• Elliot Harper

The Tales of a Yorkshireman living in Texas: Rumble

“Suplex City, bitch."

- Brock Lesnar


Those of you who have known me for many years will know that I harbour a dark secret. In some circles, I could be considered to be somewhat of a wrestling nut. No, I'm not talking about Greco-Roman freestyle at the Olympics or even the NCAA's college wrestling tournaments. I know absolutely nothing about either of those things. No, I'm talking about WWE aka the World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly WWF before the World Wildlife Fund put a stop to that in the early 00's.) I'm talking about the fake stuff, the over the top, ridiculous stuff that has been brought to the world by Vince K. McMahon.

The first thing I'll say is I'm not as hardcore as I used to be. Like many wrestling fans, I've been through different phases with what is affectionately called "Sports Entertainment.” It began with the Golden Era in the 80's when I was a kid who believed it was real. The era of Hulk Hogan and Hulkamania running wild, the Ultimate Warrior, Ric Flair, Randy Savage. Most people recognise those names. This is the time when it first became international and spread to the U.K, which is how I first found out about it. (From a magazine brought to school by a friend, no internet back then!) Looking back on it now, it’s incredibly sexist, racist, homophobic and everyone is clearly on steroids, but at the time I loved it (I was a kid I didn’t know any better!)

The second phase is the late 90’s and the “Attitude Era.” This is where we get Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, DX, Mankind, Undertaker and many others. This was a time of desperation for Vince as WCW was breathing down his neck and winning the Monday Night Ratings War, so it was a lot more risqué, and featured nudity, violence and foul language. I was in my mid-teenage years, so I loved this era as well - I’ve basically grown up with wrestling. Some consider this the true glory period and if you go by ratings and revenue, they have a decent argument, but again the product was fairly sexist, racist, homophobic and everyone was still on drugs but I still loved it (I was a teenager and I still didn’t know any better!)

Those are the eras I was most into it. Since then, I come and go depending on what’s happening. It has got much better on the racism, sexism and homophobia front though. There have been gay wrestlers, its much more diverse with title belts and women’s wrestling is better than its ever been. It still needs work but it’s getting there. I went through a brief renaissance not that long ago with the advent of the WWE Network streaming service but have since fallen out of love with the product once again. Call it nostalgia, call it growing up, or maybe call it the realisation that wrestling is weird as fuck, but either way, I don’t consider myself a hardcore “wrasslin” enthusiast anymore. That being said - if WWE comes to Houston, I am there! I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to see it live, especially if its Downtown in the city I live in. Ten-year-old Elliot would never forgive me!

So, this is where I find myself - at the 2020 WWE Royal Rumble in the Minute Maid Park. For those who don’t know anything about wrestling, the Royal Rumble is a significant event that happens every January. The rules are simple. Two Rumbles, thirty men in one and thirty women in another, it starts out with two wrestlers, every two minutes someone new enters the ring until all have entered, to win you have to throw people over the top rope, until one final person is left who is declared the winner. They then go on to Wrestlemania to fight for a world title of their choosing – this is the WWE’s premier event – so the stakes are high, or as high as they can be when everything is fake.

If this is all new to you, think of wrestling as being the violent equivalent of going to see a Magician. We all know magic doesn’t exist, but we ‘ohhh’ and ‘ahhh’ accordingly. The same goes for wrestling, but instead of ‘ohhh’ and ‘ahhh’ its ‘woooooo’ and ‘yeahhhh” and instead of sleight of hand its reverse knife-edge chops to the chest. I know what you’re thinking – this is really weird! And honestly, you are right! It is proper odd, but also hilariously funny and a genuinely entertaining evening, even if the events do run a little too long these days (six plus hours on a Sunday night for something that is aimed at kids!?)

Anyway, it's me, Nay, and our Texan friend Billie (who took my author pictures and is also a wrestling virgin) and her nephew, John, who loves WWE and is pretty excited to be here! We’ve entered into the Minute Maid an hour earlier than the 6 pm kick-off so that we can get some food and a drink but also so that John can get some merchandise. Wrestling is big business, and the queues prove that because they are huge. We have to wander around the vast Minute Maid until we find a reasonably sized line, but also one that sells title belts and a Seth Rollins t-shirt (this is John’s favourite wrestler – it’s also Nay’s “favourite” but for entirely different reasons. Google him and you’ll see what I mean.)

The place is packed. I think Billie is a little bewildered by it all! I did warn her, but you have to see it to believe it. After you’ve walked past grown men cosplaying as Papa Shango or The Million Dollar Man, you start to question the relevance of humanity in the broader scheme of things. I will say this, though. The cosplay game is strong in Houston. There must be hundreds of well thought out costumes, more than I remember seeing at any other event.

With fresh eyes comes a fresh perspective. Billie makes an observation that I’d never really noticed before. She said that it’s very diverse, and to her credit, she is right. Every age, every ethnic background, every class, everyone is here for the Rumble. Clearly, men and women pretending to fight unites us all for some unknown reason. I guess humans like a spectacle.

We finally make it to the front of the queue and Billie buys John a kid’s replica Universal Title Belt (the one that Seth Rollins recently had), and you can tell he’s trying to play it cool, but he’s thrilled with this present. That is some great brownie points for Billie there. He’ll remember it forever! He immediately throws it over his shoulder like a true champ. I’d bet money that it doesn’t leave his shoulder or waist all night. From there, we depart to buy some extortionate drinks and food and then make our way to our seats.

The seats are pretty good for the money we paid for them. They are about forty dollars each. The Minute Maid is usually used for the Astros baseball team, but they’ve covered over the grass, closed the roof and set the ring up in the centre so it’s the focal point of the arena. We have the spot looking directly down at the entrance ramp. This means we get to watch the wrestlers dash down to the ring for the Rumble after we’ve all counted down from 10 seconds (another tradition and usually more fun than the actual match these days! – but again, that’s me being nostalgic for the “glory days.”)

The first few matches and the women’s Rumble pass by mostly without much to tell. The fans aren’t that into the matches, and the “bouts” themselves seem to drag. Everyone is waiting for the men’s Rumble and we all know it. Brock Lesnar, current WWE champ, has decided to enter the match as Number 1 and has vowed to dominate it. Not only that, there have been a few rumours floating around about returning wrestlers entering, namely Edge, who retired in 2011. I don’t believe that to be honest, but it has given this year’s Rumble more buzz than usual.

The Universal Title match finishes (slightly disappointingly despite the hype), we’ve all got another drink, toilets stops have been completed, and now we wait. During the previous match, we briefly spoke to a guy from Louisiana who is sitting behind us. He clearly doesn’t have any idea what I’m saying due to my accent but is impressed that I’m a house-husband who doesn’t have kids because it means I can play “fuckin video-games all day long.” He also asked Nay if she had ever heard of adultery. Funny guy! He confidentially stated that he’s “the biggest fuckin Brock Lesnar fan ever” so he’s really looking forward to the Rumble. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I don’t think Brock will last a full hour. It’s been nearly 15 years since he went past thirty minutes, but I keep this to myself, not that he would have understood me anyway!

The video package plays on the many massive screens, and we are all on our feet and making some noise. Brock comes out with his manager (and wrestling genius – if such things exist) Paul Heyman to a chorus of boos and a lot of excitement from our friend from Louisiana. Elias comes out at number 2, his gimmick (the name for a wrestler’s character) is that of a guitar singer. I personally think he’s shit, and the WWE management must think the same because Brock destroys him in a few seconds and throws him out of the ring.

“Suplex City, bitch!” Our man from Louisiana approves. Brock uses a lot of moves called ‘suplexes' and once said those very words much to the delight of his fans. They’ve mostly used it since, so it looks like our Louisianan friend will be doing just that. Out next is Eric Rowan (who I used to vaguely look like when I had a shaved head – I was once asked if I was him at a previous wrestling event by a kid – the little shit) who is quickly dumped by Brock.

Then it's Bobby Rhoode who gets the same treatment much to the growing anger of most of the fans in attendance. Not, of course, our man from Louisiana. He is loving it. We dutifully count down from ten again and another victim for Brock enters the match. This goes on for the next twenty minutes with the crowd getting angrier and voicing their disapproval, only occasionally punctured by a thick Louisianan accent proclaiming that its “Suplex City, bitch.” It really is.

Now, you might be thinking this sounds boring as hell, but I know after watching wrestling for decades that eventually there’ll be a payoff. The entrants carry on, and they get bigger and better, but Brock is still dominating. He’s eliminated literally everyone until we reach Number 15 and Ricochet. He’s what’s known as a highflyer and has had a thing with Brock recently. He gets dominated as well but avoids being eliminated before the two minutes are up, so out comes Number 16 – fellow Brit, the Scottish, Drew McIntyre and regular unit who is getting pushed at that moment. Things are getting tense now. He and Brock have a staredown, and the fans are hyped.

Suddenly, from behind Ricochet kicks Brock square in the balls (apparently Lesnar’s kryptonite – but isn’t it every man’s?) This distracts the champ long enough for Drew to blast him in the face with his move, the Claymore (a kick to the face, but he’s enormous, so it has a decent looking impact) and Brock is eliminated! The fans go wild! The payoff has worked, Brock is gone, and now everyone has a wrestler they are sympathetic towards for the rest of the match. Excellent storytelling, even if our now devastated man from Louisiana can’t say “Suplex City, bitch” any longer.

The match rumbles on for a while (get it) and then we get another big moment. Edge returns after nine years of medically induced retirement and the crowd go ballistic once again (including me and John, much to the amusement of Billie and Nay.) That was a fantastic moment that I’m happy to have experienced live. I was always a fan of Edge, and it’s good to see him back even if his beard is a lot greyer than it used to be (I can relate.) We quickly arrive at Number 30 and its Seth Rollins to the delight of John but that quickly turns to dismay as Seth is eliminated to a chorus of cheers (he’s a ‘heel’ aka a bad guy, but I’m not sure John knows or cares, also good guys are known as ‘faces’ – wrestling jargon is bizarre.)

We are down to the last three guys, the returning Edge, the hated ‘face’ Roman Reigns and the man who saved the night, Drew McIntyre. After some jostling Roman eliminates Edge to his usual choir of boos, but he’s then knocked out by Drew to the satisfaction of the crowd. See what I mean! Great storytelling. No one cared about him before the match but because he eliminated Brock, we end up cheering for his win. It’s the first time a Brit or Scot has won it, and he’s now going to Wrestlemania to face Brock for the title, and I hope he wins it.

We get some fireworks for his win and we can go home happy.

Me and Nay sneak out quickly so that we can avoid the worst of the traffic, but Billie stays with John because he wants to see the fireworks and celebrations. I’m positive that he’s had a great night that he’ll remember for years and I was right, the Universal Title belt never left his shoulder.

That was a tale of a Yorkshireman living in Texas.

A bloke with a ginger beard who writes.



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