Every week, I sit at my computer and respond to something that has happened in the wrestling world that week or is, at the very least, in the process of happening. Some weeks are difficult. For instance, towards the end of last year was very hard when looking at the poor booking in WWE. Some weeks are easy. WrestleMania season is party time for fans and there is so much speculation. This week, my bloody TiVo hasn’t recorded RAW and so I must wait until Thursday to watch the episode. I hate spoilers so avoid everything as much as possible before seeing the programme. That has meant staring at my computer screen and wondering what to write. Then it hit me.
Why don’t I read the spoilers and just miss an episode? Well, because that weekly wrestling fix is a highlight of my week. We switch on and watch our favourite characters compete and interact with each other. We see great matches. We see awful dancing competitions. Either way, even when we as fans are in a downer about the various promotions we watch, we stick with it because, well, it’s fun.
Many of us, and I am definitely one of them, have been pretty down on the booking in WWE in recent months but there is clearly something which keeps us watching. Something that pulls us back. We have our own experiences and memories from wrestling. From that first moment we switched on the television and saw the squared circle to the last episode of RAW or Impact that we watched. We’re a group of fans but we’re all individuals too. We constantly want ‘new’ great memories.
I remember switching on in the early nineties and watching the first wrestler I’d ever heard of, The Undertaker. I was a school child and the bloke scared the hell out of me. He was massive. He was dressed in black. He was, well, an undertaker. I don’t remember the match or the opponent but it doesn’t matter. It was him. The Phenom. I’d obviously heard of Hulk Hogan but beyond that, I’d had no real link with wrestling. There was something about that man, that character, that drew me in though.
I didn’t start watching regularly from that point though. Wrestling was too hard to track down on UK TV and I was pulled away from the television by skateboards, bikes and my treasured Spectrum 128k +2A (it was the same as the +3 but with a cassette player instead of a disk drive. It was awesome). Through the next few years I switched on and saw a few things. I remember Bill Goldberg tearing through opponents on WCW. I didn’t see it, but Mike Tyson’s involvement was big news. I also remember watching some cracking Chris Jericho promos and thinking “I get it! It’s not just about the wrestling!”.
In the United Kingdom, professional wrestling was a very different thing. It was the World of Sport programme on ITV and grannies in sports centres baying for blood as Big Daddy took on Giant Haystacks for the hundredth time. It wasn’t cool, even though it had been huge in the fifties and sixties, and viewing figures collapsed in the eighties. WWE and WCW though had, well, fireworks, and a set, and, again, The Undertaker. It was like watching a glitzy, unpredictable soap opera. It began to draw me in further.
I began watching Smackdown (I was always a blue brand boy back when it mattered) when we got Sky TV and was amazed at how The Deadman had developed over the years. He was driving his bike and crowds were cheering him. Yes, I missed the old gimmick but here was another new thing for me. The wrestlers could change and move on. Even the characters were unpredictable beyond heel and face turns.
Also around that time I began to revel in two of my favourites wrestlers ever. Eddie Guerrero and Brock Lesnar. The latter was the new kid on the block but was huge. A genetic freak of collegiate wrestling muscle modified into a WWE machine. Along with Paul Heyman, he was unbelievable. Whereas Taker had his gimmick to terrify people, you always had the feeling he was a very different person in the real world. Brock, however, just seemed like a beast. No character. That was him. What you saw is what you got. An intimidating presence who destroyed all on his path to glory. He won King of the Ring. He destroyed my hero in The Undertaker in a particularly violent feud. He even won the Royal Rumble. What I’ll always remember though is his first title win at SummerSlam by defeating both The Rock and Vince McMahon’s awful Hawaiian shirt. We even got a chance to cheer him when he turned face for a while and had a great story with Kurt Angle leading up the WrestleMania XIX match and the terrifying shooting star press botch. Luckily, he turned heel again and we could go back to being terrified of him.
I also remember Eddie. What a wrestler and what a character. He made me laugh so much with his lying, his cheating and his stealing. Whatever people think of Chavo now, I’ll always remember him tagging with Eddie in the excellent Los Guerreros. There was something about the man. He was an excellent technical wrestler but, beyond that, he could tell a story like no other. His finest moment, and one of my favourite matches of all time, was when he took the gold from Brock. A match for the ages at No Way Out as Eddie, the complete underdog, took beating after beating from The Beast. “Just die Eddie!” he’d shout as Guerrero kicked out of yet another pin-fall. Eddie had nothing to give but he wouldn’t lie down either. Yes, it might have taken an angry Bill Goldberg to even the match, but it also meant that Eddie could frog splash his way to glory and a tearful celebration in the crowd that felt real and genuine. Michael Cole welled up, the crowd cheered and cried and I, well yes, I cried too. You don’t get many real moments like that and hopefully my current favourite, Daniel Bryan, will get one too eventually.
From there, I was excited for the match between Lesnar and Goldberg but, with the internet’s rapid grasp on the world, we all knew they were leaving and the match was awful. We did have that moment though when two heroes stood together in the ring amongst the falling ticker tape. Eddie and Chris Benoit. It’s a painful photograph to look on now. Both gone. One from heart failure. The other in horrifyingly violent circumstances which mean you can never watch one his great matches again without remembering what he did to his wife and child. A photograph of its moment and one that sums up the triumph and tragedy of wrestling. I prefer to remember Eddie, standing in the middle of the ring and holding a chair on Smackdown in his final match against Mr Kennedy. He looked at the camera, at us, and he reminded us about how great he was.
I remember moving onto the red brand as it was always on when I’d get in from my night school course on a Wednesday night (and Saturday mornings were now a time for hangovers). The RAW Draft was a brilliant time in the rivalry and that moment when Chris Jericho announced John Cena as the number one draft pick was incredible. The blue brand rap man, who also held the title after taking it from the brilliantly horrible JBL, was now red and stood alongside the World Heavyweight Champ in Batista. The crowd reaction to Cena was incredible. Wrestling had surprised us yet again and no-one saw it coming.
Unfortunately, Cena’s arrival meant the imminent departure of the brilliant Chris Jericho. Wrestling seemed a bit empty without Chris. He was such a good personality and wrestler that without Y2J RAW just seemed a little bit empty. Then there was a code to break. The online world exploded as people tried to crack it. Who could it be? When Jericho reappeared during a Randy Orton promo, it was great. What was even better was when Chris smashed Shawn Michaels into the Jeritron 6000 and became one the best heels the company had ever seen. Suited up and mad as hell, this new Chris Jericho again showed that if you give a talented performed the time to develop they will always reward you.
Memories obviously become more recent after this. The development of CM Punk from a wrestler I despised (primarily because he looked like the ex-boyfriend of a girl I was seeing) to the wrestler I enjoyed most with the pipe-bomb promo and subsequent Summer of Punk II. The incredible matches at WrestleMania between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. Unforgettable, hi-octane bouts that will stand the test of time. The rise of a little goat from sacked tie abuser to Yes-Man of the highest order.
When we look back at wrestling, we don’t remember the terrible matches or the poor feuds. We don’t think that Eddie should have won more titles because he won that title on that night. Do I remember poor Taker matches early on in the streak? Of course not. I remember Taker going against Randy, Punk, Triple H, Batista and, of course, Mr WrestleMania himself. Do I think of the way Chris Jericho has never won a Royal Rumble? No. I think of the way he stole the title at Unforgiven in the Championship Scramble match after been decimated by Shawn Michaels earlier in the evening.
We love wrestling for those moments. Those moments that make us gasp and cheer. Yes, we might even remember how angry we were at a particular decision but usually only in context of how the whole story played out. The Daniel Bryan story, for instance, is only just beginning. We have a lot more peaks and troughs to traverse yet, just as we did with Eddie and Brock and Kurt and Cena and Big Show and Dolph and Edge and Taker. Memories are made of this and, although I want to fix that TiVo as soon as possible so I don’t have to wait again till the end of the week to watch RAW, this week has allowed me to think about why I love wrestling. I love it for those moments when you stand up from the couch and clap the men and women who entertain us every week. I’ll raise a glass to that and to the memories still to come.
Please follow me on twitter @HughFirth or email me on [email protected] All constructive criticism is appreciated.
Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.