The year was 2002. My 14-year-old self was pacing up and down the living room with two WWE passes in my hand that were getting heavier with each passing minute. Years of in-house ‘fights’ between the Undertaker and Kane (played by my brother and me) were culminating into the realm of reality, finally, and nothing could stop me from witnessing the sporting spectacle.
My dad could, and did. Apparently, the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium had recently undergone renovations and the roof of the stadium was not ‘structurally sound enough’ for me to be ‘safe’. It didn’t fall but the hopes of a gullible teenager sure did.
Now, fifteen years later, the sporting spectacle returned to New Delhi and an older, more cynical me trudged my way after an hour of playing parking simulator (level: legend) towards the same ‘still-standing’ stadium. Daddy issues apart, the level of enthusiasm on display inside the arena did assuage some of the pain as I took a trip down memory lane.
From the eerie entrance of Bray Wyatt (carrying a lantern in the dark, talk about theatrics!) and the fiery blast-from-the-past from Kane, to the legendary water spray by Triple H, all the usual theatrical elements were on display.
The experience was a surreal one, to say the least. While the wrestlers’ air-punches and padded kicks reaffirmed the cynic’s view that the fights were staged, the younger crop in the audience was hooked, their excitement palpable throughout the event.
"WWE was never about the sport or the wrestlers… it was always about the story. The antics and the backstory of the wrestlers and the reason behind the fight was what made it great. It’s like the Bollywood has been taken out and what's left is a dry, innuendo-heavy soap opera," said Ronit Tushir, a fellow former WWE fan and cynic.
But speaking to nine-year-old Sameer Bajaj, three generations of whose family were present at the event, made it amply clear that the dissociation was a result of simply outgrowing the sporting event rather than a sign of its depreciating standards.
"Roman Reigns is the best in the world today and is my favourite," Sameer said, sporting 'The Shield' merchandise.
His mother and grandfather rejoiced at seeing Sameer beam with excitement even though he reflected darker and darker shades of boredom with each passing minute.
"Why did the other guy keep lying down while the big, red one rummaged under the stage for a table?" asked Sudhir, Sameer's grandfather, who seemed to be at wit's end about the whole thing.
But for the most part, the event gave fans several moments to savour and did not disappoint. At the off, homeboys Jeet Rama and Kishan Rafter took on Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas of the Miztourage amidst huge local support. Alexa Bliss retained her women's title against Sasha Banks. The cheers only grew louder as the trio of Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins (The Shield) defeated Samoa Joe, Cesaro and Sheamus. Chants of 'This Is Awesome' reverberated in the arena.
While I could hardly relate to the newer crop of wrestlers, the fight between Braun Strowman and Kane was definitely a fanboy moment for me. Nostalgia hit hard as the Big Red Machine went all out in his quest to relive the glory days. In his 10-minute fight, Kane made use of the steel steps, the metal chair and the wooden table under the ring, only to be disqualified predictably.
Meanwhile, two members in the front row used the moment to remind everyone that we are in Delhi, where mini wrestling matches erupt randomly.
But it was the marquee fight that drew the loudest cheers. Indian-origin wrestler Jinder Mahal, and his sidekicks the Singh brothers, did their best to draw on the home advantage, but the sheer star-power of Triple H meant that the scales were tipped in The Game's favour from the moment he entered the arena.
He was greeted with thunderous applause from thousands and the entire stadium was on its feet in anticipation. Each blow exchanged drew loud cheers from the crowd and the two Pedigrees he meted out to Mahal were the highlight of the evening. You can read a blow-by-blow retelling of the fight here.
"Mahal has put India on the wrestling map. I have travelled all the way from Ludhiana just to see him in action. I am sure he will regain the championship that he truly deserves," said Param Kanwar, a fan.
The night ended in defeat for Mahal, pegged by many as the reason behind the surge in WWE's popularity in India. But in a move showcasing Triple H's sportsmanship (yes, he is the same guy known to hit his 'friends' with a sledgehammer in the back) he called Mahal back to the stage to tell him that he had earned The Game's respect.
The Modern Day Maharaja responded by inviting Triple H to do the bhangra with him. In a way, this was the most apt way to end the event as it reminded everyone present that the event is a spectacle designed for entertainment.
In an exclusive interaction with Firstpost in October, Mahal had talked about the challenges he faced in the industry, the 'Attitude Era' and what it was like to be the champion. Watch here.
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Updated Date: Dec 10, 2017 14:30:21 IST