'Twas I, row 12, seat 12, surrounded by 12-, 4- and 14-year-olds, their overanimated parents, and the occasional beery-eyed guerrilla who--while handling some comparatively waifish girlfriend--took to crowing things like "Stone Cold sucks, so sit your candy asses down," and "Blow me, Bad-Ass Billy Gunn."
Banners and signs posting quick wrestler-ready bites like "Sexual Faget" [sic], "Suck Me Chyna," and "Dogg Will You Marry Me?" cluttered the ring's sightline. The odor of fast-food French fries, burritos and subs filled the air.
The lights dimmed, the sold-out crowd roared, and local celeb/billboard head Mark, from KDKB's Tim and Mark morning show, stood bravely in the ring, introducing the evening's nationally televised show; WWF presents, live, Raw Is War.
As Mark spoke, he was greeted with a resounding chorus of boos, which reverberated throughout the dome like atonal tubas, an act that seemed not as much a show of contempt toward Mark as a rite of passage signifying that the crowd was primed for the wrestler/fan circle jerk known as pro wrestling.
When glabrous-headed announcer Howard Finkel arrived, the crowd became like an obedient rottweiler--subdued, quiet, but ready to tear a leg off.
The spectators themselves were not the fish-in-the-barrel, trailer-court study as rasslin' of yore would imply. Rather, much of the crowd was ethnically diverse, youthful and working-class. I spotted no stained undershirts, no peek-a-boo beer guts (aside from the wrestlers', of course) and no middle-aged women wearing black eyes.
Crowd participation is half the kick at a pro wrestling match, and the throng at the America West Arena loved to finish off some poor contender before he had a chance to make a stand. And if the crowd decided that a match lacked the necessary sound and fury, then an insidious, hollow roll of, "Boooriinng, boooriinng" would result.
Prior to the night's WWF main event, local and regional wrestlers with telltale names such as Negro Casas, El Bandito, and Higo Del Santo chanced their counterfeit face-offs in front of the herds. And with these opening acts, the crowd's "Boooriinng" mantra kicked in almost instantaneously, expediting the matches' predestined conclusions. As the regionals came and went, it was clear to the merciless crowd that the fighters were as inconsequential as yawns.
A fight with a 20-minute limit may only last five minutes. If the crowd didn't want 'em, the duo or tag team (it is what it sounds like) finished and got the hell out of there.
The Navajo Kid, a gent whose sense of show biz rivaled even the headliners', appeared cocksure in skintight blue spandex shorts, gut overflow, and a great headdress of feathers. His challenger's name I didn't catch. The men, both in possession of a smooth, gymnastlike style that implied a faithfulness to athletics and grace--an odd agility that contradicted their corpulent frames--went at it like roosters.
But even Navajo's show savvy and jaunty gestures couldn't save him, and the humiliating sound of silence punctuated by ringing cell phones and beepers pulsed with the thump and slap of their bodies. Moments later the crowd tolled in slow, echoing dollops, "Boooriinng, boooriinng." After only a few minutes, Navajo Kid and his vanquished challenger were seen lumbering up the ramp toward backstage, heads held low.
Professional wrestling is really simple theater. The characters are bigger than life and easily understood. The conflict is as obvious as its morality shtick. Here the WWF relies on the twin poles of vacuous traditional values versus crass corporate takeover, a kind of evil versus greater evil. There is no real purity, and there doesn't have to be; it's fiction.
And the wrestling, the act of grappling, throwing, and pinning another's sweaty flesh for cash, is itself constructed like a narrative, with a beginning, a middle and an end.
And then there's the acting; the hilarious in-yer-face affronting, the threats, and the barked gibes. The wrestlers' agony is as feigned as a porn princess' orgasm, and the moves as seemingly choreographed as David Carradine's in Kung Fu.
Guns n' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" blared the alarm for the main event, and when old wrestling hero Jerry Lawler (now USA Network's color commentator) stepped from behind the massive Titan Tron big screen, the entire arena rose en masse. The standing O lasted until Lawler took a seat at the commentator's table. Apparently, they don't call Lawler "The King" for nothing, and his entrance was the most dramatic of the night.
"Phoenix, you're on national television!" yelled in-house announcer Finkel, his words signaling fireworks and a deafening cacophony. All in attendance vied for face placement on TV screens the nation over.
Each duel came and went in spurts of flamboyance and wincing acrobatics. A guy called The Godfather came out dressed blaxploitatively in Seventies pimp garb. With him were four very porn-looking women, three white and one black. The Godfather told his foe, "Being a pimp, I understand PMS. I deal with it every day." The crowd roared its approval.
The goth-looking guy next to me said, "Yeah, put on an orange hat, sell out your race and surround yourself with white chicks."
"It's the Four Ho's," said the kid sitting behind me who couldn't have been a day over 7. "Look, it's the Four Ho's."
The patrons knew they could swing with the full-on glam assault of, say, 260-pound Goldust, possibly the most charismatic of the night. In an aural haze of power chords and thunder, Goldust's arena entrance was, paradoxically, pure gender-bender pop star. Gold flakes rained down, a golden shower as alluring as Goldust's threads. Clad in a golden flowing cape, white Baby Jane wig and a gold-lame jumpsuit tucked into black patent-leather boots, Goldust could make Gary Glitter a proud papa. When Goldust removed his wig, he revealed a head covered with black strips of hair like some Clive Barker character, and eyes melodramatically set in thick charcoal makeup.
Yet his steroid-imbalanced foe, Bad-Ass Billy Gunn, got the pin on Goldust.
Other sideshow indelibles came and went, including: The Oddities (two natural giants and a fat pinhead); The Rock (who was greeted by thousands spitting, "Fuck you," after he said, "Phoenix is the biggest collection of trailer-park trash I've ever seen"); Val Venis (a tame clip from his new porn flick, Saving Ryan's Privates, was screened); the whole D-Generation X crew (the proletariat, anti-corporate riffraff) and Team Corporate (the evil empire in suits); Hero Steve Austin (via the big screen from Texas, sipping Coors Light in a can and issuing a challenge to Team Corporate); The Undertaker (seven feet tall, 328 pounds); Chyna (a giantess in patent-leather shorts, a pout, and muscles to take any man down).
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When the Team Corporate bad guys (Vince and Shane McMahon, Ken Shamrock, The Rock, et al.) came out, the kid sitting behind me held up a large foam-rubber hand shaped in the classic fuck off position, its middle finger pointing skyward. In fact, many throughout the hall wielded these.
Then the kid sitting with his younger brother, between mom and dad, started chanting, "Assholes, assholes, assholes," at Team Corporate. The incantation took hold and assumed an eerie and ironic hymnal cadence.
And as the word "asshole" resonated, I noticed all along the upper precipice ads for big corporations: Western Union, Bank of America, Arrowhead Water, NAPA Auto Parts, Coca-Cola, AT&T, McDonald's, Taco Bell, Subway, etc.
Probing the depths of poor taste in search of fun and frolic?
Nah, it's only theater.