For the first time in years, SummerSlam took place this past weekend on the east coast a mere four hours from where both Derrick and I live. Neither of us were aware tickets were going on sale and the event was sold out by the time we realized it. Not only that, but an incredible sold out NXT Takeover event happened the night before at the Barclays Center. We were kicking ourselves over not buying tickets. I could’ve seen Big E’s celebration dance in person.
Derrick is someone who absolutely wears his passions proudly. Above his couch hangs a picture that he’s painted into sent to him by Playstation. His living room is covered in action figures, video games and other memorabilia including a WWE Intercontinental Championship that he won from a SummerSlam party last year after guessing the correct outcome of every match.
For the majority of wrestling fans their fandom is not linear. There is always a drop off period, usually around high school or college, and then years later something newsworthy happens or you know someone that is watching and it is so easy to fall back into the story lines.
Derrick began watching wrestling when he was a kid because of his dad. They would go to shows together at the Boston Garden so they could cheer on his dad’s favorite tag team, The Bushwackers.
Watching wrestling in the early 90’s you were either a fan of WWF or WCW. “I have a personality where if I like one thing, I have to hate the other thing, which as a man in my 30’s I’m trying to get over,” Derrick explained while stating his love for WWF. In the mid-90’s WCW grew in popularity as WWF main event talent, like Hogan and Macho Man, jumped to the other side, but those losses didn’t steal Derrick away to TBS. “I was never into Hogan and a lot of those older guys. A lot of people around that time period I just wasn’t really that into. I can kinda respect them now. Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, Andre [the Giant] didn’t necessarily put on good matches. I would get bored with a Hulk Hogan match…Their matches are terrible and they’re a bunch of old guys.” Additionally, he felt the production value of WCW wasn’t on par with WWF. The lighting was always off and the entrances weren’t as dynamic.
He stopped watching around college and missed out on the Rise of John Cena, also known as the Ruthless Aggression era. “When I started watching again Cena was already old to me and I hadn’t had any exposure to him,” Derrick said. There are still quite a few wrestlers from that time (Orton, Batista, Lesnar) that are still active on the roster today.
Back in 2012, Derrick convinced his friends to attend a random episode of Monday Night Raw. No one knew anything about the wrestlers on the card so they just drank wine and watched the matches. They made the announcement during the show that the Night of Champions PPV would be at the Garden in September so Derrick decided to buy pre-sale tickets. In less than three hours, he had become invested again in the world of WWE. In order to prepare for NoC, he started watching Raw and Smackdown on a regular basis.“I really liked CM Punk. I got really into Daniel Bryan and suddenly it just kept going and going and going and now I watch it all the time,” Derrick said of his current favorites. A current favorite not included in that list is Cody Rhodes – son of the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and half brother of Golddust. He compared Cody’s career trajectory to that of Triple H. “He’s so good as a character and as a storyteller that he has a through story, if you can follow it. And it’s always about him trying to break through and be successful and always failing. And he gets so frustrated, he does something drastically different.” Cody has had quite a few drastic character changes, but Derrick believes his character evolution is all part of a bigger picture: to be successful on his own. “The storyline can go on for so long and it can get really deep, but you might not even know it’s happening.” (Please watch this hilarious video highlighting Triple H’s career).
In 2013, Derrick was lucky enough to go to Wrestlemania 29 in New York/New Jersey. Even he agrees that it was a terrible Wrestlemania, but being able to be there was a great experience (minus having to set right next to the pyrotechnics). “The main event was the worst main event in the history of Wrestlemania: Rock vs Cena 2. It was so bad and just finisher after finisher after finisher. I felt like The Rock forgot how to do everything except three moves and Cena has the five moves of doom…It got to the point where we were all ‘just end it'” Despite the main even that no one wanted, there were some highlights. “CM Punk vs. Taker kinda closed the show for the people in the crowd. It was a weird match to watch because a lot of it took place outside of the ring.” That win against CM Punk was the final win of Undertaker’s “The Streak.”
Jump to the next year, Wrestlemania 30 in New Orleans. Brock Lesnar faced Undertaker. A match thought to be so predictable that no one really paid attention. The Undertaker had been undefeated at Wrestlemania’s since 1991 when he beat Jimmy Snuka at Wrestlemania VII. He chalked up an impressive 21 wins during that time. By the time this match took place, Undertaker was a part time worker who put his fragile body on the line year after year and, in recent years, had been transported out by EMT cart. Undertaker worked this match with a concussion, it was slow moving and the crowd wasn’t really into it, which is why when Lesnar pinned Undertaker to bring The Streak to 21-1, the crowd was shocked. “That was such an awesome moment, because I was not even into that match. I thought it was so predictable,” Derrick recalled. “The match wasn’t very good and I was like ‘Well, Undertaker is going to win this match and that’s how it’s going to be.’ [Lesnar] gave him the second F5 of the match and I was just like ‘one, two, kick out…oh my god he didn’t kick out.'” No one, even Derrick, thought this would ever happen because of how dominant a character Undertaker is – and continues to be. “Of course they could just write that, but it was impossible to me that that could happen.” It was one of those moments that took you out of wrestling being scripted. Undertaker had long wanted to have an up and comer end the streak, but Derrick believes Lesnar to be the right choice. “Whoever beats Brock Lesnar now is going to be the guy. Undertaker was getting too old to get that story so he gave it to Brock Lesnar.”
Since there’s over 30 years of wrestling history, it’s hard to have a conversation about wrestling without discussing favorites. Derrick’s ultimate favorites stem from his initial run as a WWE fan. “Shawn Michaels was my freakin’ absolute favorite. I still think he’s the best wrestler. Shawn Michaels, Austin, Bret Hart as far as top three,” he said. Current favorites include current NXT/developmental stars who are making their way up to the main roster: Finn Balor, Kevin Owens and “The Boss” Sasha Banks (“I love that she’s billed from Boston because now we have someone respectable.”) Sasha is just one of three NXT Women brought up to the main roster as part of the Diva’s Revolution. WWE hasn’t been particularly kind to the women in the Diva’s division by showcasing them in short matches, terrible gimmick matches and a complete lack of storyline or character development, but if this Diva’s Revolution really takes hold, we’re in for some amazing women’s matches, but there’s still that concern they’ll waste this talent. “I’m really nervous for the women moving on,” Derrick explained. “I would watch their matches and say we would need to see these matches on Raw and WWE PPVs and I don’t know if we ever will see them, but now it looks like they will.”
As far as his favorite matches go, he lists the second Shawn Michaels/Undertaker (Wrestlemania 26: Streak vs. Career) match as his favorite. He loved “Stone Cold” Steve Austin/Bret Hart (Wrestlemania 13) and the Alberto Del Rio/Dolph Ziggler match where Del Rio destroyed Ziggler (in his first match as World Heavy Weight Champion coming back from a concussion) because of the double turn. Through good storytelling, these wrestlers transitioned themselves from being fan favorites to hated or vice versa. He also lists Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks from NXT and the classic “I Quit” match between The Rock and Mankind.
When it comes to gimmick matches, Derrick prefers the structured, elimination matches. He’s also a fan of the Two Out of Three Falls matches. Whoever scores the first two pins is declared the winner of the match. These matches have always gone to three falls. At Hell in a Cell 2014, Cesaro and Dolph Ziggler faced off in a Two Out of Three Falls match where the winner was declared after two falls. I can’t say if this had ever happened in WWE before, but seeing something that is always predictable go against the grain is exciting and can be jarring.
In addition to WWE, Derrick does watch other wrestling shows. “Lucha Underground is awesome and so crazy and weird and different. In the first episode they were doing the backstage segments where it is a tellanovela. They are not trying to go for realism with that show at all. I don’t know why no one hasn’t taken that approach to wrestling before. We all know it’s not real, it’s scripted. What if it was filmed like a television show and not, like, a sport.”
Derrick did manage to tie together his love of video games (remember the Playstation painting?) with wrestling. When the internet was becoming a thing, Derrick used to visit websites catering specifically to wrestling video games. He would create all his friends and come up their gimmicks. He would film the matches and provide the commentary. He would try to make it a match by letting the computer take over to “be a good match and tell a good story.”
“I had a weird obsession with Eskimos…I would tell people that eskimos were angry that they lived in Alaska and they were always made because everything was valid in the 48 continental United States so they were always mad because they were being left out of things. They were starting this secret revolution where they would build up their forces and were going to invade the US through Canada.. I think this had to be a joke theory, but part of me actually thinks maybe I thought that was true. So I had a character Eskimo X. He was pure white, usually bald with black lips.” That character wouldn’t fly in todays PG era, but maybe in the 1980’s or 1990’s.
A problem with the newer wrestling games is that women can’t fight men, so Derrick uses the male template to make characters for all his friends. It’s easier to make the males into what he wants since the female characters have one particular shape to build from.
So, why didn’t Derrick choose to talk about video games? Because wrestling has a bed reputation and he wanted to disprove this theory. He has made many of his friends into wrestling fans just by sharing his enthusiasm and having it on in the background of game nights he hosts. “The people I show it to kinda get it. It’s a weird reality where you can follow the news and you never know what’s real and what’s not real and it’s an interesting blend you can’t get anywhere else. I always want to watch sports but I feel like it’s a larger investment. This is as close as I can get to legitimately liking sports… It’s kinda like broadway mixed with dance mixed with sports. I like sports and games. I love reality tv competitions. it’s another competition it’s just scripted. And the attractive men and women you can root for,” Derrick explained.
When asked what he tells people who tell him wrestling is fake, Derrick replies with “You know ‘Game of Thrones’ is fake…” Wrestling is scripted, just like [favorite television show], but the athleticism and the injuries are real. To become a fan you have to realize not to take wrestling so seriously. It’s a form of entertainment that’s ridiculous and unbelievable at times, but at it’s core it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Even if you think you know what wrestling is about or have a preconceived negative notion, Derrick encourages you to give it a shot. “Watch wrestling. If you haven’t given it a chance, give it a chance. It’s another way to get cool stories. You can get stories from reading a book, watching movies, tv shows and guess what? You can also tell a story through a wrestling match. It’s weird and you won’t get it right away, but once you get it, you get it. I think it’s fun. You can be a casual watcher. You can be hardcore. And if it’s not for you, don’t judge the people that it’s for…”
And if you need any suggestions as to where to start, we are more than happy to guide you along.
There’s a little bit about video games in this interview, but it’s almost 100% about wrestling. There is so much going on in the world of WWE right now and we still had over 30 years to cover. We discussed our love of Sasha Banks, the fallout from the Undertaker/Brock Lesnar Wrestlemania 30 match, story lines we would like to see happen, Lucha Underground and Hogan’s racism. You can listen to it all here!