by Caleb Lay, Logan Whaley, Ted Kluck
We’re all big fans of Bill Simmons. As such, we’ve tried our hand at a Simmons concept – the live diary – in conjunction with our viewing of a random WWE pay-per-view. One of us, LW, is a legitimate wrestling fan. One of us, CL, has never watched a wrestling event. One of us, our faculty advisor (TK), liked wrestling in middle school and once trained as a professional wrestler as research for a book. He was a babyface. What follows is nearly 5,000 words on the WWE – a sentence that I’m confident has never been typed before at Union University. Enjoy.
7:01 TK: WWE Then. Now. Forever. I admitted to liking wrestling, out loud, when I was in middle school and then again for a weird one-year period several years ago in which I was writing a book on pro wrestling, which my wife described as “The biggest career mistake you’ll ever make.” She was right. My student, Logan, is a huge wrestling fan…and a few weeks ago, I went to a WWE Smackdown show with him at the Fedex Forum in Memphis. It was three hours of “live” entertainment that largely consisted of us looking at a giant screen at one end of the arena. Tonight we’re just looking at a much smaller screen in his apartment.
7:01: CL: I’ve never watched a WWE event of any kind. I enjoy good sports writing and one of my favorite writers loves professional wrestling so him and another guy on the website he owns writes about it from time-to-time. Since any professional wrestling information I ingest is from writing I don’t know what anyone outside of the true superstars look like and I don’t know how the rules work either. This will be fun.
7:02: LW: And we are live from Phoenix, Arizona with the final SmackDown Live PPV before WrestleMania, which is basically the Super Bowl of wrestling. Smackdown is the “B” show of the WWE, second to Monday Night Raw. Personally, even though it’s the “B” show, I really prefer SmackDown to Raw. It’s two hours and it’s not forcing wrestling down your throat like Raw does. Anyway, back to the point, it’s the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view and I’m curious to see how the show goes, given that Smackdown only had two weeks to build the card.
7:04 TK: Caleb asks, “What if we did this in basketball? Meaning, what if we occasionally dropped a cage over the lane with the two best players in it?” I like this idea a whole lot.
7:05: LW: We open with Becky Lynch versus Mickie James. This is James’ first match in WWE in seven years (minus a one-off appearance in the WWE’s minor leagues, but more on NXT later). This is basically the story of the old veteran trying to recapture her old glory against one of the best wrestlers in WWE today.
7:06 TK: I’m watching a woman named “Mickie” wrestle against a woman named “Becky.” It feels like 1989 again. Also, in 1989 I would have watched this (a women’s wrestling match) sheepishly with my finger on the channel-change button in case my parents walked in. Also: there’s a German announcer’s table in which the German announcers look like they’re twelve years old. Logan: “Somebody will probably fly through that table later.”
7:07: CL: Mickie James makes her comeback in this match. This is memorable to me because I actually remember seeing a clip of her kick a girl that was tied to a chair. She’s an obvious heel (a wrestling villain ((see I know things about wrestling))). I’m conflicted because I don’t know if I should root for her because she’s the only one I’m familiar with or hate her because the WWE seems to want me to.
7:08: CL: James and her opponent spent the first minute grasping the back of each others’ heads. Lots of hair pulling. I haven’t seen hair get pulled this viciously since I was in high school and I saw a girl get chunks of her hair pulled out during a fight next to my locker.
7:09 TK: An announcer just compared wrestler Mickie James to NBA Hall-of-Famer and greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan. The fact that this is an okay thing to do in wrestling actually makes me love it (wrestling). Announcer: “Mickie is targeting Beckie’s arm.” See also: Things I didn’t think I’d hear said out loud when today started.
7:11 TK: Logan’s roommate: “So are you guys…related…to Logan?” Awkward silence ensues until I say, “I’m his professor.” He’s not excited that we’re watching wrestling in his living room? Unbelievable.
7:13: LW: About six minutes in the match, and the commentators have mentioned approximately nine times the “ring rust” that Mickie has. That’s a fair point, if you don’t consider the fact that James worked for Impact Wrestling, WWE’s rival promotion for these past few years. It’s hilarious how WWE has the big dog mentality of ‘if you didn’t wrestle in the WWE you didn’t wrestle at all.’ Becky wins on a rollup, which is smart booking.
7:14 TK: I ask, “Which one are they referring to as ‘The Irish Lass Kicker’?”
7:16 TK: It goes without saying but there are no girls at this party.
7:18 TK: The girl match ends. For the pro wrestling book I wrote a few years ago, I trained at Dan “The Beast” Severn’s wrestling school in Coldwater, Michigan. I developed a babyface (this means “good guy” in wrestling parlance) persona called “The Great American Author.” I wore a tweed sportjacket into the ring, and my finishing move was called “The Tenure Track.” It was a choke slam, because the choke slam is a really simple move. That fact that I wrote that last sentence will probably make it impossible for me to ever actually get real tenure.
7:19: LW: Here comes Apollo “I can’t stop smiling” Crews. He’s a guy that has what it takes to be a WWE star. This guy oozes strength and athleticism. He suddenly stops smiling when his teammate “Lucha thing” Kalisto gets taken out by their opponent, Dolph Ziggler. Typical bad guy move. A two-on-one situation normally is saved for the good guy to persevere and overcome the odds, but Ziggler turns the odds to his favor. Another smart booking move.
7:21 TK: I feel like every moment of talking or dialogue in this thing is screamed in such a way as to tell the audience, “THIS IS REALLY EXCITING!!!” But if everything is exciting, is anything actually exciting.
7:22: CL: The entire commercial break was for a WWE video game. It showcased several wrestlers with digitized faces. The graphics belong in 2004 with my Sonic Adventure 2 Battle video game for the Nintendo Gamecube.
7:23 TK: One of the guys in the 2 on 1 “Handicap Match” is named “Dolph Ziggler.” Another guy in this match is called “Apollo Crews” in that he appears to be a pastiche of Rocky’s “Apollo Creed” and a real person named Terry Crews. Did I just use the word “pastiche” in a pro wrestling column? You bet your ziggler I did.
7:24: CL: I didn’t realize you could punch as much as Apollo Crews is allowed to hit Ziggler. Wailing on this dude.
7:25 TK: Caleb: How do you spell “Suplex?”
7:26: CL: Ziggler “mutilated” Crews’ face with his hands but it looked like he was tickling his face in some weird way. Like a dad who doesn’t know how to play with his newborn son.
7:29: LW: Oh, hey the Lucha guy is back. Cool. Apollo makes his comeback and both guys are down. One thing I love about the WWE right now is that anytime the referee is counting the wrestlers out, the fans respond with the chant of ’10!’ This is the chant of ‘The Perfect Ten’ Tye Dillinger, who is on NXT (the minor leagues of WWE). He has been trying to make it up to the main roster for, well, about ten years. Look him up, his work is fantastic.
7:30 TK: As dumb as you may or may not think this is – and it is, at some level, very dumb – these guys are all in impeccable shape and are super athletic, unlike in the 1980s when I used to watch wrestling and when wrestling was the purview of all manner of gross fat guys (see: Adorable Adrian Adonis, The American Dream Dusty Rhodes, King Kong Bundy).
7:33: CL: Ziggler “snaps” Crews’ ankle by wedging it in the chair. Crews’ cries are real enough to make me wince and feel legitimately bad for him. I think I’m falling for the act.
7:33 TK: Announcer: “How can anyone defend the actions of Dolph Ziggler?” He says this in the kind of hushed tone that is usually reserved for the deaths of political or social dignitaries. This makes it awesome. The thing about Dolph Ziggler is this: He’s a good bad guy. He’s ripped, good-looking and super arrogant. If he was a Christian College student, he’d be the guy whipping his shirt off to play Frisbee as soon as the temperature gets above 55 degrees.
7:33: LW: The good guys overcome the odds in the two-on-one handicap match and defeats the bad guy Ziggler. Fans chant “thank you Ziggler” as Dolph practically destroys the bad guys. Typical wrestling fans. It’s comical how they cheer the bad guy for doing bad guy things.
7:34: CL: Ziggler puts Crews’ ankle back in the chair. This world is a depraved and desolate place.
7:36: CL: We cut to Dean Ambrose. He’s in some kind of warehouse or garage pacing back-and-forth waiting to spill blood in the title match. He’s wearing a black wife-beater and dark jeans that scream, “I’m not an athlete, I’m just an unhinged dude that likes hitting people.”
7:37: LW: It’s time for tag team turmoil. The opening team out is Heath Slater and Rhyno, otherwise known as ‘Beauty and the Man Beast.’ Rhyno, the beast of the relationship, ran for office in his hometown in Michigan. He brought out the big guns in his advertising campaign when he recruited 2017 WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle to essentially beat up some civilians to get them to vote for a guy named Rhyno. Classic.
7:37 TK: A tag-team turmoil match between a guy named Heath Slater (aka Beauty) and Ryno (with a “y” – The Man-Beast) and a pair of guys dressed like “Cops” if by “Cops” I mean Cops in the 70s disco band The Village People. Do with that what you will.
7:39 TK: Me: “What are the odds the ‘International Announcing Teams’’ microphones aren’t actually attached to anything?” What if all of Portugal isn’t hanging on every second of this?
7:41 TK: I learn how a “Tag Team Turmoil” match differs from a regular tag team match. When I wrestled, for my book, I was in a ladder match against a guy named “Butthole” Nick Vandermolen who was actually getting an advanced degree in English from Michigan State. True story.
7:44: CL: Rhyno just became my favorite wrestler. The self-described “Man-Beast” uses his girth to just hit guys running at him at full speed with his shoulder. I think that’s all he really does. He doesn’t really grab guys because he’s not athletic enough to flip guys. He also looks like the kind of guy that would have tried to get on my school bus so he could “catch a ride.”
7:44 TK: I think my favorite thing about wrestling was visiting my cousin, who was four years older than me and lived in Chicago. WAIT: There’s a tag team involved now called “The Vaudevillains.” They have vintage wrestling singlets on and look like pale hipsters (handlebar moustaches, suspenders, etc.). If they were Christian College students…they would be Every Male Christian College Student.
7:44: LW: Beauty and the Man Beast eliminates Breezango, who are WWE’s resident fashion police duo. The next team out are the Vaudevillians (another NXT team), a throwback tag team that belongs in a 50s circus. Their usual entrance of a cartoonish handshake and a black and white screen effect is canned for a lame run to the ring. Beauty and the Man Beast beats them in two minutes. Sad face.
7:47 TK: Caleb: “The Ryno became my favorite when I realized he was only using his shoulder for like five minutes.” Also: The Vaudevillains have already been eliminated. But so the thing about my cousin: He had a HUGE collection of these wrestling magazines, which were very crappily written and produced, in that the only glossy color image was on the cover and all of the pages were cheap newsprint with black-and-white photos. They were super fun to read. I miss all magazines.
7:49: LW: The Usos, who are Samoan so obviously they are related to The Rock, defeats Beauty and the Man Beast who were having a Cinderella run (see what I did there?). American Alpha (my favorite tag team at the moment) enters the match.
7:50 TK: The USOS are in the ring now. They look like every guy at the mall.
7:50: CL: Rhyno and Slater go down… I have no words except: I’m sad. I was finally a fan of this thing and now I don’t know what to do. How can I be okay with a world where the Rhyno doesn’t win every match. I want him to come back as the last team in this tag-team showdown.
7:51 TK: A girl shows up and says, “I love those matching leotards.” I ask the girl how many total hours of wrestling she’s watched in her entire life. “Maybe five?” she replies. This is about five more than I would have thought.
7:52: LW: John Bradshaw Layfield, one of the smartest dudes in the world (he’s a New York Times bestseller and regularly appears on Fox News), just said “The Usos have been twins for a very long time.” Well, you’re not wrong there JBL.
7:53: CL: The headlocks don’t look real as often as they should. I can see the space between the arm and the neck now. It’s like when I put my little brother in a headlock but don’t want to actually hurt him.
7:55 TK: Me: “Logan, if you were to wrestle, would you be a leotard guy, or a regular clothes guy?” Logan: “Regular clothes.” Girl: “You should get a sparkly leotard.” Caleb: “I’m wearing the long leotard pants.”
7:55: LW: The Usos lose to this fantastic team called American Alpha (featuring two decorated legit wrestlers Chad Gable and Jason Jordan) and, in typical heel fashion, attacks American Alpha and leaves them for dead. The Ascension comes out and you almost know that Alpha will win because the Ascension haven’t been relevant in three years and Alpha needs this win to look strong.
7:59 TK: A tag-team called The Ascension is in the ring. Me: “These guys look like they listen to ‘Breaking Benjamin.’”
8:00: LW: Oh look, I was right. Alpha hits their amazing “grand amplitude” finishing move and wins. Very good showcase for American Alpha.
8:00: CL: An 80’s-hair-metal-guy just came in for the pin. Jason Jordan picked up some creepy dude from “Ascension” and Gable caught him as he was coming down. He then bridged his entire body so he could pin “Ascension guy.” It was the most athletic move of the night. On the replay, the broadcast team slowed down the drop when it was at the apex of the toss then put it back in real-time. It was beautiful TV production.
8:03 TK: We explain to Caleb that “The Miz” is the same “The Miz” as the guy from MTV’s The Real World. He’s flabbergasted. Caleb also thinks there’s a Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding thing going on in the setup of the next women’s match. Also: Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart’s daughter is wrestling in the next match. Neidhart was one of my favorites as a kid. His daughter is currently in the ring, with a microphone, talking about how “beauty fades.” Wise words.
8:04: CL: How is “The Miz” a wrestler? That’s absolutely ridiculous. I remember when he started calling himself “The Miz.” This is unreal.
8:06: LW: It’s time for Nikki Bella (John Cena’s girlfriend) vs. Natalya (Bret Hart’s niece) in what is the culmination of WWE’s fakest feud. Yes, I’m aware WWE is scripted, but this feud is so horribly fake that it’s been so hard to watch. Natalya is essentially jealous of Nikki for everything that she’s doing outside of WWE (reality shows, magazines, etc.). The acting is just horrible and doesn’t seem real.
8:07: CL: Natalya’s voice keeps getting brought down an octave by an editor. It’s not low enough to seem totally unnatural, but it’s low enough to sound like a deep man’s voice. It’s pretty uncomfortable for me.
8:09 TK: Girl: “I feel like the latex bodysuit would be difficult to wrestle in.”
8:10: LW: I just realized that Nikki Bella is wearing Phoenix Suns colors, which is typical of a good guy to do to pander to the fans. It took me a minute to realize this, as I forgot that Phoenix had a basketball franchise. Seriously, are there any Suns fans out there?
8:12 TK: Me: “Who would be more likely to watch something like this, from the history department: Allen or Bates?” Logan: “Allen.” Girl: “Same.” Caleb: “I haven’t had any history classes at Union.” Me: “Who do you think would win in a wrestling match between Bush and Van Neste?” Logan: “Bush.” Girl: “Bush.” Me: “Van Neste.”
8:15: CL: I’m realizing now the reason the ring doesn’t have great sound quality is because the wrestlers don’t have good dialogue during the fights. It’s actually really bad dialogue.
8:16: CL: One of the announcers just said: “There’s nothing like beating someone up in front of their family.” What is this sport?
8:17: LW: David Otunga just made the comment that Nikki Bella was the better wrestler while Nikki was getting beaten down by Natalya. Typical Otunga move. He’s the husband of Jennifer Hudson and he’s the worst commentator in WWE.
8:19 TK: Me: “I wish this was Dame Judy Dench against Helen Mirren. Is that weird?”
8:23: LW: The match ends in a double count out and nothing gets resolved. Looks like we’re gonna get more horrible acting because all feuds in WWE must be resolved. Fun. JBL redeems himself by saying “absolutely nothing was settled.” Accurately describes the last 20 minutes.
8:24 TK: There’s a chinless wrestler named Mr. Ellsworth. I have a colleague named Mr. Ellsworth who will be disgusted to be mentioned in conjunction with this.
8:28: LW: This is a match I’m interested in. A wrestling legend in the form of Randy Orton against the very underrated Luke Harper. The comment was made that Harper looks like a guy you would see at a Korn concert, which is very accurate. Harper was kicked out of the Wyatt Family (probably for looking too much like a Duck Dynasty reject).
8:29: CL: I don’t know much about “The Wyatt Brothers,” but the shortest one looks like some kind of backwater cousin of the Duck Dynasty clan. He also has legitimate dreads, but not hipster dreads. They’re the kind of dreads that come from not touching your hair for 6 years.
8:35: LW: Luke Harper gets slammed brutally on the announce table, then falls approximately three times to avoid falling on the announcers. I would’ve been ok if he took out Otunga. I would’ve loved him forever if he did that.
8:38 TK: Randy Orton is wrestling against another guy who looks like he came from the mall. Orton’s dad was Cowboy Bob Orton. Here’s some full disclosure for you: I legitimately think Randy Orton looks cool and totally wouldn’t mind looking like that. See also: Things Dr. Gavin Richardson has never said or thought.
8:38: LW: Ted Kluck compared Mauro Ranallo (the best announcer in WWE today) to Joe Buck after calling Harper the “bearded brawler from the backwoods.” Very accurate description for the crazy-eyed Harper. Ranallo does a great job at showing passion for every match. Is he overdramatic? Sure, but he does his job well. Announcers in WWE often use adjectives like “cold,” “calculated,” and “unforgiving” to describe something as simple as a headlock, but the play-by-play commentators do a great job at really selling the match.
8:40 TK: Logan is a prophet, in that the German announcer’s table gets wrecked in this match. What’s odd about it is that there are papers all over it, as though the 12-year-old German announcers have a big paper due tomorrow morning and Randy Orton just messed up all their research.
8:40: CL: I’m glad I wasn’t one of those German announcers that looks like they’re freshmen in college. I don’t know if I have the reflexes to get out of the way of a clearly choreographed giant man coming at me like that. One time, when I was like nine, I was fake-fighting with a friend in his basement (I lived in Dunlap, Illinois. There was nothing else to do) and the plan was for me to dodge a punch and then my friend actually caught me in the stomach. I threw up on his basement couch. We told his mom he did it so I wouldn’t get kicked out of his house for life.
8:47 TK: Something keeps getting referred to as a “European Uppercut,” which doesn’t look any different than an actual uppercut. I’m not sure Europe wants to claim this move.
8:48: LW: Orton and Harper just had the match of the night. Orton wins with the RKO outta nowhere. Announcers are required to add the “outta nowhere” to the RKO due to the popularity the move has gotten on the internet. If you haven’t seen the RKO outta nowhere yet, look it up. It’s Randy Orton RKO’ing random objects.
8:52: CL: Nikki just got hit backstage by Natalya. It’s a ridiculous catfight.
8:53: CL: Some kind of white powder of unknown origins and use just flew in the air and all over the girls. This is a Union publication so I’m not going to speculate as to what substance it was.
8:53 TK: Logan, about a girl wrestler: “She used to be a dancer for the Miami Heat.” Me: “Until she found the one career less classy than being a dancer for the Miami Heat.”
8:53: LW: Oh, Natalya just attacked Nikki Bella backstage because, why not? In the process, Nikki bumped into Maryse (The Miz’s wife) and caused her to spill powder on herself which may lead to something down the road (actually, it will because, WWE logic). Anyway, Naomi vs. Alexa Bliss is next and it is for the WWE Women’s Championship. Naomi’s gimmick is a dancer which is fitting, considering she was a dancer for the Miami Heat and Alexa Bliss is basically a Harley Quinn look-alike. It’s crazy to think that just a few years ago, women were just the eye candy of wrestling. They were models just wrestling. Now, women like Bliss, Naomi, Becky Lynch, etc. are having great matches changing that view altogether.
8:56 TK: Me: “I’m gonna go home to my wife.” I, surprisingly, have a wife, in spite of the fact that I occasionally watch this stuff. Also, I have a propensity for leaving everything early to “beat the crowd.” This is a psychosis that I inherited from my grandpa and then my dad. We get to everything like two hours early, and then leave everything well before it’s over. Tonight is no different, even though there is no “crowd” to beat. I will miss the Elimination Chamber, which promises to be amazing. My money is on The Miz.
8:57: CL: Naomi just had gum thrown in her face. Where’d it go? It’s for sure stuck in her hair which means later on she’ll have to use peanut butter to get the stuff out. Last time that happened to anyone I know it was my little brother who stuck gum on his forehead so he could have a horn like a pokemon. All I remember was him laying on the kitchen counter, head in the sink and crying as my mom doused his head with water and kept applying peanut butter. I would hate to be an adult and explain to my parents as I lay on their kitchen counter that I got gum stuck in my hair because another wrestler threw it at me.
9:05: LW: Naomi wins, which is a nice surprise. She’s been in the WWE for seven years and she finally won the big one. The timing felt weird on this title change though. It should’ve had more buildup to it. It’s almost like skipping the training scene in Rocky and going straight to the fight.
9:06: CL: I’m out. It was fun. It wasn’t real, but it was real fun.
9:15: LW: It’s time for the main event: the Elimination Chamber match at the aptly named pay-per-view of Elimination Chamber. It’s basically a structure that is made of steel and chain. Two wrestlers start the match and every five minutes, one of the four pods surrounding the ring opens up and a new wrestler enters the match. Kinda cool, huh? The announcers mention “twenty tons of steel” and “miles of chain,” which is funny to me. Announcers have a way of exaggerating numbers in the WWE. For example, if a commentator mentions that somebody is “245 pounds of solid muscle” they are likely about 230 pounds and aren’t as strong as they look.
9:16: LW: It’s the ‘revving motorcycles’ edition of Elimination Chamber. Dean Ambrose enters first, followed by Baron Corbin. Both guys have really similar entrance themes that contain the sound effect of a motorcycle.
9:28: LW: The crowd is electric for the main event. The two men that are starting this match are John Cena (you might’ve heard of him) and ‘The Phenomenal One’ AJ Styles. AJ, in my opinion, is the best wrestler in the world. He also has the greatest soccer mom hair in the world. WWE tells a perfect story by having Styles and Cena start the match, because Cena defeated Styles at the Royal Rumble a couple of weeks ago.
9:34: LW: Ambrose enters the match and immediately starts jumping off of the pods. Ambrose’s nickname is the “lunatic fringe” and he’s living up to it here. I also just realized that the floor outside the ring was replaced from steel to a regular mat. For a match that’s designed to be dangerous like the Elimination Chamber is, WWE really is keeping things safe and fun for this match. Dare to enter the Elimination Chamber, it’s fun for all!
9:39: LW: John Cena just took a crazy bump off the top of the Elimination Chamber. I don’t know how Cena does it. He’s on the road 300+ days a year and not only does he wrestle, he makes TV appearances, he does movies, he grants Make-A-Wishes (he’s granted the most wishes, and he’s the most requested athlete on the planet), and he still is as good as ever in the ring. Unreal.
9:47: LW: The pod finally opens for The Miz to come in the match, after seemingly ten minutes of waiting. Remember what I said earlier about WWE exaggerating numbers? Well, they do the same thing in these types of matches. The pods will open every five minutes, maybe ten depending on how the match is going. Miz distracts Baron Corbin to get rolled up and eliminated by Ambrose. Guess what? Ambrose gets attacked by Corbin, because everybody is a sore loser in WWE.
9:52: LW: We’re down to Styles, Cena, and Wyatt after Miz gets eliminated. I have an eerie feeling that Wyatt will win this one. Wyatt and Orton are a tag team now. If Wyatt wins, then he and Orton (the Royal Rumble winner) will face off for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania. It would make sense, considering fans have seen the Cena/Orton matchup approximately 1,327 times in the 15 years they have been in WWE.
9:57: LW: Bray Wyatt eliminated Cena, ending his 16th World Championship run. That’s it, Wyatt’s definitely winning this one. It’s a shame too, because Cena’s 16 world titles tied Ric Flair (Woooo!) for the most all-time.
10:03: LW: I called it. Wyatt wins after pinning AJ Styles. What a match. Everybody had a great performance. That was a pretty good pay-per-view. With only two weeks to build the card, this turned out to be a really good show. It was even more fun to sit and watch it with Kluck and Caleb. Seven weeks until Wrestlemania!