As happens occasionally, especially for wrestling fans engaged with the Internet, backstage controversies and news (or NEWZ) took clear precedence over the action within the ring this week – at least with regard to WWE. I could scarcely tell you what occurred on RAW other than the show ended tease of Shield vs. Wyatts (confirmed on Smackdown), but I was absolutely glued to Twitter once the news of Punk’s departure broke (work or shoot? Batista’s fault? Concussions? …). Monday’s RAW becomes a must see, not due to the actual scripted product, but due to the question of how the WWE will directly or indirectly reference the incident. Subtext becomes text. And trying to wipe Punk away entirely would speak loudest of all.
This all informs the product and gives us something to talk about between Mondays. But dwelling on the question of whether Batista has a title reign written into his contract or if Punk’s walkout is really a savvy contract bargaining maneuver ultimately reduces the spectacle to something less than its possibility. And maybe that’s unavoidable, but wrestling has also worked best when it approaches the order of myth. A great wrestling match, or angle, can fill one with awe in the same way we marvel at the power of gods and monsters. This is probably the case for any piece of performance art, but wrestling’s simplicity cuts through to heart of it: good and evil, humility and arrogance, vigilance and dishonesty. Through wrestling, we can act out our hopes, our fears, our moral truths, and the lies we tell ourselves to keep it all together. And this led me to thinking about Bruiser Brody.
No other wrestler perfectly personifies the tension between wrestling’s potential as grand spectacle and its ugly reality. If you want the gory details, click here. I don’t want to dwell on the circumstances surrounding Brody’s death – one of the sadder details is thats probably the first thing a knowing wrestling fan does think of when he/she hears Brody’s name. And it shouldn’t be, because watching Brody is one the great pleasures I can have as a wrestling fan. Few wrestlers in history have managed the absolute mastery of a character like Brody – from the hair, to the facial expressions (especially his eyes), even the way the man walks conveys the force of menace. This is particularly notable, since Brody often played babyface. In an era where babyfaces were generally clean cut, the wildman Brody was an absolute badass who you simply would rather be with than against,
See the match above – one of his many bloody brawls with Abdullah the Butcher. The two men stumble through the crowd, in a stadium in Puerto Rico. Part of the beauty of their feud was its transcontinenal nature – Japan, the US, the Caribbean islands. Gods are not constrained by borders. Fan surround the two, drawn in by the intensity of the battle but careful not to get too close when the behemoths collide.
Into the ring, and Abdullah jams a stake into Brody’s eye. This builds to a crescendo moment, as Brody revives and delivers a series of kicks to the Butcher’s head, with the crowd screaming in joy with each. Brody gets the stake, and crowd jumps to another level. Also, this all happens in the first 3 minutes of the match. As the match progresses, the video is marred by the camerawork, especially once Bruiser and Abdullah wander into the crowd again. It’s less a wrestling match than a scene of ritualized brutality. Best I can tell, the match ends in a no contest. Fitting, you can’t exactly constrain this even within the boundaries of sport. Ultimately, both men just kind of wander off, destined to battle once more. At least, until Brody wasn’t.
The business of wrestling can be ugly. And of course, I’m not in any way comparing the events of this week with Brody’s death, other than the fact that they both occurred backstage rather than in the ring. But the point is, great wrestling thankfully has the power to make us forget everything going on behind the scenes and focus on the power and the terror when giants collide.