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Summer Wrestling Memories

With WWE's SummerSlam around the corner, I often reflect on how many of my memories of the summer revolve around pro wrestling.  

To be fair, I haven't watched WWE programming in quite some time now.  I'm a fan of AEW now, but I can barely find time to watch Dynamite on TNT, let alone their two YouTube shows and social media storylines.  While I still find AEW exciting, I still find myself going back and watching the "old stuff" from the early 90s that hooked me in the first place.  

Some excellent stuff happened in pro wrestling during the summer months.  The entire start to the nWo invasion angle in WCW took place during the summer.  Of course, you can also read my recent article about when Hulk Hogan turned against WCW and created the nWo at Bash at the Beach in 1996 by CLICKING HERE.

I always found the WCW tapings at Disney MGM studios fun and exciting, and those took place during the summer of 1996.  Who could forget the Rey Mysterio "lawn dart" segment during the groundbreaking backstage scene?  

I also have many fond memories of staying up late on summer nights using our old dial-up internet connection, reading the wrestling "BB's" on Prodigy, or writing up storylines for the Prodigy E-Wrestling Federation I created called the American Wrestling Federation (AWF).

After waiting for over a decade, we finally saw Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan's first real in-ring meeting at the summertime Bash at the Beach in 1994.

I have a "SummerSlam:  25 Years Ago" post coming soon, but wrestling in summertime always brings up some good stories from the old memory bank.  The following 5 memories are a fun way for me to document some of my own memories and maybe remind you of some stuff you haven't thought of in a long time.  

My Brief Career as a BackYard Wrestler:  

As a nearly lifelong wrestling fan (I was 4 or 5 when I first caught the bug), I was initially upset when wrestling became popular in the mid-90s.  That was MY thing, and suddenly everyone else liked it, too!  I quickly grew to enjoy having friends to discuss the shows or rumors and predictions with!  In the summer of 1998, two of my friends were BIG into wrestling.  My parents didn't like that I watched it and weren't willing to spend any money on PPV events, T-shirts, or tickets to the shows.  These two, Joe and Drew, had all the shirts, tickets, and toys you could want.  Eventually, like most kids in the 90s, we wanted to be wrestlers ourselves and launched a backyard wrestling promotion.  I don't even remember what we called the little company, but I remember we made our own belt out of cardboard and tin foil and painted flames on it.  

At first, I was always the referee because my parents didn't want me doing anything close to actually wrestling.  "Jeff Justice" was my name as the referee, which oddly may or may not have wound up being the real name of a guy I worked with at my second airline.  He was most definitely not a wrestling fan.  Eventually, I got involved in one of the "storylines" and had my first match.  Aside from the one time I was power bombed onto a tree root that knocked the wind out of me, I was pretty careful and only ended up with cuts and bruises.  (Sorry, Mom.)

One of my favorite memories from this time was when we caused a big scene on a major road in town.  A friend of ours named "Biggie" had a rival backyard promotion with some of his friends in the next town over.  One day during lunch, we constructed a storyline where his group would "invade" our show, get the upper hand, and then we'd make a comeback and chase them off.  It worked as planned, and we chased them out of the yard and down the busy street.  We were "fighting" all the way using baseball bats and 2 x 4's until they made enough distance between us.

Cars were honking, and some drivers even stopped to get out and yell at us.  Looking back, it must have looked like a race riot or a "World Star" video.  To the passerby, the 3 of us white kids and 2 black guys, and a Hispanic kid were kicking the crap out of each other (WITH WEAPONS!) while my friend's sister filmed the whole thing.  I remember just hoping my Mom didn't drive by and see us because that was the route she took home from work, and she definitely didn't want me involved in any wrestling shenanigans.  

Eventually, the summer of 1998 came to an end.  My brother stopped dating the aforementioned sister, and as we entered high school that Fall, we all began to go our separate ways.  

And just like that, my career as a backyard wrestler ended.

Staying Up Late to Watch Extreme Championship Wrestling

Back when I was in middle school, Extreme Championship Wrestling was extremely popular.  The blood and gore "extreme" wrestling was not something I was remotely interested in, but my friends and the internet wrestling community told me it was the best show on television, so I decided I'd try it.  By that age, my parents didn't care if I stayed up late on Fridays or Saturdays, and I'd often watch TV with the volume turned down low (we only had the one TV in the living room right next to their bedroom) or stay up late on the computer well after they'd gone to bed.  

My friends kept insisting I watch ECW, so finally, one day, I asked what time and channel it was on.  I was told it was either 11:30 or midnight on the MSG network.  So, that Friday night, I was watching the clock tick by, and finally, the time came for my first taste of ECW.  

The show began with some flashy graphics and a screaming announcer (Joey Styles) highlighting their last Pay Per View event.  Clips of wrestlers bleeding all over, crashing through tables, barbed wire, chairs, Singapore Canes (now the politically correct "Kendo Sticks"), and more flashed across the screen for about 5 minutes.

Then, the same scene repeated itself.  Again and again.  

I began to realize it was just an infomercial.  I was annoyed and went to bed and complained to my friends in school on Monday morning.  They sort of shrugged and said they didn't watch "this week," and it must have been an anomaly.  

To this day, other than a WWE Pay Per View "ECW One Night Stand," I have never watched a minute of ECW programming.

June of 1994 Hogan Joins WCW with a Ticker Tape Parade

I can still remember where I was when I first saw the clips of Hulk Hogan seated atop his red and yellow Dodge Viper.

I was on my Grandparent's living room floor, looking up at their television set.  

The June 11, 1994 episode of WCW Saturday Night (6:05PM on TBS Superstation!) was shaping up like any other, with pre-taped matches of some WCW regulars.  I love the old episodes of WCW Saturday Night; going back to watch them now seems like looking into a time capsule.  Between the style of wrestling, the attire of the audience, and the size and style of wrestlers themselves, it's a blast from the past.  All of a sudden, they broke into the middle of the June 11 show with "LIVE from DISNEY WORLD'S MGM STUDIOS in ORLANDO, FLORIDA!"  

What?  I love Disney World!  What's happening?  Whatever it is, I'm was going to watch.  Suddenly, here comes Hulk Hogan atop his muscle car with what seemed like hundreds of onlookers on a studio backlot road.  Several signs and banners heralded the arrival of "The Immortal" one.

Hulk got on stage and answered a few scripted questions from the legendary "Mean" Gene Okerlund.  He made a big splash in his debut and called out WCW main-stay, the legendary Ric Flair.  The rest, as they say, is history.  

The Hog/Road Wild Pay Per Views and Celebrities

The Hog/Road Wild Pay Per Views live from Sturgis, South Dakota, every year are one of the big targets people like to point to when criticizing Eric Bischoff.  Personally, I loved the events and thought it was a great concept.  

If you didn't know, these PPV events were basically free outdoor shows at the large motorcycle gathering in Sturgis every August.  Sure, maybe it was an excuse for the motorcycle-loving Bischoff to hang out with motorcycle guys. Still, we did get those awesome video packages of Sting, Lex Luger, the Steiner Brothers, and others riding their "hogs" up from Atlanta every year.  

As a kid, I ate that stuff up.  I didn't care that the fans weren't into the matches and were there for the free drinks and party atmosphere.  I have always loved a well-themed Pay-Per-View event, and I just thought it was great.  

Growing up, my parents would laugh at the idea of ordering me a PPV for $40 bucks a pop, so I would have to live through AOL Instant Messenger updates from friends or AOL Chat Rooms where people would update what was happening.  My parents never had to worry about me asking about Road Wild, though.  We were always in Maine on vacation when it happened, and up there, we were lucky to get just two channels with tin foil wrapped around the television's rabbit ears (look it up, kids).  

I always felt like I REALLY missed out on the August shows because WCW would work weeks or months of an angle featuring a celebrity or two, and somehow it always culminated at Road Wild.  Basketball players Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman got involved in the hype of the Monday Night Wars with WCW, and I was hooked.  Not that I cared a lick about basketball or these two men, but the storylines leading up to the matches were intriguing.  The one that really got me excited in a way storylines haven't in a long, long time was the one involving comedian Jay Leno.  When the nWo crashed the set of "The Tonight Show," I thought it was the best thing I had seen on non-wrestling TV ever.   

In a bit of good timing, in 8th grade, my good friend and I had gotten into watching late-night talk shows.  Chris was a big Leno fan, while my brother and I loved to watch Letterman every night.  We had to watch it secretly after my parents went to bed, of course, because there was no way we could stay up that late on a school night.  Every morning Chris and I would discuss the monologue and argue whose was funnier, but that summer, even I had to admit that when Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan began appearing on Leno's show, I became a fan.  Weeks later, when I caught the highlight clips of Leno in his match against Hogan, it was clear he had put in a lot of effort, and it wasn't all just a joke to him.  

Given that we were in Maine when this occurred, I was on pins and needles waiting for bits and pieces of news.  The evening news from the Portland station covered the story, but the show hadn't happened yet, so they had nothing to report in terms of results.  The next morning, I made my Mom drive me to the gas station in town so I could get the USA Today and read what had happened to Jay Leno and Hulk Hogan.  

It was barely 8 in the morning, and I couldn't wait for someone to go into town later that day.  Up there, someone would go into town every day for groceries, gas, worms for fishing, or whatever, and it was their job to pick up a stack of USA Today's to distribute to the families on the beach.  With one phone line shared amongst all 7 cabins, barely 2 television stations, and over a decade away from the world's first smartphone, USA Today was as connected as we could be.

Ron Simmons defeats Vader to become World Champion

On August 2, 1992, Ron Simmons defeated Vader to become World Heavyweight Champion.  

I wish I could say that I could remember the storyline leading up to the show, but I can't.  I was 7 or 8 at the time, and as big of a fan as I was, I was young enough to not follow wrestling closely enough beyond "I like this guy, I hope he wins" or "Oh, I can't stand so-and-so, I hope he loses."  

I do remember during his run in the tag team Doom, I was terrified of Ron Simmons.  When he made his babyface (good guy) run for the Title, though, I was fully behind him.  

I didn't care about him being the first black champion.  As a kid, that stuff just wasn't important because I didn't see him as black or white.  I saw him as a giant muscular superhero with neon blue pants that could be the man who finally defeats the evil Vader.  

I was in my Grandparent's living room, again, watching.  I'm not sure why I was there, but I remember that's where I was.  I was acting out the match, flopping to the ground when Ron would get knocked down and jumping up and down when he was on the comeback.  For most of the match, Vader beat Ron down and cut him off when he was making small comebacks.  

Suddenly, Simmons reversed a powerbomb and hit Vader with the Power Slam and won the title! I was so excited I can remember running in circles, yelling so much that Gramps came in asking if I was ok.  

In 2019, when WWE brought Wrestlemania to New York, I told my wife I really wanted to attend WrestleCon and meet and take photos with many of the superstars I grew up watching.  Ron Simmons would be there, and he was the first person I made sure I pre-booked a meet and greet with.  I lugged my replica WCW World Heavyweight Title (the beautiful WCW version... not the Big Gold) into the city just for him.  We got there before the convention officially opened, and I watched as many of my old favorites walked in to get set up for the day.  As we strolled the floor, we turned a corner, and there he was. 

Ron was an extremely nice man who genuinely seemed touched that I brought "his" title to the show just for him to sign.  I couldn't have been happier to meet a childhood hero like Ron.  As a side note, Ron is the only wrestler to ever give me a "high-five" on his way to the ring at a wrestling show.  I sat along the entrance at a few house shows in the early 2000s, and everyone but Ron would always skip my outreached hand.  It's something insignificant, but it means a lot to me.

Honestly, despite having a ball meeting dozens of wrestlers, after Ric Flair pushed me out of the way to get up close and personal with my wife and meeting a childhood hero in Ron Simmons, I was good to go home.  


  1. All of this. Every bit of it. Love it.