Monday, November 9

The Most Electrifying Rivalry In Entertainment

DDT. Suplex. Sharpshooter. If like me, you spent a vast portion of your childhood camped out in front of the TV, chances are that you would have, at some point caught some of the advanced physical stunts on display in the twenty-by-twenty foot ring that served as the platform for the launch of the wrestling careers of several World Wrestling Federation (WWF) 'Superstars' in the Nineties and early noughties. Even if you didn't memorise the technical names for the moves llike I did, it would not have been difficult to get sucked into the captivating entertainment on show- the leaping top-rope moves, the gravity-defying drop kicks, and the downright disrespectful backhand slaps sometimes delivered with remarkable disdain across the straining pectorals of an unfortunate opponent. WWF (now World Wrestling Entertainment) is as much a mega-business now as it was then, but somehow though, some of its shine seems to have faded away into a blur of nostalgia looping through memory like a highlight reel.

Fortunately, the highlights were big enough to still inspire awe now in the twilight of my boyishness, enough to help massage over the growing dullness of adulthood. It helps those who had the benefit of a couple of hours of suspended logic to gloss over such formidable episodes like recession, death and taxes- at least for a moment or two. Wrestling's puppet masters are adept at tapping into the primordial human desire for carnage that dates back to the Roman Empire when Gladiators strutted to chants of praise from countless thousands in the iconic Collosseum. They simply scripted the fights which we later discovered were choreographed, to collective childhood disappointment.

In retrospect, was there really any other way to generate some of the most memorable sporting moments ever committed to celluloid? Picture this, the sound of glass smashing followed by bloodcurdling rock music to announce the entrance of a man known simply as The Toughest S.O.B. in the WWF aka Stone Cold Steve Austin. Then remember the spinetingling cry of a consummate braggadocio: 'If you smellllllll...what The Rock is cooking' and the emergence of the Great One with the permanently cocked eyebrow who might as well be sweating sunlight for all the mass hysteria in whatever auditorium he graced. Those two men, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, giants on the WWF stage, created what can only be termed The Most Electrifying Rivalry In Sports Entertainment.

Forget El Clasico, forget Lakers- Celtics, forget Borg- McEnroe, for sheer drama nothing else in sports has come close to the consistent spell-binding cinema served up by those two week in week out. To start with, neither man could possibly stand the other. On paper, they were chalk and cheese. The Texas Rattlesnake Steve Austin was a bald-headed redneck everyman anti-hero who would have come on in shirtsleeves if it wasn't impractical. The Rock, au contraire, was a trashtalking self- advertisement with more aliases than Jay-Z. He showed up on stage in Miami shirts and shades and sported an Elvis quiff complete with sideburns. Steve Austin started out from scratch and was nearly dropped from the franchise for being 'un-marketable' (read, 'too real, no acting'). The Rock had the spotlight on him from the outset as the third in a three-generation line of Wrestling Idols- his dad and grandfather were also wrestlers. The writers behind the scenes worked their story perfectly, bringing the two giants together in clashes that would help define a generation of teenagers.

By the time the two men became the biggest tickets in the WWF, I was hooked. Looking back at clips of their exploits now, I am amazed at the things they said and did. Both men ended up as fundamentally the same. But this happens with the most intense of rivalries (Conservative- Labour, check; Good- Evil, check). They both had swagger by the gallon (for a long time I tried to imitate Stone Cold's entry walk, head bobbing left-right like a pendulum, ground cowering from his boots). In fact, they were dirty lodmouths that splattered headlines across every screening of Wrestlemania, each determined to provide unrelenting entertainment to the placard-wavers in the bleachers. Steve Austin had the nerve to utter the infamous mantra 'Austin 3:16 says I WHUPPED YOUR ASS!' to the supposedly born-again Jake the Snake in open mockery of his persistent reference to John 3:16 in the Bible. I'm sure we all know what that verse really says. The Rock was the more magnetic speaker. He pasted opponents with catchphrases like 'Know Your Role- And SHUT YOUR MOUTH!' and muttered mumbo- jumbo any chance he got. The madding crowd lapped it up, no question, when we should have been asking italics'What in the blue hell is a "Roo-Dee-Poo Candy Ass"?'. While Stone Cold spent all his time flipping the bird as though his middle finger were loaded on a spring, The Rock bounded around with a microphone permanently tuned in the third person and inventing ridiculous ideas that referenced his status as The People's Champion. Thus, the People's Elbow and The People's Eyebrow were born.

I do not think any one piece of writing can adequately fete these two men. It is difficult, nay impossible to pay full tribute to the glorious years of Stone Cold Stunnas and Rockbottoms. It is only when you take a trip down memory lane and unlock the doors to the numerous highlights they provided as a feuding duo that you begin to realise their impact. I was sixteen before I stopped believing I could be The Rock. Those were the days when I would lie in wait for my school mates and take them by surprise, swinging one arm under an opposing shoulder. Then I would lift my flailing victim up and bring them crashing down to concrete in one sweet copycat movement. Afterwards, I would raise an eyebrow. It is only now that I can appreciate the theatre that was WWF, especially now that the WWE has finally degenerated into a doggone farce that is too plot heavy to transcend the imagination of the willing fans who flock to stadia to be fooled on days besides April 1st.

Those days, Stone Cold and The Rock got away with so much that was un-PC it was un-believable. Austin drove a beer truck on stage. Then proceeded to hose down opponents with alcohol. He dived in opponents' faces and shouted almost-unpardonable obscenities. The Rock used sex-riddled innuendo. He described his 'rock jewels' as biggerthan the entire arena. He called himself, yes he NAMED himself The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment. Today, John Cena brushes his shoulders off hip-hop style, as if that is enough to symbolise rebellion. It is stuff like this that makes me wish I could be eleven again. Yet I am glad of my age because now I can see that Steve Austin was George W Bush before the 'misunderestimated' one figured out that all Americans want is 'the bloke they can have a beer with' to look up to. And The Rock showed many black boys that they can be hard and outspoken at the same time, and still be number one and franchise-leader; he stepped easily into the shoes of Muhammad Ali providing the quotable quotes for teenage boys thirty years on.

Just watch the clips below to grasp the legend of these two men, to reach back into recent memory and pull back the awesomeness that was WWF's Golden Age. These two went past the mildly amusing tantrums of Hulk Hogan and transited direct into the sphere of global relevance, the arrogant but talented hero with the movie star looks who made everyone want to hang like him, and the bloody-minded anarchic rebel-without-a-cause who helped every angst-filled teen hurt a little easier, whom everybody wanted to hang with. I'll say it again- The Most Electrifying Rivalry in Sports Entertainment. BEST QUOTES IT DOESN'T MATTER VS

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