Watcha Gonna Do, Brother?!
Last Tuesday I did something that everyone should do if they ever get the chance: Attend a World Wrestling Entertainment press conference. The biggest names in pro wrestling were at MCI Center to promote this Sunday's big pay-per-view event, Summerslam: John Cena, Kurt Angle, Shawn Michaels, Batista, John Bradshaw Layfield, Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon were all in the house. OK, so the biggest names are the really old dude and the owner, which kind of says a lot about the state of the WWE in the post-Stone Cold/The Rock era.
But what made the event so entertaining wasn't the presence of burly brawlers. It was the couple hundred very devoted fans who made their way to MCI Center that morning. The shindig was set to start at 10 a.m. When I arrived a little before 9:40, the seating area in the concourse was already packed. Within a few minutes, the chanting started. If there's one thing wrestling fans love, it's a good chant.
Or a not-so-good chant.
Really, any chant will do.
To express approval, they shouted, "We want (insert name)!" To express disapproval, they yelled, "(Insert name) sucks!" This went on for about 20 minutes. One fan responded to each chant by acting out the ring entrance of that specific wrestler. Er, not that I would be able to identify those.
The press conference itself certainly had its moments. Each superstar came out to his entrance music, and was greeted with either big cheers (John Cena and Hulk Hogan, of course) or hearty boos. When Shawn Michaels -- who is facing Hulk Hogan Sunday -- appeared, people chanted for Hogan. I couldn't help but think how much better White House spokesman Scott McLellan's press conferences would be under conditions like these.
For the most part, each wrestler stayed in character throughout the hour-long event. Current WWE champ Batista, a District native, was visibly moved by his reception and talked about how just five years ago, he was working as a bouncer a few blocks away. But that sort of emotion wasn't the norm. The norm was more along the lines of the 20-year-old who ran past me when Batista took the stage, shouting to his friend, "Oh man! That guy's a bad ass!" When Hulk Hogan emerged later, the same not-quite-kid was heard to remark, "That is Hulk Hogan, do you understand?!"
While I didn't feel the need to make such a public proclamation, it was easy to be a bit starstruck when the Hulkster took the stage. If I wasn't exactly a Hulkamaniac growing up -- I was more of a Junkyard Dog man, myself -- I must admit that Hulk and the rest of the new generation of stars exude a larger-than-life quality rare even in Hollywood.
The physicality of what these guys do shouldn't be ignored. Sure, the outcomes of the matches are scripted, but that doesn't mean they're fake. When a 325-pound man lifts you over his head and slams you to the ground, there's no padded mat around that will totally soften that blow. Unfortunately, the storylines of late have crossed every line of bad taste, involving rape, necrophilia, forced marriage, brutal violence towards women -- and that's just one character! -- but there's still a certain visceral thrill to a well-told wrestling story, which can be as rewarding as a football game or good movie.
Will any of the matches at Summerslam deliver that? Well, it probably won't be the match where the Olympic gold medal winner faces the mentally challenged wrestler. (Don't even ask.) Might it be Hulk Hogan against Shawn Michaels? They're both getting up there in years, but you never know. It could be a classic. And that's what makes wrestling -- how can I put this? -- sometimes good enough that you aren't embarrassed to let other people know you watch.
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