A blog is this! Deep dive into wrestling video games of the late 80s and early 90s

The response to my last post was overwhelming.  “More wrestling!” cried no one.  I had another blog for many years and the number one comment (after ‘shut up you suck’) I got was “it’s pretty good when you’re not talking about wrestling (which I did often) or D&D (which I did infrequently)”.  I can only assume that they meant that it was fantastic rather than merely good when I was talking about wrestling. 

I never had a gaming system until I was in college and I bought one at the pawn shop (pro tip you can get some great bargains at pawn shops in college towns – drunk college kids will sell anything for more beer money).  No Nintendo Entertainment System or Sega for old Jeremy.   But my friends all had them so I played NES Pro Wrestling a time or two.  I was shocked to re-discover that that game only had six characters, and one of them was a boss!  Five playable characters?  Preposterous.  I don’t play video games anymore and never really did outside of the college years, but I’m pretty sure most fighting games now have several thousand characters.  

Two of them I remember clearly, Starman and the Outlaw.  I thought Starman was supposed to be from the stars, but I see now that he was “just” a masked luchadore from Mexico.  All FIVE of the wrestlers in the game are from different countries, which was lost on me as a child.  Starman was my favorite, and I assume everyone’s favorite.  He was in a purple-pink suit and he had a big star on his mask – what’s not to love?  His special move was a dropkick where he did a backflip and landed on his feet.  Which was cool but annoyed me at the time because it was “impossible”.  Cut to thirty years later and I saw Paul London do that exact move.  I’ve seen a couple other people do it since but not many, it’s clearly pretty hard. 

Paul London was a fantastic wrestler who never really “made it” because he was pretty small (for wrestling) and he didn’t really get on board with corporate wrestling culture.  On the other hand he seems to genuinely believe that doing some drug in a South America gave him super powers so . . . you know.  The dropkick flip move is probably hard to pull off but I wonder why more people don’t try to land on their feet after a dropkick without the flip.  Maybe it looks dumb.  Seems like it would be safer though.  I often wonder how much safer wrestling could be made if someone spent time and money studying it.  Probably a lot.  But who would ever do that?

The Outlaw was a green monster from the Amazon – kind of like the Creature from the Black Lagoon or a little bit like Leech from He-Man.  Leech was really more like a lamprey than a leech but it’s He-Man so they deserve kudos for being “imaginative” enough to call him Leech and not Suck-Or.  I always thought it was strange that the Outlaw was presented as being a monster rather than a wrestler with a monster gimmick, but I realize now that it was 1986 – of course he was presented as being a monster.  Wrestling was real then!  When Memphis wrestling was HUGE sometimes they’d bring out creatures to menace Jerry Lawler, and some people still thought it was real?  I guess it’s like anything, you can believe if you want to hard enough. 

The Outlaw had two special moves, one was biting with his monster mouth and the other was called the Outlaw Choke, which was merely a front chancery.  As a kid I thought this was LAME because it’s one of the most basic boring moves ever.  It made no sense to me to have it as a special move.  I know now that it’s one of the few wrestling holds that is actually a legitimate fighting thing.  Turns out any hold where you compress someone’s neck tends to make them fall unconscious – go figure.  Why he was called the Outlaw I don’t know, I feel like being a monster removes you from the legal system.  Maybe the backstory was that the Outlaw Ron Bass had gone to the Amazon and was bitten by a magic piranha that turned him into a green monster.  But probably not.

A few years ago, a good decade after everyone else in the country (and much of the world) I purchased a cellphone telephone.  90% of the reason for this was because it had reached the point where if you were trying to date and you told a lady that you didn’t have a mobile phone you may as well have told them that a lemon shark bit your dick off in the Gulf of Mexico.  They either assumed you were a married liar or insane in the membrane.  If I was married obviously I would get a second phone for my side action so who’s stupid now ladies?  But the other 10% of the reason was so that I could play a mobile game called 80’s Mania Wrestling.  It features wrestling and pop culture parody characters – including Star Boy and the Piranha.  They of course are bitter rivals.  I don’t play it anymore but it was free and I did get a lot of joy out of it. 

I remember there being a guy called King Corn, but it turns out his name is actually Kin Corn Karn.  He’s from Korea and I don’t know enough to know if that name is just weird or racist.  I remember that his special move is the Back Brain Kick.  I could never do it.  I don’t know if that’s because it was actually hard or just because I wasn’t very good at video games.  I remember that it was weak, why was the move so hard to do when it sucked anyway?  I remember being annoyed that this move was called the Back Brain Kick instead of the Ghetto Blaster – which is what Bad News Allen called it when he did it.  I hadn’t figured out wrestling “branding” yet. 

Bad News Allen is one of the wrestlers that is renowned as being a legit hardcase.  He was a world champion in judo and represented Canada in the Olympic Games I believe.   The story goes that even Andre (the Giant) who was a bit of a bully and a racist, was reluctant to take on Bad News IRL.  Best of all by all accounts Bad News was a good dude.  The two other names that come up a lot in the “who is actually tough” conversation are William/Steven Regal and Tonga Fifiti aka Haku/Meng.  Everyone seems to agree that Tonga is in the number one badass spot – the stories about him are nuts.  It’s wrestling so there’s probably a lot of bullshit in there, but still the people in the know say that Tonga was a man who you did not mess with. 

These three men have a couple things in common.  One is that they weren’t “body” guys.  They were in shape in their prime, but nothing to write home about.  You can probably walk into any gym (well not now but normally) and see someone who’s more ripped than they ever were.  Another is that they were all mid-card guys at best, and sometimes closer to being enhancement talent.  They were all great workers, but they were never pushed to the top.  Another thing they all have/had in common is that according to legends and lore once you were “in” with them they were real softies.  All of them helped train and just generally helped tons of other guys in the biz.  That’s probably why they never made it to the top – there aren’t too many nice guys that take it all the way. 

There was also a guy in the game called Fighter Hayabusa, he was the one from Japan.  I think I only remember him because there was a “real” wrestler called Hayabusa.  There’s lots of Japanese companies with Hayabusa in the name, if google is to be believed Hayabusa means falcon in Japanese.  The American wrestler was called King Slender.   Which is a pretty weird name for a wrestler.  Also for an American.  It was the 1980s so maybe Americans were in better shape then?  Aerobics was big in the 80s right?  But Katie Couric told me that as early as the 70s everyone in the US were fat monsters.  I think she said “that” started after WW2 because all the men went off to shoo Nazis with sawed-off shotguns and the women went to work so American attitudes towards cooking changed – as in no one wanted to do it anymore.  So processed and pre-package foods flooded the market. 

There’s a “real” wrestler called Zack Saber Jr, King Slender would be a good name for him.  Remember a few years ago when everyone was into Slenderman?  King Slenderman could be a thing.  But after those two girls stabbed that other girl and said Slenderman made them do it people were kind of over that.  I’m shocked that a Slenderman movie wasn’t released during that period.  You blew it Hollywood.  The boss of the game was called Giant Panther.  I thought his name was King Puma, I guess I thought the game had half the characters with King in their name.  Sidenote the wrestling character from Tekken is called King.  I remember nothing about Giant Panther, I probably never got to him in the game.  The internet tells me he’s reckoned one of the toughest NES bosses to beat – even moreso than Mike Tyson in Punch Out. 

What annoyed me about NES Pro Wrestling is that on the cover there was a generic looking wrestler dude giving a back suplex to a dude in an orange body suit and mask – and neither of them were in the game.  Who were they?  Now I’ll never know.  I suppose with FIVE characters in the mix they didn’t want to confuse people with two more.  You don’t see the back suplex much anymore, probably because it usually looks like crap and is actually pretty risky.  I’m glad that “they” have smarted up on some of that stuff.  A move that doesn’t pop the crowd and is actually dangerous is no good.  The number one offender is/was throwing someone out of the ring.  They used to do it in every match and it caused tons of knee and ankle injuries, and no one thought it was cool.  Like at all. 

“But Jeremy, if you didn’t have NES Pro Wrestling how did you run that gambling ring in 5th grade based on fake wrestling results?”

I didn’t have a gaming console but we did have a Commodore 64.  And for the Commodore 64 I had a game called Championship Wrestling.  It had EIGHT wrestlers so it was much better than NES Pro Wrestling.  One of them was called Purple Hays and I think was a rip-off of Starman.  He was my second favorite, my favorite was the Berserker.  He was a big dude with green face paint, the only mark against him is that his finishing move was the headbutt which is super lame.  My third favorite was Manslayer, who was a native American stereotype who did a cool arm-wringer kick move.  Booker T would do that move later IRL but he always did it super slow and I hated it.  My fourth favorite was Zantoclaw, who wore a mask and used the iron claw. 

I don’t remember many of the people I went to school with other than the ones that I’m still pals with now, but I remember Miles Cochrane.  He was a kid who was in with the cool crowd but still hung out with me sometimes.  I found out later that it was mostly to make fun of me but he did like wrestling so who else was he going to talk to about that?  We were chatting about wrestling one time and I was telling him about the Berserker and I realized he didn’t understand I was taking about a wrestling game.  I felt I had made that point clear.  He said to me “I bet 5 bucks the Berserker couldn’t beat Zeke Weasel” and I was confused for a moment but then I said “deal”.  Why?  I don’t know really.  I probably just wanted attention.  Also I think I kind of knew what he was doing and wanted to rip him off. 

Lo and behold the Berserker beat Zeke Weasel that weekend and I was five bucks richer.  Things escalated from there.  Eventually I realized that having people bet against me wasn’t smart – I would type out the matches coming up on my mom’s typewriter and let kids bet against each other and I would just take a dollar from each “pot”.  Then I realized there was no reason to turn on the computer and actually let it play through the matches – I could just make up the results.  Then I realized that it made sense not to decide the results randomly – that I should make sure everyone won sometimes so they wouldn’t get mad and quit.  That’s how I got that MASK toy that turned into a helicopter and a motorcycle and the Insecticon transformers. 

After a while Miles came to me and said “I talked to my parents about this and they said it sounded like a scam” and I says to him I says “Don’t do it then.” That may have been the day he started telling everyone that I was a “booger hanger” and that I stood in front of the mirror every day making sure my boogers all hung the way I wanted.  That hurt my feelings.  I was kind of a ninny as a kid.  In his defense I was a snot nose booger blaster.  This all happened towards the end of the school year and when I came back in 6th grade on the FIRST day of school someone came up and asked me about the wrestling betting.  I had forgotten about it over the summer, but decided at that point it was best not to continue with that.  I’ve told that story to a few people and none of them ever think it’s as bad as I do.  I think ripping off other kids when you’re 11 is pretty deviant behavior.  I guess kids are monster though.

I also had Intergalactic Cage Match. This was an awful game.  I like the premise, I don’t know why they don’t do that more – having a wrestling video game with aliens or monsters (like the Outlaw) or mummies or whatever.  Maybe the non-wrestling fighting games cover that, but I feel like there’s a niche for a galaxian wrestling game.  As you might guess from the title all the matches in ICM were cage matches.  I figured out quickly that the best strategy was not to wrestle and just run to climb the cage.  So it was more of a climbing race game than a wrestling game.  Also it was awful. 

When cage matches first turned up in wrestling they were just normal matches – you know, in a cage.  But over time they turned into no holds barred ultimate feud enders.  You still had to pin your opponent or make them submit though.  WWF is the one that came up with the idea that you could also win by escaping the cage.  It was kind of a cool idea because then you can do some stuff on the cage, but it’s somewhat tired at this point.  Why would anyone climb the cage when there’s a door you ask?  The answer as is often the case is “because wrestling”.  Good guys always try to climb, only bad guys go for the door.  If a good guy wins a cage match (barring certain exceptions) by going out the door instead of climbing out that’s an early sign that he’s in the process of turning into a bad guy.  

Had enough yet?  No you haven’t because now we’re getting to the good stuff!  The best wrestling game that I had for the C64 was Sergeant Slaughter’s Mat Wars.  This was interesting because it had Sarge’s name on it but it was not a WWF product nor did it feature any real wrestlers.  I guess old Sarge had this deal on the side?  Doesn’t seem like something WWF would allow, but that’s all confusing anyway because Sergeant Slaughter is also a GI Joe based on the wrestler.  How the heck did that happen?  Who gets the money for that?  The internet tells me that Sergeant Slaughter is the best-selling GI Joe of all time despite the fact that he was hardly ever in the cartoon (when he was the “real” Sergeant Slaughter did the voice).   

Mat Wars was my favorite not just because the gameplay was better (I mean it was still horrible) but because the whole premise was different.  You weren’t a wrestler trying to become champion – you were a lowlife manager trying to get rich!  You started with a small amount of money and you could hire wrestlers and set up matches and train them and offer people bribes and set up side bets on the matches and all sorts of fun!  You could even borrow money and then get your legs broke by the mob.  The wrestlers were all generic and just had different abilities based on how advanced their stats were but there were FIVE different managers to choose from.  One of them was even a woman!  She sucked though, her specialty was bribes which was not a very effective strategy.  I loved that game.  You started out just driving around in an old beater with one dude going to dive bars and dirty gyms for matches and by the end you were in a convertible with a vast stable of wrestlers having matches at arenas!  It’s every boys dream!

Later on they made some wrestling games that were actually good, but this is what I had going on in the late 80’s early 90’s. 


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