Having been born at the beginning of the ‘90s, I think it’s only natural, nay, appropriate that my first memories of watching television are of professional wrestling. In an era when Jerry Springer dominated, alternative music frequented the airwaves,and South Park rose to become a national representation of the zeitgeist, professional wrestling combined the attitude, image, music and aggression of Generation Y all into one big, bloody, bizarre, soap opera. For a child, the arresting personalities of superstars like Stone Cold Steve Austin or The Undertaker paralleled that of superheroes and the ways their bodies and personal lives would be battered and broken, yet put back together again the next week mirrored comics and cartoon characters.
My romance with wrestling probably took me to about 2002. I knew the extent of the action was fake and as I began broadening my tastes in film and television, the laughable acting and retreaded storylines deflated my enthusiasm and I quit following the escapades of World Wrestling Entertainment. Well, not exactly. You see, my friends who I watched wrestling with continued watching with vague interest, catching an episode here and there when it was convenient and sometimes when a pay-per-view would be showing at a nearby bar, we would go have dinner and check back in with our old fictional friends.
It was always sort of fun return every now and then to see where the never-ending story was going. It was interesting to see who was still around, who had left, who had triumphantly returned, who climbed to the top and who switched from face to heel (good-guy/bad-guy to you laymen). To this day, the right card, the right appearances, the right main event could drag me from the comfort of my home and take me to some restaurant to catch a little ‘rasslin’. However, these days it’s less and less likely. Every bar besides Buffalo Wild Wings, the overpriced, poorly managed and unsavory restaurant chain has ceased showing wrestling events. The wrestling has changed since I was a kid too. Gone are the curse words, the blood, and the carnage in an effort for a more PG program aimed at kids. Yes, I just seemed to have outgrown one of my childhood pastimes.
That is until The Rock came back to wrestling.
Yes, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the most electrifying man in sports entertainment, turned actor, has returned to professional wrestling to go toe-to-toe with the brand’s biggest stars, John Cena and C.M. Punk. The Rock was my absolute favorite wrestler. His punchlines were animated and numerous, his attitude was funny, yet threatening, and his presence on the mic and his athleticism were unparalleled. The Rock was my hero; he was “The Great One.” So when my friend asked me if I was interested this weekend to travel to the nearest BW3 to watch the Rock’s appearance at The Royal Rumble, I took him up on the offer. It would be fun to watch a relic of my childhood and surely the rumble itself, a 30-man elimination match, would provide some entertainment. I was in.
Little did I know that the nearest bar showing the Rumble would be over an hour away in Gahanna, Ohio, a little hike from the college town of Athens. The show started at 8 p.m. so we left campus around 6 p.m. to ensure we were there with plenty of time to spare, ready to rumble. Who would mind another hour in the car after a 7-hour round trip home and back that weekend? We cruised right along, back west then north, listening to music and making our predictions for the evening. When we arrived in Gahanna, the number of cars instantly alerted me that we hadn’t arrived early enough. My friend told me to quit worrying and we coolly walked into the BW3 hoping for the best.
What we found was the worst. Arriving a bit before 7:20 p.m., we entered the Buffalo Wild Wings to find the building packed wall to wall with anxious wrestling fans of all shapes and sizes. When I say all shapes and sizes, I mean many shapes, and some outrageous sizes. We made our way through a crowd to gaze upon the dining room. Every seat and spare table was occupied. People lay leaning against walls, sitting in the lobby and hovering near the to-go counter. Optimistically, we put our name in with the hostess and she let us know that we were twentieth in line for a table. We decided we would wait to see if anyone ahead of us would give up and head home and we made for the lobby. We found decent seats on benches in the lobby and we had a passing view of a television with the audio coming in loud enough. My friend, after making the trip and being steadfast on seeing some sports entertainment, declared the seats to be suitable and made it clear to me that we were staying. If we got hungry, we could just order some of the to-go food. It was like we were seated but without a table my friend said. Except we were in the lobby, and a door to the outside, frigid Ohio air continued to open and close and made the whole experience quite chilly.
I was amazed by the size of the audience in attendance and the festivities of the event. The whole place was buzzing with excitement and the restaurant was even hosting a raffle, giving away tons of prizes. It was almost strange the devotion some of those without seats demonstrated, with many waiting in places far more uncomfortable than ours to watch the matches. I had no idea wrestling was this popular. As the familiar letters flash across the screen, the mobbed restaurant fell into silence.
The first match was Big Show vs. Alberto Del Rio. Big Show is a wrestler I remember from my childhood, a monstrous guy even by professional wrestling standards, but never my favorite wrestler. Del Rio is a Mexican superstar, who I’ve come to realize was once a bad guy, now enjoying a face run with the World Heavy Weight Championship, the less important of the two major titles. To me, he just seems like another attempt at an Eddie Guerrero type of character who appeals to a certain demographic. The fans at this BW3 seemed to like him. One overly skinny young adult entered the restaurant, playing mock air-trumpet along to Del Rio’s entrance music. Sights like this were frequent and entertaining to the casual observer.
The match was a boring one that barely managed to hold my attention over my iPhone. One of the reasons that I dislike the Big Show is that he is too large and slow moving and one of the main things they play up with the character is how hard he is to topple. Smaller wrestlers spend their matches kicking and chopping away at the big guy and he tosses them around like a ragdoll until they finally, miraculously topple the beast. This match proved to be no different, with Del Rio taking potshots at the groin to down the giant. While the yawn-inducing fight got onscreen, the hostess, for some inexplicable reason, ventured into the lobby, walked to the door and exclaimed, “it’s a party in here,” then walked back into the main dining area. “No,” I wanted to scream behind her, “it’s a party in there!” I’m cold, crowded and not amused, but I’m in it for the long haul.
During the course of their match, Big Show tossed Del Rio onto a suspiciously unstable wall near the crowd and instantly the wall crumbled. The crowd on the TV and in the restaurant were equally stunned. They didn’t wonder why the wall looked unsteady in that one spot, they didn’t wonder why they ALWAYS break the wall in THAT spot, they just went right along with it, feeling fear for Del Rio. They were mesmerized by the danger of it all, no matter how fake. In the match they used chairs and tables, but it was all a snooze compared to when I used to watch. The WWE no longer lets the stars hit each other in the head with the chairs, so they sheepishly whack one another on the back. Yawn. A little true entertainment came at the end of the match though, when Del Rio’s chubby ring announcer duct taped the Big Show’s feet to the ropes, making him unable to stand-up and getting the big guy counted out. Del Rio wo the match and I was one step closer to seeing the Rock.
The show kills so much time with promos and filler. Backstage garbage and repurposed footage from other events sap up the clock. Stars I don’t care about are interviewed and their slogans and catchphrases are weaker than ever. One star uses “ain’t nobody got time for that,” a phrase stolen from a popular internet video and one purple clad douche just screams, “WOO, WOO, WOO,” to the delight of both crowds, but my dismay. The next match was a tag team where old baddie Kane, once again wearing his signature mask, teamed up with bearded loser Daniel Bryant, a comic relief heel. They squared off against an even hairier guy in pink tights and a young gun with a porno stache. During the unmemorable bout prizes were raffled off, with an announcer with almost ironic gusto asking the crowd over six times if they were ready for a prize. Each time he was received lukewarmly, but insisted on continuing with, “I can’t hear you!” Next thing I knew, Kane’s team had won the match and after more dreadful promos, the rumble began.
Many wrestlers flooded the ring, all trying to throw one another over the top ropes. Countless times, two wrestlers teamed up to try and toss someone over, only for one of them to have the tables turn and all parties to escape danger. It seemed as if it took forever for anyone to be eliminated and in waiting for sparks, I succumbed to my hunger and ordered some food. I had a pretty decent burger and some low quality wings. The meal wasn’t inedible, just not worth the ridiculous price I paid. Old wrestlers returned during the rumble, like the weirdo Goldust, who happened to be Porno Stache’s brother. Small world. There was also a notable sighting of the Godfather, a pimp character famous for “the hoe train,” but the washed up old timer was eliminated as soon as he stepped foot in the ring. High profile current acts like Rey Mysterio and Randy Orton make entrances, the latter of which makes every female audience member swoon. Who knew even women could get into this nonsense? Well not all women. One apparent non-wrestling interested young couple exits the restaurant and as they see the others and I crowded in the lobby, the girl quietly whispers to her companion, “how pathetic.” I instantly feel pathetic. Mr. Wrestling himself, John Cena enters at nineteen and new sensation Ryback, a Goldberg/Brock Lesnar hybrid, enters at 30. The two men find themselves the last men standing. I root for underdog Ryback, being sick of Cena’s non-stop domination. No wrestler has been given as many breaks and wins as Cena besides maybe Hulk Hogan and sure enough, Cena wins the rumble.
Throughout the night, I notice how all the men dressed in plain clothes, without wrestling apparel or children, seem to be rooting exclusively for the bad guys. They shake their heads and become noticeably annoyed every time a face gets a victory. I think it all seems a little silly. Of course the good guy wins! The toys need to be sold, the kids have to be happy and the adults should know this! They should know it’s all just an act, they should know that they are only rarely rewarded with a downer ending. When the Rock begin an interview backstage, I start to think it’s going to be one of those nights. He’s too positive, preachy and serious. He’s not the foul-mouthed, quick-witted anti-hero I remember. That seems to be Punk, who mugs for the camera and rips signs out of fans’ hands, destroying them in front of their faces. At 10:20 the match begins and I’m still sitting in the lobby, cold and significantly shorter on money and patience. My phone is also dead. I’m truly alone in a different sort of wilderness.
The Rock looks incredible. His body is in better shape then ever and he looks natural, not like the steroid fueled monsters of yesteryear. He is technically just better at masking the fake punches and attacks than anyone and it makes him more entertaining to watch. That’s not to say he’s perfect. The first botch moment of the night comes when the Rock tries to Rock Bottom Punk through the announcer table, but the table collapses early under their feet and they awkwardly fall. Moments later the Rock attempts the move again on the ground. Just as the Great One is about to pull out the W, the unthinkable happens! The lights cut out! Punk’s cronies ambush the Rock, the men who were forbidden from interfering and when the lights flash back on, the Rock is pinned. The downer ending has been delivered. My hero has fallen. It seems fitting after the truly horrible night that I’ve had. C.M. Punk celebrates in the ring. It’s over.
But wait! Boss Vince McMahon’s intro music starts playing. Everyone heading for the door races back to his or her seats. Everyone hangs on the words of the man onscreen. He starts telling Punk that even the trick with the lights can’t hide the interference, and he’s about to strip Punk of his title when an out of breath Rock is heard on the microphone protesting. “Don’t take his belt,” he starts, “let me take it. Restart the match.” The place erupts. The bell rings again. The Rock makes quick work of Punk. The People’s Elbow is delivered. 1, 2,3! Ding, ding, ding! The Rock wins! Elation spreads through the room! The jaded face-hating fans leave with their heads hanging in shame. The Rock holds the superior WWE Champion Belt in the ring and all is right with the world!
Somehow, after all the discomfort, the poor dining experience, the boring filler and the long trip, the Rock’s victory almost makes it all worth it. The ten-year-old in me can rest easy knowing that the Rock is still the best. My friend and I talk on the way home about what this could mean for the WWE, with a retired superstar now a titleholder and all the money that they will probably make from the move. I know, despite how much I rag on the experience, on the restaurant, the bizarre fans,and the show itself, I know that I’ll probably be back. WrestleMania is just right around the bend and now and the Rock will fight….