One offseason, I moved in with a buddy of mine who was still very big into WWE. He paid the majority of the cable bill, so every Monday night we were stuck watching what he wanted to watch — always wrestling. I liked it as a kid, but, like a lot of people, kind of fell out of it in my teenage years. But now, watching every week, I was back in.
Really, really in.
When I was playing in the Arizona Fall League back in 2008, a buddy of mine knew a camera guy who worked this pay-per-view event called Cyber Sunday. (Chris Jericho vs. Batista for the heavyweight championship with Stone Cold Steve Austin as the guest referee.) He scored us a bunch of tickets and I got to go to the event. From there, I was totally addicted and tried to make it to as many as I could. I got that camera guy’s number, and he’d hook me up.
I had become a huge fan of Triple H. He really got the Attitude Era jumping, creating the most popular group of that period — D-Generation X — with Shawn Michaels and Chyna. Later, he’d work with the legend Ric Flair and former heavyweight champion Batista. As his career went on, Triple H was kind of like the Vince McMahon of the Attitude Era.
I never used the “Suck It” crotch chop that D-Generation X was known for during a game — I don’t think that would go over too well with Major League Baseball — but I loved Triple H’s walk-up music. “The Game” by Motorhead. I like to have fun with my at-bat music (this, for example), but that’s the one that gets me locked in the most, so since ’08 I’ve used it more than anything else.
Eventually, Triple H found out I used his music and invited me to meet him. He gave me his phone number and said if I ever needed anything, don’t hesitate to call. I didn’t know how to handle that. I definitely wanted tickets, but didn’t want to be “that guy” and mooch for everything I possibly could. So I just shot him a text message. He was real nice about it. “Don’t hesitate,” he said. “Every time you want something, give a heads up. Just make sure you give me a two-week advance.”
Now, when I go to an event, it’s backstage passes, front-row seats and I get to hang out with all the wrestlers. They’ll just let me go back there to eat their food, drink their Cokes and waters and hang out with the guys. It’s incredible. Triple H and I have actually become pretty good buddies. I call him Hunter most of the time (Triple H is an abbreviation of his character’s name, Hunter Hearst Helmsley) because it’s kind of weird to call him by his actual name (Paul).
He sent me an older replica title belt in 2012, with a message and a signature. Since then, I’ve bought my own belts as new ones have come out, trying to get my collection up so I can hang them all in my man cave.
Real ones can be up to $500.
It might not be the best use of my money, but at least it proves I take this stuff seriously. And with that in mind, I present my all-time top five wrestlers, plus a few bonus opinions thrown in.
1. Triple H
I pretty much explained that already, right?
2. John Cena
He has such great mic skills. No matter what role he’s in, booed or cheered, he always gives the best responses. It was hard not to like Cena. So good and well-rounded in every aspect of the business. He’s your five-star guy. (But I do think he needs a more powerful finisher. A body slam doesn’t really do it for me.)
Favorite Moment: Cena vs. The Rock at Wrestlemania 29, when Cena came back and won the title. They spent three months trash-talking each other on Raw, giving themselves funny-ass nicknames. If you remember that match, the last three minutes seemed like it was all finishers, like six Rock Bottoms and then six Attitude Adjustments. Craziness.
3. Stone Cold Steve Austin
One of the biggest heels in history that was still a fan favorite. Flipped off the stands, and he got cheered for it! Just a down-home redneck who drank beer and didn’t give a crap about what anyone said and came out and kicked your ass. Who didn’t love that, especially if you’re from the south? That’s what the target audience is — a bunch of rednecks who watch wrestling and drink beer.
Favorite Moment: Any time he’d cheers a beer with someone, then stun them.
4. Ric Flair
When I was in Boston with the Red Sox, Ric Flair actually came into the clubhouse to motivate us. This was September of 2011 when we were in the middle of that huge collapse, so they brought him in to kind of lighten the mood. He was doing a bunch of strutting and a bunch of “Woooo’s!,” basically like he was in the ring. Dustin Pedroia and I were big wrestling fans, so he definitely spent more time at our lockers than anybody else’s. It didn’t fix the team, obviously, but was still really cool.
Favorite Moment: I didn’t really see Ric in his prime, but I do remember his big rivalry with Vince, when the storyline was that Ric led the consortium that bought 50 percent of WWE out from under McMahon. That led to the iconic match at Royal Rumble in 2002 where Vince came out like he had taken 100 cc’s of steroids a day for like a year and was absolutely jacked out of his mind. Ric was all bloodied up, but finished him with a figure four leglock.
5. Shawn Michaels
Who doesn’t love a guy who comes to the ring with walkup music saying, “I know I’m sexy?” (That’s one at-bat music choice that I haven’t made for myself.) And I loved his finisher — a super kick to the head seemed to be something that really would knock you out to end the match, not like a bunch of these pushover finishers that are just body slams or something weak that doesn’t really do anything to a guy.
Favorite Moment: The Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series. Nobody can forget that one, where he and Vince planned to screw over Bret Hart because Hitman wouldn’t follow the storyline and give up the belt.
Favorite Non-Traditional Matches
Money In the Bank is always a good one. You see a lot of the high fliers and high-risk stuff that throws you back into your seat and go, “Oh my God!” And you look back at the old-school Hell In a Cell matches where Mankind is being thrown off the top steel by Undertaker, into the announcer’s table, choke-slammed into the steel and into the ring, then breaks the ring — it’s crazy. Hell in the Cell and Money in the Bank … and any ladder match. In those, you’re going to get some wild moments that let you see how truly talented and athletic these guys are, and how much they’re willing to risk just to entertain you.
Personal Finishing Move, If I Had the Skills
The powerbomb. I like those big powerful moves more than the submission to end the match. Or maybe even the choke slam? (Actually, I’m not strong enough for that, so back to the powerbomb.) I’d model mine after Batista’s. If you remember Kevin Nash and The Undertaker, theirs were more of a jackknife where they just brought the other guy up and dropped him. Batista would pick guys up, fall down with them and actually slam them into the mat. Almost through it.