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  April 19, 1999

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Eyes opened to WWF
Our man gets his first glimpse at the squared circle

By STEVE TILLEY -- Edmonton Sun
  Just by looking at the river of humanity stretching across the pedestrian bridge south of Skyreach Centre a full hour before match time, I knew.

This was going to be a religious revival meeting of sorts, complete with all the gods, demigods and devils showing up in person. And here's this little pagan who doesn't even know the good guys from the bad, sent in to observe and report back with his findings.

I had my pro wrestling innocence taken away yesterday, and like with the other kind of loss of virginity, it was a little bewildering, a little exciting and over too soon.

Unlike the other experience, however, this one had a man in a mask sticking a socked hand into another man's mouth, a lot of bodies being slammed with great force on the floor, spit flying everywhere and chairs, hockey sticks, ropes, belts, billy clubs, tables and fire extinguishers being used as weapons. (Perhaps this is normal in your own private time. There's nothing wrong with that.)

The stars of the World Wrestling Federation put on quite a spectacle at Skyreach yesterday afternoon, whipping the 18,162 fans who packed the building to its nosebleed-inducing rafters into a screaming frenzy, louder than any concert or Stanley Cup playoff game I've experienced in that venue.

I went in with an open mind, knowing that deep down I have a strong fondness for cheese, cartoon violence and larger-than-life action heroes. I came away with a new appreciation for sportainment, new concern for my fellow Edmontonians and a realization that you really, really have to be into this stuff to know what the heck is going on.

I had a choice spot at floor level on the Oilers bench, watching the mayhem unfold in the squared circle a dozen or so meters away while sitting in the same spot where Wayne Gretzky must have sweated between shifts.

The first match was between Al Snow and D'Lo Brown, though for all I knew it could have been between your grandfather and the guy who works at the Starbucks on the corner, because I've never seen or heard of these guys before in my life. (If that was the case, though, I must say your grandfather is in great shape.)

However, Snow is widely known in wrestling circles because he carries a mannequin's head with him into the ring, has conversations with it, and, if yesterday was any indication, beats the living tar out of it when he gets angry. Seeing a 246 pound man body-slam a mannequin's head made me realize that we haven't even begun to push the envelope of entertainment yet.

Or, as one fan behind me put it when Snow laid a particularly crushing blow on his opponent's head: "Didja see the spit fly off him?"

Wrestling fans are an odd breed, and I don't say that with any kind of contempt. For one thing, despite all the screaming and neck-straining and verbal abuse-hurling they did, I didn't see the first hint of any sort of physical confrontation between anyone. (After I wrote this, I heard there was a stabbing outside the arena. I'm sure it was completely unrelated.)

When new wrestlers entered the ring, everyone stood and rushed forward as though their favourite rock band was taking the stage. But when the match actually got underway, they all headed back to their seats and politely sat down. Who says wrestling encourages barbaric behaviour?

Nonetheless, it was a little disconcerting to hear thousands of people chant, word for word, the trademarked taglines and expressions of the various combatants, or to hear the crowd roar when the first notes of a new wrestler's particular theme music was blasted out over the arena's sound system heralding his arrival. Is there, like, a WWF Bible that you consult for this stuff?

Anyway, the seven or eight matches progressed like clockwork, each one with its own hero, villain and scripted outcome, but no less entertaining for it.

The third bout was a triple threat rules estrogen-fest featuring Tori, Ivory and Jacqueline, three women with immensely large boobs, big hair, skimpy costumes and a strong desire to whale on one another. It was a hair-pulling, female-dog-slapping, elbow smash to the silicone affair, and I felt ashamed to enjoy every minute of it.

Then came the likes of Hardcore Holly vs. Val Venis, Kane and X-Pac vs. Triple-H and Test, Undertaker vs. Ken Shamrock ... names which are like Bure and Forsberg and Gretzky to those who follow this sport. Or whatever it is.

Things really got going when Goldust battled Mankind (the guy who wears the sock on his hand ... apparently it's his companion, in much the same way the mannequin's head is to Snow) and was trounced. The crowd found this very pleasing, and Mankind announced he was coming out of retirement. This is good, I think.

And then the final match, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Paul Wight vs. The Rock and Big Boss Man. What can you say? Naturally the shaved head guy named Steve won, as you could have predicted. At least I think he did. It was sort of hard to tell.

So what did we learn here? Several things.

One, seeing gigantic men hit, choke, slam each other on the ground and jump on each other from the corner ropes is a lot of fun, once you get past the sort of weird homoerotic undertones. Two, wrestling fans come in all shapes and sizes, including those of a tall blond and her shorter auburn-haired friend near ringside, the sight of whom caused me to miss an elbow smash or two. Three, asking if wrestling is fake is like asking if a cubic zirconia is fake. Of course not - it's a real cubic zirconia. It's only fake if you thought it was a diamond.

Off to read my WWF Bible now. Amen.