Wrestlemania 28 Recap/Diary

If this introduction bores you, please skip ahead to the running diary, which I promise is universally funny and insightful.

Like many (if not closet-ly most) twenty-something boys, I’ve had an odd, long and winding relationship with professional wrestling. I got into it just before Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall formed the NWO in 1996 and faded out around 2000ish when Stone Cold Steve Austin, Degeneration X, and The Rock started to peter out. Even as I was well aware that ultimate outcomes were scripted, the storylines were fluid and shocking. The unpredictability made it compelling.

In the ensuing decade, I faded in and out of wrestling to varying degrees ranging–I could go six months to a year without ever flipping to it or I could watch it two-three times in a month’s span–but my days of reading about it three hours a day on news/rumor web sites and message boards were over.

For reasons The Masked Man has written about on Grantland far more knowledgeably and eloquently than I can explain, CM Punk’s microphone appearances and matches were singularly captivating enough to bring Raw to Tivo status for the last nine months. While I don’t watch every week and I’m certainly not back to the status of reading about it on news sites and message boards (yes, I spent A LOT of time doing that when I was 10-12), I sort of have a handle on what’s going on–who’s a good guy, who’s a bad guy, who’s interesting, who automatically gets fast forwarded through.

While it was refreshing that CM Punk seemed to embody different story archetypes than the ones that made pro wrestling grow stale in the early 00’s, a lot of the theatrics in the WWE remain unchanged. I’ll describe these specifically in my recap but they’re SO blatant and predictable that they are endearing. These consistencies–some of which date back decades while others were developed when I was watching religiously–make the WWE the gold standard of the the unintentional comedy scale, sharing that status only with the Fast and the Furious series.

 A few Sundays ago, I grabbed dinner at Rocks, a great neighborhood bar in Lincoln Park, and it was randomly showing the WWE pay-per-view as, I found out, it always does. As these things actually cost an unconscionable $65 ($55 base and if you’ve already relinquished your dignity to spend that much on a wrestling PPV, what’s another $10 for the HD feed?), this was quite a valuable discovery considering that their food is good enough that I’d eat there anyways.

Last night, I got to Rocks at 5:40–about 20 minutes before Wrestlemania started–and grabbed three of the last five seats in the bar. The other two were swapped up immediately. The crowd would gradually increase to the extent that it was difficult to navigate your way from your seat to the bathroom, creating an absolutely surreal environment. People were into it. Retro diary after the jump.

6:00 PM – Settling into my spot and wishing I could have gotten there an hour later, missed the opening matches, and still gotten a seat. I’m rocking my Goldberg WCW shirt that was the best $1 find ever at a Goodwill in Florida a few years ago. I’ve got an interesting couple sitting next to me. The guy is from Canada and the girl is from Ireland. They come to Rocks for every WWE PPV. “What percentage of the crowd do you think is men? 85%?” I ask them. “Probably higher,” the girl says. By the numbers, probably not–but it sure felt that way.

6:10 – Our announcers are Michael Cole on play-by-play and Jerry “The King” Lawler on color. Michael Cole does a fine job, I guess, but it’s impossible to see or hear him without wishing he was Jim “Good Ol’ JR” Ross, the announcer whose legendarily sincere enthusiasm, energy, and character–the genuine folksy charm that Sarah Palin dreams of emulating–embody all the best parts of pro wrestling. His battle with Bell’s palsy has made his appearances sporadic to the point of virtual nonexistence over the past 2+ years and he couldn’t be more conspicuous in his absence.

Meanwhile, Daniel Bryan is defending his World Heavyweight Title (WHT) belt against Sheamus. (Not involved in this match, there is also a WWE Championship belt. It’s confusing but apparently the WWE Championship is more prestigious.) Daniel Bryan has a statuesque body (but not to cartoonishly large levels) and has a hot chick by his side. I guess his main character shtick is screaming, “YES!” enthusiastically. Shockingly, this isn’t particularly interesting. Sheamus is a paper pale Irishman whose weird facial hair is bright red. The hot chick and Daniel Bryan exchange a “good luck” kiss. As soon as Bryan turns around, Sheamus nails him in the face with a roundhouse kick and covers him for the three count. The match lasted 18 seconds between opening bell and final count. Resisting urge to make easy, played out Rick Pitino joke.

6:20 – Wrestlemania 29 is April 7, 2013 at MetLife Stadium. Anyone else trying to knock Wrestlemania attendance off their sports bucket list in the next few years? I guess not? Your silence is deafening.

As Wrestlemania becomes the #1 worldwide trending topic on Twitter (“Everybody who’s anybody is tuned in right now!” exclaims the King), it’s important to note how smart of it was of the WWE to take this active step and make its product something that fans want to watch live–like other sports–instead of DVR’ing as they would other TV shows. WWE was early in displaying hashtags on screen and guiding its talent to tweet via in-character handles. To avoid being DVR’ed and therefore being worthless to advertisers, network TV shows should encourage its fans to tweet about it as it’s happening. One of my friends SPOILED the season finale of Boardwalk Empire for me and TV producers should subversively be finding more ways to make this happen. If the choice is to watch live TV and take part in the chatter or go into Twitter hiding, I’m going to begrudgingly tolerate the commercials.

Meanwhile, the guy-who-used-to-be-and-sort-of-still-is Kane wins an uninspired match over the oily Randy Orton. Yawn. A promo featuring Mick Foley for some fish show debuting soon on the Discovery Channel gets interrupted by former Nation of Domination leader Farooq/Acolyte Protection Agency mercenary/guy who yells, “DAMN!” Ron Simmons. He’s getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame tomorrow night and he looks like he cycled for the occasion.

6:40 – Now joined by my friend Will and his friend Sarah. The Big Show, who is in TERRIBLE shape, wins another boring match against Cody Rhodes. Rhodes joins former transvestite Goldust (I fact-checked the proper spelling) in the illustrious line of Dusty Rhodes’ offspring in the organization. The Big Show looks like a value investment in death pools if he doesn’t alter the course of his life immediately. And even then…

We’re almost an hour in and this has been an extremely poor use of my time so far. Thankfully, my Whole Hog burger arrives in all it’s glory, topped with bacon, chicken fried bacon (yes, both), pulled pork, bourbon BBQ sauce, and cheddar with curly fries on the side. I REGRET NOTHING!

7:00 – GOOD GOD, THAT’S JR’S MUSIC!!!!!!!!!! It’s time for Undertaker-HHH, Hell in a Cell, special guest refereed by Shawn “HBK” Michaels. The Undertaker is 19-0 at Wrestlemania, defeated HHH last year, and beat HBK in three of the four Wrestlemanias before that. It takes at least 20 minutes for the three to get through their elaborate entrances and the steel cage to drop. It’s OK, though, because of how refreshing it is to hear JR narrating the story, doing everything he can and more to highlight how important this match is in the parlance of wrestling history.

“Any other man on the face of this Earth might be intimidated by the Undertaker, but not HHH,” JR notes, telling us that of the 24 Hell in a Cell matches in WWE history, 19 have involved the Undertaker and/or HHH. Does the Elias Sports Bureau keep official statistics for the WWE?

The match is formulaic but exciting. In what would be a theme throughout the night, they kick out of each other’s finishing moves a few times including a thriller sequence Undertaker is “somehow” able to endure through a Sweet Chin Music from HBK into a HHH Pedigree (“HHH MOVES TO COVER. UNDERTAKER’S UNDEFEATED STREAK AT WRESTLEMANIA IS COMING TO AN END! HOOKS THE LEG…1…2………GOOD GOD HOW DID THE UNDERTAKER KICK OUT OF THAT????!!!!!! HHH CAN’T BELIEVE IT!!!!!!!!!)

HBK spends the match having really weird, poorly acted anxiety issues regarding his role as referee for this historic match as ‘Taker and HHH exchange blows with a steel chair and a sledgehammer. (How does a sledgehammer always end up underneath the ring for HHH? Does he bribe a building crew guy to put it there for him or does he sneak it down there at the perfect time when nobody is looking? Why don’t interviewers ever ask him about this?) Nearing capacity, the crowd at the bar is coming alive, ooh-ing and ah-ing at big moves and near falls, erupting when the Undertaker clinches the victory. No exaggeration, it takes like 30 minutes for the three men to stumble out of the ring.

7:45 – Another boring stretch with a women’s match and a 12-man tag match. The 12-man bout is for who gets to be the GM of Raw and Smackdown, John Laurinaitis or Teddy Long. Quick points:

– John Laurinaitis’ character is hilarious. He looks and sounds like Marty Funkhouser and consistently refers to himself drawn out by his title as “John Laurinaitis, Executive Vice president of Talent Relations and General Manager of Raw.” He’s annoying–so much so that the fans legitimately HATE him. The crowd at Rocks boos him through the screen. He’s in a class by himself with CM Punk in that I always stop on his segments when fast forwarding through Raw.

– “Team Johnny” member David Otunga, whose fingers are approximately the size of my arms, shows that there, uh, may in fact be a way around the WWE’s performance enhancing drug testing policy.

– Team Johnny won because some bad girl distracted her boyfriend, prettyboy Zach Ryder, on Team Teddy. After the match, she kicked him in the balls and walked off defiantly. No real explanation given. Can’t wait to hear what her motive was on Raw!

8:20 – Finally time for CM Punk vs Jericho for the WWE Championship (as we established earlier, this is the real championship belt). Last Monday on Raw, Jericho–hiding behind a screen–told Punk, a colorfully tattooed straight-edge fighter from Chicago, “Your father is an alcoholic. Your sister has substance abuse problems. You were born before your parents’ wedding date, which makes you the legal definition of a bastard.” As you may imagine, CM Punk was less than enthused with this development and ready to exact his revenge.

It’s borderline criminal that JR isn’t announcing this match, but he bowed out after ‘Taker-HHH. When Punk and Jericho weren’t both lying on the ground in agonizing pain as the ref got about 2/3s of the way through his 10-second count-out (approximately half of the match), it was pretty entertaining. Unsurprisingly, it’s the most technically sound match of the night thus far. They kick out of each others’ finishers, CM Punk gets to the ropes to avoid Jericho’s Liontamer submission hold and reverses a couple others. Punk eeks it out on a submission hold of his own, a variation of Chris Benoit’s old Crippler Crossface*. Punk’s hometown crowd at Rocks goes WILD!

*Of all the ways to script the end of the match, I’m not sure why it had to elicit memories of the former wrestler who murdered his wife and 7-year old son before committing suicide in a tragic roid rage incident.

8:50 – It wouldn’t truly be pro wrestling without a deep plunge into the absurd. The excitement for The Rock vs John Cena is palpable and just as we think they’re finally about to be introduced, funk music starts playing and some massive fat dude named Brodus Clay comes, dances to the music, and starts talking. He urges the crowd to “Pull out the phone and call yo Mama and tell her you at Wrestlemania,” before following his own directions. “Mama! Guess where I am? I’m at Wrestlemania! Mama……You here too?! And you’re with the bridge club?!”

At this point, a crew of Black women dressed up as grandmothers, wearing red dresses with white polka dots that covered HUGE fake asses emerged to perform an impeccably choreographed dance routine to the music. While the skit made absolutely no sense for its time and place, it made complete sense for its time and place, serving as a filler to drum up more anticipation for the main event.

Of course, we still aren’t quite there yet. P. Diddy comes out for the sole purpose of introducing some guy named MKG to perform John Cena’s entrance music. MKG is a scrawny white DJ. He wears a tank top that reads “Cleveland” diagonally across his chest. His surrounding skin is 20% pale white, 80% colorful tattoos. Let’s just get this over with, shall we?

Not so fast. Now Flo Rida comes out to perform his rip-off of the Avicii rip-off of the Pretty Lights sample of Etta James. Ugh. The overlap in the venn diagram between those who spend $65 on wrestling PPVs and those who would enjoy a Flo Rida performance cannot be especially large–what, exactly, is the point of this? Also, did Flo Rida have to abide by the WWE’s PED policy in order to perform at Wrestlemania? Because he looks like he has help. (Where is the outrage for musicians and actors who take steroids/HGH? IT’S NOT FAIR FOR TAIO CRUZ TO HAVE TO COMPETE WITH FLO RIDA’S WRESTLING MUSCLES!) Come on, come onnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn…..

Meanwhile, I see a group at the bar order a round of Jagerbombs. Between their costing about $8/shot and the fact that its 9:00 PM on a Sunday night (how do you explain to your boss that you’re tired and hungover on a Monday morning because you went too hard for the wrestling pay-per-view?), it’s challenging to think of a dumber way to spend $60.

9:20 – FINALLY, after a lengthy entrance from The Rock and inevitable staredown, the match begins. The crowd–both live and at the bar–is SQUARELY behind The Rock. Cena is supposed to be a good guy and he definitely is to the sect of pre-adolescents whose parents let them watch wrestling (ostensibly because they themselves watch it, not that there’s anything wrong with that……) and buy them t-shirts. But in this match, he’s definitely the bad guy and it’s been fascinating to watch him gradually–both in the months of lead-up as well as during this match–recognize and embrace the role.

The match unquestionably steals the show; the HHH-Undertaker fight was exciting for its broader ramifications despite being a contest between two grizzled veterans who are well past their prime while Punk-Jericho was a well-executed battle of men whose profiles and legacies fall just below those of the men whose matches theirs was sandwiched between (though CM Punk may very well ascend to become a transcendent superstar in the coming years). Rock-Cena had the name cache of the first combined with the technical soundness of the latter.

The match goes back and forth. You may be surprised to learn that they kick out of each others’ finishing moves and various submission holds. At one point Cena has The Rock in yet another variation of the Crippler Crossface and The Rock has a look on his face denoting genuine agonizing pain. “He’s a great act……wrestling actor,” my girlfriend, who just arrived, says, catching herself and altering her statement before anyone can bring up the time The Rock played the Tooth Fairy. (Personally, I don’t think the qualification was necessary; I will never forgive the Academy for snubbing The Rock’s transcendent performance in Fast Five. He wasn’t even nominated for best supporting actor! I can only take solace when I remember that The Wire was never nominated for an Emmy.)

The turning point in the match comes when Cena turns full heel. Distraught that nothing he is doing can get a three-count on The Rock or make him tap out, Cena starts to mock The Rock’s People’s Elbow move before The Rock gets up and hits Cena with the Rock Bottom. 1…2…3…crowd ERUPTS.

My friend Jared, who was at Wrestlemania, tells me, “It was electric. The place absolutely exploded when the Rock won. Most of the crowd wanted it in the worst way and it showed. They booed Cena–lustily booed him–every time we was on the screen.” For my part, I can’t overstate the atmosphere at Rocks; it was honestly like being at Will’s Northwoods Inn when the Packers win a playoff game. For wrestling! The results may be pre-determined but they are genuinely exciting.

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2 Responses to Wrestlemania 28 Recap/Diary

  1. Dale says:

    i love the last sentence

  2. Raffi says:

    reading this actually made me want to be at Rocks

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