Dan Clist watched all four hours of 2015’s Wrestlemania extravaganza, and argues that wrestling remains one of the greatest forms of television entertainment on offer.. //
Something weird happened to me about 18 months ago. I still cannot explain it to this day, but I had an inkling and I began to – once again – watch professional wrestling. Religiously – week in, week out. The obsession had returned.
Let’s get a few things out of the way early on. I, like all wrestling fans, am very much aware that it’s ‘fake’ – but so is every form of entertainment. There’s a reason why they no longer call it “wrestling”, but ‘sports entertainment’, because that’s what it is – entertainment. A friend of mine once put it perfectly – “You know CSI is fake, right? In CSI you always know how it is going to end, bad guy in jail, but you watch it anyway. Wrestling is the same, except instead of trying to find out who the bodily fluid belonged to, they punch each other in the face.” Also, the former WWF is now the WWE. The pandas sued, and the pandas won. Let’s move past it.
Like many people, I have very fond memories of watching wrestling as a youngster. Setting the VCR to record WCW Nitro on the early hours of a Sunday morning on TV2, waking up with my brother and spending the next hour forcing my parents to sit through the action while they read the Sunday Star-Times. The good ole’ days of the pageantry and superhero-like wrestlers. Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock – the kind of people who these days are routinely referenced all over the pop culture spectrum (the best of which is Jake “The Snake” Roberts playing himself as a tow truck driver in Lucas Bros. Moving Company).
The centrepiece for wrestling and the WWE has always been Wrestlemania. The Showcase of the Immortals. The Grand Daddy of Them All. The first, taking place in 1985, featured Hulk Hogan teaming up with Mr. T in the main event. Muhammad Ali and Cyndi Lauper made appearances. The glitz and the glamour were apparent – this was going to be the biggest event in wrestling. It essentially has been ever since. The event is still going to this day, and pulls in audiences of over 70,000 punters who converge to this wrestling mecca from all over the world.
For this piece, and for the sake of the sanity of everyone reading this, let’s focus on just the main event – Brock Lesnar defending his WWE World Heavyweight Championship (the biggest belt in the game) against the challenger Roman Reigns. Don’t let the horribly phallic chest tattoo fool you, Brock Lesnar is an absolute wrecking machine. A national collegiate wrestling champion (the Ancient Roman kind, not this sweaty oily kind) who found great success in the WWE, left to try, and fail, to make the NFL, only to try, and wildly succeed in the UFC (real fighting). The prospect of a huge payday and light working schedule resulted in a return to the WWE, where he has reigned since, now known as The Beast Incarnate and The Conqueror.
Then there’s the challenger, Roman Reigns. A man who the WWE are forcing down the fan’s throats, despite them not liking the taste. “Whether you like it or not, this is happening.” Reigns has credentials, don’t get me wrong. A beast in his own right – 6 foot 3, 120 kgs, and a member of the famous Anoa’i family, whose members include the great Yokuzuna and The Rock. But Brock Lesnar is a different kind of beast. Brock is like Coronation Street – no matter what you throw at him, no matter what happens, no matter how many times you think he should just stay down/get cancelled, he just keeps going/churning out new episodes. And keeps on winning.
It’s the classic good guy versus bad guy, and good always wins out, right? Not with wrestling, and this is where the beauty of wrestling lies. The fans are simply not accepting Reigns as the “good guy”, and instead cheering for Lesnar, the “bad guy”. And where else on television does this happen? Nowhere. Sure, you could cheer along for the Ferndale Strangler, but people would label you a sociopath, and possibly peg you for a potential criminal. As wrestling fans, it is our God given right to pay for our seat, buy the merch, and cheer for whoever the hell we want.
Now that we’re all up to speed, that brings us to Monday 30th March (local time), and Wrestlemania 31. The biggest match on the event – Brock Lesnar versus Roman Reigns. And, like many WWE fans in New Zealand, the 12pm start time for the four-hour extravaganza was problematic, meaning I was forced to watch delayed coverage that night. Not only that, but attempt to stay spoiler-free for seven odd hours. Which means no social media, no Reddit, no websites which may have any info on the event, which is harder than it sounds.
And a four-hour slog it was. There were ups and downs, highs and lows. I won’t go into the weird Terminator promo (terrible!) or the Russian arriving in a literal tank (amazing!) – just the main event. It started off the way we all expected to it to, Lesnar simply pulverising Reigns, beating him from pillar to post. The punches were as stiff as a board, with Lesnar bleeding like a stuck pig at one point. Later Reigns’ mouth was full with blood after Lesnar slapped the taste out of it. And the suplexes. Soooooo many suplexes, to the point where #SuplexCity was the number one trending topic on Twitter worldwide.
But then something amazing happened. Something which validated everything which had come before it. Something which summed up all of the things that make wrestling brilliant, exciting, and constantly thrilling. To quote Hall-of-Famer “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “just when they think they have all the answers, I change the questions”.
Seth Rollins, a wrestler with a contract which guaranteed him a match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at any time (and we mean ANY time) of his choosing, comes sprinting down the enormous entranceway. He has chosen this point, the main event of the biggest show of the year, to “cash in” his Money in the Bank contract, and turn the one-on-one match into a Triple Threat. It’s now Rollins versus Reigns versus Lesnar. However, Lesnar still looks unbeatable. Blood trickling down his face, Reigns hits his signature move on Lesnar, the spear. Rollins then comes out of nowhere, hits his finishing move, the “Curb Stomp”, on Reigns, and pins him. 1, 2, 3.
Match over, there’s a new champion – and it’s a man who wasn’t even a factor in this match minutes before. Seth Rollins.
And this completely sums up what makes WWE and professional wrestling so entertaining. The rollercoaster ride where anything can happen. Drama that can rival any episode of Street Legal, and action which easily betters Water Rats in its prime. While it’s definitely still not the coolest show around to watch, professional wrestling is still as entertaining to me as a 22-year-old (somewhat) fully grown adult, as it was as to a wide-eyed kid at five with the world in front of me.
You might think you know what’s going to happen, and that you have all the answers, but when professional wrestling changes the questions – those moments are priceless.