November 11, 2013

The Rock Vs. Mankind “I QUIT!” Match, Royal Rumble 1999 Analysis

10:40 am in comics,conversations,video,weird Ulises Farinas

And now for something completely different –

Superhero Comics has a cousin. Years ago, they would spend summers together, hang out and catch worms, and grow up into young men. But around puberty, they ended up going in separate directions. Maybe one was more into girls, and the other one, a bit nerdy. But they still hang out sometimes, and remember how much they have in common. Superhero Comic’s cousin is Wrestling.

For many of my generation, we grew up watching WWF, watching these men who were larger than life battle in an arena surrounded by screaming fans. Monstrous and macho, giants and acrobats, heels and faces. People often forget that Superman’s costume was based on circus strongmen, the precursors of wrestling today, and what started as a super strong, super fast, super jumping hero eventually fractured into countless different heroes. But some archetypes have become more popular than others. The cocky superman, The dark brooding antihero, the acrobatic wunderkind, the cold tactical supervillain, the sympathetic monster. Batman, Spiderman, Lex Luthor and the Hulk. The Rock, the Undertaker, Rey Mysterio, Triple H, and Mankind. These archetypes have developed simultaneously, each one occasionally becoming more popular than the others. It’s amazing then, how Wrestling takes these archetypes and finds ways to be more flexible with them than comics do. Superhero comics still think it’s interesting to show the dark side of a conventionally heroic character, whereas wrestling does it on a weekly basis.

Wrestling is often laughed at, because it’s fake. Wrestling fans already know its fake, and people who laugh at it and read comics need to pull out their wedgies. But it’s not fake, what they’ve done is taken the extreme constraints of telling a story through almost 100% physical pantomime to the highest level. They make you believe that this conflict is real, and the way they do it, is genius. Wrestling is always the story of “Lets you and you fight”, which is possibly the foundation of millions of hours of play time of little boys, but even more profoundly, it reduces the entire essence of plot to a rugged machine. I chose the match below because i think it perfectly illustrates the subtle brilliance of a wrestling match.

The Rock and Mankind are some of the most memorable characters in WWF history, and are so tied to these characters, its almost impossible to think of Dwayne Johnson and Mick Foley without thinking of these gimmicks. This “I Quit” match, during the attitude era, is basically the equivalent of the Death of Superman comic. Except, in this case, its the monster we sympathize with is Mankind. He is ugly, he is fat, he is not particularly athletic, his one defining characteristic is that he will never quit. The Rock is the hero, although playing a heel at this time, the Rock was never able to make the crowd hate him completely. Regardless of his attempts at villainy, the audience always was captivated by him. Its the opposite problem of Superman, where everyone hates the character cause he can’t be beaten. The Rock has been the champion countless times, whether as a villain or hero, but he’s always the People’s champion.

Watching the promo before the match, immediately, we are introduced to the players, and one of the defining elements of Wrestling. In wrestling, heroes and villains go by the terms “face” and “heel”. The distinction is important, because morality is not a black and white matter in these ongoing dramas. Rather than trying to convince their audience that some men are always good, and some men are always bad, regardless of circumstances, Wrestling instead shows us that our actions define us and also may defile us. One second of restraint may show a moment of goodness in a man’s heart, which is snatched away when they continue with a beating, simply to win.

Mankind begins the aggressor in the “I Quit” match, pummeling the attractive Rock, slapping him and immediately demanding that he quit. Whoever says it first, loses the match, there are no rules, no tap outs, anything goes. Its humiliating, no matter how you feel about The Rock, because Mankind constantly revulses you. He looks like he smells bad, is diseased and uncivilized. Perhaps the name “Mankind” is using his own image to comment on all of us. The pulsing masses of the crowd, crying out for blood. But when we see it, we recoil.

The commentators, our Greek Chorus, are jovial in seeing the carnage. Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler remarks upon seeing Mankind use the microphone as a bludgeon “That’s one good microphone. Mr. Mcmahon only buys the best!” It’s very silly. But as Mankind continues to beat on the Rock, something is happening. The Rock won’t quit, but this punishment makes us believe that he will, and he will soon. We want our heroes to fall, we want to see them brought down, made mortal like the rest of us. If there’s one thing that defines heroism, it’s the ability to defy the odds, but they aren’t odds if others didn’t fall before hand. Defeat must be snatched from the grip of the Grim Reaper. So what defines a monster? Maybe it’s the idea, that without a hero to protect us, that monsters will grow uncontrollable. The horrors of mankind will go unchecked, and it will only be because we all said “I quit.”

Wrestling is not satisfied with such a simple binary though. Because each wrestler is a hero unto themselves, they both must be granted a story arch that satisfies each of their journey. Its not simply that Hero defeats Monster, it becomes HOW the Hero defeats the Monster, and often, how violence transforms us into the monsters we battle. Violence is the melody, punches and kicks and submissions are the lyrics. We listen to two songs at once, and they both sound beautiful.

As the match continues, the Rock comes to life. “The Brahma Bull” as they call him, begins to charge. The battle begins to turn in his favor, and the Rock begins to announce to the crowd, his power. The Rock is pride defined, but what is wrong with pride if it means you believe you should win. In a fight for your life, you don’t simply want to defend yourself, but you want to defeat the aggressor. You deserve to win, and the Rock can’t picture an outcome where he would lose. Mankind challenged the Rock to the fight, saying “This is a fight you can’t win, and i can’t lose” based on the fact that Mankind can take any amount of damage, regardless of his wellbeing. Mankind will face destruction instead of defeat. But the Rock, does not ever believe he can even be destroyed. That pride is his power.

That pride is also what makes our hero, a heel. Its what makes a heel, a man. Its what makes a man into a villain. The concept of the heel/face means that every wrestler can embody any moral alignment, and still be in conflict with any other wrestler. And it means you can see the hero repeatedly smash a chair on Mankind’s head and face. At first, you cheer, but after blow after blow, you want it to stop. What kind of hero is this? It’s what we asked for, but we never really understand our own bloodlust. Mankind has fallen 12 feet, been electrocuted, handcuffed so he’s effectively maimed, and the Rock refuses to show any mercy.

When Mankind finally screams “I quit! I quit! I quit!” your heart sinks. You don’t want to believe that this was necessary. That for a man to be victorious, he must go so far. The story of the match is WAR IS HELL. One of WWF’s longtime slogans for one of its programs, is “RAW IS WAR”. We know, that all of us are capable of great violence, and it may even be a necessity at times. We hope, that we can call ourselves heroes, and try not to think about that history is written by the victorious. The Rock shows us what we’d try to forget, that we hate those who would go to any length to ensure victory, but we still demand that they lose more than just their lives to do it. We want to win, but we’ll let you pay the ultimate price for us.

It is poetry. Really punchy poetry. Wrestling is pretty awesome.

 


2 Comments »

  1. Pretty epic recap of the Attitude Era and this fateful match. You forgot to mention that it was later revealed that The Rock simply played a recording of Mankind saying “I Quit” from the PA System from an earlier promo for the match. But it all aligns into your running theme of paying too much to get to the top and leaving innocent bystanders in our wakes.

    Comment by Craig — November 11, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

  2. You know, i didn’t know that, but i suspected that it was true! Thanks for that bit of info.

    Comment by Ulises Farinas — November 12, 2013 @ 8:08 am

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