I have been a fan of the WWE and the product it puts out since the early nineties – back when it was called the WWF, before those animal protection guys got all uppity and decided to take them to court over the name. Guilty pleasure, perhaps, but we should all be permitted a few of those.
Admittedly, the wrestling that company produces – or sports entertainment, as chief Vince McMahon wants the world to call it – has not been the greatest in recent years, but I have long loved the personalities and the check-your-brain-at-the-door storylines. It’s simple, and if you can wrap your head around the fact that the match results are pre-determined and everyone is just playing their part, then you can certainly have a lot of fun with it.
Shawn Michaels is my favourite wrestler. I enjoyed his attitude, his style, and his skills between the ropes. He retired in 2010 after twenty-five years in the business, and that’s just how it stayed until earlier this month when he found himself back in the squared circle, performing on the very controversial Crown Jewel show in Saudi Arabia. I won’t go in to the politics of it all, because that’s not what this is about, but suffice to say that 53 year old Shawn Michaels’ much requested return to the ring left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, despite the fact that his performance proved that even at his age, he still has… it.
A few days ago was the twenty-first anniversary of another controversial broadcast (albeit, for very different reasons) that Shawn Michaels was heavily involved with – the 1997 Survivor Series. In the final ten minutes of his title match against defending champion Bret Hart at the annual pay-per-view, the audience in attendance and those watching at home suddenly saw an entirely scripted production become real. What happened then will forever be known in wrestling circles as the Montreal Screwjob. More has been written about that over the years than the legitimacy of the Apollo moon landings so I won’t add my two cents here, but if nothing else, that incident amplifies exactly how much wrestling, and the perception of it, has changed over the last two decades.
Back then it was gritty and grubby and frayed around the edges. Today it is very sanitised. It’s polished to a high shine and borders on being overproduced, and maybe it has lost a little of its soul as a result.
Then again, both of those events noted here were really just about the money, so maybe it hasn’t changed all that much after all.