After a treacherous 6-hour drive down the blizzardy interstate, I was giddy to have arrived in Pittsburgh. Royal Rumble, baby! My husband Ryan and I met up with TJR writer Andrew Johnson and his crew of friends and family (including former TJR writer Jacob Lindsey, who had driven 14 hours to be there!). We had a terrifically bad meal made better by getting to know each other and our server comping all our drinks. Fortified with free booze, we joined the sea of people waiting outside the arena. Not even the "Yes" chants could keep us warm, but they sure were a predictor for how the rest of the night would go. It was sad to have such a short visit, but the siren call of pro wrestling meant we had to part ways at the arena.
Ryan and I sat four rows behind the announce table, a decadent gesture that seriously took my breath away when I saw how close the ring was. I also recognized the "super fans" seen so often at ringside, @BrockLesnarGuy and @FrankWWEClown. They politely posed for pictures with me, and I learned how to properly Brock Up. Yes, I'm a fan of fans. Owning it.
Ryan isn't a fan. He spent the whole drive to Pittsburgh as my captive audience, while I got him caught up on all the story lines. He's into comic books and does triathlons, so he can appreciate the themes and the athleticism of wrestling. I found myself looking over at him throughout the night, using the expressions on his face as a gauge for how good the action really was. I like to think he enjoyed sitting beside this kid:
Ryan thought Bray Wyatt was excellent, in terms of his wrestling skills against Daniel Bryan and his body language throughout the night. In his opinion, Wyatt manages to flourish on that fine line between crazy character and goofy caricature. Bray seemed to relish every moment out there, and has added some nuance to his gestures to keep things fresh. Watch how he flicks his hands up in the air, almost like an involuntary reflex when he's got someone in a vulnerable position. And the way he removes and then re-places his fedora depending on what he's doing. I know I've sung his praises many times before, but the Wyatts never fail to impress me. Seeing them live is the litmus test. Harper and Rowan more than held their own in the Rumble match, and I LOVE the idea of Bray targeting John Cena. John Canton predicted it months ago, and I think now is the perfect time. Cena needs a refresh in the worst way, and the Wyatts have proven that they can hang with the marquee players.
Ryan's other pick of the night was Seth Rollins. He thought that Rollins stood out as one of the anchors of the Rumble, not only because of his longevity in the match, but his just-below-the-radar contributions to it. He kept his eye on both Rollins and Punk quite a bit, and here's a scoop, courtesy of my observant spouse: shortly after Sheamus entered, Ryan saw one of the refs approach Punk, who was lying in the corner. He said something to Punk, and Punk's head popped up from under his arm and he said, "WHAT?" with an expression that Ryan classified as "a bit surprised but not angry". So here's your mission for the Comments section below: what do you think the ref told Punk?
I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's rewind to the chants that happened during the Cena/Orton match. If I recall, it started off with "Randy Savage!" then the announcers' names, then "This is awful!" and "We want Divas!". People were expressing their disgruntlement over seeing these two guys wrestle yet again, coupled with the frustration of Daniel Bryan's "burial" (I'm using quotes because the word stands for all manner of things that we don't need to argue about).
Here's where we may argue, and I've decided that it's okay to maybe not have the popular opinion. I didn't want to chant, and I found myself with an altogether unexpected emotion: pity. Trust me, I was as unhappy as anyone who's sick of Cena and Orton. And I'm not just pandering to people when I say that you can chant whatever you want; it's part of the live experience, and unless you're yelling truly inappropriate things, it's your call. I didn't LIKE feeling pity for Randy Orton and John Cena. I criticize their wrestling without guilt, and I'm exhausted by the WWE's Daniel Bryan “strategy”. But in that moment, all I could see was two guys busting their asses as best they could. And maybe this is where you call me a fool, or soft, because "It's wrestling, and the wrestlers are supposed to tolerate the fans' right to chant". As much as I agreed with the reason behind the chanting, I felt it was misplaced; it felt like we were being disrespectful of the people in the ring for the wrong reasons. It felt wrong to give them such a hard time. Maybe it's because I grew up listening to parents fighting all the time, and I don't like that awkward confrontational feeling. I found myself wishing for the match to hurry up and end. It shows me how we all bring our baggage to the table, as wrestling fans.
I'm not suggesting that we should have stood there and golf-clapped for Orton and Cena like a crowd of mindless morons. In the Human Decency Handbook, there's no entry for "What To Do When Displeased By Wrestling ". And you know, it's been months of displeasure, amped up by the expectation that our hopes (nay, demands) would come to fruition, finally, this time. The emotions behind those chants aren't far removed from the emotions that prevent us from "walking away" when we're unhappy with WWE.
And it was amplified BIG TIME when Rey Mysterio came out at number 30. The booing was immediate and it did not stop. My eyes veered from wrestler to wrestler in the ring, watching them continue as if there were no sound at all. I wondered what the announcers were saying. I wondered how loud it was on TV at home. I wondered when it would stop.
But it did not stop, and as each body got tossed over the ropes, the chanting got louder. I thought to myself, "This is ugly". I think having watched, read, and written so much about Mysterio lately really affected me. Just last week someone on twitter had run into Rey at a restaurant before a show. Rey patiently stayed behind to chat, and according to this fan, it was a struggle for Rey just to walk out to the parking lot. It was killing me that of all wrestlers, Rey was number 30.
WHY NOT BATISTA? He was bound to get the worst of it when he won any ways, and he totally sucked in the ring. Every move he made was sloppy, uncertain. Call it ring rust, call it nerves, call it never being good to begin with. But guess what, it wouldn't have mattered if he was flawless out there, we were mad that he was swooping in to take Daniel Bryan's rightful position.
It was turning into Lord of the Flies out there, the hate reaching crazy proportions. I caught myself silently rooting for Sheamus. The final elimination was so lame, an F-you that cast a shadow over a great showing by Roman Reigns. I went in saying that I didn't care who won, as long as good stories were told throughout. But the bitterness just permeated the arena and yeah, I was pretty disappointed that Batista got that coveted spot. A fan gave him the finger, and Big Dave gave one right back. We were shooting the messenger, and the messenger decided to retaliate.
Back at the hotel, I spent over an hour reading my twitter feed, and smiling; the angry and funny and diplomatic and ignorant comments were just the therapy I needed. What an interesting night, full of excellent wrestling and an unforgettable finish. We woke up early the next day, eager to get through the bad weather and get back to the kids, one of whom wasn't feeling well. Suddenly, any "ugliness" of the night before seemed trivial. Ryan eased my nerves about the drive by chatting about the event: how awesome it was to see Brock Lesnar in person, how Antonio Cesaro is already a babyface, and how Dolph Ziggler got a huge pop before his unceremonious elimination (not to mention Punk’s crappy elimination). I used my phone to read through the varied opinion pieces online, so many well-formed arguments and ways of looking at what happened.
Was it all part of a long game? Was WWE in cahoots with the media? Did we all get played? Probably not, of course, and all I can tell you is this: when I realized it was Monday, I couldn't wait to get home and watch Raw. Wrestling, like life, will never be tied up with a nice bow and a pretty resolution. But we'll always have something to talk about, whether it's using fancy $8 words or the f-word. I’m so glad that I got to personally witness what happened in Pittsburgh. I realized that it’s okay to have awkward moments, especially if they’re a sign of the times. Especially if they bring change.
This is where I stopped my “Rumble Diary” and just planned to publish it on Thursday. Then the news about CM Punk broke early Wednesday, and I’ve added this footnote.
One of the reasons why I love wrestling (and reacted to the chanting as I did) is that I have a ridiculous fondness for the men and women who do this as their jobs. They're “living a dream” that's usually far from fantastic. There's so much drudgery, pain, and politics, and we've decided it's our right to judge them based on their company’s decisions. I got a taste of this when I worked for BlackBerry. People take their cell phones very personally, and I live in the city where BlackBerry was founded. Everyone’s got an opinion on what the company should be doing. And depending on your skill set, you may not have a lot of choice if you need to support your family. I left the company before I had a family to support; I’m almost embarrassed to say that I left a high-paying job simply because I was deeply unhappy.
To the average person, walking away from the WWE would look insane, but insanity comes in many different forms. Sometimes you can throw all the money in the world at someone, but once all their survival needs are met, personal fulfillment becomes very important. If Punk’s departure is real, it’s between him and the company. Warranted? Probably. Unprofessional? Sure. But his last (uncharacteristically warm) tweet should serve as a reminder that there’s a human being behind every wrestler, and this one was probably a huge fan of those chants.
“Thanks for all the support. Keep being you guys, it’s pretty cool.”