Lou Pickney's Online Commentary
April 5, 2011
"Jesus Christ couldn't beat The Undertaker at WrestleMania!"
-Statement shouted by a guy at a street preacher outside of the Georgia Dome after WrestleMania 27
Twelve years ago my brother Matt and I flew up to Philadelphia to attend WrestleMania XV. The show, held by the World Wrestling Federation at the First Union Center (now known as the Wells Fargo Center), featured a main event WWF Title match between "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock. A dozen years later, Matt and I went to Atlanta for WrestleMania XXVII (27). Some things have changed drastically in those past twelve years, while others have remarkably stayed the same.
This past Saturday morning I headed over to Matt's house with my bags packed, ready for a fun weekend. Quickly enough I loaded my stuff into Matt's BMW, and in no time we were on I-24 East heading down to Atlanta. We gave ourselves enough time to make it to the house owned by Matt's fraternity brother Caleb, who lives in an Atlanta suburb with his wife, in time to watch the NCAA men's basketball semifinal games. Caleb and his wife had gone to San Diego, but they were nice enough to let us stay at their place, which was incredibly generous of them. I owe Caleb one on that for sure.
Both basketball games (Kentucky/UConn and Butler/VCU) were enjoyable, much moreso than the painfully bad championship game from last night. Perhaps the highlight of the evening though was Matt and I theorizing that Dr. Dre in that HP computer commercial looks somewhat like Cyrax from Mortal Kombat 3. For a Saturday night it was very low-key for us, but we were saving our energy for Sunday.
In many ways the trip was great because it allowed me to spend time with Matt. I took it for granted sometimes when I lived at his house being able to hang with him all the time, but now our opportunities to spend time together are sadly much more limited. He and I have our own sub-language of sorts, a series of obscure references and inside jokes that most people have trouble following. It's always great spending time with Matt, and WrestleMania 27 gave us a great excuse to hang out for the weekend.
On Sunday we headed to J. Christopher's for a late breakfast. There was a bit of a wait to be seated, but it was worth it -- the meal was delicious. For as much as the economy tanking has created commercial real estate problems in many places, including Nashville, it appears that new commercial growth is still booming in Atlanta. Also, it was interesting to see how many nice cars were on the road in the area, a volume that was staggering considering how tight money is in so much of the United States.
From there it was back to Caleb's place for a potpourri of sports: NBA and NHL and NASCAR and golf and baseball. Caleb's cat (whose name and gender I still don't know) perched itself up on a chair where my brother's cell phone was charging, perhaps because it was a warm spot? I'm just glad that the cat didn't run away when we first arrived on Saturday; Matt left the door open when he went back to the car to get the rest of his stuff, and the cat scampered outside. Luckily Matt was able to retrieve the cat and all was well.
But imagine if the cat had eluded us? "Thanks for letting us stay at your place, Caleb. Sorry about losing your cat." That wouldn't have been good at all.
Matt informed me on Sunday that Comcast has rebranded its cable service as Xfinity. That was news to me; while Nashville is a Comcast (or now Xfinity) cable territory, we have DirecTV here at my place, so I wasn't up to speed on the rebranding.
Speaking of rebranding, one of the big differences from WrestleMania XV and XXVII is that the WWF became WWE in the interim, making the switch in May 2002. This wasn't something the company wanted to do; a judge ruled that the World Wrestling Federation had violated an agreement with the World Wildlife Fund on use of the WWF initials, forcing the company to eliminate the WWF name in a change that felt like something from George Orwell's 1984. Even in archival video shown now, WWE has to blur our all appearances of the WWF "scratch logo" that it put all over the arenas it ran at that time, which makes much of the archival material from mid-1998 to May 2002 almost unwatchable.
|Above: the banned WWF "scratch" logo.|
When we were growing up, Matt and I were wrestling fans, though both of us have been by-and-large turned off by the current product. This isn't the place to list my complaints about sports entertainment and the de-emphasis of the actual pro wrestling element of the product, but the two largest companies in the United States (WWE and TNA) seem to prefer pushing lame skits ahead of actual solid wrestling matches. I did enjoy watching Ring of Honor on HDNet, but sadly their last TV show with HDNet aired last night as the contract between the two sides ended. That is too bad; it was nice to have a show that actually concentrated on in-ring wrestling.
So, to get up to speed on WrestleMania 27, we watched a half-hour promo package that WWE had available On Demand. It helped to set the table for Matt to see who was wrestling. For example, Matt had no idea who Alberto Del Rio was. I explained that he was a Mexican wrestler (Dos Caras, Jr.) who WWE signed and rebranded with what has turned out to be a very good gimmick as a Mexican aristocrat. We also discussed Vince McMahon trying to purge the word wrestling entirely from his product, and that he's stuck with the WrestleMania name. If he could change it to WWE Mania without catching seven kinds of hell over it from the fan base (stupidly referred to as the "WWE Universe" in company programming) I suspect he would.
Just before we left we took a quick break from sports to watch an interesting PBS documentary on King Edward VII. I took British History in college but didn't remember much at all about Edward VII, but the documentary did a good job of telling his story in an interesting and factual way. In many ways it's appropriate that we watched that right before going to WrestleMania, balancing out the stereotypically lowbrow entertainment level of pro wrestling with a historical documentary.
We grabbed dinner at Moe's Southwest Grill before heading down to the Georgia Dome. It was a brand new location in a very recently completed shopping center; as I mentioned before, there is economic growth still going on in the Atlanta area. Parking was a tough task, and that was with most of the retail space still being finished up. I could only imagine what it will be like when the forthcoming shops finally open up there.
Fortunately for us, Atlanta is a rare southern city with an excellent public transportation system in place. With such a considerable population density it makes sense to have it in place, and Matt told me he believes that Atlanta's MARTA system was put in for the 1996 Summer Olympics. Whatever the case, it's a great way to travel at a reasonable cost. Matt told me that Caleb had told him humorously that "MARTA is smarta", and he was right about that. I later read reports of major gouging on parking near the Georgia Dome, with $10 lots jacking their rates to $40 and the like. Luckily that wasn't a problem for us.
On the down side, we had to wait a good 15 minutes for a train to take us downtown. Had I fully realized the potential for time constraints in this situation, I would have been more aggressive in insisting that we leave earlier. Unfortunately I didn't realize the time crunch we faced until it was too late. Time waits for no man.
We made it to the Georgia Dome stop at about 7:15 p.m. EDT -- with the knowledge that WrestleMania was slated to begin on PPV at 7. Luckily we only missed part of one match, Edge vs. Alberto Del Rio, as The Rock did a 15 minute long intro to WrestleMania from what I've read. We were informed about Edge/Del Rio by an attractive woman who told us about it as she jogged/ran up the walkway from the MARTA stop to the Dome entrance.
Our tickets were in the nosebleeds, Section 310, and it took time to make it from the entrance up to our seats. The monitors in the concourses, which I presume normally show the action from Falcons home games, all had a WrestleMania XXVII logo on them as opposed to video of what was going on in the ring. As Edge and Del Rio swapped moves and near falls, we heard the crowd oooh and ahhh, which only made us walk faster to get to our spot.
We made it to Section 310 in time to see the final minute of Edge and Del Rio. Why WWE put its World Heavyweight Championship match on first is beyond me, though this is also a company that has two forms of top-tier champions: the WWE Champion wrestles on Raw, and the World Heavyweight Champion (with the big gold belt that decended from WCW) competes on SmackDown. At one point the WWE and World titles were unified, but then strangely the decision was made to split them up. It doesn't make any sense to me, as it ends up watering down both championships. Oh well.
From a spectacle standpoint, WWE brought it as far as creating a larger-than-life atmosphere in the Georgia Dome. The visual image of seeing so many people watching the matches was itself impressive, a sea of humanity that went on and on and on. WWE had a giant video screen at its entrance area that looked very impressive.
|We didn't exactly have ringside seats for WrestleMania 27.|
People who watched the show on PPV had mixed things to say about WrestleMania 27, but as a live event it was great fun. They had some stupid skits that wasted time which could have gone toward a promoted-but-scrapped Sheamus/Daniel Bryan US Title match, but up in Section 310 it was hard to hear the audio from the skits. In many ways that might have been a blessing for us.
Easily the best match of the show was 46-year-old Undertaker versus 41-year-old Triple H. They both were part of WrestleMania XV -- as I mentioned, some things haven't changed. They had a tremendous battle where both guys pulled out all the stops and pulled off crazy moves that they typically don't do, in no small part because of how grueling it would be to work like that all the time. In my review of the show that I sent to the Wrestling Observer website I compared the match in some ways to a mid-1990s All Japan Pro Wrestling match: big move, near fall, both guys lay on the mat for 20-30 seconds selling exhaustion. It certainly stood out as different in the era of two minute TV matches which are usually horribly rushed.
The crowd was a diverse mix; Atlanta has a rather sizable black population, and there seemed to be a large number of minority fans in attendance. Plenty of kids came to the show, and in front of me was a group of 3-4 boys who looked to be roughly six or seven years old. They were the ultimate Vince McMahon dream fans, cheering for who they were told to and booing the same way. In a hilarious scene they kept getting mad at the 10-or-11 year old boy sitting next to me who was cheering for several "bad guys".
When John Cena lost in the main event to The Miz (in what was a rather lackluster match), the stunned looks of disappointment on the faces of the kids in front of me were telling. Normally WrestleMania ends with a "send the crowd home happy" moment, and while they tried to get that with the post-match antics, there were some disappointed Cena fans who left in a stunned silence.
Leaving took quite awhile, with the exits jam packed with people wearing all sorts of ridiculous looking outfits and custom-made belts. I saw countless people, and I'm talking adults here, who donned expensive looking WWE replica title belts. That amused me to a degree, though the funniest thing I saw while waiting to exit was a rather hefty woman who was clutching a Marlboro Light cigarette, literally holding it in her hand so as to be able to smoke it as soon as she possibly could. Of course I pointed it out to Matt and we laughed long and loud.
Matt, who has great fashion sense (better than mine), expressed his interest in The Rock's "I Bring It" t-shirt. That's pretty high praise for a pro wrestling t-shirt. I ended up buying it for Matt as an early birthday present (he turns 30 on 4/14), and he slipped it on over the shirt he was wearing.
|Owen Hart is gone but not forgotten.|
As we tried to find our way back to the MARTA station, we were besieged by a small army of guys selling knock-off WrestleMania t-shirts for $10. As we finally made our way into the train station we saw a guy with a One Man Gang haircut rib his friend for buying one; the shirt looked like a cheap screenprint and wasn't even centered properly. As always, you get what you pay for. Then again, I'm not sure that the guy with the OMG hair was in any position to be judging other people, even his buddies.
Shortly before that we passed one of those religious zealot type guys who was loudly speaking his thoughts on religion. Notice that when people want to talk to you about religion, they seldom want to hear your thoughts on the topic. One fan, hearing the zealot reference Jesus, retorted with the drop-quote I put at the top of this article about Jesus Christ not being able to beat Undertaker at WrestleMania.
In another religious reference, one guy outside had a sign that read: "God give us Owen Hart back for John Cena." Several people stopped to snap photos of it, including me. Owen's final WWF pay-per-view match took place at WrestleMania XV; the next month, in May 1999, he fell to his death at a PPV at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City because of a malfunction in the clip holding him in place as he was lowered to the ring. Not to be forgotten is that the whole reason that happened is (reportedly) because Owen refused to do a relationship/jealousy angle with his then tag team partner, Jeff Jarrett, over their manager Debra McMichael. Owen was punished by being forced to revert to his old Blue Blazer gimmick, with the WWF doing their best to clown him out. Stories like that make me, at times, really hate the pro wrestling business.
The MARTA station at the Georgia Dome was busy, but the spot where we ran into a real bottleneck was where we had to change trains at a crossroads known as Five Points. We queued up as well as we could in the situation, and while we didn't make the first train, we were able to squeeze into the second one.
Once we switched trains to the north, there was a lag before the one heading up to the northeast part of town arrived. It amused me greatly to see fans from the WrestleMania show who paid top dollar for ringside seats carrying their commemorative chairs from the arena, but during the wait some of those fans put their chairs to good use. Earlier I had seen someone sell their chair to a passerby for $100. One hundred bucks for a chair! Unreal.
|Attend the event, keep the chair, and put it to good use!|
It was nearly 1 a.m. EDT by the time we got back to Caleb's house, and we ended up getting up before 7 a.m. EDT. My sleep ended up being less than what I would have liked to have had in a six-hour span, as it took a little while for me to relax after the big event. Once I was finally asleep, Caleb's cat made its way upstairs to where I was and clicked across the hardwood floor. I'm a very deep sleeper, but somehow that cat managed to wake me up at least three times, rustling against bags (both my travel bags and also the plastic shopping bags I had used to transport things like liquid soap, Listerine, etc.) I was nonplussed about it, but if the biggest complaint I have from the weekend is that a cat woke me up, I think I'll be just fine.
Overall the WrestleMania 27 weekend was a blast, and my only regret is that I didn't manage to meet up with any of my friends who live in the greater Atlanta area. But it was a wonderful chance to hang with Matt and to experience a bit of nostalgia mixed with a top-notch entertainment presentation, and there's something to be said for that.