When I think 80’s WWF I think of Andre. Hulk. Savage. Sheiky baby. I think of Monsoon and Heenan bickering on Prime Time. I think of giant rubber action figures with zero points of articulation. I think about that stupid blue cage that replaced the ‘real’ one. I think of Saturday morning squash matches followed by endless local promos with Ken Resnick interviewing the likes of Jake ‘the Snake’ Roberts… (“You wanna try me, Santana? You don’t think anybody will hear about it in Dayton, Ohio?”) And, up until recently, there was another piece of warm, fuzzy nostalgia collected in the junk drawer at the back of my mind that I’d think of whenever someone mentioned WWF in the 80’s.
Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n Wrestling.
See, I only brought it out from my junk drawer and dusted off the cobwebs because Michael Cole (a third-rate Ken Resnick if there ever was one) announced on a recent episode of RAW that the series was coming to the WWE Network. Whoa!, I thought. Rock ‘n Wrestling! That was an awesome cartoon back in the day! … Right? Then the boffins working behind the scenes in Stamford promptly forgot all about it and never uploaded anything past the first episode. Or maybe they actually watched the first episode and realized the rest wasn’t fit to be part of the network’s catalog.
That’s right. After seeking the show out on my own I have come to the conclusion that Rock ‘n Wrestling is so bad it doesn’t deserve a place within a back-catalog that features the Yeti and Triple H fucking a mannequin in an open casket.
Let’s back up a moment. If you’re not as ancient as I and you’re wondering what I’m rambling about, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n Wrestling was a cartoon series that ran for a couple of years in the mid-80’s, smack dab in the middle of the Hulkamania era. Hogan was the most popular wrestler on the planet; a larger than life character that transcended the wrestling ring – of course he was going to have a cartoon series named after him! And who better to play co-stars to the Hulkster in his cartoon than some of his fellow WWF cohorts? The plots matched heels against faces: Hogan was backed up by the likes of Andre the Giant, Tito Santana, the Junkyard Dog, etc – while ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper led a cabal of scoundrels including the Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, the Fabulous Moolah, and so on.
Oh, you remember Andre as a heel in the 80’s? Apparently the series had such a long turnaround in production that some characters changed their heel/face disposition by the time the show went to air. In some cases, a wrestler from the cast of Rock ‘n Wrestling wasn’t even around anymore, such as Jimmy Snuka, who was shitcanned by Vince in 1985.
I’m not sure what took the makers of this show so long. Watching it today, I’m gobsmacked at the piss poor production values. The animation is extremely rough, the audio and incidental music frequently falls out of sync, and occasionally the viewer is treated to magical color changes. (A group of hippos ridden by Hulk and his buddies – don’t ask – change color from brown to bright green to gray within the space of a minute.) It makes me wonder if the rest of the 80’s cartoons I watched as a kid were as hilariously amateur as this.
Wrestling often takes a back seat to storylines so dumb even Vince Russo would blanch at the idea of running with them. Hogan and his buddies are captured by Amazon women in the jungle and have to stop a bunch of thieves from raiding a temple. Bobby Heenan builds an amusement park on top of an old cemetery and the heels and faces have to come together to put down a zombie menace. Hulk Hogan and Nikolai Volkoff are launched into space to save some astronauts. I’d say just about any of these episodes could have been a short before the main feature on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
And for a show featuring a bunch of professional wrestlers as the main characters the lack of any physicality is noticeable. (Even Scooby-Doo had someone – usually Shaggy or Scooby – getting clobbered every now and then.) Instead, the show plays it safe as an uber-kid-friendly comedy. The ‘laughs’ are intended to come from characters tripping over something and falling into a heap of rubbish or taking a pie in the face. It’s basically the kind of juvenile sub-Laurel & Hardy shit that Vince McMahon still finds amusing to this day.
What’s worse is that my nostalgic memories of Rock ‘n Wrestling let me down – not a single WWF wrestler from the era actually voices their own character! Andre the Giant is understandable! The Iron Sheik isn’t calling Okerlund “the Gene Mean”! Hulk Hogan sounds like even more of a putz than usual! And Roddy Piper… sweet Jesus, is that the bad guy from Jem and the Holograms?!
About the only kind thing I can say about Rock ‘n Wrestling is that it’s got a deliciously cheesy theme tune (originally from The Wrestling Album) by Meat Loaf muse Jim Steinman.
Of course, you may be thinking: chill with the ranting, old timer! It was just a show for kids! But that’s not my point. My point is this: