House of Hardcore / Great Lakes Wrestling, Waukesha, WI

I was a teenager in the Philadelphia area during the mid-1990s, and, as such, I gravitated toward ECW. As someone who was tired of both WWF / E and WCW, I found ECW exciting and dangerous, and I would watch the show every Friday night (or was it Thursday?) at midnight on Sports Channel Philadelphia.

At some point, I'll write a piece about my relationship and recollections of "growing up ECW" (shit that's a good title), but for the time being, I think it's important to know that I have a complicated relationship with the company. On the one hand, it rekindled my love of pro wrestling and connected me to 1990s counter-culture; on the other, I cannot condone its violence or views toward women.

I mention this because on December 3, I attended Tommy Dreamer's House of Hardcore show in Waukesha, Wisconsin. As Rick can attest, I had concerns about this show: the Expo Center is not the most pleasant of accommodations, Waukesha is basically "Trump country" of this state, and Ryback was performing on the card. But more than that, I wasn't sure how I'd feel seeing a hard-core show live in 2016.

And I'm still not sure how I feel about the show, and, in some ways, wrestling in general.

To quote Dennis Lemieux from Slap Shot, "My allergy to those fucking fans has returned." And in contrast to my experiences with Mondo Lucha (and even the WWE Smackdown taping I attended in March), I had a really hard time dealing with the fans at this event. Again, this was a clear cross-section of Red State America, but there was also a heavy contingent of snarky twenty-somethings that were both "in on the joke," but also mocking the entire art of wrestling show. In fact, I eventually moved from one section because I grew frustrated with a group of people who were laughing way too hard at their "wow, how is that permitted in the rules" and "god, this might be fake guys!" jokes.

There were also a number of "snarky smarks" in the crowd. While there was a large number of kids - and one large group of 5th grade-aged youngsters who chanting "We want tables!" a few times - a lot of the crowd just chanted as you'd expect other fan bases to react. They chanted "you still got it" at Mickie James (fair enough), and the "this is awesome" chant directed at the match of the evening. But there were also a number of homophobic and overly-sexualized comments loudly uttered by fans. I'm not claiming that I wasn't expecting to hear such things, but I am asserting there's no place for them, even in Trump-World.

By the way, dear wrestling fans, stop chanting "this is awesome" at every show. Western society has already diminished the meaning of the word awesome enough --- getting your Starbucks order quickly is not "awesome," your cat is not "awesome," and a wrestling match - no matter how incredible it may be - is not "awesome." Ya know what's awesome? Jupiter. The distances in space. The universe.

*angrily throws on corduroy jacket, grades papers* 

As for the wrestling, well, let's just say there were some highlights and lowlights Matt Cross - who's quickly becoming one of my favorite current wrestlers - had an amazing match with Tony Nese that earned a standing ovation from the crowd; meanwhile, Colt Cabana was his comic best in a match with a Canadian wrestler. But the rest of the card suffered in comparison. Mr Anderson had a dullllllllllllllll, clunkkkkkkkkkkkky match that just sorta ended (did you know he's from Green Bay?). And then there Tommy Dreamer's tag team match with Mickie James that eventually featured run-ins from Hornswoggle and *sigh* Ryback.

Was this match interesting? Not really. For starters, I hate inter-gender matches. Besides that, I feel very conflicted about watching Dreamer still wrestle. On the Stone Cold Steve Austin podcast, he outlined his litany of injures and concussions, and I get a bit uneasy seeing him take bumps. This is not to say I didn't enjoy seeing one of my favorite wrestlers from my teenage years in person. But it felt odd.

In addition, House of Hardcore bills itself as "free of politics," which is a statement that's patently absurd. Claiming that you or an organization is devoid of political thought or action is itself a political claim......

*fights impulse to go full-on English professor for the second time in this post*

There's also something odd about a show being called "House of Hardcore" when there wasn't - until the end of the evening - anything resembling "hardcore." To be fair, a lot of the violence of hard core wrestling doesn't make me comfortable (seriously, watch the Barbed-Wire match between Sabu and Terry Funk and note your honest reaction), so I think it's probably a good thing there's a dearth of hard-core components.

Edit: as a few followers on Twitter pointed out, Dreamer uses "hardcore" as a synonym for hard-work, but I still feel like evoking the term hard-core when so many fans interpret the words in other ways is misleading. 

I should also say by this point, I was getting tired from standing. General admission tickets didn't come with actual seats, so after 2.5 hours of standing on concrete, I was ready for a break. Also, my drink was really watered-down. Also, my soft pretzel sucked.

The other main event of the night was a steel-cage match between the stars of the Milwaukee television show, The Pro Wrestling Report with Al Snow and Abyss in their corners (Milwaukee is apparently one of, if not the, only market in the country with its own wrestling commentary show -- although it may be off the air at this point as I haven't seen it advertised in awhile). It was at this point that things started to get "hard-core" as Abyss dumped a bag of thumb-tacks onto the mat and then was joined in the ring by his pals to destroy Al Snow...

And then, the guitar rift of "Enter Sandman" filled the arena.

I have to admit as Sandman entered, I marked out a little. Despite whatever wrestling shortcomings he has, you have to admit the man can make an entrance. In fact, he bumped into me as he walked onto the railing of the main stairwell. I took the pic at the top of this page at the moment (and I think I took a nice pic actually) and then this one where he poured beer into a fan's mouth.

That's pretty great, admit it.

But again, the fans. During both Dreamer and Sandman's match, they began to chant "ECW! ECW!," but they were saying "DUB" instead of "W." To be honest, I never really heard the "DUB." Perhaps it's my East Coast-raised ear, but it always clearly sounded like a W to me. When did this shit start? I blame the WWE somehow.

To be fair, I always blame the WWE.

And then the Sandman caned a couple of guys and left. One of the other wrestlers won the match? I don't even remember.

I left the arena right after the end of the steel-cage match. There certainly were enjoyable moments of the evening, but on the whole, I can't say I enjoyed myself: the fans got on my nerves early and often, my stomach was bothering me, and the matches were uneven. But more importantly to me, this was a show that forced me to confront things about professional wrestling that I don't particularly care for, and I have to consider what that means for me as a fan moving forward.

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