Will You Be Tired on Monday? Because Wrestling Is On.

Around this time every year, late March, early April, there is a manic fever that sweeps across wrestling fans worldwide. At this mid-Lental time, be we fasting or feasting, there is an unashamed break from normal interactions when we, as a collective fan-base, gorge our senses with the lights and sounds and colours of the showiest show of shows, the most expensively elaborate spectacle for a taste so peculiar that only the Eurovision comes close in its eccentricity.

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WrestleMania.

Whether you have any knowledge of it previously or if this is the first time this particular portmanteau has scarred your retinas, you can get any and all information you need to know about the occasion from the very name itself.

It involves jamming together things that normally wouldn’t be jammed together, it’s slamming together of Wrestle and Mania gives echoes of the Super Bowl, something manufactured to be big, an idea wholly and unabashedly American. It is a word bigger than itself, a depiction of an overwrought occasion (much like this description) where organisers and fans alike obsess and craze over the topic and that topic, you probably have guessed, is wrestling.

Sometimes there’s not enough wrestling, but there is, without fail, plenty of mania. TLC II at WrestleMania 17 where Edge Speared Jeff Hardy off the ladder, WrestleMania XXII where Edge Speared against Mick Foley onto a table of fire, the Undertaker nearly breaking his neck at WrestleMania XXV; these moments inspire lads to either become daredevil wrestlers or make them realise this shit hurts and just watch it instead.

There are also legitimately great stories told at WrestleMania, Shawn Michaels v The Undertaker at both XXV and XXVI being insane. If this promo does not raise your interest in their story or what they are capable of producing, then I am afraid I cannot help.

And this year’s edition, WrestleMania XXIII, takes place in Orlando, Florida this Sunday, April 2nd, and the WWE are ready and rearing to deliver an assault on all available senses to its 70,000+ live audience as well as the million plus watching online through their semi-successful/semi-failing self-streaming platform of the WWE Network.

The card looks similar to that of an overfed cow; you will get good, tasty cuts of meat from it, you could well garner some milk from its udders, but there is a high possibility of fatty substances getting in the way. And a severe threat of gaseous emissions too.

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Many cows were eaten in the making  of this picture.

Last year, in Arlington, Texas, WrestleMania XXXII saw the confirmation of a women’s wrestling “revolution” in the company with Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch getting actual time to showcase their talent, while the belated coronation of Roman Reigns as WWE Champion finally occurred to a maelstrom of abuse. This show also provided us with a far too elaborate spot involving Shane McMahon, a table, and a mental amount of distance and gravity.

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JESUS CHRIST SHANE WHAT THE FUCK THIS IS AWFUL BUT AMAZING BUT AWFUL BUT REMEMBER HE’S ALIVE OKAY

But besides those “Moments™” – something the management wanted to push down our throats until we accepted it and coughed up a lung with the suffocation – it was a rather vanilla-esque event for something pushed as the Grandest Stage of Them All. And one of the main factors of this has been cited as an exhausting running time of 4+ hours. Even as an excited red dwarf as a part of the gigantic WWE Universe™, the event brought me to sleep at times from complete boredom.

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This is a photograph of me the next day at work srsly

And this year is more of the same, four hours of a main show prefaced with a seemingly excessive two hours of a pre-show. So, will the quality be there over the course of the hours? Will it improve on last year’s effort? Has the company and its storytelling evolved, or just got better?

Well, a year on from its self-promoted revolution of its treatment of its women contingent, they have still at times floundered in its booking decisions, Bayley’s championship win on Raw to set her up as a babyface champion going into WrestleMania being one I would raise – my argument being a babyface is better chasing than defending. But dropping pushes and storylines brings them up to the level of their male counterparts, so in one respect they’re doing A-okay. The four way this Sunday only adds to frustration of a preferred match up of Charlotte and Bayley, the other women added in because no other storyline really caught traction with the audience. So, treated exactly like their male counterparts on Raw.

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All smiles now, but wait til a few slaps are thrown.

But over on brand SmackDown Live, it has been hit after hit in keeping up several stories at one time – imagine women being able to do that! SmackDown Live seems to be surpassing Raw specifically in story quality and the women there are far passed their Monday rivals. However, for all their work they were rewarded to be clumped together with a mere pre-show match, an utter slap in the face. Thankfully, the main show match has been restored. Surely that will fire up the women to deliver a top-drawer match, but the odds are not on their side with a large drawback of the match being the number of participants with no gimmick to play with. We can only wait and see. And gwan Becky. Nothing like dirty national bias, eh? Go n-éirí an t-ádh leat!

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Lookit her there! With goggles on! A scientist and all is our Becky. Fair play.

And Roman Reigns? How’s he fairing then? Well, he’s doing alright. He’s no longer champion but is still very much hated by the crowd with a fervent passion I haven’t seen or experienced a heel elicit in the modern-day product, baring Brock Lesnar post-WM 30 and Stephanie McMahon at her most potent. He is a man hated by the “smarks” – that is to say “smart marks” or fans – and his actual fans seem to be tepid towards his endeavours, and it looks as though this Sunday that he’ll pass towards eternal damnation taking on the Undertaker. Defeating the Undertaker, a character beloved without question by all fans, will only cement the universal hatred held for him. But are management going to play towards this natural negativity and make the man a monster heel? Or will they persevere with the narrative of being a tough guy face asserting dominance? Treading this line can be dangerous and there’s no definite answer to that question, but will the WWE worry about what people concerned about the quality of some of their stories? There’s a far more definite answer for that one.

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Well, to be fair.

Thankfully this year Shane McMahon has no cage to jump off. But that was Shane McMahon’s gig, he was the man who jumped off things. And he’ll be in a plain ol’ ordinary match with AJ Styles? Hmm. It peaks the interest if nothing else. It’ll probably provide Styles with his first WrestleMania win too. There’s also potential in the other matches, the tag team ladder match, the John Cena match feat. other folk, and Lesnar finally destroying Goldberg. That’s even not touching on some of the best work of the past year done by Chris Jericho as a conniving sniveling heel beside his former best friend, Kevin Owens which should also be a cracker and a half. Save the bathroom break of the Battle Royale, this looks like a good card.  Between these matches full of promise, the signs, the crowd, the spots, the moments forced down our gob, the utter spectacle of it all, the utter mania it can induce, surely that is something to stay up for?

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JESUS SHANE STOP AT IT WILL YOU

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That Was A Very Good Eurovision

Ah, the Eurovision.

If there is one thing that can not only preserve the Union but hold the Euro currency steady it surely is the Eurovision. The latest installment took place over three days, Tuesday 10th, Thursday 12th, and Saturday 14th of February. You can’t get it on Netflix, can ya, ha? Pure cocaine-laced sugar dust for anyone who half-likes music but not too seriously was placed before us in three-minute bursts and there was not a child in any house washed.

I sat down to watch Thursday’s semi-final and was pleasantly surprised at the relatively fine quality of the songs on display. There was a Bulgarian Power Ranger Rihanna, an Australian on a futuristic box singing a finely bland song, and a Georgian band who were what would happen if Star Sailor had a hape of cans, listened to Franz Ferdinand and then played Killers covers.

There was the Irish entry that not only did not qualify but had the continent collectively scratch their heads and ask “Is that Ronan Keating?”

It wasn’t, it was Nicky Byrne, bless his cotton socks and wet sock of a haircut.

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Sing? Ah, SING! If only we thought of that…

Listening to the radio the following day, there were the obvious, knee-jerk and pig-ignorant reactions that ranged from song-writers insisting that they would write a better song to people insisting that we “should withdraw from the competition because we’ll never win it again and sure it’s all full of foreign countries now and that’s how 9/11 changed everything.” (I believe this to be an exact quote from a disgruntled Liveline caller. gotta love dat irish folk yo)

At this point, I am glad that the country hasn’t experienced anything massively bad because if the reaction to this Eurovision is anything to go by, well… I’ll just say I don’t think we’d handle it too well.

But, Nicky Byrne’s song, even with him giving the best he could give, and really enjoying it, and everything else RTÉ employees said about his performance, as well as not taking any fee for it as it coincidentally was happening parallel to his solo career launch, was not fine enough to rise above the other fine songs there. It was quite bland.

It was a like a bad version of Beautiful Day. A really, REALLY bad version.

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No plane in sight.

Ukraine won with their not-too-subtle song about Russia slaughtering people in Crimea entitled 1944 and you know what, fair play to them. I didn’t strike me as anything mad, but I might have been experiencing Eurovision fatigue by the time Jamala took the stage. Even though I annually cod myself into thinking I can do otherwise, one can only take so much Euro-pop and still hold their full attention on the broadcast.

That is, of course, until some Cypriots wake you up with distortion.

The real winner I felt was us, the viewers – oh, how quaint, Paul.

Not only was the average standard absolutely fine, stretching at times to be grand and even good, the broadcast was a real achievement on the side of the Swedes. The presenters, Petra Mede and Måns Zelmerlöw, had me at “Hello Europe!” on Tuesday at which point on stage right a curtain dropped and revealed Europe, the pop band, playing The Final Countdown. “No, no, not Europe the band, we mean Europe the continent!” They stopped playing. “That was embarrassing, we apologise.”

The humour never dropped from that point on, being showcased in the hilarious Nerd Nation Documentary, showing how something already ridiculous can be made funny. A particular highlight was the third part and the Loreen street kids who “just wanna hang out and listen to Euphoria. And other well known Loreen songs.”

The skill of their comedic execution was fully realised in the great song of Peace Peace Love Love that if nothing else, was certainly funnier than Riverdance. And Justin Timberlake is an adequate substitute for Michael Flatley, absolutely.

The opening act to the second semi-final was the gateway into the show’s comedy but the fact that it was funny, the entire show, independent of liking Eurovision or not and also that it worked so well shows the effort love and care that was put into it from all angles. I was rooting for Sweden and their fine song just so they could present it again, but then again it would only, as they sing, “bankrupt the hosting TV station.”

So, Ukraine next year. Not for me. Can it top this one? They have a year to prep. As does everyone else to see how they would combat the new scoring system which was introduced this year to heighten tensions. It worked alright.

It also worked on keeping the win confined to the continent at least, as under the previous year’s rules Australia would have romped home with the win, and Poland wouldn’t have gotten such a good score for such a pap song. Now that’s a talking point too. All’s changed, changed utterly.

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