When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
In five short days, it has all changed. When Saturday evening fell and the Hall of Fame ceremony began, it was a time for celebration. The hazy New Orleans sunshine gave way to evening as thousands filed into the Smoothie King Centre to watch heroes from generations past take their rightful place alongside such names as Andre the Giant, Mae Young and Bruno Sammartino. Time had caught up with some, but not all. Some may look older, hunched, limp, but they will all, with honour, take the ring which represents a career entertaining millions of people. It justifies their decisions, and ours, as we all reflect of the stars of the past and support the new.
Jake the Snake and Razor Ramon (nay, Scott Hall) were inducted after finally beginning to vanquish their demons. For them, Diamond Dallas Page has become a hero both to them and to many others for his work in supporting those that hit hard, and dark, times. He took them in and, even when they said ‘no’, he wouldn’t take that as an answer and, on that night, those few short hours ago, in they walked to the building to stand before us and thank us.
The man with the snake, the coiled cobra that bit Randy Savage, had made a triumphant return to Old School Raw and Dean Ambrose was the unlucky victim this time. Then, the report that cancer had struck. A horrible illness which can strike anywhere. Good old Jake though, ‘If the devil can’t defeat me, cancer doesn’t stand a chance in hell! The Snake will be just fine.’
The bad-guy, the Tony Montana of the wrestling world, has fallen to his demons many times in the past. There have been unfortunate YouTube videos of wrestling appearances and various interviews and documentaries. While cancer hit The Snake, for Ramon, ironically bearing in mind his chief influence in the Scarface, he succumbed to drugs and alcohol. Again though, DDP took him in and told him to ‘rebuild’ himself and as he walked on to the stage on Saturday night, the hip worked fine and the smile, with added toothpick, was a million dollars.
And the audience stood and cheered them both. The demons might have met their match with those to old school heels.
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silvered o'er with white;
The aging process is a sad time and yet one we all will go through. From something as silly as having to make a sound every time you bend over to the times when you sit in front of the doctor and they say, ‘I’m sorry...’, we will all be there. It hurts as we age but we’re all together in it.
Watching The Undertaker in recent weeks, it’s the first time he’s looked old. The walk to the ring has been slower, the knees not what they were. The unfortunate trip on the steel steps on the last Raw before WrestleMania gave us a sign. The dyed goatee beard couldn’t hide the wrinkles and the bags under his eyes.
To see one of your true heroes age through the years is a sad process but, as many have said, ‘legacies never die’. This is the man who stole WrestleMania year after year. He terrified children across the world before becoming someone you could only cheer. He’d won it all. He’d led the locker-room during the Monday Night Wars and is a proud man with a love for MMA and big bikes. He is a man who has continued to give us his all through the years.
We will never see an entrance like his again. The goosebumps. The whites of his eyes. The flames. He deserves our adulation as much as he deserves a happy life in Texas with the woman he loves. Surely that’s what we all want. To walk off into the sunset and smell the air.
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
On Sunday evening, during a triumphant WrestleMania, shortly before a Main Event which would bring tears of joy to 75,000 people, Vince McMahon made that most telling of decisions. As opposed to staying and watching a match that would see our own Rocky Balboa defeat The Authority and, against all odds, take the title, he left. He got into an ambulance with his friend, Mark Calloway, and went with him to hospital.
Vince McMahon, the business beast with pinpoint acumen and a cold heart, left the biggest event of the year in his sport because his friend was hurt. Vince, the big man who had protected his father’s company, and those loyal to him, for years, knew it was time. It was time for someone else to protect the herd, the stable of employees, the fans.
As the ambulance drove away from the stadium, Paul Levesque and Stephanie McMahon knew it was down to them. This was their event and Vince was happy to leave them in complete control, even down to a sledgehammer in the face. The event had already produced more emotion than most recent WrestleMania’s combined and Vince, the old lion, was happy to let the young cubs take control. It’s safe and moving forward, that old company, and Vince knows about love and loyalty to family and to friends. Age does that. It makes us realise the importance of those closest to us.
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
The match between The Beast and The Deadman was a hugely emotional moment. Twenty-two (nay, twenty-three) years in the making. The walks to the ring, for both men, must have felt that little bit longer that Sunday night. Both men would shock the world but for very different reasons.
The Streak has become the most talked about thing at WrestleMania and maybe Mark and Vince knew this. Who cares about rumours and tittle-tattle, The Undertaker couldn’t wrestle forever and maybe it was decided that the Deadman had to become mortal, like all of us. The beard is white, the movement is going and there was that horrible concussion.
It wasn’t a match up there with the Shawn Michaels duo, how could it be? Firstly, that was five years ago and secondly, Lesnar is a very different kind of competitor. That balmy evening, though, when Taker was hurt, he relied on The Beast. He needed him in his final moments and who better to trust than the man who, for years, he’d wanted to beat him at the big one and break the hearts of millions? Mark Calloway can look at Brock Lesnar and respect all he has done for WWE and UFC in the same way Brock can look back and, just as he did on Sunday night as he walked back up the ramp, wink at the big man and nod his head in a ‘thank you’ he didn’t care if we saw. Lesnar appreciates the rub but also the support of one of the biggest names in the business.
Then of thy beauty do I question make
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
After the silence of the three count. After the wink and the nod from Lesnar. After the detrimental chants from thousands in attendance, there was only one thing to do.
The Undertaker had walked into that ring but Mark Calloway would walk out of it. It took a long time to stand, a concussion and three F-5’s will do that to someone, but stand he did and the fact that he could still get vertical is a testament to these men and women who go out there and do this for our entertainment. Lesnar was knocked out last year but continued, this year, Taker could barely move but fought on.
The crowd was shocked. They couldn’t believe what they’d seen. When he eventually stood though, it all made sense. Those that decried the streak should never end had to deal with the reality now, it had, and it was Mark Calloway’s decision.
He stood up and, almost to a person, 75,000 cheered and chanted for him. It all made sense. The walk was slow and lonely. His wife watched from the front row. He knew it was all over. This was it. It was heart-breaking and, for over two decades, we’d grown up with the streak but real life had hit. In the same way we’ve watched others grow old and break before us, this was the story which had made us grow up and realise the world isn’t all sunshine and roses. This story, this streak, hurts, but real life hurts more.
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And then a main event which would take us on such a journey it would provide tears of another kind. From the first video to start the night showing a young Bryan Danielson fighting through the promotions to his debut on NXT to defeating The Miz for his first championship to an eventual fight for both relevancy and supremacy, Daniel Bryan has been a leading light.
He took down the boss, Triple H, in a brilliant opening match, perhaps the best opener we’ve seen at the big one, before, of course, a violent beat-down. Then we had the seeds sewn of an Evolution reformation as Batista and Orton destroyed Daniel through the announcers table. Then our hero was wheeled away in a neck brace.
The crowd cheered for him though. Willed him up and, maybe evoking the spirit of Mick Foley after being thrown off the cage, he got back up and took on all-comers. Triple H, Stephanie and Scott Armstrong all got theirs, Randy was kicked away and Big Dave tapped...and the bell rang on a new era.
Only moments before, the crowd was lost as the old era had crashed down around them but now, now, a new one had begun right before their eyes. The ticker-tape fell, the crowd chanted ‘Yes!’ louder than ever before and there was that one brief shot of Daniel as he sat kneeling in the ring, a brief moment alone amongst 75,000 people, as he cried. Then he got right back up because, well, that’s what Daniel Bryan does.
It’s where he goes now, though, that matters. To become a Hall of Famer, to become a legend, he has to work even harder. The crowd are with him, no doubt about that, but, as age creeps up on him, he must look to someone like The Undertaker, who only got better with age, who battled it as long as he could, and take note. Other young challengers will come up rapidly, NXT is full of them, so Daniel must battle more and more and let us continue to cheer and cry with him.
And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.
And then, this morning. This rainy Wednesday morning. Real life slapped us all in the face again. It started with a brief news report, a quick comment on social media and then it came out fully. The Ultimate Warrior had passed away. The Streak was a story of our childhoods. The Warrior was a wrestler of our childhoods.
Inducted into the Hall of Fame and then given pride of place on Monday’s RAW. He was back. He was happy. He was working with Vince again. The photo of them hugging showing two strong men willing to forget, was wonderful to see. He was cheered to the rafters. Then he was taken from us. Gone.
When we lose one of these great men and women from this industry, from Eddie to Owen to Mae to Bearer to countless others, it breaks our hearts. They’re larger than life, unbreakable, unstoppable. The Ultimate Warrior was perhaps the biggest of them all. All frenetic energy and relentless momentum. When he ran down to the ring, he pulled us down there with him. Seeing him pull on that mask this Monday saw the Warrior return one last time.
It is heartbreaking and one can only imagine what it must be like for his family. One can only imagine.
For anyone involved with WWE, the past few days have been some of the most emotional we’ve seen. Owners, employees, fans. We’ll all felt the warmth of the Hall of Fame, the shock of the broken streak, the joy of Daniel Bryan and the heartbreak in the loss of The Ultimate Warrior. This is our lives. The emotions. The shocks. The support. From a nod and a wink to a ride in an ambulance with a friend to supporting your children to crying in success to pulling on that mask one last time and just giving hell. These are our lives. Let’s live them.
‘No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man's heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized. By the story tellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever. You, you, you, you, you, you are the legend makers of Ultimate Warrior. In the back I see many potential legends. Some of them with warrior spirits. And you will do the same for them. You will decide if they lived with the passion and intensity. So much so that you will tell your stories and you will make them legends, as well. I am Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will run forever!’
James Brian Hellwig, The Ultimate Warrior, RAW April 8th 2014.
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