I watched Wrestlemania last night for the first time since 2004. At ‘Mania XX it was John Cena’s first appearance at a WM, and Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit won the two big titles and celebrated in the ring together at MAdison Square Garden and it seemed like a huge win for the little guy. Of course within three years both would be dead by horrifically tragic circumstances and I gave up on wrestling for a long time. The lack of care for the workers, the bad working conditions, the obvious racism, sexism and homophobia that have always formed the backdrop for some of the greatest characters…it all lost its charm.
After the unsettling events of 11/8 I got back into it because…it seems more realistic and comforting than the real world. And it’s more like a business now. And I thought it was a pretty excellent night last night except for that Orton/Wyatt match. Orton looked like he’d rather be anywhere else, but maybe that’s because the ring was full of maggots.
The women’s matches were great. Charlotte is one of the greatest personas in the ring right now, a genetic freak of Nature Boy. Sasha Banks and Nia Jaxx are going where no diva could and Bayley was the feel good underdog whose Macho Man elbow drop actually brought a tear to my eye. Because it was cool, and because a girl got to reference one of the greats on her own terms and not as a sexy sideshow. The WWE has caught up to the idea of the female performers as individuals and athletes, and it works. Naomi’s hometown win was also a feel good moment and if the brawl was a little silly it was silly in a good way.
By contrast, Nikki Bella looked like a dinosaur from another era, but the Miz sold the match, and the engagement was sweet. I legit wondered how real it was but I noticed that Cena whispered something in her ear and covered his mouth with his hand so you couldn’t lip read. Or was that just more kayfabe? Maybe but I prefer to believe in love.
Jericho/Owens was great especially Owens yelling “You were never my best friend!” and the dueling lion tamers. Shane McMahon continues to show why he’ll spend the rest of his life trying to win his father’s love. I got a little sick of hearing about Seth Rollins’ knee, but his Power Rangers outfit and walk up the 80 yard ramp was great and so was Stephanie’s injury rattling Trips. (Although the spot was a little sloppy.) I’m not sure everyone has fully absorbed the fact that Triple H came to the ring riding a souped up badass tricycle.
It’s the kind of edgy posturing that is really as safe as the morning paper lying at the bottom of your driveway that the WWE has traded in for many years. All of the WWE is post CM Punk worked shoots now. People train to be fitness models and movie stars not necessarily gap tooth masochists who sleep in their cars.
And then the Hardy Boys. That was so amazing. That went right back to the days before all the bad shit, even though they were both part of it in their time. If you’d said the Hardy Boys would come back someday and Jeff would be the stable one, you’d say, great angle. And it was. Seeing the modern stylings of Enzo Amore and Sheamus (both enjoyable) invaded by the desperate “I don’t care if I die and I’m wearing floppy Lollapalooza cargo pants doing it” aura of the Hardys was thrilling.
There’s always been an edge of sadness to wrestling when the old guy comes back and tries to recapture his glory days. There was a lot of huffing and puffing and red faces. Today’s “superstars” are so much fitter than the old guys – so much less roided out in obvious ways. I really did think Shane McMahon might have a heart attack. It really was a little weird for the Hadys to come back dressed the same and doing the same crazy moves in their 40s as they did as 24 year olds. That’s just part of the heritage of wrestling though.
And Undertaker. You thought, that guy will never die, he’s already dead. But the toll is so high, the milage so long. In the end he did the job to an in ring performer not fit to carry ‘Taker’s shoelace, but when you’re a pro you do the job. The booking seemed a relic of the olden days when the heels always won, but it was all to set up for that last walk up the 80 yard ramp.
It was sad, like the end of every hero’s journey but the necessary catharsis for us all.
So yeah, I liked it. It was far evolved from the one-step-up-from-a-carnival strongmen (and women) melodrama that first got me into wrestling. It was sleek and corporate but not as soul sucking. I have nothing but respect for these performers who must not only execute their moves, but learn their lines and look larger than life doing it.
DISCLAIMER: These are the thoughts of someone who is a casual wrestling watcher, so I’m sure there is a lot more drama and politics and blown spots and wrestling sheet gossip but please don’t school me in the comments. I used to be 100% into all that, but I invested too much in the past. Breaking kayfabe got too ugly for me. I’ll stick with the fantasy for now.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.