Pro wrestling has seen more than its fair share of changes in the past 30 years. I grew up in the south where the matches were long and "rasslin" was real. Despite the evolution of sports entertainment, pro wrestling still has the ability to thrill even the jaded. Personally, professional wrestling has left me with a lifetime of memories. Some are cherished. Some are sad. Others are just flat out disappointing. But one former wrestler would forever change my definition of real.
In 1996, I took some broadcasting classes with wrestling great Rick Rude. Well, Rick Rood according to his name tag. He was hesitant at first to open up to those of us that were fans. As time went by, he began to answer a few questions. A major sore spot was Sting. When he finally revealed why, it changed the way I would view the scripted world of wrestling.
Before class one afternoon, a group of us gathered early. Rick had promised to show us rather than tell us. He arrived with a VHS cassette. It was a recording of his final match. He faced off with Sting at a venue in Japan. It was surreal watching the match with him. It was like watching Joe Montana break down film of himself. He paused the tape, and explains what should have happened.
Rude had hurt his back when Sting tackled him outside of the ring. The ring had an odd set up, and Rude's back hit across a step as he went down. In obvious pain, Rude needed Sting's help to get back in the ring. Sting guided Rude to a platform that led into the ring. Rick said he expected Sting to simply roll him up on to the platform.
What actually happened
Rude resumed playback. Sting initiates a suplex and drops Rude onto the bridge. Rude quickly backed the tape up and points out that Sting's move is deliberate and not accidental. It was the most exuberant display I saw in the short time I would know him. His break down of the moment had a very "I told you so!" tone to it. He rewound it once more.
He said that the impact of the makeshift bridge had broken his already injured back. And as the group of wannabe disc jockeys marveled at his ability to finish the match, Rude fell silent. We did not talk about the situation once the tape stopped nor anytime after that.
Rasslin is real
Before my brief and eye opening conversations with Rick, I had outgrown the notion that wrestling was real. I knew it was a hybrid between action movies and soap operas. Words like "stiff" and "work" were not yet a part of my wrestling vocabulary. In my eyes, wrestling was merely a violent ballet.
But the experience made me realize the truth. These athletes literally put their bodies and lives on the line for our entertainment. They battle through injuries that would cause athletes from any other sport to be carted off the field. Rick Rude humanized professional wrestlers. And in doing so, raised them back to the pedestal of my childhood.
Christopher Beheler has been a pro wrestling fan since 1980, and the world stopped at 6:05 pm on Saturdays to tune in to Georgia Championship Wrestling on TBS.