Thursday, March 29, 2007

WWE's WrestleMania is This Weekend -- And That Makes Me Sad

It is WrestleMania weekend. And it's here, in Detroit, at Ford Field. World Wrestling Entertainment's (WWE)'s Vince McMahon, 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, Donald Trump even. 20 years ago, almost to the day, Hulk Hogan bodyslammed Andre the Giant in front of 93,000 fans at the Pontiac Silverdome at WrestleMania III. And, despite waiting for years of my childhood for WrestleMania to come to Detroit, I won't be at Ford Field on Sunday. Nor will I be watching on Pay Per View. And that makes me sad. Not because I want to watch WrestleMania, but because I don't.

I am not ashamed to admit I was a long-time fan of professional wrestling. And fan may be an understatement. I had the wrestling figures (but never the WWF ring which they also sold), the T-shirts, the books (I still contend Mick Foley's first autobiography, Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocksis a great read even if you don't like professional wrestling), the videotapes, the DVDs (both long sold off on Ebay), the video games. I watched the Pay Per View events, visited the various wrestling websites, spent much of my early days on the internet (or what counted for the internet back before the World Wide Web existed) posting on wrestling message boards. And I dragged my family to a number of live events.

My first live wrestling event was a run of the mill "house show" as they are called. Essentially a non-televised set of matches which are the same every night in different cities across the country. My grandparents took my sister and I to the Palace of Auburn Hills and I don't remember much from that night (it was in 1992 and I was all of 9 years old) but I'm pretty sure the main event was Ric Flair versus Bret Hart (According to a quick Google search, it was actually January 1, 1993 and I was right, Bret Hart did take on Ric Flair. Also saw a great Curt Hennig v. Razor Ramon matchup). In the next few years I'd see SummerSlam 1993 (Lex Luger v. Yokozuna in that Main Event), Halloween Havoc (a WCW event to which I won ringside tickets by doing a Hulk Hogan impersonation on the WDFN radio show hosted by The Mega Mega Sports Man Ike Griffen), a Survivor Series, and numerous Monday Night Raw and WWF Smackdown televised events. But never a WrestleMania.

WrestleMania was always the big event. The Super Bowl of wrestling. Even though when I was a kid I was more of a fan of WWF's competitor, World Championship Wrestling (while most kids loved Hulk Hogan, I was always a Ric Flair and Four Horseman fan first) WrestleMania was always the event of the year. And I always wanted it to come to Detroit, because it seemed the whole wrestling universe revolved around WrestleMania.

Well, now it's finally here. And I couldn't bring myself to buy tickets and go. Truth is, I'm just not a wrestling fan anymore (something my parents surely thought I'd never say). There's not really one particular reason why, but there are a lot of factors. One is maybe I "grew out" of being a wrestling fan, but I don't know how true that really is. If an old-school Ric Flair match came on TV I still think I'd watch. But maybe that's just nostalgia. Part of it was just being tired of the McMahon family (owners of the WWE) becoming too much part of show. Part of it was the storylines being too immature, and having them overshadow the in-ring product. The storylines got to be so outrageous and so incredulous I could no longer justify watching professional wrestling on a regular basis. And part if it was I was sick and tired of watching people I watched on television die.

Professional wrestling, for a variety of reasons, has a serious drug problem and the mortality rate for wrestling is enormous. When CNNSI broke news earlier this month about 11 professional wrestlers being linked to a nationwide steroid and performance-enhancing drug ring, it was no real surprise. Steroids have been a part of wrestling for decades, from Hulk Hogan to Vince McMahon being indicted and tried (and eventually acquitted) of distributing steroids in the mid 1990s. But, the bigger problem is not the use of the drugs, it is the damage the drugs are doing to the bodies of professional wrestlers.

While Major League Baseball and the National Football League think they have a problem with steroid use, and that the use of these performance enhancing drugs is hurting their popularity, they won't truly know what damage is until athletes start dying from complications and side effects of steroid use. Years ago, when I used to watch wrestling, far too often, one of the wrestlers I watched as a kid would die from a drug overdose or an "enlarged heart" damaged by years of steroid abuse. It got to be too much. I moved on to other things.

This is not to say wrestling isn't entertaining, because it may be. I don't know. After watching years of RAW and Smackdown and Nitro without fail, its been at least four years (probably closer to 5) since I've watched an episode of wrestling on TV. Maybe it has gotten better since I stopped watching. I looked at the matches for this year's WrestleMania and some of the names of the wrestlers were familiar, but most weren't (The Great Khali? Montel Vontavious Porter? CM Punk? Where's Jimmy 'Superfly' Snuka when you need him?). And I'm sure it's going to be a fun show on Sunday. No matter what else can be said about Vince McMahon, he knows how to put on a good show, and WrestleMania is his baby. But I won't be watching on TV or at Ford Field. Maybe I'll pick it up again in the future. Or maybe I'll remember the good old days and watch a classic Ric Flair versus Ricky Steamboat match. But likely I won't, having put my years of watching wrestling behind me. But I'll be thinking about those days on Sunday night, when 70,000+ fans pack Ford Field for the "granddaddy of them all" (as its called), WrestleMania.

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Adam said...

Very interesting comments. I am going to Wrestlemania this weekend. Give it a shot again sometime soon. Some can still pull out a heck of a match.

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