Ahead of the WWE event in Abu Dhabi, Hugo Berger flew to Los Angeles to watch the second-biggest event in the organisation's calendar, the melodramatic Summerslam
My only previous experience of seeing a live wrestling match dates back to my childhood in England. Sometime in the 1980s, I dimly recall viewing a show by the now-defunct British Wrestling Federation in the dreary seaside town of Weston-super-Mare.
All I can remember was that it involved two fat, panting, Spandex-clad blokes ungraciously throwing each other around the ring, with white-haired old ladies waving their umbrellas at them.
While the Spandex might live on, wrestling, thankfully, has evolved somewhat in the intervening years, with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) adding a huge dose of theatrical glitz to proceedings.
And with WWE on its way to Abu Dhabi, the organisation gave me the opportunity to preview what to expect by flying me out to watch Summerslam, the second-biggest event in the organisation’s calendar.
Taking place at the capacious Staples Center indoor stadium, it was a sheer assault on the senses. Think of the loudest rock concert you’ve ever been to – wrestling easily matches those decibel levels.
If it wasn’t the roaring of the 17,000-strong crowd, it was the boom of pyrotechnics and the thunderous entrance music that accompanies each star. In fact, I doubt those spectators in the first few rows have heard anything since.
As for the contests themselves, the fact that they’re totally scripted is no longer a secret. But this means you’ll never have to experience a disappointing draw or moments of torpid play as one does in real sports.
Instead, the two combatants will invariably be embroiled in an epic battle, with as many melodramatic twists and turns as the showdown of a Rocky movie. The fact that it’s about as authentic as one of Sly Stallone’s celluloid rumbles doesn’t seem to bother anyone.
Case in point: the bout between the crowd favourite CM Punk and the hulking Brock Lesner. At one juncture, as our hero lay writhing on the floor in feigned agony, a young lad next to me kept bellowing “Get up, punk!” at the top of his voice. He seemed to earnestly expect his vociferous encouragement to affect the result. (It didn’t. CM Punk lost.) Nevertheless, the audience seems prepared to suspend all disbelief.
For the main bout of the evening, the crowd’s loyalty seemed torn. It involved two good guys, or “faces”, as they’re known in wrestling parlance: the bearded underdog Daniel Bryan and the current world champion John Cena. But after a particularly drawn-out fight, Bryan triumphed, only to be met by a cascade of ticker tape and audience adulation. His glory was short-lived, however, as a turn of events saw Bryan being felled by a sneak attack by the referee. Then rival wrestler, Randy Orton, arrived in the ring and pinned Bryan down, snatching the title away from our plucky hero.
The intricacies of this contrivance were lost on me, yet I could not help but feel aggrieved. “That really was quite unfair,” I found myself protesting to a Mexican journalist.
This outcome was as close to a shock upset as you get in WWE. Yet, as people streamed out of the stadium, everyone could be sure that Bryan will one day achieve retribution for this inequity.
For in the narrative of wrestling, while the heroes may lose the battle, they will always win the war. (Indeed, at the next WWE pay-per-view event, Night of Champions, Bryan enacted his revenge over Orton.)
WWE may be a brash, choreographed sham but it also is glamorous and entertaining. In fact, while both purported to be wrestling, it’s completely unrecognisable from what I saw in that grimy hall in Weston-super-Mare so many years ago.
• WWE Live takes place at Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi, from October 10 to 12. Visit www.wwe.com for more information