Hey, welcome my Matt Attack Army! First time writing a piece for anyone, so hope this isn’t a dumpster fire!
For my series, I decided that I would use my love of WWE and in particular, the best era of wrestling, the Attitude Era. What follows, is the story of how I became a fan of professional wrestling…..
The year was 2000, the month was December and a not yet Mattnificent, sixteen year old, Matt Willis was staying up late, to watch a live wrestling pay per view. I had my coffee, my kitkats, and a comfy spot on the floor in front of the grand piano of a television set. This was my first time watching a WWF PPV, live, and also alone; in the past I’d always watched the events on VHS, with my best friends at the time, Scott and Robert, and always the same two ones, the 1999 King of the Ring, and 1999 Unforgiven events.
Whilst they were good events, and well worth watching if you haven’t had the chance to go back and watch them on the WWE Network, they were entertainment chosen by my twin best mates, and I needed to see for myself if, firstly, wrestling was something I wanted to watch long term, and secondly, if I could watch it alone, without someone else who was into It like the boys were.
The irony of writing that statement almost twenty years later, in the middle of a pandemic with no fans attending shows, and having to watch pretty much everything alone, until recently, certainly isn’t lost on me. But this isn’t about what wrestling is like now, you can hear that weekly on the GCBC Wrestling Podcast. This is about how my love of wrestling grew from one moment, to being, as my good friend Mags calls me, a WWE mark.
Armageddon 2000 had caught my attention when I had been seeing it advertised during Sunday Night Heat across the weeks building up, so I guess the old strategy of plugging the shows to death on the B-shows worked on me; I was about to embark on a journey. In 2000, the Uk terrestrial broadcaster, Channel 4, acquired the rights to Heat, and to some PPVs, which was the only reason I was able to watch this event, as although we had recently purchased Sky Sports, my mum needed a lot of convincing to purchase a PPV, so this was another part of the reason Armageddon was chosen I guess.
The card was stacked to be fair, filled with future world champions, and guaranteed Hall of Famers; The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz, Edge, Christian, The Goodfather as part of RIght to Censor, Billy Gunn, Ivory, Trish Stratus, Lita, and of course the late, great, Eddie Guerrero – who was ironically just fodder to the terrible (in my opinion) storyline between Dean Malenko, and Lita.
I was tempted to semi-review the show, but I’ll maybe do that in a future article, as although all of that was fantastic to watch, and I loved the majority of it, the best was yet to come
The main event. The Main Event to end all main events. My first one watching alone. It was a Hell In A Cell match; the infamous SIX man Hell in A Cell match, featuring six of the biggest, literally in one case, stars of the entire Attitude Era, and thusly the entire Industry.
As my third mug of coffee ran dry, and my kitkats long gone, the theme song hit for the man who would, one day, be responsible for the NXT brand of WWE, and I watched as Triple H strutted his way to the ring, and spewed the contents of his water bottle into the air. The Cell was surrounding the ring already at this point, and even as a very raw (pun intended) fan, I could tell this was going to be unlike anything I’d seen before from the then-WWF.
The next person to enter, was the man who would hook me into watching the program; Rikishi. The 400 plus pound former Intercontinental Champion, in his heel persona at the time, clad in his bright green Rikishi Wear entrance attire, appeared, and I admit at the time, I was a little confused, as I wasn’t entirely up to date at the time about the “I did it for the Rock” angle, as I’d been expecting “You Look Fly Today” to come blaring out of the speakers, but “Bad Man” did instead, so I was trying to piece together that, as the next entrant walked out, nervously; another future Hall of Famer, and weirdly, it was the then WWF Champion, Kurt Angle. “Medal” playing without the crowd chanting “YOU SUCK!” Is weird. Seriously, go back and watch any Kurt Angle entrance pre-2002, it is really, really weird.
Hearing Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin’ “ was a special thing, even if it wasn’t the exact version that The Undertaker would go on to use, but it was a significantly better theme song, than Kid Rock’s “American Bad Ass”. Seeing The Deadman walk out, not on his Titan bike, was again, odd, adding more fuel to the growing feeling that this wasn’t going to be a normal match. This was going to be very, very different.
With multiple referees keeping the combatants apart, the “Great One” made his entrance and marched right past the cowering Kurt Angle and into the Cell, doing his traditional arm raise, and “smelling what the People were cookin’ “ That, of course, left one last competitor, another, then future, Hall of Famer.
The glass broke, and the Texas Rattlesnake, Stone Cold Steve Austin made his way down to the Cell, but before he entered, he darted to the side and began beating on the reluctant WWE Champion, and dragged him into the cell, and it was go time.
Even with hall of fame commentary from Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler, the first part of the match was, and still is, a bit of a blur. Until, of course, the catalyst for the rest of the match arrived; Vincent Kennedy McMahon, and the “Stooges” Pat Patterson & Gerald Brisco. On the back of a truck full of wood chippings, which we had seen in the background during the event, but I certainly only paid notice to on a rewatch. After ripping the door off the hinges, the ego-maniacal McMahon had the truck back up to the cell itself so they could bring the rest of it down, which in storyline of course was because he was worried about the injuries to his ‘assets’ in the superstars from the match – ironically if he hadn’t taken the door off, things wouldn’t have escalated.
After the then commissioner, Mick Foley had McMahon taken out of the building by security and had dealt with Patterson and Brisco, came the moment that secured my loyalty to the sport of professional wrestling; they all exited the cell.
Austin got put face first through a window of the truck by the ring, Rock got sent face first into the windshield of a car, Angle was busted open. And then, it happened.
The climbing of the cell.
All of whom did it made me think, don’t do it, don’t risk it. I was living the kayfabe to the fullest. I was in the moment, leaning in to the boxy television, engrossed in my first live WWF PPV Main Event.
And then…….it was Rikishi’s turn to climb the cell. Having been late to the party, I had not yet seen the samoan super heavyweight perform the now infamous Superbly Splash off the steel cage at Fully Loaded five months previously, during his face run against Val Vends for the Intercontinental Championship, so I had no clue that he was fine climbing steel walls. What was to happen next, was not in my thoughts, as I also had not been privy to the Undertaker vs Mankind match at King of the Ring 1998; looking back, I have questions about why I wasn’t shown THAT King of the Ring event by Scott and Rob.
As Rikishi approached the Undertaker from behind, the Deadman was assaulting Kurt Angle, a bonafide Olympic gold medalist from Atlanta ’96, with a steel chair that had been thrown up to him by the timekeeper upon request. The sight of seeing Angle fall back first into the steel roof, from the cameraman filming underneath, made me shudder. It was chilling. What was to happen next though, was even more chilling. As Rikishi and the Undertaker duelled, Angle was able to scuttle away and down the cell, leaving the camera focus on the remaining two on top of the structure.
Rikishi being driven by ‘Taker’s soup bones, as JR used to call them, to the edge of the cell, prompted the Good Ol’ one to proclaim, “You can see the end of the world from here!” Before the inevitable happened – the doozle on Rikishi’s throat. Undertaker was poised to perform one of his signature moves; The Chokeslam. I knew that The Undertaker was strong, but surely he wouldn’t be able to deliver a chokelsam on Rikishi. I was right, and in more ways than one.
As Rikishi was pushed off the cell, with the flashbulbs in the arena going mad, I remember a mixture of emotions flooding my head, amazement, excitement, horror, among many others. As the super heavyweight landed in the chippings, half buried in them, the cameras showed the ones in the ring again, The Rock, Steve Austin, covered in blood, looking shocked. Even when you look back, nearly twenty years later, knowing that the people in the ring knew the planned spot, you have renewed appreciation for the portrayal of the story in the match.
Between that moment, and the moment that Kurt Angle got the, to me at the time, unlikely pinfall win in the ring, by throwing an arm over the Rock to retain his title – it’s all a blur. I have to admit, despite rewatching, and that’s many times, my dear readers, I cannot remember what happened between the Rikishi spot, and Angle getting the post match stunner from Austin. I know Triple H, Austin and the Rock were involved, with finishers used, but my attention was on Rikishi still. Part of me wonders to this day how they decided on it being Rikishi, given that the original plan, by all accounts, was that Rikishi was supposed to win the belt, to ‘shake things up’. The other part of me doesn’t care how or why they chose Rikishi – I was, from that day onwards, a fan of professional wrestling, and would be from then until now.
Being a larger guy, I could relate a lot to the future Hall of Famer who took the plunge that night in Birmingham, Alabama, and he made me feel like people who aren’t cover models for Muscle & Fitness magazine could make it into the WWF.
Twenty years later, the WWE roster has some very non-Muscle & Fitness superstars, who have made the infamous connection with me as a fan; Kevin Owens and my current spirit animal, Otis, who is the current Money in the Bank briefcase holder at time of writing.
WWE has gone full circle for me, a large, dancing, super heavyweight Samoan got me into wrestling, and now a large, loveable, super heavyweight blue collar hero is keeping me invested in wrestling.
That’s how I got started guys, I will be back soon with another look back at the Attitude Era of WWF, from my perspective, full of Mattitude, naturally.
Til next time, stay Mattnificent.
I’m Outta Here – Matt 🙂
Decent debut. The feelings and emotions came through in the words. “Grand piano of a TV” is a saying I never knew existed.
Thank you Mags, means a lot from a peer, and a friend, like you ♥️♥️