The term “life changing” is one that by default has a percentage of hyperbole attached to it. I can say unequivocally that the first time I listened to The Velvet Underground & Nico it changed my life within the confines of how I listened to music and ingested art in general. But to someone who has never heard this album—or, conversely, to someone who thinks that this album is a tortuous, 11-track pile of crap—this admission would seem crazy. What could be life changing about listening to an album, they might they think. And they are half right I suppose.
Another facet of life that may not have an amount of hyperbole attached to it so much as it entirely subjective is how we perceive sporting events. To the people of my father’s generation the final game of the 1951 season between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers is something that is on par with the Kennedy assassination in terms of how a sporting event can affect one’s life. The same can probably be said of the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants.
For me, my definitive sporting moments consist of John Paxson’s three-pointer against the Suns, Patrick Kane’s overtime goal to clinch the Stanley Cup, Tommie Frazier almost single-handedly eviscerating the University of Florida, both Bulls-Jazz Finals series, and a Miles Simon and Mike Bibby-led University of Arizona upsetting Kentucky for the national championship (just to name a few).
And the Demolition-Hart Foundation two-out-of-three falls match in SummerSlam ’90.
A WWF wrestling match from 1990 is something that I would consider life changing? Abso-frickin’-lutely.
On August 27, 1990 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, the then-WWF and their summer pay-per-view event SummerSlam took place. I did not watch it live (we didn’t have cable television at the time) but I rented it from Blockbuster a few months later. The match lineup for this particular SummerSlam was somewhat blah, mostly because the WWF was at a weird crossroads of having too many wrestlers who were either too old (Dusty Rhodes or Nikolai Volkoff anyone?) or too… uncool (hello, Texas Tornado and Tito Santana). Look at some of the matches from that night:
Power and Glory (aka Paul Roma and Hercules) vs. The Rockers
Texas Tornado vs. Mr. Perfect
Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs. Bad News Brown
The Warload vs. Tito Santana
Not exactly a murderer’s row of entertainment. The main event was The Ultimate Warrior vs. “Ravishing” Rick Rude in a steel cage match. But the Demolition-Hart Foundation match? It was like Jordan dropping six 3-pointers in the first half against the Blazers in the ’92 Finals—something totally unexpected. (And, yes, I still realize that I am talking about a Pay-Per-View wrestling match—something that was scripted weeks before the event aired.)
Some background: Demolition was the WWF’s equivalent of The Legion of Doom, a tag team that sported two men who looked like they were equal parts biker and potentially demented KISS (or Raiders) fan. They wore face paint that was silver, black and red, and they wore black spiky leather masks and jackets over their black tights. Demolition originally consisted of just two guys named Ax and Smash (more on this in a moment). The Hart Foundation, on the other hand, wore pink and black tights and leather jackets. One wrestler, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, had long-ish black curly hair and could probably be described as “a more athletic-looking mechanic, or stoner.” His face is long and sleepy-looking, to the point that if he weren’t a wrestler he’d probably be a bouncer that wore a Metallica or Megadeth jacket. Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart was the other member and he was the opposite of Bret: Neidhart had a buzzcut, a ZZ Top length goatee, and the physical build of someone who used to be a football player but had gained some weight in their 20′s.
So, this match was designed as a best two-out-of-three falls match which means what you would think it means: the first team to get two pin counts wins. I always liked this idea because it meant that the matches would run longer than normal but the WWF rarely scheduled them (maybe fearing that people would lose interest after 15 minutes? I don’t know). The wrinkle with this match was that shortly before it Demolition introduced a third member to their crew, a gentlemen by the name of Crush. You can probably guess what happened, right? Demolition started the match with Crush and Smash and then at some point Ax inserted himself in the fight. But, alas, the ref was clueless to Demolition’s trickery—apparently, white dudes wearing face paint and leather all look alike (even if two of them have their face paint smeared and the other guy’s face paint is unblemished when he entered the ring).
You can probably also guess what happens next as well. Demolition (aka The Bad Guys) win the first fall and resort to trickery and cheap shots, and other standard Bad Guy things. The Hart Foundation (aka The Good Guys) squeak out the second fall (due to a disqualification) and then win the third and final fall in resounding fashion. Even before I saw it, I knew what the odds were high that Demolition would lose. So why is the match so great?
The short answer: it was great theater; all participants played their roles and performed their moves and countermoves perfectly. Everything about the fight, all 20 minutes of it, was a perfect balance of absurdity and guys pretending to fight. If this doesn’t make sense to you, I completely understand; wrestling isn’t a sport. So allow me to end this with a story.
Almost three years ago I was at a bar in Indiana for a birthday party and I started bullshitting with two guys who were hanging out near our table. We were all the same age. At some point we started talking about how we used to watch the WWF during our junior high and high school lives. We covered the big events (Hogan vs. Macho Man in Wrestlemania V, Shawn Michaels turning bad by really kicking Marty Jannetty in the face during Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake’s interview) and the crazy occurrences (Jake “The Snake” using a de-fanged cobra on Macho Man, Rick “The Model” Martell’s marathon performance of 50+ minutes in Royal Rumble 1991). But when we got to this Demolition-Hart Foundation match we probably talked about it for a good 15 minutes. Yeah, we were all drunk while we were talking about it but it made up the bulk of our wrestling-themed bullshitting.
Can you quantify the significance of this match any better?
 I know, I know, it’s called the WWE nowadays. But this occurred in the early ’90′s—back when the WWF meant wrestling and not a panda-logoed non-profit organization. And, besides, it will always be the WWF to me (sorry if that offends you, Mr. Panda).
 Note: I grew up in Frankfort, IL and the nearest Blockbuster at the time was in Orland Park, IL—roughly a twenty five minute drive, depending on traffic. Not to get all Grumpy Old Guy on you but… in my day we couldn’t watch and rent stuff on our computers without ever leaving our house! If you wanted to a watch a movie or wrestling event that wasn’t on TV you had to go get it! You couldn’t just connect to some site and download it via some kid in Beijing! And we liked it! We loved it….
 You may remember The Rockers as being the tag team that typically wore hot green pants and doing a lot acrobatic moves. If Bill James kept track of wrestling and created a statistic for DKPM (drop kicks per match), The Rockers would’ve routinely averaged an 11.7 per year I think.
 “Ravishing” Rick Rude was second only to “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase in terms of hilarious caricature of a wrestler. DiBiase threw money at people and toted around a black slave, er, servant named Virgil; Rick Rude had a porn mustache, porn haircut, and tights that sported a picture of himself and a woman or two (I forget how many there were). The WWF was, um, different—it was the ’80′s…
 The Legion of Doom were stars of the NWA and WCW. They eventually came into the WWF (wait for it!) and they even made a surprise entrance into this very match.