‘A Mark’s Eye View‘ is a weekly look at some of the things that made me a huge fan of professional wrestling.
Today, it’s not odd to see a professional wrestler appear in other mediums. Whether it’s an amazing looking Fast & Furious spinoff, hosting Good Morning America, or playing video games on social media, you are just as likely to see a wrestler on YouTube as USA Network. However, this is not a modern phenomenon. Back in the ’80s, professional wrestling crossed over into mainstream media often.
Arguably, the most recognizable name and face in the history of wrestling is Hulk Hogan. This was definitely the case in the mid-’80s — during the height of the Rock ‘N Wrestling Connection, Hogan could be seen at all over the place. The cover of Sports Illustrated, deodorant commercials, and late-night television we’re just some of the places the Hulkster could be found.
What Hogan yearned to do most was star in movies. Hogan’s stock in Hollywood rose after his roll of Thunder Lips in Rocky II. Unfortunately, this was the peak of Hogan’s acting career and everything was downhill from there. To the Orange Goblin’s credit, he kept trying. And while No Holds Barred isn’t the best movie ever, there is a certain pleasure that can be derived from watching it.
Even though he wasn’t as popular on as wide of a scale, an argument can be made that Roddy Piper was the bigger movie star. John Carpenter’s They Live is a cult classic that still plays in movie theaters. Hell Comes to Frogtown was a staple of ’80s late night cable television. Body Slam was a bad movie that played up the over-the-top silliness of professional wrestling. Still, it’s a whole lot of fun. Hogan may have been the number one guy in the World Wrestling Federation, but Piper’s movies are better remembered.
The ’80s also saw wrestling invade Saturday mornings, though even ardent fans of the sport would have trouble finding anything good to say about Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling. It certainly did not deliver as many cherished memories as Muppet Babies or The Real Ghostbusters. Still, it’s a testament to how popular wrestling was at the time.
The WWF was not the only promotion to have its biggest stars appears on television, either. Many NWA fans will remember Dusty Rhodes showing up in Mello Yello commercials. It may not have been the most popular soda in the world, but it was still a national product that was made by Coca-Cola. If you think seeing the American Dream deliver pizza was weird, you should see him in an actual television commercial shilling Coke’s answer to Mountain Dew.
Even more infamous was Learning the Ropes, the syndicated sitcom that starred Lyle Alzado as a teacher who moonlights as an NWA wrestler. This was during the height of kayfabe. Yet, the show was a weird mix of real sport and pure entertainment. For example, the matches were treated as real athletic competitions, however the wrestlers would talk backstage about their normal lives. It was as good as it sounds. That being said, seeing confirmed racist “Captain Redneck” Dick Murdoch try to overcome the heartache of his wife leaving him with the help of sitcom shenanigans is the kind of enjoyment Raw is unable to deliver.
Professional wrestling has always tried to cross over into mainstream media. There have been many attempts with some being very successful. Unfortunately, most turned out to be laughably bad. It was tough be a wrestling fan in the ’80s, but at least it never got as bad as Ready to Rumble.
Next week: The first time Ric Flair promised us pornography.
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