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Monday, March 15, 2004
Updated: May 31, 2:21 PM ET
A painful return to wrestling

By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

Wrestlemania XX. You know what that means, right?

Finally ...

The Sports Guy ...

Has come BACK TO PAGE TWO!!!!!!!!!!!

What happened to me for three weeks? Quite simply, my back went out. Just crippling, feet-numbing back pain, like I accidentally bought Larry Bird's back from the '92 playoffs on eBay. Anyway, things are better now. I felt so good yesterday, I even ordered the WWF-er, WWE's showcase event.

Old days
Who could forget the first Wrestlemania in 1985, including the match between Mr. T and Rowdy Roddy Piper?

Quick flashback: We're in the mid-'80s. I'm a dorky high school kid who happened to love pro wrestling for years. It started with Garea and Martel, spread with Superfly Snuka, then gets pushed to another level with Hulkamania. In an amazing coincidence, there isn't a potential girlfriend to be seen. Not a one.

Suddenly wrestling -- wrestling?!?!?!?! -- goes mainstream. MTV shows a card. Cyndi Lauper gets involved. Hulkamania is running wild. They announce a pay-per-view card featuring Mr. T and Hogan. Mr. T! Hogan makes the cover of Sports Illustrated and hosts SNL with T in the same week. Wrestlemania is set for the following week.

And lemme tell you something ... it was a long week. I couldn't wait. Literally, I couldn't wait. My whole life revolved around that week. Again, not a girl to be seen -- unless you count Shannon Tweed in "Hot Dog: The Movie." And that was one of those Sundays that stands out for me. I'm not sure why. The first Wrestlemania. You really had to be there.

Two decades later, I'm gainfully employed, even married ... and I'm still paying for Wrestlemania from Madison Square Garden. At least this time, I kept a running diary. Here's what transpired.

4 p.m. (West Coast time) -- We're coming to you live from the Mansion ... I'm joined by my dog, Dooze, a bottle of Vicodin and a medium coffee from Starbucks. I'm one shot of whiskey away from becoming a character on "Playmakers."

(Why a "medium" coffee and not a "large," you ask? Because I sent the Sports Gal out with the instructions, "Get me a grande coffee," forgetting that "grande" means "medium" and not "large." Now I'm stuck with a coffee that's one size too small. The lesson, as always: Starbucks sucks.)

4:01 -- The Boys Choir of Harlem kicks things off with our National Anthem, interspersed with heartwarming shots of our troops in Iraq. Almost makes you forget what happened 13 years ago, when Vince McMahon capitalized on the first Iraqi War by turning Sgt. Slaughter into an Iraqi sympathizer. Classy move.

4:04 -- My God, what's that? Wait a second ... th-that's Jim Ross's music!! Unfortunately JR and announcing partner Jerry Lawler are splitting time tonight with Michael Cole and Tazz. Not good times. Cole couldn't be more annoying -- he's like Ryan Seacrest after six Red Bulls. And yet the WWE keeps inflicting him on the general public. If Vince McMahon was David Stern, Cole would be the WNBA.

Big Show
The WWE Web site lists "Big Show" at 7-2 and 500 pounds. But he has a quick first step.

4:06 -- Our first match: John Cena (trash-talking New Englander) against Big Show (underachieving giant) for the U.S. title. Cena comes out wearing a Ewing jersey and spouting rhymes like "Ain't no way I'm gonna lose to that King Kong ripoff ... that's like Gary Coleman beating Patrick Ewing in a tipoff." Even P Diddy wouldn't buy those lyrics. Of course, that doesn't stop Tazz from saying, "The Big Show has gotta be irate." Definitely.

4:10 -- FYI: Big Show is wearing those Andre the Giant tights, the black ones with the strap that goes over the left shoulder. Needless to say, his right breast is pulling a Janet Jackson right now. He's at least a 38-DD. I feel light-headed.

4:18 -- Tazz uses the word "Upside" to describe Cena. Too bad Hubie Brown isn't there. Suddenly inspired, Cena (240 pounds) picks Big Show (at least 450) over his head and slams him twice for the U.S. title. Big crowd pop. He's now the proud owner of one of the WWE's 75 different title belts.

4:24 -- I don't know what makes me feel older -- Ric Flair being a manager, or Ric Flair managing Cowboy Bob Orton's son. Maybe it's a little of both. By the way, Flair has enough Botox in his face to make Meg Ryan cringe.

The Sports Guy's Top 10 Favorite Wrestlemania matches
10. Ultimate Warrior defeats Randy "Macho Man" Savage (WM 7). Surprisingly good match, capped off by the emotional reunion of Savage and Miss Elisabeth. He would never admit it, but this match actually made my friend Birdman tear up.

9. Undertaker defeats Giant Gonzalez (WM 9). You really had to see the Giant wearing this furry Big Foot costume that was supposed to be scary. Highest of high comedy. This match literally ended his career. People were laughing in the crowd.

8. Bret Hart defeats Stone Cold Steve Austin (WM 13). One of those rare matches where the bad guy was supposed to become the good guy and vice-versa, and it actually worked. Stone Cold's defining moment.

7. Jake the Snake and Rick Martel (WM 7). This was a Blindfold Match. I don't even remember who won. Worst idea ever. Two guys stumbling around the ring for 10 minutes. It was fantastic.

6. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T defeat Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff (WM 1). The first-ever Wrestlemania main event. Not the greatest match, but those few minutes leading up to the match were unparalleled. It was like Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals at MSG.

4:28 -- Time for a "Fatal Four-Way" tag-team match: La Resistance (evil Frenchmen); Garrison Cade and Mark Jindrak (token white guys); the Dudley Boyz (white and black brothers); and Rob Van Dam and Booker T (the current champs). I have no idea what the rules are here ... but if I were writing a TV pilot about two renegade cops from the 1970s, they would definitely be named Garrison Cade and Mark Jindrak.

4:34 -- Actual quote from Jim Ross: "Garrison Cade and Mark Jindrak -- very young, very athletic, and very, very (inaudible)."

(Very what? Very bland? Very mediocre? Very gay? This could keep me awake tonight.)

4:34 -- "Very hungry," Ross finally finishes. Oh. I was hoping for "very gay."

4:36 -- I might be in my 30s, but it still puts a hop in my step every time the crowd yells "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!" at a foreign wrestler, then that wrestler get so flustered and upset, he can barely continue the match. Never gets old. It just doesn't. Nobody was better than the Iron Shiek -- it physically pained him to hear the U-S-A chant. He would start spitting and everything. "America, hak-ptew!" OK, I'm rambling.

4:38 -- Booker and Van Dam retain the belts. Whatever. At least Cade and Jindrak have time to get back to the Coffee Bean for their 8-12 a.m. shift.

4:44 -- Time for a revenge match between Chris Jericho and former tag-team partner Christian, currently embroiled in a love triangle with Trish Stratus. Ugh.

(Remember the love triangle heyday on "90210," when Kelly dumped Dylan and fell for Brandon? Will you ever forget Dylan hitting the bottle, ruining Donna Martin's party and hissing, "My best friend, my best gal, it's like a bad movie"? Now everything on TV is a love triangle -- for instance, in seven months, the "OC" tried every three-way romance possible except "Seth, Mom and Dad." It's unbelievable. I keep expecting to turn on SportsCenter and see Linda Cohn choosing between John Clayton and Sean Salisbury.)

4:54 -- FYI: Jericho still calls himself "Y2J." Could be time for a new gimmick. He ends up getting double-crossed by Trish -- costing him the match -- then watching her and Christian suck face. "My God!" JR screams. I think we all feel that way.

(Next up for Trish and Christian? Yet another love triangle, this time with the brooding bastard son in "One Tree Hill.")

The Rock
Hey, Rock: Just stick to your Hollywood promotional tour next time.

5:07 -- Two of the greats are riffing back stage: The Rock (pretending he's wrestling again, really promoting "Walking Tall") and Mick Foley (unretired for the umpteenth time). No two guys have ever been better with the mike, with the possible exception of Roddy Piper, Hogan and Ken Shamrock (who was so bad, it was delightful).

Anyway, Rock and Foley are taking on three guys -- Flair, Orton and their buddy Batista (on loan from Vivid Video). "This is quite a triumphant," JR says, doing his best Ralph Kiner impersonation.

5:14 -- All right, I'll ask: Why is the Rock still wrestling? Isn't he making like $15 million a movie now? I still remember seeing him at the Icon in Houston with a seven-person entourage, including two bodyguards who had those earpiece thingies. Now he's getting chest-slapped by the decrepit Flair. The WWE must be like the Mafia -- you can't leave. Ever.

5:17 -- Actual quote from Jim Ross: "Good God, Ric Flair's catheter just popped out! Urine is spraying everywhere! My god, this is terrible!!!!!"

(Sorry, that didn't actually happen -- I just wanted to see what that would look like in print. My bad.)

5:22 -- Here's a story: When Foley co-hosted the Kimmel show last September, I ended up filming a piece with him all day. Not to sound like Gammons, but he's one of the greatest guys ever. We all loved him. Anyway, Foley swore that he was done with wrestling -- couldn't take the punishment, hated traveling, wanted to write books, missed his family. Six months later, he's getting thrown into metal staircases at WrestleMania XX. Kinda sad.

(Then again, it isn't even 1/20th as jarring as seeing Ric Flair and his breasts out there. Couldn't he wear a pashmina or something?)

5:29 -- Foley gets pinned by Orton for the loss. Stunning upset. Thank God you can't bet on these things ... I would have thrown Foley and Rock in a money-line parlay with the Kings and Pistons today, no questions asked. Meanwhile, the Rock quickly leaves treadmarks heading back to Hollywood.

5:34 -- Time to introduce the WWE Hall of Fame's Class of 2004, which includes Superstar Billy Graham, Magnificent Muraco, Jesse Ventura, Tito Santana and Pete Rose. Yes, that Pete Rose. I'm not even dignifying this.

Pete Rose
New Hall of Famer Pete Rose is betting on Jesse Ventura to take the Presidency in 2008.

(By the way, the WWE Hall of Fame is located just minutes away from the Hallmark Hall of Fame. It's right down the street.)

5:41 -- I'll admit it: I thoroughly enjoyed the Hall of Fame introductions. I mean, any time you have Mean Gene Okerlund saying things like, "Representing the late Junkyard Dog, his daughter, Latoya Ritter!", it's a roaring success. Let's do this again next year. Please.

5:44 -- Up next: A Playboy Evening Gown match with Sable (legendary bimbo) and Torrie (bimbo du'jour) taking on Miss Jackie (up-and-coming bimbo) and Stacy Keibler (bimbo desperately in need of implants). Did we suddenly enter the Champagne Room? Where's my stack of one-dollar bills?

5:46 -- Sable announces that she and Torrie "would like to start the match with our evening gowns off." The crowd goes insane. What's the over-under for number of virgins in attendance at MSG right now? At least 60 percent, right? And yes, I wish I could bet on things like "One of these ladies will reenact the Janet Jackson breast flash in the next 10 minutes."

5:49 -- Since Miss Jackie won't take off her evening gown, the girls tear it off for her. Of course, this happens right when the Sports Gal makes her first appearance in the room, leading to this exchange:

Her: What's this?

Me: WrestleMania XX.

Her (disgusted): You paid for this, didn't you?

Women
Hey, if we had photos of Stacy Kiebler and Miss Jackie in their evening gowns, we'd be showing those.

5:52 -- Torrie pins Miss Jackie, pulling down her underwear for good measure. TiVo time! "You're telling me this is FCC-compliant?" the Sports Gal hisses. "This is gross. It's nothing but crotch shots." Yeah, but still.

5:53 -- Somebody just stormed off. And it wasn't me.

5:56 -- Next up: A staggered 10-man Cruiserweight title match -- finish off one guy, the next one comes in -- an idea apparently inspired by the Hilton sisters. This is the WWE's chance to work in all their Japanese wrestlers with their small American guys who aren't good enough to have a nickname yet. Winner gets their own nickname.

6:03 -- Ugh. Just a ridiculous match -- guys are getting pinned every 20 seconds. It's insulting. I like my sports entertainment to be at least somewhat real. And yes, it's just starting to dawn on me that I paid 50 bucks for this.

6:18 -- This one should be good: Two bruising brooders (Brock Lesnar versus Goldberg), with a special guest referee (Steve Austin), plus some behind-the-scenes drama (according to the rumor mill, Lesnar is leaving the WWE to play in the NFL). "This is not about championship gold," JR tells us. "This is about finality."

The Sports Guy's Top 10 Favorite Wrestlemania matches
5. Ultimate Warrior defeats Hogan (WM 6). The classic "passing of the torch" match.

4. Stone Cold defeats Shawn Michaels (WM 15). Because this happened in Boston, because Mike Tyson was the guest referee and kept calling Austin "Cold Stone" all month, and because Michaels gutted this one out with a bad back. Took him 10 minutes to leave the ring after the pay-per-view ended. Triple H and Chyna had to basically carry him. He didn't wrestle for five years after that one.

3. Razor Ramon defeats Shawn Michaels (WM 10). The famous Ladder Match. Set the tone for every crazy match and death-defying stunt over the next 10 years. Jaw-dropping to watch as it was happening.

2. Hogan defeats Andre the Giant (WM 3). Andre had never been beaten. I mean, EVER. One of the few times in wrestling where nobody knew what was going to happen -- not even Hogan. Poor Andre did the right thing -- he could barely move at this point.

1. Ricky Steamboat defeats Randy Savage (WM 3). Unbelievable at the time. Like watching a triple-OT game in the NBA Finals where the lead changes 117 times in 30 minutes. That's the only way I can describe it. Changed the face of the WWF -- suddenly it was no longer OK for two guys to stand in the middle of the ring and exchange headlocks and body chops for 10 straight minutes.

6:25 -- Angered at Lesnar's potential departure, the fans have banded together for three "You sold out!" chants already. You can practically feel the venom. Is that what would have happened if I announced my move to Hollywood in a sold-out arena filled with Page 2 readers?

(By the way, nothing's happened in this match for five full minutes. That's what happens when you have two muscle guys without any moves -- they stall to drag things out, then they punch each other, mix in some body slams and throw about 500 clotheslines. I'm having Kane-Undertaker flashbacks. This is awful.)

6:30 -- I'm day-dreaming. You know, if my friend Sal had bothered to show up, we'd be knee-deep into a debate about Goldberg being one of the five greatest Jewish athletes of all-time. Unfortunately, Sal had better things to do -- like anything. And this is a guy who once walked into MSG wearing a Rowdy Roddy Piper kilt.

Hey, maybe I'm too old to be watching this any more, too. Maybe Jim Ross was right. Maybe tonight is about finality.

(Nahhhhhhhhh ...)

6:33 -- Goldberg pins Lesnar. Gee, that never happens -- someone losing a big match when they're on their way out of the WWE? I'm beginning to think this stuff is fixed.

(Stone Cold ends up cleaning house -- first Lesnar, then Goldberg. Yeah, it's always a good idea to have your crippled has-beens beating up guys in their prime who should be carrying the company. Savvy. Just a brutal match all around.)

6:39 -- How 'bout this announcement: WrestleMania XXI is coming ... to L.A.! Woohoo! That's where I live!

6:40 -- Just shared my excitement with the Sports Gal, who paused for a few seconds, then responded, "Great," her voice laden with sarcasm. Does anyone know a good divorce lawyer?

6:42 -- Yet another four-way tag-team title match, featuring the likes of Rikishi, Scotty 2 Hotty, Bradshaw and some guys who apparently just signed WWE contracts a few hours ago. If this match were a celebrity basketball game, Coolio and Dean Cain would be posting each other up right now.

6:50 -- We're nearing the three-hour mark. Writing this WrestleMania diary was like running a marathon -- it seemed like a good idea at the time, then you're at mile No. 16, you need to pee, your toenails are falling off, fraternity guys wearing viking helmets are passing you, and you just want to throw yourself off a bridge. That's how I feel right now.

6:52 -- Rikishi just performed the "Stinkface," where he rubs his giant rear end in someone's face. There isn't anything worse than the Stinkface, maybe in any walk of life. I don't even care who wins anymore.

6:54 -- Wearing Harrison Ford's beard from "The Fugitive," Jesse Ventura interviews Donald Trump for a few minutes, then hints that he's running for President in 2008. Fantastic. I'm either voting for him or the Ultimate Warrior.

6:57 -- Yet another title match: Women's champ VicTorriea against challenger Molly Holly (token tomboy). Loser gets their head shaved. These are dangerous matches -- when Kurt Angle lost one a few years ago, his hair never grew back. It was tragic.

Eddie Guerrero
Who is Eddie Guerrero? A wrestler in need of a nickname.

You know, this looks like the perfect time to take Dooze for a walk ... from the look on her face, we may even be stopping by the Double Deuce. Don't go anywhere.

7:06 -- We're back, and just in time for tonight's second main event -- the aformentioned Angle (one of the all-time great heels) against improbable WWE champ Eddie Guerrero (how do you say "Blah" in Spanish?). Plus, Cole and Tazz are announcing this one. Just shoot me. Even the choice of the last Bachelorette wasn't as bad as Eddie being made WWE champ.

(On the bright side, Angle's bloated head makes him look like the white Barry Bonds. Would you like to renew your Balco membership for another year, Mr. Angle?)

7:16 -- You know, every time Tazz refers to "champion Eddie Guerrero," I keep checking to see if I accidentally ordered one of those TNA pay-per-views.

7:22 -- Oh, boy. Kurt just had Eddie in one of those "Ace and Gary" bearhugs against the ropes. I'm officially developing a Canseco-sized eye tick.

7:36 -- Eddie outwits Angle to keep the title. Nice match. We're now at the 216-minute mark. I can only imagine how you feel.

7:39 -- I'm in shock. Honestly, I'm in disbelief. I haven't had time to follow wrestling for the past two years ... now I'm back and the Undertaker is still wrestling Kane? "This is a match made in hell!" JR screams. He's not kidding. If you end up in hell, you actually have to watch tapes of these guys wrestling for the rest of eternity. They're almost as bad a couple as Bobby Bacala and Janice Soprano.

7:42 -- Brief history on the Undertaker: Started out as the Prince of Darkness, performed sacrifices of other wrestlers, feuded with his evil brother Kane for about 25 years, then did an about-face with a redneck motorcycle gimmick (accompanied by two Kid Rock theme songs). Now he's back as the Prince of Darkness. And he's feuding with his brother for the 350th time. And nobody seems to care that this doesn't add up.

7:45 -- Wait, it's the Undertaker and Kane, standing in the middle of the ring and killing time. What year is this?

7:50 -- Clothesline, legdrop, punch, clothesline, kick, clothesline, clothesline, kick, punch, choke, punch, flurry of punches, more punches ... I'm just bummed out. Imagine watching that Spurs-Nets Finals every month for about 12 years. Now I remember why I stopped watching wrestling.

Kane
You mean Kane is still fighting? No wonder the Sports Guy gave up on wrestling.

7:54 -- Undertaker pins Kane for the win, rolls his eyes back, sticks his tongue out. We're closing in on four hours. Also, my head hurts, my back is throbbing, I've lost all feeling in my butt cheeks, and I think I'm getting divorced. Other than that, it's been fun.

8:03 -- Our last match ...

(And thank God.)

... a "triple-threat" encounter between established stars Chris Benoit, Shawn Michaels and Triple H (our current World Heavyweight Champion -- that's somehow different than WWE champion ... again, don't ask). More importantly, if this doesn't end soon, I might miss both the East and West Coast airings of the Sopranos. Unprecedented.

(That reminds me, on paper, this was the greatest non-NFL Sunday of TV ever: A full day of college hoops games; an NBA doubleheader; the March Madness bracket show; episode 2 of "The Sopranos"; "Curb Your Enthusiasm"'s one-hour season finale; and WrestleMania. Just a murderer's row of shows. If every weekend was like this, I'd die single ... which may happen, anyway.)

8:05 -- You know my "How Much Would You Pay" game? I think I would pay $2,500 to do Triple H's entrance just once -- walking out with my championship belt as the sellout crowd cheered me on, stepping onto the ring, staring out dramatically ... and spitting water into the first few rows. That looks fantastic. Maybe I'll try this in the office tomorrow.

8:17 -- "His back has gotta be killin' him," JR says. Was he talking about me or Shawn Michaels?

8:23 -- Superb match. Michaels' head is gushing blood -- it looks like he just came out of one of the elevators at the Overlook Hotel. Benoit is sprawled out over a table. Triple H's head is busted wide open. There are even pools of blood all over the ring.

"This is gonna boil down to willpower," Lawler screams. And the script. Don't forget the script.

8:25 -- What drama! First JR gives us the "My God, all these men are battered, they're hurt, they're bruised, two are bloody ... who's gonna win the World Heavyweight belt?" monologue ... then he refers to Michaels' head as "The proverbial crimson mask." Plus, I just moved for the first time in two hours.

8:30 -- "The winner of this belt ... and neeeeeeewwwwwwwwww World Heavyweight Champion ... Chris Benoit!" Great ending. Although I'm not sure how to feel about this one ... it's like one of those Masters years where someone like Hal Sutton wins the title. You're happy for him, but at the same time, it's Hal Sutton.

Of course, JR is delighted: "For my money, this has been the greatest WrestleMania of all time!"

I'm not sure about that, but one thing's for sure: It was definitely the longest. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to regain the feeling in my rear end.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, as well as one of the writers for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on ABC