You think you know me?*

Fact about Lizzie #26: I have a history with watching professional wrestling. It is a tumultuous history, a love-hate relationship with the beast that is sports entertainment. My own experience with it has been informed by the WWF/WWE which may, or may not, be a good thing. While watching the E, I did also try to keep abreast of some of the goings on in other competitions, but in the end it is the E that I know best so that is what this post will revolve around.

logo from Wikipedia's WWE pageThere are elements of professional wrestling that I just adore and then there are aspects of it that have made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. I doubt that I am in the demographic which the powers-that-be at the E are interested in targeting and I’m pretty sure that’s why my experience has been a tumultuous one. That is not a complaint, it is just how it is. In my experience, I’ve found that when it’s good, it is awesome viewing and when it’s bad, it is something that I chose not to watch. I don’t watch it at the moment, but I don’t have access to cable TV so that negates any choice in the matter. However, every once in a while I’ll have a search around the interwebs and see what’s happening. My interest primarily revolves around the wrestlers that I remember from when I did watch it (which was a good five years ago now). That’s why I follow Mick Foley on Twitter. Well, that’s part of the reason why I follow Mick; I follow him because he’s just awesome (as evidenced by his work with RAINN). It was hearing the news this week that Adam Copeland (a.k.a Edge) had retired that prompted me to contemplate a professional wrestling themed post. On reflection there was actually more content for me to choose from than I had initially thought. In this post I’ve tried to limit it to the high level stuff, maybe some point in the future I’ll delve into other aspects.

I like sports and pretty much all sports; I’ll try anything at least once. I admire and appreciate how athletes condition their body and mind in order to achieve feats that beyond the ordinary. Being more of an academic persuasion (but wanting to more of an athletic persuasion) it is the kinda thing that I find incredibly inspiring. Sports entertainment gets a bad rap from many a sports fan – ‘it’s not sport!’ they proclaim. True, it isn’t. It is sports entertainment and in the case of the WWE it is basically a soap opera where the participants wrestle each other. Each fan has their own reasons for watching it, in a nutshell, mine are:

  • It takes a serious amount of skill and pure physicality to do what some of these guys and gals do. I have none of that skill and physicality. Therefore I look at them, think ‘hot damn’ and I am impressed.
  • In particular I have time and patience for those wrestlers that have turned their passion for professional wrestling into a craft. I am not a fan of the average big guy, ‘diva’ or gimmick. I like my wrestlers to be just that – wrestlers, anything else and I get disinterested very, very quickly. Even when the storylines were really bad, I would still watch those matches with those particular wrestlers and skip the rest.
  • I like the theatre of it, well most of the theatre of it. I like the arenas, the music, the crowd (especially the savvy ones). I like some of the parallels it has with Roman gladiatorial games and I like where it differs from those games (sans killing of man or beast for a start, I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed that back in the days of the Caesar).

I started watching professional wrestling fairly late in life (as in my mid-late teens) and only because my brother watched it. My impression of professional wrestling before my first experience of it was not a favourable one. That changed and for the reasons given above. Sunday evenings quickly began to mean watching an episode of Raw (is War) with my brother and then, on occasion, heading upstairs to watch Pride and Prejudice with my mother – that’s the kinda household we were. At that time, New Zealand received the WWF (as it was) in one hour truncated episodes of Raw that were three weeks delayed and every other PPV (again delayed). There may have been something better on cable TV but we only had free-to-air, so that was our lot. Thankfully, this was before we used the internet for everything, so the delay wasn’t too noticeable.

A routine became quickly established between me and my brother. Wrestling was ‘our’ thing and therefore it was ‘our’ time. For the PPVs (my first was Summerslam) we would commandeer the spare room and nestle in with soda, popcorn, crisps et cetera and suspend belief while we watched and discussed whatever was happening. I provided the more ‘colourful’ (to quote Spock in Star Trek IV) metaphors and language, he provided the witticisms. I am fortunate enough to be able to say that my brother is now one of my best and closest friends and to an extent the time spent watching and discussing Raw, Smackdown and various PPVs was the beginning of that friendship. It was a two way street though: he introduced me to wrestling and I introduced him to Hanson.

Over the years I became a mark for a few of the guys and gals inside the squared circle, these were the matches that I would definitely watch and more often than not enjoy. In the beginning I gravitated towards the Undertaker (an exception to my aversion of the ‘big guy’), HHH, The Rock, Kurt Angle (affectionately known as Kangle in our household), Chris Jericho, Mick Foley, Edge & Christian, Matt & Jeff Hardy (as tag teams and individuals), Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Chyna, Lita and Trish Stratus. I then included John Cena, Shawn Michaels and Rick Flair as I was introduced to them. There are probably a few more wrestlers that I could include, in fact I’m sure there are, but I’ll limit the list to those individuals for now. In hindsight, I was lucky to introduced to wrestling at the end of the Attitude era (I would’ve been even luckier to have come in at the start, but oh well). Some of the names and matches from the Attitude era are just phenomenal, it was definitely a unique and defining period for the E.

When the E finally made it to New Zealand and to Wellington in particular (hurrah!) I was there amongst literally thousands of other Kiwis. I had only just come back from a holiday in the UK (as in the day before) and I had an absolute shocker of a tummy bug. I was so unwell that I don’t remember getting to the stadium or back home – and no, there was no alcohol imbibed, it was all due to that nasty bug. Anyway, I may not remember the journey but I do remember the matches, especially Kangle vs Taker (vs Mark Henry – I was more interested in the first two participants) and I remember the atmosphere. I think something like the E has to be seen in the flesh to be enjoyed, it’s not always easy to translate that kind of energy to the TV screen. Living outside of the States and Canada, outside of the E’s usually circuit, I consider myself lucky to have seen these two wrestlers do what they do and in my backyard.

This event came at a crucial time for me in regards to my relationship with the wrestling and with the E in particular. Eddie Guerrero had not long passed away, I was becoming more disinterested and disheartened by some of the shows’ storylines and the general direction that the company was heading in was starting to come into conflict my own personal preferences. Eddie Guerrero’s death and Chris Benoit’s double murder/suicide were watershed moments, maybe someday I’ll write about them in particular, but for now you just need to know that they forced me to reconsider how I viewed the whole thing. By means of clarification, I didn’t hold the E directly responsible for either event, neither were that black or white and both had shades of grey enough to paint a flotilla of battleships. I just started watching it less and less and in the end it didn’t bother me too greatly when I moved and no longer had access to watch it at all.

What I was left with was a strong desire to never see another wrestler buried before their time due to something that was related to their work in the ring. If I had been into wrestling at the time when Owen Hart tragically died (or had even known about it when I did start watching) then I’m sure I would have approached the business with a different attitude – but that wasn’t the case. I may not have witnessed the latter half of Adam’s career, but if it was even half of what I remember, then his retirement is a loss for the E. It takes something rare and special to last as long and rise as far as he did in the business. I’m also extremely glad the doctors kept going for tests and scans when he mentioned that he was experiencing trembling and a loss of feeling in his arms and hands. That they didn’t let it slide by, because if he had continued to wrestle then he could’ve ended up in a wheelchair, or worse. Ultimately, I would rather be surprised to read that he’s retired rather than shocked to read the alternative.

Perhaps that’s one of the great tragedies about life in the business; very rarely does a wrestler retire ‘on top of their game.’ Due to the sheer physicality of what they do, week in and week out, when it is time to ‘hang up the boots’ they often do so with a reduced capacity to enjoy life outside the squared circle. They get their bodies to peak perfection, maintain that perfection for years, rehabilitate their way out of sometimes incredibly serious injuries and in the end retire somewhat less than what they once were physically. It’s heroic, idiotic, brave, futile and tremendously inspiring all at the same time.

Regardless of my tumultuous relationship with the E, I ultimately prefer to remember the good times because that’s what makes wrestling so much fun to watch. My brother suggested I end this post with a favourite moment from our time watching the WWF/WWE. Neither of us could select just one moment, in the end I’ve gone for sentimentality and chosen Summerslam 2000 which was the first PPV that we watched. In particular these three matches had stuck in my memory bank and I recommend checking them out:

Chyna & Eddie Guerrero vs Val Venis & Trish Stratus in a Mixed Tag Team match for the WWF Intercontinental Championship. Chyna was awesome and while I know there are quite a few out there who have an aversion to her, I personally have a lot of time for her as a female wrestler. She was the extreme female wrestler, her physicality was mind blowing and as a result she wasn’t like most of the other women in the locker room – she certainly wasn’t a ‘diva’ and for that I tip my hat and appreciate her contribution. Trish Stratus was another female wrestler whom I grew to greatly admire. In many respects she was the antithesis of Chyna but at the same time she seemed to be the natural conclusion to Chyna’s impact in the world of female E wrestlers. I hold both women in the highest regard for their work in the ring. Eddie was one of those unique wrestlers that could charm the audience all while wowing them with his ability and his early death was a huge loss. This match was the first time I saw these three in the ring together, it’ll never be repeated – by these wrestlers or any others – so yeah, it’s memorable for a lot of reasons.

Edge & Christian vs The Hardy Boyz vs The Dudley Boyz in a TLC (Tables, Ladders and Chairs – oh my!) match for the WWF Tag Team Championship. This became the touchstone of tag team matches for me and the performance given by these six men (and Lita) was phenomenal. I re-watched it a few years ago and I am glad to report that it was just as good as I remember it being.

The Rock vs Kurt Angle vs HHH in a Triple Threat match for the WWF Championship. Rock! Kangle! Trips! All in one match! I really enjoyed this, despite the silly love triangle angle that the writers had included. It is an archetypal E match – wrestlers in a soap opera storyline, and honestly, after all is said and done it is still the only kind of TV soap that I have any inclination in watching.

*Homage to Edge’s entrance music.

P.S. Mick has written a very awesome post on Adam’s career which I urge you to check out.


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