Super Penguin and the WWE

This weekend, while selling books at FanBoy Expo, I met one of my favorite WWE superstars and WWE Hall of Famer, Rikishi. As I talked with my non-wrestling-fan friend, Gardner, about the wrestler, and what it was like to watch Rikishi, I had a realization that wrestlers like Rikishi had quite an impact on a young me.

Growing up, I didn’t watch wrestling every week. I was younger than the PG-13 material that was on the show, and my mom didn’t like me watching it. If I was able to sneak it on to the television, it usually wasn’t long before I was told to turn it off, or change the channel. The one time this rule didn’t apply though, was when we were visiting my grandpa down in Biloxi, Mississippi, or when he was visiting us.

Whenever I was around Grandpa on a Sunday or Monday night, we were watching wrestling. If we were at his house, we’d go to my grandparents’ bedroom where in one corner, they had a medium-sized TV, and a few feet away was Grandpa’s recliner. Grandkids would sit on the bed. If there were a lot of us, we’d crowd onto the floor, too. This was one of my favorite pastimes because I felt like I got to break mom’s rules because Grandpa overrode the rule.

I was drawn to the characters and their stories. There were some really cool characters like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. There were also scary characters like The Undertaker and Kane. And then there were some bizarre ones like Mankind and Goldust. While the matches were fun to watch, I was drawn to the drama of their stories, and there was so much drama. Friends became enemies, enemies became tag team partners. Testosterone fueled fights were mixed with comedy and heart for a very entertaining show week in and week out.

Another one of my favorite activities as a boy was playing with action figures. I had a box full of Star Wars, X-men, Batman, and GI Joe action figures. Before I was exposed to wrestling, I would segregate the toys. If I was playing Star Wars, the other toys would stay in the box. But after I was exposed to wrestling, that changed. I mixed the characters and started making my own wrestling matches. Han Solo versus Cyclops for the World Heavyweight Title, a tag team match of my favorite GI Joe and Chewbacca versus Robin and Wolverine and whatever crazy combinations my brain could create. Those franchise crossing brawls then led to a change in how I played. I stopped recreating scenes of things I knew, and started making up my own scenes. Villains, like Darth Vader, became heroes. The “good guys” turned heel and became baddies. Wrestling made me a more creative kid during playtime.

As the years have gone by, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several of my favorite wrestlers! The pictures below show three of those meetings. On the left, I met “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair at Indiana Comic Con in 2019. In the middle is from January 2021 when I met Hulk Hogan in his restaurant in Clearwater, Florida. And on the right, was from a trip my dad and I took to Lafayette, Indiana to see the Hardcore Legend Mick Foley on his “Have a Nice Day Tour”.

I haven’t watched wrestling in a really long time. I’d probably guess it’s been close to a decade since the last time I tuned into Monday Night Raw or an episode of Smack Down. From time to time, I do enjoy getting nostalgic and watch old Youtube videos of the Rock & Sock Connection, or Rikishi doing the Stink Face to one of the McMahons. I’m looking forward to watching again some day when Parker is old enough.

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