wrestling / Columns

Getting Hooked: My First Wrestling Show

May 24, 2015 | Posted by Dino Zee

I still remember the very first show I ever attended. In fact, you can see the card right here. Yeah, it was an AWA show. A house show, to boot. I was barely five when it took place, but I remember absolutely looking forward to this show. Not only because it was going to be the first event I ever attended live, but because there was an actual subplot to the whole thing!

See, my first live wrestling event was preceded by the first wrestling segment that had me terrified. Last week, while discussing wrestling’s dumb events, I mentioned the time The Undertaker locked The Ultimate Warrior into a casket during Paul Bearer’s Funeral Parlor talk segment. I mentioned how I feared for Warrior’s life, and how my dear Ma tried to talk me down, guaranteeing me that he was okay.

And while that segment will live with me forever, it bears noting that roughly 4 or 5 years before Warrior was locked into a casket, I watched an AWA episode that had me on the verge of tears, certain that I had watched another man nearly die.

It had started innocently enough. Jimmy Snuka, after a nice run in the WWF, had gone to the AWA. Still supremely popular (and still able to go in the ring), he was of course positioned as a top level face. This would lead to a match against one of the AWA’s top heels of the time, Larry Zbyszko. I don’t remember exactly if there was a feud going between the two, but I do remember the match itself. And, as you’ll see at the end of the clip above, what started out as a match between two top wrestlers quickly got totally out of hand.

With Larry down, Snuka would climb to the top rope in anticipation of his vaunted Superfly Splash. However, before he could make the leap, things went very, very badly. Sneaking up behind Snuka would be Colonel DeBeers, a racist South African character that was universally hated. Like, if you’re not familiar with DeBeers, try to find some footage. This dude was one of those guys that had fans looking to kill him. You can even see police jumping in to prevent some overzealous fans from attacking him in the video above. To the point, DeBeers was a horrible, horrible person.

Standing behind a perched-on-top Snuka, DeBeers would shove the Fijian superstar off the top, where he would crash to the floor. Watching that fall on video shows it to be a pretty unspectacular fall overall, but man, when I was a kid, I thought that was death already. But that wasn’t enough. DeBeers would then walk over to a prone Snuka, pick him up, and hit him with what looks like a beta version of The Pedigree (or even DDP’s Pancake Piledriver if you’re feeling froggy). Keep in mind, this is done on the concrete floor, with no pads down at all. Snuka is a bloody mess immediately. DeBeers hits another pseudo-Pedigree, and is eventually chased off by the faces.

To this day, I can remember the image of a bloodied Snuka on the floor as they cut to a commercial break. “Scared” doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. I had just watched a man viciously assault another guy, and no one did anything about it!

When they returned, the next segment was solely that of Jimmy Snuka being attended to by medical personnel. Again, I was like five years old, and I’m freaking the freak out. Bloodied, in a neck brace, being carted out… that was the single scariest day in my fandom to that point, and I’m pretty sure it still holds that spot to this day.

So, the reason for the backstory? Simple: this card was “Jimmy Snuka’s return!” When my Dad told me he got us tickets, I was so excited. I had watched Snuka my whole (five year) life, and I loved him! And now I’d get to see that he was okay! On top of that, he was wrestling Colonel DeBeers! I was already greatly looking forward to just seeing my favorite wrestlers do their thing in person, but now I had a vested interest in the show, too? I just couldn’t stand it, and I couldn’t wait for February 28, 1987, to arrive.

Which brings us to the first time I walked into the Cow Palace for a wrestling event. We had decent enough seats- there’s hardly a bad seat in the Cow Palace as it is- placed almost directly above the entrance tunnel. This allowed my Dad and my Uncle to yell stuff at the wrestlers. I tried to keep up, but hadn’t yet perfected my snarky wrestling chants and catcalls.

I can’t recall everything from that night, to tell you guys the truth. In fact, there’s only two matches that I actually have any sort of imagery attached to the matches- Jimmy Snuka vs. Col. DeBeers, and the final 16 man battle royal that closed the show. I look at this card now, and I’m amazed at what I saw (though I don’t really remember it that well): Nick Bockwinkel vs. Curt Hennig. I freaking saw Nick Bockwinkel wrestle?!? Vader- still young and wrestling as “Leon White”- in a six man tag also featuring Ray Stevens, Greg Gagne, Larry Z, Mr. Go, and Super Ninja? The Midnight Rockers defending their AWA Championships against Boris Zhukov and Doug Somers? There’s so much gold on this card, that it kind of bums me out that my five year old brain didn’t hold these memories better.

But the reason for that is clear to me: I wasn’t a super duper AWA fan yet, and I certainly hadn’t learned the roster. I just knew Jimmy Snuka, and I was there to see Snuka make his triumphant return. And so, of course, my brain kept those memories in my head.

Snuka romped DeBeers in their one on one match. I have very general recollections of that match, but I remember going absolutely nuts when the pinfall was counted. Snuka had gotten revenge, and it felt so good seeing that mustache-twirling jerk get his comeuppance.

The surprise was the battle royal. Another opportunity to see Snuka wrestle?! YES! Snuka would win this match as well, last eliminating the Super Ninja. That’s actually part of the night that I do have committed to memory: Snuka eliminating a ninja.

And just like that, my first wrestling card had finished. It was late, but I was running hard on adrenaline. I asked my Dad question after question as we slowly filed out of the Cow Palace. “Where are the wrestlers at?” “Do you think they’re fighting backstage?” And so on, and so forth. However, as we were leaving, I also had my first instance of breaking kayfabe, even though it just didn’t fully register in my brain.

We’re leaving, and I look down this hallway, and through a slightly opened door, I actually see Snuka sitting on a bench. And, not more than five feet from him, I see… Col. DeBeers. “Dad! I think there’s gonna be a fight!” My Dad- who never, ever let me think wrestling was fake- picked up the pace a bit, “Uh, we better get outta here! Don’t want to get caught up in it!” And just like that, I was hustling out of the Cow Palace, hoping not to get caught up in the big locker room fight that was clearly going to happen.

After that night, I couldn’t wait to go back to see a wrestling show! And since then, I’ve been to countless, countless events. WWF house shows. WCW house shows. Raw, Nitro, SummerSlam 2001, WrestleManias 19, 21, and 31. A TNA house show. Some local indy shows. But it all started in the early part of 1987, when a little dork went to see Jimmy Snuka make the man who bludgeoned him on television pay the price.

Thank you, Jimmy Snuka. Hell, thank you, Col. DeBeers. I was always a WWF kid, basically from birth. But you two made me actively give a crap about what I was seeing on TV, and made me actually worry about the welfare of one of the gladiators I saw on TV.

You never know what’s going to get you hooked when it comes to wrestling. Some people just need an amazing, athletic match. Others need to hear someone talking some of the most ridiculous junk that they’ve ever heard. A menacing presence will be enough to make people return to watch again and again. For me, even though I was firmly established as a diehard fan of wrestling, even at five years old, it was wanting to see Jimmy Snuka get his hands on Col. DeBeers after his dastardly attack. And seeing it happen- seeing DeBeers actually have to pay for his sins- made it all the more satisfying.

If you feel like doing so, please feel free to share the moment you became a fan, or tales of the first show you attended.


It’s All Wrestling. It’s All Stupid. We All Love It.

article topics :

AWA, WWE, Dino Zee