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March 30, 2001|By CHRIS GRANT, Sports Editor

I guess it's finally time for me to come out of the closet.

No, not that closet (could somebody please help my dad get up off the floor). I'm talking about the pro wrestling closet. Yes, I'm a professional wrestling fan.

I'm sure this comes as no surprise to many of you, but those of you who have been fooled by my high-brow humor and general aristocratic demeanor are probably reading this with your mouth's agape.

With this Sunday's "Wrestlemania X-Seven" quickly approaching, I thought it just might be time for me to own up.

I'm not sure when it all started. I think it was when I was in the sixth grade in Texas that my love of men in spandex began (again, Dad, it's not like that). I can remember wrestling in my friend's living room and one of my friends saying that he was the Junkyard Dog. I didn't know just who the Junkyard Dog was, but I was about to find out.


It was about a year later that I discovered pro wrestling and from the first day I was hooked. It was Portland Wrestling from Portland, Ore., that first caught my eye.

The show originated from some small gym in Portland and came on Saturday nights at 11:30. And while the first time I saw it was something of an accident, it soon became an addiction.

I still remember that first match when Rip "The Crippler" Oliver shoved something down Billy Two Eagles' throat, causing the wily Indian to start spitting up blood. At first I was horrified. This man was spewing some sort of chunky red substance from his mouth, but the longer I watched the more engrossed I became, wondering just what would become of Billy.

What did become of Billy I'll never know. He never returned to Portland, which to this day brings me to think that perhaps he was really hurt. However, the loss of Billy and his war dance hardly curbed my appetite. Every Saturday night I would watch the guys grappling from that little gym. Billy Jack Haynes, Rip Oliver, Killer Karl Styles and Nord the Barbarian were just a few of the guys who entertained me week in and week out. (I seem to also remember a guy named Gorgeous Joey, who might have been named Joey but was far from gorgeous. He used to preen in front of a mirror. I'm not sure what happened to him. Perhaps he finally realized he was ugly and gave it all up.)

It was this interest in Portland Wrestling that formed the roots of my wrestling love. The World Wrestling Federation would soon become the tree that sprang from those roots.

After watching Portland for a couple months I began to notice wrestling programs on during the daytime on Saturdays. Now, these were both the WWF and the NWA and they both quickly grabbed by interest.

The WWF had Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, the Junkyard Dog, Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy and my personal favorite, Rowdy Roddy Piper. This was not the latter-day Piper who seemed out of place on WCW programming. No, this was a Piper who lived on the edge. This was a guy who broke coconuts over the head of Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka. This was a dangerous man.

The NWA was not quite as interesting, filled with Ric Flair and his Four Horsemen (most of whom looked like they could be the guy next store. I mean Tully Blanchard, who were you fooling?). The Horsemen feuded with the American Dream Dusty Rhodes. Dusty was basically just a fat guy who's elbow supposedly held super powers. I wasn't really buying that, either.

It was from these beginnings that a passion that has stayed with me for 15 years was launched.

I still remember the first Wrestlemania I ever saw. I wasn't there. No, I had to watch it on videotape and I think I saw it about three or four years after it had happened. It was Wrestlemania I and my friend Randy Richards and I ditched our journalism class so we could go back to his parents' house, enjoy a tasty beverage and watch Hogan and Mr. T take on Piper and Paul Orndorff.

Of course in the end Hogan won. He was, after all, the good guy. But that didn't dull my excitement nor my craving to watch more wrestling.

So bring on this X-Seven thing. I'm ready to see the WCW and WWF collide. I've got a couple of tasty beverages already chilling, waiting to be cracked open Sunday and maybe raised in toast, a toast to the Junkyard Dog and to Rip Oliver for first piquing my interest, but mostly a toast to pro wrestling for entertaining me for the greater part of my life.

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