Courtesy of Nationwide Arena
When I first heard that World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Monday Night Raw” would be hosted in Columbus at Nationwide Arena on Sept. 5, I was more excited than any 22-year-old human should be. It may have been more than 12 years ago, but I’ll never forget the moment I got bit by the wrestling bug.
It was Monday, Jan. 4, 1999, just eight days after Kevin Nash defeated the previously undefeated Bill Goldberg for his World Championship Wrestling World Heavyweight Title. On this particular edition of “WCW Monday Nitro,” Goldberg was to receive his rematch against the 7-foot champion dubbed “Big Sexy.”
That rematch would never occur, however, as early in the show, infamous wrestling valet Miss Elizabeth accused Goldberg of sexual assault, forcing the former champion to be taken into the custody of Atlanta, Ga., police. Goldberg was replaced in the match by a returning Hollywood Hulk Hogan, who had left WCW months earlier to campaign for U.S. president.
After Nash hit the ring surprisingly accompanied by best friend-turned-enemy Scott Hall, Hogan mysteriously came out in all-black street clothes, alongside Scott “Big Poppa Pump” Steiner.
Despite the confusing circumstances, the atmosphere and hype in the Georgia Dome at that moment came through my television with an intensity that rivaled only the summer night in 1997 where my dad decided to order Tyson-Holyï¬eld II. And little did 10-year-old me know that the end result would be just as controversial.
After a few moments of mocking, taunting, and even pushing, Hogan wound up to hit the world champion with a right hand, only to deliver a slight poke to Nash’s chest. That apparently was enough, however, as the ï¬nger poke was enough to knock Big Sexy off his feet and onto his back, as Hogan jumped on top of him so that the referee could slap the mat three times and proclaim Hogan the new world champ.
Before the ref could call for the bell to ring, Nash was back on his feet, jumping up and down with his arms raised, over-exaggeratedly celebrating alongside Hogan, Hall, and Steiner, as it became clear that the match had been a ï¬x. As this was all going on, Goldberg was non-coincidentally returned to the Georgia Dome, just in time to rush the ring and attack all four cronies, only to be betrayed by Lex Luger just as he was ready to put away Hogan with his patented “Jackhammer” ï¬nishing move.
By the time “Nitro” went off the air that night, Goldberg had been beaten, tasered and branded by spray paint with the letters “NWO” (short for New World Order, the newly-formed stableʼs name.) I was hooked.
(Ironically enough, “The ï¬nger poke of doom,” as the aforementioned incident came to be known, is referred to by many as the beginning of the downfall of WCW.)
A month later, I was lucky enough to attend a live “Nitro” in Columbus with my friend Matt and his dad and Iʼll never forget the thrill of hearing the opening howls of the NWOʼs theme song in person, or Nash screaming “Columbus, Ohio, WOLFPAC IN DA HOUSE!” less than 50 yards away from me.
I didnʼt miss a “Nitro” — or a Thursday night “Thunder,” for that matter — for the next two years. And one Sunday every month, Iʼd sit in front of my computer and repeatedly hit the refresh button on Wrestlezone.com because my allowance wouldnʼt cover the monthly $30 pay-per-view shows.
When WCW eventually came to an end and was purchased by its chief competitor, WWE, I was forced to watch a product that I had previously resisted because my parents saw a “Dateline” episode about its risque storylines and because I felt it would betray my loyalty to WCW. It was while watching WWE that I was introduced to the mainstream wrestlers that most people are probably familiar with- The Rock, The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H.
As I entered high school, things like girls, sports and friends took priority over my fascination with the squared circle. Iʼve always tried to keep an eye on the state of the industry from afar, but my experiences with pro-wrestling as of late have been more about nostalgia-ï¬lled YouTube videos and unintentional comedy than about my heart stopping as an opponent kicks out of a Stone Cold Stunner.
But regardless of my commitment (or lack there of), Iʼve always maintained a great deal of respect for the industry.
I couldnʼt care less about outcomes being predetermined. If you care about that, you better be watching nothing more than reality TV and live sporting events. And as for the action being “fake,” tell that to Adam “Edge” Copeland, who was forced to retire as the world champion earlier this year when doctors determined that he could die from suffering any more damage to his neck, which he broke in 2003.
From 1999-2002, I attended four live wrestling events, and when “Raw” comes to Columbus on Sept. 5, Iʼll attend my ï¬fth. I may be more grown up and have a different perspective on the storylines, but I can guarantee Iʼll get chills when John Cenaʼs music blares through Nationwide Arena.