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Monday, 28 March 2011

Wrestlemania Week: Be a Good Sport......

There are five events in the sporting calendar that bring out excitement in me above all else. Four of them are The World Cup (football/soccer), The Ryder Cup (Golf), The Ashes (Cricket) and the Cheltenham Festival (Horse Racing).

Can you guess the other?

That's right. The Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race.

No, just kidding. It's Wrestlemania. You can dispute the use of the word 'sport' all you like, but to me wrestling brings together my favourite elements of sport than no soap opera or film drama ever could. It's about establishing a contest, a reason for a competition between people or teams. You watch those concerned for an amount of time, knowing that the build-up is all for a peak at a certain time.

Wrestling happens to be scripted - but the journey is the same.

Take Horse Racing. In National Hunt racing (for the uninitiated, that's British and Irish racing where horses jump obstacle) a horse only has to win a low-grade race at an obscure racecourse in October and already people start asking 'Will it go to Cheltenham?'

The Festival is a collection of the very best horses in training coming together in the biggest races in the Jumps calendar. It produces some fascinating clashes and asks sports most important question. When those considered the best in their field meet, who or what is best?

There is a race at the Festival called the World Hurdle. It is run over three miles, and was won for two years in a row by a horse called Big Buck's. A brilliant, enigmatic horse that dominated it's field for a couple of years.

In October, a contender emerged. An animal by the name of Grands Crus won a race over similar course and distance to the World Hurdle in terrific style. Before the Festival in March it won two more races in style, and the horse racing world buzzed about the first meeting of Grands Crus and Big Buck's. Would the newcomer beating all before it be the real thing? Would the long term champion be able to retain the crown against his most dangerous challenger yet?

Does all that sound familiar? You don't have to be a racing fan to see aspects of a good wrestling angle in there. I think it most closely resembles Hulk Hogan defending against The Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania 6. You could also draw comparisons with Taker v Triple H, right now. But whichever you think fits best, it is undeniably a classic angle. The lovable champ challenged by the talented newcomer.

As it happens, Big Buck's won by a couple of lengths from Grands Crus. But it was a great race. It was fascinating to think about, interesting to watch and it had a great pay off. Even better, I want to see a rematch. Can Grands Crus learn from the defeat? Can it mature and beat the champ next time?

The Gold Cup saw the young horse Long Run beat veterans Denman and Kauto Star. It was a passing of the torch. Maybe it was Benoit beating HBK and Triple H at Mania 20. The horse that many thought could never do it, did it. The two that were vanquished still came off like legends.

In contrast, take Hurricane Fly, which won the Champion Hurdle. Hurricane Fly only raced in Ireland before coming to Cheltenham. He kept beating a horse called Solwhit. I didn't believe Hurricane Fly would win, because I had no proof that it could cut it over here. You could equate that to building up to Mania by only winning squash matches against the same opponent. That's a little tenuous, but it is along the same lines.

Any of the sports mentioned feature various stories that get you excited for the main event. The Ryder Cup has golfers battling to qualify over a two year stretch. It's what it all builds to. You look at each golfer's record  in the competition like their Mania record. (Colin Montgomerie's singles streak was never broken) You want to see which players will meet, who the wildcards will be. The crowd is special. It is a contest like no other in golf. It is almost never a let down.

The World Cup and The Ashes both also have such history. Some of the biggest moments in football history have happened in World Cups. The greatest players have played there, memories are made. The Ashes is a symbolic rivalry etched in the ages. A series of epic contests which are looked forward to for some time.

I could go on but you get the point. There is perhaps nothing inherently different about Wrestlemania. It is just a wrestling card with matches and a crowd. It's the same guys who compete at any other PPV. The same basic set-up. Wrestling matches happen all the time, don't they? So why is it different.

Cricket matches, golf tournaments, football matches and horse races take place all the time, too. But the contests highlighted have that little bit extra to them. It's either an epic rivalry or a meeting of the very best at the respective sports. The history of excellence and excitement adds to the theatre of the occasion.

And so does the crowd. It's what you might term a virtuous circle. The crowd's excitement and involvement adds to the viewing pleasure, which makes the spectacle better. A better spectacle means the crowd get more excited, which means they make more noise and so forth. Think of the amazing crowd response at the Ryder Cup in Wales last year. Or the Barmy Army's involvement at the Cricket. The roar of the crowd as the first race of the Festival sets off. You get good crowds at other events in those sports, but nothing like those. It is the feeling of knowing you are somewhere special and experiencing something special.

The Rock v Hulk Hogan, had it taken place in an empty arena, would have been a very average match indeed. It was the crowd playing off the importance and history of both men that made it feel like such a big deal. But part of the reaction was that it was at Mania. Had the first meeting between Hogan and Rock been at No Mercy or Armageddon in front of 13,000 people it would have been good, but wouldn't have been Mania-good.

As this Sunday gets nearer I have found myself watch old Mania DVDs, watching matches on Youtube, even reading the ten-year-old WWE book on Wrestlemania which is filled with inaccuracies. It's because, certainly in recent years, Wrestlemania has been the show that has delivered above others. Not every year, but most of the time you can expect to see a huge crowd, a couple of great matches, people you don't see at other times.

WWE has done a terrific job of enhancing this feeling. The Hall of Fame ceremony has helped terrifically. You can rightly have reservations about the Hall itself, but surely you can't deny that hearing speeches from Bret Hart, The Rock and Steve Austin at the ceremonies, as well as the Ric Flair hoopla, made the thing special.

I was fortunate enough to be at the Hall of Fame ceremony and Wrestlemania 25 in Houston. As good as Michaels v Taker was, my abiding memory of that weekend was watching one of my all-time favourites, Ricky Steamboat, wrestle at Mania and at Raw. He was phenomenal, but what made his performances so much better was knowing the stage on which he was doing it. I was one of the thousands that chanted "You Still Got It" (Actually no I was wasn't. I was one of the few people that used the grammatically correct form of "YOU'VE still got it". But then that is me.)

If it had happened at another PPV it would have felt like WWE running out of ideas and delving into the past. But it was Mania. It helped that Jericho was awesome too, but the combination of Mania and Steamboat gave me an enduring memory.

Here's hoping the people in Atlanta get some of that this week, too.

2 comments:

Farook Razak said...

check out KWF WrestleMania. I aspire to write in the industry for real and have been producing my own scripts for almost the past two years. Hope you read KWF WrestleMania and TNA RAW has also just been posted tonight. http://kwfblogs.tumblr.com/post/4139103454/kwfwrestlemania2011

Cheers.

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