I just returned from Toronto recently. I flew there to meet my sports idol Monica Seles, who was making a rare public appearance at the Rogers Cup tennis tournament. It was a big thrill for me, she has always been my favorite female athlete (with apologies to the Glamazon) and I couldn’t believe I was going to see her play again.
I have admired Monica since I was in high school and although I couldn’t really afford tickets, I scrounged and saved for a long time to go to New York to see her play in the 1992 Virginia Slims Championships (a tournament she won). I saw her again in 1995 when she played an exhibition in Atlantic City, a match that celebrated Monica’s return to tennis after being stabbed (and almost killed) during a match two years prior.
It was awesome to see Monica return to competitive tennis in 1995, but nothing for her was ever really the same. Even her personal life suffered because of the trauma of the stabbing. Although Seles didn’t officially retire until 2008 her career stalled because of poor nutrition, age, and most importantly, a dominant new group of players spearheaded by the dynamic Williams sisters. I stopped watching because, to some degree, it was too painful to watch this once-proud champion’s career fall apart. At the time of her stabbing Monica was #1 in the world. How great could she have become? How much was taken away from her? As a fan those questions are painful. I can’t imagine how she deals with it.
So I hadn’t seen Monica play since 1995. Eighteen years is a long time. Throw in a chance to meet her and get a picture together, well, I had to be in Toronto. It was time to heal some of my memories and reconnect with one of my heroes.
In general the event lived up to the billing. The Rexall Center in Toronto is a great venue for professional tennis and I got to see a lot of exciting matches in my short 3 days there. I met Monica during an autograph session, got a photo with her, and had her sign a Seles baseball card I’ve had for over 20 years. I sat front row Monday night as she and Genie Bouchard (Canada’s #1 female player) lost an exhibition match to Serena and Venus Williams. (Note – I have no idea how they score these exhibition matches…the final was 8-5…your guess is as good as mine…)
In general I am happy that I went. Admittedly, though, seeing Monica play tennis again was very, very different than when I saw her buzz through Gabriela Sabatini 20 years ago. Gone was the steely gaze, the intense determination, the fierce competitor. Now Monica was smiling, happy, and having fun. The groundstrokes were still laser beams but they weren’t hit with the same ferocity. And truthfully, I kind of missed that female warrior. That warrior was the Seles I fell in love with.
Now I realize those memories are forever a thing of the past.
So how does this relate to professional wrestling?
I had a very similar experience at Wrestlemania 26 when Bret Hart made his triumphant return to the WWE. We all know the story with Bret, so it seemed like a big deal when Vince and Bret made peace and welcomed the Hitman back into the company. Then, in the run-up to Wrestlemania, Hart worked a program with Vince that led to a “no holds barred” match on the show.
I was in Phoenix that week and was excited to meet one of my wrestling idols. I’ve always been a big Bret Hart fan, especially his work in the 1980’s as a tag team with Jim Neidhart. Everything started off well – I met Bret at the WWE Art Show and got a nice photograph with him. However, once his Wrestlemania match with Vince started everything began to go downhill. I knew Bret couldn’t wrestle like he used to…but what was this?!?
All Bret did was walk around and swing a steel chair. The match was “no holds barred” just so that other wrestlers could get involved and contribute to the action. It became painfully obvious that the Hitman had to be severely protected in the ring and wouldn’t be taking any bumps. If that’s the case, then why even book this match at all?
I guess some Hitman fans liked the match, although I can’t see how that’s possible. It was great to see Bret at the WWE social events but having him step into the ring felt uncomfortable and I was just glad when the match was over. Bret will always remain one of the best in-ring performers in history so there is no need to remind everyone that his health has betrayed him, that it has taken away his world-class skills.
Incredibly, this is not an isolated case.
The amazing thing about professional wrestling is that guys like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Terry Funk still lace up their boots once in a while. I understand they like to revisit their glory, they enjoy feeling the spotlight again, but for these true legends I wish they would leave the in-ring action to the current generation. My God, Hulk Hogan just turned 60 and he still talks about wrestling again! 60!! I have so many great memories of Hulkamania from my past, all Hogan can do now is tarnish his legacy (we could argue that he has already done a great deal of damage to it).
I just read that Jake “The Snake” Roberts wants to participate in this year’s Royal Rumble. Do his fans really want to see this? What would it prove? We already know how great Jake was. Age has slowed all of these professionals. They can’t wrestle very well anymore, and their matches are nothing more than sideshow attractions. To say nothing of the inherent health risks!
I went to WrestleCon this past April, a great showcase for the stars of wrestling’s past, present, and future. It was a nice chance to get a photograph , ask for an autograph, and share a memory with wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart, Brutus Beefcake, Demolition, and Jake Roberts.
WrestleCon also featured a lot of great wrestling merchandise that you could purchase. Classic photographs, posters, programs, and action figures. These items all brought back wonderful memories for me. Memories of championship matches and important storylines. Those are the memories I want to hang on to. Those are the memories I choose to hang on to.
I had a great time at WrestleCon because the legends left the wrestling to pros like Cheerleader Melissa, who wrestled in a brutal steel cage match for the SHIMMER championship. It was the best of both worlds, solid wrestling and fun nostalgia.
My trip to Toronto will always be memorable because I met my tennis idol, Monica Seles. I will never forget the few moments we spent together. It was magical.
But when I think about the tennis itself, I’ll remember Lauren Davis, the US player fighting and clawing to advance to the second round. I’ll remember Canada’s rising stars Genie Bouchard and Carol Zhao playing in front of their hometown fans. I’ll remember Russian star Svetlana Kuznetsova screaming in agony after she was defeated.
I’d rather remember those matches more so than seeing Monica play half-hearted tennis in an exhibition match. I’m glad she had fun, but it was too far removed from her true legacy. From now on if I want to watch Monica play I’ll put in a DVD of the 1992 French Open Finals.
For this reason I’m not watching Wrestlemania 26 ever again. If I want to remember the Hitman, I’ll rewind a classic tag match with the British Bulldogs or maybe one of his battles with Shawn Michaels.