Boston Globe – July 17, 2001
By David Arnold
The arms and legs of the 9-year-old were all motion outside the FleetCenter ticket window yesterday, a mix of ballet leap and infantry charge as he imitated the infamous leg drop of the mighty Matt Hardy.
”Then it’s gonna be like this,” Jessie Carranza of Somerville gushed, unleashing a climactic knee drop on the imaginary stomach of his imaginary victim sprawled out on the linoleum floor.
Such was the anticipation yesterday for the coming of the World Wrestling Federation at the Fleet Center, a nearly sold-out spectacle.
If you are not a fan or the parent of one, the WWF extravaganza will pass without a whisper. But to a young boy fond of cartoon-like heroes, the event screams of mythical mayhem.
The likes of Stone Cold, Kane, Chris Jericho, Lita, and the Hardy Boyz are slated to bash their way into Boston tonight, wearing leather and lace, and maybe less.
Catering to a predominantly male audience, they particularly are the favorites of boys between the ages of 8 and 12 years old, according to an informal survey of parents buying tickets yesterday.
”It’s like seeing a cartoon, one-half wrestling, one-half soap opera, and it’s really, really cool,” said Jeff Huberman, 12, a student at the Brown Middle School in Newton.
And it matters not that the chair-throwing malcontents of the WWF seem to have power over youngsters like the Pied Piper on a bad hair day. Some parents questioned the bullying message of the acts, but others were content to call the show theater and let the entertainment stand on its own merits.
”For my son, nothing means more,” said Victor Maldonado of Chelsea. Young Victor, an 8-year old who attends the Kelly Elementary School in Chelsea, said he had no issue with the ”fake” punches.
”It looks like everyone’s hurting everyone else, but it’s all an act,” the youngster said. ”After all, they hit each other in the privates and they don’t die.”
Two decades ago, professional wrestling was more street theater than pyrotechnic spectacle, according to Terry Allen, a.k.a. The Masked Invader. When Allen was not in the ring in the early 1980s, he was a Boston-based illustrator, and now lives in Chappaqua, N.Y.
”The good guys were obviously good, the bad guys were bad, and humor was the rule of the day,” Allen said. ”Now the hero is most likely to be an antihero, someone who doesn’t seem to stand for anything,” he said.
Today, the billion-dollar World Wrestling Federation, based in Stamford, Conn., leads the competition with a 300-employee display of flamboyance, theatrics, and athleticism that draws 20 million viewers weekly to several television shows. Tonight’s ”match” is being taped for ”Smackdown,” scheduled to be aired on network television later this week.
”Our fans vicariously live the lives of our superstars,” said Adam Hopkins, a WWF spokesman. ”No guns, no knives, just cartoon-like characters occasionally armed with a folding chair and a message that these stunts should not be tried at home.”
Do-good messages can be part of the tour. For example, prior to a show last night in Providence, Chris Jericho, the self-styled ”Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Roll-a” (and once an aspiring journalist) tagged up with female wrestler Lita and US Representative Patrick Kennedy, Democrat of Rhode Island, to encourage youngsters to read.
Under a circus tent at a local library, Jericho and Lita read passages from books to about 300 young fans seated before them, and urged them to get library cards, as they had.
Reading ability aside, the victors in today’s pro-wrestling events ”most often are the guys who are the biggest bullies,” said Grace Mahoney, a South Boston resident and parent of 12-year-old Christopher. ”In this day and age, bullying is not to be taken lightly,” she said.
Nor is it to be taken too seriously. Mahoney was next in line for tickets. ”Hey, I have as much trouble as the next parent saying no,” she added.