Wrestling's Super Bowl begins with video games
Posted: Friday March 30, 2007 3:20PM; Updated: Friday March 30, 2007 4:17PM
SI.com's Arash Markazi once again skipped out on the Final Four to check out the Super Bowl of professional wrestling, WrestleMania. He will check in with several updates from the scene through Monday.
DETROIT -- Dave Batista doesn't play video games and that's a problem. The World Heavyweight Champion of WWE is sipping on a drink behind the curtains of the historic Gem Theatre in Downtown Detroit, trying to stay unnoticed -- a difficult task for a 6-foot-5, 295-pound wrestler who looks as if he's been chiseled out of granite.
Batista is one of 16 wrestlers competing in the THQ Superstar Challenge, a video game tournament held during WrestleMania weekend the past five years. Problem is, Batista doesn't know the difference between a controller and a chinlock, but he's not worried. He has a plan.
"Watch this," he says as he's introduced to the over 600 fans that have packed into the dual tiered theatre to watch the event.
There really wasn't much to watch. In fact, if you blinked you might have missed him picking The Undertaker, his opponent at this Sunday's WrestleMania 23, and basically laying down so Montel Vontavious Porter (MVP) could pin him, allowing him to return backstage and enjoy the rest of his beverage.
"I assumed I was going to lose," said Batista after he walked down to the theatre's downstairs dining room. "My strategy was to play as The Undertaker so if The Undertaker lost it wouldn't really be me losing so the fans could get used to him losing and getting pinned 1-2-3. They might as well get used to it now because they're going to see it on Sunday."
While Batista's match during Thursday's THQ Superstar Challenge left much to be desired, he promised that his match against The Undertaker would be the complete opposite. After being lost amongst the publicity surrounding the hair vs. hair match with Vince McMahon and Donald Trump, he says that he and The Undertaker have been planning to steal the show; much like "Macho Man" Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat did 20 years ago when Hulk Hogan faced Andre The Giant at the Pontiac Silverdome.
"Even if it's lost now by the time we hit the ring at 'Mania it won't be, I'm telling you right now," he said. "We're going to give them a match they're always going to remember. I guarantee it. We're going to tear the house down. As of right now we're not in the main event, which breaks my heart, but wherever we are on the card I feel sorry for the match that has to follow us. When we found out that we wouldn't be the main event we both looked at each other and we knew what we had to do."
After winning the THQ Superstar Challenge the first four years, Shelton Benjamin "retired" from the event this year and didn't even show up to show. His absence opened the door for first-time winner Elijah Burke, who is a former officer for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. After beating Carlito in the final, Burke held his glass trophy and jokingly wiped away his tears as if he'd won an Oscar. "There was never a doubt in my mind that I would come out on top," he said. "You can't take anything away from the previous champion Shelton Benjamin and there will come a time when myself and Shelton will come face-to-face to see just who is the best."
While Burke had never played WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2007 on XBox 360 before, he was quick to adapt to the controls even if he wasn't the biggest fan of his video game character. "It wasn't too flattering," he said. "It looked nothing like myself. They slapped braids on a dark character and called it Elijah Burke."
Before the competition many of the wrestlers congregated in the theatre's dining room, located below the stage, where they chatted near the open bar and the buffet spread set up next to a couple of flat screen televisions hooked up to the XBox 360s. In case the wrestlers hadn't played the game before there were laminated instructions next to the controllers to help them. While Carlito and Bobby Lashley were practicing, they lost matches to Tommy Dreamer and CM Punk, respectively, who ironically enough won while playing the digital versions of Lashley and Carlito. "Just like in real life," Dreamer said. "Bobby don't do jobs right now. After Carlito lost to Dreamer he cheered on Punk. "C'mon man, I can't loose twice."
Easily the most respected wrestler in the WWE is The Undertaker, who is a perfect 14-0 in WrestleMania matches dating back to 1991. "There's no one on his level. He's our president," said Batista. "He's our locker room general." He's also been the locker room judge for years in "Wrestler's Court," an unofficial court where older wrestlers police others and keep everyone in line. The mock trials, usually held in a locker room before a show, are complete with veteran wrestlers playing the roles of judge, prosecuting attorney and defense lawyer. The catch is most of them can be bought off, especially the judge. "He will settle any dispute but he'll also always let it be known that he can be bribed," said Batista. "And he can usually be bribed with Jack Daniels. That's his weakness there."
While they prepared to walk through the curtains before their virtual match against each other, WWE Divas Ashley Massaro and Mickie James began posing in front of me. Before I got a big head, though, they pointed out that I was actually in the way of their intended audience: a full-length mirror taped to the wall.
There are few things that are certain in life but one of them is what Jimmy Hart will order when he sits down for a meal. Before heading to the Gem Theatre, "The Mouth of The South" and I headed to the famed Mario's Restaurant near Wayne State University. It was important to choose an Italian restaurant because Hart has basically eaten the same meal since breaking into the business: house salad with Italian dressing, minestrone soup and spaghetti with marinara sauce. "No meat, baby," he'll say. "And if y'all have any peppers, it don't matter if it's green, red or yellow, chop'em up in there."