April 7, 2009

Now That’s What I Call a ‘Smackdown’

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This is a most exciting time in the world of sports as another baseball season is underway, we witnessed the coronation of the 2009 NCAA men’s basketball champion last night and Tiger faces the possibility of his fifth green jacket this weekend. However, for some, these events fly under the radar and are overshadowed by “The Grandaddy of ‘Em All,” WrestleMania!
No, I am serious. According to Nielsen Media Research, 15 million viewers tune into the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) weekly television broadcasts. It is routinely cable television’s highest rated programming of the week.
This past Sunday night was equivalent to the Super Bowl or World Series for professional wrestling: WrestleMania XXV.
For the small sum of $54.95, you could enjoy this pay-per-view event from the comfort of your own home. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the most prominent events in sports entertainment (so it must be true).
Growing up, my parents forbade me from viewing such brutal acts, or such brutal “acting,” if you prefer. Fortunately, watching greasy, oversized steroid abusers with a penchant for wearing shirts three sizes too small was not an adolescent passion of mine. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for my younger brother. (I must admit here that my brother is 16, not six, and hopes to attend Cornell someday.) He had convinced my father to purchase this wholesome program for him as a birthday gift. Thanks to a nifty technological invention known as Slingbox, I was able to view this extravaganza here at Cornell via special software on my laptop.
Here’s a little recap for those of you who missed the excitement. I do not guarantee 100 percent accuracy as I tuned in late and turned it off early, primarily because the program lasts over five hours. Also, any sport where you can go to a commercial break during live action is not a sport (that goes for you too, soccer fans).
The Pussycat Dolls started the event off with a special rendition of the national anthem. At least that’s what I was told. There was only one Cat singing, or one Doll, or whatever the singular version of the group is referred to. Apparently, the others were busy rehearsing for Slope Day.
Kid Rock followed this up with 30 minutes of whatever it is Kid Rock does. I missed the Ladder Match and the Divas Match, which for some reason unbeknownst to me was won by a man in women’s clothing. I also missed Mickey Rourke punch out Chris Jericho, a nine-time Triple Crown Champion and four-time Grand Slam Champion (whatever the hell that means). Rourke, 56, may be overweight and out-of-shape, but he did star in “The Wrestler,” so who can argue with that outcome? No one ever said professional wrestling required quick reflexes or dexterity. The equivalent in football would be Burt Reynolds, 73, running over Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis en route to the end zone because he played the quarterback in the original version of the classic “The Longest Yard.”
I turned on the madness right as the Hardy Brothers were about to fight each other. Now, this was something I could watch! Evidently, Matt and Jeff Hardy bore no relation to the crime-solving brothers, Frank and Joe Hardy, who I had read about so religiously as a child. No, these Hardy Brothers were a much different tag team.
On an unrelated note, is there some rule that you cannot cut your hair in professional wrestling? If so, then I would settle for a good shampooing. There must only be one shampoo bottle in the Hardy household. But then it occurred to me, perhaps that is what they are fighting over.
If the Hardy Brothers were meant to be the appetizer for this festive evening, the Undertaker versus Shawn Michaels was the main course. At least, that is how it seemed from my vantage point, because I gave up soon afterwards.
The announcer, Jim Ross, referenced the Undertaker’s unblemished 16-0 record since Wrestlemania VII as if he was the legendary Boston Celtic Bill Russell of wrestling. I did not know what to think. Am I supposed to be impressed? Russell was a flawless 11-0 in deciding playoff games (10-0 in Game 7’s and 1-0 in Game 5’s). Russell’s arch rival was a man by the name of Wilt Chamberlain. The Undertaker’s nemesis was some guy formerly known as Michael Shawn Hickenbottom — before he changed his name to the exceedingly more hardcore moniker of Shawn Michaels.
Michaels, or the “Heartbreak Kid” according to his loyal fans, entered the ring with no shirt, wearing only a pair of white leather cowboy pants. Remember when Rocky Balboa runs up the front steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the movie’s iconic theme song playing in the background? What was wrong with that? Instead, Michaels created a decidedly different feel with a theme song that included the lyrics, “I’m just a sexy boy, I’m not your boy toy.”
The Undertaker entered the ring wearing black spandex and a black skintight tank top. He was also wearing a black top hat with the brim pulled down over his eyes. Intimidating? Yes, but do not be fooled, he saved the best for last, removing his hat at just the right moment to reveal only the whites of his eyes; his pupils and irises had seemingly disappeared.
This is the most unique mind game I have ever seen a wrestler employ (keep in mind, this was my first WWE experience). Imagine stepping into the batter’s box only to realize the pitcher has neither pupils nor irises. If the Fenway Faithful find Jonathan Papelbon’s look intimidating now, imagine if he added this move to his repertoire? I think the Undertaker is on to something here. I was on board until I noticed his dark charcoal eye shadow. Not even pretty boy Tom Brady wears eye shadow and he’s a quarterback.
Michaels came out quick on his feet while the lumbering, 300-pound Undertaker missed with one big right after another. Michaels was Muhammad Ali to the Undertaker’s George Foreman. At one point, it resembled the classic Rope-A-Dope heavyweight fight of 1974. The similarities ended shortly thereafter, however, when Michaels smashed a metal chair over the Undertaker’s head. A small part of me died inside.
Before I concluded this wonderful evening of sports entertainment, I took a moment to examine the crowd. Who are these spectators? Apparently, WrestleMania’s key demographic is the over-energized, under-educated future mental patients of America. I have encountered enough Philadelphia Eagles fans to know that this special class of fan is not restricted to the WWE, but come on folks. The Eagles have never won a Super Bowl. What’s your excuse?
Although this year’s official attendance figures have not been released yet, the announcers proudly boasted that over 70,000 people had packed themselves into Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan housed 80,109 spectators for WrestleMania XXIII. That’s more total paying customers than if you were to add up the attendance for all 10 of Cornell’s football games (75, 380) in 2008. The National Football League had only one team, the Washington Redskins, draw more fans on average last season.
I will never understand these fans or why they turn out in such large numbers. Maybe it is because there are no more new episodes of “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” Whatever the reason is, I am simply overjoyed that baseball season has begun. Finally, we can turn our attention to a real sport, where fans can rest assured that every athlete’s accomplishments are legitimate and the spirit of sportsmanship and integrity is always upheld.