Hello, Dear Reader, and welcome to The Wrestling Signs of Yesteryear! This is my newest column here at Heel/Face and is intended to be a sister column to The Wrestling Signs of Our Times. Hopefully you have already seen the inaugural edition of that column, in which I presented my picks of winning signs from Battleground 2016, for each of the five categories listed below:
- Overall BEST sign
- Overall WORST sign
- Best non sequitor
- Most attractive sign
- Best wrestler-specific sign
Here at Signs of Yesteryear, I will be doing the same thing I do at Signs of Our Times (judging wrestling signs and sharing pictures of them), but I will be doing it from an historical perspective. Like most of you, I subscribe to the WWE Network (and if you don’t what the hell is wrong with you?) so I have access to footage of decades worth of wrestling shows. That’s like thousands of hours of video of sweaty, scantily-clad men and women performing in the squared circle.
And I’m diving right in.
I decided that I should impose some sort of order on my research. So I decided to take this journey PPV-by-PPV, and I’m starting with Wrestlemania, because why save the best for last? I started with the very first Wrestlemania, Wrestlemania 1 from 1985, aka The One with Cyndi Lauper.
Aaaaannnnnnd was immediately disappointed. I saw no signs in the audience. Not a one. (I did spy a few foam fingers, though. ) To be fair, I don’t know if this is because there actually were no signs there (in all of Madison Square Garden? Doubtful.), or if it’s because of the way the event was presented. The audience was bathed in darkness, for one thing. And the camera never panned out over the crowd. The pictorial focus was just the ring. That’s it. It was a very different visual presentation than what we see today.
Remember the picture of the freaked-out fan in the audience at Wrestlemania 30 after the Undertaker lost his streak? Of course you do. We all do. Partly that’s because of the Internet. That poor guy’s picture had likely been passed all the way around the world before the start of the main event that night. But partly it’s because of the way that Wrestlemania 30 was packaged and presented to us. The audience–their expressions, their cheers and jeers and wrestling signs–were part of the show.
But apparently that was not the prevailing mindset in 1985. So I moved right along to Wrestlemania 2 from 1986, aka The One with Ricky Schroeder.
Visually, Wrestlemania 2 was very much like Wrestlemania 1. The audience was mostly dark, though not to quite the same degree. There were a few signs visible in the audience, but the cameras never focused on them, and the fans holding them never seemed to try to make them visible to the cameras. Rather, fans with signs held them up during specific wrestlers’ entrances, and pointed them in the direction of those specific wrestlers.
If the audience members who brought signs to Wrestlemania 2 wanted their messages to reach the televised audience, they were largely disappointed. I was only able to read one sign from the whole event, and that was only because the person holding it was sitting in the first or second row behind the ring, (and therefore in front of the main camera), and held it up during almost the entirety of Nikolai Volkoff AND Corporal Kirchner’s entrances.
Hmmmmmmm. An American wrestler with a soldier gimmick vs a Soviet wrestler. What do you think the sign said? Of course! USA Rules. What else?
Of course, since that was the only sign from Wrestlemania 2 visible for me to judge, I’m not going to be able to rate it. That would just be silly.
aka The One in Which Wrestlers Were Transported to the Ring via Wheeled, Miniature Wrestling Rings
For real, check out Junk Yard Dog riding through the Silverdome in a mini ring. That is 10% cute, 10% expediency and 80% foolish nonsense.
Something must have changed in wrestling fan culture between 1986 and 1987 because there were WAY more signs visible in the crowd at Wrestlemania 3. Still, bear in mind that “WAY more signs” than there were present at the first 2 Wrestlemanias is way less than we see at any given Raw these days. There still weren’t enough to do a five-point ranking. However, there was one enthusiastic fan who really wanted everyone to enjoy his/her sign made especially for Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. He/she held it up throughout most of the Intercontinental Title match between Steamboat and Randy Savage.
aka The One at Trump Plaza
The level of visible signage at Wrestlemania 4 was pretty much the same as it was for the previous year’s event. That is to say, there were signs there, and I saw the backs of many of them, but that’s pretty much all I saw.
With one super-duper cool exception. Wanna see? Okay!
Here’s a picture of Randy Savage in the ring. I believe he is standing on the second rope. Miss Elizabeth can be seen at ring side, and just behind her and a little to the side, like an eerie full-color shadow, is a poster-sized photo of her.
And just for good measure, here’s a picture of Miss Elizabeth standing in front of the poster, so that her flesh-and-blood self completely eclipses the photograph of her, and it’s like she has become the photo.
That is some next-level surreality. I loved it so much I immediately determined that the Miss Elizabeth poster won overall BEST sign, most attractive sign, and best wrestler-specific sign of Wrestlemania 4.
I went into this adventure through the WWE archives armed with nothing but my own curiosity and some time to kill. I had a sort of vague idea that wrestling fan culture must have evolved over the years, but I had no idea what form that evolution would take. After watching the first four Wrestlemanias, it’s become clear to me that fan-made signs have not always been considered an important part of the live show experience. But what’s also clear is that as early as the mid-to-late eighties, things were moving in that direction.
Stick with me, wrestling fans! This adventure has just begun. I have 28 more Wrestlemanias to get through as I document the evolution of wrestling signage in fan culture and choose my favorites from among them!
I will leave you with this picture of Miss Elizabeth looking classy and concerned. What do you think she’s worried about? Comment with your ideas!
As always I remain:
Your friend in wrestling fandom,
follow me on twitter: @Literarygrrrl
follow heel/face on twitter: @heelfaceraslin