Spring is the season when things really kick into high gear. No, not for tennis. For wrestling.
I’ve been a WWE fan pretty much all my life. Growing up in Greensboro, N.C., it felt like every year we would get a major WWE event in our backyard, at the Coliseum: either a Raw or a pay-per-view. So my friends and I started getting really into it when we were around 10 or 11 — and I’ve been a die-hard fan ever since.
And when I say that my life revolved around WWE, I mean it revolved around WWE. Pro wrestling was life: Every Monday, like clockwork, I was right in front of the TV, ready for that week’s Raw. (My parents always made me go to bed before it ended, but I would sneak back downstairs to watch.) Every month my friends would come over and they’d each chip in five bucks so that we could watch that month’s pay-per-view. Every time Shawn Michaels would come out with a new T-shirt, I’d buy it — and I couldn’t wait to show it off at school the next day. I mean, it was serious.
And even though I’m a little busier now, I still make time to keep up with the storylines. It’s just a lot of fun.
In honor of this year’s WrestleMania, I thought I would draw some parallels between the two worlds that I know best: the ATP World Tour and the WWE. Let me know what you think — and hit me up on Twitter (@JohnIsner) and use #ATPxWWE if you have some comparisons of your own.
Let’s do this.
Roger Federer is Shawn Michaels
Roger is my favorite tennis player of all time, and Shawn is my favorite wrestler. It’s as simple as that.
But what makes this comparison really stick is the paths they have taken. Shawn’s career can be broken down into two distinct eras. In the first, he was this young guy full of swagger, the most talented guy around — maybe the purest talent that wrestling has ever seen. And based on that talent, he won championship after championship. But Shawn’s second era, which came later in his career, was just as impressive: He matured, he stayed at or near the top of the card and he put on matches that were as memorable as ever. (I was actually there, in person, at WrestleMania 25, for his match against The Undertaker. It’s still the greatest match I’ve ever seen. When Shawn lost, I was devastated.)
And Roger’s career has followed a similar — and similarly amazing — arc. He had his run on top as (in my book) the greatest player ever. But he’s also had a second run, this extended prime, which is really just as jaw-dropping. The way he’s out there, still an elite player, competing for — and even winning — slams into his 30s … it’s unbelievable. Roger’s the Showstopper. The Icon. The Main Event. He’s our Shawn Michaels.
(Oh, and this might surprise you, but Roger loves WWE. Loves it. He keeps tabs on the storylines. He goes online, goes on the WWE Network, and watches it. We’ll pass each other in the locker room, and Roger will give me the ol’ “You Can’t See Me” hand in front of the face, and shout, “John Cena, baby!” He’ll do the whole Randy Orton “Viper” deal. Honestly, he knows it all. It’s hilarious.)
Novak Djokovic is Bret Hart
The excellence of execution — efficient, confident, in possession of every move or shot in the book. Looking for a technical weakness? You won’t find one. Casual fans might deem this style “boring,” but real heads know: These guys come to work. They put their boots on and they get the job done. If that’s not thrilling to you, then you’re not paying attention.
Andy Roddick is John Cena
Hugely popular, all-American dudes who have some questionable early-career fashion choices to answer for.
John Isner is the Undertaker
Slow and methodical? Check. Takes his time getting to the ring? Check. Likes to play possum and make everyone think he’s gassed when he’s actually got a surprising amount left in the tank? Check. A lot of people assumed he would be a one-note gimmick, but he stayed true to his style and turned it into a long and successful career? Check. Immortal and undead force of darkness? Who’s to say?
Gaël Monfils is Neville
The ranking almost doesn’t matter. Gaël is one of those players on tour that fans love and go crazy for, no matter what — and you can see why. Like Neville, he’s always a threat to steal the show.
Andy Murray is the British Bulldog
Just let me have this one, O.K.?
Rafael Nadal is the Ultimate Warrior
That raw, intense, one-of-a-kind energy. Both won championships, and both packed stadiums. But mostly, it’s that energy. There will never be another Warrior, and there will never be another Rafa.
Nick Kyrgios is Stone Cold Steve Austin
Stone Cold is one of the most colorful characters you’ll ever come across. You never know what is going to come out of his mouth, both during a match and on the mic. Total disregard for authority. And, of course: an insane talent.
What a lot of people forget, because he’s so beloved now, is that it took fans a little while to warm up to Stone Cold. It didn’t happen overnight — and he was actually a heel for a good stretch there at first. That’s kind of how it’s been for Nick, as well. But I have a prediction for 2016: This will be the year of the Nick Kyrgios face-turn. Mark it down. He’s got the game and he’s got the personality. It’s just up to him to harness it. The cheers will come.
David Ferrer is Daniel Bryan
Love, love watching both these guys. They have so much fight — and they’re proof that it doesn’t take elite size to be an elite athlete. Very sad that DB had to retire. But man, what a career.
Jimmy Connors is Triple H
Triple H is an all-timer, and Connors is too. They both were heroes at times, and villains at times. They both outlasted their contemporaries by adapting and evolving. And they both played the mental game as well as anyone, ever. (As Triple H’s entrance song goes, “It’s all about the game.”)
But most of all: They both went on unforgettable runs late in their careers. For Connors, of course, it was that famous 1991 U.S. Open, when he reached the semifinals at the age of 39 — 21 years after his first U.S. Open. And for Triple H, it’s right now. In January he won the Royal Rumble to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Tomorrow night, he’ll be main-eventing WrestleMania at the age of 46 — 20 years after his first WrestleMania. Just an incredible feat.
Which brings me to my WrestleMania prediction: Triple H
Photographs by Getty Images, AP Images, and USA Today Sports Images