Disclaimer: This post is about professional wrestling.
Well, because. Last Friday, I returned to the repainted n’ rebooted What’s Up Lounge to catch WarRooster–who’ve been highlighted here before–and Nebraska’s Universe Contest, who sounded like a bunch of squathouse anarcho-punks that adopted a violent strain of post-rock instead banging on buckets and ukuleles. And they tore the house down.
Following that, my attorney yanked me away from the SAMCRO-clad Charlie Daniels fans barfing on the Oleander’s patio and threw me headlong into the ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT, where I drank way too much in an effort to compensate for the overall grossness of the late-night / early-morning endeavor and eventually washed up on Saturday’s hungover shores feeling like a withered, soulless, 32-year-old manchild.
Naturally, the best course of action here was to curl up in my bunker and watch a shitload of pro wrestling, because there was a shitload of pro wrestling on television.
WWE hyped their three-day stint at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to near-Wrestlemania proportions, putting on an NXT Takeover show Saturday night and extending Sunday’s SummerSlam card to a full four hours. While that’s an enormous amount of wrestling for any sane human to digest, especially this long-retired indy fan turned newly-minted casual, it largely delivered. The NXT show featured Jushin “Thunder” Liger’s surreal WWE debut, the best women’s title match ever exposed to a national audience, and a superb ladder match between Finn Balor and Kevin Owens.
But Sunday. Whew.
In the aftermath, most of the Internet chatter has directed negativity towards SummerSlam’s glut of screwy finishes. Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev ending in a double count out? Bad. The epic Seth Rollins / John Cena title confrontation ending with a Jon Stewart heel turn? Hilariously awesome.
But the false finish / restart that capped the main event bout between The Undertaker, a mystical, undead entity that can somehow teleport, control lightning, AND survive an early-aughts flirtation with Limp Bizkit theme music, and Brock Lesnar, former NCAA wrestling champion and UFC heavyweight titleholder, was the most well-written piece of pro wrestling storytelling in recent memory.
And people hated it.
Here’s why they shouldn’t.
From the outset, Lesnar / Taker matchup had a robust MMA influence running through it, far deeper the mere presence of Lesnar and the character he currently portrays, and unlike anything heretofore seen on WWE programming. Taker has been using an omoplata (known as “Hell’s Gate” in WWE jargon) as a finishing maneuver for years; Lesnar, since his return from his UFC stint, been using a modified kimura to “break” opponents’ arms.
Furthermore, the announcers have been making strides to sell the Undertaker as “the best striker in the WWE,” while Lesnar consistently works double leg takedowns and delivers short shots and hammerfists from side control. While not as blatant as the MMA-style bouts that Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe experimented with nearly a decade ago, the WWE has gone to not-so-subtle lengths to make this particular feud lean more on the “sports” side of sports-entertainment.
Rolling with this “sporting” aspect to the storytelling, The Fed needed a semi-plausible way to end this bout with a non-finish, because only a fool would’ve suspected a clean pin here.
Could they go with a double count-out? Hell no; that was a horrible option even in ’89, and when they pulled it on a meaningless undercard bout on Sunday, the crowd took four dumps on it.
Could they go with a ref bump + interference combo? Well, they already did that earlier in the evening with Rollins-Cena-Stewart, and there wasn’t really a logical third party to do the deed and still keep the storyline centered on the duo.
But most importantly, ref bumps don’t happen in actual sports. Shitty officiating, though? It happens all. the. time.
So here’s how the main event ended, after some back-and-forth action that easily eclipsed their concussion-marred outing at WrestleMania:
- Lesnar locked in his kimura (seen in the header image)
- Seconds later, the timekeeper rang the bell, signaling the end to the match, however…
- …referee Charles Robinson hadn’t called for the bell, leading him to chew the timekeeper a new asshole
- While assholes were being chewed, Lesnar stood in the ring with his back to the Undertaker
- Seizing the opportunity, Taker kicked Lesnar in the dick and locked in his omoplata, restarting the match that Robinson never actually ended in the first place
- Failing to escape the chokehold, Lesnar chose to flip Taker the bird and pass out rather than tap, surrendering victory to the old dead guy
The live crowd didn’t know what to think, until INSTANT REPLAY–something used in the WWE Universe solely for the benefit of home audiences, not for determining actual match outcomes–showed that the Undertaker did in fact tap out to Lesnar’s kimura, yet outside of the ref’s view. The timekeeper, however, saw the tap on the Titantron, and thusly rang the bell to “end” the match.
It was a botched call.
This happens all the time in the NFL. It happens even more often in the UFC, where athletic commissions often don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Split decisions can go to the losing fighter. Refs can had out iffy DQs (see the records of Silva, Erick and Jones, Jon). But the UFC bout that runs the clearest parallel to SummerSlam’s main event? Yoel Romero vs. Tim Kennedy at UFC 178.
At the end of that fight’s second round, Kennedy rocked Romero with a flurry of punches; the “Soldier of God” was clearly saved by the bell. Between rounds, however, he was gifted extra time on the stool to recover–possibly giving Joe Rogan an aneurysm in the process–and came back to KO Kennedy in the third. Now, he faces Jacare Souza in a middleweight title eliminator at UFC 194.
It was a miscarriage of justice, assuredly. Timekeepers, cornermen, cageside doctors, and referees all dropped the ball. But when humans are involved, errors occur. And that’s the angle WWE was gunning for here: The humanity of sport. Leaps of logic and suspension of disbelief can occur in entertainment, because there are no rules; but to draw lines of logic in an arena that often blatantly defies it is ballsier than fans and critics are giving it credit for.
Want decisive finishes? Stick to baseball.
I’ll be hanging out here in the gray area.
In the wake of the What’s Up’s closing, February’s events have been viewed as crucial for the Mankato music scene’s short-term survival. The month’s most vital shows, Hardcore Crayons / Fury Things / Crash Cuddle and PHE 8, have found new homes at Busters and the Mankato Event Center, respectively. With these events in safe standing–and, arguably, in situations more conducive to robust attendance than they were originally–the RJKT scope settled upon Lower North, where a pair of all-ages shows at Benderz commanded unusual attention.
Two weekends. Two shows. Two stories.
The first show was previewed on these pages, and by most accounts, it was a rousing success. Even when presented with a vibrant, enthusiastic crowd, Benderz seemed to have a decent system worked out, with the bar’s architecture making it much easier for the staff to work the door. Essentially, the building is a wide-angled “v”, with the entry at the vertex. Show-goers were diverted to the back room on the right, which was solely dedicated to music, while bar patrons could avoid a punk rock assault by taking a sharp left upon entry.
The place was near capacity that evening, for a few reasons: On one side, Old Towne Ghosts are one of the town’s biggest draws. On the other, the bar was airing UFC 183. (Following the death of the downtown Buffalo Wild Wings, Benderz is the only establishment in Mankato tuning into UFC events. And with the diluted, top-heavy cards Zuffa has been cranking out, even hardcores are opting to watch PPVs for the price of a few PBRs.)
But the biggest reason? The all-ages crowd came out in force. By the time Minneapolis’ Remo Drive triggered one of the most kinetic, spontaneous kid-pits I’d ever witnessed, it was clear that reports of the Mankato music scene’s demise were greatly exaggerated.
All told, it was a great night, one that was enabled by a largely hospitable and accessible venue. Even if one didn’t feel like watching an entire band’s set, drifting over to the bar side was smooth, and the waitstaff seemed to genuinely appreciate our business. It was a welcoming atmosphere.
At the following week’s show, however, blemishes began to surface. And we’re not talking zits. Straight-up leprosy.
Comparatively, attendance was sparse, possibly due to the illness-related cancellation of headliners Arms for Elephants. As we walked in, a group of kids were pounding out a scraggly brand of post-grunge, so I dragged my lawyer, Adam, to the bar side to throw back some Jagermeister like distinguished adults.
We quickly realized that our presence was less than welcome.
Our status as interlopers wasn’t immediately apparent. But, scanning the scene, we stuck out from the crowd, and not by virtue of our own weirdness. In a contrast to the previous week, the bar’s population had been reduced to regulars: Shitfaced-at-eight-o-clock, physical-activity-averse, camo-and-fossil-fuel-worshiping rednecks.
We took a pair of open seats at the bar. A few minutes into our conversation about the potential Legend of Zelda Netflix series, a grumble emerged from the woman seated to my right. The first part of her sentence was unintelligible, but it finished with “…stay the fuck on the other side.” As the phrase snagged my ear, I looked over to see her furiously scraping away at a stack of lottery tickets with a three-inch folding knife.
(Call me “liberal” like it’s actually a pejorative if you must, but even if someone spent their very last scratching quarters at the Kwik Trip Casino, I’m not sure that flinging around an open blade is acceptable behavior in an establishment that specializes in serving alcohol, regardless of said establishment’s affinity for blaze orange and motorsports.)
Soon after, we stepped outside for a smoke. Almost immediately, she threw her purse on my seat. We took the hint. So we hit the sidewalk.
Clearly, our semi-sober presence wasn’t welcome; in stark contrast, of course, to the sweaty, walking heart attack the bartender managed to overserve before 9 o’clock. We later saw this same mouthbreather behind the wheel of a vehicle in the parking lot of PJ’s Liquor. (And we’re 100% sure it was the same dude, too, because he actually got out of his car to greet us with some kind of primal, jubilant grunt of familiarity, even though we hadn’t even spoken a goddamn word to each other previously.)
Needless to say, this experience didn’t get generate a whole lot of excitement for a return visit.
Admittedly, this two-weekend sample size is small. But it’s pretty safe to conclude that, failing a special draw such as a notable punk rock show and/or Anderson Silva’s (steroid-aided) return from a horrific leg injury, Benderz has a problem: Their clientele. If their obvious indifference to regulation continues, their long-term viability as a venue is in significant jeopardy.
Music isn’t the issue. People are.