WWE Smacks Down the U.S. Airways Center

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While this will undoubtedly cause a certain amount of disgust to our readership, World Wrestling Entertainment's visit to the Valley last night had much in common with many of the concerts we've reviewed on this blog: blaring rock music, bad makeup jobs, spandex tights, and plenty of pyrotechnics.

The U.S. Airways Center in downtown Phoenix was packed to the rafters with screaming wrestling fans who were gathered to watch the WWE's taping of its Smackdown television program (which airs on Friday nights on MyNetworkTV stations across the country). And for a majority of the evening they were shrieking their devotion to one Jeff Hardy, the tattooed-and-pierced extreme wrestl..um, "superstar" who's become a favorite of teenagers and teens because of his high-flying skills and emo-like appearance. Hardy competed in a cage match main event against the dastardly C.M. Punk, a sanctimonious villain who embodies many of the annoying traits of those same preachy straight-edge kids in high school who listened to Minor Threat and told you drinking was evil.

Grade-schoolers from across the Valley screamed their lungs out whenever Hardy's name was mentioned or his face-painted mug appeared on the ginormous television screens throughout the arena. They went absolutely bonkers when he finally came out for the match, which was Hardy's final appearance in the WWE for the foreseeable future (as he's taking a hiatus to work on his poetry and whatnot).

And one person who didn't seem to give a shit about Mr. Extreme and his militant mallrat fan base was music editor Martin Cizmar, who came with me to the arena for the event. Much like myself, Martin's an old school rasslin' fan who's been watching the ring wars since his days back in Ohio. And much like he's deeply opinionated in his music tastes, the Cizman is highly outspoken when it comes to the WWE.

"Jeff Hardy sucks," Martin informed me unabashedly at various points during the evening, also stating that he's also hates such crowd favorites as John Cena, Edge, and luchadore legend Rey Mysterio, as well as the WWE's current PG atmosphere. While I differ with my boss' opinions of said superstars, I'm somewhat inclined to agree with him on the more "kid-friendly" state of Vince McMahon's wrestling empire.

Both Martin and myself remember attending RAW is WAR events in 2000 during the heyday of the "Attitude Era," which was marked by licentious storylines, salty language, and bloodier and more intense matches. Those days are long gone, as the WWE has cleaned things up considerably in order to gain advertisers and appeal to a younger market.

"When I went to RAW back in Cleveland there were all these chicks flashing the crowd," Martin says.

Although there was nary a mammary to be seen during last night's event, it was still a memorable and action-packed event. I enjoyed myself considerably watching personal favorites like Mike Knox (who hails from the Valley and is a former competitor with local fed Impact Zone Wrestling) and John Morrison (a long-haired Jim Morrison clone) bouncing around the ring. I'm also a big fan of Chris Jericho (a.k.a. Y2J), who defended the Unified Tag Team Titles along with seven-foot behemoth The Big Show against the duo of Cryme Tyme, an African-American duo who portray a pair of good-natured street hustling thugs.

As a heel (or villain in wrestling parlance), Jericho is an absolute master on the microphone who's skilled at stirring up boos from an audience, and he was doing so with gusto last night as he labeled those in attendance as "tapeworms" for supporting the thieving Cryme Tyme. His words (as well as a similarly-themed promo from the anti-drug C.M. Punk accusing the crowd of being pill poppers) caused Martin to note the irony that the WWE was thus imploring their audience of mostly kids that using drugs and being a street hustler was cool.

Sound like par for the course for the WWE, who made serious scrilla in the 90s when anti-heroes like beer-swilling redneck Stone Cold Steve Austin downed Budweisers by the case and the foul-mouthed malcontents of D-Generation X told millions to "suck it" on a weekly basis.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: WWE ECW/Smackdown Taping at U.S. Airways Center.

Better Than: Watching rasslin' at home all by your lonesome.

Personal Bias: I started a backyard wrestling fed with my grade school friends at the age of 12.

Random Detail: Hometown sports heroes Luis Gonzalez, Channing Frye, and Darnell Dockett were all in the house last night.

What You Won't See on TV: Rey Mysterio and Kane screwed up a spot during their match where the luchadore tried countering a chokeslam from the "Big Red Machine" with a hurricanrana, only to fall smack on his ass in the process. Thank God the show's taped three days before it airs.

Best & Worst Signs of the Night: The ladies love the muscle-bound superstars of the WWE, as evidenced by a pair of signs I saw. One lass was holding a homemade placard asking "Let's See How Flexible You Really Are Jeff," while a rather rotund woman wielded a posterboard that said: "John Morrison -- I'm Still Waiting for My Peanut Butter and John Sandwich." Eww.

Further Listening: Voices: WWE The Music, Vol. 9

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