Do you know what I miss most about 2007? I miss selling physical media in a brick and mortar store being a viable business plan. It was WrestleMania 23 weekend, Mike and I were in Detroit at a hotel too far from any of the venues to walk. We needed a car all day and night and because of that we needed to find things to do during the day other than drink our faces off.
At the risk of sounding completely ancient, back then there was no WrestleCon, or WWN live events to keep the days busy. There was Axxess, which seemed like a lame waste of time, and there were ROH shows at night on Friday and Saturday. We would go to both, and we would carve out time for meals, and we would get drunk, and I would smoke too many cigarettes to pass the time, but we still needed things to fill our days before the wrestling started. Thank god for strip malls and suburbs.
We found a little comic shop, the kind you may remember if you’re in your thirties, that felt like someone had just cleared out their basement and rented a storefront and called it a day. Under the stacks of back issues were giant tupperware containers filled with loose wrestling action figures from the early 90s. Nothing had prices. We didn’t have anywhere to be, and I looked for a Kamala and a Greg Valentine for what must have been an hour. I bought a reprint of a Paul Pope thing because I had lent mine to a girl and was pretty sure I was never going to get it back. Behind the register, where the rare stuff was, the owner had a ceramic coin bank of Captain Marvel that played Jesus Christ, Superstar whenever you put money in to it. He wanted $75 for it, and I offered fifty. We haggled for a bit, and I left with money in my pocket and a Shazam shaped hole in my heart.
It seems sort of insane looking back, but I think both of us were more excited for the ROH shows than we were for WrestleMania that year. The WWE was putting out a decent product, but opinions among wrestling fans are slow to shift, and the vast majority of us remained convinced that every good John Cena match was him being carried, and he didn’t know how to sell and his offense sucked. On paper, I was probably most excited for the MVP match. Please know: I was a dummy back then. I still am, I guess, but at least I know it. That’s how I divide the wrestling community now: those who have garbage opinions but remain steadfastly ignorant in them, or those who have garbage opinions, but have enough sense to know that they are garbage.
There were loads of things I was excited for on those ROH super shows. I remember watching the Drgaon Gate six man from the year before on DVD and being sure that I was watching it in 1.5x speed because everyone was going so crazy fast. Having even more of those guys come back seemed like a once in a lifetime event. Every match up seemed fresh. Erick Stevens was debuting, and Rocky Romero was coming back, and ROH felt like it was starting a new chapter in the same way RAW does now when there is an NXT call up.
Despite these fresh faces and once in a lifetime chances to see people I bought as Japanese living legends, I was there not to see a start, but to see an ending. Jimmy Jacobs and BJ Whitmer were going to have a cage match and it more than anything else that weekend felt like a big event. I’ve written about Jimmy Jacobs before, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned that he captured an aspect of my generation’s youth culture in an absolutely breathtaking way. He was charismatic and crazy and worked with a sense of yearning and manifested itself as unbridled recklessness. BJ Whitmer was always portrayed as the face, this bland guy who loved Jacobs when other told him he wasn’t worth it, only to be turned on due to the machinations of an evil, vindictive woman. Jacobs wasn’t even really the heel, merely a tool, someone to be pitied; he was being used and taken advantage of, and would be cast aside at the earliest possible convenience, like a tiny emo Kamala. That was seemingly the story that was put forth, but it always struck me as an oversimplification. Maybe I was projecting, and maybe I still am, but in my eyes, if you sat down with Jimmy Jacobs and said hey man she’s using you, she doesn’t love you, she never will he would look you in the eye with a mix of pride and pain and agree, but it wouldn’t matter because every time she used him it meant he got to be close to her. Every time he bled or made someone else bleed, she would smile and scream and his heart would skip.
In our own way, in our purest moments, we all wish to make someone feel like that. Jimmy Jacobs, a broken, destroyed man, was trying to harm his former best friend, not because he was brainwashed, but because it was the most selfless thing he could think to do.
The rules of this match are a bit ridiculous, but I’ll do my best to describe them: It’s a cage match where the only way you can win is by pinfall or submission. You can’t win via escape, but if you can incapacitate your opponent long enough to get to the door, you can have an ROH young boy run to the back and grab a random weapon for you to use. This is like something out of a video game. There was really nothing in a build to this match that necessitated anything this convoluted, but it did serve to make for some fun anticipatory moments of seeing what would come out next. Jimmy Jacobs clearly at a disadvantage because his assigned young boy is Bobby Dempsey.
I know people have grown to hate the Kevin Dunn “dive out of no where” shot, but it is amazing here, and serves to really set the tone for the match. Whitmer absolutely destroys a guard rail with his body. I think he’s punishing himself for his hairstyle, which I can only describe as a thirteen year old girl who went to the Bahamas over the summer and got her hair braided because she “fell in love with the culture”. Jacobs, for unclear reasons, picks up an empty plastic water bottle and whips it at BJ from about 3 feet away. It bounces back and shatters his front tooth. We are less than a minute in, neither person has gotten in to the cage, and someone’s already down a tooth.
Jacobs is a crazy person and celebrates his lack of teeth by getting in to a forearm battle. Whitmer gets the early advantage once they start doing wrestling moves, and points to different sides of the crowd to see which direction he should throw Jacobs. I am proud to say that my section lustily boos Whitmer, which clearly takes him aback. Jacobs repeatedly dies for our pleasure on the ropes and the fence. Whitmer is the first to request a weapon, and receives a steel chair, which is sort of like the BJ Whitmer of weapons: at first it seems like well-worn territory, but as it goes on you realize it’s actually surprisingly effective.
It’s pretty jarring now to see chair shots to the dome, but at least Jacobs looks as though he’s attempting to get his hands up on some of these early ones. I’m pretty sure Jacobs just handed a tooth to the referee. Imagine a man handing you a tooth and having to pretend that everything was normal. Jacobs then leads Whitmer directly to the ringside camera to show off his bloody mouth. What a pro. He looks like Tim Thatcher in mascara now. He takes over with a drop toe hold and requests his first weapon on the match, which is his trusty railroad spike. Whitmer is a dirty cheater and hid one in his boot. He clearly is a student of the Hulk Hogan school on how to be a good guy. I didn’t care when I was in the crowd. I’m pretty sure I just kept screaming Stab Each Other, not even in rhythm to get a chant going or anything. Just a loud request, like someone yelling for freebird in between songs at a concert. They oblige. I was appreciative of their efforts.
Whitmer is an underrated bleeder. It’s a skill I appreciate. They hold each other’s hair and stab each other in the face over and over and if there were doves flying up this would look like something out of a John Woo movie. Whenever BJ gets an advantage in this match, he tries to push said advantage by using moves he would use during their tag team days. I love this touch, it’s like he subconsciously wants to show Jacobs how good they were, to use his strength to remind him of what they had. He’s trying to win with what he has, but he’s trying to snap him out of it, to save his friend at the same time. At the end of the day though, Jacobs just keeps coming, and keeps getting more violent, and Whitmer regresses and sinks to his level. He gets a barbed wire baseball bat. It’s aluminum though, so it’s only legal in high school and college.
Jacobs has managed thus far to counter every initial weapon shot by BJ, which may be unintentional, but really informs the match and shows Whitmer’s reservations about using the same tactics that he has been a victim of. Jacobs gets the bat and absolutely crushes BJ with it. Just a full swing with a bat in to his arm. Golly. That had to suck really bad. I know that’s the kind of insightful commentary you’ve come to expect from this column.
The crowd chants “you sick fuck” at Jacobs and he responds by licking the blood off of BJ Whitmer’s forehead. You can see him whisper to BJ right before he does it. I assume he said something like “hey, weird question, you don’t have hepatitis or anything, right? No reason, just wondering”. This control segment by Jacobs is mesmerizing. I normally hate watching people set up big prop or weapon spots in a match like this, but Jacobs does so with such a sense of discovery and wonder that it’s hard not to follow him on the journey.
BJ starts to get some momentum back and it culminates with him giving Jimmy Jacobs a brainbuster on to the seat of an open chair. It’s a great near fall, and it’s followed by another one when Lacey slams the cage door on Whitmer’s head. It would have been such a sleazy way to win the match after all that, I think we all bit on it. Bombs are being thrown around at this point. they tease a top rope powerbomb, which is a harrowing call back to earlier in their feud where they slipped on the same move and Jacobs hit the back of his head on the apron. Whitmer hits a piledriver and I think Lacey was late to break up the pin. He responds in a totally reasonable and not at all unnecessarily violent way by giving her a piledriver.
Shortly after this, Jacobs clearly destroys his knee on a contra code. He goes to check on Lacey to buy himself some time, and practically orders the young boys to set up the table for him. He goes to the top of the cage and Whitmer follows him up. They tease Jacobs falling to the outside. He must have been in absolute agony. He climbs back up and hits the senton through the table for the win. As they dismantle the cage around him, he crawls to an unconscious Lacey as the referee tries in vain to take his knee brace off. Watching it now, it strikes me as something uniquely great about pro wrestling as a medium. His actual pain and suffering add to the story in an organic and immediate way. It’s like improv with emotional and physical suffering.
After the show finished we wandered our way back to the hotel room and picked up a pack of menthol cigarettes, a baby ruth, a twelve pack, and one hundred and sixty ounces of Steel Reserve. We drank like we were making up for lost time, which I suppose we were. We started in the room, but ran out of ice. We let some of the beers chill and brought the forties to the indoor pool and hot tub, which we managed to get in to despite a locked door and a big closed sign. It was all tremendously punk. I’m not a strong swimmer, but the empty bottles served as the world’s most depressing floaties for the evening. Mike escaped to call his girlfriend to wish her a happy birthday. As you might imagine she was less than psyched that he had chosen Ring of Honor shows over her, but he was confident it would blow over. The night went long, and at some point I couldn’t be bothered to leave the poolside anymore and just started smoking in the hot tub.
I couldn’t get that stupid ceramic coin bank out of my head, and regretted not buying loudly and repeatedly. Mike reassured me that we would go back, and we would haggle. We would get that thing, and we wouldn’t pay one cent more than $60 for it. I fell asleep already dreaming of bringing it back with me, putting it on display. I didn’t have a mantle, but I had a night stand made of an old milk crate. That would have to do. People would see it, and they would all think it was as funny and cool as I did, and when they asked about it, I’d have a great story.
We woke up the next day and got pizza. I was so hung over I was dabbing the grease off of a slice with a paper napkin above a candle and caught part of the table on fire. I put it out with a Coke before anyone on the wait staff noticed. They just thought we’d had a spill. We drove in to town to get ready for the final show of the weekend. We parked next to a dude in a Finlay shirt. Neither of us brought up the plan we’d hatched the night before. In the light of day, it didn’t seem nearly as important. Later that night, as we drove home, passing billboards and making small talk, I realized that it was the plan itself that was what I would bring home and have as a token from that weekend, and not the coin bank itself. I ended the weekend with $60 in my pocket. I still felt hung over, it was 2 AM on the highway to Cleveland, and we were leaving WrestleMania. I felt like an adult.