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April 9, 2014

WrestleMania XXX is secretly brilliant.

Well, you could argue that professional wrestling in its entirety is brilliant -- which I’ll do before post’s end, probably -- but I thought I could use a snappier title.  Anyway, Ryan and Rory, if you’re reading this, I hope you enjoy; this post is for you.  Also?  Digeridoos covered in cranberry sauce.  Think about it.  I sure didn’t.

Now, for anyone else reading this, let me be the first to make a confession: I hold pro wrestling in pretty high esteem.  Though technically, I guess I’m closer to being a poser than an actual fan; my fondest memories of the sport come from memories of playing wrestling games, dishing out power bombs, reversing enemy grapples, and breaking the legs of whoever my brother would try to win with (poor virtual Rey Mysterio…).  Beyond that, I’ve always thought that the grapplers in fighting games were the coolest, even if they weren’t exactly the most practical.  Hearing Haggar shout “PILE DRIVER!” made every beating in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 worth it.  Well, almost.

For lack of a better term, for years I’ve seen wrestling as something romantic.  Something that, by nature, is designed to get the blood pumping and the crowd roaring.  Thinking back, I used to tune in to SmackDown consistently before it fell off the basic cable/easily-accessed channels -- a real loss, but one I eventually got over.

But having seen WrestleMania XXX, I’m starting to think that letting the WWE get away from me was a big mistake.  Maybe one that I need to fix.

Warning: spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen the event yet, so readers beware.  Though on that note, how nuts is it that I have to use spoilers for something like wrestling?

Side note: am I the only one who’s compelled to call it WrestleMania Xrd thanks to the presence of three Xs and the latest Guilty Gear?  Well, probably.  But I’ll use any excuse to work an Ishiwatari song into the mix.


YEAAAAAAAAAAAAH!  (I sure hope that song doesn’t get taken down anytime soon.)

As you can guess from that little intro, I’m not exactly well-versed in recent wrestling events.  I know my fair share of names, but most of the storylines are lost on me.  So there were plenty of aspects to this event -- something that I didn’t even expect to watch -- that left me as an outsider looking in.  And on top of that, more than a little surprised.  At one point I blinked, and a second later there was a goat head on the screen.  Not exactly the best sign -- because as you know, goats are just terrible.

I guess the question here is “how well-versed do you need to be?  It’s wrestling.”  And there’s some merit to a question like that.  It IS wrestling -- and wrestling is full of shirtless, muscular dudes getting close enough to each other to kiss (before the first punch is even thrown, mind you), bravados large enough to cast shadows over skyscrapers, and I’m starting to suspect there’s some law demanding the presence of a midget.  It’s not exactly what you’d call high-class art.

But who says it has to be when you've got guys like this?


Also, note the guy in the bottom right corner.  Such a miserable human being...

I’ve said/thought this before, but for the record I’ll go ahead and repeat it here: pro wrestling has always struck me as something like ballet or figure skating.  I know there are detractors that say things like “wrestling’s fake” or “it’s all staged”, and naïve as I may be, I can’t bring myself to shoot them down.  But think about this: you know what else is scripted?  Every movie, book, video game, comic, and non-reality TV show (and even then, probably some of those) that ever existed.   And going back to the earlier comparisons, ballet and figure skating; the joy comes from seeing these bodies in pre-planned motion and doing things that normal people can’t -- it’s that level of know-how and execution that puts the “pro” in “pro wrestling.”  It’s an art form expressed via body slams and uppercuts.

And much like a ballet, there’s a story being told -- indirectly via the movements of some genuine athletes (I’d imagine that it takes plenty of training just to learn how to take a hit), but directly via story lines and angles.  If I had to guess, I’d say that big events like WrestleMania are supposed to be the climaxes to ongoing arcs.  It’s the end of one battle, but feeds into the next.  Nothing too complicated -- but you could say that about wrestling at large, I bet.  There are some real broad-strokes put to work, pitting obvious heroes against obvious villains with a style that threatens to OD on over-the-top action.  Imagine my surprise when Goat-Man Bray Wyatt tried his hardest to corrupt The Marine John Cena, Dark Knight-style.  Unfortunately, trying to “break his one rule” didn’t quite work out as planned.

Props for looking so nuts, though.  I bet he had the time of his life.


But in the end, it comes down to the execution -- and that’s where wrestling, Mania or otherwise, shines for a greenhorn like me.  It’s a given that I’ll find something to cheer about from the fights themselves, but the characters themselves create opportunities.  As they should.  I had no idea who Daniel Bryan was before the show -- and couldn’t help but think of Cracked writer Daniel O’Brien -- but after the show I was ready to chant “YES!  YES!  YES!  YES!” along with the crowd. 

Was there a cheese factor to his underdog status and story?  Of course; they rolled out truckloads of cheddar when he jolted back to life before getting rolled out on a stretcher.  Was there an insane level of hype and catharsis as he not only beat his rival Triple H, but won the title in a three-way match with Batista and Randy Orton, itself earned AFTER he took a signature move-combo through a table?  Without a doubt.  Seeing heroes win is something that can make anyone feel good -- and by driving up that emotional appeal vis a vis muscles and beatdowns, it can multiply the effect.  It takes a real level of skill and understanding of the audience to get that kind of reaction.  But I suppose that’s to be expected from professionals who have no qualms about a thirty-man fight where there’s barely enough room to flex.         


What I find supremely interesting about the wrestle-ventures is that even if I’m a greenhorn, there are plenty of others who aren’t.  I had the pleasure of being in the company of people who actually knew more than just the big names.  But they knew much, much more -- even beyond a tome’s worth of wrestling trivia.  They knew about the undercurrents of the WWE, from the storylines to the business aspects.  More importantly, they knew about the nuances that I couldn’t begin to pick up on.  I may know terms like face, heel, selling, and jobber, but they could see the particulars of matches and judge accordingly.  It left me feeling inadequate, that’s for sure.

But it also left me feeling happy, and even a little enlightened.  Like I’ve said before, I hold video games in high esteem, and in order for them to be the best they can be, we have to be willing to take a close look at them and analyze the particulars -- you know, figure out what works and what doesn’t work.  Why the mechanics work the way they do -- and why they’re even there in the first place.  And based on what I saw, wrestling fans are more than willing to do the same.  Experience, research, and that genuine desire to see some good action has left them wise to the best and worst shenanigans a match can offer.  That’s something to be excited about.  It’s proof that there’s a level of investment that can go into a product, be it a video game, a wrestling match, or otherwise.

But sometimes, that investment isn’t always a good thing.





I can’t say I know or even care for the Undertaker (he was an enemy I tried my hardest not to fight in wrestling games, IIRC, because he just wouldn’t stay down).  But I respect him as a performer, and I know that there are people who care deeply about him and what he represents.  I understand that now more than ever, given that his impossible streak -- twenty-one straight WrestleMania wins -- has finally been broken by Brock Lesnar.  It came as a shock to me, but I doubt I felt even a quarter of the emotion the other guys around me felt.  About half the room was in an uproar; the other half came pretty close to being catatonic.  I guess the assumption was that “The Undertaker isn’t supposed to lose”.  Taker himself looked like he felt the same thing; there was something genuinely heart-wrenching about seeing a legend like him looking so distraught.  It was like he’d lost something precious thanks to three seconds and a ringing bell.

I think Pat of the Best Friends Zaibatsu said it best while playing Beyond: Two Souls: “If the point of art is to make you feel emotions, boy did I feel a bunch of emotions there!”  And I felt them.  Everyone in the room felt them.  Everyone in the Super Dome felt them.  Everyone who saw the event and had even a passing interest in the sport felt them; MovieBob apparently saw it in a bar, and grown men cried and walked out.  In a sense, it was kind of a foregone conclusion that an aging star wouldn’t be able to keep it up forever.  But still -- the Taker isn’t supposed to lose.  But he did.  And moments like that -- of pure emotion, brought about by seeing legends and favorites alike rise or fall -- are likely what keep wrestling fans old and new, barely-aware or well-versed, coming back for more.  Those moments either make fans shut up in an instant, or have them shout the walls down.

And that, in a nutshell, is amazing.


I said as much about Guilty Gear (and to a lesser extent, Senran Kagura), but charisma really is the deciding factor in making the overall package worthwhile.  Hero or villain, face or heel, as long as a character acts in a way that’s consistently interesting and entertaining, they make a better argument for the product (you can’t spell “characters” without “care”!).  So naturally, pro wrestling is just as much about the charisma as it is the sheer physicality.  There’s a reason why past games have had a Charisma stat, and why taunting is a potential part of the metagame: it’s because there’s no better place for these people to draw your eye, your support, and your hype.

In a way, wrestling is just as real as any other sport (even though it’s real in the sense that its fighters exist and matches actually happen, but let’s set the semantics aside).  I’m in no place to criticize the technique of men and women who could toss me like a javelin, but speaking solely as someone who can only see the surface-level action, it’s hard not to feel some empathic pain when someone gets smacked, thrown, flung, or smashed.  If I can believe that the Hulk can crack Loki like a whip, I can believe that Daniel Bryan can kick Batista and Randy Orton into submission simultaneously.  To say nothing of Randy Orton actually (and accidentally) doing an RKO back-first onto a TV monitor -- a moment that the replays showed over and over again, much to the room’s horror.


But it goes beyond just how legitimate the moves are, or how believable the stories are.  Wrestling is real in the sense that the fans make it real; their belief, they enjoyment, and their hype does more than just fund the WWE; it makes every match worthwhile, and a genuine attempt to put on a show for the people that care most.  I can’t imagine a lot of things better than being in the center of a ring after a hard-fought match, holding onto the title belt as confetti rains down and the fans cheer uproariously. 

Sometimes, that’s all we really need.  No frills.  No fuss.  Just wild matches that can leave us speechless.  Sometimes, that’s what it’s all about. 


And that’ll just about do it.  Make no mistake, there were a lot more interesting moments than just the ones I named here (so apparently, the Giant Swing is more than just the stuff of fiction), but this seems like as good a place to stop as any.  Besides, are you really going to read about what happened at WrestleMania?  Or are you going to do the smart thing and try to scrounge up videos wherever they may appear?  Go on, get out of here, then.   Frankly, I’m tempted to try and find a sick match between Batista and Rey Mysterio from some years back.  Who knows if I’ll have any luck?

So that’ll do it for now.  See you guys in the ring.  Wait, no.  Not in the ring.  I’ll snap like a potato chip if I get touched by a stiff breeze.  Also, I’m not too keen on walking around in my underpants.  Tights, maybe.  But then I’d need to make a cool wrestler name, and some signature moves, and an intro.  Man, being a wrestler must be tough.

So forget it.  I’ll just watch some Kamen Rider instead.  And you should too, if not wrestling.  It’s surprising to see so many Riders toss out wrestling moves of their own…

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