Chicago has Wrigley. New York has the Gardens. Green Bay has Lambeau and Houston had the dome. All great venues, none of which are lacking in stories of greatness, and tales of folklore, but let us not forget Memphis and the Coliseum within this fine city. If you are not from the area, then the Mid-South Coliseum probably has little relevance to you, but as a kids growing up in the 80’s, the magic that took place under that roof was rivaled by nothing. I have lived in and around Memphis my entire life, and I have a great deal of love and respect for my town. The city of Memphis is known for different things, and I realize that it’s crime rate is one of them, but if the deal I make with the devil is centered around swapping the finest BBQ in the world, the greatest wrasslin in universal history, for maybe getting my car broke into or my wallet stolen every few years…I will sign that contract every day of the week. It’s a risk I am willing to take, and the wrestling that I enjoyed growing up is part of a childhood that I would not trade for anything in this world. Channel 5 wrestling on Saturday morning, parlayed with an after church bucket of KFC chicken just in time to watch the Jerry Lawler show on Sunday, that segued into Monday Night Wrestling at the Mid-South Coliseum. Folks, it doesn’t get any better than that. The non-wrestling followers are scratching their heads right now, but the readers who remember these times are holding back tears, and trying to calm their goose bumps. What a time to be alive….what a time to be alive in Memphis, TN.
I would sit in front of the television on Saturday morning and jump from the couch to the floor, while taking either my brother or a cushion with me, mimicking my wrestling heroes. My grandpa would critque me as I demonstrated my Lawler strut, my Dundee shuffle, or flailed my arms like the “Birdman” Koko B. Ware. I would flip my hair and rattle my head,like the “Boogie Woogie Man” Handsome Jimmy Valiant. I would waggle my finger like Austin Idol, and I would talk obnoxiously through my fictitious megaphone like the Mouth of the South, Jimmy Hart. (I am literally crying over my keyboard with the memories of my childhood heroes and the family bonding that came from it.) My dad explained that the wrestlers who were wrestling Monday night, would always win on Saturday, to promote for the Monday night card. I simply was unable to wrap my head around his prophetic wisdom, when it came to picking the Saturday morning winners. We were open to have our own opinions of the wrestlers. There were no family rules when it came to this sport. The only thing that was considered off-limits was that however we chose to talk about the sport, as a Memphian, we never used the word “fake”.
I remember the first time that my dad took me to the Coliseum to watch Monday Night Wrestling. I can remember how real and raw it was. The smell of the beer, mixed with hot dogs and popcorn. I can still taste the asbestos that fell into my nachos, as chunks of the ceiling would fall down from the sky as the powerful body slams were too much for the dilapidated structure. The starting bell was so crisp, and so close, and so loud. The ring was so big, and so high, and made such a THWACK with every body that slammed it. The sweat and the blood were so close, and the energy was palpable. There were so many things wrong with our city, which I was entirely unaware, but on Monday nights in the Coliseum, there were so many things right. There was no distinction between class, gender, or race on Monday night. All the hate in the Coliseum was stockpiled into the corner of the building, and released like a floodgate as the “bad guys” approached the ring. It was known as “Memphis Heat”, and they would later make a movie about it. We LOVED the good guys and we HATED the bad. That went for everybody, and we felt this in unison. There seemed to be no rules in the building as the wrestlers played to the crowd. It was not unusual for a wrestler to stop in the middle of a beating and kiss an old lady, hug a young fan, or put a finger in the face of a heckler, as we all played along. It felt as if the crowd governed itself, as the huge wrestlers acted as potential bouncers for anyone stupid enough to get out of hand.
I would go to Monday Night Wrestling on a somewhat regular basis. I went enough that my mom stopped allowing me to wear belts to the Coliseum. It had become a common thing for me to go stand by the dressing rooms during the main event and wait for the inevitable “brawl” to break out. I would wait for a “good guy” to come barreling out of the dressing room and I would dangle my belt over the rail. The wrestlers would grab it as a prop. Lawler took two belts, and the Moon Dogs took one. It was that kind of play, and the actors were perfect.
Wrestling had gone mainstream and the WWF had become the big game. Hulkamania was running wild, and I was running wild with it. I was 5th grade and probably 12 years old. At this time in the late 80’s, it seemed everybody loved wrestling. It was considered the greatest of compliments to get “jumped” in between classes as your friends staged makeshift battle royals, dropping atomic elbows and chest slaps. Being the winner or the loser of a spontaneous wrestling match was of no consequence, it was the dramatics that were important. At 12 years old, there was no folding chair that I was not compelled to break over someone’s back, no table that I did not imagine jumping through, no railing that could not act as a ring-rope, and no piece of string that did not become an imaginary hidden chain to be drawn from the tights and wrapped openly around my wrist, as the crowd would go wild, encouraging my breaking of the rules. The world was one big wrestling ring, and anytime was appropriate for an imaginary match. An oncoming sneak attack was always eminent, and was usually kicked off by an elbow, clothesline, or back handed chest slap. There was, of course, the surprise “sleeper hold”, which if executed properly, there was no defense. As someone would sneak up from behind and initiate the sleeper hold, there were only two options:
- Wait for a referee (random friend) to raise your arm for the standard “three drop”, before he pronounced you unconscious, giving the initiator of the match the victory.
- Allow the obligatory “two drop” of the arm, before catching your dropping arm on the downstroke of three, only to clinch your fist, flex your arm, and begin pulsing your fist and wait for the crowd’s adrenaline to give you the strength to break free, reverse-twist your adversaries arm over your head, while simultaneously stomping your foot to the canvas as loudly as possible (at this point, the possibilities were infinite).
The news had spread that a miracle was coming and my dreams had been answered! WWF was coming to Memphis, and the Hulkster was coming with it. I had to go, this had to happen. I don’t remember the specifics, but somehow it worked out that me and my buddies Trip and Alex were being allowed to attend the WWf event at the Coliseum, on a school night, all by ourselves….and WE.WERE.PUMPED! We could not wait to see our heroes, but more importantly, we couldn’t wait to buy our Hulkamania doo-rags, to sport to school the next day. This was gonna be huge. It was gonna be just like the magic of Monday Night Wrestling, only different actors. I could not wait to share the experience with Alex and Trip.
We acted as we would during any wrestling event in Memphis, TN. We yelled and we heckled, and we cheered and we boo-ed. We were having a great time and taking it all in. We decided that we would try to get close to the ring, so that maybe we could slap fives with one of the wrestlers. It just so happened that the star approaching the ring was Dino Bravo, “Canada’s Strongest Man”. He was a bad guy, and he was playing his part. He strutted past the audience, stopping only to intimidate, yell insults, and peer into the eyes of the audience members. “You big jerk”, yelled Alex, and we slapped high five. “You stupid dummy”, hollered Trip, as we were hugging with excitement. Dino was getting closer and he was almost arms reach. I held out my hand, for him to possibly slap it, but he ignored me just as he did the other 100’s of outstretched arms around him. As a cocky, dumb, fifth grader, whose heroes were local Memphis wrestlers, I did the only thing I knew to do. I balled up my fist, and gave him as hard of a closed fist-ed, wrestling style smack on the side of his arm as I could. WHACK, was the sound that the bottom side of my fist made as it slapped the muscular meat of this giant’s bulbous bicep…….
Holy Sh*t was this dumb.
Oh my God, this was stupid.
What the hell was I thinking?
I am officially up that creek that my dad always tells me about.
This is the end.
I had gotten carried away.
This was not the dumbest thing I had ever done, but this was beyond the standard “poor conduct” grade or “disrupts class often” note home from my teacher. Even at 12 years of age, I knew full well, that I had made a huge mistake. Trip and Alex, where only moments ago were clung to me with excitement, were standing with their jaws on the floor, with a look on their faces that screamed, “Wilson, you are officially the dumbest son-of-a-bitch on the planet”. I had gone too far. I had let the excitement get the best of me.
Dino Bravo, “Canada’s Strongest Man” stopped dead in his tracks. Playtime was over. He was friggin HOT. There was no more acting, and his temper had flared. The entire crowd all but stopped what they were doing, as the attention immediately shifted from “Canada’s Strongest Man” to “The World’s Dumbest Dickhead”. It was all Dino Bravo could do, to keep from breaking someone’s jaw. The only thing that saved me was that Dino was not entirely sure who had done it (on top of the fact that I was twelve, but I don’t think that even that would have stopped him from laying me out). He canvased the ladnscape as he tried to identify his assailant. You could see his scanner processing the data, like something from a Terminator movie. The felling I got was that he was willing to end someone’s life for what they had done, and I’m pretty sure that Alex and Tripp agreed with me on this. As his pause was expiring, he drew in a deep breath. He backed up like a viper who was getting ready to strike. He didn’t use his fangs, and he didn’t shoot out venom, but he shot out a sea of saliva that misted everyone close by. Dino Bravo had spat in my face.
It had only been seconds, before security came and grabbed us. They said, “which one of y’all spat on Dino Bravo?!!” Before we could even plea our case, which I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to plea (the spitting versus hitting, didn’t sound like a bad trade) someone said, “these kids didn’t spit on Dino, Dino spit on us! LEAVE THE SE KIDS ALONE!”. Our knight in shining armor had come to our defense…..except for he wasn’t a knight, there was no armor, and he was not riding a horse. He was a drunken redneck, who appeared to be riding a crystal meth high, but he take our defense and QUICKLY draw all the attention away from us and receive a very public ass whipping, right there on the stadium floor, compliments of Coliseum security. Tripp, Alex and myself went straight to our chairs and I don’t think we spoke a word. We purchased our Hulkster gear and we sat there like church mice. We were just happy to make it out of there with our skin.
Peace, Love, and all things Beef related,