This week saw the passing of a man who had made a living by carrying around a mystical urn that granted powers to his friend, an undead beast with eyes so empty and soulless, you’d think they were donated by Arjun Rampal. If this makes no sense, then you’ve missed out on one of the most important aspects of childhood — watching grown men fake-fight each other for a shiny golden belt that signified the triumph of blood, sweat and steroids.
I’m talking about William Moody aka Paul Bearer, manager to The Undertaker, and one of the most iconic characters in WWE history. He was a fat, chalk-faced man — imagine a Neil Nitin Gadkari — whose superpower was distracting the Undertaker’s opponents with animated shrieks, thus allowing him to kill them with his finishing move, ‘The Tombstone Piledriver’, because calling it ‘98% Chance Of Quadriplegia’ would be too boring.
When I, and guys my age, heard the news, we were immediately taken back to when we were kids who believed in undead wrestlers, magical urns, and when puberty hit, we believed in Silicone Sable as well. Several times a day. And on cold, lonely nights too.
I clearly remember the first time I watched wrestling. It was 1993, and I turned on the TV to see a man in a wrestling ring, wearing what was essentially an America-coloured thong, preening in front of a three-mirror setup, and flexing biceps the size of speed-breakers.
This was “The Narcissist Lex Luger”, who’d have an aneurysm if he ever tried to spell ‘Narcissist’. But that’s okay, because he only had to be good at two things: a) Working out - I’m pretty sure he had triceps on his fingers as well, and b) Bodyslamming Yokozuna (Japanese word that means ‘Ram Kapoor’)
After that, I was hooked, just like every other kid I knew. Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant,
The British Bulldog, Tatanka, the Ultimate Warrior, Macho Man Randy Savage, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Typhoon, Razor Ramon, Papa Shango, Repo Man, Doink the Clown, Bart Gunn, Billy Gunn, Bam Bam Bigelow, Shawn Michaels and Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart are just a few of the names that one can use to hit the requisite word count for this column.
OK no, these were the stars we idolised and more importantly, these are the men that made me realise that having kids, especially boys, is a bad idea. Because no matter what you do, they will find the stupidest way to hurt themselves, and practise until they get it right.
Case in point: The Unofficial Unsupervised Wrestling Championships, Class V. These were held every lunch break, and featured my friends and I trying out every move we’d seen on TV, but on a concrete surface. I’m talking bodyslams, chokeslams, dropkicks, submission holds and a bastardised version of the Razor’s Edge, which is where you stand back to back with your opponent, hoist him up by the arms, slam him down neck first and hope his parents don't find out. (DISCLAIMER: If there are any kids reading this, please do not try any of these moves ever. They will cause severe brain trauma, which makes you do daft things like become a writer.)
The appeal didn’t just lie in the fact that Bret Hart never had to do stoopid homework, or that teachers would never scold the Ultimate Warrior for not getting a haircut. No, these guys were star athletes, and watching a perfectly executed Sweet Chin Music, Stunner or Tombstone was as much fun as watching a Sachin straight drive. Probably more, because a Sachin straight drive never hurt anyone, except maybe Kambli.
(My parents did try to convince me that wrestling was fake and scripted. But you don’t say that to an eight-year-old boy. It’s like telling the Pope that the whole ‘Ctrl+R Jesus’ miracle didn’t really happen.)
The last contest that I followed keenly was the Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart Iron Man championship match at Wrestlemania XII, an epic hour long bout that Michaels won. His victory was made even more incredible by the fact that he wore crotch-hugging pants festooned with sequinned hearts, and still managed to look tough. Then again, The Hitman wore purple-pink sunglasses.
I have no clue about the wrestling scene now, but I’m sure there are enough guys jumping about for the benefit of kids and the mentally-deficient. I’d like to keep it that way, and not mess with the nostalgia in my head. Besides, there’s no way I’d be able to pull off a Razor’s Edge now. Too much body fat and common sense.
P.S. RIP, Paul Bearer.
Ashish Shakya is a writer and a stand-up comic. He co-writes the TV satire, The Week That Wasn’t. Sometimes he’s even sober while doing so.