Friday, April 5, 2013

On This Sunday

This is not, strictly speaking, a post about pro wrestling. More so, it’s about my relationship with wrestling’s biggest day--the annual spectacle that is Wrestlemania.

I am a pro wrestling fan.

Yes, I know it’s rigged. No, I don’t care. For those interested in an in-depth explanation my fanhood, I’ll refer you to my very last post as a pro wrestling columnist, from 2009 where I explored the topic in some depth, here.

For those who want a shorter explanation on the appeal of pro wrestling, I’ll quote wrestling veteran Jeff Jarrett: “For a fan, no explanation is needed. For a critic, no explanation will do.”

I grew up in the era of Wrestlemania. The first one had happened when I was one year old. One of my earliest memories is of watching Wrestlemania III via a VHS rental a few months after the event.

When you’re three or four years old and you watch all-American hero Hulk Hogan bodyslam 500-pound Andre the Giant in front of a live crowd of over 80,000 people, that’s the sort of image that sticks with you. It stuck with me so much that to this day, I have a black and white 8x10 photograph of the stare down that started that match on my bedroom wall.

It’s a reminder of a simpler time and a simple allegory. The story that a hero doesn’t turn away from a challenge, no matter how insurmountable the odds. A reminder that stories as simple as David v.s Goliath, and Jack v.s the giant at the top of the beanstalk can resonate through the ages because they teach of the value of heart and of cunning--and, in this 1980s iteration, of 24-inch biceps—in allowing us to stand up to the largest obstacles.

In the early years of pay-per-view cable, I would listen and watch bits of the Wrestlemanias the way normal teenage boys watched garbled image of porn on “illegal channels.” I’d write down my predictions before the shows and mark off right and wrong selections with check marks and Xs.

It wasn’t until 1993 that I first saw a Wrestlemania as it happened, when my father won a radio call-in contest for us to the get the live broadcast for free. I had friends from school over and we watched the show, a transformative experience as I started to accept Bret Hart as my new favorite wrestler and worthy successor to Hulk Hogan as wrestling’s number one guy--only for him to lose his first world championship. So began my life-long adoration of also-rans and underdogs.

Wrestling aficionados widely regard that edition of Wrestlemania to be the single worst one in the show’s storied history. And yet, for that time in my life and that experience of watching it, I suspect it will always be among my favorites.

There were more Wrestlemania parties to follow. Then a four-year hiatus when I went to college and, for the most part played my fanhood close to the vest, and only read the online re-caps of the shows. After undergrad, it was back to watching Wrestlemanias in friends’ living rooms, one year at a Hooters.

And I watched Wrestlemania 24 alone. Just a few months into my Baltimore residence, I hadn’t come out of the wrestling closet to my co-workers yet. And so I ordered Chinese food and sat on my futon by myself, watching the event go down. And sitting right there, I decided that in the following year, whatever the cost, whatever the time and travel involved, I was going to go to Wrestlemania 25.

Sure enough, one year later I found myself in Houston, one of 72,000 fans at Reliant Stadium, side by side with my best friend of sixteen years. I got to meet Roddy Piper (who asked if I was a wrestler (and seemed to be serious)), Nick Bockwinkel, Harley Race, and more. I gave Stone Cold Steve Austin a standing ovation when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and, yes, of course, I watched the show itself, highlighted by a particularly epic match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels.

The trip was expensive enough that I didn’t expect to repeat it--not for a few years, at least. I didn’t expect that any subsequent ‘Mania experience would really touch that one.

But they have.

On a lark, the following March I invited a handful of Baltimore friends to join me in my apartment for Wrestlemania 26--one or two casual wrestling fans, the rest of them completely new to the form. Much to my surprise, be it loyalty of friendship, curiosity, or even a smidge of legitimate interest, they came. Then more came for Wrestlemania 27. Still more for 28. This coming Sunday, I expect my one bedroom apartment to be filled to capacity with audience of about fifteen people.

Each of the gatherings have played out much the same--a buffet of pizza, wings, and beer. A prediction game to give the attendees a stake in the matches. A drinking game (drink when someone successfully hits a move from the top rope) to keep folks engaged. A several-hour series of questions aimed at me to make sense of the rules and storylines of what we’re watching: why smashing someone’s face with a ladder is legal in one match, but hitting a man with a lead pipe warrants a disqualification in another.

And for those hours, I don’t know that I ever stop smiling. Surrounded by people I care for, sharing a small piece of a sub-culture I love. Not so different from Thanksgiving or Christmas, Wrestlemania Sunday has evolved into one of my most cherished holidays. A day of tradition. A day of food and drink. A day of togetherness.

And, yes, even a day with its own traditional music.

Happy Wrestlemania weekend, everyone!

1 comment:

  1. I wish I lived near you -- I would totally go to this, even though my interest in WWE came much later in life and didn't last.