I can’t really say why wrestling seems to have undergone a cultural revival, though I suspect the short answer is “hipsters!” and the long answer is “hipsters!! (shaking fist).” This is probably attributable to bubble myopia more than anything real, but plenty of the music critics I know have crawled out of the dirt with their AUSTIN 3:16 shirts still intact, ready to flip on RAW and Tweet abundant about the week’s newest developments. It’s less ridiculous than it seems. The WWE’s storytelling has evolved in more self-aware, nuanced ways over the years—not intensely so, but enough to wash away some of the guilt over ever chanting “SUCK IT!” as a snot-crusted tween—and the wrestling remains as viscerally exciting an experience as it ever did, Shakespearean drama playing out via the brutal crunch of flesh and bone and metal chairs on skulls. Wrestling is the closest thing we have to homegrown kabuki, and its insular theatrics parallel the real-or-not histrionics of the rap game. So, I did the obviously idiotic thing and compared wrestlers and rappers for your reading pleasure.
Stone Cold Steve Austin — Kanye West
A real anti-establishment badass who refused to cotton to the mainstream and kept on finding ways to push the envelope. (Stone Cold’s beer truck = putting Bon Iver on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) Every left-field sonic choice Kanye makes on each new record always feels like the most exciting thing in rap at that moment; consequently, the Stunner was always the most exciting thing in wrestling, at any moment. Just as Kanye broke hip-hop fashion norms by wearing a leather skirt, Stone Cold was the first man to wrestle in jorts. And their intro music! Kanye’s interrupted several rap concerts this year by walking on stage to do “New Slaves,” the opening bars of which signal a frenzy. It’s the same effect as Stone Cold’s iconic window shattering theme, which could trigger in your apartment right now and make you think the Rattlesnake’s about to bust the door down and kick your ass.
The Rock — Jay Z
Brash and uniquely gifted with the microphone, both Rock and Jay pivoted from their early roles as industry disruptors and became disappointingly corporate as the years went on. (The Tooth Fairy = Kingdom Come) Obviously, it’s not all bad: Jay’s been somewhat effective as the rap game patriarch—his verse on “Paris” spouted enough memorable one-liners for most rappers’ careers—while the Rock gave us a pair of Fast and Furious movies and the occasional B match. There’s even some parallel in each man’s “back to the beginning” revival in 2013, with Hov going to Timbaland for the mediocre Magna Carta Holy Grail and the Rock headlining a mediocre WrestleMania. Thankfully, the Rock hasn’t done anything as gauche as vault for the high art crowd like Hov did with the “Picasso Baby” short film, but perhaps some auteur out there is plotting to reinterpret him as Paul Thomas Anderson did Adam Sandler.
Triple H — 50 Cent
Just a straight up villain. Peaked at the turn of the millennium for reasons that feel unreplicable in the modern era: 50’s slick, straight-up goon rap is a radio anachronism, and Triple H could never out-maneuver the WWE’s current Performance Enhancing Drug testing protocols. Ironically, Triple H’s nickname is The Game and 50 Cent mentored and feuded with The Game—this parallel suggests that Triple H’s greatest enemy is himself, which makes sense if you look at the scrubs who got over in the middle of the '00s when he should’ve been gilding his legend status. Both men also took oddly unexpected corporate turns as they got older: Triple H married into the McMahon family, and 50 bought into Vitamin Water while shilling for energy drinks with Joan Rivers. This made them inestimably lamer, but they’re still hanging around and trying to convince us they matter. (Triple H : heel turn at Summerslam :: 50 Cent : “Hate Being Sober”)
Shawn Michaels — Eminem
Remember when they used to be kind of shocking? Shawn Michaels kept on telling people to suck it and even humped a Canadian flag, while Eminem couldn’t stop calling people bad names. Now, they’re both elder statesmen—a little weird, but we’ll roll with it. In the conversation for the greatest of all-time, even though each came to the game with seemingly inherent weaknesses to disqualify them off the bat. (Michaels was short, whereas every major wrestling star had been tall; Eminem was white, which, you know.) Maintained an impressive streak of productivity with a dip in the middle—Michaels’ back problems paralleled Eminem’s rehab problems—before bouncing back to their status as reliable if predictable industry titan. Michaels’ biggest strength was his ability to put anyone over, just as Eminem’s evolved self-seriousness means he can lend any corny pop song an air of respectability.
The Undertaker — Lil Wayne
One of them plays dead, while the other only seems to be kind of dead. (I realize this seems kind of tasteless, what with his publicized seizure leading to 2013’s biggest Twitter moment, but I think I’ve read enough articles calling Weezy dead on the mic to feel alright about it.) Had brief runs on top of the industry but have receded to an ever-present role as an inflexible good, re-emerging every so often to bust out an old trick—Undertaker walking on the ropes, Weezy with a tongue-twisting absurdist metaphor—to remind us they’re still around. Definitely not as good as they used to be, but everyone basically recognizes this.
Daniel Bryan — Kendrick Lamar
Bryan is DIY personified, effortlessly making the leap from indie hero to WWE contender, just as Lamar parlayed his Black Hippie roots into releasing an album with a motherfucking Dr. Dre guest verse. He’s a fully formed, fully credible prodigal, a started-from-the-bottom-now-we-here success story who doesn’t seem out of place next to more conventional superstars—just like Bryan, who believably fought Cena for the title despite looking like a dude who sleeps in trash. It’s time for him to sit on top, despite the naysayers. Asserting that Randy Orton, who dethroned Bryan’s quick championship reign, is as good as Bryan is some aggressively aesthetically offending bullshit, just as the inevitable argument from J. Cole stans that he, not Kendrick, is the better rapper.
CM Punk — Drake
A human teardrop and a snotty straight-edge hardcore kid—you’d never expect either to be on top of their respective industries, but all things are possible in a post-Obama milieu. CM Punk has been champion for longer than The Rock ever was; likewise, we won’t bat an eye when Drake’s new album outsells Magna Carta Holy Grail. Preposterous, right? It’s the way things are. We originally considered Punk and Kendrick as the closest analogues due to the narrative parallels between the “Control” verse and the “pipe bomb” speech—a comparison first suggested by Noisey editor Drew Millard—but on second thought, the essential tameness of Kendrick “calling out” his friends and collaborators feels like an insult to Punk’s legitimate shattering of the fourth wall.
Mankind — RiFF RAFF
The real people’s champion. Mankind was WWE champion for about a month, which feels exactly right; meanwhile, the most relevant RiFF RAFF ever was came when James Franco essentially played him in Spring Breakers. They’ll go down in history as the biggest goofballs we ever loved.
Ric Flair — Killer Mike
Not much to go off of, really, but Killer Mike loves shouting out the Nature Boy—he prodded the crowd at his Pitchfork Festival set to unleashed a collective “Whooooo!”—and rightfully pointed out that Hulk Hogan’s patriotic persona was full of shit compared to Flair’s preening coke boy villainy.
Vince McMahon — DJ Khaled
The boss on top. Obsessed with money and comically rich. Industry royalty personified. Struts like nobody else.
John Cena — Will.i.am
Kids love both and they’re objectively the most popular things around despite being edgeless, family-friendly buffoons. Underneath the cornball schtick lays undeniable skill: Cena’s certainly capable in the ring, even if his facial expressions are the fucking worst, and Will.i.am keeps birthing radio hits like an uninterruptedly pregnant insect queen. But man, that schtick. We understand why it exists—money over everything, as Drake rapped—but it doesn’t make it any better. Also, the video below is the worst thing that’s ever been filmed.
Jeremy Gordon is a professional wrestler. He's on Twitter — @jeremypgordon
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