Brendan Quealy: Fake wrasslin', but real fun

Jul. 24—I grew up in the heyday of the World Westling Federation (now WWE) when Hall of Famers and legends the likes of Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior stormed the ring with a larger-than-life presence that demanded my young eyes be superglued to the TV screen.

I have vivid memories of packed family rooms on the south side of Chicago filled with family and friends to watch pay-per-views on a 21-inch Zenith with bunny ears and a screen that hadn't yet turned an off-putting shade of green.

Action figures of Bam Bam Bigelow and Honky Tonk Man would slam plastic on plastic as my cousins and I created fantasy matches in the mini ring set up in the middle of the room. Stuffed Wrestling Buddies of Hogan and the Warrior were thrown across the room, launched off the tops of couches and choke-slammed to the ground while many of the adults enjoyed an Old Style or two.

The waves of nostalgia that crash over me when I think about those days bring only smiles and laughs.

I can't remember what caused me to stop watching pro wrestling after enjoying every one of those experiences, but I know it was many years before I heard the siren call of the ring beckoning me back to witness spears, flying elbow drops off the top turnbuckle, powerbombs and those ridiculous, over-the-top backstage promos that have long been fodder for parody.

The infamous Monday Night Wars between the WWF and WCW were just getting rolling as I entered middle school in 1996. I can't recall if it was a friend that nudged me over the edge, but I was soon enthralled once again. Obsessed with every twist, turn and piledriver of the soap operatic dance that was oftentimes well choreographed and other times ... well, not so much.

My alliance was with World Championship Wrestling, which meant my Monday nights were spent watching Monday Nitro as I sat on my basketball beanbag chair in front of that very same Zenith that had been replaced in the family room by a 55-inch Sony — now very much sporting that ugly green tinge.

Sting and Diamond Dallas Page quickly rose through the ranks as my favorites, but the charisma of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash — the Outsiders — had me rooting for the bad guys. Not until Goldberg arrived through sparks and smoke did my obsession get cranked up to 11.

During that time, the internet was growing rapidly. I found myself on wrestling websites for hours a day reading about rumors, potential matches and which WWF wrestler was going to make the jump to WCW and vice versa.

I was consuming it all. Nitro on Monday. Thunder on Thursday. Saturday Night on, you guessed it, Saturday. And every pay-per-view that came along, my parents were kind enough to plop down the $49.99 so I could watch it. I watched a weekly talk show on public access television called S.E.L or Sports Entertainment Live with hosts Rashi D and Richard T. Sinn that recapped the best in pro wrestling from that week. I even attended a live taping of it along with my dad and little sister, whom I'd both dragged into my world.

But I turned away from wrestling again when my beloved WCW lost the Monday Night Wars and were bought out by the evil Vince McMahon and the WWF. I was absolutely heartbroken that Monday night when Shane McMahon walked out on Nitro, shattering any hope that what I'd read online earlier that day wasn't true.

Not until about 15-16 years later was my interest piqued again when I moved to Traverse City and had a friend (whose identity will remain protected for his or her sake) start inviting me over for the big WWE pay-per-views. Your Royal Rumbles and Wrestlemanias and Summerslams.

Watching again was fun, but I didn't find myself hooked like I'd been as a 4-, 5- and 6-year-old or as a middle schooler. Not until recently, that is.

All that WCW once was has been somewhat recreated with AEW (All Elite Wrestling) bursting onto the scene and providing something that us hardcore WCW fans had been missing for almost two decades.

Myself and four of my friends took in AEW's first show in Detroit a few weeks ago. My voice needed nearly a week to recover after shouting and cheering for Jon Moxley, Hangman Page, the Young Bucks and Orange Cassidy.

And so the obsession is back.

On my long drives, I listen to one wrestling podcast after another. My Mondays are taken up by WWE's Raw, Wednesdays by AEW's Dynamite, Fridays by Smackdown and Rampage. And I love it.

Is it absolutely ridiculous for a 37-year-old man to be so into professional wrestling? Yeah, probably.

But even if the wrestling is fake (or scripted), the enjoyment is absolutely real.

Email Sports Editor Brendan Quealy at bquealy@record-eagle.com.