Hulk Hogan and relative newcomer The Undertaker for the World Championship belt. My nine year old world was about to be shattered.
My mom never used to let us order the PPV events because they cost about 20 bucks a pop. So we used to have to wait to watch them when they would come out on VHS courtesy of a company called Coliseum Home Video. If there was ever a testament to a mother's love, it's the number of Saturday nights during my early childhood which my mom spent going to the video rental store with my brother and I, hoping each time we would pick a movie, resigning herself to watching a pre-taped wrestling match, and eating Chinese food on the couch with us.
I knew when I awoke on Thanksgiving of 1991 that my hero the Hulkster had been forced to stare death directly in the face the night before. Did Hulk prevail against the Undertaker, a man who possessed seemingly otherworldly powers which emanated from an urn held by his valet, the creepy Paul Bearer? Of course, these were the days predating the internet, so it wasn't as though I could check the results on some blog. But as it happened, my mom was exchanging holiday pleasantries over the phone with a relative who had viewed the fight the night before. My brother and I eagerly waited for her to relay our request for news. Did Hulkamania, and Hulk's 24 inch pythons, which he earned hangin' and bangin' at Muscle Beach, California, take the day against the Undertaker? No. Hulk was defeated, the Undertaker aided by a cheap intervention by the classic heel Ric Flair.
I remember weeping bitterly and having to be consoled by my mother. She reassured me that despite the loss, Hulk would come back better than ever and was still the greatest wrestler. As a nine year old, I could not cope with the new and complex emotions I was feeling. It felt as though Hulk's failure was my own. As though a piece of me and everything I stood for had died and been buried by the Undertaker. How could a man who openly professed his love for America, who admonished children to say their prayers and eat their vitamins, have been bested by a scoundrel in a dark suit and white facial makeup with a vague connection to the occult?
As silly as it sounds, I learned a valuable lesson that day. Sometimes, the good guys don't always win, and life is not always fair. But outright victory is not always what makes a champion. A true champion labors away with or without recognition, whether the results favor them or not. A true champion rebounds from setbacks and is usually more concerned with self improvement than any other prize. I have tried to keep this lesson in mind over the past year or so as I have adjusted to the loss of my job, and a new career working from home. Mom was right. Hulk was still the greatest wrestler with or without his belt. And by the same token, I am capable of rebounding from what life throws at me.
I felt a little bit of that same sadness as a current hero of mine, Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida was defeated by knockout on Saturday night and stripped of his light heavyweight championship belt. Of course, Machida participates in a sport where the fighting is real, so no intervention by "bad guys" or supernatural powers was necessary. That made it all the more unsettling to see him face up on the canvass. To say nothing of the fact that he trains in the same form of karate as me, and is much much better than I am, yet he flopped like a ragdoll.
I don't know what the future holds for Machida. He will likely never be UFC champion again, as his style of fighting is not the most exciting for casual viewers to watch. I could almost imagine management breathing a sigh of relief at his dethronement. Regardless, I eagerly await his next fight. Hulk Hogan for his part did regain his title, just a few days later in an early December 1991 rematch. Gluttons for punishment can view Hulk's survivor series defeat here. I don't think I will watch this anytime soon. Still too painful.