Professional wrestling has had its ups and downs throughout the years, but thus far no era has been more popular and successful than the period from 1980 to the early '90s - commonly referred to as the Golden Era.
And although we love or love to hate today's faces and heels, nothing will compare to the entertainment provided by guys like Macho Man Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, André the Giant, and The Undertaker back when he was still in his prime. These characters just possessed a certain aura about that that most of today's stars are lacking. A lot of wrestling is character driven, and while today's quality of in-ring action is better than it has ever been, there's a certain element missing.
I mean, isn't it obvious? Although we at TheSportster still cover all the breaking news and current happenings of the wrestling world, a big portion of this site's content focuses on the good old days, utilizing a hefty dose of nostalgia at every turn. Days when Raw wasn't a thing, pay per views were scarce and WrestleMania was in its infancy.
And what's the only thing better than reading about the Golden Age of Wrestling (other than actually experiencing it)? Seeing it. (Maybe with some words too.) With that, here are 20 awesome candid photos of all your favorite friends from the days of yore. Don't get too sad though, one day we'll be looking back fondly on the wrestlers of today too.
20 André the Giant and His Giant Order
Alright, alright, I'll admit it to you right now that this list is a bit heavy with Andre the Giant photos, but can I help it the guy was always around in the Golden Era? I mean, he is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, and even got elected to the Hall of Fame in its inaugural year. Plus, the guy was also one of the greatest drinkers of all time, and according to various urban legends, he once consumed 119 12-ounce beers in six hours, 156 16-ounce beers in a single sitting, and 127 beers in one night.
Here the massive man himself is seen seated at a bar with seven drinks in front of him sometime in the ‘80s. We’re going to venture a guess and say all seven are his. Those seven glasses surely didn't last very long.
19 Ted DiBiase and Donald Trump
Current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has long been involved in the WWF and WWE world, from more recent events like shaving Vince McMahon bald at WrestleMania, back to the days when The Donald was simply trying to keep guests entertained at his hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey by booking big shows. His Trump Plaza was the sight for WrestleManias IV and V and from there, he was able to establish a friendship of sorts with Vince McMahon. He also got to rub elbows with many of the company's biggest stars.
This backstage photo comes from the latter category, and features Trump shaking hands with a rather youthful looking “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase in the late ‘80s (during Ted’s second WWE stint). I guess you could say there’s a couple of million dollar men in this snapshot.
18 André the Giant and Roberto Durán
Roberto Durán is one of the best boxers of all time, but being a lightweight won’t get you very far when matched up against a beast like André the Giant. Fortunately, this photo was all for show, as we can’t imagine the 5-foot-7-inch Durán - even with his incredible skill - lasting too long against the seven-foot-tall André.
Humorously, André is using the full length of his arm when holding back Durán, and is even leaning forward a bit to get a few extra inches. This seems completely unnecessary, as Roberto would likely need arms twice as long to even get close to reaching André. The Giant was known for his playful side and it's on full display in this photo.
17 Sgt. Slaughter
Before Sgt. Slaughter was an Iraqi sympathizer, he was a proud American hero. Before that, he was another villain. But before that, he was apparently a guy who wore sky blue knit beanies and Mighty Mouse t-shirts. This pic is an odd one to categorize, because it’s not technically candid, but it’s also not an obvious promotional photo either - or not one Slaughter should have ever consider using, at least. If Hogan wanted to bury Slaughter during their 1991 feud, he could have pulled this photo out.
Either way, it’s a humorous look at one of wrestling’s biggest stars in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and one we simply couldn’t help but post. And laugh at. Someone should lay an atomic noogie on this guy.
16 Kevin Nash
In the 1991 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, the part of the villainous Shredder was played by actor François Chau. However, the plot featured Shredder mutating into Super Shredder after being exposed to the titular ooze, and he became a much larger and stronger character, whom Chau was not capable of playing.
Enter wrestler Kevin Nash, who, at over six-and-a-half feet tall and almost 300 pounds, was the perfect build for the role - as evidenced in this behind-the-scenes snap. Since then, Nash also appeared in films like The Punisher, Grandma’s Boy, Rock of Ages, and both Magic Mike movies. Nash got this role before he really got popular in the world of wrestling, so it took fans by surprise when they looked back on this movie and realized Big Sexy was playing the main villain in the film's climax.
15 Rick Martel, Shawn Michaels and Kerry Von Erich
What a simultaneously happy and sad photo. On one hand, you have Rick “The Model” Martel smiling in a photo alongside Shawn Michaels, despite the two feuding numerous times in the ring in the early ‘90s - right around when this snap was likely taken. In fact, it was probably taken in 1990 when Kerry Von Erich (far right) was briefly a member of the WWE. When you come to think of it, Martel and Shawn Michaels probably would have made for a great team.
However, there’s a bit of heartbreak involved in this candid moment as well. Although Von Erich appears perfectly happy here, only a few years later he would have his foot amputated, develop an addiction to painkillers, serve some time in jail, and ultimately take his own life on February 18, 1993.
14 Scott Hall and Shawn Michaels
There’s a lot to love about this backstage snapshot. Not only does it show two future superstars and WWE Hall of Famers smiling goofily together (especially Hall and his large ‘stache) very early in their careers, but it was at a time before Scott Hall adopted the Razor Ramon moniker and Shawn Michaels was temporarily using the spelling “Sean” for his first name. Since the latter used the alternate spelling while with the American Wrestling Association from 1986-87 (when Hall was also a member of the promotion), the photo likely came from this time. Although both made their professional debuts in 1984, Hall was several years older, meaning he was approaching 30 here, while Michaels was barely into his 20s.
Who would have known that these two buddies would one day become huge stars in the WWE and form the backstage group that has come to be infamously known as "The Kliq".
13 Kerry Von Erich and Arnold Schwarzenegger
This backstage snap of Kerry Von Erich and Arnold Schwarzenegger was taken in 1985, when Kerry was at the height of his superstardom, and had feuded with the likes of the Fabulous Freebirds, Ric Flair, and Jerry Lawler. As for Schwarzenegger, what had he accomplished by 1985? Not much, other than being in several major films and winning Mr. Olympia seven times and Mr. Universe three times - all before he was 33.
Still, it was said that Von Erich was such a big star in Texas (where the photo was taken) that Arnold was reluctant to even pose with him. Thankfully he did, and now we have this gem. Unfortunately, Von Erich's life would soon take a downturn towards the end of the 80s. Schwarzenegger meanwhile, would only continue to develop as a star in Hollywood.
12 The Fabulous Freebirds
Given the fact that The Fabulous Freebirds were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year, it’s only fitting that we get a nice snap of Terry Gordy and Michael Hayes looking handsome as ever backstage. Gordy is sporting his curly mop in this picture. Hayes has his beard and bleach-blonde locks which he hasn't gotten rid of to this day, and in one is showing off his furry, bear-like physique. We also get to see the duo in clear party mode, with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s prominently displayed, and funny facial expressions to match. Though this photos likely came from all the way back in the mid-80s, those are still a couple of obvious Hall of Famers right there.
Michael Hayes seems to have kept with the Freebird lifestyle, as even looking at him today, you could swear he's still living in the 80s.
11 Construction Site
Vince McMahon has often said that he's not like most rich people. He doesn't go golfing, he's not part of any wine tasting club and he doesn't boast about his possessions. He just works and he enjoys the company of his family and employees the most. Here we see a photo of Vince along with his wrestlers. We see them working outdoors here and this photo was taken in 1987 when WWE was filming a music video for their Piledriver album.
The wrestlers look like they have just finished a hard day's work and it's awesome to see Vince in there doing the work with his employees. Most bosses would just hang around in their cozy office while sending their employees out in the heat, but McMahon never made wrestlers do anything he wouldn't do.
10 The Hart Foundation and Run-D.M.C.
One of the greatest things about wrestling’s Golden Age was its mainstream popularity. At the time, it seemed like everybody was into wrestling, be it classmates, coworkers, family members, or even celebrities. It's what you would talk about at school or by the water cooler at work. That's a big thing that's missed today, as people seem to enjoy wrestling in secret now.
The point is clear in this photo, which features Hart Foundation members Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart posing for a snap with members of the hip hop group Run-D.M.C, likely sometime around the mid-to-late ‘80s, when both groups were in their respective primes. Considering the fact that the rappers appear to be attending a WWE event (unless Neidhart just wore his spandex around town in his daily life), it makes one wonder who were the bigger fans in the photo: the wrestlers or the musicians?
9 Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior
This is a the type of photo that was a big no-no back in the ‘80s and early '90s. It features “Macho King” Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, and Queen Sherri smiling and mugging for the camera together, just prior to their WrestleMania VII match. So what’s the big deal? Well, wrestlers in the Golden Age not supposed to break kayfabe - especially when it came to faces and heels being friendly with each other. Luckily the internet wasn't around back in the day for this photo to surface. That would've broken the internet for sure.
That year’s big event featured Savage vs. Warrior in a “career ending” match that would lead to the former beginning his color commentary career. No wonder Randy is the only one not smiling. Warrior was probably smiling because he knew Savage was about to give him the best match of his life, which he did.
8 André the Giant and Stephanie McMahon
One of the cool perks of having your dad run basically the entire professional wrestling industry, is you’ll get to meet a lot of famous folks and strange characters in your lifetime. In this photo, wrestling legend André the Giant is seen hanging out with a young wrestling fan that’s cozying up to the gentle giant. However, this isn’t just any fan, it’s Stephanie McMahon! Since I’m terrible at estimating how old kids are (especially when they are seated next to a seven-foot-tall beast of a man), given that Stephanie was born in 1976, it’s at least safe to say this photo was taken sometime in the 1980s, which would place it right in the midst of wrestling’s Golden Age.
Stephanie has often talked about the special friendship she shared with the Giant as she felt so safe when she was with him. Mind you, if Andre the Giant was your friend, you probably would have felt invincible too.
7 Wilt Chamberlain, André the Giant, and Arnold Schwarzenegger
André the Giant, Wilt Chamberlain, and Arnold Schwarzenegger are all gigantic dudes, but did you ever wonder how they stack up next to each other? Wonder no more, because this candid snapshot behind the scenes of the film Conan the Destroyer shows it perfectly. As you can see, André and Wilt (both north of seven feet tall) appear to tower over Arnold (who is only about six feet tall with boots on), and the duo had no problem lifting the massive bodybuilder off his feet with only a single arm each. In fact, another time, André and Wilt both picked up Arnold and carried him out of a restaurant after he attempted to pay the trio’s bill - something The Giant preferred to do himself.
For the record, André and Wilt both had roles in Arnold’s 1984 film (a sequel to 1982’s Conan the Barbarian), which would likely place this photo sometime in 1983.
6 Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart
What a great shot of three of wrestling’s biggest names chatting all friendly-like backstage. You’ve got Hogan in the middle trying to look like the respected veteran, Hart on the right as the enthusiastic up-and-comer, and McMahon beaming because he basically created them both. The exact timing of the photo is hard to pinpoint though. Since Hart is wearing his black jacket with the big ol’ shoulder tassels, it had to at least be in the mid-to-late ‘80s, but probably sometime before Hogan’s WWE departure for Japan in 1993. Hart looks like he's just about ready to take the company by the horns and run with it.
In fact, it was probably not too long before Hogan refused to put Hart over at SummerSlam. You can practically see The Hulkster thinking, “There’s no way I’m passing the belt to this kid, brother!”
5 The Old Guard
This photo may have been taken during wrestling’s Golden Age, but it actually features a group of guys who first made their mark an era earlier, and without whom wrestling probably would have never reached its peak. Recognize anyone? On the far left there’s Canadian wrestling legend Billy “Red” Lyons, who is standing next to former WWF Commissioner Jack Tunney, with longtime wrestler and manager (and 1994 Hall of Fame inductee) Arnold Skaaland in the middle. To his left is Stu Hart, who, in addition to fathering and training future stars Bret and Owen Hart, also trained the likes of Chris Jericho and Lance Storm. On the far right, of course, is the one-and-only Gorilla Monsoon: superstar wrestler, booker, commentator, and Hall of Famer (from the same class as Skaaland, no less).
This photo is one of pioneers who helped shape the business for future generations. It's awesome to see them all together like this.
4 Ricky Steamboat and Chris Jericho
The look on the faces of both individuals in this meet-and-greet photo are priceless. On the right you have WWE Hall of Famer Ricky Steamboat looking like he’s struggling to stay awake, and on the left you have a clearly super-psyched fan sporting a wide, open-mouthed smile. However, this isn’t just any wrestling fan, it’s future WWE star Chris Jericho circa the late 1980s. At least we assume it’s the late ‘80s, because Chris was born in 1970 and made his debut in 1990, and he doesn’t quite look the part of a wrestler yet. I mean, I haven’t even mentioned his hair yet - mostly because I couldn’t even begin to describe it. I mean, those are his long locks flowing behind his head, right? It’s like a curly teenager’s pseudo mullet. I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I say his coif is looking much better nowadays.
3 Hulk Hogan and Randy Orton
Wrestling legend Hulk Hogan might not have been so willing to have his photo taken with this little fan if he knew the kid would one day grow up to be none other than “The Legend Killer” Randy Orton. Judging by Little Randy’s age here, we’d estimate the photo was taken sometime in the mid-to-late 80s, right in the middle of Hogan’s reign.
Not only would Orton end up being a colleague of Hulk later in life, but he relentlessly ridiculed the aging wrestler during their feud in the mid-2000s, and even (kayfabe) flirted with Hogan’s 18-year-old daughter Brooke and attacked The Hulkster in a parking lot. The feud culminated in Hogan’s victory over Orton at SummerSlam 2006. You feel like getting a time machine and telling the young Randy "don't work with this man when you're older, there's no way he's doing the job for you!"
2 A Hall of Fame Outing
What can we really say here? An awesome photo like this basically speaks for itself. But in case the tears of nostalgia have blurred your vision a bit, allow us to help you out with some of the faces involved. It’s a collective who’s-who of classic wrestlers, but the biggest names are guys like Yokozuna, The Undertaker, Bret Hart, Owen Hart, and of course Paul Bearer - holding his glass the highest, like a dude who truly loved his job, his friends/co-workers, and his life in general. Then again, you could probably say that about a lot of people in this photo.
Back in the day, wrestlers were known to be the biggest party animals in all of show business. Today's wrestlers mostly keep to themselves on the road, but this photo portrays perhaps another unforgettable night shared by some of the biggest names in the business.
1 Paul Bearer and Vince McMahon
Does that casket look familiar? It should, as soon after this photo was taken it would be used in the famous segment of Paul Bearer’s Funeral Parlor in which The Ultimate Warrior was locked inside it by Bearer and The Undertaker and had to be frantically “rescued” and “revived” by a host of WWE personnel. Many of you probably remember watching this back in 1991 at a young age, and likely had the bejeezus scared out of you during the notoriously frightening incident. Paul Bearer looks more like a mob associate here than he does the mouthpiece of The Phenom.
Now, 25 years later, seeing Vince McMahon casually reclining in the casket is like having the curtain suddenly pulled back in Oz to reveal a big farce - except in this case it’s a lot funnier and infinitely more awesome.