Over the Top Rope!
Rock Riddle's Wrestling Revue #1
by Rock Riddle, the Original "Mr. Wonderful" of Professional Wrestling
The premiere: Story #1 of over 100 full page newspaper stories
I was in the eighth grade, sitting in the back of the class waiting for the teacher to come in. Several of the boys standing near me were pushing and shoving each other and heatedly discussing the previous night’s live wrestling show on television. They were talking about two disgustingly evil ‘bad-guy’ wrestlers – Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson.
I knew nothing about professional wrestling, and I wondered what these wrestlers could possibly have done to cause my fellow students to hate them so much.
“That Rip Hawk should be barred from wrestling. He’s a dirty son-of-a-*$#%* cheater,” said one of the boys.
“Yeah,” said another, “and he called every single one of us -- everybody in the whole state of North Carolina -- ignorant dirt farmers. He should be shot!”
The more I heard, the more I knew I had to watch the next week’s wrestling show. I did, and it changed my life!
There they were: two very tough, bigger-than-life blond bad-guy wrestlers, Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson. I was impressed. Finally, role models! Two men who actually thought for themselves, made their own rules, and even seemed to enjoy the fact that everyone hated them. What freedom!
To me, it was obvious that they were having great fun in their bad-guy roles. They were definitely enjoying the journey.
I saw Rip try to keep from smiling several times, and I understood the humor. Everybody else was angry. I was smiling, occasionally even laughing, and totally enjoying myself.
Finally, somebody who understood my kind of humor! And, it gave me a great idea: Why not start a fan club for these two villains? Can you imagine starting a fan club for someone who is universally hated? Now, that’s humor.
At fourteen years of age, I started the International Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson Fan Club. Our motto: “Fair, Square, Modest, and Honest!” Talk about heat! That motto caused people to hate me. They did not see the humor in what I was doing. But, it certainly opened the door for a new chapter in my life.
When Rip Hawk discovered that I had actually started a fan club for him, he was sincerely flattered. He was surprised that I understood and appreciated his humor. He liked that. He mentioned me on a live TV show, and I even got to speak on camera. Wow. Not bad for a shy 14-year-old boy from North Carolina.
I liked the attention. I would sit front-row ringside wearing my International Rip Hawk & Swede Hanson Fan Club jacket, cheering for my favorite villains and heckling the good-guy crowd favorites. I even handed Rip a "foreign object" at a live event, and he and Swede used it to batter their opponents.
I think I was the only 14-year old fan in history to cause a riot at a wrestling match. The police officers were not particularly pleased that they had to protect me from the crowd – an angry mob who blamed me because their favorites were bloodied and beaten.
I had my life threatened by staunch wrestling fans several times, and more than a few restaurants refused to serve me, especially in my little home town of Burlington. Once again, the vast majority of people failed to see the humor in the antics of Rip Hawk, Swede Hanson, and fan club president Rock Riddle.
With the rare exceptions of times when I was in fear for my life, I really enjoyed the fame. I was interviewed in local newspapers and even had a story in one of the world’s top wrestling magazines.
I discovered many fascinating things about professional wrestling. For example: Professional wrestling was the number one spectator sport in the country and drew more fans and more money than any other sport, including football, basketball, and baseball combined!
In short, professional wrestling was the most popular sport there was. Of course, it has dramatically changed over the decades. Whether it has evolved or devolved is open to debate. What is not debatable is the fact that professional wrestling is still the number one sport in the country. In fact, it’s bigger now than ever before. Over 500,000,000 people watch televised wrestling every week. Billions of dollars per year are realized from merchandising alone.
Take a brief look at its history: The public had little interest in purchasing television sets when they were introduced in the late 1940’s -- that is, until they discovered that they could watch Gorgeous George wrestling on that little screen.
Yes, the masses bought television sets so they could see wrestling; television owes its initial success to professional wrestling.
When pay-per-view was introduced, no one cared – not until wrestling was offered. Professional wrestling made pay-per-view.
Most of the world’s major arenas set all-time attendance records with professional wrestling cards. Take the Staples Center in Los Angeles, for example. They had never sold out for any event until pro wrestling chose them as a venue. Within ninety seconds of tickets going on sale for a Sunday ‘Wrestlemania’ event, every seat in the building was sold, resulting in an all-time attendance record.
The next night, the televised wrestling show "Raw" took place there, and the Staples Center sold out again.
The following night, there was a taping of the "Smackdown" wrestling show at Anaheim’s Pond, and it completely sold out.
In fact, the largest attendance record for any indoor event in history is held by professional wrestling: Over 98,000 people packed Michigan's Pontiac Silverdome for a Wrestlemania event.
So, why is wrestling so extraordinarily popular? And, why isn’t its popularity touted (or even mentioned) in the mainstream media?
Who are the stars who built the wrestling business? Who are the stars now? What was wrestling like before Vince McMahon changed it forever?
What’s happening in the world of professional wrestling now, and what does the future hold? What’s the inside information and innermost workings of the business and its superstars – all of the "not-for-public-consumption" information? What’s real and what’s not?
These are just a few of the questions this column will answer. And, this column welcomes your wrestling-related questions as well.
About the author: Rock Riddle wrestled professionally full-time (5 to 10 matches per week) for nearly ten years.* He helped sell out major arenas all over the country. He held numerous titles including the Americas Tag Team Championship (with John Tolos) and the East Coast Tag Team Championship (with Rocky Montana.) At the height of his career, Rock was given top billing over the heavyweight championship of the world. He is extremely well-connected in the world of professional wrestling and knows the business exceptionally well. His fascinating biographies, complete with 100+ photos and lots of additional information, will be shared on this site soon.
* After the first 10-years, Rock switched to a much easier "part time" schedule for a few decades and still manages to wrestle at least a couple of times per year. He also coaches, headlines seminars and training sessions, and currently does color commentary for Empire Wrestling Federation.
"I never met a camera or microphone that I didn't like." - Rock Riddle