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The women stole the show at WrestleMania 34, and I became a total mark

A year later, I’m back to recap wrestling’s biggest night for the second time.

There are currently 78,133 people in New Orleans’ Superdome, and one me in my Brooklyn apartment waiting for WrestleMania to start. It’s 6:48 on Sunday evening, and I’m mentally preparing myself for the five hours of non-stop pro wrestling that I am about to shotgun.

Last year, I watched WrestleMania having never seen a minute of pro wrestling before. I wrote about how, after a lifetime of not understanding, I finally got why fans are so obsessed with the sport’s pageantry and raw athleticism. I was moved by the outpouring of support from the wrestling community, and while I don’t have a weekly Monday Night RAW in me, I thought it was only appropriate to pop back in for The Big Show.

I’m also now somewhat of an amateur pro wrestler (just go with it) myself. Ahead of tonight’s show, I spent a few sessions with WWE Hall-Of-Famer Johnny Rodz and his students. My character is Aunt Char, a thrice-divorced, middle-aged divorcee in Connecticut who drinks lots of Chardonnay and complains about her country club’s new management. Training was a lot of fun and very painful; I feel like I have an idea now — if only the slightest — of what these wrestlers put themselves through.

Also: I discovered tonight that I forgot to cancel my WWE Network subscription after the free trial ended last spring, which means that I’ve unwittingly been paying for wrestling for an entire year. I hope the McMahon family is grateful for my accidental patronage.

So let’s do it.

WRESTLEMANIA 34 — COMMENCE!

We open with a montage of New Orleans that looks a little bit like it could be the credits of Saturday Night Live. People are having a grand old time on Bourbon Street, listening to music, strolling in parades, drinking drinks, eating snacks. I went through an entire bag of dried peaches last WrestleMania and got a terrible dried-fruit stomach ache, so this year, I’ve opted for a bag of delicious parmesan crisp things instead. I’m not sure that dried cheese for dried fruit is a smart swap, but as my dad always says, “I’ll never make that mistake three times again.”

SETH ROLLINS VS. MIZ VS. FINN BALOR

Seth Rollins comes out looking like a mix of Jon Snow from Game of Thrones and the Terminator. He’s wearing a breast plate and these weird, scaly leggings. The Grand Slam Champion is also sporting bright blue contacts, which are terrifying, and his long hair looks like wet seaweed. Finn Balor has on a black speedo and boots with rainbows all over them. He spreads a message of inclusion for the LGBT community, which is totally rad. I like Finn Balor.

The Miz is next, and I just happened to read an old profile of him last week, so I really feel like I get this guy. He’s wearing what looks like an Elizabethan cape and swimming goggles, which might not be intimidating on anyone else, but works on someone as legendary as The Miz. He just had a daughter with his wrestling wife Maryse, and the announcers are making a big deal about him being a changed man or whatever. I know a lot of guys who’ve had kids and stayed shitty, so I’m not sure I buy this, but I’m going to roll with it.

This match is for the Intercontinental Championship. There are so many Championships in wrestling that they they seem a bit like us Millennials and our Participation Trophies. However, in the spirit of the sport, I’m going to suspend judgement and try to believe that these are rare.

This match is good. All three of these guys are compelling, and they’re doing some huge hits and wild flips.

LET’S TALK ABOUT JOHN CENA FOR JUST A SECOND, HOLD ON, I’LL GET BACK TO THE MATCH IN A SEC

The camera cuts to John Cena, who’s sitting front row, drinking beers with fans. Cena challenged the Undertaker to face off tonight, even though Taker retired last year. His last match was a really sad one, in which his hip was clearly busted, even though his spirit was not. The announcers are making a big deal about how Taker didn’t accept Cena’s challenge, but if you think that Cena would sit front row at WrestleMania without ending up in the ring, then “gullible” is written on the ceiling.

OKAY, BACK TO THESE WRESTLING GUYS

Miz has held the Intercontinental Title for, like, three hundred years. Only one guy has ever held it longer, for, like, 350 years, so Miz really wants to keep it. But Balor is all, “No way man,” and jumps on Miz’s chest, then kicks Miz in the face. Seth stumbles up like a zombie from hell to dive off the top rope. Everyone is clotheslining everyone else. You could dry ten loads of laundry at this match.

Balor is really running the show now, and I think he’s going to win, but then SETH ROLLINS COMES IN FROM BEHIND OUTTA NOWHERE, A REAL CINDERELLA STORY, AND WINS THE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE!!!!

Miz’s 3-week-old daughter is gonna be so disappointed.

I can’t tell if I like Seth or not. We’re supposed to love him, but I’m not sure I do.

CHARLOTTE FLAIR VS. ASUKA

This is the match I’ve been most excited for, and I can’t really believe they’re giving it to us this early. In one corner, we’ve got Charlotte Flair, daughter of Ric, wearer of golden, brocade robes, and kicker of asses. She’s the queen, and holds just about ever title you can win in pro wrestling. She’s facing her first real test: the Empress of Tomorrow.

Asuka.

Asuka is a Japanese wrestler with hair the color of a unicorn’s mane and body armor/spandex that’s been dipped into Lisa Frank’s marker collection. She’s the only person in this sport as dominant as Charlotte: In her whole WWE history, this woman has never lost a match. We’ve got the most decorated up against the most dominant, and the stakes have never felt higher.

I love Charlotte. Her confidence and her command of a stadium full of tens of thousands of people is inspiring. Asuka also rules, but I am less familiar with her, so I have to go with the woman I was named after.

The promo video for this match makes me want to go lift thousands of pounds, fire off a potato gun into the sky, and kick down the door to a safe. Charlotte enters the arena on a throne as her father’s old entrance music plays. Or maybe it’s a techno remix of her father’s old music. Or maybe it’s an EDM version of the Star Wars theme song. I don’t really know, but I don’t really care.

All I care about is her incredible golden outfit. She’s wearing a crop top, underpants, a cape, and a championship belt. She looks like some sort of a space queen. She OWNS the stadium. She is the mayor of New Orleans. She is the governor of Louisiana now. She is the Queen of the World.

Asuka comes out to some trippy neon graphics and guitar riffs, which is equally intimidating, just in a more technicolor way. Charlotte licks her lips. Asuka stars her down. The two of them strut around the ring, and I catch sight of some little girls in the audience cheering their heads off.

I tear up. I don’t care if you like wrestling or not, it is so cool that little girls have women to root for and be represented by. Let alone women as compelling as these two! I don’t want to say they’re role models, because I think that’s a dangerous term to throw around in general, but man, are they doing the damn thing.

I can see Charlotte and Asuka exhibiting what I learned during my brief time in the ring: they’re locking up, always facing each other, never turning sideways, jumping when they’re being lifted to help their opponent. They jump over each other in a sparkly game of leapfrog. Asuka kicks and Charlotte lifts — we’ve got precision vs. power. Asuka seems to be dominating, but then Charlotte gets up on the ropes, and, oh my god, they both fly off onto the floor below the mat. I get up from my chair because I cannot believe they aren’t completely broken into a million pieces.

This is the most insane match i’ve ever seen. It’s going on forever! I have aged thirty years. If you know someone stupid enough to say people don’t care about women’s sports because they aren’t as high quality as men’s, show them this match.

Charlotte has Asuka in a Figure Eight with her legs while she does a bridge with one arm. Asuka taps out and HER STREAK IS OVER! Charlotte is bleeding and crying. Asuka grabs her knee, and then the microphone.

“Charlotte was ready for Asuka!” she yells. They embrace and it’s very moving.

CENA AGAIN, FOR A MOMENT

Instead of letting Charlotte and Asuka bask in the glory of Their Moment, stupid WWE cuts to John Cena in the front row. The ref is talking to him, and Cena is shaking his head as though he can’t believe something. Then he goes sprinting up the ramp past Charlotte.

WWE should’ve let these two women stay in the spotlight as long as possible. I’ll be shocked if we get another match this good tonight.

RUSEV VS. BOBBY ROODE VS. JINDER MAHAL VS. RANDY ORTON

  • Bobby Roode has the word GLORIOUS (his catch phrase) written on the butt of his speedo. Aunt Char’s entrance costume would be a purple velvet bathrobe that says WASHED in Swarovski crystals on the back. It would be embroidered with wine glasses. She would wrestle in a leopard print one-piece bathing suit and long white gloves.
  • The main thing I’ve learned, as the broadcast pans to the international announcers, is that WrestleMania is WrestleMania in every language.
  • Randy Ortom is from St. Louis, which is funny to me, because as I wrote in my piece about learning to wrestle, wrestlers aren’t from anywhere. Randy came into existence when he Kool-Aid man-ed himself through the walls of a Jacksonville tattoo shop, drank the ink, ate the needles, and roared out on a jet ski into the WWE universe.
  • Jinder Mahal has muscles I didn’t know existed. There’s this one in his neck, right near his shoulder, that I’m pretty sure doesn’t occur in anyone else’s body.
  • Jinder Mahal and his extra muscle win.

RONDA ROUSEY AND KURT ANGLE VS. TRIPLE H AND STEPHANIE MCMAHON

Hoo boy, is there a lot of build-up for this one! Ronda Rousey is the famous UFC fighter who’s trying her hand at WWE. This is her first match, and it’s against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, who run the show. They’ve all been beefing with each other, and judging by the promos, I’m a little worried that Ronda doesn’t quite have the performance aspect of WWE in her. She’s a little stiff.

Stephanie and Triple H ride in on huge motorcycles. It must be a real rush if your job is to drive an ATV-sized motorcycle down a ramp to beat people up. I wonder where they get these bikes? Do they rent them? Or do they own them? This married couple might be villains, and Stephanie’s mother Linda might be the Administrator of the Small Business Administration under Donald Trump, but regardless: These guys are metal.

Here is Kurt Angle:

Ronda comes out to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation,” a song you might know from the Shrek soundtrack. She seems pretty jacked up, and now I’m pretty jacked up, too. I have a better feeling about this than I did from the promos.

Stephanie and Trip pull some garbage cheating stuff, and then Kurt and Trip go at it for a bit. Ronda is trying to tag in for about a million years before she finally gets into the ring.

BUT SHE FINALLY DOES, AND LET ME TELL, YOU SHE CAME TO PLAY!!!!

Here are some of my unedited notes from this match:

Oh shit here we go!!!! It’s RONDA TIME

A HOT TAG!!!! RONDA’S GONNA MESS YOU UP! STEPHANIE IN THE STOMACH!!!!

RONDA’S GONNA MAKE YOU WISH YOU WERE NEVER BORN

A pedigree on rousey SLAMS HIM DOWN hELL YEAH. HE’S HANGING ON BUT STEPHANIE GRABS HER OMG this is unreal SELKTJSLKGJSLDKHGS

DGSDLGKJSDLG SLDGKJASLKDGJLK

NOW KURT IS BACK kurt and ronda have triple h and stephanie and the evil guys are losing and it’s AMERICA BABY!!!!!

Ronda is taking on Stephanie, and they do this series of amazing moves. So far, the best moments of the night have been when women are in the ring. Just make wrestling all women.

Now Ronda is taking on Triple H by herself! This is unreal! She can wrestle, man! She’s selling it! She’s on fire! Ronda and Kurt win! Holy hell, folks, this is huge!

I am sitting here with my mouth completely open. Stephanie’s arm might’ve snapped off. Ronda proved that she’s got staying power. What an athlete. I’d love to see a Charlotte vs. Ronda match.... just saying. Think about it, WWE (LOL, as if they aren’t already planning it as we speak).

THE NEW DAY VS. THE BLUDGEON BROTHERS VS. THE USOS

I’m going to skip this one because it’s boring, I’m exhausted, and there are still three more hours of this. But the Bludgeon Brothers win.

JOHN CENA VS. UNDERTAKER

Yup, folks, it happens. Whodda thunk, right? Before they finally trot Taker out, this wrestler named Elias shows up with an acoustic guitar. He’s like the kid in college who wouldn’t shut up until you let him get through at least the first two verses of “Wagon Wheel.” He’s your aunt who moved to Berkeley, started dating the guy who owns the co-op, and got really into patchouli.

Easter might’ve been last Sunday, but the real rising takes place tonight as Undertaker begns his slow march down the ramp.

”When did you know you’d been changed forever by wrestling, Charlotte?”

”When the lights went down, Undertaker’s music came on, and I got chills.”

I feel very blessed, because I thought last year was the only time I’d get to see this legend in action. But here he is. This match is much better than last year, when he was a sad, broken man. This dude is like 30,000 years old and he can still hold his own. He bodyslams Cena, then draws his thumb across his throat as though he were slitting his neck. This makes me realize that I haven’t moved for so long that my own neck has completely cramped up.

Taker pile-drives Cena and it’s all over. I’m glad it was quick.

DANIEL BRYAN AND SHANE MCMAHON VS. SAMI ZAYN AND KEVIN OWENS

Daniel Bryan, one of the most beloved wrestlers of all time, has finally been medically cleared to wrestle again after years of pain and torment. There’s a lot more to this story, but the bottom line is that he’s teamed up with Shane McMahon, because Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens have been real asshats lately.

The most unbelievable thing about WWE right now is that we’re supposed to believe Shane McMahon is a good guy. Last year, I said that Goldberg looks like your high school softball coach on creatine. Well, Shane looks like your assistant high school softball coach who’s just gone through a divorce and has been drinking too many wine coolers. He’s wearing stupid jeans and a stupid jersey.

WWE toys with our emotions by hurting Daniel early and bringing out a stretcher for him. I’m a little worried, but he comes back, baby! The crowd chants his catchphrase, YES YES YES! He has 78,000 people at his beck and call, and, to quote Kanye West, “no one man should have all that power.”

(I have eaten all the parmesan crisps at this point).

Daniel is trying to tag back in. Can Shane get to him!? Their outstretched hands are a Michelangelo painting.

Daniel and Shane win.

ALEXA BLISS vs. NIA JAX

Alexa is a great heel. She’s been a real dick to Nia Jax, taunting her about her weight and stabbing her in the back. Nia is enraged, and basically turns Alexa into a rag doll. These women are both fantastic at what they do. They’re some of the best performers of the night.

This is more of a murder than a match, but Nia wins, thank god, and spreads her message of body positivity. I love it. I also love the fact that apparently these two are best friends in real life.

AJ STYLES VS. SHINSUKE NAKAMURA

A.J. Styles’ hair is a physical manifestation of how I feel when I’m really confident.

Nakamura’s entrance is unreal; violinists line the stage, and Alice Cooper’s guitar player Nita Strauss is absolutely SHREDDING. Nakamura walks in wearing a Sergeant Pepper jacket, moving like a mix between Prince, Michael Jackson, and your mom at a wedding. He writhes in the ring as though he were being beamed up for The Rapture. It’s like a rock concert, church, and an interpretive dance performance all at once.

AJ reminds me of Buzz Lightyear. I think it’s the boots.

They’re wrestling now. It’s pretty standard, but really good. I’m running out of steam. Five hours of this is like eating too much candy.

AJ wins, and they hug each other! I like when they do that. Oh, wait, never mind, Nakamura just punched AJ in the nuts. False friendship alarm.

I think Nakamura is bad now? I might’ve just witnessed my first heel turn. Big day!

BRAUN STROWMAN AND ??? VS. CEASAR AND CESARO

There’s been a lot of speculation as to who Braun Strowman’s tag-team partner will be, but I’m pleased to announce I’ve actually been in New Orleans this whole time and am about to enter the ring as Aunt Char to wrestle with him.

Psych. Brawyny Strongman picks a kid from the crowd to be his partner. This little guy’s name is Nicholas, and he looks terrified as he waits on the apron while Braun makes quick work of his opponents.

The kid tags in for a moment, has no idea what to do, and tags back out. It’s pretty funny, but I can already see tomorrow’s news cycle:

HEADLINE 1: Meet The Adorable Kid Nicholas That Braun Stroman Chose as His Tag-Team Partner

FIVE HOURS LATER: Local Grocery Store Clerk Says Nicholas Once Stole Gum From Check Out No. 5, Family Is Disgraced

Braun wins, which means that Nicholas is a tag team champion. That’s gonna get him a lot of street cred at recess tomorrow.

ROMAN REIGNS VS. BROCK LESNAR

This is the main match of the night, because apparently Brock Lesnar might be leaving WWE to go back to UFC. The crowd hates Roman Reigns, because WWE tried to push him on fans as the face of the franchise before he was ready for it. No one really seems to like Lesnar, either? I’m a bit confused.

Brock’s face goes from very white to purple. He’s a refrigerator. He’s a G.I. Joe doll on HGH. He’s an Orc from Lord of the Rings who clawed his way out of the mud and onto my screen. He’s an heirloom tomato that got too ripe in the sun and started to split open.

This match is painful to watch. Both guys are savages, but Roman is getting totally rocked. By the end, Brock just keeps punching Roman repeatedly, and Roman starts bleeding from the head. Blood is pouring down over his eyes, covering his entire face in a waterfall of red. It’s really unpleasant. I have my hand over my face and my shoulders up around my ears. Brock wins.

MAIN TAKEAWAYS

The women were the best part of the night. Charlotte and Asuka’s match was by far my favorite, but Stephanie, Ronda, Nia, and Alexa brought the heat, too. They should’ve made Charlotte and Asuka the main event instead of that awful, testosterone-y bloodbath. Regardless, this feels like a big moment for women, and I’m here for it. More, please.

Wrestling is a weird and wonderful world that I will never fully understand, but of which I am in total awe. The sport is built on tension. Narrative tension, tension of action. The releases come when someone surprising shows up in the ring, when a storyline gets wrapped, when a big hit comes after what feels like hours of circling. It’s storytelling, a craft built on structure and the revelation of information.

When I trained with the wrestlers a few weeks ago, they told me that the secret is to build suspense and manage time. In the ring, you can manipulate minutes, elongate seconds, press pause. The magic occurs when the lines between the two realities — the one inside the ring and the one outside it — are blurred. When you can’t tell what’s being done for our enjoyment, and which relationships and what pain hold true when the cameras are off.

What blows my mind most is how well these pros keep the crowd’s attention. I went to an independent wrestling show on Saturday night to support the people I trained with, and while my guys were fantastic, some of the matches were …. not. It put what these Superstars manage to do in context; commanding an audience of 100, let alone 78,000 is no joke. It also hurts a ton. The outcomes of matches might be scripted, sure, but that doesn’t mean the athleticism and pain isn’t real. As someone who almost blew out her ACL trying to kick out of a pin once, please trust me when I say that.

As fans, we have to suspend disbelief to enter this world. But as wrestlers, they have to truly believe it. I now know how strange it can feel to strut around a ring trying to become a ten-foot-tall version of yourself. But these athletes and performers make it look like the most natural thing in the world. They give themselves over to a dimension that most of us can only observe.

I came into this world by accident, but I’ve been struck by the incredible community here. I’m transfixed by the almost secret language spoken by people who do this and love this, by the addictive quality of the spectacle, by the history, by the nostalgia. This year, I got a taste of what it’s like to know the stories. I caught a glimpse of what it means to inhabit this world, to see your heroes grow old. It’s moving. It’s bizarre. It’s Shakespearean. It’s human.

There’s nothing else like it.