Professional wrestling, with its staged violence and angered shouting, may not seem synonymous with Valentines Day. Oh, but on the contrary!
Since Thanksgiving no longer hosts supercards, and Halloween Havoc died a death along with WCW, Valentines Day may be the most professional of all the holidays. Consider the sport’s lineage.
Wrestling is rife with imagery reminiscent of the holiday, as well as landmark moments that occurred on Feb. 14. The Open Man Wrestle Review Wednesday recognizes wrestling’s most Valentines Day performers and moments.
GREG “THE HAMMER” VALENTINE
Wrestle Review Wednesday absolutely must begin with the man named for the holiday, Greg Valentine. The Hammer shares rare distinction with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, having appeared at both the first Starrcade and the inaugural Wrestlemania. Valentine actually faced Piper in the former, losing a Dog Collar Match. It may have fallen on Thanksgiving, but what better metaphor for the romance and bond expressed on Valentines Day than being bound to one another with a chain?
The next-best wrestling metaphor might be the steel cage, wherein two souls lock in close quarters with each other. Among the most famous cage matches from the early days of the World Wrestling Federation transitioning from regional territory to national, Greg Valentine lost the Intercontinental Championship to Tito Santana.
That showdown has company among the prominent Valentine cage matches in wrestling history.
ST. VALENTINES DAY MASSACRE 1999
The WWF Attitude Era did not reach its peak until early 2001, but professional wrestling was arguably never more popular than in 1998. Both WWF and WCW drew unprecedented television ratings and pay-per-view buyrates, but the World Wrestling Federation began to overtake its competitor at the beginning of 1999.
Stone Cold Steve Austin remained wildly popular as the top draw, his feud with Vince McMahon continued to burn hot, and The Rock began his emergence as a bona fide, main-event talent and necessary foil for Austin. Coupled with WCW booking nonsensical storylines, WWF gained a clear advantage. That manifested with big-name, under-utilized WCW stars making the jump. The biggest — literally — made his debut as part of WWF’s hottest feud.
The St. Valentines Day Massacre pay-per-view functioned as a necessary second act in Austin’s rode back to the WWF Championship, after losing it in September. To heighten the drama on that year’s Road to Wrestlemania, Vince McMahon won the Royal Rumble. He put his title shot on the line in a Steel Cage Match, which Austin predictably won — but not until after the debut of Paul Wight, WCW’s former Giant and the soon-to-be-repackaged Big Show.
Before Steve Austin’s feud with Vince McMahon gave a previously struggling World Wrestling Federation the hot, main-event angle it needed to grow, Stone Cold laid the foundation for wrestling’s popularity boom with Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
I attribute my wrestling fandom to two wrestlers in particular: Sting and Bret Hart. My unending love of the sport began in 1992, when a few of my classmates discussed wrestling at the playground. Intrigued, I sought out whatever I could find through my dad’s TV Guide.
WCW aired on Saturday afternoons, and Sting — with his bleach-blonde flat-top and colorful face paint — spoke to my childhood sensibilities. A local TV network aired WWF programming on Sunday mornings, and there I discovered a similar, immediate connection with Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
With the leather jackets and mock-Oakley wraparound sunglasses he wore to the ring, Hart seemed legitimately cool in a way that Hulk Hogan never did. And, as a budding sports fan at the time, Hart’s matches felt more like a legitimate sport to me. I also have vivid memories of his signature, black-and-pink tights, which looked like a Valentines Day decoration.
Shawn Michaels had a similar aesthetic with his heart-adorned tights, and he was beginning his own rise to the main event at the same time as The Hitman. I couldn’t stand Michaels as a young wrestling fan; I found his feathery mullet, John Lennon sunglasses and dangling ear ring all incredibly obnoxious. In other words, he was an effective bad guy.
I also misinterpreted his “Heartbreak Kid” moniker and shattered-heart tights as direct insults to my favorite wrestler, Bret Hart.
Even in Shawn Michaels’ various face incarnations, I never liked the character. I did appreciate his excellent matches as I got older, however, starting with his Ladder Match against Razor Ramon. I understood wrestling was predetermined from the beginning of my fandom, but this bout was the first time I legitimately feared for performers’ safety.
The dawn of a new millennium marked a cultural shift, which carried over to professional wrestling. The Attitude Era transitioned wrestling from real-life comic book, which included bright colors and the kind of imagery associated with ’90s star Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, to a grittier product. As a result, wrestlers spurned tights with pink hearts for black — so much black — with graphics more likely to appear on the cover of a nu-metal album than on a Valentines Day card.
But just two weeks prior to Valentines Day 2018, professional wrestling gave the world a tag team with a name worthy of the season, in a moment depicting the spirit of love and harmony marketed to the masses every Feb. 14.
At New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Jan. 28 show in Sapporo, A New Beginning, the long-teased split between Kenny Omega and Cody came to a head. Cody’s post-match attack on Omega drew a line in the popular, albeit floundering Bullet Club. One man came to Kenny Omega’s aid, however: Kota Ibushi.
Ibushi and Omega formed a successful and wildly entertaining tag team named Golden Lovers in 2008. Their partnership lasted a half-decade. Golden Lovers are reunited in 2018, just in time for Valentines Day. Watch their reunion above and try not to tear up.
After all, wrestling — like Feb. 14 — is about sweaty, emotional embraces.