The DEFEND Cleveland Show

WWE Cleveland Night RAW

What I didn’t want to write is ”The Uninitiated Liberal’s Guide to Professional Wrestling.” I didn’t want to walk into the Q for Monday Night RAW with no preparation, just hoping for glimpses of mullets and juggalo tattoos to titter over with my friends. That being said: the juggalo tattoos were hilarious, and the mullet-count by closing time stood at zero. So that’s out of the way.

In terms of having a “natural” WWE experience, the deck was very much stacked against me. I got to go because one of my regulars at the bar, a young lawyer, had tried to get Foo Fighters tickets in his firm’s suite only to be turned away–it was all booked up. “Well…what’s not all booked up?” he asked. “Monday Night RAW is wide open,” the secretary said. “I’ll take all of them.” He brought four of his friends and four of his bartenders.

One of the other bartenders, Bronson, has a handlebar mustache, so I stood as near to him as I could, for the sake of legitimacy.

I wore jeans and a hoodie, and kept the St. John’s College t-shirt I was wearing obscured until I could buy a CM Punk shirt and change in the bathroom–it’s difficult not to sound like an uninitiated liberal here, but I had to walk a fine line between earnest fascination and exploitative fetishism. Though I wasn’t trying to “look the part,” exactly, I did dress myself deliberately. I didn’t want to sabotage my own experience.

Luckily, we wandered the labyrinthine Q for fully half an hour before we found our way to la loge. One woman directed us to level two while holding up three fingers. The elevator operator was on her first day–she said she didn’t understand why they chose her for this job, because her only two fears were of small spaces and of falling. Nick, the lawyer, pointed out that since the Foo Fighters were playing the following night, and because suite attendance was probably low on the list of priorities during Monday Night RAW (“wide open”), the Q probably didn’t bring out Usher Team Six that night. So in the confusion we were forced to take half a lap around the main concourse of the Q before the show started, down with the people as they filled their seats, not sequestered with our blended scotch and opera glasses on the suite level, as I had feared.

The crowd was surprisingly diverse. I honestly expected just a sea of white faces–all the wrestlers I’d seen on television were white, pretty much without fail (The Rock is half-black, right?), and in my ignorance I just assumed professional wrestling, like NASCAR, is an overwhelmingly white sport, in terms of fan demographic. But there was a shocking number of people of color at the Q that night.

A few rows below me, two black girls who couldn’t have been older than twelve shared a sign–one side said “Yay!” and the other said “Boo!,” to no one in particular, and each letter was written in a different shade of marker. One had a bow in her hair. They seemed to treat it like a pop concert, and I can imagine one meeting at the other’s house every Monday to watch RAW and eat pizza. They made the entire evening seem so…wholesome.

Considering the number and prominence of Hispanic wrestlers (Alberto Del Rio is one of the biggest three names in the WWE, and the “WWE SuperStars” pre-show featured a pretty straight-ahead luchador segment, complete with masks and magical realism), I was struck also by how few Latinos were in the crowd.

I should say, I was surprised at first, because upon first impression Alberto Del Rio appears to be a very aspirational character. Mr. Del Rio’s persona is the gilded playboy, wearing a satin robe and routinely arriving onstage in a Bentley. Though the WWE’s website goes out of its way to point out that Del Rio is “a Superstar of tremendous society stature and culture,” and “has been linked to the bloodline of Spanish royalty Ferdinand and Isabella,” Del Rio’s crass opulence and arrogance is clearly intended to summon the specter of Medellin ascendancy–he comes off like a cross between Tony Montana and Hugh Hefner, or like a PG Pablo Escobar. To put it another way: Del Rio seems like he’s intended to be less a hero for Latinos and more a villain for whites. I didn’t see a single piece of Del Rio gear in an otherwise heavily geared-out crowd.

In the row directly below us, with their backs against the loge, two men wore yellow high-visibility vests, the kind from construction sites, over black t-shirts with wrestlers, bunched together like in a prom picture, stretched across the front. The little one had a cell-phone holster with the MLB logo faded on the top flap, and a walkie-talkie on his pocket. He wore that kind of classic rural goatee, and a sullied Corona hat of a strange hybrid-pattern–I can only call it Hawaiian camouflage. The big one had no cell phone, no walkie-talkie, and only put his vest on halfway through the show. He had a flat face and a plastic Bud Light, and late into the match we watched him take incredible care fastening a foam replica of the garish championship belt around his companion’s waist. Their whole relationship recalled George and Lennie from Of Mice and Men (sorry, but it did), if George and Lennie had traded migrant agriculture for World Wrestling Evangelism. Every time someone in our group expressed confusion about a character, or a rule, or some aspect of the incredibly nuanced backstories, one or both would turn back with a smile, explain it, and turn back to the show with the graciousness of a deacon. When something awesome happened, high-fives broke the loge-barrier.

This was clearly our first (and probably last) live experience of WWE, and it was almost feudal in its irony to watch Monday Night Raw from a corporate suite; we were like a mirror held up to Alberto Del Rio’s Bentley. But nobody cared. Everyone we met was really excited to make sure that we had a really good time at Monday Night RAW.

This is the part in The Uninitiated Liberal’s Guide to Professional Wrestling where I have some great revelation about the folksy charm of rural culture, or about the friendly confidence that more-often-than-not accompanies an evangelical attitude. This is where I relate an anecdote about how the parents of a crying child in the aisle of the Whole Foods get only withering looks from all the entitled liberals, while the same parents get a pat on the back or an encouraging word from the Real Folks at the Giant Eagle. Or how the friendliness of those two guys at RAW stood in stark relief to the cityslicker Democratic congressional aides who shit on me at Nationals Stadium for not knowing the stats of their relief pitcher (really? Well your team sucks anyway and oops, so does your starting pitcher).

It’d be easy to do, and it’d be a nice little story but it would be a copout. Just like there were probably some solid dudes at Nationals Stadium that day, i’m sure there were some anti-Semite hillbilly juggalos of the old school at the Q that night–we just didn’t happen to sit by them. And I’m glad for it, because the juggalos would have made for a trite and threadbare story.

So, if I’ve properly set the table, here are a few of my favorite moments from the evening.

–  Guest host Hugh Jackman, who was there to promote his Rockem-Sockem Robots movie, Real Steel. Jackman, fought in  a pretty bizarre tag-team match that included two wrestlers and a woman in a necklace that spelled out “cougar.” He landed an incredibly satisfying action-movie punchout on Dolph Ziggler (that’s right, people), who looks hilariously like a henchman from Die Hard. The punch looked so good that Dolph later implied on Twitter it fractured his jaw:

“land in Bikini Bottom 9:30 am, MRI scheduled for 1 pm…..possible fractured jaw   #thanksBatman”

–  Jackman was also responsible for the single most bizarre moment of the night. During an un-televised round of shameless Cleveland pandering, Jackman, Australian accent and all, talked shit to second-tier wrestler, Indiana native, and Rip Hamilton-style mask wearer Cody Rhodes about the Browns’ recent victory over the Colts. It was something like watching an American actor in a Japanese commercial. Obviously, the crowd went nuts.

–  John Cena, in the most compelling piece of out-and-out melodrama I’ve ever seen, attempting to drag himself across the mat to tag in his erstwhile enemy but recently uneasy ally, CM Punk, while their opponent (and former Real World star, and apparently Parma native?) The Miz showboated after each crushing blow. I grew hoarse screaming for Cena to make it across, which eventually he did, unleashing Punk (the most family-friendly yet irresistibly compelling antihero since Nick Cannon in Drumline) to predictably win the match single-handedly. I’m loath to post youtube videos of these matches, because it kind of makes me irrelevant, but this match was just too much fun to deny you.

(Note: Maybe it’s in poor taste, but in my opinion, that referee could have been more effective. Also, notice that CM Punk’s theme song is Cult of Personality by In Living Colour–his vintage tongue-in-cheek badassery was a fine relief from the other wrestlers’ entrances, 90 percent of which were accompanied by only the most self-serious Nickelback songs.)

–  Afterwards, a perfectly-coiffed and bespoke-suited Triple H, recently-crowned COO of World Wrestling Entertainment, fired the Miz and his partner R-Truth in a shameless Donald Trump burlesque, which near as I can tell gave closure to the most recent WWE storyline. That storyline, as much as George and Lennie tried to explain it, was just too complicated for me to comprehend.

In the end, I totally get it. I haven’t had so much fun in a long time. Everything from the meta-narratives to the meta-meta-narratives (for excellent coverage of those, I recommend the recent work of The Masked Man on Grantland) to the pandering to the pyrotechnics, came together in an evening that was satisfying in every non-serious way possible. Monday Night RAW was part sports event, part soap opera, part rock concert.

We spend so much time trying to decode the motivations of our athletes, or discussing their origins, or hoping for spectacular rises or meteoric defeats. WWE trades in those impulses directly: it puts them right out front, and makes the sport itself a supporting act. I learned recently that World Wrestling Entertainment is the longest continuously-running episodic television show of all time. I understand why: because it gives us everything we want, but won’t admit, about sports.


Epilogue: While editing and linking this story, I had occasion to visit WWE’s website several times. Passing their front page, I had to resist the urge to go through the looking glass–”wait, what happened?” Something new and shocking happens to these characters every couple days, it seems, and once you become vaguely familiar with them, it’s difficult to go back. The devil always gives you the first one for free.


– Will Hollingsworth

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Posted by on Sep 28 2011. Filed under Featured, Meta World Peace. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

2 Comments for “WWE Cleveland Night RAW”

  1. Good stuff, Will. I remember my first and only live WWF (that’s what it was called back then) show. I was quite young, but I remember being very put off by the fact that foreign wrestlers were automatically “heels” just because they weren’t Americans. My favorite wrestler was The Yokozuna (I later learned that he is actually an American who’d never wrestled sumo and it was all just a shtick.)

  2. wwe

    excellent Post I’m a big Wrestling supporter from Sweden

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