The ring, a few minutes before the event got under way. It's like Christmas Eve! Derek dared me to jump the rail and see how many times I could bounce off the ropes before security escorted me from the arena. But we had just been to Cracker Barrel, and I was feeling a little sluggish.
You may not be able to read the sign, but it says "Polygamy 3:16," playing off the late-90s "Austin 3:16" phenomenon, which of course is a reference to the "John 3:16" posters often seen at sporting events. You'll see several clever posters at most wrestling events, which is even more impressive when you see who's holding them up. As I mentioned in the last post, the majority of the audience is rather hick-ish (plenty of people from other races were there, so I can't just call them white trash). Unfortunately, neither of us took good pictures of the crowd.
This is from one of the two "dark matches," where the wrestlers who are either too new or too crappy to be involved in any televised storylines earn their money. Amazingly, the match ended just in time for the broadcast to go on the air. How convenient.
That's John Cena, one of the top WWE superstars today. See the shirt he's wearing? I bought one just like it at the concession stands. It was grossly overpriced, but unlike 75% of the audience, I didn't buy any $9 beers, so I had just enough cash. (Seriously, they were charging $9 for a cup of beer. Crazy.)
Cena ended up in a match against Umaga, "the Samoan bulldozer." He prevailed, despite this rocky moment early on. This was a picture I took--I got much better shots of the "Titantron" video monitor than I did of the actual action going on in the ring.
The biggest ovation of the night went to Ric Flair, who made a surprise appearance--his first since his "retirement party" three months earlier. Woooooo!
I'm amazed that Ric has stayed "retired" as long as he has. Even though he's nearly 60, no pro wrestler ever really retires--they keep wrestling until injuries force them to stop, or in the case of far too many of them, they die. Literally dozens of wrestlers I've watched over the years have died relatively young, often due to suicide or drug-related reasons. It's quite sad, actually.
This is Vince McMahon, chairman of WWE and, more than any other single person, the man responsible for those untimely deaths. Here he is on the stage about to give someone lots of money as part of "McMahon's Million Dollar Mania," a publicity stunt that ran for a few weeks. I didn't get any. Mr. McMahon is a heartless, savvy businessman who's brought me a ton of entertainment over the years. I have a love-hate relationship with Vince.
At one point Vince brought out Hacksaw Jim Duggan, another 50-something wrassler who refuses to quit the biz, to help him give away some of his cold, hard cash. Hooooo! USA! USA!
My favorite picture from the whole night. Hacksaw always carries his trusty 2x4 to the ring with him; on this night he dressed it up, and here it looks like he's a walking piece of wood. It's a considerable improvement, actually.
One of many ways Vince McMahon has made today's pro wrestling way different from the stuff your dads used to watch: this "summertime bikini showdown" (or similarly smutty segments) between six of the WWE's "Divas" is a regular occurence. Derek took a LOT of pictures of this part of the show.
This is Hardcore Holly, who reminds me of John McCain (what do you think?). By the way, his real name is Bob Holly; he's not just an extremely roided-up woman.
All of the Divas have the occasional match, but it's usually just an excuse to have them on TV wearing very little clothing. This is Mickie James, one of the few who actually has some wrestling training and ability. She's not bad-looking, either.
My favorite picture that I took. This is Triple H, the man who shared his Juicy Fruit with me and my friend all those years ago. He has one of the cooler entrances in the WWE. (When he first started wrestling, he played the character of a blue-blood, stuck-up snob named Hunter Hearst-Helmsley. His character is now a tough guy, so he goes by Triple H, which is kind of weird. He's also known as the Game, the Cerebral Assassin, and the King of Kings. Most wrestlers have multiple monikers, and yes, some of them are quite ridiculous or even sacriligious).
"Hey! You in the second row! Give me back my gum!"
The night's main event pitted WWE Champion Triple H against Intercontinental Champion Chris Jericho, one of my all-time favorite wrestlers (the IC title is a lower tier belt, sort of like comparing a AAA team (not Triple H) to a major league baseball team). When I first started watching wrestling, this kind of champ vs. champ pairing would've been a really big deal, but now it happens all the time. In the late '90s, when WWF and WCW were involved in bitter competition for the wrestling audience, both companies kept upping the ante, to the point that each week they were booking matches of the caliber that used to be reserved for the five annual pay-per-views. Overall, it's not as good as it used to be.
Here's Jericho and his protege Lance Cade, after the show went off the air, yelling at some fans who threw stuff at them. It's the kind of behavior that earns wrestling fans their redneck reputation, and also the kind of thing that might make WWE hesitant to come back again. But they perform in New York all the time, so chances are good that I'll get to do a post like that again sometime in the future. Don't worry, I'll give you advance warning. Thanks for bearing with me through my wrestling homage.