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Day 176: A Halfway Point Distraction – The Royal Rumble

January 30, 2011

I’ve survived the first week of Super Bowl hype without being aware of the participants, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t come close…

I’ve been off Facebook for a week now.  I’ve avoided ESPN all year and the only sports I’ve had the time to take in was the NHL Skills Competition.  I’ve had to keep my eyes pointed to the ground while walking through the supermarket so as to avoid seeing Super Bowl decorations and mylar balloons featuring the participating cities. I’ve been keeping myself busy with work, reading (a long-overdue second excursion through the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series) and a steady stream of Netflix viewings and Gamefly rentals and baby classes for Hollie..  I’m starting to build myself up for the first round of the Beanpot versus Harvard on February 7th, but that’s still about 8 days away.

The immediate future holds yet another annual source of entertainment: the Royal Rumble.

It’s been made overtly clear over the duration of this experiment that I’m a wrestling geek.  I started following at a young age, waking up to “WWF Wrestling Challenge” on Saturday mornings through the local Fox affiliate leading up to my Pay-Per-View, the 1991 Royal Rumble.  I had already begun following sports, and I still hadn’t made the connection of predetermination in pro wrestling; it still looked legitimate to 9-year-old me.  The WWF Championship match piqued my curiosity further.  I was fascinated by the fact that with all the advances in video technology and instant replay, Macho Man Randy Savage could hit the Ultimate Warrior in the head with a scepter and allow Sergeant Slaughter to win the title without review.

But the true captivation was the Main Event itself: the Royal Rumble Match.

Here’s the premise: 30 wrestlers are entered into the match and are assigned a random entry number.  The entrants who “draw” #s 1 and 2 enter the ring and begin the match.  A new entrant joins the fray every 90 seconds.  Elimination only occurs when A) a wrestler is thrown over the top rope and B) both feet touch the floor.  After all entrants have entered the ring, the last person standing is declared the winner.

Aside from the notoriety gained from winning the match, the victor earns an automatic spot in the main event championship match at that year’s WrestleMania, the marquee event on the calendar.  Therefore, the match itself is usually seen as a launching pad for the upper echelon of performers.  It marks the start of the long stretch of storylines leading up to the industry’s big “season finale”, the culmination of an entire year’s work.  The stage is great, recently expanding to large football and baseball stadiums.

The great irony is that the results, of course, are all predetermined.  I’ve known this for decades and yet I’ve remained intrigued by the spectacle.  Pro wrestling often plays out significant social conflicts, much in the same sense that traditional Greek theater did several thousand years ago.  The characters are crafted, then allowed to grow organically, such that the aware viewer still has an opportunity to develop affinity or disdain for certain performers.  As a mature, aware, wrestling fan, you still get surprised and excited by the twists and turns and you still want to see certain performers “excel.”

The Royal Rumble offers this in spades.  Over the course of 20 years, developments in the Rumble have challenged the rules (Shawn Michaels winning because only ONE foot touched the floor, Bret Hart and Lex Luger touching the floor at the exact same time, Steve Austin and Vince McMahon leaving the ring through the middle ropes only to return at the end).  The size of the field has offered a number of returns, both younger wrestlers returning from lengthy injuries and older favorites who spark nostalgia.  The duration and size of the event lends itself to statistical distinctions from most eliminations in a match (Kane with 11 in 2001) to single match durations (Longest: 1 hour, 2 minutes, 10 seconds by Rey Mysterio in 2006.  Shortest: 1 second by Santino Marella in 2009).

Because of the match’s status as a springboard, there’s a surprising amount of parity.  Over the past 12 years, there have been 12 victors.

I’ve always found it to be a great value.  Much of the time, sporting events just don’t live up to the hype.  Part of the appeal of pro wrestling, even in my older years, is that you’re almost guaranteed a payoff for your emotional investment.  As long as you go in with the mindset of any other scripted form of entertainment, you can appreciate it for what it is; an athletic exhibition supplemented with narrative.

And it’s in Boston this year; significant not only to myself (I attended a show in 2000 featuring Stone Cold Steve Austin in a steel cage match, Triple H versus Kurt Angle, and The Rock vs. Chris Jericho.  The card holds up incredibly well a decade later), but because of the building’s wrestling legacy.  The New Garden hosted Wrestlemania 14, where Austin defeated Shawn Michaels with Mike Tyson as the guest referee.  It was Austin’s first title and the start of the post-Hogan renaissance.  The seeds for that match were sewn earlier in the year at the Rumble match, won by Austin.

After the Rumble, the winner goes to WrestleMania.  I go to Super Bowl Sunday, the final week of avoiding hype; the climax of the Year Without Football.  The past week was the preview; the most intense onslaught is on its way.



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