The Rock crumbles

NEW YORK, March 15 (AFP) - The Rock crumbled, TheUndertaker was victoriously resurrected and a Playboyquartet put on a tag-team performance that would havemade Janet Jackson blush.
Twenty years after its debut in Madison Square Garden,Wrestlemania – the Super Bowl of the pro wrestlingcalendar – returned to the fabled New York arena lateSunday, delivering an evening of grappling slapstick toa sellout crowd, and a multimillion-dollar pay-per-viewpayout to its promoters.
A strange hybrid of circus and soap opera, prowrestling is all about characters and plot lines withthe odd passing nod to the idea of a sporting contest.
To aficionados, Wrestlemania XX provided the climax toa series of long-running sagas and personal rivalriesbuilt up over the past year with an eye on the bigannual show.
One much-anticipated showdown labelled The Battle ofFormer Best Friends'' saw Christian conquer ChrisJericho to rub salt in the wounds of a hugelycomplicated feud over Jericho's statuesque girlfriend,Trish. The biggest cheer of the night greeted the comeback ofa much-loved character called The Undertaker, who hadsupposedly been buried alive by a competitor in Decemberbut managed to dig himself out for Sunday'sextravaganza. Entering the ring to the sound of Gregorian chantingand guarded by a phalanx of torch-bearers in monks'robes, The Undertaker maintained his 100 percentWrestlemania record by jumping on his prone opponent'shead from a very great height. While every move in pro wrestling is carefullychoreographed and the result of every boutpredetermined, the level of required athleticism isnothing to be sniffed at. And because of the size and weight of the wrestlers,one small deviation from the scripted action is likelyto result in an extremely painful accident. Some of the most obsessive fans -- and those who madeup a significant portion of the crowd at the Garden --are in the 10- to 15-year-old age range, such as12-year-old Colin Ryan, who had come with his father allthe way from Birmingham, England, for the event. Asked to name his favourite wrestler, Ryan respondedwith an unstoppable 15-minute lecture about the relative merits of virtuallyevery single participant in Wrestlemania XX, backed byan encyclopedic knowledge of their career statistics andstrange personal habits. Well, you did ask,’’ his father commented as theymoved off to take their seats.
Given the young demographic of pro wrestling fans,critics have questioned its suitability as familyentertainment,'' citing the common use of profanity anddistinctly misogynistic undertones. A delerious reception was certainly given to thePlayboy Evening Gown Match’’ that saw a bikini-topped,suspender-clad Sable, Torrie Wilson, Stacy Keibler andMiss Jackie stomp on each other with gay abandon.
Another crowd favourite was Dwayne Johnson, TheRock,'' one of the handful of wrestling stars who haveachieved some crossover success -- in his case astarring role in the movie The Scorpion King.’’
The Rock entered the ring to the crowd chanting hisbest-known catch phrases which include, Can You SmellWhat The Rock is Cookin'?'', the inexplicable LayethThe Smacketh Down,’’ and ``Just Bring It!’’
In the end, he just lost.
The marketing hype that led up to Wrestlemania XX wassomewhat deflated by an investigative report in the USAToday newspaper that revealed a seamier side to theshowboating razzmatazz.
The report showed that of the 1,000 wrestlers youngerthan 45 who have worked on the pro wrestling circuitworldwide since 1997, 65 have died – 25 of them fromheart attacks or other coronary problems.
Of those 25, medical examiners concluded that steroidsmay have played a role in five deaths, while evidence ofuse of painkillers, cocaine and other drugs was cited in12 others.