For those of you who don’t know me…and I assume that’s most of you…I’m Scott Kessler, the director of Wrestless: The Metro Pro Documentary, and I’ve been a professional wrestling fan for over thirty years. In that time, I’ve seen the fall of Kayfabe (and with it, the end of emotional investment in the sport for all but the most diehard of fans), the rise of boring,cookie cutter storylines, and wrestling personalities so uninteresting that a team of writers now create scripts for promos that once upon a time the athletes would create on the spot. I’m not going to beat you over the head with my rant (not this time, anyway). Instead, I want to returnyou all to the golden years of the WWF (not the fucking “WWE”), and share with you my memory of the single greatest match I’ve ever seen in person, up close and with my own two eyes.
When I discovered wrestling, quite by accident in the summer of 1984, I became an overnight mark, often times skipping out on my early teen social life to stay home on Saturday night to watch WWF Championship Wrestling and Jim Crockett Promotions World Wide Wrestling, followed the exploits of both territories like a religion. I bored my poor mother and many of my friends by regaling them with details about the latest matches, my opinions and dream matchups, and my predictions about future bouts and ongoing storylines. I was Kayfabe as fuck, and would argue to the death with anyone who dared to challenge the reality of it all. By the time I was 15, all I cared about was wrestling, Heavy Metal, and comic books. All I wanted was to watch wrestling 24 hours a day, and then go out into the yard and kick the shit out of my friends (and myself) as a backyard wrestler, long before that was a thing. In the summer of 1985, the WWF began to hold monthly house shows at Selland Arena in Fresno, California, where I lived at the time. I would scrape, save and con to get the money for monthly tickets (cheap seats went for eight bucks, ringside seats for twenty). I became a fixture there, along with a group of regulars who emerged every month to see the best that the WWF had to offer: Steamboat vs Savage, Steamboat vs Jake the Snake, Hulk Hogan vs King Kong Bundy, Valentine & Beefcake vs. Windham & Rotundo, Orndorff vs. Big John Studd, Jake the Snake vs. Savage, Terry Funk vs. Junkyard Dog, Savage vs. Piper, and the list goes on and on. I attended virtually every show, and saw many of the old school greats in the process.
In the fall of 1986, I attended a thoroughly mediocre card, headlined by a tag team battle royale. For those of you who don’t know (and never had the misfortune of sitting through one), a tag team battle royale dictates that if one member of a team is eliminated, that both members must exit the match. As I looked over the program, I was bummed to discover that the undercard promised ten matches, but I knew from experience that all of the prelims would feature tag team wrestlers in meaningless singles matches that would go nowhere. Despite being a die-hard fan, I was underwhelmed by the show to come, and honestly wondered if I could have spent my money more wisely.
After sitting through a number of duds (Demolition Ax vs. Big Machine…who at the time I didn’t know was Blackjack Mulligan, one of the Rougeaus vs. Iron Sheik, B. Brian Blair vs. Jim Neidhart, and other misfires), the tag team battle royale began…in the middle of the show. I sat in boredom as a grip of teams entered, including all the major superstar teams of the era. Although I’m a huge mark for tag team wrestling, I didn’t care about a stupid battle royale (and until the advent of the Royal Rumble, I could honestly say that battle royales were far and away my least favorite type of match), and I could tell the wrestlers didn’t either. In the end, Nikolai Volkoff & The Iron Sheik won over the Rougeau Brothers…and I still didn’t care.
I was about ready to go home and write off the card, when the final match of the night was announced, and made me sit down with a fire burning in my guts. My heart rate picked up, and I knew that this single match could redeem the entire miserable, boring night. I had never seen either of the competitors work in singles competition prior to that night, but my respect for their work was boundless, and I knew I was in for a treat…a treat that could rival Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage as the best match I had ever seen in person. That match was The Dynamite Kid vs. Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Although both men were hugely accomplished singles wrestlers everywhere else in the world, neither had been featured in singles matches in their time in WWF. Hart was one half of the Hart Foundation (with Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart), and Tommy “The Dynamite Kid” Billington was one half of my favorite tag team of the time, The British Bulldogs (with Davey Boy Smith). Although I would argue that The Road Warriors are my all-time favorites, the Bulldogs would be a close second, and of the two members of the team, I was a gigantic mark for Dynamite. I had no idea at the time that the two were brothers-in-law. I had no idea that they were family, as close as blood. I had no idea that they had probably put on this match a thousand times in Calgary. Most importantly, I didn’t care.
What took place for the next ten minutes was the most mind boggling display of ring skill, timing, and grace that I have ever seen. This was before “The Excellence of Execution”, and five world championships, and before the internet, so I had never seen Japanese wrestling, Stampede Wrestling from Calgary, or Lucha Libre. I had only the words and details supplied by Bill Apter and Pro Wrestling Illustrated, and ya know what? I didn’t care. All I knew was that Hart was aligned with Jimmy “The Mouth of the South” Hart, that they had tried underhanded and devious tactics and double teams on the Bulldogs, that they meant to derail my team. I respected the Hitman, as it was impossible not to (and in later years, he would become one of my favorites), but I idolized The Dynamite Kid (and of course, had no idea that he was a horrible human being until years later), and wanted to see him whip the Hitman’s ass.
The bell rang, and Dave Hebner indicated that the match had begun…Vertical dropkicks six feet in the air, from a standing position. Tilt-a-whirl armdrags. Snap vertical suplexes. Springboard bodypresses. Planchas. Sentons. Aerial machinations that defied anything else I had ever seen, including the insane skills of Jimmy Snuka and Ricky Steamboat, and mat wrestling that made Hulk Hogan’s endless reign as “champion” seem embarrassing, and forced. That this orange-skinned oaf was elevated above wrestlers like these two, that he was sold as unstoppable and superior in light of skill such as this, was disgraceful.
The match ended when Hart climbed to the top rope to execute…something…and Dynamite caught him in mid-air, turned the dive into a flying belly-to-belly suplex, and planted him center ring for the 1-2-3. I jumped to my feet, and roared (not unlike the way I ROAR at Metro Pro Wrestling shows…and in many ways, completely unlike that). I think it was that night that I realized that wrestling was real, in ways that the naysayers and haters could never take away from it, in a way that showed through the passion and intensity of the two men who had just validated all of my hours of markdom, had just paid me back for my loyalty, for my own intensity, for my belief, and for my love of professional wrestling. I left greatly pleased that I had come to the show that night, that I had had the pleasure of seeing such a match, and equally pleased that I was the only one who seemed to appreciate it such as I had.
If only the WWE could step back in time, before wrestling was taken over by sculpted bodybuilders who can’t string together an original thought, before packaged matches, before microwave storylines and the three match cycle, before HHH took over and remade wrestling in his own image, and just watch that match…maybe it would remind them what wrestling is supposed to be. Maybe it would remind them that storytelling is inherent in the matches themselves, and not in a twenty-minute monologue, or a scripted rant. Maybe it would remind them of Ric Flair, of Jim Cornette, of Terry Funk, of Nick Bockwinkle, of Freddie Blassie, of Larry Zybyszko, of Kevin Sullivan, of Dusty Rhoads, of Sting, of Bill Watts, of Stan Hansen, of Jake the Snake…and help us forget Eric Bischoff, Kevin Nash, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Disco Inferno, Goldberg and Vince motherfucking Russo. Maybe then, they would remember integrity. Maybe then, they’d remember who they’re supposed to be, and what they could mean again.
[Editor-in-Chief: Rene Martinez]