Wrestling fandom is a strange, but wonderful creature. We’ve all got our own starts in wrestling, some unique, some run of the mill. Some have these once in a lifetime experiences that draw them closer and closer. I won’t claim to be an avid wrestling historian like most of our fellow staff members are. My beginnings in wrestling, more specifically WWE, are a fairly simple story: it was a family gathering, of sorts. I have a large, and relatively disconnected family, and wrestling was just another way to get four young restless children, two exhausted parents, and a loving caring set of grandparents into the same place at the same time and bond. It sounds strange, but it’s something that drew my family closer together. Monday nights quickly became a race to get our homework done, eat dinner, shower, brush our teeth and settle in with Mom, Dad, Noni and Popi for a night of fun, jokes, and bonding. With that, you have my beginnings of wrestling fandom. Like most good things, it had to come to an end. Mom and Dad became busier and busier, Noni and Popi eventually moved away to Florida, and we grew apart as a family. As our family bond loosened, so too did my fandom of wrestling. It seems like a long time now, being twenty-three, that this all happened, but it’s one of those things that you remember no matter what. It’s something you carry close to yourself because you want to remember the good times you had no matter what trials and tribulations you go through in life. For me, it’s a personal reminder that no matter how bad things get in life, you can still look forward to having the things that once made you smile back in your life again in some way, shape, or form. Needless to say, once the bond left, wrestling just didn’t seem at all that important to me. I ended up living the life of a normal primary and elementary school aged kid: I went to school, I did homework, I played sports, went to church every single Sunday at 8am, and then I went to bed and did it all over again.
Fast forward to life in middle school, give or take when I was in sixth or seventh grade (it’s hard to remember these days…I can thank football related concussions for that), and we start to get the beginnings of wrestling re-entering my life. My best friend (we’ll call her M) at the time was an absolutely wonderful soul. Her family was essentially my family, because my family had been going through some truly heartbreaking times. I don’t say that for sympathy, but it’s important to this entire story. I spent a lot of time with her family, so much so that it was almost like I was an adopted son to them, and I’d like to think if it weren’t for that, I’d be a lot worse off these days than I am currently. M and her family just so happened to be huge, huge wrestling fans. Her father, who I still talk to on a weekly basis, was a security guard at what is now known as the TD Garden in Boston. At the time, I lived about fourty-five minutes away from Boston in a small, small farming town. All we knew around here was cranberry bogs and the great outdoors, living near Myles Standish State Forest. M and her father, Peter, ended up getting me back involved into wrestling, back in 2006. It was a gradual transition, from watching maybe an hour or two before walking ten minutes down the dark, forest-blanketed streets of my hometown to return home to my parents, to spending entire Monday and Friday nights over at M’s house, being enamored and captivated with the same art-form that captured my mind and imagination as a wee, wee lad.
The look, feel, and attitude of the WWE product in 2006 was certainly much more different than that of the early and late 1990s. Mainstays that I knew such as Hunter Hearst Helmsley had morphed into the now infamous Triple H, Shawn Michaels lost his edge and instead gained an endearing sense of humor, tag-team mainstay Edge had turned into a bonafide main-eventer, and a young guy from West Newbury, Massachusetts turned into the polarizing face of the entertainment and media powerhouse. Out of every single possible feud going on in 2006, though, not a single one drew me in as much as the battles between John Cena and Edge. The two performers had this innate chemistry that you just didn’t see or feel from any other opponents on the WWE roster at that time. John Cena was the rough-and-tough babyface trying to make a name for himself, and Edge was the badass, your rules mean nothing to me outlaw who wanted to prove that he belonged at the top, not somebody else. I never really understood most of their feud, having got right back into wrestling at the beginning of it, but by the time SummerSlam 2006 rolled around, I only cared about seeing John Cena and Edge do battle. Peter ended up getting tickets to SummerSlam, four of them, for free from his boss. As you can imagine, when I was offered the ability to go to see a live wrestling event I was absolutely over the moon.
I waited for months and months on end, excitement building each and every day to see this absolute spectacle. Going into Boston for a small-town kid like me was always an adventure. If you’ve never lived in the area of Boston, it’s different from a lot of other cities. Yes, it’s true, we’re infamous around here for being what you might call a “Masshole” – in short, fiery tempers, assholes, the whole nine yards. More than that, though, the city of Boston has incredible sights, sounds, attractions, food, and culture. Even now as an adult, or as much of an adult as I care to act or admit I am, I still find myself becoming whimsical at any chance I have to go into the city and experience it. While I still don’t remember much of my live experience at SummerSlam, because a large part of the show on re-watch on the WWE Network recently proved it was forgettable (sorry Foley/Flair & DX/McMahons – I just wasn’t that into you. It was you, not me), John Cena and Edge is etched in my mind, at least the finish is. Edge pulled one more over on John Cena by using brass knuckles. I’m not even ashamed to admit that thirteen year old me flipped out and was so upset that John Cena didn’t win. It comes with being, well, thirteen. Being from Boston, most folk here pride themselves on local heroes in sports and entertainment. I’ll just as proudly tell you that David Ortiz launched another massive home-run over the Green Monster down on Yawkey Way as I would that Patrice Bergeron netted another game-clinching goal and brought us one step closer to the Stanley Cup. I’ll gloat about how amidst all the speculation, Tom Brady will rise from the ashes of defeat and make the Patriots successful again. At age thirteen, John Cena was included in that category. I would have, and did, swear up and down that John Cena was a hero to us as much as Tom Brady, David Ortiz, Patrice Bergeron, Larry Bird, Ted Williams, and Bobby Orr have been and continue to be. Sports have always been an integral part of my life, and always will continue to be. The amount of Boston Bruins memorabilia I own is absurd, even right down to the Boston Bruins “Spoked B” tattoo that resets upon my left shoulder.
After a disappointing finish, I wanted more. I couldn’t stand to see someone who was revered as hero in Boston be humiliated like that in front of us, his hometown. Neither could the tens of thousands of people in TD Garden on that night, and for that fact, neither could John Cena. So we fast forward a month to Unforgiven. Toronto, Ontario, Canada played host to Unforgiven 2006, and it also played host to one of the damnedest matches I’ve seen in terms of mixing quality story lines with brutal, hard-hitting, and hatred fueled action. John Cena was granted one final opportunity to reclaim what was rightfully his – the WWE Championship – but it was deep in enemy territory. Edge had the hometown advantage, something Cena had a month earlier, but he also had the stipulations working ever in his favor. After all, Edge had never tasted the grim fortunes of defeat in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match, so why should he or anyone else think that Cena would be able to succeed where so many have tried before? The stage was set, the battles been won before, but this one would decide the outcome of the war. Do or die, as they say. The purveyor of Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect versus the Rated-R Superstar. Two men, one championship, only one possible outcome. You could not have set the stakes higher, nor could you have chosen a better time, place, and way to end their battle that had been engulfing the better part of the Summer of 2006.
Again, I was thirteen years old at this point. The internet had no prominence and there was no speculation, no dirt-sheets, no insider news to spoil this for me. I sat, glued to the television, on an old shag styled rug in a living room with my best friend and her parents and watched as two performers (who I didn’t think were just ‘performers’ at the time, admittedly) fought tooth and nail and threw every single thing they had at them. If this was the best it got, if this was the high point of anything I’d watch on WWE programming at this point, I would have been able to die a happy man. Insane bumps, a touch of blood, and a heightened sense of danger and drama all encompassed this match. Cena was painted as the hero throughout this entire feud, and even acted as such in one of the most hostile anti-Cena crowds ever. The Toronto crowd absolutely reviled Cena, to the point where they threw beer and other objects at him. Most athletes or performers in this situation would have snapped instantly, but not Cena. He maintained his presence and walked out the battle-hardened champion that no one expected him to be.
While most of the live experience I have of seeing their SummerSlam encounter as well as watching the Unforgiven encounter is very hazy, I still carry a little bit of that emotion ten years later. I think about these matches and it allows me to feel like a kid again, to feel that raw excitement and energy that I did by seeing two men give it their all for entertainment. This also served as an ignition for my passion for wrestling.
All of us can pinpoint the exact time and place in which we started to think critically about wrestling, as well as feel as passionately as we do currently about it. Passion is a wonderful thing. I tell most of employees this on a daily basis, and it still rings true: Without passion, what do you have to live for? Certainly, there must be something we all feel passionate about and long to share that passion. And so I share that passion with you today, my friends. John Cena and Edge reignited a long, lost passion within me that I carried when I was three or four years old. That passion always remained buried, waiting for something or someone to break it free and unleash it. That’s what makes wrestling, to me, so special. Not a lot of sports or art forms can clearly sell the fact that they have the ability to awaken an indelible passion from within a person, no matter their race, sex, religion, or what have you. Wrestling is beautiful because, no matter how different we may all be, it can unite even the most hated of enemies in an environment of celebration, happiness, and entertainment. That, I believe, is something that now more than ever is of true value.