Growing up, nobody was bigger than Hulk Hogan.
He was more important — to this young American, at least — than President Ronald Reagan.
His battles with Andre the Giant were of more vital international importance than the Cold War.
Hulk Hogan’s sage life advice — prayers, training, vitamins — was a more important lesson than anything the teachers were teaching at Scotland Elementary School, where I went to school in Connecticut.
WWF wrestlers held an epic sway over youngsters like me. They were as close as you can get to living, breathing superheroes; they looked like superheroes, but they didn’t stay flat on a screen. They were real. They were talking to us. They were giving us advice on how to become superheroes ourselves.
They were right in front of us in the squared circle at Madison Square Garden, where my dad would take me to see the Hulkster play out his larger-than-life battles pitting good versus evil.
What made the WWF successful — and, I’m sure, is still a large part of WWE’s formula now (I have, admittedly, fallen off as a fan) — revolves around how successfully they created round characters, presented by performers who possessed extraordinary physical skills, and a big-screen charisma that allowed fans to feel intimately connected with them.
They spoke to us — eyes to the camera — in epic, sometimes sensical, but always personal, rants.
We got to know their girlfriends.
We saw them at their lowest — empty, bloodied, being counted out. And we saw them at their glorious heights.
Early WWF was epic narrative storytelling. It might not have been written in fine literary verse, but that was central to its effectiveness. These guys were from another planet, but they could also be us.
I’m going to my first WWE show in more than 25 years on Monday at Scope. Can I get an oh yeahh.
“WWE Road to Wrestlemania” will feature Luke Harper vs WWE Champion Bray Wyatt with 2017 Royal Rumble Winner Randy Orton; John Cena vs AJ Styles in a No Holds Barred Match; Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose vs Baron Corbin vs The Miz; and WWE Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss.
I spoke over the phone with the WWE’s Mickie James, who will also be performing on Monday. I caught her between tending to her horses and getting a body-slammed-earned massage. Raised in Richmond, James first began her wrestling training in Manassas,Virginia. Here is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.
AltDaily: When did you fall in love with WWE?
Mickie James: I fell in love with pro wrestling probably when I was 5 or 6. I used to watch it with my dad. It was our bonding experience. The larger than life characters — they were like super heroes. Especially the females — to be so empowered and larger than life. It was an outlet for me. Like TV shows or music, it was kid of an escapism.
I always thought they they found wrestlers and superstars… randomly. You never thought there was a way you could become one.
Who were your wrestling heroes?
I was the biggest Macho Man fan, and Sensational Sherri, and bad guy Shawn Michaels.
I always had a thing for the villains. Because they had these attitudes, and thought they were everything and would go out there and say anything and everything.
The wrestling was amazing, but the character work on camera, speaking to the audience and captivating them… was what really [got] me.
We are a long way from Miss Elizabeth serving as the feminine ideal in wrestling. Do you consider what you do to be a feminist act — why or why not?
No… I guess not?
The prevalence of amazing female athletes and wrestlers was already there, people maybe just weren’t ready for it. There definitely seems to be more of a want and need for women’s wrestling, and that causes the bar to be raised to another level.
The women’s division is a key segment of the show. It speaks volumes for how far we’ve come.
Growing up I was convinced wrestling was real, and would not be told otherwise. So, what’s the truth? How “real” is WWE?
I like to think it’s like being in a minor car crash every night. It’s very real.
What we do in the ring, it’s like theatrical professional sport. There is an essence of acting and theater… but what we do in the ring, the bumps that we take, they’re real. Your body hurts. Even the extreme professionals still get hurt. It is very real. It hurts. We wake in the morning and our bodies hurt and our necks hurt. But we love what we do.
Does the glamorization of violence and physical confrontation concern you at all?
We really promote non-violence, in that we tell everyone before the show, please don’t try this at home.
Because people know there’s an aspect that is theatrical, and the aspect of realism…. we certainly hope and try to convince them not to [do this at home].
MMA is far more dangerous, and football, with the amount of concussions and hits that they take, [pro wrestling] is almost safer than those industries. We have the art of protecting the opponents. We know that to look like a million bucks, our opponent needs to look like a million bucks…. We’re like a family.
You have Virginia roots, yes? What are some of your favorite things about VA?
I love the Norfolk pier. I think it’s beautiful out that way. You can take the dogs on the beach — or at least I did (ha).
I love Virginia Beach too.
My whole family is there [in Virginia]. My heart will always be there.
What is ‘game day’ like for you?
You show up to the arena and it’s on the whole time. Hair and make-up. Be ready for rehearsals. [It’s not] like we’re in a movie or television show, where you get ten or twenty takes. We get one take for everything.
I like to think it’s pretty incredible. I don’t think even the most professional of actors can get everything right the first time.
For someone who has never been to a WWE event, what should they expect? How does one get the most out of the experience?
You can lose yourself in the fireworks and the pyro and your favorite superstars. You can dress up like them. The foam hands. There’s a little bit of everything. It’s a show, it’s a spectacle.
You just come to have a good time and come for the whole family. It’s a bond that they can have forever. This is the bond I had with my dad.
I always cherished those moments I had with my dad [and I bonding over pro wrestling]. He saw me from every stage, from the independent scene wrestling to the grandest stage of all, Wrestlemania. They’re super proud. He’s still very much a wrestling fan. When he gets around the legends like Rick Flair or Hulk Hogan… he turns into a child, a fan boy.
I’m like, ‘Get over here before you embarrass us.’ It’s awesome.
WWE Road to Wrestlemania is in town Monday, March 27, at 7:30pm. For more info or tickets, click here.