HALT: If you haven’t read yesterday’s post about me doing some soul-searching, I would suggest taking a look at that first.
If I’m going to re-dedicate myself to pro-wrestling, it’s probably a good idea for me to take a bit of time to figure out why in the hell I started watching in the first place. It’s not something that was handed down to me the way it is in some families. As far as I knew, no one I was related to was watching wrestling. In fact, I’m pretty sure my Mom would have flipped out if she knew I was watching it at all. She was dead-set on bringing up a daughter who knew her worth was based on more than just her bra size, and at the time WWE was still treating women like slabs of meat. But I didn’t care so much about that. I was young and didn’t know looking at something like that might have a lasting effect. Rather, my interest was in the violence.
I had always been an angry kid. Yes, I was picked on. I was smarter than most of the kids in my class. I was taller than them, too. I was skinny and fair skinned and being Mediterranean meant I had dark hair all over my body from a young age. I dressed different than my classmates because I wanted to, and I tried very hard to carry myself in a way that said “I don’t care what you think.” But people (kids in particular) can be so cruel. But on TV, not only did the weird guys get to be champion, everyone always knew exactly what to say. Everyone was pithy and smart. I wanted to be like that.
I decided to start there: with the dark haired pre-teen who used to watch SmackDown in the den in her basement. The one who had a secret picture of Edge in her diary that she ripped out of the TV Guide. She was the one who really fell in love – and I mean tumbled, ass over tea kettle – with pro-wrestling right at the end of the Attitude Era. I went back to the first match I can ever remember seeing, though I’m not sure how. The first Pay-Per-View event I ever watched live was the 2014 Royal Rumble. But the first match I can recall is the second TLC match – the one from Wrestlemania X-7. It’s possible I was at a friend’s house, and someone’s older brother was watching it. I vaguely recall a big-screen TV and an entertainment unit that still had a tape deck in it. Who knows where I was.
Watching the match 14 years later (which I’ve done many times on the network) I see so much stuff that I would never have noticed then. But I’m trying to push all of that jaded, over-analytical crap to the side and just enjoy it. So this morning I made a cup of coffee and started from The Hardy Boys entrance.
The first thing that jumped out at me is the way the audience responds to all six of the participants in the match. Nobody is asleep. I know it’s Wrestlemania, and that’s just a different, massive crowd. But the audience is in it. Nobody is looking for an opportunity to hi-jack anything. How did these same people – a group of kids wearing Ultimate Warrior face paint and socks on their hands – all grow up to be such massive jerks? (Note to self: stop being a massive jerk.) The crowd is so stoked on this match, and are invested from the entrances through the finish.
Something else I’d just like to mention: I love Paul Heyman. Anyone who has ever read just about any of my writing on WWE know how much I love Paul Heyman. But I love the Paul Heyman we have right now – the guy who comes out and says Brock Lesnar’s name funny and then cuts an epic promo. That is a different Paul Heyman, The Paul Heyman that is sitting beside Jim Ross during this show is a brat. He spends most of the show putting his ECW darlings over and barely even says Edge or Christian’s names. I give them credit as a pair – they don’t take sides the way the commentary team does now. And thank the heavens above for Jim Ross who (SHOCKING) actually calls the match. But I also got the very real feeling he was kicking Paul under the table through the whole thing.
The match itself flows in a really admirable way. I imagine it’s complicated planning out a match between two people. A tag team is even harder. A six man tag is something else entirely. This is all six guys in the ring at once with dangerous objects. They’re really lucky they all got out alive, much less put on such a stellar match. I recently watched the episode of Table for 3 with Ryback, Dolph Ziggler, and Daniel Bryan, in which Ryback went on and on about the Elimination Chamber match from this year when he won the title. That match was a rolling disaster. Nobody seemed to know where anyone else in the ring was, or what came next, or how to pick up a missed spot. The TLC II match was the opposite. Clearly every person in that ring trusted everyone else, including the three individuals who joined them later: Lita, Rhyno, and Spike Dudley. I never got the feeling I might have missed something important, or that a spot came from someplace I wasn’t watching already.
There is psychology in this match, too. The way the match starts with the Dudleys going after Edge and the Hardys going after Christian tells a story. The introduction of each team’s auxiliary members gives them all an equal leg up. Fairly early in the match Bubba Ray and Devon set up a tower of tables, and it takes nearly the whole match for Rhyno to push Matt and Bubba Ray off a ladder into (and through) the stack. There is thought behind everything – even if the thought is simply “this is going to be awesome.”
There are a number of memorable, really dangerous stunts in this match, including Edge’s famous mid-air spearing of Jeff Hardy. However, it was Jeff’s Swanton Bomb off the top of a 20-foot ladder onto Rhyno and Spike who were draped over a table below that caused me to cover my face. And in that moment, as my hands flew to my eyes, I remembered what it was like. I have cried watching wrestling matches because I could not conceive that the individual would get back up – and not in an underdog way. In a “well, I just watched that man die on live television” way. I’ve been “swerved”, been truly surprised by something or someone. But most of those times were way back then.
I knew at 14 years old that it wasn’t “real”. I mean, I knew there was no way Jeff came off that ladder and just got up and walked away – impact is impact, no matter your training. But I knew someone had made a decision on who was going to win before hand. I understood that. And still, there was a suspension of disbelief. When did I lose that? Maybe it was five months later, when everyone in New York and all over the country suddenly became adults one Tuesday morning. Maybe it was when I returned to the product as an adult who was dealing with an all-too-real situation that required my deep understanding. Maybe I just couldn’t play pretend anymore. But I think it’s time I give it a try.
My grandmother really loved As the World Turns, a now-defunct American Soap Opera. My grandfather couldn’t watch it with her. He’d say things like “why do these people change outfits so many times?” and “can’t anyone see that’s the same person and not an evil twin?” My grandmother used to laugh at him and say, “William, you just don’t know how to watch this.”
Dear fellow “smarks”,
I think somewhere between our first ever paycheck and our last electric bill we forgot how to watch wrestling. Let’s give it another try, okay?
The Lady J’s “To Watch” List:
Wrestlemania 2000 – “Triangle Ladder Match” (aka TLC I), Edge & Christian defeat The Hardy Boys AND The Dudley Boys (c)
Wrestlemania X-7 – “TLC II”, Edge & Christian defeat The Hardy Boys AND The Dudley Boys (c)