Wrestlemania and catharsis
I don’t want to hear two thumbs up.
I don’t care about your five star rating system.
I don’t care about your lists or your numbers or any sort of quantifiable data. This isn’t sports. This isn’t something you can measure. Professional Wrestling. Sports Entertainment. I really don’t care what you call it. I really don’t care how you define what it is we do.
All I care about is how you felt.
All I care about was the feeling that went through your mind when you showed up. Whether you showed up live, to be part of the 70,000 plus in attendance in Pheonix. Whether you pressed “buy” on your TV remote and sat down with your buddies, or sat down alone. Whether you went to a bar or a viewing at a movie theater. Tell me how you felt when you showed up.
The set alone cost a couple million dollars. But you don’t care about that. I don’t care about that. Money is meant to be spent. I’m in the entertainment business. It costs money to entertain you. It costs more and more each year. Our production costs have gone through the roof. I remember the first Wrestlemania, sitting in the Gorilla position. We didn’t even have an entrance then. We had a curtain. We didn’t have fireworks. We had superstars, and that was it. We’ve got so much more now, for better and worse.
Take a glimpse at Shawn Michaels. He’s all over the website. There’s so much out there, so much gratitude. Check twitter. Google him. There’s vigils going up everywhere. Shawn Michaels was an important person, and important being. He was only a character until you believed in him, put a little of your soul in him.
Wrestlemania moments. We choreograph everything. We’re a dance company. A ballet organization. There isn’t a stage out there we don’t beat. There isn’t a musical, an opera, a ballet, a circus. There isn’t a single live event that elicits the emotions out of its patrons as we do. I want to hear about those emotions. I’m sick to death of hearing the what. I want to hear the why. I want to hear the how.
We aren’t a sport, yet almost every single person who ever writes words about us treats us like one. They keep score. Winning means something. Losing means something. As if Edge is losing his spot in the company, losing his match. As if Kofi Kingston’s stock went down because he didn’t win. The losers lost because I told them to lose. Remember that. Everyone who’s ever lost in the WWE went down and looked up because I told them to. How they move up the card is how they go down, how they look up.
I want to make this clear right now: every single professional wrestler in my employ made me proud last night. There isn’t a single guy on the roster I’m disappointed with. We have the strongest roster we’ve ever had. These men and women, they are the greatest performers in the world. Bar none. There’s no close second. Every one of them did their job well last night. There wasn’t a bad match on the card.
Let’s start with the opener. It was only four minutes long. Well, look around. You’ve seen other Wrestlemania’s. You’ve watched the opening matches. Sometimes, they go too long. Sometimes, the first match should be short. It should be explosive. It’s supposed to rile up the crowd. Showmiz, Morrizon, R-Truth. They all did that. They hit their marks, they looked like they were all having a lot of fun out there. Four minutes was perfect. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Maybe the stuff with lesser weight should take up less time? We don’t do these things by accident.
“Every good student should turn on their mentor.” That’s a line I fed to Michael Cole. He phrased it as a question, which I didn’t like. I wanted it to linger, to make people wonder about the logic. How you were supposed to feel about the Legacy triple threat depended a lot on how long you’ve been paying attention. Fans who only remember the last year have a completely different view on these three than the fans who have been here forever. The fans who remember the original Ted Dibiase, who remember Dusty Rhodes, they feel differently about it. I like that. I like giving people different emotions based on a fine-tuned sense of history. Wrestling fans have long, long memories. They can be like elephants, but they often forget the important things.
You can go to a grocery store and buy a copy of the Wrestler’s Almanac. It’s so stupid. It’s pages and pages of win and loss records, of results from our events going back forty years. But who cares about results? In thirty years, when some young wrestling fan reads “Undertaker D. Michaels” as the main event for this show, what the hell will that mean? We don’t put on these shows to create SKU’s, to forge seasons. We do it because we love it. We do it because we have stories to tell. “Orton D. Rhodes, Dibiase” tells absolutely no story. The match, however, told a good one. It was unique. We’ve never done anything like it. Remember, Orton is a villain. We’ve done nothing to change his character. The fans have begun to cheer him for reasons we can only really call “the Austin effect.” It’s what happens when we put a bad guy in a place of sympathy.
Orton is one of the best performers we have. Maybe not the best wrestler. But the look on his face when he stood over Rhodes and thought twice about his actions, that will live on way longer than any particular move. Wrestling fans often don’t count facial expressions as wrestling moves, but they are. They affect everything. How did you feel when he did that? Where did you place yourself?
Mean Gene in a dress? That was his idea. He misses coming to work every day. He misses the 80s. He misses being mixed up in the absurdity. Who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t want to live in a fantasy world forever?
I’m actually not a fan of the Money in the Bank. I get why people like it. It’s a car crash. People like car crashes. But there’s no real story there. There’s no rhythm. And you need rhythm to do a great match. It’s hard enough to choreograph a tag match and not make it seem like a rip off of the formula. It’s impossible with ten guys. To me, this match was the piss break. I did a lot of prepping while this was going on.
But, once again, I’m glad nobody was seriously hurt.
Every time we showed the announce team, they appeared to be having the best time. That’s so important in a show, to make it seem like a bit of a party. The announce team has the best seat in the house. They are really who we want our audience to relate to. We want you all to want to be announcers. We might put that in the next video game.
HHH wanted to be out of the spotlight this year. There isn’t a guy more aware of his overexposure than he is. He won, sure, but what have I been telling you? Sheamus’ stock is only going up. But yeah, HHH’s batteries need a recharge. He needs a story. Just like all the great performers, HHH needs a great script to work with. He hasn’t had one in a while. We need to work on that.
Punk and Mysterio are just beginning. They’re both having a lot of fun, but we worry about Rey. He’s hurt really bad. We actually weren’t sure if Mysterio would win. Having him join the Straight-Edge Society would have been a great opportunity to give him time off, to stand there and look kidnapped and not wrestle. But there were enough bad guys winning tonight. We needed to give the kids something, as is usually the case in our booking decisions with Mysterio.
We’ve got to do something about Punk calling all our good guys drug addicts and alcoholics, though. I mean, sure, it was 100% true when he was fighting Jeff Hardy, but Mysterio? I wouldn’t be surprised if Mysterio had never taken a drink in his life. That’s the one downside to Punk’s villain ranting. A lot of our guys are pretty straight edge already.
But like I said, this one was for the kids. That’s why Rey dressed up like a warrior Navi. The kids ate it up. We’re a PG company again, for those not paying attention. We’re playing in broad strokes now.
That brings us to my match. Any other Wrestlemania, this would have been the real main event. My god, what a big deal this is for all of us. I was afraid the majority of our fans wouldn’t really “get” Bret, since he hasn’t been visible in their eyes since 1997. But like I said, our fans have long memories. But did we wait too long?
As I lay there, in the middle of my ring, with Bret standing above me with a chair, I listened. The fans were pretty quiet. At first, I didn’t know how to read it. Perhaps they were disappointed? Then I realized, no, this is how wrestling fans are when they respect what’s going on. The Japanese wrestling fans are like this. They will sit and watch. That’s what the fans did during our match. They let it happen. I know they weren’t bored by how they reacted to Bret picking up my legs, all three times.
This match wasn’t about wrestling, and it wasn’t even really about revenge. It was about catharsis. It’s a vital part of our business. You can read catharsis as giving the fans what they desire. I like to think of it as giving them something they need. Our fans show up because they need to know that magic exists, that there is good in the world; that good men will triumph over bad men. You can’t guarantee that in real life. You can’t guarantee that in sports. But you can guarantee that in wrestling. But because we guarantee it, we often don’t deliver. We want you to show up to the next show, so we delay catharsis. But with Bret, it was an honor to lay there on the mat and let him soak in every fan’s catharsis. It was an honor to play the fallen villain.
Still, I’m glad he didn’t go longer than he did, or the crowd would have turned on him. You can only hit an unconscious old man so long before the masses begin to sympathize.
You all thought Jericho would lose, didn’t you? I don’t think anyone expected a win, let alone a relatively clean win from Jericho. But here’s the thing: Jericho is the best we’ve got right now, and we haven’t rewarded him in quite some time. So this title run is a bit of a thank-you to Jericho for the amazing job he’s done, which makes this match pretty political. But there you go. Entertainment can be political sometimes. But how does it feel that Jericho is getting the political bump over, say, HHH?
Also, we wanted to delay your catharsis a little. Because we’re bastards, and we want you to buy the next show, when these two will really tear it up. Promise.
I’m sorry, did we actually show footage of the dark match? Why did we do that?
Every year, we don’t know what to do with the women. It’s no different this year. Maybe now that TNA’s women’s division has fallen apart we can pick up a few of their better players and have a goddamn women’s division again. Awesome Kong vs Beth Phoenix would be fun, wouldn’t it?
Cena and Batista are terrific powerhouses. We’ve done our best to revolve the company around them, but the fans have largely despised that move. Cena, well, you know how divisive the WWE universe is about him. They like him, because he’s generally likeable, but few people understand why he always seems to win all the time. The simple answer is because he’s the new Hulk Hogan. But even Hogan got jeered whenever he appeared too invincible.
We finally got Batista right, but I don’t think his villain turn would have worked without a few years of frustration to back it up. We might do the same thing with Cena someday, once his tshirts stop selling.
I think we sowed the seeds of that tonight, with Cena acting somewhat desperate in the match. Yes, he won, but who was the better player? Who said more in his movements? Who made you feel something? To me, it was Batista. I’ve been a big fan of this turn. It really does have legs. I even think bad-guy Batista is a better wrestle. His slow, powerful style really benefits from the grimace, the contempt he has for his opponents. But perhaps that’s only because Batista is relatively fresh, while Cena’s been playing the same action figure for six years.
To the guy with the sign “It’s still real to me, dammit!” You’re an idiot. It isn’t real to us, to the people who put on the show. We know it’s a show. We’re the ones who told you it was a show. We’re the ones who pulled back the curtain. Once again, fans have really long memories, but they often remember the wrong things.
“Undertaker D. Michaels.” That’s what the people who remember wrong will say. For the rest of us, well, it isn’t about the streak. It isn’t about Michaels losing. It isn’t even about Michaels going out the right way, on his back. Eventually, we all lose. It’s not even the irony of having Bret Hart on the show, and seeing Michaels’ last match as an honorable reflection of doing the right thing for the business that made you.
The people who remember it right will remember Michaels’ performance. They will remember the way he went out. They’ll remember how they felt while the match was happening. They’ll remember how they felt when the match was over, when Shawn waved goodbye.
You can’t compare this match to the one they had last year. It was much faster. It was riskier. Last year, they wrestled an Undertaker match. Slow, building, weighty. This year, it was a vintage Shawn Michaels formula. Fast. Edgy. Chaotic. It was built with several acts, several rollercoasters. There isn’t a better guy to make you feel the beauty and art of professional wrestling than Shawn Michaels, and he’s leaving a massive hole in his wake. In many ways, his slow crawl and beg at the end was a reflection of Flair’s last moments two years ago, but the slap was pure Michaels, pure moxie.
Every single employee in the back who didn’t have something incredibly important to do was glued to the monitors. There were guys backstage who have worked here their whole lives, and they haven’t seen a match with that much emotion. Patterson cried. Bret Hart was shaking. Ted Dibiase shook his head, and smiled.
You want to talk goodbyes. We’ve never done this. The WWE Championship has been the last match at Wrestlemania for 25 years (we’re not counting WM11). We’ve retired plenty of wrestlers at Wrestlemania, but never in the last match, and we’ve never given them the floor afterward to say goodbye. Compare this sendoff to the last time Michaels retired at Wrestlemania, in 1998. Pay attention to how much the crowd appreciates him. This wasn’t scripted. It was completely organic.
It reminds me of something Bret Hart said once. He said, “This is something you can never buy.”
Thank you to everyone who’s read this blog for the last six months. I’m going to take a few weeks off, a well-deserved vacation. I’ll have a lot to say when I come back. I’ll have a lot of the book written by then. But I leave you with this essay, and with this:
What keeps you here, watching professional wrestling? What could you possibly want to see that we haven’t shown you? What feeling could you possibly want to feel that we haven’t done our absolute best to bring out? What is it you want from us? I ask these questions not out of bitterness or being tired, but out of real, genuine curiosity. What can we give you now? Wrestling is an old game. It’s the oldest sport in the world. And in my opinion, we delivered the best show we possibly could at Wrestlemania. I don’t know if we can top it in the next ten years. But we’re going to try, and you’re going to watch us. So while we’re on this journey together, what do you want out of it? You’ve come a long, long way. What do you want to be rewarded with?