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WWE lands in Bangor

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WWE lands in Bangor (edge photo by Mike Fern)

World Wrestling Entertainment hits the Cross Insurance Center

BANGOR The WWE was in town this past weekend, bringing their SummerSlam Heatwave Tour to the Cross Insurance Center on Saturday night.

While my days of true fandom are behind me, I've always maintained a certain degree of interest in the world of professional wrestling; it's one of those childhood artifacts that still captures my interest in a passing fashion. I've argued more than once that pro wrestling's true value is as one of the last bastions of melodrama in American popular culture.

(Does that sound a bit like someone justifying intellectual slumming? Perhaps, but it doesn't change the veracity of the statement.)

However you choose to view it, one thing is for certain: when you're in the room, you simply cannot deny the visceral impact that it has. There is something to be said for the idea of spectacle for spectacle's sake, and that's what the WWE is. Even in an untelevised card in front of a middling crowd in a small city like Bangor, these athletes (and I hope we've finally put to bed the notion that the scripted nature of their endeavors somehow negates the awe-inspiring athleticism of these performers) put on one hell of a show.

Top to bottom, it was a pretty impressive collection of talent, though I was surprised to discover just how much my own knowledge of the promotion had tailed off. There were a few names that I recognized Big Show, Kane, the Dudley Boyz but there were also a fair number of newer faces.

Intercontinental Champion The Miz was one I was curious about I remembered him from his days as a participant on one season of MTV's 'The Real World,' but I knew little about his wrestling persona. Turns out he's gone full Hollywood heel, gleefully antagonizing the crowd via both the microphone and his antics in the ring against a game Darren Young.

I was delighted to discover that there is a tag team known as the Vaudevillains, two guys whose whole gimmick is that they are old-timey vaudeville guys. Big mustaches and single-strap singlets and the whole shebang. Sure, they were basically cannon fodder for the lumbering duo of Big Show and Kane, but I'm just happy that the Vaudevillains exist.

In other tag team news, the pairing of Enzo Amore and Big Cass was a new one on me, but I was in the minority. Despite having only recently arrived from the WWE's NXT developmental ranks, the two have clearly become fan favorites in their short tenure their microphone work was amplified by the hundreds of people in the crowd chanting along in sync. It was magnificent crowd work maybe the best of the night.

There were a pair of women's matches one featuring Charlotte, WWE Women's Champion and daughter of wrestling legend Ric Flair; another featuring Sasha Banks, perhaps the promotion's biggest female star that illustrated just how far the women's division has come in a relatively short time. It wasn't long ago that that WWE's female competitors were basically a sideshow; there are still some exploitative elements, but there is no denying the athleticism and competitive fire that these women bring to the table.

The main event ostensibly for the United States title (so many belts!) was a surprisingly active four-way match. Titleholder Rusev was joined in the ring by Cesaro, Kalisto and Sami Zayn. It was the end of a long night, but all four men poured it on feats of strength and high-flying derring-do abounded. Ultimately, Rusev retained his title through chicanery (standard bad guy stuff), but all four competitors acquitted themselves well Kalisto in particular offered up some very impressive aerial action.

It was a wildly entertaining evening for me as a casual fan, but the truth is that the degree of passion put forth by the audience particularly the young kids was magnificent. Hearing children pouring out their hearts as they cheered for the good guys and booed the baddies was something special; we had a little boy sitting behind us with his dad who was simply mesmerized by the experience. He shouted and laughed and generally had what might well have been the best night of his young life.

What might surprise you is just how truly the wrestlers understand that.

These are guys who are on the road for months at a time, going out there in a different town every night and busting their respective humps to put on a good show. Scripted or no, the injury risk is real we saw one match stopped due to an injury to Heath Slater and these men and women are likely dealing with nigh-constant pain, yet every one of them seemed to embrace the idea that while it might be the same old story for them, it could well be a child's one and only opportunity to see their favorites up close.

Seriously no matter how battered or bruised, these guys took their time entering and especially leaving the arena, walking the rails and exchanging high-fives and taking selfies with fans. Even the heels found in-character ways to offer appreciation to the crowd. In a world where athlete entitlement seems to be growing more common every day, this attitude of fan service is particularly refreshing. For the wrestler, it's 10 seconds of time. For the fan, it's a lifelong memory.

There are those who look down their nose at professional wrestling for a variety of reasons. They're entitled to their opinions, of course, but I have difficulty thinking that anything that inspires that kind of deep-down unadulterated joy in the heart of a child deserves to be scorned or derided.

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