US professional wrestling in the 1980s was like the Wild West. Wrestling had long been a staple of television; it was wildly popular in local markets and cheap to broadcast. But when cable became popular and the whole country began to watch the same shows at the same time, one wrestling company - then called the WWF, now known as WWE - began to collect already popular regional stars and build a national brand.
Before the WWF's national expansion in the early '80s, professional wrestling in the United States was domintated by regional territories. These territories for the most part stayed within a set geographic region. Most belonged to a governing body known as the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), which fielded a world champion that toured the territories. Territories did not take kindly to other territories encroaching on their turf.
The now-national WWF teamed with the new cable channel MTV to create the "rock and wrestling" phenomenon. Rock stars appeared in wrestling matches and wrestlers appeared in music videos, and professional wrestling experienced a true pop-culture moment. Other companies such as Mid-South, the AWA, and Jim Crocket Promotions, among others, took wild swings to capture a piece of the zietgeist for themselves or even establish themselves as the No. 1 brand in America. The wild times in the industry created some wild behind-the-scenes stories.
Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan Had Bullets And Hammers Fly At Him In The Ring
Bobby "The Brain" Heenan was a wrestling manager who knew how to get the crowd riled up and angry at both him and the wrestler he was managing. Sometimes the level of heated rage he inspired made fans cross the line. As he explained:
Some guy came in the ring one night when we were in Chicago and hit me with a ball-peen hammer right in the crown of the head. I brushed my hair back, and I saw blood on my hand, and I thought, “Oh, Jesus.”
Another time, when Heenan was in the AWA promotion, he claims a fan actually fired shots at him from the audience as he helped his man cheat in the match.Over the top?
Kamala The Ugandan Giant Pulled A Gun On Andre The Giant
James Harris started playing a character called Kamala the Ugandan Giant in the 1980s. During one stint in the Mid-South territory, he briefly feuded in the ring with another giant, Andre. They had never worked together, and as Kamala tells it, he may have gotten confused in the ring and gotten a spot mixed up.
Andre was furious and called Kamala a racial slur, after which Kamala began to legitimately hit Andre. After the match, Kamala rushed out of the arena to avoid further confrontation. He knew, however, he would have to face Andre again.
The next night in Baton Rouge, Kamala brought his .357 magnum with him to the locker room and stuck it in Andre's face. Andre said, "I'm sorry boss, I didn't mean to say that or do that." Kamala said they worked well together after that.Over the top?
Jimmy Snuka's Girlfriend Died In His Hotel Room Under Mysterious Circumstances
"Superfly" Jimmy Snuka was one of the early stars of the nationally expanding WWF. On May 10, 1983, a few hours after a match, Snuka called an ambulance for his girlfriend Nancy Argentino.
Argentino was rushed to the hospital where she died of traumatic brain injuries consistent with a moving head striking a stationary object. The findings showed that she had more than two dozen cuts and bruises, said to be possible signs of domestic abuse. Deputy Lehigh County coroner Wayne Snyder later said, “Upon viewing the body and speaking to the pathologist, I immediately suspected foul play and so notified the district attorney.”
The head injury, it turned out, was hours old. Snuka's initial statement was that they had been horsing around and she hit her head. She laid down and he went to his match, and then found her afterward. He later changed his statement to say they had been driving earlier and she had stepped out of the car to use the restroom and slipped, hitting her head on the pavement.
After talking to Snuka and Snuka's employer Vince McMahon, police seemed to stop actively investigating. The case stalled out after three weeks but was not officially closed. Finally, in 2015, Snuka was arrested and charged with third-degree murder.
In 2017, the charges were dismissed when Snuka was found mentally unfit to withstand trial. A few days later, Snuka passed from stomach cancer.Over the top?
Macho Man Randy Savage Got In A Knife Fight At A Waffle House
"Macho Man" Randy Savage is known as one of the most intense competitors in wrestling, in or out of the ring. Early in his career, he was traveling with fellow wrestler Rip Rogers when they stopped late one night for some food at a Waffle House.
While his order was being taken, one of the establishment's regular customers walked in and announced that he had just gotten engaged. The waitress stopped taking Savage's order as she and all the other staff gave their congratulations. Randy, tired and upset by the interruption, said in his most gravelly wrestler promo voice, "Who gives a f**k?"
Savage and the customer squared off and came to blows. The customer pulled a knife, so Savage reached over the counter and grabbed what turned out to be a butter knife. The two continued to brawl, weapons in hand, until the police came and arrested Savage.Over the top?