Letters to Holly

Wednesday, March 28

WrestleMania: The Sales Pitch

No plants were missing when I got home Tuesday. And since this is a a brief entry, allow me to extol the virtues of watching a four-hour wrestling pay-per-view.

Watching wrestling on TV used to be a big deal. You only got one pre-recorded show a week for each company, and you rarely saw any champions defend their titles against credible challengers. The TV shows were designed to get people to the live events. In the last 10 years, however, TV shows have evolved to sell PPVs. Because, at one time, there were three wrestling companies on national TV each week, the two big dogs (WCW and the WWF/E) started broadcasting live, head-to-head, to outdo each other in the ratings. This included putting their champions in matches on a weekly basis, effectively diluting the appeal of slapping down $30 for a title match on a PPV.

In another way of out-gunning the competition, WCW and WWF/E started monthly PPVs. Each company had their A-level, annual blow-out PPV, and WrestleMania is the WWE's. This is the culmination of months of writing and plot development. Feud end at this show, and new ones kick up in the subsequent weeks. WrestleMania is the season finale for the company. This will be the 23rd 'Mania (I've seen at least 16 of them), nd it takes place in front of an estikated 70,000 fans in Detroit's Ford Field. While it doesn't look on paper like a potential showcase of skill and maneuvers, it does have a lot of intrigue.

United States Champion Chris Benoit vs. MVP
Benoit is an underrated showman. He's attained virtual sainthood from devoted fans of effort and technical skill as he busts his ass in every match. He doesn't phone it in. Never. He's not an acrobat or a brawler or a freak. But the crowds love him because he looks like he can legitimately cripple you with leglocks and armbars. MVP is very new, very green, and not very good, really. He has no beef with Benoit; he just wants a belt. The consensus is that the company will give him the title to see if he can develop into a marketable personality. Benoit's been here before; he put over a guy named Orlando Jordan who was dead weight in the ring. The guy had no charisma or flow, and the title eventually went back to Benoit in a match that lasted about two minutes.
Benoit Finishing Move: the Crippler Crossface, a neck wrench that also incapacitates the shoulder.
MVP Finishing Move: The Play of the Day, a silly-looking neck twist using a leg.
Why You Should Watch: Benoit will often make you think the match is real.

Kane vs. The Great Khali
Kane has gone through a lot of refinement as a character. He originally was the mute, scarred brother to the Undertaker. He wrestled in a bright red bodysuit and mask. Then he was given an electronic voicebox, and his suit was pruned here and there. Then they took his mask, and let him talk. Now instead of an evil, sadistic, depressed hermit, he's now a popular, feisty brawler. He's a little under seven feet tall. He's also a great big-guy wrestler. He jumps off the turnbuckles, he works the crowd, and he's not afraid to make his opponent look good. Khali is a legit 7-feet tall tree of a man. He can't wrestle for shit, but at his size, all his has to do is slam opponents and yell a lot. Kane is being asked to carry Khali to a decent match all by his lonesome. The freak is a tradition in wrestling, and this is a freak parade.
Kane Finishing Move: The chokeslam. Pick a guy up by his neck and throw him to the ground.
Khali Finish Move: The same, but with both hands.
Why You Should Watch: The sheer spectacle of it. But no one's expecting much from these guys.

Women's Champion Melina vs. Ashley
Ashley is the newest WWE gal to pose for Playboy. Melina has the belt and envy for Ashley's new prominence. Neither woman is any damn good in the ring.
Finishing Move of Either Woman: Removing her clothes, screaming.
Why You Should Watch: Because you're a 14-year-old boy who has no access to a Victoria's Secret catalogue.

ECW Originals vs. New Breed
The WWE bought ECW a few years back and has recently revived the franchise for a spin-off wrestling company. But they've watered down the appeal of ECW by populating it with WWE castoffs. This is an eight-man tag match between the castoffs and the old guard.
Why You Should Watch: To see new guy Marquis Cor Vonn unleash The Pounce, my new favorite finisher. This is him nailing Sabu with it. Every time I see this move, I laugh like a child. It is eight shades of awesome.

Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Eight men try to climb a ladder and grab a suspended briefcase with a contract inside guaranteeing a title shot at any time between this match and the next 'Mania. The match includes two daredevil brothers, an Irish brawler, a straight-edge martial artist, a guy from Houston who acts like he's British royalty, a toothy iconoclast, an arrogant weasel, and a guy from Wisconsin.
Why You Should Watch: If any match can steal the show from the title bouts, this is it. The stunts will be amazing.

Battle of the Billionaires
This is the event of the night. WWE owner Vince McMahon and Donald Trump are each betting his hair that a handpicked representative will win in the ring. Vince chose Umaga, the wild Samoan Intercontinental champ, while Donald chose ECW champ Bobby Lashley, a man entirely composed of muscle. Anything goes. The losing billionaire is shaved live on TV right after the match. The match is officiated by WWE legend Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Umaga's Finishing Move: The Samoan Spike, a taped thumb to the throat.
Lashley's Finishing Move: a running body slam.
Why You Should Watch: It's going to be an all-out train wreck.

WWE Champion John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels
Cena is the young-stud kid who loves rap. Michaels is a WWE stalwart from the early '90s. This is a match to prove, simply, who's the best guy on the Monday night show. Cena is polarizing; the kids love him, but the adult men hate him. He's not very good in the ring, but he's got a lot of charm. Michaels is this generation's best wrestler. He can do it all, and he can turn any match into the best match of the year.
Cena's Finishing Move: The F-U, an over-the-shoulder body slam.
Michaels' Finishing Move: Sweet Chin Music, a standing side kick to the chin.
Why You Should Watch: No matter who wins, Michaels will earn your applause.

World Heavyweight Champion Batista vs. Undertaker
The match with the most invested appeal. Undertaker, a tall guy who might be a magical druid motorcyclist, is 14-0 at 'Mania. He's ever held this title (there are two top titles because there are two rosters with their own shows -- one of Monday, one on Friday). Batista is the classic WWE champ, a muscular powerman, and he thinks he can beat the Dead Man in a title match. That's essentially the hook. Can Taker beat this hulk of a guy to win the belt and keep his streak alive? 'Taker is the old proud lion of the WWE, and he's such a good performer, he's made this cartoon gimmick work way past the golden goofy days of the WWF.
Undertaker's Finishing Move: The Tombstone Piledriver.
Batista's Finishing Move: The Batista Bomb, an elevated body slam.
Why You Should Watch: The Undertaker's entrance. Darkness, smoke, organ music. It's like a kick-ass Phantom of the Opera.

Picture of the Day
There's a hexagon on Saturn. It's 15,000 miles across. It's a geometric cloud formation at the north pole. Weird.

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