When talking about professional wrestling, it's hard not to make those annoying air quotes with your fingers every 15 seconds. Just look at WrestleMania, the "sport's" premiere event. More than 72,000 people attended WrestleMania XXV Sunday at Reliant Stadium (in addition to the millions watching on pay-per-view) and witnessed a "thrilling" 20-second match between Rey Mysterio and JBL, an "epic" 30-minute bout between the previously undefeated (at WrestleMania) Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, "surprising" victories by movie stars Mickey Rourke and John Cena over Chris Jericho and Edge/Big Show respectively, and Triple H exacting revenge against Randy Orton for, uh, tying him up and making out with his unconscious "wife."
But sniggering aside, wrestling represents the future of America. It's in the shadowy reflections of ourselves we see in the fans' often obese faces. And it's in WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) CEO Vince McMahon's absolute command of media access, which at Sunday's event included limiting TV crews to filming the first two minutes of the first two inconsequential matches, truly the shape of things to come for professional sports.
WrestleMania XXV in Houston
Sitting there under a banner of fireworks and pyrotechnics, soothed by a gentle medley from Kid Rock, it would've been easy to wax apocalyptic about the whole affair. Everything had a sort of Ow! My Balls! quality, with "Rowdy" Roddy Piper giving a Stooges-style eye poke and a guy in drag ("Santina" Marella) winning the Diva Battle Royale, in which 25 women in leather and spandex beat each other up for ten minutes. No misogyny here, officer.
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The obvious commentary is there for the taking: These people simply aren't in on the scam. It's certainly easy to get the impression, as you wade through the sea of "Undertaker: 17-0" and "John Cena Is a Cheater" placards littering Reliant Stadium and witness the expressions of agony and/or ecstasy on the fans' faces, that the emotional investment on display is authentic. It's a facile joke, and one that's been made everywhere from Meatballs to Rocky III, and it speaks to a lingering lack of respect for all things pro wrestling-related. Watching two (or four, or 12) oiled-up guys getting hit with chairs and mock-elbowing one another is, so we've been led to believe by sports media, somehow more suitable for mockery than hulked-up 'roid cases hitting 70+ home runs a year, or 275-pound genetic freaks donning pads and slamming into each other for three hours.
And yet, there's an honesty about these proceedings that's all but ignored by other "legitimate" sports. These guys will never be on SportsCenter, but there were enough highlights in the Undertaker/Michaels bout to rival another series of generic basketball dunks. Hulk Hogan and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper may make veiled references to substance abuse in their ranks, but none of them have gone in front of Congress and lied about the problem. The matches may be fixed (or "choreographed," as Ric Flair said he preferred to call it), but is that really any worse than having football/basketball championships decided by the referees?
You may prefer watching Kobe score 50 points to watching Hornswoggle take out six guys in a suicide dive, but the NBA's slipping ratings would seem to indicate you're in the minority. More people attended Sunday night's event than the last NFL championship, so perhaps it's time to stop calling WrestleMania the "Super Bowl of wrestling."