'Wrestling Tnt': Tacky, But Raunchy


Some fans say their biggest sports thrill was watching Henry Aaron break Babe Ruth's career home run record, or watching Dr. J make a super dunk in basketball, or watching the 49ers crush the Dolphins in football's Super Bowl.

Mine was watching 400-pound Kamala the Ugandan Giant devour a live chicken.

It happened on "Wrestling TNT," the supremely seedy, triumphantly tacky USA Cable show (5 p.m. Fridays) whose popularity mirrors the national resurgence of professional wrestling. It is TV's most absurd, funniest, campiest, raunchiest hour.

Professional wrestling is the perfect marriage of a smattering of sport and lots of theater, so popular again--22 years after the death of the pioneering Gorgeous George--that it draws millions of TV viewers and sellout crowds of 20,000-plus to Madison Square Garden.

No matter that the chicken became Kamala's "meal" via the magic of videotape editing or that the spear-carrying Kamala may be, for all I know, a Harvard-educated tax attorney in real life.

It matters only that "Wrestling TNT," like all of professional wrestling these days, is a grand howl, a great, great show that's getting greater.

Forget about Olivier and De Niro. This is acting.

The Marat/Sade cast of screwies ranges from ranting Freddie Blassie to raving Capt. Lou Albano to Jimmy (Superfly) Snuka to the villainous Iron Sheik to boogieing Junkyard Dog to 7-foot-4 Andre the Giant (bigger even than Kamala) to Mad Dog Vachon to Big John Studd to the Samoan Tonga Kid to militarist Sgt. Slaughter and his Cobra Corps.

They all have appeared on "Wrestling TNT," a Baltimore-based, "Tonight Show"-style talk fiasco hosted by straight-faced wrestling promoter Vince McMahon, who heads the prominent World Wrestling Federation, and his loyal sidekick, the stiff upper-lipping Lord Alfred Hayes.

McMahon goes first class--including a desk with a phony skyline in the background--as he and Lord Alfred express shock and outrage at their alleged guests. (Capt. Lou Albano, who wears rubber bands on his face, is famous for interrupting with thunderous belches.) Then they show some taped wrestling highlights.

The most bizarre event to occur on "TNT" by far, however, was the Dec. 18 televised "wedding" of Paul (The Butcher) Vachon to the always lovely Diane Page inside a makeshift ring and in front of the usual "TNT" curios as George (The Animal) Steele ate the decorations. The Butcher's best man was his brother, Mad Dog.

The extremely moving ceremony came to a rousing end as the unpredictable "Dr. D" David Schultz climbed into the ring and body-slammed the groom while McMahon and Lord Alfred expressed disbelief and disgust. Later, at the televised reception, Dr. D lifted the veil of the bride and smashed her in the face with a cream pie, whereupon the entire event dissolved into a sloshy pie-throwing spectacle that whipped cream-spattered McMahon and Lord Alfred could hardly believe.

Some people.

It was inevitable that something as slickly absurd as professional wrestling would find a spiritual partner in the burlesque of rock music. The rock/wrestling bond was struck when Capt. Lou Albano and rock star Cyndi Lauper resolved their famous "feud" by picking surrogate female wrestlers to fight for the world championship (of camp, perhaps). Lauper's surrogate won in front of a filled Madison Square Garden and millions watching on MTV.

That was topped on MTV last month by the hilarious Madison Square Garden rematch between Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper, which ended in pandemonium when Mr. T roared out of the crowd to defend Lauper, who was being attacked in the ring.

What was Mr. T doing in the crowd? What was Cyndi Lauper doing in the ring? Don't ask.

Suffice to say that a heavily hyped rematch of sorts has been scheduled for March 31, to be available on closed-circuit TV in arenas across the country. Only this time, it will be a tag-team match, with Rowdy Roddy and Paul (Mr. Wonderful) Orndorf facing the 6-foot-9 Hulk and--guess who?--Mr. T.

This is getting really big. How soon before the Hulkster--wrestling's current superstar--gets a shot on "The A Team"?

We can expect that the rock/wrestling alliance will grow stronger and that audiences for "Wrestling TNT"--already one of the most popular shows on cable--and for other syndicated wrestling shows will grow larger.

Some believe that professional wrestling is a commentary on society. They attribute its renewed popularity to a national socio/political climate that increasingly invites the simplistic good-versus-evil, black-versus-white thinking that is played out in the ring.

Fans, however, see professional wrestling as merely fun.

Occasionally, reality ruins a good show, as when ABC-TV reporter John Stossel interviewed the belligerent Dr. D on "20/20" recently.

With the camera running, Stossel asked the towering grappler if the matches were legit. Dr. D, who is the baddest of wrestling's badmen, replied by decking Stossel with an open-handed shot to the head that did look legit.

A stunned Stossel got up--only to be decked by Dr. D again. Stossel ran away this time, and ABC News says he still has pain in his ears and is considering legal action. Meanwhile, Dr. D was fined $3,000 by the World Wrestling Federation and suspended for three months.

That's show biz.

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