The Undertaker threw Mick Foley off the top of a steel cage. Play-by-play man, Jim Ross, purportedly unwarned about the stunt, broke character and screamed “They’ve killed him!”
They, not The Undertaker, but management callous and reckless enough to subject human bodies to this level of punishment, choreographed or not.
But Foley wasn’t dead.
Wrestling had taught me all manner of things.
Hulk Hogan body slamming Andre the Giant—that I might have strength.
The Macho Man’s top-rope elbow drop—that I might fly.
But Foley’s crash—in that moment, I learned that I might fall.
For Foley, after crashing and after being loaded onto the gurney, fought to his feet and scaled the cage again. Traded blows again. Fought until he was slammed through the roof of the cage to the ring below.
Two great falls.
Still Foley fought. Half-unconscious, a molar lodged in his nostril. It took a choke slam and a piledriver—onto a mat littered with thumbtacks, no less—to incapacitate him once and for all, for him to accept defeat.
Still, nearly twenty years gone by, this memory lives on in wrestling lore. No less prominent than any Hogan slam. Than the time when Bruno Sammartino reigned as world champion for eight years straight.
For it is not in falling that he–
that all of mankind—
It is in falling that we might rise.
OF GODS AND MCMAHONS
In the beginning, Vince McMahon created Hulkamania and Andre the Giant. He infused blazing color—theme music, pyrotechnics, national syndication—into a business hitherto relegated to smoky, local arenas. His father was barely cold in his grave.
It’s been said that McMahon has a God complex. That he wants control and power and legitimacy. That these impulses drove not only the national expansion, but his failed attempts to start a football league and a movie studio.
World Wrestling Entertainment refers to its domain—its characters, its storylines, its fans—as the WWE Universe. Critics suggested that there is more to it than a name. That McMahon, dissatisfied with a media that decried or ignored his antics, created his own universe where he might answer to no one.
Nowhere was this mission clearer than a 2005 storyline, when he instituted the religion of McMahonism, and went on to challenge born-again Shawn Michaels to a tag team match. Vince and his son Shane versus Michaels whatever god he could muster.
The McMahons won.
But for all this bombast—the very idea of a man aspiring to, then casting himself as deity—is it really so absurd?
I see myself at nine years old. I was raised without religion, and only then began fumbling through a thought experiment of what if there were a god? and what should I say?
I prayed that Bret Hart might regain the world title.
And what God did I pray to? Could there be a god who concerned himself with flying clotheslines and Sharpshooter leg locks and who wore an eight-pound, gold-plated belt around his waist?
When Paul Levesque signed with the World Wrestling Federation, he was billed as Hunter Hearst Helmesley. His nickname, a very literal “The Connecticut Blue Blood,” his ring song a little less subtle or intimidating Beethoven symphony.
He made a badass turn. Reduced his name to initials—Triple H—and joined a gang called Degeneration X. Their signature song was rap-metal in the style of the day, by a poor man’s Linkin Park, or poorer yet Rage Against The Machine, a musical outfit fronted by young vocalist Chris Warren. A song called “Break It Down,” against a wail of electric guitars too big for the band, against screeching lyrics, We just got tired of doin’ what ya told us to do.
When Triple H went solo again, anointed “The Cerebral Assassin” for the head games he would play to psych out his foes, he got a new song by the same band. “My Time.” All, don’t you understand a revolution? Imploring, on a note of conspiracy and nepotism, does anybody know who’s sleeping with who? The irony, of course, that Triple H himself was the answer, that his character’s rise to the world championship ranks coincided with the man sleeping with Stephanie McMahon, the boss’s daughter and heiress to the WWF empire (he’d marry her years later).
Then he got “The Game,” in nickname and in song. Made more serious via a scathing, curse-laden interview when he said, I am the fucking game. Espousing a more serious theme, graduating from house band to the big leagues—a track custom recorded by Motorhead. The weight of Lemmy’s gravelly vocals, I am the game, you don’t want to play me communicating the weight of the man’s budding legend. He eclipsed the ten-world-title-reign mark. He main evented WrestleManias.
Years passed, and his contemporaries faded. The Rock became a movie star. Steve Austin and Mick Foley retired. The Undertaker took a part-time schedule that was easier on his aching knees. Soon, Triple H was all that remained of the old guard. Again, a new moniker, again a new song. “The King of Kings.” Still Motorhead, now a refrain of bow down to the, bow down to the king.
And then a throwback. Reunited with old running buddy Shawn Michaels, for one last run as a tandem. A truncated Degeneration X, two wily veterans acting like they were twenty years younger than they were, toning down dick jokes to poop jokes, and unabashedly shilling their new t-shirts rather than letting the merchandise sell itself. The revolution was over. They’d won and transformed into the institution. And yet, for all their collective glory, for their legendary status, their theme reverted to “Break It Down.” The same nasally vocals from Chris Warren—not an up-and-comer anymore, but firmly planted as a never-was.
I wonder now, if Paul Levesque might close his eyes in a locker room, or in his wife’s executive suite, and still hear “Symphony No. 9.” Bringing the music full circle. A blue blood through and through, with no new songs to await him.
About the author:
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and is currently an MFA candidate in creative writing at Oregon State University. He won the 2014 Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction from the University of New Orleans and has previously published or has work forthcoming in over thirty journals including The Normal School, Bayou Magazine, and Gravel. Find him online at miketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.