A lot has changed since the days of old school wrestling, though not always for the better. Here are ten things that are very much missed!
Ten Things Missed From Old School Wrestling
For a half-century, I’ve watched and loved professional wrestling.
Discovering it in 1972, the first live card I attended was at Madison Square Garden on June 24th, 1974. On that fateful night, Bruno Sammartino and Chief Jay Strongbow bested Nikolai Volkoff and "Classy" Freddie Blassie.
It was magic, and I was hooked forever.
But ultimately the business of professional wrestling has changed, though not always for the better.
Here are ten things in wrestling that are very much missed today.
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1. Champions Carrying Themselves with Class
And there were photos in wrestling magazines of Bruno Sammartino in public with his massive frame bursting out of his jacket.
That suit could barely contain him, but he always carried himself the way a champion should.
Wrestlers talking quietly and convincingly about what they would do to their opponent is also missed.
And on the rare occasions that they did get excited, and their voices rose just one little bit, you sat on the edge of your seat because it was the stuff of great drama.
For these were not cartoon characters- or even wrestling "characters."
These were athletes who– work or shoot– could tie mere mortals into knots.
2. Honor, Tradition, and the Title
The sense of honor and tradition is missed.
The programs printed title histories and holding the world belt was a privilege that few men ever earned.
Champions like Bruno were quoted as saying, "I will defend this belt with every ounce of strength in my body."
Corny? Maybe. But it was effective, and you never doubted him.
It was that shocking.
The title, the belt, meant everything then.
It was about honor. And tradition.
3. Two Out of Three Fall Tag Matches
Back in the day, two out of three fall tag matches were the norm.
And they fit a particular pattern that never failed to delight us fans.
The "bad guys," through some dastardly misdeed, would often win the first fall.
And to our horror, it would suddenly dawn on us that the beloved faces were in peril of losing.
But to our delight, the "good guys" would pull a rabbit out of a hat and somehow, miraculously, even it all up.
Then came the climactic third fall. It was all on the line. The match. Those coveted and prestigious belts.
There was not a single thing going on in the world, in our private lives, not anywhere that was more important to us at that moment than that all-important final third fall.
Back and forth, near pinfalls. We’d gasp at those two and a half counts—one after another.
It was almost too much excitement to bear.
And when it was over, whether we jumped with joy or raged at some villainous chicanery, we could breathe again.
As savage as it may sound, “juice” (AKA, “color” / bleeding) is missed.
In grudge matches that settled a feud once and for all, wrestlers gave their all out there; they even bled for you.
Often our hero finally bloodied and battered that devious heel who got his comeuppance.
It was oh so sweet.
And just as frequently, the face bled buckets right along with his archrival.
Throughout the encounter, fans would roar with primal blood lust. It probably wasn’t all that different back in the Roman Coliseum.
Because we believed back then, we believed.
And then we were satiated.
5. The Programs
I miss the programs specially produced for that one night.
At MSG, they were a primitive back-to-back four-page total with not only the lineup but photos of your favorites and the NWA stars coming in for a guest shot.
And there would be the scowling heel that would challenge our beloved Pedro or Bruno either that night or in the very near future.
We earnestly studied those programs before the card and between each match in anticipation of what awaited us that night.
Then we’d excitedly scrawl the results and the match times on it with great gravitas as if we had just witnessed Ali-Frazier in that same arena.
And at a mere 50 cents, they were a treasure to savor and keep forever.
6. Match Times
Hearing the match times is missed. "The winner of this bout in 17 minutes and 12 seconds…."
And the crowd would either roar their approval or boo until their throat was raw if it wasn’t what they had hoped to hear.
Giving that "official time" was just a slight touch that made it feel like you were at a sporting event and not a circus.
It told us that what we had just witnessed mattered. Hell, they documented the time, just like in boxing, which was as "real" as it could get.
Back then, wrestling was ever so real to us, too.
7. Card Announcements
Towards the end of each show, they’d announce the next month’s card, and a feeling of absolute joy would surge as you listened.
Fans would boo or cheer each name vociferously.
And when they announced something super special, like a Battle Royale or a Steel Cage Match, we’d gasp like a magical gift had been bestowed upon us.
And it had.
They’d often proclaim the coming of some dream match-up. My god, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka versus Magnificent Don Muraco. In a cage, no less.
You were already visualizing it and counting the days.
It was only a month away.
But how could you possibly be able to wait THAT long?
8. The Managers
If it wasn’t great enough already, there were the heel managers, the cream in the coffee, if you will.
Almost a lost art today; they were an integral part of it back then.
Heat magnets one and all, fans were weaned on "the three wise men of the East" – Fred Blassie, The Grand Wizard of Wrestling, and the greatest of them all, Captain Lou Albano.
Back then, it was mostly a blue-collar crowd who knew the value of a buck. My Dad never broke 25K in a year, driving a cab fourteen hours a day, six days a week. Yet, there was "The Hollywood Fashion Plate" Blassie resplendent in an outlandishly expensive outfit we couldn’t dream of affording.
Hell, his shoes cost more than my entire wardrobe.
How we hated the man.
The Grand Wizard of Wrestling also incited near-riots. He would spew venom at our heroes and never get what was coming to him. He was like that cockroach you couldn’t catch no matter how hard you tried.
Then there was Lou Albano. The Captain. The guiding light.
"Captain Lou and the Valiants, too…woo!" he’d rant insanely.
Hey, he was "wooing" before Ric Flair it seemed.
It seemed like "Loony Lou" had dropped down from another planet with the rubber bands in the face, the wild shirts, the massive girth, and a stream of consciousness rapid-fire jazz scat-like patter that made him an all-time great promo guy.
And when the face inevitably clocked him, he sold it in such an over-the-top exaggeratedly comical manner that we’d somehow pop and laugh at the very same time.
My god, we hated him, but we loved him.
How I miss them all.
9. Meeting Wrestlers at the Stage Door
The first thing that started "smartening up" us kids back then was meeting the wrestlers.
All you had to do was locate that stage door, and there they were.
And, boy, was it ever an educational experience.
Hey, all was not as it seemed in this wrestling business.
They’d even break kayfabe. The deranged and nearly mute George "The Animal" Steele would amicably chat with us fans and was perfectly "normal."
It was almost too much for our still-developing young minds to absorb.
But it was a rush in those pre-convention days to get that signature and meet your heroes, and it didn’t cost a single penny.
And when a Bruno shook your hand, it was as if you had been touched by greatness, and you just glowed.
You could still feel that powerful grip hours later and had to contemplate even washing it once you got home.
For Bruno had grasped it.
Yes, encounters with giants. Still to be cherished fifty years hence.
10. The Best Nights of Our Lives
Last but certainly not least is that you spent those glorious nights with your beloved father, mother, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters.
And a lifetime later, so very many are no longer here.
We shared this excitement and joy with them.
Despite financial hardships and being exhausted from a long, hard day at work, they sacrificed, took you, laughed, cheered, and booed along with you.
They were nights of awe and wonder, and you wouldn’t, couldn’t have been there without them.
Ultimately you fully realize that going to wrestling with your kin was among the best nights of your life.
You and your dad. Together. What you wouldn’t give for just one more such night.
I am forever grateful.
Yes, these are ten things about old school wrestling missed ever so terribly.
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