In 21 years of watching WWE, I have never gone to any of their shows.
I started watching WWE, then WWF, in mid-1991, and still I have never once attended a show. Even with Over the Limit scheduled to be within two hours driving distance of where I am, I still did not plan to attend.
It’s not that I didn’t want to, but with this economy and my current situation, it wasn’t a reality for me. I am beginning graduate school in less than three months and will be moving almost 10 hours away. I have to save every dime for moving expenses, first month’s rent, security deposit, etc.
In other words, I’m broke and, after much deliberation, I decided not to go.
And then WWE booked Daniel Bryan versus CM Punk.
I was doing a column—10 Talking Points from WWE RAW—where I type as the show progresses, and I wrote, scoffing, that if Daniel Bryan won the Beat the Clock match, I’d rush out to buy a ticket. I said this because I expected yet another Daniel Bryan-Sheamus match.
But by the time I typed the words, Jerry Lawler was tapping out.
Daniel Bryan had won the match; CM Punk was clapping; my mind was racing.
Suddenly, I thought, I can’t see a reason good enough to not go. I might be saving every dime, but did I need to save every quarter?
So, I gathered every 25-cent piece I could find. My family donated coins, too. Suddenly, this was a family affair. I had to get to Over the Limit to see Daniel Bryan challenge for the WWE championship against CM Punk.
I submitted my article after RAW went off the air and checked for tickets. There were a handful—maybe five, represented by little test-taking bubbles—that matched my price range. I gathered all my coins and went to Walmart at one in the morning to buy a Walmart Visa card.
At two in the morning, I tried to buy a ticket. When I got to the last page, there was an additional charge that made my money card $4 short of buying the ticket. The next day I took $7 in quarters to Walmart ($4, plus a $3 fee). After laying them out in stacks of four for the cashier, I discovered the Walmart card required minimum deposits of $20.
Again, I could not buy a ticket.
It took fate, chance, luck, whatever, but the next day someone who has rarely ever done so happened to hand me $20. I rushed back to Walmart with a twenty-dollar bill and $3 in quarters, and I made the deposit and bought my ticket for WWE Over the Limit.
I document the effort because it is a preface for the next section—why someone who had no plans to go, is more comfortable not going and who had to leap over rules and limitations would now make such an effort to attend a show he has not attended in 21 years of watching.
Thanks for asking why. I’d be glad to tell you.
Two words: Daniel Bryan.
Yes: Daniel Bryan.
Yes! Daniel Bryan.
Some people will not find that a sufficient reason, while others would do the same thing I did. Some will think it’s because people on the Internet are supposed to love Daniel Bryan.
I think it’s because I loved WCW.
See, while I’ve never been to a WWE show, my first live wrestling experience was Fall Brawl 1997. That means the first live match I ever saw was Chris Jericho versus Eddy Guerrero. If it was a privilege to say I saw Chris Jericho in his Lionheart days, what word could I use having seen Eddy Guerrero?
"Honor" barely touches it. It’s now a memory I wouldn’t trade for anything else.
I always loved WCW a little more than WWE. WWE was polished and perfect and superheroes were bountiful. When I watched it, I could get lost in the colors and the unbelievable stature of the Hulk Hogans and the Ultimate Warriors and the Randy Savages.
But I preferred my wrestling a little grittier. I didn’t want it to be perfect or polished; I wanted it a bit rough around the edges.
The memories that stay with me to this day are not of superheroes, but of real men doing real things and getting hurt badly but getting back up. My mind’s eye thinks of Terry Funk piledriving Ric Flair on the unbroken table or hearing Larry Zbyszko, as the nWo came forth like bandits in the night, warning, “They’ve got baseball bats!”
It didn’t matter if I was too young to know better or it was after we all had Internet access and thought we knew it all; I still feared for the WCW announcers and roster when the nWo was on. I still got lost in the innovative nature of Kanyon and the unbelievable imagination of Chris Jericho. I still hated Ric Flair as much as I was supposed to and wondered if Lex Luger would ever not betray his best friend Sting.
WCW consumed my youth.
I had friends—five or more—who mocked me growing up because I wouldn’t buy new clothes for the school year, but we’d buy a yearly WCW pay-per-view package. When the Monday Night Wars hit (I kid you not!), every last one of those students who mocked me yearly asked to borrow all my tapes.
Fans came and went, but I always remained.
And only once did I prefer the WWF to WCW: when Stone Cold Steve Austin was at his height.
That one is not difficult to figure out. WCW gave itself wholly and completely to Hulk Hogan and his wrestling-boot traveling band of WWF performers, so the only time I voted for WWE was when they were winning with WCW guys and WCW was losing with the warmed-over cast of 1988.
During that short period of time, WWE was like WCW. It was hectic and it was rugged and it was rough around the edges and it was not polished. It was everything Steve Austin was; Steve Austin was everything WWF wasn’t.
(And you wonder why Austin-McMahon made history?)
But there is a gap in my history of watching pro wrestling.
I hated WCW towards its latter days, and after it was gone, wondered had I ever truly liked pro wrestling.
There was an era where wrestling outsmarted itself. Late WCW regularly spoke of its product being a work on TV. WWE later played around with the same ideas. (I still remember Jerry Lawler mocking chain wrestling at WrestleMania as Shawn Michaels wrestled Chris Jericho.)
WWE became victor over WCW. WCW became a dirty word. I lost interest for a long time.
But much has changed since that time.
I’ve matured. I’ve come to grips with what WCW was and what WWE now is.
But I think WWE has matured, too. WCW is now a part of WWE’s history in some strange morph. We get DVDs on Starrcade and Clash of the Champions. Ric Flair is now a two-time Hall of Famer. Dusty Rhodes is a regular. Arn Anderson is employed with WWE.
But it’s more than that; it’s greater than that.
WWE is a big-tent company now.
On one hand, they are still WWE. Guys like John Cena are still superheroes. The WrestleMania stage is grander than ever. There are always returns—be it Hulk Hogan or the Rock. And the company is still polished and perfect and larger than life.
But there are guys like Daniel Bryan, too. Guys who I believe, if this were the '90s, would be a better fit in WCW or the '80s NWA. Guys like Dean Ambrose, too. Maybe it’s the Steve Regal influence (who was also WCW for a long time). Guys who remind me of the way I felt when I watched WCW are operating under the big tent that is today’s WWE.
There are guys of all shapes and sizes. There are guys who are rough around the edges. There are guys who represent WWE styles, WCW, ECW, Japan and NWA.
The reason WWE has no competition right now, I believe, is because it is its own competition. You can get almost anything you want from WWE these days. The company seems more open-minded than it was 10 years ago; I am more so as well.
For these reasons, I will not miss the opportunity to sit under the big tent that is WWE.
I will not miss Daniel Bryan continuing his rise to stardom. I will not miss his match with CM Punk. I will not miss them exchanging kicks and submissions, nor will I miss the rise and fall of the crowd or the "yes" and "no" chants.
I caught some heat lately for saying Daniel Bryan reminded me of Ric Flair. Some folks took it to mean he was Ric Flair.
I know he’s not. He’s Daniel Bryan.
But he has transcended wrestling with his "Yes!" chant and his over-abundance of confidence. What he gives you on TV could make you a better person if you lived by it.
Once upon a time, Daniel Bryan projected himself as something that he wasn’t. He raised his hands over his head when he hadn’t earned the right. He spoke bigger than his height in a business made for giants. He paraded about like he was already a world champion, and he was barely on nXt.
Those are the things that make wrestling great—the success stories of men who invest everything and make it.
It doesn’t matter if it’s WCW and Ric Flair is crying in the ring or if it is WWF and Shawn Michaels is crying in the ring. Hell, it could be WWE and Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels would be together crying in the ring. The point is, in every era, there are men whose blood, sweat and tears fall to tell the story of their lives.
The trick is for each of us to find one whose story makes us care. When we find one that inspires us as much as he entertains us, we gather quarters and even ask our family for help. We visit Walmart three times when we can’t afford to visit once.
All to be under the big tent where great stories are told. And even though we’ve seen every match there is to see, we gather for the next one and say, Tell us the story one more time.
And it will not matter on the night of Over the Limit that WCW is no more. Nor will it matter that, by reason of age, I barely missed '80s NWA, when half the pay-per-views were in North Carolina. Nor will it matter if you think Daniel Bryan is nothing like Ric Flair.
Because when I’m there—live and in attendance—the "Yes!" chants will sound like "Woooooo!," stiff kicks will be the new hard chops, and I will not know if I am 30, 20 or 10 years old or if it is the '80s, '90s or today.
It will only matter that I was there, swept up in something that made me care.
And like seeing Eddy Guerrero live, I will retell this story every chance I get. And if my memory becomes more embellished with each retelling, it will be the "Yes!" t-Shirt that I buy that will be hard evidence I was at Over the Limit.