Falling Through the Air and Grabbing at the Clouds
“Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I'm borrowing energy from the ideas themselves.” (Ray Bradbury).
I remember the moment vividly. My heart was pounding. I was unable to sit still. The nice cold beer before me remained untouched. It was just too nerve-wracking. Even though I was watching the event on television, I couldn’t handle the stress. The adrenaline coursed through my veins and I felt nauseas. With every second that passed I got more uptight. I stood, I walked around, I sat back down. For something that was supposed to be fun, an entertainment, this was bloody hard to watch. Then it happened, the ending that I had dreamed about. I jumped up. I shouted. I clapped. I couldn’t believe they’d done it. In the moments, indeed hours, later, I was still a mess and that cold beer remained untouched. The adrenaline was still there. The adrenaline of an audience member. The adrenaline of a fan.
Anyone who follows a sport, a team, will have had the feeling above. They will also have had the crushing ‘depression’ when it doesn’t work out and you’re on the losing side. It feels awful. You’ve invested so much, often your ‘viewing’ life, into this sport/team/individual that you live the moments with them. Those moments of euphoria and those moments of regret. That’s what it’s like to be a fan of something that happens ‘in the moment’.
My first paragraph was actually about a couple of things but foremost in my thoughts was England winning the 2003 Rugby World Cup. England had arrived in Australia as favourites but everyone (Australia/South Africa/France) was looking forward to knocking down the arrogant boys in white. England went through the tournament, unbeaten, to the final (beating South Africa 6-25 and France 7-24 in the semis). To win the World Cup England had to beat Australia on home turf. It went to extra time. 17-17. Unbearable. And then, in the last minute...this happened...
Jonny Wilkinson, the talisman fly-half, scored a drop-goal with seconds to go and England won.
I could barely watch the match. I was a mess. And...it was fun and one of the best sporting memories I have.
Now, for those of you who don’t like rugby (or have never even watched a match) do you care? No. Did you even watch the video? No offense if you didn’t (55 seconds in for the moment of moments though and the strange look on Wilkinson’s face as he can’t quite comprehend what he’s done). You will have your own memories though. A touchdown in the in the Super Bowl. A goal from 30 yards. The knockout blow. For all of us who visit this site though, it’s because we have a shared affinity with the men and women who enter the squared circle and strive to give us the unforgettable. Why do we watch these moments? Support these people? Put ourselves through hell? To be entertained. Simple as that.
I wanted to wait till after Wrestlemania 29 before writing my column. I was quite scared actually as I was deliberately leaving myself ‘blank’ and had no idea what I’d be writing about. On top of that, I only got to watch the event on Monday evening. Then, it came to me. Actually, that’s a lie. I felt it.
You remember that first paragraph? Re-read it again but I’m not watching the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final, I’m watching The Undertaker v CM Punk. I am watching ‘Sports Entertainment’ and having all the same emotional and physical responses I’d have against a non-scripted ‘sport’. Now, I know I wrote about the build to this match for my first column but this was the ‘anticipation’ I talked about. I’d had a few cheeky beers for the first few matches. It had been an okay pay-per-view. Then Living Colour started playing and I sat up. This was it. Would the streak end tonight? Then Taker’s entrance with the hands of the dead trying to drag him down. Brilliant. The stage was set.
Now, I’ve said before that, with hindsight, we can always say the streak will never end. When it’s happening though, those master story-tellers in the ring (and CM Punk now joins Taker, Michaels and Triple HHH in this small club) make you believe it might end. Also, for the Punk fans (and there were a lot in that stadium. 40,000?) hasn’t it always been said that the man to beat the streak will be the future of the company? Wasn’t this what we were watching? The past versus the future?
Now, having read columns, tweets and threads in the past few hours, I know I’m not the only one to have had this adrenaline during the match, but why? Why feel this way about two ‘characters’?
There is a story here which we, as wrestling fans, are invested in. Also, this is such a long story now (21 bouts over 22 years) that whether we love the streak or want it to end, we have an emotional opinion about the outcome. Some people don’t like the fact that the streak has taken on more importance than the titles but, arguably, I think five match of the year contenders in the past five years gives notice to that.
I’m not going to provide a review of the match. We all saw it (and if you haven’t yet, I’m jealous of you). Yes, it didn’t have the four year story of the Taker/Michaels/HHH feud. It did have the Paul Bearer/Urn side to it though. It also had a 48 year old man not wanting to disappoint and the future of the company wanting to prove ‘he’s the man’. It had the scripted story but it also had the real story. Two men wanting to prove that they were the best the company, any company, had to offer. During some of the sequences towards the end I was stood up covering my eyes (quite sad for a gent who lives by himself but ‘hey ho’). When the urn was used as a weapon I thought that was it (yes, I know the story dictated that The Undertaker successfully leaves with the urn but I wasn’t really thinking of that at the time). The final tombstone was the exclamation mark. The final nail in the coffin of the cocky Punk. The bad guy got what he deserved (and yet both wrestlers got what they deserved too – Match of the Night, maybe ‘year’.). I couldn’t drink my nice cold beer. The adrenaline was too much. As it always is during Taker matches these days.
Then it happened. The rest of the PPV just sort of happened. I’m a huge Lesnar fan but I was too tired (and I took a twenty minute break to make some food too!). The match did what it had to do. Show how Triple HHH could defeat the beast (thus nullifying Lesnar even further). The final match was, well, weird. The entrances were the normal TV ones (compare that to the entrances of Punk and Taker). It was like Rock and Cena were wrestling in slow motion (at times they were). It was like they were a yard of the pace. It was like both men had conceded defeat. I’m sure it was loud in the stadium (and some of the live reviews have said it was) but, for me at home, I wasn’t invested and, from a physiological point of view, I had no more adrenaline left to give. Rock and Cena could have put on a clinic and I would have appreciated it, but I wouldn’t have felt for it.
Yes, WWE is ‘sports entertainment’. It is very specific in telling you what it does. However, I want to be entertained by all sports. That’s the point. I love football (soccer), boxing, UFC, golf, cricket. I love playing squash (how very ‘Frasier’ of me, all dressed in my whites on the court trying not to sweat but to ‘glow’). I love these sports and I want to be entertained. That’s why we get angry when we’re not. We feel let down by the sportspeople we’re watching.
One of my aims as I write these columns is to try and keep upbeat. Yes, the WWE product might not be great a times (3 hour Raws have become a bit of a trial, let’s be honest here) but I watch it for a reason. To be entertained. The same way I watched Manchester United v Manchester City last night (I’m not a fan of either club, I just like ‘soccer’). I want to be entertained. I’m also an England ‘soccer’ fan. That’s a hard job. You support through the good times and the bad times. With the amazing young players who don’t get picked enough and the old stalwarts that deteriorate with age who refuse to leave (sound familiar) and yet I still support them. World Cup 2014, I’ll be front row centre in a pub of screaming fans wanting entertaining ‘soccer’ and goals galore. And this is the WWE product.
I feel the WWE is in a lull at the moment. I’m not a fan of announcing main events one year in advance, or an individual saying they’re getting a title shot in six months time as it stagnates the other performers involved. CM Punk fell into a series of feuds which primarily involved Ryback in the run-up to the Royal Rumble and the bouts felt hollow because of it. We knew he’d be squaring up to the Rock in January. Same with Cena the past two years. He’s had nowhere to go as his story was always going to end with the Rock holding his hand up as his ‘successor’. Yes, hindsight is a beautiful thing but most of us did predict it too.
Either way though, as a fan, when the ‘perfect storm’ happens, whether it’s Taker v Punk (or indeed Cena v Punk at Money in the Bank 2011), or a last minute drop goal in a World Cup Final or Frazier v Ali in 1975, it’s the adrenaline of the contest, the history of the story (or feud) and, perhaps most importantly, OUR history with them as a fan which makes it great. That is the investment and that is why that bout on Sunday night made the event worthwhile, even though the rest of it paled into insignificance. That is why I felt the same emotion and adrenaline as I did back in 2003. I cared about what was happening. I cared about watching two men at the top of their game wanting to impress us. Us. The fans. They gave it their all and that is all we can ever ask. That’s why I still feel tired now. More than anything, I’m pleased both men put on the clinic we knew they would and allowed me to become emotionally and physically invested.
“When you're obsessive, like me, searching for something unattainable can become unhealthy... it's like falling through the air and grabbing at the clouds.” Jonny Wilkinson – World Cup Winning English Rugby Player.
NB: I wrote this column before watching Raw last night (I’m always 24 hours behind as I’m in the UK and work commitments). I’d just like to say that I’m so pleased Cole/JBL/Lawler discussed rugby (although a scrum is not a nice place to be) and the 6ft 8in England Rugby Union lock forward Wade Dooley (The Blackpool Tower) during Wade Barrett’s deserved title win. Also, you call it soccer, we call it football (thank you Michael Cole) and, no, we don’t call them ‘comperes’ in the UK. We call them commentators. Having said that, I loved (absolutely LOVED) the Raw crowd and, yes, I’m writing this addendum listening to Fandango’s music (Really? Really.).
Please follow me on twitter @HughFirth (it’s getting lonely out there) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All constructive criticism is appreciated. My weekly shout-out goes out to both Top Trumps for tweeting me last week (that was weird) and Daniel Stockwell (Brisbane, Australia) for pointing out my cut-and-paste error with the PPV buys for Rock’s last event.
Ta ta now and hopefully see you next week.