Soap operas have never been my thing. Maybe it's a male thing. Maybe it's the fact that growing up I was more glued to cartoons and sports.
But one soap opera, of some sorts, played out each week and I latched on to it, whether it be on television on Saturdays, in the arena on Monday nights or both.
That soap was the world of professional wrestling or 'rasslin.'
It wasn't today's pro wrestling of glitz, glamour and egomaniacs a.k.a. WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). Of course the egomaniac part was kind of around then but that's okay because it was something you could relate to...something you could practically touch.
As opposed to today's form of wrestling entertainment such as the national format of Monday Night Raw and Smackdown, you had territorial wrestling and that's what made it special.
The country was divided up into wrestling territories in which each promoter was the head of that particular region. Wrestlers would stay in that territory for a lengthy time and develop their characters to enhance the storylines.
Here in Oklahoma and living in Tulsa, my start began as an extremely young child with the old Leroy McGuirk promotion (I think it was called the Central States Region or something like that) which later became Cowboy Bill Watts' Mid-South Wrestling.
What made it cool was that it was personal. You would watch wrestling on TV on Saturdays, view the short made-for-TV matches, absorb the storylines and hear the wrestlers build up the upcoming Monday card with their classic interviews. Then you would head to the Tulsa Assembly Center or Fairgrounds Pavilion on Mondays to see the action.
My early memories include watching Oklahoma's own Bill Watts himself battle the “Nazi German” Waldo Von Erich. Waldo would scare me to death!
Then there was Oklahoma's other wrestling son Danny Hodge, who was a three-time NCAA wrestling champion at The University of Oklahoma as well as being a Golden Gloves boxing champ. Hodge, the pride of Perry, Oklahoma, was as athletic as they come and strong! He was known to crush apples and break pliers with his bare hands and could still probably do it, despite being well into his late 80s. Hodge had a 47-0 career at OU, had 36 pins and it was reported that he never taken off his feet during a match. He would later become an NWA World's Junior Heavyweight Champion in the pro ranks.
Later came the emergence of Mid-South Wrestling with the Junkyard Dog, Ted DiBiase, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Skandar Akbar and others. This territory was originally focused in Louisiana and Mississippi and spread to Arkansas and Oklahoma when McGuirk's promotion shut down.
Intimacy is what made territorial wrestling special. You got to know the wrestlers or characters because you had the ability to not only see them on TV every week but view them at the arena each and every week. Monday Night Raw and/or Smackdown come to Oklahoma maybe once or twice a year? That's not fun.
I always looked forward to going to what my dad called “the matches” each week to see, through clouds of cigarette and cigar smoke (remember this was the 70s), the bigger-than-life athletes and characters perform on a stage called the squared circle. In some ways it got you to look forward to Mondays for a change, minus the smoke-filled arenas.
I rarely watch WWE. Indeed these are some of the greatest athletes on earth, withstanding the scripts, and I admire the way they put their bodies through the turmoil they do to entertain.
But I miss the days of 'the territories.'