A few weeks ago, The Rant reviewed opening night of Hamilton at the Durham Performing Arts Center. In keeping with our continued coverage of the performing arts in our area, one of us attended Big Time Wrestling in Dorton Arena at the Fairgrounds in Raleigh on Friday night.
So. Where do I even begin?
First, there’s nothing terribly “big time” about Big Time Wrestling — about 250 hardcore fans filled the folded chairs surrounded a wrestling ring in the middle of the Dorton Arena floor; and another 200 or 250 or so fans filled up a small section of the 3,000-seat facility. In other words, it “felt” small walking in. The atmosphere would have been much bigger had this event been held in a smaller building — 500 people can feel big, but here, not so much.
The group I was with had ringside seats (don’t ask), meaning we were right next to the action. In some cases, “action.” And yes … this may sound like I’m going for a “what the hell did I just see?” negative review here — and there will be some of that — but bear with me … there were elements of pure joy from this event. There were also several moments of unintended hilarity. And ridiculousness. So much ridiculousness.
So what is Big Time Wrestling? From what I can gather, it’s a traveling show headlined by former big-time wrestling stars and undercarded by up-and-comers (who, in this case, do all the heavy lifting).
Mick Foley — the four-time WWF and TNA World Heavyweight wrestling champion, also known as “Mankind,” among other names — seems to be the consistent headliner of this traveling show, which will shine at Prince George High School in Virginia tonight and Vance Middle School in Bristol, Tennessee in a few weeks (yes, those are the venues). On this night, he was joined by “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, the Rock ‘N Roll Express, and several other names and teams that very, very few of you would recognize.
The average age of Foley, Duggan and the Express is about 58 years old. This fact provided the most unintentional hilarity of the night. Duggan and the Express joined forces for a triple tag-team match against three “villains,” one of whom is named Gillberg, because the poster told me so. The 15-minute “match” included about 12 minutes of scripted bantering, and much of that was encouraging the crowd to chant “Rock N Roll” and “U-S-A,” which they happily did. The other three minutes looked like a melee broke out at a Skynyrd concert — mullets and bandanas everywhere. Below is a short clip from the fight:
After Hacksaw’s and the Express’ upset victory, the final match of the night included former WWF and WCW wrestlers The Faces of Fear against some bad guys. Foley, who at just 53 appears to not have the knees or the back to go long in the ring, served as “referee” of the match.
SPOILER ALERT — Foley emerges at the end of the match just when it appears the good guys are going down and breaks out his famous sock puppet, Mr. Socko, to face-palm the bad guys and save the day. The crowd ate it up. The arena was at its loudest.
But then — around two hours into the night — Big Time Wrestling was over. After Foley’s pin down, they said “good night” and everybody just kind of looked around at each other and walked out of the arena. I was hoping for a bigger send-off.
When it was all said and done, it took me a full night to process just what I had seen. Here’s the part of the review where I disclose that I was never a big wrestling fan … even growing up in professional wrestling’s heyday of the 80s, when Hulk Hogan and Rick Flair and Andre the Giant and the Junkyard Dog and all the others were as big as any other professional athlete. I had friends who were way into it and who tried to get me into it. But for me, it just never clicked. To each his own.
But I understood the draw of it for kids. It’s scripted, but on the big stage, the drama is pretty entertaining. The athleticism and acrobatics are impressive. It’s all enough to make you forgive the “fake” aspect of it.
But you couldn’t forgive the “fake” Friday night, especially 20 feet from the ring. The first few acts had the athleticism, for the most part — the guy who looked like Benedict Cumberbatch the only one truly “sculpted” to look the part — but overall, it was more funny than anything else. As a whole, the action was subpar. The “drama” was predictable and only at times intentionally funny.
So what made it fun for me? It was mostly the wrestling fans surrounding me, some of whom took this stuff way too seriously, some of whom got so into it they were trying to climb into the ring and take a swing at the bad guys and some of whom exhausted every “short” joke at the diminutive 5-foot-2 “bad guy” wrestler in one of the earlier matches.
And by saying I enjoyed those fans, I’m NOT saying I’m here to poke fun at them. Yes, there were idiots there — but I’m a huge NFL fan, and the NFL leads the nation in idiot fans. And yes, there were some who took this dead serious, but again … there are NFL fans who live and die by whether or not their team wins.
In front of me, an older man held his phone up the entire first 45 minutes of the night, filming all of it. He only stopped filming when his phone ran out of storage (sadly, before the good stuff). To his right, there was a father and daughter who loved every minute of what they saw — she (maybe high school age), yelling at the bad guys and high-fiving her dad when the good guys did well. He, grinning ear to ear and enjoying his time with his daughter. To the left, a group of mullet-clad men who screamed at the wrestlers all night — terrible jokes, often, but still, it added to the atmosphere. I appreciated those guys.
Big Time Wrestling is not for me, but I had a great time Friday night. The group I was with — work friends, some like me only there for the new experience. Was it worth a $30 ringside ticket? That’s debatable … but I imagine most of the crowd got their $30 worth.
It was no Hamilton, but I’m still glad I was in the room where it happened.
Sorry. So sorry.
Billy Liggett is co-founder of The Rant and a wrasslin’ novice.