Real recognize real

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The first WrestleMania I remember watching was the sixth one, when Hulk Hogan defended his title against the Ultimate Warrior. I was a bit late to the party; my friends had all been fans for several years at that point, but I didn’t take to any sport – including ostensibly fake ones – until about fifth grade.

I never even considered asking my parents if I could order WrestleMania VI. The way pay-per-view used to be, they’d scramble the visual, but you could still hear everything. (The Playboy Channel and such were the same way, but for at least a couple more years, I was far more interested in peering at scrambled wrestling matches.) So I sat there for four hours, trying to make out glimpses of the action while I re-enacted it with my action figures.

The G.O.A.T. WrestleMania match

Miraculously, something went wrong with their scrambling software or whatever, and the picture flickered on right before Hulk Hogan fought the Ultimate Warrior. It was like seeing a glimpse of heaven. I very gingerly walked around the den lest I trip or something and jolt the television back to its previous scrambled state.

The Hulk Hogan-Ultimate Warrior match was incredible. It was 22 minutes but seemed like an hour, since it was twice as long as any other match on the card. I was a huge Hulk Hogan fan, and I howled to the moon that life wasn’t fair when Hogan pinned the Warrior with the referee inconveniently unconscious and unable to make the count. When the Warrior defeated the previously indomitable Hogan, I actually cried. My friends had begun to speculate at that point that wrestling was scripted, and I guess I kind of knew that, but it just seemed so real to me, dammit!

The following year, my parents – having come to grips that my wrestling fandom was more than just a flight of fancy – allowed me to order WrestleMania VII and invite a whole bunch of my sixth grade buddies over. That was a social event we reprised for four years until one of my friends got one of those cable descramblers, and we looked forward to it for months. That first WrestleMania party, in particular, is still a thing of legend.

At that age, we’d do whatever the hell Vince McMahon would tell us to do. So when he informed us it was our civic duty as Americans to scream updates out the window about how Hulk Hogan was faring in his match against inexplicable Iraqi sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter, we did explicitly that. I doubt Vince’s grassroots promotional tactics were effective, and one of our more heartless neighbors actually called the cops. When two officers showed up and discovered it was a WrestleMania party instead of a slaughterhouse, they jokingly asked my mom if they could come up and watch.

After the show ended, still hopped up on Doritos and a 12-minute Hulk Hogan victory posedown, my friends and I staged our own battle royal in the living room with our “Wrestling Buddies” – the ugliest pillows ever, made to look like Randy Savage and Ted DiBiase. Gradually, sets of parents showed up and peeled my friends away.

To this day, just about every time I tell my mom I got together with my friends for a pay-per-view, she asks if the cops showed up, and if we had a match with our Wrestling Buddies following the event.

*****

Obviously, our WrestleMania parties are a little different now – It’s less about what we’re watching, and more a reason to get us all together and remember all the good times.

Last week, we gathered at my friend Ron’s place since his wife is about 8 ½ months pregnant, and we watched on a television far more advanced than my parents’ clunky tube from sixth grade. We talked about preparations for my upcoming marriage in September, I briefed everyone on the fallout from my recent car accident, and we compared war stories from our jobs.

arod_doctored_thumb[8]Of course, some things never change: For little apparent reason, my friend Joe ran around the room hollering when Seamus egregiously won the opening match over Daniel Bryan in 18 seconds. They still spotlighted whatever doofus celebrity graced them with their presence, in this case Alex Rodriguez. And as always, we ate chips.

Wrestling is about a decade removed from the last vestiges of its Y2K-era glory days, but WrestleMania was entertaining as always. A returning The Rock pinned John Cena and looked pretty good doing it, though he wasn’t quite in the shape he was in the early 2000’s. That’s understandable; neither am I. Personal favorites C.M. Punk and Chris Jericho also had a very good match.

The best match, as has been the case the past four years, belonged to the Undertaker, who extended his undefeated streak at WrestleMania to 20 by defeating Triple-H in a rematch of last year’s war of attrition. They had billed the match, refereed by a third legend in Shawn Michaels, as the “End of an Era,” which was nebulous in that they never explicitly explained what era was ending.

Would it be Triple-H’s last match? The Undertaker’s? It was unclear, though it seems more likely the former than the latter. As Vince McMahon’s son-in-law, Triple-H appears to be the heir to the company, and it’s hard to imagine he’d want to take very many more chair shots to the back, if any. The Undertaker is down to working one match a year, and I’d imagine he continues for another year or three until there’s nobody left to beat or his body simply can’t take it anymore.

Their match seemed out of place – for one, because it was a lot better than any of the others, but correspondingly because the three seem relics of another time. Undertaker debuted when I was in sixth grade and is virtually never around; at some point soon, he and all of our other links to the past will be gone.

But presumably – hopefully – the wrestling parties will continue. It’s a trip in itself having these get-togethers every year, as we’ve all come a long way from smacking each other with pillows on my parents’ living room floor. It’s an added bonus to see our childhood heroes stagger to the back together, but I’m no longer sure it’s necessary.

Like clockwork, WrestleMania brings out the snark in people who can’t wrap their heads around spending time watching people fight scripted matches. I certainly get that there’s a stigma involved, and I hardly defend the long history and culture of steroid and other abuse that goes along with it.

But I’ve always valued wrestling for its ability to help me bridge the gap between generations. After all these years, the same guys I sat with at WrestleMania 8 in 1992 to watch Ric Flair walk that aisle will stand with me in September to watch my fiancée do the same thing.

That, to me, is as real as it gets, even as our longtime heroes gradually fall by the wayside.

Esoteric

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