I was fourteen years old by the time I went to my first pay per view. It was the Royal Rumble, and it opened a definitive year for some of the worst years the business would ever experience. The Undertaker was barely a babyface, Vince McMahon couldn’t decide between Bret Hart and Lex Luger for the next Face of the Company, and the steroid trials had barely vindicated the industry. These were the years I became a huge fan, the years that I spent, well – spending most of my tiny income on pro wrestling.
I wasn’t inside of course; not yet.
But I had posters; so many posters; Curt Hennig perched on a top rope staring out over a crowd; Bret Hart in denim in the Canadian Rockies, hands on his hips expectantly; the Ultimate Warrior, teeth bared, wearing neon paint. Even Hulk Hogan, an icon of my earliest fandom, sat rolled up in my closet –now scorned because he’d caused Bret’s horrific loss at WrestleMania the year before. Now Hulk was in WCW, a promotion foreign to most of the east coast, which then rarely made forays eastward, making them more profitable than they’d been in years. I met one WCW wrestler in all my years as a wrestling fan; Ric Flair, who was gregarious and professional but seemed bored with the fold de rol surrounding him at his signing. But WWF stars were very accessible once upon a time, and it was easy enough to amass an entire sketchbook filled with autographs.
The years cycled by, and by then everyone knew the circuit – Providence to New Hampshire to Bangor. I became a regular at what would one day be the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. When I grew up there was exactly one place to see wrestling outside of the Civic Center, and that was at the Warwick Musical Theatre.
I basically existed for two reasons; to watch wrestling and to write about it. School was a nightmare burden that I felt like a millstone around my neck; it didn’t help that I suffered through a violent stalking incident that continued to haunt me. As a form of healing, I tried to create my own space in the written wrestling world.
My mother told me that as a treat for my good grades – indeed, my time in Catholic school had proved to be fruitful. I was doing much better in a private single-sex classroom after some unfortunate incidents in junior high school that left me with both an anxiety condition and a sense of inferiority about my existence. But the trip would change my life and my outlook on the world in a single two week span.
I was going to WrestleMania.