the rest of the night's wrestlers circled the ring to make sure no one ran.
A second-grader could have told you what soon would happen.
And that, it dawned on me, was just the point.