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SPECIAL EVENT : Wrestling Federation's Guided Muscles Aimed at Anaheim

March 12, 1992|KEN WILLIAMS | Ken Williams is a member of the Times Orange County Edition staff.

You see their brooding likenesses on the front of your kid's lunch box and on displays at your local video store. They glower at you from the back of your cereal box. Their meaty profiles are emblazoned on virtually every type of product you can think of, from batteries to bodyboards. They have such names as Jake (the Snake) Roberts, Brett (Hitman) Hart and Randy (Macho Man) Savage.

They're the muscle-bound gladiators of the World Wrestling Federation, and they'll be tearing up the ring this Saturday, live, at the Anaheim Convention Center.

While some may look at pro wrestling with considerable amount of disdain, it does have a sizable following. World Wrestling Federation, under the umbrella of it's mother company, TitanSports, is broadcast on 300 television affiliates across North America. It claims an audience of more than 20 million regular viewers and ranks right behind "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" in viewer popularity . The shows are dubbed in seven languages and are broadcast in more than 40 countries.

It's an impressive allegiance. But WWF spokesman Steve Planamenta isn't surprised at the shows' success.

"Basically we provide lighthearted, family entertainment at a reasonable price that gets people emotionally involved," Planamenta said recently by phone from WWF headquarters in Stamford, Conn.

"We listen to people and try to give them what they want (by) providing a character for every taste. Whether you want to cheer the good guy or boo the bad guy, we have a character for everyone," he added.

And characters they are.

There's the Mountie, one of the Federation's "bad guys" who, in the guise of a Canadian Mountie, bullies his adversaries with a cattle prod.

Then there are the Bushwhackers, a pair of brothers from New Zealand who are popular for their crude, lowlife etiquette and unpredictable wrestling style.

Another baddie is Irwin R. Schyster (IRS), who dresses in a business suit and wields a big rubber stamp that says audit.

The characters are created by the athletes themselves, but WWF officials work with them to flesh out and enliven their personas.

"The character has to come from within," said Planamenta. "We may embellish on them, but the roots (of each character) are in the man."

The World Wrestling Federation has about 50 characters that rotate in and out of shows on a complex schedule that includes about 240 matches per year in North America, Europe and Asia.

The most well-known WWF character is the ubiquitous Hulk Hogan, whom Planamenta credits with generating much of the renewed popularity of wrestling.

"Hulk Hogan did for (wrestling) what Ali did for boxing," Planamenta explained. "He (was the first) to recognized the entertainment value (in) playing the crowd; getting emotionally involved and becoming a larger-than-life persona. He made it so you didn't have to be a wrestling fan to enjoy a match."

While Hogan will not be appearing at the Anaheim show, there will be plenty of fun characters on hand, including Macho Man Randy Savage, Brett (Hitman) Hart, the British Bull Dog, Jake (the Snake) Roberts, the Nasty Boys, Repo Man, Rick (the Model) Martel, IRS, the Bushwhackers and the Mountie.

A show will typically feature six to eight short matches to get things warmed up and then a the main event. Highlights for Saturday's show will include a grudge match between Randy Savage and the Bushwhackers and an 18-man battle royal.

As contrived as they may sound, Planamenta maintains that the shows are spontaneous.

"The fights are not choreographed or practiced in any way, and there are always some surprises, " Planamenta insisted. "(Still), the number of moves that a wrestler can make are finite, and if you fight the same guy night after night, you start to anticipate his moves. But it's not set up to pull the wool over people's eyes, just entertain them."

As in any sport, pro wrestling does have a potential for serious injury, said Planamenta.

"Look, if someone (who's) 6 foot 2 and weighs 250 pounds picks you up and slams you on your back, it's gonna hurt."

However, he emphasized that fans should not take the competition too seriously.

"Our people engage in battle, but specifically for the entertainment of the fans. Real or not real is not really the issue any more. The real issue is did you enjoy yourself."

What: World Wrestling Federation's "WrestleMania."

When: Saturday, March 14, at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Anaheim Convention Center, 800 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim.

Whereabouts: Take the Santa Ana (5) Freeway to Katella Avenue exit. Go west on Katella, convention center will be on your left, across from Disneyland.

Wherewithal: $10 to $17.

Where to Call: (714) 999-8950.

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