Men And Wrestling

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The thing about growing old is that you don't really know how far into the age game you're in until you turn on the television. The other night, I was looking for some late programming when I saw a rerun of the Wrestlemania XXVII. I haven't watched "pro" wrestling in years but I was kind of happy to see that the contenders were the same people I followed back when I was still watching avidly 10 years ago. Ho boy, did it take me back to my younger years.

The match was the Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels, with Undertaker's 17-0 win streak and Shawn Michael's career at stake. I didn't really know anything about the backstory but that was more than enough for me. The ridiculous ante wasn't really surprising, since there's ALWAYS something at stake when it comes to wrestling. It's never just about becoming the best, or at least improving your league seeds. Hell I'm not even sure if there's such a thing as ranking in WWE. It's about grudges, it's about rivalries, it's about beating the shit out of the other guy for any reason other than just to see who's better. But hey, we wouldn't really have it any other way. If professional chess leagues were anywhere near as competitive as wrestling, one grandmaster would beat the shit out of another because he slept with the other's wife and got a venereal disease for it. If that happens, they'd have more fans, specially if stalemate endings have steel chairs involved.

And perhaps that's really why men just love wrestling. It's a marriage of adrenaline-pumping sports and ridiculous story premises with intricacies that would rival any soap opera. It proves that men do love a good plot, we just don't want that fact to be obvious enough and taken against our sexuality. I remember excitedly going to school every monday morning to talk about the latest happening in Smackdown and Raw instead of learning something that would actually be of use later on in life. There'd be firey debates on the finer points of the chokeslam, and how the Blue Blazer is in fact Owen Hart. There was a point in time that everyday, during 3:16pm in the afternoon, people would start talking about Stone Cold Steve Austin. Why? Coz Stone Cold said so. Doesn't make sense? Why should it? It's wrestling for crissakes.

So yeah, so Undertaker entered the stage, the lights dimmed, and the trademark death knell music played in the background. I wondered how many thousand times it has already happened before. Undertaker would roll his eyes back so it only shows whites, and then the lights would come on slowly. He must be sick of it also. I know I would. I've been watching undertaker "take care" of shit for as long as I can remember. I wasn't even in preschool when I first watched him with my dad on Saturday afternoon TV in Saudi. He was so awesome back then, and his intro is no less awesome now.

And then there's the match itself. Strictly speaking, it can hardly be called a match. It's scripted. I know, I know, it's scripted. We've always known it's scripted. Nobody gives a shit. It's like saying "Santa doesn't exist" but it doesn't matter anyway for as long as you play along and get the gifts that you want. The choreographed match is beautifully executed and it has so many twists and turns that you'll never know who will emerge as victor. You never really have that in other real sports. Or if ever, not often enough. In wrestling, you have it EVERY WEEK with recaps every Sunday. If wrestling weren't scripted, it'd be an hour of boring matches where nobody ever gets knocked out. Instead of death-defying acrobatic moves, we'd have stupid leglocks and takedown maneuvers with an occasional injury that will cause a celebrity wrestler to disappear for months before coming back half the man he used to be. Who'd want that boring-as-oregon bullshit? So pull out a steel chair and hit the ref already.

The match last night was just that. It was exciting, riveting, and it brought out the child in me that never really got over the WWE fever. Not even the ever present reminder of fakeness could take me out of the "game". But then there's also the reality, served so obviously to me when Undertaker and Shawn Michaels did a staredown, and it just dawned to me. HOLY SHIT. THEY BOTH HAVE RECEDING HAIRLINES. Where hair used to be, now emaciate forehead extensions lay. It was at that point that I also noticed that their ripped, steriodal bodies look like they were partially sagging already. And I guess it's understandable. Basic math tells me that if I started watching these two guys wrestle before I hit kindergarten, that means they've been doing these moves for over 20 years already. Twenty years. (And they can probably still kick my ass six ways to Sunday) These guys were already old back then, and they were much much older now. Undertaker even looked like he was having a hard time bending the rope to enter the ring. But none of that mattered to them at the moment. They were doing the same moves that they did 20 years ago, with bodies that are probably begging for otherwise. At one point, Undertaker did the top-rope walk he was famous for, although when he did jump into Shawn, he INJURED himself, and FOR REAL. Showmanship dictated that Shawn kick the injury anyway. Shawn likewise did a top rop jump on the Undertaker and likewise got injured bad. After watching matches for a long time, you just know what's real and fake.

Thinking about it, the fact that people of their age are able to do those death defying jumps, crashing on to barely padded mats and propped tables is a feat in itself. Hell, I'm at the peak of my fitness and I wouldn't dare do half of what they do in the ring. There's nothing fake about the risks, and it's that idea of real life daredevil heroics that pique the interests of guys like me in what other people condescendingly call "a violent version of ballet". The injuries they got during the match weren't staged. Undertaker tombstone piledrived Shawn outside the ring and you could just see the pained experssion in his face when his knees hit the floor while holding a FULL GROWN 45 year old man upside down. It. WAS. AWESOME. Not because it's all real, but because it's fake, but with reality just seeping back in.

Shawn Michaels lost the match, and as dictated in the stakes he must retire. While retirement is a gimmick employed by the WWE for entertainment purposes, this one looked pretty real. Undertaker shook Shawn's hands and the audience, realizing what they were witnessing clapped the standing ovation clap. The one time I chanced upon a wrestling match is coincidentally the last time one of the legends of my childhood put a closure on his book. It was moving. More than Shawn Michael's career, I felt that it was also the end of a two decade old following for one of my biggest heroes (who just happen to love putting his foot up people's chins to knock them out).

But of course that's never the end of things. Undertaker is still wrestling up to this day, and though there will probably nobody more charismatic and respected than him, there are tons of others just waiting to fill his spot. When I get kids, I'll probably introduce them to wrestling too, if not to learn about life, just so they have something to talk about come Monday morning at school.

Why? Coz Stone Cold said so.

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